The 5 Best International Travel Destinations for 2017

The 5 Best International Travel Destinations for 2017

If there’s anything I learned from my travels in 2016 it is that I have only just started. There are so many places left in the world for me to experience, and sometimes I’m uncertain on how to decide where I should go next. I do know that I want to travel internationally more often, and I believe everyone should visit another country at least once in their life. I hope to get to at least one of the following places in 2017.

Queenstown, New Zealand

judd-bagley-queenstown

New Zealand is highly regarded as one of the most beautiful places on earth. If you can get past the sheer beauty of Queenstown, you can really start exploring why it is such a hotbed for tourists in recent months. The city is dubbed the adventure capital of New Zealand, and there’s no shortage of adventures to go on while you are there. Beautiful Victorian villas, delicious restaurants, and unique shops on every corner will have you contemplating staying for longer than your allotted vacation time.

Cape Town, South Africa

Judd Bagley-Cape Town.JPG

Did someone say African Penguins? After the awe factor of seeing African Penguins at Boulder Beach wears off, visitors can explore the rest of the quaint South African town. Jump on a tour bus for $35 to tour Cape Point, which is the southwestern most point in Africa. Take in an art walk or head to a local restaurant for one of the best fish dishes you can get anywhere. Thrill seekers can get the ultimate adrenaline rush by diving with over 40 different species of sharks.

Belfast, Northern Ireland

judd-bagley-belfast

If you are fan of feeling like you are ingrained into a culture while you are visiting a city, then Belfast should be at the top of your list of destinations in 2017. The streets are lined with open-air bars and restaurants, art galleries, and local businesses. Mix and mingle with the locals for a truly authentic Irish experience. The architecture is stunning throughout Belfast, and if you venture outside of the city you will be greeted with beautiful scenery as far as the eye can see.

Athens, Greece

Judd Bagley-Athens.jpg

Athens has a reputation of being a travel destination for history buffs, but the city has been expanding past its “old city” roots into a mecca for modern art. The Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center is home to the National Opera and the National Library of Greece, and it is in the biggest park in Athens. Authentic Greek souvlaki is a reason to visit Athens in itself, and that’s only the tip of the iceberg that is the phenomenal food scene in the city.

Kakslauttanen, Finland

judd-bagley-finland

Normally I would not suggest visiting somewhere so remote, but Kakslauttanen has the most intriguing activities of any city on this list. Many people have said that seeing the Northern Lights in action will change your life forever, and in Kakslauttanen you can see them from the comfort of a glass igloo. When you’re not gazing up at the sky you can set out on a reindeer safari or explore the nearby Urho National Park on a pair of ski shoes, or better yet, on a dog sled.

International travel often requires at least a full day to two days of travel so I would suggest booking for at least 10 days in any of the cities mentioned above. You don’t want to rush around trying to see anything and consequently miss out on truly experiencing anything.

Advertisements

National Parks Attendance is at an All Time High

National Parks Attendance is at an All Time High

For the third year in a row, the US National Parks set an all-time attendance record in 2016 with over 325 million people visiting the 127 parks across the United States. The previous record was set in 2015 with 307 million visitors, and prior to the past three years attendance ranged around the 260-270 million visitors mark.

The most popular parks in 2016 were the Grand Canyon at 5.9 million visitors, Rocky Mountain National Park at 4.5 million visitors, Yellowstone National Park at 4.3 million visitors, and Zion National Park at 4.3 million visitors.

The increase in attendance has been great for increasing awareness of the parks, but like most things, the attendance is a double-edged sword.  The National Park Service is elated that so many people want to visit the parks, but it also noted some of the issues that came along with the crowds: damage to areas around walking paths, an increase in litter, more injuries (human and animal) from visitors trying to interact with animals, and an increased number of people who refused to follow the few rules the parks have.

Park goers were also met with difficulties as they tried to enjoy the serenity of nature and the beauty of the parks. The issues arose before most people even got to the parks as they were met with long lines of traffic that resembled something more like the entrance of a theme park than a national park. Once they made it through the gate, most people were tasked with finding, and fighting over, a parking spot. Once parked, the struggle did not end as the most popular trails were usually filled with people. It was a far cry from the solitude that most visitors were imagining, which caused a lot of outrage leading to bad decisions throughout the year. One thing that was surprising was the amount of vandalism that occurred in parks in 2016. Regardless of how many people attended, any level of vandalism is alarming.

