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Sunday, April 16, 2017

United Airlines' Woes Predate Oscar Munoz-- And You Can, At Least In Part, Blames Jimmy Carter

By the end of the week United was begging passengers not to abandon the much-hated airline. They promised, for example that they will no longer allow staff to take seats of boarded passengers and that they will no longer call law enforcement officials to remove passengers who do not pose immediate security threats. Still, I get the impression that Americans have had it with the Not So Friendly Skies and would like to see United go down hard. The company's stocked plummeted 2.5% last week and the damage to the brand is probably far greater than that. The tone-deaf company just announced that CEO Oscar Munoz’s annual bonus is around $13 million.
United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz woke up Monday morning to a massive leadership test.

And he flunked-- big time.

Munoz had to respond to the shocking video footage of a passenger being violently ejected from one of his flights Sunday night. The video, shot by two passengers on their cellphones and shared on Twitter, went viral. The passenger was thrown off the plane simply because United had overbooked.

Munoz’s public response was a piece of pusillanimous lawyer-crafted claptrap that was pitiful, inadequate and insulting.

The incident was “upsetting to all of us here at United,” he said. He apologized “for having to re-accommodate these customers.” His “team” was conducting a “detailed review” to “further address and resolve this situation.”

Memo to Munoz: Are you kidding me?

Nobody cares if this was upsetting to the people at United. How about the upset to the paying customer-- apparently a middle-aged doctor-- who was dragged from your plane like this?

Nobody buys your insulting euphemism “re-accomodate.” You were throwing this guy off the plane, not for anything he did, but because you had deliberately sold more tickets than you had seats to make some extra bucks.

Despite the jaw-dropping p.r. blunder from United's team, the problem goes beyond that one company. Several years ago the Washington Monthly ran a story, Terminal Illiness about how deregulation was destroying the airline industry. Things have gotten much worse since then.
In 1978, however, a group of liberals including Ralph Nader, Ted Kennedy, Kennedy’s then Senate aide Stephen Breyer, and an economist named Alfred Kahn, whom President Jimmy Carter chose to run the CAB, conjured up a plan to drive down the cost of airline fares by fostering more price competition among airlines. Though they called it “deregulation,” the practical effect of eliminating the CAB [the Civil Aeronautics Board], especially after subsequent administrations abandoned antitrust enforcement as well, was to shift control of the airline industry from experts answerable to the public to corporate boardrooms and Wall Street.

Over the years, most Americans have adopted a pretty standard line about the results. On the one hand, complaining about the indignities of flying—overbooked, late, or canceled flights; surly flight attendants; and, more recently, terrible in-flight food service and high fees for checked baggage— has become a staple of American life, much like complaining about Internet providers or health insurance companies. On the other hand, we’ve told ourselves, at least the increased competition has made air travel cheaper. And at least most of us can still get where we need to go by air.

But now we find ourselves at a moment when nearly all the promises of the airline deregulators have clearly proved false. If you’re a member of the creative class who rarely does business in the nation’s industrial heartland or visits relatives there, you might not notice the magnitude of economic disruption being caused by lost airline service and skyrocketing fares. But if you are in the business of making and trading stuff beyond derivatives and concepts, you probably have to go to places like Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Memphis, St. Louis, or Minneapolis, and you know firsthand how hard it has become to do business these days in such major heartland cities, which are increasingly cut off from each other and from the global economy.

And it’s about to get worse. Despite a wave of mergers that is fast concentrating control in the hands of three giant carriers, the industry remains essentially insolvent. Absent any coherent outcry, the directors of these private corporations remain free to respond to the crisis in the manner of an electrical utility company that, when it runs short of money, simply cuts off power to the neighborhoods of its own choosing.

...All these trends in the airline industry are bound to get much worse, and soon. Despite massive consolidation, steep cuts in wages and benefits, sharply rising fares, huge direct and indirect subsidies, and a slowly recovering economy, the industry remains unable to service its debt, and its executives—now serving at the whim of Wall Street-- see no way out except to continue to merge and to cut capacity. U.S. airlines lost money in all but three years between 2001 and 2010, according to the industry’s trade group, for a cumulative net loss of $62.9 billion. Even before the recent bankruptcy of American Airlines, the value of all publicly traded U.S. airline stocks amounted to only $32.3 billion, less than that of Starbucks.

That number would be even lower were it not for the major subsidies the industry has extracted from Congress. These include not just the billions spent by state and local governments to construct and maintain airports, and the $15 billion in loan guarantees the industry received in the aftermath of 9/11. They also include tens of billions in unfunded pension liabilities that major airlines have shoved onto taxpayers by declaring bankruptcy, as United and US Airways did in the last decade and American Airlines is trying to do now. If American succeeds in its plan to shed its pension debts onto the federal government’s Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, that alone would amount to a bailout of more than $10 billion. Other U.S. airlines continue to benefit from special provisions passed by Congress in 2007 that allow them to underfund their pension plans, so in the future taxpayers are likely to be paying even more of the cost of flying yesterday’s planes.

Yet even though these and other public subsidies dwarf those provided to Amtrak or General Motors, only one U.S. airline, Southwest, still has an investment-grade credit rating. Since 1978, almost all new start-ups have either failed or been absorbed (remember People Express, ValuJet, and Air Florida?) and only one, JetBlue, remains as a national competitor. Meanwhile, all six of the major “legacy” carriers that were still flying in 2011 have gone through bankruptcy. When the final numbers come in for last year, the U.S. industry as a whole will probably show some net income, but as of the third quarter of 2011 the margin was razor thin, and was mostly the result of rising fares and canceled service. Adjusted for growth of the economy, airline capacity is now at its lowest level since 1979, according to the trade group Airlines for America, and the industry has announced plans to cut another 1.5 percent of available seat miles in the first half of this year.

High fuel prices, to be sure, are a factor in this tale of woe. In 1999, fuel comprised 10 percent of an airline’s budget; now it ranges from 30 to 40 percent. But while high fuel costs make the price of providing short-haul service to sparsely populated areas higher than it has been in the past, they are not sufficient to explain the continuing deterioration of the airline industry. Nor can we blame the problem on the effects of the Great Recession. After decades in which the price of energy has risen and fallen and the economy has boomed and busted, the long-term trend is clear. The industry has been in turmoil and decline for more than thirty years, barely able to earn its cost of capital in the best of times and only then by cutting service and quality. It’s now evident that the industry’s problems are structural and deepening, as is the crisis faced by cities and industries that depend now more than ever on frequent, affordable air service to remain competitive in the global economy.

