10 travel resolutions for 2010

As 2009 draws to a close and we look back on the last 365 days of travel, it’s time to make some resolutions for the coming year. Here are ten travel resolutions that will help you be a happier, more fulfilled traveler in 2010.

Pack lighter
Nearly every domestic carrier now charges for the first checked bag. The fees are increasing as airlines are relying on the fees to supplement revenue and they show no signs of stopping. If you haven’t yet mastered the art of packing for a domestic trip with just a carry-on, now is the time to do so. Limit yourself to one pair of shoes in your bag, bring clothes that mix and match, plan to wash and re-wear your clothes if they get dirty, and wear your bulkiest items on the plane. Resist the urge to pack for every contingency, learn the 3-1-1 rules, and know that any minor inconvenience you suffer from packing light may be worth the money saved. Plus, there’s no waiting around for your luggage to be unloaded and no danger of it getting lost en route.

Remember to unplug

Many people are afraid to truly take a vacation from work. They worry about how it will affect their career or stress about the amount of work they’ll come back to. If they do manage to make it out of the office, they often spend their whole trip checking email and fielding work calls and texts. Step away from the Blackberry! Sign out of Twitter, shut down Facebook, and put your “out of office” notification on your email. You’ve worked hard for this vacation so unplug and actually enjoy it.Explore your own backyard
Don’t worry, I’m not going to suggest you plan a “staycation” this year. But I will point out that exploring a new place doesn’t have to mean jetting off to a destination halfway around the world. If finances are tight but you still want to take use some vacation time and broaden your horizons, spend your days discovering a place you haven’t been within the US, within your own state, or even within a few hours drive of your own home. In between trips, find ways to do some virtual traveling by learning about your dream destinations or celebrating other cultures.

Slow down
There’s so much to see in this great big world, and so little time to see it in, that it’s easy to fall into the trap of trying to squeeze in as much as possible on each trip. But when you do that, you’re just ticking things off a list and experiencing nothing. Slow down and take your time exploring a few places rather than trying to skim the surface of many. You many not be able to say you’ve seen every country in the world, but you can say you’ve understood a few.

Think outside the box for destinations
Resolve to shake up your travel m.o. in 2010 If you always opt for a European getaway, head to Asia this year. If most of your trips are to big cities where you can wine, dine, shop and visit museums, try a trip to a quiet beach or a countryside setting instead. Consider what you want to get out of a trip and look for other destinations that fit the bill. Dive enthusiasts who’ve explored most of the Caribbean’s depths can try the waters of the Mediterranean. Traveling foodies who’ve eaten their way around Europe can sample the tastes of India or learn the traditions of Mexican cooking. Reconsider places you might have dismissed before, especially those that are emerging as new destinations so that you can beat the crowds.

Try an alternative form of lodging
Who says you always have to stay in a hotel? This year, try a different kind of lodging. Sleep in a bed and breakfast, rent an apartment, CouchSurf or sign up for a home-swap. You may find that it’s not for you, or you may find your new favorite way to stay. As a bonus, alternative forms of lodging are often cheaper than traditional hotels.

Travel green
Help protect the places you love so that future generations can enjoy them. Resolve to cut back on your carbon footprint and do what you can to travel green. Try to stay in eco-friendly accommodations, take public transportation when you can, reduce your energy use at home, and invest in carbon offsets to help mitigate the damage caused by air travel.

Try one new thing on every trip
Travel is about experiencing new things, so why bother going to a new destination if you are just going to do the same activities, eat the same food, and explore the same interests? This year, challenge yourself to try at least one new thing on every trip. Sample a food you’ve never eaten, sip a local drink, learn a native skill, and engage in an activity you’ve never done before. It’s easy to fall into the routine of seeking out the same experiences in different places so challenge yourself to try something new.

Get out of your comfort zone
We travel to discover, not only new people and places, but also new things about ourselves. Push yourself out of your comfort zone in 2010. Try not only new things that you’re eager to experience, but also new things that scare you just a little. Eat that slimy, still-squirming mystery dish in China or face your fear of heights climbing the Sydney Bridge. You’ll learn a little about the world around you, and maybe even more about yourself.

Remember that travel is a state of mind
It’s easy to approach exotic cultures with respect and curiosity. It’s a lot harder to look at different cultures in our country and accept that just because they do things differently, it doesn’t mean they are wrong. Bring the acceptance you learn on the road home with you. Don’t lose your sense of wonder and curiosity once you are back on familiar ground. Remember that travel is a state of mind and you may be just as surprised to discover the world around you as you are destinations farther away.

