Elderhostel changes its name to appeal to the under-50 crowd
What's in a name? Well, a lot, especially if you're Elderhostel. The popular Boston-based tour company just changed its name to Exploritas, in the hopes of attracting more travelers. The company will continue to sell nearly 8,000 tours in 50 states and 90 countries, all with an educational bent.
The new moniker (pronounced ek splÔR i tahs) comes with a few other improvements, including more domestic itineraries in 2010 and a social networking tool on the company website. But the biggest difference is a drop in the age requirement, from 55 to 21. The goal is to attract more people in their 40s and 50s. Chief executive James Moses admits that Exploritas isn't likely to win over many twentysomethings.
Elderhostel had 155,000 travelers sign up last year, a drop of 40 percent from a decade ago, reports the Wall Street Journal. So the time is ripe for change. The tour concept got its start in 1975, expanding steadily over time.
The budget minded may balk at some of the Exploritas tours. A case in point is Patagonia: Hiking at the End of the Earth, where the picture shown in this blog post was taken. This two-week tour starts at a whopping $5,190 per person and includes accommodations, most meals, and guided hiking trips with local experts.
Looking for something closer to home? This 10-night itinerary in Utah starts at $1,528 and includes visits to Zion, Bryce, and Arches national parks and Lake Powell, all with a focus on geology. (Based on double occupancy.)
The Real Deals: Great vacation packages hand-picked by Budget Travel's editors
Rental car rates have more than doubled in the past year
Holy moly! Travelers are paying through the nose for car rentals right now. For a one-week compact rental reserved 7 days in advance, the average rate at major U.S. airports has more than doubled since last year. Specifically, if you reserved last Monday for a rental starting today, the average is $347.86. The same scenario in the fourth week of September 2008 would have cost $157.52. That's an increase of 121 percent. "Rates have been through the roof," says Neil Abrams, whose market research firm Abrams Consulting Group keeps tabs on car rental statistics. "This is not an anomaly. Prices have just kept rising far beyond what we've seen in the past." EARLIER Rental car rates skyrocket, despite recession (20+ comments, with helpful tips from Budget Travel readers) The car rental promotion that actually costs you double Three new ways to snag a free hotel room
Russia's new high-speed trains cause a commotion
Moscow and St. Petersburg are about to join the ranks of major European and Asian cities linked by high-speed rail service. Russian Railways has purchased Siemens' cutting-edge trains—dubbed Sapsan, Russian for a peregrine falcon—at a cost of $52 million each. Instead of a traditional locomotive, the Sapsan has electric motors attached to wheels all along the train cars. It's also been modified to contend with notoriously frigid Russian winters. In a high-profile test run in St. Petersburg last week, the Sapsan got as high as 150 mph; its average speed along the approximately 400 mile route will be 107 mph. The service, which debuts in December, cuts the trip to Moscow to 3 hours and 45 minutes, about 45 minutes faster than now. Tentative plans call for service between Moscow and Nizhny Novgorod from March 2010 and between St. Petersburg and Helsinki, Finland, from September 2010. There are even rumors that the Sapsan will reach the Black Sea resort town of Sochi—host of the 2014 Olympics and one of Putin's pet projects. But the Sapsan loses steam when you consider that the high-speed AVE train is more than an hour speedier as it zips between Madrid and Barcelona, a distance comparable with St. Petersburg to Moscow. Outdated tracks hold back the Sapsan (which may not come as a surprise in a country known for epic, erratic train journeys in sleeper cars). Business Week described Russia's investment in Siemens' trains as making "about as much sense as driving a Ferrari on a dirt road." The U.S. suffers a similar problem: a lack of investment in train tracks that restricts even the Acela, our only available high-speed train option, which also maxes out at 150 mph. Siemens has its eye on the billions in stimulus money designated for high-speed train travel and hopes to sell the U.S. these same trains, according to New York Times. Find out more about how high-speed trains measure up around the globe—and how their prices compare to air travel—in our report, The Fastest Trains on the Track.
This Weekend: The world's longest pedestrian bridge opens in Poughkeepsie, N.Y.
If you thought New York City's High Line was an impressive reinvention of a former elevated rail line as a public strolling ground, wait until you see the Walkway Over the Hudson, opening Saturday. The 120-year-old Poughkeepsie-Highland Railroad Bridge has been transformed into a 1.25-mile-long pedestrian park—the world's longest bridge of its kind—linking the city of Poughkeepsie and the town of Lloyd in New York. Whereas the High Line offers respite a leisurely 30 feet from the ground, the Walkway Over the Hudson looms 212 feet above the water, offering stunning views of the Hudson River valley to walkers, runners, and bicyclists alike. Officially a state historic park, the walkway has also been named a National Recreation Trail and will eventually connect to 27 miles of rail trails and riverfront parks, much of which will be completed next year. Opening weekend events begin with Friday night's Grand Illumination, in which 1,000 volunteers will carry paper sky lanterns in a promenade across the bridge, illuminating it for the first time, and then release the self-extinguishing lights into the sky, followed by a fireworks display. The walkway will not yet be open to the public, but anyone can view the illumination from Waryas Park in Poughkeepsie and across the river at Oakes Road in Highland (a hamlet in Lloyd). (Check out the events Webpage.) Saturday starts with a re-creation on the river of the famed Poughkeepsie Regatta, hosted by nearby Marist College's crew team. Other activities include music and folk art festivals and river cruises in Waryas Park and the Highland HudsonFest. Also in Waryas Park and in Highland, large screens will broadcast the day's early events from the walkway—including official grand opening ceremony remarks by New York Gov. David Paterson, a parade across the bridge of puppets signifying the flora and fauna and history and culture of the Hudson Valley, and an Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome biplane flyover—until 3 p.m. when the bridge officially opens to the public. That evening, visitors to the bridge are encouraged to don glow-in-the-dark clothing and accessories (break out the glow sticks!) as part of a night circus and light show. The events spill over into Sunday, when the walkway will be open 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. The bridge is within walking distance of Poughkeepsie's train station, accessible from NYC and from any city with an Amtrak connection. For this weekend's events, check walkway.org for parking and shuttle bus information. The opening is part of New York's Hudson-Fulton-Champlain Quadricentennial celebration commemorating the 400th anniversaries of the voyages of Henry Hudson and Samuel de Champlain, and the 200th anniversary of Robert Fulton's spearheading the first long-distance steamboat trip, which traveled up the Hudson River. The bridge was the longest in the world when it opened, and at one point 3,500 train cars crossed it daily, but a 1974 fire shut the tracks down for good. Repurposing the bridge for public use has been a project 17 years in the making.
Joke: New helmets for London's Royal Guard
The most memorable skyscraper to be recently added to the London skyline is the Gherkin, the pickle-shaped headquarters of insurance giant Swiss Re. The blog Londonist got curious about what it might be like if mini-Gherkins replaced bearskin helmets on the heads of the Royal Guard. So they did it themselves. It's Photoshop phun! MORE HUMOR FROM LONDONIST The Ultimate Uncluttered Tube Map for Tourists MORE ON LONDON FROM BUDGET TRAVEL Where to eat and sleep in London (50+ comments) 5 tips on daytrips outside of London (via EuroCheapo's London correspondent)