Posted by: Joy Lawrance | March 16, 2011



If you’re in Hawaii – specifically Honolulu – at the end of April, you might want to attend a festival like no other in the islands. This one has nothing to do with hula, King Kamehameha, leis, fire dancing or surfing.

Nope…this one celebrates….SPAM! And it’s the Ninth Annual Waikiki Spam Jam on April 30!


Now….this may LOOK like sushi….but look closer.   Yep. Grilled Spam on a rice patty wrapped with seaweed! In local parlance, that’s called a Spam musubi…and even our President enjoys them.

image The festival has drawn as many as 24,000 attendees as Kalakaua Ave. (Waikiki’s main drag) fills up with food booths and hungry folks eager to try Spam in all manner of glorified forms.

Some of those offerings have included Spam fried noodles, Spam lettuce wraps, barbecue Spam sliders, Spam dim sum or Spam and crab dip.

Why this great love affair with the lowly canned meat product, you ask?  Well, it all started back in 1937 when Hormel started packaging their concoction of pork, ham, sugar, salt and water into small cans. According to  WiseGeek

The principle explanation for why SPAM® is popular in Hawaii is that is portable, durable meat that does not require any type of refrigeration. It was first introduced during WWII by American soldiers to Hawaiian natives, who quickly adopted it as an important part of their diet. In the Hawaiian islands where the weather quickly changes, and especially during wartime, the ability to have portable meat products that can be used in case of emergency was especially desirable.”

image Join the party…try some Spam stir-fry, get a Spam-labeled t-shirt or hat, enjoy some island entertainment…and benefit the Hawaii Food bank, which last year donated 6,000 canned goods to that worthy cause.

NOW you can say you know SPAM!!

Posted by: Joy Lawrance | July 13, 2010



An Anniversary couple

Mike and Marie celebrate at Highland Haven.

The lovely, romantic Highland Haven Creekside Inn in Evergreen, Colorado as been recognized as a 2010 Fodor’s Choice selection. If any of you Colorado folks have never experienced the beauty and luxury (yes! luxury in Evergreen!) of Highland Haven, NOW would definitely be the time to try it!

Its 18 rooms and cottages exude Colorado “chic” – emphasizing nature and western comfort in decor. The inn is tucked into a secluded nook along Bear Creek where guests can plant themselves in Adirondack chairs to drink in the scenery or cast a line to snag a trout.


Owner Gail Riley and her staff prepare a hearty buffet every morning including yummy egg casseroles, biscuits, fruit and more. After feasting, they will point you in the direction of nearby hiking trails or places of interest in the region.

Gail will most likely recommend Creekside Cellars for an afternoon repast that includes locally made wines. Once you try the Antipasto tray, you’ll be hooked.

One look at Highland Haven’s website, and you’ll want to book your room…

Posted by: Joy Lawrance | July 31, 2009



I’m always skeptical when I hear this phrase. Chances are, whatever it is, it’s usually NOT for my “convenience.” Seems to be a euphanism for “this is really to help us make money, but it’s a nice way to say it.” That’s what the airlines are saying now…checking in your bags online is “for your convenience.”  Of course, if you DON’T do it, you’ll be charged another $5 at the airport. At least that’s what USAirways is charging…and others are following the system.

And if you think that this is a passing fancy, think again. The airlines pocketed about $1.5 Billion (yes…with a B) in 2008. The chances of them reversing these charges is slim to none. In fact, you can probably count on paying more as time goes on. Fees for second bags are even higher now, as Delta and Northwest charge $50 on their International flights.

What about Gate-Checking?

Well, that’s been a pretty nifty way to avoid paying to check in a bag. If the bag is just a bit too large for the overhead bins or under the seat, people have been able to get the bag gate-checked upon boarding. Nice trick if you can do it. You not only avoid the fee, but you get your bag immediately upon exiting the plane! Cool, eh?

BUT (you knew there was a ‘but’ didn’t you?) – there’s a proposed new law that would limit the number of carry-on bags you can take through the security check-points. And it would not surprise me to hear of charges for carry-on bags one of these days.


Probably the first thing is to find the lightest bag you can. The next thing is to fill it with as little as you can. We’ve all gotten used to the toiletries in the quart-sized bag routine, so that’s a start. Forget extra shoes, or restrict the extra pair to a light-weight, all-purpose variety.

Stick with one basic color, and WEAR the heaviest items! If your bag still seems heavy, invest about $25 in a digital luggage scale to be sure. You may save the cost in excess baggage charges.

There are still a couple of airlines not charging for bags…let’s give JetBlue and Southwest our business!

