The Herald-Dispatch |


The Travel Professor
Join me on a journey across the broad spectrum of interesting travel topics. We’ll discuss destinations domestic and abroad, some familiar and some off the beaten path. We take a look at suppliers like cruise lines, air carriers and tour operators and find their bargains and special offerings. Got questions? Email thetravelprofessor@gmail.com.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Historic Philadelphia part 1

To really appreciate our history and heritage there are in my opinion a few places all American must visit.

My short list includes Washington DC, Boston Mass, New York City, Baltimore, MD and the City of Brotherly Love, Philadelphia PA.

Other destinations on this list include the historic triangle of Virginia-Williamsburg, Yorktown & Jamestown. Add Plymouth Plantation, Bunker Hill along with Lexington & Concord Mass.

But let’s get back to Philadelphia and the cradle of our democracy. I would suggest starting at
Independence National Historic Park.

Here you can view the icons of our country’s early days-Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell and Benjamin Franklin’s Philadelphia. Stroll the same streets that the framers of our constitution did. Take a meal at the City Tavern and perhaps you’ll overhear the heated political debate over King and Country.

I’d plan on spending at least a full day in the park and if you have the time two or three more days. Best news-most of the venues are free with Independence Hall being the exception.

More on that later as I’m off to catch a trolley that runs through old town.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Early Americana in PA, MD, NJ & DE

I’m off researching historic destinations in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware & New Jersey.

Day one was a full day in Gettysburg & I’ve kept you posted on some of the attractions located in this great place.

After this full day of touring here I have about a 120 mile drive over to my base of operations The Sleep Inn located right off of I-95 in Newark Delaware.

The plan is to do some hub and spoke touring out of here. Philadelphia is about an hour and fifteen minute drive north of here. Trenton NJ and plenty of colonial history is just across the river from Philly. Another 30-45 minute drive from Old Town Philadelphia is Valley Forge PA.

About a half hour north of the hotel is Brandywine PA another Revolutionary War battle sight. Driving south for an hour puts me in Baltimore, another city packed with history, arts, culture and more.

There’s plenty of early Americana to explore in these Mid-Atlantic States so I’ll detail my travel & research for you as they unfold.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Required disclosure of airline baggage & other fees

The Department of Transportation (DOT) has issued a notice to all airlines and travel agents regarding the disclosure of checked baggage fees. Effective immediately, DOT requires all airlines and travel agents to clearly disclose significant conditions applicable to airfares, and the airlines new baggage fees are considered a significant condition.

Therefore when you make an airline reservation the booking source is required to disclose first and second baggage fees to consumers when pricing an itinerary, and to provide notice of the fees in any and all advertising that we may do.

DOT also requires that reservation agents "disclose baggage charges and limitations", including the effective date, during telephone or face-to-face sales prior to completing the sale.

This disclosure notice applies to all sellers of air travel, storefront-brick & mortar agencies and on-line booking sources.

For some light reading and more information & guidance from the DOT's visit: http://www.dot.gov/affairs/aviation080516/baggagefeenotice.htm.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Historic dining options in Gettysburg PA

I’m sure that many others travelers would agree with me that one of the pleasures of the travel experience is sampling the local cuisine.

I try to patronize unique local eateries and avoid the national mass market chain restaurants if at all possible.

Gettysburg PA in addition to awesome history offers up some fantastic dining opportunities.

Three of my favorite restaurants are located in historic structures and tell a great story while you enjoy the culinary experience.

Herr Tavern and Publick House located on US Route 30 west of town dates back to 1815 when it was a country inn. During the battle of Gettysburg it served as a Confederate hospital. Today it offers fine dining with a signature of using locally grown produce and products.

Closer to the battlefield and visitors center is the
Dobbin House. This is a colonial restaurant which dates back to 1776 and offers candlelit elegance, superior food in abundance, and gracious service that bring back the sights, sounds and tastes of two centuries ago. I enjoy grabbing a causal lunch in the Springhouse Tavern a cozy colonial eating and drinking alehouse set amidst three natural springs and two glowing fireplaces.

The last historic venue on my short list is the
Farnsworth House Inn another historic home that sat right in the midst of the conflict back in July 1863. He you can sample a variety of period -1860’s specialty fare served by period dressed servers in dining rooms decorated to commemorate the battle. Be sure to try the peanut soup as it was best I’ve had north of the Mason-Dixon Line.

