Airbnb Offers Free Housing For Victims Of Hurricane Sandy

Last week, thousands of residents along the East Coast had their homes destroyed or were left without electricity and heat by Hurricane Sandy. This week brought yet another injustice as a vicious Nor’easter storm bearing snow and frigid temperatures left victims scrambling for shelter. That’s why we were heartened to hear about a just-announced partnership between NYC.gov and apartment rental service Airbnb to coordinate free housing for New York area storm victims.

Since the storm hit New York and New Jersey last Monday, Airbnb has seen a surge in last-minute bookings in storm-affected areas like Atlantic City, New York City and the Hamptons. As a result of the surge, Airbnb announced it was partnering with NYC.gov to waive all fees for all Sandy victims looking for shelter on the service and put in a new call for generous New Yorkers with extra space to donate extra rooms and couches to those in need.

Airbnb is one of several services that let savvy apartment owners make money off their unused space, but what sets them apart is the site’s emphasis on community. Rather than just a place to rent apartments, the site’s users can now help displaced New York, New Jersey and Connecticut residents find help in a time of need. We hope more travel brands will look to this example and continue to encourage this kind of generosity and community among members.

[Photo credit: Randy Le’Moine Photography]

Collect And Share Travel Experiences With AFAR

share travel on Afar.comPinterest became the hottest social network this year, with millions using the site to collect and search for recipes, design ideas and inspirational quotes. Many travelers have used Pinterest for planning and sharing trips, tips and destinations (you can find Gadling here). Now Afar.com, the website and community behind AFAR magazine, has introduced a new feature to curate travel experiences, chronicle favorite destinations and discover new places in a way that’s Pinterest-like in ease of use and appealing interface but designed just for travelers.

“Wanderlists” are part of AFAR’s collaborative travel guide, comprised of a collection of travel “Highlights,” similar to an inspiration board. Users can create a Highlight incorporating a photo and description of a place or experience, adding contact information and location tags to make it easier for other travelers to find. A Highlight might be a moment in a field of Irish wildflowers, a favorite breakfast spot in Istanbul, or a Victorian town in New Zealand. Highlights are integrated with Google Maps for easy reference, and can be shared over Twitter, Facebook, or email (you can even pin to Pinterest too). If you feel more like gathering ideas than sharing your own, you can search for any destination or topic like food or surfing.

Currently, Highlights and Wanderlists are all user-generated, but will soon include magazine content as well. You can get inspired by collections from the AFAR team like American road trip pit stops, markets around the world, or favorite spots in Cairo.

Create your own Wanderlists and search for Highlights at Afar.com.

Shake Shack in Brooklyn, New York, adds public art installation to their menu

shake shack new york opens public art installationA public art installation has been added to the space that will soon house a Shake Shack in the Fulton Mall in Brooklyn, New York. Earlier this year, Shake Shack reps heard about the Before I Die installation in New Orleans, Louisiana, and decided that they wanted to do the same thing as it seemed true to the Shake Shack spirit.

The installation is comprised of a giant chalkboard where people can write down things that they wish to accomplish before they die. According to Amanda Kludt of the New York Eater, some of the current postings include “Make Mariela proud of me”, “Change the world”, “Inspire like Steve Jobs did”, and “Hug you heart to heart”.

While the installation has been successful so far in creating a dialogue with their new community, the idea is purely for the Brooklyn location and will not be brought to other Shake Shacks.

Finding the expat community and what travelers can learn from them

No matter how well-traveled you are, moving to a foreign country and living as an expat is a whole new ballgame. Your priorities and standards change, and hours that you may have spent as a traveler in a museum or wandering a beach are now spent in as an expat search of an alarm clock or trying to distinguish between eight types of yogurt. You become like a child again: unable to speak in complete sentences, easily confused and lost, and constantly asking questions.

Enter the experienced expats who can help navigate visa issues, teach you dirty words in foreign languages, and tell you where to buy pork in a Muslim country. Finding the local expat community is not about refusing to integrate or assimilate in your new country, but rather meeting a group of like-minded people who understand what you are going through and can provide a bridge to the local community and culture.

So what can the traveler learn from an expat? How about where to buy souvenirs that are actually made nearby and well priced, restaurants not mentioned in any guidebooks, bizarre-but-true stories behind local places and rituals, and inside perspectives on community news and events? And those are just the Istanbul bloggers.

Read on for tips on finding the blogs and a few of the must-reads for travelers.Where to find the expats:

  • Expat forums such as ExpatFocus, InterNations, and Expat Blog are good starting points for finding and connecting with expats, though some forums may be more active than others.
  • Local English-language publications: Many big cities have a Time Out magazine in English and local language, often with frequently-updated blogs or links to other sites. In Istanbul, the newspaper Today’s Zaman has an “expat zone” full of useful articles.
  • Guidebook writers are often current or former expats, so if you read a helpful guide or travel article, it’s worth a Google search to find if they have a blog or Twitter account.

Some stellar expat bloggers around the globe:

  • Carpetblogger: sarcastic, insightful blogger based in Istanbul but with lots of coverage on Central Asia, the Caucasus, and Indonesia. Stand-out post: expat guide to duty free shopping.
  • Miss Expatria: prolific writer and instantly-loveable American in Rome, a joy to read even if you have no plans to visit Italy, but you might find yourself buying tickets after reading about her life. Stand-out post: Italian idioms.
  • CNNGo: great round-up of finds in Asia from Bangkok to Tokyo with everything from restaurant reviews to a look at Tokyo’s elevator ladies. Stand-out post: Japan’s oddest vending machines, a favorite topic of Mike Barish, who has chronicled some of the vending machine beverages for your reading pleasure..
  • Bermuda Shorts: Enviable (and crushworthy, too) travel writer David LaHuta covers all the goings-on in Bermuda and all things Dark n Stormy-related. Stand-out post: name suggestions for new Indiana Jones movie set in Bermuda Triangle.
  • Fly Brother: Series of funny and poignant misadventures in Brazil and around the world from the African American perspective. Stand-out post: how an afternoon of seemingly simple errands can take up to seven hours.

The next time you plan a trip abroad, consider reaching out to a fellow American (or Canadian, Brit, etc.) for some advice or even a coffee meeting (assuming you aren’t a total psycho). I, for one, am happy to offer Istanbul tips and tricks, and I’d be even more amenable to helping a traveler who comes bearing Boar’s Head bacon.

Any expat blogs you follow or travel tips you’ve learned from them? Expat bloggers want to share your websites and your insights for travelers? Leave a note in the comments below.

LAX launches iWatch program

Los Angeles’ community anti-terror program, iWatch, has been expanded to the Los Angeles International Airport. The program, created by the LAPD, is intended to “educate the public about behaviors and activities that may have a connection to terrorism.”

Launched last October iWatch uses posters and pamphlets to spread the message. These printed materials encourage readers to report suspicious activity and list contact information for reporting perceived threats.

Critics worry the program may be used to racially profile innocent people. Los Angeles mayor Villaraigosa was careful in pointing out, “iWATCH not only provides an avenue to report suspicious activity, but more importantly it involves and educates the public about suspicious activities and behaviors, not personal characteristics, that may be associated with terrorist activities. The LAPD’s website lists suspicious behavior but doesn’t provide guidance on profiling.

Those witnessing suspicious behavior are encouraged to report using the threat line at 1-877-A-THREAT (1-877-284-7328), call 911 if an emergency or crime is occurring, contact their local police station, or go to iwatchla.org to file a report.

(Photo: Flickr/drbertdelgado)