Feds threaten: cruise line pollution must stop

New emission rules for cruise ships and other large vessels are set to go into effect in late 2013.

A United Nations plan to control emissions from ships sailing within 200 nautical miles of the U.S. and Canadian coasts initially excluded the U.S, Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico which pretty much left the Caribbean wide open for uncontrolled cruise line pollution.

Ships often use lower costing fuels with high sulphur levels outside of U.S. government jurisdiction, changing to cleaner fuels as they approach U.S. ports.

Under the plan, which would now include the U.S Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, ships would be required to use cleaner fuel or install special pollution reducing equipment to reduce air pollution. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that asthma and cancer-causing pollutants could be cut by about 90% in a decade.

Under the plan, which needs approval from the United Nations’ London-based International Maritime Organization, EPA officials could randomly show up at ports to inspect ships and enforcement will be tough. The penalties have not yet been established, but impounding ships has been suggested as one option, said Elias Rodriguez, an EPA spokesperson.

Flickr photo by lecates

Local budget travel secrets

Most countries and territories have their own local domestic budget secrets that don’t get a lot of press beyond their borders. To call these local travel habits secrets is to miss the point just slightly, as they’re actually widely appreciated and utilized, though by locals. In this sense, they’re the opposite of secrets, even as they remain more or less unknown to foreigners.

This post is designed to work as a companion piece to yesterday’s post, which detailed ten real budget travel tips for the keenly frugal.

1. Gîtes in France. Every region of France sees this inexpensive accommodation option in great numbers. Gîtes tend to be fully furnished apartments or houses, usually in rural locations. Owners live on site or nearby and charge typically very little for stays, which often have be made for a minimum of seven nights. Peruse the Gîtes de France web site and you’ll find many listings for incredibly low rates, like a week in the Ardèche for two for €75 ($98) found during research yesterday. Here’s some simple division: $98 per week for two equals $7 per person per day.

2. Ride share in Germany. Check out Mitfahrgelegenheit.de for ride share information. Many Germans get around the country via this inexpensive and convenient form of transportation, which sees riders connecting with drivers who have open seats that they want to fill. How inexpensive are ride shares? Next-day fares for rides between Leipzig and Berlin start at €5 ($6.50). See this great English-language description of the German ride share set-up. The German-language site is broken down into domestic, Europe-wide, and commuter ride share spheres. Tip: Use the UK drop down to get your information in English and then set your search to relevant locations.

3. Rural tourism in Slovenia. Slovenia’s tourist farms offer very cheap nightly accommodation. Often meals are included in the nightly rate. This official listing includes 260 tourist tourist farms across the diminutive Alpine country. Slovenia’s tourist farms can be compared to neighbor Italy’s better-known agriturismo network, though rates in Slovenia tend to be far lower. Much of Slovenia is mountainous and offers a much better value than comparable Alpine areas of Austria, Italy, and Switzerland. Kmetija Birsa, one of many tourist farms in Slovenia, offers accommodation starting at €25 ($33) per person per night.

4. Spas in South Korea. I defer to Christine Ka’aloa for her suggestion that visitors to South Korea take advantage of the local gender-segregated tradition of the jjimjilbang, or public bathhouse for a restful and budget-friendly night’s sleep. Most jjimjilbangs are open 24 hours a day, and have sleeping areas. According to Ka’aola, entrance fees start around 6000 won ($5).5. Bungalow parks in the Netherlands. Bungalow parks are typically set in rural areas. Some bungalow parks in the Netherlands are low-tech, consisting simply of a number of cottages, while others are over-the-top, with tons of facilities for children. Take a look at D-Reizen’s bungalow park section for a Dutch-language overview of bungalow park deals. One recent deal turned up during research: €92 ($121) for two people for four nights at a bungalow park in the Dutch province of Limburg. Here’s a tip for dealing with the language barrier: D-Reizen operates around 170 travel agencies throughout the Netherlands. Given the widespread English-language abilities of the Dutch, you can explore bungalow park options with a live salesperson at a travel agency.

6. Camping in the Caribbean. This generally expensive region boasts a surprisingly inexpensive (that is, often free) accommodation option: campgrounds. Puerto Rico leads the region with 17 camping sites. Some of Puerto Rico’s campsites are run by municipalities, while others are situated within territorial and national parks. The US Virgin Islands and British Virgin Islands are also great places to camp, with several sites per territory. In the French overseas territories of Guadeloupe and Martinique it is possible to camp at a number of campsites; always check with the local mayor’s office in these territories to obtain the proper permits. Trinidad and Tobago’s Department of Agriculture operates a number of campsites, and camping is allowed throughout Tobago.

7. Swedish ferries. Sweden’s big ferry companies regularly offer insanely cheap promotional fares for travel around the Baltic, typically to Åland, Helsinki, and Turku in Finland and to Tallinn (Estonia) and Riga (Latvia). These cruises include both same-day and overnight sailings, and are much loved by locals looking to enjoy a cheap getaway. Viking Line is currently listing “last-minute” fares from Stockholm to Åland from 19 kronor ($2.75), to Turku from 21 kronor ($3), and to Helsinki from 90 kronor ($13). Tallink-Silja is currently promoting a 100 kroner ($14) round-trip fare between Stockholm and Riga. If the prospect of trying to decipher Swedish-language websites has you flummoxed, fear not. English is widely spoken among Swedish travel industry workers, and you can stop by local ferry company offices to find out about last-minute deals.

How can you find great local deals on the ground? First of all, remain flexible and receptive to whatever is especially inexpensive at the local level. Scour local newspapers for mention of cheap travel opportunities. In Europe, package holidays and budget flights are both great examples of the sorts of deals, many seasonal, that usually will not be advertised internationally.

