Category Archives: Point A to Point B

Alaska Ferries Eliminate Famous And Beloved Bars

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Spending four days on a choppy boat with no Internet sounds daunting, especially when it’s spent on a deck chair and not in a cabin. But Alaska’s ferries offer an odd but charming mix of local culture, scenic views, and until recently, cheap drinks.

The Alaska Department of Transportation recently announced that they will be eliminating the famous and beloved bars on the ferries operated by the Alaska Marine Highway system. According to the Department, the bars have been losing $100,000 annually, and the estimated $750,000 that will be saved by closing them will contribute to alleviating a $3.5 million deficit. Gift shops on the ferries will also be eliminated, but it has been stressed that there will be no layoffs because of the cuts. Bartenders and gift shops workers will be assigned to other duties onboard the ships.

Many worry that the budget deficit will eventually lead to reduced service as well, despite the reassurances of the Department of Transportation. Alaskan residents who live in remote towns and islands such as those of the Inside Passage and the Aleutian chain rely on the ferries for transportation.

Out of town travelers may be affected as well — they usually pack the ferries in the summer months and provide much-needed tourism dollars to Alaskan businesses. The lack of bars may prove a disincentive for travelers to use the ferry system at all.

In the end, it’s not so much the booze as the bar culture that ferry riders will miss. Ferry routes can last as long as four days, and the bars allowed people from all occupations and walks of life to mix and converse in a relaxed atmosphere on extended trips. The bars were also famous in their own right. The tiny Pitch and Roll Bar lives aboard the Tustumena, which serves a notoriously choppy route from Homer to Kodiak Island. The 1970s decor scheme, which includes red carpet on the walls, also features barf bags and convenient railings. Its charm and distinctive qualities led Esquire to name it one of the 10 best bars in the world in 2007.

Wine and beer will continue to be served during meal hours in single-serving sizes, but it won’t be quite the same. Tony Tengs, the Alaska Marine Highways’ senior bartender, sums up the ineffable quality of the onboard bars: “There are things that have value that just can’t be equated and which people will never forget. Like the folks who got married in the bar on the Taku and the many who have gathered there on their way to and from funerals.”

Although the bars will be closed, the six ferries that once possessed them (Kennicott, Matanuska, Columbia, Tustumena, Malaspina, Taku) will remain in service. On a positive note, the news of the bar closings can also serve as a reminder to travelers contemplating Alaskan trips to take advantage of what is perhaps the world’s most beautiful and unique transportation system.

Here’s Where Luggage Goes After You Check It

As you queue up in security with a carry-on and contemplate the trip ahead, your checked luggage is embarking on a journey of its own.

Thanks to Amsterdam’s Airport Schiphol, you can now witness this voyage from the comfort of your own home. The airport recently released behind-the-scenes footage that reveals exactly what happens to bags after you hand them over at check-in and hope for the best. Check out the 360-degree video here.

While practices vary by country and airport, here’s a breakdown of the process as it’s commonly implemented in the U.S.:

  • After you leave a bag at check-in, it’s scanned by a laser barcode reader that transmits the bag’s tag number to a computer, which also keeps track of the bag’s destination. The bag is then sent off along a labyrinthine system of conveyor belts.
  • Once it reaches the main luggage facility, the bag is screened by security. If security administrators have any concerns about a bag, they’ll open it to scope things out (If a bag is opened, the TSA will leave a note inside stating as much).
  • If the bag makes it through security, the computer communicates with the baggage conveyor system to direct the bag to the right airline.
  • Once the bag has reached its stop, a baggage handler removes it from the conveyor belt and loads it onto a cart along with the luggage of your fellow travelers. Baggage handlers then drive the cart to the plane and load the luggage onto the aircraft.

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When a Bag Goes Missing

While missing luggage is at the top of the list of travel nightmares, the good news is that statistically, it’s very rare: There’s only a 1 percent chance your bag won’t arrive at a destination along with you.

