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Using Twitter to plan a holiday (test repost)

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Recently I’ve been doing a bit of work on the HolidayExtras Twitter account. We’re trying to use it as a way to promote products and special offers and generally spread the word about the brand and the company. It’s been fairly successful so far, we’ve gained 261 followers over a month or two and that’s with really very little work. It’s something that two of us work on in spare time between other projects.

I’ve been using Twitter for my own purposes as well outside of work, my Jon Clarke account for friends and then another for my band SecondEdge. It’s a really interesting tool for discovering new content on the web and seems a great way to connect with people. I never really got into Facebook, it was too much spam for me to really be bothered with. Twitter has forced people to really condense their message into what they want to say, which I think is a good thing. Enables me to cut out the useless fluff (pokes and pie throwing anyone?) and get to the good information.

Twitter search I think is big news for the Internet. It’s essentially a canvas of current public opinion. I’m using it at work to find what people are saying about the company and if anyone is having any problem with parking or hotels. It’s at this point that we can step in and offer a helping hand. It can be an invaluable boost to public opinion of your brand, even if you don’t make a direct sale the fact that you’re seen to be going out of your way to help can give a positive boost to your image. As soon as my band finish our recording I’ll be taking what I’ve learnt and applying it there as well.

So what does this have to do with travel, the whole point of this blog? Well what better medium to ask people about a hotel before you book a stay? What better way to find people who have been to your resort of choice beforehand? If you think about it, you can even ask locals where the best places to eat are before you get there.

I’ll try to paint a scenario for you. I’m planning a holiday for the summer, let’s say to New Zealand. I’m planning on staying at a Gatwick hotel before I fly out. I can search Twitter for Gatwick hotels and see what people have to say. Like this;

It's easy to get public opinion

It's easy to get public opinion

So what I could do is directly message this person and ask what hotel they stayed at and what they thought of it.

Let’s say I booked my hotel, I’ve flown over to New Zealand and I’m looking for a good place to eat in Wellington. Well, what do I find on Twitter?

So where are the best restaurants in Wellington, New Zealand?

So where are the best restaurants in Wellington, New Zealand?

As more and more people sign up (hopefully it’ll be bigger than Facebook) it’ll become easier and easier to ask almost anything you like and get genuine help and opinion.

However you still have to be careful, and just like the rest of the Internet there’s a lot of crap out there. Make sure you can wade through the rubbish and find the trustworthy stuff. Right now the majority of the Twitter population is made up of early adopters and tech-savvy people. As it becomes more mainstream then it’ll inevitably attract the whole plethora of people we’ve (sadly) come to expect online. That being said, I’ll still be using Twitter search and I’d encourage you to as well.

As a final point I’d like to consider the possibility that Twitter and the services that will inevitably outdo and supercede it have brought in Web 3.0, or the Semantic Web. The Wikipedia article defines the Semantic Web as;

The Semantic Web is an evolving extension of the World Wide Web in which the semantics of information and services on the web is defined, making it possible for the web to understand and satisfy the requests of people and machines to use the web content. It derives from World Wide Web Consortium director Sir Tim Burners-Lee’s vision of the Web as a universal medium for data, information, and knowledge exchange.

And this is exactly what you can do with Twitter. You can ask an open question and hope that your followers will answer. Or you can find an “expert” through Twitter search and then ask them. Now the problem with it as that you’re reliant on other people responding and that they’re reliable. And what if you don’t have enough followers? What the real Semantic Web will be is an automatic process that will work much like Google’s current search engine but will understand language and your questions. I think that Twitter is a step in this direction and that anyone going on holiday would be foolish to ignore its potential.

The message I’m trying to get across here is that even if you don’t really care for the Internet Web 3.0 theory stuff is that it’s never been easier to ask about where you’re going on holiday and get genuine recommendations. The strongest referral one can get is from a friend that has already experienced what you’re thinking about doing. The difference here is that you can have friends from all over the world, and that’s just never been possible before.

Airport world records, again

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Biggest, smallest, oldest, highest, lowest. The Guinness World Records have fascinated us for decades. From the bizarre to the surreal to the amazing they seem, at least to me, to tap into that innate human curiosity. Sometimes you feel you just have to know who is the person that can put the most clothes pegs on their face at once. Stupid records aside, most are genuinely interesting. For this post I thought I’d have a look at a few with regards to airports round the world.

