July 2017 Travel Column

Top 5 “Must See” Trips in the U.S.

If you could take a trip anywhere in the United States, where would you go?

Based on a recent survey by Travel Leaders Group, the responses from nearly 2,900 Americans were literally all over the map. The top destination was Hawaii, followed by California, Alaska, Florida and New York.

Its distance from the continental United States, along with its tropical climate, makes Hawaii a dream vacation spot for many travelers. The Aloha State is a paradise for lovers of the outdoors, from the vibrant resorts of Oahu’s Wakiki Beach to the hiking trails in Maui’s Haleakala National Park. From Oct. 20 to Nov. 5, the Hawaii Food & Wine Festival highlights the state’s cuisine with wine tastings, cooking demonstrations and fine dining.

California has something for everyone, from the movie magic of Los Angeles to the wineries of Napa to colorful San Francisco. From Aug. 11-13, the Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival takes place in Golden Gate Park, a celebration of music, food, wine, beer, art and comedy. One of the state’s more unusual events is the Pageant of the Masters, from July 7 to Aug. 31 in Southern California’s Laguna Beach. It’s a 90-minute performance in which famous works of art are brought to life onstage.

Alaska’s mountains and glaciers make the 49th state unlike any other. Cruise season runs from May through September, and it’s a great way to take in all of that breathtaking scenery, especially when combined with shore excursions to experience the beauty of places like Denali National Park and follow the trail of the 19th-century Klondike Gold Rush. Holland America Line is celebrating 70 years of Alaska cruises with a fleet of seven ships this season, departing from Seattle and Vancouver.

Florida’s beaches and sunny climate are big draws, along with its theme parks. This year, Disney World has unveiled “Pandora – World of Avatar.” Based on the popular movie, it includes a boat ride into the rainforest and a flight simulator. For a different side of the Sunshine State, consider taking a trip to historic St. Augustine, on the northeast coast, with its Spanish colonial architecture and wildlife sanctuary. Founded in 1565, it lays claim to being the oldest continuously occupied European settlement in the continental United States.

Of course to most travelers, New York means the Big Apple. Whenever you plan a trip to New York City, you’re guaranteed an array of options for world-class dining and entertainment. This year marks the 25th anniversary of New York Restaurant Week, held twice a year in winter and summer. It next runs from July 24 to Aug. 18, offering deals on three-course lunches and dinners at 300 restaurants. Classical music buffs can take in the Mostly Mozart Festival, July 25 to Aug. 20 at Lincoln Center. And the Museum of Modern Art is honoring architect Frank Lloyd Wright with an exhibit on his 150th birthday.

For help planning a trip to any of these spots, or to your dream vacation destination, contact your travel agent.


Airport Security and Travelers’ Satisfaction

Getting through airport security can add stress for some passengers worried about making their flight, but the results of a new survey point to growing satisfaction and less frustration on the part of travelers.

Nearly 68 percent of those polled by Travel Leaders Group indicated that they were satisfied with airport security today, an increase of 4 percent over 2016. The survey included responses from 2,854 American consumers. Only 14.9 percent said that they were unsatisfied with security, compared with 17 percent in 2016.

At the same time, there was a significant drop in the percentage of respondents who said they were frustrated with the amount of time it takes to get through security. Only 4.7 percent expressed frustration, compared with 13.9 percent in last year’s survey.

Part of the reason for the growing satisfaction may be that more fliers are taking advantage of the Transportation Security Administration’s Trusted Traveler Programs, which can speed up the security checks by allowing passengers to use expedited lanes.

When asked about their participation in these programs, nearly 22 percent of respondents indicated that they participate in Global Entry, an increase from 18.6 percent in 2016. And 39.3 percent said that they participate in TSA PreCheck, compared with 32.4 percent last year.

The TSA recommends Global Entry for passengers arriving from international destinations. The program allows them to use a kiosk to clear immigration and customs. TSA PreCheck is designed for domestic air travel. It saves passengers time and stress as they move through security, since it eliminates the need to remove shoes, laptops, liquids, belts and light jackets. (Global Entry also gives passengers access to TSA PreCheck security lanes at U.S. airports.)

