In the luxury travel universe, much is made these days of seeking authentic travel experiences. These seem to be experiences for which you pay so much money that bemused locals are happy to indulge your fantasy that you are “not a tourist, but a traveler.”
Coveted authentic travel experiences include sharing a glass of the latest vintage with a fifth-generation vineyard owner, stepping aboard a private mega-yacht in full view of a busload of envious cruise ship passengers who wonder who you are, and sitting at a tool-ladened workbench with a local artisan (whose day job is painstakingly affixing “Souvenir of …” labels to silver spoons imported from China).
The truth, though, is that authentic travel experiences are nearly universal, often occurring even before you arrive at your destination. Here are a few:
The only notification of your delayed or cancelled flight is written on the wall of the terminal bathroom.
You request early boarding, as your prosthesis entitles you to do, and the airline charges for extra-leg room.
The flight attendant assures you that the snake loose in the overhead bin is not venomous.
The tattoo on the passenger sharing your armrest identifies him as an arm-wrestling champion.
Your young children have to coax you to eat your airline meal.
Your rental car GPS speaks to you in a rude tone of voice.
The desk clerk has the serene demeanor of someone who knows that the big-tipping guests who arrived just before you are happily settling into the room that was meant to be yours.
Your hotel room’s “ocean view” requires an optional telescope.
Your tour guide speaks clear, understandable English, loud enough for you to hear, but you are on the wrong bus.
The person floundering in the wake of your cruise ship looks unnervingly like captain.
Travel humor writer Bob Payne is the editor in chief at BobCarriesOn.com.
The growing number of animals on airplanes has made it necessary for travelers to be able to identify them quickly. Because you never know when medical treatment, legal action, or adoption proceedings might be required.
Animals on airplanes can be divided into two broad groups. There are pets, which include service and emotional support animals. And there are pests, which include scorpions, spiders, snakes, and members of certain college fraternities.
In the first work of its kind, BobCarriesOn.com has put together a field guide identifying them all.
Description: Dogs are distinguishable from other animals on airplanes by how some adult humans talk to them in a way that can cause even three-year-old children to cringe. Also, other than monkeys and members of certain college fraternities, dogs are the only flying animals likely to try to dry-hump the flight crew.
Sightings: The frequent flyers of the animal world, dogs can be found on almost any flight operated by airlines whose destinations have a large population of a certain type of couple. Which is the duel income no kids type who have never been comfortable talking with other adults except through a four-legged intermediary.
Field Notes: Demographic studies show that dogs flying as carry-on pets, for which the airlines can charge a hundred dollars or more, are most often in business or first class. Dogs flying as service or emotional support animals, which are required by law to go for free, are usually found in coach.
Description: As coach passengers board a flight, cats are the animals that glance at them with even more feigned indifference than do the passengers in first and business class. The other identifying characteristic of cats, of course, is that they don’t bark.
Sightings: The thing to know about cats is that you usually do not see them unless they want to be seen. Which was the case of a cat named Jack who deplaned himself from an American Airlines flight at JFK and lived there for 61 days before being found. It had all the makings of a funny story, except that Jack died.
Field Notes: If a passenger claims that a cat is an emotional support animal, you know they are lying. No cat has ever cared about anyone but itself.
Description: Birds are most easily recognized by the feathers left behind if a cat on board gets out of its cage. Usually, the birds are pets, but sometimes they are wild, and young, and desperate to know what it is like to fly at 500 miles per hour.
Sightings: Falcons, in particular, are common sights on Middle Eastern airlines. Including a recent flight on which a Saudi prince flew with 80 birds in the main cabin, each with its own seat, and passport.
Field Notes: In the U.S. most bird species are among the animals on airplanes that can ride in the cabin. Some airlines have made an exception of the cockatoo, however, which has a reputation for unruly behavior. Including talking back to flight attendants.
Description: Among all the animals on airplanes, a monkey can be the most difficult to tell from humans. Often, the only difference is that the monkey is causing the flight attendants less trouble.
