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Booking a Last-Minute International Trip: Istanbul Here I Come!



Summer officially ended on Monday. Well, I guess not quite officially. Fall equinox and all that. But the kids headed back to school for the 2020-2021 year, and that marks the end of summer in my mind.

There were positives and negatives to the past several months, but it has been increasingly difficult without the structure of activities and school for them. I’m sure many families have been in a similar boat. We were able to enjoy a little bit of summer travel, and I’m thankful for it. But I’m simultaneously very glad they are back to in-person class. Longest. Summer. Ever.

Taking Stock of Upcoming Plans

From March through June I made all sorts of trip cancellations. This ranged from entirely planned excursions where I’m still fighting for (at least one) airfare refund, to speculative hotel bookings on points that are easy to undo. We had several potential trips on the calendar, and the pandemic nixed all of them. We made some other plans, but none of the original trips came to pass.

The remainder of the year is still in question as well. I only have one other trip on the radar, an error fare to São Paulo that I booked many months ago. The way things are looking, I’ll probably still fly it. There is also a potential for a conference in November, and it currently looks like it is going to happen, even if COVID-19 remains a concern. They don’t seem all that phased in Georgia.

I have been kicking around the idea of heading out on a solo adventure for a few weeks. I took a couple last year, and even though they were crazy short, I had an absolute blast. I was supposed to enjoy Copenhagen this spring for a few days, but that was one of the casualties of the pandemic.

The issue has been and still is…where can one possibly go outside the U.S. right now??

Stuck in the Award Travel Doldrums

Even though travel to most of the world is currently restricted, I often find myself browsing award flights. Most people don’t consider this fun, but it is one of my primary outlets. Award travel has long been my thing, and I love finding seats on obscure routes and to obscure places. A few weeks ago I was fixated on the United Island Hopper. Ironically, I’ve found award space on some routes and carriers better than I’ve ever seen. Sigh. Such is life.

As a few countries opened up, my exercises changed from a theoretical one to something that could turn into an actual trip. I initially wanted to visit Greece, but it didn’t open up as expected. Once a few of the Balkan countries opened up to international arrivals, I got more serious.

Eventually, I gravitated toward Istanbul, Turkey instead.

Why Turkey? Why Istanbul?

In terms of international destinations open to Americans, there aren’t a multitude of choices. There are some Caribbean countries currently open, and a handful of other places in the world. Plainly put: there are plenty of itinerary options into Istanbul available. After finding one I really liked, I slept on it, and pulled the trigger the next day. I’ve scratched almost all other international travel this year. It’s high time to “just take the trip.”

Even within Turkey, Istanbul wasn’t my first choice. My top pick is Goreme, a city in the Cappadocia region known for its cave houses and hot air ballooning. But the award flights for a short visit simply didn’t work. Getting to Kayseri, the closest airport, is a bit of a chore. The travel would take too long, even on the most ideal flights available.

Everything pointed toward Istanbul. It is both the largest city in Turkey and one with an amazing and storied past. The more I thought about it, read about Istanbul, and mulled the idea over, the more keen I became with the possibility for a quick 3-day international trip. It is the place where Europe and Asia meet, there is a wealth of history to unlock, and the food sounds absolutely spectacular. It’s also a place I’m not entirely sure I’d be comfortable bringing the kids, so it makes even more sense for that reason.

Turkey’s COVID-19 restrictions are also minimal, which is a major upside as well. Travelers showing signs of coronavirus will not be allowed to enter the country, but other than that, Turkey is open! Masks are mandatory in many public areas, but that really isn’t any different than here in California. There is also a curfew for people over 65 years of age. Overall, restrictions are minimal.

Booking My First Airbus A340 Flight

One of the other deciding factors is that I could fly an Airbus A340. With the pandemic accelerating the retirement of many older aircraft, including all of British Airways’ 747-400s, I’m not sure I’ll ever have a chance to fly an A340. I’ve previously looked at flying first class on a Lufthansa A340-600, but that hasn’t panned out yet.

One of the flight options to Istanbul was business class aboard an Airbus A340-300. Without any idea if I’ll be able to ever fly this unique wide-body aircraft at some future point (never did I think I’d miss my chance to fly the BA 747 again!), I thought it would be perfect to plan it into this trip. Flying upper deck 747-8 Lufthansa business class was another option, but this is more likely to still be available in the future.

The chance to fly the A340 helped seal the deal. Who knows. Lufthansa may end up accelerating retirement of their fleet, and this chance could evaporate as well. Let’s do this now.

