The Price of Flying in Style

More times than not, when people travel they focus purely on the destination, not necessarily on how they will get there.  People often think flying is simply a means to an end, the transportation necessary to get where they’re going.

In the rapidly advancing and technologically savvy 21st century, flying has become so much more than just “how to get there.”  These days, people are looking for something luxurious, something enjoyable, most importantly, something that WOW’s them – particularly for those longer international flights.  Many people are looking for an experience, and they’re willing to pay a hefty price for it.

Here are just a few of the many lavish perks available when flying the skies with today’s top airline carriers:

Etihad Airways
Proudly hailing as the national airline of the United Arab Emirates, this top airline is all about luxury, style and design.  With a personal Diamond First Class Suite, lucky passengers are able to rest and relax in their own 6’8” extra-wide bed.  With the assistance of a personal Food and Beverage Manager, passengers are assured exceptional five-star dining and ambiance onboard, paired with the perfect boutique wine.

A personal mini-bar, a 23-inch widescreen TV, noise-canceling headsets, inbuilt massage and sliding doors for complete privacy are just a few of the many posh extras offered in first class.  The most mind-blowing part?

The suite is upholstered in Poltrona Frau leather, best known for outfitting the interior of world-class Maserati performance sports cars.

Recently established in 2003, Etihad was awarded the World’s Leading Airline in 2009 and 2010 by the World Travel Awards.

The price tag for all of this?  A one-way trip from LA to Abu Dhabi will cost you a whopping $12,685.  I recommend paying the extra $3,464 to make it a roundtrip ticket.  Besides, this just may be the highlight of your trip.  With a 62-plane fleet and 70 destinations worldwide, Etihad first class passengers don’t fly because they have somewhere to be.  The flight is the destination; the experience is what it’s all about.

Virgin Atlantic Airways
British airline Virgin Atlantic Airways’ most recent slogan, “Mine’s Bigger Than Yours,” is written on the back of the Airbus A340-600s because they are the longest passenger aircraft in the world in use today.  That is until the Boeing 747-8 makes its debut next year.

An Upper Class Suite Cabin on Virgin Atlantic will cost you $8,580 to fly from LA to London, $12,566 roundtrip.  So, what will you get for it?  Not only do upper class passengers get to sleep, they get to stretch.  With the touch of a button, upper class seats flip over to change into a bed, and every seat has aisle access.  Suites are fitted with laptop power access and a large table to work on.  A 10.4” TV screen comes fully stocked with films, TV programs and interactive games.  The leather ottoman allows passengers to rest their feet, and it also doubles as a seat for a guest.

For upper class, a designated “Snooze Zone” is reserved specially for those passengers who want to sleep through the entire flight.  Here, lights are dimmed low and service is designed to be as quiet as possible, until the flight attendants kindly wake you an hour before landing.  

When flying first class on Dubai’s Emirates A380, passengers are encouraged to experience one of two onboard shower spas.  The brand’s signature Timeless Spa products are ready and waiting, and passengers even have a choice of two shower kits – the Timeless Spa Revive kit and the Timeless Spa Relax kit.

From Los Angeles to Sydney, a one-way first class ticket will cost you $17,374, a staggering $30,553 roundtrip.

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Halloween ‘Round the World

Halloween is the day before All Hallows Day (All Saints Day), a Catholic holiday to commemorate Christian saints and martyrs.  The spooky holiday traces even further back to pagan times in Ireland and Scotland, where it is believed to have marked the end of the harvest and, therefore, summer.

This month, Arcadians will celebrate Halloween with the traditional activities of costume parties, jack-o’-lantern carving and the all-time favorite, trick-or-treating.  But have you ever wondered how people today celebrate Halloween in other countries around the world?

South Korea
Korea’s version of Halloween is called Chuseok and is celebrated in August.  Families pay respect to their ancestors by visiting their graves and offering fruits, rice and other foods.

Back in 2009, while I was teaching kindergarten in South Korea, I brought the traditions of Halloween to the small town of Janghyun-ri for the first time, a mere 30 miles from the North Korean border.

These townspeople had never before seen children dressed up in costumes parading through the streets shouting for candy.  Shop owners came out to see what all the bustle was about, and customers peeked their heads out of windows and doors; pedestrians stopped crossing the road, drivers slowed down and fruit trucks came to a halt.  Halloween had arrived to this small Korean town and I’m told it continues there today, two years later.

Years ago, children carved large beets to make “punkies,” which they carried through the streets while knocking on doors for money.  Families placed turnip lanterns on gateposts to protect their homes from evil spirits roaming around on Halloween night.  People also used to make Soul Cakes (small, round fruit cakes) to give out to those who went from door to door singing and saying prayers for the dead.  It was believed that every cake eaten represented a soul being freed from Purgatory.  Today, the western tradition of trick-or-treating becomes more and more popular every year.  The English dress up in costumes, host Halloween parties and carve Pumpkins.

Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is celebrated on November 2nd, a national holiday when all ghosts arrive.  People shoot off firecrackers to help the ghosts of their loved ones find their way back home.  At home, people erect altars in memory of their departed loved ones, where they arrange photos, memories and the deceased’s favorite food and drinks.  Families also enjoy all-day picnics at the graves of their dead relatives.

Not far from Vienna, the Austrian towns of Retz and Pulkau hold an annual pumpkin festival (Kürbisfest) and Halloween parade (Halloween-Umzug).  Since the area is known for its annual pumpkin harvest, pumpkins naturally become the centerpiece of ein Fest fur die ganze Familie, a festival for the entire family.

Additionally, some people leave bread, water and a lamp out when they go to bed, to welcome all dead souls back for the night.

Czech Republic
Czech Halloween is celebrated on November 2nd and is called “Commemoration of All the Departed.”  People decorate the graves of loved ones with flowers and candles.  At home, families place chairs around the fireplace for every living family member, as well as for every relative who has passed away.


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Crown King, AZ

If you’re looking for a rustic adventure that takes you off the map and back in time, visit historic Crown King, Arizona.  Approximately two hours from Phoenix and 6,000 feet above the desert floor, Crown King is nestled comfortably atop the Bradshaw Mountains.

Dating back to 1870 when the Bradshaw gold and silver rush first began, Crown King was so named five years later, after the discovery of the Crowned King Mine.  With the establishment of a post office in 1888, the first saloon built in 1889 and the arrival of the railroad and General Store in 1904, this small mining town has been booming over the last 100 years.

Occasional snowfall in the winter and summer temperatures 20-25 degrees cooler than Phoenix attracts Arizona outdoorsmen year-round.  Popular activities include hikin’, huntin’, fishin’, boozin’, front porch sittin’ and goooold pannin’.  Local wildlife includes deer, bears, javelina, bobcats, mountain lions and other varmint.  Don’t confuse the coyotes’ howlin’ or the raccoons’ rustlin’ with the hootin’ an’ hollerin’ heard from late-night karaoke sessions down at the saloon.

The living ghost town’s “No paved roads to Crown King” motto has led it to become a wildly sought-after haven for off-road recreation.

Dirt bikers, four-wheelers and motorcyclists alike all flock to the Saloon and General Store on weekends– often their lunch destination after a day’s work of rompin’ around.

The winding dirt road that was once the old rail bed, as well as the visually stimulating hiking trails through the pine-laden Prescott National Forest, all lend breathtaking mountain views during the day and exceptionally starry skies at night.

If it’s history that intrigues you, wet yer whistle at the oldest continuously operating bar in Arizona or rediscover the 1893 Gladiator Stamp Mill housed in a building constructed almost entirely from parts of a school, a church and old mines.

The Mill Restaurant’s newest addition of the Engine Room brings with it the opportunity to enjoy perfectly cooked, bacon-wrapped filet mignon complemented by stunning sunsets and live music.  Wake up with breakfast burritos at the Crown King Café, grab some gifts at the Crown King Curio and bring home some of the General Store’s decadent fudge.

This quaint western town’s charm and local color really come to life in annual events such as the Crown King Prom and the World’s Shortest Memorial Day Parade.  Don’t miss the upcoming Fire Department Dinner, Dance and Auction on September 17, the 6th annual Apple Festival on October 1, or the 27th Annual Fall Chili Cook-off on October 8.

With a mere 80-100 full time residents, overnight accommodations are available at various establishments.  Check out for more information.

To visit Crown King, head north on the I-17 freeway and take either the Bumble Bee (248) or Bloody Basin exit (259).  Follow the (few) posted signs all the way to the top and be sure to take photos along the way!

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Passport Problems?

These days, you can’t even travel to Mexico without a passport.  (Though, there are plenty of obvious reasons why you may want to travel somewhere else at the moment.)

Having your passport on-hand is like having a fancy dress in the back of your closet, or a pair of jumper cables in the back of your car.  You never know when you’re going to need it, and it’s too late if you’re unprepared when the opportunity arises.

Don’t let the lack of a passport keep you from going on that last-minute cruise at an unbelievable price, or that overseas family vacation to France your friend just invited you along on this summer.

I’ve experienced my share of problems with passports and visas.  When I first received my passport, my sex was incorrectly listed as “M” for male.  (Ouch!)  When I received my student visa for Spain, my allowable number of entries was erroneously listed as “1” instead of “multiple.”  (That would have made travel throughout Europe impossible for that entire school semester!)  The allowable travel dates for my Vietnamese tourist visa were off by an entire month.  (A $180 mistake that wasn’t my fault!)

Here are some basic facts you need to know concerning the passport process, and don’t forget to check every detail as soon as you receive yours.

