In which we present a regular round-up of news from the world of Grown-up Travel
Digital maps make navigation a breeze
Whether joy-riding through the French countryside or navigating an urban jungle like Paris, maps are indispensable tools while travelling. A good map can save endless time and frustration. But what once was a solely paper medium is quickly going digital. Though my paper map remains my constant back-pocket companion, technology is making it easier than ever to navigate Europe.
Like many travellers these days, I carry a smartphone to Europe, using it sparingly to make phone calls, send texts, check e-mail, and browse the Internet. And like many smartphone owners, I have become accustomed to the convenience of having maps at my fingertips when I need to find an address or look up directions. But there’s a catch to using these maps overseas: Since they must be downloaded and continually updated on the Internet, you either have to wait until you reach a hotspot or pay international data roaming fees in order to call up a new map.
If you prefer the freedom to look up maps without being leashed to a hotspot, check your cell-phone company’s various international data plans; these are actually becoming more affordable. If you go this route, consider turning off data roaming when you’re not using it so maps don’t continually update and burn through your megabyte limit. It’s also important to check your data usage periodically on the phone itself so you don’t exceed the max.
To avoid paying fees at all, I prefer to disable data roaming on my phone altogether, only accessing the Internet when I’m connected to a Wi-Fi network. But with a little preparation, you can still take advantage of your smartphone’s navigational features. For instance, if you’re planning a day of driving, you can look up the route on your phone in the morning, then use it to navigate all day long. Before hitting the road, simply log onto a Wi-Fi network, such as the one at your hotel or a cafe, punch in your start and end points, and select the route you want to take. The map remains available on your phone, and you can zoom in and out, even when you’re nowhere near a Wi-Fi connection.
Stonehenge: a new dawn
Work has begun on a project to make a visit to Stonehenge as awe-inspiring as the stones themselves – and to allow visitors to explore the majesty of the surrounding landscape.
It is one of Britain’s most popular tourist attractions, a Unesco World Heritage Site and a relic of utmost importance in unravelling our past. It serves as an icon of Britain, its trademark trilithons a visual shorthand for heritage, hippies and unknowable mystery. It has been immortalised byConstable, Wordsworth, Hardy and Vonnegut. Spinal Tap named a song after it and in the film Help!, the Beatles sang nearby. It’s also a symbol of proprietorial greed, its £7.80 entrance fee allowing passage through a dank tunnel and a walk around, rather than among, the stones; according to a random sample of visitor reactions, Stonehenge is “just a pile of rocks”, “smaller than I thought it would be” and a “rip-off”.
Stonehenge, encompassed by an aura of utilitarian tat – a shabby entrance, chain-link fences and the thunder of two busy roads – is as old and as important as the Egyptian necropolis at Giza, but you wouldn’t guess that from its presentation, which has all the aesthetic allure of a bus station. Last month, after nearly 30 years of dead-end schemes,English Heritage finally began work on an attempt to bring Stonehenge back to its proper setting, starting with the construction of a new visitor centre – a graceful low-rise building hidden a mile and a half to the west at Airman’s Corner – which promises to tell the story of the people who built the historic site.
The centre will feature artefacts on loan from local museums, as well as 21st-century multimedia and the ubiquitous gift shop. Its construction also promises to sweep away a busy road, the fence, the car park and the jumble of “temporary” buildings installed close to the stones in 1968. A low-key transit system will ferry visitors to and from Stonehenge and stop off at points between, allowing sightseers to explore the wider landscape. “People arrive here and focus on the stones but lose an opportunity to see what else is out there,” says English Heritage’s head of Stonehenge, Peter Carson, from the current car park, close to the monument. “The new entrance should allow them to appreciate the landscape before they see the jewel in the crown.”
Moscow hotels ‘world’s most expensive’
Moscow’s hotels have been named the world’s most expensive for the eighth year running.
In a survey of average room rates in 50 major cities, the perennially pricey Russian capital came out on top, with a one-night hotel stay typically costing travellers slightly less than £260.
Moscow has topped the annual study, carried out by the Hogg Robinson Group (HRG), a travel management company, for eight years running. This year, it was almost 20 per cent more expensive than anywhere else considered in the analysis.
Lagos in Nigeria climbed to second place in the survey with average room rates standing at £217 a night, thanks to a “high volume of inbound business travel connected with the oil industry”. The research added that travellers to Lagos were conscious of its “well-documented” security issues, and therefore more inclined to choose five-star accommodation.
Geneva, where hotel accommodation will typically cost around £216, around £12 less than last year, came third.
Average room rates also dipped in other European cities, including Barcelona – where they fell by nearly a quarter – Madrid and Dublin.
Stewart Harvey, group commercial director at HRG, said that economic “uncertainty” was “driving down room rates across mainland Europe.”
The largest increases in hotel rates were seen in Latin America. In Rio de Janeiro, which is hosting both the 2016 Olympics and several matches – including the final – of the football World Cup in 2014, prices rose by 15 per cent, and in Sao Paulo, they increased by more than a fifth. Mexico City, meanwhile, saw average rates soar by nearly a third.
Beyond the grave: Wills give gift of travel
Lee Liebman and her family took a $6,000 vacation this year that didn’t cost them a dime, thanks to a relative’s last wishes.
Whether it’s trying to make sure that their children stay in touch despite geographical distances, or wanting them to become acquainted with family roots in another country, some people are deciding that travel should be a part of their legacy.
“Despite the economy, this is the first generation of people passing away with substantial wealth,” said Avi Kestenbaum, a trust and estate specialist with the New York-based law firm Meltzer Lippe Goldstein & Breistone. He estimated he’s set up 10 travel-related trusts in the past 15 years, while other clients have given instructions verbally or in a non-legal written “wish list.”
The trend has even prompted a travel agency and a law firm to partner together this summer to start offering one-stop-shopping for trust creation and travel planning.
“You could give them money and they could go and buy a new car with it, or you could give them this and they can use it to create memories,” said Jim Bendt, president of Travel Beyond of Minneapolis, who advises there may also be tax advantages to setting up a trust that encourages travel.
Margaret Cronin, a partner with the law firm, Leonard, Street and Deinard, also of Minneapolis, said these trusts might provide other benefits as well.
“If you give a child a big inheritance outright, it’s exposed to their creditors, to their divorces,” she said. A trust is “absolutely something that people should consider.”