Podcast #194 — Best Laid Travel Plans; Roaming Entropy

Robot using a laptop to make travel plans while on a beach

Future of Travel Planning

Back behind the microphone after, despite my finely tuned travel plans, I had to resort to being stubbornly cranky to fix a ORD connection drama when coming home from a tulip-peeping trip in Holland. We also wander into the world of flâneuring, aimlessly walking around a city as a way to swerve over-tourism. Listeners weigh in on Priority Pass lounge access and online passport renewal experiences, and I count all the apps I needed to go cashless in Holland. All this and more – click here to download the podcast file, go up to the Subscribe section in the top menu bar to subscribe on your favorite site, or listen right here by clicking on the arrow on the player.

Here is the transcript of TravelCommons podcast #194:

Since The Last Episode

  • Intro music — Warmth by Makkina
  • Coming to you from the TravelCommons studios in Nashville, TN after a good bit of travel – 10 days in the Netherlands bracketed by road trips to Louisville, Savannah, GA, and Chicago, and then a tough week of beer drinking here in Nashville when the Craft Brewers Conference touched down. So, I’ve been keeping occupied since the last episode. But it’s all been personal travel; all of my business travel has been replaced with Zoom and Teams sessions. I may be a bit of an outlier, but none of the US airlines’ Q1 earnings announcements were great, in no small part because business travel still isn’t back to pre-pandemic levels. Delta is hoping it’ll settle at 75% of 2019 levels while United’s CEO said  “We believe demand is just structurally different than it was pre-pandemic, and we’re still figuring out that new normal.” Maybe not quite the Bill Gates “over 50 percent of business travel… will go away” prediction, but with our 2-year crash course in virtual work, having the post-pandemic setpoint for business travel volume be 20-25% lower doesn’t seem too far fetched.
  • And even with the non-business “revenge” travel boom filling seats, personal travel is a lot more price sensitive, or elastic as economists like to say, than business travel. My travel patterns are a testament to that — with higher airfares but a more flexible schedule (I can Zoom from anywhere), it’s been more road trips than plane flights. I’ve had some pretty drives, like through East Tennessee and central Kentucky, but also some real grind-outs, like I-75 pretty much from the Tennessee-Georgia border through Atlanta, all the way down to Macon. 
  • But driving does make packing easier, without the space constraints of a carry-on bag. Which caught up with me, I think, on our Netherlands trip. I was out of practice, sloppy; forgetting to pack so much of what would be my normal kit — collapsible umbrella, gloves, hat — so that when the cold rain shifted to snow our first day in Amsterdam (it had been in the 70’s when we left Nashville), our standard throwaway line “If we’ve forgotten it, we’ll just buy it there” became very real. I was very happy to find a couple of sporting goods stores a block down from our hotel. I gotta do some remedial packing training before my next flight.
  • Bridge Music — Sunset Boulevard by Doxent Zsigmond (c) copyright 2015 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial (3.0) license. Ft: Siobhan Dakay, unreal_dm

