News: Highway 1 hit by massive mudslides
Planning a scenic drive down California's Highway 1 in the near future? You may want to start making alternate plans—unless you like mud, road closures, and hours-long detours.
After a series of three mudslides rocked the coast, Monterey County is still reeling. About two weeks ago, at Rocky Creek, entire hunks of the roadway plummeted into the Pacific. Local news sources are reporting that the road in this area will be closed for about four more weeks to accommodate lengthy repairs.
More recently, 38 miles south of Big Sur in Alder Creek, tons of debris fell onto the highway below. Crews from the Department of Transportation are currently clearing the way. This comes on the heels of a similar mudslide, which caused road closures near Limekiln State Park last week.
The Monterey County Weekly reports that the disaster has effectively put travel into and out of the Big Sur area on indefinite hold. Restaurants, bars, and shops that usually count on tourist dollars have been forced to depend on locals for the bulk of their business.
For updates on road conditions and closings, check the California Department of Transportation website or call (800) 427-7623.
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Vote now in our Readers' Choice Poll!
We know you know travel. So tell us! Make your travel opinions count by voting in our second annual Readers' Choice Awards, where we're ranking your favorite (and sometimes least favorite) airlines, airports, destinations, cruise lines, hotels, food city, and much more. We're also polling your travel preferences: do you plan ahead, for example, or are you more spur of the moment? Do you prefer connections so you can get the cheapest flight, or do you spend the extra cash to fly there direct? Are you a windows person, or do you like the extra legroom on the aisle? As of now, Southwest Airlines is comfortably leading our Favorite Airlines category, and most of you would rather show yourself around a city than take a guided tour. Disagree? Then vote! The results will be featured in our November 2011 issue.
Undeterred spring breakers head to Mexico
A lot has been made about whether the popular spring break destination of Mexico is safe for college-aged partiers amid ongoing reports of drug-related violence south of the border. But, spring breakers are a determined and resilient bunch. Despite the fact that the Texas Department of Public Safety issued a strong statement this month discouraging spring breakers from heading to Mexico because of continued violence, and the U.S. State Department still has a travel warning to Mexico in place, student and youth travel companies say that Mexico is actually making a comeback on their lists of top spring break spots. Funjet Vacations saw a 15% increase in spring breakers heading to Mexico this March compared to last year, the majority of which are heading to the white sands and crystal waters resort peninsula of Cancun. StudentUniverse.com noted that Cancun shot up to its second most popular international spring break destination this year from the fifth spot last year. London ranked first both years. Puerto Rico, Costa Rica and Paris filled out the remaining top five global spots. London and Paris topped the list at student travel specialist STA Travel, followed by Cancun in the third spot. "Cancun is still in the third spot, which isn't really surprising to us. It's a very safe destination," said Patrick Evans of STA Travel. Evans acknowledged that STA Travel does not encourage spring breakers to travel near the U.S.-Mexico border and has discontinued itineraries that include border towns. And while Mexico is regaining the confidence of spring breakers, perhaps it’s no surprise that culturally rich (and safe) destinations in Europe have been more popular in recent years. "We’ve seen a pretty sizeable shift towards the more culturally enriching destinations," said Evans. In tough economic times, “it may be difficult to convince your parents to fund your spring break trip. A lot of kids really are on the college track. They tend to be looking for the more enriching trips.” For those who still haven't decided where to go for spring break (or just for a spring getaway, for those of for whom spring break is a distant memory!) there are still numerous last-minute spring break deals on the market. STA Travel and StudentUniverse.com have a host of last chance deals to Mexico, the Caribbean, Europe and in the U.S. (a quick search on STA Travel’s site found a trip from New York to Cancun for three nights this weekend, air-inclusive, for as low as $1,300). StudentCity.com sells party packages, ranging from open bar packages to options for skipping the lines and cover charges at clubs. And Funjet Vacations also features last-minute travel deals to popular fun-and-sun destinations. More from Budget Travel: Mexico: The elusive truth about safety Loreto, Mexico, From $104 a Night Fly to Mexico starting at $96 each way
Is Egypt ready for tourists?
