Category Archives: Travel

When Flying, Sometimes One-Way is the Best Way

Last March, when I decided to visit Bali, round-trip fares to the Indonesian island cost more than $3,000. But I only wanted to go one way, and because I was flexible about when I could leave, I was able to book a one-way ticket for $600 instead. I haven’t looked back since. After a month in Bali, I flew one-way to Singapore, then to Athens, and I’ll soon go to Istanbul, all for about half of what it would have cost me to fly to Bali and back home.

Not everyone can fly to Bali for an indefinite stay, but even travelers who want to take a shorter trip can make the most of one-way fares to create a customized itinerary that offers both savings and flexibility. Now traveling through Europe, I book only one-way tickets, even though I’ll eventually end up back in Washington, where I started.

And I’m not the only one. Once, flying one-way was mostly associated with long-term backpackers who spend months or even years wandering the planet. But now, more and more travelers are realizing the value of casting off the shackles of a round-trip ticket and the change fees, set dates and other restrictions that come with it.

In 2011, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, one-third of all airline travelers didn’t fly a traditional round trip, a steady increase from 19 percent in 2002. Their non-round-trip tickets included one-way fares, such as mine to Bali, and multiple stops, for business travelers visiting several clients or for families visiting several sets of relatives. They also included round-trip tickets that were booked in one-way increments.

It seems that the days of flying directly from one place to another and back again on the same airline may be dwindling.

But don’t assume that the price of a one-way ticket would be half that of one with a return. It may seem logical, but that’s not always the case. Whether a flight is point to point or includes a layover, airline pricing seems to have its own logic.

Adam Bruk found that out firsthand when booking a flight from his home town of Greenwood, Ind., to Boston. “We were booking last minute and noticed that flights in and out of Logan [International Airport] were very expensive,” he says. Using an aggregator to figure out exactly how the costs broke down, Bruk noticed that the return trip was significantly less expensive than the flight to Boston. So he expanded his search to include different airports and airlines, and booked an outgoing flight on Delta Air Lines to a nearby airport and the return trip from Boston on American Airlines. “Ultimately, we saved a couple hundred dollars compared to booking a round-trip ticket in and out of Boston Logan on either American or Delta,” he says.

Aja Stallworth, a leisure travel consultant in San Diego, says that for long-haul or transatlantic flights, the large international carriers often have the best rates. But for smaller regional flights, she recommends that her clients fly on budget carriers. “Budget airlines provide a lot of value in regards to in-flight amenities,” she says. “They’re also less likely to have hidden fees, such as for checking your bag. I’d say they’re more of a value airline than a budget one.”

Many of the so-called budget carriers, such as Frontier Airlines, allow booking only in one-way increments and encourage customers to book directly on the company’s Web site for the best rates and service. Stallworth says that’s a wise move. “Unless an aggregator like Travelocity or Kayak offers significant savings, booking directly with your airline or travel agents offers a level of accountability should you have any issues while you’re traveling.”

Matt Kepnes, who runs the award-winning travel Web site Nomadic Matt, says that finding the best fare on one-way trips is all about research. “I’ll check every aggregator in the world,” he says on a call from Japan, “and then go directly to the airlines to see if they can match or beat the lowest one.” Kepnes also recommends checking the airlines’ international sites to see whether the fare is cheaper in a weaker currency.

Competition may be a wonderful thing for cost-conscious travelers in the United States, but in many areas of the world, there are only one or two regional carriers. In such cases, says Lance Huntley, an actor and director from San Francisco, one-way tickets are the best way of making the trip more bearable. “In developing parts of the world, not all airlines are treated equally,” he says. “Sometimes it makes sense to take a one-way hopper flight on a bad airline to a destination with a better hub, where you can pick up a better airline, and fly to your final destination.” Now planning a trip to the Balkans, Huntley has booked a series of one-way flights to get around the region.