Sightings: August 2007. A spider monkey rode under a passenger’s hat from Lima, Peru, to New York LaGuardia, via Ft. Lauderdale. The passenger claimed he didn’t know anything about it.
Field Notes: With the possible exception of the 2007 sighting, if a monkey is on an airplane the monkey is most likely a service animal. Some see this as an abuse of a system meant to help people who count on service dogs for aid. To which one simply need respond: Can a dog pick up a dropped cell phone? Or turn the pages of a book? Or push the flight attendant call button?
Description: A deer on an airplane looks like any other deer, or at least any other deer that is mounted on a wall. That is to say they are usually trophy racks.
Sightings: Most commonly, trophy racks are found on flights returning from Alaska, or Hollywood.
Field Notes: Delta, American, and United are among the airlines that allow trophy racks, for an extra fee. To lessen the objections other passenger may have, the racks are usually wrapped in plastic to look like a package containing a small child.
Description: A miniature horse on an airplane looks much like a dog, except that it is less likely to become agitated by the discovery that a cat is aboard.
Sightings: 2003. One was seen on an American Airlines flight from Boston to Chicago. It was flying in first class, as you might expect, because the horse and his travel companion, a blind man, were on their way to appear on Oprah.
Field Notes: Along with dogs, cats, monkeys, pigs, roosters, tortoises, marmosets, and kangaroos, miniature horses are among the animals that have been allowed to fly in the cabin of a passenger jet. They have all been categorized as service or “emotional support” animals. This may sometimes be a ploy to get pets on board that would not otherwise be able to fly, and may serve only, in the case of the horse, to give passengers an unfair speed advantage when making a dash for a lavatory. As flight attendant Heather Poole, author of Cruising Attitude, was quoted as saying in a story on NBC News, “I can spot a fake emotional support animal a mile away. It’s usually growling or barking at other support animals. That, or it’s dressed nicer than its owner.”
Description: Even setting aside their distinctively curved tail and stand-your ground attitude, scorpions are perhaps the most easily identified animals on airplanes. Just listen for fellow passengers to shout, as one did on a Calgary-bound flight mentioned below, “Oh my god, that’s a scorpion.”
Sightings: 2015. A woman was stung on an Alaska Airlines flight from Los Angeles to Portland, Oregon. April 2017. A man was stung on a flight from Houston to Calgary, Canada. In both cases, officials acted immediately, by pointing out that the planes had started their day in either Mexico or Central America.
Field Notes: A number of conclusions can be drawn from these incidents: Picking up a scorpion by its tail, as the man on the Calgary-bound flight did, significantly increases your chances of being stung. And if there were some kind of impediment to keep scorpions from crossing our southern borders things might be, according to one point of view, greater all around.
Description: Some 450 snakes, including a 19-foot python, were used while shooting the 2006 action film Snakes on a Plane. But in real life nowhere near that number are found in the air on any given day, on any given flight. And the ones that are usually measure no more than five feet in length.
Sightings: March 2017. A four-foot snake was found behind the seat in the last row of a Ravn Alaska flight from Aniak, Alaska, to Anchorage. November 2016. A five-foot viper dangled from an overhead bin on an AeroMexico flight from Torreon, Mexico, to Mexico City.
Field Notes: To the great relief of litigators, the AeroMexico flight was captured on video. On the Ravn Alaska flight, a young boy sitting in the row where the snake was found said he didn’t know anything about it.
Description: Fanged, aggressive, and often appearing to be in need of a shave, a tarantula can grow to the size of a dinner plate. Although hopefully not a dinner plate with a flight’s last beef entre on it. A tarantula’s bite is seldom fatal, making an encounter with one a disappointing experience for passengers thinking in terms of an out-of-court settlement.
Sightings: May 2016. Two tarantulas were on an Air Transet flight from Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, to Montreal, Canada.
Field Notes: Presence of the tarantulas on the flight was verified by passengers who “screamed and stood on their seats.” Officials believe the tarantulas escaped from a carry-on bag while being smuggled into Canada for sale by a trafficker who very likely decided that next time it would be easier just to stick to cocaine.
