JetBlue Lets Family And Friends Earn Frequent Flier Points Together

If you’re one of those travelers who flies every now and then but not super often, you’ve probably all but given up hope of ever racking up enough frequent flier points for a free journey. Now jetBlue is giving less frequent travelers a better chance of earning a free flight by letting them pool their reward miles with family or friends.

The airline says its TrueBlue loyalty program will allow a designated group of travelers to accumulate points together. A family who is pooling its points can include a maximum of two adults aged 21 and over and up to five children. But friends who aren’t related can also decide to form a group for the sake of collecting miles. And you don’t have to share all your points either –- family or group members can choose to contribute a percentage of their miles to the group pool. Anyone who is part of the group can then use the points towards an award flight.JetBlue says the new point-sharing option now removes all the obstacles when it comes to redeeming an award flight. The carrier says it doesn’t have any blackout dates and loyalty points don’t expire, meaning families have better chance of accumulating enough miles to make that free trip a reality.

In Oaxaca, A Place For Friends

Sundays in Oaxaca are quiet. The stores are closed; the streets empty.

There is buzz around the churches, as families mill in and out dressed in their Sunday best. Near the Zocalo, children play with oversized balloons, pushing them high into the sky.

But otherwise, the city is silent.

On a recent Sunday, I decided to embrace the calm and seek a quiet resting place where I could sit with a healthy meal, an iced coffee and the words of Carlos Fuentes. The spots I had in mind were closed, so I wandered the streets until I caught sight of an entryway leading into a courtyard shaded in bougainvillea. “Yoga, vegetarian food,” the chalkboard sign read. I had found my place.

I entered and asked for a table. The kind-eyed host explained to me that here, they do things differently, that this is a place for friends. She asked if I wouldn’t mind sharing a table, and she gestured toward my new seatmate: an elderly gringo in khakis and a Panama hat.Inwardly, I groaned. The last thing I wanted was forced conversation with a senior citizen. I wanted to feel Mexico, not be reminded of home.

Outwardly, I smiled and sat down.

De donde es?” he asked.

De los Estados Unidos,” I replied.

“Oh, you’re American,” he laughed. “Could’ve fooled me.”

Uh-huh. I pulled out my book and set it on the table.

“Where in the States are you from?”

“New York.”

“Oh, I lived in New York. In Manhattan?”

“Yes, the East Village.”

He laughed. “I used to live right near you, on 4th between B and C. But this was a long time ago, in the 1960s.”

Now he had my attention. You had to be a certain kind of person to live in the East Village in the 1960s.

“Do you know Allen Ginsberg? The poet?”

I nodded. I only idolized him.

“He was my neighbor.”

From there, the conversation flowed: from his life as an art student in the ’60s, to my writing ambitions in the ’10s, to his sons, my sister, his newly remodeled home, my newly redecorated apartment. Mitch was a man in transition, having just retired after decades of working as a museum exhibit designer for the federal government. I too was in transition, on the cusp of returning to graduate school and charting a new career path. He had come to Oaxaca to draw; I had come to write.

I didn’t expect Mitch and I to have much in common, but we did. I was reminded of a basic travel lesson: the necessity of being open to new people and new experiences.

Throughout our nearly three-hour conversation, the host, whose name I discovered was Rosaura, kept us fed and refreshed with a three-course vegetarian meal: crunchy jicama salad, hearty chickpea soup and a yogurt-oatmeal dessert, complemented by hibiscus tea. At the end, she only asked for $35 pesos (about US$3) to cover the cost of the ingredients. Every Sunday, Rosaura hosts this special gathering in the courtyard of the Comala restaurant on Calle Allende in downtown Oaxaca. The morning starts with a yoga session, followed by a meal. All are welcome – so long as they are open to new friends.

[Photo Credit: Jessica Marati]

The Death Of A Good Travel Companion

This week I learned the sad news that a friend and coworker in Harar, Ethiopia, had died. Mohammed Jami Guleid helped me out countless times while I explored the Horn of Africa. If you enjoyed my series on Somaliland or Harar, you have him to thank.

I first met “Dake,” as everyone called him, on my first visit to Harar in eastern Ethiopia as I was searching for a way to get to Somaliland, the breakaway northern region of Somalia. Everyone told me to meet with Dake. He was a Somali who had made Harar his home and had many contacts on both sides of the border. Within days I was riding through the desert with a couple of his relatives on my way to Somaliland. It was one of the best adventures of my life.

