Lisa Singh

Lisa Singh is an Interactive Producer at TravelChannel.com. Her multimedia career has spanned print and online publications. One of her first stories involved following a convicted felon into the Mexican desert in search of gold; she’s been hooked on travel (and gold) ever since. While Lisa has spent time in the Middle East and Southeast Asia, her big love is all things America, especially road trips. Her favorite places include Montana, where she’s gone horseback riding, and San Diego, where she placed in a tandem-surfing competition.

Posts by Lisa Singh

Start your moon gazing. Sept. 19 marks this year’s Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival, which commemorates the end of summer … and the advent of a new season, similar to the American Thanksgiving. According to Chinese tradition, this annual harvest celebration occurs on the 15th day of the eighth month, on Chinese calendars, typically in September or early October, around the autumnal equinox.

That timing spells a good reason to hit up NYC’s diverse neighborhoods: In NYC’s Chinatown, you’ll want to try to the sweet tasty mooncakes, which have been flying off pastry-store shelves over the past few days in anticipation of the holiday. The round cakes are a symbol of the full moon and good fortune. And who wouldn’t want to eat to that?

On the West Coast, LA Chinatown will host its 75th annual Mid-Autumn Moon Festival on Saturday, Sept. 21. The festival, which will take place in Chinatown’s Central and West Plaza, will include hands-on cultural workshops and cultural performances, as well as a busy Asian night market.

Can’t make it to LA or NYC? Check out these other top things to do in September to round out the month. One way or another, look out your window tonight: There’s bound to be a bad moon rising.

With Hispanic Heritage Month now underway, mark the month-long commemoration with a weekend trip. Hundreds of national park sites and cities nationwide, from Florida’s Ybor City to California’s Santa Barbara Mission, highlight the rich cultural heritage and contributions of Latino-Americans with roots in Spain, the Caribbean, Mexico and Central and South Americas. Here are some of our top picks for Latino-American heritage sites worth exploring in both the continental US and its territories.

1. San Juan, Puerto Rico
Go sightseeing in San Juan and explore colonial-era forts like Castillo San Cristóbal, powder houses, bastions and even an old city wall. Only 12 national park areas in the United States (and its territories) have been named World Heritage Sites; this is one of them. Dating back to the Spanish Colonial era, San Juan was one of the key frontiers of Spanish conquistadors due to its prime location at the western edge of the Caribbean.

2. Santa Barbara Mission, California
See the “Queen of All Missions” in Santa Barbara, CA. In the late 1700s, Spanish Franciscans founded the Santa Barbara Mission, the tenth of 21 missions to be founded by the order. Today, the mission continues to be an active church. Take a tour of the grounds, including the mission’s historic cemetery, which serves as the final resting place for Native Americans and early settlers of Alta California, as well as the historic garden, which contains plants representative of the Mission era (1769 to 1836), including olives, grapes and citrus trees.

3. San Antonio, Texas
Texas’ most-visited city is imbued with Hispanic heritage, having been founded by a group of Spanish explorers and missionaries in 1691. Some of San Antonio’s top attractions speak to its Hispanic and Latino heritage — see Historic Market, the largest Mexican shopping center in the city, and Mission Concepcion, founded in 1716 by Franciscan friars (and the best-preserved of the Texas missions). Plus, enjoy these other fun things to do in San Antonio, and chow down at the best San Antonio River Walk restaurants before checking into any of these San Antonio River Walk hotels.

4. Castillo de San Marcos (St. Augustine, Florida)
Constructed by the Spanish between 1672 and 1695, Castillo de San Marcos is the oldest masonry fort in the continental US — complete with plenty of ghost tales. Located on the shores of Matanzas Bay in St. Augustine, FL, the fort’s dark history includes inquisitions, massacres, starvation and one twisted love triangle, in short a great lockdown investigation for the Ghost Adventures team. Learn all about Castillo de San Marcos’ history, as well as the unsettled spirits at the old St. Augustine fort.

5. Ybor City, Florida
Known as Tampa’s Latin Quarter, this historic neighborhood northeast of downtown had to make our list. Founded in the 1880s by cigar manufacturers and their thousands of immigrant workers predominantly from Spain, Cuba and Italy, Ybor City still holds tight to its cigar-making roots. Take a trip to Tampa to get a history lesson in cigar making — plus, sink your teeth into a Cuban sandwich at local favorites like La Tropicana.

