Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Make Your Holiday Gifts Count

Sure, you could give everybody on your gift list a pair of gloves, a scarf or a box of chocolates they don't need and might not even like. Or, you could make your gift really count and give a donation to an international charity in the name of your friend, relative or boss.

Here are some suggestions for giving green to legitimate charities which help the poor and the sick around the world --

Doctors Without Borders -- There's an urgent need for funds to help in Zimbabwe, which is suffering a killing outbreak of cholera. This group's doctors and nurses have treated more than 11,000 victims since August. Thousands have died, including entire families.

Heifer International -- As little as $20 will buy a flock of baby chicks, ducklings or geese that can lay eggs to feed a family, grow up and breed more chickens, ducks or geese that can be sold to support the family -- and the eggs those animals produce start expand the cycle to the next family. Heifer International has programs in South America and Asia.

Red Cross -- No explanation needed.

Taj Hotel, Mumbai, India -- The terrorist attack in November killed more than 100 people and injured hundreds more, at the historic Taj Hotel and other locations in the city that used to be called Bombay. The owners of the Taj -- which suffered millions of dollars in damage -- have started a Trust Fund for victims. There is no website for donations -- email tpswtrust@tajhotels.com for instructions on how to donate.

Statue of Liberty - Ellis Island Foundation -- You can search the database for free, and find the name of your grandparent or great-grandparent, and the name of the boat he or she arrived on to the United States. Or, donate something to help keep those records free, by adding a name to the Wall of Honor -- buy your relative's name to be inscribed on that wall.
Any of these gifts are more valuable than another pair of gloves, don't you think?

And if you wonder about how good a charity is, check Charity Navigator, which rates charities based on how much of your donation goes to the people or service -- and how much the fund-raiser keeps. You will be surprised. Even shocked.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Top Travel Deals for Holidays and New Year

As bad as the economic headlines are, just one-quarter of us are dropping holiday travel plans -- according more than 1,400 people surveyed by the the travel planning website Kayak. And those people might be tempted by all the deals and bargains to help you save green -- as in green dollars.

Hotels, resorts and destination cities are getting pretty creative, too, with their travel deals. And some of them extend into the new year:

Virginia -- Ooh, baby, it's cold outside, and the colder it is, the less you'll pay for a room. Participaing hotels in Fairfax County -- just outside Washington, D. C. -- are freezing their room rates on weekends through December 27, 2008, to match the temperature outside. A room rate of $27 will certainly warm my heart, even if 27 degrees is freezing my body parts. Or whatever the temperature is at noon on Saturday at Dulles International Airport. Make your reservation at least 72 hours in advance, and no, the deal does not extend to January and the inauguration celebration events for Barack Obama.

Las Vegas -- Through January 30, 2009, you can get 30 percent off your bill at the MGM Grand or the Signature at MGM Grand just by paying with your MasterCard®. The discount applies to dining, entertainment and spa purchases at both resorts when they are charged to your hotel bill. Room rates start at $89 at MGM Grand and $149 for suites at The Signature. Just don't gamble away your savings in the casinos!

Delta and Hilton -- Are you a member of either -- or both -- of their frequent flyer, frequent guest programs? Delta SkyMiles and Hilton HHonors? If not, hurry up and join so you can get six times the miles with the airline program with each stay of two nights or more at a participating Hilton hotel worldwide, through February 28, 2009. Act fast, because this 6x bonus won't last long.

Intercontinental Hotels -- Sometimes, souvenir shopping is the difference between carry-on that' s still free and checking a bag for the flight home for whatever your airline is charging this week, anywhere from $20 to $50. If you are staying at a participating InterContinental Hotel through January 2, 2009, they'll ship home -- free -- one box per room, up to 30 pounds, via standard shipping service, to anywhere within the continental U.S. Just show up with your loot at the hotel's business center with the goodies and proof of purchase and leave the rest to them. Of course, if you want to ship home holiday gifts from that family visit, you'll have to ask Aunt Sylvia for the receipt, which could be dicey, if your Aunt Sylvia is like mine.

Ah, yes, many ways to save green when you travel this holiday season.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Travel Insurance -- Why You Need It

The question is not whether you should have travel insurance when you travel, the question is which kind you should have.

This week, the India terror attack devastated the city of Mumbai, and the Bangkok Airport was shut down by political demonstrations, stranding more than 200,000 tourists for more than a week. Last year, a baggage snafu at London's Heahtrow Airport delayed flights for days and baggage for longer.

Missed connections, misplaced or damaged luggage, an unexpected accident or illness in the family before or during a trip, the unrest after a disputed election, such as occurred in Kenya recently, a strike or work stoppage by airline or train workers, even forgetting your passport for departure or losing it en route -- these are all reasons you should not leave home without travel insurance, travel medical insurance, or both.

So, which kind to get? Start with travel insurance that covers trip cancellation.
Without trip cancellation insurance, you are at the mercy of airlines, which can charge as much as ten times the price of your original, discounted, advance-purchase ticket for a replacement. Without trip cancellation insurance, your hotel might charge you a 'no-show' fee that's half the cost of the room, even if they rent it to somebody else.

Basic policies also cover delayed baggage, so you can buy yourself a toothbrush and a clean t-shirt and be re-imbursed.

And many travel insurance policies cover medical care away from home that is not covered by your regular health insurance policy. So, it is especially important for U. S. travellers over 65 to have travel insurance with a medical component, since Medicare does not cover medical care outside the United States.

Generally, travel insurance policies have a medical cap at $5,000 or $10,000, which -- generally -- is enough for a family reunion with grandma in Scotland, or the first ski trip with the grandchildren in Lake Tahoe. And, generally, travel insurance policies cover everybody travelling together on a family trip. But you have to read the fine print to be sure.

If you are going on that once-in-a-lifetime trip -- travel to see the penguins in Patagonia, or the blue boobies in the Galapagos, or hiking the rugged trails of the Caucusus -- you should consider a travel insurance policy that includes helicipter evacuation from even the most remote area. Such as what is offered by MedJet Assist, which will even fly you home in a special med-evac aircraft. Expensive? If you had to pay for it out-of-pocket, it could cost $15,000, or more. But your entire family is covered for $350 a year. Now that's green travel -- saving green!

Here are other travel insurance companies I recommend --

You can compare them by checking Travel Insurance Review, a non-biased industry organization. And be sure to check your homeowner's policy, even your auto insurance policy for hidden gems of coverage.

Another advantage of insurance is that it gives you one place to call to arrange all the details, including re-imbursement.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Historic Santa Monica Hotel Re-Opens With Green Features

It's not unusual for the beautiful ladies of Santa Monica to get a facelift when they reach that 'certain age'. When the legendary grande dame is the historic Hotel Shangri-La, that body-re-building costs $30 million. The result is a sleek new look with equally modern green amenities and practices.

The Hotel Shangri-La sits on Ocean Avenue, overlooking the Pacific Ocean, a spot where you can't help being aware of the environment. There are ocean views from nearly every room.

Hotelier Tehmina Adaya says, "Hotels are notoriously one of the biggest offenders to the environment, and we wanted to challenge this idea by incorporating easy elements to eliminate excessive and unnecessary waste." What this Art Deco gem is doing to be sustainable and eco-friendly includes --
  • bath amenities from Natura Green. Packaging is made recycled paper and bottles are bio-degradable (made from a cornstarch based product), and all products are non-animal tested.

  • $5.00 off Overnight Valet Parking for guests driving a hybrid vehicle.

  • Bottled Water provided from Natura Waters. All carbonization and filtration will be done on-site and glass bottles are sanitized and re-used.

  • Non-toxic, organic cleaning products used for housekeeping.

  • An Electric Cart for hotel staff to use for running local errands.

  • All paper products and stationary printed on recycled paper.

  • Rooms furnished with Dual Flush low flow toilets.

  • Newspapers will be delivered to guest rooms upon request, not as a standard, to save thousands of copies that are never read.

  • The restaurant is being supplied by local vendors and purveyors, and the wine list features primarily American wines to help lower carbon impact.

