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Greece was idyllic -- flying there not so much. Photo by Clark Norton

Greece was idyllic — flying there not so much. Photo by Clark Norton

I just returned from an idyllic two-week stay with three generations of my family in Greece, which I’ll be writing about at length in coming days.

What was not so idyllic were the flights to get there and back.

Torturous flights: hardly a news flash. Most flyers these days just grit their teeth and put up as best they can with the crowding; delays; security hassles; extra fees for checked baggage, “premium” seats, food, etc.; lost luggage; and often chaotic airport scenes.

After all, flying does (usually ) get us to where we want to go faster than other forms of transportation. But that doesn’t make it a pleasant experience.

Some Things to Try

Since I fly quite often, I try to alleviate the pain as much as possible:

I check-in online within 24 hours of… Continue reading

You can avoid long security lines. Photo from TSA.

You can avoid long security lines. Photo from TSA.

As airport security lines snaked around airports like giant boa constrictors threatening to strangle passengers trying to reach their gates this spring — with waits of an hour or more in some locations, and thousands of flights missed — my wife, Catharine, and I were generally able to waltz through security in under five minutes.

In most cases, we didn’t have to take off our shoes, belts, or light jackets, and sometimes I didn’t have to remove my laptop from my briefcase. We also didn’t have to go through those infernal body scanners that require you to remove even non-metal objects from your pockets; instead, we walked through simple metal detectors.

No, we’re not airline employees, or VIPs, or anything other than ordinary travelers. We weren’t flying first class or boasting elite status with the airlines. None of our relatives… Continue reading

Security lines at LAX (Los Angeles International) stretch almost to Anaheim. Photo by Tara Lee Tarkington on twitter.

Security lines at LAX (Los Angeles International) stretch almost to Anaheim. Photo by Tara Lee Tarkington on twitter.

With airport security lines sometimes crawling to an hour’s wait or longer, flying this summer threatens to become even more of a nightmare.

Some air travelers stuck in the seemingly interminable lines have missed their flights, while others have had to scramble to make theirs, adding to the existing stress of overcrowded planes, cramped seating, and scant legroom for most passengers.

While the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is currently beefing up its numbers — especially in bomb-sniffing dogs — the TSA remains understaffed and bags and people still have to be screened.

There’s at least one obvious fix. TSA Pre-Check — which allows pre-screened travelers to pass through separate, faster lines and less intrusive X-ray machines without having to remove their shoes, belts, light jackets and (sometimes) their laptops… Continue reading

Dear Readers, 

While I’m traveling in Antarctica for a few weeks I’ll be reprising some of my most popular posts from the past three years. This post — now updated — originally ran in June 2013. 

Spirit interior cabin -- photo by Spirit Airlines

Spirit interior cabin — photo by Spirit Airlines

Cut-rate Spirit Airlines has developed an interesting marketing approach. They’ve traded in customer service and comforts for ultra-low fares, and are charging extra for everything from rolling carry-on bags ($35-$55) to water ($3 a bottle), and printing a boarding pass at the airport ($10). Can pay toilets be far behind?

Spirit hypes what it calls its “bare fare: No’free’ bag. No ‘free’ drink. A ticket with us gets you and a personal item from A to B.”

For “personal item,” think average purse size or a small backpack. Measurements are stingy — 16” x 14” x 12” — and if you don’t pay… Continue reading

Tuvalu will become a center for Climate Change Tourism. Photo from Timeless Tuvalu

Tuvalu will become a center for Climate Change Tourism. Photo from Timeless Tuvalu

Peering into my crystal ball for 2016 — which due to budgetary concerns is more like fiberglass this year — I foresee the following top ten developments in the ever-changing, sometimes wacky world of travel:

Try to pare this down to wallet size, please.

Try to pare this down to wallet size, please.

  • A 747 will be diverted from Omaha to New Orleans overnight because passengers in seats A and B get into a spat over who can claim the middle armrest. Oddly, none of the hundreds of passengers aboard complain as they gobble down their jambalaya and beignets.
  • Spurred by the success of a tour agency named “Toodle-oo Tuvalu” and a boutique hotel called “Sinking Along With the Breeze,” Climate Change Tourism will be huge, in which ghoulish travelers will journey to low-lying Pacific atolls soon to be inundated… Continue reading
Not a good start to a trip. Photo by Gideon on flickr.