Consolidate as much as you can…put a small handbag in a larger tote bag, for instance. I’m not a fan of fanny-packs, but that’s  another option for those little items you want handy.

If you’re going to be gone for some length of time, say to an extended beach vacation, it may be wise to ship your luggage. FedEx, UPS or the postal service can do this…as well as a company called Luggage Forward.


Just to make things more challenging (for our “convenience”??) no two airlines have the same rules. Be sure to check with each carrier for their particular regulations.

And don’t forget Rovia for the best travel deals….ANYWHERE!!

Posted by: Joy Lawrance | July 2, 2009



Just read the latest ploy by UAL to increase their bottom line. They have announced that they will “transfer credit card merchant fees to selected travel agencies,” effective date July 20. The  World Travel Agents Associations Alliance (WTAAA) is shocked and perplexed. It seems that card merchant fee agreements prohibit a merchant from passing along any fees to the consumer for using a credit card. So how can they do this??


UAL is saying that these “selected travel agencies” will have to use their OWN merchant card agreements to issue tickets…which means that those fees will be passed along to the customer. So, it looks to me like UAL is thinking “better the travel agent take the heat than the airline.” Who thinks up these ideas? And what part of the universe did they come from?

WTAAA chair Mike Hatton commented:

“It will be interesting to see if any other airline will follow United’s lead and incur both distribution system and consumer wrath” Hatton continued, “ and it will also be interesting to see what action credit card companies take in the face of this attempt to circumvent the terms of their merchant agreements and penalize their individual card holders”.


Hatton added:

“Consumers too will make an individual decision as to whether they are prepared to pay an additional fee for the privilege of purchasing a United Airlines ticket using their personal credit card.” The WTAAA also urged United Airlines to reconsider its’ position in relation to their announcement concerning this matter.

The flying public is taking it on the chin these days. There seems to be no end to the ways in which airlines are tacking on extra fees. It’s really misleading to read an advertised fare (say, $300 round-trip to London) only to learn that the fees and taxes are close to $400.

When clients would call me at the travel agency for a price, they got the TOTAL price. The airlines gradually weaned people away from agencies so they would book directly on the Internet. (A HUGE cost savings to them.) I feel sorry for consumers who can’t understand the whole pricing system today. The airlines should be ashamed of themselves.

Read More…

Posted by: Joy Lawrance | June 11, 2009


Fuel Prices Hit Airlines Again

What you are finding at the pump is the same thing airlines are finding. And the news for travelers gets yet more grim. Delta announced that it will be expanding its capacity cuts this fall to Europe…by about 10%. (“expanding capacity cuts” – sounds like government double-speak) Just today, American announced that they will also cut capacity by 7.5 % the latter part of the year.

Here’s part of what was in Delta’s memo to employees:

  • “Suspending nonstop service from Atlanta to Seoul and Shanghai and instead routing customers for these flights over Detroit or Tokyo, or on nonstop SkyTeam partner flights.”
  • “Suspending nonstop flights from Cincinnati to Frankfurt and London-Gatwick. Cincinnati customers will still be able to reach these and many other international destinations via our other European gateways.”
  • “Suspending nonstop service between New York-JFK and Edinburgh.”
  • “Reducing weekly frequencies connecting Atlanta and Detroit to Mexico City and postponing some previously planned seasonal service between non-hub cities and Mexican beach destinations due to the impact of the H1N1 virus on customers’ travel plans.”

Capacity Cuts Equal Higher Prices

It just stands to reason – the fewer the seats, the higher the price will be.  And if the fuel trend continues higher (does anyone think otherwise???) we can expect some of the same effects domestically. We already know how the airlines continue to look for ways to add “fees” for so many things that used to “come with.” Now it’s pretty much a la carte travel. Even that last hold-out- against-fees airline company, Southwest, is re-assessing its policies. Don’t look for any big changes soon, but don’t be too surprised when they announce that they can’t continue business the no-fee way.

Plan Your Travel Wisely

There will be no escaping higher fares, fees, or fewer seats. What this means for the traveler is more effort and prior planning. Last-minute deals may be harder to come by, but there will always be deals. The one thing an airline does NOT want is an empty seat. That’s lost revenue. The wise planner will look in advance for good prices, travel on off-peak days, be sure to stay the minimum number of days, and perhaps take connecting rather than direct flights.

Right now, one of the best websites to check and book airfares is Rovia. The company now searches THREE of the four major airline booking engines – and it’s the only one to do so.

Don’t NOT travel….just travel smarter.

Posted by: Joy Lawrance | May 14, 2009

North…to Alaska. Or not.

If you’re planning a cruise to Alaska for next year, be prepared for fewer berths available – which also means higher prices, I’ll bet.

