Meet a "travel ninja"
Chris Guillebeau is a 31-year old entreprenuer in Portland, Ore., who has made a personal quest to visit every country in the world by the time he turns 35.
So far, he says he has visited 119 countries (not counting airport stops or "sort-of" countries like Kosovo and Kurdistan).
Along the way, he's learned a few tricks. He shares helpful travel tips for free on his site The Art of Nonconformity. He also sells advice in the form of e-books, such as How to Become a Travel Ninja.
Today we ask Guillebeau about the travel lessons he's learned.
What's been one of your biggest surprises?
I was surprised at how much I liked Syria. In the U.S. we tend to think of Syria as a scary place, or at least as a state that is hostile to the U.S. government. When I was first applying for the visa, I had that impression too—the consulate in California kept putting me off, and finally requested an additional $40 "processing fee" paid in cash before returning my passport. But when I actually got there, I felt completely comfortable. Everyone was friendly, I felt safe the whole time, and it ended up being one of my favorite countries so far.
What are your feelings about short-term "voluntourism" programs?
Good question. As for me, my wife Jolie and I spent four years living on a hospital ship docked off the coast of West Africa. We worked with refugees, displaced people, presidents, warlords, and other volunteers from all over the world. I went there knowing very little about international development and almost nothing at all about Africa, and it was an incredibly transformative experience. I don't work in Africa anymore, but I still visit the continent as a traveler at least once a year.
As for "parachuting in" somewhere (figuratively speaking), sometimes it can be beneficial and sometimes not. It definitely isn't beneficial to do it on your own, but if you connect with the right organization that needs short-term volunteers for specific needs, it can then be a win-win for everyone. Check out idealist.org for opportunities. The more flexible you can be, the better.
How do you strike up conversations with locals?
It helps to avoid staying in the big American hotel chains all the time. Understand that this doesn't necessarily mean roughing it in a hostel—a local boutique hotel or nice guesthouse may offer similar comfort, but with much more of a chance to get to know people than the Marriott would. As a bonus, those properties will also usually be much cheaper.
You've written about "How to Buy a Round-the-World Plane Ticket." Why aren't those tickets more popular?
It takes a fair amount of research to book a good Round-the-World (RTW) ticket, and that's probably the biggest reason why more people don't do it. I also don't think everyone realizes how flexible RTW tickets can be, as well as what a good value they are if you want to visit several places within a year.
About 50 percent of my travel is booked through RTW tickets now, with the remaining 50 percent a combination of frequent flyer tickets, paid tickets, and overland travel. My past two trips have been with OneWorld, but I use Star Alliance as well. Of the three major alliances, SkyTeam is behind the others in terms of RTW products.
What's your pet peeve with how the media covers travel?
The main thing that bothers me is a preoccupation with safety and cautiousness. Despite all the places I go, I don't necessarily think of myself as a risk-taker. But being aware of your surroundings is much different than being afraid to go somewhere. Almost without exception, I've been treated well all over the world.
Another thing that bothers me a little is the generalization that "people everywhere are basically the same." In my view, some cultural things may be the same in different places, but other things are quite different—and accepting the differences is OK.
You've put together a list of the 28 things you wish you had known before you had started taveling. What's the most memorable mistake that you've made?
There are so many! But so far the biggest has probably been double-booking myself on two non-refundable flights back from Asia. I was in Warsaw, Poland, when I discovered the mistake by chance a few days before I flew to Tokyo. I had to say goodbye to a nice, Business Class awards trip on Singapore Airlines and buy another economy ticket on United. I wasn't happy about that, of course, but in the long-run, things could be worse.
