Travel Blogging Turns 20 Today

HP Virtual Museum

Today marks the 20th anniversary of what’s believed to be the first travel blog post. So happy birthday to us, and maybe you too!

In honor of the occasion, travel bloggers worldwide are raising a glass (ok, they were probably doing that anyway), Jeff Greenwald, the author of that first travel blog post, uploaded from the tourism bureau in Oaxaca, Mexico, reflected back on the experience for “Wired.”

A recently-released program called Mosaic was revolutionizing what might be possible on the World Wide Web. “What we hope you’ll do,” the editor [at O'Reilly Media] said, “is write columns for us – from the road. We’ll publish them live, on the GNN [Global Network Navigator, O'Reilly's website], where people can read them as you travel.” The Travelers’ Center, he told me, would include a feature that sounded miraculous: A map would be displayed on their website, with dots showing the locations from where I’d sent back posts. People would simply click on those dots – and see the story I’d written from that location!

As Greenwald points out, today is also the 20th anniversary of Nancy Kerrigan’s knee getting bashed in at the U.S Figure Skating Championships by members of the unofficial Tanya Harding Fan Club. Draw what connections you will between the two anniversaries.

“Describe Your Mustache” And Other Strange Visa Questions

visa application form
Dr Aek Muldoon, Flickr

Anyone who has done a lot of travel understands that travel-related bureaucracy falls into its own special category of weird and unusual. The bizarre questions you get asked on customs forms or during the immigration process can leave you scratching your head, and now a new survey has revealed the truly wacko questions that are sometimes asked during the visa application process.

A poll by a visa submission website asked travelers to recount the most unusual questions they had ever been asked. Among the strangest, was a question on a Mexican visa form asking the applicant to “describe their beard/mustache.” The responses applicants could choose from included “scanty,” “bushy” or “clipped.” Meanwhile, a man traveling to a Middle Eastern country was asked “how many wives do you intend to bring?” during his application process.Some seemingly odd questions may have a rational basis for being on the application form — Australia, for instance, which takes quarantine very seriously, asks if travelers “have been to a farm in the past six weeks.” Others just boggle the mind. Several travelers were asked, “What side of the bed does your wife sleep on?” when applying for a U.S. visa, while those heading to China were asked about the reason for visiting, with “visit” being one of the available responses.

Those behind the survey say that while the questions may seem weird to us, it’s simply a sign of cultural differences, and travelers should be careful not to joke when filling out visa forms or answering immigration questions.

Tell us, what’s the strangest visa question you’ve ever been asked?

10 Things You Wouldn’t Expect From An All-Inclusive Resort


I’ve never considered myself an “all-inclusive resort” type of person. Sprawling grounds filled with “vacation activities” always seemed disingenuous to me and from the snippets of reviews I had heard or read online, they seemed filled with buffets of terrible food and children running amok.

So when my husband and I found ourselves exhausted and at our wits’ end last year in the Yucatan, we decided to take a chance and stay at an all-inclusive resort for the first time, one that was purportedly not at all like the others. If the reviews were right, that was just what we needed — a place to decompress before our flight back to New York.

That less-than-48-hour stay at Grand Velas Riviera Maya taught me an important lesson: do not judge an all-inclusive resort by the reputation of all-inclusive resorts. When I found myself at a Grand Velas property again recently, this time it was Grand Velas Riviera Nayarit on the country’s western coast, just north of Puerto Vallarta. My stay there was also short but it confirmed for me that all-inclusive resorts aren’t always the culture-less play areas they are made out to be. Between the two properties, Grand Velas proved several assumptions of mine wrong.

Here are 10 things I didn’t expect from an all-inclusive resort:

1. Gourmet Vegan Food
I try not to expect gourmet vegan food from anyone anywhere –- it’s just too tall of an order for most restaurants. So I was ecstatic when I found that an all-inclusive resort could whip up vegan food for me on a whim while keeping it as classy as the other dishes on the restaurants’ menus. Yemaya, a new luxury resort on Nicaragua’s Little Corn Island, also offers exceptional vegan food.

%Slideshow-99762%2. A Welcome Massage
Massages are luxuries you almost always have to pay for, but at Grand Velas Riviera Nayarit, masseuses from the resort’s spa welcomed me with a neck and shoulders massage as I was checking in.

3. Exceptional Emergency Care
My husband hurt his ankle while trekking the Appalachian Trail just a few days before our trip to Riviera Nayarit. He left his cane at home and by the time we arrived to Puerto Vallarta, his ankle had swelled to size of a baseball from all of the airport walking throughout the day. I mentioned this in passing to our driver and when we arrived to resort, a medic and a team of employees immediately worked to alleviate his pain. They rubbed an anti-inflammatory salve all over the ankle, wrapped it and proceeded to stock our room with a cane, crutches and a wheelchair so that he could navigate his way around the resort as easily as possible. All of this because I simply mentioned his hurt ankle in the airport shuttle to our driver.