What unfortunate circumstances must align for the worst to happen? The explanation could lie with any of a number of factors:

  • Needing to be unloaded and transferred to a connecting flight in one hour or less.
  • High volume of luggage, which ups the chances of things going wrong.
  • Slipping off the conveyor belt or into the wrong chute (This is more likely to happen when bags are placed on the conveyor wheels-down).
  • Human error. If the check-in clerk inaccurately labels the destination code, your bag doesn’t stand a chance. Likewise, the bag may get loaded onto the wrong wagon (and therefore the wrong plane).
  • Having multiple connections. The more often a bag needs to be unloaded, redirected, and loaded onto a new plane, the higher the chances of things going awry.

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How to Decrease the Odds of a Bag Getting Lost

While you may not be able to control everything that happens to a bag after check-in, take these steps to up the chances of luggage finding its way back to you:

  • Clearly label the bag with your name, address, and destination—both inside and out. Also apply some kind of visual identifier to the outside of the bag so it’s easy to describe to agents if it goes missing. Even better? Take a picture of the bag, including its ID tag and barcode, before it rolls off down the conveyor.
  • Get to the airport on time. Proper trip planning can help ensure there’s enough time between connections for bags to make it onto the plane along with you.
  • Know the rules regarding prohibited items, TSA-approved locks, and the like—and then follow them.
  • Tie up (or tuck in) all straps. Bag straps can get stuck in conveyors, creating delays in the sorting process (Depending on the length of said delays, this could mean that a bag won’t make it onto its flight).
  • Keep the essentials on hand at all times. Don’t check anything you can’t live without. Stash prescriptions, valuables, electronics, money, and an extra change of clothes in your carry-on, just in case. Be sure to follow all regulations so you don’t spend a ton of time in security.

If nothing else, perhaps learning about the wild adventures of checked luggage will make us all a little more grateful for the human way of flying. While babies may cry and people may recline their seats into your lap, it still beats sitting in the cargo hold.  

The Best Scenic Runs for Tourists in New York City

Heading to the Big Apple? Sure, there are the must-see for any tourist, from The Empire State Building and The Statue of Liberty to the Museum of Modern Art and Central Park.

But perhaps there are some even cooler things to see not only by foot, but by stride. Whether training for a marathon (marathon season is coming up, after all) or simply looking to get some exercise in after all those slices of New York pizza, check out these running routes around the city to see the sights in a completely new way.


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Hudson River Run

This route is great for runners looking to run one mile or 10. The Hudson River Greenway is a path that runs from Battery Park in Manhattan all the way up to the Bronx, and is paired pretty perfectly with a sunset. Along the route, runners will see (depending on mileage) the USS Intreprid, the Statue of Liberty, the George Washington Bridge, and great waterfront restaurants perfect for a post-run meal. The path is on the west side of Manhattan, so the best option is get off at any ACE or 123 train stop, and then walk west until the Hudson River is in sight! After the run, check out the Highline hotel, which is also on the west side of Manhattan, for a well-deserved drink in their garden.


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Coney Island

Coney Island is part beach, part seaside resort, and part amusement park. In other words, it’s awesome. Visitors can also run the length of its boardwalk, which is just shy of six miles run. The best part? Jump in the ocean right after to cool off. To get there, hop on the D, Q, N or F train all the way to  Stillwell Avenue. Just remember to wear sneakers (and bring a bathingsuit)!

The Five Bridges Run

Forget one of those tour buses and hit three of New York’s boroughs—Manhattan, Queens, and Williamsburg— by fast foot. Note: This route is easier for those more familiar with the city, or is at least with someone who is! For a killer 17 mile run, start at the 59th street bridge in Manhattan, cross to Queens, jump on the Pulaski Bridge to connect into Brooklyn, and then run over the Williamsburg Bridge to return back to Manhattan. From there, head towards and over the Manhattan Bridge, then finish the run over the Brooklyn Bridge. Phew! Here’s a map that will be helpful, too. When starting at the 59th Bridge, take the NQR trains to the 59th/Lexington Stop. To start at the Brooklyn Bridge, take the 456 train to, what else, but the Brooklyn Bridge stop. Bonus points for grabbing a room at the NU Hotel, a chic hotel that will make any tourist feel like a New Yorker.


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Flushing Meadows-Corona Park

Forget Central Park and check out this city greenspace in Queens. Flushing Meadows-Corona Park offers a great 2.5 mile loop so anyone can see the best things Queens has to offer: the Unisphere, the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, The Queens Museum, and Citi Field (go Mets!). People can access the park by car (parking is pretty easy) or take the 7 train to Willets Point/Mets Stadium. Consider staying at Red Roof in Queens to cut down on travel time.

