News

Newly designed worldofjames.com

So I’ve spent the last week or so re-designing worldofjames.com and moving it from a wordpress.com hosted blog to a self-hosted one (wordpress.org).

You may notice some not-so-subtle changes in the design in that the home page has now changed to a showcase of some of my latest published work rather than a blog and the blog has moved, in newspaper parlance, to the back of the book.

The simple reason for this is that since the arrival of our new twins in October last year and with other work commitments abounding, I’ve hardly had chance to blog on the old site, meaning almost eight months had passed since there was last an update – shameful.

The change now takes the pressure off having to come up with something interesting to blog continuously, while allowing me to retain a brand presence on the web.

I hope you enjoy what you see – hopefully, I’ll be able to grow the site a bit more with the added options that self-hosting the blog gives me. Check out the new homepage at worldofjames.com

Let me know if you have any thoughts and/or suggestions.

Cheers

James

 

At least we'll be safe in Yemen

Beach on Socotra Island, Yemen

If you’ve been put off holidaying in traditional hotspots like Thailand, Greece, Turkey and Israel this summer by varying bouts of civil unrest, perhaps you are looking for somewhere new.

How about Yemen, tucked at the bottom of the Arabian peninsula? There’s tonnes of history, it’s hot, there’s sand (lots of it) plus the Arabian Sea in which to cool off. They’re also taking the safety of tourists very seriously according to a release from the ministry of tourism that brags of 125 new high tech tourist vehicles that have been acquired.

Apparently, “These vehicles, which have been distributed around the country, have been fitted with tracking systems which allow personnel from a remote location to monitor the car’s movements and location. In the advent of a kidnapping, drivers of the vehicle can simply press a button which will notify the monitoring centre of the event, at which point they will take over control of the vehicle’s movements or disable it altogether.”

And if that doesn’t make you feel safe nothing will..

Seriously, there’s a host of tour ops now offering packages, if you do fancy a trip and to find out more, try the following

Live Travel
Nomadic Thoughts
Pioneer Expeditions
Silk Road and Beyond
Steppes Travel
Undiscovered Destinations
Wild Frontiers Adventure Travel

Wizarding World of Harry Potter to open today – first pics

In a few hours time, Virgin Holidays customers will be the first people into the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal’s Islands of Adventures in Orlando – the rest of the not-so-wizarding world gets in from June 18.
Lookswise, the new park is pretty spectacular – see some of the pics below – but sizewise, it could see some people queueing for a quite a while to get into star attractions like Olivander’s Wand Shop where, through some cute acting and clever animatronics, your wand may choose you (before you then pay $25 for it).
Some people are bound to be disappointed by the signature ride Harry Potter & The Forbidden Journey, not only will some larger people be unable to ride it, there is a form of ritual humiliation for them outside. They have to sit in a tester ride seat in full public view: get a green light and you are good to go, get a red one and you’re off…
The snow-capped houses and shops of Hogsmeade village
Hogsmeade and the Hogwarts Express
Hogwarts Castle home of the signature ride - unlucky if you're overweight
Souvenir wand, it picks you for $25

No more green waiver forms?

So America’s Department of Homeland Security (also know as ‘we scare you witless when we come on holiday’) has finally decided to scrap the need for visitors from Visa Waiver countries to fill in the green I94W form on arrival.

Frequent visitors to the US will know that a supposed paperless system, the Electronic System for Travel Authorization that last for two years,  was brought in last year to pre-approve entries. Despite the new system being operational for more than 18 months though, people still had to fill in the old paper forms, making entering the US a bigger headache than ever.

The DHS has now said the green forms are going, ‘to be phased out by the end of the summer’. For this, read ‘it will be more likely winter’…

On top of the Esta/green form/being treated like a criminal debacle on entry, we are soon to be charged a new $10 entry tax in the USA. The tax is being introduced to fund the country’s new marketing board – that’s right , we will pay to go on holiday so America can promote itself as a holiday destination!

Sometimes it makes me wonder why we bother visiting our ‘friends’ across the Atlantic – it’s really not like they welcome us with open arms at the border.

