Not All Who Wander Are Lost: A Blog for Adventurous Women

Buying airline tickets for your next adventure vacation - Part 2

Posted by Marian Marbury on Feb 6, 2014 7:40:00 PM

So after reading "Buying airline tickets for your next adventure vacation - Part 1" you have decided not to use a travel agent and that now is the time you should start looking. These recommendations are primarily for people who have to be somewhere on a specific date by a specific time. If you have flexibility, there are additional options that will be addressed in another blog post.

1. Do you live some place that Southwest Airlines serves and if so, do they fly to where you're going? Southwest has excluded themselves from all the search engines so the only place you can find their schedule and prices is on the Southwest website. Although they are no longer truly a discount airline, there are 3 reasons they are my airline of choice.

  • They don't charge baggage fees. If you need more than a carry on, this means you can subtract $50 - $100 from their price when you compare it to their competitors.
  • They have a great cancellation policy. They won't give you a refund, but you will have a credit for the full amount you paid to use for up to 365 days. And they make it easy to use that credit.
  • Their employees' morale is high. I've chatted with several flight sttendants and I'm convinced that it isn't just for show. I like to support companies that treat their employees well.
2. Regardless of whether Southwest is an option (and it isn't for international flights), you probably want to see what else is available. Here are our favorite websites and why.
Note: All the websites we recommend are actually travel-specific search engines, meaning that they search a variety of different websites including the major airlines (except Southwest). You may find different prices on them so it definitely is worth checking more than one. At the same time, there are lots of them; these are the ones we look at.
  • Kayak.com (http://www.kayak.com/). If I was only going to check one site, this is the one I would choose. Kayak has an intuitive interface and many ways to filter results all at the same time - by airport, duration, take off or landing times, layovers, airline etc. If you have lots of choices, Kayak can help you quickly sort through them based on your preferences. For common routes it usually has a Price Predictor, which shows you how low prices have fluctuated over the last 90 days and, based on an algorithm, their best guess whether this is a good time to buy or whether you should wait because prices might drop. You can also set up fare alerts for specific routes, which is a good way to get a feel for price fluctuations if you're not needing to buy now. However, these aren't flight-specific; knowing that the price has gone down $20 without knowing if it's on the flight you're interested in may not be helpful.

    The only cons I've found are that I've sometimes found better prices and flights on one of the other sites I'll mention.
     
  • Google flights (https://www.google.com/flights/). This is my new first stop website because it is blazingly fast and has a clean and simple interface. It also gives you tips such as being able to save X dollars if you fly a different day. In addition there is a world map on the initial page with prices for lots of destinations based on your departure city and date. Is it that useful to know I could fly to Tromso, Norway for $1,071 on February 21 from Washington, DC? Maybe not, but it's fun!! 

    The cons? It doesn't have filters other than other nearby airports. If, for example, you can't leave until 12pm, there isn't a way to limit your flights to those parameters. It also has a box at the top called Best Flights, about which it says "We chose these flights to give you the best trade-off between number of stops, duration, and price." Sometimes that seems accurate but sometimes not (like an American flight that was $10 more expensive and 30 minutes longer was listed over its Delta counterpart.) Is there an advertising consideration? If so, you can still see the other options so just be sure to look.
     
  • Hipmunk (http://www.hipmunk.com). Hipmunk has my favorite interface. It uses bar graphs that allow you to instantly see how long flights are, how many layovers and how long each one is, and what time they take off and land. Another great aspect is the default sort order, which is their "agony index": a combination of price, layovers, and length. This absolutely assures that you don't overlook a much better flight that costs $10 more but saves you 4 hours of travel time. It may or may not find you the cheapest flight.

