Starling Travel

February 11, 2013

A Treatise On Travel and Whether It’s Necessary When Virtual Experiences Are So Compelling

Filed under: Travel — Laura Moncur @ 10:00 am

John Green visited London and posted this brilliant video about it.

John had an interesting experience at the “British Museum of Old Things And Other Miscellany.”

And then I found this thing, which for some reason I found really fascinating, so I looked at it for a long time from many different angles and I still couldn’t figure out quite what was going on. So, I read the wall label where I learned that the guy was apparently about to stab himself in the penis, but, more importantly, I noticed that the thing that I was looking at was currently on loan to the Royal Museum of Ontario, and, while I was reasonably jet-lagged, I was pretty sure that I was NOT in Toronto.

So, in fact, I was not looking at a thing at all. I was looking at an incredibly well-made photograph of a thing installed so perfectly that I’m not sure that you can tell that you are looking at a video of a photograph of a thing rather than a video of an actual thing. Which calls into question the whole relevance of looking at actual things when virtual experiences are so compelling, but more on that in a second.

He had a busy day, trying to walk off his jet lag and at the end, he viewed the beautiful London Bridge in the dark.

I found myself wondering how different it was from a photograph. I didn’t need to be here to see this, after all. Of course, the reason for our trip was [to speak to his fans], but after thirty hours awake and the optical illusion at the British Museum, I couldn’t decide if sites really need seeing or if virtual experience has become enough. And I still can’t decide, so I made this virtual experience for you. Let me know how real it feels.

What do you think? Is the virtual experience enough? I haven’t found that to be true. I’ll never forget my visit to the Legion of Honor Art Museum in San Francisco. They had one of Monet’s water lilly paintings at the end of the gallery.

Claude Monet Water Lilies 1914–1917

If you could see an even higher resolution version of it, you would still not be able to fully understand the magnitude of this painting. I had seen this painting hundreds of times in books before that fateful day in San Francisco, but I was never able to grasp its grandeur.

The painting was at the end of a huge hall and took up the entire wall at the end of said hall. When I stood at the furthest point, the water lilies were clear as day and the water looked almost transparent. I felt as if I could reach into the water and snatch out a fish with my bare hand. My viewing point was at least twenty yards from the actual painting.

When I walked up to it, I felt dwarfed by its size. I suddenly understood why this Impressionist had been rejected when he had his first show. Such a behemoth of a painting would have been impossible to see in the cloistered art galleries of France. Up close, Water Lilies looks like a globular mess of thick paint in huge patches of color.

To give you an idea of its size, here is a photo of paintings conservator, Tricia O’Regan, removing the synthetic varnish off it in 2011.

Removing the synthetic varnish on Monet's Water Lilies

So, was my virtual experience of Claude Monet’s Water Lilies (seeing it in books) as good as seeing it in person? NO! NO! A thousand times, no! And the saddest part of all is that I didn’t KNOW that I had been missing the whole story until that moment when I walked so close to the painting that it transformed from a beautiful pond of lilies into a clumpy mess of paint.

THAT is why travel is so important to me. You can’t smell the River Thames in John’s video. You can’t feel the cobblestones under your feet while you see what remains of Winchester Palace. And you certainly can’t fully view the magnitude of Monet’s Water Lilies in a book. As detailed as they are, virtual experiences are not nearly as engaging as seeing everything first hand. Until they are, we will need to travel to enjoy them fully.

December 5, 2012

Costa Concordia: Still A Wreck After Almost A Year

Filed under: Cruises,Travel — Laura Moncur @ 10:37 am

Costa Concordia SinkingLast January, the first cruise ship to sink in a century was capsized off the coast of Isla del Giglio. It was the Costa Concordia and I talked about it here:

Back then, I said:

My first cruise was on a ship with broken stabilizers, so every other cruise has felt smooth as glass. During that bumpy and lilting first cruise, I kept reassuring myself that we could not possibly sink because the last ship to sink was the Titanic. I had convinced myself that it was impossible for the modern cruise ships to sink. Then I heard about the Costa Concordia sinking just off the coast of Italy last night and all my fears resurfaced.

