Social Networking Takes to the Air

Southwest Airlines, 737-700
Whether you booked your Southwest Airlines trip on or used a local travel agent, you can share your thoughts on

Social networking just got more specific. This time, its frequent fliers getting their own way to swap information.

Unlike old-school frequent-flier message boards, is interactive. All members get a profile that shows users a bit about them – where’s they’ve flown, how they’ve liked it, their peeves about the airports they visit. You can search by route, by airline … and also by specific amenities like power plugs, wi-fi, roomy seats and even on-time performance.

And you can be part of the information overload: Whether you booked a Southwest Airlines tickets on or arranged your flight with a travel agent, you can share your observations with other travelers seeking the best seats and insider information about each airport.”

USA Today posted a review with a decent mix of praise and legit criticism for Put succinctly, you’ll be well-prepared for your next flight if you visit The most important knock is the lack of side-by-side comparison. I’ll cut the site’s crew some slack. Every website has to start somewhere, and shows a genuine interest in applying member feedback. I’d also add a more general browsing feature for members. Right now, it’s mostly confined to the handful featured on the home page. At it’s very heart, is a social network. So it needs to get more social!

Oh, and let’s not forget: The site offers an iPhone app. But not everyone uses an iPhone. My far-less-fragile Samsung runs on the Android operating system – so where’s my app?

The bottom line is that I think it’s a site with lots of fun potential. I love swapping stories with others who love flying and travel. could become a great forum to connect like-minded people. Part of that might be a bit more interaction via the blog. Call out some of the more interesting facts gleaned from traveler profiles – write posts about them and push them out through social media. This could add real voices and faces to the site. I’d like to see the site be willing to stir the pot a but … having a laugh at the most-scathing criticism in addition to applauding the praiseworthy. I look forward to seeing how RouteHappy evolves.

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Australia and New Zealand – Not the Same Continent

Resident of Australia – not New Zealand

To my friends in Australia and New Zealand,

If you felt a disturbance in The Force earlier, blame my co-worker. She said a few things about you that weren’t true. I was there, though, to step up for you both. To set the record straight. To make your antipodean world clearer and more real … one person at a time.

You see, I overheard two co-workers talking about skydiving. One of them was talking about going to San Diego to skydive.

Being the tireless travel advocate I am, I said “If you really want to get into some adventure, go to New Zealand. It’s the place where adventure sports are born.”

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Heavy Metal Hammerfest: Thoughts from a Spectator

In cyclocross, the bike sometimes gets a lift on your back. (Photo by Brandee Lepak)

I just went to my first cyclocross race. And after seeing it in-person, I have to agree with Dr. John’s assessment: “Words hardly do it justice.”

The race I saw was the first in the Heavy Metal Hammerfest series in Arizona … so maybe I should say “words hardly do it Justice for All”. It was the first chilly night in the Phoenix area, perhaps brought on by the sport’s roots in European winter cycling (I told organizer Brandee Lepak that she should try tricking the weather gods by holding the event in late September so we get some relief from the heat). Aside from that, here are some thoughts about the first-ever Heavy Metal Hammerfest race and cyclocross in general:

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Homebrewing with Brooklyn Brew Shop’s 1-Gallon Recipes

Homebrewing can take up some space, as you see in transferring a 5-gallon batch from the primary fermenter into the secondary.

I know, I know. This is a travel blog. I’m supposed to write about travel and adventurous stuff.

But homebrewing counts as an adventure. I’ve been into it for about seven years now. I’ve brewed everything from a delicious chocolate-coconut stout to a clone of Dogfish Head‘s Midas Touch that turned out … bad. Like “dead lobster floating in the fermenter” horrible. On the plus side, it was perfect for making seafood stews.

Anyway, I was just walking around at Whole Foods when I spotted a bagful of grain. It had the intriguing label “Maple Porter” on it. I’ve had a yen to make a maple stout, and I figured I’d pick up these grains to modify a 5-gallon batch of cream stout I have planned. I also noticed a book … The Brooklyn Brew Shop’s Beer Making Book. It had lots of cool-sounding recipes, so I said “yes, please!”

When I got home, I realized the bag of grains also had packets of yeast and hops in it. That is was a kit from The Brooklyn Brew Shop – the same people who did the book. And it was sized for a tiny one-gallon batch. Hmm, time for a deeper look.

I cracked the homebrewing book open and got the background. Turns out Brooklyn Brew Shop is the work of Stephen and Erica, a DIY-lovin’ couple. The New York Times has a nice account of their story. I like the friendly vibe of their book, which tells how – while low on space and money but high on flavor and adventurous spirit- they started brewing tiny batches.

Happiness is a bunch of big brew-it-yourself bottles.