Description: Insects spotted on airplanes have included cockroaches, crickets, Japanese beetles, and june bugs. Sometimes, they are seen in the company of insect-eating lizards, such as geckos or the more aggressive Geico.
Sightings: September 2011. Cockroaches were videotaped crawling out of an air vent and overhead bin on an Air Tran flight from Charlotte, North Carolina, to Houston, Texas. The incident resulted in a lawsuit by a North Carolina couple.
Field Notes: Motives for the lawsuit were brought into question when it was observed that the people least likely to be disturbed by the sight of cockroaches would be from North Carolina.
Description: Of all animals on airplanes rodents are most similar in appearance to U.S. Congressman Paul Ryan, except with ears that protrude less.
Sightings: April 2016. Rodents were sighted three times in one month aboard Air India flights, although it was unclear whether it was three different rats, or just one, using frequent flyer miles.
Field Notes: Passengers who are disgruntled over the fact that discovering rats aboard often results in an emergency landing have perhaps yet to fully consider the effect on an airplane in flight of having a section of its critical wiring chewed through.
Description: This two-legged species exhibits some of the characteristics of all the other animals found on airplanes. Which makes them — except for the beer they will be demanding more of — sometimes difficult to distinguish.
Sightings: If you find yourself surrounded by cattle, sheep, racehorses, gorillas, or killer whales, all of which have flown, check your ticket. You have probably boarded a cargo plane by mistake. If, however, you are surrounded by Greeks who associate Athens only with the University of Georgia, you are probably on your way to a city hosting a major college sporting event or infamous for its goings-on during Spring Break.
Field Notes: Roll Tide.
Bob Payne is the editor-in-chief of Bobcarrieson.com, although his dream job has always been chief entomologist for McDonald’s.
People have always been a favorite subject for travelers to photograph. Unlike with mountains, seascapes, and roads that fade into the distance, it is often possible to pay people to reposition themselves into a more natural pose. People shots do, however, often involve some kind of intrusion. So it is best to ask permission first, especially if there is a chance the subject may be armed. And there are some people, those below among them, who ethics and self preservation demand that you should not photograph at all.
Uniformed military or law enforcement officers in possession of a 65” or larger television that appears to be in its original packing.
The Pope, if he is playing Truth or Dare.
Any immediate family member of North Korea’s supreme leader Kim Jong-un who is strapped to the nose of a ballistic missile during an unsuccessful launch attempt.
Gang members actively involved in a drug exchange or drive-by shooting.
Anyone who acts unstable or somehow “off,” especially if they hold an elected office.
Couples exhibiting public displays of affection that involve a goat.
An airline pilot sitting in the cockpit, scanning the job listings on craigslist.
Homeless families who you recognize as the former owners of the condo next to yours in Aspen.
Other people’s children, unless the children are older than you are.
The Kardashians nude, until you have agreed on a price.
Humor travel writer Bob Payne is often asked by photo editors not to tell them if he owns a camera.
We’ve all had to tell a disconsolate child that his or her bag was the one chosen to go to lost luggage heaven. The experience can be painful, especially when the child blubbers, “Why couldn’t Daddy go instead?”
But using lost luggage heaven as a way of softening a child’s grief when their bag fails to come off the carousel only works until the child is old enough to start asking probing questions. Such as, “If it’s such a good place, why are those other people whose bags went there using so many bad words?”
That’s when it’s time to begin explaining lost luggage insurance.
Often, a good way to start is: “You know how you get presents from Santa?”
Then remind your kids how Santa cannot always bring them everything they want, because the elves have switched the tags around, or even taken all the good stuff out for themselves. And remind them, too, that to make up for your disappointment Santa sometimes leaves gift certificates.
Most kids are quick to grasp that lost luggage insurance works the same way. Except that instead of gift certificates you get an insurance settlement, which is usually about 15 percent of what you think it should be.