Randi Sumner, an association executive in Highland Park, N.J., knows all about booking a series of one-way flights to create a nontraditional trip. She’ll frequently schedule a family holiday to coincide with business travel. Such trips often require three or more flights, each of which she’ll book separately. “My business meeting is usually a set date, so I’ll book in advance to secure that portion of my flight,” she says. “But when I meet up with my family to drive home, or fly to another region first, I like to have the flexibility of booking the rest of the trip later, even if it’s last minute. A round-trip ticket would lock me in too much to plans I haven’t made yet.”

Restricted fares may cost less, but if you’re not entirely sure of your plans, booking a fare in advance can cost more in the long run than changing a single one-way ticket of a multi-stop journey or booking a last-minute ticket once your plans are set.

Change fees can add up quickly. In 2011, Delta charged a staggering $587,800 in cancellation and flight fees, the most of any airline. American came in second at more than $373,000. By booking in one-way increments only after her plans are set, Sumner says, she avoids cancellation and change fees. Seattle-based Alaska Airlines, which has ranked highest in J.D. Power’s customer satisfaction survey for the past four years, says that the industry is changing to welcome one-way travelers. “It used to be that airlines required a round-trip purchase on airfares, but that’s not the case anymore,” says Marianne Lindsey, a representative for the airline. “Passengers can get great one-way fares on Alaska Airlines to just about everywhere we fly.”

To read the entire story, go to Washington Post

The Cost to Get to the Top: Price for Tokyo Skytree View

The Tokyo Skytree, the world’s tallest communications tower, opened Tuesday. Twice the height of the Eiffel Tower, it stands 2,080 feet tall (only Dubai’s Burj Khalifa is taller at 2,716 feet) with observation decks that offer amazing views of the densely packed Japanese capital.

So how much does that view cost? Visitors going to the Tembo Deck at 1,148 feet above the city pay $31.25 for adults and $25 for children 12 to 17 from now until July 10 (and you have to buy tickets in advance and online with a credit card issued in Japan, according to Skytree website). Starting July 11, same-day ticket prices drop to $25 for adults and $18 for children.

But if you want to continue to the Tembo Gallery, the observation deck with a glassed-in sky walk at 1,476 feet, it will cost you an additional $12 for adults and $10 for children.

To read the entire story by Mary Forgione, go to LA Times

The Latest Tourist Attraction: Poverty

Making your summer vacay plans? You must include the latest tourist attraction – poverty.

Check out this story from CNN:

New Delhi – On a recent trip home to India, I heard a German man on my flight remark to another passenger that he’d taken his son on a tour of a Kolkata slum.

I believe the man was well-intentioned — he wanted his child, accustomed to a comfortable existence, to get a firsthand look at how millions of poor people live.

Later, I discovered that slum tours in India are often organized and can cost quite a bit of money. Reality Tours and Travel takes tourists on slum and sightseeing tours in Mumbai. For almost $200, you get to see Dharavi, Asia’s largest slum, and the red light district of Kamathipura, as well as other more traditional tourist areas.

Reality Tours founders say the tours were set up “primarily to show the positive side of the slums and break down negative stereotypes about its people and residents” who occupy cramped huts in unending stretches of squalor.

That seems like a noble cause, but then I got to thinking about how it might feel to be a slum-dweller coming face to face with a wealthy visitor gawking at me as though I were an animal in a zoo.

Therein lies the debate over such tours.

Kennedy Odede, the executive director of Shining Hope for Communities, a social services organization in Kenya, decried poverty tours of Nairobi’s largest slum, Kibera. He wrote in The New York Times that the tours do nothing to alleviate the problem.

“Slum tourism turns poverty into entertainment, something that can be momentarily experienced and then escaped from,” he said. “People think they’ve really ‘seen’ something — and then go back to their lives and leave me, my family and my community right where we were before.”

I decided to see for myself. When I was in New Delhi over the winter, I signed up for a walking tour in Paharganj, a neighborhood near the train station that I had always known as seedy. I’d rushed through it once before in my life, when I had to spend a night after a train was delayed.

It’s not unlike the many neighborhoods in Kolkata I know so well. The smell of turmeric and green chiles mixing with that of garbage and urine. It’s a hodgepodge of activity. Women cooking. Men working. Children sleeping out in the open, a swarm of flies covering their unwashed faces. A maze of snaking alleyways and dark, dank corners.