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Up All Night in Paris: The Nuit Blanche art party
Bertrand Delanoë will probably go down in Paris history as "The Fun Mayor." Under his leadership, the city has launched Paris Plages and the Velib' bike-sharing program. The city has also begun Nuit Blanche, an annual celebration of contemporary art. Nuit blanche means sleepless night, so you won't be surprised to learn that the event takes place in the wee hours. This Saturday (Oct. 3), installations will be open for free. Public viewing begins at 7 p.m. But most of the hundreds of thousands of visitors will opt for after-Midnight art. Curious minds and culture vultures will be packing the streets until close at 7 a.m. This eighth edition of the Nuit Blanche festival will be centered around three neighborhoods in Paris. Châtelet-Marais and the Latin Quarter are to be expected, but 2009 also features an extraordinary trail through the 19th arrondissement. This northeastern side of the city, which houses more working artists than any other, will host a smattering of sites in and around the Parc des Buttes Chaumont. This wild and hilly landscape, which long ago inspired surrealists like André Breton, will filled with light installations (and probably a few libations) until the sun comes up. Download the full program in English, if you like. Practical Info: For the night of Nuit Blanche, the Paris Métro (subway) line 14 will be running all night. Line 11 (which runs northeast from the center toward the Parc des Buttes Chaumont) will also run all night, except for stations at République and Belleville. All other lines will close around 2 a.m. Taxis will be almost impossible to find, so plan to walk, bike, or use the Métro. MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL Our Affordable Paris series
Destination: Budget Travel's printing plant
It's no doubt odd to be writing a blog post about visiting a printing plant—oh the irony!—but I'm down in Dyersburg, Tenn., about two hours north of Memphis, on a field trip to Quebecor, where Budget Travel gets printed. (Among the other magazines printed here: Cosmopolitan, Country Living, Consumer Reports, Maxim, and Popular Mechanics). I came down with Sandra Garcia, Budget Travel's Art Director, and Ton Vu, our Production Director, to observe and direct the printing of our November issue. I watched Budget Travel pages get slight ink adjustments so the colors on the pages pop, roll through the press, get trimmed, and ultimately bind together with a complicated process I wouldn't dare to describe. Bottom line: it's awesome. Here are the 4 Most Fascinating Things I Learned Today: 1) A train (literally a train!) comes in to drop rolls of paper bigger than I am. Each is stacked and labeled with the name of the magazine it belongs to. Budget Travel's paper is milled in Finland. 2) All of the little extra bits of paper that get shaved off when pages are trimmed end up getting sold to Mexico. 3) It's old-school and technologically advanced, all at once. Computers somehow track each magazine as it rolls through press, so they can sort them by zip code. All issues of Budget Travel going out to Oregon, for instance, get stacked and shipped off in one handy stack, making the mailman's job just a bit easier. 4) Robots are involved. I'm not kidding. 5) So Finland + Memphis + Mexico…the making of Budget Travel is itself an impressive journey. EARLIER What are your family travel lifesavers? (15 comments)
Travel innovators we love: Adam Wells
A few years ago, Adam Wells signed on as Virgin America's fourth employee with a revolutionary concept: Treat every passenger stylishly as a sophisticated contemporary traveler, starting from the moment he or she arrives at the airport gate. In doing so, Wells helped Virgin raised the bar for the industry. Wells invented, refined, and executed several improvements: • The typically bland, cold check-in counter with generic kiosks is a failure. Why not hide the mechanics and machinery, and make the counter as simple and human a space as possible? Wells put minimalist touch screens on tables in an open area where passengers and agents can mingle. At some airports, fresh flowers are on display. • The standard paper boarding pass has machine barcodes with lots of numbers and is almost unreadable. It's also too large to fit in a standard-size pants pocket. "We decided to have our kiosks print paper boarding passes that are half the size of usual ones and that clearly spell out the info you need quickly," he says. Some airports haven't enabled Virgin America to do this, but wherever possible, the airline now offers the innovation. • The gate area, with its dull, bus-station feel, ought to be look more like a boutique hotel lounge. Wells added plasma screen monitors, high-gloss white painted, Corian surfaces, purple backscreens, and glass dividers to the seating area. • The most memorable and discussed innovation has been mood lighting on-board the plane. "It's in a "theatrical mood" prior to departure," says Wells. "When you walk down the jet bridge, you see