Your travel memories are hiding in your house – go find them – A Luxury Travel Blog

Vivian Green wrote; “Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass…It’s about learning to dance in the rain.”

It seems like the world is waiting for the storm to pass. As every news channel, inspirational Instagram post, and YouTube video, is collectively pointing out, I can look at this as a chance to restart, reset, slow down. Speak a new language, develop a new skill set, take up a new hobby. Do I need a new skill set? What are my old skill sets. Do I have any skill sets?

My mornings these days involve 15 minutes of meditation in my favorite chair, in my favorite room in the house. The space where I sit is bright, even on cloudy days, and has big windows looking onto a patch of green grass, a brick red Japanese maple, and open blue sky. I hear sounds I hadn’t noticed before, I was far too busy. Although now, I can’t remember exactly what I was so busy doing. I hear kids dribbling basketballs, the wind whirling through the leaves on the trees, and birdsong—more now because the DC Shuttle isn’t flying over my head every 4.2 minutes. Little pleasures.

I wasn’t a very motivated meditator in the past, and had a bad habit of running through my to-do list, while hoping not to forget what time I had to pick up the kids, and simultaneously wondering if those leftovers in the fridge had gone off yet. This, from what I understand about meditation, is highly frowned upon. I’ve gotten better keeping my mind on track. My to-do list has shrunk exponentially. My appetite, on the other hand, has not.

Unplug is my go-to meditation app. Lauren Eckstrom, one of the guides, with her lovely voice and cadence, has become my very-important-person-during-a-global-pandemic. So is John Krasinski. I am all about good news. Even if it is just ‘some’ good news.

Traveling around the room

On the way to and from that comfy chair in my house, I pass through my living room. The room where we used to have friends over for drinks, and would occasionally dance on the coffee table. The room where we now watch Hulu and Netflix for hours on end. This room also happens to house the things we collect.

Big collections of small things. Small collections of big things.

Matchbooks from 25 years of dining, Lonely Planet guidebooks from decades of travel, Kokeshi dolls from our years living in Tokyo, and countless found objects, are a few of the things we’ve amassed over the years. A sun-bleached goat’s jawbone that my father-in-law discovered while hiking a hilltop in Turkey even found a spot in our house. That sounds made up, and gross. I promise, it’s neither.

Lately, due to the inherent nature of being trapped, ummm, sheltering in place, I’ve spent a lot of time focusing on our array of collections. Not just a ‘Wow, that’s a pretty sand dollar I remember from last spring break on Anegada’, kind of focus. More like, ‘remembering the stories that are attached to them’, kind of focus. The travels that brought them from there, to here.

A long, long time ago

Years ago, when my husband Daniel and I started traveling together, we’d pick up a souvenir from our trip. A memory to bring home and gaze upon every so often. My old boss used to collect beach sand from her vacations and put them in tiny acrylic cases. The hues and colors of the grains differing from case to case. Another friend collected shot glasses.

T-shirts, key rings, and magnets are easily found, and imminently collectible. I’m not sure why, but we always sought out a piece of local pottery. That it was made in the country we were visiting was the only requirement. (Although we did break that rule, for very good reason. Twice.)

Every so often, we disagreed, and one of us had to concede. Usually, ummm, always, Daniel. When we returned home, we displayed them around our apartment, then pretty much forgot about them.

Years later, we picked up our lives and moved from NYC to Tokyo. When we unpacked our boxes, we discovered that all of the pottery pieces we had been collecting over the years were in the form of cereal-sized bowls. It surprised me how consistent we were in our taste. The collection seemed to have created itself over the years, completely without our conscience knowledge.

Twenty six bowls from around the world now sit in tidy rows on shelves in our home. I have been looking at these bowls a lot lately, usually after I’ve finished meditating. How often have I walked past them without a thought? Forgetting how they got here, to this house, from Japan, Bhutan, Morocco, and so on. Years and years of stories and memories sitting in front of me. I took out my notebook, and started to write. Free time can hold so much power.

Travel memory: South Africa

A few years ago, our family spent a week in CapeTown, where we explored neighborhoods, beaches, and wineries. A few nights into our wanderings, we stumbled into an area called The Old Biscuit Mill, which is located in the Woodstock neighborhood. The mill has since been converted into a trendy area that houses hip and high-end restaurants, contemporary artist’s showrooms, and niche clothing boutiques. The Test Kitchen—one of South Africa’s most famous restaurants, also resides there.