I like ’em, I do. The people and the picobatches. I’m writing this the night after I brewed a batch (which I tweaked with some honey and toasted shredded coconut added to the boil). To frame this, I’ve lost count of the number of batches I’ve brewed, all have which have been partial mashes recipes. I modify every recipe with some sort of offbeat adjunct. So here’s my overview:

  • It’s a nice, compact way to get into homebrewing. Perfect for people worried about space. You can get their entire kit for $40 with a recipe, ingredients and some essential gear. I do believe you’ll need a brew kettle, though.
  • Homebrewing journeymen like me who have been reluctant to go all-grain will get a nice intro. For some reason, Brooklyn Brew Shop’s approach demystified the process. I’ve seen many other videos about all-grain brewing. But this … well, it made everything seem approachable.
  • The recipes are kick-ass. I have two hulking rosemary bushes in my yard. I pondered using them in a beer. Sure enough, the book has a nice recipe for me. There’s also a spruce beer recipe. The book is a Finnish sahti recipe away from being perfect. Hint, hint!
  • Tiny batches are cool. You can brew them as gifts for friends. Or to experiment with crazy flavors. Experienced brewers can lure buddies who have hemmed and hawed about homebrewing for years.
  • All-grain homebrewing produces a massive amount of spent grains. Think about making some spent-grain cookies – for humans or canines (dogs, to the layperson).

So the blow-off tube is venting CO2 like a fully automatic BB gun. A sign of a nice, active fermentation. I’ll post again after I have a  taste to test the carbonation. I’ll be sure to post again once the batch ages awhile.

Bottom line – Stephen and Erica have opened the hatch to invite more people into homebrewing. If you’re looking for a friendly entrance into the club but have been scared away by the bouncers of space and expense, Brooklyn Brew Shop has the answer.

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Hike Destinations: Landmannalaugar Versus Tongariro

hike destinations
Unearthly and unbelievable – a few miles away from Landmannalaugar in Iceland.

Bacon or chocolate? A pint of craft beer or a wedge of aged gouda? The family dog or cat?

Picking my favorite hike destination is just as hard. I can narrow it down to two:

The stretch of the Laugavegur trail (which the Best Muffin Blog calls the “oh wow” hike) that goes from Landmannalaugar to Hrafntinnusker in the remote highlands of Iceland. I once described the hike as a rip in the space-time continuum, especially in the perpetual gray of summer. The Technicolor mountains, volcanic fumaroles, lava plus and ash-dusted snow just adds to it.

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing. If I overhear any so-called “traveler” blather about how everything worth seeing in New Zealand is in the South Island, I stop listening. Tongariro is why. From a barren, blasted volcanic hellscape to verdant rain forests, you’ll see some incredible stuff. Oh, and my ratings are for those who take the side trip up Mount Ngauruhoe. It’s just an incredible hike destination.

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My First SCUBA Dive Experience (Guest Post)

first SCUBA dive
Want to learn how to SCUBA dive? Thailand might be your place. Photo credit.

SCUBA diving is an amazing sport and trying to explain the underwater experience to someone that has never dived before is hard – if not impossible.

My first SCUBA dive was in Koh Samui, Thailand. And from start to finish, the experience was amazing. I’ll do my best to explain to you what happened during my first dive. I hope it encourages you to get your mask and fins together and book a SCUBA vacation.

Koh Samui

Koh Samui is a beautiful island in the Gulf of Thailand that is perfect for beginners. There are dozens of dive schools on the island offering Professional Association of Dive Instructors and SSI courses to guide you in your first SCUBA dive. And you won’t struggle to find a school that can teach you to dive in your native language. I learnt to dive with a friend of mine who was working as an instructor on the island at the time. I was paired up with a Thai girl who was also undergoing her first dive experience. After studying the theory and taking part in an enclosed water session, we headed from Koh Samui to Koh Tao for our first open-water SCUBA dive.

first SCUBA dive
Who wouldn’t want to see a whale shark? Photo credit.

The Fear Sets In

Most of the dive companies in Koh Samui take their students to the nearby island of Koh Tao for their first SCUBA dive. This is because the visibility is much better, as are the reefs and the range of marine life. It took us about 40 minutes to get to Koh Tao; as my dive buddy and I got closer to the dive site, the nerves started to set in. Neither of us were willing to jump from the boat into the water. Both of us hung around until we were the last people on the boat. After another five minutes or so of deliberating, my dive buddy and I eased into the water to see how we felt. After all, we could always return to the boat if we didn’t enjoy the experience.


The dive site that we visited was called Aow Leuk. It lies in the middle of the protected marine park of Ko Tao, and it’s just eight to ten metres at its deepest point. Along with my instructor and dive buddy, I descended and practiced some of the skills we had learned on the bottom of the ocean floor. Once we had the OK from our instructor, it was time to swim to the nearby reefs and explore the site a little bit more.

Within minutes, neither myself nor my dive buddy felt an ounce of fear. Our first SCUBA dive experience was absolutely amazing.

It is really hard to describe just how awe-inspiring SCUBA diving is … the underwater world is just so unique. Shoals of fish swim past you whilst eels poke their heads out of small cracks in the rock. The more you look around, the more you see – blue spotted rays, clown fish and even turtles. Unfortunately we did not encounter any of the whale sharks that often swim in these waters

By the time we had returned to the boat, my dive buddy and I could not wait to re-enter the water for our second dive. Since then, we have been the best of friends. My dive buddy has just completed her PADI rescue course and I completed my Instructor course 3 years ago – both of us were hit by the SCUBA dive bug. If you ever get the chance, you will completely see why.

This guest post was written by Rutger Thole, a member of the team. Find out more about him and get great diving tips and ideas at his Google Plus profile. 

If you’re thinking about visiting Thailand to scuba dive, check out the guide to plan your trip.