Heated sleighs, bag-tracking apps, Burmese visas and ninja-themed bus tours: Steve Vickers gets you up to speed with the latest travel news.
An iBeacon in your bag
You know that thing at the airport where you’re waiting to get your bag off the luggage belt, and the whole thing is surrounded by so many other people that no one can actually see whether their bag has arrived or not? Well, there’s an app for that.
Making use of Apple’s iBeacon technology, Travel Radar lets you accurately track the location of your bag as it approaches the luggage belt. A small beacon placed inside the bag sends updates to your iPhone in real time, which means you can relax until it’s on its way, instead of hanging around the carousel.
Of course, this is a completely over-the-top solution to a fairly simple problem. But it’s interesting in that so far, a lot of the buzz about iBeacon technology has been about its ability to help airlines and airports earn more cash: by sending adverts straight to passengers’ phones, for example, or alerting them to special offers as they walk past the duty-free shop. This app, at least, seems focused on improving things for those of us who fly.
Myanmar visas getting easier
As the number of people visiting Myanmar (Burma) increases, so does the risk of lengthy hold ups at the embassy. However, getting hold of a tourist visa for the country could soon be a whole lot easier. Ministers are hoping to launch an online visa application service later this year and, according to The Irrawaddy, it could up and running as early as September. Until then, wannabe visitors (from most countries, at least) should make a beeline for their nearest Burmese embassy.
Keep warm beneath the lights
Taking a trip to see the Northern Lights is high up on many a travel wish list. And as more people journey north, tour companies are bending over backwards to keep their customers happy. It’s already possible to see the lights from the comfort of a heated glass igloo in Finland, from the deck of a cruise ship in northern Norway, or from a steaming geothermal pool in northwest Iceland.
Later this year, British tour company The Aurora Zone is planning to take things one step further, giving sky gazers the chance to see the Northern Lights from a heated sleigh, pulled across a Finnish lake by snowmobile. The idea is that tourists can be driven around in search of the best views, without getting cold in the process.
Luxurious, definitely. But isn’t the Arctic supposed to be chilly?
Bullet train or ninja bus?
This year, Japan’s most famous mode of transport – the bullet train – is fifty years old. Riding the Shinkansen is still a must for many first-time visitors, but these days there are far more unusual ways to see the country.
In August, Japan’s biggest tour operator will launch a whacky, ninja- and samurai-themed bus tour around Tokyo’s Asakusa district, using costumed actors, rap music, sightseeing and commentary to tell the story of the region’s past. And from now until the end of September, Japanese train operator Ōigawa Railway is sending a full-size, steam-powered Thomas the Tank Engine on trips through the tea plantations of Shizouka Prefecture. Tickets for the train rides, which are backed up by an exhibition about "Kikansha Thomas", as he’s known in Japan, are already sold out. But don’t fret: you can have a similar experience – minus the tea plantations – in the UK.
Hop on the plane, hop off the plane
UK-based airline FlyBe has come up with a new way to make domestic flights seem more appealing. In October, the airline will launch a new “hop on, hop off” shuttle service connecting Jersey in the Channel Islands with Aberdeen in Scotland, stopping along the way at Southampton and Leeds Bradford Airport along the way.
The idea is that passengers will be able to stay on the same plane while it lands and takes off, without needing to disembark each time. While one plane departs Jersey, another heading in the opposite direction will be leaving Aberdeen. There is one snag, though: anyone travelling from Jersey to the mainland will need to pass through customs at Southampton, even if they are headed for a destination further north. At the time of writing, the cheapest one-way tickets for the service, which begins on October 26 and makes use of the company’s 78-seater turboprop planes, were £39.99.
I spent the past few days driving around Zagori – a wild, mountainous area of the Greek mainland that’s home to brown bears, pretty stone-built villages and impossibly blue streams. This video takes you on a journey into this special part of the country, a world away from the busy beach resorts: