Archive for the ‘On the Fly!’ Category

A Little Fact Check: US Has High-Speed Trains: Amtrak’s Acela Express

Thursday, February 9th, 2017

POTUS, minutes ago at a meeting of airline CEOs, stated that other countries have high-speed trains but the US doesn’t even have one. I have understood that the 2 Amtrak Acela Express Train Routes are characterized in the high-speed train category. These trains run between Boston and NYC and between NYC and Washington, DC. Just to be sure that I was correct, nothing like fact checking(!), I called Bill Hollister, a longtime Amtrak executive and my go-to-man for corporate and government-related info about Amtrak, confirmed that, indeed, Amtrak’s Acela trains are classified as high speed trains. Note that European and Asian trains’ speed are noted in kilometers per hour so at a quick glance their trains look like they go a lot faster than ours since there are more kilometers per mile than when the number is quoted in miles (150mph=241.4kph). Bill also noted that Amtrak carries more passengers daily between NYC and DC than all of the airlines combined and more passengers daily between NYC and Boston than 6 major airlines combined. There’s nothing quite as luxurious as being in the observation car on an Amtrak train. Shown here are photos taken on Antrak’s Auto Train, a very civilized way to cut out 800 miles of driving between Lorton, VA and Sanford, Florida! The competent Amtrak crew put your car on the train in an enclosed train car and you get on the train and overnight. It’s a romantic adventure and when you arrive, all of your gear is packed in your car and you don’t need to rent a car! It;s also such fun! I’ve done 5 roundtrips on Amtrak’s Auto-Train and just writing about it makes me want to go again! Actually, I want to do a cross-country trip from Chicago to Salt Lake City or Seattle or San Francisco Bay area. . . or all of the above!!

Bill Hollister tells me that testing is in progress to increase the 150mph speed of Acela which is wonderful as well. Hopefully, Congress will support all of Amtrak’s budget needs to keep our Amtrak service great! It’s great not to have to go to the outskirts of a city to go to an airport when you can go from downtown Boston to downtown NYC to the heart of DC. And if you’re not on an Acela Express train, it’s great to use Amtrak from NYC to Philadelphia. It’s even more pleasant that taking that drive! It makes the trip so much more efficient and with early airport check-ins plus the flight times you can often arrive in your downtown destination in less time than the flying process! Plus you can walk around the train, stop in the snack car, or on longer hauls into the dining car, have a seat as roomy with leg room as big as a first class airline seat, and work at your seat with electric outlets available on most trains to charge your electronic equipment! And the snack car has tables like in a diner so it’s a great place, if you are traveling with friends or business colleagues, to prep for the meeting you’re going to or have burger and fries or a snack or go alone to catch up on work too! If you’re in NYC, hop an Amtrak train thru the Hudson Valley up to Albany or onward to Montreal! Remember to bring your passport if you’re going into Canada!! Train travel is a unique experience and makes every trip even more memorable! Go make tracks!

A Personal Look into the Bravery of One Mexican Army Officer Who was Ready to Protect Me

