Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Huffington Pozst: The Road Less Traveled To Authenticity

“Authenticity.” “Genuine.” “Untouched.” Every last one is a loaded term when it comes to travel, and, like temperature, comes in degrees. International tourism used to be a luxury for the well-monied few; now the sky is the limit, and, even better, modern transportation puts just about everywhere within reach.
The downside is the rise of touristiness. Not surprisingly, some destinations become victims of their own success and become so popular that the very nature of the place begins to change, from something native-born to something hotels and officials feel will be more palatable, acceptable, and culturally easily-accessible to foreign visitors. Pattaya (Thailand), Playa del Carmen (Mexico), Mykonos (Greece), and St. Tropez (France) have become so, ah, “internationalized” that any cultural exploration is a moot point. It is the inevitable price you pay by being among the most traveled destinations on the planet.
But what are the least traveled places?
Recommending destinations that people aren’t going to is always something of a mixed bag; there may be some very good reasons why people aren’t going. There are no countries out there that people are not visiting strictly because they are not visiting. When you hear of pedestrian traffic jams on Mt. Everest, one of the most hostile and deadly mountains on the planet, you know that natural danger is no longer a deterrent. Rather, it’s the man-made stuff that gets in the way: You could have civil wars, a collapse of governmental authority and control, or terrorist activity. Overachievers like Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan, and Syria have all three.
It took some research, but I found three countries that come in as “least-traveled.” As a gay writer, it is imperative that I say these destinations are not undiscovered gay paradises, but they are free of outside influence; to go to them is to have an experience that is as true to native form as it gets.
In 2014, this eastern European country sandwiched between Romania and Ukraine saw all of 11,000 tourists. This could be because of the fact the country has one of the longest-running frozen conflicts on the continent; when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 all its constituent republics became independent nations. This did not sit well with the very large Russian minority in Moldova, which has effectively divided the country in two, with the Moldovans on the larger west side of the Dniester River, and the Russians on the smaller east in the de facto independent, but unrecognised, nation of Transnistria.
But while this is a conflict, it would be hard to call it an active “war.” It’s not like bullets are flying hourly across the Dniester; it’s something of a frosty stalemate. For its part, and in a big “screw you” to the Transnistria conflict that constitutes only a very small slice of territory, Moldova has enthusiastically embraced the least-traveled label as a selling point. When you go to Moldova, you get a Moldovan experience. The country has a lot of pluses, from its delicious wine industry, Roman and Byzantine remains, ornate monasteries, and natural landscapes — all of which are largely unknown to the outside world, and largely untouched (there’s that word again) by pre-fabricated mass-tourism.
The Federated States of Micronesia
It has no wars, no terrorism, and uncontested control over its regions. So if Micronesia has any downside, it is because the place is just so ding-dang remote.
Think of a tropical Pacific paradise and Hawaii, Tahiti, or Bora-Bora come to mind. All three, while very deserving of their 5-star luxury ratings, are also so “discovered” as to be “done.” Much further west, and much more true to its native Polynesian culture, are the far-flung atolls of Micronesia.
Friendly people? Check! Pristine beaches? Check! Serviceable airports? Check! But after that, the bumps begin to appear. While its tourism potential has long be touted, Micronesia, north of the island of New Guinea, has never had the cash to make itself a world-class South Pacific destination, even though all the basic building blocks are there. This long-bemoaned and perennial lack of tourist infrastructure makes the country, for the lack of a better term, “rustic.” However, if that does it for you, and you don’t mind the commuting times, Micronesia just might be the tropical getaway for you. More, from an LGBTQ perspective, the “FSM” is the safest on this list.
Micronesia isn’t the only odd-man out in the South Pacific. Tonga, American Samoa, the Marshall Islands, Kiribati, and Tuvalu, too, are off the touristy radar.
Bad reputations die hard, and this country is known more for natural disasters, political upheaval, and a deplorable human rights record than it is for fabulous temples, archeological sites, dazzling textiles, almost unreal landscapes, and one of the longest unbroken sandy beaches in the world (the 75-mile stretch of sand at Cox’s Bazar). There are actually a lot of strengths to the Bangladeshi tourism industry.
In terms of travelers to natives, Bangladesh is the least traveled-to country on the planet, with one tourist for every 1,272 residents, out of population of 168,958,000. The country, whose economy is fairly solid, has pushed hard to market itself as an international destination with its “Beautiful Bangladesh“ campaign. As with Micronesia, Bangladesh tends to be the playground of the intrepid, but in this conversation, that is the point. Bangladesh is not touristy, so its allures will not be like stepping out of your living room into your living room.
Dhaka, the capital, is an ancient city with fascinating Moghul and British Raj sites, but don’t be too surprised if you find yourself in the previously-mentioned Cox’s Bazar, on the country’s southeastern coast. Long the playground for the natives, that city and its neighbor of Chittagong form the poles of the budding tourist zone.

