Photo Of The Day: Behind The Scenes

For the Gadling Photo of the Day, we like to feature a variety of photographers both amateur and professional, to show the range of great travel photos: from the “lucky shot,” to the cellphone pic, to the well-timed and set-up image. Some people just have a great eye, and sometimes more importantly, great access. Today’s Photo of the Day is another amazing one from Flickr user arunchs in India, backstage before a Kathakali performance. Kathakali is a traditional dance-drama from Kerala, known for the colorful, almost mask-like make-up, what we see being applied here. The performers look so casual in this candid, behind-the-scenes shot; it’s hard to imagine the stylized show they are about to put on. It’s not something you’d see every day, it took both special access and a good eye for composition and timing.

Share your special shots with us on the Gadling Flickr pool to be featured here.

[Photo credit: Arun Bhat]

Africa’s new middle class benefits travel

Africa’s middle class is growing.

The African Development Bank says one in three Africans are now middle class. While the bank’s definition isn’t comparable to the Western definition–the African middle class makes $2-$20 a day–the lifestyle is similar. Middle-class Africans tend to be professionals or small business owners and instead of worrying about basics such as food and shelter, their main concerns are getting better health care and getting their kids into university.

The bank says the countries with the biggest middle class are Botswana, Gabon, and Tunisia, while Liberia, Mozambique, and Rwanda have the smallest. The BBC has an interesting photo gallery profiling members of this rapidly growing class.

So how does this affect travel? With an growing middle class you get more domestic tourism, good news for non-Africans traveling in Africa. More regional airlines are cropping up, and comfortable buses provide an appealing alternative to the bone-shaking rattletraps familiar to travelers in Africa.

It also makes consumer goods easier to find. This generally means cheap Chinese exports of even worse quality than what we’re accustomed to in the West, but in bigger cities quality goods are readily available. There’s also an increasing number of nice restaurants and cafes geared towards locals. Internet access is also improving.

During my Ethiopian road trip and my two months living in Harar I benefited from Ethiopia’s middle class. Mobile phone coverage is available everywhere except remote villages and the wilderness, and although the Internet is slow, there are Internet cafes in every town. Improved education meant there many people who could speak English and who could help me learn some Amharic and Harari. Often I could take a more comfortable “luxury” bus rather than be stuffed in a local bus with an entire village of passengers. Self-styled budget travelers may turn their nose up at spending an extra two dollars to be comfortable, but the middle class buses are quicker and you’re more likely to meet someone you can talk to.

In fact, I made some good friends on the luxury bus to Harar. A group of Ethiopian pharmacy students showed me the town and gave me insights into their lives. University education is free in Ethiopia if you pass a rigorous entrance exam. The government even pays for your room and board, and you pay them back by working a government job for some time after you get out. The students I met will be setting off to villages to provide basic health care.

Nearly all these students, and in fact nearly all middle-class Africans I’ve met, yearn to go to the West. One even called her country “a prison”. While heading to the West may be a good career move, it hurts the continent. As one African pointed out in the BBC photo gallery, the money it takes to get to Europe can start up a nice business in Africa.

Feds call degree-toting flight attendants over-educated

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, you don’t need a college degree to be a flight attendant, regardless of what arises in the interview process. This lumps them in with waitresses and parking lot attendants, other jobs in which a BA is considered over-education. Yet, 29.8 percent of flight attendants have at least a college degree, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education, along with 317,000 waiters, more than 140,000 receptionists and close to half a million customer service representatives.

These revelations come on the heels of continued debate over whether a college degree is worth the cash it costs. Historically, a degree has been seen as a way to get ahead, but there are too many philosophy majors trying to cobble together livings as bloggers (guilty), making many wonder if higher education worth a price tag that can stretch well into six figures.

The BLS data reveals that 30,000 flight attendants have BAs or above, making it the job with the highest rate of BA degrees per worker on the list.