The National Parks Service is not scheduled for a budgetary increase anytime in the near future, despite the rapid increase in visitors. With millions of people attending and no increase in funding, the National Park Service is scrambling to find a solution to the problems they are encountering without the ability to hire more staffing or expand parking areas. One interesting idea that is picking up some traction is pre-registration and attendance caps going hand in hand. The idea revolves around giving the National Parks Service a better understanding of how many people they can expect on each day. The attendance cap would help create a better experience for park-goers by easing the size of the crowds. Pre-registration could be done online or over the phone. The project is just in the planning phase, but it could go into effect as soon as next year.

Can Robots Replace the TSA?

Can Robots Replace the TSA?

As technology continues to grow and expand its boundaries in the 21st century, analysts have started to question the legitimacy of incorporating robots into security systems. More specifically, the potential for robots to be used as a substitute for Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) agents during the airport security checkpoint process has been considered. Ultimately, the potential benefits seem to outweigh the costs, with the general concept of robotic security making a whole lot of sense in the big picture.

We have all had the feeling at one point or another, walking into the airport and seeing a line seemingly a mile long which of course turns out to be an incredibly busy security checkpoint. Although for the most part the (TSA) does an excellent job in expediting the screening process as much as possible, wait times for airports across the country continue to skyrocket. One of the main reasons for this includes a reported significant labor shortage by TSA agents, leading to overworked and understaffed airport agencies. This not only speaks worries for the individuals trying to board the flights, but also is potentially worrisome because of the challenges that a fatigued TSA security agent can pose. All it takes is one missed prohibited device in the screening process to put the TSA under major fire, which has been documented recently.

Airport security faced the majority of its scrutiny following the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Despite vastly increasing the security levels since the attacks, airports worldwide have still faced questions about how weapons and certain objects continue to circumvent safety authorities and make their ways on to flights. Although many airports nationwide are reporting increases in the prevention of weapons successfully making it aboard, the simple threat of a firearm testing security is one that sounds much more suited for an automated robot than a human being.

What happens in the next decade remains uncertain, however, I am confident that the traditional security checkpoint at local airports will see complete transformations. Not only will the human error factor be eliminated by a robot conducting a screening process, but the process will without a doubt be quicker, decreasing the well documented mile-long security lines. In reality, the technology has simply become too advanced not to call for an implementation of robotics into TSA screening procedures, regardless of the impact that it will have on American jobs.

This blog was originally posted at www.juddbagley.com.

National Parks Service Announces 10 Free Days in 2017

National Parks Service Announces 10 Free Days in 2017

General Sherman, the largest tree on earth in Sequoia National Park in California. The otherworldly hoodoos in Bryce Canyon, Utah. The wondrous, diverse landscape of Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. Sixty-foot faces carved into solid rock on Mt. Rushmore, South Dakota. These are just a few of the wonders that can be found in America’s 58 national parks.

On August 25, 2016, the National Park Service had a birthday. It turned 100 years old. In honor of that milestone, the entrance fee to all national parks will be waived for ten days in 2017.

These are the days you’ll be able to see these wonders without charge:

January 16 Martin Luther King Jr. Day
February 20 Presidents’ Day
April 15-16 and 22-23 Weekends of National Park Week
August 25 National Park Service birthday
September 30 National Public Lands Day
November 11-12 Veterans Day weekend

What’s Free and What’s Not

These free days include:

• Entrance fees
• Commercial tour fees
• Transportation entrance fees

They do not include:

• Boat launch fees
• Camping fees
• Transportation
• Third-party fees and special tours

Any fourth grade student can get a free annual pass to all national parks through the Every Kid in a Park program. Also, active military personnel and those with a permanent disability are entitled to a free annual pass.

In the national park system, 124 parks charge an entrance fee, and these fees range from $3-$30. In 2015, 307 million people visited America’s national parks. The most visited national park is Great Smoky Mountains National park in North Carolina and Tennessee. Second is the Grand Canyon.

If you want to continue your exploration of national parks, you can obtain an America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreation Lands Pass for $80. This annual pass allows unrestricted entrance to more than 2,000 federal recreation areas, including all 413 national parks.

