Five reasons to visit Monaco next year

Surrounded by France, except for a stretch along the Mediterranean, Monaco is a destination for the wealthy, as well as those with a penchant for auto racing or roulette. The only other ostensible reason to visit this tiny principality is curiosity — especially for Americans, it’s hard to believe that a plot of land that small could actually be its own country! Well, good things tend to come in small packages, and Monaco is no different. Monaco stands on its own, warranting a visit that’s more than an add-on to a vacation in France.

Need a reason? I have five for you, all at least a tad off-beat.

1. You can walk the entire country end-to-end
So, it’s not a journey worthy of a Jules Verne story, or for that matter, Michael Palin. But, it’s still pretty cool to brag that you’ve walked an entire country … in only one day. Monaco is only 0.76 square miles, so you’ll even be able to stop for lunch and a spin of the wheel at Casino de Monte-Carlo.

2. The Prince is everywhere
Every business establishment has a portrait of the country’s ruler, Prince Albert II, displayed prominently. It’s like experiencing a touch of North Korea in Europe: creepy but not scary.

3. The changing of the guard is … ummmm … unique
I had visions of Arlington National Cemetery while waiting for the changing of the guard in Monaco: proud, disciplined, military personnel flawlessly executing tightly scripted movements. Nope. Some were a tad tubby to bee soldiers. A few had trouble staying in step. Rifles were propped at varying angles, though fortunately all on right shoulders. It was comical. I offered to help, but Prince A. still hasn’t responded to my open letter.

4. You could be set for life
There’s always a shot that you could find fortune at the casinos. Win big, and you won’t have to worry about working again (hey, stretch out that vacation a bit!). Since the house always wins in the end, you’ll probably want to have a backup plan. I suggest love. Try to score a future as a mistress or boy-toy: Monaco is committed to equal opportunity. The hours are great, as is the compensation. But, the work can suck from time to time.

5. Nerds are welcomed desired
Actuaries and risk geeks should hit Monaco during the annual Rendez-Vous conference for the reinsurance industry. Even if you aren’t part of the official festivities, this event is one of the country’s biggest draws, beat only by the Grand Prix in terms of cash brought in. Everyone loves the risk crowd, so drop your slide rule, and get busy!

Oh, and you can do all the usual stuff, too. Tour the palace, hit the beach and try to sneak onto a rich guy’s yacht — it’s all in good fun. Just make sure you can outrun the local army if you try this last one. It’s not hard, though, and you’re never more than a few miles from the border.

[Photo by Salvatore.Freni via Flickr]

Five great reasons to travel now

You’ve been bombarded with pessimistic accounts of the travel industry’s decline. And, yes, I am fully aware that I’m part of it. Frankly, these reports are true. There is a problem – i.e., people aren’t traveling – and it’s driven by a combination of macroeconomic challenges and company mismanagement. But, these conditions also mean there’s no time like the present to get out on the road and satisfy your wanderlust.

To really understand why now’s the time to travel, though, you need to look past the economy. Instead, think about opportunity. Yeah, some of this is derived from a depressed travel market, but stick to the bright side. This isn’t about the airline industry: it’s about you.

Need to “justify” your urge to toss your clothes in a bag and explore? We have 10 to get you started.

1. The inaccessible is now within reach
Everybody has a dream vacation, a place (or list of places) that has always gripped your imagination. Some have never seen the ocean – except on television – and desperately want to remedy that situation. Others set their sites on the absurd and want to brave the threats to life and limb offered by Mogadishu, Baghdad and Kandahar. Whatever the wish, prices are now on your side. You can cover the basics or the exotic for a fraction of what a similar trip cost in recent years. Hell, check out Abercrombie & Kent’s recent travel sale if you need proof. Every travel dream is closer to reality than it was at this time last year.

Maybe you can go to North Korea … there’s space open for Arirang in the Fall.


2. You need it … badly
Obviously, economic realities can’t be ignored. If you aren’t working and haven’t had a steady paycheck in a while, it probably doesn’t make sense to drop $10,000 on a jaunt to Monte Carlo. Let’s be realistic. But, if you have access to disposable cash, you may want to invest some of it in recreational travel.

Yes, invest it.

The pressure that comes with working under adverse economic circumstances is extraordinary. A colleague gets laid off, and you’re supposed to pick up the slack – and be happy about it! After all, you still have a job. Even if you keep a positive attitude, you’re working longer hours for less appreciation. Your morale sits deep in the chilly waters of the nearest toilet.

You need to do something about this.

Get out of town a little bit. Decompress. Even if you don’t think you need a break, as your friends, family or coworkers what they think. You may be surprised at how you appear to other eyes. I lived through something similar to this in the post-dotcom recession – refusing to sacrifice billable hours for an investment in my mental health. I finally booked a short trip to San Diego and didn’t realize how much I’d needed it until I was on my flight back to Omaha (where I was working at the time).

Those who need a break most may not even know it.


3. Everybody wants you
I’m not going to dwell on airline pricing yet again. I’ve covered enough of that topic for Gadling, and I know I’m not the only blogger on the staff who has. So, just remember that flights are cheap. The interesting stuff, though, is going on at the hotels. Sure, rates are dropping. Again, that’s not a surprise. What you should remember, though, is that the perks are going up.

