Sunday, 10 May 2009

The Amazing Race 14, Episode 11

Beijing (China) - Maui, HI (USA)

This season of The Amazing Race 14 ended in very much the same vein as the previous season, with a task in which the racers had to compete in recognizing images symbolizing places they had been in the month-long race around the world, and placing them in the proper order.

My reaction to this remains the same. The important things, and the ones we are actually most likely to remember from a trip like this, aren’t the images or even the “adventure” activities but the experiences of interacting with other people along the way.

As I asked in a a couple of recent Pecha Kucha talks:

What’s left of the trip after we get home? We buy souvenirs, and we take photos. But do the photos become our memories? Do we remember the places and times we didn’t take pictures, and the things we didn’t buy?

What’s next for the race? CBS has commissioned “The Amazing Race 15”, and casting is going on now. Look for race markers if you’re travelling later this summer, with the next season to be broadcast starting this autumn, at the earliest.

What’s next for me? In addition to testifying this week in Sacramento against a harebrained scheme to withhold drivers licenses and state ID cards if a DMV contractor’s facial recognition robot mistakes your photo for that of anyone else in the state (and thus prevent you from flying or travelling by Amtrak unless you have a passport), I’ll be in Washington the first week in June for the Computers, Freedom, and Privacy conference. I hope to see some of you at the conference, at Hostelling International in downtown DC where I’m staying, or sharing stories at the travelers circle on Wednesday evening, June 3rd, at the Kabab House at 1108 K Street, N.W. (catty-corner from the hostel).

Most importantly, what’s next for your travel plans, dear readers? I’ve been getting a flood of press releases from travel companies with their predictions for whether or not people people will still be travelling this summer in spite of the economic crisis. I’m not sure if they are trying to persuade potential investors to lend them (more) money to fund their (continuing) losses, persuade themselves that there’s light at the end of the tunnel, or persuade the public not to worry about money, and to take an expensive vacation, because “everyone else is doing it”.

Should you believe these press releases? Should you care?

Most of the propaganda about, “People are still travelling, and we expect a busy summer,” is wishful thinking on the part of the travel industry. In many cases, I think travel companies are misreading the results of surveys that show that lots of people still plan to “take a vacation trip” this summer. Most people in the USA don’t fly somewhere for their family vacation, or spend the majority of their travel nights in hotels. Most vacation travellers in the USA drive, and they stay primarily with friends or family, unless they need to spend a night in a motel en route because the drive to the grandparents’ house (or grandchildrens’ or friends’) is too long for one day. The percentage of USA vacations that involve air travel and hotel stays is small, and I believe it will be smaller this year than in other recent years, for the obvious financial reasons.

What matters, though, isn’t whether other people choose to travel, or how well travel companies fare, but what it will be like for you if you take a vacation trip this year. On this score, the outlook is much more clear: This a great summer to travel, if you have the time and money — perhaps the best in years. You can take the same trip for much less than it would have cost last year, or travel further and/or more luxuriously for the same price. Now is the time to travel, not because other people are doing it, but because they aren’t — which makes it chepaer, easier, and better value for you.

Why? Compared with last year, as I’ve written about in other recent articles:

  • The US dollar is up substantially against most other currencies, including those of many of the countries that have been most expensive in recent years.

  • Hotel prices are dramatically lower than they have been in years, and I expect they will remain so through the suummer. Demand is so low, and supply so high (thanks to overbuilding by commercial real estate speculators, many of whom are having as much trouble paying the mortgages on their hotels as many homeowners are) that hotels won’t be able to maintain the prices they are asking for high-season advance bookings. If they don’t drop their rates, their competitors eventually will. Look for panicked hoteliers to offer lots of last minute deals, as inconspicuously as possible, especially through opaque and other online channels and/or to people who show up at the front desk prepared to haggle or to go another hotel down the road if the price isn’t right. As always, it’s easier for a hotel to negotiate on perks than on the base rate, so don’t hesitate to ask for early check-in, late check-out, free breakfast or other amenities, or an upgraded room.

  • With lots of empty rooms, there’s little reason for any but the most finicky travellers to book more than a few days in advance, or even to book ahead at all. Only during special events is there much risk of finding every bed in town taken. That means there’s less need to plan or commit yourself in advance. The off season is always better for unplanned exploration, but as summers go, this is the summer for spontaneity. If you’ve never travelled without reservations, now’s the time to give it a try.

  • Gas is half the price it was last summer.

  • There are likely to be fewer and spottier deals on airline tickets and car rentals, because airlines and car rentals companies can cut back capacity, to match falling demand, more easily than can hotels. But for a long road trip, lower gas prices are likely to more than offset any increase in car rental rates. For trips of more than a week or two, airfare even internationally is likely to be only a small fraction of the total cost. And some of the most distant parts of the world, which cost the most in airfare to get to, are also some of the regions where your daily expenses can be lowest, so your total costs may be less than if you stayed closer to home.

  • The opportunity cost to be out ouf the job market is less than if well-paid work were readily available. That makes this a good time to take a post-college “gap year” or a mid-career sabbatical, to study abroad (at any age), or to pick up some international travel and/or living experience and skills. Your savings will last longer in most of the rest of the world than in the USA or elsewhere in the First World. And more and more types of freelance work, as well as job hunting, can be done remotely, even from abroad.

What are you waiting for? Have a great summer!

Link | Posted by Edward on Sunday, 10 May 2009, 23:59 (11:59 PM)
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"Don't believe anything just because you read it on the Internet. Anyone can say anything on the Internet, and they do. The Internet is the most effective medium in history for the rapid global propagation of rumor, myth, and false information." (From The Practical Nomad Guide to the Online Travel Marketplace, 2001)
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