Back in the TravelCommons studios after a couple months of summer break. We open up with thoughts about skipping rental cars, sharing listener comments on the Chicago Layover Excursion video, and the current state of American Airlines — great new airplanes, deteriorating on-time stats. Michael Komarnitsky, the founder and CEO of GoMiles, talks about why he sold his company to Traxo and where he sees the mileage tracking industry going. We wrap with my thoughts about how I break through the frequent traveler “travel bubble” by looking for local artisanal food and craft beers. Here’s a direct link to the podcast file or you can listen to it right here by clicking on the arrow below. [audio:travelcommons_101.mp3]
Here are the transcript of TravelCommons podcast #101:
- Intro music — Warmth by Makkina
- Coming to you again from the TravelCommons studios outside of Chicago. Back after a couple of month hiatus. The Episode 100 celebrations ran a little long…
- Last week, Jeremy Phillips tweeted “Listening to Travel Commons by @mpeacock episode 100 while en route ATL -> SEA. I kind of miss the bathroom acoustics but love the podcast.” Jeremy, I was thinking of recording at least the intro to this episode in one of the studio bathrooms, but thought that would be a bit too contrived. I will see, though, if I can get my act together enough for the next episode to do a bit of throw-back recording from a hotel bathroom.
- Not a lot of travel since the last episode — two flights to San Francisco and a day trip to Atlanta — though my arrivals in each place had some interesting twists. For all these trips, I had car service arranged to pick me up from the airport and to take me back. The cost and hassles of car rental seem to be on an upward spiral. We’ve talked in past episodes about costs — not so much the rental cost itself, but all the add-on fees, surcharges, and taxes. In an Oct 2009 blog post about skipping rental cars, I looked at my receipts from rentals in LA, SF, Seattle, and Philadelphia and found that add-on charges increased my final bill 27-51%. I don’t think those percentages have gone down in the intervening 3 years.
- The hassles of car rental are just as off-putting — airports are reclaiming close-in car rental sites to expand parking, pushing the rental companies further out. I’ve timed trips at Phoenix and BWI — 30 minutes to get from the terminal to the rental cars.
- So, with all that, I have little problem justifying the cost of a car to haul me between the airport and my locations. But even hire cars are not without their hassles. In ATL, it took me three phone calls — to the driver and the car service — to figure out where to meet the car. Unlike, say , ORD or LGA, there are different places you can “surface” from the gates and terminals. Apparently I followed the wrong “Ground Transportation” signs and ended up at the wrong end of the airport. No big problem — maybe a 10-minute delay.
- My last trip to SF was a bit more problematic. I text the driver “I’m here” and “Here’s the door I’m at” — not a big opportunity for location confusion at SFO Terminal 3. I’m standing there — a couple of cars pull up, a guy gets in one, a woman in another. 5 minutes go by, where’s the car that said he was a minute away. Turns out that the guy who got into one of those cars got into mine. He told the driver his name which, to the non-native English speaking driver, sounded like Peacock and off they went. Except when I’m still texting him — confusing when he thinks I’m in the back seat. Somewhere on the 101 South, the driver and the passenger figure out the mix-up. The car comes back to SFO, picks me up, leaving my doppelganger — whose last name sounds nothing like Peacock — wandering aimless on the sidewalk looking for his long-gone car.
- All reinforcing the feeling that there’s just nothing about travel nowadays that “just works”…
- Bridge Music — Science vs. Romance by Rilo Kiley
- For those not following the various TravelCommons sites — Twitter, Facebook, the TravelCommons web site (I don’t do Pinterest because, well, I’m a guy, and I don’t do Tumblr because I’m over 25 years old) — a couple of pointers to some content that didn’t make it into the iTunes feed.
- First, I did follow through on the threat/promise I made at the end of the last episode — to do my own Chicago version of the One City, Five Hours sprint tours that United used to do in their Hemispheres magazine. Last year, I did the Frankfurt tour while on a long layover between Mumbai and Chicago. I video’d my results; it’s on the TravelCommons site as “Video #2”. I had such a great time following that tour — seeing new areas of Frankfurt rather than flipping through my iPad in the United lounge — that I wanted to offer up a similar tour of Chicago to people with long layovers — whether planned or not.