  • There are double layered the windows to prevent loss of heat and air conditioning, and compact fluorescent lighting is used throughout the hotel.

  • Even the pool is eco-friendly -- it is solar heated.

Hotel Shangri-La also has partnered with a recycling agency to pick up all bottles and cardboard, since recycling bins are not a standard city service in Santa Monica.

They've also partnered with Midway Car Rental agency, which offers the largest selection of hybrid cars and is located blocks from hotel. Their fleet includes the Toyota Prius, Lexus RX400 SUV and LS600 sedan, Chevy Tahoe and Toyota Camry.

Hotel Shangri-La is an architectural gem and historic landmark. Built in 1939, it is an Art Deco beauty combined with Hollywood allure and Los Angeles history.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Taos Combines White Snow and Green Policies

There are two major changes for New Mexico's legendary Taos Ski Valley this winter season. First, it is the first full season in which snowboarders are able to share the slopes with skiers. Taos was one of the last ski-only hold-outs in the U.S., allowing boards for the first time only at the end of last season.

The other biggest change will be that 100 percent of Taos Ski Valley’s electricity will now come from renewable sources. In a partnership with Kit Carson Electric, Taos Ski Valley will purchase approximately 3,000,000 kilowatt hours of wind power and will no longer rely on traditional coal-produced electricity.

The resort is the region's largest energy consumer, and the switch to wind power is expected to encourage other large energy consumers and ski resorts in New Mexico to consider switching to renewable energy to run chairlifts and other amenities. Other green practices include replacing older two-stroke snowmobiles with new, cleaner-burning four-stroke snowmobiles, and more modern, more efficient snow-making compressors.

Taos Ski Valley also offers guests a unique "SkiGreen" program, which lets you offset 150 miles of the carbon produced from your travel. Add the SkiGreen tag to a lift ticket for just $2 or to a season pass for $20. SkiGreen is a partnership between the Bonneville Environmental Foundation and other leaders in the winter sports industry.

Employees also contribute to keeping the valley green. Instead of each employee driving an average of 30 miles round-trip every day for work, they will now park their cars at a central location and carpool in a company vehicle. The resort estimates this new program will eliminate more than 150 miles of driving each week, and help reduce carbon emissions in the ski valley

It's not just a winter thing. The resort works with the National Forest Service every summer to plant grass to keep soil from eroding on the ski and snowboard trails. Also, as the area grows, more runs are being thinned into glades instead of clear-cutting them into open trails.

Taos joins a growing list of winter resorts switching to wind power. Most definitely, these travel destinations are the green leaders.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Holiday Travel Deals for Tough Times

The economy is the bad news. The good news is that the bad news is causing hotels and airlines to drop prices for the holidays, so there are plenty of travel bargains -- if you know where to look and move quickly, before the deals disappear.

For the entire month of January through February 16, 2009, Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants is offering 20 percent off the best available rate for all hotel suites at more than 30 participating Kimpton hotels, most of which are downtown in cities like Boston, Salt Lake City, Denver, and Chicago. Often, Kimpton hotels go under the name Hotel Monaco, so it's best to check the website to find a participating hotel in the city you want to visit. Additionally, Kimpton, is offering breakfast for $1 for guests who book a best-available-rate stay at participating hotels between now and March 1, 2009. Suite deal!

Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide also has a discount offer, from now until March 31, 2009. For every night you stay with Starwood, the next night can be 50 percent off. The promotion is valid at the company's nearly 500 hotels in the U. S., Canada and the Caribbean, including the W brand, Westin, Le Meridien, Sheraton, Four Points by Sheraton, AloftSM, ElementSM. The promotion is called Better Tomorrows -- and don't we all hope things will be better tomorrow than they are today.

Under the Starwood discount program, a two-day NYC weekend escape at the W New York averages $598 instead of $798, and a four-day fall family getaway to the Westin San Francisco will average $507 instead of $676. If you book a six-night winter vacation at the Sheraton Keauhou Bay Resort and Spa in Hawaii could save $308, more than enough for a hula lesson.

Alaska Airlines Vacations is giving away three nights and tickets to Walt Disney World Resort in Florida. Just book a four-night package by Dec. 20, 2008, for travel Jan. 4 through June 27, 2009, and get three additional nights free including theme park tickets. If you book a seven-night package and travel by March 29th, the deal includes a $200 gift card. There are some restrictions -- seats are limited and there are blackout dates -- so don't delay.

The US dollar has gained 15% against the Euro and 20% against the British pound in recent weeks, so the combination of the stronger dollar, lack of crowds and deals and discounts just increases the appeal for a winter escape. American Airlines is offering a free companion ticket for future travel to Britain if you book a round-trip ticket between now and December 31, 2008. Remember to use the promotion code UKCMP.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Hyatt Hotels Switches to Filtered Water

No more bottled water at Hyatt Hotels & Resorts. The company is switching from all those plastic throwaway bottles to filtered water -- which saves two kinds of green -- money and the environment.

According to the Container Recycling Institute, Americans buy an estimated 35.8 billion plastic water bottles each year, and fewer than 20% of those bottles are recycled. Additionally, the Pacific Institute in Oakland, California, estimates that the energy required to produce each water bottle is equivalent, on average, to filling a quarter of a plastic bottle with crude oil.

So, providing filtered water to hotel guests makes sense. So does filtering your own water at home and refilling a re-usable bottle to take to the gym, work, and other daily travel errands.

Hyatt has contracted with Natura Water Inc. to provide guests in its restaurants with a healthy, safe, environmentally responsible alternative to bottled water. It's the first hotel company to work with Natura on a nationwide basis.

The Natura water system removes impurities from the local water source while retaining healthy minerals – thus eliminating the need for bottled water and the waste associated with its use. The system dispenses the water – still or sparkling – into specially designed re-usable glass bottles with sealed caps.

Right now, the filtered water is available at restaurants at Hyatt Regency Century Plaza in Los Angeles, Hyatt Regency McCormick Place in Chicago, Hyatt Regency Phoenix, Hyatt Regency Reston in Virginia, Grand Hyatt Dallas Fort Worth and Grand Hyatt New York. Hyatt is planning to add more hotels to the filtered water over the next several months.
So, a giant green kiss to Hyatt for this eco-friendly decision. Perhaps it will be copied by Marriott, Ritz-Carlton, Hilton, Ramada, Embassy Suites, and other hotel chains not mentioned.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Enjoy New York City for the Holidays

New York City shines year-round, but especially during the holidays, when it is truly a winter wonderland. The official start of the season is Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. The best place to watch is anywhere along Central Park West, since the crowds get thicker the closer you get to Macy's and all those television cameras.

My own favorite family adventure always has been the night before the parade, when the balloons are inflated in the streets around the American Museum of Natural History. Take the kids and watch as a beloved character's’s arm or leg comes to life, whether it's Kermit the Frog, Barney, or Horton the Elephant. Be sure to visit the museum, too, during daytime hours, of course. The dinosaurs and life-size whale suspended from a ceiling are there year-round, but the glittering origami Christmas tree is only for the holidays.

The World’s Largest Menorah shines for eight nights at the corner of 59th Street and Fifth Avenue, right in front of the Apple Store, already a landmark for its see-through glass-like cube design, and the FAO Schwarz toy store. The New York State Theater in Lincoln Center is where Sugarplum Fairies dance nightly in the annual The Nutcracker ballet, another city tradition, as are the high-stepping Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall.

Grab your skates, or rent them, and take a spin on the world's most famous ice skating rink, in Rockefeller Center, in front of the world-famous tree. Or, avoid the tourist crowds and head to Central Park's Kate Wollman Rink, a favorite of locals. This is where I learned to skate, and taught my kids. The rink offers amazing views of surrounding skyscrapers.

Some of the best things in my hometown are free, and I’m not just talking about the people watching. Department stores Saks Fifth Avenue, Macy’s and Lord and Taylor are famous for their spectacular animated holiday windows. There's a different theme each year. It might be old-fashioned Victorian holidays one year, futuristic Space Age holidays the next. Also free is the laser light show that turns the high, vaulted ceiling of Grand Central Station into a magical extravaganza.