It has been almost a year since that wreck and the boat is STILL there. Its salvage has proved to be quite a difficult problem.

The disaster, which killed 32 people, left salvage teams facing the unprecedented challenge of removing a ship with a gross tonnage of 114,500 GT without spilling its rotting contents into the sea.

The ship has been sitting there so long that you can now see it on Google Maps:

Costa Concordia Sattelite Image

The lawyers for the captain of the Costa Concordia, who is said to have abandoned ship, is placing the blame for the wreck on Carnival and their policies. Here is a news clip from October when they talked about his pre-trial hearing.

Here is another clip highlighting how difficult it has been for their passengers, seeking retribution.

All of this has made me feel less willing to go on a cruise. I think I’ll stick with epic road trips across the U.S.A. and not give our money away to Carnival.

November 17, 2012

Starling Travel’s Best Traveling Apps

Filed under: Camping,Travel — Laura Moncur @ 10:00 am

After seeing Zadi’s favorite traveling apps yesterday, I was surprised that NONE of my favorites were in the list. After looking through my archives, I’ve talked about these apps a couple of times, but never really featured them. Here are my absolute FAVORITE apps for camping and travel.


Coverage? appCoverage? Shows NO coverage in Valley of FireThe Coverage? app [iTunes link] easily tells you whether you will have cell phone coverage where you’re going. I talked about Coverage? before here:

Back then, I said:

If you look at the map on the right, you can CLEARLY see that there is a big white hole in the middle of Valley of Fire State Park. This is the beauty of the Coverage? app. You can see immediately how likely it is that you’ll have coverage on your travels.

Connectivity is really important to me, so I use this app every time we travel someplace new.


The Allstays iPhone App [iTunes link] shows you what camping sites are near you. This app really bailed us out when we were at a loss for a campsite in Missouri. I talked about it here:

The beauty of leaving our travel schedule open was that Mike and I could drive as far as we wanted and when we were tired we could find a campsite to stop at and sleep. The irresponsibility of leaving our travel schedule open was that we were driving home during Memorial Day weekend.

Fortunately, using Allstays, we were able to find a beautiful campground in a spot we would have never imagined.

Allstays ALSO has listings for gas stations, RV repair facilities and all the Walmart stores that allow (and don’t allow) overnight stays. I talked about that here:

Camp Where

As good as Allstays is, it’s not perfect. The holes in its list of RV campsites are filled nicely by Camp Where [iTunes link] We used it to find the beautiful campground at Gore Landing in Oklahoma. I talked about it here:

We found [the campground] on the Camp Where app. I looked through comments about the site and one of them mentioned that there was no sign for the campground on the main road. They weren’t kidding.

If the app hadn’t been so thorough, we wouldn’t have ever found that campground. We’ve come to depend on Camp Where when we plan a trip and when we are out on the road, dead tired and in need of a break.


When planning a trip, it really helps to know how much it’s going to cost in gas to get there. Cost2Drive [iTunes link] has been really helpful in that matter. In fact, it was the deciding factor when I was doing research on our next epic road trip. I wrote about it here:

I want to go to Disney World. I’ve never been there and I really want to experience all Disney World has to offer. We live in Salt Lake City, Utah, however, so every time I bring it up, everyone in the family says that we should just go to Disneyland instead. It’s almost the same and it’s so much closer.

In order to convince them, I have to do RESEARCH. How inexpensively can we do this trip? Today, I did that research for a trip in February and what I found, surprised me.

Without these few apps, many of our trips wouldn’t have even come to fruition because we wouldn’t have had the information to leave our house without them. They’ve been my faithful friends for months now and I am so grateful I can turn to them when we get the bug to travel.

