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(Photo by Virtual Photography Studio)


Expedia.com recently conducted a survey that indicates that about one-third of Americans do not take all the vacation days they are allotted each year. In addition, of all the countries surveyed, Americans received the fewest number of vacation days annually. The results:

The Expedia.com survey concludes:

Many U.S. employed adults may not be making full use of their vacation days and may not be getting sufficient time away from work. A substantial minority may be sacrificing vacation time for work. And more than one in four employed adults have trouble coping with stress from work at some point in the vacation cycle.

This isn’t shocking news to me. My own husband has about a month’s worth of vacation days saved up that he’s been unable to redeem over the past few years. It’s hard to get away from work these days, particularly with layoffs meaning that most employees now have an increased work load and are consumed with appearing vital to their organizations. Still, everyone needs some days off occasionally. Here’s hoping that Americans will, at some point, get adequate vacation time and be allowed to use it.

(Photo of The Twelve Apostles, Australia by Kevgibbo)


When I’m planning a trip, I like to read books set in that destination before I leave. I peruse guide books, of course, but it’s also fun to immerse myself in fiction and nonfiction set in the country I’ll be visiting. It gives me a bit of extra knowledge, history and perspective on my destination. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been exploring someplace new and gotten a little thrill when stumbling across a street, café or landmark I recognize from a story that I have read. I thought I would make some reading suggestions for various destinations, starting off with Australia.


There are great bargains to be found on plane tickets to Australia right now. Head over to FareCompare.com and check out the options. Round trip flights from LAX to Melbourne this fall can be had starting at $572. JFK to Melbourne starts at $706. United Airlines, Qantas and V Australia are all offering fare specials that cannot be beat. Snap up tickets to a land down under, and then pick up some of these titles before you depart.

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(Photo by BurningKarma)


I recently received an email from a reader about travel tipping etiquette. It’s an interesting topic, and one that I think is a subject of confusion and frustration for many travelers. Her letter reads:


Dear Erin,

We just got back from a three day trip to Niagara Falls, after not having been on a vacation for YEARS. I was wondering, when did tipping get so out of control? I could not believe how many different people we were supposed to tip and I never had any idea how much was appropriate.

People we tipped at the hotel included the valet parking attendants (valet parking was required and cost $20 daily, plus tip), the server at the daily breakfast buffet (she brought drinks), the bartender at the daily “manager’s reception” (where we each received a free drink daily), the maid, the bellman , the front desk staff (they actually had fishbowl tip “jars” set out so they could be tipped for checking you in and out) and the staff at the tour desk. We had no idea how much to tip for most of these, so we made wild guesses. Do you have any advice for future trips?

Thanks, Brittney


First of all, I would like to note that I do not think a tip jar on the hotel’s front desk is appropriate and any hotel that allows this should be embarrassed. The front desk employees are paid a salary and do not survive on tips, like waiters and valet attendants. This goes for the concierge and tour desk employees, as well. You never need to tip desk attendants. If someone goes above and beyond for you, particularly in the case of a concierge, then a gratuity handed directly to that individual is nice, but not strictly required. The problem with a tip jar is that you never know who is going to get that money and how it will be divided. Skip the jar and hand out tips only to the person assisting you.

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(Photo courtesty of XShot)


My first visit to Paris was an impromptu business trip. Due to meetings scheduled throughout the day, my only sightseeing time was very early in the morning. This worked out fine, owing to my extreme jet lag, but I encountered a couple of frustrations. (1) It’s really, really cold before the sun comes up in Paris in March. (2) It was my first time in Paris. I wanted a photo of myself in front of the Eiffel Tower, cheesy as that may be, but there was no one around to take it for me. I spent considerable time trying to balance my camera on ledges and benches to get a shot of myself. Sadly, this was before digital cameras, so I wasted a lot of film trying to get a decent photo.


