And The Snobbiest City In America Is …

Curtis Fry/Flickr

According to the readers of Travel + Leisure magazine, San Francisco came out on top in their list of the Snobbiest Cities In America during a recent poll. Based on the magazine’s America’s Favorite City survey, readers ranked 35 major U.S. metropolitan areas on their snobbishness. Not without positive accolades, the results also highlighted good reasons to visit each of the cities ranked.

“Any snobbiness didn’t stop San Francisco from being acknowledged for its welcoming attitude: the city also ranked first in the survey for being gay-friendly,” says Travel + Leisure in the details of San Francisco’s allure for travelers.

In second place came New York City followed by Boston, Minneapolis-St. Paul and tied for fifth place were Santa Fe and Seattle.Want to chime in on your personal favorite? The Travel + Leisure 2013 America’s Favorite Cities survey is underway right now.

Boston Ranked One of America's Snobbiest Cities

Seattle Ranked ‘Best City For Hipsters’ According To Travel & Leisure

hipsterSo Travel & Leisure has published a list of “America’s Best Cities for Hipsters.” This is amusing – and a wee bit annoying) to me for a variety of reasons – not least of which because Seattle makes the top of the list. I’ve lived here (actually “there,” because as I write this, I’m in a sublet in Oakland) for nearly three years. Apparently, I’m reverse-trending, because San Francisco is #3 (Portland, OR is #2).

As the sun (metaphorically – this is Seattle we’re talking about) sets on my time in the Pacific Northwest and I prepare to relocate back to the Bay Area for what I hope to be at least a couple of years, I’m filled with mixed emotions. Hipster-mocking and -baiting has been one of my favorite pastimes in Seattle, which is both ironic and hypocritical of me when you take T & L‘s definition of “hipster” into consideration:

“They sport vintage bowling shoes and the latest tech gear-but they also know all the best places to eat and drink. [The magazine] ranked 35 metropolitan areas on culturally relevant features like live music, coffee bars, and independent boutiques. To zero in on the biggest hipster crowds, we also factored in the results for the best microbrews and the most offbeat and tech-savvy locals.

It’s our take on the debated term hipster….whatever your take, you generally know hipsters when you see them-most likely in funky, up-and-coming neighborhoods. A smirking attitude toward mainstream institutions means they tend to frequent cool, often idiosyncratic restaurants, shops, and bars-the same kinds of venues that appeal to travelers looking for what they can’t find at home. There’s also an eco-conscious influence in contemporary hipsterdom.”

So let me get this straight: I’m a hipster because I care about the environment, and I write about food, thus I eat and drink in places that are too idiosyncratic for mere mortals. And jeez, I just edited a craft beer guide. And I really support my local indie businesses. Conversely, I know jack about tech, and you will never, ever see me in a pair of bowling shoes. I also want to bitch-slap the bejesus out of smirky, pretentious funksters who feel the need to categorize themselves in order to maintain a sense of self. Cliques are for high school, kids.

[Image via Flicker user Conor Keller fortysixtyphoto.com]yellow shoesI also find it deeply ironic that a luxury magazine likes to think it knows what’s hip, because real hipsters love nothing more than a bargain, whether it’s $2 happy hour PBR’s or a sweet bowling shirt from Value Village. I can assure you the average T & L reader does not shop at Value Village.

What I find interesting, however, is that part of my mixed feelings about leaving Seattle have to do with its very hipsterness. I love street fashion, vintage, indie anything, tattoos and food artisans (hipster alert!). People watching has been one of my favorite activities in Seattle, because most Seattlites have such great style. It’s a city where the alternative-minded can grow old semi-gracefully, without looking like roadkill from Gen X or beyond. In Seattle, no one gives a f— about what you look like, or what you’re into. You can just be.

It’s sheer coincidence that last week, while reacquainting myself with Berkeley (where I lived for nearly a decade), I wondered why it is the natives here have no style (in my hipster eye view, pilled fleeces, flowy hemp clothing and ergonomic shoes are terminally unhip). I already missed Seattle’s eclectic street style, which never fails to inspire, amuse, and yes, sometimes horrify me (Boys, please stop with the neon, nuthugger skinny ankle jeans. Just sayin’).