Five new travel ideas from Intrepid: get off the beaten path!

After a year of “travel slumps,” “staycations” and other cringeworthy words and conditions, let’s plan to get out on the road next year. Hey, economists are saying that the recession’s already over, and the job market’s recovery can’t be too far behind. So, there’s your motive. Opportunity? That’s your vacation time; you probably have enough. All that’s left to pull the perfect trip together are the means … which Intrepid Travel is happy to provide.

Intrepid Travel has big news for next year, from green travel to exciting excursions in Iceland and North Africa. So, if you’re looking for some ideas for 2010, check out the five below. Intrepid’s definitely making it interesting.

1. Travel green: carbon offset
Intrepid Travel is moving more than 500 of its trips to “Carbon Offset” next year. In 2009, the company played around with the idea on 38 excursions, after having announced in December 2006 that it wanted to be carbon neutral by the end of 2010. With next year’s offering, Intrepid is certainly making progress.

2. Timor-Leste: tops for adventure
Spend 15 days in Dili and its markets, trekking out to Mt. Ramelau and wandering the Suai-area rainforest. Timor-Leste hasn’t been swamped with tourists yet, redefining “off the beaten path.” If you’re looking for the sort of experience where Intrepid excels, this is it.

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3. Cairo to Casablanca: epic journey
Travel through Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco as you see North Africa virtually from end to end. Along the way, you’ll trace the routes of legendary rulers and see how civilizations unfolded and fell. For 39 days, you will gain an incredible understanding of this part of the world.

4. Johannesburg: the urban experience
Intrepid’s Urban Adventures package provides short bursts of insight — from half an afternoon to a full day. Use this time to explore the South African capital on foot or by bicycle. This is a great way to get a quick taste before planning your longer excursion later.

5. Iceland: value for money
Despite the cold fall and winter seasons, Iceland‘s economy still melted down, actually making it an affordable destination. So, get the most of your experience on the ground, starting with the 22 percent discount on Intrepid’s trip up north next year. The 10-day run is available in June, July and August.

[Photo via Migrant Blogger]

Responsible Travel changes their mind

For the children, folks.ResponsibleTravel.com, a website known for providing eco-friendly vacation options, has changed their mind about something important. Especially after all our climate change talk yesterday (Blog Action Day), with the topic fresh in our minds, let’s talk about carbon offsets.

A recent report by Friends of the Earth states:
“Carbon offsets distract tourists from the need to reduce their emissions. They create a ‘medieval pardon’ for us to carry on behaving in the same way (or worse).”

Interesting point. So interesting, that Responsible Travel has removed the carbon offset widget from their site. The company has offered travelers the option of calculating their trip’s carbon footprint since 2002, so as to enable them to offset the environmental cost — but no more.

According to Responsible Travel’s Justin Francis:
“We believe that the travel industry’s priority must be to reduce carbon emissions, rather than to offset. Too often offsets are being used by the tourism industry in developed countries to justify growth plans on the basis that money will be donated to projects in developing countries. Global reduction targets will not be met this way.”

So, there’s some food for thought. We certainly don’t want to make anyone feel guilty for traveling, and if you’re going to travel, carbon offsets aren’t a bad thing, but keep in mind that you can make smart choices that will reduce your emissions. Responsible Travel can help.

Plane Answers: Airlines see green in appearing green

You’d like to choose the most eco-friendly airline, a company that goes above and beyond the others to fly efficiently, burn less fuel and maybe even offset its carbon.

But does an airline like that exist?

Airlines have gone to great lengths to operate efficiently in their struggle to survive, but some companies are touting practices they hope will cast them as greener than the rest. What’s hype and what’s really effective in reducing an airline’s fuel emissions?

The Greenest Airline

Since the price of fuel represents as much as 40% of an airline’s expenses, the industry has been on a quest for new technology and operating techniques to fly in a more efficient manner.

But if every airline is doing it, how can one company set themselves apart from their competitors and declare themselves the most green airline?

Virgin America offers the opportunity to voluntarily buy carbon offsets based on the length of your flight and Delta offers an option to plant a tree with each listing at a cost of $5.50 for a domestic flight.

Ethiopian airlines has already planted 7.5 million trees in Ethiopia, one for each passenger flown since 2005 at no extra charge to their customers.

