Escapes: Travel is messy. Don’t worry. Just be ready

The lines are shorter for the tram up to Victoria Peak, a favorite vantage point for photographing Hong Kong. Tourists are staying away amid protests.
The lines are shorter for the tram up to Victoria Peak, a favorite vantage point for photographing Hong Kong. Tourists are staying away amid protests.
(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

Hong Kong. LAX-it. The news this week is that travel is fun except when it’s not.

My name is Catharine Hamm, and I’m the travel editor for the Los Angeles Times. And it’s all fun and games until someone has to wait two hours for a car they hailed with an app.

But be of good cheer: We do have things that will lighten your heart (Fare sale to Hawaii! Free national parks admission! A margarita trail in Santa Fe, N.M.!) and maybe your load (Gear that simplifies your life!). All this and an End paper that asks the musical question, “Is it better to be safe than sorry?” Let’s plunge ahead.

Anger and an oasis

Kavita Daswani, who grew up in Hong Kong but has been in Los Angeles for a couple of decades, recently returned with her children to visit her parents. “I’ve never witnessed anything quite like this,” she said of the unrest. Her surprise is mostly at “how long the protests have been going on” and “how angry Hong Kong people have become.”


The other surprise? “Just how insulated a lot of Hong Kong is from the protests,” she said — “how they haven’t really impacted daily life other than MTR station or road closures.” Read her tale of how life goes on in a troubled land.

Deliver us from LAX-it

The new ride-hailing pickup site at LAX hasn’t exactly been a rip-roaring success since its Oct. 29 debut. Besides the confusion of trying to communicate change — your driver no longer picks you up on the upper deck of the airport but in an area called LAX-it (pronounced “L.A. exit”) just east of Terminal 1 — there was the actual change, which meant increased wait times.

Before you get off the plane, read Christopher Reynolds’ primer on how to work the new system and Laura J. Nelson’s update on improvements. And for good measure, check out Steve Lopez’s column on whether we’re just a little spoiled.

Don’t let these deals pass you by

In honor of Veterans Day, admission to national parks, forests and more will be free on Monday. If you’re headed to Yosemite, Joshua Tree or Death Valley, that will save you $30 a car, Mary Forgione writes.

And if you’re headed to Hawaii, Alaska Airlines, facing new competition from Southwest, will discount your fares until Friday based on the height of the waves. Get a 30-foot swell, get a 30% discount, Forgione writes. The waves were 11 to 15 feet the day I checked, and a basic economy fare from LAX to Honolulu was priced at $302 round trip.

The sun rises over Oahu's Hanauma Bay near Honolulu.
The sun rises over Oahu’s Hanauma Bay near Honolulu, where a round-trip fare might set you back as little as $302.
(Caleb Jones / Associated Press )

Updating our national parks?

You left your lipstick at home, and now you’re at a national park. No prob. In the future, you may be able to order it through Amazon and have it delivered to your campsite. That’s one of the proposals that’s seeking to help parks serve a younger generation, Louis Sahagun writes. Among the others: Wi-Fi, food trucks and, most perplexingly, blacking out senior discounts at the holidays.

New Mexico’s Margaritaville

What’s better than Santa Fe, N.M.? Santa Fe’s margarita trail and the Railyard District, a hip new mixture of galleries, pubs and more, Irene Lechowitzy writes. Her weekend escape to New Mexico’s cultural capital also included a splurge night at a hotel casita.

It’s not a tax, Los Cabos says

Before you hit the beach in Los Cabos (Medano Beach is a hub of daytime activities) you may be asked to contribute to a sustainability fund.
Before you hit the beach in Los Cabos (Medano Beach is a hub of daytime activities) you may be asked to contribute to a sustainability fund.
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

Really. That $18 you’ll be asked for starting Saturday when you land at the airport in Baja? It’s a donation. Nobody’s making you do anything. The money goes to the Fund for a Sustainable Baja California Sur, Christopher Reynolds reports, which supports sports, housing, education and a host of other programs.

E-help for the traveler

You get disoriented and lose stuff. You forget to take meds. The Wi-Fi is unreliable and you need to get some work done, and you’ve taken so many photos that your laptop can’t handle the load. Enter electronic gadgets that can help you cope with all these dilemmas on the road, Judi Dash writes.