Astoria Park

This park is well known for having the largest pool in the city, but it also comes with much more: tennis courts, basketball courts, playgrounds, and many trails for runners. There’s also a gorgeous shoreline along the East River for a great running route that comes with a nice breeze. The best option is to take the Q train to Astoria Park, then walk (or run!) less than a mile to the park’s entrance.


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Van Cortlandt Park

For a taste of New York that’s feel anything like a city, head on the 1 train to 242nd street and explore the trails at Van Cortlandt. It’s a bit of a hike, but is totally worth it for the committed runner. The famous route is the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail, which can be up to seven miles long. Fun fact: Van Cortlandt is the third largest park in New York City, behind Pelham Bay Park and Staten Island Greenbelt, and is also home to the oldest building in the bronx: Van Cortlandt House Museum.



The Best Airlines For In-Flight Entertainment

Long flights can be a drag, but there’s nothing better to make the time fly and take your mind off cramped economy quarters than a good inflight entertainment system. These airlines have taken pains to make sure that your journey is about more than getting you from Point A to Point B, and have stocked their systems with so many distractions that you’ll forget you’re in the air.

1. Virgin

Virgin Atlantic flights come equipped with seatback monitors chock full of recent releases, popular TV shows (including current Netflix and HBO faves), kids’ content, games, music, and even audiobooks. With a special platform dubbed Vera, you won’t be bored and can play whatever your heart desires even before and after take off. Meanwhile, sister airline Virgin America sports a similar seat-back system called Red, equipped with a very special extra feature: seat-to-seat chat, which allows you to make new friends or even anonymously send a glass of champagne to the cutie in 16C.

2. IcelandAir

IcelandAir takes its contribution to the island nation’s growing tourism industry seriously. A great selection of Iceland-centric content introduces visitors to the country’s unique culture through a seatback personal entertainment system. Learn about volcanic eruptions and culinary legacies through short episodic content, listen to music by various local artists (turns out there are many besides Björk), or watch movies directed by Icelanders or shot in the country’s rugged landscapes alongside Hollywood blockbusters and American television shows.

3. JetBlue

You’ll never have to curse your ill-timed flight again for causing you to miss a game—JetBlue streams DirecTV to every seat for free, allowing for appointment viewing and live channel surfing. With 36 channels on most planes and over 100 channels on A321s, it’s as good as a session on your couch. Actually, it’s even better, since you don’t even have to stand up to get your hands on some free chips and soft drinks. Add in free SiriusXM, $5 on-demand movies, and free Wi-Fi that supports on- and off-line access to media from such sources as Vice and the Wall Street Journal on your devices, and you’ve got yourself a winner.

4. Qantas

Consistently voted among the top ten airlines for inflight entertainment, Qantas makes the cut for the sheer scale of its offerings. International flights have between 300-1500 entertainment options for passengers to choose from depending on plane type. Movies, shows, music, games, radio, and a dedicated Kids Zone keep folks occupied, and a quick download of the PressReader app on your devices before you board gives you a twelve hour window of complimentary access to thousands of newspapers and magazines.

5. Qatar Airways

Qatar’s Oryx One system offers a whopping 2000 ways to distract yourself and boasts featured collections including the “Al Pacino Collection” and the complete set of films from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Content comes in a range of languages and also includes plenty that will introduce visitors to Qatari and Middle Eastern culture. Listen to a live concert recording of a Yemeni singer, then switch to a movie for a dose of Hulk smash… talk about eclectic.

6. Emirates

Emirates can boast that it’s won Best Inflight Entertainment from the Skytrax World Airline Awards for eleven years running, and basically combines everything that the aforementioned airlines offer into one crazy comprehensive package. The airline’s Ice system boasts digital widescreens in every seatback plus game controllers with their own miniature screens, 2000 channels organized by genre from which passengers can create custom playlists, email and texting capabilities, seat-to-seat chatting, and a feature that lets you see the view from cameras mounted on the plane’s exterior. Certain flights also offer live satellite TV. What more could any 21st century traveler possibly ask for?


