Category Archives: Travel

WHISTLER-BOUND FOR TEDACTIVE! Travel hacking tips from 2015 Host Leigh Rowan

In little under a month, we’re all gathering for one of the best weeks of our lives: TEDActive! In advance of that, I thought I’d share some travel hacking tips and tricks to making your arrival into Whistler a fun, inexpensive and engaging journey.

Flights to Vancouver (YVR) cost a lot – save money by flying to Bellingham or Seattle!

That’s right – due to some pesky international taxes, flights into the closest major international airport to Whistler (which is YVR) can sometimes be $140-$250 more than comparable flights to Seattle (SEA) or Bellingham (BLI). Using one of my favorite travel search engines, Google Flights, I was able to find flights from LAX-BLI for $224 roundtrip for TEDActive dates. The cheapest flights I saw for those same dates into Vancouver were nearly $120 more!

Takeaway: before booking flights into Vancouver, check alternate (close by) airports to see if you can save some dough.

Global Entry and Nexus: Your key to an easy border experience

A lot of hassle can be saved with these two handy travel tools. Though you may not be able to get it in time for TEDActive, if you’re a US Citizen and a frequent international traveler, read up on Global Entry (and its associated TSA Pre-Check benefit) and how to cut the line at Customs and Immigration on the way back into the United States — it’s an incredible time saving tool. Bonus perk: a lot of credit cards offer waived Global Entry application fees, so check with your card issuer to see if that applies to you!

Nexus is just like Global Entry, but it’s for folks heading into Canada. If you love our TED host country as much as I do, you’ll think about getting this to avoid the long Canadian Immigration lines, as well!

Takeaways: save time at the border with these five-year border fast passes!

You’re in Canada….but still two hours from Whistler

Though they make it look close on a map, your first port of entry into Canada through the Great White North and Whistler are not actually that close. Whistler is two hours from Vancouver by a scenic mountain road. There are a few creative ways of getting there with or without your own wheels, including:

Takeaways: however you choose to arrive, be sure to book in advance and bring a credit card with no foreign transaction fee (see below) to pay for it!

Paying in loonies, toonies, and plastic

Unless you’re one of the approximately 30 million folks lucky enough to call themselves Canadians, you’re going to be paying for the few things you buy in British Columbia in Canadian dollars. As of today, the one Canadian dollar is about $0.80 US cents, meaning that you can purchase a $10 CAD pint of Okanagan Spring Pale Ale for $8 USD. Not too terrible. Here’s the kicker: unless you’re paying in cash, your credit card company may be charging you a nasty two to five percent foreign transaction fee, which can quickly add up. Take a few minutes to learn about credit cards that don’t charge foreign transaction fees as well as how to avoid ATM withdrawal fees overseas.

Takeaways: cash is always king (and easiest to use — it’s accepted everywhere), but your cards will work well too. Just make sure you’re not paying too many fees when paying with plastic!

Hotels abound in bountiful Whistler

Be sure to get the best possible perks out of your hotel stay at TEDActive. If you booked at the Hilton or Westin, two of the official TEDActive properties, be sure to add your HiltonHHonors or Starwood Preferred Guest, respectively, loyalty number to your reservation. That’ll ensure that you get the maximum points towards things like status and free future stays!  And, if you have elite status with either hotel, you could be getting extra perks like more points, free breakfast, or even room upgrades.

For hotels that don’t have a loyalty program attached (I’m looking at you, Aava, Crystal and Pinnacle), you can sometimes get better rates by booking via online portals like or Orbitz (plus, you can earn valuable rewards credits through both).

Takeaways: be sure that you’re getting return on the money you’re spending to sleep at night. Whether hotel points or credits for future stays, remember to claim those available perks!

Leigh Rowan is a long-time TEDActive Veteran (he’s been to every TEDActive but one!) and COO of, a website dedicated to maximizing travel experiences. He’s a self-fashioned travel hacker, and today he’s offered to share some handy TEDActive travel tips to make your trip to Whistler an amazing one!

Drifting away from a product-based solution … maybe

As an industrial designer, I’m inclined towards a product-based solution … but that’s the great thing about collaboration. I’m open to having my process change and respond to the ideas of other team members, and any individuals who want to add to the travel project.

What if it was simply a new product?

  • A better armrest that splits in the middle, allowing both users to use it without giving up space or comfort.
  • A chair that comfortably reclines without interfering with the passenger behind you. A seat that gently supports your lumbar. A footrest that extends without dramatically increasing the horizontal footprint of your personal comfort pod.
  • A sound system that cancels the noise around the cabin but allows you to speak to your immediate companion.
  • In-flight entertainment that allows you any content (including Internet) at your command.
  • On demand refreshments.
  • A short list of questions that allows the airlines to select your perfect travel companion and cabin placement according to your personal needs.

Think about the resetting of expectations — we obviously live in a culture of entitlement. Can we simply say, “Suck it up, buttercup,” or is there a better solution? How are each of us as individuals responsible for our condition? Is it simply a matter of  being polite? Is it being happier with what me have? We want to empower both passengers and the airlines to take back some of the responsibility on the airways.

Wow, the timeline is pretty short …

Losing control

Last night, our project team came together to discuss our findings of the last 36 hours. What was supposed to be an hour-long reveal became hours of in-depth discussion.

We’ve all heard about passengers feeling anxiety, a loss of power, and a loss of dignity.

On the other side, airline staff only have access to specific information. They are constrained by  security, safety, and organizational factors. When they want to help, they often don’t have the ability.

Both passengers and staff become frustrated, creating a negative feedback loop for all.

To create a user-centered airline experience, we realized that we need to address both sides of this equation. The concept that surfaced:

A sense of control.

From this, discussions turned to shared destinations, transparency, purpose, and agency.

Now, our challenge now is to distill specific actions that can help everyone regain a sense of control.