New Plug-In Stations For Electric Cars Expand Road Trip Options

electric car
Tesla Motors

There are not many electric cars or plug-in hybrids on the road but there may be a good reason for that. Past the sticker shock and into the driver’s seat, summer road trippers wanting to take advantage of their fuel-saving vehicles are having a hard time going very far. Other than in California and the Northwest, plug-in stations are hard to find. One car manufacturer is doing something about it.

“It is very important to address this issue of long-distance travel,” said Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk in a Mercury News article. “When people buy a car, they’re also buying a sense of freedom, the ability to go anywhere they want and not feel fettered.” Musk has a road trip of his own planned for this summer, driving his kids across the country.

Tesla wants their premium electric vehicles to be driven coast to coast and is rolling out a rapid-charging network for its electric cars, tripling the number of stations they now have. That will allow drivers to travel to New York from Los Angeles. Not that a lack of charging stations should keep those cars from making the trip; it will just take longer. Rapid charging stations fuel their cars in about an hour. Plugging into ordinary current requires an overnight charge.Tesla’s plan will add more stations every 80 to 100 miles on heavily used routes such as the corridor between New York, Boston and Washington, D.C. They also hope to improve the technology used for charging so their Model S cars will get three hours of driving time from only 20 minutes of charging. They will eventually install 100 of the stations along U.S. and Canadian highways.

Thinking of an electric car? In this video, a recent Consumer Reports test of Tesla’s Model S brought surprisingly good results:

Solar Airplane Completes First Leg Of Cross-Country Flight

Solar AirplaneSolar Impulse, the solar airplane that was set to fly across the United States, has taken off and completed the first leg of the journey from California to Arizona. Averaging an altitude of just 10,000 feet and a speed of 40.6 miles per hour, the flight took most of a day to complete. Technically, 14,000 people were on board, albeit virtually via streaming video.

Launching the “Clean Generation” initiative by completing the first leg of their 2013 Across America mission, Pilot Bertrand Piccard took off from Moffett Airfield at NASA’s Ames Research Center early Saturday morning, arriving at Phoenix’s Sky Harbor International Airport 18 hours and 18 minutes later.

Promoting greater investment in technologies for sustainable energy production and use, Piccard and Solar Impulse co-founder André Borschberg will alternate flying the five legs of the trip.”We’ve been dreaming about crossing the United States for years – the land of scientific research, innovation and aviation pioneers – and it’s hard to believe it’s really happening.” said Borschberg and Piccard as they walked down the runway in Phoenix.

Coming up in mid-May, the second leg of the journey will fly from Phoenix to Dallas/Fort Worth before continuing on to St Louis then Washington, D.C., before completing the first crossing of the United States by a solar-powered airplane at New York’s JFK airport.

[Photo credit – Solar Impulse]

Cutbacks Have Smithsonian Down, But Not Out

SmithsonianGovernment cutbacks have affected travel in a number of ways. Passport applications and renewals are taking longer, as is the process for requesting a visa. Traveling abroad, less security at U.S. facilities means less protection for Americans. National parks have closed some facilities and delayed opening of others. Now, even the Smithsonian Institution in Washington is feeling the impact of budget cuts.

“A reduction in a contract for security that supplements the Smithsonian security force affects some museums. The safety and security of the public and our collections will not be compromised,” said a notice on the Smithsonian website.

While no major exhibitions will be closed, the commons in the Smithsonian Castle, one room in the African Mosaic exhibit and sections of the permanent collection galleries in the Hirshhorn Museum will be unavailable for a short time.

On a positive note, the Smithsonian, a top budget travel destination, has a number of new exhibits underway of particular interest to fans of space travel that are unaffected.Extraordinary Voyages: 50 Years of Exploration is a NASA-supported lecture series at the National Air and Space Museum that started with a story that began 50 years ago when Mariner 2 flew by Venus and became the first successful mission to another planet. Upcoming events include a live webcast of the Exploring Space lecture, Vesta in the Light of Dawn on May 7, 2013. This program continues also because of support by aerospace contractor Aerojet.