HipHunt: Burlington, VT

Your day in Burlington begins at Penny Cluse, a kitschy cafe located on Cherry Street. Pick a seat by the window to watch the city wake up as you dive into a bottomless cup of the cafe’s strong coffee. Check out the daily specials, but know that what you want is something slathered in the cafe’s famous herb gravy. We suggest sticking with the cafe’s namesake dish, the Penny Cluse, a dish with eggs, home fries, biscuits and, of course, a bowl of gravy. Snap a pic of your fuel and tag #hipmunk on Instagram!

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When you finish, head out and take a left on Cherry. Walk a block until you hit Church Street. Turn left or right, it doesn’t matter. You’ll want to explore every nook and cranny of Burlington’s famous walking street, which includes farm-to-table restaurants, candle shops, jewelry stores, and art galleries. Enjoy one of the many buskers you’re bound to run into, so find your favorite and film a video for us. Don’t forget to tag @thehipmunk on Instagram!

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Wander down Church Street until you reach Burlington City Arts at the corner of Church and Main. BCA offers a plethora of great arts exhibitions and concerts that feature everything from historic photography of Vermont to abstract painting. Duck inside to see which artists are being featured that month. Take a photo of yourself by the piece of art you’re most drawn to, and tell us why you love it in a tweet @thehipmunk.

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After taking in the exhibits at BCA, turn right onto Main Street and walk until you reach the waterfront. Choose a bench along the boardwalk and take in Lake Champlain. Be on the look out for Champ, the monster who, according to local myth, dwells at the bottom of the lake. (Better make sure your phone is ready, because if you spot the mythical beast, we need to see it @thehipmunk!) Spend a few peaceful moments this way and then head to the ECHO Lake Aquarium, where you can learn about the flora and fauna of the lake. If you’re hungry, head to the Skinny Pancake at the corner of College and Main Street. You’re safe ordering any of the delectable crepes available there, but we suggest the Sass-Squash, which is a wholly Vermont-y dish made with local squash, apples, and Vermont cheddar.

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After crepes, head up College Street, away from the waterfront until you reach Vermont Pub and Brewery, Vermont’s oldest brewery. The guy who owns this place, Greg Noonan, really knows his stuff, so take his lead on beer suggestions. Grab a seat at the bar and try one of their experimental brews, which could be as fanciful as a Strawberry Rhubarb Ale or as traditional as an Irish Red. Gab with some local Vermonters and tweet us the name of your favorite beer.

Groggy on your happy hour pint, make your way to City Hall Park, just down the street from the brewery. Sit for a moment and take in the quaint hustle of the city. Watch as the sun begins to sink below the mountains and the lake. Come in the Fall when the foliage makes the mountains glow with reds, oranges, and golds.

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When it’s time to eat, head to American Flatbread, which borders the park at Paul St. American Flatbread is a favorite amongst Burlingtoners, who gather around the large brick hearth in the center of the restaurant to feast on delicious flatbreads and salads. You really can’t go wrong here, but we suggest trying out the Punctuated Equilibrium flatbread, which is loaded with kalamata olives, sweet red peppers, Vermont goat cheese, and fresh rosemary. Many of the ingredients are locally sourced, so ask your waiter where the veggies on your dish came from. When you find out, tweet us!

As the day reaches its close, check out Merrill’s Roxy, an independently owned movie theater on College St. that plays popular and indie films. Or, take in a concert at Higher Ground, a great place to catch local and national talent. Or, if you’re beat from the day, take a meandering walk back to your hotel. Remember that the users with the best tweets and posts get a chance to win a #hipmunk tee!


HipHunt: Mumbai

With an empty belly (you’ll be eating a lot, today!) begin your day in Mumbai at the Gateway of India. Built in 1924, the colossal structure overlooks Mumbai Harbor and was built to welcome trade vessels to India’s main port city. Book a short passage on a boat that circles the harbor (about 70 rupees, or $1), or take in the view from a bench and watch the tourists stroll by. Have someone snap a photo of you by the gate and make sure to tag #hipmunk on Instagram (we want to see your adventures!).

