Jill's Travel Blog

Blacklisted Airlines ‐ What to know before you go

August 13, 2015

Going to exotic, less-traveled destinations can be a lot of fun, but it can also be a lot of work to get around. Often times flying is the more attractive option rather than spending the entire day in a vehicle on less-than-optimal roads. This is why I’m going to educate you today on what blacklisting of airlines is, what it means, and how it can affect you.

The European Union (EU) and the US are the main two regions that blacklist or restrict airlines. The EU looks at individual airlines, while the US looks at entire countries.

In the EU, when an airline is blacklisted it means one of two things, either they are not allowed to fly in or out of a given region at all ‐ they are totally banned, or they are allowed to operate their flights, but with restrictions. A complete list of these airlines is maintained by the European Commission. Annex A means both the airline’s operations and its aircraft do not meet EU safety standards. Annex B is where it gets fuzzier. Sometimes specific aircraft are exempt from the ban while others are cleared, but either way, the airline is still allowed to operate flights in and out of the region.

For example, when I was traveling to Madagascar from Paris on Air Madagascar, we were quite confused when the plane bearing the Air Madagascar insignia taxied by the terminal but didn’t stop. Fast forward roughly 12 hours later and an Air Italia plane parks at the gate with our Air Madagascar flight number. Turns out that Air Madagascar had just been B-blacklisted by the EU and they had to find another airline to wet-lease a plane from in order to operate the flight. While it was good we finally did have a plane to take us to our destination, this is far from an optimal situation because the new carrier doesn’t have any incentive to try and make up for lost time, or even give you good service on the plane. On the way back to Paris, also on an Air Italia plane, they even made an unscheduled stop in Nairobi, Kenya. It was the middle of the night and no passengers were exchanged ‐ who knows what else the plane was carrying besides people!

In contrast, when the US renders restrictions, it does it by entire countries rather than airlines or aircraft. They look at whether the country meets the Civil Aviation Standards set by the FAA. If they do, the country is classified as Category 1. This means that airlines from this country are allowed to expand and new airlines can enter the market. If they are found to be lacking in any way, the country gets classified as a Category 2 and no airlines from that country are allowed to expand their services in and out of the US, and no new airlines from that country can initiate service.

In general, African countries and their airlines will have the greatest number of restrictions, however, they also account for the least amount of air traffic. Having traveled quite a bit in Madagascar (a country just east of mainland Africa for those that are geographically challenged), I can attest to the fact that air travel is still probably safer than traveling by 4x4 vehicle on rutted, sometimes almost impassable roads through very sparsely populated areas.

Happy & Safe Travels!

Belize ‐ History meets Adventure in Tours around San Ignacio

July 9, 2015

Belize is a tiny little country on the eastern side of Central America between Mexico and Guatemala. It used to be called "British Honduras" so despite the fact that most other countries in the region speak Spanish, in Belize it’s English. For travelers who are looking for an ecotourism experience that combines both adventure as well as a healthy dose of history, look no further than San Ignacio. Nestled on the western border by the rainforest, it’s a small town with big personality.

In the heart of downtown there is a small pedestrian only street called Burns Ave where you will find all the major tour operators. When I was there on my honeymoon we used Pacz Tours exclusively and were very impressed with the quality of the guides. However, there are several more to choose from and most offer tours to the same places including: Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) Cave, Tikal Mayan City, Caracol Temples, and Cave Tubing.

Much of the history of Belize dates back to the Mayans. Caracol, meaning snail, was once a thriving city but is now secluded in the forest. There are far less visitors here than Tikal and you can climb on pretty much all the ruins. Perhaps the most famous current residents are howler monkeys, the species whose cry was used in Jurassic Park to simulate that of dinosaurs. Tikal, which is actually across the border in Guatemala, is a much larger complex that also achieved Hollywood fame for its role as the rebel base in the first Star Wars film.

As far as Mayan society goes, one of the most interesting and strange things we learned was what the upper class did to their children in order to make them more identifiable. It was common practice to make their foreheads high and flat by pressing a board against them when they were very young. In addition, they would dangle objects in front of newborn’s eyes to cause them to permanently cross. It just makes me giggle thinking about how the upper crust were the coneheads and the cross-eyes! Also, the Mayans were big into enemas – yes, that means rectally administering stuff. They would partake in alcohol and psychoactive drugs in this fashion giving an entirely new meaning to "bottom’s up!"

