Category Archives: Travel 2.0

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Sustainable Tourism: Bus Travel in Latin America

You haven’t truly experienced Latin America until you’ve spent the better part of fours crammed onto a school bus next to a man who seems to be explaining the finer aspects of the two chickens on his lap. It helps if he is speaking in a language that you have never even heard of and if, according to his friend who speaks only a bit of English, he thinks you are fat.

For the sustainable traveler, public transportation is the way to go. The benefits are abundant. By using public transportation we can help protect the environment, support the local economy, and better understand the places we are visiting. Of course, traveling around Latin America is not without its challenges. Given the lack of train service, taking the bus is about your only option. The roads are often poorly maintained, traffic laws are treated more like friendly advice and driving schools seem to specialize in stunt driving. It is a safe bet that the local drivers are more familiar with the roads than you are, so if you are going to do any distance travel, the bus is a safer option.

Broadly speaking, there are two types of buses, local or city buses and long distance carriers. The local buses are a personal favorite. The buses might not be as well maintained as in western cities, but most of the people on the bus are people going to and from work, doing their shopping and visiting friends. City buses offer an opportunity to do something that is authentic and local.

In some more developed countries, such as Argentina or Brazil – the buses are some of the finest in the Americas. They come complete with movies, food, toilets and comfortable seating. On the other hand, you could easily find yourself on a “chicken bus” – often an old school bus that services many of the poorer communities in this part of the world.

It is hard to quantify the exact environmental benefits of taking a bus in Latin America versus taking a taxi or renting a car. Each bus is likely to have very different fuel efficiencies and emissions. While emission standards are not readily at hand, there can be little doubt that bus travel is better for the planet. Given the number of people on any given bus, it seems obvious that, mile for mile, bus travel produces significantly less pollution and uses less fossil fuel driving a car.

Of course, helping the local economy is another sustainable benefit of getting around by bus. Most bus companies are owned either by local governments or local businesses. On the other hand, most car rental businesses are multinational. While you might be spending less on the bus, that money goes to help generate jobs and support local finances.

Finally, taking the bus is fun. We travel to see the world from different perspectives and ultimately expand our own. The guy with two chickens who thought I was fat – that was almost ten years ago. During that trip to Guatemala I visited Mayan ruins, got to take part in a traditional Mayan ceremony, and even won a chili eating contest. Of all the memories – there was something special about learning about chickens from a man who didn’t speak any English or Spanish on a bus rumbling its way up the to the Guatemalan highlands.

The Googlemobile: Mapping the World, One Tricycle At a Time

Sure, Batman may have his Batmobile, but how will he know where he’s going? Luckily there’s a another superpower emerging, saving the world one high-tech map at a time: Google.

The Google Trike. (PC World)

The Google Trike. (PC World)

Google’s employees roll geek-chic on a customized tricycle, equipped with up to nine cameras, a generator, a keypad to control the cameras, and various other Google gear to help create the street maps for its Google Maps™ mapping service. (Don’t worry, they wear chunky white helmets to protect their cerebral genius.)

The pedal-powered machine allows Google to reach and map out secluded paths, cobblestoned streets, and other places inaccessible by car. For privacy protection the trike’s cameras detect, then automatically blur, all license plates and faces.

The multiple cameras snap tons of high-definition pictures, used to construct the 360-degree virtual tour maps made famous by Google.

The Googlemobile is currently pedaling around France, hitting up hotspots like Chateau de Versailles and Jardin du Luxembourg. It’s set to map Paris on Aug. 20. The tricycle already tackled Britain and Italy earlier this summer, and Google plans to expand its navigational empire to other European nations as well.

Back on the mainland, Google has already been using its pedicabs to map out college campuses throughout the United States – known for their scenic, yet often convoluted, paths and trails. Although older generations are skeptical, college students have embraced the high-tech trike, and parents of prospective students enjoy taking a “virtual tour” of campuses they may otherwise be unable to visit.

I’m looking forward to the day Google cycles south to South America. Can you imagine?  Pedaling along the Inca Trail to the majestic Machu Picchu, sweating through the arrid Atacama Desert in Chile’s Norte Grande, or circling Ecuador’s Avenue of the Volcanoes…the posibilities are endless (and a three-wheeled cartographer’s dream)!

Rachel Anderson is a staff writer/editor for VIVA Travel Guides.

Posting Your Travel Plans? Be Careful What You Tweet For

The social media bug is spreading faster than swine…but could it invite intruders? How much is too much when it comes to sharing information?

That’s what one Arizona couple is wondering. After “tweeting” (on Twitter) some time-sensitive details of their trip to Kansas, Israel Hyman and his wife Noell — the married owners of the social media savvy IzzyVideo — came home to a robbed nest.  According to AP, the only valuables taken were video equipment, leading Hyman to suspect his tweets tipped off the burglars.

Most people use Facebook, Myspace, Twitter, etc. to interact and socialize with friends.  They narrow the web from world-wide to friend-focused, thus forgetting that circle can not only be penetrated, but capitalized on.  People broadcast their plans and ponderings daily — even hourly. Indeed, social networking sites are a wonderful vehicle for self-expression, and at their height can catapult innovations, ideas, campaigns and causes. However, when any of us click that mouse, we inevitably leave a trail, and we forget someone might be searching for cheese — our cheese. Although everyone’s safety should be cared for, business-owners and those of higher social status/money should be particularly cautious, for their posts may turn prey.

Although you can’t prevent everything (and everyone) on the web, there are ways to help control which spiders crawl to yours. Restricting profile access is one of the simplest — and most effective– ways to protect yourself. If you plan to rant and rave while roaming the globe, it might be smart to increase your privacy setting during that time. What do you think? While wandering the world, how do you stay social media savvy AND safe?

Rachel Anderson is a staff writer/editor for VIVA Travel Guides.