Following Up

  • Robert Fenerty hit the TravelCommons website to comment on last episode’s thoughts about ponying up for a not-quite-Amex Platinum card from Chase or Capital One, one that includes a Priority Pass membership. He said
    • “You need to fix the cert on travelcommons.com, Safari is complaining.” Yup, I know. Converting the site to https has been on my to-do list for a long time. I’ll get to it, I promise… some day.
    • “Given the paucity of direct flights from Nashville, I suppose lounge access makes sense. But please don’t get a credit card just for Priority Pass access. I’ve had one for years through my Chase Sapphire Reserve card. But even as a 1K flier, I rarely use it. With Priority Pass, you’ll encounter capacity-controlled second-rate lounges where travelers on certain flights stroll past you while you’re being added to the 45-minute wait list. And after your 45 minute wait you’ll be treated to a sardine-packed lounge where the primary benefits are lack of blaring TVs, cat food sandwiches, and a second-rate chair that might adjoin an electrical outlet.
    • “Every time I buy a bold $20 glass of Cabernet at a Vino Volo or sip a remarkable east coast hazy at an airport bar with 20 taps, I think about how happy I am to not be begging for a second rate drink at a second rate lounge.”
    • Agree that Priority Pass members definitely seem to be on the bottom of the “priority” list. I’ve been on the other side of that 45-minute wait list, walking into a lounge in ORD’s international terminal, bypassing the queue of Priority Pass holders because I had an AirFrance business class ticket. I’ve also encountered the cat-food sandwich phenomenon. I guess that’s why Amex’s Centurion Lounge is so popular — great food, nice local beers and top-shelf liquor — and so crowded and now charging for each guest. Food and drink costs during connections — another thing I forgot to factor in when I moved to a non-hub city.
  • Jim McDonough hit the TravelCommons Facebook page to pile onto my rant about the US’s stop-start on-line passport renewal efforts.
    • I have dual citizenship with the US and Ireland. Getting an Irish passport was a bureaucratic nightmare and took a couple of years from beginning to end. I saw it was expiring at the end of 2022 and went on-line to see how to renew it. Turns out there was a simple application to fill out on-line, got my wife to take a photo of me against a neutral background and uploaded it, paid by credit card, and had a new Irish passport in my mailbox five business days later. It can be done, USA. Try harder.
    • Jim’s comment got me looking… and sure enough, I can renew my UK passport online also. And checking the US passport renewal page just before recording says the online renewal portal is still paused — we’re coming up on the 4th month of that pause. Maybe the US State Dept just needs to buy Ireland’s or the UK’s system rather than trying to build their own.
  • One of the TravelCommons’ thru lines over the past 5-6 years has been the move to a cashless society and me being a bit of a knuckle dragger about it. It’s a stuttering progress — tripping over small cash-only family-run restaurants in Chicago and here in Nashville, card-only places in Amsterdam; a long weekend in Croatia last fall, before they switched to the euro, that had me hunting down ATMs because not only were there signs saying “Cash Only” but also “Kuna Only” — the currency that would be defunct in a couple of months. The Netherlands, like I said, was all about the tap — double-click the iPhone, tap the little block, and hear the ding. I hit an ATM for €200 through force of habit and after 10 days, came home with €40-50 of it. But looking at my iPhone halfway through the trip, it looked like I’d traded cash for apps. I tweeted a screenshot of my phone; I’d added 9 apps to my phone just for those 10 days. Four were for different transit systems – one for Amsterdam, one for Rotterdam, one for the bus from Haarlem down to the tulip gardens, and one for the trains between them. There was Bolt, the Uber/taxicab mash-up, and Donkey Republic to unlock rental bikes. I can go cashless — as long as my phone battery holds out.
  • Back in December, right after ChatGPT was released/unleashed (?) on the world, I wrote a blog post comparing its holiday travel tips to mine. I thought the ChatGPT recommendations were fine, but mine were way more insightful. Now that Google and Microsoft have joined the AI chat game, I thought I’d ask all three “What’s the TravelCommons Podcast like”
    • First, ChatGPT’s response: “The TravelCommons podcast is a podcast that focuses on travel experiences and insights. Hosted by travel enthusiast and former consultant Mark Peacock, the podcast covers a range of topics related to travel, from the latest news and trends to personal travel stories and tips.
    • “Listeners can expect to hear Peacock’s own experiences and anecdotes about his travels, as well as interviews with other travel experts and enthusiasts. The podcast often covers topics related to technology and travel, such as the latest travel apps and gadgets, as well as discussions about travel safety, sustainable travel, and more.
    • “One of the unique aspects of the TravelCommons podcast is that Peacock often records episodes while he’s on the road, providing listeners with a firsthand account of his travel experiences. This adds an element of excitement and immediacy to the podcast, making it feel like you’re right there with Peacock as he explores new destinations.
    • “Overall, if you’re a travel enthusiast or just looking for some inspiration for your next trip, the TravelCommons podcast is definitely worth checking out.”
    • Not bad, though it’s been a while since I’ve recorded on the road. Maybe I need to get back to that to recapture some of the “excitement and immediacy” of the older episodes.
    • Next up, Google’s Bard: “The TravelCommons podcast is a weekly podcast for frequent travelers. The host, Matt Kepnes, shares his insights and advice on all things travel, from planning and booking trips to navigating airports and hotels. He also interviews experts in the travel industry, such as airline pilots, hoteliers, and travel writers.
    • “The podcast is well-produced and informative, and Matt’s enthusiasm for travel is contagious. He makes even the most mundane travel topics interesting, and he always has a few tips up his sleeve to help you make the most of your trips.”
    • Uh, no. Somehow Bard has transferred TravelCommons to Nomadic Matt. I think I need to check and make sure I still own the travelcommons.com domain name.
    • And finally, Microsoft’s Bing Chat which is powered by the most recent version of ChatGPT: “TravelCommons is a podcast that focuses on the experience of travel. It is hosted by Mark Peacock, who is a frequent traveler himself. The podcast covers a wide range of topics related to travel, including tips for packing and planning, reviews of airlines and hotels, and discussions about the latest trends in travel. The podcast has been around since 2005 and has a loyal following of listeners who appreciate its honest and informative approach to travel.”
    • That’s pretty spot on! I may have to update the TravelCommons media guide with that.
  • And if you have any travel stories, questions, comments, tips, rants – the voice of the traveler, send ’em along to comments@travelcommons.com — you can send a Twitter message to mpeacock, post your thoughts on the TravelCommons’ Facebook page like Jim or the Instagram account at travelcommons — or, if you can fight thru the Safari security warnings like Robert did, you can post your comments on the web site at TravelCommons.com.
  • Bridge Music — Memories (infiniti loop) by Vidian (c) copyright 2015 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial (3.0) license. Ft: TheDice