First time applying for a passport?
You must apply for your first U.S. passport in person.  Adult passport books cost $110 plus a $25 execution fee.  Minor passport books (under age 16) cost $80 plus a $25 execution fee.  The current processing time is approximately four-six weeks from the time of application.  (However, I know people whose passports arrived later than six weeks.)  Applicants will be required to fill out a DS-11 form and then submit it in person at an Acceptance Facility or Passport Agency.  You may complete and print this form online, or complete it by hand.  Form DS-11 can be found here.  Forms can also be found at the Acceptance Facility.  Do not sign this application until instructed to do so by the Acceptance Agent when you meet in person.  Applicants must also submit evidence of U.S. citizenship, present identification, submit a photocopy of the identification document presented and provide one passport photo.

Phoenix Arcadia Station at 3920 E. Thomas Road accepts passport applications by appointment only from 10 AM-1:30 PM Tuesday-Saturday.  Their phone number is (602)957-2693.  Other nearby passport acceptance facilities can be found here.

If you submit an application in person at a Passport Agency or Center, the expedited fee of $60 will be required for each application.  You should make an appointment to be seen at a Regional Passport Agency only if you need your passport in less than two weeks for international travel (or within four weeks to obtain a foreign visa).  More information on locating and contacting a Regional Passport Agency can be found here.

Need your passport in a hurry?
The extra fee for expediting a passport is $60.  The current processing time for expedited service is about two-three weeks door-to-door, when overnight delivery is requested and paid for both to and from the passport agency.  Learn more here.

Renewing your passport?
Adult passport books cost $110 to renew.  Learn how to renew your passport by mail here.

Additional information:
All minors 17 and under must apply in person.  All minors regardless of age, including newborns and infants, must have their own passport when traveling internationally by air.

To renew your passport by mail, correct or change passport information, or to report and replace a lost or stolen passport, go here.

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One Deal of a Vacation!

Looking for something outstanding and fun to do this year, but have a budget to work with?  No problem!  With a little bit of future planning and Web surfing, there are definite deals to be found that could save you hundreds and take you somewhere exotic.

Go on a cruise
Carnival Cruise line offers a four-day Baja Mexico cruise for as little as $229 a person ($58 a night).  Ports of call include Catalina Island and Ensenada, Mexico.  Most ships include resort-style swimming pools, nine-hole mini golf, a dance club, bars and lounges, a video arcade, a spa, a casino and impeccable dining options.  Shore excursions such as scuba diving, snorkeling and dolphin watching via jet raft are also available.  With San Diego and Los Angeles ports to choose from, a six-hour drive is all you’ll need to get there.  Additionally, Southwest Airlines has lots of $49 one-way flights between these popular California cities and Phoenix if you’re short on travel time.  Seven-night Glacier Bay cruises cost as low as $749 per person and depart from Seattle.  Get a 15-night Hawaii cruise for as little as $1,259 per person, departing from Los Angeles.  Book three months in advance for short cruises or five months in advance for cruises that last six days or longer and save up to 20%.  Check out or call 1-800-444-1560.  (Don’t forget to inquire about discounts- military, senior, civil or other.)  Two other websites, and, are great for finding and comparing top cruise deals and incentives like up to $300 in free on-board spending.

Talk to the deal experts
That’s what this month’s neighbor did in the “Where’s the Neighbor?” column to land an awesome deal for two to the Dominican Republic. is packed with local, national and international deals including airfare, hotels, entertainment, vacations and cruises.  Enjoy a seven-night castle estate vacation in Tuscany, Italy with car and air for $999.  (Add $200 to fly from Los Angeles.)  Spend three nights on the strip at Circus Circus Las Vegas Hotel and Casino for $156 and fly nonstop from Phoenix both ways.  With deals constantly changing and upcoming vacations always being discounted, you never know what you’re going to find on this in-depth and easy-to-navigate site.  It’s well worth a perusal every now and then, even if you’re not actively looking for something.

Try a Staycation
With copious amounts of deal-finding sites popping up in every major city across the country, it’s now easier than ever to stumble upon great finds right in your backyard.  Cut out the travel expenses of airfare and car rentals and lose none of the perks of a luxurious vacation.  Treat yourself to a half-priced spa day at one of Phoenix’s famed resorts.  Book a fancy hotel for a long weekend and pay only a third of the usual price.  By utilizing sites like, and, a bit of daily monitoring and research can go a long way.  Purchase excursion, spa and restaurant deals that can all be used during the same weekend and in the same general area.  Then, find yourself a great hotel nearby and… you’ve got yourself a five-star vacation without the stress and expense!

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Are You a Traveler Lost in the Woods?