The same people who sponsor the New York City Marathon, held the first weekend of November, also sponsor the Midnight Run through Central Park. It's a great way to get away from the crowds in Times Square, where it's just you and a million or so of your closest friends watching the ball drop on New Year's Eve.

For more ideas about what to see and do in NYC at the holidays, check the NYC Convention & Visitors Bureau website. Or, just ask me.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Largest Eco-Tourism Project in Israel's History

Simply, it's one of the world's most dramatic environmental initiatives, transforming the unsightly 2,000-acre Hiriya garbage dump on the outskirts of Tel Aviv into a magnificent park and 24-hour recreational hotspot. Since the dump was created decades ago, it has been both an eyesore and an ecological mess, complete with a terrible stench and swarming herds of scavenger birds and other varmints.

But that was then. Now, this mess is close to be reborn as Ayalon Park, one of the world's largest urban parks, dotted with trees, tropical gardens, and hiking, horseback riding and bicycling trails. The total transformation of this dump into an oasis of green is an engineering and environmental masterpiece, worthy of visiting.

The 230-foot Hiriya Mountain, a waste-mound in the park's center, has been transformed into an eco-friendly attraction of terraces, shaded foot paths and areas with benches and tables for rest or picnics. Atop Hiriya Mountain, there's a spectacular panoramic views of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

But it's not just pretty trees and picnic areas. There's an enormous Recycling Center, 75 acres large, at the base of the "healed" mountain, which uses state-of-the-art technologies for recycling waste -- the very same plastic, paper, dead cell phones and other junk that once simply was dumed on top of the growing piled.

Arie Sommer, Comissioner of Tourism, North and South America, said, "The park will be a hotspot for nature-seeking tourists and a "front door" to Tel Aviv's amazing natural landscape."

Congrtatulations to Tel Aviv and Israel for this astounding green initiative. It's something I hope will be copied with other cities with similar unsightly and eco-dangerous dumps.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Chicago Cashes in on Obama Connection

The hometown of President-Elect Obama and his family is suddenly the most popular city in the country. Or, at least its website is.

So many people want to know more about the Windy City, and perhaps travel there to visit favorite places of the future First Family that the city's tourism agency Choose Chicago has just added a new section called Presidential Chicago.

The website includes obvious must-see attractions, including the Art Institute of Chicago -- where I was lucky enough to see a special exhibit of Monet's Water Lillies paintings a few years ago -- and shopping along the Miracle Mile, the Chicago version of Fifth Avenue in my own hometown, New York City.

And, you'll learn that one of Mr. Obama's haunts is one of the city's the outdoor basketball courts, at Hayes Drive and South Lake Shore Drive, where he likes to shoot hoops — often with his brother-in-law Craig Robinson, who is head basketball coach at Oregon State University.

My favorite hotel in Chicago is the InterContinental Chicago , one of just a handful of hotels in North America that are certified environmentally-friendly. And, it is in the final stages of receiving LEED and Green Seal certification, two other hard-to-get ratings. What makes this especially important is that this isn't a brand new hotel, designed and built from the ground up to be eco-friendly, like the ones Marriott is building near the Obama's new address in Washington, D.C.

The InterContinental is one of the most historic hotels of America, retro-fitted to be a modern energy star. Originally built in 1929 as the Medinah Athletic Club, an exclusive luxury men's club, the InterContinental Chicago is one of Chicago's most elegant landmarks. It includes a historic, junior Olympic size pool, is recognized as one of the best indoor pools in the U.S. and is included in Chicago's major architectural tours.

All the attention surrounding the Obama family's connection to Chicago also is helping raise the city's profile for its bid to host the 2016 Olympic Games.

As the song says -- Chicago, my kind of town, Chicago is.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Two Certified Green Hotels Planned for Washington, DC Area

The best way for a hotel to go green is to build it eco-friendly from the ground up. And that's exactly the plan for two hotels just across the Potomac from Washington, D. C., easy travel distance visits to the city's attractions.

One will be an upscale Renaissance hotel, the other a budget Residence Inn. Both hotels will be managed by Marriott International, and both are expected to be LEED® certified “green” buildings when complete – the first such hotels in Arlington County, Virginia. The Renaissance Crystal City Potomac Yards and adjacent Residence Inn Crystal City Potomac Yards will cost around $130 million to build, and should open in two years. The 600-plus rooms in the two hotels will add 500 jobs to the area -- good news in tough economic times.

The green hotels will feature an energy saving “green roof’ with plants and trees. Since their location provides a picture postcard view overlooking the U.S. Capitol and Potomac River, my prediction is these roof gardens will become a new favorite hotspot for sunset gatherings. When the weather cooperates, of course.

LEED® is the benchmark standard for environmentally responsible buildings set by the U.S. Green Building Council, and there are some stringent requirements. By the end of 2009, all new Marriott hotels -- including the other brands it owns such as Ritz-Carlton and JW Marriott -- will be designed and built according to LEED standards. The company also is working towards getting LEED status for its international headquarters in Bethesda, Maryland.

So thank you, Marriott, for helping us travel green.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Vote for These Ski Vacation Bargains and Deals

Times are tough right now, but hotels, airlines and some destinations are offering ways to help you save green this ski and snowboard season. And let's face it, more of us are likely to give up buying new furniture right now than to give up the winter holiday vacation getaway. Here's a selection of deals to help stretch your snow budget:

Crested Butte Mountain Resort and Delta Airlines have teamed up to offer free skiing for anyone flying to Gunnison/Crested Butte via Salt Lake City this season. The ski free deal must be booked through Crested Butte Vacations, and you'll get one free lift ticket for each person in your party who flies in on a Delta jet. Just book by November 14, for anytime this ski season. I have skied this Colorado resort often, and love the place, especially the well-named Paradise bowl. It's great to ski in Paradise!

Another one of my absolute favorite places to ski is Jackson Hole, and this year when you purchase three airline tickets through Jackson Hole Central Reservations, the resort will throw in the fourth ticket for free. Even better -- this is the year the legendary moutain opens its new aerial Tram, that will whisk skiers and snowboarders 4,139 vertical feet in 9 minutes to the summit of Rendezvous Mountain. Even if you aren't a skier, take the ride for the incredible 360 views of the Tetons from the top. Or, follow me down Laramie Bowl, my favorite run here. The resort opens for the season on November 29. The Tram debuts December 20th.

It's less than one hour from the Salt Lake City airport to the nearest chairlift, so it's easy to get a couple of runs in the same day you arrive in town. And if you do -- it's free. Just show your boarding pass and ski free in the day of arrival at any of Park City's three resorts, Park City, Deer Valley and The Canyons. It's called the Park City Quick Start program, and you have to register online. And don't ask me which one of these three resorts is my favorite -- I have experienced both adrenalin rushes and humiliating splats at all of them.

The new High Peaks Resort in Lake Placid, New York, is pegging its room rate to whatever the Dow Jones' closing number is each Friday. If you book a room through December 19, you'll pay the closing bell price in dollars and cents. For example, if the Dow Jones average closes the week at 8,387, the room rate for the following week will be $83.87 -- a savings of more than $160 off the hotel’s $250 average nightly rate.

See you on the slopes!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Top Green Rating for Greensboro, North Carolina Hotel

How appropriate -- the hotel with the top green rating in the world is in the city of Greensboro. It's the Proximity Hotel, one of the few hotels anywhere to achieve the top LEED Platinum rating. And don't think you have to give up luxury to travel green -- this hotel has an AAA Four Diamond rating. Platinum and diamond -- that's a great combination.

The hotel was built to use 40% less energy and 30% less water than a comparable hotel, and

features such innovative technologies as the first installation in North America of the regenerative drive for Otis' Gen2 elevator, which reduces net energy usage by capturing the system’s energy and feeds it back into the building’s internal electrical grid. It's the same idea as regenerative braking in hybrid-electric cars like the Prius.

