Is The ‘Bed Bug Epidemic’ Just A Bunch Of Hype?

Wikimedia Commons

Hotels infested with bedbugs have been a topic of conversation for some time now. The mere mention of the insects in news stories or user reviews can send a hotel into a public relations (or legal) nightmare, and whole cities have been blacklisted by some travelers afraid of becoming a victim of the bedbug plague.

But is it just public awareness around bedbugs that has gone up in recent years? In a recent piece for National Geographic, travel writer Christopher Elliot bravely tries to “exterminate” some misconceptions about the little buggers. He points out that bedbugs have been occupying hotels and inns for thousands of years and that if one room of a hotel is infested, it doesn’t mean the entire building has been taken over. He also says that most people who are bitten don’t even realize it, and quotes a leading bedbug expert as saying the bites are “no worse than a mosquito.”

Sure, nobody wants to get bitten, or worse, transfer bedbugs to their own home. But if travelers simply know where to look for bedbugs in the first place and take some simple precautions — like not putting their luggage on the bed or the floors — odds are they’ll be safe.

So travelers, relax. You don’t need a bedbug sleeping cocoon to stay safe from these pesky (but disease-free) insects. Don’t be naive, but certainly don’t let the idea of bedbugs ruin your next vacation.

Your Kickstarter Vacation. My Money. No.

When we ran out of money, we were on a beach in Corfu. My boyfriend trawled the construction sites until he found a job hauling cement. I checked in at restaurants and hotels, but failed to turn anything up. I gave up after about a week; there was no work to be had. I spent the days reading on the beach. My boyfriend would come back to our campsite in the shell of an unfinished holiday cottage with his hands raw. We would buy bread and cheese and olives with the cash he’d been paid on that day. This went on for about two weeks, and when the gypsies started giving us food we knew it was over.

We swallowed our pride, called our parents and asked them to wire us money so we could get off the island and go somewhere that we could find work. We ended up farming in Israel where we got housing and three squares and a paltry salary that we saved because there was little to spend it on and beer was very cheap.

Today, there’s a better way than sucking it up and calling Mom and Dad. You can avoid the dirt and damage of manual labor. You need an Internet connection, maybe a blog and nerve. You’ll need to offer up something as incentive – a $5 donation receives a postcard from your exotic locale, a $10 donation gets a download code for a copy of your, as of yet unwritten, essay about your travels, a $25 donation gets a print of a photo you took that you think is pretty good – come on, it’s totally National Geographic quality, right? Plus, anyone who donates get this pleasure, no, let’s be realistic, honor, of supporting your travels. Open a Kickstarter fund for your travels and ask total strangers to pay for them. You’re doing them a favor, really.

My parents did not react with the gratitude I was hoping for when I called from my crash pad on a London sofa, broke again, to ask for airfare and spending money. The roommates in the London flat where I awaited the arrival of wired funds weren’t thrilled either. They were gracious, they knew I was on hard times, but they weren’t so into my before its time “Occupy the Living Room” movement. Nobody saw the benefit in their role of making it possible for me continue my travels abroad, no matter how many postcards and photos and essay length letters I sent home, or how many dishes I washed, or how many rounds I pitched in for when it was my turn to buy.When did it become acceptable to ask total strangers for money so we can go on vacation? When did we start assuming that of course people will back our vanity travel publishing project, after all, we are just that special? This couple from Arizona thinks you should give them money to cross China.

“…we received a quote for the total cost of entering China twice to complete our proposed route. The expected cost is over $20,000. We will continue to pay for all other travel related expenses; our Kickstarter project will only fund our ability to cross China.

This falls outside of our budget, but the ability to cross China will enable us to have a once in a lifetime driving experience along an ancient trade route. A journey worthy of being written into a book.”

Of course, funding their once in a lifetime trip makes more sense than funding my own, right? And they are not that unusual. Here’s a young man from Florida who wants you to pay for his documentary about his cycling trip around Iceland.

“What are my qualifications for making this documentary? I have a lot of experience getting things done. For example, here is a book I wrote called ‘Start Importing from China’ and here is a website I launched called Wiki Cancel. Second, I have a lot of travel experience, which makes me comfortable in foreign countries. Third, I am not afraid of trying things or approaching new people, which means you will see a lot of interesting things on the documentary.”

I, too, am unafraid of trying things, but instead of doing so myself, perhaps I should fund this group of guys who want to share their style of travel with us.

“…the backpacker’s life; the life that depends on the road and the bag, the warmth and affordability of hostels/BNBs, and the unique people who you meet and learn from along the way.”

Perhaps these four admittedly very appealing young men are unfamiliar with a company called Lonely Planet – the company that documented the backpacker’s life for decades. For about $17, I can get a book that tells me not about a random stranger’s travels, but how to plan my own.

I would like to remodel my kitchen, have my garden landscaped and buy a tiny studio apartment somewhere in Hawaii. These are things that would be great fun for me, and I could invite you over for a meal in my new kitchen, or perhaps you would like a photo of my garden. I could write a book about my part-time life in Hawaii and if you pay for my apartment, I will give you a code so you can download the manuscript for free. Is this not appealing to you? How are the pitches to fund my travel any different?