Founded by two South African artists, Zizipho Poswa and Andile Dyalvane, Imiso Ceramics drew me like a moth to a flame. We walked past Imiso just as they were about to close for the night. The brightly lit, spare, showroom was mesmerizing. From the inky darkness outside, we cupped our eyes, pressed our heads up against the windows, and peered inside. While Zizi and Andile’s styles were different from each other, they complimented each other seamlessly.

Sometimes when we travel, a piece of pottery jumps out from a gallery window, practically calling us by name. Sometimes, we travel and never fall in love with anything. Here was a proverbial candy store of beautiful ceramics, and I was that child who wanted it all.

Having the opportunity to meet and speak to both Zizi and Andile in their studio made choosing one piece challenging. They walked us through the showroom, telling us about the inspirations and techniques of their craft. We fell hard for both of their styles. Likely, this was the first time we’d had a chance to meet the artist of a bowl that we would buy.

So, in the name of fairness, we bought a piece from each of them.

First, a hand-pinched piece from Zizi, delicately lined with metallic paint, and had a vivid, blood red interior. Second, a piece from Andile’s intense ‘Scarified’ collection. Andile told us about this ancient African traditional act, scarification, that involves cutting skin in order to ward off negative and evil spirits. The snow white bowl’s exterior was repeatedly sliced, revealing hints of primary colors under the ‘skin’. I could almost feel the intensity of each artist’s culture intertwined in their work.

Zizi and Andile lovingly packed up our new treasures, and a few weeks after our return to the US, our bowls arrived. Today, those bowls sit on shelves in our home, and hold the stories of Zizi and Andile, their heritage, as well as the backstory of finding them late that night at the Old Biscuit Mill, just as they were closing up shop.

Travel memory: Santa Fe, New Mexico

Santa Fe, a city filled with arts, culture, great food, and majestic hiking, became the destination for a girls weekend a few years back. Lisa, a friend from my Tokyo days, was coming from LA, and I was coming from DC. We had no plans, aside from a few dinner reservations. The New York Times’ ’36 Hours in Santa Fe’ became our sole companion.

A plan, as it turned out, wasn’t really necessary. Locals were happy to steer us around the charming, idyllic town. In fact, we ended up changing a reservation based on a tip from a store owner one evening. Another day, we ended up at a dive-y Peruvian breakfast joint on the outskirts of town. Local knowledge, as always, rules.

Upon arrival, we walked around town, searching for the main square to catch our bearings. Andrea Fisher Fine Pottery was the first gallery we set foot in, and I still consider it the best. Andrea Fisher has collections of ceramics from many well-known Native American tribes, quite a few who still hone their craft on reservations in New Mexico. Their illustrative skills, like DNA, continue to be passed down through the generations.

The Acoma Puebla, which is not far from Albuquerque, occupies a staggering 5,000,000 acres of land that they settled upon over 2000 years ago. Remarkably, it is one of the oldest continuously lived in communities in the United States.

When I began reading up on the tribe and their pottery traditions, I learned that the geometric patterns they use in their designs are applied with the spike of a yucca plant. Folklore says, that after a pot was completed, the artist would lightly strike its side with the spike, then listen for a ringing sound. It was believed that the piece would crack while under fire, if the sound was not heard.

Black and white has always been my go-to color palette, or lack of color palette as some might argue. When I first caught sight of the Acoma display of ceramics, I had a hunch I wasn’t leaving New Mexico without one.

The finely brushed, intricate patterns are created by hand, not machine. It is a level of craftsmanship that I just can’t compute, no matter how many times I look at the pieces in my collection. The layers and levels of detail, especially from the older masters, is impossible for my mind to process.

Little did I know that day, that the bowl I would buy would have the honor of sparking yet another collection. A tangential pottery collection of black and white masterpieces. Over the years, my husband has occasionally surprised me with Acoma pottery for anniversaries, birthdays, and Mother’s Days. I once tried to buy one for him as a birthday gift. But my daughter called my bluff, knowing it was sneakily a gift for me, not him. Clever girl.

Travel memory: Tokyo

The memories that surround, what is likely, my favorite bowl, are fuzzy, at best. Under normal circumstances my memory is unreliable, so going from 2020 to 2007 is a stretch. I will have to improvise, just a bit.

