A Budget Travel Foundation?

January 18, 2007

We've gotten some thoughtful replies to Erik Torkells's letter from the editor in the December/January issue, in which he mulled over the idea of a travel foundation. Here's a sampling:

I just read your letter and wanted to say that many others share your idea. I was lucky enough to be a principal in a school district with a large number of Chinese students. One community member thought that all of us, principals and teachers, would benefit from visiting China. 40 of us spent 10 days with all expenses paid by our benefactor, except for $300 for our airfare from LA. It was indeed a fabulous experience. We visited schools of course, and I later returned taking 11 teachers with me to teach English to Chinese high school students for 6 weeks in the summer. One other trip followed as well as several visits by the Chinese to our city. One of the highlights of my career I would say, and yes it does broaden your acceptance and understanding of other cultures. Hopefully all that went not only opened their minds to the Chinese but became more accepting of all cultures. --Sandra Miller, Ed.D, University of La Verne, Calif.

Your letter in the December/January issue spoke to our hearts. It said why we founded the nonprofit all volunteer our developing world. We knew that "our preconceived notions would be the only thing getting blown up" in a perfect world but that won't happen till people cooperate. Such cooperation won't happen till people know something about each other. Therefore we have a free lending resource library for teachers with artifacts, lessons & visuals of "developing countries" and we take small groups of people who want to see for themselves on Reality Ecotours always with a focus on people, health, socio-economic & human rights. We hope some budget travelers will check out our website. Anyone with lots of time could put together these contacts but for those with limited vacations we guarantee to give you the fullest non-Hilton adventure. --Barby & Vic Ulmer, Saratoga, Calif.

In early 2003, while on a trip to Thailand, I met a retired businessman who had recently sold his company. In getting acquainted, he told me he was using part of the money from the sale to finance a "think-tank" of intellectuals and scientists to come up with feasible plans to helpThird World countries by putting money more directly into the hands of the citizens and not having it filtered through corrupt governments or agencies.

Your "The View from Here is Pretty Nice" column of December 06/07 struck a note that reminded me of that encounter. I have been a tour organizer for a teacher's organization from the early 60's until my retirement in early 1990 and I facilitated teacher travel through low-cost charters and group programs.

These two paragraphs are connected in this way. I suggested to the businessman that his "think-tank" look at the idea that, in place of our current foreign aid programs, the U.S. Government should divert a large part of the dollars going to those programs to very low-cost flights to needy foreign countries, e.g., $100 round trip, plus a tax credit of "X" dollars per person. The participants would spend their own money while on the trip, which money would go directly into the local economies and the pockets of citizens of those countries. Safeguards could be imposed such as discontinuing flights to countries that attach government fees to the flights or add hotel taxes, etc. I am sure that many schemes would be developed by the corrupt bureaucracy, but with care this could be circumvented.

I think this would give Americans who currently do not travel abroad something to think about and give a wake-up call to many foreign politicians that their free lunch at our expense can end. --L. Edmond Leipold

I write you this email today only one day back from my weekend trip to Munich, but felt a need to respond to you column in the December/January issue of Budget Travel. You, I and the thousands of others who work in the travel industry have to be some of the luckiest people alive. Why you ask? It does not have to do with our somewhat job security, discounts received, great people with whom we work with, but more of the fact that we can see the world for practically nothing be it for work or pleasure.

So let me begin by telling you why I wrote. My name is John Luttrell and I live in the tiny state of Delaware. I am currently working for US Airways on the ramp in Philadelphia and have been for the last ten years. Though we have been through many pay cuts and job changes since 9/11 knowing I still have the advantage to travel on a whim for free has kept me hanging in. Over the past five years I have seen many colleagues depart for other jobs and I think to myself what a shame it would be if that day were to ever come for me. For ten years now I have been to and have seen so many places that would have never happened if not for me working in the airline industry. Be it Vegas for a day or the Caribbean for a week these things seem so unattainable to many others in this country who don't have the opportunities we do.

As I read your article about how the girl in the coffee shop had wanted to go with you to Iowa because she has never been anywhere it only reminded me of how many of my colleagues don't travel and also of how my friends react when I go away to all these different places. But, the one thing that really got me was to think about the people I know who have never been out of the local Delaware area. This state is in such a great location with driving distance to so much. A day trip to Philly, NYC, DC or ever to Atlantic City, but I have talked to so many who have never been to any of these places and it makes me question why these people have never been far from home. Is it due to laziness, nervousness, scared to try new things, or could it be the fact that these people might not have the means to take these day trips yet alone leave the country for a week.