Putting All the Pieces Together

With the outbound business class itinerary booked using United miles, I found a return flight using just 53,000 Flying Blue miles for KLM business class. I’d have to spend a night at Amsterdam airport (luckily there is a hotel within security), but that is entirely fine. Airport nights give me a chance to plane-spot and edit photos. Or catch up on work, all will undoubtedly be necessary by that point.

My hotel in Istanbul will be courtesy of Hyatt points and certificates. If there has been one upside to traveling less, it is the ability to accumulate a lot more points than normal. I had plenty of options.

The trip will give me almost exactly 36 hours in Istanbul, all said and done. It’ll be a great opportunity to enjoy a quick adventure after a summer spent mostly at home. Then I can settle in for a few months before the next, and other than that, it might be until after the New Year before I head abroad again. How I hope to not have to cancel any more trips!

How about you…have you planned any international trips this summer or fall? Are you willing to travel, even in light of the current conditions? 

The post Booking a Last-Minute International Trip: Istanbul Here I Come! appeared first on TravelUpdate.

By: Family Flys Free
Title: Booking a Last-Minute International Trip: Istanbul Here I Come!
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Published Date: Wed, 26 Aug 2020 15:09:56 +0000

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Now at the Boarding Gate: Coronavirus Tests




American Airlines said on Tuesday that it will offer coronavirus tests to passengers, joining United Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines and JetBlue Airways in offering tests to passengers. Tampa International Airport also said it will offer tests. The tests, which range from rapid tests at the airport that return results in minutes to tests that take a few days, allow travelers whose results are negative to skip or minimize quarantine restrictions in various destinations.

The new tests come as the number of people flying both domestically and internationally continues to be at record lows (the Transportation Security Administration screened 568,688 people on Tuesday compared to 1,998,980 on the same date a year ago). Testing at airports, it is hoped, will assuage people who are worried about the safety of flying amid the ongoing pandemic.

“Our plan for this initial phase of preflight testing reflects the ingenuity and care our team is putting into rebuilding confidence in air travel and we view this as an important step in our work to accelerate an eventual recovery of demand,” Robert Isom, American’s president, said in a statement on Tuesday.

American initially will test people traveling to international destinations, starting with people traveling from Miami International Airport to Jamaica. Testing for travel to Jamaica will be for residents flying to their home country; if a passenger tests negative for the virus, the 14-day quarantine currently in place for returning residents would be waived. The airline is also working to start testing for visitors and residents going to the Bahamas and other countries in the Caribbean. Beginning in mid-October, the airline will offer at-home testing that can be done via video call with a medical professional; in-person testing at a CareNow urgent care location; and rapid on-site testing, administered by CareNow at Dallas Fort Worth International Airport for flights to Hawaii.

Tampa International Airport is the first airport in the United States to offer the tests and they will be available to passengers flying on any airline. Tests will be administered by BayCare nurses and medical professionals, and travelers have the option of taking a PCR test that returns results in 48 hours or a rapid antigen test that returns results in 15 minutes. Before the pandemic, Tampa’s airport was one of the busiest in the country, with more than 22 million travelers in 2019. Ticketed passengers who are flying or have flown within three days and can show proof of travel can take a nasal swab test for $125 or an antigen test for $57.

The tests are not mandatory, and range in price from about $50 to $250.

Airlines and airports are desperate to have passengers flying again. The aviation sector faces about 40,000 job losses this week, when the financial relief that was part of the CARES stimulus package ends Oct. 1.

“More rapid, efficient testing allows for a broader reopening of the travel economy, and will enable organizations to more quickly restore lost jobs and rehire workers,” said Tori Emerson Barnes, the U.S. Travel Association’s executive vice president of public affairs and policy, earlier this month. “Importantly, a robust testing program would allow America to welcome back international visitors, a segment of travel that has effectively disappeared since the start of the pandemic.”

Announced last week, United’s pilot program for testing passengers and people traveling from San Francisco International Airport to Hawaii on the airline will begin mid-October, when Hawaii allows out-of-state visitors to skip quarantine if they have a negative test result within 72 hours of traveling.

“Our new Covid testing program is another way we are helping customers meet their destinations’ entry requirements, safely and conveniently,” said Toby Enqvist, the chief customer officer at United, in a statement, adding that the airline is looking to expand testing to other destinations and airports in the United States.

