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Sunday, August 31, 2008

Top 10 things to buy in Dubai, pt 2

Oh yes, there are more exotic goodies to buy in Dubai...
6) Carpets and kilims - the UAE has a reputation for having the finest quality carpets in the region at the lowest prices. This is because there is a discerning audience of locals and expats who know their carpets (and know how to bargain!), there's no tax, and because Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan are just across the sea, so the carpets don't have far to travel. Carpet come from far and wide but the best buys are obviously Persian carpets.

7) Gold and gems
- after carpets, gold is the next best value buy, while diamonds are increasingly becoming a good buy. The gold market is huge in Dubai with locals and wealthy Indian and Arab expats being the biggest buyers. They're mostly buying for wedding dowries, as well as investment. Rarely do tourists walk away without something sparkly either. You'll find anything that glitters at the Gold Souq. The Gold and Diamond Centre is also a great place to shop but the Souq offers a quintessential Dubai experience.

8) Textiles
- most of the fabulous fabrics at Bur Dubai's textile souq come from India, Bangladesh and East Africa, so you can expect to find lots of vibrant fabrics. Bur Dubai’s Textile Souq is the place to shop, but the sari stores in the back streets are also worth a look - the Indian saris make wonderful curtains and bed throws.

9) Middle Eastern souvenirs
- Dubai has it all: spangly sequined slippers from India and Pakistan to the more exotic curly-toed Aladdin slippers from Afghanistan; colourful glass lanterns and chandeliers from Syria and Morocco; exquisite mother-of-pearl inlaid wooden furniture from Syria; Egyptian cotton sheets and clothes; the softest pashmina shawls and colourful embroidered coats from Kashmir and Nepal; gorgeous beaded cushion covers and bedspreads from India; miniature paintings from Iran and Turkey; bellydancing outfits from Egypt; sheesha pipes from everywhere... and I could go on...

10) Kitsch souvenirs
- if you're a collector of kitsch or you want to buy a dozen little trinkets for the staff at the office, then you'll go out of your mind trying to decide what to buy as Dubai just has so much of this kooky stuff, from mosque-shaped alarm clocks that play the call-to-prayer when they go off to keyrings dangling with tiny iconic Dubai buildings, to Sheikh Mohammed coffee cups and t-shirts, and a million things that come in the shape of a camel. And I hear you can still pick up a Saddam Hussein cigarette lighter (which sends an electric current up your arm when you flick it!) if you're prepared to pay for it.

Top 10 things to buy in Dubai, pt 1

Here's a rundown of my Dubai shopping list, and I have to admit it's the same one I usually gave to guests who came to stay:
1) Silver Bedouin jewellery,
khanjars and other trinkets - most of the beautiful Bedouin jewellery you'll see in Dubai comes from the UAE and Arabian Peninsula, although some also comes from Afghanistan, Pakistan and India; ask and most retailers will be honest with you. Expect to find heavy silver bangles, anklet bracelets, engraved pendants, striking necklaces and pretty bridle head-dresses. Bedouin khanjars (daggers) make a stunning souvenir; you can also buy them framed if you live somewhere with restrictions on bringing knives into the country. Also look out for intricately engraved Koran holders and little silver kohl pots with a tiny wand attached by a fine chain.
2) Emirati handicrafts - traditionally Bedouin people, Emiratis carried little with them as they moved between desert and sea, so there isn't a huge variety of local handicrafts but you will find bright red-striped camel blankets and bags (that make wonderful cushions and ottomans), simple rustic kilims, and hand-woven palm-frond baskets and shoulder bags, and - my favorite - floor mats and cone-shaped covers used for keeping the flies off the food. They're perfect for picnics.

3) Brass and copperware - even if you're not normally a fan of either you'll love all the gorgeous stuff you can buy here, from traditional Arabian coffee pots and tea pots with tiny brass cups, to big intricately engraved trays that sit on little wooden legs, to gorgeous genie lamps...

4) Oriental perfume - whether you buy the
oud (scented wood) and attars (essential oils) from a stall in the souq, sold in plain label-free bottles and containers, or you visit one of the opulent Oriental perfume shops, popular with the wealthier locals, you must buy some of the heady fragrances worn by local women. They're more spicy and pungent, and therefore hard to forget. Wear them back home and you'll definitely turn heads.
5) Frankincense - you'll see Omani frankincense sold in jute sacks in the Spice Souq (that's what those small golden rocks are). It's used by Emiratis to perfume their clothes and homes. Attend a local wedding and women will walk around the room with an incense burner so you can waft incense over yourself. You can buy the frankincense by weight, sold in brown paper bags, or in a pre-packaged kit (a better souvenir) including a small burner and coal. (Magic Coal is the best.) Ahh, I can smell it now...

What to buy in Dubai: let's get something straight

So what should you buy in Dubai? Well, at the top of your Dubai shopping list should be those fabulous things that you probably already associate with shopping the Middle East – carpets, perfume, gold, spices, and frankincense - but there are lots of other exotic goodies you should add to your list, such as Bedouin jewellery and a few kitsch Arabian souvenirs. To state the obvious first - as Dubai and the UAE get a lot of criticism for this - while these gorgeous things are made for the local market, most are not made in Dubai or the UAE. But have you looked at the tag on that toy koala you bought in Australia? It was probably made in China or South Korea. The same goes for that tiny Eiffel Tower you bought in Paris. But there are some authentic must-buys and they're at the top of my list... have you got a pen?

Saturday, August 30, 2008

10 Reasons to Shop Dubai - a taster

Since you twisted my bangled arm, here's a taste of my 10 Reasons to Shop Dubai or The Ultimate Dubai Shopping Guide. Visit Viator for the full article, which includes fab extras like what to buy where, and a lesson in bargaining.
1.Dubai Shopping Festival - citywide sales, massive discounts, crazy promotions, extravagant raffle prizes, entertainment, street fairs, food stalls, nightly fireworks, and cultural activities, in the cool winter months (Jan-Feb).
2.Dubai Summer Surprises - summer (Jun-Aug) equivalent; hotel prices are slashed but it’s a sweltering 45 degrees Celsius outside. It's as if you’re in a giant sauna or God has placed a blow heater above Dubai. An experience!
3.Dubai’s Shopping Malls - I’m not a fan of malls normally; give me a shopping 'hood like Amsterdam’s Nine Streets any day. But in Dubai, where it’s too hot to stroll the streets for six months, malls make sense. Dubai’s malls boast restaurants, cinemas, theatres, art galleries, child minding centres, mosques, and ski slopes!