6. El Morro National Monument
Head to New Mexico to see El Morro National Monument. In the 1500s, Spanish conquistadors discovered this shaded oasis in the western desert; today, see graffiti left behind by previous visitors — signatures, names, dates and (sometimes embellished) stories of their travels on the great sandstone promontory.

For more places to visit nationwide, check out this list of American Latino Heritage sites.

The next time you fly a regional carrier — and chances are good you will given that half of US domestic flights are operated by regionals — chew on this stat: A first-year regional airline pilot makes $18,000 to $20,000 before taxes.

Yes, that’s right: When it comes to regional airlines (these are the connection subcontractors who fly on behalf of the major airline carriers), the pilot manning your flight, as it climbs tens of thousands of feet into the air, earns about as much as someone flipping burgers at McDonald’s.

Ready for more? A fourth and fifth-year regional pilot makes $25,000 to $28,000, also before taxes. Now swallow this: The best of the regional pilots are quickly being snatched up by the major carriers, such as Delta and United, as they begin hiring new pilots for the first time in several years.

That spells one very big issue for travelers: a looming pilot shortage ahead.

Start Road Trippin’?

“The seriousness of the possible pilot shortage cannot be underestimated,” says Henry Harteveldt, a San Francisco-based travel industry analyst. “The pilot shortage won’t happen tomorrow, but it will happen sooner than many realize.”

How soon? Some say it’s already started.

Beyond the major domestic carriers, the competition for pilot talent is coming from abroad, too, as this plush offer from a Shanghai-based carrier shows.

“Foreign carriers are already paying huge premiums to US/FAA-certified pilots, further drying up the domestic pilot pool,” says Bob Mann, an airline industry analyst in Port Washington, NY. “Absent recognition of the problem, the pilot market will only become tighter, and airline service more unreliable,” says Mann.

Others are more optimistic. “One way or another, I figure carriers will figure out a way to find the pilots they need long before there’s a reliability issue,” says Patrick Smith, the airline pilot-turned-blogger of AskThePilot.com and author of the new book, Cockpit Confidential: Everything You Need to Know About Air Travel.

Rising costs, though, may be harder to ignore.

“A lack of pilots means fewer flights — smaller cities will be disproportionately affected,” says industry analyst Harteveldt. “Fewer pilots also means fewer flights, period — flying may become less convenient and more expensive, since the supply of seats may decline.” (And for us at the Travel Channel, that’s about as good a reason as any to start thinking of more Road Trip ideas.)

Cockpit Confidential

How did we get here?

Blame the graying of America (including its pilots), as well as a shortage of younger pilots being recruited from military ranks, which are facing their own dwindling numbers. Then there’s the lousy pay.

“An aspiring aviator has to ask: ‘Is it worth sinking $50,000 or more into one’s primary training?’” says Patrick Smith of AskThePilot.com.

Factor in the FAA’s new requirements, says Smith, which call for new pilots to log a minimum 1,500 flight hours before training with an airline.

“The time it will take to build the requisite number of flight hours to apply for a job, plus, the cost of a college education, only to spend years toiling at poverty-level wages, with at best a marginal shot at moving on to a major [carrier],” says Smith, spell, in his mind, one very big conclusion: This isn’t exactly a safe career path.

Fewer Pilots, Where Now?

No one’s faulting the FAA’s new ruling.

“Airlines can’t compromise on training; it’s essential that we maintain our high standards of safety,” says analyst Harteveldt.

But adjustments on the part of carriers will need to be made, adds Mann. “The new 1,500-hour requirement … will require significant upward adjustments to starting salaries, and generally, to regional pilot compensation.”

More compensation may spell higher ticket prices. But that may be the price consumers pay to ensure greater pilot numbers in the regional ranks.

Fifty years ago, Martin Luther King Jr. put the finishing touches on a speech in his hotel room before walking across the National Mall to deliver those words before a crowd of more than 250,000 people. On Wednesday, President Obama will be among the leaders gathered to commemorate the 50th anniversary of that late August day in 1963, when Dr. King shared his vision of equality for all Americans.