No doubt a few Wall Street tycoons and consulting firms have made billions merging and stripping down the airline industry over the last generation. But the fundamental problem is that the business model that airlines are left with doesn’t work for common shareholders, airline employees, or the American business community, much less the public.

One reason this business model doesn’t work is that it’s at odds with the basic physics of flying. It requires a tremendous amount of energy just to get a plane in the air. If the plane lands just a short time later, it’s hard to earn the fares necessary to cover the cost. This means the per-mile cost to the airlines of short-haul service is always going to be much higher than that of long-haul service, regardless of how the industry is organized. Yet the value of airline service to the public and the economy depends on providing connectivity to as many places as possible. Thus, without some form of cross-subsidization between short hauls and long hauls, the economic benefits of the network will be compromised. Fewer people will be flying to fewer places, which by itself hinders economic activity, while the high fixed cost of the remaining service has to be spread among a diminished number of passengers.

This highlights another problem that inevitably leads to declining service. It costs virtually the same to maintain an air traffic control tower, a runway, and ticketing and baggage-handling facilities whether an airport serves five or fifty flights a day, or whether each plane carries five or fifty passengers. So the per-passenger cost on low-volume routes is necessarily more than on high-volume routes, which again requires some form of cross-subsidization if robust connectivity is to be maintained.

Dealing with high fixed costs is a challenge common to virtually all networked industries, and in one way or another, America has grappled with the problem throughout the country’s history. The Founders understood that private enterprise could not by itself provide broadly distributed postal service because of the high cost of delivering mail to smaller towns and far-flung cities, and so they wrote into the Constitution that a government monopoly would take on the challenge, providing the necessary cross-subsidization.

Throughout most of the nineteenth century and much of the twentieth, generations of Americans similarly struggled with how to maintain an equitable and efficient railroad network, and for much the same reason. During various railroad bubbles, exuberant investors would build lines to the farthest corners of continent, much like start-up airlines in the 1980s. But over time, the high fixed cost of railroading and the basic economics of any networked industry left all but the core of the emerging system unprofitable before it received the benefits of government regulation. In the 1870s, railroads accounting for more than 30 percent of domestic mileage failed or fell into court-ordered receivership.

This was true even though most railroads maintained a near or total monopoly in most of the intermediate towns through which they ran. As Charles Francis Adams wrote in his 1878 book, Railroads: Their Origin and Problems:
Every local settlement and every secluded farmer saw other settlements and other farmers more fortunately placed, whose consequent prosperity seemed to make their own ruin a question of time. Place to place, or man to man, they might compete; but where the weight of the railroad was flung into one scale, it was strange indeed if the other did not kick the beam.
This was bad enough, but matters soon got worse. High fixed costs combined with ruinous competition in the early railroad industry created an overwhelming business incentive to consolidate and downsize, again much like what’s happening in the airline industry today. And consolidation in turn led to even more monopoly power-- not just over small and midsize communities but over large cities as well. By the 1880s, the fortunes of such major cities as Philadelphia, Baltimore, St. Louis, and Cincinnati rose and fell according to how various railroad financiers or “robber barons” combined and conspired to fix rates. Just as Americans scream today about the high cost of flying to a city like Cincinnati, where service is dominated by a single carrier, Americans of yesteryear faced impossible price discrimination when traveling or shipping to places dominated by a single railroad “trust” or “pool.”

This, more than any other factor, is what led previous generations of Americans to let go of the idea that government should have no role in regulating railroads and other emerging networked industries that were essential to the working of the economy as whole. “While the result of other ordinary competition was to reduce and equalize prices,” Adams noted, “that of railroad competition was to produce local inequalities and to arbitrarily raise and depress prices. The teachings of political economy were at fault.”

And indeed they were. The response was the creation of the Interstate Commerce Commission in 1887-- a move that most Americans viewed as essential to preserving free enterprise and their way of life. The ICC took on the task of moderating the price discrimination that railroads practiced, evening out the burden among different regions and classes of passengers and shippers in a way that allowed railroads to earn enough money to cover their fixed costs, improve their infrastructure, and give their investors a fair reward. In effect, the profits railroads earned on some highly trafficked long-haul routes came to be rechanneled by government policy to cover the cost of providing balanced and affordable service throughout the country. Railroads were regulated much as telephones and power companies came to be-- as natural monopolies that would be allowed to remain in private hands and earn a profit, but not at the cost of skewing the overall efficiency, balance, and fairness of American economy.

The process was messy and far from flawless. Striking the right balance required that Americans hash out what would today be called an “industrial policy,” and to do so in sometimes minute detail, such as setting the relative prices of shipping hogs verses hams from Dubuque to Chicago. But overall, government regulation of railroad pricing and routes worked better than letting a few financiers rule the system for their own private benefit. The country, after all, emerged as an industrial powerhouse during this period. Managing the structure and pricing of railroads was particularly essential to maintaining the competitiveness of small-scale entrepreneurs and of midsize manufacturing cities like Cincinnati or St. Louis. It wasn’t that the government picked winners or losers; rather, it prevented the machinations of railroad financiers from doing so.

Starting in 1938, the U.S. adopted much the same approach to the newly forming airline industry. Through the creation of the Civil Aeronautics Board, the government allowed the industry to become highly concentrated. Underpinning the legislation was a belief in a “public right of transit,” the idea that citizens were entitled to a reliable aviation system designed to meet their business and safety needs-- and the knowledge that unregulated competition would be unable to provide it.

As intended, the CAB nurtured the healthy maturation of a fledgling industry, forestalling ruinous competition and protecting airlines against bankruptcy. At the same time, airline fares fell dramatically, thanks largely to high levels of technological innovation, such as the introduction of the DC-8 and other mass-market jets. By the 1970s, the long-distance passenger train was dead, and jet travel had already helped to create a mass market for tourist destinations such as Disney World and the Caribbean. By 1977, 63 percent of Americans over eighteen had taken a trip on an airplane, up from 33 percent in 1962.

So why did Ted Kennedy and the Carter administration decide, over the strong objections of the airline unions and incumbent management at the time, that it was time to blow up government’s regulation of airlines? One reason was that the old regulatory regime had become highly litigious and rule bound. Kahn used to complain that his desk at the CAB was piled with papers demanding answers to trivial questions, such as “How many travel agents may a tour operator give free passage to inspect an all-inclusive tour? And must those agents then visit and inspect every one of the accommodations in the package?”

