To Go or Not to Go: 11 Places With a Bad Rap

By Bridget Gleeson
December 28, 2011
Wesley Bedrosian
Mexico, Egypt, Greece…we took a look at some of the most "challenged" destinations to help you determine where the benefits outweigh the risks for travel in the New Year.

To go or not to go…that is the question, indeed, if you're savvy enough to know that places that make headlines for the wrong reasons—natural disasters, political unrest, problems with a nuclear power plant—can also become travel bargains. We help you weigh the pros and the cons to determine when to cash in on that discount, and when to wait.



Kidnapping, carjacking, extortion, gang wars—it's not news that Mexico has had issues. In April, the U.S.  Department of State warned Americans against traveling to the states of Tamaulipas and Michoacán, plus parts of the states of Sonora, Chihuahua, Coahuila, Sinaloa, Durango, Zacatecas, San Luis Potosi, and Jalisco. This year, there were nearly 900 gang-related killings in the Pacific resort town of Acapulco—but this is considered a major exception. Most tourist-popular areas, such as Mexico City and the resorts of the Riviera Maya, are considered safe for travelers. (In fact, statistics show that these regions saw even less crime in 2010, per capita, than Orlando and Washington, D.C.) Mexico's government is increasing military security at new government checkpoints, especially in border areas, and its tourist board is fighting all the negative press by flying U.S. travel agents to Cancún to see for themselves that the sandy white beaches in tourist areas remain perfectly calm—except for when the spring-breakers roll into town, of course.
To Go or Not to Go?
Go—but only to destinations approved by the U.S. Department of State.


In March 2011, a 9-magnitude earthquake—the strongest ever recorded on the island—caused massive destruction in Japan. The ensuing tsunami that slammed the northeast coast claimed thousands of lives; the massive meltdown at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant has caused ongoing problems, as significant radiation has been released into nearby areas. Naturally, the tourism industry was hit hard, too. According to Mat Eccles of InsideJapan Tours, plenty of tourists canceled their trips to Japan after the disaster, but "many chose to take advantage of our offer to postpone their trips, to give Japan time to get back on its feet and recover. Almost all of those clients have now reorganized their trips." Though he confirms that tourism to Japan has been down, he's already seeing an upswing. "Over the past three to four months, the level of inquiries and bookings has been picking up significantly," Eccles says. "I've recently booked trips from the wilds of the northern island of Hokkaido to the primeval forests of Yakushima Island, and everything in between."
To Go or Not to Go? Go—just nowhere within 50 miles of the Fukushima Daiichi plant in the north (the popular cities of Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka are all fine).


An 8.8-magnitude earthquake, said to be the sixth strongest on record in the world's history, rocked central Chile in February 2010. Thanks to the South American nation's sophisticated infrastructure and strict building codes, the damage was somewhat mitigated: Though 1.5 million people were displaced, casualties measured in the hundreds, not thousands. Damage to the international airport caused flight cancellations at first, and the U.S. Department of State initially warned Americans to avoid nonessential travel to the region. But the tourist industry quickly recovered. While Eduardo Doerr of Protours Chile noted that, due to damage to country estates in the wine country of central Chile, some of Protours' itineraries had been temporarily altered, he added that "the earthquake did not affect any of our most-visited areas, so we were able to recover very quickly."
To Go or Not to Go? Go.


Starting with Arab uprisings against then president Hosni Mubarak in January and continuing on to Christian protests when the military attacked a church in Cairo in October (the bloody conflict left at least 25 dead and hundreds injured), 2011 has been tumultuous in Egypt. Though Mubarak, the nation's longtime president, stepped down during a storm of popular protests in January and February, a revolution is still in full swing. The U.S. Department of State isn't currently releasing an official warning against travel to the region, but they've issued a travel alert cautioning travelers to steer clear of protests likely to take place during a series of parliamentary elections that will continue through March. Understandably, tourist numbers, which initially plummeted by 80 percent, are overall down by a third this year—not that the Egyptian tourist industry plans to take the news sitting down. In an unprecedented bid for the tourist dollar, the minister of tourism announced in November that the Lower Nile would reopen to river cruises for the first time in 16 years.
To Go or Not to Go?

