Kinda tough to do a podcast that’s more about the journey than the destination if I’m not “journeying,” but I give it a go. We talk about cyberattacks on frequent flyer accounts now that we don’t have a reason to check them, planning for my first post-pandemic trips, and how re-reading my travel journals is pinch-hitting right now. All this and more at the direct link to the podcast file or listening to it right here by clicking on the arrow below.
Here is the transcript of TravelCommons podcast #162:
- Intro music — Warmth by Makkina
- Coming to you, as you might expect, from the TravelCommons studio in Chicago, Illinois, going into what is either the 3rd or 4th week of Lockdown, depending on how one scores the executive orders. I usually kick off each episode talking about my travel since the last episode — which is going to be a very short conversation since I recorded the last episode at the end of Lockdown Week 1. Does make it kinda tough to do a podcast that’s more about the journey if I’m not “journeying”. Indeed, longtime TravelCommons listener Steve Frick pinged me on Twitter – “How are you holding up being off the road?” I told him I was taking some long walks to relieve the itching on the soles of my feet, but I’m not sure it’s working.
- I thought I could keep myself occupied by working out more; drop the winter weight a little earlier than usual; be in better biking shape for when the Midwest weather breaks. But I had to call an audible on that when the city closed all the gyms, and then the running and biking path along Lake Michigan. Now I’m trying out a lot of new in-room/no-weight workouts. There’s a lot of them out there, even the Wall Street Journal published “Five Home Workouts to Do During the Coronavirus Outbreak”. I’ve never been a big HIIT guy, high-intensity interval training, so things like squat jumps, burpees, and mountain climbers haven’t been in my repertoire. But I’m kinda liking it and thinking that, when I’m back traveling, this could be a great in-room workout for those days when the hotel gym is jammed, especially those Marriott Courtyard gyms, when all four of the ellipticals and treadmills are taken, and there’s a queue for the handful of dumbells. Of course, I might have to warm up with some furniture jenga — stacking the chairs and magazine table out of the way, maybe with one of the end tables — but most US hotel rooms should have enough open space, except maybe in Manhattan.
- However, my other new workout — stair intervals, sprinting up the stairs in our 20-floor apartment building — might not translate as well to hotels, especially those 4-story Courtyards.
- Bridge Music — Ianiscus by Javolenus (c) copyright 2013 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license. Ft: Wired_Ant
- The waves of Covid-19 e-mails from travel companies have been interesting. The first wave was at the beginning of March. I tweeted out a screenshot of what I received from United, but all the travel companies seem to be working off similar scripts — “We care about you; let me tell you about the great job that HEPA air filters do; we’re cleaning the planes a bit more every night; we’ll get back to you later on your elite status.” Then the second wave as travel started to crater a couple of weeks later — “We really care about you, so if you book a flight/room/car with us and give us money this month, we won’t charge you to change your dates if things are still mucked up… but we’ll keep your money; oh, and we cleaning the planes/rooms/cars real hard now”. This wave did get my attention. I mentioned in the last episode how the combination of change fee waiver and a smokin’ deal on American’s direct ORD-BCN flight got me to open up my wallet for an end-of-September trip. Friends of ours are saying we’re crazy, but I’m an optimist. And now, starting last week, I’m starting to get the third wave of e-mails wherein the dam finally broke — “Honest, we care a whole lot about you, so we’ve extended that change fee waiver for the next couple of months — so long as you give us money now — and, since we’re all sorta throwing in the towel on 2020, we’re giving you elites a push on your status — whatever you have now, you keep through next year — and extending your club memberships by 6 months; oh, and we’re still spraying disinfectant everywhere.” For me, hotel brands were the first — Hilton and Hyatt, and Marriott notable in its absence. Then, this week, some of the airlines finally dropped — Delta, United, and Alaska, with American and Southwest notable in their absence. And then, in mid-week, Marriott finally gave it. It’ll be interesting to see how long American and Southwest feel they can hold out. The longer the travel shutdown, the more the pressure will build. Internationally, the trend for airlines seems to be a bit more of a hedge — not extending status, but reducing qualification levels by 25-30%. BA, KLM, Emirates all seem to be trying this. It’ll be interesting to see how long they can hold out.
