Win A Travel Scholarship From Allianz Insurance

Posted by on October 15, 2016

“ScholarTrips,” an Allianz Global Assistance USA scholarship program designed to support international study and volunteer programs, has launched its 2016 video and essay contest. Believing that study abroad programs are critical to a student’s development and help promote the benefits of travel, Allianz Global Assistance hopes that the ScholarTrips program will promote meaningful global exchanges.

Since 2004, Allianz Global Assistance has awarded more than $100,000 in travel scholarships to students who demonstrate a desire to learn or help others through travel. The goal of this year’s contest is to provide students over the age of 14 with a platform to showcase their creativity while answering the question, “What inspires you to travel abroad?” Students entering the contest will be eligible to win one of six $2,500 scholarships and one of thirty $50 Amazon Gift Cards*.

This year, Allianz Global Assistance has provided travel agents with tools to promote the contest with local media and on their social media platforms. Travel agents can use the tools provided on the ScholarTrips’s “Promote the Contest” page to connect with customers and potential customers who may be interested in entering the contest. These can be found at scholartrips.org/promote.

“We believe that some of the best educational opportunities happen outside of the classroom, such as in international exchange programs that promote travel, cultural understanding and personal growth. ScholarTrips can help students enrich their lives through these experiences and make travel dreams a reality,” said Joe Mason, Chief Marketing Officer of Allianz Global Assistance USA.

The ScholarTrips Contest will run October 10 th through November 10 th . The top 30 entries will be featured on the ScholarTrips website and six winners will be selected from those finalists. Full details can be found at scholartrips.org.


Disclaimer: I work as an ambassador for Allianz Global Assistance (AGA Service Company) and receive financial compensation.

Why Don’t American Travel More?

Posted by on September 6, 2016

During the last decade as I’ve traveled around the world, I’ve noticed something, almost from the first week I was outside of the United States: American’s don’t travel much.

That isn’t to say I never meet Americans, but given the size and wealth of the country, there seems to be a significant dearth of Americans traveling abroad. I will often meet more travelers from Canada, Germany, Australia or the Netherlands than I do from the US. I’m not talking about on a per capita basis, but more travelers, even from countries which have 10% or less of the population of the United States.

Why Americans don’t travel is a puzzle I’ve been thinking about for years. America is a wealthy country and it is made up of people from every country on Earth. On the surface it would seem like Americans would be great travelers, but we aren’t.

Allianz Travel Insurance (full disclosure: I have a business relationship with them) recently published their annual Vacation Confidence Index. This year they found the following:

  • 15 percent of Americans have been on a vacation in the last three months
  • 170 million Americans (53 percent) haven’t taken a vacation in the last 12 months
  • 16 percent haven’t been on vacation in one to two years
  • 37 percent haven’t been on vacation in more than two years

The Vacation Confidence Index covers all travel, both domestic and international. If we focus on international travel, the situation looks even worse:

Understanding all of these things could probably take up an entire Ph.D. thesis. However, I think I have a few ideas for how the United States got this way:

It’s A Big Country

The United States is big. It is the third largest country in the world by area, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. The two larger countries (Russia and Canada) have large swaths of land which are very similar. Northern boreal forests up to tundra. The US has those type of lands, but we also have a lot more. We have deserts, prairies, tropical islands, swamps, and rainforests. There is a lot you can see in the United States without ever leaving the country or needing a passport. The US and its territories cover almost 90 degrees of latitude. If you want a beach vacation or a trip in the mountains, you can do it all in the US without a passport, and we are one of the only countries we can do that in.

Working Culture

Most people who migrated to the United States did so to pursue a better life. Working has always been a part of the culture here. Many people lament that Americans don’t get as much vacation time as the rest of the world, but the fact is, most Americans don’t use the vacation time they already have. If Americans valued vacation time, I’m quite sure we would be getting 3-5 weeks per year like Europe does. Most Americans would rather have the money than the time.

International Travel Isn’t the Same

Using International travel as a metric is only so valuable. Drive 500km in Europe, and you will be in a different country, and you might have gone through several to get there. Drive 500km in the US and you probably haven’t left the country, and perhaps even your state. It is easier to show international travel when there are many countries located in a small area. If you look at total distance traveled for vacation, the trips we take are much more similar to Europeans.

We Didn’t Always Need Passports

Prior to 9/11, you didn’t need a passport to travel to Canada, Mexico and much of the Caribbean. You could do a significant amount of international travel in the region without ever needing to get a passport. This was a big reason why Americans never developed the habit of getting a passport. After 9/11, when passport requirements were tightened, most Americans found it easier to just not go to Canada rather than get a passport.