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Once you’ve had your fill of the water, walk down PJ Ramchandani Marg until you hit the Taj Mahal Palace. Not to be confused with the other Taj Mahal, the Taj Mahal Palace is one of Mumbai’s most famous architectural locations. Peek inside for a look at the gilded architecture, or, if you’re feeling ambitious, reserve a table for High Tea and nosh on an elaborate display of local delicacies. Instagram your favorite dish, tag us, and tell us all about it! After your snack, make sure to tour the historic halls.

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Resurface on PJ Ramchandani Marg and hail a cab, then head to the Leopold Cafe on Colaba Causeway. Taxis move quickly through the narrow streets of Mumbai, so keep the window rolled down and feel the breeze as it jets in. Take in the smells of street chai and roasting sugar, and the whirling reds and pinks of the buildings. Snap a photo of the view from your window and see how many sites you can tag from memory and remember to #hipmunk on Instagram!

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Once at Leopold, grab a seat (the most prized spots are right under one of their ceiling fans). The cafe is a famous meeting ground for artists and writers, such as Gregory David Roberts of Shantaram fame. Order a coffee and a masala savoury tomato omelette and enjoy the prime people-watching on the busy Causeway. Step outside to explore the streets of Colaba, then duck into one of the silver shops and barter over a necklace or ring that catches your eye. Take a photo with the shop owner while wearing your newfound piece of jewelry and share it with us!

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After Colaba, head toward the roundabout at the end of Colaba Causeway. Walk along its outer edge until you hit Mahatma Gandhi Road, then continue for a few minutes until you hit VB Gandhi Marg. Turn right, and you’ll be standing in the middle of the Kala Ghoda Arts District. Explore some of the small sides streets to the left and right, including the plentiful local art galleries. Snap a pic of your favorite piece of art, tag us, and tell us what it means to you. Make a quick pitstop at the Kala Ghoda Cafe for a selection of delicious sandwiches and salads. Or, if you’re in the mood for traditional Indian fare, check out Paratha Mantra along B Bharucha Road.

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Head out on B Bharucha Road until you hit Nagindas Master Road. Turn left, and at the next corner, turn right on Dalal Street. Follow it until you reach Horniman Circle Garden, a large expanse of green lodged into the pit of a quiet shopping center. Take a seat in the garden to catch your breath, then pop into the Central Library and the St. Thomas Cathedral Church. Or simply enjoy the lush flowers and the warmth of a Mumbai afternoon.

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As the afternoon sinks into evening, grab a cab to Delhi Darbar, one of Mumbai’s most famous restaurant chains. Order one of the delectable lamb curries (around 275 rupees) and enjoy a post-dinner chai. After dinner, walk to the Regal Cinema at the end of the road. After all, a trip to Mumbai would be nothing without taking in a Bollywood film! The cinema doesn’t offer subtitles for movies not in English, but the dancing and lively music will more than make up for it. Tweet @thehipmunk the name of the movie you decide to see and a quick review!

After the movie, grab a drink at the Woodside Inn, or if you’re too exhausted, take a taxi back to your hotel and rest up for the next day’s exciting adventure! And remember to share your photos and observations with us here at Hipmunk. Your funniest posts might just win you a Hipmunk tee!


5 Cities With Hidden Scavenger Hunts

Calling all private eyes, detectives, and treasure hunters! We’ve brought together the most exciting (and challenging) scavenger hunts and mystery adventures in five cities across America. Think you’ve mastered deductive reasoning? Got the eyes of a hawk? Round up the usual suspects – family or friends – and put those skills to the test.


Combine exploring city neighborhoods and an Amazing Race-style scavenger hunt with Urban Adventure in San Diego. If you thrive on competition, team play is option here as you meander through the city following the clues. What better way to settle family rivalries or bond with new colleagues? When you’ve finished the tour, check in to The Dana, a retro-style hotel on Mission Bay, minutes away from the beach and the San Diego Zoo, where you can make friends with Gao Gao, Bai Yun, and Xiao Liwu, the three adorable giant pandas who live there.