There are 100 solar panels on the roof -- they cover some 4,000 square feet of roofop and produce enough hot water for one hundred homes. The hotel's solar panels provide more than half of the hot water needed for guests to shower and the restaurant to wash the dishes. And the hotel saved two million gallons of water the first year it was open thanks to high-efficiency plumbing fixtures.

So, all you hotels names Marriott, Hilton, W, Westin, Ramada, Hyatt, Holiday Inn -- get on board and go green. Proximity did it. So can you.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Sushi at the Monterey Bay Aquarium

Somehow, I can't picture having sushi dinner at an aquarium. But, California's Monterey Bay Aquarium thinks this is a good way to teach us all about selecting what they call 'ocean-friendly sushi' -- avoiding eating fish, raw or cooked, from threatened species.

The dinner on October 22 is part of Sustainable Sushi Week, sponsored by Seafood Watch. And you can support the program without leaving home, without eating at the aquarium. Sushi lovers who sign up online to become Seafood Watch advocates will get a tool kit to help spread the word about the many ways to enjoy fish and seafood without harming ocean habitats.

Each kit includes printed copies of the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s new Seafood Watch Sushi pocket guide, a set of reusable, biodegradable chopsticks and colorful cards to leave behind at a favorite sushi restaurant. Use the cards to thank chefs who serve sustainable seafood, or to alert them when they’re serving something on the “red list,” which is seafood that was caught or farmed in ways that harm the ocean.

The pocket guides incorporate human health recommendations from the Environmental Defense Fund, and flags seafood items that could contain levels of mercury or PCBs that may pose a health risk to adults or children. Fisheries researchers from the Blue Ocean Institute and Monterey Bay Aquarium evaluated the seafood species included on the guides.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Ten Tips to Save Money on Travel

American Express knows a thing or two about travel, and not just because the one of the Amex cards you should never leave home without is a green card. These top ten tips for saving green -- dollars -- are from Amex Business Travel for business travelers, but they work for leisure travellers as well.

Plan Twice, Book Once - Airlines are charging $150 or more if you change your ticket after it's been booked, and many hotels now charge "no show" fees of $50 or more -- as much more as the cost of your entire reservation. So, double-checking appointments before booking can help you save on these potential added charges.

Pack Light - Minimize checked baggage fees by packing and checking less. For longer trips, the cost of dry cleaning may be cheaper than checking extra luggage for additional shirts and pants. Also look into overnight delivery and luggage forwarding services -- for materials or samples to bring on a business trip, or your skis, snowboard or golf clubs for a leisure trip.

Check Your Paperwork - Make sure your passport is current and that you have any necessary visas for your trip in advance. Expired or missing paperwork can delay your trip and add expensive charges for expedited applications. Most travel management companies can provide visa/passport support before you travel.

Be Flexible To Find Savings - For travel to or from an area with multiple airports, search alternate airports or use this option in your online booking tool. For example, in New York City, fares may be less expensive enough at JFK to offset the incremental taxi fare difference for a trip to LaGuardia.

Watch for Waste - Millions of tickets go unused, even though most non-refundable fares are valid for travel for up to a year. While there may be change fees, you can still save money by not letting these unused tickets go to waste.

Stay Together, Save Together - If you are arriving on different flights than your co-workers, friends or family, plan ahead to arrive around the same time and meet at an airport lounge. That way you can travel to the hotel together and save the cost of multiple taxis or shuttle services.

Big Ticket Items Can Mean Big Savings - If you are planning a complex international or multi-city US itinerary, use a travel agent. It will save you planning time better spent on your family and/or your business, a travel professional is better equipped to find the best airfare deals to ensure you get the lowest fare, with or without a land package.

Plan Ahead, Stay In Touch - The earlier you book air tickets and hotel rooms, the more likely you’ll find a lower rate. Ask for price guarantees -- many airlines and hotels offer you a lower rate if the price for your trip drops after you’ve booked it.

Stretch Your Stay to Stretch Your Dollar - Some airlines are bringing back "minimum stay requirements," so you can safe money by postponing your return trip from a Friday until a Sunday or Monday. Or, take the overnight red-eye flight home -- that's usually the least expensive flight of the day for an airline.

Oldies But Goodies - If you are bumped, be sure to get a free voucher, and try to travel in the so-called "off-season" or "shoulder season" for lower travel costs.
And a final tip from me -- Evelyn Kanter -- buy travel insurance to protect you if you have to cancel a trip.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Golf Courses in Mexico's Riviera Maya

There are lots of golf courses surrounded by white sand and the turquoise Caribbean sea. But only links in the Riviera Maya also offer golfers views -- and perhaps the distraction -- of teeing up within sight of an ancient Mayan pyramid temple. Here are some great greens in Mexico that will keep you swinging happily, and since most are attached to their own resort hotels, you won't have to travel far from your room to the 18th hole.

The Executive Golf Course of Mayan Group of Riviera Maya Golf is designed by the Jack Nicklaus company, Nicklaus Design. It's an 18-hole Par 54 course, 2,923 yards, with white sand traps, lakes surrounded by natural rock, and jungle vegetation

Playacar Spa & Golf Club was designed and built under the supervision of famous architect Robert Von Hagge. It's a Par 72 in a field of 7,144 yards in the Mayan jungle, dotted lakes and lush vegetation.

Iberostar Playa Paraíso Golf Club, designed by the world-famous P.B. Dye, incorporates the native Mayan jungle into the layout. The course features narrow fairways, undulating greens and deep bunkers. There's also a lighted driving range, the first one in the Riviera Maya, for those of you who like to practice your putts after sundown.
El Camaleón Mayakoba golf course was designed by Greg Norman. This 7,000 yard field bends through tropical jungles, dense mangroves and oceanfront stretches of sand with holes bordered by massive limestone canals. An amazing feature is the resort's one-of-a-kind canal system, where golfers can step from their rooms to a thatch-roofed boat, which will whisk them to the first tee.

The Moon Spa & Golf Club is another golf course designed by Jack Nicklaus. It’s composed of three distinctive fields with 9 holes each, surrounded by mangroves and exotic wildlife. An unusual “all-inclusive” golf plan includes transportation from anywhere in the Riviera Maya, plus food & drinks at the club house.

Riviera Cancún Golf & Resorts is a new course, designed by Jack Nicklaus, with a difficulty of 76.2/ Slope of 146. Playing on this course is being a part of a dynamic game, rolling through fairways and greens, wooden bridges, and the couple of holes along the ocean shore. The club was built in accordance with the local wildlife preservation law.

If that's not enough for you, there are more golf courses scheduled to open this winter in Riviera Maya and neighboring areas of Cancún and Cozumel. For information on those new courses, check the Riviera Maya golf course website.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Travel Websites to Help you Save Money

With stock prices falling like acorns, budget-centric websites are rising to the top of more vacationers' bookmark lists. That's the opening sentence of an article in today's USA Today to help us save green when we travel.

Budget Travel Sites to Keep you Out of the Red lists 25 websites to help you find cheap airfares, hotel bargains and more. Some, of course, you've heard of already and probably even have used -- like Kayak and Hotwire. But there's also some great new dollar stretchers to check out as well.

A new one I was glad to find out about is CarRentalExpress.com, which lists car rental companies that sit outside expensive airport real estate, and are usually cheaper than the 'brand name' on-airport companies.

Another is Liftopia.com, which offers discounted lift tickets for major ski and snowboard resorts in North America.

So thank you Laura Bly who compiled this list for USA Today, for giving us all some ways to save green when we travel.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Boo! Haunting Happy Halloween Events

Halloween is an excuse to get dressed up in a costume that's either scary or funny, green or some other color, and go have fun. It doesn't matter what age you are, although that can determine whether you trick or treat, and how. So here are some family-friendly ways to say Boo!, and others that are best reserved for grown-ups.

San Francisco - Spend a spine-tingling evening touring Alcatraz, which once housed some of the world's scariest criminals. The Alcatraz Night Tour travels from Pier 33 at 4:20 p.m., and returns after taking you through some of the darkest corners of the island prison. Only a few hundred people an evening can be accommodated, and since Oct. 31 will be especially popular, I suggest you make reservations.