At the same time, many pointed to the example of Southwest Airlines, which got its start in 1971 by flying only within Texas, thereby escaping regulation by the CAB. Southwest’s success with discount fares particularly resonated with liberals at a time when inflation was liberalism’s greatest liability, and when the ascendant consumer movement made low prices a liberal imperative.

There were also ideological currents at work on the left that are little remembered today. Ralph Nader, for example, was popularizing the 1960s’ “New Left” notion that the New Deal regulatory state had been captured by incumbent industries, leading to what he called “corporate socialism.” Under the CAB, no new major airlines had emerged since the 1930s. Protected from competition, both airline management and unions had become overpaid and sclerotic at the expense of “the consumer,” Nader argued-- and never mind if workers in those industries and their unions were stalwart members of the Democratic coalition.

The Carter administration accepted this analysis and used it to justify deregulating not just airlines, but soon the railroad, trucking, and natural gas industries, while also taking the first steps toward rolling back banking regulation as well. That most managements in these industries resisted deregulation at the time only confirmed many liberals in their belief that deregulation was needed, and they told themselves that any trend toward monopoly would be checked by rigorous antitrust enforcement.

At first, the program-- which was, naturally, embraced by many free market economists and the incoming Reagan administration-- seemed to pay off. To be sure, many communities instantly lost air service, and the industry rapidly restructured into the hub-and-spoke system that still exists today, leading to the elimination of many direct flights. But the early years of the new regime also saw a burst of competition and price cutting in the airline industry.

What both policymakers and the public generally missed, however, was that any positive effects that occurred would be temporary, and that many of them would have occurred without deregulation. The price of energy, for example, cratered in the mid-1980s, making it possible to cut fares and even expand service on many short hauls. But that wasn’t an effect of deregulation; it was the result of a temporary world oil glut. Indeed, after adjusting for changes in energy prices, a 1990 study by the Economic Policy Institute concluded that airline fares fell more rapidly in the ten years before 1978 than they did during the subsequent decade.

A study published in the Journal of the Transportation Research Forum in 2007 confirms that the pattern continued. Except for a period after 9/11, when airlines deeply discounted fares to attract panicked customers, real air prices have fallen more slowly since the elimination of the CAB than before. This contrast becomes even starker if one considers the continuous decline in service quality, with more overbooked planes flying to fewer places, long waits in hub airports, the lost ability to make last-minute changes in itineraries without paying exorbitant fares, and the slow strangulation of heartland cities that don’t happen to be hubs. Moreover, most if not all of the post-deregulation price declines have been due to factors that cannot be repeated, such as the busting of airline unions, the termination of pension plans, the delayed replacement of aging aircraft, the elimination of complimentary meals and checked baggage, and, finally, the diminution of seat sizes and legroom to a point approaching the limits of human endurance. (Eliminating seats altogether, however, remains an option.)

Going forward, all industry forecasts call for further consolidation and continually rising fares and fees, accompanied by declining service on all but the most heavily trafficked routes. From time to time, short-term fare wars may break out on particular routes, particularly if foolish investors bring a start-up airline to town. Periodic dips in energy prices may bring a temporary reprieve. But over time, experience has shown that nearly all start-ups are eventually crushed by incumbent carriers, which in turn, despite their increasing consolidation, heavy public subsidies, and reductions in vital service to major cities, remain unable to earn even their cost of capital over time. Nobody wins except a few fast-trading financiers flying in private jets.

This result would hardly surprise Charles Francis Adams, Louis Brandeis, and many other great Americans who struggled in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries with how to harness the emergence of railroads, telephones, electrical power, and other networked industries to public purposes. They’d recognize the familiar boom-and-bust cycle of new entrants that occurred in the early period of airline deregulation and the subsequent trend toward consolidation, deteriorating service, and increasing price discrimination. What else would anyone who knows economic history expect of a natural monopoly that lacks the benefits of government regulation?

...That was the lesson previous generations learned from railroads; the current generation has to learn it all over again, from our experience with deregulated airlines. Why have we become so passive and reluctant to face up to the hard task of governing ourselves and our markets? We don’t need to recite “The Serenity Prayer.” We need to get out from under the thrall of the false prophets of deregulation, conservative and liberal alike, and make the benefits of true capitalism work for us once again.
In 2014 United's PAC paid out $189,500 in direct bribes to members of Congress-- mostly to Republicans, but plenty to Democrats will to play ball with them as well. The biggest pay-offs went to 3 especially transactional crooks, all notorious in Washington for taking money and selling their influence:
Bill Shuster (R-PA)- $10,000
Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ)- $10,000
Cory Booker (D-NJ)- $10,000

Saturday, March 04, 2017

Greedy Airlines Found A Partner In Crime-- The Trump Regime Wants To Encourage More Rip-offs Of Passengers

A week or so ago, we took a quick look at how Trump's policies are hurting the American travel industry-- and how pissed off the travel industry is at him and his regime. It looks like it will be getting worse too. Thursday the EU Parliament passed a non-binding resolution calling for the reintroduction of visa requirements for American citizens, a little tit-for-tat over Washington refusing to give visa-free travel access to 5 EU nations (Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Poland and Romania).
In the vote on Thursday, the Parliament gave the European Commission two months to take legal measures to impose visas for American travelers to the European Union unless the Americans offered reciprocity to all citizens from the bloc.

European officials in Brussels have balked at making travel to Europe more difficult for Americans, saying doing so would have an economic cost and would most likely not even resolve the hurdles facing citizens of the five affected countries.

The Parliament’s measure was approved in a show of hands and was not expected to worsen the standoff with the United States. But in the event that the court in Luxembourg were to rule in favor of Parliament, the commission might be forced to impose visa requirements on Americans.

The Trump administration, finding itself in a tit-for-tat battle over access, would then almost certainly do the same for travelers from the European Union.
(It would probably be prudent for Trump to add Cyprus-- a shady Russian Mafia den of iniquity-- to his travel ban altogether. But that's not going to happen while the Trump kakistocracy is in power.)

Anyway-- back to the travel industry-- it looks like one segment of that industry-- the airlines-- are happy with Trump again. Elaine Chao (Mitch McConnell's beard wife) is the Secretary of Transportation and she's already starting to roll back regulations that protected the public from the runaway avarice and greed of the U.S. airlines. Travel Weekly posted about it Thursday. The Trumpists came down firmly on the side of the airlines when it comes to ripping off passengers with hidden fees for baggage, etc.
The Department of Transportation (DOT) on Thursday indefinitely suspended public comment on two proposed consumer-protection measures that the Obama administration put forward during its last months in office.