There are eight million stories in the naked city…and once you’ve arrived, you’ll be spoiled for choice. Problem-solvers enjoy Escape the Room, a brainy puzzle in which participants are held captive in a room until someone cracks the code to escape. It’s the stuff of nightmares for some, and an irresistible challenge for others. Alternatively, create your own adventure wandering the corridors of the lower Manhattan sensation, Sleep No More, an ‘immersive theatre’ mashup of Macbeth and film noir. Imagine a scavenger hunt led by a bloodthirsty Scottish power couple as conceived by Alfred Hitchcock. You can’t actually stay at the abandoned McKittrick Hotel, the gloriously detailed,100-plus room set of the show, but you can book yourself a room at Viceroy, a snazzy new hotel in Midtown that channels Art Deco and the old New York in its intricate design and luxe amenities.


The nation’s definitive Easter Egg hunt takes in the capital, kicked off by the President and First Lady themselves. Planned specifically for young children with accompanying adults, classic activities like dyeing and decorating eggs are supplemented by storytelling, cooking demonstrations, sports, and games. Check out the highlights of 2015 and plan next year’s visit now! Or, decipher cryptic messages and solve a fictional murder mystery set in D.C.’s expansive National Gallery. Sleuths and fans of the Da Vinci Code will be well prepared for the Leonardo-themed, two-and-a-half hour tour.  Meanwhile, the charmingly historical Henley Hotel is situated close to Gallery Place and offers a delightful afternoon tea service, a great way to celebrate the case closed.


Some treasure is buried deep in the earth… and some falls straight from the sky. The deserts and dry lakebeds of Glorietta Mountain in New Mexico are excellent spots to search for fallen stars (aka meteorites). Bring a metal detector and a rock hammer, or team up with the pros at Meteorite Adventures and begin your expedition with them. When not engaged in active fieldwork, enjoy central Santa Fe at the Hotel Chimayo, a downtown hotel that displays local artwork in partnership with Chimayo Cultural Preservation Association.


Trivia night at the local pub will seem elementary, my dear doctor, compared with the mental and physical challenges posed by City Solve in Seattle. Charge up the brain cells at the original Starbucks located in Pike Place Market and prepare to solve riddles, identify pop-culture references, and outsmart (or outrun) the competition: after all, there’s a $300 cash prize for first place. With the mission complete, enjoy an evening gazing out at the waterfront over a glass of local Washington wine at the The Edgewater, the best hotel in Seattle for panoramic views of Elliot Bay and the Olympic Mountains in the distance.


Why Flying Is Cheaper and Greener Than Ever

In the 1960s, the air travel might have seemed a little more luxurious, but it was a pretty crummy experience in a lot of ways. Longer travel times and fewer direct flights meant aerial travel could be protracted, expensive, and really bad for the environment.

But as decades passed, we’ve seen a combination of rising oil prices, improved fuel efficiency (and technology), an increasingly crowded marketplace, and an apparent willingness to sacrifice roominess for cheaper air travel. Somewhere along the way, flying has become one of the more environmentally friendly ways to travel.

In fact, jet aircrafts today are around 70 percent more fuel-efficient than their 1960s counterparts, to the point that flying might even be greener than driving. An April 2015  eport published in the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute found driving today is more “energy intensive” than flying if you consider the amount of energy needed to transport one person a given distance. The fact that today’s bustling airliners can fly dozens or even hundreds of people at a time simply outweighs the carbon footprint of trundling across the country in an automobile.

There are a lot of variables to consider, of course: People usually drive shorter distances than they fly, and the shorter the distance you fly, the more energy the plane uses per person per mile. But the study’s conclusion is still sound, and it’s not the only one to reach it.

Probably the biggest and the best known investigation is a 2013 study published in Environmental Science & Technology, which took a broader view of a vehicle’s “greenness” by looking at not just the amount of energy used but also at a range of pollutants like sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, and water vapor. It also measured a slew of related factors, like how long the gases remain in the atmosphere and how culpable each gas is in the onward march of climate change.

This verdict was pretty similar. After five years of research performed by 45 teams around the world, it was found that the greenest forms of travel for individuals are rail and bus, and that in the long term (think a 20-year time frame), cars contributed more to global warming than planes on a kilometer-per-passenger basis – even for trips as short as New York to Boston.