Disneyland - Spook-tacular entertainment includes the traditional giant "Mickey Mouse" jack-o'-lantern in Disneyland Town Square, Haunted Mansion Holiday in New Orleans Square and Candy Corn Acres in Disney's California Adventure, plus the Disney characters who wander the theme park year-round will be dressed in goofy Halloween costumes. Including Goofy. There's also a daily Happiest Haunt Tour, a three-hour extravaganza that includes the stories behind some of Disney parks' spookiest attractions, told from the perspective of Disney villains, with stops at the super-spooky Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, Haunted Mansion Holiday, Snow White's Scary Adventure, and other rides. The tour fee is $59 -- on top of the park admission fee.

New York City - This year is the 35th annual Village Halloween Parade, and it promises to be one of the biggest and best, since this year Halloween falls on a Friday, and that means the parading and the partying that follows can go into the wee hours. This year's festivities feature more than 50 bands, hundreds of dancers, thousands of costumed participants, and as many as two million onlookers. The theme of this year's parade is Ghosts. Scary fun, for sure. Or, choose
the Halloween “Boos Cruise” aboard the Circle Line Downtown. This 2½ hour Halloween Cruise on the 143-ft luxury yacht Zephyr incluees a tour of New York harbor and a costume contest. Again, I suggest you make reservations.

In case you're wondering about the image I've posted here -- it is a lithograph by Edvard Munch, one of a series of paintings and lithographs of this iconic nightmare scream. One of the originals is on display in Munch's hometown, Oslo, Norway -- where I just will happen to be visiting a few days before Halloween.


Monday, October 6, 2008

Green Guide to Victoria, British Columbia

Victoria, B.C. just may be the most environmentally sensitive city in North America, which makes it a great green travel destination. It is home to Dockside Green, the world's greenest building, which boasts the highest LEED score possible -- Platinum -- and to Harbour Air Seaplanes, the first airline in North America to go carbon neutral airline.

Now, city is adding a green shopping guide for visitors that lists small, locally owned and operated businesses showcasing environmentally responsible products with a goal of fostering a greener, more sustainable economy. This green guide is called The Green Collective, and incudes stores featuring fashions and accessories, spa and body care, and food products as well as six eateries featuring organic and local products. One of these eateries is called -- appropriately -- Green Cuisine.

The Green Collective also hosts an annual Earth Day fashion show. The success of the collective recently sent green ripples all the way to Australia, and inspired the creation of a similar Green Precinct guide.

Victoria's British heritage is evident in its formal and popular afternoon tea at the historic Fairmont Empress Hotel. The Fairmont chain, by the way, is one of my favorites, for its commitment to the environment, long before it was fashionable and headline-making.

The influences of Canada's Native Peoples also are evident in the hand-carved totem poles in Thunderbird Park. Be sure to check out the city's Fan Tan Alley, which once was a seedy gambling and opium center, but has been gentrified now with boutiques and art galleries. Victoria also is the gateway to some of the world's best salmon fishing, and the sea kayaking isn't bad, either.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Fort Worth Hotel Buys Hybrid SUV for Guest Use

Even luxury hotels are giving the green light to green travel.

The all-new Omni Fort Worth Hotel will be driving guests around in the all-new Cadillac Escalade Hybrid SUV when the hotel opens in January 2009. The SUV will be a 2009 model, manufactured at the nearby General Motors plant in Arlington, Texas. It will be available to taxi guests to meetings, shopping or attractions such as the Fort Worth Opera, the world-class Amon Carter Museum of art, or one of the world's best honky tonks, Billy Bob's Texas.

Yes, the Escalade Hybrid is Texas-big. But it also has an EPA-estimated 50 percent improved city fuel economy over the traditional model. And it's just one of many environmental efforts built into the the hotel design. These include --
  • motion-sensor lighting system to conserve energy during non-peak hours

  • revolving doors to help reduce heating and cooling consumption.

  • more than 20,000 square feet of landscaped rooftops that conserve energy, filter rainwater and help mitigate the Texas summer heat.

So, I'm giving a hats off salute -- my cowboy hat, of course -- to the Fort Worth Omni for going green without compromising luxury.

    Tuesday, September 30, 2008

    More Skiing Vacation Bargains for Your Winter Vacation

    We all love the word free, especially when used in connection with travel. Here's how to save green this ski season with these great vacation package deals from top resorts --

    Crested Butte, Colorado is famous for its early season packages that give away free lift tickets. Ski for free. The freebie is good from opening day Nov. 26 -- that's the day before Thanksgiving -- throuugh Dec. 15, 2008. Find a choice of "Stay and Ski Free" packages starting at $63 per night, on the Crested Butte website. One choice is Elk Mountain Lodge in downtown Crested Butte, a great old-fashioned Western town. You'll get a room with king bed, full bath, mountain view, breakfast and lift tickets for two for $125 plus tax per night. Room, breakfast and lift ticket for less than the price of a lift ticket alone. Now that's a great green travel deal! And you get to ski one of the best mountains in Colorado. Some of my favorite runs are off the Paradise chairlift. I've said more than once I want to ski another day in Paradise.

    Waterville Valley, New Hampshire offers a $30 gas voucher for guests staying three nights or longer. And packages start at $77 per person per night, though Dec. 21. Add a semi-private ski lesson for just $35 per person. Waterville Valley is about two-hours drive from Boston, six from New York City, in the scenic White Mountains. It also boasts one of the most diverse -- and picturesque -- cross-country ski trail systems in the Northeast.

    Are you currently on active duty or a retiree? Diamond Peak in North Lake Tahoe is giving away free lift tickets for people with an active military ID. The offer is good Mondays through Fridays in non-holiday periods, such as Xmas-New Year's week.

    Friday, September 26, 2008

    Best Early Season Ski Deals

    Hard to believe, but the green leaves are turning autumn colors -- and the snow is falling already on some mountaintops. Time to start planning your winter ski trip. Where to travel this season?

    The question really is when to go skiing to get the best deals. And the answer to that is easy -- early season offers some of the best bargains, and, the slopes, restaurants and hotels are not yet over-flowing with holiday crowds. Here are some great deals that will save you green dollars --

    Winter Park, Colorado -- Save 25% on stays of four nights or longer if you book by October 12, 2008. Packages start at $143 per person per night, including a lift ticket. There's an enormous variety of terrain here for any level of skier --novices and others who like long cruising runs will be happy on Vasquez Ridge. I, for one, like to challenge my knees and my self-confidence on the black diamond runs of Mary Jane mountain, where I skied myself into more than one embarrassing splat last season.

    Beaver Creek, Colorado -- Technique Weeks are an intensive improvement program, with lots of personalized instruction. The program includes four days of lift tickets interchangeable for Vail and Beaver Creek, the ability to demo 2009 skis and boots, lots of meals and cocktail parties, four days of instruction and a DVD that shows how much you improved and how much fun you had. If you book by Nov. 15, 2008, you also get an Epic Season Pass -- this would cost you $579 if you bought it. The pass gives you an epic choice (okay, pardon the pun) of unlimited skiing at five memorable mountains -- Vail, Keystone, Beaver Creek and Breckenridge in Colorado and Heavenly in Lake Tahoe. Technique Week reservations can be made through the Hyatt Beaver Creek.

    Lake Tahoe -- No more excuses. If you've ever wanted to learn to ski or snowboard, or wanted your significant other or best buddy to join you on the slopes, head for North Lake Tahoe the weekend of December 13 and 14 for the 9th Annual Learn to Ski and Board Weekend. For just $25, you get an all-day beginner lift ticket, group lesson and gear rental. Just $25. That's about what it would cost to stay home and do nothing except a movie with popcorn and soda. And you can choose any of nine resorts to learn at -- including Alpine Meadows, Boreal Mountain Resort, Diamond Peak, Granlibakken, Homewood Mountain Resort, Mt. Rose-Ski Tahoe, Northstar-at-Tahoe, Squaw Valley USA and Sugar Bowl. Reservations are not required, but plan to show up early. Buy tickets at the resort you choose to spend the day playing in the snow.