- While the Frankfurt video was a one-day affair — shot on my iPhone and edited in iMovie on the flight home, the Chicago video turned out to be a lot more work. Of course I had to create the tour rather than following someone else’s. And the constraints of the format — start and end at ORD, 5 hours long (which I failed; mine clocked in just over 6), using in only public transit, and trying to show something other than the usual photo op sites — made for some tough choices.
- Also, I wanted to provide detailed transit and walking directions — showing street signs at crossings, building a detailed Google trip map for the show notes — because that was my one frustration with United’s Frankfurt article — I kept getting lost which cut into my already limited time budget.
- I posted on the TravelCommons site and Facebook page about a month ago. I didn’t push it through the iTunes feed because I thought it would be too big of a download and wouldn’t be of interest to everyone.
- The TravelCommons Facebook community had some good things to say. Lisa Besso’s comment voiced a common theme —
- “Wouldn’t it be great to have these for all major hubs where we all spend too much time?”
- I got to thinking about this… If you think through the top 10 US hubs — ATL, ORD, DFW, DEN, PHX, MSP, IAH, DTW, EWR, SFO — how many of these could you do a 5-hour city/neighborhood tour without needing a rental car.
- San Francisco is an obvious one
- Newark – take the PATH train to downtown Manhattan and walk up thru TriBeCa and Greenwich Village
- Atlanta – Downtown and Buckhead via Marta?
- Denver – You’ve landed in the middle of a buffalo herd. Maybe catch a bus to LoDo?
- And after that, my voice trails off. Anybody else have any ideas?
- Bob Fenerty and Robby Smith also left comments — both compared the ORD video to Anthony Bourdain’s “Layover” series. Bob said
- “Very fun; like watching an amateur version of ‘The Layover’”
- Robby liked it because you could knock it off in an afternoon, unlike Bourdain’s 2-3 day layover.
- If you haven’t seen it already, go to the TravelCommons web site or Facebook page, check it out and leave some comments. I created a new “Video” category on the site — you can find it on the right-hand nav bar if you want to quickly find last year’s Frankfurt video. And send along your thoughts on other layover tours if you have them.
- Another blog post follows up on the topic in the last episode about my “great circle” through the Mid South — I-65 from Chicago to the Gulf Coast, across US-90 and then back up I-55 and 57. Listeners who follow my social media natterings on Twitter and Untappd had seen my food and beer comments along the tour and asked for a summary, which I posted on the site in August — a city-by-city listing of the restaurants and bars I thought were the best — along with a link to a Flickr photo set, pulling together some of my better shots, though probably a bit overdone with Instagram filters. If you’re visiting Nashville, Louisville, Memphis soon, check that out.
- And finally, a follow-up on episode 100’s other topic — breaking up with American Airline, I dunno, it’s 1 step forward and 2 steps back. One of my biggest complaints in that rant was the age of AA’s fleet — the MD-80’s that have been around for 25-30 years — they’re small, dingy, uncomfortable, and in my experience, more and more prone to maintenance delays. Last month, I flew on a new American 737-800 — what a great plane! Huge luggage bins, some styling cues from the 787 Dreamliner, and regular electrical outlets in coach. Such a huge upgrade from the MD-80s — especially the ones picked up with the TWA merger — those are the worst. So, good forward movement with the planes — which then gets completely offset (and more) by seats on their old planes coming loose and disgruntled pilots causing flight delays through a work-to-rule campaign. New planes are great, but I have to be able to depend upon them. So I’m completely off American until they get all of this cleared up.
- If you have a question, a story, a comment, a travel tip – the voice of the traveler, send it along. The e-mail address is email@example.com — use the Voice Memo app on your iPhone or something like Virtual Recorder on your Android phone to record and send in an audio comment; send a Twitter message to mpeacock, or you can post your thoughts on the TravelCommons’ Facebook page — or you can always go old-school and post your thoughts on the web site at TravelCommons.com.