There is a magazine in Japan called Kateigaho, which considers itself the ‘definitive source for Japanese arts and culture.’ It is an insight into the glamorous world of high-end Japanese art, museums, and restaurants—a world in which I was now a part of. It was mesmerizing. I thumbed through swoon-worthy architecture, upscale hidden kaiseke restaurants, art and artisans—the tip of the Asian iceberg, so to speak.

It was in Kateigaho, very early in our days there, where I saw a photo of an elder Japanese ceramicist, and his beautiful pottery. The exquisite pieces he turned practically jumped out at me from the high-gloss pages. The finishes he used were unusual, partly matte, and with an imperceptible sheen. The leaves of the Japanese maple, momi-ji, was a motif that immediately captivated me, and has since become my favorite tree. It is also one of my favorite memories attached to life in Japan. The overlapping leaves of the maple create endless shapes and patterns as the sun passes through them. In fact, the momi-ji bowl became the centerpiece of pur newly planted garden in DC, the very one that I admire each morning when I meditate.

I must have tracked down the ceramicist, visited his studio, and figured out a way to communicate with him. I am sure he spoke about as much English as I spoke Japanese. The only proof I have of the entire transaction is the bowl itself. I have nothing to go on but a lost back issue of Kateigaho from 2007, and an illegible signature on the base of the bowl. I am still searching, and have hopes I will find it. Stay tuned eBay.

Where are your travel memories hiding?

Needless to say, my best travel memories are stored in this collection of lovely bowls, these hidden gems—invisible though they may be to everyone else. Now, more than ever before, I look at them and remember how we found them, who we met along the way, the people that match up to the memory, and the cultures we immersed ourselves in during that short moment in time away. Those travels changed me, and allowed me to see the world from a different angle. I miss travel. The ache is real.

For now, I will sit, overlooking the green grass, and watch the delicate leaves unfurl, day by day, on my very own Japanese maple. I will listen to Lauren Eckstrom while I meditate from my favorite chair. On the way to that chair, I will pass by those bowls and remind myself of their stories. I like the idea of my memories being attached to the objects in my house. Not a bad way to travel, at least for the time being. And, perhaps try to learn something new, like dance in the rain.

Jamie Edwards is Founder of I am Lost and Found. I am Lost and Found is a luxury/adventure travel website that inspires others to explore the world, through first-hand experiential writing and captivating photography.

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Las Vegas heavyweights are betting on a comeback

With a reopening of the Las Vegas Strip likely just around the corner, some of the market’s biggest casino-hotels are preparing to welcome back guests as soon as state restrictions on gaming operations are lifted.

Just how many travelers will be drawn to Las Vegas in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, however, remains to be seen.

“I wish I had a dollar every time someone mentions there being ‘pent-up demand,'” said David Schwartz, associate vice provost for faculty affairs at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV). “But how do you really quantify that?
“Historically, Las Vegas revenue has tracked well when unemployment is low and consumer confidence is high. And both of those indicators are tracking in the opposite direction right now.”

Still, Las Vegas’ hospitality heavyweights are betting on a comeback, albeit a gradual one. After the Strip’s shutdown in mid-March, MGM Resorts said it could open select resorts — including its Bellagio and New York-New York casino-hotels — as soon as late May or early June, with Wynn Resorts also targeting a potential late-May reopening for its Wynn and Encore hotels. Likewise, Caesars Entertainment expects its Caesars Palace to be among the first properties it reopens as soon as Nevada’s governor gives the OK, while Las Vegas Sands Corp., which operates the Venetian and Palazzo, is reportedly eyeing a June reopening for its resorts.

In preparation, each of the four companies have released highly detailed health and safety plans. Protocols for the Wynn and Encore resorts, which were among the first Las Vegas casinos to unveil reopening guidelines, include thermal screening of guests and employees and the rearrangement of restaurant tables and slot machines to ensure physical distancing. 

At the Venetian, where roughly 25 emergency medical technicians will be available on site, guests will receive amenity kits featuring hand sanitizer, disinfecting wipes, gloves and a face mask. Caesars has pledged to limit table game spots and slot machines, while MGM is planning to install plexiglass barriers throughout its casinos and lobbies. 

Additionally, ramped-up Covid-19 testing could play a major role in Las Vegas’ rebound, according to Wynn Resorts CEO Matt Maddox. 

“Testing is continuing to be a real point of focus,” Maddox said during Wynn’s first-quarter earnings call on May 6. “We’re working with [the University Medical Center of Southern Nevada], so when we open at Wynn, any employee and any customer that wants the swab test can get it on-site.”