JetBlue is offering an at-home saliva test that is administered through an online video chat with a Vault Health test supervisor who ensures customers are providing their samples correctly. The airline’s test is for people traveling to countries that allow people to enter if they have a negative test result. Travelers receive results within 72 hours.

Airports and airlines have been touting increased cleaning procedures and many have mandated social distancing and mask-wearing rules, all in an attempt to keep travelers safe and make them feel confident about flying.

“Offering tests is consistent with other things major airlines have been doing to make people feel more comfortable around travel experiences,” said Stephen Beck, the founder and managing partner of cg42, a management consultancy that has advised airlines.

The tests come a few months after airlines and travel trade groups asked the government to create a federal testing program and guidance mandating that people wear masks, but that has not happened and airlines have created their own policies and systems. Airlines also asked European Union and American officials to create a testing program to encourage travel.

Carlos Ozores, the aviation and Americas consulting lead at ICF, another airline consultant, said that the move to offer testing won’t lead to a full recovery in air travel, but will likely gain traction in the coming months, especially for international travel.

“This is really meant for international markets where you have country restrictions that require a quarantine or a negative test result,” Mr. Ozores said. “I imagine this will be rolled out more broadly when catering to international travel.”

Mr. Ozores added that in order for testing by airlines and airports to work, governments would have to agree to accept the validity of each others’ tests, and consistent standards would have to be applied, regardless of where the tests were being done.

Among other developments in airline virus testing, Hawaiian Airlines will have drive-through testing sites for its passengers in San Francisco and Los Angeles in partnership with Worksite Labs; the tests will cost $90 for results within 36 hours, or $150 for day-of-travel express service beginning in mid-October.

In Europe, the Italian airline Alitalia is offering tests on flights between Rome and Milan through October. The airline is also hoping to test on flights and at airports for passengers traveling between New York and Italy.

By: Tariro Mzezewa
Title: Now at the Boarding Gate: Coronavirus Tests
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Published Date: Wed, 30 Sep 2020 23:10:34 +0000

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Would you dare baptism in the Devil’s Bathtub?




Close my eyes and count to three as I anticipate to dive into the deep, ice cold pool of water – The Devil’s Bathtub, located in Southwest Virginia. Jumping in is not recommended for the faint of heart. I stare into the aquamarine abyss and question the life choices that led me to this.

Deciding if I have the courage to jump into the Devil’s Bathtub. Photo by Maddie Luchsinger.

The Devil’s Bathtub is a place that no person can stay for very long – it is wicked in the way its cold can take the breath away of the people who dare to jump in. It is the type of cold that sucks the breath right out of your lungs and frightens every skin cell of your body. It is a bathtub-sized pool that is, perhaps, 25 feet deep, full of the fresh spring water falling off the mountains. You’ve hiked 2.5 miles up a mountains, crossing a river 17 times. Your muscles are sore. So jump into the Devil’s Bathtub and find out what happens when you dunk them in ice.

After I was baptized by the Devil in southwest Virginia, I felt cold for days. It was a deeply guttural coldness, like I was thawing slowly from the inside out.

Swimming in the Devil's BathtubPhoto by Maddie Luchsinger

In all the time I’ve spent exploring the world, there are only one of a handful of times I can remember being this cold – in the middle of the night, camping in the desert in North Central Mexico. I was there on a church trip, to build houses in the slums of Tijuana. This was something the church of my youth did a lot in the 1990s/2000s – took groups to do manual labor rural parts of Mexico. That year, in the desert of Baja California, El Nino brought on exceptional rains that flooded our campsite and soaked my belongings. The temperatures at night would reach just above freezing, and the lumber that kept our campfires roaring was wet and ineffective. I have this memory of huddling around the dwindling embers of a dying campfire, desperate to get warm, under a deep sea of stars. I remember feeling like I would never feel warm again.

The second time I’ve felt that cold was whitewater rafting the Upper Youghegheny River in Upper Pennsylvania in the early spring. My group spent the entire weekend camping in a pouring rainstorm, on 50 degree days, and then rafted a flood-stage river of class IV-V rapids. I fell out twice, and swam down a class IV+ rapid called the Meat Cleaver. I remember feeling cold for days after, and vowing to never go whitewater rafting again.

When I jumped into the Devil’s Bathtub, these were the memories that came flooding in. This was a uniquely painful kind of cold. And the thing that was so devilish about it – it was an enjoyable pain.

Maybe I’ve cursed myself, jumping into the Devil’s Bathtub. but in 2020, who can tell the difference?