The airlines seem to be doing their part to cut down on flying’s environmental footprint. Want to do something yourself to make air travel a little greener? Check out our quick tips:

  • Planes burn through a disproportionate amount of fuel during takeoff and landing. If you can swing it, it’s a lot greener to fly non-stop.
  • Hate running through all those little plastic water bottles? Bring your own to fill up — once you’re past the TSA, of course!
  • Pack light to reduce the weight of the plane. (And avoid any potential additional baggage fees!)
  • Try to find a greener airline. Some airlines, like Southwest, have been retrofitting their planes to improve their fuel efficiency, while others are designing newer, greener planes that are in use now. A recent study by the International Council on Clean Transportation might have done the ranking for you; check out their list here.
  • Finally, remember to turn off and unplug all electronics before you leave for the airport!

Travel is no longer for the rich, it’s no longer for the childless (or petless!), and it’s certainly not for people who don’t care about the environment. Fortunately, the drive to be greener and more fuel-efficient is finally in the interests of both the consumer and the airlines themselves. Time to get flying!

Mile-High Cocktails: The History of Drinking on Planes (and How to Get the Best Deals)

After the plane reaches cruising altitude and the seatbelt sign switches off, many of us sigh with relief upon seeing the beverage cart move through the aisle. The lucky business class connoisseurs usually get unlimited, free alcohol, while those in economy can swipe a credit card to get their vodka tonic.

Of course, it might not be the first drink of the day — perhaps the only time people don’t feel ashamed to be found sitting at a bar before breakfast is at an airport.

But to back up: Why are cocktails (and beer, and wine) a thing on flights?

We can thank the 1950’s and 60’s for setting the trend: Alcohol used to be free flowing on planes largely because air travel was such a luxury event. It could’ve cost you a month’s salary to take a cross-country flight from New York to San Francisco, whereas now they’re way more affordable. People dressed up in their finest attire to board the plane and dine on fresh fish and caviar, ordering scotch after scotch.

The “but why so much booze?” is a little less clear, though without in-flight movies and WiFi, there’s a good chance a fancy cocktail, aside from its association with class, simply kept people entertained. And when speaking about the “Golden Age” of flying, liquor and fancy cocktails took a front seat. Today, that’s still the norm: Liquor is the most popular drink of choice (34%) followed by wine (13%) and beer (10%).

Flying has since turned from an industry that screamed “luxury” to one that says “commercial.” Passengers are found in their pajamas instead of their best suit, and the in-flight food is not a four-course meal.

Booze is still a must-have for many travelers. There are a great number of airlines that offer free beer, wine, and liquor — especially international airlines like Air Canada, Cathay Pacific, and Air France (which also touts the fact that it provides prestigious champagne in all cabins — cheers!). Even when traveling overseas, however, complementary drinks still depend on if the flights is domestic or international.

But when flying in the U.S, there’s at least one airline people can count on. American Airlines just announced economy passengers will receive a three-course meal (how does cheese and crackers, Tuscan ravioli, and chocolate mousse sound?) with complimentary beer or wine. This holds true for passengers on transatlantic and transpacific flights, as well as ones from the U.S. to Argentina, Brazil, and Chile.

Many still pay the price and order alcohol through the flight attendant (they average at around $7). In fact, it’s a leading revenue source for airlines. Another option is to BYOB. The TSA allows people to bring alcohol on in a carry-on; as long as it is in a 3 oz. bottle, in a quart-sized clear zip-lock, it will breeze through security. Plus, there are recipes for DIY drinks people can make, even 36,000 feet in the air.

So sit back, relax, and keep the sky-high tradition alive: Have a good flight with drink in hand.

Getting from Chiang Mai to Beijing

Traveling from Chiang Mai to Beijing via any method other than direct flight can prove to be a bit of a hassle and a challenge. But if you have the time and the patience to map out the trip, it can also save you some money and give you a chance to see a few other places along the way. I opted to go the long way, bus-ing from CM to Bangkok, flying into Shenzhen, China, then taking an overnight train home to Beijing.

Chaoyang Park, Beijing

Destination: Beijing (Photo/Casey Hynes)

The trip was not without its frustrations, but ended up being enjoyable overall. If you take a similar route, however, I’d recommend flying into Hong Kong and taking the train from there to Beijing, rather than from Shenzhen. This especially applies if you’re not pressed for time and can afford to spend a couple of days in another city. I was on a bit of a time crunch but ended up having to spend an extra day in Shenzhen anyway, and I definitely would  have preferred to have seen Hong Kong. (If you do end up in Shenzhen, though, it’s not the end of the world. The city is cleaner than Beijing and not difficult to get around.)