The DOT took the steps to "allow the president's appointees to review and consider this action," it said in Federal Register filings.

Last October, the DOT issued a request for information from consumer groups, airlines and other industry stakeholders to determine whether it should regulate the common airline practice of displaying only some content offerings through indirect channels, such as OTAs and GDSs, while displaying their full offerings on their own websites. In late December, the DOT extended that comment period to March 31 from its initial end date of Dec. 31. That comment period has now been suspended while the DOT reviews its merits.

The DOT has also suspended the final airline-related rulemaking process that was begun during the Obama administration. On Jan. 19, just three days before Obama left office, the DOT proposed a requirement that airlines and ticket agents (including travel agents) disclose fees for carry-on and checked bags from the beginning of a fare inquiry.

If enacted, the rule would mean that carriers couldn't show a ticket price on a web interface, then only later in the sales process show fees for baggage.

Public comment on that proposal had been scheduled to close on March 20.

...The trade group Travel Tech, which represents OTAs, travel search sites and GDSs, said Thursday that it is disappointed with both suspensions.

"Consumers deserve transparency in fare and schedule information and ancillary fees," Travel Tech president Steve Shur said in prepared remarks. "DOT must live up to its mandate on consumer protection and ensure consumers have access to all the information they need to make a purchasing decision."

President Trump has said reducing regulations will be a key policy goal of his administration.
Needless to say, the airline lobbyists were giddy with joy. Airlines for America President and CEO Nicholas E. Calio: "We applaud Secretary Chao’s leadership today and look forward to an era of smarter regulation that protects consumers from unfair practices, but does not step in when action is not warranted. Today’s action is a common sense measure reinforcing that the airline industry is capable of making the decisions that best serve our customers, our employees and the communities we serve."

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

TNT Packs a Rum Punch!

One of the mask competitors at Trinidad’s carnival. Mask traditions go back to Africa, representing ancestral spirits offering protection during slavery and servitude. Fevered competitions abound in a variety of music styles, like steel pan.

Seeking a travel break from the intrigues of a perforated ship of state? Perhaps from the curious undertows dragging the DNC out to sea? Here's a vicarious escape you might consider giving a real embrace next year. I don't think the need for an escape that shakes up the scenery will lessen.

A Melting Pot on a Carnival March Across Musical, Culinary and Cultural Battlefields
Text and photos by Skip Kaltenheuser

At Trinidad’s Dattatreya Yoga Center and Mandir, this giant statue of Hanuman Murti, the Monkey God, is the largest outside of India

Heads of state sometimes gather in Port of Spain to jockey for position, with some reaching out and some more antagonistic. Often overlooked is a lesson in personal diplomacy that the entire world might take from the host country, Trinidad and Tobago. The two islands, quite different from each other, form a single country, and have the Caribbean’s most intriguing culture. People who are often at loggerheads elsewhere in the world get along just fine here, thank you very much.

The historical layers that built Trinidad and Tobago have created one of the most splendid melting pots in the world, with a remarkable degree of affability between the diverse groups that built the nation. Understanding those historical layers is key to appreciating the country’s many grand offerings to visitors. Like many other Caribbean islands, the original population was Arawak and Carib Indians, after the latter came to the islands and conquered the former. Columbus landed on Trinidad in 1498 during his third voyage, during which he again missed India but discovered South America, thinking it part of Asia. In keeping with their usual pattern, the Spanish wiped out most of the Indian population, and assimilated the survivors. Trinidad was a magnet for French, free blacks and other non-Spanish, but Spain ruled it until the British captured it in 1797.

Tobago was much more in play. French, Dutch and British forces perpetually contested possession. During colonial times, the island changed hands twenty-two times, setting the record for West Indies turn.

African slaves formed a majority of the population, but after slaves were emancipated in 1838, the melting pot became much more interesting. The Europeans needed to fill a labor shortage, so in 1845 they begin bringing in both Muslims and Hindus from India as indentured servants in order to work the large sugar and cocoa plantations.

Meanwhile, Chinese started finding their way to the islands. A couple hundred came in 1806, on the ship Fortitude, part of an experiment in setting up a settlement of farmers and laborers, in anticipation of the eventual ending of slavery. It was a disaster, and the couple dozen who remained started shops or did carpentry or gardeners. A second wave came in the mid-1800’s after slavery ended, mostly from Macao, Hong Kong and Canton, as indentured laborers. A third wave came after 1911 and the Chinese revolution of that year. The pace picked up between the 1920’s and 1940’s, most of them families and friends of immigrants who’d arrived earlier. Instead of working on estates, they adapted to roles as peddlers, traders, shopkeepers and merchants.

Additionally, many Chinese from elsewhere in the Caribbean came to Trinidad after they’d finished their indenture obligation on other islands. When China started opening up to the outside world in the late 1970’s, a fourth wave of migration began. In 1960, Sir Solomon Hochoy was knighted by the Queen of England and became the only nonwhite British governor of Trinidad and Tobago, becoming Governor-General when the country became independent in 1962.

A parade group prepares to rush the reviewing stand for its do-or-die dance moment, perhaps to a song by Super Blue, aiming for Carnival glory

People from these divergent backgrounds have blended their heritages, and often their families. Although the number of unmixed Chinese Trinidadians, or Sino-Trinidadians, probably peaked in 1960 at eight and a half thousand, many more islanders have some Chinese in their ancestry. Among the much larger Indian population, it isn’t unusual for Muslims to marry Hindus, with a marriage in each religion to please the families. The families then just double down on the religious holidays. The racial and religious tensions found in much of the world’s regions are hard to find here. It’s a very refreshing experience.

If you ask a cab driver his family’s ancestry, be prepared to hear a long story about a well-branched family tree, likely to include Europeans, Amerindians, Africans, Indians, Chinese and others such as Portuguese, many of whose ancestors were also indentured laborers, and Arabs. They all bring something to the cultural mix, not always in proportion to the size of the population. For example, Buddhists may only be a percent of the population, but the country was recently fascinated by introduction of the Shaolin Martial Arts of Ch’an Buddhism.

Puja prayer flags at Trinidad's seaside Hindu Waterloo Temple

One of the pleasurable spill-overs of this melting pot is the cooking pot, and its been simmering for centuries. Consider the dish of curry chicken and roti, inherited from indentured laborers from India, along with curry versions of crab, shrimp, duck and potato. The roti is of various ingredients, including cowpeas. Sometimes its served on a skewer with eggplant relish and tomato chutney vinaigrette. A sample from Africa is callaloo, a spicy dish made from dasheen leaves, okra, crab, coconut milk and cilantro. Many dishes are stewed, barbecued or curried with coconut milk.