New Zealand

The 6.3-magnitude earthquake that shook Christchurch, New Zealand, in February 2011 claimed nearly 200 lives. Ten months later, another quake hit on December 16. The city has suffered serious damage, with blocked streets, collapsed apartment buildings, and structural damage to its famous cathedrals—the tallest building, the Hotel Grand Chancellor Christchurch, is currently being demolished after being declared unstable. Jo McDermott and John Carter of Discovery Travel say, "Tourism has definitely dropped; we stopped operations for a short time after the February earthquake. At the moment, none of the major hotels are operational. We would definitely encourage people to travel to Christchurch and Canterbury, but be aware that accommodations will probably not be in the center." Jodee Merito of Pacific Travel, another local tour operator, adds, "We appreciate people may still be apprehensive, but we welcome tourists to continue using Christchurch as a gateway to the rest of South Island."
To Go or Not to Go?
Go, but only to pass through Christchurch on your way to other parts of New Zealand.


The Greek economy may be in big trouble, but you wouldn't know it by looking at the record number of tourists swarming the ancient monuments and beaches in 2011. The Association of Greek Tourism Enterprises reports that numbers are up 12 percent from last year. As Culture and Tourism Minister Pavlos Geroulanos told The New York Times, "Without a doubt, tourism has already helped soften the blow of the economic crisis." But recent riots and strikes in Athens might make prospective travelers think twice—after the October riots, 74 protesters and 32 police officers were hospitalized, flights were grounded, and public transportation around the capital was shut down.
To Go or Not to Go?
Go, but stick to the islands and tread lightly in Athens.

Bangkok, Thailand

In November, floodwaters swept through Thailand, claiming hundreds of lives and inundating vast stretches of farmland. Many tourists largely cleared out of Bangkok, while others are simply staying away; airlines like Cathay Pacific and Singapore Airlines have been forced to cut some of their flights. It's possible to see the major sights—the city center remains unaffected—but many countries, including the U.S., had issued travel alerts. The Sydney Morning Herald quoted Piyasvasti Amranand, president of Thai Airways, as saying: "Passengers are down a lot. No one wants to come to Thailand [when] travel warnings [are issued]." However, by mid-December, the U.S. State Department canceled both of its alerts.
To Go or Not to Go? Go. Visit Phuket or the beaches, but still use caution when navigating Bangkok.

Perth, Australia

The coast is not clear for surfers and divers along Australia's western coast. Since August 2010, four people have been killed by great white sharks that are attracted to the area's seal colonies. One recent victim was George Thomas Wainwright, a 32-year-old Texas resident who was attacked by a shark while scuba diving near popular Rottnest Island. But consider the numbers in perspective: According to Surf Life Saving Australia, during the past five decades, only one person has been killed on average each year by a shark while 87 swimmers have drowned off Australian beaches. Still, Fisheries Minister Norman Moore says $2.05 million (Australian dollars) will go toward establishing a "Shark Response Unit," and another nearly $2 million will be devoted to more helicopters and beach patrols.
To Go or Not to Go?


As one of the world's poorest countries, Haiti has never been a major tourist spot—most foreign visitors only see it on a side trip from the neighboring Dominican Republic. A devastating 7-magnitude earthquake in January 2010 dealt the nation another blow, claiming more than 300,000 lives, demolishing Port-au-Prince, and costing the impoverished nation a staggering $8 billion to $14 billion. The U.S. Department of State issued a travel warning in August to strongly discourage U.S. citizens from entering the country on their own, urging citizens to consider carefully all travel to Haiti, citing crime, armed robbery, and kidnapping.
To Go or Not to Go?
Don't go.


Officially, Libya was declared liberated in October after Colonel Muammar Kaddafi was captured and killed. But the civil war and its aftermath have effectively destroyed the North African nation's tourism potential, at least for the time being. Amelia Stewart, director of Simoon Travel, says, "I'm hoping to go out on a [reconnaissance trip] to Libya in the New Year.... All my colleagues and friends are OK, although [they've] been displaced and are still trying to get back to some kind of normality given that most of them are based in Misrata. [Everyone is] keen to start working again, and it's purely politics and infrastructure that are stalling them at the moment. Tourist visas are not being issued at present, nor are there direct flights from the U.K., so I think it will be some time before tourism starts up again—the tourism industry is saying autumn 2012, although I think this is optimistic." A spokesperson for Temehu Tourism Services added, "Libyans are focused on getting back on their feet. Tour operators and all other sectors of the infrastructure should do all they could to help Libya in times of need. Work must go on." The U.S. Department of State has issued a travel warning against nonessential trips to this deeply afflicted region.
To Go or Not to Go?
Don't go.