If this is your first time traveling into China, be prepared for hassles. Things rarely go right the first time, and if you go into it with that mindset, you’ll be more relaxed and appreciate the misadventures of China for the good stories they are rather than trip-ruining headaches.

Here’s the route I took from Chiang Mai to Beijing, including transportation, travel costs, and hostels.

Bus from Chiang Mai to Bangkok (arranged by guesthouse): 450 baht (~$15)

You can also take a train to Bangkok. I looked online and I believe it was more expensive, but it might be worth it in terms of comfort. The bus ride to Bangkok was comically awful, in my experience — no AC, crowded, loud, overhead lights didn’t work, crazy uncomfortable. It’s cheap, for sure, and I would consider doing it again if I find myself back in Chiang Mai and on a budget, but if it’s comfort you’re worried about, the train or a flight might be a better option.

Single room in a hostel in Bangkok: 450 baht (~$15)

The bus dropped us off in the Khao San Rd. area, so I wandered around until I found a hostel with an available room. None of them seemed keen to give a half-day rate (I got in to the city around 6 a.m. and only wanted a room for a few hours, until I left for the airport), and at that time of morning, most dorms seemed full so I had to pay more than I had originally budgeted. However, after the hellish overnight bus ride, the single room was a nice break from being hot and crowded around other people.

Mini-bus from Khao San Road area of Bangkok to the airport: 120 baht (~$4)

I booked this at a little travel and Internet shop called Terranet. You may be able to get a better price by haggling with taxi drivers, but I was too tired to argue and remembered that I got a way better rate using a minibus when traveling in Bangkok before (between the two bus stations on the way to Chiang Mai) so I took a chance on them. It worked out fine.

Flight from BKK to Shenzhen, China (booked through AirAsia): $142

The AirAsia website can be a pain to use sometimes, so I went directly to one of their offices, which is across the street from Lanna Guest House in Chiang Mai, just before you turn the corner to walk toward El Diablo, the Mexican place. That was a totally painless process, but even if there are any promotional prices offered for the flight when you look online, they won’t apply that price if you book in person. Make sure to tell them no meal, no checked luggage, no insurance to avoid sneaky extra charges (unless, obviously, you want those things).

Taxi from Shenzhen airport to Small Inn Fuhua, in the central business district of Shenzhen: 150RMB ($24)

Two nights at Small Inn Fuhua, Shenzhen (found/booked on 270RMB (~$43)

I totally recommend this place. The staff doesn’t speak much English but they are pleasant and checking in and out was a cheerful, easy process. The rooms are small but they’re cute and the bathrooms are clean with good showers — hot, good water pressure. They also include tea, a water boiler, and some other little items…like bottled water. And condoms featuring black men and Russian women on the package. And lube. (I’m totally serious.) That aside, it really is a charming place and it’s near a metro station. The cab ride to the rail station costs about 20-25RMB. The only downside to the hotel is that there is no wi-fi, though there are internet cables in each room and a community computer in the lobby. I just went to a Starbucks in Shenzhen’s Central Business District and used the wifi there all day, which worked out fine.

Overnight train from Shenzhen to Beijing, hard sleeper bed (booked in person at the Shenzhen Luo Hu Railway Station): 437RMB (~$70)

It is way easier to go to the train station and book the ticket yourself than to try to get some online company to do it. The further in advance you go, the better (11 days ahead is the max.) so you can get a soft sleeper, but I went the day before I wanted to leave and still got a ticket with no trouble. The actual purchasing process is fast but the lines are long. Bring your Kindle.

Total cost of travel: About $313

On top of that, there was obviously the cost of food and toiletries, which was maybe another $100 but probably less than that, and would vary person to person.

Casey Hynes

Casey Hynes is a writer, editor and photographer living in Beijing, China. A 2008 graduate of Columbia Journalism School in New York City, she has been published in Roll Call, The Wall Street Journal, Travel Wire Asia and numerous publications in China. You can see samples of her work and photography at

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