And people everywhere, entire families crowded into small rooms, sleeping on one bed.

These were sights and sounds familiar to me, and I always considered myself immensely lucky to have lived outside of that world — lucky, at least, to live in relative comfort. I was curious to see how tour operators presented Indian poverty, especially to foreigners. I picked one run by a nonprofit organization that works to improve the lives of street kids. This way, my money was going toward a good cause.

“This is unlike other poverty tours,” says Poonam Sharma, coordinator of the tours. “When people start interacting with the children, misconceptions about street life fall away.”

I am asked to meet the guide from Salaam Baalak Trust at 10 a.m. Salaam means hello and baalak means child. The tours are conducted by former street kids who were able to improve their lives through the organization.

On this day, I am among a handful of people, all foreigners on the City Tour. Our guide is a young man named Iqbal, who has been living on the streets since he ran away from home at 5.

“Can you guess why a child runs away from home?” he asks us. “Poverty, abuse, addiction. And sometimes, they think if they come to the city, they can become a Bollywood star.”

The tourists laugh.

Iqbal continues and tells his own story.

“My parents used to fight,” he says. “My father beat me.”

So he ran away to the streets of New Delhi. He spent nights terrified, alone and hungry on trains and in stations. He was beaten and abused, he says, by other street dwellers and even by the police.

Most of the boys work menial jobs or steal, he tells us. They are deft pickpocketers.

Girls, he says, run away because their parents cannot afford dowries to get them married, and they don’t want to be a burden to their families anymore. Instead, they come to the city and sell their bodies to eat.

The street kids have nowhere to keep their money. They spend whatever they earn, or it’s stolen while they sleep. Iqbal used to work at a recycling center. Out of every 100 rupees ($2.25) he earned, 75 went to the gangs who provided security. After that, he worked at a chai (tea) stall and then at a dhaba (roadside eatery), where he didn’t get paid but got something even better: food and shelter.

Iqbal leads us from the main road into a lane. He shows us a recycling shop, like the one where he worked, where newspaper and glass bottles turn into money. We wander through the main market in Paharganj, assaulted by a panoply of goods — handbags, sweaters, pots and pans, pirated CDs and DVDs, refurbished electronics, blankets, shoes.

He takes us to one of Salaam Baalak Trust’s shelters next to the bustling train station. We learn a bit of history from him.

“In 1911, Delhi became the capital of India,” Iqbal says proudly. “More than 400,000 people pass through this train station every day.”

Upstairs from a small police station is a shelter where children can come to rest, eat and get medical attention. Boys of all ages were hanging out that day, glued to a television set.

“Normally, kids don’t trust you,” Iqbal says. “It is quite difficult to convince them to come to a shelter.”


Dr. Vijay Kumar sits behind a stark wooden table with a giant logbook in front of him. He says he treats kids for all sorts of ailments and regularly administers HIV tests. Many children fall into a life of addiction. They sniff glue or burn foil and smoke gecko tails.

Next, we make our way to the Salaam Baalak Trust office in Paharganj, passing by a pottery market, where merchants, mostly women, are selling their terracotta wares.

The tourists in my group are wide-eyed. They peer down alleys where you can only walk single file. They smile at people who pass us. Photography is forbidden on many parts of the tour. Nor do we stop to speak to any of the residents.

We climb up several flights of stairs at the office. A wall of success stories greets the tourists. Sonia works for designer Ritu Kumar. Nitish works for the Delhi metro. And there’s Iqbal, who eventually made his way to one of Salaam Baalak Trust’s shelters and straightened out his life. He studied computers and dreams of becoming a software engineer. Not surprising, I think, for a kid who grew up during India’s information technology boom.

Iqbal is 20 now and has not seen his family since that day that he decided to run. He cannot even remember where he was from.

“Maybe UP,” he says, referring to neighboring Uttar Pradesh state. He takes us into one of the classrooms.

