As a Vail resident, I’ll be the first to admit that aren’t a lot of bargains in town. However, day 204 of the Nowhere To Be Project opened up a whole new world for me and my family in terms of transportation. You see, Vail is 100 miles from Denver. It can take between two and three hours, depending on weather and traffic, to reach Denver International Airport from our home. Despite the fact that we are constant travelers, we rarely drive ourselves to and from the airport (for various reasons) and have been relying on Colorado Mountain Express (now Epic Mountain Express) for transportation to and from DIA for years. The prices we’ve paid for the popular shuttle service per passenger for a one way fare range from $55 to $120 plus tip. The service is owned and operated by Vail Resorts, so the high prices are to be expected. Nevertheless, it really adds up with frequent trips and multiple riders. Thankfully, we’ve discovered a brand new option!
Bustang is a bus service that runs several Eastbound and Westbound routes each day between Denver and the mountains. My husband was brave enough to give it a try for the first time today. His ticket was less than $20 and the travel time was just over two hours. After departing Vail at 7:05am, the bus stopped briefly along the way in Frisco, Idaho Falls and Lakewood before arriving at Denver’s Union Station. He then hopped on a direct train to the airport (35 minutes) for another $9.
My husband described the bathroom-equipped Bustang as clean and relatively comfortable. The WIFI was reliable and there was ample space to store bags, equipment and even bicycles. He felt that he had a lot more legroom (he’s over six feet tall) and privacy on this big bus as compared to the jam-packed eight to ten passenger vans that are most often used by Colorado Mountain Express.
I simply can’t wait to give Bustang a try! It is vastly more affordable than other transportation options in Vail and seems to provide a more comfortable experience. I also love the fact that tickets are quickly and easily purchased via the Bustang app and are not date-specific which means no expensive change fees! One drawback might be the fact that riders must haul their bags from a bus to a train before reaching the airport, but that seems very minor when the savings is factored in to the equation.
On Day 186 of the Nowhere To Be Project my husband and I attended the Wheels and Wings Festival in Eagle, Colorado. The festival was threefold: part car show, part air show and part live auction. It was held beside the runway at the regional Eagle Airport. My dad was a dragster turned car dealer, so I’ve been around cars (especially fast ones) all my life. And as the mom of an aerospace engineer, I’ve had my fair share of airplanes as well. With that history behind me, I would give the Wheels and Wings Festival a big thumbs up.
There were so many beautiful old cars, many of which won ribbons in the show. The variety of airplanes was not as rich, but the obvious effort toward aviation education was appreciated. I especially loved watching the local Civil Air Patrol commandeer their first flight as it reminded me of when my son’s chapter did the very same thing. The auction was very entertaining as well with many of the classic cars creating bidding wars among the spectators. I had my eye on a beautiful old Corvette, but the $100,000 price tag put it way out of my reach. The food trucks (one with vegan options) added the finishing touch on an already perfect afternoon.
I spent day 182 of the Nowhere To Be Project driving. Driving is a fabulous way to travel even when you’re not really traveling. It can be as simple as taking a new route to work or school to find a fresh new perspective. Road trips, more than any other mode of travel, offer catharsis. Roaming foreign roads is both hypnotic and healing as each twist and turn has the power to unveil something new. Some days I just drive aimlessly, inevitably ending up smack dab in the middle of nowhere. Nowhere is unlike any other destination. It soothes the soul. Nowhere rejuvenates the spirit. Nowhere is an ideal destination!
Day 175 of the Nowhere To Be Project was passed in airports as so many of my days are. Flying is generally the bane of my existence, but is a necessary evil for a constant traveler like me. Frequenting airports has turned me in to a haphazard critic of sorts. So what characteristics make for great airports?
1- Effective Signage: There is no worse feeling than being lost. This horrible feeling is intensified in the face of a time crunch delivered in the form of a delayed flight. Effective signage in an airport is crucial for eliminating these hassles. The signs should be well-placed and easily understood by passengers. Signs that use images are the best because they do not require an understanding of the local language! Another plus is achieved when walking times and wait times are posted.
2- Clean and Plentiful Restrooms: If I had a nickel for every time the smell of an airport bathroom has stuck with (and on) me, I’d be a very wealthy woman. Clean restrooms with an adequate number of stalls to accommodate the traffic flow make long travel days so much more bearable. It is even better if restrooms include designated areas to shower, change clothes and nurse children! Another bonus in an airport bathroom are strong door hooks so that bags and purses can be hung rather than placed on the floor.
3- Quiet Corners with Comfortable Seating: Frequent travelers know that layovers are inevitable. Long layovers require space to stretch out and rest. Some airports have started profiting from this and offer clean and quiet pods for rent by the hour. These can make all the difference in long haul trips as they are great for napping, cleaning up and charging devices. At the very least, airports should have designated areas with charging stations for resting.
