Icelandair’s New Buddy System Will Team You Up With a Local—For Free!
If you thought free in-flight movies and unlimited snacks were a major perk, Icelandair is really raising the stakes for airline amenities. Their new Stopover Buddy program provides you with a pal to show you around the country. All you have to do is book a flight across the Atlantic and opt to stay in Iceland—our top pick for Where to Go in 2016—for up to seven days on a layover, which won’t run you any extra airfare. Then they’ll team you up with a pal who shares your interests (food, adventure, nature, etc.) for one of the days.
The only cost is paying for your new friend’s food, admission, and whatever else you decide to do that day. That’s an excellent deal considering you're getting your own personal tour guide who has the local scoop.
The airline will match you with a buddy who is all about your personal tastes and knows the region well. Icelandair employees are as varied as the people who visit their country, spending their time doing everything from swimming in the ocean to mountain biking, heli-skiing, cross-country running, and knitting, and they want to share it with you. For example, there are Adventure Buddies for a day on the ski slopes; Culture Buddies who will take you beyond the museums; Food Buddies who know the culinary hotspots and just might bring you to catch your dinner; Health Buddies for bike rides, runs, and other athletic expeditions; Lifestyle Buddies to lead you on mountain climbs and volcano explorations; and Nature Buddies who will put you in the saddle on an Icelandic horse. You can even opt to go backcountry skiing with Icelandair’s CEO, Birkir Holm Gudnason.
Icelandair will help you schedule a time and meet-up point, and then you’re all set. But keep in mind that travelers have to be 18 years or older, and must stop in Iceland before heading to their final destination. Also, the Stopover Buddy program won’t last forever—it’s only now through April 30—so now's the time to make a new friend overseas.
$69 Flights to Caribbean Paradise? You Bet!
When it’s this cold outside, all we can imagine is lying on the beach with coconut trees as shade, sipping on delicious local rum. And now Norwegian Air is making our tropical paradise dreams come true, releasing a crazy-good deal for flights as low as $69 each way to Martinique, one of our Where to Go in 2016 destinations. That's 10 bucks lower than rates we reported just a few weeks ago. What's more, Norwegian is offering additional flights: up to eight nonstops every week out of the U.S., including just-added flights on Sundays in April out of New York City's JFK airport. Once you touch down, the island's currency is the euro, and with the dollar still going strong, you’ll get a lot of bang for your buck. Budget Traveler-–friendly perks aside, we love the French Caribbean island for its varied landscape: Rain forest preserves and black-sand beaches in the north, plus white-sand beaches in the south make it perfect for adventurers and beach bums alike. Two-thirds of the island is protected parkland, so it's no surprise it was nicknamed the Island of Flowers by the Caribbean Indians dating back centuries. Get up close and personal with the island’s greenery at The Balata Botanical Gardens, which is home to more than 3,000 species of tropical plants and flowers, including Instagram-worthy ponds dotted with lilies and lotus blossoms (admission about $15, jardindebalata.fr). And the selection of French and Creole restaurants—ranging from street food to elegant dining—makes Martinique perfect for foodie travelers.
Make It Happen: Bangkok
FLIGHTS: No carrier flies directly from the U.S. to Bangkok anymore, but here's what you can do: From the East Coast, fly in any direction, and air travel generally costs more than $1,000. From the west, airfare is almost the same price, but recently round-trip fares with carriers like Air China and EVA Air have been dipping as low as around $700 from LAX and SFO. STAY: The colorful, stylish Hotel Indigo Bangkok Wireless Road opened a year ago in the city’s embassy district. It might not be the sexiest address, but it’s near Lumphini Park and has a 24th-floor infinity pool with great views of Bangkok (from about $115 per night, ihg.com). EAT: For street food, head to trendy Chinatown, which is now home to buzzy bars and cool galleries. If you're looking for authentic street food, don't worry: Its alleys are still noisy with vendors hawking grilled meatballs on a stick, plates piled high with pad thai, spicy noodle soup, and more. Err—minutes away from Wat Pho (Reclining Buddha)—is a gastropub painted with murals that serves comfort dishes like slices of green mango soaked in fish sauce spiked with chilies and crisp-on-the-outside coconut sticky rice (small plates start at about $1, errbkk.com). DO: The Buddhist temples, like Wat Pho and Wat Arun, are must-dos, but so is a longboat sail through the city’s network of canals. There are many operators waiting at Tha Tien (Tien Pier) that provide everything from basic tours to excursions that serve a meal onboard. Bangkok’s markets are great for haggling and people-watching. The most exciting is the massive Train Market—located behind Seacon Square shopping mall—at night. Its countless stalls house vintage motorcycles, homemade clothes by local designers, antique furniture, and old vinyls. WHEN TO GO: The tail end of monsoon season (September and October) can mean more budget-friendly prices at some of the city’s hotels, but there really is no concrete low season in popular Bangkok anymore. Visit during Loy Krathong, an annual festival that typically lands in November. That's when Thai people all over the country celebrate the water goddess by floating candles on rivers, the sea, lakes—any body of water. In Bangkok, on the night of the festival, the Chao Phraya River takes on a romantic glow.
Live Like a Local in Italy
When it comes to traveling in Italy, Budget Travelers have always been big fans of “living like a local.” That means eating where the locals eat, visiting the off-the-beaten-path galleries and museums that tourists often miss, and hitting the best trails for cycling and hiking, many of which are not well known to Americans. That’s where Tourissimo got our attention. The bespoke cycling and hiking tour operator takes travelers into a super-local world of cycling and hiking in Italy, immersing them in the interests that are most important to them. When I sat down recently to chat with Tourissimo’s founder, Giuseppe “Beppe” Salerno, I was inspired by his enthusiasm, passion, and know-how. These are truly unique, customized travel experiences that manage to elegantly combine world-class service with a sense of adventure and discovery (not always easy to do). Bespoke tours offer a variety of potential experiences. Starting at $2,500 per person, tours may be escorted or self-guided private tours; tours include an excellent guide-to-guest ratio of 1:9, choice of activities (including wine tasting, cycling clinics, cooking lessons, and much more), bikes and equipment, and 3-4 star accommodations (with the option of an agriturismo lodging experience on a working farm). Tourissimo guides have personal connections to the regions where they travel and deliver a true locals’ point of view, including cultural immersion, traditions and customs, and the opportunity to meet local food and wine producers. Maybe because my great-grandmother was born in Palermo, I’m especially excited about Tourissimo’s upcoming “Sicily Magnifica Cycling Tour,” which explores the storied island’s historic past and vibrant present, including a stop in the town of Corleone, where novelist and screenwriter Mario Puzo set portions of The Godfather. Touring Sicily by bike is the kind of brag-worthy vacation most of us would love to check off our list. To learn more, visit Tourissimo.
"The Crash Detectives" Are Travel's Unsung Heroes
Who doesn’t love a good mystery? Speculation on crop circles, what went on in Roswell that night in 1964, and where Jimmy Hoffa and Amelia Earhart vanished to still occupy the collective mind all these decades later. Arguably one of the greatest mysteries of our present moment is what happened to Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, the airliner that fell disappeared on March 8, 2014 and is believed to be in the Indian Ocean. Terrorism? Technical malfunction? Those questions dogged Christine Negroni, a longtime aviation reporter for media outlets ranging from ABC News and The New York Times to Air & Space magazine. She covered the disappearance of MH 370 for ABC News. She weaves the findings of her intense inquiry and study together in the “The Crash Detectives: Investigating the World’s Most Mysterious Air Disasters,” which was released by Penguin in September. Part of what makes the book such a thrilling read is that it broaches technical engineering factors, but not too technically; she takes you into the quick-thinking minds of pilots and investigators, but not in a cheap-thrills way; she details high-profile disasters, but not in a sensational way; she takes a probing look at conspiracy theories and gives them rational consideration without, for lack of a better term, coming across as paranoid. We caught up with Negroni to talk about air travel, investigative reporting, government agencies, conspiracy theories, and what it’s like to experience oxygen deprivation. BUDGET TRAVEL: One of the things that makes this such a gripping read is that in addition to giving us the nitty gritty details of the Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 incident, you essentially chronicle a whole evolution of aviation engineering and progress. Was that your intention? CHRISTINE NEGRONI: I thought the book would be focused on Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, but as I wrote it, various avenues would lead to other things. MH370 inspired larger questions, it raised all these conspiracy theories but in some cases, there are legitimate alternative theories. That was eye-opening for me. And I’ve been an aviation safety writer for 20 years. BT: Can you tell me an example of something that was particularly eye-opening that you learned? CN: I think it was about the National Transportation Safety Board, for one. They’re the geeks who show up and solve the mystery when US airlines or aircraft are involved in a disaster. The more I looked at other crashes, the more I realized the NTSB investigators were subject to the same political and economic pressure as other bureaucrats and investigators in other countries. They’re not always the heroes They might misconstrue