    Friday, September 19, 2008

    Top Cities to Run or Watch a Marathon

    One of the best ways to enjoy visiting a city is on foot -- and it's a great green way to travel, too -- an effective way to reduce your carbon footprint. Some of us, though, prefer to run. And others of us like to watch the runners. For both of you, welcome to Marathon Season.

    The days are cooler, the summer tourist crowds have gone home, and the streets are being taken over by both elite athletes and us mere mortals who want to keep in shape or challenge their personal best. Here's a list of some upcoming marathons:

    October -- The Bank of America Chicago Marathon takes place on Sunday, October 12, 2008, with runners from all 50 states and more than 100 countries will set out to accomplish a personal dream. It's known for its fast, flat course, that is a scenic tour of 29 diverse Chicago neighborhoods and dozens of local and historic landmarks.

    November -- The ING New York City Marathon is arguably one of the world's great road races, drawing more than 100,000 applicants and some two million cheering spectators, more if you add in the 300-plus million people around the world who watch the race on television. This year's race is Sunday, November 2, 2008. The NYC Marathon also is one of the richest in the marathon circuit, with more than $600,000 in prize money. No wonder it attracts so many world-class professional athletes -- including this year Olympian Kara Goucher, pictured here crossing the tape at the Beijing Olympics. More than 700,000 runners have participated in this grand tour of New York City's five boroughs since the first race. That was in 1970. There were 127 runners.

    December -- The Las Vegas Marathon will take place on Sunday Dec. 7, 2008, with runners leaving from Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino at 6 a.m. Remember, this is Las Vegas, so an ordinary starter's pistol isn't theatrical enough. Fireworks start the race, as 20,000 runners sprint or jog down the legendary Las Vegas Strip, including an "only in Vegas" opportunity to run thru the famous Wedding Chapel.

    Tuesday, September 16, 2008

    Air France Earns Top Envirornmental Certification

    It's called ISO 14001, and it's the world's toughest green standard to meet. In the world of travel, just a handful of hotels have earned this top international environmental award, and no airlines that I know of -- except Air France, which has just been granted the right to call itself a green travel airline for its environmental efforts.

    Congratulations, Air France. Or, as they say in Paris, Mervielleux! So, even though your logo is red, white and blue, you are really and truly GREEN.

    This ISO 14001 certification applies for all Air France activities all over the world, not just within France. And it covers such things as gas emissions from aircraft and water and energy consumption on the ground, and every one of the 63,000 employees of Air France is involved.

    So here's my official challenge to all the other airlines of the world -- if Air France can do it, why can't you?

    And my invitation to you supporters of Green Travels -- if you are going to a destination served by Air France, get on board and support their award-winning effort to lessen their impact on the environment.

    Monday, September 1, 2008

    Travel Deals for Fall and Winter

    If you are a traveller -- and you wouldn't be reading this if you aren't -- then you welcome Labor Day not as the end of the summer but as the beginning of the travel bargain season. This is the time of year to save green.

    Labor Day is the day rates drop for hotel rooms and airplane seats. The travel industry calls it 'shoulder season', but don't ask me why or how it got that name. It's low season through mid-November, when prices rise again for the high-priced holidays.

    So, here are some great travel deals to take advangtage of -- quick -- before they disappear:

    Delta Air Lines has put Hawaii on sale. If you book before Sept. 18th, you can fly for as low as $299 each way between the Mainland and either Honolulu or Kona.

    Virgin Atlantic has put London on sale. You can hop across the pond before Oct. 18th for as liittle as $696 round trip from NYC or Boston, $806 from Miami and Orlando, and $950 from Los Angeles. The price is even lower for travel after zoct. 18th.

    African Travel, Inc., which specializes in luxury African safaris, is offering free round trip air fare to Africa -- worth more than $1,500 -- from October through December. Choose from a 12-day trip to South Africa and Victoria Falls, or 13 days in Northern Tanzania. Accommodations are in luxury camps, and you'll get the chance to see the Big Five, which incudes elephants, lions and rhinos. It's an amazing experience.

    Or, head for the Caribbean in January, when it's warm and sunny and the holiday crowds have left and you have the beach to yourself. Reserve any time this month to save 25% at The Reef Resort in the Grand Cayman islands.

    You don't need a US Passport to visit the US Virgin Islands. where most of the top resorts are offering five nights for the price of four between January 1 and March 31, 2009. Just make your reservation before Oct 31, and this travel bargain also includes $300 in travelers checks, and a coupon book with savings on activities and attractions.

    Here are just some of the USVI luxury resorts on the islands of St. Croix, St. John and St. Thomas joining in this offer this fifth-night-free deal --

    • The Palms at Pelican Cove, Chenay Bay Beach Resort,
    • Carambola Beach Resort & Spa,
    • Divi Carina Bay Resort,
    • Hibiscus Beach Resort,
    • Sand Castle on the Beach,
    • The Buccaneer,
    • Best Western Emerald Beach,
    • The Ritz-Carlton, St. Thomas,
    • Frenchman’s Reef & Morning Star Marriott Beach Resort,
    • Sapphire Beach Resort and Sapphire Village,
    • Wyndham Sugar Bay Resort & Spa on St. Thomas.

    Travel green and save green during shoulder season.

    Sunday, August 24, 2008

    Packing Light and Avoiding Excess Baggage Charges

    Every day it seems, the airlines are figuring out new ways to charge us for things that used to be included in the price of the ticket. In-flight movies, earphones and food are old news. Easy enough -- bring your own. But how do you get around the new extra charges for checking bags? Not so easy.

    Not every airline charges you to check a bag -- JetBlue and Southwest still don't, and even airlines that charge you for checking a bag from New York to Los Angeles don't charge you if you and your bag are on an international flight to Liverpool or Lima.
    Here's how to avoid excess baggage fees --

    Join the airline's frequent flyer program. Having miles in the 'bank' makes you a valued customer, and even if trying to redeem the miles is a miserable, frustrating experience, having them in your personal record can help you avoid the suitcase surcharge.

    Pack light and take only what you can carry-on. You've heard that before. You are allowed one

    carry-on bag plus a personal bag, such as a purse or something larger that can hold your laptop, camera and wallet, too. Or, a diaper bag if your travelling companion calls you mommy or daddy.

    Also, you are permitted to carry on a coat or jacket and something to read on board. Considering current baggage restrictions, carrying your jacket can be less expensive than stuffing it into your suitcase, even if it means looking ridiculous carrying cold weather clothing through a hot weather airport. Also, if your suitcase doesn't arrive with you, at least you won't freeze. And, wear your heaviest, largest shoes on the plane, instead of packing them.

    Save space in your carry-on with proper packing techniques. Fold items neatly and stack in the middle of the bag. Fill up the edges by rolling things that don't care if they get wrinkled, like t-shirts, pajamas and underwear. Stuff socks and belts inside shoes. Leave the shampoo behind -- hotels provide that. Soap, too.

    A top packing tip for either checked or carry on luggage is to pack last what you'll need first, so it is at the top of the bag. Don't put your jammies at the bottom if you are arriving late and too tired to play archeologist, digging around for the secret to the universe. And even if you are checking a bag, carry on a fresh shirt, just in case. And always carry on important medications and documents -- including that all important presentation you are giving to a client tomorow -- and the housegifts for whoever you are visiting.

    Check your airline's weight and size restrictions for carry-on. Generally, it has to be 40 pounds or less, and not exceeding 45 inches when length plus width plus height are totaled. And, of course, it must fit in baggage bins or underneath the seat.

    Happy travels. Use these packing tips to save green -- the green in your wallet.

    Friday, August 15, 2008

    Denver Ready for Democratic National Convention

    Just like the Olympics underway now in Beijing, the Democratic National Convention and the Republican National Convention are held every four years. And just like the sports Olympics, the presidential marathon takes years of planning and training.

