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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Personal jouney: Growing up in 2 countries, 7 states

For the first six years of my life, I was a rather normal kid, aside from the fact I still slept with my mom (back then, the Chinese frowned upon niceties like extra beds), and before every hot meal, I fetched from downstairs the bricks of coal needed to heat the stove. Then, on my sixth birthday, mom said the Americans would finally let us come live with dad, who was studying at Texas Tech in Lubbock. Our nosy neighbors were ecstatic. “You make sure to meet a cute blonde girl,” the elderly woman next door said as she wobbled away in her bound feet. “And don’t move back here.”

I didn’t quite understand the buzz of excitement. I already had my little kingdom all figured out, and in it, I was emperor. The Mattel cars, model locomotive, and collection of weirdly shaped rocks answered to no one but me. Yet there was one thing I did understand, and that was these toys weren’t going to make it across the ocean with me.
Not until the first night after landing in Lubbock did I start to develop my fetish. You see, that was the very first night I slept in my very own bed, with my own covers and pillow. To most kids, having their own bed would have been the most thrilling part of the deal. But it was love at first sight between the pillow and me. It was so stuffed with down feathers I was afraid to put the full weight of my head on it in fear the seams would burst.

Though once I plopped my head down, with a muffled thud, I felt like I was sleeping on puff of cloud. The feathers were so soft they surely must have been plucked from hatchlings. But I also loved the pillow for what it was not: sand-filled and thin enough that I needed three to make a decent-sized headrest. For the first six years of my life, that was all I ever knew in a pillow.

My dad had sorely underestimated my attachment to the pillow. It didn’t help that he bought a Tweety Bird pillowcase to put over it, which made it one giant, extremely huggable, stuffed animal. Needless to say, I took it everywhere. Looking back, I’m not sure if the ladies at the grocery store were staring at me because of my sailor shirt and short shorts (“trust me, all the boys here wear them,” my mom had said) or the giant pillow I was clutching.

Suddenly thrown into a world where people talked in gibberish and my closest relatives lived in Baltimore, which sounded as far away as Beijing, my pillow was someone I could count on to be there for me. I even named it Tom, a bit of irony considering I picked out the name Jerry, after his clever nemesis, for myself a short time later when first grade began. Of course I couldn’t let the pillow be the dashing one in the relationship.

During the month in Lubbock, I had no toys since we were about to move again and my parents had to pay off dad’s tuition. That was fine with me, because I was too busy rolling around in the grass outside, with Tom usually propped up against a streetlamp pole (his posture is just awful). In China, you would have never been allowed to sit, walk across, or in any way come close to a patch of the rare green stuff. So when no one was looking, I even let Tom roll around on it for a bit – of course, usually with my head on top of him.

For the thousand-mile trip between Lubbock, Texas and Ames, Iowa, our next home, we didn’t have the money to fly, nor did we have a car to drive. So we took Greyhound. I was the only kid on the bus, if you didn’t count the single mother with the crying baby in the back. I guess you could’ve counted me as baby #2 for clutching Tom the whole eighteen hours.

My time in Ames was that of a typical boy. I soon learned English and the rules of the playground, the first being that a pillow wasn’t going to make me any new friends. So Tom, like sharing a bed with my mom or having to get coal for the stove, became something I kept to myself, because, well, you just can’t expect another 10-year-old to understand that.

In fifth grade, we moved again, this time to Omaha, Nebraska, which was only two hundred miles west, and easily covered in our 1984 Mazda 626. Back then, I could still lay stretched out in the backseat, though starting the year before, I had to slightly bend my knees. My head would also hit the door handle whenever we went over a bump, but for the most part, Tom kept me pretty cushioned.

By now, he had lost the Tweety Bird outfit, replaced by a more sensible, Robin egg blue pillowcase. The tag with the washing instructions had been worn away to a blur, with only recognizable words: “100% cotton.” Apparently Tom wasn’t a feathery Tweety Bird after all. And everywhere he went, he left behind fuzzy pieces of lint here and tiny snippets of string there, much like a tomcat I suppose.