To mark the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, events have been unfolding across Washington, DC, over the past week. Slated for Wednesday, Aug. 28, a “Let Freedom Ring” Commemoration and Call to Action will take place at the Lincoln Memorial, with featured speakers including President Obama joined by former presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter. Get the full list of events at MLKDream50.com. Due to the large crowds anticipated for the event, stay current on DC Metro details.

When you make your way to the Lincoln Memorial, think about its own dedication: Hard to imagine now, but when the Lincoln Memorial was completed in 1922, the dedication ceremony called for African Americans in attendance to sit in a segregated section. It wasn’t until 1939, when an African-American contralto, Marian Anderson, sang on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, after having been turned down at nearby Constitution Hall by the Daughters of the American Revolution, that the memorial came to symbolize much more than the reunification of North and South. Then in 1963, Dr. King sealed its new standing as a place to come to reflect on the meaning of equality and freedom for all Americans.

Nearby, see the memorial that stands in dedication to Dr. King himself. More than 20 years in the making, the memorial’s construction effort was led by Dr. King’s fraternity brothers at Boston University. Located on the western rim of the Tidal Basin, Dr. King stands resolutely, arms crossed, looking out to the Jefferson Memorial just beyond — a symbolic statement since one man wrote the words “All men are created equal,” while the other fought to make sure those words were realized for all.

The MLK Memorial itself is based on a line from Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech: “Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope.” While there, make sure to take a good look at the walls on either side of the sculpture. As you read the various quotations from Dr. King’s speeches etched on those walls, see if you can figure out the 2 most commonly used words. Chances are we still need to make good on them.

American-US Airways merger

Grounded: American-US Airways merger (Photo: Getty)

Lower competition and increased ticket costs. That’s the charge being leveled by antitrust officials about the proposed US Airways-American Airlines merger. On Tuesday, the Justice Department, 6 state attorneys general and the District of Columbia filed the suit in DC.

“By challenging this merger, the Department of Justice is saying that the American people deserve better,” said Attorney General Eric Holder in a statement. “This transaction would result in consumers paying the price — in higher airfares, higher fees and fewer choices.”

The lawsuit puts on hold what would have become the world’s largest commercial air carrier — and the DOJ action surprised the bejesus out of the airline industry.

“We Will Fight Them”
“We and our counterparts at US Airways have been working with the DOJ staff for months to ensure that they had an informed view of the merger,” says American CEO Tom Horton, in a memo yesterday to employees. “We have maintained that the merger is complementary (only 12 overlapping routes), that it provides significant customer benefits and that it enhances competition in the airline industry.”

US Airways chairman Doug Parker was even more direct. “We are extremely disappointed in this action and believe the DOJ is wrong in its assessment … we will fight them.”

Costs to You
Whatever the outcome of DOJ’s suit, the larger issue remains: The current business model for domestic airlines is seeing the industry bleed red ink. Increasing jet fuel costs and the investment needed to modernize an aging fleet are the big industry expenses that won’t go away anytime soon. (Learn how to save big on airfare.)

Whether this merger goes through or not, we may all expect to see higher ticket costs in the years to come. Stay tuned.

Sharks, sharks and more sharks. No creature of the sea does more to intrigue … or terrify. With sharks top of mind over the coming week, we thought we’d let you in on the top places to see sharks nationwide.

If you’re looking for a close encounter, but not too close, you’ll want to head to some of America’s top aquariums. Some great bets include the Tennessee Aquarium, where you’ll see this fierce-looking shark, and the Newport Aquarium, where you can see sharks circling above your head.

Of course, not all shark encounters are welcome (unless you’re LandLopers blogger Matt Long, check out his blog and amazing whale shots here). So when you next hit the beach, be prepared – for helpful hints on how to stay safe when swimming near shark-infested waters, check out our Travel 911 web series episode, Shark Attacks.

 

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Photo: Castle Park

We love amusement parks as much as the next person. But sometimes a good day of fun can go horribly wrong, as we learned with last Friday’s tragic event at Six Flags Over Texas. This isn’t the time to turn alarmist — but it is time to brush up on amusement park safety tips, say industry experts.