    The Democrats meet in Denver on August 25-28. Here's what just one hotel -- the Ritz-Carlton -- has been doing to prepare --

    The eco-friendly theme includes a fleet of hybrid taxis to help guests travel green around the city, and recycling leftover food, flowers, and bathroom amenities through donations to local hospitals and homeless centers. The hotel expects to serve more than 6,000 meals, for overnight guests and for the parties booked here. And that doesn't include its signature restaurant, ELWAY’S Downtown, named for legendary former Denver Broncos quarterback John Elway. The restaurant expects to serve more than 12,000 meals and cocktails.

    Here's just part of the hotel's grocery list:
    • thousands of pounds of prime Colorado beef,

    • 15 kegs of local Rocky Mountain brews

    • hundreds of pounds of organic produce

    • created special menus and even cocktail recipes inspired by the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, including Barack On The Rocks

    • baked some 11,000 donkey-shaped cookies to be placed on guests' beds each night as turn-down amenities.

    • preparing desserts such as Ballot Box Brownies and a red, white and blue Campaign ’08 Trail Mix, which includes healthy yogurt-covered almonds, dried strawberries, and for added crunch, blue M & M’s.

    The hotel staff is preparing beyond the kitchen and bar, too --

    • memorizing political factoids, the simplist of which is “What city is hometown for Senator Barack Obama?”

    • practicing checking in large numbers of arriving delegates

    • preparing for the nightly race to deliver more than 800 gifts reflecting the official DNC colors of red, white, blue, and eco-friendly green.

    • the bell staff has been building its biceps for the 3,000 pieces of luggage it will be handling and opening the door some 5,000 times for entering and exiting guests.

    If you haven't got your room booked yet, you're too late. The Ritz-Carlton has a waiting list. But you're never too late to become a fan of the Mile High city of Denver, which I love, especially in winter, when pass through on my way to the great Colorado ski country just west of town.

    Tuesday, August 12, 2008

    Beware of Phony Hotel Reviews

    It's no surprise that skyrocketing fuel prices have affected how and how often we travel, whether it's a family car trip or a getaway that involves an airplane ticket. So, since you are likely traveling less often than you used to, it is more important than before to be sure you are getting what you pay for from your hotel.

    Beware of phony hotel reviews. Many of us these days are relying on so-called 'user reviews' on such websites as TripAdvisor.com and VirtualTourist.com. But are these really written by users? The answer is yes, no, maybe. You wouldn't buy a used car from a guy named "anonymous", so why would you trust your vacation to him or her or them?

    I'm a professional travel writer -- a road warrior who has slogged hundreds of thousands of miles from Machu Picchu to Maine, slept at forgot how many airports when a missed connection jinxed me, left behind countless travel alarm clocks in hotel rooms where the pillows were 300-count covered rocks that left me sore in the morning, been frustrated by Wi-Fi that isn't, eaten things that probably shouldn't be identified, etc. So -- do you trust me more than some user named Hugo in Hartford? I hope so.

    My colleague Durant Imboden is another professional travel writer. His Europe for Visitors website recently published an article detailing some scary truths about the big business of fake hotel reviews. These include glowing posts by staffers of advertising and marketing agencies who are paid to write four-star reviews of their clients plus reviews trashing the competition. Plus, there are deliberately bad reviews of hotel #1 written by a relative of hotel #2. Granted, some 'user reviews' are exactly that. But not all. How can you tell the difference? You can't.

    So who do you trust? If you put your vacation in the hands of somebody not identified beyond "Charlie G." on a website, you deserve to be disappointed. Or do you put your trust in professional travel writers who write for magazines and newspapers and websites, and report on travel on radio and TV? And let's not forget the many reputable travel guidebooks in Barnes & Noble, Borders and on Amazon.com. Yea, I've written some of those, too.

    Sunday, August 10, 2008

    Celebrate a Wind Powered Chairlift

    In the winter, the Zephyr chairlift whisks skiers to the top of the Jiminy Peak mountain, in the picturesque Berkshires of Massachussetts. In the summer, it lifts mountain bikers and hikers. But all year-round, this is a green lift, powered by the wind. And it's a winner.

    The wind-powered chairlift has received the 2008 Golden Eagle Award for overall environmental excellence from the National Ski Areas Association, the trade association that represents more than 300 North American alpine resorts that account for more than 90 percent of the skier/snowboarder visits.

    The award is sponsored by CLIF® BAR, the leading organic-certified energy bar, which skiers, boarders, hikers and bikers all stash in their pockets or backpacks for a quick fix mid-slope. They also make the Luna brand, which I personally prefer to the original Clif, which can be kinda tough to chew when it's cold, like when I'm skiing.

    Jiminy Peak Mountain Resort is celebrating the first birthday of the Zephyr lift this week with an on-mountain festival, plus free tours of the turbine. This is your opportunity to see how renewable energy works, up close and personal, as the saying goes. Be forewarned -- it's a hike to and from the turbine from the top of the chairlift. But worth it, for the edcuation you'll get about green, renewable energy in the travel industry, including ski and snowboard resorts-- and the view is pretty spectacular, too.

    Just so you know -- Jiminy Peak Mountain Resort is the largest ski and snowboard resort in southern New England -- about half-way between Boston and New York City. And although other resorts buy wind power or carbon credits to operate their chairlifts, this one is the only mountain resort in all of the United States to generate its own energy using alternative wind power.

    The Zephyr is powered by a 1.5 MW GE wind turbine, enough to power nearly 800 houses. It cost just under $4 million to build, including construction of a road to the tower and blades, but the resort expects it to pay for itself in seven years. And think of all the diesel fuel and fumes the Jiminy Peak wind turbine is not using! Good for you, Jiminy Peak.

    Monday, August 4, 2008

    Free Trolley for Visitors in Alexandria, Virginia

    It's a charming, historic city. And you can travel green because once you get to Alexandria, you don't need your car at all. Park it and hop on the picturesque -- and free -- trolley to get around town. Many of the shops, restaurants, attractions and hotels in historic Old Town are within walking distance of each other and the trolley stops.

    The new King Street Trolley runs up and down the main street in Old Town. Remember -- it's free, so you save gas, the green in your wallet, and the environment because you're not spewing stuff out of your tailpipe. The trolley operates daily from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., with frequent stops along King Street from the Potomac River to the King Street Metro.

    You can also visit nearby Mount Vernon, Georgetown and National Harbor without driving, too. Take the Water Taxi instead, for great views and a great breeze on a hot summer day. The Water Taxi leaves Alexandria and National Harbor every 30 minutes, also from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.

    Actually, leave your car in Alexandria and take the Metro to Washington, D.C. It's just four stops away, and you'll save gas. That's called green travel.

    Friday, August 1, 2008

    Full Moon Excursions and Energy

    A full moon can cast enough light that it is possible to hike or even read a book outside without a flashlight or other additional outdoor lighting. And a meal in the moonlight -- how romantic can things get.

    The next full moon is the weekend of August 14-17, and The Boulders in Scottsdale, Arizona, has a special lunar package designed to draw on the power of the universe -- especially that full moon -- to help tune the body, inspire the spirit and open the mind.

    One memorable thing to do is to walk the resort's labyrinth under the moonlight. I've done it in bright sunlight, and even though I'm too pragmatic as a journalist to be especially spiritual, I did, indeed, feel the power. So I can just imagine the forces at play under a full moon.

    The package also includes --
    • Daily morning group hikes in the foothills of the Sonoran Desert
    • Unlimited fitness classes
    • Three 50-minute spa services such as massage, wrap, facial, scrub
    • Three daily meals, plus afternoon tea if your tummy has room
    • Daily lecture on such topics as nutrition, health, fitness, wellness and astrology
    • An interactive cooking demonstration, more like a lesson, with the chefs at The Boulders award-winning Golden Door Spa
    • A pedometer, so you can track your hiking mileage during your stay
    • A rock climbing lesson on the boulders of The Boulders
    • Labyrinth walks, daylight and moonlight
    The same package is available for September's full moon, weekend of September, 18-21. Also, on the Fall & Spring Equinox and Summer/Winter Solstice there's a 'gastronomical' dinner under the stars in the resort’s Organic Garden. A guest astrologer explains the symbolic language of astrology and how the movement of the constellations and planets influence our lives and how the different signs relate to each other.