The state has imposed a $50/per cruise passenger head tax. (Let’s see – with about 1800 passengers on one ship, and a dozen or so ships sailing the waters every day, and passenger turn-over every 7 or 10 days…hmmm. You do the math.) Some sailings have already been cancelled for this season, and more will be pulled out for 2010.

I must say I’m a little conflicted about this one. My first cruise to Alaska was on Holland America, at a time when there were not so many ships heading there  -and  ships  carried maybe 1,000 passengers. It was really nice to explore Ketchikan and Juneau without having to elbow our way through the tourist throng.

On the last trip, a few years back, I counted no less than 5 ships in the harbor at Sitka – a place that truly could not accommodate that many people. I also think about St. Thomas – another port of call that suffers a huge influx of cruisers and makes strolling around town more of a nightmare. So…maybe this is better.

With Alaska being one of the top cruise destinations in the world, perhaps people will have to wait a little longer. But I’ll bet they’ll enjoy it more.

Posted by: Joy Lawrance | May 4, 2009

Going to Mexico?

Have a little pity for our neighbor to the south. First it was the violence factor, now it’s the flu. sigh. At least the flu will have a definite end some day – probably sooner than later. I don’t know if I can say that about the violence – that’s a huge problem that may take years to solve.

However…tourists WILL flock back to those sunny beaches and icy Coronas, or Margaritas, or whatever your choice of adult beverage. And if you’re one of those tourists who will maybe drive yourself across the border, you need to know about this, if you already don’t:

YOUR AUTO INSURANCE WILL NOT COVER YOU IN MEXICO. You must purchase separate insurance for your private vehicle. According to AAA, you are encouraged to check a company’s A.M. Best Rating. Of the fewer than 20 companies in Mexico that offer auto insurance to tourists, some are unrated…and it’s never advisable to purchase insurance from an unrated company, whether here or there.

AAA is now offering an A-rated Mexican insurance that you can purchase online through their website. Here’s what they have to say:

Important Reminder:
Always carry your policy with you while in Mexico. In order to handle any accident under your policy, it must be reported before leaving the Mexican Republic. Please refer to your policy for claim information and handling instructions.

Mexico Travel Alert
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE – While millions of U.S. citizens safely visit Mexico each year (including thousands who cross the land border every day for study, tourism or business), violence in the country has increased recently. It is imperative that travelers understand the risks of travel to Mexico, how best to avoid dangerous situations. Learn More >>If you drive in Mexico, exercise caution – and whatever you do, do NOT get in any accidents!

There are dangerous places all over the world…and the wise tourist knows that staying aware and alert is one of the best defenses against anything untoward happening. We can’t allow ourselves to be fearful when we travel. Just remember to use that thing called “commen sense,” which seems to have gone missing lately.

Posted by: Joy Lawrance | April 30, 2009

Pirates and Flu and Fatties…Oh My!

What’s a traveler to do these days? Hole up, on Joe Biden’s suggestion?  (I understand the White House is trying to ‘splain what he “really meant.”)

A number of years ago, we had a trip planned to Peru. Part of the itinerary included a train ride from Cuzco to Machu Picchu. A couple of weeks prior to our departure, a nasty little group called The Shining Path  (a Maoist guerilla group) blew up the train. Well, at least part of it. WHAT TO DO??!!  We went anyway. Lima had a curfew; armed military personnel were everywhere; there were armed guards on the train; the train stopped frequently so they could make calls to headquarters about our progress. (This was BCP – Before Cell Phones – you know.) And it was just fine. We stayed at a little hotel on top of the mountain and practically had the ruins to ourselves. It was grand.

Peter Greenburg, the “Travel Detective,” had an interesting take on this today. He feels that there is a distinct difference between proper medical warnings and common sense. And he’s going to Mexico soon.

Now, as for those pirates, if you’re going to cruise, you just might want to stick with MSC Cruise Line! (But make sure you book your cruise with Rovia.) Seems they hired Israeli guards to travel with them through troubled waters – and it worked. They foiled those bad guys, and went merrily on their way. But if you thought that the pirates were only terrorizing ships on the east coast of Africa…think again.

In 2008: there were 92 attacks in the Gulf of Aden. Vietnam: 11. Indonesia: 28.  There have been attacks on the north coast of South America, the west coast of Africa, and even in Italy. Seems that nowhere is completely safe.  Paul Theroux (one of my favorite writers) says that “Travel is pointless without certain risks.” Of course, YOU must decide what risks you’re willing to take.  I’m getting a little more cautious as the years advance – but I’m still not too scared to travel.