Thursday, February 2nd, 2017

You know I have been blessed with a world of unbelievable and unusual experiences, many resulting from my travels.  It’s now 2:26am ET and I thought I was going to go to bed now but I have the TV on and just learned that our new POTUS has indicated to the President of Mexico, if the report I have heard on TV is correct, that Mexican soldiers are cowards and the US could send in our troops.  Could that be true?? If you haven’t seen the Peter Sellers film, “The Mouse that Roared,” do your best to get your hands on it as, if that scenario was put into action, it might be the best thing that ever happened to Mexico in the style of Peter Sellers! But  I actually know, like a brother, a fellow whose family has been Mexican for centuries and whose last name is French from the days when the French occupied Mexico.  I’ll call him Juan to protect his real identity.
Juan’s family owns a chain of hotels, restaurants and so many other businesses in Mexico. His house, in a residential area of Mexico City, is extraordinary and I’ve had the privilege of being invited to his house twice. His elegantly finished basement has a huge room, complete with mannequins that sport his traditional folkloric clothing that is worn for ceremonial occasions and is reminiscent of the outfits mariachi players wear.  That room is like a salon in a museum with at least 100 different outfits complete with vests, trousers, sombrero’s, and matching boots humidity-controlled closets!
Juan went to military school and military university and when he graduated, he went into the Mexican Army as an officer. He was in the army about 15 years when he decided to retire at the age of 35 from the Mexican Army and resume life as a private citizen. He married, had a son, built a gorgeous house for his family and I met him when part of my job included spearheading the international development of the travel company that I worked for as Executive Vice President of a $1.5billion travel company and Mexico was one of 21 countries I brought into our international network.
Juan is a sharp-shooter and a very brave man and if he is an example of the average soldier or officer in the Mexican Army, I wouldn’t be in a hurry to throw the word “cowardly” in their faces as I believe that, like our own soldiers, they are lovely people but don’t threaten them with a weapon unless you’re ready for a battle! And why under Heaven would be want to threaten Mexico with invasion, occupation, or warfare???
I was traveling from Mexico City to Cuernavaca, an historic and wonderful place to visit a little more than an hour’s drive from D.F., the Federal District of Mexico, which is the way that Mexico City is referred to.  Juan picked me and my company’s CEO up at the airport and we were whisked off to Cuernavaca, the place that the heir to the Woolworth forturne, Barbara Hutton, built a hacienda which became the Camino Real Hotel after her death.  We were on our way to a meeting of our Mexican regional heads who represented our presence all over Mexico. I was in the front seat and my colleague was in the back as we drove on a marvelous highway to Cuernavaca when Juan announced that he needed to stop at the next travel plaza to fill up his Range Rover. Juan commented, “It’s not a good idea to stop for gas or anything else en route because of banditos but don’t worry, I have my gun and I know how to use it!”
Sitting between me and Juan on the consul was a triangular leather case. When Juan got out of the vehicle to deal with the gasoline purchase, I turned to my colleague and asked, “Do you think there’s a gun in there?” Pragmatically, he replied, “Have a look!” I unsnapped the flap on the triangular case and, lo and behold, in this beautiful hand-tooled leather case  was a serious revolver.  Having the gun within inches of my elbow did not make me feel better.
The trip was altogether wonderful! Cuernavaca was wonderful! The over-500-year-old museum built by the Spanish was wonderful. The hotel we stayed at, Casa Tomayo, an AMAZING place that I’ll tell you more about another day, was wonderful  and everything went perfectly including having dinner at Barbara Hutton’s house! But an overriding memory was the Juan-and-the-gun episode even though I never saw it leave its case.
About a year later,on a Sunday morning, Juan was sitting at his kitchen dining table with his back to the interior of his house. His wife and nine year-old son sat across from him with their backs to the large sliding glass doors about 30 feet behind them.  As Juan looked up from his morning newspaper, he saw three men dressed in black with black ski masks hiding their faces climb over the huge garden wall that fenced out the world from his property. Juan’s mind and body went into Mexican Army Officer mode. He said nothing to his family as there was no time to have them move. As he stood, he pivoted, turned to the interior of the house, went to his bedroom and came back with that same gun that sat between us on the drive to Cuernavaca.  In seconds he was back in his kitchen’s dining area but the three men were in the house.  One held his wife by her hair and had his gun pointed at her head. Another had his son by the neck with a gun pointed at his head. The third was looking about the area assessing what they came to steal.
When Juan told me this story, he said he was on auto-pilot! There was no conscious thought. He was in soldier-mode and poised for action. He did what he was trained to do in military high school, military college and in the Mexican Army.  In seconds, Juan had shot the man holding his wife in the knee and then, a nano-second later, he shot the man holding his son in the forehead.  The latter was instantly dead and the other was in great pain and unable to walk. So, at this point, there were two shot men on the floor. When the third bandito saw his two compatriots in trouble, he tried to help the one with the injured knee out of the house but gave up and ran off before he was shot too.
Juan had to face many hearings to prove that he was defending his family in order to avoid being accused, himself,  of wrong-doing which, since the invaders were still in his house when the police arrived, he was ultimately able to prove  but the whole series of incidents that occurred that day took its emotional  toll on him, his wife and son.
But I can tell you one thing for certain that I learned from the trip to Cuernavaca and the incident that took place in Juan’s house: Juan was correct. He had a gun and he wasn’t afraid to use it. Not only was there no fear, there was an abundance of skill, training, focus and bravery and nothing was going to stand in the way of him exercising the skills he was trained to perform in the Mexican military.
So my bit of advice: Before the  warmth and hospitality and friendliness of Mexican people gets interpreted as weakness, cowardice, or anything else illogical, know that Mexicans are people with millennia of history, centuries of traditions, fierce pride in their culture, imbued with legends of the bravery of their ancestors, and in many ways remind me of the Scottish who don’t need to be smacked twice to dig their heels in and respond with double force. Cowardice is a ridiculous insult to throw at the people of Mexico.
On a whole other level, the thought of threatening Mexicans with a US invasion is the stuff that fiction is made of! But, you may recall that President Reagan ordered the US Marines to invade the tiny Caribbean island of Granada so maybe there’s a sense of emulating another POTUS.
It might be a good idea if bedtime reading of Dale Carnegie’s book, “How to Win Friends and Influence People” were prescribed or maybe audited classes at a Finishing School for all members of government who are in political positions whose words carry heavy meaning could be a good thing to bring a level of grace and charm, diplomacy and statesmanship to all government proceedings.  Taking a less from the Brits who have cultivated an image of educated, well bred, and stopping everything every day for a spot of tea at 4pm while their historic means of dealing with destinations was to take them over, divide the locals into two teams and set them off to hate and kill one another  while they stepped aside so as not to get killed and removed the valuable assets from that destination, an M.O. that was implemented in India, Africa, the Middle East, and Ireland.  But their image is one of very proper etiquette and well-chosen words.  Approaching the international community and residents in the US with boxing gloves on is not the best approach.
And thinking about Scotsmen brings to mind the Scottish prayer that I’ve updated to be relevant in the 21st century: “From ghosties and ghoulies and long-leggedy beasties,  things that go bump in the night and beasties who punch allies in the face, Good Lord deliver us!”

Traveling While Texting Can Trip-Up Your Trip. . . and Turn Off Your Samsung Galaxy Note7!

Tuesday, October 11th, 2016

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Radio Show Travel Expert and Top Travel Media Broadcaster Stephanie Abrams, with her husband, Mark Abrams at Bradley International Airport, Hartford, Connecticut

I saw the most ridiculous example of Traveling While Texting when I was at Bradley International Airport in Hartford, Connecticut, BDL, on Sunday which, by the way, is a lovely, user-friendly airport and now another place where you can fly non-stop to Dublin with Aer Lingus.  I’m generally disgusted by people who are pulling a roll-a-board carry-on while walking through crowded halls in airports who are paying no attention to where they are walking because they are texting or reading their messages on their mobile phones.  I can’t tell you how many times people have walking in front of me and, with the combination thhat I need to their bodies and the additional 4 foot obstacle they drag behind them, become an instant barrier to my progress and a barrier that I have bumped into or (almost) tripped over.  But Sunday was a kind of poet justice when I observed a moment of the ridiculous.

So here’s the scene: I stepped onto one of  the convery belts at BDL that speeds your progress toward the gate areas and there, about 15 feet in front of me, was a fellow who should have known better, a guy about 55 years old, reading messages and texting on his cell phone.  Firstly, he was standing, with his dufflebag carry-on piece placed in front of him at his feet, on the right side of the convery belt.  Regrettably, far too many US airports don’t have reminder signs for uninitiated or infrequent travelers that, if you’re going to stand on the converyer belt and allow it to move you along without your own participation in forward movement, then you need to STAND LEFT so you leave the space for people who want to make double-movement forward while walking on the conveyer belt while it moves them along, completing the request for airport travelers to STAND LEFT-WALK RIGHT so those who want to make time in the airport have a clear right lane on the coveyer belt to get by.

