Controversy: Are you the cause of 'sidewalk rage'?
Cities love tourists for the money they bring to the local economy, and yet the locals often hate how visitors clog the streets and sidewalks. One city wants to do something about it.
The city is London, and the specific street in question is popular Oxford Street. As the Wall Street Journal reports, the tactic being suggested is an unofficial line to segregate store browsers and travelers shuffling underneath the burden of heavy backpacks to half of the sidewalk closest to the buildings and shops, and to reserve the sidewalk's outside edge as a fast lane to be utilized by anyone -- locals, most likely -- walking with more of a sense of mission.
How would the system be enforced? Actually, it wouldn't, not in any official capacity anyway. There wouldn't be fines or any repercussions for absentmindedly strolling or even for standing still and yakking away on a cell phone on the "fast" side of the sidewalk. But local area maps would advise travelers to stick to the slow side, and a team of neighborhoods hosts in red caps may approach slow walkers and "put visitors in their place, tactfully," as the Journal writes.The concept is only in the proposal stages, and it is a tricky business, obviously: Cities such as London, as well as New York, Paris, and others, certainly don't want to make tourists feel even the slightest bit unwelcomed. On the other hand, it'd be nice to be able to walk to work without having to weave and maneuver among a crush of travelers and browsers shuffling, pausing, and otherwise obstructing foot traffic. Staffers at Budget Travel's New York City office, which is near Times Square and where I've heard the phrase "sidewalk rage" used more than once, understand this as well as anyone.
But is there a smarter solution than the one being proposed in London? If an invisible line down the sidewalk seems off-putting, what might work instead? Or should the locals simply suck it up, and accept that sidewalk congestion is the tradeoff for being a popular tourist hub?
How travelers can complain effectively with social media
When something goes wrong on your vacation, it can be difficult to get anyone accountable to talk to you on the phone. If it's an urgent problem, try contacting the company via a social media tool instead. One savvy message on a company's Facebook page or one clever "tweet" can snowball and draw the attention of a travel company's highest officials. Your problem may be solved much faster. Delta, JetBlue, Southwest, Virgin America, Marriott, Starwood, Travelocity, Expedia, and Hertz are all major companies that have staff members rapidly reacting to social media messages. Delta, for instance, monitors online messages constantly—including in-flight complaints posted by passengers using on-board Wi-Fi. Recently, Noelle Sadler griped on Twitter about Delta not giving her frequent flier miles for a qualifying flight on partner airline Avianca, reports the WSJ. The airline quickly gave her the frequent-flier miles. Happy ending. The following tips may boost your chances of getting your voice heard. Sign up You got to play to win. It's free to join social network Facebook and micro-blogging service Twitter. Facebook is best for travelers who don't use social media much It's quick to use Facebook to voice a complaint. But remember that companies respond online to people who say they're fans of their brand. I know, it sounds confusing, but you'll be more effective by "liking" a company on Facebook before you speak up about something it did wrong. On Facebook, search for the name of the major brand you most often do business with when traveling. Then click "like." Then complain. If you have more than a thousand followers, Twitter will get faster results than Facebook For urgent problems, you may get a faster response by tweeting. Case in point on how to use Twitter in a crisis, courtesy of travel journalist extraordinaire Christopher Elliott: When Jessica Gottlieb learned that her kids were trapped on the tarmac in an endlessly delayed Virgin America plane, she used her Web-enabled cell phone to "tweet" about her troubles: "Dear Virgin Air," she wrote via twitter.com/JessicaGottlieb. "My children have been on the tarmac for one hour with 90 more minutes to wait. I am at JFK gate b25. Pls RT." Reports Elliott: "That last request—please "RT"—is shorthand for Gottlieb's thousands of followers to "retweet" her message, or rebroadcast it to their followers. And retweet they did. Within minutes, Virgin had phoned Gottlieb to reassure her that her kids would be fine. "They contacted the gate agent manager and explained to us the entire weather situation," she says. "Within 20 minutes of that conversation, the plane took off." Stay upbeat Your grandmother was right. You'll attract more bees with honey than with vinegar. Be polite for the best responses. And if an airline, hotel, or other travel company does solve your problem, be sure to broadcast it to the world, too. Do a quick search before you try to contact a company through social media The technology is still new, and some travel companies still aren't listening to conversations on social media. Before you invest time in reaching out to a company online, look at its Facebook or Twitter pages and see if they seem active or like ghost towns. TWITTER TIPS • New to Twitter? Go from zero to hero in no time flat with this Twitter tools for beginners page. • Curious about how to find the Twitter page for a particular travel company? Google the word Twitter followed by the brand's name, such as "twitter delta". MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL Flier's revenge: United customer gets even with hit music video San Francisco: Street food made simple with Twitter New travel stress: Facebook oversharing Not so cool tool: TripAdvisor's new "Trip Friends" feature
How to bring wine back from overseas
Large bottles of liquids are banned from planes. So you have to pack your wine in your checked luggage. Your bottle might accidentally break in mid-flight. That would ruin your clothes. (And your wine!) Here are some strategies for packing your wine safely that you may not have thought of. The D-I-Y option: Wrap your bottle in newspaper, then in two plastic bags. Obviously, the plastic bags are meant to contain any leaks. Less obviously, the newspaper will contain broken glass, which might pierce the plastic bag and let the wine spill. Pack strategically: Wrap a thick layer of clothing around the neck of the bottle until it is has a diameter as wide as the base of the bottle. Wrap everything with more clothing, and place it a few inches from the corner walls of your luggage. The fancy, secure option: Drop by your local specialty wine shop, and ask if it sells a carrier. (It's probably made from an artificial fabric that looks like fleece.) This material will act as a shock absorber for your bottles. Use the same packing method as described above, only use this high-tech fabric instead of newspaper. (The instructions on the packaging of the product may not say you can use it in this way, but don't worry about that.) A $5 fix. Southwest sells a handy wine and spirits carrier for $5 a bottle/unit at its airline counters. You don't have to be flying Southwest to buy the carrier, of course. Just drop by a Southwest check-in desk at an airport terminal. Slip your wine inside, and then put the case inside your checked bag, where it'll serve as a buffer zone. ADDITIONAL TIPS: Don't worry too much about temperature fluctuations. The plane's hold is below cabin temperature, and most wines can handle a few hours of cold. One possible exception: Champagne. Stuff your bag full. You want so many belongings in there that nothing can move around. "Hard shell" luggage is rarely necessary. It's heavier and more expensive than soft-sided luggage, and it doesn't add much practical protection to your wine bottles. Carrying several bottles of wine? Consider checking separately an eight-gallon size Rubbermaid Action Packer, for sale from REI and other stores for about $24 Carrying a crate of wine? Try this wine shipping method from Gadling. What are a your best strategies for packing wine bottles? Post a comment below! MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL Napa's Top Secrets Four Emerging U.S. Wine Regions Ultimate Packing Smackdown
What would make you boycott a state or country?