Got a local travel “secret” not mentioned here? Right on. Add it in the comments below.

[Image of a gîte in Guadeloupe: Flickr / Toprural]

Airlines provide change fee relief because of Hurricane Earl

As Hurricane Earl works its way up the east coast, airlines are letting passengers take one item off their lists of concerns. Delta has announced that passengers affected by the storm can make one-time changes to their plans without incurring any fees. This applies to flights scheduled for today and tomorrow and covers more than 20 airports in the eastern United States, including the New York area, Washington, Boston and Baltimore.

AirTran Airways has gotten in on this concept, as well, with passengers hitting a number of airports, including San Juan, Puerto Rico, being able to change their plans without paying extra. It only works for flights taking off by Saturday.

[Photo by NASA Goddard Photo and Video via Flickr]

ToroVerde park delivers an adventure in Puerto Rico

Thrill seekers who are looking to take a break from all that sun and surf while visiting Puerto Rico now have a new option to add a little excitement to their vacation. The recently opened ToroVerde Adventure Park is ready to give them the jolt of adrenaline that they’re looking for, offering up opportunities to rock climb, mountain bike, and choose from an array of zip line tours.

Located near Orocovis, not far from San Juan, the adventure park is a jungle playground with plenty to do both on the ground and over it. With eight different ziplines to choose from, each with varying heights, lengths, and speeds, you’re sure to find a route that works for you. So if you’re looking for a leisurely glide through the treetops, you might want to try the “Red Tail Hawk Flight” line, but if you want to jump start your heart, go with the “Flight of the Phoenix” instead. But for the ultimate zip line experience, try the Beast Tour, which straps you to a special harness, and sends you sailing for more than 4700 feet through the jungle canopy.

If the zip lines aren’t enough to hold your interest however, you can take one of ToroVerde’s special tours. For instance, the Wild Bull or the Escape If You Can tours combine zipping with rappelling, hiking, and rock climbing to create an adventurous mix that will carry you deep into the jungle and up rugged mountain paths.

When you’re done exploring on foot, you can visit the ToroVerde’s signature mountain bike park, and enjoy some two wheeled fun as well. The single-track course was designed by professional mountain bike rider Marla Streb, and has been built to cater to every rider’s needs, whether they are a beginner or an expert. The eight mile ride has challenging climbs and heart pounding drops, and delivers some great views of the surrounding area along the way.

Billed as an “ecotouristic” park, ToroVerde looks to be a great mix of tropical scenery and extreme sports. For a day filled with adventure, take a break from the beach and go play in the jungle instead.

[Photo credit: ToroVerde Adventure Park]

Travel writer and publisher Q&A: Julie Schwietert

Julie Schwietert, known for her work with MatadorNetwork and Collazo Projects, is a writer, editor, and translator whose work bridges the worlds of service travel writing, culture, and politics. Though travel writing is a big piece of her métier, it’s not its sum. This profile of Julie is the first in a Gadling series on writers and publishers who have found a way to turn their enthusiasms for travel into a profession.

Q: How do you fit into the travel writing and publishing world?

A: I’m a freelancer, though I work primarily for MatadorNetwork as writer, managing editor, and the lead educator of their travel writing program. I also write for print magazines. I contributed to the latest edition of Fodor’s Puerto Rico, and I am waiting excitedly for August when it will hit bookstore shelves.

Q: How long has Collazo Projects been up and running, and what is it that you do?

A: I collaborate on Collazo Projects with my husband Francisco Collazo, who is a photographer, chef and translator. Collazo Projects is the online home for our writing and photography and other projects that haven’t found a home elsewhere. It’s in the process of evolving, though. We’re considering turning it into a proper website that functions more as a portfolio with a blog rather than a straight-up photo/writing blog.

Q: Is travel writing a means to an end for you, or is it the animating focus of your work? Or is it something else entirely?

A: I’m slightly uncomfortable with the term “travel writing” or the label of “travel writer” because both feel really limiting. When I say it, sitting next to someone on a plane in response to the question “What do you do?” I always get squirmy because their first association with the term tends to be Travel + Leisure. That association isn’t bad, but glossy magazine writing is just a portion of what I do. I’d like to think that my writing is less about the things anyone “should” or “must” do in a destination and more about what that destination is like when you stop viewing it as, well, a destination.

A diversified income stream is how I survive economically. In addition to my writing work, I’m a freelance academic editor and a translator.

Q: What are your favorite regions?

A: I’d happily go almost anywhere, but I really love to return again and again to places I’ve visited previously and get to know them more deeply. The focus of my work is on ferreting out the untold stories about a place, looking for alternative narratives, and giving a voice to people without a voice. And because I’m fluent in Spanish, most of my work focuses on Latin America and the Spanish-speaking Caribbean.

Q: Any absolutely favorite destination?

A: Mexico, Mexico City in particular. I know what everyone says about Mexico City. They’re wrong. It’s a dynamic, fascinating, complicated city where the traditional and the contemporary are in constant interface. I lived there for two years and loved it. I wish I still lived there.

Q: Have you ever had to travel to a place to follow an obsession?

A: Cuba. I had to meet the family that produced my husband. Once I got to Havana, I had to go on to the town of Mariel, which is the port from which my husband left Cuba in 1980. I went there and was completely underwhelmed. Plus no one wanted to talk about 1980.

Q: What sort of advice would you give to people who want to enter the travel writing and editing world?

A: Do it, and diversify your income. Having a diverse income stream not only ensures you’ll stay stable economically but it also helps you tap into multiple interests.

Q: And finally, what’s in your carry-on?

A: Always books, at least two, and magazines. A journal and a couple pens. A sarong, for which there are at least 96 uses. You can place a sarong on a changing table to change a baby’s diaper and drape it over your head to block out obnoxious passengers, among other things!