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Originally published January 4, 2009 at 12:00 AM | Page modified January 4, 2009 at 9:03 AM

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Travel Wise

2008 travel trends went in right and wrong directions

Seattle Times travel writer Carol Pucci reports on some of the highs and lows of 2008 for travelers.

Seattle Times staff columnist

Predicting travel trends for 2009 feels more like throwing dice than gazing into a crystal ball, but here's a safe bet: When it comes to travel, those with time and money will find a getaway more affordable than anytime last year.

This may be the year for serendipity rather than careful planning. While it may once have made sense to lock in airfares and hotel rates in advance to avoid price increases, that may no longer be the best strategy given the economic times.

Stay tuned for more on the ups and downs of travel in 2009. In the meantime, here's a look at some of the highs and lows of 2008.

Global understanding

The Obama administration's promises to boost diplomacy and increased foreign aid should help the United States regain respect around the world. As always, we travelers have the opportunity to be cultural ambassadors.

Thumbs up: Rick Steves' trip to Iran. The Edmonds-based travel writer and public-television host knows how to generate publicity for his books and tour business, but I give him credit for using his clout to spread cultural understanding.

Iran isn't among the places where Steves leads tours, but he spent his own funds to film a travel show there last year, and he has been speaking and giving slide shows on Iran this fall to sold-out crowds. The show airs at 10 p.m. Jan. 20, on Seattle's KCTS-TV.

Thumbs down: Conservative columnist Michelle Malkin's use of her soapbox to further cultural misunderstanding. She ran up the hits on her Web site with howls about the black and white scarf Food Network star Rachael Ray wore in a commercial for Dunkin' Donuts. The company pulled the spot after Malkin compared the fashion accessory to a kaffiyeh, a scarf popularized by former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and, according to Malkin, "a regular adornment of Muslim terrorists."

Foreign visitors

We need them. Travelers from other countries spent nearly $100 billion last year as they took advantage of the weak dollar to vacation in the U.S.

Thumbs up: The U.S. government's decision to expand its list of visa-waiver countries to include the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, South Korea and Slovakia. These will be added to a list of countries including Italy, England, France, Germany and others where the U.S. does not require a visa, a move expected to bring in an extra 1 million new visitors annually.

Thumbs down: A new rule requiring visitors from visa-waiver countries to register online before they travel.


Registration will be free for a time, but the plan eventually is to charge a fee, part of which will be used to fund a U.S. promotion campaign overseas. Combined with the weakening economy, the extra hassle and expense could discourage travel to the U.S.

The dollar

The value of the U.S. dollar against other currencies has a lot to do with the costs of foreign travel.

Thumbs up: The global economic downturn and falling fuel prices have boosted the value of the U.S. dollar. Canada is affordable again, and Mexico is more of a bargain than ever.

Thumbs down: A new rule requiring U.S. citizens to have passports or a federally approved ID (special state-issued driver's license or Passport Card) to re-enter the U.S. from Canada or Mexico by car, ferry or cruise ship starting June 1.

The likely result: No spur-of-the-moment trips to Victoria or Vancouver, B.C., this summer for the relatives visiting from the Midwest.

Fuel costs

Oil has dropped to below $40 a barrel from $110 last summer, and gas prices are at a five-year low.

Thumbs up: Driving vacations are affordable again. A 340-mile round trip between Seattle and Portland in a car that gets 25 miles to the gallon costs $24 at today's gas prices vs. $61 last summer.

Thumbs down: Airline "fuel surcharges" that refuse to go away. Ditto for the airlines' new and still-rising fees for everything from checking bags to transporting a pet in the cabin or letting a child fly alone.

Our readers

A big thumbs-up to all of you for using"> to share your tips and advice with other travelers. Keep it up. Use the "comments" link at the end of online stories to share your ideas as we help one other find creative ways to keep traveling in 2009.

Carol Pucci's Travel Wise column runs monthly in NWTraveler and online at Contact her at 206-464-3701 or

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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About Travel Wise
Travel Wise is aimed at helping people travel smart, especially independent travelers seeking good value. Drawing on my own experiences and readers', I'll cover everything from the best resources to how to tap into the local culture. My column runs the last Sunday of each month. | 206-464-3701

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