In addition to dining all three of these locales offer lodging, shopping and even a ghost story or two.

So during a break from touring indulge in one of Gettysburg’s historic inns.

For more information on
Gettysburg tourism call the local tourism office at 1.800.337.5015.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

The civilian experience during the battle of Gettysburg

All too frequently visitors to Gettysburg focus on the military history and overlook the civilian experiences before, during and after the battle.

The Shriver House Museum is a Gettysburg attraction that interprets the unique perspective "The Civilian Experience". Costumed guides tell the story of the battle and in particular, the story of one family, the Shrivers'.

The museum collections and narratives offers an authentic glimpse of what life was like during the war years. The tour weaves you through the home and includes a visit to the garret which was used by Confederate sharpshooters during the battle plus the cellar where a saloon sheltered the locals during the fighting.

I find this place well worth the time and money and always include a stop here on all of my Gettysburg itineraries.

Learn more about the Shrivers’ and their home by visiting http://www.schriverhouse.com.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Gettysburg's new visitors center

The new visitors’ center at Gettysburg National Military Park opened in April and I just had an opportunity to explore it.

It is about a ¾ of a mile hike from the old center but there is a nice level walking trail. There’s a fair amount parking around the facility but I’ve heard from the locals that they are still sorting out the details.

My group was vehicle less so we hoofed it from the McDonald’s on Steinwehr. A leisurely stroll took us behind the Union lines on Cemetery Ridge, past General Meade’s headquarters and lasted about 15 minutes.

The new museum offers plenty of interactive displays and does a wonderful job of describing and interpreting the battle of Gettysburg. However in my opinion the new electronic multimedia presentation was lacking in detail, too broad and tried to cover many years of history in 40 minutes.

I hope that the National Park Service will find a home for the old electronic map (50’s-60’s technology) and make it available to students & visitors.

It is still worth the visit plus if time & budget permits hire a licensed battlefield guide for a narrated tour of the battlefield.


For more information visit http://www.nps.gov/gett.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Computer woes

I hit the road laptop in tow with good intentions of chronicling my journey. My hotels offered wireless service so my plan was to stay linked. The signal strength was strong but my computer running on a non Apple based operating system could not configure the system to access the wireless network.

I clicked here and unchecked boxes there and ran the troubleshooting functions but to no avail. I just couldn’t get on-line and the hotels did not have a business center or public computer so I was off-line & without a plan B.

Monday means a trip to my tech guy to try and unravel the mysteries of wireless operations.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Thoughts on summer driving vacations

Tips for travel by car include:

Plan itineraries and arrange accommodations well in advance. Reservations for hotels, restaurants and rental cars get booked quickly during peak travel times. Online mapping services like mapquest.com or Yahoo maps work fairly well for driving directions but compare these to a good road atlas.

Check with the hotels/motels and see if they offer any packages. Frequently they will combine discounted room rates, meals with local attractions & pass the savings along to you. For these deals it is best to contact the hotel directly instead of a toll free number or website. Also try the local tourism & visitors bureau for local packges and cost saving coupons.

If you're willing to take a gamble on space being available pick up the local hotel discount guides that are available at most public rest areas. Again here it is best to contact the individual property.

Have maps plenty of maps. These come in handy when traveling/navigating in unfamiliar surroundings. Contact the local tourism-convention office and they should be able to provide complimentary maps along with tourism information.

If you are renting a car be sure to reserve the size and category that will hold all of your luggage and treasures to be purchased on location. For those traveling internationally reserve your car stateside as this frequently guarantees the lowest rate and normally includes basic insurance. Speaking of insurance be sure check with your insurance and credit card company to see if your policy includes coverage abroad.

Get a tune up. Before any long-distance drive, make sure to have your oil changed and your brakes, fluids and tire pressure checked. The slightest deficiency in air pressure significantly reduces your car's gas mileage. On the flip side, too much air can result in a flat.

Get an early start to avoid weekend and holiday gridlock. Traveling during late night/early morning hours helps. The worst times to travel are after meals since most travelers postpone leaving until they've eaten with their families. Make sure that all drivers are thoroughly rested.

Take plenty of goodies to keep the non-drivers entertained. Books, games, DVDs and so forth help the hours pass peacefully. My laptop functions as a DVD player and with a currency converter I run it off the car’s electrical system.