    So why isn't this my go to site? Three reasons: 1) it's slow, sometimes mind-numbingly so - although that may be improving. 2) There have been several instances where the flight I selected "was no longer available". Really? Why waste my time then? 3) You pick your outbound flight and then you pick your return flight. So you might really like your outbound flight only to find there is no good return flight paired with it. It's still worth a look but don't spend too much time there.
There are a couple of other websites to use in specific situations.
Skyscanner (http://www.skyscanner.com) covers all the small discount airlines in other countries, of which there are a growing number. If you have trouble finding an acceptable fare, consider flying to another city and look for a cheap flight from there. When I was going to London and then Dublin last year, it was less expensive (and actually a better connection) to book a roundtrip ticket from Baltimore to London and a roundtrip from London to Dublin. The only caution with this strategy is that your two tickets will not be connected electronically; if you have trouble on one flight you aren't entitled to any help, even if it's the same airline.
If you have a multicity itinerary: For test purposes, I looked at an itinerary that went from Baltimore to Managua, Managua to Madrid, and then back home from Madrid. Using a website that only lets you search leg by leg (e.g. Google flights or Hipmunk might take forever as you go down blind alleys on your second or third leg and have to start all over again). This is another case where Kayak.com really shines as it searches for all 3 legs and presents the options as a package. The best option I found was $1932 after I filtered out flights that took more than 16 hours.

It's also worth taking a look at Orbitz (http://www.orbitz.com) one of the oldest and largest online booking websites. Personally, I have never found them that useful and they are another site where I've had the "flight is no longer available" experience. But you can look at itineraries that involve more than 2 cities. Still, when I tried it just now, the only flights it showed from Madrid to Baltimore were on LOT Polish Airlines with a time of 49 hours and 41 mins. And it was more expensive than the one Kayak came up with.
But the winner in my test case? Google flights, which quickly found acceptable flights and was $1751 because it combined flights on American and United.
One other suggestion here - if you go back to a website that you have been looking at, delete your browsing history first. The websites say that they won't track your activity and show you a higher fare just because they know you are very interested. But honestly, I don't believe it. The last time I returned to a site and only found a fare that was higher than the first time, I deleted my browsing history. When I returned for the third time, I saw the same fare that I had seen the first time. While Google is probably one of the biggest collectors of personal information that exists, the Google chrome browser has easy to use privacy settings and makes it simple to delete browsing history.
If you have websites that you like that I haven't mentioned, please leave a comment with what and why - we're always interested in learning!
Incidentally, we just updated our Ebook on Getting Ready for International Travel. If you haven't downloaded the previous one or if you've misplaced it, you might want to download it again. It's clear, concise, and practical and it's free. For once, you'll get more than you paid for!
Our EBook will help you get ready ready for your next interational trip

Topics: adventure travel, preparation, how to

Buying airline tickets for your next adventure vacation - Part 1

Posted by Marian Marbury on Feb 3, 2014 7:00:00 AM

I've written a blog post about this previously but there are some new considerations and some new websites that make it worth updating. This advice is oriented towards the person who is considering or has booked a specific adventure vacation and therefore is locked into specific dates - perhaps you have a day or two of flexibility but you're not in the position of being able to go anywhere or anytime.

There are three issues to consider: 1) when should you book your airline ticket; 2) should you use a travel agent; and 3) if you book your own tickets, what sites are most useful? I'll look at the first 2 questions in this post and consider the third one in a second.relaxing in the Caribbean

When should you book your airline tickets?

In the original blog post, I suggested you start looking not earlier than 4 months and not later than 3 weeks. Those are still not bad guidelines, but it's not that simple. Airlines have gotten very sophisticated at projecting demand and basing their pricing on that - the cost of your ticket has virtually nothing to do with how many miles you're flying. If you are going to a popular destination at a popular time of year (e.g. the Caribbean in February, Florida during Spring Break, Europe in July, or home for the holidays), you might start looking 6 to 8 months in advance and you should definitely book early while there are still lots of seats. As planes fill, prices will go up. That is particularly true if you are flying from a small airport, on a route with limited competition, and/or to a place of high demand for your particular departure city. For example, if you live in Michigan and want to go to Florida this March, hopefully you already have your tickets booked. If instead you're going to Minneapolis, you can probably wait a few more weeks. 

Of course if seats don't get sold the prices may go down (one website reported that on average, the lowest price was 3 weeks before the departure day); but you take the risk that seats will be sold out and/or prices will go up. You also have to factor in your time and anxiety level. If you think you found a good price, just book it and don't look again. If you don't find a good price, then set up a fare alert. Maybe the price will never come down but at least you will have had time to adjust to the fact that you are going to pay more than you hoped.