Unemployment, rampant inflation, censorship, a heavy-handed government…these are trying times in Tunisia. Though President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali was ousted in January—after the high-profile death of street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi, who set himself on fire in protest—political and social unrest continue. But the U.S. Department of State has only issued a travel alert, not a travel warning, to American citizens. Though the tourist industry suffered in the first half of 2011, Tunisia's interim government urged hoteliers to maintain their usual price structure—and, according to Peter Kirk of tour operator Tunisia First, the industry is rebounding. Kirk says that Tunisia has always been a good value destination, and it certainly helps that for the past few years, Tunisia has been successfully marketed in the U.K. as an easy and economical getaway. Of the English contingent, Kirk says, "our level of business returned to normal starting in July." American travelers may not be far behind, as long as they don't mind paying full price for excursions and hotel rooms. According to Kirk, a full-day excursion to Tunis, Carthage, and Sidi Bou Said including lunch is around $55.
To Go or Not to Go?
Go, but be careful.



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A Road Trip Down Puerto Rico's La Ruta Panorámica

I'd already stopped to ask the old man for directions twice when he decided to take matters into his own hands. We were in the tiny Puerto Rican town of Castañer, where horses seemed to outnumber people, and I'd spent the past 15 minutes driving around in confused circles. Eventually the old señor took pity on me and climbed into his beat-up Toyota pickup to guide me. "Up there," he said in Spanish, smiling through missing teeth. And after that? He smiled again and angled his arm upward. Sube, sube, sube—climb, climb, climb. Such is life on La Ruta Panorámica—literally, "the scenic route." The 167-mile byway is Puerto Rico's answer to Route 66: a capillary-like network of back roads spanning the island. Often only a single lane wide, with white-knuckle curves and the kind of minimal signage that makes getting lost a near certainty, it's not for travelers in a hurry. But for anyone with the time and inclination to wander a bit, the Ruta offers an irresistible window into the island's agrarian past. This is the Puerto Rico you won't find at your classic coastal resort: wild horses trotting along the road, Cliffside barras selling $2 pork sandwiches and 93 cent cans of Medalla beer, nary a Starbucks in sight. To spend a few days puttering along the Ruta, winding from the coffee plantations of the central highlands to the sugarcane fields of the south, is to glimpse an older, quieter Puerto Rico—and all its beauty, frustrations, and charms. 23 INSPIRING PHOTOS FROM THE TRIP   Day 1: MAYAGÚEZ TO UTUADO 55 MILESIf you can fly into San Juan, you can access the Ruta at its eastern end, in nearby Maunabo, or you can fly into Rincón and begin, as I did, at its western terminus in Mayagúez. It was a bustling Tuesday, hot and full of traffic, but within 15 minutes I was high in the hills, where it was 10 degrees cooler and the only sound was the wind rustling trees. This was the start of the Cordillera Central. Topographically, Puerto Rico is shaped like a stegosaurus and the Cordillera is the plates running along its spine. The going is slow: Speed limits top out around 35 miles per hour, and the switchbacks require constant attention. You know how kids pretend to drive, yanking the steering wheel back and forth in a manner that bears little resemblance to actual driving? Well, that's the way you really do drive on the Ruta. But going slow is part of the point, because the scenery is too gorgeous to miss: gold-green valleys towering tabonuco trees, bamboo trunks the size of football goalposts, crushed pink flowers carpeting the road like fine powder. Every turn held something stunning, all the way to Utuado, six hours away, where I finally stopped for the night at the Casa Grande Mountain Retreat (Road 612, Barrio