4.Mall of the Emirates - my favourite; enormous, opulent, marble floors, spacious ‘avenues’, fab selection of shops, swish Harvey Nichols, Virgin Megastore, superb restaurants (Almaz by Momo) and bars (Apres), chic Kempinski Mall of the Emirates, and indoor ski slopes.
5.Dubai’s Souqs - these bustling bazaars aren't the most attractive (get Marrakesh and Istanbul out of your head) but they’re atmospheric, gritty, ramshackle, and real; they don't exist for tourists, this is where real people shop for everyday stuff.
6.Because in Dubai Bargaining is a Fine Art - part of the fun of shopping Dubai’s souqs is haggling; it’s not a requirement as in Cairo or Istanbul, but if you pay the first price offered, you’re probably paying double the value. See my Viator article for bargaining tips.

7.Dubai’s Best Buys - Dubai’s best buys are carpets, textiles, perfume, spices, and gold. Buy these and other exotic goodies at the Spice Souq, Deira’s Covered Souqs, Gold Souq, Bur Dubai’s Textile Souq, and Karama Souq. (I tell you what to buy where on Viator.)

Souq Madinat Jumeirah - this wonderful air-conditioned, contemporary take on a souq is the place to shop when you can’t face the souq chaos, the heat has got to you, you’re not in the mood for bargaining, or you want a chilled glass of white with lunch. Prices are higher but the quality is better.
9. Dubai’s Homegrown Fashion - Dubai’s fashion scene is blooming; watch cheeky young designer Raghda Bukhash, whose fabulous
Pink Sushi label playfully appropriated the red and white gutra (Arab men’s headdress) to produce cute skirts, handbags and clutches, well before everyone started wearing gutras in Europe. Available at Amzaan, owned by princess Sheikha Maisa al-Qassimi. Other hip boutiques stocking local fashion include Five Green and S*uce.
10. Dubai’s Shopping Hours - 10am-10pm daily for malls; stores outside malls close afternoons and on Friday (Muslim day of worship). Shopping is most fun in the evening when locals shop. It means nights end late, but what are days for if not dozing by the pool?

The Ultimate Dubai Shopping Guide

When we arrived in the UAE over 10 years ago, the guy from my company who picked us up from the airport chatted all the way into town, giving us a detailed intro to the country while extolling the virtues of living in Dubai compared to Abu Dhabi – where we’d just moved! “… and Dubai has a shopping festival!” he proclaimed proudly. In those days, Abu Dhabi didn’t even have a mall so we’d have to drive to Dubai to do real shopping, like buy an espresso machine for the apartment. A shopping festival was something else! If a little weird… what kind of country had a festival dedicated to shopping, we wondered. Abu Dhabi now boasts several swanky shopping centres, but Dubai, with its scores of malls and souqs is still the King of Shopping, and according to my husband Terry, I’m the Queen of Shopping, which is why I’ve written the Ultimate Dubai Shopping Guide, or 10 Reasons to Shop Dubai for Viator. You can read the full story here.

The Guardian summer holiday travel writing competition: the winners are announced!

The Guardian summer holiday travel writing competition winners have been announced and you can read the best 50 stories - five winners and 45 runner-ups - on the paper's website. 1300 stories were submitted. I actually expected they might have received more entries. Perhaps the thought of an editor cutting the stories from 500 to 100 words was too much for some? The winners included Blue Spanish Skies, a tale about hiking in Mallorca, Bathing by Numbers, about a beach holiday in Croatia, and Moor the Merrier, about a boating trip on the Thames. While I thoroughly enjoyed reading the winning stories, I must admit I found the edited entries a tad frustrating to read - sometimes it was as if the narrative was just beginning to engage and then they were cut short (funny about that), while at other times they simply made no sense, as if a chunk was missing from the middle. I can understand why the Guardian wouldn't publish the full pieces in the paper version of the newspaper, but I'm not quite sure what the point was in editing them for the website. I'd love to read them in their entirety. What did you think?

These guys? They're in a back street of the medina in Marrakesh. Arguing over which story they liked best no doubt.

Friday, August 29, 2008

The world's most jawdropping drives, pt 2

Here's the second part of my pick of the world's most jawdropping drives from roads we've travelled in the last few years (read part 1 here). I've categorized these great drives by region and country, as some destinations are gifted with so many dramatically beautiful routes:
6. MOROCCO: one of our favorite road trips starts from Marrakesh, heading east to Essaouira, then south via the surfing spots dotting the coast down to Agadir, before turning inland toward the walled city Taroudant, and on to other-worldly Ouarzazate, Zagora and the tiny hamlet Mhmed, the last stop before the Sahara, returning to Marrakesh via the Atlas Mountains. The trip took us through moonlike landscapes, sublime desert scenery, abandoned mountain palaces, Berber desert citadels, and date palm oases. Magical!
we once drove from Koh Samui (via a car ferry) across the south of Thailand to Phuket. This route takes you through lush green tropical landscapes boasting striking limestone mountains and impenetrable jungle. On the way are tiny towns with bustling markets and diversions such as elephant trekking and whitewater rafting, but the drive itself with the stunning scenery was enough to keep us satisfied.

: the roads may be in a poor state, pot-holed and breaking away in parts, and the Cyrillic signs mean you need to continually refer to your dictionary, yet other than that driving in Bulgaria is a road trippers' dream, with idyllic rural landscapes with lush green meadows carpeted with wildflowers, where ramshackle villages tumble down mountainsides, and striking war monuments appear in the most surprising places. You'll have to frequently stop for cows and
families will pass you on wooden horses and carts, but that's part of the fun of it.
9. MUSANDAM, OMAN: from the UAE border to Khasab, the sleepy capital of the Musandam Peninsula of Oman, a road skirts the magnificent coast, taking you by majestic forts, mosques with pretty minarets, date palm oases, hills topped with watchtowers, and small coves where fisherman haul in nets. The whole way you have on one side sheer rocky mountains and on the other the turquoise sea. (For more info, see my story 'Dhows, dolphins and smugglers' published in the January issue of Get Lost magazine here)
there's a drive in the Liwa region through the sandy desert near the border with Saudi Arabia that snakes through massive peach- and apricot-coloured sand dunes. There's very little vegetation, just an occasional small shrub, and the dunes are dotted with long-lashed camels. This is real Lawrence of Arabia stuff! As the sand is continually shifting it dramatically 'bleeds' across the road from time to time. (Read more in my story 'Dubai's Desert Escapes' published in Lifestyle+Travel magazine, available