On Tuesday, Sept. 14, France went down in the history books as the first European country to ban veils that cover the face—namely, the burka that's worn by some Muslim women. This inflammable decision was won in a 246 to 1 vote by the French senate, with the government stating that the head-to-toe covering is "a new form of enslavement that the republic cannot accept on its soil." (CNN World) This new law will be enforced starting in the spring with a $190 dollar fine or a mandatory citizenship course, and a year in jail or $19,000 dollar fine if someone forces a woman to wear the traditional clothing. Even though the majority of French citizens agree with this ban, France just can't ignore the fact that the reaction around the world is mixed. The ban is supported by European countries like Germany, Britain, Spain, and the Netherlands, but two out of three Americans disagree with the law and clearly it hasn't been well-received in the Middle East. Not surprisingly, a flurry of terrorist threats followed the announcement. Now the question is, will tourism be affected? We're currently seeing this in Arizona, where about $90 million dollars have now been lost due to meetings and conventions being canceled by businesses protesting that state's strict immigration law. And how about when a nation's human rights are threatened, like in Tibet (now the Tibet Autonomous Region) or Burma (now Myanmar)? Every traveler has the responsibility to consider their ethical beliefs about political protest at least once, and there are arguments for both sides of the issue. For instance, after the Dalai Lama and his government were exiled from Tibet, they still encouraged foreigners to visit their conquered land to act as witnesses to the oppression and inform others upon their return. But others argue that travelers will need to comply with the conquering regime in order to travel in Tibet, so visitors will be providing legitimacy to the occupying Chinese, and any money spent will eventually end up in the pockets of the Chinese enterprises that have headquarters outside of Tibet. Another option for travelers that are torn between the desire to see Tibetans, but are concerned about sponsoring the oppression, is to visit one of the adopted cities of the exiled—like Dharamsala in northern India, which is the current home of the Dalai Lama and is surrounded by Buddhist temples and beautiful views of snow-capped mountains. So what's your take: Would you boycott a state or country out of political protest, and if so, what would it take?
Airline reviews: Find out if an airline is any good
A friend once asked whether a particular Asian airline was worth flying. Her favorite travel site had turned up several carriers flying to her destination at reasonable prices. But she hadn't flown one of them before. "What's the top site for airline reviews?" she asked. Sadly, no one site rates airlines the way TripAdvisor comprehensively rates hotels. I did my best to help my friend make a decision. But her question continued to gnaw at me. Is there a way to figure out if an unfamiliar airline is safe…and if it's comfortable? I turned to America's top expert on airlines, Brett Snyder of The Cranky Flier blog and The Cranky Concierge travel service. He had some super tips: I guess it depends on your definition of "quality." I would say that the first thing you'll want to do is make sure it's safe. You can look up accident information at aviation-safety.net, which is put together by the Flight Safety Foundation. Also, even if you aren't traveling in Europe, you can look at the European Union's airline blacklist. [See BT's earlier post on "196 airlines you should avoid"] This highlights airlines that aren't allowed to fly within the EU, but they might be flying elsewhere. If you're looking at flying an airline on that list, you might want to think twice. Once you're satisfied with the safety side of things, then you can start looking at other features. On-time performance is an important one, and you can look that up for many airlines at FlightStats.com. Here you can look up on time performance for the past 60 days for many flights, but if you're traveling on a very small or remote airline, it might not show up here if the airline doesn't actually have flight status information available. (That's not as rare as you'd hope.) There is a site called Skytrax which strangely enough is at www.airlinequality.com and not skytrax.com. Here airlines are ranked on quality and reviews are left by travelers so you can get an idea of what you're flight might be like. But this isn't perfect. The ratings aren't necessarily going to line up with what you want. I mean, Air New Zealand and Air Berlin are both four star airlines but the experiences are quite different. So you'll want to make sure you read the reviews. Lastly, you can resort to the old standby—just Google the airline. If there's something bad out there, it'll probably pop up in a Google search. Using all these tools, you should be able to build a pretty good picture of what an airline is likely to deliver. MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL 196 airlines you should avoid See our readers' picks for favorite and least favorite airline in our 2010 Reader's Choice Poll The least liked airline in America? (40+ comments)