Caonillas, Utuado,, bungalows from $105)—20 bungalows on a 100-year-old coffee plantation, run by an ex-lawyer from Long Island who offers yoga classes along with delicious churrasco steaks. After a long day of driving, the sound of the coquí frogs was the only relaxation I needed as I opened my windows to the mountain air and drifted quickly off to sleep. Day 2: UTUADO TO JAYUYA 16 MILESPuerto Rico's tropical upland is also the heart of coffee country. Business has declined from its late-19th century heyday, but some small, family-run operations still survive along the Ruta. My first stop was in nearby Ciales at Museo del Café (42 Calle Palmer, Ciales, 787/871-3439, free espresso), whose proprietor, an avuncular man named Pedro Maldonado, has a trove of records dating back to 1850, when Puerto Rican coffee was the toast of Europe. As he held forth on the island's history, I perused his antique grinders, sipping a cup of the free espresso he pours for every visitor. After that, it was on to Hacienda San Pedro (Jayuya,, a small coffee farm in Jayuya where a worker named Ernesto gave me an impromptu tour "from bean to bag," trailed by a chocolate Lab named—what else?—Café. Now that I was sufficiently caffeinated, it was time to burn some energy. Enter Cerro de Punta—at 4,389 feet, the highest peak on the island, near Jayuya. It's a steep 30-minute climb to the top—or a five-minute drive, as I learned from the family who pulled up in a Subaru. Either way it's worth it, as verdant hills spread out to the sea under a deep blue sky. By the time I descended—did I mention it was steep?—I was ready for a dip in nearby Salta de Doña Juana, a 120-foot waterfall. There I found young locals picnicking on sandwiches and beer, and a father and his three teenage sons spear fishing in the crystal-clear pool below. Just a short drive down Carretera 143, near Jayuya, is Hacienda Pomarrosa (Carr. 511, Esq. Carr. 143, Barrio Anón, Sector Hogares Seguros, near Jayuya,, doubles from $125), a coffee farm and guesthouse run by German transplant Kurt Legner. We sat in the shade sipping cups of Arabica and snacking on homemade banana bread baked with fruit from the hacienda, interrupted only by the squawk of one of the farm's chickens. Afterward, Legner strolled through the rows of coffee plants—they'd only recently shed their springtime blossoms—pointing out the rose apples that give the hacienda its name and the pine trees he planted to remind him of his home in Düsseldorf. "I miss it sometimes," he said. "But here, it's much better." Day 3: JAYUYA TO SAN JUAN 154 MILESThe 95-mile section of the Ruta between Hacienda Pomarrosa and the coast is its most scenic stretch, slicing past lookouts where you can see both the Atlantic and Caribbean and skirting the mighty San Cristóbal Canyon. After the halfway point at Aibonito—which literally means "Oh! Beautiful!" (and lives up to it)—the trees open up and the mountain vistas burst into view. It's a brisk ramble through the misty Bosque Estatal de Carite cloud forest, then the Ruta drops like an elevator, the smell of salt air wafting on the breeze. This is sugarcane country—the humid lowlands where t he sugar industry flourished for centuries, until prices dropped in the 1940s. The ghosts of the past still live on in Yabucoa, where the towering husk of the Central Roig sugar mill stands like a monument. One of the last working mills in Puerto Rico, before it closed in 2000, Central has been overtaken by groves of wild banana and papaya trees. Squint a little, though, and you can see what it must have looked like, before the tourists and hotels. After Yabucoa, the Ruta comes to a sudden end near Maunabo. I took a sunset dip in the bay, then zoomed up the six-lane expressway toward San Juan, which, after the past three days, felt like traveling at warp speed. I sat outside a bar in Old San Juan and watched the revelers near the Plaza de Colón—crowds of young people, perhaps the grandchildren of those same old factory workers or hacendados, sipping café con leche or tumblers of rum. It felt like now I knew a little about where they came from.