Thursday, August 28, 2008

The world's most jawdropping drives, pt 1

We do a lot of driving as part of our guidebook research - rather, my partner and co-author Terry drives and I do the trip planning and navigating. So it's inevitable that some of the most memorable aspects of our trips are the roads we drive. I stumbled across Matador's The World's Most Spectacular Roads, which inspired this post. As I only write about places I've been, here's my pick of some of the globe's most jawdropping drives from the roads we've travelled over the last few years. I've categorized them by country or region, as some destinations are gifted with so many dramatically beautiful routes:
1. WESTERN AUSTRALIA: this colossal island's most stunning drives are in the West.
Our favorites are in the Kimberley and Pilbara regions of the Northwest, especially those through the area's national parks, including Karjini, Purnululu (Bungle Bungles), Millstream-Chichester and the Kennedy Range National Parks. Empty roads run through flat arid outback landscapes sprinkled with strange wildflowers, incredible rock formations, and mountains sliced with deep river gorges. These are also the country's most isolated roads (pictured) where you can drive 900 kilometres between towns and not see a soul, so a 4WD with extra fuel, water and supplies is recommended.
MAINLAND GREECE: the country's mainland boasts some of the planet's most breathtaking drives. Those we've loved best are the road from Edessa via Florina and Pisoderi to the splendid Prespa Lakes and fishing village of Psarades, near the border with Macedonia and Yugoslavia, which boasts some of the most pristine country we've come across; the narrow roads through the high country of the Pindos range with their monstrous rugged snow-capped mountains, hills thick with shrubs in every shade of green, and grey granite rock formations around Vikos Gorge; and the wild ruggedly beautiful Mani region of the Peloponnese (read more about our Greek travels on our Lonely Planet Greece Trip Journal).
CRETE: yes, we know Crete is an island of Greece, but Crete has so many amazing drives with spectacular scenery it deserves a listing of its own. The high roads of the isolated southeast coast skirt the mountains offering virtually birds-eye-view sea vistas, scenic routes snake through the elevated rural plateaus of central Crete offering picturesque views of villages and farmland, while the views from the windy roads of the west coast are so awe-inspring you'll find yourself stopping at every turn to take photos.
CALABRIA: Aspromonte, Sila and Pollino National Parks in Calabria, Italy, offer breathtaking scenery. In all three national parks, high roads snake through thick forests that form canopies over the roads - the drives are spooky in parts (very dark and moody) and the air fresh and fragrant. But once out of the woods, the views are almost always stunning, whether it's a vista of a hilltop village cascading down a mountain or a field blanketed with wildflowers.
CYPRUS: good narrow roads criss-cross the central Troodos mountains through thick aromatic pine forests dotted with Byzantine fresco-filled churches and splendid monasteries, the most impressive being the serpentine road through Cedar Valley; in the northwest, from Pomos to Kato Pyrgos, pretty fishing harbours bob with boats while around Kato Pyrgos the road rises to majestic heights, where it's just the mountain goats enjoying magnificent coastal vistas; and in Northern Cyprus, the road through the Karpaz Peninsula takes you through pristine country where wild donkeys graze on green meadows, by pretty turquoise coves watched over by crumbling Byzantine churches, and to one of the island's best beaches, a wide stretch of sand backed by high dunes.
Read part 2 here.

Come hell or highways

I just discovered this recent story Come hell or highways in The Age on the road trip and family travel, and was flattered to see myself quoted. Samantha Selinger-Morris writes: "So why does the family road trip receive so much attention? The Sunday Times of London recently reported a boom in motor-home travel. And in February, Lonely Planet and Lifestyle + Travel magazine contributor Lara Dunston extolled the sublime pleasures of caravan trips - such as the five-year epic she made with her family around Australia when she was 11 - on her blog, Cool Travel Guide. "After so many five-star hotels with their tedious check-in procedures, the well-appointed rooms to inspect and the expansive buffet breakfasts to try, for the first time in many years, I found myself craving a far simpler travelling experience, that by caravan," she writes." Nice, huh? Thanks, Samantha!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Top 10 Spas in Thailand

Now that I've convinced you that Thai spas offer the most sublime experience of any spas in the world, here's a list of my top ten favorite Thai spas and treatments, to help you select one for your own indulgent spa getaway:
1. Six Senses Earth Spa at Six Senses Hideaway Hua Hin - be massaged by the vibrations of Tibetan Singing Bowls; trust me, there's nothing like it!
2. Anantara Resort & Spa, Koh Samui - elevate yourself to another level with the three-hour Anantara Body Extreme beginning with an Ayurvedic clay mud treatment followed by a steam bath, rain shower, and rejuvenating facial.
3. Four Seasons Hotel Koh Samui - the jungle setting is soothing enough but try the Siam Fusion, an East-meets-West treatment based on pressure-point manipulation enhanced with a warm lemongrass, ginger and camphor compress and deep tissue massage with essential oils.
4. Banyan Tree Spa Phuket - lie back in your own beautiful private pavillion (pictured) and enjoy the famous four-hand Harmony Banyan treatment where two therapists work on you simultaneously!
5. Four Seasons Tented Camp at the Golden Triangle - mellow out with a Mandalay Magical Cleanse, including a Burmese body polish, facial and hair mask, and tangerine and sandalwood foot massage.

6. Rayavadee Spa, Ao-Nang, Krabi - the aromatic Royal Siam massage is a must, combining reinvigorating Thai and Asian massage techniques using a stimulating blend of essential oils.
7. Evason Phuket Resort & Six Senses Spa - the sensuous Spa Journey is the treatment to try here, another indulgent four-hand full-body massage, gentle facial, and sleep-inducing foot massage by two therapists.
8. Anantara Resort & Spa Hua Hin - the three hour Culture of Anantara treatment begins with a Shirodhara massage (the 'massage of the third eye'), followed by a deep back massage and a soothing honey and milk bath.
9. Spa Ten at Siam@Siam, Bangkok - this beautiful contemporary designed spa is a real oasis in bustling Bangkok so the calming Urban Escape package is the one to try; guys should go for the rejuvenating '10 out of 10', which includes a comprehensive range of treatments of three hours.
10. AKA Spa, Chiang Mai - one of the few day spas in Thailand that even comes close to comparing with the resort spas; exfoliate with a Lanna Scrub (Sea Salt or Coffee perhaps?) then luxuriate in a Lanna Wrap (Papaya and Coconut Butter are both moisturizing). Heavenly.

