Get Out & About, The Great Outdoors, Travel

The Insider’s Guide: Bear. Church. Rock?

When I’m hit with an urge to get outdoors, you might find me cruising down Route 29 towards Shenandoah National Park. Shenandoah is the most extensive wilderness space easily accessible to DC, and encircles almost 200,000 untouched acres of Northern Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains.

The places that I visit most often in the park are Old Rag Mountain, a challenging day hike with rock scrambling sections and breathtaking summit views, and Skyline Drive, a 105-mile undulating, ridge-hugging highway that’s best to drive in the spring or fall when tree colors are changing. I’m sure I’ll be returning to both spots soon, but on an early spring day I convinced a couple of friends to try a destination we’d never been to before.

We got a late start on the day (as we usually do), and overshot our intended noon departure time by almost an hour, sailing down Constitution Ave heading west out of the city. As anyone familiar with I-66 might expect though, we quickly found ourselves in traffic. How that road has backups on it seven days a week I’ll never understand, but it did eventually ease up and we decided that with the sun staying out well past 7:00, we’d still have time to complete the four hour hike as planned.
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The Daily Feed, Travel

DCA gets expanded service from Virgin, Southwest, JetBlue, Alaska Airlines

Photo courtesy of Jun Seita
Virgin America N623VA Airbus A320-214 (2006) “three if by air”
courtesy of Jun Seita

As someone with family along the left-coast, I always dread travel there a bit, mostly because it means flying out of far-flung IAD or painful-to-park BWI, instead super-convenient-and-right-on-the-metro DCA. The Department of Transportation announced today four new long-haul routes for National, with a DCA-SFO from Virgin America as the most interesting, followed by JetBlue’s new San Juan route, Alaska Airlines’ new Portland route and Southwest’s direct to Austin route. 

This adds to United’s direct route to SFO, Delta’s direct route to Salt Lake City, American’s direct route to LAX and US Airways’ direct route to San Diego.

Anything that means I can fly out of DCA instead of the burbclaves is just fine with me, thanks.

The Daily Feed, Tourism, Travel

Travel & Adventure Show This Weekend

Photo courtesy of
courtesy of ‘bradleyolin’

Right about now, though I’m liking the warmer weather, I’m craving something warmer. Part of me wants to drive up to BWI, get on a cheap flight to Phoenix, and go see some baseball, but then I remember what happened to Kevin Smith, so screw that noise. But, that brings me to the 6th Annual Travel and Adventure Show which runs all weekend at the Convention Center. Find a cool vacation, find a cool adventure, and there will be all kinds of travel discounts available on the show floor. Shopping for a honeymoon, or another big trip, this could be a fun way to think about escape for a day.

We’ve got two passes to give away, so leave your name in the comments, and we’ll pick a winner tomorrow at noon!


We Love to Travel: Weather Survival Guide

Airplane Skidding in a Snowstorm, by Anirudh Koul

Airplane Skidding in a Snowstorm, by Anirudh Koul (Creative Commons)

There are supposed to be two guarantees in life: death, and taxes.  I think they missed one: airline delays and cancellations.

As our recent “snowstorm” – and our upcoming thunderstorm season – prove, airlines can cancel flights for just about any reason.  Snow that might appear?  Canceled.  Too much wind?  Canceled.  Plastic bag blew on to the runway?  Canceled.

Okay, so now what?  Here are a few ideas I’ve compiled to help you get through the fun of airline cancellations.

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Getaways, Tourism, Travel

Getaways: Artists Inn Residence

Lionshead Faucet, Artists Inn Residence

"Lionshead Faucet, Artists Inn Residence" by Jenn Larsen, on Flickr

Sigh. Stupid economic apocalypse. I really wanted to get away for my birthday this year. Rough times on all fronts. Originally I had some fantasy about skipping town to Barcelona or Marseilles. But, no such luck. So, I settled for a staycation and escaped for the night to exotic Dupont Circle. The bed and breakfast that I discovered, however, turned out to be the best birthday idea I’d had in ages.

The Artists Inn Residence, run by the incredibly kind Terry Gerace, is an amazing B&B at 18th and R Streets NW. If you have any out-of-town guests to house or are looking for a romantic or peaceful escape, this is the place. Beautifully renovated, it’s filled with light and gives the impression of a gracious Parisian mansion with a modern twist. Six suites are lovingly decorated like perfect jewelboxes – each with a different theme that is never heavy-handed. The rooms are also completely outfitted with the technophile essentials like high-speed wireless internet, crazily hidden HDTVs, heated floors, mood lighting… I easily spent half-an-hour just fiddling with the gadgets like the TV hidden in the mirror over the massive stone fireplace.