But, no, this passenger was firmly entrenched on the right side of the converyer belt and engrossed in his texting and message reading.  And then it happened!  The spot upon which he was standing on the conveyer’s  rubberized  arrived at the end-point.  An alert passenger would have had his luggage in hand and ready to safely step off and continue walking forward to the next awaiting conveyer belt to continue onward to his gate. But not so for Bonzo.  This clown had his total attention focused on his phone and as the conveyer came to its end point, his duffle bag slid onto the terrazzo floor and, with nothing beneath it to move it forward, the duffle bag stopped in place.  This fellow, a body in motion, continued to stay in motion and, as his feet were propelled under the duffle bag, he tripped over it and flew, like a carp jumping from a lake, over the top of the bag.  Happily, he was able to recover his balance quickly and, without falling, cleared and reclaimed the bag from the floor.  Even better was that i was the next person behind him and, because I was “STANDING LEFT,” was in no danger of being the next in a pile-up behind him.  He was, indeed, lucky, that he didn’t have his trip derailed by an injury at that point and there was no pile up of those behind him caught in his own trap.

People worry about what can happen in an airport or on an airplane that might have negative impact on the travel plans and safety.  If you’re looking to avoid serious injury while traveling, be on the lookout for people with cell phones! And, on that subject, if you’ve got a Samsung Galaxy Note7 mobile phone, turn the blasted thing off and don’t pack it in your checked luggage as that is yet again another clear and present danger according to reports and to the announcements being made by airlines!

Travel safely. . . travel richly!

Ironic Smithsonian African American Museum Opening at time of Victims of Police Brute Force & Political Stereotyping of Who African-Americans Are

Saturday, September 24th, 2016

The irony is not lost on me when I am presented on three sides with the most positive and wonderful information on the grand opening, today, of the Smithsonian’s National African American History Museum in Washington, DC, a celebration of the contribution of great men and women of African descent who persevered during inhumane times, bad times, and times where the circumstances brought out the best in people rising above the most difficult challenges, seeing this through a kaleidoscope  captured inside a triangle of media whose other two sides focus on what can only be described as ‘police overkill,’ while the third side of the triangle spews political rhetoric that stereotypes the African-American as poorly educated and living in squalor.  Perhaps a trip to Washington, DC with a visit to the National African American History Museum could be a good start for those who are not acquainted with the contributions of the past and the present being made by African Americans.

If you’re going to take that trip, you might also want to stop in Pennsylvania at the Pennsylvania Railroad Museum where you’ll learn, among other things, about the significant contribution of African Americans to the growth and development of US railroading.  The study of the US rail systems is, at the same time, a testament to the contribution of the African American.

You can listen to the archived interview with Jeff Bleimeister, the museum’s head, in HOUR 2 of Travel WITH Stephanie Abrams which broadcast on February 28, 2016, if you click here and then click on HOUR 2.  Do you know the expression, “The real McCoy?” That comes from the invention of a better train breaking product that was invented by a railway employee named McCoy.  Others tried to copy his idea, design and patent but railroaders found that the best product was the ‘Real McCoy.’ Elijah McCoy was that inventor and he was the child of American slaves who fled to Canada to escape the injustices and oppression of the US. They went to Canada where Elijah was born in Ontario in 1844 and died in 1929. During his lifetime, he invented and held patents for 57 products, most of which related to lubrication of engines.  We could count him as an Afro-American, and not an Afro-Canadian, were it not for the oppression of slavery driving his parents to find a safe haven. Had his parents stayed in the US, Elijah would have been born into a time of slavery and lived through, had he been lucky enough to survive, the Civil War.  Fascinatingly, the British Empire ended slavery in all of its territories in 1841.  That included all of the islands of the Caribbean and elsewhere in the world where the Brits embraced slavery as an economic advantage to growth in the Empire.  Irish scholars find no coincidence that the Great Famine, better described as the Great Starvation since there was food that just wasn’t being shared, in Ireland was taking place at the time when the Brits were freeing slaves around the globe.  They point out that slaves were no longer needed because, as Irish history scholar Derek Warfield notes, “The Brits didn’t need slaves anymore because they had the Irish.” It’s this synergy between the experience of the Irish under the harsh British rule of over 800 years, that created the bond between Daniel O’Connell, the George Washington of  Ireland and Frederick Douglass, the abolitionist who was doing for African-Americans and slaves what  Daniel O’Connell was doing for the Irish.

I often think that people who have never experienced more than a temper tantrum for not getting what they want the moment they want it are generally the ones who have no empathy for others.  The least sensitive people tend to be those who have never had a moment of true suffering in their lives.  Maybe it’s the history of the colonists and pioneers crossing America who needed to circle the wagons to keep out anyone not in their group that is at the route of the underlying exclusionary attitudes of so many featured in news broadcasts.  I travel so much and see so many differences in cultures globally where I see so many people who are just naturally welcoming, warm, hospitable and bubbling over with friendliness only to come home to find that people can’t return a smile, don’t want to look one another in the eye and continue the practice of circling the wagons when there are newcomers in their community to keep them as outsiders, often for generations and generations.

This particular time, this unique moment, in the history of the US, with rhetoric presented on mass media giving scandalizing generalized descriptions of the lives of African Americans that sound like this is a class of people who are living in squalor and ignorance coupled with the indelible actions we learn about far too frequently of close encounters of Afro-Americans with police department personnel around the nation that end in the deaths of those detained in short order, it is truly ironic and a welcomed breath of fresh air to be celebrating the contribution in every field of endeavor by African-Americans who have made a significant contribution to the quality of life of Americans and others around the world.  A visit to this newest attraction in Washington, DC should be part of every traveler’s plans.  Note that admission is FREE but one must have a ticket to enter.  Tickets are produced with a designated time for entry on them so it’s important that those lucky enough to get tickets are on time to arrive to enter the museum.  At this point, tickets are scarce into November so keep that in mind when considering your travel plans. For complete information on obtaining tickets online to the National African American History Museum, click on this link to the official site for ticket acquisition. Be sure to read the part about companies and groups that may be creating counterfeit tickets that won’t be honored at this museum! Be sure to purchase your tickets from the museum itself to be assured your ticket will be honored.

Help Giant’s Causeway Earn the “Best UK Heritage Attraction” Award: Vote Before September 30th at www.bit.ly/causewaybta16

Thursday, September 22nd, 2016

No, that’s not Legoland! Those hexagonal stone rods pushed up through the earth make up Giant’s Causeway on the Antrim Coast of Northern Ireland. Giant’s Causeway can be seen, touched, walked on, sat on, romped around, hiked through, and enjoyed by people who just want to find their happy place and sit in the sunshine or enjoy a romantically misty day  listening to the sounds of the sea splashing against the miles of endless rocks, smell the fresh salty air and feel the mist of the sea embrace their faces.