Featured, fully-open exhibits at the National Mall in Washington, D.C., also include “Time and Navigation,” “Moving Beyond Earth,” “Fifty Years of Human Space Flight,” “Barron Hilton Pioneers of Flight,” and “The Wright Brothers & The Invention of the Aerial Age.

This video has more on how budget cuts are affecting the Smithsonian:



[Photo credit – Flickr user The Uprooted Photographer]

How To Avoid Looking Like A Tourist

Blending in to a city or country you’re visiting has many advantages. Among them, allowing yourself to have a more immersive experience and not falling victim to a robbery scheme involving human feces. Some cities come with their own code of conduct, such as Washington DC, where during Gadling’s recent summit we noticed anyone who stands on the left side of an escalator is immediately met with a barrage of furrowed brows and choice words. The tips below, however, can help keep you from being branded as an out-of-towner in any city the world over. Take these pointers in stride and the day will come when tourists ask you for directions while you’re out on adventures.

Be Discreet About Using Maps & Guidebooks
Let’s face it: We all get lost, even in cities we’re familiar with. But if you carry around a guidebook or unfold a large map in public, you might as well wear a neon sign flashing “tourist” over your head. That doesn’t mean you should travel sans map, but it does help to step out of foot traffic or even into a store or cafe when you need to regroup and figure out where you are.
If you do need to use a guidebook, try to unfold it so the cover isn’t visible or hold it in a (preferably local) newspaper or magazine. Another idea is to check and see if mobile guides are available, that way no one will suspect you are reading a guide as you scroll through your phone. Besides, in the age of smartphones and GPS technology, it’s easy to get around by discreetly consulting a map on your phone – just be aware of your surroundings and don’t pull out your fancy phone in a place where it could be an easy target for a robbery.

When riding public transportation, take note that the locals often use maps – but they tend to stick to the ones posted in subway and bus stations. Studying a map beforehand in your hotel or on a plane is one easy way to get acquainted with a new location that will end up saving you time (and causing you less stress) in the end.

Follow the Area “Dress Code”
One simple way to blend in is to camouflage yourself in the local mode of dress. Europeans tend to wear dark, neutral tones – but the opposite is true in the Caribbean and India where vivid colors are found everywhere. As a visitor you’ll blend in by wearing these colors, too.

Dressing for the local weather is also important. Forgetting to pack a raincoat in Seattle will surely brand you as out of touch with the local weather, as will running around in a sundress in San Francisco in February (no matter how mild it feels!). Abroad, many Americans tend to wear outdoor gear intended for hiking, skiing or similar pursuits, but these articles of clothing are uncommon in most countries. Even in cold places, the rest of the world tends to wear more formal attire, such as wool or leather coats.

In addition to outerwear, there are many stereotypically American articles of clothing travelers should avoid when going abroad. This includes sneakers, Crocs, baseball hats, cargo pants and shorts, but can also be expanded to clothes featuring the United States flag or U.S. brand names such as Abercrombie and Gap. These brands are gaining popularity across the world, but again, anything that brands you as a tourist should be avoided if you want to travel incognito. Travelers should also avoid wearing flashy or expensive jewelry, as its never a good idea to attract too much attention.

And by the way, fanny packs are not acceptable anywhere and are largely considered the ultimate fashion faux pas for tourists. Sandals with socks are a close second.

Try to Speak the Language
One of my nightmare travel partners was a person who assumed everyone in Europe knew English. She would begin speaking in her native tongue to concierges, shopkeepers, servers and anyone else she came in contact with, and when they gave her confused looks she would only repeat her question louder and slower. Sure, it can be embarrassing to put yourself out there, but making an effort to speak the local language is a huge sign of respect. Besides learning a few basic words (the translations for “please” and “thank you”) will go a long way. Be sure you know how to say, “do you speak English?” in any country you visit. It’s a great conversation starter for tourists.