The sublime Thai spa experience

Thai spas offer the most sublime spa experiences in the world. Trust me. I got to experience enough exfoliating body scrubs, deep tissue massages, luxuriating body wraps, and revitalizing facials to last me a lifetime while in Thailand last October researching a new spa section (and updating hotels and restaurants) for the DK Eyewitness Guide to Thailand, released this month. We visited a number of spas in Italy recently and none offered the same sensuous surroundings nor relaxing rituals of the Thai spas - they were sterile, lacked atmosphere, were often tucked away in a hotel basement, accessed via the gym, added almost as an after-thought. In Thailand, the spa takes centre stage and a spa experience is something else. There, the spas are situated in stunning settings, overlooking sultry jungles or tranquil ponds, and the spa experience begins from the moment you set foot in the spa: the fragrant aromas of incense and scented candles waft through the air, you're enveloped in the darkness of dim candle light, you're calmed by soft background music (the crashing of waves on a beach perhaps), and voices are hushed to a whisper. The decor is always exotic, whether traditional Thai style or sleek and contemporary. The masseurs are nearly always brilliant, gentle Thai women mostly, who skilfully work your body in silence. Treatments always begin with a foot bath and massage and at the end of whatever wonderful treatment you've had, you're left to relax even further with a herbal tea or zingy drink. If you haven't been to a Thai spa before, then grab a copy of the new DK Thailand guide and go indulge yourself!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Wine Spectator award fraud

By Terry Carter*
First we had the
Lonely Planet author fraud where a writer’s tales of his unethical escapades exposed a publisher's loopholes and led to an undermining of the travel writing profession. Now we have the Wine Spectator award fraud where the magazine’s own Wine Spectator Award of Excellence was bestowed upon a non-existent restaurant, Osteria L'Intrepido di Milano, bringing into question the ethics of the publication. This time it’s the publisher who can be blamed for the complete lack of confidence readers now have in the previously well-respected wine magazine.
Whenever we’ve seen the Wine Spectator sticker on the window of a restaurant, we’ve assumed the restaurant has ‘won’ an award, not just sent off a wine list, menu, and non-refundable $250 cheque, and been given an ‘award’. The hardest part of receiving the ‘award’ would appear to be getting the little air bubbles out of the Wine Spectator sticker as you put it on the inside of the window of the restaurant.
In Wine Spectator’s defense, they do tell us they can’t visit ‘every award-winning restaurant’ in the fine print on their website. However, we still expected more of such a pernickety publication. In view of the fact the magazine doesn’t actually send anyone to assess all the restaurants they're bestowing ‘awards’ upon, perhaps ‘certification’ would be more appropriate.
Because there is more to being a good wine restaurant than just boasting a list of vintages. Is the wine on the list well-matched with the restaurant's cuisine? Does the restaurant know how to handle and store wines properly? Do they actually have the wines they claim to have on their list? Does someone there know how to advise customers on what wines work with which the dishes, how to keep those wines at the right temperature, how to open them properly, and how to evaluate the wine before serving it?

It’s the condescending and haughty tone of the response to the ruse by Wine Spectator that's equally as disappointing – along with their idea to spin the scandal by playing the victim. They actually say they're the "victim of a mugging". (You can read more about the 'mugger', author and wine critic Robin Goldstein, his book, and his academic study that started all this here.) Sadly, this tone is exactly why so many people hate wine snobs. Thomas Matthews, Wine Spectator executive editor, posted on their forum: “It is sad that an unscrupulous person can attack a publication that has earned its reputation for integrity over the past 32 years. Wine Spectator will clearly have to be more vigilant in the future.” What is really sad is that the publication traded that hard-earned integrity for easy money and that their industry awards program was little more than a fundraising scheme. They say they have 4,000 restaurants that have attained the ‘Award of Excellence’. At $250 a year per restaurant, that’s a tidy one million dollars a year for a couple of people to rubber-stamp applications – and enjoy the odd good meal at the restaurants they could be bothered to visit. This doesn’t include the one-third they claim didn’t make the grade. Guess those restaurants must have spelt Gew├╝rztraminer without the umlut…
But we do recall questioning of the awards some time back in the New York Times... Matthews responded to the criticism of Wine Spectator visiting a tiny percentage of their 'award-winning' restaurants by saying:“I admit that compared with the Michelin Guide, it's a weakness in the system. But we're not really promising that we're judging the restaurant. We're judging the wine list at the lower level.'' This was in 2003 so the weakness in the system was clearly counteracted by the strong revenue stream the magazine received from the 'awards'. Five years later, they still hadn’t done anything about it, instead they end up giving a fake restaurant an ‘award’. What's also instructive is the tone and content of Matthews response to the NYT story: “The basic award is not that hard to get" and ''At that level,'' Mr. Matthews added, ''we're trying to bring people into a wine consciousness. We're trying to be as inclusive as possible.” It was a disingenuous claim then, even less so now that they’ve had five years to make themselves more accountable. Or perhaps they've been too busy trying to educate those poor people who don’t have a deep understanding about botrytis or appreciate hints of barnyard on the nose.
But Matthews is still unrepentant, posting this week on the Wine Spectator forums: “Most importantly, however, this scam does not tarnish the legitimate accomplishments of the thousands of real restaurants who currently hold Wine Spectator awards, a result of their skill, hard work and passion for wine.” Indeed? So for all those restaurants who have duly photocopied their wine list, menu and drawn a cheque for $250 each year, we salute you!

* Terry is my husband, co-author and a wine-lover.