I too believe that travel brings people closer together and what one might have thought of you because of where you live, what religion you are, whom you voted for I think it gets thrown out the window when you really get to know that person for themselves and see how they live their life. So I question your daydream about the Budget Travel Foundation and hope you make it a reality as you and I both know that many people out there should have an opportunity to see what or who is outside their own town. These people should have an opportunity to experience new races, cultures, and creeds so they can see for themselves that this world is a beautiful place once you get out of your comfortable surroundings and let others in.

Though I personally don't have the means to start a foundation on my own I would love to help in anyway possible if you were to start anything. It could be using my eight companion passes to help with airfare, coming to NYC to help your staff arrange travel plans, or just doing anything I could do from my home here in Delaware. I know there are numerous foundations helping people who are sick, but I think that a foundation like this would be great for those who have never been outside their hometown and I hope this does become reality. --John Luttrell, Wilmington, Del.

My latest copy of Budget Travel arrived today. I so enjoyed your editorial comment. Wouldn't it be wonderful to have a Foundation that helps more folks travel! I have had the good fortune to travel for the past twenty years. As with many travelers, the cost of trips is a big factor in my destination decisions. I learned to shop wisely and travel during off seasons. It was snowing in Florence the February I was there, but I WAS in Florence and the museum and sights were still there.

Each trip I take, I bring home small items for the children in my life. I have brought home soccer team scarves, cricket balls from England, beads from New Orleans, and puka necklaces from Hawaii. My husband volunteers in a fourth grade class, so each child gets a postcard and/or other small items from my travels. I bring home flags of each country to share with the children. None of these things cost much, but they help show that the world is a different place. My constant message is that travel is something that everyone can achieve. Keep up the good work. --Jackie MacNeil

Keep reading

The View From Here Is Actually Pretty Nice

I wrote a real doozy of an editor's letter, and then I deleted it. It was a rant lamely disguised as wistfulness about what life would be like if we lived in a perfect world: More Americans would have passports (and use them); we'd be allowed to go wherever we want, without too much bureaucracy; the problems with airport security would get fixed, and not just for people who pay to join a Registered Traveler program; we'd take better care of the earth; and so on. I even managed to squeeze in some whining about how sunblock makes you shiny (as the photo makes clear). I ditched it because either you agree with me or you don't. If you do, great; if not, I probably wasn't going to change your mind. The last thing any of us need is more ranting, wistful or otherwise. All in all, most of us are pretty lucky. If you're like me, you usually forget how lucky you are--and occasionally you get reminded of it. A few months ago, I went downstairs to grab a cup of coffee in the afternoon, just as I usually do. "See you tomorrow," said the young woman behind the counter after I paid. "Nope," I said, deviating from our usual script. "I'm going out of town for a few days." "Take me with you!" she replied. I stammered some sort of response about how I was going to Iowa, and while I was excited about the trip, perhaps it wasn't the most glamorous destination on earth. "I've never gone anywhere," she said. Not long afterward, when Warren Buffett announced that he was giving much of his fortune to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, I began daydreaming about starting the Budget Travel Foundation. (I was on a treadmill, and it was that or watch the cable news blowhards). Our foundation would send people who've never traveled to places (near and far) where they can interact with other cultures. Simply put, travel brings the world closer together, and what seem like insurmountable differences between countries--or faiths, or economic levels--become much less relevant when people meet face-to-face. It's happened to all of us, I'd wager: Our preconceived notions of a place--and in particular, its people--get blown to bits once we actually venture there. And in a perfect world, I hope we can agree, our preconceived notions would be the only thing getting blown to bits.

Readers React to "Ads on Airport Shoe Bins?"