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Monday, December 5, 2016

Destinations: Longwood Gardens // Flower Power

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By Dane Steele Green

Flowers exist for one thing: sex. And now that I have your attention...
About an hour outside of Philadelphia is one of the great gardens the world has ever seen. The site took shape around 1783 when two brothers cordoned off a part of their farm to create a park of trees. In 1906, in swept industrial wunderkind Pierre S. du Pont, buying the whole thing and turning into “Longwood Gardens,” his summer estate (the du Ponts, don’t you know, were to the Mid-Atlantic what the Vanderbilts were to New York). Longwood Gardens is just one of several old du Pont estates finding new life as museums and botanical bliss-outs. None of them, however, are as flamboyantly into flowerporn as Longwood. In fact, the property now bills itself as “America’s premier display garden.”

Longwood comes in at a whopping 1,077 acres, with about five or so miles of pathways. About five of those acres are enshrined in the Conservatories, sumptuous indoor gardens that bloom and sprout year-round. Different parts of the property have decidedly different themes; du Pont was big into incorporating things he saw abroad into his personal Eden. Many of the water gardens were inspired by Italian villas, while the Main Fountain Garden is a direct descendant of Versailles. When du Pont passed away with instructions that the estate should be a museum of horticultural styles, his guarantors took off running, creating whole attractions dedicated to sustainable farming, tree houses, deserts, even an “Idea Garden” for budding green-thumbs.

You would think that things would be pretty quiet in the dead of winter, but not so! Come to Longwood and you’ll learn just how hardy some plants are; certain kinds of cabbages live right through the cold months, and did you know witch hazel begins blooming in December? This is in addition to winter mainstays like pine and holly. And then there are the cold-snubbing Conservatories, with more tropical specimens than Carmen Miranda’s haberdasher, and in whom the Christmas Display is just getting started.

Christmas, in fact, is one of Longwood’s busiest times, and it is full-blown flower now until January 8. The Longwood artists can really pull of miracles; the outside gardens are hosed down in lights, the inside gardens are a how-to on everything you can do with a Christmas tree and a handful of poinsettias. It is all very classy, and despite the overload of flowers, is not gaudy or overdone. It’s actually pretty elegant, and a perfect daytrip from the City of Brotherly Love.

For more info, go to

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Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Destinations: New Haven // Pizza Face

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So when you pony up to the tables at Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana in New Haven’s Little Italy, do not ask for “pizza.” Rather, say “apizza,” which is pronounced “Ah-BEETS.” It shows you take the cuisine as seriously as the natives. Because in New Haven, apizza is big business.

You wouldn’t know it to look at it, but this bustling little New England city on Long Island Sound is THE place to go for the best pizza in America. Yes, New Yorkers will huff and Philadelphians will puff, but ‘tis true - so sayeth the minds (and stomachs) of the folks at The Daily Meal. And a whole lot of other critics. In fact, apizza has a long history in this neck of the woods; New Haven was as much a magnet for Italian emigrees as those two much larger cities were, and of course, the incoming brought their recipes with them.