Eventually, of course, your child is likely to come right out and ask you directly if lost luggage heaven is a real place. To which as a parent it is your responsibility to answer, briefly but honestly, “Only if you count the overhead bins.”
Some children, though, will remain unconvinced, and will want to know only, “Is there a bad place luggage goes, too?”
That’s when its time to begin explaining Newark.
When travel humor writer Bob Payne is not serving as editor in chief of BobCarriesOn.com, he works as a grief counselor in the baggage services division of a major U.S. airline.
With tax season just over, now is the busiest time of the year for travel to the two-dozen countries that have no extradition treaty with the U.S. To help travelers on the run chose which country is right for them — whether for a life-time stay or just until a statue of limitations runs out — we’ve once again put together our top 5 under-the-radar picks for anyone hoping to avoid extradition.
With predictions that a rising sea level may result in its disappearance by 2085, this Indian Ocean nation has more to worry about than what your back-story might be. So unless there’s a possibility that somebody is willing to trade you for a Russian arms dealer, you’ll pretty much be left alone. Come here for the sun, the beaches, and the high-end resorts so pricey that to afford them you practically have to have stolen a serious amount of something.
Many of the resorts, such as the Huvafen Fushi, have overwater bungalows with glass panels in the floors for viewing sea life, and, if necessary, a quick escape. Be careful, though, whenever counting large stacks of money in your room, as the panels often make it easy for passing snorkelers to view your life. For an American, the Maldives, despite its distance, is not a perfect home away from home. Talk of opening a string of international fast-food restaurants at the airport has so far come to nothing. And getting re-runs of Keeping Up with the Kardashians is sometimes difficult. But if you are here for the long stay, converting to Islam can help, as can being religious about applying SPF 50.
While there is a misperception that Western travelers with a criminal background are not welcome in China, the opposite is often true, especially if the travelers arrive bearing significant trade secrets. Even if you have nothing to barter, a population of 1.4 billion makes it easy to get lost in the crowd. And should you run afoul of Chinese authorities, a prison population that includes more than 6,000 foreign inmates means you will sometimes be able to barter in English for cigarettes. Americans will find much about China to remind them of home, including Subway (440 outlets) McDonalds (1,964 outlets), KFC (5,854 outlets), and the Great Wall (0 outlets).
United Arab Emirates
Whoever said money can’t buy happiness has never considered avoiding extradition by fleeing to the United Arab Emirates. In the UAE, money can buy a $1,223 cupcake, a $24,000 per night hotel suite, and an $8 million (diamond-studded) cell phone. Gold-plated SUV’s are not that rare, Lamborghini police cars are not unheard of. Still, the law is Islamic law, so don’t spend money on alcohol consumed outside of a bar, restaurant, or sporting venue, or anything that’s any fun at all during Ramadan.
A tall latte at Starbucks in Moscow costs twice what it does in New York City. And you can be riding in the back seat of a taxi one moment and in the trunk the next, on the way to have your vital organs removed for profit. But beyond those niggling kinds of concerns, Russia is just about ideal for anyone looking for a new identity to call their own. In Moscow, live quietly but comfortably in the luxury of such accommodations as the Ritz-Carlton, where your personal butler and his government minder will soon know your name.
Become familiar with Red Square, the Bolshoi Theatre, and Saint Basil’s Cathedral, whose distinctive domes are recognized worldwide as the inspiration for the American news organization, The Onion. At the Kremlin, pass a pleasant hour, perhaps with a small group of friends, contemplating the unauthorized removal of the 190-caret Orlov Diamond on display there. And if it becomes time to get out of town, what traveler doesn’t imagine a journey on the Trans Siberian Railway? Just make sure you ask for a round trip ticket.
For relieving the stress often associated with traveling to avoid extradition, there may be no better destination than Bhutan. One of three countries in the world with no diplomatic relations at all with the U.S. (Iran and North Korea are the other two) this Himalayan hideaway allows you to conduct your affairs with the assurance that the only place you are ever likely get snatched to is heaven. One of the highlights of a Bhutan stay is a visit to the sacred, and isolated, cliff-side Buddhist monastery of Taktshang, or the Tiger’s Nest.
