Saturday, April 18, 2009

The Moose Are Loose

California has earthquakes, the south has hurricanes, the Midwest, its tornadoes, and Maine has moose. Maine Department of Transportation is putting out warnings of moose activity on the roadways. April is the beginning of the sightings with June being the peak of moose activity. This dangerous situation comes about when moose gravitate onto roads to lick up salt spread during the winter. There is often fresh, new grass along the shoulders that they also like. As I have mentioned before, a collision between moose and car is often a deadly one because moose stand so tall they come through the windshield either with their full body, or sometimes just flailing legs. We are reminded that moose will not run away from a car on the road and often are difficult to spot in time because of their dark color. Every year there are collisions numbering in the hundreds due to moose in the road. Last year the reported deaths were in the 60's.

This morning coming to work I didn't see any moose, but I did see a big tom turkey in full display out in a field all by himself. Mainers seem ambivalent about wild turkeys and I suppose it's because there are so many around and apparently they aren't worth the effort to kill and eat, but they are fun to see wandering the fields.

The first daffodils are blooming and even though there is still snow in very shaded places, grass is green (it got green the instant the snow melted). Hordes of people were out walking the 3 miles around our "back cove" yesterday when temps reached into the high 60's!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Is Recession Travel Really a Bargan?

With all the hype about travel being cheaper, easier and all-round better during this down economy, I have to mostly disagree. On a recent website entry the author lists these 10 points as justification for why recession travel is good. I list my reasons why it isn't.

1. Deals Galore: While it may be true you can get a free additional night at a hotel, you might have to book 6 or 7 nights to get it. Some airfares have been reduced, but remember that they have also reduced the number and frequency of flights and you may have layovers on flights that used to be non-stop. One person responds that what used to be a 3 hour flight turned into a 10 hour nightmare because of added stops, layovers.

2. More Free Stuff: There are package deals offering credits on airfare, but usually only on the highest priced "Waterfront suite". You can get free spa treatments..... if you book the $4,000 resort package. Not much free stuff useful for the budget traveler.

3. More Frequent Flyer Award Availability to Europe: The airlines report that they are making more awards available, but many frequent flyer program members are stymied completely when they try to use miles to book an award flight at reasonable flight times. Many are forced to make drastic compromises in their travel plans. Many are forced to pay twice as many miles, to book an unrestricted award. The airlines don't release reports about these, and won't. Remember airlines are still in the business to make money, so you are not going to see them giving you something for nothing.

4. Faster Airport Security Checkpoints: The FAA predicts 9% fewer domestic passengers passing through terminals this year. Nine percent doesn't seem like much of a decrease to me. Take into consideration the layoff of TSA checkpoint personnel, airline counter staff, and fewer flights because of the slower economy and viola!, you have the same problem of too many travelers for the terminal staff to accommodate comfortably.

5. Higher Chance of the Empty Middle Seat: False! Fewer flights mean airlines are still filling planes. Each vacant seat is lost revenue which they won't let happen if at all possible.

6. Better On-Time Performance: I may have to concede this one. With on-time performance at 80% this year as opposed to 69% last year I think the industry is just trying harder and it is unrelated to fewer flights. When you add stops and layovers to a flight, you also decrease on-time departures and arrivals. Word of warning: Newark and LaGuardia have the lowest performance record. Book through alternate airports as stops on your itinerary.

7. Faster Luggage Return: This too may be true, but not for the reasons of fewer passengers, or fewer flights. When you make a passenger pay (a great motivator) for checked baggage, they will bring less with them. Fewer checked bags equals faster luggage returns.

8. Favorable Exchange Rates: So for every $10 you would have spent in London last year, you will spend $7 this year. Did anyone check to see if hotel rates and other travel related expenses increased by 15% in the last year? If prices have not increased, this is indeed a silver lining for international travel.

9. Easier No-Reservation Dining: I almost never eat in restaurants requiring reservations so I'll leave this discussion to those that do.

10. Shorter Lines in Popular Destinations: Stands to reason with fewer travelers there would be shorter lines. Most top sights now offer reservation services which get you in without a wait, so this may not be as important a perk as it seems.

Bonus: Better Onboard Selection: Who cares? Take your own sandwich anyway if you want to save money.

For a sum-up I would suggest that yes, there are some deals to be had, but it will cost you time and energy doing the research. You will find deals, but most come at some sort of compromise. Budget travel is budget travel and will continue to require digging in and doing the research.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Spring Happens Fast Here

OK, I've been a skeptic about spring actually having arrived in Maine. We do, after all, still have some snow on the ground and snow is in the forecast for next week. In fact the mounded snow pushed from the parking lot at the University is still higher than my car!

The incontrovertible evidence of spring exposes me as a non-Mainer, but then most of my assumptions about weather here have been wrong. I have seen with my own eyes the pushing up of tulips, crocus, flowering forsythia, and flowering yellow witch hazel. When the maple sap quits running, as it has, winter has gone. It is now officially mud season. We're having lots of rain and temps rarely drop below freezing at night. A 50 degree day is surprisingly warm to us and people who have huddled inside against cold and snow are beginning to emerge as human forms instead of amorphous rotund over-stuffed down jackets and insulated show pants.

I've thrown the sand bags, snow shovel, and multiple ice scrapers out of the car, but carefully stowed them away for what experience now tells me will become very useful again all too soon.

Tomorrow I will take my final load of furnishings from the rented garret 5 miles inland to the beautiful, Victorian west end of Portland proper. It will be such a pleasure to be living in town with everything within walking distance and the waterfront so close.