Farewell, Gadling!

Today marks my two-year anniversary with Gadling.

And my 2000th post exactly.

Post #1 on January 20, 2006 was a short piece introducing myself to Gadling readers. Post # 2000 is a short piece announcing that I will be stepping down.

This will be my last Gadling post, and one that I pen with both excitement and sadness. Gadling has come a long way in the last two years. We had just three writers at the time I started and a small, but faithful readership. Today, we have 16 writers on staff and daily page views that can stretch into the millions. Gadling is continuing to grow and continuing to improve and it was therefore a very difficult decision to step off this astounding train at such an exciting time.

But as you might imagine, averaging almost three posts a day has had a bothersome way of interfering with other projects I’ve wanted to tackle. And that’s why I’ve decided to take a break from blogging and concentrate on some of these ideas I’ve had circulating in my head the last few years.Although I may return for some guest appearances here on Gadling, I will also be doing some outside freelancing while I pursue my projects. So if you’re an editor looking to pass out some assignments, please feel free to email me at any time. (neilgadling(at)gmail(dot)com).

I can’t say goodbye without mentioning just how important travel has been for me. Over the last two years I’ve been extraordinarily fortunate and wonderfully blessed to have spent time in Tahiti, South Korea, North Korea, China, Alaska, the Sierras, Antigua, Alaska a second time, Mexico, Austin, Temecula, Santa Cruz Island, Austria, Hungary, Bosnia, Croatia, Montenegro, Kosovo, Albania, and the Cook Islands. And, of course, the occasional trip to Las Vegas.

I’m not calling out these locations to brag, but rather with the hope that these posts will help motivate others–especially my fellow countrymen–to reach out and explore the greater, outside world and in doing so, realize that travel opens eyes, breaks down barriers, and makes our planet a far better place as a result.

So with that thought in mind, adieu, auf wiedersehen, dosvidanya, sayonara, ciao, na shledanou, and farewell.

Related: The Best of Neil

How budget airlines make their money: The art of bumping a 2 cent ticket up to $120

So, how do they do it? How do all those European budget airlines make a profit charging less than a Euro per seat?

Last summer, Times journalist Mark Frary decided to find out for himself by purchasing a 1 pence Ryanair ticket from London’s Stansted Airport to Berlin. Sounds like a steal, right? Not exactly. Like so many other deal seekers on budget airlines, Frary ended up paying far more than that initial 1 pence. How his final cost netted out at £61.84 ($121.15) provides fascinating insight into an amazing business plan that is succeeding despite naysayers predicting otherwise.

Interestingly enough, the wild price of Frary’s final bill did not come from the most common source of increased ticket prices on budget airline: baggage fees. This is where the airlines really clean up. Passengers on Ryanair, for example, can check up to three bags. The first, however, costs £5 ($9.80) while each additional bag is £10 ($19.60). In addition, there is a 15 kg (33 lbs.) checked bag allowance. If a passenger exceeds this weight, they pay £5.50 ($10.78) per kilo–which can add up very quickly. And don’t even think of transferring your heavier items to your friend’s baggage at the airport either. Ryanair’s Terms and Conditions clearly state, “No pooling or sharing of baggage allowances is permitted, even within a party traveling on the same reservation.”Frary was smart and kept his baggage to a minimum. He did fall prey to, however, to a variety of other fees and services–some of which can easily be avoided (e.g., don’t order food onboard) while others can not. Despite all this, budget airlines are still a great deal cheaper than normal airlines, providing you have the brains and discipline to avoid be taken advantage of.

The Ticket
The ticket itself: £0.01 (2 cents)
Credit card charge: £ 1.75 ($3.43)
Flight change: £ 24.00 ($47)

Taxes and Fees
Government passenger duty: £ 5.00 ($9.80)
Airport passenger service charge: £ 7.30 ($14.30)
Insurance and wheelchair levy: £ 3.48 ($6.82)

Checked in suitcase: £ 7.00 ($13.71)

Food and Drink Onboard
Bottle on water (500ml): £ 1.80 ($3.53)
Pringles and Mars bar: £ 2.60 ($5.09)
Ham and cheese baguette: £ 4.00 ($7.84)

Two lottery scratch cards: £ 2.90 ($5.68)

TOTAL £61.84 ($121.15)

A cartoonist’s view of North Korea

I never would have expected a graphic novel to truly capture the sense of a place, but recently, I was pleasantly proven wrong with a nice gift I received for Christmas.

Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea by Guy Delisle is a superb snapshot, perhaps the best I’ve seen, of what it is truly like to visit North Korea.