4- Local Flair: Airports provide the first and last impressions of a place. I’m not interested in purchasing a latte from a chain coffee shop that I can get at home and in pretty much every other town in the world. I’d much rather enjoy a coffee that is unique to where I am at the moment. Same goes for food, wine, beer, books, magazines, fashion and so on. That’s why I appreciate airports that house local vendors. If you’re stuck in an airport anyway, why not use the time to delve into the local culture a bit? For example, right now I am sitting at a cowboy bar at Dallas’ Love Field listening to a local sing with his Texas twang as he plays acoustic tunes. How great is that?
Day 167 of the Nowhere To Be Project had me pondering the concept of travel loyalty. What I mean by this is loyalty to a particular hotel chain, airline, cruise company and so on. We were just on the Viking Sky for two weeks, having arrived home only two days ago. While on board we learned that 75% of the passengers were previous Viking guests. I found that to be an amazing number, so the company is surely doing something right.
I think that the high level of service Viking provides may be the key to their astronomical levels of customer loyalty. For example, by day two on our voyage every staff member we had encountered on the first day greeted us by name (cabin stewards, guest service, bar and restaurant staff, spa staff). I have no idea how they do it, but it really means a lot because you feel as if you truly matter.
Beyond the exceptional service that is provided by Viking Cruises, the incentives to return are appealing. Past guest discounts make booking future travel seem like a no brainer. The company also provides lucrative offers to encourage passengers to book future travel while still onboard. We took advantage of this when we booked an Elbe river cruise just days into the cruise. We were given a deep discount, free economy airfare, onboard credit (for the cruise we were on and for the future cruise), a reduced deposit and a penalty-free cancellation policy. We were already considering several river cruises and these offers made booking while onboard too good to pass up!
What does a company need to do to earn your travel loyalty?
Day 164 of the Nowhere To Be Project had us up and off the ship at 4:30am. As always, the Viking staff was so efficient with the transfer to the airport in Bergen, Norway (they need to give some pointers to the shore excursion crew, but more on that in a future post:). We flew on Norwegian Air for the first time (booked by Viking on our behalf). It is a bare bones airline and we had a several hour delay for our connection at London-Gatwick. The one positive thing I can say about Norwegian Air is that their seat-back entertainment system is great! We loved ordering drinks and snacks right from the screen! We’ve just landed after 20 hours of flying and cannot wait to climb into our bed. Sleep was exceptionally rare for us during our British Isles Explorer journey aboard the Viking Sky, so we have some major catching up to do tonight;). Many more details and photos to come over the next few days…
On Day 163 of the Nowhere To Be Project we arrived in Bergen, Norway. Norway is known for cold air and abundant rain and today was no different. Travel tip: pack a hooded raincoat when visiting Norway. I did not and was soaked to the bone by what the locals call “Norwegian Sunshine” (rain…over 80 inches each year)! Umbrellas are pretty useless here as the wind can get fierce.
Bergen itself is a busy port city filled with seafood, boats and tourists. The colorful wooden row houses are the signature of this former capital city. Travel tip two: bring a very fat wallet for a visit to Norway because prices are at least double what one might pay in the U.S. for the same item. A pint is $15 and an average glass of wine around $25. The ever-popular Norwegian sweaters range from $200 to $600. A casual dinner for two can easily cost several hundred dollars. We kept (most of) our money and enjoyed the free scenery instead, haha. It is very easy to whittle away the hours just watching the boats come and go and we did that very thing with great pleasure.
On Day 162 of the Nowhere To Be Project we were given the chance to explore Lerwick, a small port town in the Shetland Islands of Scotland. The town itself is very, very small. However, by venturing out into the countryside on an included Viking tour we were able to learn about and meet some of the famed Shetland Ponies. They live idyllic and long lives roaming the vast countryside. What they lack in size, they make up with in spirit…so lovable and affectionate (reminded me of my Golden Retriever). Many families in the Shetlands bring their ponies inside their homes in inclement weather and I can totally see why!
On Day 150 of the Nowhere To Be Project we arrived in London on a red-eye to board the Viking Sky. Despite the exhaustion, we’re thrilled to be back although the record heat hit us like a ton of bricks. Upon arrival at Heathrow, we were greeted by friendly Viking staff and transported via coach to Greenwich, an area that is completely new to us. Since our luggage hadn’t caught up with us yet, we hoofed it out immediately to explore Greenwich and stumbled upon the Greenwich Market, a mix of vendors hocking hand-crafted and vintage items. It was then that I found Ruby’s of London and my jet-lagged spirit lightened at the sight of their vegan cakes and cupcakes. I’m much too tired to say much more as we sit and sip at Greenwich Tavern, so I’ll just leave you with a look at my takeaway haul.
Day 149 of the Nowhere To Be Project was a “getting there” day. Living in the mountains is great except when it’s time to get to the airport. We rely on a shuttle service, Colorado Mountain Express, to transport us on the two-plus hour trek to the airport. Today’s shuttle was jam-packed and smelled of wet dog due to the fact that everyone (and their luggage) had gotten soaked on the first rainy day we’ve had in Vail this summer. The good news is we’re heading to London. The bad news is the rain is following us from Vail to Denver so we may end up with delays. Oh well, just an opportunity for an extended pre-flight happy hour, I guess!