Monday, August 25, 2008

How travel writers select hotels: the criteria we use, part 2

So, what are some of the other things travel writers are looking for when we're judging a hotel? If you've just joined me, read part 1 here.
* The bathroom: is it clean and spacious with lots of light? Is there a rain shower or shower with good water pressure? Does the shower stay up and not fall down and hit you on the head? Does the water get really hot? Does the shower not flood the bathroom? Can you sit on the toilet without having to tuck your needs under the sink? Are there big fluffy towels and hand towels? High quality toiletries? A high-speed hairdryer?
* The hotel: whether it's a luxury property or budget hotel, does it have character, personality and atmosphere? Does it have a sense of style? And what about attention to detail? Are there signs in the lift and is the signage discrete? Are there fresh flowers? A bowl (not a vase) of fruit? Newspapers and magazines, or even better a lounge with library? Wi-fi in the public spaces? If it's a luxury property, there should be a decent-sized swimming pool with lots of sun beds. There should be a good cafe with staff who know their coffees, and a buzzy bar with a bartender who knows how to mix a cocktail (our usual test is whether he can make a martini). There should be a fine quality restaurant where locals like to eat. Breakfast should be freshly made, no cereal in packets and no cold scrambled eggs - if it's a budget place, keep it simple and just give us espresso coffee and fresh hot pastries, if it's a luxury hotel then we still expect espresso coffee (no percolated 'American coffee' in a pot), a hot cooked breakfast as well as local breakfast options on the menu.
* The staff: Do they smile? Are they welcoming, warm and friendly? Do they ask how you are? Do they offer to help with your luggage and shopping? And do they back off when you don't need assistance? Are they intuitive, attentive, accommodating, and have a 'can do', 'anything, anywhere, anytime' attitude? Does the concierge know the town like nobody else and can organize anything for you? Do they break the rules and go beyond the call of duty if they have to? As Mr and Mrs Smith asked in a recent post on what makes a boutique hotel: would they fix me a bite to eat if I arrived after hours? (Disappointingly, we recently found that one much-written-about five star luxury hotel on the Italian Riviera wouldn't!)
* Check-out: Is it fast and efficient? Do they manage to print up a correct bill without too much fuss? Do they ask you how your stay was? Do they seem like they actually cared? Is a taxi waiting or is the car ready with your luggage already in it? Is their goodbye as warm as their welcome so you leave thinking this is a hotel you could happily head back to?
So, have I left anything out? What do you expect from a hotel? And what factors are important to you when you size up a hotel?

How travel writers select hotels: the criteria we use, part 1

As travel writers, we don't wait for the site inspection to start ticking the check boxes. We begin judging a hotel from the moment we arrive. If we're pulling up in a car loaded with luggage and camera gear, we don't want to have to search for someone to help with our bags and find out where the parking is. We want the reception staff to welcome us. We want check-in to go quickly and smoothly and not have to wait around for 15 minutes, and later, when we come down to ask for dining tips (one of our tests) we want the staff to pick up the phone and book us a table (which is exactly what happened at the excellent Golden Palace Hotel in Turin recently.) So what other criteria do we use to select hotels for the guidebooks and stories we write?
Arrival: if it's a four or five star, does the porter take care of our bags quickly and carefully without a hassle, if there's a valet does he park our car, or if not, does someone point us to the garage without fuss; and if it's a budget or mid-range hotel, are we greeted and given instructions promptly?
First impressions: if it's a boutique place, is it stylish and chic? If it's a design hotel, does it have that wow factor? If it's a beach or spa resort, is the setting sublime and do we immediately feel soothed and relaxed? If it's a luxury hotel, is there a welcome drink, fresh flowers, comfortable sofas? Is the lobby somewhere where you wish you had time to sit? No matter the level of hotel, is it welcoming? Is there atmosphere? Is there low music? Is this a place you're happy to have arrived at, and already you're wishing you were staying longer?
Check-in: is the welcome warm, as if you've arrived home? Are you checked-in efficiently and with a smile? Is it hassle-free? Do staff explain when and where breakfast is, what time check-out is, where the key facilities are, and point you to the elevator? If there's someone to show you to your room, do they do it speedily? If not, are you given directions so you're not wandering the corridors impatiently?
The room: is this a room you can enter and immediately wish your own was like this? Is it easy to open the door, turn on the lights, control the AC? Is it clean, quiet, spacious, private, and comfortable? Is there lots of light? A door or window that opens to let in fresh air? Is there a balcony and a view? Is it a room you can relax in? Is the bed so comfortable you never want to get out of it? Do the sheets have a high thread count? Are there lots of pillows? Is the layout well designed, i.e. you're not tripping over things, bumping into furniture, you can find somewhere to open your bag and still get around the bed? Are the amenities well thought-out and do the facilities fit the price range? For a five star we're looking for everything from a fully-stocked mini bar with enticing stuff to eat and drink to an espresso machine, kettle and box of delicious teas? Is there an ironing board and iron and a large safe that holds two laptops? Is there wi-fi that works? Is there information on the hotel and destination? A good 24 hour room service menu? Local magazines to read? Complimentary bottles of water? A bottle of local wine and real wine glasses? Are there slippers or flip flops in the cupboard?
Read part 2 here.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

How travel writers select hotels

How travel writers decide upon which hotels they are going to include in a guidebook or story is a topic that received some media attention earlier this year after Lonely Planet writer Thomas Kohnstamm revealed in his tell-all book how he'd favorably reviewed a place after having sex with the waitress on a table. How the staff perform - on the job, not after hours - is certainly something that comes into the equation when we're considering hotels for potential inclusion in our books or articles. But a whole host of other factors are also up for scrutiny. Mr and Mrs Smith shared on their blog recently the qualities that define a good boutique hotel for them in What makes a Smith hotel? The 'wow' factor is high on their list, but also other elements, from a sensational setting and imaginative interiors to remarkable views and a 'nothing is too much trouble' attitude. While these attributes appear on the long list of criteria we tick off, the criteria we use varies depending on the project and readers. It can even vary within the same project. For instance, when we write for Thomas Cook or AA, we know their readers are mature travellers (30 years upwards) who don't want to waste money but are happy to spend up on special properties that will provide them with memorable experiences, whether it's a beach resort or luxury B&B. Lonely Planet and Rough Guides, for instance, have a much wider readership: all ages, all budgets. Lonely Planet's accommodation is structured by economics: budget, mid-range and top-end. And while there are always going to be certain constants we'll consider across all price ranges, for example, whether rooms are clean, there are things that only apply to a particular category, and the list will inevitably be shorter the lower the budget. After all, we shouldn't have many expectations of a place that only charges $20 a night. On the other hand, if the rate is $300 a night then our list is going to be long. We're going to spend more time looking at the property, and we're going to be scrutinizing it a whole lot more closely. That's not to say we don't run our fingers over the furniture at all properties. We do. We also look for mould in the bathroom, scuffs on the carpets, peeling wallpaper, cigarette burns on the furniture, and, yes, we'll have a bounce on the mattress. But the four and five star properties will be the ones we'll check in to. A lot of travel writers will do it the other way around - they'll sleep at the budget hotel and do site inspections of the top end places. But the way we see it is if a backpacker has a lousy experience at a hostel they may only be blowing $30. If a traveller has a dreadful time at a luxury property, they might have wasted a whole week's pay, especially if they're stayed a few days. Although it's important to get it right for all hotels, it's far more crucial at the top end than it is at the lower end. Therefore, it's more important that we experience the boutique and luxury properties than it is for us to stay at a youth hostel. And let's face it, you get to a certain age when you can no longer share a dorm with strangers and you simply prefer to travel with certain comforts. We didn't become writers to travel like teenagers. Nor to copulate on restaurant tables either.

The photo? One resort where you're guaranteed a very special experience: the Six Senses Hideaway Hua Hin at Pranburi, Thailand. We stayed in the private pool bungalow, pictured, last October while researching spas, hotels and restaurants for the DK Eyewitness Thailand guide.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

How travel writers 'discover' hotels

Hotel gurus Mr and Mrs Smith recently shared their secrets as to How Smith finds hotels on their engaging blog. Mrs Smith is a Cool Travel Guide reader and after she recently commented on my post Don't judge a guidebook by its cover: judge it by its author, I asked her how she selects hotels. Mr and Mrs Smith use a combination of sources: their staff, members, hoteliers, press releases, the media, Smith spies, and hotel books. Travel writers draw on a similar set of resources, dividing We our hotel research into pre-trip and on-the-road research:

Travel guidebooks & websites - if we're updating a guidebook, we'll start by looking at the hotels in the book, to see what's in there and what's missing. Then we skim through other guides on the destination. Because publishers like Lonely Planet, DK, Fodors and Frommers have put so much content online, we don't even need to visit a bookshop. What are we looking for? Overlap first of all. If a hotel appears in every guidebook then it had better be special or it had better be the only one in town. If it doesn't appear anywhere else, then we need to find out why. We make notes on these things which we'll investigate later in person.
The Internet - we'll look at the websites of hotels on our list and make notes as to which look suitable, suspect, or so fabulous we have to investigate further. We'll check hotel booking sites like Design Hotels, i-escape, Tablet, Hip Hotels, Holiday Pad , Small Luxury Hotels of the World, Leading Hotels of the World, and of course, Mr and Mrs Smith, to see if there are any new hotels that could be worth considering. We'll also do some random Googling. Occasionally we'll check Trip Advisor; there, we're not looking for new properties (as we're more interested in reviews by professional travel critics, people who spend more nights in hotels than they do at home) but rather to confirm any suspicions we might have about a place.
3) Hotel GMs & PRs - because we've stayed at, inspected, reviewed, and photographed tens of thousands of hotels around the globe, we have a lot of friends who manage and work at hotels, so we hear about new hotel openings over conversation, whether it's by email or at dinner, drinks or parties.
4) PRs & press releases - ditto; we have contacts who work on staff at hotels as Public Relations, Media Relations or MarkComm managers, or for PR agencies representing hotels, so we're on a lot of mailing lists and feeds. Dozens of emails arrive in our In Box every day about hotel openings (including invitations to launches!) See Terry's photos of the behind-the-scenes preparations and glam opening of the InterContinental Dubai Festival City earlier this year here.)
5) Travel media - we read every travel magazine and newspaper travel section there is, as many in-flight and hotel mags we can get our hands on, and frequently scour their websites. We subscribe to all the industry and trade feeds and online newsletters. I don't tend to look at travel websites or blogs like Hotel Chatter for new hotels, because generally they've received the same press releases I have, and I'd rather read the information straight from the source than someone else's interpretation. While I occasionally rip items out of travel magazines, due to their long lead times we tend to know about the hotel, and have probably already stayed there, by the time the issue hits the newsstands but their still handy for some we may have missed.

Hotel experiences - once we're on the road in a destination, we'll be testing out hotels by staying, eating and drinking at them (both undercover and through arrangement), and by doing hotel inspections. We'll also hear about new hotels this way. While the hotel PR is showing us a suite, she'll probably say "Oh, have you seen the suites at the new xxx hotel? I hear they're lovely but not as spacious as ours."
Leg-work - once we arrive at a destination, we'll have a lot of places to check out and try, restaurants, cafes, bars, clubs, shops, museums, galleries, and other attractions, and during encounters with people at these places, we'll inevitably hear about hotel openings.
Accidental discoveries - as we pound the pavements of a city all day every day, there'll always be one or two hotels we stumble upon that we haven't read heard about and nobody has mentioned. They may have just opened or may still be under construction, or maybe it's a hidden gem that's been continually over-looked or recently renovated. Either way, we'll be in there checking it out.

So, how do you hear about hotels? And have you ever discovered secret gems that weren't in any guidebooks or websites that nobody seemed to know about? Pictured: our studio apartment at the sublime Aleenta Phuket, which we experienced last October while we were in Thailand for DK.

Friday, August 22, 2008

10 things that annoy us about hotels: oh, yes, there's more...

We hope you enjoyed our series '10 things that annoy us about hotels'. If you missed it, you can read all 10 posts here. A big thank you to the hoteliers who responded to our gripes with some explanation as to why hotels do the things they do, and in some cases, how their hotels do things differently. They were very enlightening. Do take a read of the comments too, which have been appreciated. We're relieved to know it's not just us who are driven crazy by this stuff. I've also received some comments by email, including one from Guido, the Happy Hotelier, which was hilarious: "Plastic under sheets. As if we are babies without diapers. Its the first thing we check after we check into a hotel and we take them off and replace them with towels......usually many towels because in many hotels the towels are like handkerchiefs." Travel writer David Whitley stays in as many hotels as we do and he had some really insightful comments. David wrote a superb piece on his 'Top 10 hotel bugbears' for Ninemsn Travel. David's gripes include: twin beds passed off as a double, key cards, keycard light slots, 1001 lights, environmental pretense, no toilet brush, shower heads, tiny towels, and ambiguous mini-bar items. Interestingly, David says "It got the most comments I've ever had there. Some of them are priceless - but there are a few interesting points from the hotel industry too." Do take a read for yourself. As for us, you can expect another series of '10 things...' on a different travel topic soon.

Pictured? The divine swimming pool and courtyard at boutique hotel Tri Yaan Na Ros at Chiang Mai, Thailand. A charming hotel with delicious local Thai specialties from the market served for breakfast, but unfortunately rooms are tiny; you can read our full review here at i-escape.