The Future

Things are changing. Younger people are putting more emphasis on experiences rather than things. They are creating a new culture and a different set of values. While I still don’t see as many Americans as I do other nationalities, I have seen an uptick in Americans over the last several years, most of whom are in their 20’s. The internet has made it easier to travel, do research, and stay in touch with your friends no matter where you are. You are seeing more people opting for camper vans than houses.

It might take several generations, but I have full faith that Americans will eventually put more value on vacation time, and the amount of traveling done by Americans will increase.

Announcing A New Project: National Park Service 413!

Posted by on August 25, 2016

One of the 413 sites in the US National Park System

Today is the 100th anniversary the National Park Service in the United States.

As many of you might know I’m in the middle of a project to photograph all 59 national parks in the United States. I’m about 75% through with the project and I should be able to finish it sometime in 2017. (I’m also attempting to visit all the national parks in Canada, which is a whole other thing…)

Today I am announcing a new project, to go above and beyond just visiting America’s 59 national parks.

While the national parks are usually considered the highlights of the national park service, the system is much larger than just the 59 places with a “national park” designation. There are national monuments, memorials, battlefields, seashores, lakeshores, preserves, trails, and historic sites.

With the recent addition of the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument in Maine, there are now 413 sites in the United States National Park System.

….and I’m going to visit and photograph all 413 of them!

This isn’t anything new for me. I have been visiting National Park Service sites as far back as the late 90’s when I had to travel for work. I’d bring my National Park Passport with me and visit sites all over the US. Based on my most recent count, which was a while ago, I’ve been to over 150 sites already.

Here are the constraints I’m putting on myself for the purpose of the project. They are similar to what I’ve done for my national parks and UNESCO World Heritage Site projects:

  1. Any sites I visited before 2007, will be revisited. This is actually a rather hefty number as over 100 of the NPS sites I’ve been to were before I started traveling full time. Thankfully, many of them are in a dense area around Washington DC and New York City.
  2. I will take at least one representative photo at each site. Some sites, like the Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial, are really small. Some, like on the Mall in Washington DC, are just statues. Nonetheless, I should be able to get at least one decent photo from each place I visit.
  3. Each visit is to be a meaningful visit. This is very vague I realize. My intent is that the goal isn’t just to take a photo or get a passport stamp. I’ll try to have an experience like what a normal visitor might have, which includes going to the visitor center (if there is one), watching a film, talking to a ranger, and exploring the site. The sites are all very different from each other, so what might constitute a meaningful visit in Northern Alaska will be very different for an urban park in Washington DC.
  4. I will walk at least one mile out and back on each national trail. I am aware that this is only a tiny fraction of the size of most trails, but I’m not trying to hike every inch of every trail in the US. That would be over a year of walking. For most trails, I’m assuming I park my car at a trailhead, walk out for at least a mile, and then walk back.
  5. I will not be collecting passport stamps. I always forget to bring my passport. I’ve purchased 3 of them over the years because I visit a place when I didn’t have my passport. I’m just going to forego it entirely and just focus on visiting and taking photos.

This is a big undertaking and it will take me years to complete. That being said, I’m well on my way there already. Even with the rules I’ve placed upon myself, I’ll probably be well over 100 by the time I visit my 59th national park next year.

Much of this will consist of doing regional road trips throughout the US: fly into a city, rent a car, and drive to the NPS sites in a region. I’m sure there will be a few big road trips as well. Unlike full blown national parks, it is entirely possible to visit multiple sites in a single day as many of them are quite small and close together (again, New York and Washington DC).

I’m revisiting sites I visited in the past simply because of photography. I didn’t have a camera back then and I’d like to be able to share the images of all the places on the website.

I will not be the first person to accomplish this. According to the National Park Travelers Club, there have been 43 people who have visited all 413 National Park Service sites. Fewer than the number of people who have visited every country on Earth. I’m quite sure that by the end of the project several more people will have completed it, and the number of sites will probably be more than 413. (I remember it being in the 390’s back when I started visiting them in the 90’s)

I’ll try to announce trips on social media before I embark on them, so I can do meet-ups in the various cities across the US that I’ll be visiting. For some of the more urban sites, I’ll also be arranging small group trips as well.

Did Terrorism Actually Affect American Travel to Europe…..and Should It?

Posted by on August 16, 2016

A few weeks ago I flew through the Istanbul Airport on the way to Kazkhstan, just a few days after the recent terrorist attack which took place there.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t aware of the recent attacks, but at the same time, had I not heard about the events on the news, I never would have known that anything had happened.

The recent attacks in Istanbul are just the latest in a series of attacks which have targeted Europe this year. France has been subject to several major attacks as has Belgium. Lesser attaks with attribution to terrorist groups have happened in Germany, and there have been serveral other plots which have been foiled.