6 Things You Need to Know About Getting Medical Care Abroad

If you wouldn't drink the water in some foreign countries, why would you consider going overseas for a risky procedure—with a doctor you've never even met?First of all, we're not talking backroom surgery here. More than 400 health-care organizations in 47 countries are accredited by the international division of the Joint Commission, the same nonprofit that accredits U.S. health-care facilities. In addition, many top American programs have aligned with international clinics: Harvard Medical School Dubai Center is a prime example. In general, it isn't all that hard to find a doctor overseas who follows U.S. standards, and if you'd prefer, who was trained at a medical school in the U.S. It still seems like a risk. So why do it?The savings can be staggering. Prices obviously vary widely by country and procedure, but according to the nonprofit Medical Tourism Association, or MTA (, you can save anywhere between 20 to 80 percent of the cost you would otherwise incur in the U.S. For instance, the price of LASIK surgery in America for both eyes averages $4,400 total. In Costa Rica, on the other hand, it's just $1,800; India, $500; and Malaysia, $477.* Will my insurance still pay for medical work done overseas?Elective procedures aren't typically covered anyway, so that doesn't change. But some corporations are starting to encourage their employees to go abroad for surgeries that are covered by insurance because it saves them money. Many large companies are actually self-insured except for the most catastrophic medical costs; they typically pay the first several thousand dollars of an employee's claim, with the insurance provider picking up the rest. It's obviously very much to the company's advantage if its employee gets his heart bypass done in, say, India, where it costs an average of $5,200, rather than in the U.S., where it runs $144,000. "The company sometimes pays for air travel for the patient and a companion," says David Boucher, the president of Companion Global Healthcare (, which is a subsidiary of BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina and works with companies and individuals to set up medical-tourism trips. "Some will share the savings of the procedure with the patient, too." Case in point: Boucher says that the Blue Lake Casino in California actually gives its employees 10 percent of the savings as an incentive to travel abroad for treatment. So if an employee needs a $50,000 hip replacement, for example, then by going to Thailand, where the cost is only $7,879, he would not only have his deductible fee waived, but he'd also get to pocket $4,212—or 10 percent of the $42,121 saved. But for surgeries that aren't covered by insurance, the savings all belong to the patient, right?Yes, and that's why cosmetic, dental, bariatric (obesity), and orthopedic surgeries are the most commonly performed overseas, according to Renée-Marie Stephano, president of the MTA. People are traveling for pricey checkup procedures, too: In Mexico, for instance, a colonoscopy not covered by insurance would cost just $800, versus $3,080 in the U.S. There's also a fringe benefit to overseas health care: the trip itself. Say that you need dental implants on four teeth. If you stay home to get them, the approximate cost is $2,800 per tooth, and you'll likely spend your two-day recovery slumped on the couch watching TV. In Costa Rica-one of the most popular overseas destinations for dental work-the implants cost just $900 per tooth. You can fly to San José, have the procedure, rest up in a hotel, and then head off on a weeklong cruise to spot monkeys and see the jungle. Even after the cost of a cruise (from $2,399 for seven days,, the flight (about $500), three nights' stay in a hotel in San José (about $400 altogether), and the surgery ($3,600)-a total cost of $6,899-that still beats paying $11,200 for the procedure in the U.S. and hanging in your living room watching reruns. How do you plan a trip like this? Can you do it on your own, or are there tours for this kind of "vacation," too? Are you going to call your travel agent and say, "Book me a nose job"? Not likely. But if you are an experienced traveler and know exactly where you want to go, DIY is an option. "Some hospitals have international-patient coordinators," Stephano says. "You can call the facility, get options, and organize the trip on your own." That said, if there was ever a time to enlist the help of a professional, arranging for surgery in a foreign country is definitely it. The MTA website lists 33 medical-travel facilitators—also known as brokers, agents, or concierges—based in the U.S. and abroad who specialize in setting up medical trips overseas. They can help you pick the best place to go for your procedure, contact the doctor and hospital, get a price proposal, transfer your medical records, arrange for visas, even set up transportation, hotels, and an escort, if you need them. Their expertise will cost you—Companion Global Healthcare, for example, charges a flat fee of $700—but the peace of mind may be worth it. Whether you go on your own or use a facilitator, it's particularly important to check the credentials of the surgeon yourself: Ask about her record with the type of surgery you're considering; check her ability to explain things in English (on a phone call or via Skype); and get a clear understanding of the services, risks, and expectations. It's also a good idea to contact some of her former patients for testimonials and—in the case of cosmetic surgery—before and after photos. What about recovery and follow-up care? Well, you won't be able to go river rafting after getting a knee replacement, and your doctor will likely forbid both sun exposure and alcohol after cosmetic procedures. But that doesn't mean you can't relax at a resort or on a cruise ship. The length of your flight is something else to consider. Surgery increases the risk of blood clots, which can be dangerous on flights over four hours long. The American Society of Plastic Surgeons advises people to wait at least seven days after surgery before flying. It's particularly important to see your doctor at home before you get on the plane, both to make sure you're fit for the trip and to inform him that you're undergoing treatment. You don't want to be in a situation where you arrive home and have to confess: "Guess what, Doc?!"   SEE MORE POPULAR CONTENT: World's Prettiest Castle Towns Top Budget Travel Destinations for 2012 America's Best Food Regions 5 European Countries Where Prices Have Decreased the Most Weirdest Hotels of All-Time