Spice is king. Hot peppers concoctions, including a hot sauce called “mother-in-law” that makes some people’s faces sweat just from thinking the name, often figure in. Mango chutney and curry mango are among the treats resulting form fusing the broad array of delicious fruit with spice.

Breakfasts include fried corned beef with onions and tomatoes. Fried figs with saltfish-- cod in a packet-- is common. Homemade coconut bread with black pudding-- a blood sausage including onions, pork fat, oatmeal and spices-- is a hit.

Bake and shark is popular at breakfast and at any time of day. The moment the shark shacks open up at Trinidad’s stunning Maracas Beach, long lines appear in anticipation. The local shark is deep-fried and and stuffed in pocket of deep-fried batter that is similar to the fry bread of American Indians in Arizona and New Mexico. Maracas Beach, one of the beautiful beaches on the north side of Trinidad, is protected by a deep bay. The broad beach is dotted with tall palm trees and hardwoods, with soccer games making the sand fly about. The hour or so drive to the beach from the capital, Port of Spain, goes through mountains covered with rainforest and along cliffs overlooking the coast. One overlook area has roadside stands selling dried sour prunes, red mango and other preserved fruits with hot spice that locals can’t resist.

Rich soups and stews are known as “blue food.” The seafood offerings are superb, particularly curried crab and dumplings, and king fish. A small fresh water fish, the cascadura, is used in a rare specialty dish, with the legend that those who eat it will return to Trinidad to spend their days.

The most popular drink is a rum punch made from sugar water, dark rum, lime juice and Angostura bitters.

The hardest working man in show business, a small cog in a giant steel pan machine in an orchestra competition, utilizing perhaps the only major musical instrument created in the prior century. This T&T original is one of wide variety of musical styles celebrated in the country.

The historical melting pot has also brought forth unique recipes for music. Among them is the steel drum. It’s a brilliant innovation that began in the 1930’s as orchestras of dustbin lids, prying pans and oil drums. The tops of 55 gallon drum tops are hammered into a pitched percussion instrument called a steelpan, with pitched notes based on the size of the ovals in the pan. One might have thirty soprano-range notes, another only three bass notes, necessitating a player to have six pans. There’s a large range of instruments between them, and pan orchestras might have a hundred or more players. High tech techniques are continually developed to better tune the pans, and some are designed at the outset to be musical instruments, including by one manufacturer in Switzerland. The music a good orchestra puts out is a marvel to hear.

The pan evolved from traditions of African drums and sticks used by slaves to communicate, which were suppressed on the islands. Percussion bamboo sticks were banned in 1883 after they were used as weapons in conflicts between groups who lost control during the Mardis Gras carnival celebrations inherited from the French. Drumming traditions were also strong in India. After the initial bans, bottles and spoons were used until the pans were created.

Another of Trinidad and Tobago’s musical gifts, Calypso, has its roots in attempts at communication between slaves. Strongly harmonic and rhythmic, the songs are often in the language of a French creole that was created to allow the melting pot to better communicate, as the slaves from different tribes and the other inhabitants originally came with very different languages. Songs are led by a griot, a poet and wandering musician who is both witty and very knowledgeable on local history and events. The griot style has been traced to West Africa and the old Mali Empire of seven hundred years ago. After slavery was abolished on the islands, carnival festivals began to develop in the 1830’s, with large tents for Calypso concerts and competitions.

Soca music is a more recent local creation, from 1963. It originally included instruments from India, though they were used less when the form later adopted elements of American soul and funk. Good times are at the core of the songs. Soca is also the venue for lively carnival competitions.

Other variations on these musical forms include Extempo, a type of freestyle calypso war for which the lyrics are improvised on the spot. Singers don’t just compete for the carnival title of Extempo Monarch. Some wander the streets with a guitar or walk onto a bus and make up songs on the spot about the people they see. Rapso is another musical style, with more political and spiritual themes, and Chutney, which grew from the Indian populations. These and other styles are woven into the carnival competitions but are prevalent throughout the year.

A Dame Lorraine, sporting one of carnival’s long-lived traditional costumes. It began as a way to make fun of the wives of French plantation owners

Rapso is well-suited to the carnival street party J’ouvert, which uses any materials that are handy to beat out rhythms. The celebration starts around three or four in the morning and lasts until a few hours after sunrise. The calypso and soca bands that lead their followers are now often on large sound trucks, with beverage trucks close by. Celebrants, known as Jab Jabs, throw colored powders and water, and smear paint, mud or oil on each other. The customs come from a disturbance long ago that became a riot, with people disguising themselves, and from a festival held by the Indian population, Holi. There are often fire breathers, using a high alcohol rum, who punctuate the darkness with blasts of flame.

Blue Devil in a mountain village. Leave the wallet at home, keep a few singles handy because non-contributors are often embraced, so don't wear the irresistible color white or anything you're fond of

Throughout J’ouvert and the daylight carnival parades, there is a great deal of “wining.” Celebrants, in mud or in risqué costumes, often complete strangers, suddenly do a comical bump and grind with each other to the music, or with onlookers who get too close, for a brief moment, and then move on. Somethings a dozen people might line up for some periodic wining as they dance along. It’s a lively reminder of ancient carnival traditions in Europe that centered on fertility, and on the chance for slaves and the lower class to cut loose. After Christianity gained control of carnival, the wildness and chaos led up to the sober period of Lent that leads up to Easter. But carnival, with its satirical traditions, always retains its resistance to authority, and its embrace of sex.

While the focal point of carnival is in Trinidad’s capital, Port of Prince, it has smaller celebrations throughout the island, including one in a village up in the hills where “blue devils” dance through the street and demand tribute from onlookers. If a dollar isn’t given-- keep the rest of your money well-hidden, the devils will grab what they can-- the devils will smear them with blue paint, (it doesn’t wash out of clothes, this writer attests).

In the evening, as with the steel pan competition, Panorama, with its huge orchestras, and the Soca and Calypso competitions, which include singers, bands and dancers, there is also a “Mas” competition for King and Queen costumes that can only be believed if seen. It’s often accompanied by elaborate music, dancers and impressive stagecraft. One person, aided by no more than two or three small roller wheels, wears a huge costume weighing hundreds of pounds, and its not unusual to see someone collapse after getting his or her costume across the stage. The technical expertise that goes into making these huge costumes wearable is part of the art form, and it’s impressive, though everyone prays there is no strong wind that might sail a contestant off the stage. Themes are often drawn from China, India, Africa and American Indians.