Is this essentially a very shallow essay on an incredibly superficial topic? Yes, absolutely. But if it is a “tipping point” as T & L claims, then hell, I’m game. I’m ultimately leaving Seattle – an amazing, beautiful, vibrant city – because the climate kicked my ass (see my forthcoming post on “Sleeping In Seattle: SAD And Its Side Effects”). I’m back in the Bay Area because the economy is simmering and for someone in the food business, this is Ground Zero.

You can’t have it all, and the grass is always greener. Those cliches aren’t very hip, but they’re true. I miss all the hipsterness that once surrounded me, but I also love seeing sun, citrus trees and the Bay Area’s unbeatable food scene again. And that, in a nutshell, is why I’m trading down to a place a little less hip. I can always visit Seattle when I’m feeling frumpy.

[Image via Flickr user Andrew . Walsh]

How to Dress Like a Hipster

Insurance gets a second look as travel world evolves

InsuranceTravel insurance was once something that only the most careful of travelers bought – an option that was easy to pass up and rarely used. But talk of airline bankruptcy, problems on a normally safe cruise vacation, and political unrest around the world have travelers taking a second look. Even impossible-to-predict natural disasters affecting travel are pushing consumers to buy. The travel industry has seen its fair share of major changes and developments in recent years, and 2012 shows no signs of slowing down.

“The big, dramatic stories are what get people thinking about travel insurance,” as Carol Mueller, vice president at Travel Guard North America, a major third-party insurer, told Gadling.

The Costa Concordia grounding, the recent robbing of cruise passengers while on a normally safe shore excursion in safety-challenged Mexico, and the disabling fire on Costa Allegra, have left travelers with questions about cruise ship safety and regulations.

Both cruise lines and airlines have tightened cancellation policies, leaving travelers with stiffer penalties when changing itineraries. News of airline consolidations and bankruptcies continue to make headlines across the globe, as the number of seats available to passengers shrinks even more.Travel experts have predicted that the cost of airfare will continue to rise in 2012 due to factors including: oil prices, increased regulation, fees, and decreased competition.

In a recent story in the Seattle Times, Anne Banas, executive editor of SmarterTravel, said, “We’re going to see higher airfares.” Additionally, George Hobica, founder of travel website AirfareWatchdog added, “Fares are probably going to inch up.”

Still, travel to far-away, bucket-list destinations has become increasingly common. Exotic, long haul destinations landed on lists of the “must see” destinations for 2012 compiled by some of the country’s top travel editors and experts.

Travel+Leisure’s Hottest Travel Destinations of 2012 list includes Sri Lanka, St. Vincent, the Grenadines, and Mozambique’s Northern Coast as hot places to visit. Earlier this year, Gadling recommended some highly specific adventures that included traveling to Rwanda for gorilla spotting, a hike and bike tour of Easter Island and a ski trip to the South Pole, among others.

In a world with more places to go and more things that can go wrong, it’s important for travelers to educate themselves on how to cover their investment and safeguard themselves when traveling.

According to Travelguard’s Mueller, “the majority of insured’s file claims are as a result of trip cancellation; interruption or delay; lost or delayed luggage; and medical emergencies. Others take advantage of ‘Cancel for Any Reason’ plans that provide reimbursement in the event that they must call off the trip entirely.”

What travelers don’t realize is that travel insurance plans often do more than just cover the costs of these types of inconveniences. They can serve as a resource for travelers in need, providing assistance services like facilitating cash transfers, making last-minute hotel arrangements, and tracking lost luggage. This type of assistance can be especially helpful in a foreign country, where insurance providers can help locate English-speaking doctors, assist with replacing lost or stolen travel documents, and relay messages to family and friends back home.

Still, buying travel insurance does not protect travelers against all perils. Cruise passengers who buy travel insurance because they are concerned about hurricanes or other weather-related events that might affect their itinerary are often surprised to find out that those are not normally covered reasons for cancellation.