I have visited Giant’s Causeway on just about every trip I’ve made to Ireland going back to my very first trip long before there was a bus running down to the spot where the Giant’s Organ, a rock formation that looks like the pipes of an organ, soaring about 30 feet, maybe more, into the air, creates the barrier for vehicles to pass. The first time I visited Giant’s Causeway, there was no visitors’ center and we were able to drive our rental car down the road that you can either walk or take the bus if you prefer.

Giant’s Causeway was the first place I ever saw the color sea foam green in nature and can verify that the color we associate with the name “sea foam green” is actually that color.  As the sea’s waves crash against the rocks of Giant’s Causeway,  the aeration of the water against the rocks results in sudsy bubbling foam that looks like bubble bath.  It’s great fun to get close enough, to walk out to a sheltered inlet along the coastline at Giant’s Causeway, to be able to safely reach into the sea foam and enjoy a bit of the giant Finn McCool’s ‘bathtub!” Have a look:

Doesn’t that look delicious! It looks like a swirling whirlpool of whipped cream tinged pale, pale green!  Ah, sea foam! You gotta love it!

Giant’s Causeway is the only UNESCO Heritage Site in Northern Ireland and the kind of place that makes an amazing impact on the heart, soul, mind of every visitor!  If you’ve been there once, you’ll be drawn back again and again and this Antrim Coast attraction takes on a different look every day and at every hour of the day as the sun moves in the sky, as the weather shifts from clear and sunny to gray, overcast and misty.  When you visit, bring along a book you love and settle in to just sit, read, enjoy and experience what it is like to be in a place that is completely other-worldly!

You can vote for Giant’s Causeway in the British Travel Awards competition and you can vote once with each email address that you have (although there is a limit as to how many emails addresses you can use but you’ll find out when you hit the limit!).  The competition ends on September 30th so you need to get on top of this.  The other three UK attractions are: Sterling Castle in Sterling, Scotland; Edinburgh Castle in Edinburgh, Scotland; and the Tower of London.  All three are man-made and, while steeped in history, they really can’t hold a candle to this natural wonder of the world.  Interestingly, I’ve been to each of the other three semi-finalists and have visited each more than once. While they each hold their special significance, none of the others has the magical, mystical, incredible impact in such a personal way that Giant’s Causeway has connecting with visitors and why that is so defies description. . . and that’s why you need to plan to go and visit!

And when you go to Giant’s Causeway, within minutes driving on the Antrim Coast Road you’ll arrive, west and east of that attraction, at Dunluce Castle, digitally dropped into the Caribbean as Johnny Depp’s castle in Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl; Ballintoy Harbour, the quarry there, Dark Hedges . . .all nearby spots where Game of Thrones is filmed; Bushmill’s Distillery and tour ending with their famous ‘Tasting Room” experience; and, for the golfers in your traveling party, the Royal Portrush Golf Club! And, if you’re into beaches, travel westward a tiny bit further and visit Port Stewart Beach and be sure to have a bite and a pint at Harry’s Shack, right on the beach, with great food and a million dollar view! And if you think California beaches are something special, wait until you get to Port Stewart Beach in Derry, Northern Ireland, just down the road a piece!

Tell all your friends to vote for Giant’s Causeway and tell them to tell all of their friends so we can join hands across the ocean and help this amazing attraction get the recognition it deserves as the Best UK Heritage Attraction for 2016!

There are 2 places you can go and vote:    www.BritishTravelAwards.com where you’ll need to find the spot to vote for Best UK Heritage Attraction  OR this link will take you directly to the Giant’s Causeway page at the voting site:  www.bit.ly/causewaybta16

Thanks for helping! Remember that September 30, 2016 is the last date to vote!!

Radio Show Travel Expert Stephanie Abrams Releases Show Notes for Travelers411 & Travel WITH Stephanie Abrams for Weekend of August 27th & 28th

Thursday, August 25th, 2016

Guests for the August 27th broadcast of Travelers411, hosted by travel expert Stephanie Abrams include:

Hour 1: Deb Sanderson, marketing spokesperson for the NYS-Vermont Amtrak region, shares pertinent information about new and exciting programs at Amtrak including new Pets-on- Board service for small pets whose travel containers fit under the seat in front of the traveler. Deb shares the good news that the vintage Dome Car train will return to the Adirondack line in September 29 thru November 1, 2016 offering travelers the added sightseeing pleasure  of fall foliage in the northeast seen through the panoramic views of the glass sides and ceiling of the Dome Car. The Dome Car experience begins at the Albany-Rensselaer Train Station and continues up to Montreal, Quebec, Canada so passengers can board and disembark at stations that fit their itineraries which may include getting off at historic Fort Ticonderoga, visiting the fort, overnighting and returning at their leisure on the next southbound train or renting a car and exploring the region.  Deb also announces that the NY State Fair is served by Amtrak! And the big new is that effective September 1st, Amtrak has a new President & CEO, Mr. Charles “Wick” Moorman.  This is an opportunity for a special WELCOME ABOARD!

Hour 2: Motivated by the press release issued by the Cayman Islands posted below, radio show travel expert Stephanie Abrams contacted respected orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Bruce Berkowitz for his comments and analysis of the medical information and advice given to a visitor to the Cayman Island who suffered an injury and was given medical advice leading to her opting to have her injury treated in the Caymans rather than going back to her home in Canada for the surgery.  This is a compelling story that every traveler needs to hear and understand in the unlikely event that illness or injury befalls them during their foreign visit. Click here to hear archived audio interviews with Dr. Bruce Berkowitz on other medical-travel-related issues.

Hour 3: Bill MIller VP of MedjetAssist, a membership organization providing medical evacuation for travelers globally who find themselves injured or ill 150 miles or more away from home and do not want to be admitted to a hospital away from whom, preferring to return home for their admission to a hospital in their hometown.  Bill explains the features and benefits for individuals and families that include parents and up to 5 children up to 23 years old if they are enrolled as students. Bill explains the technical quality of what Stephanie Abrams describes as a “hospital room with wings” for those who need that level of attention on their flight home complete with technicians, nurses, and/or doctor depending on the health issues with which the MedjetAssist team is dealing.  Focused on are the cost-benefit ratio of the modest fee for yearly membership in MedjetAssist as compared to the over-the-top costs of chartering a medical evacuation plane for those who are not members of this organization.