Warning: if you haven't flown recently, be prepared for sticker shock. Prices have gone up significantly on many flights in the last couple of years. With continuing consolidation of airlines, this is not likely to improve soon.

Should you use a travel agent?

Travel agents charge a fee (the one we work with charges $35 for domestic tickets and $45 for international flights) and may or may not be able to find a flight that is cheaper than you can find on your own. But in addition to saving you time and relieving you of the paralysis that sometimes descends from looking at too many booking sites, a huge advantage is that you have someone to help you when your flight is delayed or cancelled. Rather than trying to get through to your airlines' call center which is being inundated by 1000s of other stranded customers, you call your agent and she takes care of it, finding you the best alternative there is.

The major disadvantage is that, if you're like me, it's hard to know what the optimal itinerary is until you actually see all your choices. Price is the single most important determinant for me, but it's not the only important thing. I might be willing to pay an additional $50 to get home four hours earlier or go a day earlier to save $120. But maybe I won't  - I don't really know until I see exactly what the choices are.

So what websites do we use when we're booking flights? I'll cover that in the next post. There are a couple of new entrants to the crowded field of airline booking sites. And the most surprising thing is that you can't rely on just one!

Our EBook will help you get ready ready for your next interational trip

Topics: active travel, travel tips, preparation, how to

How To Keep Your Feet Warm During Winter Outdoor Adventures

Posted by Marian Marbury on Jan 29, 2014 10:00:00 AM

After the last blog post about How to Stay Warm in Winter a reader asked that question. And in this winter of unrelentinAWT1 copyg polar vortices and plunging temperatures, it's an important consideration.

Like hands, feet are more prone to get cold since your body attempts to preserve core body warmth by skimping on blood flow to your extremities. But that's where the similarity between hands and feet stops. Hands get cold because you often expose them directly to cold air as you take off your gloves to use your fingers, and because your fingers have alot of surface area.

Feet get cold because 1) your feet sweat. You may not feel it, but they do; 2) your feet are in contact with the freezing ground; and 3) like skin everywhere on your body, there is an imperceptible layer of moisture that protects the skin and needs to be protected. In order to keep your feet warm, you need to consider each of these.

1) Wear synthetic or the new wool socks. Good brands are Thorlo and Smartwool. I say new wool because in the old days we used ragg wool socks, which have their own set of problems. If you're going to be out for more than a couple of hours, bring another pair to switch into if your feet get cold.

2) If you are someone who can wear liners (some of us get blisters from liners), use a sweat-wicking pair as your first layer. You do not, however, want to wear two thick layers unless your boots are really roomy. Otherwise your feet can be so tight in your boots that your circulation decreases and your feet actually get colder.

3) Boots are your most important decision and what you buy depends on where you live and what you need them for. Like every other piece of clothing, you want your boots to be waterproof but you also want them to be breathable and there is always a tradeoff. Completely waterproof boots will also be completely unbreathable. But in cold and especially wet weather, it's a tradeoff worth making. In that case your best choice is to buy insulated boots that have a removable felt liner that you can take out and dry. Sorels are a common brand. The liner acts as extra insulation, particularly from the ground, and the fact that its removeable means you can dry it out. If you live someplace with predictably cold weather, these are well worth the cost.

But what if you live someplace that isn't ususally cold, it's just this winter (think Mobile, Alabama this morning). It's likely you couldn't find Sorels if you wanted to and you won't need them for long anyway. In that case, take your roomiest pair of boots, put some neatly folded newspaper in the bottom for an extra layer of insulation and then seal them up with a layer of duct tape on the outside. Or instead of duct tape, put a shower cap over each boot. Fashionable? Well sure, in that quirky kind of outdoors way. And definitely functional.

4) Get chemical heaters. These are little packets that you activate by crunching them up and they give off an amazing amout of heat. Do not put them next to your bare skin. But a packet placed inside your boot at the tip can keep your feet warmer for hours.

Remember, keeping your feet warm is not just a matter of comfort but of vital safety. Your feet are very susceptible to frost bite, as evidenced by the number of mountaineers without ten toes. But being adequately prepared can make going out in the cold fun and safe.