Tom was still clinging on to life when we moved again a year later. This time, we had accumulated too much stuff to jam into the Mazda – and plus, we could afford an U-haul truck now. As we were hurtling through the ominous hills of Appalachia, on our way to Wilkesboro, North Carolina, I woke up from my nap in the backseat, and happened to notice Tom’s scent. Despite the countless wash cycles that my mom forced on Tom (“It’ll kill him,” I had pleaded once), he smelled of home. Not any particular place mind you, but the smell of a home’s security and refuge, not unlike what my grandmother’s lavender scent would invoke in me.

After middle school ended, we moved to Ohio and this time, we could fly. Tom was no longer himself, having lost much weight from a thousand nights supporting my head. That meant he was compact enough for me to bring on the plane (as a headrest of course). That was the last time he was seen in public. A year later, we moved to South Carolina, and a week after that, I came home to find another pillow on the bed.

“This one’s actually made from goose feathers,” my mom said. “I threw that ratty old one out. You needed something new.”

Great American Comedy Festival

Norfolk, Nebraska, hometown of Johnny Carson of the Tonight Show, will host the first ever Great American Comedy Festival as a tribute to Johnny and the stuff that makes us laugh. Comedy big time professionals like Robert Klein and Eddie Brill will perform throughout June 16-22. Others have been performed in venues like the Tonight Show, David Letterman and the Last Comic Standing.

For people who aspire to break into comedy there’s a chance for you to get discovered at the Amateur Hour Competition.

If you want to hone your craft, there are workshops to help make you more funny than your friends tell you that you are. Eddie Brill who is David Letterman’s talent coordinator is offering a one-day workshop. For speech and drama teachers, there’s a free improv workshop. If you want to up your odds on making it on a game show, there’s even a workshop to help you do that.

If you’re between 14-19, you can attend a week long comedy youth camp. This looks like a terrific opportunity for some young person, and as week-long camps go, the price is right. Now, if they’d only do an adult version.

The festival is designed so you can see as little or as much of it as you want. You pay for tickets to the events you want to see and some are free.

The Simpsons Movie: Springfield Challenge

Since the exact location was never explicitly revealed in any episode of The Simpsons, fourteen Springfields across America are currently battling it out to decide which town should be the true home of Homer and family.

Each of the fourteen Springfields in the running — Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, Ohio, Oregon, Tennessee, and Vermont — have created a video that showcases why they should be chosen, and each is now available on USAToday.com to watch.

The winning town will be awarded to the right to host the premiere of the movie before the U.S. release date of July 27th.

Log onto USAToday to watch the videos, and cast your vote for which town you think should win. If you have no particular interest in any of cities, cast your vote for Missouri, because…well, I live in Springfield, Missouri, and somebody has got to win, right?

Valentine’s Idea: Visit Valentine

Satin ValentinBelieve it or not, there are actually a number of cities named Valentine. For example:

  • Valentine, Nebraska (“America’s Heart City”) is home to the Valentine National Wildlife Refuge. According to the website, the Heart City plans to host a Valentine’s Day event, although — like shy suitors — they haven’t expressed their feelings about it yet. In 2005, the town hosted a chili cook-off.
  • Right off Purple Heart Trail, there’s a Valentine, Arizona. Generally speaking, though, unless you’re a bit of an adventurer, I doubt this is where you’ll be spending your special day.
  • Only a few hundred people live in the west Texas town of Valentine.
  • There’s a Valentine Village in New Mexico.
  • Upper Austria seems to dislike the fact that it has a small village called Valentine.
  • France boasts Saint-Valentin — “The Lovers Village” — which also has a Garden of Lovers. Not surprisingly, thousands of couples marry in this village of 258 permanent residents each year.

It’s amazing to me that so few of these Valentines have taken advantage of the rather obvious brand management they could so easily monopolize.