The U.S. State Department "continues to warn U.S. citizens to defer non-essential travel to Egypt" , but at least one major tour operator announced that it will proceed with guided trips to the tumultuous country soon. Starting on March 14th, Grand Circle Corporation (GCC) will resume its popular 15-day "Ancient Egypt & the Nile River" itinerary. The Boston-based company operates two well-known outfits: Overseas Adventure Travel, which leads small-group tours of about ten to 15 people, and Grand Circle Tours, which leads groups of between 32 and 36 travelers. For the past month, during the riots and political upheaval in Egypt, GCC suspended all travel there. "We had a lot of trips scheduled, and we gave all our travelers the option to either go to another destination or to postpone their Egypt trip to a later date," said GCC Communications Director Priscilla O'Reilly, in a telephone interview with Budget Travel today. "About half chose another country, but the other 50 percent opted to stick with Egypt and go at a later date. It's one of our most popular destinations. We send about 10,000 Americans there every year." If anything, O'Reilly continued, the recent political turmoil seems like it increased interest in traveling to Egypt. "We've had a few calls from travelers who want to know if we're going back there—and request that we do—because they want to visit right now, during such an important time in Egypt's history," she said. In a statement released today on GCC's website, Chairman Alan E. Lewis said company representatives had toured "all of the sites we visit" and concluded it was safe to resume trips there: "We have been in direct contact with Egypt's Chief of Tourism police, who has confirmed that Grand Circle groups may begin their return to Egypt effective immediately." Already, many of the country's historical sites—and main tourist attractions—such as the pyramids of Giza and museums on the Nile and in Cairo, have reopened. A CBS News story last week said that most American tour operators who lead group trips to Egypt "expected business to return to normal within a year." At the same time, some travel companies are waiting for further developments before announcing concrete plans to resume visiting the country. All trips with Toronto-based Gap Adventures, for instance, are currently cancelled through March 13th. "We make regular assessments on a weekly basis as to when we'll be able to start tours there again," public relations manager Billy Connelly told Budget Travel on the telephone today. "Currently we are scheduled for March 14th and beyond—but we'll reassess those plans again on Monday, March 7th." As for travelers already booked on Gap Adventures tours to Egypt, Connelly said that "most re-booked other trips to other destinations, while a smaller number postponed their trip to Egypt, pending what happens on the ground and when it's safe to return." In a similar act of hesitation, Continental Airlines announced yesterday that it was "indefinitely" postponing plans for flights into Cairo. What are your thoughts: Do you think it's safe to visit Egypt again? See more from Budget Travel Real Deals: A Sunny Land Tours Egypt package includes air/cruise/8 nights, from $1,299 Riots in Egypt: How Much Can Travel Insurance Help? Ask Trip Coach: Trips Gone Bad How to Survive 10 Travel Emergencies
The threat of rising airfares
There's a theory that once the airfare surpasses the price of the land portion of a trip, travelers will opt out of said trip. Whether or not that's true, tour operators and vacation packagers are worried that increasing airfares, spurred by improving demand and surging fuel costs, will give travelers a sticker shock that will make them think twice about that vacation to Italy, Hawaii, or farther afield. One way to avoid that, they say, is for travelers to trade in the last-minute, price-shopping that may have worked at the height of the recession for a book-sooner-rather-than-later strategy. "We have a 'perfect storm' in 2011 of reduced capacity and much higher demand, and this is leading to airlines operating very profitably on those routes and they have all declared clearly that they will not be increasing capacity in 2011," said Paul Wiseman, president of escorted tour company Trafalgar Tours. In fact, according to the Federal Aviation Administration, airline capacity in available seat miles domestically and internationally will actually increase 4.5% this year after posting a 0.5% decrease for 2010. But as business travelers return to the road, tour operators are worried that leisure travelers who wait too long to book will be fighting for seats, at a price. And that certain high-priority destinations, like Europe, will be the first to go. Wiseman said that Trafalgar has been comparing air prices between October and now and that 2011 fares have already risen by at least 30% in some cases. He said that in October, British Airways round-trip flights between Los Angeles and Rome were around $1,100. "If you shop British Airways from Los Angeles to Rome out June 10 back June 20, it currently shops at $1920.87," cited Wiseman. A recent search on britishairways.com found the same flight for between June 10 and 20, for $1,675.87 (without an overnight layover, with an overnight layover it was a couple hundred lower). Regardless, even the lowest current price represents around a 50% increase over Wiseman's October example. Jack Richards, president and CEO of Pleasant Holidays, said the political unrest in Egypt and Libya hasn't helped either. "These are large oil producing countries and the political unrest makes the markets nervous and uncertain so the price of oil has been driving higher airfares," said Richards. Richards advised that if customers find a reasonable fare, they should book the flight as soon as possible to lock in the price and avoid higher airline-imposed fuel surcharges. To encourage vacationers to book earlier, several tour operators have air-inclusive specials in the market. Trafalgar started off 2011 with a Europe promotion that boasts $1,000 in savings per couple on air-inclusive packages with British Airways flights, or $800 in savings per couple on all other air-inclusive packages, good for bookings made through Feb. 28, 2011. Another tour operator, Globus, rung in the new year with an offer of 10% off per person on the land portion of a 2011 air-inclusive Europe vacation when booked and paid in full by March 1, 2011, for travel between May 1 and December 31, 2011. More from Budget Travel: Airlines hike fees for baggage 95% of Americans plan to travel more in 2011 http://blog.budgettravel.com/budgettravel/2011/02/earn_flight_reward_points_on_f.html