Delisle is a French Canadian who went to Pyongyang to work with the local animation studio. He was fortunate enough (or, perhaps, unfortunate enough) to spend more time there than I was permitted to during my recent visit since he was there in a professional capacity. This provided him the opportunity to explore Pyongyang a little more in depth than the average tourist does and with a more unique perspective–that of a cartoonist.Delisle’s eye for detail, for example, reveals bits and pieces of Pyongyang most people never see. For example, like every other tourist, he did not fail to notice the ubiquitous portraits of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il that hang in nearly every room throughout the city. The difference, however, is that Delisle discovered that the portraits are thicker at the top of the frame, thus angling them in a way that not only minimizes reflection, but also makes them appear as though the Kims are looking down at you.

What’s truly wonderful about Delisle’s book, however, is that the entire thing is rendered in black and white shaded cartoons that perfectly capture the morose, stilted atmosphere of the world’s most reclusive Hermit Kingdom. In addition, the writing is sparse, succinct, powerful, and humorous, as you’d expect from a cartoonist.

I can’t recommend this book enough. I read it after visiting North Korea and found myself laughing and nodding my head in agreement throughout the entire, enjoyable read. Those who have never been, will most certainly enjoy it equally as much.

The LA River: A sad, lonely body of water that gets no respect

Paris has the Seine, Vienna the Danube, and Los Angeles has the LA, river that is.

Whoa, what!?!? Los Angeles has a river?

Perhaps river is far too generous of a term for the 52 miles of concrete-lined “waterways” which tumble from the foothills of Los Angeles down to the Port of Long Beach. And yet, locals in this water-starved city have clung to this definition of “river” because they’ve got nothing else that even comes close. No one even thinks it ironic that the number one activity enjoyed on the LA River is not boating or fishing, but rather filming car chases for blockbuster Hollywood films.

And yet, there are sections of the river that are actually river-like, with flowing water, small islands, and even little fish swimming about. But don’t expect to find these more bucolic stretches on your own.

Visiting the LA River is pretty much at the bottom of most any tourist itinerary, but if exploring massive concrete public works projects is your thing, you should consider checking out Friends of the LA River, a “non-profit organization founded in 1986 to protect and restore the natural and historic heritage of the Los Angeles River and its riparian habitat through inclusive planning, education and wise stewardship.”FoLAR conducts monthly nature walks and urban explorations of this serpentine watershed, exploring the struggling ecosystem, cool bridges, storm drain paintings, and more.

Few locals and even fewer tourists ever make it down to the banks of what is otherwise an invisible river rarely noticed by the throng of commuters who pass by it on a daily basis. River activists hope this will one day change. Although plans are often kicked around to construct a bike path along its banks from the beach to downtown, it will be a long time before this is ever realized. In the meantime, the LA River will continue its lonely, anonymous existence as the river that gets no respect.

(click here for more information about the LA River)

Nature-Deficit Disorder

Yes, you read the headline correctly.

And yes, it means exactly what it looks like it means.

Nature-Deficit Disorder is not a clinically diagnosed disease. It is, however, a rather clever name for a disturbing trend towards “denatured childhood” and the alarming affects that can result from such a condition.

The phrase was coined by Richard Louv in his fascinating book, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder.

Louv points out that today’s children no longer spend long summer afternoons running through the woods, playing in fields, or camping under the stars. Instead, they are at home playing video games, watching movies, surfing the web, or engaging in other indoor activities.

I’ve witnessed this myself when I go home to my parent’s house for Christmas and am surprised every year by the absolute dearth of kids playing in the street with their new toys. Christmas morning is a ghost town–outdoors, at least. If I peer through the neighbor’s windows, however, I can see all the kids huddled around TVs or computer screens, bug-eyed and brain dead. Frankly, I find it very depressing.

So what’s the harm in spending less and less time outdoors in nature?

Louv argues that the exposure to nature is necessary for cognitive development and without a heavy dosage of it, children are more prone to suffer from depression, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, stress, and, of course, obesity.Part of this theory is based upon the concept of biophilia–a belief that we are all still hunters and gathers at heart and are therefore still very strongly connected to nature. As a result, “there is something in us that needs natural forms, that needs association with nature in ways that we don’t fully understand.”

Although Louv is not a doctor, he sites a substantial body of research supporting links between positive immersion in nature and a child’s increased cognitive development.

He takes the argument a step further by blaming decreased nature exposure on worried parents who no longer allow their kids to run loose. Playtime is not only structured and supervised these days, but playgrounds and parks have been completely bled of any natural elements for fear of lawsuits, thus creating an artificial environment that might be outdoors, but it sure isn’t natural.

It will be a long time, if ever, we see Nature-Deficit Disorder appear in the pages of the DSM, psychology’s A-Z of psychiatric diagnoses. I doubt that such a condition will ever be proven conclusively, and yet exposing children to the great outdoors just feels right to me, like it’s the natural thing to do.