Steve Gallaway, managing partner for Global Market Advisors, a casino gaming, hospitality and sports betting consulting firm, said the vast majority of Las Vegas resorts “are doing a great job of putting their plans in place.”

“These are very large, sophisticated companies, and it’s not going to be a problem for them to keep spaces clean and safe,” Gallaway said. “They’re ready to hit that ‘go’ button. But I also think they’re being very realistic about expecting a slow ramp-up.”

Fly-in to drive-in

That ramp-up will likely be hindered by Las Vegas’ reliance on air travel, which has dropped sharply in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis. 

“If you go back to 1990, Las Vegas was much more of a drive market, but the proliferation of tribal gaming and other [regional gambling] options has cut into that,” explained UNLV’s Schwartz. “Resorts in Vegas have catered to a lot of fly-in customers, so they may have to make some changes to shift to more drive-in.”

That could mean resorts on the Strip might need to find ways to boost their local and regional appeal.

“Locals used to go to the Strip for dinner,” Gallaway said. “But nowadays, I don’t know any friends who dine there anymore. It’s just too expensive. In Vegas, you need to pay for parking, you need to pay a resort fee, and it’s $18 for a drink. For Vegas to come back successfully, they have to figure out how to give better value to their customers.”

Moreover, the hit to Las Vegas’ live entertainment, sports and convention businesses, which are expected to be among the market’s last segments to reopen in full, will certainly have a ripple effect on the city’s hospitality landscape.

“We have to think about how to drive visitation,” said Andre Carrier, COO of Eureka Casinos, which operates properties in Las Vegas and Mesquite, Nev., and in Seabrook, N.H. “People come to Vegas because they’re attending a conference or performance or sporting event. So we need new ways, for instance, to seat a stadium [in a socially distanced manner]. Is there software we can design to do that? And can it tell us what time people should enter and exit so we don’t overburden the entry and exit processes?”

To help solve these and other such challenges, UNLV’s Lee Business School and the Ted and Doris Lee Family Foundation have collaborated to launch the Lee School Prize for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, a competition in which a total of $1 million will be awarded to multiple entrepreneurs who develop solutions to address problems currently facing the hospitality, entertainment or travel industries.

Eureka Casinos’ Carrier is a founding member of the competition’s prize-steering committee. The platform began taking submissions this month.

“This challenge we’ve put out to the world is about building a bridge between our current moment and broad-based vaccination,” Carrier said. “We hope this prize will bring forward ideas and ways to crack the codes we need to crack.”

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Travelers Are Warming Up to Taking a Vacation

The road back to travel for many Americans will literally be on the road.

New research from MMGY Travel Intelligence shows that travelers are warming up to the idea of a vacation as they begin to see the peak of COVID-19 pass and states start to reopen.

Key findings from the latest wave of the Traveler Intentions Pulse Survey (TIPS) show that there is a growing interest in road trips and destinations that are close to home.

The percentage of travelers who agreed that they are more likely to travel by car after COVID-19 passes increased in the last two weeks from 35 percent in Wave II to 47 percent in Wave III.

The percentage who said they are more likely to travel to destinations close to home increased from 36 percent in Wave II to 42 percent in Wave III. Older travelers were more likely to agree with this.

This third wave also found that the percentage of travelers who said that an easing of travel restrictions would impact their decision to travel increased from 45 percent in Wave II to 53 percent in Wave III.

While Americans may be dreaming of travel, they will be cautious when travel restrictions are eased.

The MMGY survey found that six in 10 respondents will be eager to travel for leisure once the COVID-19 emergency has passed, which is up from 54 percent in Wave II. However, just 38 percent say they are likely to take a leisure trip in the next six months.

As Americans begin to settle into this new normal during the pandemic, many are beginning to feel safer. Travelers were slightly less concerned about the threat of contracting COVID-19 than they were just two weeks prior.

Americans’ concern about others in their household contracting the virus dropped from 40 percent in Wave II to 34 percent in Wave III. And, travelers aged 50-64 years continue to be the age group least concerned.

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Sao Tome and Principe are a pure delight for body and soul

Africa’s bountiful secret: Never heard of Sao Tome and Principe? That’s the point – but these far-flung tropical islands are a pure delight for body and soul

  • San Tome and Principe are tropical islands and second smallest country in Africa
  • Island nation has 200,000 inhabitants and used to be under Portuguese rule 
  • The islands boast more rare birds per square mile than the Galapagos

Many of us (now more than ever) hope to find a glorious tropical island — somewhere small, perfectly formed, filled with wildlife, an exotic bolthole to escape from the trials of the world.