No less impressive are the costumes worn by children at their carnival. It’s also a pleasure to see how inclusive it is, with a good number of children with disabilities, mental or physical, putting on elaborate costumes and joining the parade with everyone else. A large number of kids are up on stilts, often very high stilts, in tribute to the Moko Jumbies. Legends had them walking across the Atlantic Ocean from Africa, to eventually walk the streets of Trinidad in freedom. They also acquired a ghost persona from the Indian population, and powers to protect people by driving off evil spirits. Adults also have Moko Jumbie bands, and the very tall, costumed figures are remarkable dancers.

A bit of incognito “wine and jam” at J’ouert, the 4 am parade beginning carnival’s celebrations, with music and beverage trucks keeping moving before sunrise. Again, don’t wear a tux or anything you're fond of, waterproof cameras recommended. A lot of paint and grease is tossed about, as here with the parade group Caesar’s Army

While many of the costumes are known for their brevity, one of the most fun is a satirical costume tradition that pokes fun at the wives of the French plantation owners of long ago, who liked to dress up as aristocracy. The carnival version adds wildly exaggerated rumps and busts, and sports parasols. There are many other traditional costume characters, including Navy sailors, Fancy Indians from North America, dragons, Minstrels with faces painted white, and Bats with big wing spans. While Tobago, better known for a huge jazz festival in April, also celebrates carnival, it’s much less grandiose. For many Trinidadians, it is a post-carnival retreat where people can calm down. They hop a plane or ferry to get to the country’s alter ego island. While Trinidad’s modern economy leaned heavily on oil and now is focused on being a major producer of natural gas, Tobago’s riches are mostly in its unspoiled natural environment.

Trinidad and Tobago’s long and varied melting-pot history includes Chinese ancestors, their spirits honored here. Senior king and queen contender costumes can weigh up to 200 pounds, and an assist of up to three wheels is allowed. Beware of the wind.

Among its natural offerings is the Main Ridge Reserve, created to ensure that sugar planters wouldn’t fell all the trees for timber. There was a remarkable realization by a mid-18th century scientist, Stephen Hales, that taking down the trees would eventually end the moisture cycles that brought rain, turning islands like Tobago into a desert and ending all agriculture there. It was a tough sell in the British Parliament, where many members also owned plantations in Tobago. But after eleven years of effort, one member, Soame Jenyns, convinced his colleagues that Hales was correct. Protected by law in 1776 not to preserve royal hunting and pleasures, but to protect the watershed, this is the world’s oldest legally protected forest reserve of its kind.

The act creating the reserve is a marvel of environmental foresight that much of the world could still greatly benefit from emulating:
"Did also in pursuance of your said Instructions remove to Your Majesty a tract of Wood Land lying in the interior and most hilly parts of this island for the purpose of attracting frequent Showers of Rain upon which the Fertility of Lands in these Climates doth entirely depend."
-William Young

Assented to by his Honour the Commander in Chief this Thirteenth day of April One Thousand Seven Hundred and Seventy Six.
The reserve now covers over two-thirds of the island. Most of the forest is very similar to the type of forest that dominates in the Amazon. Unlike Trinidad, there are no poisonous snakes in the forests of Tobago, making them a worry-free pleasure to hike. Waterfalls abound, including Argyle Waterfall, which has 54 meters of stepped cascades and cold, deep pools one can swim in. Along the walk to the falls from a visitors center, one can see caymans in a river, and some of the 469 species of birds on the two islands, including many humming birds.

Beyond the local birds, from August to October the islands are visited by many migratory species form North America. There are also interlopers from South America, such as the nation’s national bird, the Scarlet Ibis. It breeds in Venezuela, which is so close it can be seen from Trinidad, but spends most of its time feeding in mangrove swamps on the islands.

Many visitors to Tobago spend their time at the western tip, Crown Point, with its restaurants and bars, and the beautiful beaches of the peninsula Pigeon Point. But this writer found a great retreat at the far eastern tip. One can meander on the drive there, visiting sites like old colonialist forts and the ruins of sugar mills being reclaimed by jungle. Be very cautious on the winding roads, it’s easy to be absorbed by the views of many stunning bays, cliffs and beaches, when you really need to have your eyes on the road. Better to stop at safe places to take in the sites, or to take a cab.

The North End of Tobago is the island’s most mountainous, and the beautiful bays on the Caribbean side are great for swimming, with extensive protective reefs for snorkeling. One might recognize locations like Pirates Bay that were used in the 1952 film, “Swiss Family Robinson.” You might have to hike a ways from small villages on the Caribbean side, but it’s not unusual to find coves and beaches that you can have entirely to yourself.

Just off the southeast side of the far end of Tobago is a small island, Little Tobago, across from Starwood Bay and the resort, the Blue Water Inn. There is good snorkeling and diving, with the world’s largest known brain coral and many leatherback turtles, but the Atlantic currents are powerful and one needs a good guide and experienced boatman who can keep you from harm’s way. The area attracts many sport fishermen.

Little Tobago is a bird sanctuary with boobies, terns and the red-billed tropic bird, and offers some challenging hiking up steep slopes covered in parts by cactus and dry forest, but with much denser forest toward the top, and huge ferns. Whether or not you make it all the way to Little Tobago, Tobago is well worth exploring if you seek an experience that truly gets you away from crowds for the chance to experience environments that have mostly disappeared from the Caribbean.

Trinidad and Tobago offer a tale of two islands. Between them the diversity of people and offerings is one of the most satisfying in the Caribbean.


The Hyatt Regency in Port of Spain is an excellent carnival headquarters that also organizes carnival involvement. The hotel is also favored by heads of state, as at a Summit of the Americas, and by business travelers.

Blue Water Inn on Tobago.

Trinidad and Tobago Tourism

The eyes have it, revelers jubilant even sheltering from a passing rain.

Monday, February 27, 2017

One Way To See China For Free-- Or Even Make Some Money In The Process

Now that she's moved away to New Orleans, I don't see Ricky Lee Jones much any longer. But she was in town last week and we got together for dinner to catch up. She had just been in China. I didn't recall her having much of a following there from when we were both at Reprise, so I was very curious about how the economics of that trip worked. As best I can understand, a wealthy guy in suburban Shanghai put up a very large amount of money for her to play a kind of prestigious show for a small number of people. nice way to see China-- or at least suburban Shanghai-- and walk away with a tidy sum to boot!