The younger children at Salaam Baalak Trust perform for the tourists. They sing their hearts out; their smiles are wide. They seem so innocent, like children at my neighborhood day-care center in Atlanta. But they have seen the worst of life. They can never grow up with the sweet naivety that makes childhood carefree.

Caitlyn Oleykowski, a student at the University of Pittsburgh, says the City Tour is eye-opening. She came to India to see places such as the Taj Mahal, and although she encountered beggars on the street, she never would have walked through Paharganj by herself.

She tells me she has not seen poverty like this before. Through her travels in India, she felt helpless, not knowing whether or how to help.

University of Illinois student Ruth Tekeste says she feels inspired by the street kids.

Others in the group also tell me that this is an India they might not have otherwise seen. And maybe they were wiser for it, sensitized to problems that can be unimaginable back home.

How can that be bad? There’s no better way to learn about a place, after all, than to experience it.

Still, as the foreigners turn in their donations for Salaam Baalak Trust, I can’t help but think about the day for what it was: a tour of poverty. And hasty, I think. In all of less than two hours, our look at others’ lives is over.

To read the entire story by Moni Basu, go to CNN

Good Holiday Travel News: Memorial Day Gas Prices Heading Down

AP – If you’re lucky enough to live in some parts of the United States, you may see gas pump prices fall to around $3.25 a gallon or less in the next week or two. Even West Coast drivers should get some relief from prices that are still above $4 a gallon.

Retail gasoline prices dropped by a penny to a national average of $3.71 per gallon on Friday. That’s 22 cents less than the high of $3.94 per gallon reached in early April. Lower oil prices are the main reason. Weaker demand is also helping to push down prices, as consumers watch their spending in the sluggish economic recovery.

Motorists on the West Coast, in Illinois and New York are paying the most for gas — from $3.83 per gallon to $4.54 per gallon — according to AAA, Wright Express and the Oil Price Information Service. The lowest prices, from $3.39 to $3.51 per gallon, were in the South and parts of the Midwest.

Prices should continue to decline heading into Memorial Day. The national average is expected to be around $3.60 per gallon or a little bit higher for the long holiday weekend, but a smattering of cities may see prices much lower. “You could see these prices of $3 to $3.25 populate the country like popcorn thunderstorms do in the spring,” said OPIS chief oil analyst Tom Kloza. “And that may happen in the next week.”

Some drivers already pay 30 to 40 cents less than the national average. That’s because the gasoline they buy is refined from oil produced in the Gulf Coast region, where prices are among the lowest in the country, Kloza said. And state and local gas taxes there are lower than in other areas.

For example, the average pump price on Friday was $3.34 per gallon in Greenville, S.C.; $3.39 in Little Rock, Ark., and $3.43 per gallon in Amarillo, Texas.

Meanwhile drivers in the Pacific Northwest and California are paying $4.25 to $4.50 a gallon because of a shortage of gasoline supplies related to refineries. Kloza said that those issues should be under control and prices should begin to ease soon.

By July drivers may face a different situation because of the simmering dispute between Western nations and Iran over its nuclear program. The European Union is set to begin a ban on oil imports from Iran if the situation isn’t resolved by then. Some analysts think that could drive oil prices higher.

On Friday crude oil prices fell ahead of a weekend meeting in which President Barack Obama and leaders of the world’s biggest economies will search for ways to help Europe resolve its ongoing debt crisis. Benchmark U.S. crude fell $1.08 to finish at $91.48 per barrel in New York. Brent crude, used to price many international varieties of oil, fell 35 cents to end at $107.14 in London.

Heating oil fell 1.9 cents to finish at $2.83 per gallon, gasoline futures rose 1.13 cents to end at $2.89 per gallon and natural gas increased 15 cents to finish at $2.74 per 1,000 cubic feet.

The price of natural gas has been rising steadily from the 10-year low it hit a month ago. Friday’s increase of almost 6 percent had a lot to do with the weather. Long-range forecasts predict temperatures well above average for much of the country over the next few weeks. That means more demand for natural gas to run generators that produce electricity to power air conditioners and refrigeration units.