Even if they don’t use them, travelers reported that those programs have helped reduce the time it takes to get through security. Nearly 35 percent of those surveyed said that expedited screening has reduced the wait times for passengers to clear regular airport screening, an increase of 10.6 percent over last year. And 24.5 percent said that they use expedited screening at the airport all the time, compared with 20.3 percent in 2016.

The need to remove their shoes at the security check continues to be a source of frustration for travelers. When asked which TSA security measure they would most like to eliminate, the top responses were removing shoes, 27.3 percent; none, do not eliminate any security measures, 20.8 percent; extensive pat-down, 19.7 percent; limiting liquids in carry-on baggage, 19.2 percent; and laptop removal, 6 percent. Shoe removal has been the top response four years in a row.

Travel Leaders works closely with the Department of Homeland Security, giving travel agents the knowledge they need to stay current on airport security. That expertise is used to assist clients in many ways as they plan their trip, from offering suggestions on packing to advice on how early to arrive at the airport before their flight.

For help planning a trip anywhere across the country or around the world, contact your travel agent.


Total Solar Eclipse 2017: When, Where and How to See It

If you’re in the right place at the right time on Aug. 21, you can catch a glimpse of one of nature’s most stunning sights, a total solar eclipse. But lots of people have the same idea, so the sooner you make your travel plans the better.

A total eclipse occurs when the moon completely covers the sun, with the sun’s outer atmosphere, the corona, becoming visible. In the United States, the best view will take place over a swath about 70 miles wide, passing through parts of Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina. Observers outside this path will still see a partial solar eclipse. Depending on where you are, at most the total eclipse will last about 2 minutes and 40 seconds. Remember to protect your eyes with special viewing glasses during partial phases of the eclipse. (Go to eclipse2017.nasa.gov for more information.)

There are many options for travelers to see the eclipse while spending time in some of the country’s most historic and beautiful spots.

Oregon has a number of events during the weekend, from the Willamette Country Music Festival, Aug. 17-20, to the Redmond Brewfest, Aug. 18-19. On eclipse day, some of the best viewing will be from the steps of the state capitol in Salem at about 10:15 a.m. Or, explore some of the area’s wineries, many of which have brunch and other special programs planned for Aug. 21.

The path of the eclipse goes through Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park, making the Jackson Hole area an ideal and beautiful spot. Take the chairlift up to Snow King Mountain for an unforgettable view. Afterward, enjoy the town of Jackson with its restaurants, bars and shops. Outdoor enthusiasts can go hiking, horseback riding and rafting. Or, just enjoy the magnificent scenery and abundant wildlife.

St. Joseph, Missouri, one of the larger cities in the path of the eclipse, and a place with links to the Pony Express, is planning a weekend of events. The city’s Wyeth-Tootle Mansion, home to a 19th-century British astronomer, the Albrecht-Kemper Museum of Art and Pony Express National Museum all have special events scheduled. The Trails West Festival takes place Aug. 18-21, with music, food and arts and crafts. The eclipse starts there at 1:06 p.m.

The tiny North Carolina village of Cashiers, located on a plateau in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains, is holding an Eclipse Fest Aug. 21 on the Village Green, a 12-½ acre park with walking paths, gardens, sculptures and picnic spots. The surrounding area, with its forests, lakes, rivers and waterfalls, is a great place to explore nature.

Columbia, South Carolina, is holding its Eclipse Weekend, Aug. 18-21. Dozens of events are planned, from museum exhibits to a laser-light show, a concert of space-themed works by the South Carolina Philharmonic, a viewing party, paddling on the Saluda River during the eclipse, and a 5K run. Visitors can see the eclipse at 2:41 p.m.

For help planning a trip to see the total solar eclipse, contact your travel agent.


Staying Connected on Vacation

While a vacation offers a chance to unwind and get away from the daily routine, many travelers want to stay online when they’re away from home. Some do so out of necessity, others simply out of preference.

A study by Travel Leaders Group finds that about 94 percent of nearly 2,900 U.S. consumers polled have taken or will take at least one trip for leisure this year. But 62 percent of those travelers make it a point to check work emails and/or voicemail messages while they’re on vacation. And staying connected is increasingly a necessity for travelers. Only 37.7 percent said that they never check in with work, compared with 51.1 percent in 2014.

