Dennis Schaal is the News Editor of travel media and intelligence startup Skift, and he also writes the Digital Traveler column for USA Today. Dennis has been digging into developments in travel for a dozen years as a journalist, and has managed to sneak in some ogling of the critters on the Galapagos Islands, people-watching in the Caribbean and other nomadic exploits along the way.
Cheapflights: How did your career in travel writing, more specifically in online travel writing, begin?
Dennis Schaal: I had been a journalist covering local news for many years, had a brain-freeze and became a computer technician in the financial services industry for more than a decade, and started writing about technology and telecommunications. When Travel Weekly (US) needed a technology editor in 2000, I snapped up the opportunity.
CF: As an online travel technology expert, what’s your top tip for using technology when booking/planning a trip?
DS: I love TripAdvisor for scoping out hotels in unfamiliar locations. Regarding booking a trip, my advice is to use meta-search companies for comparison-shopping and check out a lot of sites. You’ll be surprised to see how much variety in pricing is out there. Yes, there definitely are deals for the taking.
CF: Travel technology is constantly evolving – any new travel tools that you’re a particular fan of?
DS: I’m a big fan of a little-known site, The Bidding Traveler, which enables you to submit numerous bids in an automated fashion within minutes for Priceline’s Name Your Own Price hotels. It works so fast that Priceline sends me notices that my bid has been rejected and to try again – even though they’ve actually accepted one of my hotel bids a few minutes earlier. Priceline can’t keep up.
CF: You’ve recently become News Editor at Skift.com – can you tell us about this new website?
DS: I work with a fantastic bunch of very smart people. Skift roughly translates to mean “change or transformation” in Danish and Norwegian. Just four months old, Skift is a travel media and data-services startup focusing on the travel industry and travel professionals, and we’re going to shake things up in a Skiftish sort of way. We’re focused on savvy travelers and delivering to them news and data that will make them even smarter. One reader described Skift as porn for lovers of travel.
CF: What are your travel pet peeves?
DS: I don’t like to go to a place where there is a regimented tour or itinerary. Just get out there, enjoy the country and culture, and let it all flow. And, I’m not a fan of airlines and hotels seeing me as a fee magnet. Also, I hate it when airlines charge me money to use my miles. Hate that.
CF: What is an absolute must on your packing list?
DS: I never have a packing list, but make sure to pack my computer, iPad, scrap paper and sweat-stained hats.
CF: What’s your routine before you fly?
DS: I make sure to get maybe just three or four hours’ sleep before I fly because – since I don’t have a packing list – I end up packing before dawn, an hour or so before heading out to the airport. Given this sleep deprivation, I get a big cup of caffeine at the airport after maneuvering through security, and then fire up my laptop or iPad to see what’s going on in the world.
CF: Any tips on researching a new destination before taking off?
DS: Again, TripAdvisor is great, and online travel reviews in general. I’ve found Facebook is good, too, because you can get suggestions from friends who have been to the destination. When I worked at Travel Weekly, I would hound the editor of a particular destination for some off-the-beaten track suggestions, and visits to these locales usually generated some cherished moments and war stories.
CF: Who’s the most memorable seatmate (or what’s the most memorable conversation) you’ve had on a plane?
DS: This is a family publication, right? I really can’t say. Seriously, getting there is – or should be – half the fun, and that includes enjoying the flight with your family seatmates and assorted friends. I love having a bloody mary on my flights, regardless of how early in the morning it is. Spicy with lemon, no lime. The bloody mary usually talks to me, although I can’t remember any such memorable conversations.
CF: Is there a destination that without fail (barring floods and famine) you visit regularly?
DS: I visit Israel regularly because I have tons of family there. Apart from family ties, it is a fantastic destination to visit, with all of the history, white-water rafting on the Jordan River in the north, the picturesque expanse of the Judean desert, and the hustle-bustle of modern Tel Aviv. And, you can get great hummus in the Old City of Jerusalem and Akko.
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