5 Things That Are Getting on My Nerves

This past month Wired magazine’s cover story was “Why Things Suck.” It was a brilliant collection of 33 annoyances and their causes. Some of my favorites were in there, including the dozen subscription cards stuffed into every magazine, the Ticketmaster monopoly, and the plastic electronics packaging that is the bane of my existence over at the Practical Travel Gear Blog. They didn’t get them all though, so here are 5 other things that are really getting on my nerves.

1. Annoying advertising on the Web. Let’s be real; the Web does not exist without advertising. Few people are going to give you all this content for free without expecting something in return. But there’s a line that is all too easy to cross, like all the bandwidth-hogging ads being a buzzkill on your surfing all day long. Some stick up something that covers up the whole screen, forcing you to click something to close it. Others have something popping up or crawling across the screen, covering up what you were just reading. (The equivalent of people with signs walking across a movie theater during a film.) Then there are sleazy junk banner ad companies like ViziDirect that seem to mainly serve up those ridiculous “click here and win” ads. I got suckered by ViziDirect early last year when they recruited Perceptive Travel to join their network. The first week I got a few travel ads for Puerto Rico and then it degenerated into explicit adult dating ads and lots of banners brightly flashing “You are a winner!” We parted ways but hey, the bastards still owe me 15 bucks!

2. The bookstore business. There’s a good reason that Amazon has bitchsmacked the whole retail bookstore business. There’s also a reason why my e-book of The World’s Cheapest Destination is a huge seller but my other books aren’t even available as an e-book. These two things are related: clinging to an outdated model and praying you can still make it work. I walk into Borders, they usually don’t have what I want, but a helpful clerk says, “I can order it for you.” Sure you can. And it’ll take longer, cost more, and require me to drive back to your store. Or I can just do it myself for less without even shaving or changing out of my bathrobe. Can I just download one from Borders.com? No, they don’t do that. Don’t even get me started on their CD prices.

3. Companies profiting by getting something for nothing. United airlines just announced it was going to start charging $25 for a second checked bag starting in May. (Good luck with getting overhead bin space now.) Dollar Rental Car is charging a $2 “top-off fee” even when you return a car with a full tank. Piedmont Gas charges me an $11.35 monthly “convenience fee” in the summer when I use zero natural gas in my house. My non-Capital One MasterCard and Visa charge an extra 2% fee on foreign transactions, even though they’re already getting a merchant fee and an exchange rate profit. (On top of the 1% from MC/Visa that they pass on.) Hey, I’ll gladly pay more for a better product or service—I’m thrilled with my Amex Platinum Card and feel it was well worth the premium. But don’t keep reaching into my pocket just to provide the same service you did before.

4. Travel articles that act like your mother. Here’s a dirty little secret of mainstream travel articles: the reader is not supposed to be smart enough to make up his or her own mind. Read a few magazines and newspaper travel sections and you’ll notice a pattern. “Go here, do this, eat dinner at Restaurant Y, stay only at Hotel Z.” Choices are frowned upon. Late last year an editor told me to stop using the word “or” and get in the habit of saying “must.” Never mind that I had only been in the town two days and was by no means an expert on the area’s dining choices. “We don’t want to leave any room for doubt,” was the reply. Knuckles have been rapped twice on this point so OK, I get it now. Better to act like a know-it-all and send everyone to the safe choice…

5. Lists – Why do readers gravitate toward lists like broke interns flocking to open bars and finger food? I guess there’s a good reason someone would start a travel blog that is nothing but lists, but where does it end? We’ve got that damn Blue List book, the Journeys of a Lifetime book, 1,000 Places to See Before You Die, 100 Places Every Woman Should Go, 501 Must-Visit Destinations, and on and on. Maybe I’ll get together with Leif Pettersen and do a book called 52 Places That Will Keep You Pissed Off for a Year (Before You Die). The worst part? This blog post will probably get more hits than anything else I write this month—because it’s a list!

[flickr photo by ArnoldFink]

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  1. JennyB

    That #4 one is hilarious. Now I know why the restaurant recommendations in travel articles are all so similar. More proof that just wandering around will probably lead to better dining!

  2. Kath

    Tim, you are cracking me up over here. And you’re so right about all this stuff, esp. bookstores. That Wired mag piece was pretty brilliant.

  3. Marie

    I can’t wait to read “52 Places That Will Keep You Pissed Off for a Year (Before You Die).”

  4. Marilyn Terrell

    You’re right, Tim! It was the “5 Things” headline that compelled me to click. The tyranny of the list!

  5. Leif Pettersen


    I’ve already got like 200,000 words down for a project like you’ve suggested. Have your agent call my agent and we’ll start the paperwork for the editor’s agent.

  6. Beki

    To be fair, your last entry was a list too…and also a good one.

    May I add to the annoyance list–Aer Lingus/Ryanair/Easyjet’s nitpicky baggage policy which addresses everything from golf clubs to skis and fiddles but cleverly leaves out guitars (on purpose?) so those can fall under the €8 per kg for extra weight category?