Along the same lines, the less English you speak while out and about the more you’ll be able to travel under the radar. That’s not to say you and your travel partners should play “the silent game” while abroad, but it’s something to take into consideration. A great example is when taking a taxi in a foreign country. If you’re able to say “hello,” give directions and make small talk in the driver’s language and then make it through the rest of the ride without speaking English to your cohorts, the driver may never have a clue you’re from out of town. He or she will be less likely to scam you or take you into dangerous territory.

Take Things Down a Notch
All around the world, Americans are known for being louder than is customary in most countries. This includes using loud voices in public places – especially while talking on cellphones. Americans also have the tendency to use exaggerated arm and hand movements. Avoid making the wrong impression and sticking out by reminding yourself to be a little more reserved.

Resist the Urge to Photograph Everything
It’s easy to get snap happy abroad. With the discovery of new places and experiences comes the desire to capture these special moments (and bring a little photographic evidence back home). But how many times have you returned from a trip and looked through your pictures only to find you can pick out a handful of photos that represent your entire vacation? And how many times have those pictures been of the inside or a church or of a landmark that has already been the backdrop to thousands of tourist photos? It’s something to take into consideration before your next trip.

Living a little less through the lens of a camera will drastically help downplay your tourist factor. Unless you’re a professional photographer, there’s probably little reason you need to have a camera draped around your neck at all times. Camera-toting tourists are an easy target for theft because not only are they showing off expensive equipment, but they are also distracted from their surroundings. Believe me on this one, because I once nearly fell victim to a robbery while living in Quito, Ecuador. I still take lots of pictures in my travels, but I make sure to be discreet when doing so and always tuck my camera safely away when it’s not in use.

Research Local Manners
Knowing whether or not simple gestures such as a handshake are customary or which hand to hold a fork in is crucial to blending in abroad. Giving the “okay” gesture will land you in trouble in Brazil (it’s similar to flipping someone off in the United States), while not knowing how to correctly hold chopsticks in China will be a dead giveaway that you’re new in town. Knowing whether or not to tip is also very important, especially because in some countries (namely Korea and Japan) it can be considered an insult to leave one. Before you go, spend some time looking into local manners and etiquette. It doesn’t take much time, and you’ll be a much more considerate traveler after doing your research.

Stay Alert and Be Confident
Of all these tips, the golden rule for fitting in with the locals is to stay alert and be confident. Looking and acting the part with confidence will get you much further than you think. If you can do that while staying aware of your surroundings, you should have a much easier time mastering how to look like a local.

To truly blend in, become observant. If you don’t know how to do something such as swiping your Metrocard in New York, instead of fumbling at it and causing a bottleneck, take a moment to step to the side and observe how to go through the turnstile. Along the same lines, if you haven’t seen anyone walking down the street and drinking coffee in Rome, don’t be surprised to find most places don’t have a to-go option. In the same vein, if you’re lost in an unfamiliar place, at least try to look like you know where you’re going and nobody will suspect you of not knowing your way around town.

Of course, these are only suggestions. Becoming invisible as a traveler is difficult and the skill takes a long time to master. Don’t let the act of “trying to fit in” ruin your trip, and by all means don’t feel ashamed of where you come from.

[Photos (top to bottom) by Ed Yourdon / Flickr, istolthetv / Flickr, and sidewalk flying / Flickr]

Affinia Hotels launches Tender Loving Comfort movement

affinia hotels This week, Affinia Hotels launched their new Tender Loving Comfort movement in New York, Washington D.C., and Chicago. The program is based on deep-customer service as well as the body language of guests. In fact, earlier this year the company partnered with body language expert Patti Wood to train hotel staff to know how to respond to body language cues.

Tender Loving Comfort staff and hotel managers will be interacting with guests during their new Comfort Hour, where guests will get the opportunity to sample snacks, test out new items like tech gear and pillows, and give feedback on what makes them most comfortable when staying at a hotel.

Some interesting findings of the studies so far include:

  • For 68.5% of travelers, little extras at check-in make a big impact
  • 75% of travelers have lied to get a better room or free amenity
  • 43% of travelers say that a warm and friendly hotel staff that anticipates everyday needs is important

Click here to learn more about the Tender Loving Comfort program or to book a hotel room with Affinia.