Guests for the August 28th broadcast of Travel WITH Stephanie Abrams, hosted by travel expert Stephanie Abrams include:

Hour 1: Dr. Tim Campbell, Executive Director of the Saint Patrick’s Centre in Downpatrick, County Down, Northern Ireland, the only permanent exhibit in the world devoted to the life, works and message of Patrick, the Patron Saint of Ireland.  Patrick’s message of ‘Reconciliation’ continues to resonate with compelling relevance in the 21st century and is the underpinnings of the virtual historic tour of the center and the region known as the Kingdoms of Down which include Patrick’s Trail from Armagh to Downpatrick.  Listeners can find previous archived audio interviews with Dr. Tim Campbell by clicking here.

Hour 2: Bill MIller VP of MedjetAssist, a membership organization providing medical evacuation for travelers globally who find themselves injured or ill 150 miles or more away from home and do not want to be admitted to a hospital away from whom, preferring to return home for their admission to a hospital in their hometown.  Bill explains the features and benefits for individuals and families that include parents and up to 5 children up to 23 years old if they are enrolled as students. Bill explains the technical quality of what Stephanie Abrams describes as a “hospital room with wings” for those who need that level of attention on their flight home complete with technicians, nurses, and/or doctor depending on the health issues with which the MedjetAssist team is dealing.  Focused on are the cost-benefit ratio of the modest fee for yearly membership in MedjetAssist as compared to the over-the-top costs of chartering a medical evacuation plane for those who are not members of this organization.

Hour 3: Laura Adams, the Senior Insurance Analyst for InsuranceQuotes.com, enlightens listeners to the dangers of nullifying home-owners and renters insurance policies, both for homes and apartments, when homeowners rent their residences for vacation rentals directly or through organizations such as Airbnb. Laura walks listeners through the shift that takes place from ‘full coverage to no coverage” when homeowners, whose insurance coverage for dwelllings, contents, and liability for residential use are lost in the transition when the homeowner, in effect, becomes the landlord and creates a commercial relationship by being paid to rent their dwelling.  Tune in for Laura’s solution to seamless homeowners protection so that insurance coverage is not lost.

CDC Advises Pregnant Women & Their Partners to Avoid Parts of Miami, Florida. . . What About Puerto Rico?

Friday, August 19th, 2016

Am I the only one gobsmacked (a great word I learned in Ireland) by the CDC issuing warning for pregnant women and their partners, and those planning to be pregnant in the near future, to avoid parts of Miami, with the alert that the “parts” could spread to other parts, potentially, when there are 14 reported cases of Zika virus known to be acquired in  Miami, Florida as of August 17, 2016  while saying NOTHING about the 7,855 cases of Zika acquired in Puerto Rico between January 2015 and August 17, 2016?

Worse than that, I still haven’t gotten over the July 4, 2016 article on page 4 of Travel Weekly, a prestigious travel trade paper that boasted with words I interpret as a sense of pride and good sense, that a US radio broadcaster whose program focuses on travel broadcast live from Puerto Rico and, as the travel trade paper noted, “minced no words” during his live broadcast telling people that travel to Puerto Rico, which then had 2474 reported cases of locally acquired Zika virus, was safe and there was nothing to fear but fear itself.  I can’t be the only one who finds both the comments made in that live broadcast from Puerto Rico, which I am sure was meant to be an object lesson by proving it must be safe to be there or he wouldn’t be there, and worse that Travel Weekly immortalized those bold, and questionable statements, with their reporting of his comments.

Here are the facts:

So far, most people who have acquired Zika, transmitted by Zika-carrying mosquitoes, have very mild cases that often are thought to be bouts of fatigue by the infected person. Fevers are low grade and any accompanying aches and pains are often thought to be the result of overdoing.  In short, most people don’t even know they have it.

Some people, however, who have immune system challenges or other physical issues have been known to acquire the Zika virus and have it develop into Gillian Barre Syndrome which is an illness that mimics in adults the symptoms associated with polio in children.  Polio is a disease of childhood and it is now conjectured that Franklin Delano Roosevelt who was diagnosed with polio which resulted in his being in a wheel chair for much of his adult life, was misdiagnosed and that he actually had Gillian Barre Syndrome.  It makes me wonder if FDR was in a tropical destination prior to coming down with his illness while he was at his retreat, Campobello. I’ll have to do a bit of research on that curiosity and will let you know what I find out!

While you might be bitten by a Zika mosquito and have next-to-no symptoms, if you are pregnant, considering being pregnant, or are a man in a relationship with one or more women of child-bearing age, you need to be concerned about where you go because the results of a pregnant woman being bitten by a Zika-carrying mosquito can be calamitous for the unborn child!  Worse than the risk of the mosquito bite itself, is the lingering risk of a woman being infected with the Zika virus even if she is never bitten by a mosquito but who has unprotected sex with a man who has been bitten and has the virus living inside him, transmittable through his semen, for as long as 2 to 6 months so the CDC advises use of a condom for six (6) months or abstinence.

One has to wonder why, when there are fourteen (14) reported cases of Zika in a couple of square miles of Florida that warnings are blaring why Puerto Rico’s 7,855 reported cases acquired in Puerto Rico were not mentioned today in the same story.  Also note that, since many people have such mild cases of Zika virus that they don’t even know they are sick or could transmit the disease to their partner (note that a case of a woman giving the illness to a man in the US occurred recently), the actual number of cases is surely, and logically, much larger because you won’t seek out medical care if you don’t feel ill and, therefore, the number of reported cases will not accurately reflect the number of actual cases.

One of the problems appears to be the Zika-carrying mosquito likes warm weather and when I hear the advice, “Take precautions,” it doesn’t compute well. Common advice is: use insect repellent and wear long sleeves and long pants.

So let me suggest this scenario for Miami or Puerto Rico or the US Virgin Islands in August, or any other month as they are all warm weather destinations:

You go to these places. How comfortable will you be wearing long sleeves and long pants?

You chose those destinations because you want to go swimming and enjoy the beaches and poolsides. You put on your bathing suits. To protect yourselves, you lather up with insect repellent. You go in the water. The insect repellent washes off or, in the least, its value is diminished as it becomes diluted and washes off your skin.

