How to Visit the World's Endangered Destinations
Some of the world's most beautiful travel spots are under attack by climate change and booming human populations. Here's how you can visit some of these endangered destinations responsibly before they're gone forever.
GREAT BARRIER REEF
The world's biggest, most beautiful, and most diverse reef system (1,400 miles) could be gone in 100 years due to global carbon dioxide emissions and runoff from farms into the ocean. As the ocean temperatures rise, the coral, fish, and marine mammals all suffer. But if you visit this Australian must-see respectfully, you can snorkel, scuba, or even just watch the Technicolor show in a glass-bottomed boat or kayak.
SEE IT: Goway Travel offers a 12-day Australia package from around $2,000 that includes visits to the Great Barrier Reef. Smaller operators offer live-aboard boating experiences starting at around $500 for two nights.
The world's glaciers - huge, beautiful blue mountains of ice left over from the last Ice Age - are melting at an alarming rate all over the world. In Alaska, the famous Mendenhall Glacier melts so much each summer that it causes flooding near Alaska's capital, Juneau. Mendenhall Glacier, Sawyer Glacier, and Glacier Bay are best seen from a cruise ship, and if you're lucky you'll see a glacier "calf" - the dramatic moment when a huge piece of ice breaks off and falls into the sea.
SEE IT: Norwegian Cruise Line offers a 7-day Alaska glacier cruise that starts from around $650.
Good news: The city of canals is beautiful because it was built on water. Bad news: Venice is endangered because it was built on water, in some cases literally sitting on wood pilings that were constructed centuries ago. Flooding from high tides has increased due to rising ocean levels, and saltwater eats away at the city's beautiful buildings and landmarks. Billion-dollar floodgates are in progress, but floods of another kind - 20 million tourists a year - are also a threat to the city's centuries-old infrastructure.
SEE IT: Instead of adding to the city's overcrowding, book a stay in a "glamping" eco-tent at nearby Canonici di San Marco for around $150/night and take day trips to the city. Laguna Eco Adventures offers sailboat tours of the lagoon for about $50.
KENYA'S MASAI MARA LION HABITAT
Simba is not doing well. The iconic African king of beasts has seen its population plummet from 450,000 to 40,000 in the past 50 years alone due to a human population explosion and encroachment on habitat. Some scientists say lions could be extinct before the next century, if not sooner. Kenya's Masai Mara Reserve is one of the best safari experiences for those who want to get up close and personal (but not quite too close) to these stunning wild animals.
SEE IT: Book a trip with Kuchanga Travel (based in Minnesota) to see lions, elephants, and cheetahs and to participate in ongoing study and conservation efforts, for around $2,000 for two weeks.
What Travelers Need to Know About the Zika Virus
With health alerts about the Zika virus popping up in travel destinations all over the world, it's normal to feel skittish about visiting the affected countries. Here's what you need to know about the Zika virus and travel: What countries have seen Zika virus outbreaks? So far, 22 areas are experiencing a Zika virus outbreak—some of them tropical vacation destinations: Barbados, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Puerto Rico, Saint Martin, Samoa, Suriname, Venezuela, and Africa's Cape Verde. It is expected to spread. How severe is the Zika virus? What happens when you're infected? Traditionally, the Zika virus, transmitted by mosquito bites, has been a relatively mild disease, with symptoms including muscle aches and fever: "kind of like a bad cold, a bad flu," says Ronald St. John, M.D., MPH, formerly of the Centers for Disease Control and World Health Organization and current co-founder of Sitata, a free health- and safety-focused trip-planning app and website. The horror stories about Zika-associated instances of microcephaly (small head size) in newborns and Guillain-Barré syndrome are alarming but technically rare. The current outbreak's sample size is likely a factor in the numerous reports, Dr. St. John says. "With the introduction of the virus into a new place—the Western Hemisphere—and a rapidly accumulating number of cases, once you get a large number of cases of infectious disease, some of the rare complications start to appear." If I'm traveling to one of those countries, is it cause to cancel my trip? Unless you're pregnant, no. However, do take precautions to avoid mosquito bites while you're there, says Dr. St. John. (For the sake of comparison in severity, like Zika, mosquito-transmitted dengue fever is still a risk in tropical and sub-tropical regions, as is the chikungunya virus.) If you are pregnant, the CDC