Stock a cooler and picnic lunch it. Fast food gets old and expensive in a hurry. Snacks plenty of snack too! Shop the local market and enjoy fresh local products that may not be available at home.
I often purchase local items that make gifts for family & friends back home. For example chili pepper stuff is normally impossible to find around here but it is everywhere in New Mexico & Arizona. Be creative!

I'm sure there are plenty more tips so please pass them on to our readers & post your comments on this site.

Happy travels!



Sunday, May 11, 2008

Summer air travel thoughts & tips

Memorial Day weekend is the traditional start of the summer vacation season and here are some thoughts and tips to help ease the stress and hassle of today’s travelers.

If your plans include air travel:

Reserve and pay for your ticket ASAP. The keys to securing the best deals are advance planning flexibility in travel dates and/or consider flying into an alternate airport and renting a car. If you wait until the last minute expect to pay a premium or wait for the airline weekend web specials. Traveling internationally make sure you have a valid passport on your person. Don’t pack it in checked bags. Make sure that you have all of the correct travel documentation required at your destination(s).

ARRIVE EARLY! I’ll say that again ARRIVE EARLY! By doing this you may be able to avoid crowded airport parking lots, standing in long lines at the ticket counter and security checkpoint. These factors should all be considered when deciding what time to arrive at the airport. Give yourself plenty of extra time. Waiting at the airport with boarding passes in hand and reading a good book sure beats sitting in traffic wondering if you’re going to make your flight.

Need some incentive to arrive early? Keep in mind that those who arrive earliest for an overbooked flight stand the greatest chance of staying onboard. The airline load factors are extremely high which means that they’re flying full planes this summer and bumping (denied boarding) may occur.

Keep a close eye on all your belongings. Pay attention and stay alert. Don’t put your brain on auto pilot just yet. Airports are packed with travelers and offer fertile feeding grounds for thieves. Be aware of your surroundings and maintain a close watch over tickets, wallets, purses, and other belongings at all times. NOTE: This vigilance applies everywhere as train stations, hotel lobbies, flea markets just about any venue can be targeted by the criminal element.

To avoid getting bumped: 1) Get an advance seat assignment. Passengers with seat assignments are typically only bumped if they arrive late and their seat assignment is released. 2) Check-in online. Most airlines allow you to do so within 24 hours of departure. Seat assignments that were not available at the time of ticketing may be available when checking in online. 3) Don't be late. If all else fails, get to the airport early. Some airlines reserve a portion of their seat assignment inventory for airport check-in. If you are denied a seat assignment at check-in, put your name on the "standby" seat assignment list.

Remember 3-1-1. New regulations limit the amount of gels and liquids passengers can take through security in their carry-on luggage to travel-size toiletries of three (3) ounces or less that fit comfortably in one (1) quart-size, clear plastic zip-top bag and the one (1) bag per passenger must be placed in the screening bin.

Know your limits. Pack light and know baggage limits. Some airlines now charge for a second piece of checked luggage. Lay everything out on your bed you are thinking about taking then only pack half of it. There’s probably a Wal-Mart near your destination so you can buy it there instead of paying additional fees for that extra bag. Consider shipping items like your golf clubs via UPS or other ground transportation service. This may be a less expensive option than paying the extra airline fees.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

2008: Not a good start for airlines & their passengers

2008 ushered in a wave of new airline fees, mergers & consolidations and bankruptcies for the North American airline industry.

Low cost Columbus based carrier Skybus, Denver based Frontier and even Southwest Airlines deep pockets could not keep Indianapolis based American Trans Air in the air.

Legacy carriers Delta and Northwest have agreed to merge into what will become the largest US airline surpassing American Airlines for that distinction. The rumor mills have been active with mentions of United, Continental and USAirways as possible merger partners.

In today’s unregulated airline climate these business failures and mergers may not bode well for the traveler. Decreased competition will most likely lead to increased fares and possibly a reduction in smaller less profitable markets. Can you say Huntington Tri-State or Charleston’s Yeager Field are viable candidates?

As fuel costs spiral out of control the carriers are looking for additional revenues streams and it appears that al la carte pricing for services is the current trend.

The cost of your ticket may not have increased that much since that last time you flew but the extra fees might leave you breathless and a few (or many) dollars lighter.

I need to figure out how I can pack a week’s worth of clothes into my golf bag and carry on bag.