Topics: clothing and gear, outdoors tips, safety, preparation, how to

Five Ways to Celebrate the Summer Solstice

Posted by Katie Flanagan on Jun 13, 2013 5:00:00 AM

The ‘official’ start of summer is around the corner! I have always been drawn to the season of summer, as a child it meant no school, long days at the pool, family vacations, and evenings spent chasing lightening bugs through the neighborhood. As I’ve grown older – my summers revolve less around the seasonal pastimes – but I do have an ‘itch’ to celebrate the change of season. The summer solstice, June 21 (in the Northern Hemisphere) is a perfect opportunity to celebrate summertime and soak up the sun in the great outdoors.

Throughout history and across cultures, the summer solstice has been marked with celebrations including religious ceremonies, rituals, and festivals. It is the longest day of the year and for many signaled the beginning of the growing season representing fertility and fulfillment.

  1. Do some sky observation. From an astronomical point of view, the summer solstice occurs sometime between June 20 and June 21 (sometimes June 22) in the Northern Hemisphere, and December 21 and December 22 (sometimes December 23) in the Southern Hemisphere. Most years it is on the 21st but due to the leap year in the Gregorian calendar, there is a change every few years to the date, to account for the leap years. If you'd like to witness the actual moment of the summer solstice in the sky, read How to witness the summer solstice and be sure to take all precautions to prevent eye damage.sky observations
  2. Sit outside and read a book. This is a good way to get connected with the sun and nature. Its simple, relaxing, and can be done morning, noon, or night on the longest day of the year whether it’s in your backyard, on your porch, or at a coffee shop. If you need a suggestion, here is a link to list of a “good summer reads” for women. http://www.womansday.com/life/10-captivating-summer-reads-108983#slide-1
  3. Plan some travel. Consider spending summer solstice away from home, at one of the key destinations where the summer solstice has been celebrated for centuries. In particular, Britain's Stonehenge is a must for the avid observer of the summer solstice. Stonehenge aligns with the sunrise on the solstice, making for spectacular viewing. However, you need to be there very early in the morning well rugged up because thousands of others will also be attending to celebrate the day as the sun rises. Two other places where people like to celebrate the summer solstice are Sedona in Arizona and Cairo (where an ancient sun temple was discovered in 2006). A list of summer solstice celebrations can be found in Wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solstice#Solstice_celebrations.
  4. Honor the sun. If you enjoy doing yoga, there is a set of exercises known as the Sun Salutation or Salute to the Sun which you can perform. These exercises are intended to exercise both your body and your soul, balancing both in harmony through both meditation and physical movement in one. Begin this exercise on the morning of the summer solstice and aim to make it a daily habit from this time on. For more detail, refer to How to do sun salutations in yoga and How to do the sun salute.
  5. Join an event near you. Communities and groups in your city may be celebrating the solstice in their own special way. Checkout local event boards at coffee shops or Google the name of your town and summer solstice to see if events are planned. There may be an annual event that can become your solstice tradition. Here is a link to a few community events throughout the U.S. and world: http://www.livescience.com/21059-summer-solstice-ways-celebrate.html

 

References:

http://www.wikihow.com/Celebrate-the-Summer-Solstice

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Midsummer

http://www.livescience.com/21059-summer-solstice-ways-celebrate.html

Topics: miscellaneous, how to

The unspoken fear about women's travel groups

Posted by Marian Marbury on Mar 25, 2013 5:47:00 AM

There are several common fears about traveling as a member of a women's travel group: Will I be the oldest? Will I be the slowest? Will everyone else want to spend a lot of time shopping? (Answers: maybe, could be, possibly but not likely). We get asked these alot either before or after women sign up for a trip. But there is another largely unspoken fear and its time to get it out in the open.

Snoring.Woman plugging ears

Yup, after we get to a certain age, a majority of women snore. Sometimes its a delicate little snore and sometimes its a steam engine. But its pretty common. Some women are afraid that their snoring will keep their roommate awake. Others fear that their roommate's snoring will keep them awake.

On our health form, we used to ask 1) do you snore? and 2) does snoring bother you? But both questions have problems. Many women simply don't know - if we don't share a bed with someone who is willing to tell us and we don't wake ourselves up, we have no way of knowing whether or not we snore.