    BTW -- The Boulders was one of the first resorts in the world to go organic, serving only organic foods. And organic wines, too. Definitely, a resort that knows a few things about green travels!

    Wednesday, July 30, 2008

    Baggage Bedlam at American Airlines

    First, the airlines start charging us for headsets, meals, even peanuts. Now, they are charging us to check our suitcases. Then, they simply are unable to get them onto the plane to travel with us.

    Aargh! You'd think that if you have to pay $25 extra to get your underwear and jammies onto the plane, they would do what you've paid them to do. Not so.

    This was the scene at the American Airlines terminal at New York's JFK today when the baggage handling system melted down. Computer glitch. Nobody's baggage went anywhere. Flights were delayed or cancelled entirely. Passengers who paid $25 extra to check their bags were given the choice to fly without their bags or hang around -- maybe until tomorrow -- when the bags and the passengers could be on the same plane. Maybe.

    The picture was taken by Mike Xirinachs, a reporter for WCBS Radio -- where I used to work as a consumer reporter -- who was covering this baggage bedlam. Kinda looks like last year's scene at London's Heathrow Airport, when the baggage piled up because of a meltdown with the passenger and baggage security system.

    So here are Consumer Kanter's Words of Warning for airline travel --

    Never, ever put into checked luggage anything that you cannot do without, or replace, within 24 hours of your flight. That means your wedding gown or tuxedo, prescription medications, chargers or spare batteries for your digital camera and other electronic gear, the 'hello' toys your grandchildren expect when they meet you at the airport. Carry on with you at least a change of unmentionables for tomorrow, and a sweater or jacket to cover up the sweat marks on the shirt you are forced to wear two days in a row.

    Never, ever take the last connection of the day. If something goes wrong, you are stranded halfway to your destination. Sleeping on the floor in some corner of an airport is no fun. Just ask me -- I've done it.

    Always, always, put a luggage tag inside your bag, as well as outside, just in case the outside tag gets ripped off in some kind of baggage bedlam or conveyor belt catastrophe. It's tough enough to track down a bag that has a luggage tag on it. Borderline impossible without one.

    Happy travels. And aren't we happy about paying out $25 extra green money to check a suitcase. That's for the first bag. Some airlines now are charging $100 or more to check a second or third one. As I said before -- aargh!

    Sunday, July 27, 2008

    Four Ways to Enjoy the Water Around Vancouver

    Water is a common theme in Vancouver. It's just about everywhere you look and it's exactly where people want to be in warm weather. Here are four ways to enjoy this wonderful city in British Columbia, home to the 2010 Winter Olympic Games:

    Take a guided kayaking trip up Indian Arm: Deep Cove Canoe & Kayak Centre offers a variety of guided canoe and kayaking trips. Try the "Deep Cove Explorer", a three-hour tour that runs every afternoon in the summer and sends you peacefully gliding through the water and exploring marine areas unavailable to motorized boats. Head out along Indian Arm in search of eagles, seals, salmon and other marine life while learning proper water safety and paddling techniques.

    Wilderness paddle and beach BBQ: Lotus Land Tours offers an exciting six-hour wilderness paddle including a sumptuous BBQ salmon lunch on a small, uninhabited island.

    Experience the First Nations with Takaya Tours: Join guides from the Coast Salish nation on a unique two-hour canoe adventure up Indian Arm. Paddle a 13-metre cedar canoe as First Nations guides sing traditional songs, tell stories and point out ancient village sites.

    A trip that's for the birds: Travel along the rugged coastline en route to the George C. Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary via a Steveston Seabreeze Adventures bird-watching tour. You'll paddle through managed wetlands, natural marshes and low dikes in the heart of the Fraser River estuary. The most famous resident is the bald eagle, but keep your eyes peeled for sandpipers, red-tailed hawks, peregrine falcons, cormorants, tufted puffinsCost is $29.95 per adult.

    Paddling your own kayak or canoe definitelly classifies as green travels.

    Thursday, July 24, 2008

    Microtel Inn & Suites Offers Many Free Amenities

    Sometimes, green travel means saving money along with saving the environment, and you can do both at Microtel Inn & Suites. This budget hotel chain offers an impressive selection of freebies that are helpful to any budget. And I'm not talking about the cheesy microwave-yourself packaged wrap-wich that passes -- or, rather, fails -- for breakfast at other economy chains.

    Microtel gives you free internet and free Wi-Fi, something high-priced luxury hotels don't. Why they don't is something I don't understand, but that's another story.

    Microtel also gives you free local and free long distance phone calls. Does any other hotel chain -- at any price -- give guests free long distance phone calls? If you know of one, let me know. Sure, sure, most of us have cellphones with L.D. included, but this way, you don't have to use up your minutes. Use theirs.

    The chain is also green when it comes to the environment, with high-efficiency windows, upgraded insulation and laundry equipment. And guests are encouraged to recycle paper, glass and plastics. The chain also is a sponsor of The Society for Accessible Travel & Hospitality (SATH) and known as the preferred hotel chain for travelers with disabilities.

    No wonder this growing chain ranks at the top of the list for guest satisfaction among hotels in the economy price by J.D. Power and Associates

    The newest link in the chain is in Verona, New York, about half-way between Albany and Syracuse. A great location for summer travel to the Catskills, Adirondaks and Finger Lakes.
    The location also is adjacent to Turning Stone Resort Casino and the Skana Spa at Turning Point, to several championship golf courses, and both Colgate University and Hamilton College are nearby.

    So travel green at Microtel Inn & Suites.

    Monday, July 21, 2008

    Full Moon Hiking and Star Gazing in August

    For a unique, green travel experience, take a hike at sunset or later, by the light of a full moon, when you can also enjoy star-gazing. There are several places in the West that offer guided sunset and full moon events, for the next full moon on August 16. You just missed July's full moon a couple of days ago.

    In Denver -- that's the city's skyline pictured -- the full moon party is held at the city's only rooftop hotel pool, at the Warwick Denver Hotel, on the night of the full moon. Since August 16th is a Saturday, it should be quite a party, with live jazz, Perrier Jouet champagne, and passed hors d’oeuvres. You can just go to the rooftop party, or make the party part of a weekend package that includes accommodations.

    Squaw Valley, at the north end of Lake Tahoe, offers guided Sunset Hikes on Friday and Saturday evenings all summer, and Full Moon Hikes on the evening before and the evening of the full moon in August. The hikes leave from High Camp, at the top of the Cable Car, at approximately 6 pm. High Camp, at 8,200 feet, is an ideal trailhead for exploring this mountain, with it's beautiful views of year-round snow-capped peaks, and the cobalt blue lake sparkling in the distance below. Guides share their knowledge wealth of information about the geology, flowers, trees and animals native to the region, as well as environmental projects currently underway at the resort.

    Monday, July 14, 2008

    No Passport? No Problem.

    Are you are one of the procrastinators who still hasn't gotten around to getting your passpport? No worries -- if you are a US citizen, you do not need a valid US passport to mancation, girlfriend getaway, babymoon or simply vacation in some of the best destinations in the Caribbean.

    Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands are considered -- for passport purposes -- part of the US. So, Just get on the airplane with your sunscreen and your driver's license with its photo ID. Ditto American Samoa, which isn't in the Caribbean. It's in the Pacific.

    The Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative passed by U.S. Congress requires that travelers, including U.S. citizens who travel via air to and from the Americas, the Caribbean and Bermuda, must travel with a valid passport in order to enter or re-enter the United States. Not so US citizens visiting the three islands of USVI -- St. Croix, St. John and St. Thomas -- Puerto Rico or American Samoa.

    So what are you waiting for? Go travel. Go travel to one of these great green islands -- green palm trees, turquoise beaches.