Travelers Choice 2012: Top 25 Destinations In Africa

Marrakech, Morocco
It’s easy to lose yourself in the narrow, winding streets of the Medina—and we mean that both literally and metaphorically. Smell the spices in the air, brush up on your haggling at a local souk, then sip mint tea in the Majorelle Garden. End your day lounging in the rooftop garden of your riad, watching the sun set over this timeless city

Cape Town Central, South Africa
Cape Town glistens at the southern toe of the African continent. Tourist brochure-views at Blaauwberg Beach and Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens are within easy driving distance of “The Mother City.” The Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve provides sweeping sea vistas, hiking trails and wildlife encounters. On a more somber note, travelers can visit Robben Island, the prison where Nelson Mandela was held for 27 years.

Maasai Mara National Reserve, Kenya
Maybe your local zoo has lions, leopards, zebras or elephants. Maybe they even have wildebeest. But we bet they don’t have 1.3 million wildebeest—never mind 1.3 million wildebeest in migration, with predators in hot pursuit. It’s one of the most awesome sights in nature, and you can see it at Masai Mara in southwestern Kenya.

Kruger National Park, South Africa
The largest game reserve in South Africa, Kruger National Park is basically a synonym for the word “safari.” Home to over 500 bird species, 100 reptiles, nearly 150 mammals, multiple archaeological sites, and a stunningly diversity of trees and flowers, Kruger is the country’s flagship national park. Adventurers can explore the park in a 4×4, take a bush walk or fly above in a hot-air balloon

Fes, Morocco
The oldest university in the world isn’t Oxford or the Sorbonne—it’s the University of Al-Karaouine, and you’ll find it in Fes el Bali. This walled city, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, will transport you back to medieval times. Visit the ancient maze-like quarters of the Medina to Fes el-Bali and the four imposing Gates of Fes, with their distinctive Moroccan tile work. You can walk, or, if you’re brave, take a taxi—the daredevil drivers will have you hanging on for dear life.

See the entire list on

Chic Rooftop Bar: The Perry South Beach in Miami, FL

There’s nothing like a rooftop bar to kick off the warm months, and with the crazy weather patterns of the last few weeks, there’s nothing that sounds more appealing right now than getting a drink with a view.

The chic Perry South Beach hotel (formerly the Gansevoort Miami Beach) is a bit removed from the action on the north edge of South Beach, but it still attracts hipsters and stylish families with its rooftop pool parties, attentive staff, large rooms, sexy David Barton gym, and beachfront location. It doesn’t quite compare to its high-priced neighbors — notably the W hotel — but it’s often a fair pick for the price.

See more pictures of the Perry South Beach

Tour Companies Are Making Legal Travel to Cuba a Real Vacation Option

Open travel to Cuba by U.S. citizens used to just be a dream. Unless you were willing to creep in through another country without your passport, you were not going. End of story. Last year, however, the Obama administration made the dream more of a possible reality when it relaxed travel restrictions even further than ever and allowed several authorized and licensed companies to arrange and organize legal travel tours to the island nation.

One such licensed company is New Rochelle, NY-based Insight Cuba, which has been arranging travel to Cuba in limited ways for more than a decade. The company expanded operations tremendously from 2000 – 2003 as it offered legal, “people-to-people” educational exchange programs, but U.S. policy toward Cuba reverted during the President George W. Bush administration and travel was once again severely curtailed until last year.

In January of 2011 President Barak Obama directed “the Secretaries of State, Treasury and Homeland Security to take a series of steps to continue efforts to reach out to the Cuban people in support of their desire to freely determine their country’s future.” The thinking being that one-on-one interactions between citizens of the two nations was the best assurance of developing mutual understanding and reciprocal trust.

“Purposeful” travel, including religious, cultural and educational was now permitted. Fortunately, events such as Havana’s International Jazz Festival and various sporting events count as cultural travel, so opportunities to explore the rich heritage of Cuba and its people are once again accessible.

In order to participate in the travel programs coordinated by Insight Cuba or other licensed companies, you will have to register to travel under their license and authorization. This process can easily be completed online on the companies’ respective sites.