The problem with the second question is that snoring bothers almost everyone, including women who snore. The only people who aren't bothered are those that sleep deeply (not so common once we're over 40) and those with hearing problems (increasingly common as we age but not usually so profound as to completely muffle everything). It seems unfair to "punish" women who snore by making them sleep with other snorers if snoring bothers them. As irritating as snoring can be, there is absolutely nothing an individual can do to control it.

Fortunately there is another solution and this is the one we're suggesting now: earplugs. I first really learned about earplugs when I was on our Tour du Mont Blanc trip about 9 years ago. One night 12 of us were sleepig in one large room without too much space between our mattresses (it's a very unusual trip that way). I just happened to be sleeping next to someone who was a big fan of earplugs, and most importantly, knew how to use them. She taught me, I followed her advice, and the next morning woke up after a good night's sleep. Several people started commenting about how much noise there had been in the room and how much snoring had occurred. I hadn't heard any of it. Now earplugs are part of my toiletry kit. And whenever someone tells me that earplugs don't work for them, I make sure they are using them correctly.

The trick is to make sure they are compressed before you insert them and then to straighten your ear canal as you slide them in. Since this is a bit difficult to explain, watching this excellent youTube video will help. If snoring bothers you but you don't like having to pay extra for your own room to assure a peaceful night, this will be the best 5 mintues you spend this week.

Topics: womens travel, travel tips, how to

Part II. Cleaning gear POST Active Vacations

Posted by Jan Latham on Jul 3, 2012 5:00:00 AM

You may be able to wash you sheets or even comforters with one hand tied around your back... but a sleeping bag may seem a little less familiar.  Seasoned AGC guide, Jan Latham, shares a few tip on how to handle your outdoor gear with care...

sleeping bag resized 600

 

The following guidance applies to both down and poly fill sleeping bags. Be sure to know what the manufacturers recommendations are (translate – read the labels OR google your brand/product).

The best care of a sleeping bag actually starts while you are using it! Consider your sleeping bag to be the ‘clean area’ of your backpacking experience. That means:

  • No food in or around the bag

  • No shoes

  • Wear clothing when in the bag to reduce body odors and soil to the sleeping bag

  • Have something between the bag and the ground when in use

  • Keep your bag as dry as possible!!

  • Whenever possible air/sun out your bag before placing in your tent—even if you are amazing at keeping your bag dry from the weather our bags absorb moisture through the air and from our bodies as we sleep

  • When taking out of the compression bag, give it a shake to help with decompression

  • Always stuff your bag rather than folding or rolling when backpacking

Upon returning home:

  • Put sleeping bag outside in sunshine to dry and air out. Turn inside out and right side out

  • Shake out to remove any dust, dirt or other debris

  • Store in large bag (never compress your bag for storage, this reduces the loft sometimes permanently) hang in as cool and dry an environment as possible.

  • Some women like to store their bags with a fabric softener sheet enclosed in the storage bag to help with odors and to smell nice and fresh next time they go out.

Washing/Cleaning

There will be times that your bag will need cleaning. Body oils, odors, insect repellant, etc. will eventually build up and a thorough washing is all that it needs to restore the cleanliness of your bag. The number of times you use it per season will dictate how often it gets washed.

  • Check out the manufacturer labels, be sure you know the recommendations for cleaning and the fabric content.

  • For most bags you can either take to the dry cleaners or you can wash yourself at the Laundromat.

  • If washing yourself:

  • Use a front loader---no other items in the washer except the sleeping bag.

  • Use a mild detergent, one designed for your sleeping bag or one recommended by your local outfitter.

  • Dry in the commercial dryer on low heat. This will take a while but it is better to dry with low heat to eliminate any damage to the bag materials. There are two schools of thought on drying. One is to allow the bag to dry in the dryer alone and one is to add tennis balls or tennis shoes to add a bit of agitation to ‘fluff’ up the material inside. I use the tennis ball method.

Now you've got a clean place to lay your head under the stars! Sweet Dreams!

Note: For tips cleaning tips on hydration systems and backpacks see Jan's last post Part I: Cleaning gear POST hiking trips.