Another reason not to drive

Rented a car recently and been surprised by the bill? Christopher Reynolds explains what’s going on (hint: taxes and sneaky fees) in an On the Spot column that might help you prepare for (and even prevent) sticker shock.


The Rockies as you’ve never seen them

Trains are so old-fashioned, what 20-something would ever want to ride one? And yet two friends boarded the California Zephyr in Denver and quickly discovered why it’s so much better than driving. Rachel Schnalzer writes about this perspective-changing trip.

Hikers can reach Hanging Lake using the Hanging Lake Trail in Colorado's White River National Forest. A California Zephyr trip can take you there.
(Rachel Schnalzer / Los Angeles Times)

Luggage apps come with baggage

The reports of mishandled baggage, which sounds so much nicer than “you lost my suitcase,” have declined over the years, thanks to bag fees that have encouraged carry-ons and more digital tracking, often available via app. But the results some apps give may not be entirely accurate, L.A. Times business writer Hugo Martin explains, and the fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars. Human beings are a big part of the problem.

What we’re reading

Speaking of Shakespeare, dear Brutus, doesn’t a town named for the Bard almost promise to be a class act?

Promise made, promise broken. This one-time mining town in New Mexico was breathing its last when Col. William G. Boyle swooped in to buy it in 1879. He called it Shakespeare, Atlas Obscura reports, hoping the name was the magical incantation it needed to revive itself. Instead, it attracted an assortment of outlaws and slowly went the way of all things. You can still tour it (nearest town is Lordsburg about three miles away; Las Cruces is about 120 miles) and learn about its rowdy history.

Here’s a warning: Do not read Caroline Morse Teel’s “7 Gorgeous Open-Air Hotel Rooms You Have to See to Believe” while you are still abed. It was a major deterrent to my rising and shining when I came across it on SmarterTravel. Gorgeous “I-just-want-to-be-there-right-now” photos made me want to hunker back down and dream of these glorious digs.


Hard to believe that the Royal Hawaiian was once more than just a hotel, but over at, Jennifer Billock rounds up several noteworthy accommodations that have provided shelter and, sometimes, medical care for members of the military, including one in Southern California.

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End paper

Of all the cutoff blue jeans in all the towns in all the world, that scorpion crawled into mine. And it wasn’t happy about it, apparently, because when I slipped them back on, it began stinging me in places I’d rather not discuss.

Who would have thought a trip to visit one’s sister in San Antonio would be anything more than an extended, hilarious sleepover? Certainly not my mom, who sent me there to keep me out of trouble one high school summer. My sister, by that time happily married with two adorable young kids, wasn’t making a living as a pole dancer (not that there’s anything wrong with that), and my brother-in-law wasn’t holding up liquor stores for a living (there is something wrong with that), so it seemed pretty safe.


Scorpion stings usually don’t kill you, Mayo Clinic reports. You may not even need medical care, but erring on the side of caution, my sister, who had lived in Texas for about a nanosecond, took me to the ER, where I was treated for the sting but not the humiliation of having a cute young intern examine me.

Obviously, this story doesn’t end badly, so the point is that most of the stuff you worry about — stuff you thought might kill you — obviously didn’t or you wouldn’t be reading this. There’s a difference between fear (death is at my door) and being prepared. Always remember to shake out your clothes, and for God’s sake, don’t throw them on the floor.

Life is so random you may be tempted to say you’re not going to Hong Kong or any other place because it’s not safe.

“I reckon it’s still safe to travel, though — even if you’ve never been before,” Daswani, the L.A. transplant who recently returned from Hong Kong, wrote in an email to me after I asked her about concerns. “Visitors from the U.S. can be assured that they are not being targeted and that there is still so much to see and do there. You could spend a few days or a week there and not see or be impacted by [any] of it.”

Be prepared. Study up. Read the State Department’s advisory pages. Avoid trouble. You should be fine unless a scorpion crawls into your cutoffs.

Wherever you are, travel safely and well and shake out your clothes, and we’ll always be here to welcome you home.

Avoid surprises by shaking out your clothes in scorpion country.
(Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times)