November 16, 2012

Epic Fu’s Favorite Travel Apps

Filed under: Travel — Laura Moncur @ 10:00 am

Zadi Diaz at Epic Fu posted a great video showing you some of the iPhone apps that are great for travel.

These apps are pretty good, but my favorites are for camping, so they are a little different. Here are the apps she highlighted:

Stay tuned tomorrow for my favorite traveling iPhone apps!

May 10, 2012

The World According to Charles W. Cushman 1938-1969

I love to travel and see parts of the world that are different than mine, but the photography collection of Charles W. Cushman allows me to travel not only all around the world, but through the past as well.

Charles Weever Cushman, amateur photographer and Indiana University alumnus, bequeathed approximately 14,500 Kodachrome color slides to his alma mater. The photographs in this collection bridge a thirty-two year span from 1938 to 1969, during which time he extensively documented the United States as well as other countries.

It was so lovely to look at all the old photographs! Here are some of my favorites. (Continue Reading…)

January 31, 2012

My Favorites: Road Trip Playlist

Filed under: Travel — Laura Moncur @ 10:00 am

I was compiling a playlist of songs to play when we go on road trips, so I thought I would share it with you. Just a note: all the links are iTunes links and we get a small cut of the proceeds if you buy them.

The ultimate road trip song, is Road Trippin’ by The Red Hot Chili Peppers. Let’s go get lost somewhere in the U.S.A. This video is like a vacation all its own.

Click more to see the rest of the songs: (Continue Reading…)

January 15, 2012

Costa Concordia: The First Cruise Ship To Sink in 100 Years

Filed under: Cruises,Travel — Laura Moncur @ 5:55 pm

Costa Concordia SinkingI’ve been on a few cruises over the years. My first cruise was on a ship with broken stabilizers, so every other cruise has felt smooth as glass. During that bumpy and lilting first cruise, I kept reassuring myself that we could not possibly sink because the last ship to sink was the Titanic. I had convinced myself that it was impossible for the modern cruise ships to sink.

Then I heard about the Costa Concordia sinking just off the coast of Italy last night and all my fears resurfaced.

Here is a video from Sky News in Great Britain:

Just short of the one hundred year anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, we are faced with the vision of another cruise ship in dire straits. I had just calmed my nerves enough to feel that going on a cruise was a perfectly safe method of travel, but all of that is gone.

Here is the panicked video of someone on the ship:

Here’s video from the air as the rescue was happening:

Here’s a video of the ship the next day:

The difference between this sinking and the Titanic tragedy is the death count. Even though the listing of the ship disabled many of the life boats, they were able to get many of the passengers off the boat and onto the island. As of this writing, only five people have been confirmed dead and 17 people are missing. That is a far cry from the hundreds who died when the Titanic sunk, but I can’t help feeling that I should just keep on camping instead of luxury cruising for my vacation.

More Info:

Update 07-13-12: Seven months after the sinking of the Concordia and it still sits stranded on the rocks.

The captain of the ship has been charged with manslaughter. He admitted that he was distracted with a phone call that had come in shortly before the crash.

August 16, 2011

Staycation: Not A New Concept

Filed under: Travel — Laura Moncur @ 10:00 am

This summer, many people have forgone their vacation to save money. You might think this was a new phenomenon, but it isn’t. Here is a war poster from World War II, advocating just that.


It reads:

Me travel?

… not THIS summer!

Vacation at home!

Whether you’re staycationing because of financial reasons or to “aid the war effort,” here are a couple of tips to make it a good one.

  • Clean your house before your staycation starts:I don’t know about you, but I have trouble relaxing at home when there is clutter, laundry and cleaning to do. Make sure you do all your chores before you start, so that you won’t be tempted to work your way through your off time.

  • Turn off the phone and the computer: Part of the fun of vacationing is being isolated from daily life. If your coworkers and in-laws can still pester you with a phone call or email, you won’t feel as refreshed after your week at home.