I stayed in the Da Vinci suite, with its bed constructed out of massive carved doors making me feel like I was nestled in a Tuscan farmhouse. Upon arrival I was even sweetly greeted by a little chocolate cake. Now that’s a class act. Continue reading

Essential DC, Talkin' Transit, Travel, WMATA

Talkin’ Transit: Turkey Time!

Photo courtesy of M.V. Jantzen
Coming and Going, courtesy of M.V. Jantzen

So for the first time since moving down here, my wife and I aren’t driving anywhere for the holiday; since we bought our house this summer, we’re the hosts for this year’s holiday season.

However, I feel your pain, people. If you’re reading this now, you’re either like me and not going anywhere this holiday weekend, or you’re just procrastinating from packing and will most likely get caught in area traffic.

For you lazy bones, I’ve got some tips on alternate road routes, but we’ll knock out a few regional transit items first.

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We Love Travel – Thanksgiving Craziness Edition

Long Lines at Dulles, by cafemama (Creative Commons)

Long Lines at Dulles, by cafemama (Creative Commons)

It’s that time of year again! Time to head to visit family and friends for Thanksgiving Food (and the required naps after eating all that food). Now there is only one thing standing in your way: Getting There.

In this Thanksgiving issue, I’m going to cover a few of the tips I’ve learned over the last several years on how to survive the holiday madness. I know everyone has their own way of getting home, so I’ll cover a few of the majors. Let me know if you have any other tips – I’m always looking for great ideas.

Avoiding the Airport Crush

The first thing I tell everyone traveling this week – especially on Wednesday, the insane day – is to be patient. Before you leave, realize that most of the people working at the airports were up at 4 or 5 am this morning. Holiday travel is an “all hands on deck” time of year, so all the desk people, TSA crews, and everyone else will be running on coffee and little sleep. Be patient with them – it’s a long hard slog for each and every one.

We all know there will be lines. They won’t be as bad this year as last year, according to AAA, but I would still expect to run in to a few. Here are a few ways to work around them: Continue reading


We Love Travel – But Our Bags Lost Their Passports

Lost Luggage, by tymesynk (Creative Commons)

This is the second half of the two-part “Where is my luggage?” series.

So, you decided it’s time to get out the passport, dust off the large bag, and leave the country for a couple of days or weeks.  And then Murphy decided to make things interesting, and now your luggage has a different itinerary than you.  Even though it is enjoying itself sunning on a beach in the Bahamas right now, it would be nice if you could be reunited with your bags, right?

I can’t promise that you’re going to get reunited with your bag.  What I can promise is that the phone and the internet are about to become a larger part of your trip.  But here are a few tips that might help get you out of the jam.

Got your passport?  Okay, let’s see what we can do…

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Food and Drink, Getaways, The Great Outdoors, Travel

Getaways: Wineries and a Pumpkin Patch down 66

Linden Vineyard Grounds

Weeks ago I was perusing my favorite local DC food blog, metrocurean, and got inspired by the Hurricane Wine Tasting post that blogger Amanda wrote about her recent winery trip. Having been to Barboursville recently, and loved it, I was antsy to take a trip out 66 to the wineries closer by, and Amanda provided me and my group of friends with the perfect trip planner. So the six of us set out on an afternoon trip.

Our first stop was Linden Vineyards. We piled in the cars and set out with our trusty GPS to guide us. We had heard this winery was one of the best in the state, and knew it was pretty prestigious and they were serious about their wine. So we were slightly surprised when we turned onto a 3-mile dirt road, but figured, well, if they say it’s this good, I guess you gotta work for it… And so we drove, and we drove, and Matt’s car got all kinds of dirty, but finally we arrive at Linden and it’s just gorgeous. See above. The porch faces the mountain (well, hill, if you’re going to get technical I suppose), people were having picnics on the lawn, the sky was blue.

So we went inside. It’s not too terribly inviting inside, just one single counter, no tables. We had a group of six, and the sign clearly said no groups larger than six. And they mean it. Amanda’s post had warned that the porch was reserved for “members” (ie: people who have bought a case of Linden wine during the calendar year). I didn’t think it would be quite so strict. Continue reading

Talkin' Transit, Travel

We Love Travel: WAS EQM Mileage Runs

The view from United Premier Executive seats is so much better

The view from United Premier Executive seats is so much better

For those that fly often, there is not a sense of envy with the gate agent allows First Class and elite frequent flyers to board the plane first. No, there is only lust for such benefits that are often so close yet so far away at this time of year.