I have a friend who recently returned home from a life-changing, soul-searching, adventurous journey backpacking through fairy-tale Europe.  With his Eurail pass in hand and his passport safely guarded, he instinctually made his way solo through worldly cities like London, Paris, Amsterdam, Berlin, Prague, Rome and Barcelona.

“I can see how it’s hard to compare life abroad with life at home,” he wrote me.   “It’s funny, I’ve noticed that everyone comes up to you and says how much they want to hear about your trip, but then they never ask again.  When you’re traveling, it’s easier to relate to other travelers.  An Australian friend I met in Munich said he tried to go back home, but he felt like he never fit in once he left.  Do you have any tips for adjusting to life back home after being overseas?”

Understand the situation
You’ve returned to the states (whether by choice or by lack of funds) and feel disconnected from your life here in the US.  You feel your friends and family don’t understand you anymore, and that they have trouble relating to the eye-opening life you’ve seen, lived and breathed.

The fact of the matter is, you’re right.  By no fault of theirs, (or yours for that matter), they weren’t there with you when you stood next to the Colosseum and felt the smallest you’ve ever felt in your entire life.  They weren’t able to spend that incredible night with you and all those youthful, energetic Europeans dancing your socks off till early morning in Barcelona.

The international barriers you’re bridging, whether understood by others or not, should simply be appreciated by you.  Not everyone is a traveler.  Not everyone has that want to see more, experience more.  Text books and photographs are all some people need to get their fill of world history and culture.  And you need to understand that that’s OK.

You should surround yourself with friends and family who get where you’re at, who recognize where you’re coming from.   Share your experience with those who are interested, and help others plan their trips and vacations when possible.

Continue exploring
Be a tourist in your own town.  Take lots of pictures, keep a travel journal and plan weekend trips to nearby areas.  Go camping, visit the Grand Canyon, fish in one of Arizona’s beautiful lakes, tube down the lazy river.  By immersing yourself in the local culture, you can continue that drive and eagerness to learn more about where you’re at, to explore what’s at your fingertips.

Share and discuss
Join online communities that share the same interest in travel as you do.  There are literally thousands of great sites, networks and blogs to help you feel connected to your global roots from any given place.  Start your own blog to share your experience with others

Never stop planning your next big adventure.  You’ll travel again some day; this isn’t the end of world discovery for you.  Not if you don’t want it to be.

You are a traveler at heart, a historian by choice, and you’ll always grab life by the horns, no matter what part of the world you’re in.

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How to Plan Your Trip

Your upcoming trip is still two months away, but you’d like to start the vacation a bit early.  How can you do it?  Skip the travel agent and the online tour agencies and go buy yourself a Lonely Planet travel guide.  (These guide books are country, state, even city specific and can be purchased in most bookstores or Online for roughly $12-$30.  I recommend buying used books on  With these simple tips, you’ll be surprised to find just how easy it is to plan your entire vacation, from day trips, to where to stay, to where to eat and drink.  Plus, you’ll save money and learn a whole lot in the process!

Do your research
Purchasing a travel guidebook like Lonely Planet is worth every penny.  They’re jam-packed with restaurant reviews, shopping tips, the top tourist attractions and hotel recommendations for all budgets.  They also include price estimates, 3 day – 2 month recommended itineraries and directions to just about everywhere.  There are historical summaries and cultural insights throughout the book, including fun facts and local legends.

Additionally, give yourself two hours a week to research where you’re going.  The Internet puts unlimited information right at your fingertips and you’ll be able to go on vacation before vacation by immersing your mind in all of the wonderful activities, sights and foods you will enjoy.  By knowing more about the area before you get there, you’re able to feel comfortable with your new surroundings earlier.  See how much fun it is to know the local pirate ghost story before dining in that restaurant that’s shaped like a ship.

Book tours locally
I know it’s tough for some people to go somewhere and not have their activities planned out in advance, but I have consistently found that I save money by booking tours locally.  Because there are often several companies all offering the same service, you have more room to bargain and have them bid on getting your business.  Often times, a company will give you a “special price” after speaking with you, especially if they know you are considering going with one of their competitors.

See what others are saying
The best way to find out what activities are worth your time and what restaurants are worth the wait is by reading reviews Online. is a great source for up-to-date feedback from all over the world.  Before booking your hotel, find out if the area is noisy or the staff is unfriendly.  Before eating at a restaurant, find out what to order and where to sit.  Most Online reviews on this site are legitimate and written by real people who had real experiences.  It doesn’t get more honest and accurate than that.

Pick suitable hotels
When it comes to where you stay, it should depend on what you plan on doing.  How much time do you expect to spend at your hotel?   If you’re going to be out all day and a good portion of the night, all you need is a quiet hotel and a comfortable bed.  Nothing fancy, nothing expensive.  If your goal is rest and relaxation, then you’ll most likely enjoy something more extravagant, possibly a hotel with a nice spa or great in-house dining.

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