Not a good start to a trip. Photo by Gideon on flickr.

Since I’m in the middle of packing for a trip, it seemed a good time to continue my series on packing tips — this time for men.

My first tip is to see if you can finagle your wife/spouse/significant other/good friend of the tidier persuasion to organize your packing for you. (Ha ha, just kidding…sort of.)

If you’re the tidier one in your relationship, great. But you still may overpack, just in a more tidy way than, say, I do.

By trial and error — mostly error — I’ve learned that the key to packing smart is packing light, which usually saves time, money, space, headaches and backaches. Think George Clooney in the film “Up In the Air.” Somehow he managed to get everything into a small carry-on whenever he flew and still turn up looking spiffy.… Continue reading

Packing too much? You can cut down fairly easily.

Packing too much? You can cut down fairly easily.

In a recent post, I admitted to having a packing problem — namely overpacking — so that I have to lug a large suitcase on many plane or train trips rather than a lighter, much handier carry-on-size bag (21 or 22 inches long). It spurred me to write “Seven Reasons for Packing Light,” mostly learned the hard way.

But I like to think that after my last trip — a week-long European cruise in February — that I’ve learned my lesson. I’d convinced myself there were extenuating circumstances: it was winter, so I needed heavier clothes; it was a cruise, so I would only need to unpack once; and it was a business trip (a story assignment), so I needed dress clothes and shoes for the ship’s semi-formal nights.

And, of course, my large bag had wheels, as does virtually every… Continue reading

Is this you at packing time? Photo from graylinealaska.com

Is this you at packing time? Photo from graylinealaska.com

I admit that I have a packing problem. I tend to overpack, forcing me from bringing only a light carry-on size suitcase to lugging a large, heavy one I have to check on a plane or haul on and off a train.

Shoes are the main culprit. If I’m going on a trek or major hiking trip, I have to pack heavy hiking boots. If I’m going anywhere near a beach or even to a warm-weather destination, I need sandals. Then there are the comfortable urban walking shoes, which I can wear on the plane. But all bets are off if I have to pack dress shoes for some occasion as well.

I also have a tendency to want to bring a shirt or two for every possible type of weather. And so on. Along with all my electronics and gear… Continue reading

Seats don't recline on Spirit Airlines -- a possible solution? Photo by Spirit Airlines

Seats don’t recline on Spirit Airlines — a possible solution? Photo by Spirit Airlines

You’ve probably heard about the recent spate of airline seat reclining wars.

One passenger wants to recline his or her seat. The passenger sitting behind the first passenger doesn’t like the intrusion into his or her space — or possibly getting hit in the knees, head, or having a beverage spilled all over him or herself, or being unable to comfortably work on a laptop.

Tempers flare, and heated words are exchanged. Various rights are invoked — “my right” to recline versus (in the case of the other passenger) “my right” to have what little space the airline allots me to myself, without having your head practically lying in my lap.

Sometimes gadgets are employed. In one recent case, a “knee defender” — which prevents the person in front from being able to recline —… Continue reading

You could avoid this next time you fly.

You could avoid this next time you fly.

If you were stuck in a long line at airport security in the New Orleans airport last week at 6 a.m., which looked to be a half hour wait at least (perhaps while your flight was on the verge of boarding), you may have noticed a few people waltzing ahead of you in a special line that had virtually no one else in it.

When they reached the security area, they didn’t have to take off their shoes, their belts, their jackets or remove their laptops or their plastic bags with small bottles of liquids in them from their carry-ons.

And they weren’t airline captains or crew members.

Rather, they were my wife and me and a few others deemed “Known Travelers” who gained entrance through the “TSA Pre-Check (Pre√)” line.

If you aren’t aware of this program, and you fly more… Continue reading

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According to government and private surveys:

  • Leading-edge baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1955) and seniors account for four out of every five dollars spent on luxury travel today.
  • Roughly half the consumer spending money in the U.S.--more than $2 trillion--is in the hands of leading-edge baby boomers and seniors.
  • Baby boomers (born 1946-1964) travel more than any other age group.
  • When asked what they would most like to spend their money on, baby boomers answered “travel” more than any other category, including improving their health or finances.

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