This has forced many people to rethink their travel plans and start to question if they should be traveling to Europe.

The Data

Allianz Travel Insurance recently released ther Vacation Confidence Index which documented American’s attitudes towards terriosm and their travel planning. They found the following:

  • 86% are concerned about terrorists attacks while on vacation abroad
  • 22% say that the threat of terrorism has influenced their travel plans
  • 6% have cancelled trips
  • 5% have changed locations
  • 4% have changed dates
  • 3% have changed accommodations
  • 3% have changed modes of transportation
  • 3% have purchased travel insurance

The data seems to indicate that a significant, but not overwhelming number of people have been shaken enough by recent event to change their travel plans to some extent. However, it doesn’t mean that people are abandoning travel.

The data of actual trips taken seems to confirm to some extent what the survey suggested. In a previous survey done by Allianz where they looked at the travel booking by Americans for the summer of 2016 showed the following:

  • Trips to Istanbul are down 43.7% from 2015
  • Trips to Brussels are down 30.4%
  • Trips to Frankfurt are down 22.9%
  • Paris saw a 0.6% increase
  • Dublin, Athens, Amsterdam and Lisbon all saw increases of over 40%
  • Europe as a whole saw a 9.3 percent increase

The data is very interesting on several levels. First, travel to Europe overall increased. I have no doubt that it would have been higher absent the terror attacks, I have to believe that the strong dollar was a stronger pull than the threat of terrorism was a push. Second, people seem to be able to differentate between cities and countries in Europe, and not painting with broad brush. The biggest drops in travel are in cities which have seen recent terrorist attacks. Surprisingly, Frankfurt saw a decrease in travel, even though there had been no terrorist attacks in the city in over 5 years.

The cities which saw large increases in travelers were those who have been absent from the headlines.

Should You Be Concerned About Terrorism?

All of this really begs the question, should travelers be concerned about terrorism? While it is clearly impacting travel decisions, that doesn’t mean that the decision is rational.

First, I don’t blame people for being concrned. As I mentioned above, when I was in the Istanbul airport, the though crept though my mind. The threat of terrorism isn’t zero. It clearly is something that can happen, and to that extent should at least be on your radar.

The threat of being a victim in a terrorist attack is exceedingly small. Concerns about it are amplified because we see it on the news. The more we hear about terrorist attacks, the more worried we get. We forget, however, that we are likely to hear about every terrorist attack, where as most other dangers to travelers are never reported at all.

The National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and the Responses to Terrorism reported the following data regarding Americans who where killed by acts of terrorism abroad. The numbers are startling. Just to pick an arbitrary date, I’ll use data since 2007 which is when I started traveling full-time:

  • 2007: 1
  • 2008: 12
  • 2009: 1
  • 2010: 2
  • 2011: 3
  • 2012: 5
  • 2013: 6
  • 2014: 14

(Note: to get US fatalities overseas, just subtract the total number of fatalities by the number in the US)

Over the last decade on average 5.5 Americans we’re killed by terrorist attacks each year outside of the United States.

To put that into perspective, from 2003 to 2010, 1,820 Americans died in traffic accidents outside of the United States. That averages out to 1 American being killed every 36 hours in a traffic accident, and it represents close to a third of all overseas deaths.

While the data in this case is specific to Americans, it applies the same to other foreign travelers. Terrorism as a threat to travelers is dwarfed by traffic accidents, yet most people do not have a fear or traffic accidents, nor will they take that into consideration when making travel plans.

Conclusion

While terrorism is something you should be aware of, it is far down the list of actual threats to travelers. 32.3 million people visit Paris every year and even with recent terrorist attacks, your odds of being a victim are on a par with winning the lottery.

To be sure you should take safety precautions anywhere you travel, but you shouldn’t let the threat of terrorism ruin your vacation. I suggest doing the following:

  1. Take what the media says with a big grain of salt. Terroist attacks are tragic events. There is no doubt about that. However, don’t let the 24 hour news cycle determine your thinking. Fear sells, because fear causes people to buy newspapers and watch TV news.
  2. Put risks into perspective. The more you understand the data and the real threats, the better decisions you will make. Worrying about ISIS will do less for your safety than picking a taxi which is safe and in good condition.
  3. Use common sense. Terrorists tend to attack crowded places. One of my big travel rules is to avoid nightclubs and other crowded places. This has nothing to do with terrorism and everything to do with pickpockets, scams, fires and getting drugged. Nonetheless, the things which can keep you safe generally on the road will help you to decrease your risk of being in a terrorist attack.

Disclaimer: I work as an ambassador for Allianz Global Assistance (AGA Service Company) and receive financial compensation.