How To Get Souvenirs From A Place You’ve Never Been

A Box From Tehran souvenirs
ABoxFrom.com

Planning a trip to Tehran anytime soon? You probably aren’t, due to heavy restrictions on travel to Iran, but you can get a taste of Persian culture with a trip to your mailbox. ABoxFrom.com is a service that compiles a box of souvenirs from far-flung places (the previous box was from Seoul, South Korea) and mails them to you in beautifully-decorated boxes.

The Tehran box is 40 Euro, including tea, a paper map and a handmade basket. They may seem like ordinary objects, but each item was carefully chosen with the help of locals, and for its importance in the country’s culture and history, nostalgic and new.

Would You Book A Flight To An Unknown Destination?

Destination Unknown
Flickr, Nico Hogg

Earlier this year, new booking engine GetGoing began offering deep discounts to travelers with flexibility and a sense of spontaneity. You tell the site what type of trip or region you want, and it will give you two destinations and the airfare you’ll pay, up to 40% off. The catch? You won’t know *which* place you’ll go or which airline you’ll fly until after you purchase.

Now how about booking a trip where you won’t know where you’re going until a few days before departure? FlyRoulette launched this week, taking spontaneous travel to the next level. With FlyRoulette, you’ll tell them your budget, maximum trip length, and type of trip (does “weird and exotic” sound appealing?) and it will create an itinerary for you. But you won’t know where you are going until 12-48 hours before you depart, which means you can probably rule out anywhere that requires an advance visa, but the whole world is fair game. In exchange for your flexibility, you’ll get great hotel and flight deals, but it’s not for those who want some degree of control over their travels.
Would you book a trip without knowing where you are going? While it’s an intriguing concept, there are a few issues I can see arising for even the most intrepid travelers. Without knowing what destinations are in their arsenal, a trip to go somewhere “to party” could just as easily be Daytona Beach or Berlin, two very different tastes. There could be reasons why a destination is discounted: even if you wanted a “quiet” trip, what if everything of interest is closed for the season? While you specify your maximum budget, you don’t know what portion is going to airfare or hotel, so you might prefer a destination with a more expensive flight but cheap accommodations. The site allows you to book for groups up to 25 people and was founded by recent college graduates, which may indicate their ideal demographic. It might be best for INexperienced travelers, who are more open to anything and carry less baggage (no pun intended) about how they travel and where they end up.

How Can Airline Websites Improve?

I recently visited the mobile website for midwest-based Sun Country Airlines, where I could check a flight status, view schedules or check my itinerary. Basically everything except what I came to do: book a flight. The confusing, unattractive, user-unfriendly design of airline websites is a common complaint of travelers, and a problem that the designers at Fi (Fantasy Interactive) have attempted to solve.

Their mock website and accompanying video highlights high-quality images, visual details such as weather temperatures, street maps and city sights, and a seamless, all-in-one-screen experience from flight booking to seat selection to flight status. Their design makes the airline more than a transportation company. It makes them a travel authority, tour guide and most importantly, a source of inspiration.

This wasn’t the first attempt at an airline website overhaul. In 2009, user interface designer Dustin Curtis published an open letter to American Airlines on his website, along with his idea of a website redesign. This was followed up by an anonymous response from one of AA’s designers, who was then fired for his message to Mr. Curtis. Funny enough, his vision of a new AA.com is pretty similar to what the airline unveiled this year with their new logo, with large images, links to deals and news and an overall streamlined look.

For something completely different, check out Anna Kovecses’ minimalist and vaguely retro design for American, along with a user-generated blog community where you might leave travel tips for frequent flyer miles.Delta relaunched its site last year with features including a travel “wallet” to store receipts to make their site more “customized” to travelers. Swedish designer Erik Linden’s gorgeous layout for a new Lufthansa site can be found online, but a visit to the German airline’s official site shows the same old crowded page. JetBlue.com has been consistently appealing and easy to use, touting the “jetting” experience rather than just a seat. Travel industry news site Skift has a nifty slideshow comparing booking sites now and from their early days. (The major innovation seems to be images over hyperlinks and text.)