Sao Tome and Principe, with only 200,000 inhabitants, is a good place to start. Especially as it has more rare birds per square mile than the Galapagos, and more turtles than you can shake a stick at, and is aiming for sustainable and responsible development.

It is also a safe place to visit, with virtually no crime thanks to a strong and stable government. Which is not bad for the second smallest country in Africa.

Island getaway: Sao Tome (pictured) and Principe is the second smallest country in Africa 

Sao Tome and Principe (the latter pictured) were discovered by the Portuguese in the 15th century

It sits off the west coast, near the equator, directly below London. The water is warm, the sun is hot and there is no jet lag. It used to be under Portuguese rule until 1975, so it seemed fitting for my son and I to fly to Lisbon for a two-night stopover at the beginning of our adventure.

Staying at Memmo Alfama Hotel, in Lisbon old town, just behind the cathedral, we took advantage of the free walking tour — and enjoyed exploring this hilly city so much that we invited our talkative guide and his girlfriend to join us for lunch. As he told us, ‘Lisbon is like a game of Tetris, played with buildings.’

Next morning, we flew to Africa, landing in Sao Tome— the larger of the two islands that make up this country — for a couple of nights relaxing by the pool and beach of Hotel Omali.

Driving round with local guide, Daniel, we bought coconuts from roadside sellers, watched locals wash laundry in rivers, and learned that all islanders are descended from slaves brought over by the Portuguese. It was an eye-opening introduction to Africa’s brutal past and present. ‘I am not owned by the past. I am more interested in the future,’ said Daniel.

Principe, with a population of 7,000, is smaller and prettier than Sao Tome. Coming in to land after a 30-minute flight, we saw its jungle-covered hills and land edged with soft beaches. It seemed remarkably unspoilt.

Tourism has only taken off in the past few years. To keep visitor numbers down, there is just one flight a day to Sao Tome from Principe, on a small plane — a deliberate ploy to encourage sustainability.

We sampled all three of the main hotels on Principe. Bom Bom Island hotel is on a tiny splinter of rock, 100 metres from the northern edge of Principe.

Santo Antonio, the main settlement on Principe island

Behold Pico Cao Grande, a 1,200ft-tall needle-shaped rock that rises out of jungle on São Tomé

Pipi Waterfall on Principe, which can be reached via one of the island’s many walking trails

It is named after the sound of waves rolling onto shore and has beachfront bungalows perfectly positioned so you can roll out of bed, step onto soft sand and go for a morning swim while looking out for low-flying parrots.

Chaplin, an African grey parrot, lives at the hotel. She was caged once, until her owner released her to the wild. After a few weeks away, she returned, spending most days hanging out with her human friends and some lucky guests.

After taking boat trips along the coast, exploring gorgeous empty beaches and snorkelling in clear waters, I can see why Chaplin never wanted to leave. Roca Sundy is an old plantation owners’ house, located inland, that has been turned into a boutique guesthouse, with great views over the valleys below.

We met up with local resident Sandra, who showed us round the hotel grounds, where she lives. Roca Sundy is situated in a sleepy village, complete with schools, bakery and tiny chocolate factory.

Strolling round a nearby ruined hospital, now converted into a high-rise shanty town, we found ourselves in a house belonging to another local, Sheira. She runs a restaurant from her front room, feeding tourists grilled fish while her grandchildren play at our feet, or listen, fascinated by our accents.

A carnival parade taking place in the town of Sao Tome on the island of Sao Tome

That evening, sitting outside the hotel, high above the valley, we listened to parrots singing in the treetops as the sun set, and enjoyed the local, jackfruit-flavoured tipple. It was the perfect way to prepare for our next adventure — turtles.

We had seen their nests on the beaches, each clutch of eggs marked by a painted stick in the sand. Our guide cheerfully admitted that in the past he had caught turtles and eaten their eggs. Not any more. These days they are worth far more alive than dead, as the few tourists there are will happily pay to see them.

Walking along the starlit beach, we stepped over hundreds of crabs and watched three huge green turtles — each one the size of a wheelbarrow — hauling themselves up the sand. It was fascinating. It takes them hours to find a spot, dig their nests, lay their eggs and return to the sea. A perfect example of the locals’ favourite phrase: ‘Leve, leve.’ (Slow, slow.)