- As if this wasn’t enough, Marriott announced at the end of March yet another security breach — the second one in 16 months. This one was in a PMS, a property management system, used at some of the properties managed by Marriott. They estimate that 5.2 million guests are affected. We’ve said many times before, it’s gotten to the point with all these hacks that you gotta assume that you’ve been compromised. But the coronavirus lockdown adds a bit of a twist. A security firm, PerimeterX, says that, in the past month, they’ve seen account takeover attacks surge to as high as 80% of all login attempts on travel sites. Kinda makes sense — if we’re not traveling, we’re not hitting airline or hotel sites to book trips, or to check our account balances or figure out where we are on a status match. As we drop off, the remaining traffic — from the bad guys — becomes a higher percentage. And there is some money to be had there. I’ve said in past episodes that I tend to use 2¢/mile as the breakeven point between buying a flight or using miles, though that number might have drifted down to 1.5¢ with recent award chart changes. Crack and drain an account with 100,000 miles — not a high balance for a frequent traveler who’s getting elite bonuses and uses the airline’s credit card — and that’s $1,500. Would be nice if these companies used two-factor authentication, but I haven’t seen that with any of my accounts. So I make sure each account has a strong and unique password, and run the circuit — logging into each of them, or at least the ones with big balances — every month.
- And if you have any travel stories, questions, comments, tips, rants – the voice of the traveler, send ’em along — text or audio comment to email@example.com — you can send a Twitter message to mpeacock, post your thoughts on the TravelCommons’ Facebook page or our Instagram account at travelcommons — or you can post comments on the web site at TravelCommons.com.
- Bridge Music — In Peace (Somewhere Else Mix) by cdk (c) copyright 2015 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license. Ft: Snowflake
Post-Corona Trip Planning
- I took a survey from Conde Nast Traveler magazine, asking about my post-coronavirus travel plans. Good timing because, as I mentioned earlier, I’ve been thinking about just that topic, because this will be the longest stretch I’ve stayed home in I don’t know how long. And you can imagine that topic is hot across the travel industry — with airlines, hotels, trip planning apps — hence, probably the reason for the Conde Nast survey. But before you can plan, you have to know when the lockdown will be released and how. Nobody in Chicago or anywhere else in the US seems to want to talk about that quite yet, but some European countries are — Austria, Denmark, the Czech Republic, even Italy — and as you’d guess, it’s looking like it’ll be more of a gradual release than a big bang; and happen first in places less impacted by Covid-19 — rural before urban, then smaller cities; New York probably the last in line.
- If that plays out, then I’m thinking that leisure travel will be the first to come back. A lot of business travel is between cities, and when those lockdowns finally release, companies will first be figuring out who they want to bring back to their offices. And they’ll be looking to cut expenses going into the expected recession. So the weekend warriors may be on the move before the road warriors.
- Pulling on that thread a bit more, I think it means that, for many folks, their first post-lockdown trip is going to be a car ride. With a car, you have more control than a plane or a train — more flexibility, no waiting for airlines to un-furlough their crews and spin up their route systems, and no worries about who you’re sitting next to. Maybe a drive requires a bit more planning — probably want to make sure the lockdown is lifted in all the places you have to drive through. But when I add low gas prices to this flexibility, driving is probably the way I’ll go.
- OK, but to where? Probably not too far initially — not more than, say, a 6-8 hour drive, a day — so no “let’s re-trace Route 66” out to LA or beeline for the Florida beaches. Also, given some of the blowback around some of those pre-lockdown Spring Break antics, I gotta think that party places like Florida beaches and Nashville’s Lower Broadway are gonna be some of the last spots released from lockdown, and even when they are, they’ll be different places. Not every bar and restaurant will survive this lockdown. With still maybe a month to go, I’m already seeing places in Chicago give up and shut down for good.
- But that doesn’t really impact my planning. The first trip I want to do after the lockdown wasn’t some bachelor party long weekend blow out. I think I want to go see some family first, not least because there’s still uncertainty about if and when future waves of Covid-19 might prompt future lockdowns. So I’m thinking, right now, that first drive will be down to Spring Hill, TN to see my mother. It’s an 8-hr drive, so about as far as I can get in a day. I’ll throw my bike on the back of the car; take some solo rides on the roads that thread through horse country, hoping to hit an open barbeque joint, and a taproom or two.