Why Visit

National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis said in the press release, “National parks are known for their priceless beauty. On these ten days in 2017, they really will be priceless. We want everyone to visit their national parks and the fee free days provide extra incentive to experience these amazing places.”

Whether visiting a park for the first time or returning to an old favorite, take advantage of these ten free days in 2017 to taste, in the words of environmentalist and historian Wallace Stegner, “the best idea we ever had,” America’s national parks.

This blog was originally published at www.juddbagley.com.

Black Friday: The Best Day to Visit Museums

Black Friday: The Best Day to Visit Museums

Most Americans associate Black Friday as a National Day to Shop. Deals are out of this world, some may say. Whether this is true or not, one of my favorite traditions is to buck the system and spend the day browsing something other than a mall. Be it art, sculpture, or a historical exhibit, spending the day at a museum on Black Friday can be a great alternative to the crazed atmosphere happening at your mall.

Less Crowds

The absolute best allure of visiting a museum on Black Friday is the lack of crowds clogging the exhibit. Ask any museum-goer in any major city and they’ll tell you it’s near impossible to spend a relaxed visit on any other weekend of the year.  Patrons can meander through the museum at their ease and not feel stressed trying to navigate through large groups of other people. As an introvert, this is a huge plus.

Museum Shot

New Locations

Since lots of people travel to visit family over Thanksgiving, Black Friday is a great chance to visit museums in a city you and your immediate family do not live in. You can visit museums you might not have a chance to otherwise, especially on a day when not many people are there. Before you head to your destination, look up museums in the area and plan your day accordingly.

Great for Kids

At some point, you’ve got to ask yourself: what am I really teaching my kids on the day after we celebrate gratitude? Visiting a museum on Black Friday offer numerous benefits. You’ll be learning something new. You’ll start a family tradition. And finally, your kids can explore the space with more freedom.

Possible Discounts

A final bonus of heading to museums on Black Friday is the possible discounts. If the museum is not already free, you might get a special family or student rate and be able to get into the museum for next to nothing. Who knows what Black Friday deals you may snag in the Museum’s Gift Store.

Museums To Check Out

Staying around Salt Lake City over the holidays? Check out a few options in and around the city.

Natural History Museum of Utah – a free museum with beautiful architecture and a huge assortment of exhibits, from fossils and mineralogy to Native American life.

Museum of Ancient Life – a museum located half an hour south of the city, it has the world’s largest collection of mounted dinosaur skeletons, along with palaeontology lab where you can watch archaeologists work on uncovering fossils.

Church History Museum – this museum is a tribute to the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and will give you an insight into the rich history of Mormonism.

Utah Museum of Fine Arts – located on the University of Utah campus, this museum features art from various cultures around the globe and also has collections of Native American and Western American art.

Daughters of Utah Pioneer Memorial Museum – this museum focuses on the lives and journeys of Utah’s Mormon pioneers, particularly Brigham Young, and includes many stories and tributes to those who first traveled to the frontier.

Museum Shot

How To Visit Central Park like a Local

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Is it possible to visit Central Park like a local? Or an introvert. Or any person who wishes to feel utterly alone inside a major city?

Today, I’m writing to say Yes. 

You might find it incomprehensible to find wildness amid New York City. Any local will be quick to tell you of the un-wildness that makes up most of Central Park.

But the true local, or introvert, or wild-seeker, will also be quick to point you to the North Woods.

In my many travels to Manhattan, one thing in the back of my mind is always this: how far to I have to go to be utterly alone? If your goal is to be the only person for the radius of a mile, say, then you’ll likely have to get in a car and drive for hours and hours. If you’re willing to settle for half a mile, then the same probably applies. If you’re willing to settle for being the only person in, say, a 100 yard radius, then all you need to do is go three or four subway stops from Times Square to the far north end of Central Park, where you’ll find the North Woods. And, owing to the thickly wooded nature of the spot, you’ll find it hard to believe you’re in geographic center of one of the most densely populated places on earth.

northwoods-map-highlight-300x298-1

Note the utter lack of tourists (red dots) and near absence of locals (blue dots) in this corner of Central Park.