Our final night was in a tented villa at Sundy Praia, at a whopping £800 a night — more than twice the price of the other hotels.

Proud of its eco credentials and use of local materials, it takes glamping to new heights, with enormous suites of rooms under canvas. Our bath was carved from solid rock and, apparently, weighed over a ton. It was a grand finale as we prepared to head for home.

So, if you ever want a taste of tropical joy, just head south from London and keep on going until you hit the equator. When this pandemic is far behind us, I can think of no better place to go and celebrate the simple beauty of being alive.

TRAVEL FACTS 

Stan and his son travelled with (rainbowtours.co.uk) which offers 14 days’ half-board at Omali Lodge in Sao Tome, Hotel Bom Bom, Roca Sundy in Principe and Sundy Praia Resort from £3,135 pp. 

A stop over at Memmo Alfama in Lisbon, international flights with Tap Air (flytap.com) and internal flights are also included. 

 

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Sao Tome and Principe are a pure delight for body and soul

Africa’s bountiful secret: Never heard of Sao Tome and Principe? That’s the point – but these far-flung tropical islands are a pure delight for body and soul

  • San Tome and Principe are tropical islands and second smallest country in Africa
  • Island nation has 200,000 inhabitants and used to be under Portuguese rule 
  • The islands boast more rare birds per square mile than the Galapagos

Many of us (now more than ever) hope to find a glorious tropical island — somewhere small, perfectly formed, filled with wildlife, an exotic bolthole to escape from the trials of the world.

Sao Tome and Principe, with only 200,000 inhabitants, is a good place to start. Especially as it has more rare birds per square mile than the Galapagos, and more turtles than you can shake a stick at, and is aiming for sustainable and responsible development.

It is also a safe place to visit, with virtually no crime thanks to a strong and stable government. Which is not bad for the second smallest country in Africa.

Island getaway: A Sao Tome beach. Sao Tome and Principe is the second smallest country in Africa 

It sits off the west coast, near the equator, directly below London. The water is warm, the sun is hot and there is no jet lag. It used to be under Portuguese rule until 1975, so it seemed fitting for my son and I to fly to Lisbon for a two-night stopover at the beginning of our adventure.

Staying at Memmo Alfama Hotel, in Lisbon old town, just behind the cathedral, we took advantage of the free walking tour — and enjoyed exploring this hilly city so much that we invited our talkative guide and his girlfriend to join us for lunch. As he told us, ‘Lisbon is like a game of Tetris, played with buildings.’

Next morning, we flew to Africa, landing in Sao Tome— the larger of the two islands that make up this country — for a couple of nights relaxing by the pool and beach of Hotel Omali.

Driving round with local guide, Daniel, we bought coconuts from roadside sellers, watched locals wash laundry in rivers, and learned that all islanders are descended from slaves brought over by the Portuguese. It was an eye-opening introduction to Africa’s brutal past and present. ‘I am not owned by the past. I am more interested in the future,’ said Daniel.

Principe, with a population of 7,000, is smaller and prettier than Sao Tome. Coming in to land after a 30-minute flight, we saw its jungle-covered hills and land edged with soft beaches. It seemed remarkably unspoilt.

Tourism has only taken off in the past few years. To keep visitor numbers down, there is just one flight a day to Sao Tome from Principe, on a small plane — a deliberate ploy to encourage sustainability.

We sampled all three of the main hotels on Principe. Bom Bom Island hotel is on a tiny splinter of rock, 100 metres from the northern edge of Principe.

Sao Tome and Principe has more rare birds per square mile than the Galapagos, and more turtles than you can shake a stick at

It is named after the sound of waves rolling onto shore and has beachfront bungalows perfectly positioned so you can roll out of bed, step onto soft sand and go for a morning swim while looking out for low-flying parrots.

Chaplin, an African grey parrot, lives at the hotel. She was caged once, until her owner released her to the wild. After a few weeks away, she returned, spending most days hanging out with her human friends and some lucky guests.

After taking boat trips along the coast, exploring gorgeous empty beaches and snorkelling in clear waters, I can see why Chaplin never wanted to leave. Roca Sundy is an old plantation owners’ house, located inland, that has been turned into a boutique guesthouse, with great views over the valleys below.

We met up with local resident Sandra, who showed us round the hotel grounds, where she lives. Roca Sundy is situated in a sleepy village, complete with schools, bakery and tiny chocolate factory.