Postcard stories: share your passion here

I was delighted to discover that Budget Travel asked readers on their forum the other day: Do you still send postcards? To which they received a whopping 300+ comments! Way back in February, starting on Valentines Day to be precise, I began writing a series of posts on postcards, inspired by seeing racks of faded cards during our travels in Crete, starting with Postcards: does anyone still send them? Then I wrote Postcards: our processes of selection and identity formation (about how we choose postcards that say something about who we are, or perhaps the person we want people to think we are); Postcards: to my Mum (about the cards I sent daily to my mother in 2006 while she was in a coma in Australia and I was finishing a job researching a book in Greece, and thinking about her on those long daily drives); Postcards: sending secrets (about Frank Warren's wonderful PostSecret community art project that has become a global phenomenon); and then Postcard stories, where, due to the positive response from my readers (of course I didn't get 300 responses like Budget Travel, but it was enough for my modest little blog!), I decided to write a feature story for publication on the resurgence in popularity of sending postcards. In Postcard stories I put out a call for comments and asked a number of questions that I hoped would inspire you to think about how you feel about postcards, why you send them, whether you keep them, and so on. I'm still developing that article and incorporating the many comments that I've already received (and quoting you, so please let me know if you don't want me to use your name), however, I would still love to hear from more of you, as I don't really think we've really got to the heart of it yet. Not even in the many comments over at Budget Travel. I'd really love people to think a bit more deeply about it. So if you love postcards as much as I do, please take a look at the Postcard stories post again, and leave comments at the end of that post or here. Or email me privately if you prefer to remain anonymous.

Oh, and Pam over at Nerd's Eye View also has a fun Postcard Revival Project underway, which you can read about here.

Pology: presenting the beauty in travel normally lost in the routine of the mundane

The latest issue of Pology is out. Do you know it? It's a wonderful web magazine on travel and world culture that showcases travel stories and photos that editor Neil Schwartz calls "impassioned vignettes of cultural exploration" which he hopes will inspire people to get out and see the world. Neil writes of Pology's aim: "In a time where representations of the world are fed to us through polarized lenses, traveling has become of supreme importance. Traveling can remind us that in any situation there are multiple and often conflicting truths. Traveling can humble us, and remind us of how little we know. Immersion in a new culture can force us to see a beauty in the world that all too easily gets lost in the routine of the mundane." I couldn't agree more. And this issue's articles, on places like Uruguay, Benin, India and Peru, do just that. (There's also a wonderful Portraits of Thailand photo series, which is why I've posted one of my own portraits taken near Chiang Mai on our trip last October.) What I like about Pology's style of article is that they read like short stories rather than travel features. Their length and form provides enough space for 'characters' to reveal themselves, enabling us to more closely identify with the storytellers and their situations, and allows sufficient time for the narratives to develop so we can better engage with them. Neil writes: "Too much of today's travel writing focuses on where to stay, eat and shop, but I'm convinced that there is a breed of traveler out there that knows getting lost and having the details unfold spontaneously is what leads to the stories that can be fondly retold for the rest of your life." While I get paid to write about those places to stay, eat and shop, I'm with Neil on this one. I do believe there are travellers out there who want more - savvy travellers who know how to get off the beaten track and who have the skills to seek out the best local spots to eat and interesting places to sleep, but who still want to read inspiring travel writing that motivates them to move in the first place, stories that they can relate to, which ring true, and which remind them of their own travels. Travellers like me and you.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Travel and the fragility of life

I was devastated to read about the tragic news of the Madrid air crash, which killed 153 people. You can read about the tragedy here at BBC news and at the International Herald Tribune. I don't deal with bad news well at the best of times. And it should go without saying at the worst of times. I'm one of those people who cries when I watch TV and see somebody else crying, who feels the pain of another's injury or loss, especially the loss of a life. But it's not only the loss of life that moves me. But the loss of life when it's least expected. Like when people are going on holidays for godsake, when touching down on the runway should be one of the happiest times of their life, the start of an amazing trip, when they should be feeling a sense of anticipation. Not of dread. And of course I can't help but think of ourselves. I know there's a greater chance of being hit by a car crossing the road than there is dying in a plane accident, but it always sends a chill down my spine when I read about air crashes because we fly so often. We get on and off planes as most people do buses. I've lost count of the number of flights we've caught this year, let alone in the 2.5 years we've been on the road this last 'stint'. I hate to think. But let's just say we've flown a lot more planes than we've caught buses. Although I've been flying since I was four, I did go through a period when I got nervous flying. It was mainly the times I flew by myself. (I never get anxious when flying with Terry.) When I flew back to Australia when my Dad was dying of cancer and Terry had to stay in Dubai and work. And when I'd flown on my own to film festivals and conferences elsewhere in the Middle East and Europe. It only took a bit of turbulence and I'd be running a list through my head of all the things I hadn't done, the things I hadn't said, and how I hadn't prepared for... for... well... let's just say, for the fragility of life. Just as I imagine most of those people on the plane hadn't either.

10 things that annoy us about hotels #10 Check in and check out times and never the twain shall meet…

We’re used to the 2pm or 3pm check-in time and noon check-out, although we’ve never been happy with them. But it appears the time you actually have in the hotel room is shrinking further. We’ve recently had 10am and 10.30am check-out times – which is fine for a roadside motel, but not so cool for a design or boutique hotel. This says to us that the hotel wants the customers there for as short a time as possible, and wants to get rid of their paying customers as soon as possible, to make the lives of their housekeepers as easy as possible. But the customer should come first, right? And what constitutes a ‘night’ in a hotel? Do we need 24 hours? Or are we just paying for a roof over our heads and a bed for whatever period the hotel deems acceptable? Here are our thoughts: if it’s a roadside motel travellers who are on the road check in late and leave early anyway, so 10am check-out is fine by us. But a business hotel or airport hotel should be as flexible as possible - and go as far as to offer 24 hour check-in to accommodate their guests who could be flying in at all sorts of unusual hours. But the luxury or resort hotel? Well, they should give guests a full 24 hours, because after all, you're there to relax, to pamper yourself, and to enjoy the hotel experience.