First, keep things in perspective. A whole lot of people, well into the millions, take amusement park rides every year nationwide. And the number of serious injuries is minimal.

Chances of Injury Are Small

“Regardless of where we are on the spectrum, there’s always more we can do [in terms of amusement park safety],” says Dr. Gary Smith, who directs the Center for Injury Research and Policy at the Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, OH.

It’s true, says Smith, there’s a global issue ahead to face — mainly, the current patchwork of oversight on amusement park safety, with differing standards by state and localities, and no umbrella government agency to oversee it all. Still, adds Smith, “The chances of a serious injury are small and that’s something parents can take comfort in.”

Know Before You Go

Already, states such as Ohio and Pennsylvania — home to a large number of amusement parks — have issued reminders to adventure seekers on how to enjoy rides responsibly. (Late June was Amusement Park Ride Safety Week in Pennsylvania, in fact.)

Check out tips from Pennsylvania authorities on amusement park ride safety here, and from the Ohio Department of Agriculture here. The main takeaway: Stay informed. Know before you go, it’s the best way for you and your family to have fun.
 
Top Ride Safety Tips

Ken Martin, an independent inspector and amusement park safety consultant with KRM Consulting in Richmond, VA, offers a great roundup of ride safety tips for parents. Also keep in mind the following:

    • Pay attention to the sizing device located by many rides and attractions — it’s put there for your safety. “Yes, trying to sit in one of these seats to see if you fit the ride may be a little embarrassing,” says Martin, “however, a little embarrassment may be better than the alternative.”
    • Do you take any medication? Consult your physician before you think of trying a ride, says Martin. “Pay attention to ride rules and patron warnings,” he says. “Should you take medication for medical conditions, it’s best to consult your physician before riding any amusement ride or attraction – as a precaution you want to make sure you have [medical information] on your person or have someone in your party who knows your medical history.”
    • Take note of your surroundings. “If you see behavior or something you don’t like, bring it to someone’s attention with the amusement park,” says Martin. “All employees should be wearing a uniform and a name tag. They are there to help and serve you.”
    • Avoid heavy foods or sugary beverages as much as possible. “Stay hydrated by drinking lots of water,” says Martin. “Also, lines to some attractions can be very long. Take a restroom break before you get in line.”
    • Trust your gut. As a parent, don’t just go by minimum height and age requirements — ask yourself if your child is developmentally ready for a ride, says Smith of Nationwide Children’s Hospital.

Finally, be sure the ride fits you and your child. “Restraint systems should fit as close to your body as possible, but not tight enough to hurt,” says Martin. “Then sit back and enjoy the thrill — remember we are taking you to the edge and bringing you back safety, if all the rules are followed.”

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Chincoteague Pony Swim

Photo: Getty Images

Come early and bring your patience. That’s the word on the 88th annual Chincoteague Pony Swim. Every July, on the last Wednesday of the month, the small island of Chincoteague sees its population of 3,500 people swell to more than 40,000, as visitors from all over the country — and as far away as Canada and Europe — flock to the island off Virginia’s coast, to witness an event of epic pony proportions: more than 120 wild ponies swimming across the Assateague Channel, between Chincoteague and Assateague islands.

The actual swim takes all of 5 to 10 minutes. And it’s worth every minute of waiting to see the oldest continuous wild pony roundup east of the Colorado River.

“This is an event of historical proportions,” says Denise Bowden, spokesperson for the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company, which owns the ponies, often called the Chincoteague herd, on the Virginia side of Assateague Island.

Historical … or historic … one thing’s clear: This is the biggest event on Chincoteague Island’s annual calendar.

Chincoteague Island’s fire department has held the event nearly every year since 1924, culminating in the Salt Water Cowboys — about 145 cowboys from Virginia and neighboring states including Maryland and North Carolina — rounding up the feral fellas and females for a parade down Main Street, to the carnival grounds, where an auction of the ponies takes place Thursday morning. (Some ponies are bought under “buy back” terms; the bidder donates the money to the fire department and allows the pony to be released back onto Assateague Island.)