Strolling round a nearby ruined hospital, now converted into a high-rise shanty town, we found ourselves in a house belonging to another local, Sheira. She runs a restaurant from her front room, feeding tourists grilled fish while her grandchildren play at our feet, or listen, fascinated by our accents.

A carnival parade taking place in the town of Sao Tome on the island of Sao Tome

That evening, sitting outside the hotel, high above the valley, we listened to parrots singing in the treetops as the sun set, and enjoyed the local, jackfruit-flavoured tipple. It was the perfect way to prepare for our next adventure — turtles.

We had seen their nests on the beaches, each clutch of eggs marked by a painted stick in the sand. Our guide cheerfully admitted that in the past he had caught turtles and eaten their eggs. Not any more. These days they are worth far more alive than dead, as the few tourists there are will happily pay to see them.

Walking along the starlit beach, we stepped over hundreds of crabs and watched three huge green turtles — each one the size of a wheelbarrow — hauling themselves up the sand. It was fascinating. It takes them hours to find a spot, dig their nests, lay their eggs and return to the sea. A perfect example of the locals’ favourite phrase: ‘Leve, leve.’ (Slow, slow.)

Our final night was in a tented villa at Sundy Praia, at a whopping £800 a night — more than twice the price of the other hotels.

Proud of its eco credentials and use of local materials, it takes glamping to new heights, with enormous suites of rooms under canvas. Our bath was carved from solid rock and, apparently, weighed over a ton. It was a grand finale as we prepared to head for home.

So, if you ever want a taste of tropical joy, just head south from London and keep on going until you hit the equator. When this pandemic is far behind us, I can think of no better place to go and celebrate the simple beauty of being alive.

TRAVEL FACTS 

Stan and his son travelled with (rainbowtours.co.uk) which offers 14 days’ half-board at Omali Lodge in Sao Tome, Hotel Bom Bom, Roca Sundy in Principe and Sundy Praia Resort from £3,135 pp. 

A stop over at Memmo Alfama in Lisbon, international flights with Tap Air (flytap.com) and internal flights are also included. 

 

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Airlines and hotels are still booking travel months away, but experts caution against making any reservations you can't cancel



a person standing in front of a mountain

  • All non-essential travel is off the table for now, but airlines and hotels are still accepting reservations for the future – often at deeply discounted rates.
  • If you’re considering booking travel for several months out, consider sticking to refundable tickets and reservations made with points or miles so there’s less risk of losing money if your plans need to be canceled.
  • You should also prioritize having an emergency fund of savings over booking a future vacation.
  • If you’re in good financial standing, you could open a new rewards credit card now and earn its welcome bonus so you have a stash of points ready to go when you’re ready to book a trip.
  • See Business Insider’s list of the best travel rewards credit cards.

As a result of the coronavirus, our lives have become very small in scope. If you haven’t had to cancel an upcoming trip, at the very least the current situation has likely put your vacation plans on hold. But while the world is largely housebound at this time, travel brands continue to sell flights and hotel rooms for dates in the future, and prices can be extremely low.

With airlines and hotels offering cheap rates and carriers such as JetBlue letting you book as far out as January 2021, you may be wondering whether it’s worth jumping on any of the current travel deals to book vacation in the future. If you’re considering pulling the trigger on a cheap flight or hotel room now for travel dates in the future, here’s what you need to know.

Booking a trip for the early fall may seem like a safe bet now, but no one knows when life will be back to normal. Given this uncertainty, you’ll want to treat any travel reservations you make as subject to change.

Many travel brands have released customer-friendly change and cancellation policies. For example, American Airlines will waive change fees for travel through May 31, 2020, and it will waive change fees for travel booked by April 30, 2020.

Hotels generally let you cancel a few days before check-in without any penalty, but be sure to double-check a property’s policy before you make a reservation.

Zach Honig, Editor at Large at travel website The Points Guy, recommends steering clear of nonrefundable tickets and hotel stays. “Personally, I’m not purchasing any nonrefundable travel right now, though I have booked several award flights that I hope to take, since I’ve found business-class availability to be outstanding, for travel later in the year,” he tells Business Insider.

Refundable tickets and hotel stays are often more expensive than their nonrefundable counterparts, however, which leads us to the next point …

While most travel brands have adjusted their cancellation policies for paid reservations, if you have points or miles, consider booking any speculative flights or hotel stays with your rewards.