See, frequent flyer status is earned annually. For United, you’ll need at least 50,000 Elite Qualifying Miles (EQMs) by December 31st to maintain Premier Executive status. It may be one up from cattle class, but when you do long hauls to Europe or red-eyes from the West Coast, those emergency row seats or First Class upgrades make the flights oh so much better.

Which brings us to mileage runs – the act of flying just to maintain elite frequent flyer status. It may sound crazy, but there is a whole airline subculture focused on just such acts of desperation. And this year, at 39,200 EQMs, I’m hell-bent on earning 10,801 more by December 31, 2008.

Wanna learn how I’m doing it at no cost to me? Then keep reading…

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Foggy Bottom, The Daily Feed, Travel, WMATA

Fill out your Metro survey!

Metro Survey

I was on my way home on Friday and I received a very exciting piece of paper at foggy bottom! The 2008 METRO SURVEY! .

Now I know this is so incredibly, shamelessly, totally geeky, but I love surveys. I think it stems from my background in PR, I just love collecting and understanding market data. It’s useful in so many ways, it is helpful in planning new communication, deciding fare increases, acquiring station data, and so many things that will help Metro out.

But more than that, this survey gives YOU, oh Metro commuter, a voice! You hate how crowded metro is? FILL OUT YOUR SURVEY! You wish there was a station at Tyson’s Corner? FILL OUT YOUR SURVEY! Is the proposed Purple line is the best idea ever? FILL OUT YOUR SURVEY! There are few better ways for Metro to know how to improve than to run a survey and get back well-rounded results. Even if you’re a tourist, fill out that survey!

They need this data – I promise you! So dig it out of your purse, the trash can, your back pocket, and fill that sucker out! And best part? It’s free! postage paid! And with 17 questions it’s not the most laborious thing you’ve ever done. So you literally have no excuse. You can return it at any metro station, or stick it in those convenient blue mailboxes on practically every corner in the city. Here’s a mailbox locator link just for you, dear reader, because I want you to fill out your survey so badly.

Metro Survey Questions

(And no, I don’t work for WMATA, or any part of Metro. I just am truly this passionate about surveys, and in particular the Metro survey!)

Images courtesy of Flickr user Needlessspaces.

The Daily Feed, Travel

DCA Cell Phone Waiting Area

washington dc by wayan
Photo by Wayan

If you are picking up a loved one at National Airport, say a hot pregnant wife for example, you will be sent on a circuitous route to the Cell Phone Waiting Area. An annoying drive yes, but not the stupid distant cell phone lot at IAD that is closer to Leesburg than the airport.

The DCA parking lot is packed with occupied yet idle cars on a Sunday night, reminding me of a red light district or gay cruising zone. We all stay in our vehicles till we get the private notice that its time to move on.

And I now have mine. Time to roll…


We Love to Travel – But Our Luggage Didn’t Make It

Luggage Pile, courtesy of Sundazed/Creative Commons 2.0

It’s no secret that our luggage doesn’t always agree with our travel plans.  I realized this when I considered how many times my luggage has decided to go somewhere else, misses the flight, or just returns home.  It would seem that my luggage has it’s own travel plans on a regular basis.

If you travel by air, and everyone does sooner or later, it’s important to realize that there are ways to keep your luggage with you.  It’s pretty simple to do, and it can save you a lot of suffering when you get to your destination.

This week, I’ll talk about domestic travel and ways to keep things under control.  Next post I’ll get in to international travel, which makes domestic travel look like a cake walk.

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We Love to Travel – But Waking Up At 3:30 am? Get Serious.

Plane taking off in the morning...

I’m a big fan of traveling.  And when I go on vacation, or just away for work, I usually end up traveling out of Dulles airport.  That’s because I live in Arlington, so the two closest airports to me are Dulles and National.  And although I take National any time I can, Dulles still ends up being the most often used.

But, with airfare prices (and FEES, don’t get me started) going up all over the place, being flexible on travel times can save me and my company a lot of cash.  But some times that means flying out at 6:00 am.  Or some equally absurd time in the morning.

Now, do the math.  If you have to be at the airport for a 6:00 am flight, you need to be there an hour early.  That’s 5:00 am.  Earlier, if you want to check luggage for that great Hawaii vacation.  For anyone who lives near DC, in DC, or anywhere other than Reston, that means at least a 30 minute trip.  Fortunately the roads are pretty clear at 4:30 am, and the toll road helps.  Now, if I’ve done my math correctly, that means getting up at 3:30 am to get ready to leave.  At that point, why even go to sleep?