[Via Business Insider, photo by Herkie via Flickr]

White Collar Travel: Monday morning mayhem: A business traveler starts the week

Thomas Hobbes, the British philosopher, unknowingly described the life of the business traveler several centuries in advance: brutish, poor and short. Long hours, inconsistent diet and exercise and extended periods of emotional isolation virtually assure that many will burn out. This state of affairs is at its worst on Mondays, quite possibly the most miserable day of the week for the road-dwelling professional.

Depending on your proximity to the airport and destination, your day can start as early as 3:30 AM. The alarm clock assaults your eardrums (and your spouse’s, unfortunately), prompting you to slog over to the shower – you can’t clean up at your destination, since you may be heading straight to the office. After a quick goodbye to a half-awake, fully annoyed companion, you trudge down to the waiting town car (if the driver’s late … no mercy), while doing the mental calculations on whether 45 minutes of fitful sleep during the ride is preferable to trying to wake up. It doesn’t matter, as you’ll resign yourself to a general feeling of hard-to-describe discomfort.

At the airport, having checked in the night before and printed your boarding pass, you run the security gauntlet, easily spotting the passengers who are not members of your elite, informal fraternity. You kick off your shoes, whip out your laptop and empty your pockets, as if the seconds you’ll save are a matter of life and death, knowing deep down that this behavior is totally irrelevant.

Coffee comes next, of course, since you know you’ll need to spend the flight preparing for your weekly client meeting, which is invariably scheduled for as soon as you plug in at the office. While you loiter at the gate, nursing caffeine into your body, you snag a wi-fi connection and look around while you pull down your e-mail and look for any early morning or overnight crises. The seats are littered with people clad in business casual attire and up, depending on the nature of their companies, clients and engagements. You look for familiar faces, if only to size up the competition for upgrades. New faces are a plus, as it means the odds of a seat up front usually improve.

Thanks to your status as a wandering hired gun, you pre-board per the code on your boarding pass that indicates you’re among the airline’s chosen, perhaps into the coveted first class cabin. You score some extra legroom and a drink while the proletarians board – as long as the flight attendant isn’t jabbering mindlessly at a passenger who would rather have his coffee with cream, sugar and no commentary. This happens all too often, unfortunately. If you weren’t relying on an upgrade and actually paid for a first class ticket – fat chance of that ever happening unless you’re a top-shelf executive – you’d book 1C, so at least you’d get your coffee before the flight attendant gets distracted, starts talking and fails to serve the rest of the cabin.

In the sky, you try to make yourself “billable” (depending on the nature of your job), throwing yourself into client work with the hope that you’ll recapture an hour or two at the end of your day … though that really never happens. So, you spend a few hours on status reports, presentations and writing e-mails that you’ll send later, occasionally breaking to eat, drink or nap.

When you hit the ground at your final destination, sometimes eight hours after having been greeted by your alarm clock, you’re about to start a workday won’t end until you leave for the obligatory team or client dinner, usually at around 7 PM. If you’re deep into a project, it could be worse – desktop dining while slaving away until well past midnight. If dinner’s on the agenda, you shoot to get back to your hotel room by around 11:30 PM (hopefully, you got to check in before going to the office). The bed looks great, but you need to check up on e-mails that were kicked around while you were at the dinner table and couldn’t sneak a look at your Blackberry. Then, you take care of some client work and call it quits sometimes between 1 AM and 2 AM. You’ve been up for 22 hours or loner.

It’s a tough life – and by now, I’m sure, one that sounds hardly worth living. Fortunately, there are some perks. Personal expenses stay low, and you do get to eat at some fantastic restaurants. Occasionally, you can squeeze in some time to enjoy your destination (if it’s worth enjoying, that is). For many, the work itself is a big draw, especially if you’re with one of the prestigious law firms, investment banks, accounting companies or consulting outfits. You’ll get projects that you’d never see anywhere else, work with some of the smartest people in the business world and be compensated rather well (though you’d never admit it). But, life on the road can take its toll on you. After a while, you’ll answer the “How are you?” question as one of my former bosses once did: “any day you’re not on a plane is a good one.”