Welcome to "Travels With the Diva", a newsletter for women who love to travel!

In this issue, we'll talk about the cost of travel. With high fuel costs and surcharges on just about everything, how can we afford to travel anymore? I hope you'll find that you can still afford to travel, and that it's still worth the cost!

I'll also tell you a little bit about TripDiva Travel, and give you a chance to participate in the website by adding your travel stories or trip reviews.

Travel News and Updates

Airlines get a "D" in Customer Service - is anyone surprised?

The American Consumer Service Index released the results of it's latest poll on May 20, and of 16 service industries surveyed, airlines scored the lowest. Airline satisfaction was lower than consumer satisfaction for utilities, and given how long you have to wait to get a phone line repaired, that's not good!

Continental and US Air had the lowest scores for airlines, while Southwest was rated best by consumers.

Hotels, on the other hand, fared pretty well. The survey also noted "the strong impact of quality and the relatively weak effect of price on satisfaction" - so high-priced hotels aren't necessarily more customer-oritented than the budget chains.

You can read Rick Seaney's take on all of this (with a link to the actual report) at rickseany.com.

The latest announcement by American that they will start charging $15 for the first bag checked isn't going to help. Many airlines have begun charging $25 for a second checked bag, but charging for the first bag, too, is going to really add to the cost of travel. If you're checking 2 bags each way on American, that's an additional $80 for your airfare - and that's assuming you don't incur another $25 fee for going over 50 lbs.!

More people will be carrying their bags onboard, so expect more delays getting on and off the plane, and resulting delays in takeoffs as things get backed up.

Farecast has a new look!

Many of you are familiar with Farecast, but if you're not, you should look into it.

Farecast.com is a website that allows you to search several travel suppliers for the cheapest airfare (kind of like Kayak.com) - but it also has a feature that predicts if the price is likely to go up or down, so you can decide whether to book now or wait!

Travelocity and Yapta have somewhat similar services, in that they will notify you as the price changes. But telling you the price just went up isn't much help if you haven't booked your ticket yet - and telling you is just went down after you've booked is even worse!

An algorithm that can predict the direction of the cost lets you know beforehand if the cost is likely to go up, or down. It's not a guarantee, of course, but it's a great tool for researching your trip.

Not all cities (or combinations of cities) are available, but you can put in a request for the cities you're traveling to/from. It has primarily U.S. cities, and come in Canada.

Where Can You Go "Cheap"?

Using Your Tax Rebate for Your Trip

If you've gotten your $600 tax rebate, use that to pay for a vacation!

Granted, $600 per person isn't going to get you a week in Paris. But you can still have fun! Think local (or relatively local, anyway):

Even with the high cost of gas, it's generally cheaper to drive than to fly to a destination within about 400 miles.

I live in Milwaukee, WI. Within 400 miles, I could visit:

- Chicago

- Minneapolis

- St. Louis

- Indianapolis

- Louisville

- Anywhere in Wisconsin

- Almost anywhere in Indiana, Illinois, Minnesota, or Michigan

There are tons of things to do in Chicago - theater (Wicked!), shopping, museums, the lakefront, great restaurants - you could easily spend a long weekend there for under $600.

Minneapolis has many of the same features, except the lake. But it has a great, "city-but-not-too-urban" feel.

Louisville has Churchill Downs! I went to Louisville and Lexington for a long weekend a couple of years ago, and had a great time. There are tours of Churchill Downs, and the racing season there is open until July. Beautiful countryside, and great local crafts.

I haven't been to St. Louis or Indianapolis - I'll have to add them to my list!

There are great lake resorts throughout the midwest. $600 per person should get you at least a 4 day weekend.

And there are charming towns to visit - Galena, Illinois (historic homes, garden tours, a winery, and B&B's) or Spring Green, Wisconsin (home of the American Player's Theater, specializing in Shakespeare) come to mind.

Or, stay at home and "be a tourist in your hometown". How often do you take advantage of what your hometown has to offer? Book a room downtown (so you're not spending your vacation doing the dishes!) and pretend you've never been there before.

Here in Milwaukee, the Hilton Hotel has an indoor water park - I'd probably stay there.

In a couple of weeks, I could go to the Bead and Button Show - I'm not a beader, but this is one of the largest bead shows in the country, and I love visiting! It's fascinating, and the beads and beaded pieces are truly works of art.

They have kits with instructions and supplies for those of us who have no idea what we're doing, beads and supplies for the more experienced beader, and even glass rods and torches for those who make their own glass beads. The marketplace is open June 6 - 8, but there are classes held in the days before that. If I were taking my vacation at home, I'd take a class - I've been meaning to do that for several years.

Then, there's the Milwaukee Art Museum with it's "wings" that open and close during the day,

or the Milwaukee Public Museum (a natural history museum that is one of the better museums in the country).

Like many cities, Milwaukee has been improving the downtown area, and the area along the river (Riverwalk) has restaurants, bars, hotels, and the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts. There are several other small theaters downtown, too.

And the Milwaukee Brewer's stadium, Miller Park, is not far. Come to see the roof open (we have a thing about things that open and close) and watch the racing sausages - it's a good time even if you're not a baseball fan.

I could have a great time for 3 - 4 days without leaving town!

OK, so I've focused this newsletter on Milwaukee. But think about your hometown, or the places near where you live. If you want to get away for a few days but Paris is out of the question, there's bound to be someplace to relax, explore, or shop and see a show near you!

Write a Review or Tell us Your Story and get a T-shirt!

Have a great travel story, or know of a good restaurant somewhere that you want to tell everyone about?

Send it to us using our page.

You can tell us about a great experience, funny story, fascinating destination, or whatever you want to share.

Tell us about your last trip - where did you go, what did you do, what was great about it, what would you avoid next time?

If your story or review is published, we'll send you a TripDiva T-shirt or mug with the Hula Girl logo.

This doesn't have to be professional quality writing - just share your experiences! We want to hear them!

Until next time - Happy Travels!

About TripDiva Travel

TripDiva Travel is a home-based travel agency, associated with Dugan's Travels (a nation-wide group of over 500 agents). TripDiva specializes in great vacations for women (hence the website domain, www.great-womens-vacations.com).

Some of the vacations we talk about are for women only; most are not (so if you see something you would like to explore with your husband or significant other, you can do that, too).

But women's vacations tend to be a bit different than most couples or family vacations. They're a bit "smaller" in scale, allowing for interaction and connections with your fellow travelers and companions. It can be hard to get to know people on a large cruise ship; there are just so many of them! On a small ship cruise, there are no more than 200 people on board and you can make many new friends, or have a nice conversation with your travel companions without shouting over the crowds!

The vacations we look for are focused on experiences, not destinations (although there are a lot of great destinations, too). Would you like to learn to paint or speak Italian, join a cooking class or just learn to enjoy fine wine, take a tour that lets you get close and interact with the locals instead of just passing by an historical site while riding a bus? Those are great women's vacations.

At www.great-womens-vacations.com (or www.tripdivatravel.com - it will get you to the same place), we try to give you the tools to find great vacation experiences and contact information to book your trip. We will be adding a booking engine (via Travelocity), so you can book air and hotels, if needed; or you can simply contact us and we'll help you arrange your trip.


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