I, for one, don’t want to wake up at 3:30 am for a flight.  So is there a better solution?

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Someone doesn’t like United Airlines

I’ve always wondered what United Airlines did to deserve their treatment at Dulles Airport. I mean, really, you guys have the worst terminal in the airport. No, not sort of. They put you out in ghetto, trailer park, bus stations look better than this, terminal. I don’t know what you did (okay, I can imagine a few dozen things) but the travelers are really paying for your sins.

For anyone who has been to Dulles, there are actually two airports out there. The first, relatively nice, airport is the newly expanded A & B terminal. Getting there is a snap. Come out of the security gates and head towards the brand new tunnel. No shuttle buses for you – those are reserved for the low class section. A long set of escalators in each direction, and some moving walkways, and you emerge in to the Dulles equivalent of airport heaven.

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Media, The Daily Feed, Travel

Your personal information is cleared for takeoff

Photo courtesy of [phil h]

Commenter Mary pointed out a link to the Slashdot story on the CLEAR data breach over here, and I’d been pondering whether to mention it or not. It’s not really DC related, but we did just write about the program and its express lines at DCA and IAD.

As it turns out, however, there is a DC related angle I wanted to point out. Namely the WaPo coverage about this loss of the personal data of 33,000 customers of Verified Identity Pass… headlined as “Missing Laptop Keeps Firm From Registering New Fliers.” Run on the very last page of the business section.

It’s a wire story from Bloomberg, so WaPo can’t be faulted for the ho-hum reporting of VIP losing the data of over 15% of their customers, but who felt this was such a non-story that they’d bury it on the back page and give it such a misleading headline?

It’s funny – just last night over dinner I caught some flack for beating up on the Post and I said I really do like WaPo, it’s just that I expect better from them. This is a perfect example.

lost, courtesy of [phil h]

The Daily Feed, Travel

Clear-ed in 60 seconds…

In a previous post I talked about signing up for the Clear lanes at Dulles airport. After much waiting, my card came today – just in time for my flight to our annual conference. Being a total gear head, I wanted to try it immediately.

It’s hard not to love this service. Even after the sticker shock (yes, it is $128.00 per year), I now know it is worth it. On Friday during rush hour it took me – wait for it – all of 300 seconds to clear security. 5 minutes.  That’s right. Including biometrics, taking out the laptop, doing the X-Ray machine, everything. I was in a line of exactly two people. And then I was through. Continue reading

Talkin' Transit, The Daily Feed, Travel

Reagan Runway on the Move

WTOP is reporting that the main runway at DCA will be moved 300 feet south and made longer in order to keep planes from ending up in the drink and to comply with current FAA rules. That sounds simple enough, especially since they have until 2015 to complete the job. Yep, 7 years to move a runway 300 feet south. Clark Construction could build two or three stadiums in that amount of time.

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Talkin' Transit, The District, Travel

Going “Clear” at Dulles

Security lines suck. There is just no other way to describe it. Imagine any other location where you are dragging luggage behind you, trying to juggle papers, and then have to take your shoes off to get somewhere. If Metro started enforcing rules like that, there would be a riot in most of DC.

The biggest problem with TSA security is how long it takes. (I’m going to ignore the “gigantic” problems for now – I’ll hold my TSA ranting for later.) Arriving at an airport is a crap shoot – you could fly through security, or you could wait an hour for a single lane. And, as a frequent traveler, that drives me crazy. It’s a lot of time I could be using doing something useful – like blogging.

So, after seeing the Clear Lanes expand in to Dulles, and then working my way towards the $128.00 fee (most of which is paid by my company), I decided to take the plunge and find out how much faster this new system is.   Continue reading

Adventures, Fun & Games, Travel

Beyond the Beltway: Natural Bridge

Photo courtesy of tsmyther
Natural Bridge, courtesy of tsmyther

We’re starting a new series that we’ll post twice a month, looking at various locations, attractions and other fun spots to hit that exist within a half-day’s drive from the Beltway. It’s a way to give you ideas for some fun outside our little circle of asphalt here on the East Coast, without costing you any more than a tank (or less) of gas. Well, aside from tickets, food and the inevitable souvenir, that is.

I figured I’d kick off our first entry with a place that involved good ol’ George; you can never go wrong with our first President. So where in Virginia did George leave his mark early in his multi-faceted career?

Natural Bridge, Virginia. Continue reading