Travel in 2015, the Good, the Bad & the Ugly

The Good

The cost of air travel looks like staying at about the same level in 2016. Fierce competition on major routes is the main reason, helped along by lean and mean budget airlines that cut prices – and passenger service – to the bare bone. The drop in oil prices has given the airlines further updraft.  

Immersive travel is a horrible word but the concept offers a more meaningful experience than the one-size-fits-all group tour. Via the internet, travel operators such as SideStory in London  and Italian Stories in Italy  put you into contact with local experts, artists and craftworkers. It might be galloping around London on a shoot with a fashion photographer or spending an hour in the workshop of an artisan who makes oars for Venetian gondolas. The only limit is imagination, and the insights are fascinating.

Same for food. Home is often where the gastro stars rule in the kitchen, and there are now several websites that put you in touch with locals for a home-cooked family meal. It’s cultural as well as culinary, a window on domestic life that tourists rarely get to see. Traveling Spoon  – takes you into the family dining room to experience home cooking in 16 Asian countries. Eat With  and Feastly  extend the home-diner experience in other parts of the globe while Vizeat  admits you to the kitchens of Italy & France for regional food cooked by la mamma that will have your taste buds singing an aria. 

For me 2015 will be remembered as the year WiFi got is wings. Among the international airlines that service Australia, Singapore Airlines, Etihad, Emirates, JAL, Garuda and United offer WiFi on most of their flights. Best-in-class award goes to Emirates, which offers the service free to all passengers aboard most of its A380 and Boeing 777 aircraft. Data limit is 10MB but you can sign on for another 500MB, priced at just US$1. 

After years of insisting that using personal electronic devices (PEDs) such as tablets and even e-readers at altitudes below 10,000 feet could interfere with flight systems, most major airlines now allow their uninterrupted use during the flight, so call gate-to-gate mode. There’s a caveat in that all PEDs must be in non-transmitting mode but unless told otherwise by cabin crew, assume that compliant mobile phones, tablets and e-readers may be used at all stages of your flight.

The Bad

2015 was a year of catastrophe for the Aussie dollar – or was it? While our dollar tumbled against the US item – one dollar now buys 10 US cents less than it did at the beginning of 2015 – after a roller coaster year it’s about where it was against the euro and down marginally against the British pound. Against the Thai baht and the Indonesian rupiah the Aussie is down just slightly and against the New Zealand dollar it’s actually improved. Travel to the US and anywhere else where you’re paying in that currency now costs more, but that’s no reason to stay home.

Why are car hire bookings loaded with unexpected fees? You think you’ve locked in a deal at one price yet when you get to the hire car depot there always seems to be extra charges. You’re probably too tired to argue over a few measly euros, pounds or whatever per day so you just cop it and drive out, but it’s annoying, and dishonest. 

Melting glaciers, rising seas, coral bleaching  – mother nature is in for a tough year. The coming El Nino is expected to be the most severe in over 60 years, bringing drought and high temperatures and effects that begin at the bottom of the food chain, life’s basement. From whales to frogs to sea lions in the Galapagos,  animal species will pay the price. 

The Ugly

Terrorist attacks in Tunisia this year, the downing of a Russian aircraft over Egypt, the bloody carnage in Paris – extremist forces within militant Islam have widened the battleground, with tourists and hapless bystanders in the firing line. Travel in the Middle East has entered a perilous new phase with acute dangers for air travellers. 

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