6 Graceful Strategies for Dealing With an Annoying Seatmate

You've got a fresh copy of the new John Grisham novel, an issue of Budget Travel, and a plum spot—exit row, aisle seat—for your six-hour flight to California. Best of all, you've just shut off your cell phone and are officially out of reach. But before you can even switch on your overhead light and take a cursory glance through the SkyMall catalog, you hear the dreaded question: "So do you live in San Francisco? Or just visiting?"For many travelers, a chatty-Cathy seatmate is the kiss of death. So what are some subtle, effective ways to fend off conversation when you want to commute in peace? We asked body-language expert Joe Navarro—former FBI agent and author of Louder Than Words and What Every Body Is Saying—for some surefire tips. 1. Avoid Eye Contact From the Start Looking someone in the eye is a great way to foster communication, bonding—even flirting. And that's exactly why you should steer clear of it if you want to be left alone. "As soon as you make eye contact, it's like a license to make conversation," Navarro says. But, he continues, "I do a lot of traveling, and I'll tell you, there are a lot of people who just don't get it."Why is it so hard for someone to take a hint? "People seek the comfort and company of others when they're anxious," explains Maureen Erber, a social psychology professor at Northeastern Illinois University. "So one reason people may insist upon connecting with their seatmates, in spite of signals to the contrary, may be anxiety." Plus, Navarro adds, "There are those who talk just because it's the social thing to do." 2. Turn Slightly Away From the Person "I have a saying about this: 'Belly away, don't want you to stay,'" Navarro says. "It's actually called ventral (versus dorsal) denial. You rotate so [your seatmate] sees more of your shoulder."Practically turning your back on someone should work with most seatmates, Navarro notes, since it's a trick that's elementary: "Children at a very young age learn to turn their belly away when they don't want to engage." 3. Have an Object That You're Focusing on Make it clear that your attentions are elsewhere, Navarro suggests—whether it's a book or a smartphone or listening to music on your headphones. "Or do some writing," he says. Still, he's quick to warn, "You'll still have people who will try to engage.""While we think that a behavior such as reading a book clearly sends a sign to others, it might not be immediately perceived that way," notes Greg Willard, a social psychologist and research associate at Harvard University's department of psychology. It's helpful in these situations, he says, to try to understand that the person is most likely not being rude—just a bit thickheaded. 4. Close Your Eyes and Lean Back If all other nonverbal cues are failing, Navarro says, "Just close your eyes and lean back, as if you're trying to get some rest." And, hey, maybe you'll actually drift off while you're at it. The bottom line with Navarro's suggestions, he says, is this: Are your nonverbal cues being read in the way you want them to be?"People do not always notice the things that we think they've noticed," Willard points out. 5. Answer a "Hello" With a Polite Smile Only You can respond to a direct greeting, Navarro says, but not with a "hello" or in any other verbal way. In fact, he advises, you shouldn't even nod, which is an invitation to engage. Just flash a polite (not toothy) grin, and then immediately get back to something—anything—that keeps your attention away from the seatmate.However, Willard adds, "When it comes to the distinction between rejection and ostracism (being ignored completely), research finds that ostracism can hurt in even more profound ways." To really make yourself understood, he suggests, "it is best to [tell someone directly] if you do not want to talk." 6. Give Curt Answers If your previous signals fail and your seatmate insists on talking, just be sure to give very curt, short answers. Navarro says, "That indicates: 'I don't want to get involved in conversation.'""People generally do not deal well with ambiguity," Willard continues, so instead, be direct and explain that you need to stop talking because, for example, you have to get some reading done. Usually, Willard says, "Any reason whatsoever will do." What If You WANT to Engage in Conversation? For every person who doesn't want to chat up a fellow flier, there is someone who does. "Once I sat next to an archaeologist, and we had the most fascinating conversation," gushed one Budget Travel reader. Another said: "It's my favorite part of traveling. We share this world, why not enjoy it together?" Rather than dive right in—for the reasons we've mentioned above—it's best to give signals that you are open to communicating and then look for positive responses, Navarro suggests."The best way to engage is to say "hello" and arch your eyebrows or flash your eyes, which communicates, subconsciously, that you are genuinely interested, or that you care," he says. "Even babies recognize this." Tilting your head to the side, he adds, also conveys your interest. And then? Simply follow up with the surefire, "So do you live in San Francisco? Or just visiting?"