the facts. That’s surprising and disappointing. It felt like, “Christine, smell the coffee! Why should the NTSB be different from any other agency?” BT: In this day and age, emotions can run pretty high when it comes to air travel. People who’ve never feared flying might be worried about getting on a plane given all the threats. And the stress around all the rigamarole of checking in and going though security doesn’t help. When people hear about a book on airline crashes, it might unnerve them, but “The Crash Detectives” has plenty of positive takeaway. Can you explain the beneficial takeaway of the book? CN: The point is you can learn from each accident and if you don’t learn, why do it? A disaster is really a lesson, we can learn from, that’s why investigate in the first place. What near-accidents show us, like with Sully Sullenberger and the "Miracle on the Hudson flight," is that people can save the day, they can do what machines cannot do. They can do something novel and be innovative. Sully is just one of many who’ve done this sometimes in dramatic ways, and sometimes in subtle ways that even they may not even know. The end of the book is sort of a testament to how, by learning from mistakes, we can excel and not just in aviation, but in the way we perform in all sorts of ways. BT: You say that MH370 and the Miracle on the Hudson flight are yin and yang. What do you mean by that? CN: In MH370 and the “Miracle on Hudson,” the accidents are the opposite, In MH370—if my scenario is correct, and the crew did in fact suffer hypoxia, they were unable to make intelligent decisions--there was no human controlling the plane that could fly. On the other hand, Sully had a plane that couldn't fly, so this was a case of humans stepping in and using their intellect to save the day. BT: One of the interesting things to me about covering aviation versus another hard news realm, like technology or politics or the economy, is that it’s a huge industry, but each and every individual flight can physically affect each person differently, and in some cases that’s what accounts for an accident. You’ve made an effort to do really immersive research. Can you talk about some of your experiences? CN: I went to flight school with Lufthansa pilot cadets. I did flight training at a private air school in New Zealand and I went through flight attendant training with Emirates in Dubai. I did hypoxia training with the pilot cadets from EVA, the airline of Taiwan. We did altitude training at 25,000 feet to familiarize ourselves with the symptoms of hypoxia, oxygen starvation. Hypoxia is sometimes called the "happy death" Because it makes you feel drunk and very happy, silly, stupid, a feeling of well-being. BT: When I board a plane, it feels like I’m putting all my trust in the hands of the captain. A lot of people board an airplane and feel really helpless CN: Every time there's an accident there's so much misinformation on television. It’s a joke, if it were not a disaster, it would be laughable. Pilots and lawyers do a lot of this. Pilots may know how to fly a plane, but they don’t know safety necessarily. It is also important that passengers recognize their own role in safety. There are very common sense things travelers can do. The most super-powered executive will get on a plane and surrenders. Maybe the airlines encourage it will all the rules, but it’s like for most passengers, their free will has been beaten out of them. If something unexpected happens, the dynamic is that everyone gets passive, they’re not sure what to do or how to act. But you’ve got to own your own safety, you’ve got to be able to respond if something happens. Passengers should start by listening to what the flight attendants tell you to do. Count the number of seats there are to the closest exit, and don’t leave things on the floor so that the person next to you will trip if they have to get out in an emergency. BT: Despite all the horrific details of the headline-making disasters, it’s still pretty incredible to think about the many thousands of flights that take off and land around the planet every day. It never ceases to amaze me that we can travel halfway around planet Earth in 14 or 16 hours. CN: The fact is that there's more risk riding a bicycle in New York City than flying to New Zealand. There are 100,000 flights a day worldwide. Flying is amazing. I wish people would look out the window and see how gorgeous it is out there. They can see shooting stars sometimes and the moon. The other day I took picture of a sunset from a plane, it was so beautiful, I almost cried. People climb mountains to see that kind of sunset. But we get on a plane and look at our devices or movies or whatever. I wish everyone would enjoy that special gift that is flying.