We’ve all been in that situation as travelers. You’re alone or somewhere remote and can’t find anyone to take a photo for you. That’s why, when I saw the XShot Camera Extender I thought it was a terribly clever and useful product. It’s similar to a tripod, but quicker to set up and more compact to carry. Simply attach your digital camera to the XShot Camera Extender, set your self-timer, extend the device and get your shot. The XShot Camera Extender is lightweight and easy to control. It allows you to get that photo without having to ask others to help. Obviously, this is not the product for you if you use a larger, heavy camera. The XShot has a weight limit of 1.25 lbs., so it coordinates perfectly with, say, a Canon Powershot or Sony Cybershot.  If you’re traveling solo, this is definitely the accessory for you.

(Photo by wwarby)


On July 4th, the Statue of Liberty’s crown will reopen to the public after nearly eight years of closure. Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the crown was closed to the public due to safety concerns. The lack of access to one of the highest points of this American icon has been a sore point for tourists and New York residents for years. New York Representative Anthony Weiner took on the issue as a personal crusade and fought long and hard to restore public access to the crown. Its reopening is a victory for him and a welcome development for the thousands of tourists who will flock to see Lady Liberty this summer.


There will be restrictions on the number of people allowed to climb to the crown. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar says that in the next two years, before the statue is closed for renovation, 50,000 people will be allowed to visit the crown in groups of ten at a time. It’s not clear whether there will be some sort of reservation system or lottery to determine which visitors will have the honor of reaching the crown.


The copper-clad statue, one of the most iconic of American images, was unveiled in 1886. Visiting it is something of a rite of passage for many American school children and anyone who has climbed its many stairs will smile at the memory. My parents, brothers and I visited the Statue of Liberty in 1984 during summer vacation. I have a vivid memory of steps that seemed to go on forever, curling upward out of view. We didn’t make it to the crown that day, my brothers and I being awfully young to climb that high, but we did reach the viewing platform at the pedestal and were able to gaze out across the water at New York City. It’s an experience you don’t forget.


If you’re planning a trip this summer, check out the National Park Service’s website for visitor info.


The Travelers: Varsha and her cousin Anjali

The Trip: Four days in Madrid, Spain with a day trip to Toledo. Then, three days in Lisbon, Portugal with a day trip to Sintra.


Varsha answered some questions about her travels for What A Trip:


WAT: Why did you choose this destination?
V: My cousin came across very cheap tickets to Madrid from the Washington, DC area. Since our husbands didn’t want to go we decided to go ourselves. We got our vacations approved from our bosses and we booked the tickets ($450 per person). I then looked around online and found hotels for under $100 a night in both these cities. Suddenly we had a trip!


WAT: How did you book your trip?
V: We booked our airfare directly with US Airways on their website www.usairways.com. We booked our hotels for Madrid on hotels.com and Lisbon was booked via Marriott’s website.


WAT: What were your favorite sights during the trip?
V: Madrid was bustling with people who were out till the wee hours of the morning. Toledo was just breathtaking, Lisbon simply gorgeous. The river Tagus and the Atlantic Ocean meeting was an awesome sight and Sintra was very historic and bought back memories of an old world where things were simple and elegant and peaceful.


WAT: What were some of the most memorable moments on the trip?
V: Shopping in Madrid, visiting all the various museums and doing the day trips to smaller cities nearby.


WAT: Do you have advice for others planning travel to this part of the world?
V: Pack light. Madrid is very easily accessible via metro but the metro stations in many places have a LOT of stairs! Travel light also because there is a lot of shopping and souvenir collecting to do and you’ll have new things to bring home. Lisbon is a very hilly city and you should be prepared to walk uphill a lot. Also, don’t spend a lot on a hotel. We barely spent any time in the hotel rooms. Just make sure the hotels are center city to make the most of what these destinations have to offer. Also, go with a plan. This is the easiest and most efficient way to travel in Europe in general. Plan what you want to see in advance and mostly likely you will get there since you budgeted time for it early on. We carried cash in US Dollars and were glad we did. We got great conversion rates in Spain and Portugal and saved on ATM and other fees involved. Talk to the locals and make friends. We found an Irish pub in Plaza Mayor in Madrid and made friends with the bartenders. They gave us the scoop on what was going on in the city and what areas were fun to visit. This helped us significantly since local knowledge is unbeatable. Have a fun European adventure!


Varsha shared some photos from her trip.  You can see them below.

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