Another awesome tour is ATM Cave. Bring your swimsuit since you’ll be wading through cave passageways in order to get to where they used to hold Mayan rituals. There are several well-preserved skeletons in the cave, which you are allowed to get quite close to. However, you are no longer allowed to bring cameras since a clumsy tourist dropped theirs and broke one of the skulls. If adventure caving is not really your cup of tea, there is also cave tubing available close to San Ignacio.

The last worthwhile tour I will mention is for horseback riding with Mountain Equestrian Trails. They are a little off the beaten track but will come pick you up at your hotel in San Ignacio. They have quite a few rides to choose from and just be warned, most guests are experienced riders and the horses are in tip-top shape. This means that your horse will not just be walking but also trotting and galloping (my horse’s name was Fuego which means "Fire" in spanish). We chose a full day ride that took us to a waterfall and back with lunch included. It had been raining the entire day and the path to the falls was steep with slippery rocks at the bottom. I ended up slipping on a rock and spraining my ankle pretty bad. Not wanting to hold up the group, I didn’t tell anyone and rode the whole way back bouncing around on the horse, resulting in a busted tailbone. The moral of this story is to not plan a multi-day horseback-riding trip unless you really know what you’re doing!

That’s all for now ‐ can you Belize-it?

Flying to the California Bay Area ‐ San Francisco (SFO), Oakland (OAK), or San Jose (SJC)?

April 3, 2015

If you’re heading to the San Francisco Bay Area one of the benefits of this destination is that there are three international airports in close proximity: San Francisco (SFO), Oakland (OAK), and San Jose (SJC). In today’s blog I’ll be outlining the pros and cons of each one.

San Francisco Intl (SFO) is the largest airport of the three and is consistently in the top ten for busiest US airports. If you are flying international this airport offers the most choices, and usually the most competitive prices. They remodeled this terminal a couple years ago and it’s pretty posh. San Francisco Intl is also a major hub for United Airlines. Downsides to this airport include the long haul to get to the rental car terminal (you are forced to take a train), and the fact there are only two major runways and one is shut down at night or in bad weather (fog is common), which can result in delays. Located midway up the peninsula, it’s also not all that close to San Francisco proper, but there are both shuttle services and mass transit choices (BART or Caltrain) onsite. If you plan to drive to or from here just note that traffic in either direction on 101 going by the airport is pretty murderous at rush hour. The domestic terminals are also a bit dated and only one has a food court. If you’re taking a red-eye I suggest you bring your own food as there are not many options, if any, late at night.

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Air Travel with Children Under the Age of 2

March 22, 2015

The thought of traveling with small children, particularly those under the age of two, can be intimidating for any parent. Having traveled quite a bit with my son, here’s my advice on how to book for children, what to bring, how to get through security, and how to best keep them entertained.

First, when you book a ticket, you have the option of taking a child under the age of two on the flight for free as long as they sit in your lap, or you can buy them their own seat (if you’re traveling with an infant, their carseats often can strap into the airplane seat). If they are sitting in your lap, you need to make sure they are included when you book the ticket. Some airlines have the capability to enter the lap child information in on the website, but others you have to actually call in order to get the ticket booked for both of you.

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Getting Around US Airports On Crutches

March 18, 2015

Accidents can and do happen, but it’s hard to stop the pace of one’s life ‐ even when it lands you in crutches temporarily. I had such fortune myself, and the company I worked for at the time thought the best thing to do was to send me on a gaggle of business trips in my semi-mobile state. Today I’ll share with you what I’ve learned in order to help make your travel planning easier.

First, let’s talk about airports. Pretty much all US commercial airports offer a wheelchair service free of charge for handicapped passengers. However, some airports, such as Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP) use electric carts as their primary means to get the handicapped around. Take my word; you want to request a wheelchair when you book your ticket. The carts are terrible, they all go to different places and it’s difficult to find the one you need. Not to mention there is no set schedule and you can be stuck waiting quite a long time for it to arrive. In my experience the people pushing the wheelchairs are really nice, and will usually even wheel you up to anyplace along the way to grab food. If they’ve earned it, it’s totally customary to give them a tip. Wheelchairs are generally picked up at the ticketing counter at check in.