Guest post: A note from the front of a Chinese orphanage

Around six months ago, I received an email from Susan Baller-Shepard. Susan has an adopted Chinese daughter and was planning to embark on a trip to volunteer in a Beijing orphanage. I asked her to send me a guest post of her experience and she agreed. True to her word, she responded with a suggested entry and some pictures that arrived in my inbox this week. True to mine, I publish it here, in full and unedited:

This is not your usual vacation

Have you ever taken a vacation or holiday to “get away from it all,” and returned to work, still feeling like you never did get away? This is one holiday where you will not only get out of Dodge, but you’ll arrive home with more than just dirty laundry, photos, and souvenirs.

Chances are, you will change on this trip, or something within you will shift, or like the Grinch your heart will grow three sizes, or something. Meaning, you will not return home the same person.

I just had the time of my life spending a week in and around Beijing, volunteering in orphanages. Sure, I am an adoptive mom, with a beautiful daughter from Yangjiang, but half of our group were people who thought helping out in orphanages would make for a meaningful trip.

Along with time spent in various orphanages, there is time for sightseeing and getting to see a country that is changing at the speed of light. We took a cycle rickshaw into a hutong for lunch made by a hutong resident. We visited the Temple of Heaven, the Forbidden City, the Lama and Confucious Temples, along with the Bell Tower, the Dirt Market, and the Great Wall.

The program I went on works with non-profit orphan care providers in the BORN (Beijing Orphan Resource Network) collaborative. These include such providers as Children’s Hope International, Philip Hayden Foundation, Hope Foster Home, and others, with volunteer experiences specifically tailored to a person or group’s travel plans. You can volunteer for a day, a week, or a month. They adjust to individuals and/or groups or families, and can work with school groups or civic groups as well.

At my computer, I find myself scrolling through my Beijing photos. I look at the faces of the children we met, played with, took on walks, laughed with, fed. It’s not everyone’s dream vacation, but it is one that you will not soon forget. This is a great way to get away from home, to focus on the needs of someone besides yourself for a week, and to enjoy a place that is both ancient and modern. It’s unforgettable. I’d go back again in a heartbeat.

“They must often change who would be constant in happiness or wisdom. “—Confucius, The Confucian Analects

“If a man takes no thought about what is distant, he will find sorrow near at hand.”—Confucius, The Confucian Analects

www.ocdf.org/volunteerchina Our Chinese Daughter’s Foundation “Volunteer China” Program

V.Hols in V.big travel writing cock up

Why on earth do people think that just anyone can be a travel writer? Because if you’re one of the dozens of scribes trying to scratch out a living at a time when newspapers are cutting commissioning budgets, the latest announcement from Virgin Holidays can only be seen as yet another  insult to the profession.

Get me Alex James. No, not the one who'sactually a travel writer...

Apparently, the company has done a survey of 2,000 holidaymakers and because less than a third of them say they would never use a guidebook, they have decided to ‘reinvigorate travel writing’ by appointing a ‘travel laureate’ to pen a series of ‘first-hand destination-themed novels’.

The lucky recipient of this fabulous new title? Alex James.

Sorry, that’s not Alex James the actual travel writer Alex James, the kind of person you might be expect to be commissioned to write travel copy… but Alex James, cheese-making, one-time bass player with Blur whose writing skills amount to the occasional newspaper column about what it’s like to have finally moved to a Country House and an autobiography that recalls the heyday of Blur through a haze of drink and heavy cocaine use.

Now don’t get me wrong, Blur were a fabulous band and I’m sure Alex James (not the travel writing one) is an affable chap but I’m not quite sure how he’s been elevated from the role of all-round half-decent celeb to travel writing genius – especially when there are dozens of brilliant travel writers out there who would have bitten Virgin Holidays hands off for the commission.

Of course, none of them have the ‘celebrity announcement’ factor that Alex James (not the travel writing one) has.

So there you are travel writers of the UK, once again, your expertise garnered travelling the world for a living has gone to waste and you’ve been dumped in favour of yet another celebrity, just because their name is more known than yours.