It’s usually easier to cancel award tickets than cash reservations, and Honig notes that United is waiving award redeposit fees for the rest of 2020 as long as you cancel more than 30 days before departure. If you’re looking to book through another airline program, check to see if they’re offering award redeposit fee waivers as well.

If you can’t resist pulling the trigger on booking an expensive trip for the future, buying supplementary travel insurance could be a smart idea. While travel rewards credit cards like the Chase Sapphire Reserve®, Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, and the Platinum Card® from American Express offer strong travel coverage, including trip cancellation and interruption insurance, their coverage limits the reasons for which you can cancel and receive a full refund.

While the urge to book travel is understandable given that we’re all cooped up at home, it’s wise to balance that wanderlust with the need for financial security.

GALLERY: How to cancel your trip during the coronavirus pandemic 

a person in a blue suitcase:   Airlines are waiving cancellation and rebooking fees, but  getting a full refund is unlikely.    Amtrak train tickets are refundable, but canceling without a  fee requires speaking with an agent.    Many hotels are waiving cancellation fees and refunding  trips, and Airbnb is fully refunding reservations made before  March 14.    Many rental car companies are waiving change and cancellation  fees, but there are some restrictions.    Most cruise lines have suspended all upcoming trips and are  offering different refund and credit options.       Visit   Insider's homepage for more stories.     The coronavirus  pandemic has devastated the travel industry and upended  travel plans for people around the world. Whether you were set to  travel for vacation, an event, or to visit family, chances are  you've had to rethink your itinerary.   Here's how to adjust your travel plans with minimal financial  losses.

“Given the vast amount of uncertainty that we’re dealing with at this moment, my advice as a financial planner would be to focus on what you can control,” says Eric Roberge, CFP and founder of Beyond Your Hammock. “Right now, that comes down to your personal saving, spending, and investment contributions.”

“My priorities before spending on travel would be to pad my emergency fund (even if it was ‘full,’ having a little extra cash right now only adds security and stability), maintain or even increase my investment contributions, and do what I can to support others in my local community who may be struggling,” Roberge continues.

That’s not to say you can’t book future travel and save money, but it’s hard to overstate the importance of being financially prepared for any unforeseen circumstances during this uncertain time – especially as unemployment claims continue to skyrocket. 

If you have travel points, such as Chase Ultimate Rewards and Amex Membership Rewards, keep in mind that you can redeem them for cash back. This won’t get you maximum value in most cases, but if you’re short on cash, this is an option for building your emergency fund.

 

You don’t have to stop dreaming about an exotic vacation, even if you ultimately decide to hold off on booking future travel for now.

In fact, this is a great time to start earning points and miles so you’ll be ready to go whenever we return to normalcy. Signing up for rewards credit cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card and the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card and earning their welcome bonuses will put you in a perfect position to book award travel in the future.

Consider cards that earn transferable points (like Amex, Chase, or Citi points, or Capital One miles) as opposed to those that earn rewards with an airline or hotel program, so you’re not locked into just one option for redeeming them. And remember that many cards offer bonus rewards on purchases such as online shopping, food delivery, and groceries.

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90% fewer passengers are flying than last year because of coronavirus, TSA says


Transportation Security Administration airport checkpoint numbers show the number of airline passengers fell below 200,000 on Friday and Saturday as a result of the coronavirus.

a person standing in front of a display screen: Coronavirus live updates: Travel restrictions create airport chaos, Walmart cuts hours, curfew in Hoboken

Only 184,027 people passed through TSA checkpoints on Saturday, and 199,644 on Friday. On the same two days last year, 2.1 million and 2.5 million people respectively passed through TSA checkpoints.

Fewer than 2 million passengers a day have flown since March 9, and 1 million a day since March 17. That figure has stayed below 500,000 since March 22.

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Airlines have sharply curtailed their schedules as coronavirus has swept the globe. Domestic carriers have cut their flights by 70% to 90%.

According to Johns Hopkins University, more than 124,000 Americans have tested positive for coronavirus as of Sunday, and nearly 2,200 have died of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.

According to TSA, at least 50 officers have tested positive at airports across the country. The number is likely higher due to the lack of access to testing in many parts of the country.

On March 19, the U.S. State Department issued its highest warning, Level 4, on international travel, advising Americans to avoid travel overseas.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Saturday advised residents of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut to avoid nonessential travel for 14 days. The region has the highest concentration of coronavirus cases in the nation.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 90% fewer passengers are flying than last year because of coronavirus, TSA says


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