4. 5-Star Fine-Dining Restaurants
One of the most surprising things about my all-inclusive resort experience was that all of the restaurants on site were five-star. In fact, Grand Velas Riviera Maya is now the first all-inclusive resort to have a restaurant receive the AAA five diamond award. People who weren’t staying at the resorts came here to eat at the restaurants. And all of the beverages were included –- from the impressive wine list to top-shelf liquor options. Similarly, Curtain Bluff in Antigua, another all-inclusive resort, boasts a 25,000 bottle wine cellar.

5. A Micro Spa In Every Room
All of the rooms at these resorts included jacuzzi tubs and a selection of soaking and exfoliating salts and other spa basics.

6. A Well-Stocked Minibar That’s Actually Included
I’ve made a habit of never even looking in a minibar. I don’t like the idea of mistakenly purchasing a $5 soda, so I try not to temp myself. But at this resort, not only was the minibar included in its entirety, but its entirety was pretty impressive. Excellence Resorts also include a well-stocked minibar without any additional charge.

7. 24-7 Room Service
All that gourmet food I mentioned above? They would also bring it to you no matter what time it is. Add some nice champagne to your order. It doesn’t matter. It’s all included. Although you might not expect it, if you dig through information on luxury all-inclusive resorts, you’ll find many who offer 24-7 room service with phenomenal food.

8. Exhaustive Attention To Detail
The thing that struck me the most about these resort was their attention to detail. Every guest was assigned a personal concierge. The workers knew and remembered our names. Delicious evening chocolates were available at the end of the night. Presentation was never overlooked and it always felt as though they thought of everything.

9. Devoted Activity Planners
When I really wanted to find a way to get to Marietas Islands while I was at Riviera Nayarit, the resort staff really wanted to help me get there. The hotel’s travel agent made a lot of calls for me until she found a private boat owner who could take me out with last-minute notice for just a couple of hours, which was all the time I had. Unfortunately, his rate was far out of my budget, although understandable considering the inconvenience.

10. Immediate Return Shipment Of Items Left Behind
Finally, when my husband realized he’d left a new shirt in our room, I contacted a member of the staff who I had met during my stay. She not only located the shirt, but she shipped it from Puerto Vallarta to New York City with priority 2-day shipping. We were beyond impressed.

Tips for Booking All-Inclusive Vacations

Guess Who Has The Most Intimidating Border Control Officials?

Border Control
Flickr, US Army

Do you ever feel nervous going through border control in a new country? How about when you return home? A study by IXP visas polled 1,000 travelers who had been to at least ten foreign countries; over 60% said they felt intimidated by border officials at some time, with the most intimidating vote going to American border control. The reasons sited for the nerves included “obvious weaponry on display,” a “lack of humor,” and a general “intimidating demeanor.”

The countries with the most intimidating border officials:

  1. USA: 22% (of respondents called border control officers intimidating)
  2. UAE: 12%
  3. Mexico: 9%
  4. Canada: 8%
  5. South Korea: 6%
  6. UK: 5%
  7. Israel: 5%
  8. Pakistan: 4%
  9. Venezuela: 4%
  10. Cuba: 3%

Have you felt intimidated entering (or re-entering) the U.S.? Which country has you most nervous at immigration?

Marietas Islands: The Mexican Government’s Bomb Testing Created This Unreal Hidden Beach

The Marietas Islands (Islas Marietas) are located off of the coast of the state of Nayarit on Mexico‘s west coast, just above Puerto Vallarta. The islands are uninhabited and flush with marine life since hunting and fishing is forbidden on the islands. While staying at Grand Velas Riviera Nayarit over the weekend, the manager of the resort’s restaurant, Lucca, relayed his appreciation for the hidden beach located on one of the islands to me. A quick Google image search left me jaw-dropped and eager to get over to the Marietas Islands at the next possible opportunity.

The travel agent at the hotel would have been able to assist me in getting to the island if my schedule had allowed, but I unfortunately didn’t have enough hours left on my trip to make the island visit dreams come to fruition. I’ll go back to Riviera Nayarit, though –- even if for the sole purpose of spending some time on this hidden beach.Originally formed by volcanic activity, the islands are entirely uninhabited. The Mexican government began military testing on these islands in 1900 and continued testing for more than half a century. Large explosions and bombings of different kinds took place on the Marietas Islands and as a result, many unusual cave and rock formations decorate the already innately dramatic landscape. The hidden beach looks particularly peculiar with a giant hole seemingly cut out from the earth, revealing a sandy beach and lapping turquoise waters below.

The footage of the island is like nothing I’ve ever seen and I look forward to one day seeing this hidden beach in real life.

A Travel Guide to Riviera Nayarit, Mexico