We've gotten some lively letters in reaction to our recent article, Ads on Airport Shoe Bins. Here's a sampling: Perhaps, some of the funds generated by the "shoe box" ads could be used to buy chairs for people to use while taking their shoes off. --Bob Ittleson, Union, N.J. In general, I have no problem with the TSA generating ad revenue to help the budget. However, my concern is that people will be more likely to overlook some personal item in the tray when it's on top of a visually busy ad. When this happens, the TSA screener will call them back, and it's just one more delay in getting people through the check point. Not to mention that travelers might actually lose something. --Sam Peach, Ijamsville, Md. I can see both sides; if the money coming in can reduce the taxpayer's expense, ads at the shoe bin are ok w/me. I might just laugh; however, if it causes planned delays, then no. --Bernadine Bednarz, Los Angeles, Calif. Hmmm... let me see now. I am on a journey, with all of the challenges that presents--packing, making decisions, rearranging my routine, going into the busy known or the adventurous unknown--and I am at the airport thinking about things like did I pack everything I need, and how will the weather affect the flight, and did the pilot get a good night's sleep, and will someone find a reason to question me at security. And then I reach that security point, where I have to pull things out of my pocket and watch someone scrutinize my personal belongings, and take off my shoes and stand on a cold floor in the middle of winter. So, am I likely to react at all positively to an advertisement on the plastic box where I've just had to put the contents of my pockets and my nice, warm footwear, and as I am preparing to go through a machine that is likely to beep and subject me to a body search or at least intensive questioning? How open am I going to be to considering buying a product that's being forced in my range of vision in the middle of all of this? What do you think? --Felicity Hallanan, Sandy Creek, N.Y. This is yet another example of the abuse we suffer at the misguided hands of TSA. --Steve Postle, Lincoln, Calif. It's an ingenious idea to raise some income, hopefully well spent, for this very expensive endeavor. Personally, I don't think the line can be slowed any further, so the fear that they will need to make the wait even longer to benefit advertisers should not materialize. Besides, if the government ware 'that' efficient and cost conscious, I would even wait longer. --David Hung, Los Angeles, Calif. What a joke! Security checkpoints are not the place for advertising. Visitors to the US who are not fluent in English will be even more confused trying to read the advertising while going through security. Signs and directions given by TSA agents are often confusing. Imagine trying to listen to the TSA agents yelling directions, watching the flashing signs overhead and trying to read the advertising at the same time. What a nightmare! Slowdowns are inevitable. --Carol Nelson, Indianapolis, Ind. I am usually distracted and feeling rushed when going thru security. I do not need ads to clutter up the visual for trying to collect my belongings without forgetting something. I'm certainly not going to be very receptive to any ad I actually see and remember! --Barbara Wysocki of Niantic, Conn. (reading us from vacation in Thailand) Once those Idiots start making money with the shoe bins will NEVER go away. Long after there is a need for them you will waste your time because the TSA won't give up the money. --Thomas Curley, of Cumming, Ga. I find this proposal ridiculous and a bit perverse. The whole idea of taking off our shoes originated with prevention of terrorist acts and for TSA to make money off these ads is to exploit a serious situation. While I am skeptical of terrorists ever using shoes as a vehicle for destruction again, I do not want shoe bins being used as advertisements. TSA needs to use the money in its budget more efficiently and wisely! --Jeanne Seals, Los Angeles, Calif. I am far too occupied with unpacking my computer and removing my shoes, jacket and other miscellany to have time to even be aware of ads at security checkpoints, let alone register contents of the ad. Yes, I would worry that I would be further delayed so the ad vendors would be satisfied. Probably the ads would be most effective at the points where I have to gather all this stuff and pack, don, or tie whatever I have removed. Of course, not all travelers find this as daunting as I do. We are bombarded with ads at the movies, tv, on the computer and billboards so I have become immune by automatically ignoring contents,. Let them support security if it doesn't delay as I never feel that people have been adequately screened and the added income might improve the situation. --Ruth Van Wagner, Palm Springs, Calif.

Where Bullwinkle Bunks

Best known for its hut-to-hut hiking system in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) is now setting its sights north. The 90,000-member outdoor recreation and conservation organization has purchased three historic sporting camps--Chairback Mountain Camps, Medawisla Wilderness Camps, and Little Lyford Pond Camps--and partnered with the West Branch Pond Camp, all in the 100-Mile Wilderness Section of Maine. Guests can hike and canoe a 25-mile corridor of pristine wilderness backed by the mountains of the Appalachian Trail and laced with hidden ponds and rivers that are populated with far more moose than humans. "Imagine the possibility of waking up in the morning at one camp and hiking for five miles to where your canoe will be waiting on the shores of a lake, then paddling another three miles to the next night's stay," says a buoyant Andy Falender, executive director of the AMC. If a camp-to-camp jaunt sounds a bit too adventurous, consider spending several nights at the affordable Little Lyford Pond Camps. Originally opened in 1873 as a lumber camp, Little Lyford became a cozy overnight for anglers and hunters in the early 1900s. Today, helpings of pancakes, baked beans, and fresh vegetables are still served family-style in the main lodge. Lining the green meadow are seven revamped rustic cabins, which sleep one to six people and have porches, woodstoves, and gas lamps. A short walk brings you to Little Lyford Pond, a majestic gem backed by the peaks of Baker and Indian Mountains. Other trails lead to the West Branch of the Pleasant River, a churning stream teeming with trout, and Gulf Hagas, where the same river plunges through a narrow canyon, creating waterfalls and swimming holes. Good for a bracing dip, Maine-style. 603/466-2727, Little Lyford starts at $92 per person per night, including lodging and all meals; reservations essential. A three-night camp-to-camp cross-country skiing package starts at $405 per person. Related Stories:   The Budget Travel Minute: Hut Hiking Tips   Trips That Can Change Your Life: The Appalachian Trail   Wilderness Survival Guide