The story reminded me of an HBO Vice episode from last year, "Rent A White Guy," about how it's possible for westerners, specifically white westerners, to make a bundle in China by... being white. I knew that China-- among other Asian countries-- will pay a lot for white models. But this story goes way beyond that. I mean how about being the westerner who gets hired to go out on the town with a group of rich Chinese kids who just want to make an impression-- of looking "cool and worldly?"

"White Makes You A Winner"

I was in Bangkok for much of December and January. Everywhere I looked there were billboards and signs advertising skin whiteners (or lighteners); it was overwhelming and it's creating a neurosis among Thai kids-- of both genders-- that darker skin is unattractive. I didn't like it and couldn't escape from it. Apparently it's even worse in China. The episode makes the point that "there's a grey market for whites in China. A white face isn't just a marketing ploy, but a substitute for actual professional credentials." Even doctors-- like the fake "vice chairman of clinical urology at the University of Virginia," lecturing actual Chinese doctors about chronic prostatitis, about which he knew exactly nothing at all.

The rent-a-laowai business is for real in China. And ruminative enough for an enterprising American to go over there, sign up with an agency and make enough money to live... and then some. As long as you're ok with being a prop, or even a fake celebrity. This is especially lucrative in third and fourth tier cities, not in cosmopolitan places like Beijing and Shanghai. And very often there's something shady about those hiring the foreigners to pretend to be something they're not, a white something they're not.

Friday, February 24, 2017

How Many Billions Of Dollars Will Trump Cost The U.S. Tourism And Travel Industry?

Roland and I go away twice a year-- once in the summer and once around Christmas. Last June we went to Moscow and St Petersburg in Russia and Baku in Azerbaijan. We're thinking about a Paris trip and a Tierra del Fuego trip for our next two. But Roland's worried that Trump is going to make it tougher for Americans to travel safely and comfortable abroad. How friendly are Mexicans going to be, for example, towards Americans if things keep getting worse. And Parisians may be able to laugh at Trump's ignorant fear mongering about their city now but sooner or later someone, somehwhere is going to think he's not funny.

In fact, Frommer's took a look at Trump's impact on tourism and travel from the opposite perspective-- how his idiocy is killing the multibillion dollar U.S. tourist industry. Arthur Former himself wrote about a Trump Slump that is already causing a "devastating drop in tourism to the U.S. and that "the loss of tourism jobs could be devastating."
Though they may differ as to the wisdom of the move, the travel press and most travel experts are of one mind: They are currently drawing attention to an unintended consequence of the Trump-led efforts to stop many Muslims from coming to the U.S., pointing to a sharp drop in foreign tourism to our nation that imperils jobs and touristic income.

It’s known as the “Trump Slump.” And I know of no reputable travel publication to deny it.

Thus, the prestigious Travel Weekly magazine (as close to an “official” travel publication as they come) has set the decline in foreign tourism at 6.8%. And the fall-off is not limited to Muslim travelers, but also extends to all incoming foreign tourists. Apparently, an attack on one group of tourists is regarded as an assault on all.

As far as travel by distinct religious groups, flight passengers from the seven Muslim-majority nations named by Trump were down by 80% in the last week of January and first week of February, according to Forward Keys, a well-known firm of travel statisticians. On the web, flight searches for trips heading to the U.S. out of all international locations was recently down by 17%.

A drop of that magnitude, if continued, would reduce the value of foreign travel within the U.S. by billions of dollars. And the number of jobs supported by foreign tourists and their expenditures in the United States-- and thus lost-- would easily exceed hundreds of thousands of workers in hotels, restaurants, transportation, stores, tour operations, travel agencies, and the like.

While, earlier in the year, the Administration had boasted of saving 800 jobs in the Carrier Corporation, the drop-off in employment resulting from the travel ban would eclipse that figure.

According to the Global Business Travel Association, in only a single week following announcement of the ban against certain foreign tourists, the activity of business travel declined by nearly $185 million.

Other observers, including local tourist offices, have reached similar conclusions. In referring to New York City’s $60 billion tourist industry alone, the head of the city’s tourist effort complained that his agency’s effort to portray the United States as a welcoming destination to foreign citizens “was all in jeopardy.” Several other tourist officials have made like statements.

As you can see, there is plenty of evidence for a negative conclusion.
The World Travel & Tourism Council has been highly critical of Trumpy-the-Clown's attempt to ban travel to the U.S. by nationals from seven Muslim-majority countries. The council's CEO, David Scowsil,l challenged the fascist regime directly, warning that Trump's idiotic approach could bring about a long-term slump in tourism to the U.S. He told Travel Weekly that "The more people travel, the more people spread understanding, the better off we'll be around the world." He spoke of "the reverberation that America is closing down, is not open for any business and that people are looking at whether they want to travel here or not, for both business or leisure. So there is a risk if this is not turned around that we will see a drop-off of international passengers coming to the U.S."

When confronted with Trump's rationale for the ban-- safeguarding Americans-- he simply pointed out that Trump's scaremongering is bullshit. "There is no incident in the last 30 years of a national from one of those seven countries coming to the United States to commit any type of terrorist killing. If you compare that with the domestic shootings that happen in the United States, for the last 10 years there has been an average of 11,700 Americans killed in domestic shootings. The message is: focus on what is going on domestically and don't assume that any of these gun incidents are going to be committed by people flying in to do that type of activity."

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Unplug From The Rat Race And Switch On To Nature

Last fall Jenny Holt and her husband, having been inspired by Bill Bryson’s book, A Walk in the Woods, hiked a portion of the Appalachian Trail. "While we were well prepared," she told me, "our progress was slower than expected and we got into some difficulty and ran out of food. It was ok, we were not too far from civilization and completed our trek safely, if a few days later than expected. However, it did make us wonder how well prepared we are for a situation where we were much further from help/shops etc..."

Jenny is a health and travel writer, and she has come up with a delightful hiking advice sit, Backpackerverse, to develop a guide on outdoor survival skills covering the basics anyone should know before hiking in the wilds; especially if travelling in a foreign country or remove landscape. Perhaps knowing the connection between this blog and DownWithTyranny, she wrote this post especially for us.

-by Jenny Holt

You’d have to be living on the moon to have avoided all the political headlines at the moment. Everyone seems to be talking and worrying about the recent state of global affairs. But you don’t actually have to go and live on the moon to escape from it. There is a more practical, cheaper, and achievable solution. Just switch off, unplug and get outside. And we don’t mean to go and sit in a coffee shop. We mean out out. In the great outdoors.

