Safety Of Hot-Air Balloon Rides Under Spotlight After Luxor Tragedy

For vacationers, a hot-air balloon ride is the ultimate way of taking in the landscape. Floating thousands of feet above ground, ballooners are afforded a dramatic bird’s-eye view of popular tourist sites. But this week’s ballooning disaster, where 19 people were killed during a hot-air balloon ride over the Egyptian city of Luxor, has brought the ballooning industry back to ground.

The tourists, who were mostly foreigners, died after canisters on their balloon exploded, causing it to plunge 1000 feet back to earth with everyone on board. While an investigation into the disaster is still underway, Egypt has temporarily suspended all balloon flights and the incident has prompted questions into the safety of the activity.So what should you know if you’re considering taking a hot-air balloon ride during your vacation?

According to CNN, ballooning experts believe that the biggest concern is when a fire breaks out on board the balloon. This is because the only way out of the life-threatening situation is to make a jump for it – and that in turn makes circumstances worse for the other passengers onboard. “If passengers are jumping the balloon is getting lighter – it’s climbing again. It’s getting in a more dangerous situation because the higher you go the more dangerous it is to jump out,” said the president of the Federation Aeronautique Internationale’s Ballooning Commission. Fires often occur when balloons run into power lines, which is what happened during a deadly accident in New Zealand last year that cost 11 people their lives.

Another concern is the lack of international regulation when it comes to hot-air balloon operators. This leaves each country to enforce guidelines and safety measure themselves.

Despite this, experts told CNN that ballooning is still a relatively safe activity, and that balloons can be brought down safely even when they run out of fuel.

[Photo credit: Flickr user dfbphotos]

Make your life more like travel: Gadling’s 10 tips

For many Americans, the reality of vacation days is grim. Except for those meager 14 days we hoard each year, we’re confined to an office, tied by a phone cord or stuck at home mowing the lawn. With the drudgery of daily living before us, we sometimes forget travel isn’t always about going places: it’s also about how we perceive the world.

When we travel, something imperceptible occurs in our brains. Our senses are more acute. We are more open to new experiences. We crave adventure. If we use these same traits during the other 351 days of the year, it can have a profound impact on our mood, our energy and our happiness. With that in mind, Gadling has compiled 10 simple tips to help you take a vacation from everyday life:

  • Use your senses – Ever noticed the tiny sculptures on the facade of the post office? Or really smelled the vegetables at the farmer’s market? We notice the sounds and sights and smells of traveling because we want to “take it all in” – but vacation does not have a monopoly on rich sensory experience; take a few moments as you go about your daily routine to stop and notice life around you.
  • Walk – Walking goes hand-in-hand with your senses. You notice more when you’re not behind the wheel of a car. Walking slows you down, allowing you the leisure to notice the tiny details you might miss when you whip past in a moving vehicle. You’ll even get some easy exercise.
  • Bring culture to you – experiencing a foreign culture doesn’t require a plane ticket. You can interact with faraway lands and strange languages down the block. Host a foreign exchange student. Learn a language. Watch an international sporting event that starts at 3am. Eat a delicacy you’ve never tried before.
  • Be a local tourist – there’s a monument or landmark near your hometown you’ve never visited. It’s so close by and filled with tourists, that we pay it no heed and plan to visit later. Go check out that place. You might find you enjoy it, or even learn something new about where you live.
  • Take a detour – admit it, you take the same route both to and from work. Don’t sweat it – humans are habitual by nature. But next time, take a different side street. Instead of driving to work, take your bike. Fly there by helicopter if you have one – you’ll notice landmarks, buildings and new scenery you’ve never seen before.
  • Be a reporter – the writers at Gadling may have the luxury of a travel blog at our disposal, but we don’t have a monopoly on self-publishing. Capture what goes on around you as if it was a trip – write down your thoughts on a blog, take some digital photos or make your own movie.
  • Take a risk – there’s something about the brevity of trips that forces us out of our comfort zone. Perhaps it’s because we have no time to waste – decisions we agonize over back home are made in an instant. Don’t be afraid to do the same thing when you’re not on the road, whether it’s at your job or a new flavor of ice cream.
  • Improvise – you remember how you missed that train in Italy and ended up staying up all night with new friends at the bar? Somehow everything works out, even if it’s not how you expected it. Travel teaches us to adapt to changing circumstances. That goes for life at home too – even if you didn’t get that promotion at work or your weekend plans fall apart, the unexpected can be a positive if you choose to embrace it.
  • Adopt a new persona – it’s easy to fall into familiar traps around family and friends because they expect you’ll act a certain way. That disappears when we’re far from home, where we’re free to try on new personas and act in unexpected ways. Nobody knows you, so what’s the difference? Don’t be afraid to be more self-confident at home as well. The expectations of who we should be and what we do are largely self-created. Don’t be bound by expectations!
  • Be amazed – we stare in awe at the Grand Canyon and the Great Wall because they are truly amazing sights. But all around us lie amazing stories, interesting locals and technology that would have boggled our ancestors. Go seek them out. Admire them. Just watch this video if you need convincing.

When is Travel Too Dangerous?

Sometimes, common sense is all you need to decide if a trip is too risky. For example, a expedition to build sandcastles on Galveston Island wouldn’t have worked out well during Hurricane Ike.

But at other times the decision to stay or go is a lot less clear. Do you avoid places like Thailand, where current political strife has induced demonstrations and violence? What about Indonesia, where there is always a threat of terrorism bubbling under the surface? Lebanon? Israel…?

I guess in large part, the decision depends on the kind of traveler that you are. Some people just don the pith helmet and wade into the fray, while others avoid it completely, opting for ping pong and cable TV in the safety of their basement. For those of us who are neither overly courageous (or is it reckless?) nor overly fearful, the answer to the question “to go or not to go” is a little more complicated.

So how can you weigh the odds and decide if the positive aspects of a trip are worth putting up with the risk?At some point, you have to honestly ask yourself if you will be a target. I’m not talking about walking through Iran with a crew cut and one of those t-shirts showing an eagle holding the American flag in its beak. If you think that is OK, it’s probably better to stay at home…in your basement. By what if you can be singled out and targeted as a foreigner like the Japanese photographer who was killed last year in Myanmar? If foreigners in a certain country are targets and there seems to be no repercussion for harming them, it is probably best to stay away.

What about past situations in your destination? Thailand has frequent coups. Most do not turn violent; though there are some exceptions. As long as you avoid demonstrations and other confrontational situations, your greatest risk will be a traffic accident. That said, things can happen in the heat of the moment. Even if you don’t feel that you are a target, you might find yourself as one. Australian photographer Neil Davis survived covering the Vietnam War only to be killed by a trigger happy tank gunner during a minor, otherwise non-violent coup, in Thailand.

Aside from the general situation on the ground and a country’s past treatment of visitors, you have to remind yourself about the risks associated with normal travel. The biggest chance you’ll take in most places comes when you try to negotiate your way through unfamiliar traffic.