There are plenty of paved walking paths through the North Woods, but the real magic of the place you’ll find once you leave the asphalt and start poking around the many ad hoc dirt trails you’ll find. These are barely maintained and wind up hillsides in such a way as to make it seem you’re discovering some corners where humans never tread. It’s exciting. If you try to ignore the hum of the streets you’ll struggle to believe are just a few hundred feet away, you may hear the sound of running water. There are little waterfalls punctuating little streams here and there at the base of these hills. Get close enough and the sound of water soon overcomes the sounds of the city. This is where the illusion of being lost in the woods is complete.

20160914_201148-225x300

It’s worth inserting a quick caveat here. Manhattan is a remarkably safe place, even late at night. But the north end of Central Park changes slightly after the sun goes down, and one gets the feeling that it’s not quite as safe as the rest of the island there after dark. This is born out by the increased presence of law enforcement in the area, compared to the south end. So if you explore the north end of Central Park, I recommend doing so while the sun is up.

Personally, I’d recommend getting there on foot, beginning at Columbus Circle in the extreme south west corner of the park. It’s a two and a half mile walk, but closer to three taking into account all the meandering you’ll do. There are almost no straight lines in Central Park.

If you want to get there via the subway, take the A, B or C lines from toward the Bronx and get off at the Cathedral Parkway subway (110th Street) stop.

Have you been to the North Woods? What are your favorite ways to get lost in NYC?

This article was orginally published on Judd’s travel website

The New, Boutique Role of the Travel Agent

the-new-boutique-role-of-the-travel-agent

Over the last few decades, technology has become sophisticated enough to take over many jobs that used to be the responsibility of actual people. Manufacturing requires less human input, farming uses sophisticated machines that a single person can operate, and even the food industry allows customers to order using a touch screen. Other industries are racing against the clock in an effort to stay ahead of the tech in their field. It still stands in question whether tech will replace jobs within the decade. Perhaps one of the professions hit hardest by the onset of technology has  A current profession that faces this threat is travel agents.

What statistics tell us

While some people in the tech agency or those outside of the travel industry seem skeptical about the future need for travel agents, data that’s been gathered says otherwise. Google has recently conducted research that shows people looking to book a trip will visit several different websites around 30 times before booking their tickets. They’re trying to find the best deal, but also don’t know what they should be looking for. Another study shows that travel agents are capable of saving consumers who use their services around $450.

According to that same survey, travelers were much more satisfied after using a travel agency to plan their trip. What did it save them? Money, time, and stress–not insignificant consolation prizes. And two-thirds of people said that having a travel agent help them plan greatly improved their entire experience.

pexels-photo-68704-large

Travel agents respond

In order to combat the idea that travel agents are a dying breed, agents, or advisors, continue to work hard to stay on top of their games. To accomplish this goal, they’ve taken advantage of the technology that many thought would hurt them. Travel advisors can accomplish most of their work remotely, allowing them to work from pretty much anywhere in the world. And while meeting with clients may be part of the job, several easy workarounds exist: Skype, Facetime, Google Hangout.

Agents spend a lot of their time traveling to different destinations to develop an understanding of the area and find the best places to stay, sites to visit, and restaurants to dine at, among other aspects of a trip. These whirlwind trips can be recorded and shared with anyone in a matter of seconds thanks to technology. Travel advisors have learned how to utilize social media and other technology in order to share their trips and tips, which often encourages people to contact them, through a call or email, and then book trips.

A Boutique Development

The initial fear that technology would end the profession of travel agents has been ameliorated with the simple fact that humans are good at doing what humans do. And when travelers want to find the best experiences that their destination offers, the internet can often do more harm than good. There are millions of reviews; thousands of hotels and restaurants to explore digitally. How can you be sure you’ve made the right choice? Will you be thinking about the other hundred options you could have chosen while your dining? Do you start to regret the hotel for its minor inconveniences? Yes, the internet is a wonderful database of learning, content, and user uploaded responses. But it can also make us more picky; less happy; and unable to actually enjoy that vacation that we’ve planned.

That’s where the travel agent steps in. Much like the personal chef was the boutique option to replace take-out, the travel advisor is a luxury that has something to offer beyond the world of Expedia. Yes, it’s part convenience, part savings. It’s also part nostalgia. Once we remove the human element of planning an excursion; it can feel less whole.

As long as they continue to utilize the technology that’s out there, I see no quick extinction of the profession for the foreseeable future.

14166473555_4a780581a6_b