Top Travel News of 2011

For travelers, 2011 was the year of the shake-up. Old certainties were challenged; former ways of doing things, rethought. Travelers saw Southwest merge with AirTran. Deal-a-day site Groupon gave online travel agencies their first serious competition in ages. The year's other online travel sensation, Airbnb—a site that offers lodging in people's homes—dealt with news that one renter had trashed and robbed a site member's home, renewing questions about the kindness of strangers. Looking abroad, the revolts in North Africa and the Middle East shifted travel patterns—most dramatically in Cairo, where famous museum halls echoed emptily for months. Cruise lines suspended stops at a couple of Mexican ports, prompting local officials to introduce measures to better protect passengers. Meanwhile, some international travelers took advantage of opportunities to fly the new, high-tech Dreamliner 787 from Boeing. Back at home, the government tested new ideas in airport security and permitted Americans to visit Cuba as part of licensed educational tour groups. Finally, officials opened Manhattan's oft-debated memorial to the victims of the September 11 terrorist attacks. Here, a chance to cap off 2011 and learn (or remember, in some cases) the biggest stories of the year that affect how we travel and see the world now—and in years to come. Compare this news to the events that rocked the travel world in 2010. Flying Started to Get More Comfortable Anyone who swears that it's just about the journey, and not the destination, has never logged hours crammed into an economy-class seat on an airplane that feels as dry as the Sahara. But a new era in comfier cabins dawned in 2011, thanks to the debut of a high-tech aircraft design. In October, Boeing's latest jumbo jet, the 787 Dreamliner, took its inaugural flight. (See Budget Travel's post "The 787 Dreamliner Debuts This Month.") The 787's cabins maintain higher humidity levels than traditional ones, sparing passengers from dry eyes and mouths. The 787s also pressurize their cabins to a more earth-like level than older planes, avoiding the altitude sickness some fliers feel in the air. They're quieter machines, too, and sound like you're riding in a hybrid car instead of a gas-powered one. The first airlines to use the aircraft are in Asia; United will bring the plane into U.S. service next year. Boeing's aerospace rival Airbus plans to launch similarly designed planes, dubbed the A350 series, within a year or two. It looks like high-tech cabins will soon be commonplace. Sure, no matter what a plane is made of, flights remain nasty, brutish, and not short enough. But we applaud every aircraft improvement travelers can get. Cruise Lines Become Wary of Mexico Mention Mexico, and some Americans think of violence linked to a government crackdown on drug trafficking and turf battles between various narcos. Case in point: In Mazatlán, two visitors were shot in the parking lot of a hotel frequented by foreign tourists, prompting cruise lines to suspend port calls. In the first half of 2011, the number of cruise-ship passengers to Mexico dropped from about 500,000 to 58,000. Puerto Vallarta faced similar security concerns after incidents there. (See Budget Travel's post "Puerto Vallarta Says It's Safe, Despite Princess Canceling Calls.") Yet nearly all of the violence has taken place far from cruise ports. Cancún, for instance, has remained safe, except for an attack in August on a bar in an outlying residential area. At Mazatlán, officials have put into place additional security measures, too, such as beefed-up police patrols and strict supervision of tour buses as passengers board them for day excursions. So expect more cruise lines to return to full itineraries soon. Princess Cruises Lines, for one, will begin calling on Mazatlán and Puerto Vallarta again in 2012. The Arab Spring Causes Unrest in Popular Tourist Destinations Nothing prepared us for what happened across the Arab world this year, with uprisings toppling repressive regimes in Tunisia, Yemen, and Libya and protests continuing in Bahrain. But it was the revolution in Egypt that set off the biggest political shockwaves—and prompted the largest travel industry shake-up, too. Egypt is thought to have drawn only 10 million international visitors in 2011, down from 14.8 million a year earlier. Experts note that not a single tourist has suffered a scratch because of the turmoil to date. But the ongoing political uncertainty concerns many, and understandably so. Here's hoping that the country's commitment to keeping travelers safe remains solid during Egypt's continuing march to democracy. 9/11 Memorial Opens in NYC No one in America—or, perhaps, the world—was left untouched by the events of September 11, 2001, so it’s understandable that erecting a memorial to such a monumental event would be difficult. How does one pay tribute to each and every person affected by that tragedy? (See Budget Travel’s post "A Sneak Peek at the 9/11 Memorial Site.") Ten years to the day after the 9/11 attacks, the United States finally opened its much-debated commemorative site (, which consists of a pair of recessed pools in the footprints of the Twin Towers. Around the pools' edges, bronze plates bear the names of all 2,983 victims in New York, Washington, D.C., and Somerset County, Pa. The memorial has received much praise, instantly becoming a must-see memorial of equal power as those along Washington, D.C.'s National Mall. (See "15 Places Your Kids Should See Before 15.") Its next-door neighbor the 9/11 Museum is set to open next year. Southwest Stopped Being a Budget Carrier Formerly nicknamed The Love Airline, Southwest Airlines was once a scrappy discounter, bedeviling its larger rivals. Yet this year, it swallowed up AirTran, one of the last low-cost competitors. Now tickets booked on Southwest a couple of weeks in advance often seem little different from fares touted by United, Delta, and other giants. (See Budget Travel's post "Is the Era of Cheap Airfare Ending?") Salting the wound for budget-minded travelers, Southwest also revamped its loyalty program