Here is a list for new fees and what may have been free services that you will now that to pay for. NOTE: This is not an all inclusive list and please be sure to check with the carrier or your booking agent to verify current fees and/or charges.

Air Canada: $25 each way for a second checked bag started May 15

AirTran: $10 each way for a second checked bag started May 15

Alaska Airlines and Horizon: $15 to book flights through reservation agents or airport sales desk starting May 21

American Airlines: $25 each way for a second checked bag starting May 12; $3 for snacks, $5 for "fresh light meals" on domestic flights (sandwiches or wraps, no vegetarian options); eliminated online booking bonus of 500 miles for round-trip first- or business-class tickets, and 250 miles for round-trip coach fares

Continental: $25 each way for a second checked bag started May 5

Delta: $25 each way for a second checked bag started May 5; airline provides complimentary snacks, but some snacks and meals cost an extra $1 to $8, depending on the item

JetBlue: $10 for extra legroom, and $20 each way for a second checked bag starting June 1

Northwest: $25 each way for a second checked bag started May 5

Spirit: $10 fee for checked luggage reserved online, and a $20 fee for luggage checked at the airport

Southwest: $25 each way for a third checked bag and $50 for the fourth through ninth bags

United: $25 each way for a second checked bag; $5 for snack boxes, with sandwiches and salads available at varying prices; increased ticket change fee; Saturday night stays are now required for tickets in 65 percent of the markets it serves

US Airways: $25 each way for a second checked bag; eliminated the 500-mile minimum mileage award granted for short-haul flights; will charge between $5 and $30 each way for aisle and window seats started May 7, matching other carriers.
Expect the airlines to uncover and add many more novel means of increasing their revenues.

For years in the US we have had a per piece free baggage allowance and the norm was two checked bags per paying passengers. Today the free bag allowance on most carriers has been scaled back to one. We travelers will have to learn how to pack more efficiently.

I’ve often told folks to lay everything that they plan to take on their trip then only pack half of it. A good friend frequently reminds me that there will be a Wal-Mart once we arrive and I can purchase my replacement golf ball on location instead of paying extra to transport them.

Happy travels!

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Spain's brave "New World"

The Spanish being the 1st Europeans to “discover the New World” have definitely left their marks on many locations but perhaps the most magnificent tribute to the Spanish Empire is the “Zona Colonial” a UNESCO site in Santo Domingo, capitol city of the Dominican Republic (DR). The DR was pretty much off the tourist path until the last decade or so ago. American travelers now flock to the DR for the sun and frolic of Caribbean vacationing plus the great value that can be obtained here.

Christopher Columbus described this lush land as "a beautiful island paradise with high forested mountains and large river valleys". He did not mention the splendid beaches but his statement is still as true today as it was in 1492. In addition to the natural beauty of the DR Santo Domingo also boasts some of the best preserved Spanish Colonial architecture in this hemisphere. Nestled along the Ozama River, the Zona Colonial region features cobblestone streets and an impressive array of buildings dating back to the 16th century. This protected region of Santo Domingo permits you to travel back through more than 500 years of history and architecture. Built with the wealth of the new world these impressive palaces, offices and warehouses have been converted into fascinating museums, quaint bars, shops, small boutique hotels and fantastic restaurants offering Spanish, African & Caribbean cuisine. The food, music and the energy of this section really comes to life when the sun goes down so plan on spending an evening here.

I stayed at a nearby beach resort and day tripped into the capitol city but if you yearn for the big city life then plenty of hotel options are available.

Mexico’s Colonial Trail also offers another excellent example of Spain’s New World but that is a whole new story to cover in a later post.

So yes you can still get your tastes and flavors of Europe in the New World. In addition to these wonderful destinations there are plenty of locales in the US, Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Latin America that still have the feel and flavor of Europe and beyond.

For vacation packages to Victoria BC, Quebec City or the Dominican Republic contact your travel agent or
thetravelprofessor@gmail.com.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Old France in the New World

As I have commented in the past the US dollar just doesn't buy much these days in Europe. So let's get our European feel in the New World with a jaunt up north to Canada.