Travelers may have trouble getting online in some more remote wilderness or mountainous areas. For example, the National Park Service advises visitors to Yellowstone that Wi-Fi service is limited and may become overwhelmed in the summer by the number of users.

But there are plenty of places across the United States and around the world where you can stay connected, whether you need to check in with work, check on a family member or simply wish to share photos and experiences with friends and family.

For example, cruise lines have been working to upgrade their Internet capability. Packages and costs vary, but your travel agent can offer advice on getting the best one for your needs. Just remember that the connection speed may not always be as fast at sea as it is on land.

Royal Caribbean boasts that its Wi-Fi service, called VOOM, is the fastest Internet at sea, thanks to satellite technology that targets each specific ship, rather than trying to cover a wide expanse of ocean. Passengers can use smartphones, tablets and laptops to text and email, as well as share photos on Facebook and Instagram, stream music and movies and video chat via FaceTime or Skype. Norwegian Cruise Line has 24-hour Internet cafes, or passengers can use their own laptops. Crystal Cruises offers an hour of complimentary Internet access per person per day for deluxe stateroom and penthouse passengers on the Symphony and Serenity.

City centers usually offer good cell phone reception with few “dead” spots, and are a great choice for travelers who need to get online easily. They also tend to be more “wired” for Wi-Fi. Just be sure to look into an international data plan from your cell phone provider if you’ll be traveling abroad.

Almost every hotel, whether it’s in a city or resort area, will provide Wi-Fi. Some chains offer free access for guests who belong to their rewards clubs, or they may offer it for specific brands within the chain. Hyatt hotels and resorts worldwide provide free Wi-Fi to all guests on an unlimited number of devices. Fairmont Hotels are even compatible with Virtual Private Networks, which offer users a secure, encrypted connection. Even most airports offer Wi-Fi connections, so you can stay connected while waiting for takeoff.

If staying connected while on vacation is a necessity, your travel agent can recommend the accommodations that will work best for you.


Business Travel: Who’s Mixing Bleisure for Pleasure

Anyone who’s ever traveled for business can tell you that it’s nothing like traveling for pleasure. You may be in an exciting place, perhaps for the first time, but there’s no time for sightseeing. Your days, and often nights, are filled with work obligations.

So it’s not surprising that many business travelers tack on some extra days at the end of their work trip in order to do some sightseeing. Indeed, these business travelers realize that giving themselves a chance to relax and unwind is more than a perk; it can be beneficial to the bottom line.

A new report from the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) also finds support for bleisure travel – trips that mix business and leisure. In the GBTA survey, 37 percent of travelers from North America report that they’ve extended a business trip for leisure in the past year. Younger workers, who may be traveling widely for the first time, are even more likely to do so. Forty-eight percent of millennial travelers, in their 20s to early 30s, report combining business and leisure. Only 23 percent of baby boomers took a bleisure trip and 33 percent of those ages 36 to 54 did so. For travelers who don’t take a bleisure trip, 58 percent reported that they simply didn’t have the time.

According to the GBTA report, the average bleisure traveler takes seven work trips a year. When combining business and leisure, travelers extend their stay for an average of three days. They tend to work for larger companies, with an average of 950 employees, and 42 percent hold middle-management jobs. Additionally, 58 percent have children at home. Forty-four percent report that they travel with someone else for the vacation portion of their trip. The reasons they give for extending their trip include the desire to visit a location where they enjoy spending time, a chance to visit a new destination, as a way to take a cost-effective vacation and simply needing time away from home and work.

How do business travelers spend the leisure portion of their trip?

Most stay in or close to the city where they went for work, usually in the same hotel, even if they book the leisure portion separately. They take the time to be a tourist. That can include visiting museums and other cultural attractions or enjoying a meal at a restaurant they may have heard about. Depending on their interests, perhaps they’ll take in a sporting event, a concert or a show. They may spend time relaxing on the beach if there’s one nearby. If their trip coincides with a festival or cultural event, they may decide to take advantage of that opportunity and attend.

For help planning a trip that combines business and leisure, contact your travel agent.

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