One themed tour being advertised by Insight Cuba is dubbed the “Cuban Music & Art Experience.” It is a 9 day/8 night excursion in Havana and Santiago de Cuba that, according to the online description, “provides an opportunity to explore the thriving arts scene through performances, discussions, and events in both Havana and Cuba’s second cultural mecca –  Santiago de Cuba. In this tour, you’ll gain insight into this island’s fascinating musical and artistic evolution.”

The description sounds rather academic, but it’s probably pretty safe to say that once the music starts pumping and the people start moving, academic reserve will give way to the universal connecting cords of the African Diaspora…the sway of the rhythm and the beat of the drum.

To learn more about legal travel to Cuba and tour packages, go to Insight Cuba

Great Get-Away Deals to Puerto Rico

The cost of air travel to America’s closest island paradise, Puerto Rico, are currently offered at deep discounts by AirTran and Delta Air Lines.  Both carriers offer daily nonstop flight service to San Juan from Atlanta.

An inclusive round-trip rate of $287.40 requires no advance purchase notice. Go and enjoy as soon as this weekend.

Travel at this rate is permitted seven days a week, based on sale seat availability.

You must stay at least any three nights. All travel at this special rate must be complete on or before May 31.

Traveling to Puerto Rico is like going anywhere within the United States. Visitors need to travel with a current driver’s license or other valid form of photo ID. Puerto Rico is one of only two destinations in the Caribbean (the other is the U.S. Virgin Islands) that do not require U.S. citizens to carry a passport.

To read more about bargain fares to Puerto Rico go to to the AJC

With The Olympics and More, The UK Will be a Hotbed of Activity This Summer

It’s Britain’s year, no doubt about it. With the Olympics coming to London July 27-Aug. 12 and the country getting ready to celebrate Queen Elizabeth II’s Golden Jubilee, it’s going to be a banner year for the United Kingdom.

But there’s a lot more going on in Britain this year. The World Shakespeare Festival, for one, will showcase almost 70 productions over a six-month period. WorldPride, which promotes lesbian, gay and bisexual issues, will attract more than a million visitors to the British capital during its two-week summer run. Some of the world’s top performers will appear in the Edinburgh International Festival Aug. 9-Sept. 2.

A brand new attraction, “The Making of Harry Potter,” opened in March at the Warner Bros. studio outside London where the enormously successful movie series was shot. The tour, in addition to exhibiting memorabilia and artifacts from the movies, takes guests to many of the spectacular sets used in the film.

Two major sports events, the Wimbledon tennis tournament and the British Open golf tournament, are expected to draw thousands of spectators as well as the world’s top players.

With all that is going on in Britain this year, hotel availability is shrinking and airline fares increasing. Tickets for major events will be scarce and, in many cases, expensive.

Read the rest of this story on the Miami Herald


Midnight at the Oasis Called Sedona

There’s something mystical about the energy and air surrounding Sedona, AZ. It touches you on an emotive, subconscious level just being in its vicinity. The soaring read rocks and majestic scenery is transformational in itself. Add to that the gentle flowing streams and Native American tradition of respect for this area and you have all the makings of genuine spiritual encounter with yourself. And, while that may be enough for the spiritualists amongst us, that’s not all that Sedona has to offer.

For the sensualist, all this gorgeous natural scenery is the perfect backdrop for relaxing at one of the many top-calibre resorts and spas nestled among the red hills. Imagine a day of lounging poolside and in hot tubs; then enjoying traditional ayurvedic treatments and massage, reflexology; then capping it all off with a sultry evening of fine wine and sumptuous meals and plenty of spirits of the distilled kind.

So go to Sedona for spiritual reflection or go for sensual pleasure but honestly, I think you already know, you will probably want to go for both.

Sedona is located about two-hour scenic drive northwest of Phoenix in the high desert region of Arizona. Sedona has more than 100 lodging properties with 14 of them having earned AAA 4-Diamond ratings. Lodging options include luxury resorts, hotels and motels, as well as, bed & breakfasts and cabins.

