Catch J.K. Rowling on tour
The author of the Harry Potter books will stop in three cities to give Americans readings of her latest novel. The October tour will have three announced stops: in Los Angeles, in New Orleans, and in New York City. Rowling will read from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows at these events.
Scholastic Books is holding a contest in which 1,000 winners will be chosen, and each winner will be given two passes to a Rowling appearance at New York's Carnegie Hall. Details will be announced July 31 at Scholastic's website.
Update, July 2: There seems to be some confusion. As I've emailed the readers who posted comments below, the contest is not being run by this website or by Budget Travel. To enter, you'll need to mark your calendars for July 31 and visit the website run by Scholastic.
(This post was modified since it was first published.)
More travelers are booking the fun stuff early
Tours, shows, exhibits, and other activities are being booked by some travelers farther in advance than ever. The reason: Internet travel sites, in an effort to distinguish themselves from each other, have been adding activity and excursion options to the menu of products they sell. For example, these days many websites, such as Travelocity, allow you to book a double-decker bus tour of New York City at the same time that you book your airfare and hotel room. Generally speaking, it has become easier to plan vacation activities in advance, and more and more travelers are doing it. Eventually, an increase in the number of early bookings will make it more difficult for spontaneous travelers to book activities on the fly. Luckily, that's not a problem yet. Case in point: I recently chatted about this trend with Michel Barraud of Paris Vision, which runs more sightseeing tours in the capital of France than any other company. (Paris Vision is such a large company that the chances are high that you're handing money over to them if you do any sightseeing in the City of Light, such as a nighttime cruise of the Seine.) Michel sketched out the overall trend. In 1999, his company opened its website with booking and payment options. In its first year, only about 3 percent of reservations came through the Internet. But in the past two years, sales have doubled to about eight percent. More importantly, advance bookings coming through partner websites and agencies, such as Expedia, have also doubled. About half of Paris Vision's bookings now come from these independent operators. How early are customers booking? Michel says that about 20 percent of customers book Paris Vision's tours and other activities more than 45 days in advance. Another 30 percent of travelers book between 15 and 45 days ahead. So half of travelers are booking less than a week ahead. Michel recommends Viator.com as an online source for booking activities and tours. The site offers reservations for activities from multiple suppliers and for multiple destinations worldwide, giving the broadest range of options available. (Not surprisingly, Paris Vision supplies tours to Viator. But I'm still impressed enough with Viator that I encourage you to take a look at it before you plan your next trip. You may find that some of the activities available are so compelling--such as a sunrise tour of a red rock dome in the Australian outback for $100--that you'll want to plan your trip around them, rather than the more customary practice of booking airfare and hotel before booking activities.
Harry Potter travel guide
Steve Vander Ark has created a Travel Guide to Harry Potter's World by using details from J.K. Rowling's books about Hogsmeade, Diagon Alley, and other settings. If you like Vander Ark's guide, then be sure to visit his unofficial fan site, Harry Potter Lexicon.
Great posts from great blogs
What is your favorite celebrity's favorite hotel? Sabrina Dent, who blogs at Wandalust, has posted a review of Hotels of the Rich and Famous, a website that helps you track the favored hotels of A- and B-list celebrities. She finds it easy and fun to use--and I do, too. For example, you can find Angelina Jolie's favorite hotels worldwide. The best blog on the national parks has just gotten better. Kurt Repanshek, the author of a series of books about the parks and a former Associated Press reporter, has teamed up with park advocate and multimedia talent Jeremy Sullivan to create a informative website, National Parks Traveler. The advice for families is particularly strong. Kurt's occasional criticism of the Bush Administration will not be to everyone's liking, though. It sounds like the punchline to a bad joke: What's the perfect gift for a budget traveler? An ice-cube maker for the car. Shirley Bragg points out on her always sensible blog Southern Byways the obvious flaw behind this idea. The more ice cubes you have, the more pit stops you'll need to make.
Today's travel intel
Reader tip: "Clean up your cookies--it could save you money! I used a well-known travel site to price tickets for a trip. I kept checking, to see if prices would drop. That flight stopped being listed after a week, and the next best flight kept getting more expensive. A few weeks later, I checked prices from a different computer. Whaddya know? The original flight was available, for $50 less than that next-best flight. That evening I checked again from my PC, but the flight I wanted was not available. I deleted the cookies for the site and tried again. Voila! The flight I wanted, at the price I wanted." --Kelly Malasics, Bridgeport, Conn. The Feds are tightening up airport security. Today, the Transportation Security Administration took over the job of checking passenger I.D.s at airport security lines at New York City's JFK airport. It was the start of a national rollout of about 2,000 federal screeners, who will appear at airports nationwide within the next 18 months. [Source: Aviation Week] Want to have your own travel TV show? Then follow the example of Robin Esrock, a Canadian who dropped out the rat race on his 30th birthday for a round-the-world trip that was only supposed to last a year...and that has never stopped. Esrock filmed clips of his travels and posted them on YouTube, and he also wrote freelance articles in a style modeled after Hunter S. Thompson. He built a website called Modern Gonzo, and he's been rewarded for his self-promotional efforts and multi-media storytelling talents with his own upcoming TV show on the Canadian cable channel OLN. Travel photo contest. Trafalgar is once again holding a photo contest inviting people who have taken one of its previous tours to submit a short journal or story along with a photo. After a first round of judging, the winner will be selected by public vote.