- Bridge music — Voodoo Dub by Cyrusfx
Future of Mileage Tracking Tools
- Two years ago, in episode 85, I talked to Michael Komarnitsky, the founder and CEO of GoMiles, about his year-old mileage/awards points tracking service. Last month, Michael sold GoMiles to Traxo, a trip aggregation/travel management site. I caught up with him last week to get his thoughts on where the mileage/awards tracking market is going. I first asked him to remind us what GoMiles did for the traveler…
- Bridge music —Not Enough (Inside You, Part 2) by Saurab Bhargava
Bursting the Travel Bubble with Local Food and Craft Beer
- As I mentioned earlier, those who follow me on Twitter and Untappd (a sort of FourSquare for beer nerds), see a lot of posts and pictures of food and beer. Though I guess it shouldn’t be surprising — I think travel, food, and alcohol (beer, wine, scotch,…) naturally go together; if you’re interested in one, you’re interested in them all. It’s all about being interested in exploring cultures. One of the main reasons we travel (voluntarily, that is) is to experience other people, other cultures. And if you want to get deeper into a culture, it’s much easier to eat and drink with them than to marry them. Not to say marrying is a bad thing, just a bit more permanent — or perhaps that’s the old-school Catholic in me talking…
- In past episodes, we’ve talked about how frequent travelers often float above the day-to-day activities, the reality of the cities their visiting in a “travel bubble” — kinda like Glenda the Good Witch in “Wicked”. In one of those episodes, I talked about how I like using public transportation, skipping the airport limos or private car services as a way to pop that bubble.
- But in my trips this summer to SF and through the Mid-South, the search for local food and beer popped the travel bubble, and it was a helluva lot more fun than wrestling with a fare card machine in Brooklyn
- Now this is more than just skipping restaurant chains for local joints. Searching out a SF farmers market took me through the Tenderloin district and had me dodging cup-shaking panhandlers much further up Market St than I’d been before. Searching for Nashville hot chicken took me way off the usual Broadway tourist drag, to Bolton’s, a squat cinder block building in what felt like a bit of a sketch section of East Nashville for some very good and very spicy fried chicken. We ate under a wheezing air conditioner as a steady stream of neighborhood folk banged the screen door, ordering the Friday hot chicken and catching up with the owner.
- Hunting down local beers has been just as rewarding. Walking from SF’s Union Square to the edge of the SoMa neighborhood to find the City Beer Store took me a good bit out of the tourist zone. I ended up drinking local Magnolia beer, talking with a group of guys who were stopping off for one on their way to the bus stop. Following Google Maps off I-65 in Birmingham, AL, I found myself parking in what looked like a neighborhood trying hard to re-develop so I could try a beer at Avondale Brewing.
- I keep a running list of web clippings in Evernote of the restaurants, beer/wine bars, breweries I want to visit. I have folders for the cities I visit often or plan to visit soon. I also use social media — in episode #96, I talked about how I use Untappd, Foodspotting and Chowhound — as well as asking the Twitter-verse for ideas.
- But that’s just so I have a starting point for my searches. Searching new places forces me to break that travel bubble wall between visitor (me) and residents. In Louisville, I headed over to the Louisville Beer Store in the downtown NuLu district. Drinking a couple of beers and talking to the owner, he said I had to visit his other place, the Holy Grale, an old church converted to a beer bar. While there, talking to some folks at the bar, a guy told me I had to visit New Orleans’ Bywater District if I wanted to latest in good local non-tourist food there. Three days later, I was driving into New Orleans. Have been there many times, but never heard of the Bywater District. A little web searching on the iPhone and I found my way there, ending up having dinner at the bar of Maurepas Foods, a very local place with very good food.
- Frequent travelers tend toward a rhythm, a pattern that allows them to quickly and efficiently navigate the hassles of today’s travel experience. There’s a thin line, though, between, efficiency and a rut, and the travel bubble straddles that line. It takes some effort to pop that bubble; good food and beer can help…
- Closing music — iTunes link to Pictures of You by Evangeline
- OK, that’s it, that’s the end of TravelCommons podcast #101
- I hope you all enjoyed this podcast and I hope you decide to stay subscribed.
- Bridge music from Mevio’s Music Alley and from Saurab Bhargava’s album Chromatique
- If you have a story, thought, comment, gripe – the voice of the traveler — send ‘em along, text or audio file, to firstname.lastname@example.org or to @mpeacock on Twitter, or post them on our website at travelcommons.com. Thanks to everyone who has taken the time to send in e-mails, Tweets and post comments on the website
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