From that point our working relationship grew. Dake was an expert on Somali and Harari culture. He even wrote a book titled “Harar: A Cultural Guide.” My signed edition sits next to me as I write.

We meet lots of people on our travels. Most of them soon fade into the past, remembered only in old photographs and journal entries. Others last through a few emails and postcards before they, too, become memories. Only a few become lasting friends.

That was easy with Dake. He had an open, relaxed manner and was always quick with a joke. His deep interest in Harar’s history and architecture was infectious. Once he woke me up at five in the morning so we could photograph the town’s winding medieval alleys as the sun rose. I didn’t mind, even when his insistence on getting “one more shot” kept me from my morning coffee for far longer than I liked.Here he is in the narrowest of Harar’s alleys, called Megera Wa Wiger Uga, “The Street of Peace and Quarrel.” In local tradition you have to speak to anyone you pass here, even if you’re angry with them and aren’t otherwise talking with them. Since it connects two busy areas, a lot of people pass through this alley and a lot of arguments get resolved.

Dake had been an outsider to Harar once himself, so he sympathized with my efforts to adjust to the local culture. He was always ready to help out with advice at a moment’s notice and saved me from more than one cultural blunder. Having an insider who knows what it’s like to be an outsider is invaluable when studying a new place.

We also explored Ethiopia’s Somali region. Dake had big hopes of developing the region’s tourism potential as a way to expand his own tourism business while helping his people.

When we weren’t working at documenting eastern Ethiopia’s heritage, we spent many relaxed hours at birtchas or spinning tales in local cafes. Friendships can be fleeting when you’re traveling, but Dake and I became good friends and kept up a regular correspondence when I was back in Europe.

When you make a real friendship on the road, treasure it. Keep in contact and head on back to see them. I wish I had made it back to Harar at least one more time while he was still alive. As the list of my friends who have died relentlessly lengthens, I find myself more appreciative of those I still have, and more determined to pack as much life into the years left to me before my own inevitable end.

Authors note: my pay for this post will be donated to Glimmer of Hope, an NGO working to help Ethiopia’s children. Dake had a son about the same age as mine so I think he’d appreciate it.

Travel Troubles: How To Break Up With Your Travel Companion

Our options for ending romances are plentiful, ranging from face to face meetings to changing a Facebook status knowing your soon-to-be-ex will stumble across the unhappy message you are sharing with him and 500 other “friends.” Depending on your perspective, we live either in a golden age of communications or a social media hell of our own making.

Travel breakups are a bit trickier. Maybe you’ve planned a trip with a mate then realized a week in that your idea of bliss is a day at the spa while hers is climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. Or you’re losing sanity because the jackhammer snoring your buddy characterized as “light wheezing” is keeping you up nights. Whatever the reasons, sometimes we need to part ways with a travel companion. Here’s how.

You can plan your itinerary, your route and your meals. But as far as I know there is no fool-proof way to calculate how you and your friends will interact after, say, getting lost for the 300th time or when forced to make nice with the frat boy, who always smells like cheese, your friend has fallen for. Be honest about needing some space. Here’s a script to help you practice.

“Hey, Dave.”
“What’s up bro?”
“Well, I’ve got some things on my mind, Dave.”
“Cool, cool.”
“I’d like to strike out on my own for a bit, maybe meet up with you in a few weeks in Uzbekistan. How’s that sound?”
“Right on.”
“Awesome. Great talk, Dave.”

Okay, it might not be as painless a conversation as it is with surfer Dave but the premise still holds. Be direct. Be kind. Be strong, grasshopper.

Pros: This strategy is your best bet for remaining friends after your trip and, let’s be real, the healthiest suggestion on this list.
Cons: Honesty is tough. Just ask any politician, anywhere.Avoidance
My friend Christina went on a three-week tour of Europe with her two best friends. At the end of the trip, one friendship was firmly intact but after saying goodbye at baggage claim, she never spoke to the other girl again. She describes her former BFF’s travel personality as miserly, rude and condescending. A triple threat! Christina practiced one type of avoidance, dodging confrontation during the trip itself. But this strategy can also be used on the mate himself. Do you notice your companion is already dressed and out the door before your alarm has even gone off? If you get more than one hastily scrawled “gone exploring for the day” note stapled to your backpack (not that I recommend stapling things to your backpack, who even brings a stapler on a trip?), you might be the recipient of the avoidance strategy.

Pros: Great for those who loathe confrontation.
Cons: Your silence might unintentionally cause more suffering, not less. Instead of ripping off the bandage, you’ve chosen to bleed out.