Disconnect and Reconnect

When we are at home or work, we are always so busy and surrounded by distractions. But when you are in the outdoors, you'll likely find yourself outside of cellphone coverage or email reach. So, it's just you and the world.

  It doesn't have to be expensive either. Depending on whether you just want to hike a trail for the day or escape for a few days, you don't have to spend a fortune on kit. And once you are out in the great outdoors, everything is free.

Staying Safe

If you have got a taste for escaping to the great outdoors, you will need to do a little preparation before you head out.

In case you get lost or just fancy venturing off the beaten track, you should make sure you know some basic survival skills to keep you going until you make it back or are found. While it's encouraged to disconnect, there are gadgets that can help you when you are out in the wilderness. But they can break or stop working, so you still need to know what to do if you are unable to rely on them. Last year a Dutch woman survived five days in bushland without the help of any gadgets. Bushcraft experts have said she would have died if it wasn't for her quick-thinking survival skills.

Good for the Mind, Body and Soul

Apart from the obvious benefits of getting some fresh air and exercise, being outside in nature has some huge mental health benefits too. Experiencing nature regularly can actually help to improve complex memory tasks and has been said to help people suffering with dementia. Just being exposed to the natural environment can lower stress levels, aids with symptoms of anxiety and depression and helps improve cognition in children with attention deficit disorder.

Escaping the Hamster Wheel

Getting outdoors offers a brief escape and refuge from the pressures of the world. It may not be for everybody of course. Some people prefer lazing on sandy beaches and enjoying hot showers and clean sheets. But for some, exploring the outdoors is the perfect remedy to some of the absurdity going on in modern life. So, switch off and get outdoors, you won’t regret it.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Traveling Abroad In The Age Of Trump? Wear Dark Clothes

Roland and I just got back from 3 weeks in Thailand. People there aren’t obsessing over Trump. Thailand, which I started visiting first for holidays, then for business and now for holidays again, is a profoundly pro-American country. But pro-American culturally, not necessarily politically. Without exception, people who mentioned Trump to me, did it humorously— which is pretty much how people I met last summer in Russia also referred to him. (It was different in Azerbaijan, where he is best known for his business relationship with a notorious criminal clan, his partners in the now shuttered Baku Trump Tower.)

Roland has been asking me for weeks how I thought travel for Americans would be impacted by Trump’s presidency. I started traveling abroad while Nixon was president and found people sympathetic. In Holland I was the subject of a documentary about a Vietnam war resistor living in Amsterdam. Folks I talked about politics with in Iran, India, France, Germany, Hungary and Sri Lanka (then still Ceylon), Afghanistan, Finland, Sweden and, of course, Holland, were very aware of the difference between an anti-war, anti-Nixon American like me and whatever they themselves hated about Nixon’s policies.

Sunday, Newsweek dealt with Roland’s fears about American travelers being unwelcome. I mean, Russia was OK, but we’re not planning on going back and… there is the rest of the world. Colby Martin is an intelligence director for Pinkerton and he warns that “a potentially controversial president means you have to prepare. Americans traveling abroad need to have a comprehensive plan for staying safe.” But, no real need for worry since most Americans who go abroad just travel to Mexico and Canada anyway. We love Mexico and we love Canada but that is how our travel habits could be described. And, accordng to Newsweek, experts say that “wander outside the well-trodden areas, and things could get interesting.”
"The likelihood of any impact on American travelers abroad" will depend on what policies the new administration enacts, says Scott Hume, the director of security operations for Global Rescue. He says you shouldn't be surprised by people who ask you direct questions about American foreign policy and politics. If your goal is to avoid those conversations, "Take care not to stand out as an American," he says.

So how do you do that, exactly?

Taryn White, a writer and frequent traveler based in Washington, tries to maintain a cover. "You have to look the part," she says. "This means no white sneakers, 'I Love NY' T-shirts or sweatpants. It also means being considerate of local customs and dress."

One simple trick: Pack black. Darker colors are versatile and ensure you don't stand out. Beyond the wardrobe selection, it means downplaying American mannerisms like laughing out loud, smiling a lot or using hand gestures.

But others say now may also be the best time to identify yourself as an American. Kori Crow, a political consultant from Austin, Texas, and a world traveler, says that counterintuitively, the more fractious a country's politics are, the better your experience could be.

"They're more forgiving because they don't usually equate elected leaders as a reflection of its citizens," she says.

Crow says people understand that American visitors are not its ambassadors. "You'd be surprised at how many foreigners will over-compliment you just to try and make you feel more welcome," she adds, mentioning a particularly warm welcome at Vietnam's American War Crimes Museum.

All of the above is true. There are times when you'll want to fade into the crowd, but ultimately you have to be true to yourself. And as the experts say, don't leave anything to chance.

How do I know? Because I grew up in Europe during a time of controversial American leadership. Most people I met were smart enough to know that American citizens do not represent the American government, and they knew from personal experience that democracy is imperfect.

In fact, I think we should all travel more internationally during the next four years. Just to show the world that Americans are a far more varied lot than the politicians they see on TV or read about in the paper.

Three things you should do during the Trump years
Apply for a passport. Less than half of Americans have a passport. You'll need one if you want to travel abroad… Cost: $110 for adults, $80 for kids under 16. Does not include a $25 "execution" fee.
Learn another language. No matter where you go, knowing a few words in the native language will take you far. The next four years are a perfect time to pick up Spanish, French, German or Mandarin…
Build a bridge. Whether you strike up a friendship with someone who lives outside the U.S. or take a volunteer vacation outside the country, you can use your travel to show the world what Americans are really like. Check out organizations like GlobeAware or tour operators such as REI, which offer extensive volunteer vacation programs.
Also worthwhile, take a look at the State Department’s travel advisory updates— warnings and alerts. Just since Trump was declared the winner on Nov. 8, travel warnings have been issued for 15 countries— North Korea, Burundi, Ethiopia, Mexico, Algeria, Ukraine, Venezuela, Philippines, Mali, Jordan, Egypt, Congo, and, last week, South Sudan, Bangladesh and The Gambia— and alerts were issued for Haiti and Europe. There were already warnings in effect for Haiti, Somalia, Sudan, El Salvador, Turkey, Iraq, Libya, Chad, Syria, Pakistan, Yemen, Afghanistan, Laos, Tunisia, Israel and Palestine, Iran, Cameroon, Honduras, Nigeria, Lebanon, Kenya, Saudi Arabia, Colombia, Mauritania, Niger and Burkina Faso. And that’s just 2016 and the first month of 2017! Tip: everyone's wise to Canadian flags sewn into your backpack.