in March, requiring the typical vacationer to fly 10 round trips—up from a former eight—to earn a free ticket. (See our article "Southwest Waters Down Its Rapid Rewards Program.") To be fair, Southwest is still a traveler's best friend when it comes to keeping fees to a minimum, such as with its free checked-bags program. It's also great at offering (comparatively) reasonable fares for tickets booked at the eleventh hour. That said, while Southwest's stock symbol is LUV, fewer budget-conscious travelers are feeling the love from it these days. Airlines Made Tracking Lost Luggage a Priority Know how FedEx and other shipping services allow you to track the location of your package in real-time online? This year, Air France and Delta proved that airlines could provide passengers with similar high-tech tracking for similar precious cargo: luggage. Since February, Air France has invited fliers to sign up for its free Connect service during booking to receive updates via email or text message about changes to their trip, including alerts whenever a bag has gone missing. Earlier in the year, Delta created a page on its website where passengers can punch in the code on their bag tag to learn the status of their luggage. The airline also added this tool to its apps for iPhone and Android. Neither Delta nor Air France are providing quite the same level of detail as FedEx-style services do about shipments, but every bit of progress helps. In the meantime, given how airlines keep piling on the fees for checking luggage, you may want to hand your bag over to FedEx for domestic delivery in the first place and skip the uncertainty. (See Budget Travel’s post "How to Ship Your bag, From $70 Each Way.") Deal-a-Day Sites Took the World by Storm In July, 2011's biggest shopping phenom—the daily-deal site Groupon—teamed up with the largest online travel agency, Expedia, to create Groupon Getaways, a site devoted to e-coupons for travel. Discounts typically range from 30 to 80 percent off list prices. A recent example is a weeklong stay at one of hundreds of vacation rentals for $399 (valid for travel within the next year). The competition among daily-deal sites keeps growing, though, with companies like TripAlertz jockeying for dollars, too. At the same time, the discounts tend to be unprofitable for the companies providing them, and Groupon itself has just started turning a profit. At year-end, some critics wondered if the daily-deal sites might themselves expire soon. That's all the more reason for travelers to nab bargains while the going's good. ¡¡Bienvenidos a Cuba!! The headline of a Budget Travel blog post from July says it all: "We Can Now Travel to Cuba!" But there's a catch: You still can't hop a plane to Havana all by yourself and wander freely along the concrete seashore, puffing on Sancho Panzas–brand cigars. No, unlike Canadians, Europeans, and other nationalities, los yanquis have to travel as part of an educational tour group run by a handful of licensed companies—Insight Cuba, for example. Government rules require that the tours be packed with a "full-time schedule of educational exchange activities," such as meeting with local art gallery owners or children in orphanages. To our ears, these tours sound interesting. So we're not surprised that tour demand is strong. Here’s hoping the U.S. government licenses more companies to meet that demand soon. The TSA Tests "Chat Downs" In August, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) began testing a new type of inspection technique at Boston's Logan Airport: "behavioral profiling." Specially trained officers quiz passengers about their journey. If anything seems suspicious, a passenger may be subjected to additional screening. In October, this trial expanded to Detroit. (See Budget Travel's article "4 Common Airport Security Questions—Answered!") In the same month, the TSA invited a select group of fliers to volunteer information about themselves—such as their home addresses and phone numbers—in advance of their trips, in exchange for a chance to zip through speedier screening lanes, which wouldn't require them to remove their shoes or jackets. This experiment is currently still taking place in Atlanta, Dallas, Detroit, and Miami and includes selected travelers in American and Delta airlines' frequent-flier programs. Critics of both experiments remain concerned that the new wave of security may squash some people's privacy rights without boosting safety. The "Airbnb Robbery" Highlighted the Risks of Peer-to-Peer Rentals Travel-site sensation Airbnb broke new records this year, announcing that it had helped travelers rent places to stay (homes, rooms within homes, even boats) from ordinary homeowners more than 1 million times. Quite the achievement. But then the company raced into the public-relations equivalent of a 12-car pileup, when a San Francisco homeowner reported that her place had been trashed by an Airbnb renter. The company responded by rolling out an automatic $50,000 property guarantee to all hosts. It also introduced more thorough vetting of its site members, such as allowing hosts to screen out potential guests whose phone numbers haven't been verified, among other safety checks. (See "How Is Airbnb Dealing With the Robbery That Rocked the Vacation Rental World?") Renting from ordinary persons, rather than from companies, is part of a trend called peer-to-peer travel. The risks of such travel—for both renter and rentee—aren't confined to any one website, though. When it comes to free or cheap lodging, users of Crashpadder, Roomorama, Couchsurfing, and other sites are all taking small gambles. Yet given that there's been only one sensational incident reported during a time with more than a million happy rentals and swaps, the odds of enjoying a good experience remain solid. Believing in the essential goodness of humanity remains a winning proposition to travel by.   SEE MORE POPULAR CONTENT: World's Prettiest Castle Towns Top Budget Travel Destinations for 2012 10 Most Interesting Beaches 4 Most Common Reasons Airlines Lose Luggage World's Best Affordable Hotels Weirdest Hotels on the Planet