Now the patience part: Chincoteague Island will be packed. And while the pony swim will be held sometime between 10 a.m. and 12 p.m., crowds will start gathering well in advance. “Come early,” says Bowden. It’s not uncommon, she adds, for visitors to gather at the heart of the action — the Pony Swim Lane and Memorial Park — as early as 5 or 6 a.m.

The long wait time — plus the actual event’s start time, dependent on inclement weather conditions — spells greater exposure to the elements — lots of sun, maybe rain. “Make yourself as comfortable as possible,” says Bowden. Bring your sunscreen, hat and umbrella. Plus, a pair of old tennis shoes (no flip-flops or high-heels) — you’ll need them while standing in the marshy, muddy field. But the pay-off will be something to behold: Just beyond a fence, a herd of wild ponies — only 20 to 30 feet away.

For parking, Bowden advises heading to Chincoteague High School’s parking lot: A shuttle on the grounds takes visitors to the Pony Swim Lane. Find shuttle information here.

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US Open of Surfing (Photo: Getty Images)

The countdown begins to the largest surfing event on the planet. On Saturday, July 20, the US Open of Surfing kicks off in the morning, with rounds 1 and 2 of the Junior Men’s championship. If you’re one of the thousands of surfing fans en route to the event or are already stretching out on the sands of Huntington Beach, check out highlights of the 9-day surfing competition, which runs through July 28.

In all, this year’s event is slated to see more than 20 ASP World Championship Tour (WCT) surfers compete against the best new surfing talent from around the globe at Huntington Beach Pier. Beyond surf, skateboarding is also in store. This year’s event sees the debut of the Van Doren Invitational, an invite-only skateboarding event set to attract pro and amateur riders.

Another big draw will be music. Billed as one of America’s largest free concert stages of the summer, this year’s musical lineup includes indie rocker Modest Mouse, the dance-punk band The Faint and alternative pop artist Twin Shadow.

Can’t make it to the Vans US Open of Surfing? Check out the live webcast.

And if you’re looking for more places to ride out the heat wave, check out the world’s best surf destinations. Plus, explore the world’s best stand-up paddleboarding spots, extreme beach adventures and some pretty cool extreme adventure sports – all sure to provide great summer memories.

Yellowstone’s busiest season is now in full swing, and if you’re among the thousands of travelers who plan to visit America’s first national park this July, first thing’s first: Bring a jacket. Yes, really, a jacket — in July. You’ll be grateful you did when winds up to 15 mph nip at your face and temperatures drop into the 40s at night. You may even see snow. (Keep current on Yellowstone’s weather here.)

Hard to believe, as scorching temperatures cripple other regions of the west, but Yellowstone is one place you do not want to explore without a jacket this month. I found out first-hand on a visit to the national park just a few weeks ago. From a chilly morning rain to a late-evening snowstorm, I experienced Yellowstone’s dramatic temperature drops all within the span of a few hours.

Once you’ve brought a coat (and a good pair of boots and sunscreen, too), you’ll be well on your way to exploring the park — here’s a taste of Yellowstone’s beauty in summer.

Roosevelt Arch: An elk rests by Yellowstone’s famous Roosevelt Arch — Teddy Roosevelt himself laid the cornerstone of the arch, located at the park’s north entrance. “For the benefit and enjoyment of the people,” reads its inscription. (All Photos: Lisa Singh) 

Grand Canyon of Yellowstone: Geysers … bears … but just why is Yellowstone called “Yellowstone”? The park’s abundant yellow-colored rhyolite lavas provide the answer. You’ll see these rich colors at Yellowstone’s massive gorge, roughly 20 miles long.

Yellowstone Norris Geyser Basin: Remember your jacket? These smart folks certainly did as they make their way down a walkway to view some of Yellowstone’s breathtaking geysers. Did you know Yellowstone is home to the largest concentration geysers in the world?

Rocky Mountain Fauna: It’s not just bears or American bison you may see at Yellowstone. Look up! This mountain goat, with some winter fur still left to shed, may be peering down at you from a mountain cliff. Just beware of Yellowstone’s deadly bears.

Fishing in Yellowstone: Don’t forget to get in some fishing. Pick up a Yellowstone fishing permit, and enjoy angling and fly-fishing in this massive 2 million-plus-acre wonderland, home to 13 native fish species … and plenty of trout.


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