Francophiles also can head up to the great white north and Quebec City. This exquisite destination is celebrating their 400th birthday with special shows, extravaganzas and a broad array of activities. Here one can walk the cobblestone streets of a walled city, sip wine and eat baguettes at the many sidewalk cafes and bistros or just simply experience and enjoy life as it exists in a mid sized French village. Menus, street signs, newspapers everything is printed, written or spoken in the official tongue French. French, British and American military history comes to life here on the ramparts of the fortress and Plains of Abraham. There is plenty to see and do and the Hotel Manoir Victoria is a unique European style property conveniently located near everything in the heart of old town Quebec City. I found that this was a great value and a perfect location to strike out on foot and explore old town. Visit www.quebecregion.com for more information and travel ideas.

Next time we'll take a look at the Spanish Empire's heritage in the northern hemisphere.

Monday, May 5, 2008

A little bit of England in North America: Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

As the dollar values continues to slide against the English Pound we can still experience a slice of jolly ole England up north in western Canada.

Where? For the Anglophiles it is the charming very English Victorian city of Victoria located in British Columbia, Canada. Victoria's unique character is deeply rooted in its 150 year history and its British colonial heritage is still very much in evidence. Today this one time colonial trading outpost is alive with cosmopolitan dining, superb shopping, colorful nightlife and a full complement of cultural offerings. English tradition is observed at the ivy covered
Empress Hotel a 477 room landmark property that has been overlooking Victoria's Inner Harbor since 1908. The hotel is known for serving high afternoon tea in its elegant upper lobby along with its beautiful public spaces. The British penchant and passion for gardening is evident everywhere. Downtown Victoria's comes alive with hanging flower baskets that adorn the city's lampposts in a celebration of scent and bright colors. Flowers bloom year round in Victoria, which makes exploring the outdoors here enjoyable in any season. Ferns and lichens color the forest floor throughout the winter; come spring, an explosion of trilliums and calypso orchids heightens the effect before giving way to bushes lush with huckleberry, salmonberry, trailing blackberry, salal, and Oregon grape. Plan your own Victoria BC getaway today and experience a slice of jolly ole England in North America.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Experience Europeans charms in the New World

The value of the US dollar abroad continues to decline with no apparent corrections coming in the near future. To use McDonald’s one dollar menu to illustrate this decline in purchasing power it would be the $2.00 menu in Great Britain and over on the European continent it would be the $1.60 menu. Not a lot of bang for your buck and not a very good time for Americans to cross the big pond.

If you still desire to explore and experience the charm, elegance and heritage of the Old World without spending a small fortune then take a look at some of the interesting foreign destinations in the New World. You will not be able to see sights that date back thousands of years but you will be able to sample history and heritage dating back over 500 years.

We are going to head up north of Canada then down to the Caribbean island of Hispaniola to experience some English, French and Spanish charm, culture, cuisine and more.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Gambier Ohio Schnormeier Garden: A Monument to the Unexpected

I was speaking with a representative of the Knox County Ohio Convention and Visitors Bureau (http://www.visitknoxohio.org) recently and she shared some interesting information that I’d like to pass along.

Tucked away in the quiet college town of Gambier is a 75 acre garden that features a Japanese teahouse and zigzag bridge over a pond that is home to Australian Black Swans. You discover a place that offers peace, grace and serenity. Privately owned by the Schnormeier family you find a monument to the unexpected in central Ohio. Different themed garden areas include place names like the Waterfalls, Stream, Serenity, Chinese Cups, Woodlands and Art in the Garden.

Normally closed to the public the Schnormeier’s are opening their piece of heaven on earth June 14th & 15th. Take a virtual garden tour at http://www.schnormeiergardens.org.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Want to get bumped & earn free? Here are a few strategies.

Want to get bumped and earn free travel? Here are a few strategies to employ but remember that there is guarantee that they will work. It is a roll of the dice a gamble that you are taking that the flight will be oversold.

Schedule your flights on peak travel days and times. Business travelers typically fly Sunday evening, Monday morning and Friday afternoon. Often these flights are fairly full so your chance of overbooking is increased. Catch the last flight of the day as these are the ones that frequently get cancelled due to a variety of reasons.

Other techniques are not to pre assign seats and have them reserved at the airport. You run a risk of getting that dreaded middle seat but without a pre reserved seat your chances of getting bumped is increased. Another tactic is to show up at the gate late. Be sure to meet the airline specified check in time but by showing up at the last moment without assigned seats again increases your chances of being denied boarded.

Got travel questions or need help with reservation or a destination? Contact me at thetravelprofessor@gmail.com.