The 5 ugliest states in the country

ugliest statesThey say beauty is in the eye of the beholder. San Francisco Examiner writer and occasional Gadling contributor Bob Ecker doesn’t behold much, at least for a few unlucky states. Ecker previously named the prettiest US states including coastal California, exotic Hawaii, diverse New York, historic Virginia, and verdant Washington. He’s now determined the unfortunate ugliest states, measured by landscape, not people:

  • Connecticut: the Constitution State is called a “suburban hell”
  • Delaware: small and boring
  • Kansas: land-locked and a “throwback,” in a bad way
  • Nevada: outside of Las Vegas, it’s a “desolate and forbidding wasteland” (what about Lake Tahoe, Bob?)
  • Oklahoma: another flat, hot, and boring state (don’t tell Lonely Planet’s Robert Reid, an OK native)

Obviously the article is tongue in cheek — there are beautiful corners in every great state in this country — but Ecker’s skewering provides a good starting point for thinking about vacation destinations. Do these places deserve to be called ugly? What do you think the ugliest states are?

Photo courtesy Flickr user Gage Skidmore

FAA stops collecting airfare taxes — and the airlines cash in

Recent budget woes in the legislative branch of our US government have been creating a cascade of disruptions, and the most recent hiccup involves the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Without proper agreement on a fiscal plan moving forward, the government has been forced to shut down a portion of the agency, most notably the section that collects taxes on our domestic airplane tickets.

Those taxes account for a modest percentage of each flight, roughly between 5 and 10%, and when travelers caught wind that the taxes would be discounted, they saw the silver lining of the shutdown as being a temporary sale on domestic tickets.

As planned, the FAA shutdown took place at midnight this morning, but the savings have barely matured. What happened?

Turns out, some of the airlines also realized the gap in price difference and decided to make that up by increasing their fares. So rather than passing the tax savings along to customers, they’re greedily taking the margin for themselves.

Not all airlines have reached into our wallets, however, apparently Virgin America has not only refused to increase fares but they’ve turned the event into a bit of public promotion. Last night the airline had a countdown to tax-free bookings on their sites and as promised, the fares have stayed low. Similarly, United appears to be keeping its fares in place.

On the flip side of the coin? US Airways, American and JetBlue seem to be the leaders in ripping off their consumers. AP has a bit more info if you want to become even more disappointed.

[Flickr image via Fly for Fun]

American Airlines makes largest purchase in airline history

There was deep speculation in the airline nerdery about whether American Airlines was going to be making a purchase at the Paris Air Show, and though the event came and went without a spark of activity, a palpable sense of excitement has been humming ever since. After all, with one of the oldest fleets on the planet, there was no doubt that American needs to freshen up — it was just a matter of when.

American Airlines broke that tension that week in a big way by announcing the order of a whopping 460 new medium and narrow body aircraft, the largest order in aviation history.

Perhaps more surprising was the way in which the order was split. For the first time, American begin flying equipment from European manufacturer Airbus, causing several in the community to question the “American” value of American Airlines. But the bottom line is the bottom line in this economy, and the official Flyertalk entity of @AmericanAir probably put it best:

“..as we are operating in a global economy, this investment makes the most sense for our airline and is in the best interest of our employees and customers. We are very proud of our heritage and home in the U.S.”

If you want to learn more you can check out the official release over at American’s news page. Otherwise, AP did a great job of wrapping up the events in the below video.


Latin America on a budget: How to plan a budget-friendly adventure

latin america budget

Latin America is one of the world’s most budget-friendly regions for visitors. There are very cheap places to stay across the region–most notably across Central America–where a few dollars will get you a bed for the night and dinner.

But in a budget-friendly region like Latin America there are also huge divides in terms of quality. How do you do your research to make sure that you come up with decent accommodations and an itinerary that delivers the best value for your money?

There’s a big difference between a guesthouse that’s cheap, clean, and cheerful and one that’s filthy and barely fit for a hedgehog. There’s a big difference between good cheap restaurants and bad cheap grub, too. How do you make the right planning decisions to make sure that you end up pinching pennies in a manner that’s both high-value and high-quality?

In the video below I discuss how I planned my budget-friendly adventure to Antigua, Guatemala.


Check back tomorrow for my story and video on Antigua, Guatemala. On April 12 I’ll extend the same treatment to Suchitoto, El Salvador. All my videos were shot by Gadling’s own Stephen Greenwood. On April 19 Jeremy Kressmann will apply the Latin American budget magic to Bogotá, Colombia.

Latin America on a Budget is proudly sponsored by Delta Air Lines.