You’ve had enough of the water and want to return to your beach chair.  .  . in  your bathing suit and devoid of insect repellent protection that has run off your body.

You race to your beach chair, rummage through your beach bag to quickly find your insect repellent, and lather up.

But here’s the question that I find similar to my Zika virus question:

“If you’re only driving 4 blocks from your house to the grocery store, do you really have to put your seat belt on?” which suggests the follow-up question, “How many blocks do you need to drive before you have an accident?”

So here’s my Zika question for those emerging from the water headed to their beach chairs to find their insect repellent:

Can you make it from the water to your beach chair and get yourself lathered up before a mosquito has lunch on your body?  How many “safe” seconds do you have in that window of time between the water and the reapplication of a repellent with DEET in it which is the recommended repellent I was told but isn’t that one of those “unsafe” ingredients?

So the final question is, if you are heading into an area where there is Zika actively being acquired by people from mosquitoes or from their infected partners, can you really protect yourself from being bitten?  I just don’t see how! It seems to me that the CDC came out today with the first firm warning related to portions of Dade County, Florida but, people, you really need to think for yourself.  Read, listen, learn about what is going on, go to www.cdc.gov and click on “Zika” where you’ll find the updated list of where Zika is actively being acquired  and don’t believe everything you hear because you never know who is saying something with an underlying hidden agenda that may be in their own best interest and not in the best interest of the people they are talking to. (Politicians do that all the time!)  Happily, Florida seems to be the only US state where the Zika virus is active  so if you want a vacation that doesn’t require a passport, choose a US state where no Zika is actively being acquired from mosquitoes. You have 49 states to choose from at the moment.

Radio Show Travel Expert Stephanie Abrams Posts Line-Up of Guests to Broadcasts August 20 and 21 2016

Friday, August 19th, 2016

Touring Cuba with Regina Tours on Catholic-Oriented Cruise-Tour to Religious Sites and Shrine

Saturday, August 20, 2016, Travelers411, hosted  by broadcast media travel expert Stephanie Abrams and heard coast-to-coast in the US on radio and podcast and archived at sAbrams.com and Travelers411.com, features the following:

Stephanie starts off Hour 1 with insights in the challenges for travelers to Rio de Janeiro in Brazil.  While initially inspired to talk about the realities of visiting Rio by the reports about the assaults on a coach and others which have not been refuted, and the stories, now known to be bogus, about assaults on the swimmers, Stephanie talks about warnings she received from Brazilian colleagues before her visits to Rio.  While it is more than just unfortunate that the Olympic swimmers seem to have taken advantage of the criminal realities one may easily face while visiting that destination to create cover stories for their alleged bad behavior, the facts are that, from a health point of  view, the sanitary conditions are not up to par and the beautiful beaches abut water that is toxic from raw sewage.  Stephanie describes instructions she was given to be alert for people, often carrying baseball bats, approaching cars at traffic stop lights,and  directing her to “run them over,” something she explains she could never do, to avoid having the car windows shattered which would be followed by robbery and assault. Wearing jewelry of any kinds, including watches, rings, earrings, bracelets were described as “forbidden” in order to give criminal gangs no incentive to target her and her traveling companion. The tragedy, Stephanie explains, is that the county is so beautiful and its problems are man-made.

Hour 1 continues with Josh Marsh, founder and CEO of the cyber-company, Conversocial, whose technology allows travelers in need of attention to interface efficiently with suppliers in the travel industry like major airlines through social media such as twitter and facebook using, without realizing it, the “behind the scenes” technology of Conversocial that is propelling the travelers social media comments, complaints, and need for attention directly to the people within the airline or other customer service oriented company for faster and more efficient attention than one would expect to receive thru customer service toll-free telephone and airport customer service desks when there a crunch period.

In Hour 2 of Travelers411, Kim Noltemy, Chief Operating and Communications Officer of the Boston Symphony Orchestra reviews the exciting performances that are left in the Tanglewood season which include:  “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” concert in which the entire film is shown with the musical score eliminated from the film and performed by the Boston Pops synchronized to the film itself!  Just amazing! August 27 welcomes a BSO performance in which the cellist, Yo-Yo Ma, will be featured. August 28th brings forth the matinee performance at Tanglewood, the summer home of the BSO, located in Lenox/Stockbridge, Massachusetts, of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. Labor Day Weekend winds up the season with the Boston Pops with the B52s  on Friday night, September 2 and Saturday, September 3 with the Boston Pops Swing Orchestra providing dancing under the stars with dance floors set up on the lawn at Tanglewood! Imagine, dancing to the music of the Boston Pops!

Hour 3 introduces Nick Mancino, President of Regina Tours, a company that Nick explains has the proper approval to be able to operate groups to Cuba which will be done by way of Montego Bay, Jamaica on the Louis Cruises ship, Celestial Crystal which has 475 cabins and holds 1200 passengers.  Discussion this hour focuses on Regina Tours history and the allure of Cuba and the Catholic-centered tours to religious sites, shrines and cathedrals that Regina Tours includes in their itineraries.

Sunday, August 21, 2016, Travel WITH Stephanie, Stephanie interview Kim Noltemy, Chief Operating and Communications Officer of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and, in Hour 2, continues the conversation with  with focus on exploring the ship itself and the itinerary of the Catholic-centered tour to Cuba by ship that Regina Tours is launching on Louis Cruises ship, Celestial Crystal.  The ship’s itinerary embarks on Friday evenings at 8pm from Montego Bay and sails for Santiago de Cuba with further stops over the 7-day itinerary in Havana , Isla de la Juventud, the ‘Isle of Youth,’ and at Cienfuegos to visit the cathedral there built in 1869 in Spanish neo-classic style with two bell towers. Nick provides listeners with a virtual cruise at sea and on land as the company launches its first cruises to Cuba.

Shock to Americans: US Government Introducing US Companies to Businesses on Other Continents to Help Them Grow! What a Surprise. . . NOT!