  • Hometown Tourism: Before you would go on a trip, I’m sure you would research activities at your destination. Do the same for your staycation. Make a list of all the museums, tours, excursions and events in your hometown that will be available during your time off and schedule some into your week.

  • How do you relax? After thinking about my favorite vacations of the last few years, I’ve realized that I relax by experiencing new things and by giving myself time to read good books. For a staycation to really work for me, I need to plan some new experiences and take the time to just let myself read, whether it’s in the sun or holed up in my room. Think about your favorite trips over the years. What was the best part of the trip? Make sure you schedule that into your staycation.

The idea of a staycation is an old one. The practicality of staying home during your time off work is appealing and can be just as refreshing as travel if you plan for it appropriately. Happy Staycation, Everyone!

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June 30, 2011

How to Deal with Airline Damage

Filed under: Airline Travel,Travel — Laura Moncur @ 8:00 am

Airline DamageWhenever we fly, there is a new skid mark on our luggage. I always feel a little angry about the damage, but at the same time, I feel amazed that it arrived within thirty minutes of my disembarkation. I am constantly in awe at how airports are able to get my luggage onto my plane, transferred to my second plane and off the plane with as little damage as I see.

Sometimes, your luggage is damaged FAR more than the minor scuffs and scrapes. If it is, here is how to deal with it.

  • Inspect your bags BEFORE you leave the airport: It might not be too late if you go home first, but you will have to make a trip back to the airport, so make sure your luggage is fine before you leave.

  • Take pictures: Take pictures of the damage to your suitcase and then open your suitcase and inspect the contents. If anything is damaged within the suitcase, photograph it.

  • Find the baggage handling service desk: This may be a bigger task than you realize, especially if your flight arrived late at night when the airport is nearly empty. Once you find the desk, you’ll need to show your ticketing information and the damaged luggage to make a claim.

  • Damage reports are different for each airline: You’ll need to fill out a damage report, so make sure you are given one for the appropriate airline.

  • Wait and then call and then wait and then call: Honestly, these claims take FOREVER to process and getting reimbursed is a lengthy process. Expect to call the airline SEVERAL times in order to find out how your claim is progressing.

In the end, it may not be worth your time to pursue a claim against the airline if your luggage is damaged. I have always just thanked my lucky stars that I arrived at my destination with all of my bags, whether they were intact or not.

December 17, 2009

The Future of Bus Travel Has Arrived?

Filed under: Travel — Laura Moncur @ 10:00 am

Greyhound Future of Bus Travel: click to see full sizeI saw this advertisement for Greyhound yesterday and it sounded like traveling on a bus might be better than it used to be.

It reads:

The future of bus travel has arrived. Well ahead of schedule.

Introducing the brand-new, redesigned Greyhound bus. Learn more about the specific amenities our newly redesigned motorcoach has to offer.

New Amenities: Wi-Fi, outlets, legroom, safety and eco-friendly.

Being able to be online while traveling might make riding the bus better than flying or driving it myself, so I thought I would check the prices.

To ride from Salt Lake City to Las Vegas, it would cost me $107 and take me 8 hours (which is three hours longer than driving it myself). For comparison, I checked Expedia to see how much it would cost me to fly from Salt Lake City to Las Vegas and it was $133 and take me only an hour and a half.

Why would anyone take the bus when flying costs only thirty bucks more?

I thought that maybe there would be better savings if I tried comparing a bus ride and flight from Salt Lake City to New York. There IS a better savings ($100 VS. $278), but the difference in travel time is 53 hours VS. 8 hours. Is it worth $178 to save 2 DAYS of travel time? To me, it is, so I wonder how Greyhound stays in business. They can barely compete on pricing and lose EVERY time when they compete on travel time.

The future of bus travel? Sorry, Greyhound. Wi-fi and electrical outlets just can’t compete with saving TWO DAYS of travel time. In fact, the future of bus travel looks a lot like the past…

Greyhound 1948: click to see full size

Ad via: vintage_ads: Greyhound 1948

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