Guidebook publishers like Lonely Planet, Rough Guides, Frommers, Bradt et al might also be slightly miffed at James’ new role. The press release that accompanies the announcement claims that in some spurious and unattributed research, 8.5m Uk adults found travel guides ‘boring and staid’.

I normally like V.Hols and find them one of our best package companies, but I can’t help but feel that this whole ‘travel laureate’ campaign insults both travel writers and travel publishers and can’t be seen as anything else than one V.Big cock up.

One great idea and one good cause

Yesterday afternoon I went to the annual spring lunch of a company called Travel PR – for those not in the know they are, you guessed it, a travel public relations company that mainly specialises in small, independent and often quirky travel companies.

Their client list includes the Association of Independent Tour Operators (www.aito.co.uk), Kirker Holidays (www.kirkerholidays.com), Sunvil (www.sunvil.co.uk), Voyages Jules Verne (www.vjv.co.uk) and many more… but it was two newish clients that really caught my eye.

One is a company that is just launching called Get Back To Me. Anyone who has tried to book an independent B&B in the UK will be familiar with how frustrating it can be. These days, people expect an immediate answer when trying to book online and unfortunately for many small B&Bs they just don’t have the manpower to do it.

While Mr Bloggs is out buying the bacon and eggs for the next morning’s breakfast, someone who is trying to get in touch and can’t is likely now looking up the number of the nearest Travelodge.

What Get Back To Me does is allow the consumer to input a destination and the site will send an SMS to all registered B&B and hotel owners in the vicinity, if they have availability, it costs them £1.50 to get back to the consumer and the deal is done.

The consumer facing side should be with us sometime in early summer – owner Anne Corbett thinks end May is likely – but B&B and hotel owners can register at now at getbacktome.co.uk

The other interesting lady I met was Stella Huyshe of Lyme Disease Action (www.lymediseaseaction.org.uk). Like Travel PR’s MD Sue Ockwell, Stella is suffering from Lyme Disease – an infectious debilitating disease brought on by tick bites.

The symptoms sound pretty awful

Lyme disease can affect any part of the body and cause many different symptoms. The commonest symptoms relate to the person feeling unwell, having flu-like symptoms, extreme tiredness, muscle pain, muscle weakness, joint pain, upset digestive system, headache, disturbances of the central nervous system and a poor sleep pattern. In some cases a characteristically shaped, expanding ‘bull’s eye’ rash appears on the skin. However, a rash in any form is not a universal symptom. If the rash does occur, it is termed Erythema migrans or EM rash. It may manifest in a chronic form and be known as Erythema chronicum migrans or ECM rash. The list of symptoms known to be associated with Lyme disease is long and diverse. The symptom pattern varies from person to person.

But crucially, there are different views on how long the disease should be treated for. Government advisors believe a 28-day course of antibiotics will do it while other scientists are of the view that the disease can affect a person for much longer.

That Stella has suffered for almost a decade without any joy suggests the latter could be right.

They’re a decent charity that are trying to change the government thinking on Lyme Disease and deserve some attention.Please give them some!

Statement from Seaworld

This has just come to my inbox from Seaworld – happy to publish it.

February 24, 2010

A Message from Jim Atchison
President and Chief Executive Officer, SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment

It is with great sadness that I report that one of our most experienced animal
trainers drowned in an incident with one of our killer whales this afternoon, February 24, 2010 at our SeaWorld Orlando park.

We have initiated an investigation to determine, to the extent possible, what
occurred. There are no other details to share at this point, but we will make
our findings known in due course.

I must emphasize that this is an extraordinarily difficult time for the SeaWorld
parks, and our team members.

Nothing is more important than the safety of our employees, guests and the
animals entrusted to our care. All of our standard operating procedures
will come under review as part of the investigation.

We extend our deepest sympathies to the family and friends of the trainer
and will do everything possible to assist them in this difficult time.
We appreciate everyone’s understanding and will share more information as it becomes known and available.

SeaWorld Orlando and SeaWorld San Diego are open today as scheduled (SeaWorld San Antonio is not yet open for the season) but Believe shows and Dine with Shamu experiences at all SeaWorld locations have been suspended for the time being.  We will update you on this as soon as we have more information.