Yale University is the usual mover-and-shaker in New Haven; so pervasive is it that the town’s Pride celebration takes place in September, when the school year kicks off, rather than in June, which is after the student population has already cleared out for summer break. Without on-a-budget students swarming in for cheap eats, summer, in fact, is something of a breather for the chefs at “Pepe’s,” but only just slightly. When I went in the middle of August, the place was buzzing with customers, and the ovens were working at full tilt.

Now, for all you Wire readers expecting a piece on luxury and/or decadence, wait for the next issue. Apizza was in the day right up to this one a common man’s dish; while pizza has shown remarkable plasticity in that just about any culture can give it their own cultural spin to make it their own and still be a pizza, never was it supposed to be…“fancy.” Going upscale goes against the grain. You have it with soda or beer. By the pitcher (plastic pitcher) if you want to do it right.

Of course, New Haven is more than Yale and apizza. You have fabulous museums (the Peabody, Yale Art Gallery, and Center for British Art), excellent hotels (The Study, the Omni), and a great gay scene (Partners Cafe, 168 York Street Cafe). But if you go and your trip does not include a stop at Pepe’s, or some other ma-and-pa pizza joint, you have totally missed the point of this town.

And will have missed the best. Pizza. Ever. 

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Thursday, November 17, 2016

Millennial Travel Spending Surpasses $200 Billion Annually

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By Patrick Clarke

The future of the travel industry is extremely bright and millennials are to thank.
According to the recently published "Millennial Brief on Travel & Lodging" report from FutureCast, millennials currently spend more than $200 billion annually on travel.

Interestingly, the report also shows that a majority of millennials seek new experiences above everything else when traveling, with nine out of 10 in agreement.

What's more, 70 percent of millennials indicated that they want to explore the communities they visit on vacation and learn something about them in the process.

Millennials' collective desire to experience something new and different is reflected in their travel planning. According to the report, the generation checks an average of 10 sources before making travel purchases.

For better or worse, millennial travelers are also able to successfully blend business and leisure travel, with 62 percent indicating that they extend their business trips into personal vacations.

Plus, weekend trips account for nearly half of all millennial vacations, the report found.
The millennial influence has already been felt throughout the industry as brands continue to embrace social media and begin directly targeting the youngest generation of travelers. That influence will only continue to expand in the coming years as the number of travelers within the generation increases.

FutureCast's report undoubtedly reaffirms that viewpoint.

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Wednesday, November 16, 2016

The Airbnb Charge You Should Know About

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By Patrick Clarke

Airbnb is taking heat from some frustrated travelers over a 3 percent foreign transaction fee that's being described as "sneaky."

In a recent message thread on, one user called out the home-sharing platform for making its conversion fee unavoidable.

"It used to be that you could change the currency at the bottom of the page to the host's currency and avoid Airbnb's stupid 3 percent 'convenience' fee for currency conversion (they marked up the exchange rate)," writes user abcx. "I now see that there is no way to avoid this — even if I change the currency at the bottom of the page and the country of my residence and the billing country of my card, it still wants to charge me in USD instead of EUR for a booking in Europe and mark up the interbank USD/EUR exchange rate that I would get through my card."

"Frankly this is deceitful and infuriating," the user added. "Every other OTA manages to handle multiple currencies without stealing 3 percent from me."

The user goes on to call the fee a "money grab."

Even if it offers little consolation, Airbnb does explains the fee on its website:

"If you’re paying in a currency different from the default currency of the country where the listing is located, we also charge a 3 percent conversion fee on your total cost; the conversion fee accounts for Airbnb’s holding costs and foreign currency risks."

Airbnb also states that guests can't choose which currency they pay in. "The currency you pay in is controlled by your payment method and, in some cases, by your country," the company says. "It’s not possible to manually choose what currency you'll use to pay."
Nonetheless, that doesn't mean travelers can't and aren't fighting the fee.
Another user on, littlewinglet, says they received a $25 coupon from Airbnb after complaining about it "really loudly."