Best Laid Travel Plans…

  • The first topic in the last episode was “Still Overthinking Travel Planning” — which I do because, well, I’ve spent a good bit of my waking life traveling. But kinda like how generals always fight the last war, I’m probably not doing a great job of accounting for the changes in today’s travel landscape — full planes and hotels, limited flexibility, taking what you can get.
  • Living in Nashville, a non-hub city, means, more often than not, I have to plan for a connection, especially when choosing our flight home from Amsterdam in April, having to factor in the time needed to pass through Customs, maybe having to transit from an international to a domestic terminal, having to clear TSA security again — all in addition to some cushion for a late flight. But when I looked across all our possible connections, the times were either snug, less than 2 hours, or boringly long, 4-6 hours. So I decided to risk it, taking the snug layover through ORD. I figured we knew the airport, so no time lost trying to figure out the terminal connection, and most importantly, if we did get caught up somewhere and missed our connection, there was another flight to Nashville at 6pm, some 4 hours later.
  • As you might guess, all didn’t go smoothly because if it did, I wouldn’t be talking about it on the podcast. There’s not much interesting about “I booked a snug connection and everything was fine.” It actually started to go off the rails a few days before our departure, on our last night in Rotterdam. We stayed at the Hotel Pincoffs on the left bank — highly recommended — and after dinner, we hit the lounge where ordered a glass of what was labeled a Dutch coastal gin called Hermit, skipping the tonic as I talked about in episode #192, so I could taste the botanicals and the salty water they plugged on the label.  I liked it a lot, so much so that I ordered another glass, and then spent 3 hours the next day rummaging through Amsterdam liquor stores ‘til I found a bottle to take home. Which meant I was now checking my bag on my flight to ORD.
  • Two days later, our snug connection begins to decay. The inbound United flight was late which dominoed out our departure time by 20 minutes. The captain said not to worry, he’d push the throttle and make it up in the air. I’ve heard that promise before, and sure enough, we hit the gate 20 minutes late. OK, snug-ger, but still doable. The Global Entry kiosk was fast, almost too fast. ORD has new facial biometric kiosks. I walked up and before I figured out how to use it, it had recognized my face and told me to move on. Slightly creepy, but that’s a topic for another episode.
  • We find the luggage carousel just as the bags with the orange Priority tags start popping out. I let myself feel a bit optimistic. I’m watching for my gin-bearing bag. And watch. And watch. Non-priority bags come out. Still I’m watching. And feeling optimism decay. We work through the Customs exit line only to walk straight into an even longer line to recheck our bags for our Nashville flight. Only 2, 3 people are working it. I’m feeling like Stevie Ray Vaughn when he sings “tick tock, people, time’s ticking away.” I tweet a picture to United saying “I’d be pretty thrilled if I made my ORD-BNA connection after our AMS-ORD flight arrived late.” No response. We finally get up to the bag checker. She scans the bag tag; I can see her screen flash red. “Nope,” she says, “You won’t make your flight” and then turns to the next person in line. 
  • We stand there for a moment and then drag our bags over to the line for the re-booking agent. But as I’ve said many times on this podcast, work all the channels. My usual Twitter play didn’t seem to be working (United’s social media hub must be short-staffed), so I dial up the Premiere line and tell my entire tale of woe to the phone agent while still in line for the in-person one. Getting up to the ORD agent, I tell her the same thing; United’s delay caused me to miss my connection, so just book me on the 6pm to Nashville. Seems easy enough — but not in today’s travel world. The rebooking agent tells me there are no seats left to Nashville today… on any carrier. “This is unacceptable,” I said. She goes palms up and turns to the next person in line. “Wait,” I said, “if you can’t get me home tonight, United owes me overnight accommodations.” She stopped, thought for a moment, and then wrote down a number. “You need to call them.” It was the same number I’d called while in line.
  • But though all that, I hadn’t hung up on that phone agent; she was still there. “I’m sorry but there are no seats to Nashville, but I can get you to Memphis.” She’s trying to help, but I don’t think she realizes that Tennessee is a long state — Memphis is a 3-hour drive to Nashville. “This is unacceptable,” I said. She apologizes again. 15 minutes into the call, she offers to transfer me to her supervisor. I tell her my story with perhaps a little frustration creeping into my tone. “Can I put you on hold?” she asks. Sure, why not? In the meantime, Irene is checking on Southwest flight; apparently United agents can’t see them. The supervisor eventually comes back, “Would the 6pm flight be OK for you?” 6pm today? After 36 minutes on the phone and saying “This is unacceptable” 2 or 3 times, they scrounged up the seats I’d been asking for all along. We hopped on the AirTrain to get over to Terminal 1 and Tortas Frontera, my favorite ORD restaurant, for a couple of unplanned margaritas. While checking the United app for my new boarding pass, I saw that United twitter had finally responded. “We’re sorry about the stressful day you’ve had today. As a gesture of goodwill, we’re able to deposit 2,500 miles into each of your accounts.” Using a 1.5¢/mile conversion rate, that just about covered our Frontera tab. In today’s travel world, that’s probably the best outcome I could’ve hoped for.
  • Bridge Music —Dawn at the Top of the World ft. copperhead & Robert Seikawitch by Ivan Chew (c) copyright 2016 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial (3.0) license