The Bad Hotel
Recently in Sydney, Australia, some folks decided that the 5000 grey-headed foxes making their home in the Royal Botanical Gardens needed to be evicted because they were destroying the batch of trees that house them. The relocation strategy was dubbed “the bad hotel” and it involved blasting the creatures with noises described as “glass smashing, fast hum, and whipper snapper” – imitating the type of unending renovations that might cause you to book accommodation elsewhere. My friend Jenna offers a disturbing example of how the bad hotel strategy could work with a travel companion. On a road trip, for instance, tell a buddy who is bugging you that you need to drive from now on because you’re getting carsick. Then drive like a maniac, Jenna counsels. Text, go too fast then too slow, stop all the time, eat messily in the car, smoke if she hates it, etc. Bonus points if your mate screams: “Stop this car right now I’m getting out!”

Pros: You get to practice your acting (you are acting, right?).
Cons: Texting while driving is dangerous. Seriously. Don’t do that sh*t.

The Switch
The Switch and the Ditch, although I have rhymed them adorably, are not for amateurs. Both strategies involve a good deal of planning and mental fortitude. Consider yourselves warned.

I’ve never successfully pulled off a switch but I’ve seen it done and it was a thing of beauty. In Ireland, I once shared a dorm room with two guys (let’s call them Tom and Jerry) who had been traveling together for a few weeks after meeting abroad. One night I was out with a group of backpackers from the hostel when Tom confessed to me over a cold Guinness that he was a bit sick of Jerry. However, his new friend was a timid traveler and he didn’t want to leave him in the lurch, despite being ready to hit the road on his own. But Tom had a plan, he said, nodding in the direction of Jerry, seated a few chairs over, and deep in conversation with a guy named Aaron. Tom had met Aaron that morning and thought he seemed like a worthy replacement. So he ferreted out some details about Aaron’s upcoming travel plans and dropped delicate hints about how much Jerry, too, was keen on heading to Dublin soon. Then he introduced the future bros at drinks that night, a matchmaker on a mission. Sure enough, a day later Jerry announced he was going to take off with Aaron. Switch accomplished.

Pros: You get to exercise concern and cleverness.
Cons: It’s a delicate dance, the switch, and many of us have two left feet.

The Ditch
It is not nice to ditch someone. Truly, it is a last resort. But some situations call for extreme measures and I want you to be prepared. This last strategy requires little in the way of explanation. You simply, well, you abandon someone. You should be aware, though, that there is a strain of traveler immune to the ditch, often the same clingy folk who need to be left behind in the first place. My friend Carly once told a love-struck guy she was traveling with to meet her in the hostel kitchen for breakfast. She said she was just going to pack up and would be down in a few minutes. Then Carly slipped out the back door and disappeared into the frenetic Sao Paulo streets. Only she didn’t vanish quite well enough. Two days later she was hanging out on the balcony of her new room when a familiar voice called up to her. “Carly! Carly! There you are!” her suitor shouted, convinced their parting had been an accident and not an intentional ditch.

Pros: No muss, no fuss (usually).
Cons: You might have to stop once and for all using the adjective “nice” to describe yourself.

Couchsurfing: more than just a free place to stay

Here at Gadling we’ve talked a lot about Couchsurfing, a very cool organization where members host each other. It’s an amazing example of how the world can work if you have a bit of kindness and trust. Millions of people have slept for free on millions of couches and made millions of friends in new places. I’ve been a member for a year and I’ve gotten a lot out of it, yet I’ve never once surfed a couch with them.

The two times I’ve used Couchsurfing have been when I’ve come up to Santander in Cantabria in northern Spain to explore the city in anticipation of moving there. Both times my wife was with me and she prefers hotels over couches, so we didn’t try to couchsurf. We both had great Couchsurfing experiences, though.

Before we visited last October I got onto the Couchsurfing Cantabria forum and announced we wanted to meet locals and learn more about life in the city. They organized a party for us and 25 people showed up! We got heaps of restaurant and bar recommendations, an invitation to a hike, and my wife got a list of local yoga studios.

We stayed in touch with the friends we made and this week we visited again. This time we got more suggestions of places to go, my son was introduced to a kid his age, and one of the Couchsurfers turned out to work for a rental agency, just the thing we needed! One well-connected woman is going to hook me up with a writer so I can tap into the local literary scene and a spelunker so I can get back into caving. Thanks to Couchsurfing, we won’t be moving to a city of strangers this September.

Couchsurfing puts you in touch with interesting, open people the world over. If you’re interested in exploring a new place to move there or just to visit, get your free membership and start networking!