We asked hotel manager Guido J van den Elshout (AKA The Happy Hotelier) who owns the luxurious Haagsche Suites (pictured) to respond: "This is my take, and I'm not referring to airport hotels that have separate rules (and 100% occupancy); Yotel for instance has 4, 8 and 12-hour stays with rates accordingly. Consider the hotelier who has to organize housekeeping. Between 11am check out and 3pm check in (our practice) he has 4 hours to clean all the rooms. Usually housekeeping has an 8 hour shift. The smaller the time window between check out and check in is, the more people the hotelier needs to get the cleaning done. What does the hotelier do with those people for the other 4 hours of their shift? Probably general housekeeping or gardening, but not every housekeeper is a gardener. So hoteliers try to keep that window as wide as possible. It's not realistic to believe 4 hour shifts are possible. People need to earn a living. If you give them 4 or 5 hour shifts, they'll most likely also work for other employers. The result will most likely be those people will do a lesser job at your hotel...
There's an industry rule that says cleaning a room should take between 8-15 minutes, but I can tell you that if a hotelier keeps to that your room won't be properly cleaned. As in every industry there are rules created by people who have a desk job and have never experienced housekeeping. In our property we need at least one hour per room, depending on the state the guests leave the room in. It can easily take 1.5 hours. There are occasions where we've had guests checking out at 1pm and new guests checking in between 1-3pm. Ideally you put extra housekeeping on call then, but that's hardly realistic. So you end up trying to pinpoint your peaks and hire accordingly..."

"I'd say a guest has more or less a 'right' to stay approximately 16 out of 24 hours in a hotel. My advice for the traveler? It is my experience that when you advise a hotel well in advance of your (ideal) anticipated arrival and departure times, they will try to do their utmost to accommodate your wishes. At least the smaller properties. The bigger chains have rules rules and rules and have hardly any flexibility."

So what's your take on check-in/check-out times?

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

A literary guide to the world

While researching Italian literature for the guidebooks we're writing at the moment, I came across's Literary Guide to the World. It's by no means exhaustive but it's excellent all the same. It doesn't cover every literary land on the planet, and being a US-based site it's obviously US-centric, with a disproportionate number of American states represented, a lot of prolific European countries missing, and - most astonishing of all - not a single Middle Eastern country listed. And yet, the Mid-East is where some of the most exciting world literature has come from over the last decade or so, especially by women. What were they thinking?! Obviously they weren't at all. But I'll half-forgive them because the project as a whole is superb (have you seen anything similar?) and their lists (once again, by no means comprehensive) give a taste of what wonderful writing different countries and region's of the globe offer. If you're planning a trip, it's definitely a great place to go to start to compile that holiday reading list. And as soon as I get a chance, I'll compile some similar overviews for you for Middle Eastern countries. Pictured? Verona, Italy. Or rather, 'Shakespeare's Verona'.

The Happy Hotelier interviews a travel writer who is perfectly happy to chat away about herself... woops, that's me!

The Happy Hotelier (you know, The Hague-based luxury hotel owner who we all love who blogs away about hotels, travel and tonnes of other stuff) has just started a series of weekly interviews with hotel and travel bloggers called '10 Questions For...'. The interviews give an opportunity for the bloggers to introduce themselves and their blogs before being grilled on their best and worst destination, hotel and dining experiences. First up was Jennifer Knoepfle who blogs about (what else?) travel on from Better Living Through Travel and second cab off the rank was yours truly. (I'll take any excuse for a break during a book write-up!) You can read my interview here. And you'll hear from the Happy Hotelier here again tomorrow - he's kindly agreed to comment on the last post in our '10 things that annoy us about hotels' series. Pictured? Another photo from our recent stay at one of my favorite hotels (which I also featured earlier today, and which I rave about in my interview over at the Happy Hotelier), the sublime Villa Crespi at Lake Orta. And I'm sorry, it won't be the last you'll hear about it because we haven't even told you about the food there yet!

10 things that annoy us about hotels #9 Switches, buttons, knobs and other anomalies

Lately we’ve been checking into some gorgeous grand old piles – with varying states of upkeep. While we love those old radios that they sometimes have above the headboard, the other anonymous switches that old hotels have drive us crazy. If these butler buttons haven’t worked since 1965, it might be time to rip them out of the walls, unless a butler from 1965 turned up every time you pressed it. At least a butler from 1965 would agree with you that the button is stupid, it should be ripped out of the wall, and he’d have the contacts to make it happen on a Sunday afternoon. But don’t get us started on modern hotels that overdo the gadgetry. Those PDA-style touch screens that close the drapes, change the TV channel, adjust the air-conditioning, turn on the Jacuzzi, and could probably make you an espresso, generally turn out to be useless. I’m sure that Apple’s Steve Jobs has probably hurtled a few across a hotel suite out of sheer frustration. Here’s a tip to hoteliers thinking of implementing these systems. When it takes the guy or gal who shows you to the room fifteen minutes to explain how the interface works on the stupid thing, that’s a sign of technology making life harder rather than easier. And it’s wasting your staff’s time and making your guests aggravated.
Last month we experienced Villa Crespi (pictured) a magical old Moorish-style hotel on Italy's Lake Orta that puts the history and grandeur of the hotel first and keeps things simple for guests, so we asked Francesca Blench, Marketing Manager for Villa Crespi to respond: “Technology seems to be a godsend to many hotel guests, especially those staying in city hotels for business reasons. They are habitual travellers who need certain things and usually get them, Internet connection in particular. As an old hotel that offers hospitality to both business and leisure travellers we try to strike a happy balance between services and amenities for both types of travellers. We provide electricity at all times (!) and offer satellite TV, but that is pretty much it really, even Internet access is only available at reception. We feel that the environment needs looking after as much as our guests, so we adhere to many means of saving energy. We don’t even have key card activation for the doors and electricity. And there’s no need for our receptionists to make long explanations to guests checking in, because all they really wish for is good solid rest and a fine meal. We welcome our guests to a restful, experiential stay, far from the frustration of electromagnetic smog fears! And we always trust our guests will return a second time."
Well, we certainly intend returning, but next time it will be for a holiday rather than work.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

I've Travelled. Now What?

I'm not a fan of Lonely Planet's Thorn Tree community, but I'll tell you why another day. Today, I stumbled across the LP website and noticed something that I simply wanted to share with you, the Lonely Planet Community 'Thread of the Day'. Posted by 'geekgal', which makes me wonder if it isn't one of Lonely Planet's own '"web kids" (their name, not mine), it's titled: "I've travelled. Now What?" and then ponders: "Travel can be a rush, but what happens when the magic dies? When you're too exhausted, or occupied with other things in life?"
Some of the responses are:
"Then you stay home :-)"
"Then you start earning money to travel again."

"Travel again (repeat until death)."

"If someone does know what comes next... Please let me know!"

"You look at yourself and what you've learned on your travels and try to integrate these into your life so you become more of an aware person." "No such thing as 'I've travelled'. We are always travelling, if not physically, then mentally."
"Go again. I've only been back for 2 months, and I've already booked to go travelling for another 3 months next summer."

"Go where your spirit guides you."

"You'll go again, trust me."

So, what would your answer be?