The Brancatelli File By Joe Brancatelli
True Tales for the Slow Travel Season
November 28, 1994 -- Little known fact: Now that we've cleared Thanksgiving, we've entered one of the slowest travel periods of the year. Until mid-December, when the Christmas rush begins, the travel industry is hurting for customers. In other words, you're probably not traveling now. So let me bring you up to date with what's happening on the road.

Shame on the Department of Transportation for playing politics with airline safety. When it announced in September that it was banning the airlines of nine nations from flying to the United States, Secretary of Transportation Federico Pena claimed the "interest of travelers must come first." But the nations Pena penalized--Belize, Dominican Republic, Gambia, Ghana, Honduras, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Zaire--were politically safe targets, not safety risks. Some of those countries didn't even have airlines that flew to the United States. And what of nations such as Russia and China, and even Korea and Taiwan, where aviation safety is truly an issue and U.S. citizens may actually be at risk? Not a peep from the bureaucrats at the Transportation Department. After all, why risk the political turmoil of tangling with China or Korea when you can beat up on Ghana or Uruguay.

A trade organization called the American Bed & Breakfast Association recently released a list of the 16 winners of its "top rating awards." The problem with this purported winner's list is twofold. First, even though the AB&BA itself says there are 10,000 bed & breakfasts in North America, the winners were chosen from a pool of just 450 properties, all of which paid for AB&BA membership. Second, most of the winners were not even B&Bs, but such pricey inns as Blantyre in Massachusetts and Richmond Hill Inn in North Carolina. This sort of foolishness, and the lack of any real quality standards, is why I generally avoid staying at B&Bs. In fact, my personal rule of the road is never book a place with fewer than ten guest rooms. Sure, it's an arbitrary decision. But I figure that anyone with ten rooms for rent is in the business of providing hospitality and isn't a cash-strapped homeowner hoping to turn a quick buck off an empty bedroom or two.

It is much safer to drive with your headlights turned on during daylight hours, according to results of a seven-month traveler study conducted by Avis, the car rental firm. Cars operating without headlights during the test sustained damage that was 69 percent more severe than autos that were using headlights. Use of headlights in daylight has been required in Canada since 1990.

AT&T has an ingenious new message-delivery service called True Messages. If you dial 800-878-3123, you can record a telephone message, then schedule the message for automatic delivery to anyone you choose at the time of your choice. The service costs $1.75 per message, and it is a good way to keep in touch with friends and family when you can't call personally due to time zone differences.

A technique called layering is the best strategy for keeping warm, dry and comfortable in winter weather. But effective layering requires you to choose clothing made from the proper materials for each layer. And don't forget to select garments that are light in weight, wrinkle resistant and easy to remove when it's time to shed a layer.

Clothing at the first layer nearest to your body should trap warm air close to your skin and wick perspiration away. Garments made from natural fibers such as silk, cotton and wool are not efficient at the first layer. Camisoles, underwear and turtlenecks made from polyester or other high-tech synthetics are the perfect choice.

The second, or insulating, layer of clothing should help prevent heat from escaping your body. Down vests and wool sweaters are excellent insulating layers, but only if the weather is dry. If conditions are cold and wet, rely on second-layer garments made from synthetic fabrics.

Your choice for the outer layer often depends on the demands of fashion. Regardless of whether it is an overcoat, trench coat, jacket or poncho, however, make sure is breathable and waterproof. Garments made from synthetic fabrics are often the best choice. Be sure the seams are sealed with protective tape to stop the penetration of rain and wind. Remember that the outer layer must be large enough to accommodate the layers underneath.

Your hands and feet are the first to feel the cold because they are farthest from the muscles that generate body heat. If you layer your body effectively, however, fingers and toes will stay warmer and will not usually require more than a single layer of cover. Experts say your head and neck lose heat most quickly, so always keep them covered. A neck gaiter--a doughnut-like scarf--is especially effective. Hats should have earflaps or a lower band that covers the ears.

Putting on the ritz will be cheaper in Spain next year. Effective January 1, the value-added tax on the country's best hotels will tumble to 6 percent from its present 15 percent. ... There's good news and bad news from Down Under. The good news: The once-onerous visa application form has been simplified and travelers no longer need to submit photographs. The bad news: the departure tax will rise to about US$20 on January 1. ... Rail Europe (800-942-4866) now accepts reservations for the Eurostar train that links London and Paris via the Chunnel under the English Channel. ... Visa cardholders have until December 31 to accrue Visa Rewards credits valid for discounts on American Airlines Fly AAway travel packages, Carnival or Holland America cruises, and Marriott hotels. Cardholders receive travel credits each time they use a Visa card to make a purchase. ... China Airlines of Taiwan has banned its pilots and flight crews from playing mahjong while traveling. The airline says the restriction is a safety measure.

This column originally appeared in Travel Holiday magazine.

This column is Copyright İ 1994-2017 by Joe Brancatelli. is Copyright İ 2017 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved. All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property and responsibility of Joe Brancatelli. This material may not be reproduced in any form without his express written permission.