Category Archives: Reviews

That Time American Airlines Gave Me a Heart Attack

It has not been a good few months for American-based airlines.  I’m not going to sugarcoat it – the frustrations of subpar and declining service which has been the norm since 9/11 was just looking for a reason to explode.

And it has. Rather than just going away, people are now more willing to listen to others’ complaints about customer service and strong-arm tactics.  Airlines have their defenders, yes, but even those defenses often just serve to fuel anger.  Is there a valid reason for enforcing a no-one standing while the plane is in line for take-off rule?  One hundred percent yes.  But what happens if you just can’t hold it?  And what happens if you have to go, but the line to the hopelessly overextended bathroom area which services 75 other passengers stretches down the aisle and turbulence happens? I noticed, to my horror, upon disembarking a flight from Frankfurt to Johannesburg that one of the adult passengers had actually wet himself.  That should *never* happen.  But it does.  And many people are afraid it might end up being them.  Fear, dread, and total loss of control – combined with a multi-hour uncomfortable smoosh-fest with gross food – does not lend itself to happy and easygoing passengers.

If anything good comes of this, it will be that US-based carriers up their game and remember that customers are paying them for a service, they are not doing customers a favor by taking their money and abusing them.  And airlines are making the right noises about change; whether they follow through or not remains to be seen.

I think some of them are trying, though, and it was as a part of one of these attempts that American Airlines triggered my ulcer into acting up and gave me heart palpitations that nearly sent me to the emergency room for treatment.

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Those Don’t Seem Like Such Friendly Skies Anymore

Do I even have to mention it?  *IT*?  The fact that United Airlines demanded a man ALREADY BOARDED AND SEATED get off the plane, and called the police to force him to leave with a few bits of blood thrown in along the way?  We already all know that story, right? And although most of the internet is firmly on the side of hating the airlines, there are some defending the airline’s actions as well.

I’ll get to that, but first, I think we should have a little fun playing a game I came up with called Flying United Airlines Bingo.

How many categories can YOU get? And what would be an appropriate prize?

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Doing What the Locals Do

I will totally own it.  I’ve said it.  I say it, in fact, every time we travel.  “Let’s do what the locals do!”

I mean, locals go to the Dubai Mall, right?  That counts.  And Angkor Wat.  Those are totally local things.

We're local here. Seriously. The Angkor Wat complex is local, and we're visiting it. It's local.
We’re local here. Seriously. The Angkor Wat complex is local, and we’re visiting it. It’s local.

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That Time We Stayed in a Murder Hotel in Addis Ababa

Right at the start I can assure you, I’m not using similes, metaphors, or exaggerating.  Me.  Two kids.  Murder hotel.  Addis Ababa.

And I would like to take this opportunity to thank Ethiopian Airlines for their high commitment of customer service in adventure travel (*COUGH*).

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When Trip Advisor Goes Wrong

I love Trip Advisor – I do.  I really, really do.  And I never make a hotel booking without first checking what Trip Advisor contributors have to say about that hotel.  There are always the odd reviews out where people have an ax to grind, but if you read the reviews with a practiced eye, you will get a very good idea of what to expect.

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Goodbye, Dear Airport Friend

It has come time for our family to visit our home.  Home being, in this case, California.  Which, to be fair, is most people’s idea of a vacation.  So that’s kind of like winning the travel lottery, really, and it can be quite a money-saver when it all comes down to it.

We’ve traveled enough that we have definite airport preferences – because any traveler can tell you exactly how much an airport can make or break a good visit.  Everything – from services, to concession hours, to cleanliness, to available connections,  to the attitude of employees, to outside traffic, to the prices of rental cars – EVERYTHING in an airport adds up.

And when I say everything, I mean everything.  Like Ebola hand washing stations.  Those definitely add up.

**Meanwhile, in Sierra Leone…

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What’s a Durban?

I promise you, Durban really is on there. See?

I’m not going to lie, our family has a deep love of visiting South Africa.   It’s a fantastic place – one of the most beautiful places in the world -with incredible wildlife and an outdoorsy lifestyle that gives a visitor no chance for boredom.  And while I normally stop reading any travel article that uses the word “vibrant” to describe a place or culture, I honestly can’t think of any other word that fits South Africa as well.

If Vienna and London are imagined in the staid grays and whites of a proper European city and Budapest is a sepia tone of historic struggles, South Africa is bright purples and reds, with contrasting colors everywhere you look.

But when you are from America, South Africa doesn’t seem all that big.  After you visit the big tourist names of Cape Town and Johannesburg and see all there is to see on day trips, what else is left?

What is left is Durban.  And Durban is amazing.

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In Which I Grind My Teeth and Make Terrible Faces

I love travel.  I love exposing my kids to travel.  I love that my family is absolutely insufferable when watching the movie European Vacation.  I know that sounds snotty, and I don’t mean it to.  I put a job’s worth of time into getting the most out of our travel, because goodness knows that we’re not at an income level to be able to just throw down the Visa card whenever a place strikes our fancy (case in point – Australia and New Zealand.  My kids are DYING to visit those two and we have not been able to find a way to swing it as of yet.  But, you know, goals are good).

We have not yet resorted to a Third World minibus vacation, but I'm sure it is coming.
We have not yet resorted to a Third World minibus vacation, but I’m sure it is coming.

Because we are not independently wealthy, we pay close attention to sales, promotions and airline points.  It is those airline points which are today causing the ridiculous headache, and I have vowed they WILL!  NOT!  WIN!

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A Closer Look at Expedia Miles

Right outside a hotel we booked via Expedia.  The most important thing here to Surly is the UFC poster.
Right outside a hotel we booked via Expedia. The most important thing here to Surly is the UFC poster.

Go ahead – sing the Expedia theme song.  Right now.  I know you know it.

Now that is out of the way, let’s move on to the why of Expedia.  It’s actually very simple – of all the aggregators I’ve tried for hotel, car, and flight reservations, Expedia is the furthest reaching and the most easily tweaked.  While I adore Kayak’s little map with pictures of special price deals (gives me ideas!), there have been several times I’ve been able to find and book flights on Expedia that I could not find on Kayak.

Plus, Expedia has a points program – Expedia Rewards.  But right up front I’ll say that if the points program is your main reason for choosing Expedia, don’t bother.

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