Saturday, February 19, 2011

Table For One: Tips for Solo Dining

(image: VinneT)
One of the perks of traveling solo is the itinerary is yours alone. You have only yourself to argue with on what to see and do. But eating out especially in a restaurant atmosphere can be challenging even for the seasoned traveler. Everyone has to eat and its no vacation to have all meals within the confines of a hotel room or to constantly eat on the go. So here are some tips that may come in handy if you find yourself as the solo traveler.

(image: -Lea-)
Check the time. The wait for a server, the food and the bill adds to the awkwardness of solo dining. Think about eating earlier or later to beat the crowds. Some restaurants do not close after lunch or open early for dinner. During off-peak times, a restaurant tends to be less crowded and the wait staff will likely be more attentive. Plus there are less people around to make you feel awkward. I've always find it more comfortable to have the crowds build after placing my order or while I'm already eating rather than walking in a dining room full of people.

Use the Smart Phone. I find it disrespectful when someone is constantly using or answering their phone when dining in a group. But when you're on your own, use your phone to your heart's content. It's your entertainment to keep from being bored and takes your attention from the couples or groups dining around you.

Bring a book or newspaper. Like using a smart phone to entertain yourself, reading an actual paper or book should help to pass the time. If it's a buffet the paper or book left on the table lets the staff know you're still eating when returning to the buffet line. But think about keeping up with the time and pick up a Kindle or iPad to always have electronic reading material always ready.

(image: mintio)
Be purposeful. Walk into the restaurant confidently as you deserve to be there and want to be there and that the staff should be happy to have your business. The more you let any embarrassment about dining alone set in, the longer it will take to get over it.

Pony up to the bar. Many patrons who are on the go dine at the bar. Ask for a menu to let the bartender know you plan to eat and drink at the bar. Use this as a last resort or if the restaurant is crowded. Otherwise everyone deserves a table and chair.

Be a food critic. Because I usually take notes while traveling so I remember the "where, when and what" to document my travels, I just make believe I'm a critic reviewing the restaurant. It makes me feel less awkward once I start photographing the food.

(image: *Jeremia's*)
Sit by the window. The nice thing about window seating is you can stare out the window rather than staring at everyone else in the restaurant.

See solo diners abound. If you see the restaurant is catering to solo diners, then by all means you know you know you won't be the only one.

Keep it pleasurable. A solo diner's business is as good as any other patron's so relax and enjoy the experience. Choose a restaurant because you want to dine there. The service should not waver just because you're a party of one. Remember the restaurant wants to earn your business and the servers a tip.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Food For Purchase on American Airlines

Most passengers have accepted that the free food or snacks on domestic U.S. flights are a thing of the past. They prepare by eating before departing or picking something up on the way to or at the airport. Sometimes because of time, limited airport restaurants and pure hunger, the food sold in-flight becomes the final option or starve until reaching a destination.

American Airlines offers a menu of their food-for-sale selections in the seat pocket and flight attendants usually announce the offerings as well. With the airline putting up the cost to print these menus, it's likely these may be standard options with prices that may hold for a while. That is another downside of in-flight food-for-purchase: the same old menu.
These are photos of the menu from a December 2010 domestic flight from Los Angeles to Hawaii. I've found when I had to purchase food, the cheese-and-cracker tray ($4.49) which includes crackers, cheese, raisins and nuts; and Lay's Stax potato crisps ($3.29) satisfied my hunger needs for a five or eight hour flight. Thank goodness soft drinks are still complimentary for now. Since the airline does not expect every passenger to purchase food, the stock for sale is limited. So if you're seated in the rear of the cabin, better hope that all passengers in front of you did not want to purchase food as well.

Remember that all American Airlines flights are cashless so keep that credit card handy if wanting to make any food or drink purchases. A receipt for the purchase is available.

Click here to so view the meal service options or visit aa.com.





Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Things You Should Know About Travel Guidebooks

(image: Blacknell)
Many people depend on guidebooks especially with trusted names like Frommer's and Fodors. They are still a good resource for a relaxing way to read about a destination at leisure. However in a static and opinionated world, there are some things prospective travelers should know about the guidebooks when purchasing. As travelers become more tech savvy, the guidebook seems to be a dying genre.

(image: jonwick04)
SmartMoney reports ten things that travel guidebooks won't say.

We're already out of date:
Much of the information covered by guidebooks changes too fast for book publishers to keep up. Restaurants close, quaint markets lose their cachet, and trains change their schedules. If it’s essential to your trip, make a phone call before you go, says Peggy Goldman, the president of Friendly Planet Travel, a tour operator. Never rely on a guidebook for key information like whether you’ll need a visa to enter a country and how much it will cost, or what vaccinations you might need, Goldman says, because those facts can change rapidly. Although the guidebook’s web site may have more up-to-date information, travelers should still check with the consulate and look for CDC alerts for the latest information.

No news is bad news:
There’s simply not space in most guidebooks to include negative reviews – so a hotel or restaurant that isn’t in the book might not have made the cut for a reason, says Thomas Kohnstamm, a former Lonely Planet guidebook writer. Guidebooks are also trying not just to inform but to sell potential travelers on the idea of a particular destination, he says. The end result: Every beach is beautiful, and the people of every country are “some of the nicest people in the world.” It’s true that space is limited, so if something isn’t in the book, “there may be a reason,” says Ensley Eikenburg, the associate publisher of Frommer’s travel guides. The exception: “There are certain iconic places that can be overrated, and that’s something we encourage our writers to say,” she says.

(image: Adrian@home)
We haven't actually been there:
It’s called a “desk update": Writers use the phone, the Internet, stories from other travelers and even old-fashioned books to research a destination, but they never actually go there. The practice is common throughout the travel industry, Kohnstamm says. And with tight budgets, some publishers simply never ask how writers are getting their information. Eikenburg, of Frommer’s, admits that the company does desk updates, but only on a few titles that cover multiple countries.

We're relying on you to catch our mistakes:
There’s essentially no fact-checking process for most guidebooks, Kohnstamm says. “They might do a random check, but mainly they’re trying to rely on the writer” to get things right, he says. (Lonely Planet and Frommer’s say fact-checking is the writer’s responsibility.) In practice, and with the prevalence of the “desk update” (see above), that may mean waiting for readers to point out errors or out-of-date information. 

(image: Stephen Cummings)
That "easy" hike is only easy for experts:
“The definition of ‘easy’ is relative depending upon your experience, your physical ability, your footwear, clothing and kit, and your party,” explains Chris Lloyd, a spokesman for the local Ogwen Valley Mountain Rescue Organization. Brian King, the publisher of guidebooks for the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, says his organization frequently hears complaints from less-experienced hikers who feel the books make scrambling over boulders sound like an easy day’s stroll. “We could probably do a better job of accommodating the day hiker,” King says.

We ruined that secluded spot we mentioned:
Brian Ghidinelli thought he and his wife were the only tourists in Old Hanoi’s winding streets – until they walked into a Lonely-Planet-recommended restaurant, which was packed with other travelers, some with their own Lonely Planet Vietnam guides on their tables. Accidentally walking into a tourist trap can have financial consequences, too. In Ghidinelli’s experience, hotels and restaurants recommended by the guidebook tended to cost 25% or 30% more than those that didn’t cater to tourists.

(image: DavidSifry)
We're terrified of your smartphone:
Ten years ago, guidebooks to popular destinations like Walt Disney World or Paris were common on the New York Times best-sellers list, says Michael Norris, a senior analyst for Simba Information, a market research firm that covers publishing and media. These days, the physical books just don’t sell as well as they used to, in part because so much information is now available for free online – TripAdvisor, anyone? – and can be accessed on the spot with a GPS-equipped phone.