A lot of upscale properties are trying their damnedest not to lower room rates too much. For them, it’s a brand protection move. A property like the Fairmont or Ritz-Carlton, for example, doesn’t want you to get accustomed to paying dirt cheap prices. And, I get it. Their identities are built around treatment and luxury and attention – not the bargain-basement concept. While you’ll see upscale properties’ prices drop, don’t count on getting the ridiculous deals that you’ll find at mid- and lower-tier hotels.

That being said, don’t be afraid to ask for extras. Even though you’ll be paying a premium for some resorts, you can certainly stretch your dollar – probably more than you think. Ask about free access to the gym, spa credits and discounts on greens fees. Try for an upgrade to an “exclusive” floor.

Many properties are actually building amenities into package that you may not have thought to request. Eden Rock is offering free lessons for kids from the artist in residence.

If you want to go to a particular hotel, get a sense for how badly they want you as a guest. There are plenty of travel deals on the web, but don’t be afraid to make a few phone calls, too.

The secret to understanding hotels is the “room-night” concept. A room-night is the basic commodity of the trade. On May 30, 2009, a hotel has a vacancy in Room 111. If it does not sell that space, it can’t try again on May 31, 2009 – after all, that’s a new room-night for Room 111. So, hotels get one chance to sell each room each night. If they fail, the opportunity is lost. With this in mind, you can see why hotels will be willing to play ball with you.


4. Everyone else is stuck with a staycation
We’re all sick of the word, and the ultimate act of defiance is not to participate in that stupid concept. While people are trying to make the best of a shitty situation, understand that you can create one that’s pretty close to ideal – especially considering #1 and #3. With fewer people traveling this summer [LINK], you’ll have more space on planes and can beg for hotel upgrades with a higher likelihood of success.

Hell, try for a yaycation instead. Celebrate the fact that everyone else is stuck playing tourist in their local strip malls while you’re out seeing something incredible for the first time. Oh, and celebrate the new word that Brenda Yun gave us.

5. You’re the only piece that’s missing
We’re giving you updates on the latest travel deals steals, offering up unusual destinations and providing the occasional tip that could make your travel plans easier. There’s only one component we can’t provide: you. Read about some of the recent destinations covered here on Gadling. Check out our latest bargain travel spots (hell, there’s no reason to spend a lot of money to get out of town and relax a bit).

Then, just add you.

Need a last minute break? Vegas awaits you on the cheap!

Is the cold weather already getting to you? How about a nice getaway to Vegas?

If you are able to find a decent airfare (good luck with that), then you can stay at the Monte Carlo starting at just $44. The deal even includes 2 buffet vouchers per night and $10 in slot play.

The $44 rate is of course only available on select dates, but when you check their availability overview, you’ll be able to find plenty of reasonably priced nights.

Of course, the period starting on January 7th goes way up, thanks to the International CES being held in Vegas that week.

Vegas has always had its fair share of good deals, but those often involve places off the strip, or places you could not be paid enough to stay at. Monte Carlo is a very nice property, and has enough on location to keep you entertained for the duration of your stay.

The deal can be found here, just click on “view available dates” to see when you’ll be able to snag one of the best prices.

Tips for hotel fire safety

My mom was a flight attendant and spent a lot of time in hotels. On one such stay, a fire broke out where she was staying and ever since then she’s been very aware of evacuation routes in hotels. When I left for my round-the-world trip, her advice to me was to make sure that my guesthouses, many of which weren’t likely held to any fire codes and/or didn’t have smoke detectors, had more than one way out. She also suggested getting rooms on floors near the ground so I could escape through a window on my own. I had never even considered fire safety before, but her advice made sense and I think it was sound information to send me on my way with.

I thought of her advice in a hotel on Phuket, Thailand. I stayed on the top floor, the 6th, and my room had tiny slits for windows up near the ceiling. I laughed to my friend, “My mom would kill me if she saw this room.” Days later the tsunami hit and although I had left by then, had I stayed it’s possible that being on the 6th floor would’ve saved my life. Nevertheless, fires are much more common than tsunamis, and with the Vegas Monte Carlo fire yesterday, now is a good time for travelers to look around and check out their hotels’ escape routes. Here are some more tips from the L.A. Times:

  • Make sure your room’s smoke detector is working.
  • If a fire breaks out outside your room, feel your door before opening it to make sure it isn’t warm.
  • If you can’t leave your room, call the hotel operator or fire department (this works better if you’re in a room with phones!)
  • Wet sheets and towels and place them under your door to keep smoke out.
  • Hang a sheet from your window to alert rescuers where you are.

Do you have any tips to share?

Top 10 gambling destinations

I’ve never been much of a gambler. Maybe it’s because I’m cheap and parting with money that I’m probably not going to get back just doesn’t seem like a good idea, or maybe it’s because I’m not much of a risk taker. Nonetheless, lots of people love to gamble and as long as they’re not sending themselves into serious debt, all the power to them. But where does one go to gamble? The casino down the road is a bit boring .. and smelly. You could head to Vegas, but everyone does that. According to MSNBC, here are the top 10 gambling destinations in the world:

  • Aruba
  • Atlantic city
  • Goa, India
  • Macau, just off the coast of China (It’s just like Vegas, apparently)
  • Mississippi Gulf Coast
  • Monte Carlo
  • Nassau and Paradise Island
  • Niagara Falls
  • Sun City, just outside of Johannesburg in South Africa

I guess it shows how much of a gambler I am — I’ve never been to any of these places, other than Niagara Falls (but I went there for Maid of the Mist, not the slots)