Knowing what is covered and what is not should be a primary focus for travelers considering the valuable protection that a travel insurance policy can provide.

“A good policy can offer you peace of mind for your upcoming vacation,” says consumer expert Chris Elliott, adding “If something goes wrong – if your trip is interrupted or if you have to cancel – you can recover some or all of your costs.”


The Truth About Travel Insurance

Flickr photo by F H Mira

Travel contest season is in full swing

travel contest seasonJanuary brings cold weather, post-holiday blues, dreams of travel and travel contest season every year. With few exceptions, sellers of travel roll out some of their best promotions during this time too. Aimed to make those dreams reality and have us focus on whatever travel product they are selling, travel companies want to bring our attention to their options over another.

Amble Resorts’ Life-Changing Travel Contest has travelers looking at their new travel blog, The Ambler, for a chance to win a free flight anywhere in the world. Launched in mid-December, the contest is quickly gaining momentum as globetrotters from around the world share their most life-changing travel moments in the hopes of fulfilling resolutions to travel in 2012.

This contest asks visitors to reflect on their own life-changing travel experiences and draw inspiration from the stories of others, encouraging people to broaden their travel horizons and explore the world in 2012. The contest will reward one commenter with a trip to the destination of their dreams, in the form of a $1,500 travel voucher (OK, maybe not anywhere in the world) on the airline of the winner’s choice, valid any time in 2012.Getting serious, Travel+Leisure has the Dream Of A Lifetime $25,000 Spain + Venice sweepstakes where the grand prize winner gets a travel package worth up to $30,000 or can take a $25,000 cash option as well.

Even non-travel companies are getting in on the January travel mania with Fisher Boy frozen food company giving away a Caribbean vacation at one of Beaches Resorts worth $8,000. You’ll have to tell them why you like their products (fish sticks) as part of the entry but liking them on Facebook is not required as many contests are.

The cruise industry has “wave season“, that time of the year when everybody wants to buy a cruise, going full speed ahead. In addition to some of the best values of the year, multiple lines are having contests that result in someone winning a cruise. Holland America, Celebrity Cruises, Carnival Cruise Line, Disney Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean all have their versions

One of the best payouts comes from a contest run by TripFilms, a travel website that brings destinations to life through video. Their Watch and Win contest grants one entry for each video watched from start to end. The prize? A trip for two people that the winner may select from a bunch of destinations as well as a travel stipend of $500 per person ($1000 total).

The choices include Costa Rica Natural Paradise, Guatemala with Tikal, Panama Canal Cruise & Tour, the Grand Canyon, Mount Rushmore & Yellowstone, California Coast & Yosemite and others.

Most of these contests end January 31, 2012. Many of these and other contests can be found at TravelOnion where most current travel contests are rounded up and updated frequently.

Not feeling lucky? How about some money-saving tips if pay you must?



How to See London For $15 a Day



Flickr photo by Tostie14

Where are all the travel guide apps for Android?

travel guide apps for AndroidNearly two years ago, I bought my first smartphone: the T-Mobile Android MyTouch*. I’m only occasionally jealous of my iPhone-carrying friends, as I find few travel guide apps for Android. Even after a move to Istanbul, I still use and rely upon it daily; Android‘s interface is fast and easy-to-use, and seamless use of Google applications like Gmail and Google Maps is part of the reason I bought it in the first place. Living in a foreign country means English-language books and magazines are expensive and hard-to-find, and like many travelers, I don’t want to carry bulky books around when I’m on the road. This leaves a perfect opportunity for mobile developers to provide real travel guide content and not just travel-booking apps, especially apps produced by reliable media sources with professional editorial. These days, every guidebook and travel magazine publisher is coming out with apps for the iPhone and now iPad, supplying users with content and directions on the go, but there are hardly any for Android.