One thing many of these designs have in common is suggestion and inspiration. Airlines seem to assume that most of us go to their website with a firm destination in mind, burying their route map deep in a sub-menu for us to hunt down. Yet if we are to be loyal to one brand or try to use frequent flyer miles, a map of their flights is the first destination. My husband is trying to make “million miler” status with American, and tries to book with them as much as possible, maximizing the distance and number of miles. While I can search for destinations from JFK, and even sort my number of miles, it’s harder to figure out what international destinations (such as Seoul) are served from another departure city. Shouldn’t the goal be for the airline to be one you want to return to, rather than a site you quit using out of frustration?

What matters to you in using an airline’s booking site?

How Does Music Affect Your Hotel Decisions?

music
Library of Congress

Music is becoming common on hotel websites, but does it really make us want to book a room?

A scientific study has come up with the answer: yeah, kinda. The journal Psychology of Music has published an article titled, “Congruency between instrumental background music and behavior on a website.”

As the author states in the abstract:

“Instrumental music (jazz and djembe) was played or not [played] while participants browsed the website of a well-known seaside resort and participants were instructed to select a type of accommodation. It was found that djembe music was associated more with a choice of outdoor accommodation while jazz music was associated with greater interest for hotel accommodation. Both music conditions showed a significant difference from the no music control condition. The ability of instrumental music to prime different memories and feelings is used to explain these results.”

So basically when we hear jazz we think of sipping bourbon in smoky interiors, while djembe makes us want to dance the night away in the moonlight. Um, OK.

Reading the article further, it turns out there’s a whole field of study devoted to figuring out what background music will do to our buying habits. Classical music makes us buy more expensive wines, for example, and playing French music will make us more likely to buy French wines. And here I thought the major determining factor was the physical attributes of my date.

The results of this study are pretty impressive. Eighty percent of the participants in this experiment picked a hotel room when they heard jazz, while 62.5% of the djembe listeners picked camping. For those who didn’t hear any music, 27.5% picked the hotel and 30% picked camping. It appears that mood music is aptly named.

Of course, hotel websites looking to get our money have to pick the right music. More often than not it’s some cheesy tune that makes us turn off the volume, or even worse for the hotel, click on another website. The annoyance factor is even higher if the music is clogging your slow connection or starts ringing out across your office, announcing to everyone that you’re slacking off.

So instead of spending money on music for their websites, perhaps hotels should spend more on music in their rooms. While Blind Willie McTell isn’t around anymore to play his 12-string guitar while you scarf down all the pillow mints, there are plenty of out-of-work musicians who would be happy to serenade you for a small fee.

Project Bly Brings World Street Market Culture To You

Mumbai street market
Courtesy of Shriti Bannerjee, ProjectBly.com

If you are the kind of traveler who lives for digging through flea markets and wandering through souks, you might want to travel over to ProjectBly.com, a new lifestyle website featuring a rotation of world street market collections. In addition to shopping for carefully curated home goods and textiles, you can also check out street photography, food, fashion and members’ profiles.

Bly highlights a new city and one-of-a-kind market goods every two months, working with local photojournalists to capture the style and spirit of each place. The website works with local vendors and artisans directly to get a fair price on goods, and gives 5 percent of proceeds to local charities. The first featured city is Mumbai, India, with La Paz, Bolivia, debuting in early June. Other cities planned for the first year include Kumasi, Ghana; Bukhara, Uzbekistan; Malacca, Malaysia; and Berlin, Germany.

Bly is named after Nellie Bly, a pioneering female journalist who traveled around the world in 72 days in 1889 with just two day’s notice and one small bag (check out a nifty drawing of Nellie Bly’s packing list, which included a flask and a jar of cold cream). The founder of Bly, Rena Thiagarajan, was born in the former Indian city of Madras (now Chennai) and now lives in San Francisco, and has traveled the world in search of unique design finds and street culture.

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Get hunting at ProjectBly.com and check out the slideshow of street photography featured on the site.