Topics: clothing and gear, how to

Fitness Training Tips for Adventure Travel

Posted by Katie Flanagan on Mar 23, 2012 5:33:00 PM

So you want your hikes, bikes, and paddles to be breathtakingly beautiful not breath-taking, right? We do to! At AGC we aim to find a trip that 'fits' you. But if you don't feel that you are 'fit' enough for a trip – let's not use that as an excuse to delay signing-up; instead lets use it as motivational tool to train for a trip. Below are three keys components to help you improve your fitness level and train for an adventure travel vacation.

#1 Cardio – gradually increasing the duration and intensity level of your cardio routine is a great way to improve your fitness level. If you are completely sedentary aim for 3 days of walking 20-30 minutes each day. If you are already active increase intensity by using elevation (hills outside or incline on a treadmill) or mix walking and running. Carrying a backpack full of books or weights is another way to increase intensity. Lengthening each cardio session by approximately 10 minutes every week is a reasonable goal that will help prevent injuries and over-training. It is recommended to do cardio 5 days per week for 30 -60 minutes (this can be done in multiple 10-15 minute sessions through the day).

Tips, Active Travel, Cardio, Fitness

#2 Core – a strong core contributes to healthy knees, a good sense of balance, and a healthy back. Your core includes your abdominal muscles, obliques, hamstrings, and lower back. Core exercises include those done in a pilates or power/flow yoga class (an inexpensive option for pilates and yoga routines is to rent DVDs from the library). Crunches, resistance ball exercises, planks (side planks too) are just a few core strengthening options. As for frequency, abdominals, specifically, are a unique muscle group that can be worked everyday (unlike muscles groups such as biceps or triceps that need rest days in between workouts) – so don't hesitate to work your abs daily.

#3 Toning – resistance training is very important for women and often overlooked. The more muscle mass one has, the more calories she will burn through out the day. Lifting heavy weights is not the only option for resistance training. Often high repetitions of movements done with light or no weights can create a level of muscle fatigue that leads to muscle toning. These include lunges, squats, shoulder presses or tricep dips off a chair. It is recommended to do resistance training 2-3 days per week, working each muscle with 2-3 different exercises within the week.

There are a lot of reasons, that may keep us from signing-up for an adventure travel vacation, some of those are out our control (money, time, family responsibilities). But our fitness level is within our control! Many women are apprehensive about their fitness level, but letting that stand in between you and an AGC trip is not necessary. Don't delay – turn that 'hurdle' into an achievable fitness goal.

 

 

Topics: active travel, health and fitness, how to, trip preparation

If the shoe fits: tips to buying hiking boots

Posted by Deb Malmon on Mar 13, 2012 3:03:00 PM

Buying a pair of boots for a backpacking trip or a hiking vacation should be done with careful consideration. Pick the wrong pair of boots and you could end up with feet ranging from uncomfortable to physically harmed with blisters or even tendon problems. It is a task that takes an investment of time and money. But hopefully, you will have this pair of boots for many years and it is worth putting a little investment in on the front end to get the best thing for you.

Here are some tips to help you in the process:

 1) Go to a reputable retail store- where they have a boot department and people who know their boots and how to fit the right boot to the right foot.  describe the image

2) Try on a variety of boots and walk around the store in them. Every one of us has a differently shaped foot and ankle. And every manufacturer makes their boots a slightly different shape (odd but true). That Merrell that works for your sister or best friend may not be the boot that is ideal for you. Furthermore, if that store doesn't have what you need, go to another store and see what brands they have

3) Choose a store with a good return policy. Some stores will only take your boots back if they haven't been worn outdoors. You can get a decent sense of their comfort that way, but ultimately you need to field test them

4) Buy a boot that will match your activity needs.  Backpacking boots differ from lighter hiking boots; rocky steep terrain requires a different boot than flat or rolling hills. Again, going to a reputable store will help. They should ask you this question

 5) Sizing: Typically you want a boot a half size bigger than your shoe size. This accounts for sock variations, as well as the natural swelling of our feet

 6) Socks/insoles: Try the boots on with a sock combination you know works for you. Bring your own. Or if you wear orthotics, bring those

7) Break them in: Buy your boots early enough before your trip (usually 2+ months) to break them in. If they are all leather they will take a bit longer to break in than the cordura/nylon/part leather ones. If they are uncomfortable after a couple times of wearing them, bring them back.  Every once in a while I hear a woman on a trip say that she pulled her new hiking boots out of the box, wore them on the trip and never got blisters.  While possible, don't count on it for you and your boots.

