Escapes: The sun sets on a year of beauty and bumbling

Hatchling turtle release in Todos Santos, Mexico. They're off to a new adventure.
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

If you spent New Year’s Eve singing “Auld Lang Syne,” you can thank Guy Lombardo.

At least, that’s what Mental Floss tells us in a brief history of the song that rings in the new year. Lombardo, a legendary bandleader, struck up the orchestra for a rendition of the song (which either was or wasn’t written by Robert Burns) just after midnight in 1929 (or was it 1930 by then?). People have been crying and morose ever since.

I’m neither. What I am is the travel editor for the Los Angeles Times, which will be back in print Sunday after a two-week vacation. But we still have plenty for you to peruse, because the section may have been on vacation, but we have not.

Of course, we have to reflect on the year that’s just passed. Staff writer Christopher Reynolds writes about his best and worst travel experiences, and I’m writing about my dumbest mistakes. One of these articles is pretty, and one of them is mine.


We also tell you about an eagle count you can join in Canada, offer advice for the traveler with a disability who is preyed upon in the air, and a good news story about a state bird that is no longer endangered. And in cutting-edge news, what to look forward to in Las Vegas in 2020.

Here’s to moving ahead and embracing whatever unfolds.

Did someone say Irish chocolate?

Christopher Reynolds did. And he also said New Orleans and Doreen Ketchens; Baja California; Busan, South Korea; sea lions, octopus and adorable little sea turtles. Read the Los Angeles Times Travel staffer’s warm remembrance of travels past and maybe keep a pen and paper handy to jot down ideas for your 2020 travels.

What kind of fool am I?

The kind who writes about the mistakes she has made for all the world to see, including accidentally sleeping with someone. In my On the Spot column, I detail the errors of a supposed pro who clearly is no travel superhero and sometimes is super stupid, even going against her own advice.

On eagle’s wings

You can participate in a bald eagle count and concerts, lectures, art shows and more in a month-long festival (although the count is this weekend) in Brackendale, Canada, James Bartlett writes. One especially intriguing way to see the eagles: an “eagle float” raft trip. Sounds chilly but fun.

You can count eagles or merely try to spy them while enjoying a month-long festival in Brackendale, Canada.
(Matt Shetzer)

Don’t even think about being polite

Sexual assaults on an airplane are increasingly being reported, Yomi Wrong writes. If you have a disability, fighting off an attacker or even signaling danger may be more difficult. She offers ideas on what to do to ensure your safety in her All Systems Go column.

Hooray for the nene

Not so long ago, Hawaii had only 100 nene, the native goose that is the official bird of Hawaii. Now that number is 3,000, Jay Jones reports, and tells where you’re more likely to see a bird that has been classified as “endangered.” It’s now classified as “threatened,” and although the problem isn’t solved, it’s better. There is no “nene map” for where to see them, but the park service does say where they may be spotted.

A nene in flight over hardened lava at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
(Janice Wei / National Park Service)

2020 vision for Vegas

The Raiders are coming and so is Viva Vision. You’ll pay a flat rate for a taxi to and from the airport, and you’ll find a new place to sing your heart out. Then there’s Meow Wolf, which its founder calls “an immersive, alternative reality,” which pretty much describes Las Vegas, doesn’t it? Find out what else is ahead in Jay Jones’ report from Las Vegas for the coming year.

What we’re reading

Facial recognition is coming, if it’s not already here. Seattle has put the brakes on, but not Los Angeles International Airport, Christopher Reynolds reported. Writing for USA Today, Curtis Tate explains why the problems in the algorithms matter so much when it comes to this technology, which has potential implications beyond airport security.

If you’re honoring Noah Webster with a statue, the last thing you want is a spelling error. But that’s what happened in a West Hartford, Conn., tribute to the father of the dictionary. A mural created for its display misspelled the word “cemetery,” using an “a” instead of the last “e.” Townspeople said it was no wonder Webster looked so stern. That’s but one of the mistakes written about in “The Definitive Guide to the World’s Hidden Blunders,” by Kerry Wolfe, the associate Places editor for Atlas Obscura.

How often do you describe a hotel as thrilling? Nothing illicit in this hotel (at least, nothing we know of or are encouraging), but the Mystery Hotel in Budapest, Hungary, certainly sounds that way. The hotel is rapidly becoming an Instagram star, partly because of its architecture and history (it was once the Symbolic Grand Lodge of Hungarian Freemasons), Tamara Hardingham-Gill writes for CNN. (Webster’s defines a Freemason as a “member of an international fraternal order dating from the 18th century and retaining architectural symbolism and various secret rituals.”) It’s certainly no secret that its architecture and decor are spectacular.

Part of the Secret Garden Day Spa at the Mystery Hotel Budapest, Hungary.
(Mystery Hotel Budapest)

What are you reading?

The L.A. Times, we hope. It’s a bargain too. Make 2020 the year you do something for yourself, and that’s subscribing to the only info source that’s produced just for you.

We hope you like what we’re doing, digitally, in print and in this newsletter. If you don’t, let us know. Mail makes us happy. Write to

If one of your resolutions is to declutter your life, there’s no easier way than to bundle your travel news (or any news) into one place. That’s where our newsletters come in. They don’t cost a penny, and they are one way to cater to your own tastes.

End paper

I keep learning this lesson over and over, and maybe this time it will stick. And I’m not talking about avoiding the travel disasters I create for myself.

Guests were coming for dinner on a recent Sunday evening, and I wasn’t exactly on top of things, but I had the whole afternoon. Then the phone rang, and someone who sounded a lot like my sister said, “I know you told me to do this weeks ago, but my Global Entry is about to expire, and I can’t figure out this website.”

Oh no. This could not be my sister. She wouldn’t do that just before a dinner party. But yes, that’s who it was. I groaned silently.

The Global Entry renewal process is easier than the initial application — the website has changed — but I still had some trouble in December 2018 when I renewed mine and have heard from others who have had similar problems.

It wasn’t as though I could run right over and help her. I’m here and she’s in Virginia. But with a combination of FaceTime (so I could see what she was doing) and some encouragement, she got through the process and submitted the application after an hour and a half.

I yelled into the phone: “S-U-C-C-E-S-S! That’s the way we spell ‘success’! Yay, team!”

Typically modest, she said, “I couldn’t have done this without you.”

Yes, she could have. She didn’t believe it, but she is as smart as any two people I know. Plus she did all the work.

It’s as one of my former bosses used to tell me: Don’t show the way; lead the way. Everybody wins. The reluctant person gets a confidence boost from having accomplished something, and you provided the encouragement that kept that person on track.

That’s a good formula for most of life and especially travel. When we all stretch, we all benefit.

May 2020 be our most limber year ever.

Remember, help when asked and travel safely and well, and we’ll be here to welcome you home.