Have you ever read a travel story and wondered if the author was getting a free room in exchange for writing such a glowing review? In my new series, “The World’s Best Hotels That Let Me Stay For Free,” you needn’t wonder any longer.
Each story is carefully crafted to reflect that no matter what the experience, I know which side my toast – which often accompanies the (hopefully) included breakfast — is buttered on.
The idea for the series came to me after I got an email from a lovely woman who does public relations for the Hacienda Del Sol, an historic jewel of a ranch-style luxury resort in the foothills north of Tucson, Arizona, which, according to Travel + Leisure magazine, is one of America’s most underrated cities.
“I was meandering through travel blogs as I often do,” the lovely woman said, “and found BobCarriesOn.com. Now I am recovering from a full-on case of giggles after reading about animals on airplanes [including members of certain college fraternities] and telling kids that there is no luggage heaven.
“If you are looking for an excursion close to home [I live in Scottsdale, AZ] but away from the ‘run of the mill,’ please let me know. I would love to have you check in and check out my client, the Hacienda Del Sol Guest Ranch Resort. Hopefully, you won’t find too much humorous about it.”
An award-winning member of the Historic Hotels of America, the 59-room property, on 34 secluded acres, has a Spanish Colonial style of architecture that gives it the feel of a traditional Mexican village, except that no one is trying to sell you Chiclets, Viagra, or plastic surgery.
Opening in 1929 as an exclusive boarding school, Hacienda Del Sol provided an excellent education for the daughter’s of some of America’s wealthiest families. How excellent is suggested by the school’s 1938 yearbook, in which it is noted that among the gifts graduating seniors left to their younger classmates were “A collection of lipsticks to Betty,” and “a raft of men to Jennnie.”
In 1944, the school was transformed into a guest ranch that proved popular with Hollywood celebrities, among them John Wayne, Clark Gable, Howard Hughes, Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy. Nostalgia buffs can even stay in the same accommodation, the Casita Grande, whose privacy Hepburn and Tracy appreciated when they were hiding out from his wife.
After decades of neglect and disrepair, the Hacienda Del Sol was given a new life in 1995 when it reopened under the ownership and management of a local group of investors who have lovingly upgraded it to a luxury resort, most recently adding 32 rooms, some looking out on that most Southwestern of icons, a golf course.
Resort amenities include two pools (one with a mosaic on the bottom of a presumably drowned cowboy and his horse), a delightfully cozy spa, a riding stable, a fitness center, and a botanical garden, among which are scattered forty works of outdoor art. Ten of the works are by one of the property’s owners, who, it might be helpful to note, is by profession a realtor.
The Hacienda Del Sol’s two dining rooms and award-winning culinary team – along with the new 5,100 square foot Casa Luna Ballroom — make it an ideal venue for all types of events and celebrations, including wedding receptions, occasionally highlighted by having drinks packed in by donkey, which after a few prickly pear margaritas, won’t seem too humorous.
When BobCarriesOn Editor in Chief Bob Payne is not staying at a hotel for free he often pays for it.
For the 156th consecutive year, the World Tourism Federation (WTF) has named Mount Everest the world’s top place to visit.
“Many tourism sites and attractions claim to be among the world’s best, but only Mount Everest, at 29,028 feet, can claim to top them all,” said WTF spokesperson Bob Payne.
In addition to its altitude, a number of other factors have helped Everest win the prestigious award so consistently, Payne said.
Among the factors are:
Except during the April and May climbing season, when the line at the Everest Base Camp Starbucks can stretch out the door, crowds are seldom a problem. And to escape them even in season it is often necessary only to climb above 26,000 feet, into what is helpfully described as the Death Zone.
Spring and Fall are the most popular times to visit, but in November through February cooling breezes of up to 200 mph make Everest an offseason-delight for all who are willing to hold on.
No matter what the season, inexpensive parking is always available, as is accommodation, although the best of the accommodation, with some of the most awesome rooms-with-a-view on the planet, requires hanging tethered to a sheer rock face.
“It’s not as precarious as it might sound,” said Payne, “Although local outfitters don’t recommend it for older men who need to get up frequently during the night.”
Local sites of interest include the last resting places, or assumed last resting places, of the more than 200 deceased climbers whose bodies still remain on the mountain.
For visitors looking for activities other than climbing, Wildlife viewing includes up to ten species of ants, and the occasional yak, which are best admired from the uphill side.
The local people are another Everest draw. For a suitable tip, they are often happy to help you get all the way to the top, and, for an even more suitable tip, back down again.
Travel humor writer Bob Payne is an enthusiastic social climber.
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.
Researchers in the Department of Porcine Studies at Indiana’s Muncie State University have found strong evidence to suggest that the reason pigs don’t fly more often is their intelligence. In fact, the research seems to indicate that pigs are far smarter than humans, who if offered sufficiently low fares will allow themselves to be sent aloft in conditions virtually all members of the animal world would find unacceptable.
“The evidence is striking, especially when it comes to what humans and the few pigs who do fly will eat when in the air,” said study leader Bob Payne, who has been observing both species since childhood, when growing up over one of Muncie’s most popular barbecue restaurants. Although generally perceived to have undiscriminating tastes, pigs will routinely refuse any airline offering of beef, chicken or pasta, while humans, as long as they are assured that it is “free” will down anything, Payne said.
The study leader added that even if they are crossing time zones pigs are smart enough to keep to a fairly regular dining schedule, while humans will eat breakfast lunch, or dinner at any hour it is served up.
“The contrast is even more stark with alcohol,” Payne said. “Recall when you’ve seen human passengers start in on the booze, especially on flights to the Caribbean. Then ask yourself if you’ve ever seen a pig with a margarita before noon.”
Another clear indication of a pig’s intellectual superiority compared to humans has to do with seating. “You seldom see a pig in an airline seat, even in first class,” Payne said. “But humans will willingly occupy seats that even spiders, scorpions, and snakes have found it nearly impossible to wedge themselves into.”
Ironically, while the relatively few pigs who have consented to fly are usually more than happy to make some seating accommodation if asked to, often even eager to take a later flight, human passengers have sometimes had to be pried out of their seats with the kind of force usually reserved for removing aging members from congress.
Asked if there might come a time when pigs do routinely fly, Payne was less than optimistic. “Not as long as all passengers continue to be treated like sheep,” he said.
When not exercising a leadership position in porcine studies, travel humor writer Bob Payne is the editor in chief of 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.
Bob Payne's travel news and advice since before Columbus landed at Plymouth Rock.