Looking Back at 2017 — The Highs and The Lows

After clearing the mists of last night’s New Year’s Eve party, I thought about some of the highlights and lowlights of my travels in 2017


  • Uber/Lyft Driver Stories — Not only are Uber and Lyft rides easier to get than most taxis, the stories the drivers tell are a lot more entertaining. A Lyft driver in Charlottesville gave me a local’s view on the Robert E. Lee statue controversy while a Uber driver told me why driving full-time in Chicago traffic was less stressful than being a hotel manager.
  • Continued Craft Beer Explosion — Regular podcast listeners know that I have a craft beer obsession. The hunt for new beers and microbrewery taprooms helps me break out of the usual travel rut — places like a light industrial area in Richmond, Virginia and a North African neighborhood on the west side of Paris.
  • Hertz’s Presidents Circle Aisle — My experience with Hertz has completely turned around — from enduring a steady stream of beat-up high-mileage cars to picking out a new Jag. Three years ago, I paid no attention to Hertz’s loyalty program. Two months ago, I made sure I had enough rentals to re-up my Presidents Club status for this year.
  • Hotel Flat-Screen TVs with Open HDMI Ports — When I started traveling, hotel TVs were locked down tight because in-room movie rentals was a major revenue stream. While that stream dried up years before LodgeNet went bankrupt in 2013, hotels kept their TVs locked down and we resigned ourselves to watching Netflix on 14-inch laptop screens. But now that the latest generation of flat-screen TVs have open HDMI ports, I’ve added an HDMI cable to my standard travel kit so I can plug my laptop in and watch movies on a 40-inch screen again.
  • Google Translate — Thinking through my international travel this year (Paris, Vienna, Budapest), Google Translate has evolved to being pretty close to magic. The Word Lens feature lets you point your phone camera at, say, a menu and see English words replacing the French in real time. Saves you from mistakenly ordering chicken when you mix up poulet and poisson after a couple of cocktails.
  • Top 3 Airports — SFO’s new Terminal 2 which I think is better than perennial list toppers Singapore and Hong Kong, and then two pleasant surprises in May at Vienna and Budapest airports.


  • Passenger-Airline Personnel Conflicts Become Physical — The worst thing that used to happen was raised voices between a gate agent and a bumped passenger. That now seems very quaint after United Airlines had ORD Security Police drag a passenger off a plane to make room for one of their employees.
  • Overtourism — The #TouristGoHome campaign gaining traction in places like Barcelona and Venice recasts  the travel industry as a resource-consuming zero-sum game that crowds out and prices out locals from the historic centers of their cities. Iceland is the poster child for overtourism with an estimated 2.3 million tourists in 2017 visiting a country with 340,000 residents. It’s a wider threat, though; the dark side of the growth of Airbnb and budget airlines like WOW Air.
  • Smart Luggage Ban — After two years of carrying GPS-enabled bags from start-ups like Bluesmart without incident, US airlines decided just before Christmas that the batteries powering those location trackers are a fire hazard and will be banned as of January 15. A lot of frequent travelers are going to need to find closet space for their expensive but now-obsolete luggage.
  • Full Planes with Tight Seats — Airlines are flying fuller planes — reducing the number of empty seats, and adding more rows. The tighter confines of the coach cabin make it difficult to do much more than sit up straight and listen to podcasts. I’ve given up on trying to work on airplanes. It seems almost anti-social to try to open a laptop.
  • Lobbying for High Review Ratings — More and more hotels, restaurants, and other travel businesses see anything other than a 5-star rating as an insult.
  • Bottom 3 Airports — New York-LaGuardia (construction disruptions reinforce its bottom spot), Munich, and Atlanta (60-90 minutes of heavy traffic between the airport and most of Atlanta’s business destinations)
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  1. Have had our Away luggage for only about six months prior to the battery ban. I really like the ‘smart’ charging feature. Luckily the Away battery is a nicely designed self-contained and easily removable unit (two screws; screwdriver included!) Now the battery lives in my backpack, and the luggage still usable.

    • Smart move to purchase the Away bag. I’m slipping in one more flight with my Bluesmart before the 15 Jan deadline and moving to a new Victorinox Werks Traveler 5.0 22-inch 2-wheeler. My last Victorinox lasted me ~10 years, so I felt good about re-upping with them.