the purple glow of the mood lighting, and it hopefully excites you. It was born out of the observation that typical airlines are so badly lit. There's a greenish hue that comes from fluorescent lighting. That gives a distressed, nauseous skin tone. It doesn't do anything to help your frame of mind to see everyone looking sickly around you. People have an emotional and physiological response to lighting. So we decided to shift the color of our cabin lights during the course of flight. They're associated with time of day outside, or ambient light outside. If you're flying by day and heading into dusk, it will reflect the light level outside. It's less jarring." In a bonus, each plane's windows are tinted to filter out certain light wavelengths, reducing glare. • Cabin dividers are usually ugly. They tend to be either gray laminated panels or they may have been carpeted and don't seem to ever get any cleaning. You wouldn't want to touch them. They tend to be full height, which creates a claustrophobic space. "To avoid that, we created dividers where the top half has custom-made material that's tinted purple but is mostly transparent. Because you can see through it to the front of the plane, you no longer feel claustrophobic as you look forward to first class from coach. We also don't use curtains, which are a pain for flight attendants to pass through and communicate false elitism. Our divider has an L shape, which traps some of the sounds coming from either direction and blocks noise from echoing throughout the cabin." Virgin America features many other innovations. For example, Charles Ogilvie designed a high-tech entertainment system placed in the back of the passenger seat in front of you, which includes instant-messaging capabilities with fellow passengers. The seatback touch screens can also be used to order food, which you pay by swiping your credit card. (A flight attendant delivers purchased items.) Other perks: There's a USB jack at each coach seat and two 110-volt plugs for every set of three seats, so your gizmos won't run out of juice while you're in the air. Wells approaches problems with the eye of an industrial designer who has helped tweak various products and services, such as Dyson's vacuum cleaners. He has since left his job as design director for Virgin America. These days, he "conceptualizes, designs, and actualizes" startups, spaces, and projects in North America for Virgin brands. Yet he still travels a few times a month. So we asked him for some travel tips: What tech devices do you fly with? The lightest devices I can get away with— usually a macbook, phone & a small camera; I use all 3 all the time. The day Apple launch a netbook is something I look forward to with some zeal. Have you had any travel snafu with digital devices? Leaving power cables in hotel rooms seems to be my specialty. Any tips about carrying laptops and cameras? Laptops in a separate pocket of a backpack if possible, allowing quick, one handed removal at security. Ditto for the toiletry bag. I typically wrap cameras & lenses in a protective sleeve surrounded by clothes, ideally in a manner that they're accessible at security too. Favorite websites for traveling? Most of my trips are for work and usually on Virgin America or Virgin Atlantic. On occasions that I have to fly other airlines, I compare the airline's seat map to those available on seatguru.com to avoid the windowless, zero-recline seat-by-the-restrooms that they like to offer! What's the next innovation you hope airports and airlines adopt? Pre-printing your boarding pass from home or office is the best route for now, although the better kiosks out there are quick, too. I'm really looking forward to greater availability of phone-based boarding passes, though; removing potential stress-points and queuing in the travel experience is exactly how travel technology should be… Practical guys, who think themselves to be free from any care about design and lighting, are usually the mental slave of some industrial designer they've never heard of. In other words: You don't have to care about design to appreciate how much nicer it is to fly some airlines than others—and difference is due to folks like Wells. Tell us about innovations you love— or things you wish that airlines would fix. EARLIER Virgin America adds Wi-Fi fleetwide Australia may never be cheaper in our lifetimes Fresher cabin air is on the way
Readers' best England and Scotland photos
We're thrilled with your response to the call for photos of England and Scotland! We looked through more than 400 images to select the very best for this slide show. Check out shots of Stonehenge at dawn, sheep grazing on the Isle of Skye, light streaming through London's Tate Modern, and many more evocative scenes. REAL DEALS England & Scotland From $699 RECENT READER SLIDE SHOWS Sunsets | France | Italy | National Parks IN SEARCH OF… We're still collecting your photos of rainbows and Hawaii. Upload any images you have through myBudgetTravel, tag them, and check back in the coming weeks for slide shows of the best submissions.