Knocked up abroad: prenatal care and pregnancy advice in a foreign country

pregnancy foreign country See part 1 of Knocked up abroad: getting pregnant in a foreign country here.

One of the best parts of my experience so far with pregnancy in a foreign country has been the excellent medical care I have in Istanbul. Like many other expats before me, as soon as I took a positive pregnancy test, I called up the American Hospital for an appointment. The hospital treats many foreigners each year, is renowned for infertility treatment as well as other quality medical care, and is popular as part of Turkey’s growing medical tourism (the cow pictured at right is in the hospital lobby; you can tell how serious he is because of the glasses).

My first prenatal appointment was scheduled for Thanksgiving Day, and while many Americans were getting up to stuff the turkey, I confirmed I was six weeks’ pregnant (you’re welcome for sparing the “bun in the oven” puns). My very charming and English-speaking Turkish doctor gave me the usual pregnancy advice/warnings*, all peppered with only-in-Turkey bits:

  • Eat lots of dairy like ayran (yogurt drink Westerners often hate because it’s not sweet), yogurt, and cheese. While pregnant women should avoid unpasteurized milk and soft cheeses, you won’t find many of either in Turkey (or in the U.S.) unless you are looking for them.
  • No undercooked or raw meat like çiğ köfte, a popular raw meat and bulger-wheat snack served all over Istanbul (I first tried it outside a trannie bar here). I’ve discovered that the primary concern with sushi is an elevated risk for food poisoning; there is no additional or specific risk to the fetus. Sushi fish is often flash-frozen when caught, therefore it contains lower levels of bacteria. Use your judgment when ordering raw sushi, or stick to California rolls.
  • It would “be a crime to not eat fish in Turkey,” according to my doctor, but stay away from the big ones like shark which have high mercury levels. 1-2 servings of salmon or tuna per week is fine.
  • Sadly, especially in a country with excellent produce, eating unpeeled vegetables or salads in restaurants is a no-no, due to the hepatitis risk. While most restaurants are very clean in Turkey, when you are in a country with some traditional “natural-position” (aka squat) toilets still in use, you run the risk of some food contamination that’s riskier for expectant women than the general public.
  • Like many Europeans, I was told that 1 or 2 alcoholic drinks a week is okay, such as a glass of wine with dinner. Moderation and common sense are key, and it’s always best to err on the side of caution.
  • Caffeine is also fine in moderation: 1-2 cups of coffee, tea, or sodas are allowed per day, though I’m not convinced that a piping hot, two-sugars-no-milk glass of Turkish çay isn’t higher in caffeine than your average cup of tea.
  • Light exercise like yoga, pilates, and swimming are fine, but no “jumping exercises.”

My other concern was, of course, travel, but that was given the green light as long as I have no complications. Most airlines allow travel up to 28 weeks without a doctor’s note and up to 35 weeks with medical clearance. Whether your flight is short or long-haul, it’s advised to get up and move around every hour or so (good advice even for non-preggos) and choose the aisle seat. As I get bigger, I find puffing out my stomach as much as possible helps to get baggage assistance, and seats on the subway is good too.

The costs of prenatal care in Turkey are low: each of my appointments to a top-end private hospital cost just over $100 USD even with NO insurance (my U.S. insurance treats all international care as out-of-network and thus, out-of-pocket), even with ultrasounds at every visit–most American women get only a few over the course of the pregnancy. I’ll pay less for childbirth with a private room and catered meals for the family than I would for a shared room in a New York hospital. I rarely wait more than a few minutes to see the doctor, and the facilities and equipment are new and clean.

So far, Turkey has proved fairly easy to navigate as a pregnant person. I’ve never had a doctor who I could easily email with problems (such as which cold medicines were okay to take when I was sick in Russia), and everyone I meet is helpful with my concerns and questions. Istanbul is built on hills, so walking to the store can mean a fairly strenuous hike, but modern Turkey accommodates with online food and grocery delivery. Organic food is cheaper than at home, and nearly all of my cravings have been satisfied so far (though I could go for some American mac-and-cheese). I’m not yet halfway through the pregnancy but wouldn’t hesitate to reassure another expat that Turkey is a fine place to have a baby.

*Note: none of this is intended to be taken as medical advice, but rather my personal experience and anecdotal evidence. Talk to your own doctor about warnings and concerns before traveling to a foreign country, pregnant or otherwise.

Stay tuned for more on pregnancy travel, including Turkish superstitions and customs, where to travel in each trimester, what to eat when pregnant abroad, where to do pre-baby shopping, and more on having a baby in a foreign country. Check here for further updates.