The highest airport in the world is Quamdo Bangda airport in Tibet. It’s located 4,334 metres above sea level and its runway 14/32 is the longest publicly used in the world, at 5,500m. The low air density at such a high altitude makes take off and landing more difficult than usual. Although I think that flying to other airports must be pretty easy, just glide down!

The highest airport in the world

The highest airport in the world at Quamdo Bangda

The most remote airport in the world is on Easter Island, 2603km from the nearest airport in the Gambier Islands. Matavari International splits the island and apparently almost separates the mountain of Rano Kau from the rest of the tiny landmass.

Mataveri International, the most remote airport in the world

Mataveri International, the most remote airport in the world

It’s a place I’ve always had a keen interest in visiting, and the knowledge that I’d be in literally the most remote spot on the planet kind of adds to the mystique. Perhaps one day I’ll visit and get some photos first hand.

The oldest airport in the world is College Park airport in Prince Georges County, Maryland USA. Established in 1909 after a visit from aviation pioneer Wilbur Wright the airport has been the home of many flying firsts. Notably in 1909 when Frederic Humphreys became the first military pilot to solo in a government aeroplane.

I dug around a little (OK I admit, I looked at Wikipedia) and the title of world’s busiest airport seems to be shared around a bit. The Hartsfield-Jackson Atalanta International airport in Atalanta, Georgia USA has the highest number of passenger a year, and London Heathrow has the largest number of international passengers. I guess I’d attribue that to the much larger amount of internal flight traffic across the USA compared to the UK.

After all these though, I think this is probably my favourite. The video speaks for itself, and the Princess Juliana International airport takes my award for “most insane airport”.

The reason they come in so close is that the runway at the airport is incredibly short. I can’t think that it’s too relaxing on the beach there, and a little bit noisy. Still, if you’re a planespotter I guess it’s ideal.

So that’s just a few world record breaking airports. I’ll probably expand on this post in a few weeks and add in some more records. Posting that YouTube video has given me some ideas, so I might try and find some crazy/wacky airport footage. We shall see.

Two ideas for a winter holiday

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Something tells me I’m in the minority here, but I would rather spend a holiday in an Arctic wilderness than on a warm sunny beach. I guess to most people that sounds insane but I’m sure I can’t be alone in this. For me there is something hauntingly beautiful about expanses of snow and mountains that a crowded beach full of fat, sweaty tourists can never match.

The great thing about visiting one of the vast snowy expanses our planet has to offer is that you’ll most likely have huge areas of land all to yourself. Forget fighting the crowd for a tiny area of sand, you could be gliding over hundreds of miles of pristine snow instead. As we’re in the heart of winter here in the UK and it’s heading up to Christmas I thought I’d take a look at some of the winter wildernesses I’d most like to visit in the near future.

Alaska is the largest state in the US and also the northernmost. As a holiday destination it’s often overlooked, I’d guess mainly due to its remoteness and extreme climate. As a place to go for your week or two week break I’m not sure I’d really recommend it, especially travelling from the UK, but it is most certainly a place I would want to visit, probably as part of a longer travelling experience.

Boating in Alaska

Boating in Alaska

Northern lights over Alaska

Northern lights over Alaska

The state is larger than Sweden, Norway, Finland, the Netherlands and the UK all put together so there’s definitely scope for exploration and adventure while on holiday there. Alaska has more coastline than all the other US states combined and over three million lakes. Fishing and boating are popular activites along with dog sledding. A popular event is the Iditarod Trail Dog Sled Race that starts in Anchorage, the largest city in Alaska. Dog sledding is the still a popular form of transport in parts of Alaska, due to the conditions making road and rail travel impractical. If you want to see some of the most beautiful scenery the USA has to offer then I’d definitely recommend trying to visit Alaska, just remember to pack warm clothes before you go.

For some of the most stunning coastlines in the world then Norway is a great choice for anyone wishing to visit naturally beautiful place with a sub-arctic climate. All along its vast western coastline are the famous fjords, some of the most striking scenery in the World.

A fjord in Norway, picture from Wikipedia

A fjord in Norway, picture from Wikipedia

Norway claimed second place in the 2008 Environmental Index, just behind Switzerland. The rankings are based on how well the country’s policies have positively benefitted its environment. Looking through the photos on www.visitnorway.com it’s easy to see why. The vast lakes of the fjords are right next to huge mountains and rolling hills and it’s hard to imagine anywhere that can match it. The beauty of the country is that it’s also rather sparsely populated, even the capital, Oslo, is home to just 573,388 people (there are 7,355,400 in London). It’s a long way for anyone coming from the USA but if you’re heading over to visit Europe then I’d certainly think strongly about going. English is pretty much a second language in Norway, so any American visiting should do just fine on that front.