Devil's Bathtub Trailhead Duffield VAPhoto by Maddie Luchsinger

How to find the Devil’s Bathtub

At the end of Highway 619 just outside of Duffield, Virginia. Duffield is located less than 2 hours from Knoxville, about an hour North of Kingston, Tennessee.

This is a popular hike with an established parking lot at the trailhead. Hikers can choose to go left when the trailhead splits for a 4 mile roundtrip journey to the Devil’s Bathtub, or take a right for a 7-mile loop through the mountains. The trail is clearly marked with a yellow square tag.

Plan for the trail to take an hour per mile, and wear shoes that can get wet. You have to hike across a river 17 times, and you are almost certain to get wet. There are a few areas of treacherous terrain and sharp drops, so keep an eye on young children and dogs at all times.

The hike can be found near Duffield, Virginia, about an hour north of Kingston, TN. I recommend camping at Natural Tunnel State Park, less than an hour away. NTSP has a well maintained and safe campground, good for car campers or RV tows.

Natural Tunnel is a rock formation that has naturally formed in the mountains, created a naturally carved train tunnel. The park offers a fun chairlift to the bottom, a fun activity for families or tired hikers.

Title: Would you dare baptism in the Devil’s Bathtub?
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Published Date: Wed, 23 Sep 2020 16:15:00 +0000

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Rediscover the San Juan Islands: Adventure-seekers will love this Northwest destination.




The journey starts with either a ferry or a floatplane—there are no bridges to the San Juans Islands. Leave stress behind as you board in Anacortes and set sail on the marine segment of the San Juan Islands Scenic Byway. You can relax, you’re on island time now.

The San Juan archipelago in Washington State is nestled between three great cities for visitors – Seattle, Vancouver B.C., and Victoria B.C., surrounded by the Salish Sea. Of the 172 named islands in the San Juans, three of them – Lopez, Orcas, and San Juan – have accommodations, attractions, and amenities for visitors.

The archipelago is blessed with a temperate marine climate and life in the “rain shadow” of the Olympic Mountains means an average of 247 days with sunshine annually and about half the rainfall of the Seattle area. San Juan County has more than 400 miles of shoreline punctuated by rocks, bluffs and beaches.

The arts, historic preservation and environmental stewardship flourish in the Islands. San Juan County is considered an “Arts Hot Spot” by the Washington State Arts Commission for the number of artists and galleries in the islands. It is also the first county in the USA to be designated a voluntary “Leave No Trace” area. Friday Harbor on San Juan Island, the archipelago’s only incorporated town, was named a Destination of Distinction by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

No matter your style of vacation, you’re bound to find it in the San Juan Islands. For nature enthusiasts, there’s world-class wildlife watching including orcas, humpback whales, bald eagles, Steller sea lions, and red foxes. And there’s a variety of ways to see it: along a network of waterfront hiking trails, from shoreline parks, from tour boats and private vessels.

For adventure seekers, beautiful landscapes and a calm inland sea make the San Juans a prime sea kayaking spot. Paddle your own kayak or set out with one of the many knowledgeable kayaking outfitters on San Juan, Orcas, or Lopez Island for three-hour to three-day tours.

For foodies, find quality local products, and experience the sense of community shared by island chefs, growers, winemakers, distillers, brewers, and other agricultural artisans. Some local farms even offer stays for guests who want to get up close and personal to the islands’ bounty.

If art’s your thing, you’ll find a gem in the San Juan Islands Museum of Art, with three to four first class exhibitions a year. The San Juan Islands Sculpture Park at 20-acres is one of the largest outdoor sculpture parks in the Pacific Northwest.

Humpback calf ‘Slate’ breaching by Jeff Friedman

Find variety, beauty, serenity … day after amazing day.

As we navigate the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, we are following the guidelines set by the Washington State Department of Health and Governor Inslee’s office. San Juan County is currently in a modified Phase 2 of Inslee’s “Safe Start” plan. Accommodations are open at 100%, and restaurants vary between curbside pickup, delivery, and limited indoor and outdoor seating. Face coverings are required to enter all businesses and public spaces.

Editor’s Note: we are working with local tourism boards to highlight destinations that are ready for tourists. Given the ever-evolving situation on COVID-19, please make sure you check the tourism website for the most up-to-date planning information.

From Nature to Nurture the San Juan Islands provide inspiration for the senses (

Title: Rediscover the San Juan Islands: Adventure-seekers will love this Northwest destination.
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Published Date: Tue, 22 Sep 2020 15:18:00 +0000

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