Thursday, August 11th, 2016

I am truly blessed with a multitude of amazing experiences in both my personal and professional life that have led me to global destinations. From those interests and travels, I have amassed an extraordinary number of experiences that put me in a unique position to be able to understand events and happenings as they unfold on the global stage.  The current flap over an American business person asking for an introduction to a business in a foreign country that might meet his company’s specific needs, which may have included finding a supplier of goods/services, finding a customer for his company’s products/services, find a partner to help grow his business on other continents are all functions that the US Government willingly, robustly, and gladly provide for US businesses. And I know that because the US Government assisted me . . . yes, me(!). . . in my quest to globalize the company in which I played a key role for almost 16 years prior to 9/11.  The company was a leader in its category as a franchisor of travel agencies, something I contributed handsomely to propel that company to grow.  We were the “McDonald’s” of the travel agency franchise world and when I was at an IFA, International Franchise Association meeting, chatting with a top executive of a restaurant franchise company whose brand you would recognize, telling him about the globalization plans I was spearheading in which I had already sold countries, that you didn’t know were for sale, selling the Master Rights so that strong entrepreneurs in the global destinations could develop our brand within their territory,  he asked me if I was using US Embassies to do that.  I had no idea what he was talking about and, frankly, the last thing I wanted to do was introduce the US Government into our daily business lives as that didn’t sound like that was such a good idea.  His question, a suggestion in disguise, did not make any sense to me and I hadn’t a clue what he was thinking or trying to share with me.

The incident nagged me.  What could he have been trying to tell me? What was he thinking? Maybe I needed to know something he knew but I didn’t know what that could be.  As is my M.O., I couldn’t let it go until I found out what he might be referring to and what I might be dismissing that might be a great opportunity.  So I set about, prior to the internet playing a role in every person’s business and professional life, to find out what he was referring to at this point in time in the early 1990’s.

What I found out led me to be introduced by the US Government to entrepreneurs who had the financial resources, the knowledge of the laws and customs of doing business in far-flung global destinations where they lived, some understanding and interest in travel and tourism, and a desire to work with a strong US brand to bring the services we provided to the locals in that person’s country. . . and all I had to do was ask! Just ASK the US Government to introduce me to people who could become our joint-venture partners with our company.

Because of these introductions which were, in general, made face-to-face around the world, I traveled and met the people that the US Commercial Service in each US Embassy in each foreign country had organized to introduce me to potential investors in our system in Madrid, Barcelona, Milan, Paris, Argentina, Chile, Mexico City, Bangkok, and Kuala Lumpur for the purpose of education them on what our company did  and answering their questions as well as evaluating each of them to determine if they would make a good partner for our company .  Every now and then, somebody launches a campaign to save the US taxpayer money by eliminating the Department of Commerce (DOC) and every time that happens it sets my brain on fire as those folks clearly have no idea of the wonderful services provided by the US Government and the DOC to aid in US companies in their efforts to grow their businesses.

The Trade Missions I did to the nine (9) destinations mentioned above were generally composed of key executives of from other companies in travel, tourism and hospitality.  During these trips I met executives from A&W Restaurants, Holiday Inn Hotels, and a variety of car rental companies and other lodgings and restaurants all looking for international area developers to purchase the master rights for their country.  The way the system works, much like the much discussed phone call asking for an introduction in a foreign country, is that the US company that wants to do business in a foreign destination, needs a joint-venture partner, is looking for a customer or a supplier, contacts the US Government and explains what you do and what you are looking for.  For years, my key contact was Mr. Sam Dhir, who I am hoping to track down and have on the air with me!  After providing essential information on your US business and explaining what kind of business or entrepreneur you wish to connect with and what country/countries you are interested in working with, the DOC will contact the US Embassy in that destination and ask them to research what company/companies would be good matches for your company to chat with.  There’s no collusion or underhandedness in play! This is so normal in a day’s work as it is seen as one of the features and benefits that our tax dollars support to help businesses grow.  Such a sane idea!

The DOC publishes a list of trade missions dates and provides missions focused on various industries which may include garment manufacturing/buying/selling fabric for US companies, energy related companies such as those involved in wind and solar power, technology companies, food industry companies, manufacturing sectors and you can find out easily . . . don’t be afraid to make a call to Washington, DC to speak with someone specifically about how our government can help your company. . . what the calendar for 2016-2017 looks like so you can plan to participate. Just the way that someone called or sent an email asking for the name of a company and introduction for a specific business need, I called Sam Dhir at the DOC on a regular basis and I’m sure he remembers me more than a decade later even though he has retired!

So companies in travel, for instance, who want to see their restaurant chain, car rental company or hotel chain grow in Europe, South America, Africa, Asia and/or Pacific Rim, would, through the US Government, look for introductions to hoteliers, car rental company owners and restaurateurs who are successful in their country/region and want to grow by being associated with the marketing distribution that American brands can bring to them, the training and other associations with group buying and other features that could be beneficial as well as giving them the opportunity to grow the brand in their own company and earning fees from new owner and service fees paid within their own country that the US company and the master franchisee in the country will benefit from.

Those planning to go on a Trade Mission with the DOC will be asked to provide anywhere from 30 to 50 kits of information on their company and ship that number of kits to each US Embassy to the US Commercial Service at that destination for each country you’ll be visiting. The folks in the Commercial Service at each destination will go to work to identify people for you to meet with, generally putting together a one or two day agenda of back-to-back meetings so that you’ll be introduced to about 6, sometimes as many as 8, entrepreneurs, business owners, and those whose business interests match the interests of the US business person.  The meetings are generally set up at the headquarters of the local Chamber of Commerce (you should see the one in Madrid. . .gorgeous, historic and all-around amazing) or it may be set up in a hotel or other government building in the destination the trade mission participant is visiting. Generally, at the end of the event, or sometimes on a 2-day event it will take place on the first night, a reception is planned and all of the local entrepreneurs and trade mission participants have a chance to mingle in a social setting, often at the home of the US Ambassador to that country or the home of a US attaché associated with the US Embassy in that country.  If you want to see amazing, get yourself invited to the home of the US Ambassador to Thailand. . . right out of a Hollywood movie!

The DOC evaluates the US companies who wish to participate to be sure that each company is solid and is a credible company and the same is done to research the business backgrounds of the companies requesting introductions to US companies at the US Embassy in their county.  If you want to do this kind of outreach to grow your business but you don’t want to wait until there is a trade mission focused on your specific industry because you need to find your international connection now, check to see if the DOC is still offering the Gold Key Program.  This program allows for the Commercial Service in the destination(s) of interest to set up meetings customized for one specific company to take place at the convenience of the US company. Additionally, with the advent of SKYPE, the meeting(s) may be set up so that there is no need, initially, for the US company’s representative to travel to the foreign destination as that connection can be made electronically. Ultimately, it’s a really good idea for the US company to fly to the destination, meet all the people involved, check out any offices, warehouses, plants, physical locations of the potential foreign partner as part of the US company’s due diligence before you sign anything.