recommends that you "consider" postponing your trip until after delivery. There is growing scientific evidence that the first trimester is a particularly risky time to become infected with Zika, Dr. St. John says. "Pregnant women, as a minimum, should take heightened measures to avoid mosquito bites in countries where transmission is growing, and if they want to be super-cautious, OK, maybe you shouldn't travel, especially if you're in your first trimester. So that's a precautionary thing—it's not an all-out panic button at this point in time." OB/GYN Jason James, M.D., medical director at FemCare Ob-Gyn in Miami, takes a harder stance: "Pregnant women should, whenever possible, remain away from any of the countries affected," he says, and recommends that pregnant travelers take their "babymoon" in areas that are not affected. "Travel insurance might be advisable for travel to these areas in the next year or so. Compare the various policies and make sure there are no pregnancy exclusions." What precautions should I take if I decide to travel to one of the affected areas? Because the virus is spread mainly through mosquito bites, Dr. St. John recommends using a DEET-based mosquito repellent like OFF! Deep Woods ($7, drugstore.com)—safe for pregnant women—with your sunscreen, and wearing long-sleeved shirts and pants whenever possible. Wear a hat and keep your ankles covered. To prevent mosquito bites while sleeping, choose a hotel with air-conditioning, so that rooms' windows are shut, or if you're in a non-air-conditioned property, ensure that your room has screens, Dr. St. John says. If your accommodations are basic and have neither A/C nor screens, bring a permethrin-permeated mosquito net with you (from $35, ems.com), or stay in a place that has mosquito nets over the bed. How can I stay informed about the Zika virus as it relates to travel? At Budget Travel, we recommend keeping an eye on the travel section of the U.S. State Department's website at Travel.state.gov and relying on reputable updates on the virus from sources such as the CDC, specifically its Travelers' Health advice, and the National Institutes of Health. Another tip from Dr. St. John: “Pay attention to the World Health Organization when they issue travel advice. Because there is something called the International Health Regulations, and countries are obligated to report events that might be of public-health importance at an international level. And then WHO makes an assessment. For example, with the huge Ebola outbreak in West Africa, there was never a reason not to travel to those countries, and WHO stated that. If you were going to go there and be a health-care provider—doctor, nurse, whatnot—on an Ebola treatment center, well, yes, that’s a high risk...but if you were just going to Sierra Leone to do business or even tour, that was not a risk.”
OMG! My Hotel Has Bedbugs!!
When it comes to vacation buzzkill, the word bedbug is near the top of the list. But according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. is seeing a serious increase in bedbugs—and it's not just in homes but also in restaurants, hospitals, schools, and, yuck, hotels and cruise ship cabins. HOW TO STAY SAFE Our BFFs over at the American Academy of Dermatology have shared some good advice for keeping yourself and your family safe from bedbugs while you're on vacation. Seemal R. Desai, MD, FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist in private practice in Plano, TX, notes that bedbugs usually do not require serious medical attention, but acknowledges that they cause anxiety. TELLTALE SIGNS OF BEDBUG INFESTATION Dr. Desai shares the following tips for finding the little pests. When checking in to a new hotel, conduct this quick search for these telltale signs of bedbug infestation before opening and unpacking your bags or letting kids sit on the furniture or beds: A sweet, musty odor. Bedbugs produce chemicals that some people (but not all) can smell. Specks of blood on bedding, mattresses, and furniture. For a variety of reasons, of course, specks of blood are never a good sign in a hotel or cruise cabin. But especially along seams of bedding and upholstered furniture, they could mean bedbugs have bitten previous guests. Exoskeletons. Bedbugs shed an outer shell and leave it on mattresses and under couch cushions. Tiny, blackish specks. Two words: bedbug poop. Eggs. Tiny white, oval eggs in cracks and crevices. WHAT TO DO If you find signs of bedbug infestation at your hotel, don't panic. The good news is that bedbugs can't jump from beds onto your clothes or into your suitcases. Notify the hotel manager immediately, and based on the hotel's response (which could range from abject apology to irritating denial), consider accepting a new bedbug-free room or switching hotels (our hotel-booking page is good for such last-minute emergencies).