While that's unlikely to work for everyone considering Airbnb breaks down the fee on its website, it certainly doesn't hurt to try.

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Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Air New Zealand Headlines List of Top Airlines for 2017

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By Patrick Clarke

New Zealand's national airline has been named Airline of the Year for 2017 by
It marks the fourth straight year that the Auckland-based carrier has been recognized by the global rating agency's Airline Excellence Awards program. This year, the airline's strong showing was attributed to its financial performance, in-flight innovations, safety, environmental leadership and motivated staff.

"In our objective analysis Air New Zealand came out number one in virtually all of our audit criteria, which is an exceptional performance,"'s  Editor-in-Chief Geoffrey Thomas said in a statement.

Trailing Air New Zealand in the website's top 10 for next year are Qantas, Singapore Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Virgin Atlantic/Virgin Australia, British Airways, Etihad Airways, All Nippon Airways, Eva Air and Lufthansa.'s program examines a handful of key criteria, including fleet age, passenger review ratings, profitability, investment rating and key product offerings.

"The past 12 months have been exceptional for Air New Zealand — we've continued to invest in a streamlined and refurbished fleet, launched three new international routes and rolled out improvements to the customer experience with enhanced inflight entertainment and a multi-million dollar lounge redevelopment program," said Air New Zealand CEO Christopher Luxon in a statement.

"Above all, the award is testament to the talented team of people who make Air New Zealand great by putting customers at the heart of everything we do."

Runner-up Qantas was recognized for Best Domestic Airline Service, Best Catering and Best Lounges. Other notable winners include Etihad Airways (Best First Class), Virgin Australia (Best Business Class), Emirates (Best In-Flight Entertainment), the Virgin Group (Best Cabin Crew), Flybe (Best Regional Airline and Garuda Indonesia (Most Improved Airline).

Click here to view the complete list of 2017 winners.

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Monday, November 14, 2016

Destinations: Edinburgh // Scotland the Brave

Here’s answer to the question everybody’s been asking: Scottish men don’t wear anything under their kilts. Now that we have that out of the way, let’s talk Scotland.

Rocky and craggy, Britain’s wild, wild North is about as butch a landscape as Earth can push out. That kind of extreme geography squeezes most of the Scots into a narrow band with capital Edinburgh on one side and blue-color Glasgow on the other. Capitals being capitals, Edinburgh is usually where most travelers get their feet wet first.

Pronounced “EH-din-bur-uh,” the city hailed as the UK’s “Athens of the North” has the look of a gothic Victorian period piece set, but don’t let the steep roofs and gables fool you. This is not a buttoned-up town. Have you ever known a low-key Scot? Didn’t think so.

The same goes for gay Edinburgh, but the culture here is a little different. First, let’s lay the groundwork: Gay life revolves around the Pink Triangle (yes, that is what it is called) centered around the top of Leith Walk, which is just off Princess Street, the city’s main boulevard. CC Blooms, Habana, The Regent, Planet, The Street, Victoria, and Nom de Plume form a gay circuit that constitutes a great night out is here, but heed my words when I say “circuit!” A gay night on the gay town in gay Edinburgh is not going to one place and staying there; gay or straight, Scottish nightlife means a pub crawl.

When it comes to the UK, being gay there is the same as being gay here; Americans will not find themselves fish out of water (much) in the Pink Triangle. But how things are done are a little different, particularly with pubs, but where at least three are hit before the night is through. Part bar, part living room, you never stay at just one pub the whole night, however homey. You may pregame at one, eat at another, and get things going at yet another. And another after that. And another after that. Whole groups of partygoers teeter from one to the next and good times are had by all, although the morning after you may feel differently.

Larger establishments like CC Blooms and The Street have dance floors, so it may well be that they take up the lion’s share of the night. You may also hear Infinity be recommended; rather than a pub, it is one of the dedicated nightclubs of Edinburgh (that is, not a pub).

Put it all together and you can confirm for yourself about what’s under the kilts. Contact Steele Luxury Travel for all of your travel needs to Edinburgh and beyond!

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