- Then some business travel comes back. People can only get so much done through Zoom and Microsoft Teams. Though we’ve pushed it off for 6-8 weeks, at some point people need to get together — physically — to close deals, do projects, work with employees. The ramp up will depend on how deep of a recession we find ourselves in. Maybe it’ll start up by cashing in some of those vouchers from cancelled March and April trips that airlines have been loath to refund.
- Which, hopefully, works Irene, Claire and I up some trans-Atlantic trips in the late fall — Barcelona in late September and perhaps London over Thanksgiving. They’ll probably still be sedate — still some social distancing; not sure if we’ll be able to catch La Liga or Premier League matches. That’s OK, though. I’d be happy to walk again through the Gothic District, check out Cat Bar Cat, my craft beer hangout the last time I was in Barcelona, and to shop and eat through Mercado de La Boqueria. And then to walk through London streets for the Christmas lights.
- But if I’m going to do any of this, I’ll probably need to get a hair cut first.
- Bridge Music —Blue Like Venus by spinningmerkaba (c) copyright 2012 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license. Ft: Admiral Bob
Keeping a Travel Journal
- One of the questions on the Conde Nast Traveler survey was “How are you getting your travel fix during the lockdown?” My initial response was curt “I’m not”. But I paused for a minute and then backspaced over that and typed “I’m paging through my old travel journals”.
- Travel journaling is kinda at the core of the TravelCommons podcast or at least its creation myth. I had been writing a weekly business column for an alternative newspaper in Philadelphia. An editorial change dropped my column right about the same time my career change to consulting put me on the road just about every week. I picked up a small Moleskine notebook in SFO while waiting out yet another Northwest Airlines flight delay, found an empty bar stool, ordered an Anchor Steam, and killed time writing down some of the goofier travel stories that had happened to me or that other guys had told me. When I had just about filled it up, I thought about starting a travel blog. But right about then, the first wave of podcasting hit the mainstream. I’d been in radio during high school in Memphis, so thought I’d give it a go. And here we are, coming on 15 years later.
- If I go back even further — before Moleskines became a thing — I might say I started travel journaling by way of postcards. If I was in a new or interesting place — think Tuscany or Lake Tahoe, not Dover, OH or Southfield, MI — I’d write postcards to my folks, my girlfriend-later-wife, the kids, usually while sitting at the bar having an end-of-the-day beer or wine. Irene saved some of those postcards. Flipping through them and my travel journals, I didn’t find diaries of my travel days — I did this, went there, ate at these dishes at that restaurant — but rather little vignettes of things that caught my eye, things like “the favorite pastime in Bologna appears to be trying on sunglasses at the corner stand and then checking out ‘the look’ in the side mirrors of parked cars” or “I was told by law, a Swiss office worker has to be within 50 ft of a window. Explains why all the buildings I see in Basel are thin or doughnuts” or “Roadside billboards in Detroit are different from anywhere else I’ve been. Rather than pitching hotels or consumer products, the billboards on I-94 in from the airport are all selling auto parts, punctuated by that massive Uniroyal tire”
- I’ve pretty much stuck to an end-of-the-day routine; maybe that beer or glass of wine helps me reflect back on the day and ID the things that stood out; the things that taught me something, and then write it down. I don’t have a goal, trying to write X number of pages; I just let each day dictate. Sometimes it’s a bit prosaic, and sometimes it feeds TravelCommons. The journal pages from our Thanksgiving getaway to Santa Fe a couple of years ago turned into a 2,000-word blog post; and what poured out of my pen in frustration in France a year ago was at the core of the Travel Interruptus episode, what I called “A Greek tragedy where the travel gods toy with our anti-hero for fun and entertainment”.
- But more than anything, right now when the lockdown is aggravating my wanderlust, reading the pages that I wrote some 2 or 10 or 20 years ago, reminds me of those places, those times, those experiences, and gives me the travel fix that I need right now in this lockdown.
- Closing music — Pictures of You by Evangeline
- OK, that’s it, that’s the end of TravelCommons podcast #162
- I hope you all enjoyed this podcast and I hope you decide to stay subscribed.
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