But Nature Air in Costa Rica claims to be the first carbon neutral airline, and it looks like they’ve managed to accomplish that with carbon offsets and the use of 100% biofuel in their fleet of deHavilland Twin Otters.

But the airline many think of when discussing green initiatives in aviation, Virgin Atlantic, has an offset plan, too.

Virgin Atlantic has agreed to offset each and every one of its upper class customers limo rides to the airport by planting a few hundred trees each year. This is far short of the 59 million trees needed, according to the Guardian, to offset a year’s worth of flying.

Carbon credits and offsetting are likely going to play a larger part in the airline industry, but airlines will always try to reduce their emissions.

Let’s look at some of the efforts, and the impact it’s having.
Newer fleet

The claim that an airline’s newer airplanes make it the most green is often touted. European charter airline TUI (pronounced Tooey) highlighted its new fleet as being the greenest in the industry. But the choices for many low fare airlines are the A320 and next generation 737, both fuel efficient airplanes have seen limited changes in the past decade.

Easyjet tried to counter TUI’s green claim of having the greenest fleet by making the equally suspect statement that their company was in fact more green because they flew shorter flights.

Since aircraft have a life expectancy of at least twenty years, any recent airline, or even a company that has seen significant growth, will have a younger fleet by definition. It doesn’t make sense to retire an airplane sooner than 20 years just to save between 5 percent and 20 percent in fuel costs.

So when an upstart airline claims to be 25% more efficient than its competitors, you can suspect you’re being greenwashed. Even on this blog we’re not immune to the airline hype machine. We promoted one airline’s claims just hours ago here on Gadling:

The airline operates a brand new fleet of aircraft that operate up to 25% more efficiently than other domestic fleets. During ground taxiing, their aircraft use a single engine.

Single-engine taxi

This technique is often mentioned in reports like the one above on a specific airline’s efforts to save fuel as if it were a new idea. Most airlines have been taxiing on one engine whenever conditions allowed it since the late ’80s. It’s hardly a new effort.

There are times, however, when it isn’t possible to operate on one engine, because of a heavier than usual takeoff weight, airports with a slope on the way to the end of the runway or if baggage carts and personnel are working behind the airplane after the tug is released, since the ‘breakaway’ force on one engine requires higher thrust which could blow people and equipment away.

Still, when possible, it’s an effective way to save up to a few hundred pounds of fuel per fight.

Reduced speeds

A typical 757 long-haul flight can only shave around 4 minutes of time if flown at Mach .82. Flying a more reasonable Mach .79 or .80 can result in close to 400 pounds less fuel burned every hour. Airlines have realized this and are adjusting flight plans accordingly.

Winglets

A company called Aviation Partners formed as a joint venture with Boeing to retrofit 737, 757 and 767 aircraft with composite ‘blended winglets’ that have resulted in significant savings (between 3.5 percent and 5 percent lower fuel burn and emissions) for airlines.

Constant Descent Arrivals

Airplanes are much more efficient at higher altitudes, so any descents that begin early, and then level off at a lower altitude during the approach burns more fuel. The typical ‘stair-step’ arrivals in the New York area, for example are designed by ATC to keep traffic in specific corridors.

With GPS equipped airplanes that can be programmed to fly a constant descent approach accurately and consistently, the FAA is looking into designing arrivals that take advantage of this new technology.

Converting just one of the lessor used arrivals into Seattle will save an estimated 175,000 gallons of fuel a month.

An added benefit is that these approaches are much quieter for the surrounding communities, which is a big reason that London has required a similar type of arrival for years.

NextGen

Using the same GPS capabilities, the FAA is working on a new air traffic
control plan called NextGen, which will evolve ATC from a ground-based operation to a satellite based system of management.

In addition to improving safety and increasing capacity, this plan will allow for more direct routing for airplanes, less holding at the destination and better planning for constant descent arrivals mentioned above, resulting in less carbon emissions, fuel consumption, and noise.

It’s the little things that add up

Airlines have changed the technique for pushing back from the gate. Rather than a straight back push, Delta estimated if an airplane is turned up to 70 degrees in the direction of taxi before being released by the tug, 7.6 million pounds (just over a million gallons) of fuel can be saved.

Increased use of ground electrical power at the gate instead of the onboard Auxiliary Power Unit can save a similar amount and for every pound of water in the sinks and coffee makers that is reduced on a flight, American Airlines estimates it saves 14,000 gallons of fuel.