  7. Bryan

    5) Even better are lists of lists: The top 10 travel destination lists would be a good one.

    4) I agree and disagree with you on this one. I think personal recommendations are exactly what people are looking for in travel articles, whether they are right or not. Takes the risk out of traveling, I guess. I do like the way that you approach it, though. You have a similar writing style as the Costa Rica HQ blog, of which I’m a regular reader. I love that.

  8. John

    Yep, I was pretty disgusted when I heard that UAL is changing an extra $25 for a second bag. Guess they figure, if you’re gonna travel far, what’s another $25? – you’ll pay it!! I imagine them fiendishly laughing – and hey, how DID they arrive at $25??

  9. Steve H

    Hey Tim

    Great post, and while we´re at it – here´s something that´s getting on my nerves that would probably also be near and dear to you – I´m back in Salta and looking for lodging in Cafayate – it´s just one year later (exact same time of year, mid-February) and even though as you state the dollar is doing well against the AR Peso, inflation is going crazy – the place I stayed at last year which was excellent, and cost 50 pesos per night, is now charging 130 pesos per night. Other mid-range places listed in my 2008 (yes, you ready that correctly) Footprint guidebook are at least 50% more than printed at the current market rate. This is frustrating me greatly because of the trend, moreso than the extra 30-50 bucks I´ll shell out for 3-4 nights later this week in Cafayate….any thoughts, Tim?

    Best, Steve

  10. tim

    I haven’t been there lately but had heard the increases were mostly confined to the high-end hotels. Seems like it’s trickling down to the others as well. Inflation is bad in Argentina and the current price control policies aren’t helping. Sounds like the good times for tourists aren’t going to last unless the supply starts catching up with demand in terms of hotel rooms. Looks like my favorite Salta place is still only about $40 though: Hotel Del Antiguo Convento.

  11. Steve H

    Thanks for the reply Tim. I have now spent several days each in Salta, Cafayate, and Tucuman and gotta tell ya, it may still be a good value, but not even close to what it was when your 2nd edition of ‘World’s Cheapest Destinations’ was published. Personally, I love the country and have many friends here now….I will probably keep coming back here no matter what….but I think people need to be made aware of one very important, yet hidden fact: unless you actually have on-the-ground knowledge of inflationary forces here, you could look at a Yahoo Finance currency chart from February 2007 to February 2008 and think ‘No kidding, the dollar is actually doing better in Argentina by about 3%’….but in fact, the fact that it’s still just over 3 pesos to a dollar – instead of, oh 5 pesos to a dollar, means that the dollar has weakened substantially against the Argentine Peso. And though by all appearances the dollar has held it’s own against Latin American currencies, by taking inflation into account I have seen how the dollar has actually gotten crushed here (Peru, Chile, Argentina) as well. You may need to target the 3rd edition of ‘World’s Cheapest Destinations’ solely to European readers, because US readers will literally have no bargains left!I am well aware of how pessimistic my view is, but let’s take action while we can by transferring our assets into better investments….as Americans, that may well be our only chance to maintain a selection of ‘cheapest destinations’ for travel in the coming years.

  12. tim

    I don’t know Steve–I sort of buy what you’re saying but the logic is partly flawed. Prices in the U.S. have gone up a lot since my book came out too. Been to a grocery store or gas station lately? Europeans are complaining that everything is going up except their paycheck. Hungary is decoupling from the euro because inflation is out of control. Reality is that no place is stuck in time right now because commodity prices are rising so fast. Inflation is a bitch, but it’s inevitable when the current global forces are at work—blame it on China.

    Meanwhile, I’ve been in four countries I highlighted in the book over the past year and things aren’t all that far off, especially in Mexico. When I look at online prices for places I stayed in Argentina less than 2 years ago, none of the prices are more than 10 percent higher. The places I stayed in Peru two and a half years ago haven’t budged except in the highest of the high season. As for transferring assets, 30 percent of my retirement funds and one of my houses is outside the U.S. Always good to hedge your bets…

  13. Brad

    Just to clarify, parts of #3 display a slight ignorance. If the author were to do some research, he/she would learn that Piedmont Gas doesn’t earn a single penny when you actually use natural gas. They are required by law to sell you the natural gas at the exact same price they bought it at. The only way they are allowed to make money is by charging a fee for allowing you to be hooked up to their natural gas lines. Think about it from the company’s point of view. Is $11.35 per month really that irrational? They do own and maintain thousands of miles of pipeline throughout the southeast…and that isn’t cheap to do.

  14. tim

    Brad, you may be a company shill, but still—are you for real?

    “The gas company’s base rate covers its day-to-day expenses, major project costs, plus the built-in profit margin, which Piedmont wants to increase from 8 percent to 12 percent.”

    I’m sure most people in business would love to sell their core product “at cost” if they could just add an automatic built in profit margin on top of expenses. Nice work if you can get it.

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