Going to Estonia? We don't really care.
Guidebook writers sent to less well-traveled destinations are often hindered by tiny budgets, Kohnstamm says, explaining that books about popular destinations command the majority of the companies' resources. “The rest get sort of short shrift,” he says. Other publishers see it differently. Frommer’s doesn’t spend more on the more popular guides either, Eikenburg says. “If one of our customers buys our guide to Panama and it’s not accurate, then we’ve lost that customer to the competition when they go out and buy an Italy guide or an Alaska guide,” she says.

(image: toothfairy25)
We're tourists too.
Guidebooks can’t always be trusted for “insider” tips on what the locals eat, how they behave or what the cultural norms are in a country, says Bryan Schmidt, who has traveled to six countries on four continents over the last ten years. Guidebooks for Brazil, for example, will recommend places to get “authentic” feijoada, a traditional meat and bean stew – but Schmidt, whose wife is Brazilian, says even those meals are designed for tourists. Of course, some may see that as a blessing: The truly authentic dish involves “a lot of pig ears and pig snouts,” Schmidt says.

Don't take all of our advice.
Some travelers feel guidebooks encourage a frenzied, see-it-all approach to tourism. “I have a really good friend who’s a lawyer, and she prepares for a trip the same way she prepares for a murder trial,” says Friendly Planet Travel’s Goldman. Relying on a guidebook for minute-by-minute planning robs a trip of spontaneity, she says. “The true reason for travel is the absolute thrill of discovering something all by yourself.”

Visit smartmoney.com for the full article. SmartMoney is part of the Wall Street Journal digital network.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Top 25 Most Visited Attractions In Hawaii


A couple of friends from the mainland visited Hawaii recently and it's been a while since I did any sightseeing in the U.S. state where I live. So It was time to brush up on 'Hawaii' to refresh my knowledge of the Aloha State.

In the process I came across this recent ranking published in 2010 by Pacific Business News of the most popular visitor attractions in Hawaii and the number of annual visitors. Included is the island location and website links of each attraction. Tourist shopping magnets such as Kalakaua Avenue, Ala Moana Center and the Aloha Stadium Flea Market and beaches such as Kuhio (Waikiki) Beach have been excluded. The different attractions at Pearl Harbor are separately ranked. Locations on the Big Island of Hawaii are indicated as located on the Kona or Hilo side of the island.

Arizona Memorial (image: army.arch/flickr)
1) World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument, Arizona Memorial (Oahu)  1.28 million
2) Dole Plantations (Oahu)  1.24 million
3) Hawaii Volcanoes National Park (Hilo, Big Island)  1.23 million
4) Haleakala National Park (Maui)  1.11 million
5) Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve (Oahu)  819,000


Diamond Head (image: smaciejewski/flickr)
6) Diamond Head State Monument (Oahu)  730,000
7) Polynesian Cultural Center (Oahu)  610,000
8) Honolulu Zoo (Oahu)  610,000
9) Puuhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park (Kona, Big Island)  397,000
10) Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge (Kauai)  387,000


Bishop Museum (image: concordenick/flickr)
11) Bernice Pauahi Bishop Musuem (Oahu)  383,000
12) Wet 'n' Wild (Oahu)  340,000
13) Battleship Missouri Memorial (Oahu)  327,000
14) Star of Honolulu Cruises & Events (Oahu)  325,000
15) Maui Ocean Center (Maui)  316,000


Maui Ocean Center (image: wchuang/flickr)
16) Waikiki Aquarium (Oahu)  297,000
17) Atlantis Submarines (Oahu, Maui & Kona, Big Island)  261,000
18) Sea Life Park Hawaii (Oahu)  240,000
19) Kualoa Ranch Hawaii Inc  238,000
20) Honolulu Academy of Arts (Oahu)  226,000


Waimea Valley (image: rachelm1981/flickr)
21) USS Bowfin Submarine Museum (Oahu)  220,000
22) Waimea Valley (Oahu)  220,000
23) Whalers Village Museum (Maui) 193,000
24) Panaewa Rainforest Zoo & Gardens (Hilo, Big Island)  172,000
25) Pacific Aviation Museum Pearl Harbor (Oahu)  170,000


Maze at Dole Plantations (image: Dole Plantations)

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