8) Cost of boots: a hiking boot can range anywhere from $90 to $220 depending on the features, the style, the name brand. While a higher cost boot is not necessarily any better than a lower cost boot, don't just buy the least expensive boot in the store; get the one that fits best.

They're your feet, and will carry you far into the wilderness. Buy a pair of boots that fit, that are comfortable, and take time to break them in. It will make the hiking experience - and your feet - so much more joyful.

Topics: clothing and gear, hiking, how to, trip preparation

Salmon salad: the perfect adventure travel lunch

Posted by Marian Marbury on Dec 9, 2011 8:50:00 PM

A couple of years ago on our Grand Alaska Road Trip (our adventure travel offering in - you guessed it- Alaska), we took this truly amazing one day rafting trip down the Kennicott, Nizina, and Chitina Rivers. If you ever want to get a feel for the wilderness that Alaska truly is, without spending lots of time and/or money to get into the bush, this is the way to do it. And at the end of the day a plane swoops down, lands you on a sandbar, and whisks you back to the town of McCarthy, a former ghost town in the middle of nowhere. It's truly a magical day. But I digress.Alaska adventure travel

Halfway through the day we pulled over on a sandbar and the guides made lunch. Lunches on a raft trip are always good and this was no exception. But that day we had salmon salad. I didn't watch the guides whip it up but what I noticed was that it looked pretty easy. And no, even though this is Alaska, the salmon wasn't fresh. Which is good because on most trips, you can't get fresh salmon. I later asked for the recipe and wanted to share it with you. It's easy to make, a pleasant alternative to tuna fish, and really healthy. Plus - almost all canned or packaged salmon is wild caught, so you don't need to have any nagging concerns as Alaska salmon is a sustainable fishery.

A few cans or packages of salmon
Mix in mayo and mustard to the consistency and taste that suits you
Add a little pickle relish
Add spices you like: maybe a little pepper, some granulated garlic, cumin, and maybe a little cayenne pepper

Eat on crackers, bread, lettuce leaves, or just plain. Yum!

Topics: adventure travel, travel tips, how to

Can you trust TripAdvisor when planning overseas adventure travel

Posted by Marian Marbury on Sep 2, 2011 4:31:00 PM

The question of whether you can trust TripAdvisor for planning overseas adventure travel, or domestic travel for that matter, is an important one for anyone who regularly plans her own trips. The central issue is whether "reader reviews" of a hotel, tour company, or attraction are real. B&Bs have been known to offer people discounts on future stays in exchange for favorable reviews; some hotels have paid people to trash their competitors. A recent Cornell study suggested we might not be very good at detecting fakes and a computer can do better. TripAdvisor has tried to deal with this issue by making more information available about reviewers- how long they have been a member, how many and what reviews they have written etc; and by banning any hotels that clearly manipulate reviews.

There are clearly some red flags to watch out for: excessive use of exclamation points, superlatives, and gushing reviews; reviewers who have only written one review; badly written reviews by someone whose name and location indicates they are from an English speaking country; one poor review among many good ones or vice versa. But the truth is that you can never be completely sure and at best you may be able to get a sense of what people like and dislike about a particular place.

But where TripAdvisor truly shines is their Travelers' Forum. Over the weekend I was planning a hiking trip to Switzerland - this year it's my vacation but I am also scouting it for a new trip next year. I was struggling with the question of needing to book everything in advance and could not find a clear answer on the internet, so I posted a question in the Travelers' Forum. Within 24 hours I not only had an answer, I had a spreadsheet that Stephen (English, living in Switzerland) had put together for his Alpine Pass Route hike plus a link to his blog; and a 20 page mini-travel guide that Kim (American, has visited Switzerland 15 times in 15 years with husband) had put together for her friends. Many of the forums have "Destination Experts" - passionate travelers or locals whose major motivation is sharing their passion.

I'm never going to be a Destination Expert but from now on, I'm going to make sure I post reviews of any hotel or restaurant that stands out - for good or bad. Because in the end, the only way to crowd out fakes is for all of us passionate travelers to share our experience.

Topics: travel tips, preparation, how to