Fees? Yes! I haven’t done a trade mission in 15 or 16 years so you’ll want to find out the going rates.  In the dark ages of 1994-2000, most DOC trade mission fees paid by US companies to be a participant, not counting air transportation, hotels, meals, taxis, car rental fees, was about $2000-$3000 per destination. Often, there were multiple destinations put together like Brazil, Argentina and Chile or Thailand, Malaysia, Philippines and discounts on participation fees were offered if you chose to do multiple stops on that trail.  You could also buy into one or more destinations for trade missions without doing all of them.  Special hotel rates were often offered as part of group rates that made the trip more economical for participants.

You’ll want to check with the rate for the Gold Key Program is today.  In decades past, the rate for the Commercial Service for each day that they needed to invest in sorting out the people they would introduce you to meet your special needs was in the range of $500 to $1000 per day of their work and the rate depended on whether they needed to contact 100 people of 30 people and how much time needed to be devoted.  The SKYPE program was less than that.

But when I had a question that someone in a foreign destination could answer for me if they were steeped in the travel/tourism industry, because the folks at the Department of Commerce knew so many people in so many sectors of business all over the world, I wouldn’t hesitate to call and ask if someone could think of a hotelier or a travel agency owner or tourism minister that they could give me a name, in the worst case, and contacts in the best case for the type of person I needed to talk with to get credible answers to questions or to suggest that we work together with them  to head up our local training and support programs we’d need to set up in the foreign destinations to support our emerging travel agencies that we planned to open through a master franchisee program!
So simple. . .not underhanded. . . nothing sneaky. . .just people who know people acting like ‘directory assistance’ to save American businesspeople weeks of research to find someone reliable and trustworthy to do everything from have a chat to act as a support system, provide ground services for arriving travelers from the US, be the local tour operator with receptive services from VIP meeting at airports to sightseeing and local transportation to being investors in bringing this franchise to their country.  Somebody ought to applaud the people who go out of their way to help US businesses grow globally. It’s not an easy thing to do all by yourself!

At the end of my career at that company a month and a day after 9/11, I had sold 21 countries you didn’t know were for sale! Ten (10) of them were the result of introductions made by the US Government.  They included: Thailand, Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam, Philippines, Indonesia, Cambodia (all sold to one buyer) which represented the eight nations of the ASEAN at that time in the 1990’s . . . and that down-payment check was for $237,500usd. . . what a gorgeous sight(!), Mexico, and Spain.  Here’s my applause for all who get it and all in our government who help the wheels of US business move forward by assisting in hand-across-the-ocean programs!  And this is my invitation for all who don’t know what they are talking about to take a deep breath and learn something before you express an opinion.

US Gov’t. Center for Disease Control’s Website Info. . . Read Before Traveling!

Sunday, July 24th, 2016

I have had Dr. Ann Powers from the Arboviral Diseases Division of the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention on the air with me both on Travelers411 and on Travel WITH Stephanie Abrams hoping that these discussions and her input, as an expert on Zika Virus, will help to provide straight information for  women who are of child-bearing age and men who are sexually intimate with women of child-bearing age who have been to destinations where the Zika virus has been reported to have been acquired.  There is a story publicized in the travel industry resulting from a radio broadcaster who produced a show in Puerto Rico during which the show host made it clear that no one should fear going to Puerto Rico because of the presence of the Zika virus-carrying mosquito.  I hope you will listen to the my two radio shows on which Dr. Ann Powers appeared as it was made very clear that the US Government Center for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending that men who return from a destination where the Zika virus originates (which you can find on a list at this websites : https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/page/zika-travel-information) should either abstain from sexual relations with any women of child-bearing age with whom he is intimate for up to six (6). . . yes, you heard it right. . .SIX MONTHS or use a condom for that period of time to be on the safe side of not being responsible for introducing this virus to an unborn who could be born with horrible malformation of the head/brain,  . . . go look it up! It’s awful!

As for the radio host in Puerto Rico suggesting that there is nothing to fear from the Zika virus for those who visit, for most people past the age of their child-producing years, they will probably, if they are bitten by a Zika-bearing mosquito, have a mild case of the flu. Some may develop, it has been pointed out by CDC, Gillian Barre Disease which is what the medical community now says was what afflicted Franklin Delano Roosevelt and was misdiagnosed as Polio which is a disease of childhood but whose symptoms often include fever, respiratory problems and paralysis.

When you go to the list of reported cases of Zika virus at the CDC listing that the above link will take you to, you will note that the number of cases of reported Zika virus originating in Puerto Rico is over 2400 while most other destinations report small numbers of locally acquired Zika.  It disturbs me that a major travel industry trade newspaper would report and, therefore, repeat the message of the radio host who encouraged travelers to avoid succumbing to fear of travel to Puerto Rico.  My advice is that if you are a traveler going on a honeymoon and anticipating that a pregnancy just might result from that trip or if  you are involved in a relationship that includes hopefulness of a pregnancy within the next six months or if you are a pregnant woman, or if you are the parent/sibling/best friend of a woman/couple who fit that description,  please, PLEASE, take a moment to go to the link above for the CDC and have a look at what is going on in the world and become acquainted with what happens to a baby whose mother is on the receiving end of the Zika virus.  Nobody wants to risk these potential results. . . especially when there are so many wonderful places in the world where this is one issue you don’t have to worry about.

To date, no US state has been shown to have had a case of Zika virus that originated in the state. There was a news story last week that indicated that Florida “may” have a locally acquired Zika virus case but, to date, I have seen no corroborating evidence that that is true.  I will keep you updated as I stay on top of this story to find out if, in fact, the Zika-carrying mosquito has announced its entrance into Florida. Until we have that evidence, it is more likely that the illness came into to country with someone who was bitten by the insect somewhere else.

Do you homework, people! This is too important an issue to make such a serious mistake by going to a place that can inflict dire results on a family and one of its children. . .especially when you have choices and you can somewhere where other things could happen in this imperfect world but wreaking havoc on your unborn child isn’t one of them!