Make the strenuous hike to the monastery from the town below in about three hours, where you will be rewarded with the discovery that no cameras, phones, or recording devices of any kind are allowed. Which for somebody hiding from the law is by itself almost worth the trip. A bonus is that the monks who live at the monastery often practice meditation that requires extended periods of silence, diminishing the chances that somebody will even accidentally give you away.
BobCarriesOn editor-in-chief Bob Payne is currently under audit.
Practically all the new carry-on bags claim to be as smart as a phone, or a watch. Some tell you how much they weigh. Some follow you through the airport. And some let you know your spouse is in Miami, not Milwaukee.
But the truly useful innovations are found in carry-on bags that are at their best when things go bad. Especially impressive, for instance, are the bags that can provide cover in case of gunfire.
A British firm, Terrapin Technology, produces bulletproof carry-on bags as part of their “Go Ballistic” line. For best results, you hold the bag up to your face and chest, as if in a cowering manner. A barrier of “military grade” ballistic-resistant material then helps protect you from 9 mm bullets, knife thrusts, and, if your day has really gotten off on to a bad start, “shrapnel from a bomb blast.”
Carry-on Bag Luggage Scooter
Travelers who routinely fly out of smaller, regional airports know that getting a good seat often requires a dash from the gate to the plane. Increase your odds of being first to arrive by using a luggage scooter from Micro Luggage. An extendable aluminum handle and kickboard allows you to ride your carry-on bag in a style acceptable to even the youngest teens in your party.
Rideable Carry-on Bags
Need more getaway-speed than scooter-style carry-on bags can provide? What if, for instance, you have just used an emergency evacuation slide to exit an airplane you’d like to distance yourself from as quickly as possible? Then you might be ready for the Modobag. Billed as the world’s first ride-able, motorized, carry-on bag, it can reach speeds of up to 8 mph. Which is faster even than a man who has just noticed jet fuel leaking all over the tarmac can run.
Fire-resistant Carry-on Bags
If you anticipate not being able to make a quick getaway, fire-resistant carry-on bags can be a good investment. Cardinal Bag Supplies makes briefcase-style carry-on bags that are fire resistant up to 2,500 degrees. It is necessary to point out, however, that if the bag is within your reach, temperatures much above 200 degrees will make the investment of interest primarily to your heirs.
Carry-on Bags That Float
What happens should your plane’s pilot misjudge, for example, the length of an aircraft carrier? You’ll want carry-on bags that are leak-resistant or, better yet, designed to float. Among the best we’ve found is the EL 22 Elite Carry-On, from Pelican, which has “passed submergence tests for an hour at a depth of one meter.” (Which is an industry standard, but, admittedly, didn’t impress us much, either.) More impressive is a line of bags from a new company, Capsula Bag, which actually float. You have to blow up an inner chamber, but we assume that given the right circumstances — such as an offshore current or circling sharks — most users would be okay with that.
Impact-resistant Carry-on Bags
Ultimately, when things go bad the best of the new carry-on bags are those that are old-fashioned tough. Among the toughest, we have already mentioned the submergible EL 22 Elite. With double walls that won’t buckle under loads of up to 1,500 pounds, you could practically drop the Elite from cruising altitude without having to look for pieces.
Which would have made it a good choice for legendary, almost mythical, hijacker D. B. Cooper when he bailed out of a Boeing 727 somewhere over the Pacific Northwest in 1971. Unfortunately for Cooper, who was never heard from again, they found some of his $200,000 in ransom money scattered along the banks of the Columbia River, suggesting that his bag, at least, did not survive the jump.
BobCarriesOn editor-in-chief Bob Payne has never jumped from an airplane with a carry-on bag, containing ransom money.
Bob Payne's travel news and advice since before Columbus landed at Plymouth Rock.