Now, if you DO decide to get on that plane and get out of Dodge – you’d better choose your airline carefully if you are a bit broader in the bum than other folks. Remember Ryanair? The guys that wanted to charge passengers to use the toilet?? They’re at it again. Here are some possibilities they’re considering:

  • Charge per kg over 130kg/20 stone (male) and 100kg/15 stone (females)
  • Charge per inch for every waist inch over 45 inch (male) and 40 inch (female)
  • Charge for every point in excess of 40 points on the Body Mass Index (+30 points is obese)
  • Charge for a second seat if passengers’ waist touches both armrests simultaneously

Then there’s United Airlines. This from a CBS report:

If you’re overweight — get ready to pay more to fly the friendly skies.

United Airlines says it will start charging passengers who can’t fit in a single seat, can’t properly buckle the seat belt using an extender, or who can’t put the arm rests down when they’re seated.

I’m sure we’ve all had the experience of sitting next to someone of “girth” and have had to squeeze ourselves to one side or another. Let’s face it – airline seats are NOT made for the comfort of the passenger. They are designed to get as many people in the cabin as possible…in the name of the bottom line.

So…what will YOU do???

Posted by: Joy Lawrance | April 25, 2009


Well, that USED to be cute to say to someone on his/her way to bed. But think again. According to a recent article in the NYTimes, bed bugs are a growing problem. And NOT just in sleazy, off-road joints!

The problem, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association, has been exacerbated by “international travel, immigration, changes in pest-control practices and insecticide resistance.” Infestations have been reported in homes, apartments, HOTEL ROOMS, hospitals and dormitories. UGH. The article also reported that a family living in a $3million home in Brooklyn had to discard rooms worth of furniture due to infestation.

I was warned about this a couple of years ago by my “Bug Guy”  – the guy who keeps my house beastie-free. Hard to imagine that your swank hotel may be harboring these blood-sucking critters. So how do you know if they’re there?

Well, apparently they are fairly easy to see – but only if you look at the right time. At night. When they are feeding. Around 4 a.m. Right. Set your alarm. Or just wait until you get up in the morning and see little blood spots on the sheet, or you are itching like crazy.

While they SAY that most people don’t have much, or any, reaction to the bites, there are those of us who ARE sensitive. Bites can be treated with Calamine lotion or a cortisone cream. But there is NO repellent. Darn.

For travelers, check that hotel bed for any signs of bugs before you get in. And carefully check your luggage and clothing when you get home in case you’ve brought along any unwanted stow-aways!

Meanwhile, don’t forget for the BEST travel deals.

Posted by: Joy Lawrance | April 16, 2009


There was a humorous report the other day – at least I thought it was funny. It seems that the airlines are doing better in the lost luggage department – the numbers of bags sent to “luggage heaven” have dropped appreciably.  Funny! The report, of course, said NOTHING about the obvious fact that many people are no longer CHECKING bags because of the fees!! Duh.

Well, now what do you think the air carriers are dreaming up next??? Can you guess??  Good for you!! YES!! Charge for the carry-on bag, too!! Oh my. Perhaps it’s time to start looking at those services that will pick up your bag and send it to your destination. Which is fine if you’re going to visit Grandma or Uncle Mike. Or going on a cruise.

Some people get crafty – they’ll take a too-large bag through security, and then gate-check it when boarding the plane. Good idea. The bag DEFINITELY goes on YOUR plane, you don’t pay to check it, and you get it back without having to wait at the luggage carousel. However…don’t you think you’ll start getting charged for that, too?  Of course, you can always try.

The carry-on business has definitely increased – which means that those overhead bins are getting more crowded. Which means that tempers are likely to get testy over shared space. And don’t EVEN remind me about those folks who sit in the back of the plane – but put their bag in a FRONT bin. GRRRRR.  The NYTimes has already reported cases where folks feigned a limp to board early, or some passengers hid fanny packs under loose coats. There have even been some near-brawls. Tsk, tsk.

What will travelers be forced to put up with next? We already herd ourselves like sheep through security. We take off our shoes, belts, coats and who-knows-what else. We’re now told that we’ll have to walk through a device that lets someone (far away, so they say) see our bodies sans clothes. Some even submit to full body searches. (Funny – they’re usually NOT of Middle-East origin, nor between the ages of 18 and 34. They’re usually grandmothers.) For goodness sake we can’t even carry a bottle of WATER. But we…as good travelers…put up with this silently. And while we put up with this, the airlines continue to dream up ways to extract yet more money from us…as though losing our DIGNITY and RESPECT isn’t enough.

Next time…some ideas on packing that carry-on bag.

Don’t forget to book your travel: for the best prices around!

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