So what’s available for mobile travelers from the top travel book and print sources? Better hope you’re running Apple OS…Guidebooks:

  • Fodor’s: Happy 75th Birthday Mr. Fodor, but we wish you had more than just five city guides for purchase (in London, New York, Paris, Rome, and San Francisco) and only for Apple.
  • Frommer’s: iPhone guides are available for ten major cities in the US, Europe and Asia, but nada for Android.
  • Lonely Planet: iPhone users are spoiled for choice: dozens of city guides, language phrasebooks, audio walking tours, and eBooks optimized for the iPad. Android users in 32 countries including the US are in luck: there’s a free Trippy app to organize itinerary items, as well as 25 “augmented reality” Compass city guides and 14 phrasebooks. NOTE: This article originally mentioned that the Compass guides were unavailable in the Android Market store, but they should work for most US users. I happen to be in a country where paid apps are not available and not shown in the Market.
  • LUXE City Guides: 20 cheeky city guides work for a variety of mobile phones, including iPhone and Blackberry, but none are compatible with my Android. Bonus: the apps come with free regular updates and maps that the paper guides don’t have.
  • Rick Steves: If you are headed to Europe, you can get audio guides for many big attractions and historic walks for iPhone, plus maps for the iPad. You can also download the audio files free for your computer, and props to Rick for mentioning that Android apps are at least in development.
  • Rough Guides: Here’s a new one: the Rough Guides app works for many phones but NOT the iPhone OR Android! It’s not as slick as some of the other guides (it’s a Java app) and you will use data to use it on the road, but it provides lots of info for many cities in Europe. You can also find a Rough Guides photo app on iTunes to view pictures from around the world with Google Maps and captions from Rough Guides.
  • Time Out: City travelers and residents might want to look at the apps from Time Out for 5 European cities and Buenos Aires, with Manchester and New York on the way. More cities are available for free on iTunes, search for Time Out on iTunes to see what’s available. iPhone only.
  • Wallpaper* City Guides: 10 of the design mag’s 80 city guides are for sale for iPhone for Europe, Tokyo, New York and Los Angeles.

Print media:

  • Conde Nast Traveler: It makes sense for magazines to embrace the iPad, and CNT has free Apple apps specifically for Italy, cruises, and their annual Gold List of hotels and resorts. Blackberry users can download an etiquette guide, but Android users are snubbed.
  • National Geographic: As befitting any explorer, Nat Geo has a world atlas, national parks maps, and games featuring their amazing photography, all for iPhone. A special interactive edition of National Geographic Traveler is for sale on the iPad; you can also read it on your computer. Androids can download a quiz game and various wallpapers; and all mobile users can access a mobile-friendly version of their website at natgeomobile.com.
  • Outside: Adventure travelers can purchase and read full issues on the iPad, but no subscription option yet.
  • Travel + Leisure: The other big travel glossy also has an iPad app for special issues. Four issues have been released so far with one available now on iTunes (romantic getaways) but future editions will follow to be read on the app. Just in time for spring break and summer, they’ve also released a Travel + Leisure Family app with advice and articles specifically geared towards travel and families. The apps are both free but you’ll need an iPad – these are designed for tablets, not phones. You can also read full issues of T+L and their foodie cousin Food & Wine on Barnes & Noble’s NOOK Color ereader; you can save per issue if you subscribe to the e-reader version.
  • USA Today Travel: Most major newspapers have mobile readers for all types of phones, but USA Today is the only one with their own travel-specific app. AutoPilot combines an array of cool travel booking capabilities and information with articles and blog post from the newspaper. Only iPhone users can enjoy free.

Two of our favorite magazines, Budget Travel and Afar, have no mobile apps yet but great online communities to tap into their extensive knowledge.

All in all, other than Lonely Planet’s Compass guides, a pretty weak showing for Android travelers. While iPhone has been around longer as a mobile platform that Android, they’ve lost the market share of users to the little green robot. As Android is available on a variety of phone manufacturers and providers, expect that number to continue to grow, along with the variety and depth of content for mobile and tablet users. Will the developers ever catch up or will travelers have to choose?

*Android has not endorsed this or paid me anything to write about them. But to show I’m not biased – Apple, feel free to send me a sample phone and I’ll test out the apps!

Photo courtesy Flickr user closari. Special thanks to Sean O’Neill, who blogs on Budget Travel and the new BBC Travel blog.