Travel ban sparks confusion, fear, and protest
Republican Senators John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina spoke for most American travelers when they issued a statement over the weekend critical of the new administration’s travel ban. “Ultimately, we fear this executive order will become a self-inflicted wound in the fight against terrorism,” Senators McCain and Graham wrote in response to the order, which bans entry to the United States for refugees and residents of seven predominantly Muslim countries (Libya, Sudan, Somalia, Yemen, Syria, Iraq, and Iran). WORLDWIDE CHAOS & CONFUSION The executive order, issued on the evening of Friday January 27 with the stated intention of protecting the U.S. from terrorists, caught airlines, airports, and world travelers completely by surprise, perhaps none more than the legal visa-holders who boarded planes from the seven newly banned nations without knowing that detention and potential deportation awaited them upon arrival in the United States. Among those detained were Iraqis who have worked side-by-side with American troops to fight terrorists such as ISIS. While the U.S. has from time to time throughout its history established targeted immigration and travel bans, the present travel ban is unprecedented in its scope and in the sudden way in which it was implemented. Senators McCain and Graham noted, “We are particularly concerned by reports that this order went into effect with little to no consultation with the Departments of State, Defense, Justice, and Homeland Security.” This past weekend saw detentions, attempted deportations, growing protests across the U.S., and lawsuits in several states that led to a temporary stay on deportations. The first successful lawsuit against the executive order was brought in Brooklyn on Saturday evening by a group of that included the American Civil Liberties Union; Judge Ann Donnelly halted deportations due to “substantial and irreparable injury to refugees, visa-holders, and other individuals” and the potential for violating the right to due process and equal protection guaranteed by the Constitution. A VIEW FROM THE FRONT LINES In just one example of the confusion and delays sparked by the travel ban, a member of our Budget Travel community, Ann Lien, witnessed the scene at New York City’s JFK AirTrain on Saturday night first-hand. Ticketed air travelers and protesters were barred from boarding the AirTrain to JFK airport by order of the Port Authority because growing crowds of protesters were gathering at the airport. Soon, the area around the turnstiles at the AirTrain itself resembled a sit-in protest (see Lien’s photograph, above). When word of the sit-in reached New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, he intervened, ordering that travelers and protesters alike be allowed entry to the AirTrain. Governor Cuomo noted, “The people of New York will have their voices heard,” and that phrase became the basis of the protesters’ chant as they enthusiastically informed the police of the governor’s decision. BUDGET TRAVEL READERS WEIGH IN As we began to understand how many members of the Budget Travel community were potentially affected by the travel ban, we asked our Facebook and Twitter audience: “Has the new travel ban affected your travel plans or your travel schedule?” Replies came pouring in from around the world, reflecting the diversity that makes our audience such a rich source of information and opinions. Here, a few representative examples: “Yes, it has. My husband is an immigrant and we now know it's not possible (probably ever) for us to bring my in-laws here to visit us on a tourism visa. And we won't be able to go visit them again, perhaps for several years.” “Hasn’t affected my plans, but it has affected my heart. Sad. Sad. Sad.” “I just came back from my second trip to the U.S. in six months and it will be my last for a very long time. Two full hours in line at immigration - as a paying tourist and after 16 hours traveling!” “Not at all! I’m just glad [the president] is trying to make our country safer.... It’s crazy enough already. If it’s a problem, stay where you are. It’s a privilege to enter our country, not a demand. When I enter other countries, I abide by their rules. If I don't like their rules... I stay home.” “I am concerned about going to any area targeted by these actions because it isn't a big leap to guess that those areas won't be as welcoming to Americans. Unfortunately, I am considering not going to certain areas because of it.” “Won't affect my desire to travel but in a recent conversation, while in Cartagena, Colombia, a Colombian questioned whether she'd be welcomed in the USA or detained. Broke my heart.” “The people affected most were by the protesters blocking people from getting to their flights. Maybe you should write about that.” “[It does not] affect my plans but I'm sad that not everyone has that liberty anymore.” “There have been bans like this in the past by previous presidents. This too shall pass.” “I'm a U.S. citizen traveling to Jordan in March. I shouldn't be affected, but (sigh) who knows!” KNOW YOUR RIGHTS If you have any concerns about your rights as a traveler to, from, and/or within the U.S., we recommend that you start with the American Civil Liberties Union’s publication What to Do If You’re Stopped by the Police, Immigration Agents, or the FBI, and consider seeking legal advice from an immigration attorney before you book a flight.
