Escape Artists offers up a global discourse ranging from great finds close to home to adventures far afield. You'll find weekly travel deals here, too. Share your road wisdom, rave about great finds and rant about roadblocks that get in the way of a great trip.
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White House tours are a popular draw for visitors to Washington, D.C., not to mention a highly competetive ticket. You request tickets from your Member of Congress six months before your trip, and you keep your fingers crossed. Unfortunately, due to the budget cuts brought by sequestration -- no matter who is to blame, Secret Service or the White House -- anyone holding highly coveted tickets for a tour today won't be able to admire the porcelain in the China Room or gaze at the portrait of Benjamin Franklin in the Green Room (or have a chance of meeting Michelle Obama, who has been known to stop by to say hello). It's a shame, really. But happily for anyone interested in seeing the inside of the White House, Google at least is not showing signs of budget cuts. Anyone with a computer can see the White House rooms that are open to the public for touring via the White House Google Art Project. It's not the same as walking through those hallowed halls, but it'll have to do. As the White House website says, "Due to staffing reductions resulting from sequestration, we regret to inform you that WhiteHouse Tours will be canceled effective Saturday, March 9, 2013 until further notice."
I generally don’t take travel tips from television comedies, but when one of the gay duo on ABC’s “Modern Family” — Cam, played by Eric Stonestreet — praised Branson, Mo., I took note. The character is a former farm boy from Missouri with a penchant for musicals, so it made weird sense when he dreamily referenced Branson’s “vibrant theater scene, top-notch restaurants, on top of being the jewel of Missouri’s White River.” Southwest Airlines sees the appeal of this town, too. On March 9, it began service from Chicago to Branson Airport, which opened in 2009 (serviced at the time by Sun Country). Skeptical of Cam’s description? What’s more vibrant than seeing the Osmond Brothers, an Abba tribute group and riding a thrilling new wooden coaster?
Each year, my family and I travel on the City of New Orleans, the Amtrak train that runs between Chicago and New Orleans, my husband's hometown. We like the trip because of the uninterrupted time we spend together; the train leaves Chicago at 8 p.m. and arrives in New Orleans the following afternoon. We read. We play games. We do what we do on most vacations: take time to dream about our next. What we don't do, which is different from most nights at home, is bury our respective selves in technology. There is no Wi-Fi on most Amtrak trains. This doesn't seem to be a problem for most riders. At least it hasn't slowed down Amtrak's growth. My colleague Tim Harlow reported late last week that Amtrak ridership is up again.
I read the report with interest--and then a sudden burst of panic. As a travel editor and an Amtrak rider, I know that the cost of a ticket rises as the seats fill up. None of the crazy, erratic, seemingly nonsensical price shifts you see with airlines. Amtrak's is a straightforward supply-and-demand pricing structure: the more tickets they sell, the higher the prices rise. I threw down my newspaper and got online. Fortunately, we're not traveling during the busy summer months, and prices were still relatively low. But the cost of an Amtrak bedroom between the Twin Cities and Chicago was higher than I'd ever seen (fortunately, we don't need one).
Anyone thinking of booking an Amtrak trip should do two things: 1.) Read the insightful piece about the types of people who ride Amtrak these days. It ran in Sunday's New York Times Magazine and it'll give you a good sense of who may be sitting next to you. 2.) Book as soon as you know you want to ride the rails; your pocketbook will thank you.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Roy LaHood (and so many others) have already spoken of the disruptions that automatic budget cuts known as sequestration would bring to air travel. So have others, including President Obama. The $600 million trim to the budget of the Federal Aviation Administration would mean furloughed air traffic controllers, which would effectively slow air travel.
Barry Liben, the CEO of Plymouth-based Travel Leaders Group, the largest traditional travel agency company in the U.S., weighs in, too. A press release issued by the group contained the following statement from Liben:
"On behalf of our more than 40,000 Travel Leaders Group travel professionals and the millions of corporate and leisure clients we proudly serve, we are calling on the United States Congress and President Barack Obama to take immediate action to resolve the deadlock over the sequestration issues before the March 1 deadline.
"Travel remains an integral and vital economic engine. Businesses can’t function without it, and millions of travelers depend on it daily for their livelihoods. If our nation’s air traffic controllers, TSA airport screeners and CBP customs agents are furloughed – which in turn may require airlines to cancel or delay flights and potentially create long delays at security and customs – our travel industry will suffer.
"To avert serious and potentially long-lasting damage, not only to the traveling public, but to the American economy, we ask our leaders in Washington to act now."
The released noted that LaHood has indicated that the furloughs and facility shut-downs referenced in the statement will not occur until April. Ah, at least spring break is safe!
When I read about an Idaho man allegedly slapping a Minneapolis toddler on a plane (and using a racial slur in the process) in an ill-conceived attempt to make the child stop crying, my mind raced. I thought of the poor babe, whose ears hurt because of the descent. I thought of the mother and her shock. I thought that whoever hits a child to make the child quiet down is pretty ignorant of child psychology and, more importantly, deserves a wallop themselves — and much more (which the courts will decide in the case of the Idaho man). But, sadly, I also thought of the times I’ve grown unnerved on planes, hurtling through the sky with strangers (some rude, some loud, some simply annoying). Flying can drive us all slightly mad. I wonder what onboard pet peeves you might have — and how you deal with them (without resorting to physical violence, of course). As for me, when the person next to me raises the arm rest without consulting me first, I feel like my personal space has been invaded. How do I retaliate? I merely lean a little in the opposite direction and put in my ear buds. You? I’d love to hear.
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