Roaming Entropy

  • Well before this “revenge” travel boom, over-tourism was a trending topic. I talked about it on many past episodes – biking up to Delicate Arch in Moab, Utah to find a swarm of photographers setting up to get their “golden hour shot” at sunset; trying to get in front of unloading tour buses along Iceland’s Golden Circle, and most recently squeezing through narrow streets in Rome when I made the mistake of agreeing to meet a friend at Trevi Fountain.
  • But, as you might guess, that’s not my preferred touring style. Instead, I tend to do what my family calls my “solo toro” routine — going off on my own to wander a city, randomly walking, letting traffic lights make the call when it’s time to make a turn. Often I’ll have some end-point in mind — a taproom, a church — but my path getting there won’t be the most direct.
  • I didn’t think this was unique, but still, I’ve been pleasantly surprised to run across a couple of articles that put a proper name to this — flâneuring, from flâneur, the (of course) French word from the 19th Century that means “a stroller, a loafer, a wanderer,” someone who walks around a city without a fixed destination or purpose, just observing and enjoying the sights, sounds and smells. The English author Virginia Woolfe called it “street haunting” which I like, but I think my favorite term is “roaming entropy,” coined by some NYU researchers whose work showed a positive correlation between someone’s mood and how many new/varied/unexpected locations they visited.
  • “Roaming entropy,” “experiential diversity,” they say, promotes cognitive development — which makes sense to me. In many ways, this is one of the main reasons people travel, to experience something new. Way back in episode #166, Emily Thomas talked about how philosophers such as Descartes and Montagne thought experiencing “otherness of travel” was important to broadening your mind, forcing you to think past your familiar experiences. But many folks want to experience something new, but without the risk of disappointment — or something worse — that the term “roaming entropy” implies. And there’s nothing new to that. Guidebooks have been around forever. When Irene and I started traveling through Europe, we’d always carry a Green Michelin guide, and we’d check off the 1-, 2-, and 3-star sites as we’d hit them. Not really all that different from people today queuing up for selfies at an Instagram-famous spot.
  • But ticking off a list of Insta-sites or starred spots doesn’t open you to the possibility of serendipitous delight, the joy of discovering something unexpected. On the flip side, it does tend to keep you out of serendipitous disaster. I don’t recall my wanders putting me in harm’s way, but there have been a few times where I felt I’d pushed the envelope a bit far — in Cape Town, J’burg; in Brussels — and so beat a very direct, non-random retreat to someplace safer. 
  • The NYU researchers also talked about “sociodemographic experiential variability,” which is their polysyllabic way of describing walking around in different ethnic/cultural neighborhoods during flâneuring. I’m always hitting up food carts for, say, tamales in Mexican neighborhoods, or not-really-well-defined meats on skewers in Asian night markets, or Cuban coffee joints in Miami. Come to think of it, a lot of my sociodemographic experiential variability involves food or booze. Though in my defense, if you keep stopping to buy stuff, you then have to carry it around with you the rest of the day, weighing you down, maybe forcing you to shorten your walk. And that’s not what “roaming entropy” is about. It’s all about riding the random wave. 


  • Closing music — Pictures of You by Evangeline
  • OK, that’s it, that’s the end of TravelCommons podcast #194
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