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Take the Road Less Traveled for Great Food and Wine ‐ McMinnville, Oregon

March 15, 2015

For great wineries, many people first think of California, then maybe Washington State, but you would be hard pressed to beat some of the wines that originate in the Willamette Valley of Oregon. Located just over an hour southeast of Portland, McMinnville is the perfect intersection of affordable wines, amazing restaurants, and the charm of a little town.

Situated within the Willamette Valley AVA, there are several sub-appellations in close proximity to McMinnville, including one with the same name. Since there are so many wineries to choose from, we opted to take a day and go with an expert. We found the perfect host in Backroads Wine Tours. Run by a couple of delightful locals, they’ve spent a lot of time exploring and know the history of the area and its wineries very well. Plus, it’s always nice to be able to spend a day not worrying about who has to drive. If you don’t want to do a tour, there are many wineries that do tastings either in or just on the outskirts of town. One worthwhile stop is The Eyrie Vineyards. Known best for Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris, they have many wonderful vintages to choose from. In fact, there was nothing here I did not love.

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Heavenly Lake Tahoe Ski or Ride ‐ Know Where To Go

March 10, 2015

Spanning California and Nevada, Heavenly Lake Tahoe Ski Resort can be a bit overwhelming for the first time visitor. It is a massive place that draws an international crowd and certain parts of the mountain become like crowded expressways for those who don’t know where to go. Having been a ski patroller there for several years, I’m going to try to give you some useful tips and tricks to get the most out of your day(s) on the mountain.

In the early season, generally the time before Christmas, snowpack levels are still pretty low and often the lower part of the Nevada side is closed which means you should plan to stay on the California side in order to avoid a long morning drive. The main parking lot on the California side is right in the heart of South Lake Tahoe. There are a lot of lodging choices from roach motels to upscale luxury retreats within easy driving or walking distance of the major lifts.

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BBQ, Pulled Pork, Fried Chicken, and Disco ‐ The Best of Memphis

March 5, 2015

In the mid-South, as Memphis Tennessee is known, there is no shortage of restaurant gems or unique experiences in this land of Elvis. And no, I’m not talking about the overly touristy Beale Street downtown or the Elvis Presley sites; I’m talking about really local places you will find nowhere else. I only know about them because I actually lived there.

Starting with the staples, there are two BBQ restaurants that should not be missed if you are in the area ‐ Interstate BBQ & Germantown Commissary. Located in a fairly industrial neighborhood on the southwest side of the city, Interstate BBQ offers the best in pulled pork sandwiches that I have ever tasted. It was here I learned that putting coleslaw on your sandwich only makes it better, and washing it all down with an ice cold Dr. Pepper makes it divine. With it’s casual atmosphere and mostly blue-collar clientele this place feels like home as soon as you walk in. If you want a bit more upscale, you can head to the eastern suburb of Germantown where you will find the small, well-run Germantown Commissary. Known mostly for their BBQ ribs, they also offer BBQ shrimp, tamales, and a plethora of decadent desserts (so save some room!).

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Baby Moon to Albuquerque for some well-deserved R&R! ‐ Part 2

March 1, 2015

There are a plethora of activities to choose from! Albuquerque is a mecca for hot air ballooning and there are many operators offering daily flights. You can do sunrise, sunset, or private flights ‐ just no champagne!

If you want to hit the road, the Turquoise Trail National Scenic Byway is a great choice. There is an awesome little gem called the Tinkertown Museum just on the backside of Sandia Peak, only minutes off the Turquoise Trail. It started as one man’s hobby and because of such public interest eventually became a small museum that showcases everything from handcrafted dioramas to the voyage of an old ship across the globe. Continuing on towards Santa Fe, you’ll go through several small towns, many with shops that sell local arts and crafts. You may even recognize the downtown area in Madrid, as it was where the movie Wild Hogs was filmed.

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Baby Moon to Albuquerque for some well-deserved R&R! ‐ Part 1

February 27, 2015

For all you ladies out there who are having your first child, I highly recommend carving out time for a "baby moon" before the child arrives. Speaking from experience, it may be the last time in a couple of years that you get to spend time alone with your partner doing only what you want to do. The ideal time to go is your second trimester with weeks 18-24 being the most optimal for travel (you may still feel queasy until week 14 or 15 so best not to plan one too early).

I took a wonderful five-day, four-night baby moon to Albuquerque, New Mexico. You’re probably wondering why Albuquerque? Well, I’d never been there, the flights were reasonable, and I found an awesome B&B to stay at. In this post I’ll go over getting there, where to stay, and what to eat.