Of course, there’s more to Norway than ‘just’ the fjords. The country is known as the Land of the Midnight Sun and areas to the north inside the arctic circle experience periods of perpetual darkness and light throughout the year. It’s also a great place to see the northern lights, much like Greenland that I blogged about earlier. For a true arctic experience you could also head out to Svalbard, an archipelago to the north of mainland Norway. From here you can go on skiing trips, snowmobile safaris and dog sledging trips. It’s also a fantastic place to see arctic wildlife such as polar bears and walruses. And if camping remember fire guards.

Hopefully with these two examples of winter climates I’ve shown that not every holiday must be in the scorching heat, there’s a lot of our planet to see and much of it is in the polar regions. The great thing about these places is that with their low populations they remain largely unspoiled by human inhabitation and are some of the last places you can go that haven’t been ruined.

An interesting read

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I was searching around the web looking for topics on remote holiday destinations for an article here, but found this interesting series of pictures on the Telegraph’s website.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/picturegalleries/3109042/The-Atlas-of-the-Real-World.html

It’s a map of the world but scaled by certain criteria, such as tourism, GDP, rail travel, etc. The results are mostly expected but it’s still quite striking to see some countries disappear off the map for some results and then dominate for others. Might spark an idea for a holiday destination, or even give you an idea of where to avoid, you never know.

We’re back

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Yes, after a long period of inactivity we’ll be posting here again. Work has been heavy recently and this blog has been left aside, but fear not! Soon there will be the usual flurry of irreverant travel ideas and posts.

The World’s most striking wildlife

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When thinking about travelling and discovering new places to go I often think about what kinds of landscapes I’d like to see, and what cultures I’d like to experience. Often I’ll just tie this in without thinking to the local wildlife and plants. However it’s quite rare that I ever really sit down and think about the myriad of different species we have on Earth and what I’d really like to see. Of course, you can see plenty in a zoo but that just can’t beat seeing the animal in its natural habitat. I thought I’d run through some animals and plants I’d like to see naturally on my travels, and give some tips as to the best places to spot them if you’re interested too.

The largest animal that has ever lived is the blue whale. While not as numerous as they once were the whaling ban has certainly helped their cause and they can be seen in a number of locations around the globe.

Blue Whale

Blue Whale

A great place to catch a glimpse of these awe-inspiring animals is just off the coast of Los Angeles around the Santa Barbara Channel Islands. Growing up to 110ft in length you’ll be able to see them from the deck of boats which you can buy rides on around the area. You’ll not only see Blue Whales but the range of other whales and dolphins that populate the area, so if you’d like to see some of the most impressive marine life you can then I’d certainly think about hiring a boat trip out there.

Another majestic sea creature is the giant leatherback turtle. You’ll be hard pushed to spot a wild one as they live out in the open ocean. However, the females return to land in order to lay their eggs and this is generally the best time to spot one.

Leatherback Turtle

Leatherback Turtle

Good places to see the females as they crawl ashore are beaches in Papua, Idonesia and the Solomon Islands, they’re also known to forage for food off the coast of Oregon in the USA so that might be a good place to try and spot one from a boat. Growing up to nine feet long and capable of swimming at speeds of up to 35km/h they’re certainly one of the most interesting creatures in the sea and something I would definitely love to see at some stage.

Next is an animal that I’m sure will be familiar to residents of the USA. The bald eagle can be found across North America and Canada and has enjoyed a resurgence in numbers in recent years. In 2007 the bird was taken off the endangered animals list and classified under ‘least concern’.

Bald eagle fishing

Bald eagle fishing

It is certainly one of the most striking birds of prey and one with really distinctive markings. They’re best spotted in coastal areas and around large lakes and bodies of water as their preferred diet is fish.

Completing my list is the tree with the largest volume of any living organism on the planet, the General Sherman tree in Giant Forest of Sequoia National Park in the USA.

General Sherman

General Sherman

Believed to be over 2,300 years old the giant tree makes for a spectacular sight. In 2006 one of its lower branches fell off, and was found out to be bigger than most regular trees. Trees like this don’t exist in the UK and it is definitely something I’d like to head over to the USA to go and see for myself.

There are of course, countless animals and plants I’d like to see and these are just the first few that came to mind. Perhaps you’ve seen them for yourself? If so then let us know what they were like.

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