These Kickstarter plans seem like grand adventures for the travelers. God speed. May they travel safely, meet kind strangers, and never have to pack away a wet tent. But I am not paying for it, no way, no how. Here’s the thing: I, too, would like to travel the Silk Road. I too would like to ride a bicycle around an island nation. I would like to share stories of how my adventures transpire in an insightful and interesting manner. This fall, I hope to do a big camping trip with my husband around the American Southwest. To do this, we will work, save our money and then, go travel.

Perhaps I am making a mistake and I should be asking you to pay for it. But I cannot think of one good reason why you should.

[Image by bradleygee via Flickr]

The Pacific Ocean: Is It Really True That One-Third Of Young Americans Can’t Find It?

Pacific OceanWhile reading fellow Gadling blogger Chris Owen’s post about a Twitter mix-up between Chechnya and the Czech Republic, I was horrified to read that one-third of young Americans can’t find the Pacific Ocean.

I was horrified, but not surprised. I taught for several years in a community college and no amount of public ignorance surprises me anymore – not after a student handed in a paper stating that Iraq and Afghanistan were cities.

But I’m always suspicious of statistics. It’s a well-known fact that 85 percent of all statistics are wrong, so I emailed Chris and asked for his source, which turned out to be the Around the World geography project. They cite a National Geographic study that found 29 percent of U.S. 18-24 year olds couldn’t find the Pacific Ocean on an unlabeled map.

Looking at the original study, it turns out they got it wrong. “Only” 21 percent of those quizzed couldn’t find the Pacific Ocean. The 2006 study quizzed 510 Americans aged 18-24 on a number of geographic issues. The one that concerns us here was a blank map test to see if the participants could correctly point out certain countries and geographic locations. Boundaries were clearly labeled; they simply needed to match the shape and location with the country or ocean.

The Pacific Ocean wasn’t the only hard-to-find location. A staggering 63 percent couldn’t find Iraq, despite near-constant media coverage. Closer to home, 50 percent couldn’t find New York state. Check out the link to read more disheartening statistics.

I suppose we could blame the educational system, but 48 percent of the participants said they had a geography class sometime between sixth grade and senior year, so I suspect the blame lies with parents for not instilling a desire to learn about the world and the young Americans themselves for not realizing this information could be useful.

When I was discussing this post at the breakfast table my7-year-old scoffed, “I know where the Pacific Ocean is!”

I decided to test him. He correctly pointed out the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans, as well as the Mediterranean and Red Seas. I stumped him on the Sea of Azov, though. Can’t let him get too big for his britches.

Of course he enjoys a key advantage – parents who channel his natural childhood curiosity into learning about the world around him and foster an enthusiasm for exploration and discovery.

In other words, we give a shit about his education.

[Image of the Pacific Ocean courtesy NASA]

Video Of The Day: Starry Nights In Namibia

For more than a decade, Dutch professional photographer Marsel van Oosten has been venturing to Namibia, where he has been creating an extensive night photography portfolio. Oosten, who specializes in nature and wildlife photography and has won awards from National Geographic and Photo District, used his photography expertise to create the time-lapse video above, which is an excellent example of how to artfully use lighting, composition, color and perspective.

According to the write up on Vimeo, each second of video consists of 30 photographs. To create the video, Oosten shot more than 16,000 images over a period of two years. According to the photographer, the idea was to create a night photography time-lapse video featuring his most popular subjects in Namibia: the fairytale-like quiver trees, which are a huge tourist draw in Namibia, and the eerie giraffe thorn trees, which can grow up to 55 feet high. What is most remarkable to me, however, is the mesmerizing way in which the stars appear to move across the sky.

Oosten’s efforts for this video and his accompanying photographic work paid off when he won first place in the Wild Planet category at the 2012 Travel Photographer Of The Year Awards. Here’s to hoping he continues to capture amazing scenes in Namibia and beyond.

National Geographic Expeditions Celebrates 125th Anniversary With New Travel Options

National Geographic Adventures offers new tours for 125th anniversaryExactly 125 years ago today the National Geographic Society was officially formed. Its founders set out to create an organization “for the increase and diffusion of geographical knowledge” and considering everything that Nat Geo has accomplished over the years, I’d say they succeeded. The Society will celebrate this important milestone in a variety of ways throughout this year, including adding a number of special itineraries to their award-winning travel service, National Geographic Expeditions.

Exploration and discovery have long been at the heart of what drives the National Geographic Society forward and the trips that they have scheduled to celebrate their 125th anniversary reflect those values quite clearly. All told, there are ten itineraries to choose from, ranging from a seven-day excursion to Mayan ruins with Nat Geo grantee William Saturno to a 38-day epic journey through South America that includes stops in eight countries. Other options include a visit to East Africa to spot primates and a sailing adventure along Canada’s wild coast. There are even four specially designed photographic adventures that combine amazing destinations with photo workshops. Those destinations include places like the Grand Canyon, Tanzania and Morocco.

Of course, many of these itineraries are available from competing travel companies, often at a lower price. But what sets the Nat Geo Expeditions tours apart are the amazing men and women that you’ll have the opportunity to interact with along the way. For instance, on the photo expeditions you’ll hone your own skills by learning from Pulitzer Prize-winning photographers, while the other trips are led by NG Explorers-in-Residence, writers, biologists and more. These extraordinary people can provide experiences and insights that simply can’t be found elsewhere.

Checkout the entire list of National Geographic Expedition tours on the company’s website and help Nat Geo celebrate its 125th anniversary in style.

[Photo Credit: National Geographic]