Interview: Badlands National Park’s rogue tweeter speaks
Fans of America’s national parks, including BudgetTravel.com editors and readers, have had a turbulent ride over the past few days, at least as far as their Twitter feeds are concerned. NPS’s account deactivated. On Saturday January 21, the day after the presidential inauguration, the National Park Service’s official Twitter account was deactivated after the account had tweeted images comparing this year’s inauguration crowds with the larger inauguration crowds from 2009. The NPS account is now back in action, but the NPS has encouraged social media managers to post only about public safety and park information and to avoid commenting on policy issues. As all this was going on, our Budget Travel social media audience voiced its support and affection for NPS Twitter feeds as sources for weather, road conditions, special events, and especially for the gorgeous photography. Badlands National Park goes rogue? On Tuesday January 24, the official Badlands National Park Twitter account seemed to be actively resisting the new NPS social media mandate. The park, a South Dakota favorite of Budget Travelers for its dramatic peaks, canyons, bison, and affordable local lodgings, appeared to post a series of tweets about climate science, including “Today, the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is higher than at any time in the last 650,000 years.” Although the tweets shared basic earth science that high schoolers across America understand, the posts were seen by many as a purposeful challenge to the new president, who has criticized climate science and played down the need for the reduction of carbon emissions. Some Twitter users celebrated the posts as acts of political resistance, while others noted sardonically that the employee responsible would likely soon be out of a job. As if following a boilerplate thriller screenplay, the climate-science tweets then disappeared from the Badlands National Park account, sparking head-scratching and censorship concerns. Badlands officials told the press that the tweets were the work of a former park employee who should not have had access to the account, and that the tweets were taken down voluntarily, not as the result of a government order. Meet the rogue tweeter. Things got even more interesting today with the debut of a Twitter account, @Badlands_NPS, which states that it is “unofficial” and has posted the climate-science tweets that were deleted from the official Badlands account. Curious, I reached out to the owner of the new Twitter handle, who participated in an email interview with me on condition that the “rogue tweeter” remain anonymous. I honestly don’t know whether the person I interviewed is, in fact, the former employee blamed for the Badlands climate-science tweets. But I do know that the BudgetTravel.com audience is a well-educated, open-minded, and voraciously curious bunch who will be interested in learning more about this new Twitter star. Q: How has the work environment at Badlands changed since the new administration took office last Friday?A: "I can neither confirm nor deny that the person or persons behind this Twitter handle are currently employed by the government. I think that everyone all around the country is in limbo concerning the new administration. No one knows what Trump is going to do, or why he is going to do it. We know he wants to privatize a lot of Federal land, and we are hopeful that he doesn't plan on privatizing the National Park Service." Q: What was your motivation for starting this new Twitter handle?A: "One of our greatest national treasures is our environment, park system, and federally owned land that is available for use by the public. It would be a travesty to allow private companies to take possession of our birthright as Americans." Q: What do you think each and every national parks lover can or should do to protect public lands from privatization?A: "I think that everyone who values our public land and park system needs to get out and vote. Protesting is awesome, marching creates community and engenders hope, but in order to change the new status quo, we need to vote. Vote for candidates in local and state level elections that support the environment. Make sure that they believe in climate change and understand that global warming is real and dangerous. We need to work from the bottom up, and effectuate change on a local level before we can turn to the federal level in 2018." The opinions expressed by interview subjects on BudgetTravel.com are solely their own and do not reflect the opinions of Budget Travel, its parent company, or affiliates.