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Columbia, TN - Home of James Polk, US President #11

February 25, 2015

About an hour southwest of Nashville lies the small town of Columbia, Tennessee. During a business trip several years ago I had a couple free hours and took a tour of the James Polk Ancestral Home and Museum ‐ it was definitely worth the trip.

James Polk was the 11th president of the United States, serving only one term from 1845-1849. The ancestral home and museum are not large (especially by presidential library standards these days), but the tour guides, videos, and displays are well organized and very informative. If you go on the weekdays you’ll probably even get your own personal tour guide because there are not big crowds here.

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Flyebaby Infant Airplane Seat ‐ Does it Live Up to the Hype?

February 22, 2015

The thought of being in a confined space with a very small child is intimidating to nearly every parent. There is little that we wouldn’t do to keep our children comfortable and most important, quiet. In the market there is certainly no shortage of products out there claiming to do just that. Today, I’m going to tell you my experiences with the Flyebaby.

I purchased the Flyebaby when my son was five months old (since he arrived eight weeks early he was really more the size of a three month old at the time). Like many parents I opted to purchase only one economy class ticket and have my son sit in my lap. Seeing as I’m 5’4" and petite I thought we’d still fit okay. Also, I was a little worried that the airline wouldn’t let me use the Flyebaby because it wasn’t FAA approved to be used during the entire flight (you couldn’t use it during take-off, landing, or turbulence).

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Jackson Wyoming ‐ Winter Activities and Accommodations

February 20, 2015

After a long day of skiing or riding, or perhaps just playing support staff, a great place to go kick back a refreshing beverage or two is the Mangy Moose Saloon. Their warm but eclectic decor will make any non-local feel at home. Since it’s right at the base of the mountain we used to always make our last run a race and whoever was the last person to the bar had to buy the first pitcher (I highly discourage drinking heavily mid-mountain; I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve had to extricate people who are "self-medicating" after an injury).

Once you are fully energized again you can hit the town for some real sustenance. There is not much to do in Teton Village after dark so I recommend heading back to Jackson proper. A great place for authentic Mexican fare is the Merry Piglets. If you are on a tight budget you can still get a decent meal with a slice of your favorite pie from the Village Inn, which is a chain restaurant similar to Perkins, Denny’s or Carrows.

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Ski or Ride Jackson Hole - If you dare

February 17, 2015

Having been a two-planker (skier) since age 10 and a knuckle-dragger (snowboarder) since high school, I have had the opportunity to experience many of our country’s mountains, but Jackson Hole, Wyoming is by far my favorite.

It probably has a lot to do with the fact that I’m an adrenaline junkie and this mountain doesn’t have just your standard double black diamond runs. Just to give you an idea of the terrain, Jackson’s single black diamond runs are more like the double blacks you will find elsewhere in the Rockies. Chairlifts to these areas carry written warnings in their loading areas noting you could get lost, injured, or die.

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Whisk Your Sweetheart Away to San Francisco!

February 11, 2015

Valentine’s Day is the quintessential romantic holiday and what better place to spend it than in picturesque San Francisco, California. In this city by the bay there is certainly no shortage of festivities to partake in.

If it’s primal attraction you want, there’s the San Francisco Zoo. Having gotten married there several years ago I can personally attest to it’s ambiance. Once your done here, you can meander across the street to Ocean Beach and take a romantic stroll along the surf.

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Why Fare Fusion?

February 9, 2015

Very simply, it’s about bringing people together - literally. Taking people from two disparate places to a mutually agreed upon destination (fusing them together). Don’t get me wrong; I am all for social media and the good ole telephone conversation, but most people are kinesthetic learners which means they learn by doing. That means actually sitting face-to-face with others and experiencing the world.

The genesis for Fare Fusion came while I was watching "The Internship" and thinking about the question of what app I would make if I were asked to create one. Since apps are supposed to make life easier my mind immediately went to how to improve trip planning. Let’s face it, as exciting as the prospect of getting away is, the detail planning aspect can be a real pain. Take for example my friend Liz and I, she lives in Wisconsin and I in California. We want to get together for a ski weekend somewhere in the month of February. Hours are spent on the phone trying out different destinations for airfare on different dates and after the first three searches we can’t even remember what we’d already looked for.

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