Sedona Rouge Hotel & Spa

Luxurious Honeymoon Hotel: Meadowood Napa Valley – St. Helena, California

Tucked away in the heart of wine country is perhaps its best kept secret: Meadowood Napa Valley. It’s the type of place where those in the know are understandably a bit reluctant to let the secret out. Elegant and cozy cottages make for a wonderfully serene retreat for honeymooners who wish to revel in a bit of privacy. On the beautifully manicured grounds, a croquet lawn (complete with a resident croquet instructor), 9-hole golf course, hiking trails, tennis courts, a spa and a pool ensure that couples have plenty of activities to enjoy – without even leaving the property. Of course, a stay here wouldn’t be complete without an exquisite meal at the three Michelin-starred Restaurant at Meadowood – a true culinary destination in and of itself. (Meadowood’s sister property in St. Helena is the Southbridge Napa Valley)


Read the rest of this story here

‘Sparkle’ Producer Debra Martin Chase Talks Movies & Whitney Houston

There are a small number of Black female producers in Hollywood who have been able to stay relevant and profitable; Halle Berry, Oprah Winfrey, Tracey Edmonds, Queen Latifah and then there’s Debra Martin Chase. Her name may not register with the general public the same way as the aforementioned women, but her credits speak for their self: Cheetah Girls, Cinderella, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, 1 and 2, Princess Diaries, 1 and 2 and most recently, Just Wright. Some may consider her work “chick flicks,” but Martin Chase makes movies for a living and the living is good.

Still an artist at heart, the movie veteran is producing two films set to release in 2012 and one on 2013; Sparkle, starring Jordin Sparks and the late Whitney Houston in her final theatrical performance; Dirty Dancing with director Kenny Ortega and Elixir, another Sanna Hamri collaboration. caught up with Martin Chase on the Detroit set of Sparkle as she dished out lessons on Hollywood moviemaking and staying ahead of the curve.

As a producer, can you talk about your pitching process?

The pitching process has evolved over the years and certainly I’ve become savvier about how I do it. There was a time when I was younger and fresher and probably more innocent. I’d find a story and be passionate about it and I’d say, I’m going to make this movie. I’d go in and tell the story and do my best to sell it. Now, I’m picking my projects and being smart about it; how you sell it, where you sell the project and also, the name of the game for me, as a producer, is that I have to make product. That’s what I do. The more product I make that’s good and that does well, the more power I have to do more things. In today’s marketplace, it really is about pitching how you’re going to sell the movie as much as it is about how good the story is.

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Virginia Is For Wine Lovers

While “Virginia is For Lovers” has been the widely recognized ad slogan for 43 years, Virginia is also now fast becoming the destination for wine lovers. After the top American wine producing regions of California, Washington, Oregon and New York, Virginia is next on that list, with more than 200 wineries.

What we’ve learned covering American wineries on our blog CarsTravelFood, which celebrates domestic travel to support U.S. businesses, is that many American wineries fortunately have not felt the effects of the recession. And with the boon of tourists discovering these high-caliber wines and visiting wineries here, Virginia is one such state that boasts a great many successful wineries.

“We’ve had double digit growth for the last three years and that’s in a recession,” says Annette Boyd, director for the Virginia Wine Board marketing office. “For a lot of people – the whole ‘staycation’ concept, people might not fly to Europe or Napa Valley, and they’ll do a mini-vacation and Virginia has really benefited from that. A lot of people from Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York say, ‘Let’s take a weekend in Virginia.'”

So if you’re looking for a new road trip destination, Boyd notes that Virginia is a day’s drive for two-thirds of the U.S. population. This accessibility to such a large portion of the country’s population makes Virginia a perfect destination for those who want to stay close to home. “We are an eight hour drive from New York City, we are seven hours from Atlanta,” Boyd says. “We’ve got everything in between with Washington D.C., Philadelphia, Baltimore, Ohio, Charlotte, and we’re a day’s drive from Ohio, too. So we’re strategically positioned.”

Read the rest of this story on the Huffington Post