And Boeing has made changes in the next generation 737 engines this year that are said to save an extra 1% of fuel, which will benefit all future purchasers of their most popular airliner.

So when you read about fuel efficiency claims, remember that no airline can call themselves the green champion, although Nature Air in Costa Rica may deserve a gold metal at least. Every airline has been focused on saving fuel and reducing emissions because, frankly, it’s in their best interest to do so.

Their efforts have resulted in some significant savings over the past four decades, in fact.

Historically, airlines are outperforming the auto industry in fuel economy improvements. In 1972 U.S. airlines traveled 15 passenger miles per gallon. That number increased to 25 mpg in 1982 and 30 mpg in 1992. Today the number is exceeding 45 passenger miles flown per gallon.

The Boeing 787 and Airbus A350 are promising up to 20% improvements in fuel efficiency emissions, so that trend will likely improve.

Do you have a question about something related to the pointy end of an airplane? Ask Kent and maybe he’ll use it for next Monday’s Plane Answers. Check out his other blog, Cockpit Chronicles and travel along with him at work.

Choosing the right company for your carbon offsets

According to Carbonfund, with the amount of flying I do annually, I “produce” about 21,000 pounds of CO2 per year. If I want to make up for the environmental damage I’ve done, I can pay $125 to offset my carbon contribution.

But what does that really mean? How can paying $125 make the air cleaner or the ozone layer stronger? Where does that $125 go? Am I just paying to make myself feel better?

Well, as I’m learning, it all depends on which company you choose. Some seem to be more transparent than others about where your money goes, and some seem to offer more assurance in the way of third-party auditing. Two that I have found that seem to be among the most reputable are Carbonfund.org and TerraPass. Both take the money you pay for your carbon offsets and invest it into projects that help reduce pollution, produce clean air and alternative sources of energy, and reduce the effects of carbon-producing technology.

Carbonfund, the company your money will go to if you choose to buy offsets for your next Virgin America flight, contributes to three major undertakings: renewable energy and methane projects, energy efficiency and carbon credits, and reforestation and avoided deforestation projects. According to their website, each project is audited and certified by a third party. The money they receive goes to projects that help offset the damage being done not just from planes, but from all the other carbon-producing technology we use on a daily basis – trains, buses, cars, and home appliances.

With Carbonfund, you can pay for all your environmental sins at once, or calculate more precisely based on a single flight. They also seem to offer very affordable options. If 20 or so flights per year and 12 months of living in a small apartment and riding the city buses and trains only costs me $125, I’m betting a single flight can’t be over $20.

Some of the projects to which Carbonfund contributes include those that: reduce the emissions produced by large transport trucks while they idle at rest stops, protect tropical rainforest land, restore hardwood forests, generate clean electricity from farm waste, and destroy methane produced by landfills.

TerraPass, the offset option offered by Expedia, funds some similar projects. Their big three are wind energy, farm power, and landfill gas capture. Like Carbonfund, their programs are audited and verified by a third party. When you register your flight, your life, your wedding (yes, weddings leave a very large carbon footprint) or your business, you’ll get a total price and also see where that money will be spent and how it will help offset the emissions you have produced. TerraPass seems to be a bit more expensive for me though. It cost more like $150 to combat my yearly output and a single flight (Chicago to CapeTown) was nearly $50. I did, however, really like that they had a comprehensive report published on their website, which listed how much carbon each project reduced over the course of a year.

I also appreciated that both websites make it a point to say that purchasing carbon offsets doesn’t give you a free pass to live a wasteful live. Both promote that, in addition to buying carbon offsets, you should also strive to reduce your carbon footprint by using less electricity, taking public transportation, flying direct when possible, and using alternative sources of energy when you can.

Whether you go with one of these two companies or another, be sure that it is independently audited and verified and that it offers information on where and how your money will be spent. While you can’t chose a specific project, you can often choose what type of project your money funds. Choosing a company that is audited by a third party helps you be sure that your money is going where you think it is, and ensures that companies aren’t selling the same offset credits more than once.

In an age where we seem to be nickle-and-dimed to death by the airlines, it’s difficult to think of voluntarily coughing up another $10-$50 per flight. But this money isn’t going to the airlines. It’s not lining the pockets of some corporate honchos. When invested correctly, it seems it really can make a difference in the fight against climate change.