A leaf-strewn path winds between tall leaves with foliage just starting to turn yellow.

Northern Michigan. Photo © Laura Martone.

Despite the hurried pace of the modern world – and the inescapable feeling for many of us that civilization is, at times, hard to escape – it actually is possible to find places relatively devoid of people. The northern part of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, where I spend much of the summer, is one such place.

Here, people routinely leave their cars and houses unlocked, garage doors are often open all day with no one in sight, strangers say “hello” with no ulterior motive, and I actually feel safe walking alone in the woods at night. As a New Orleans native, such a communal sense of security was initially hard to get used to – much less believe. After all, in the French Quarter, where I also spend a lot of time each year, I never leave my doors open and unlocked, I’m often wary of overly curious strangers, and I definitely don’t feel comfortable walking alone at night.

Of course, no matter where you travel, it’s sometimes easy to become lulled by a false sense of security. On a recent afternoon, for instance, I was riding my bike along a quiet country road in northern Michigan, noting the absence of people and aware that many vacation homes had already been secured for the winter, when I heard a male voice shouting in my general direction. Abruptly, I halted my bike, glanced around, and noticed a middle-aged man striding quickly toward me. At first, I was intrigued, but then, in the time it took the man (who was an absolute stranger to me, though I’d passed his house many times before) to walk across his lengthy lawn, shooing a curious cat and picking up fallen twigs along the way, I realized that perhaps I’d made a mistake.

It’s not too late, Laura, I thought, wishing I’d brought my pepper spray with me. There’s still time to tell him you’re in a hurry and then ride away as fast as you can.

When there were still several yards between him and me, I said, “Can I help you with something?”

He chuckled, then simply replied, “I just wanted to tell you there’s a speed limit on this road. You have to go at least five miles an hour!”

Phew, I thought. Just an older man flirting with a younger woman – the same kind of behavior for which my late grandfather was notorious.

As I smiled and sped away, though, I realized that even up here, in a wholesome place like northern Michigan – where, earlier this summer, residents poured out of their homes just to observe a black bear who had decided to take a snooze in a farmer’s tree – it still pays to be cautious. After all, not every stranger (or black bear) you meet may prove to be a friendly one.

Not surprisingly, such thoughts of safety and security were uppermost on my mind this morning. As I wrote in a similarly themed post two years ago, even without today’s extensive news coverage of various speeches, memorials, and other reflections, it was hard to forget that today is the 11th anniversary of 9/11 – a day that, for most Americans, will live in infamy.

Even though more than a decade has passed since the events of that tragic day, it’s impossible to escape its repercussions, especially in the travel industry. For most travelers, much has changed, and whether you’re traveling domestically or internationally, you can’t help but note the increase in costs, inconveniences, and security measures since the pre-9/11 days of travel – particularly when your itinerary includes a trip to the airport.

Curious about such changes, I decided to seek out the advice of a travel industry veteran like Bob Diener, co-founder of Hotels.com and Getaroom.com. For nearly three decades, Bob has observed the evolution of the travel industry, so I hoped that he could offer some advice for current travelers and shed a bit of light on the future.

Here, then, is the conversation that we had via email:

American Nomad: How has the travel industry changed since the events of 9/11? Specifically, how have security measures changed for the average domestic traveler?

Bob Diener: Travel takes longer. Days of week and time of travel make a big difference.

AN: How have such security measures changed for U.S. citizens traveling abroad?

BD: Must arrive at airports much earlier, go through more rigorous screening, added fees, names on ticket must match, baggage must accompany traveler.

AN: Do you feel that American airports and airplanes are safer than they were in September 2001?

BD: Yes, but the only way to really reach a higher safety level is personal interviews, such as what EL AL does. Much of this can be done thru profiling and pre-screening, but this is not currently being done other than the TSA pre-screen program, which is limited.

AN: What more (or less) should be done regarding security for travelers?

BD: Frequent travelers should be pre-screened and not go thru the same procedures. Others should be offered pre-screening programs to indicate low risk and not go thru same level of scrutiny. Better image machines should be at all airports. Personal profiling and screening should be done when necessary.

AN: More than a decade has passed since the events of 9/11, so it’s only natural that travel-related costs would have risen since then. Still, I wonder how such costs have been affected since late 2001. For instance, are there additional costs or financial considerations that weren’t an issue back then?

BD: Yes, they are buried into ticket costs as extra fees. Also, airlines have found numerous ways to increase fees to make up lost revenue from delays, and extra procedures due to security issues.

AN: How has the comfort level of travelers been affected by the events of 9/11?

BD: Lines are much longer and trips take much longer due to security. Also impacts what you can take on carry-on vs. luggage.

AN: How can travelers minimize the inconveniences that they now face while traveling?

BD: Travel early mornings, late at night, slow days such as Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays.

AN: Given the potential dangers of traveling, the increase in tedious security measures, and the poor state of the economy, how has the travel industry been affected financially? For instance, have you found that fewer people are traveling abroad these days? Are more people traveling closer to home? Are more U.S. citizens choosing to travel via car versus plane, train, or cruise ship?

BD: More traveling via car. Fewer traveling abroad. Many airlines have merged. Some in bankruptcy. Many fees added. Travel closer to home.

AN: In your opinion, what other changes, both positive and negative, are on the horizon for the travel industry?

BD: There will be more consolidation, a split between full service and limited service, more efficiency in security procedures and screening, more services for travelers to avoid many of the hassles (but with fees).

If you’ve flown even once since the attacks of 9/11, then you know how challenging and time-consuming the experience can be. I can only imagine, for instance, how many shampoo bottles, cosmetic implements, and other innocuous items have been confiscated over the years. Once, my mother had to surrender an unopened jar of newly purchased cherry butter on her way home from visiting me in northern Michigan, and because of tighter security measures, I was even forced to change my name before boarding a flight in 2003. After getting married in January 2001, I’d struggled with the decision of whether to keep my maiden name or adopt my husband’s surname, but when my mother-in-law sent us a pair of airline tickets as a gift, I noticed that she’d booked mine under what she thought was my new name: Laura Martone. Because she’d used frequent flier miles to purchase the tickets, it was impossible to alter the information. So, all I could do was either reject her kind gesture or make an official name change. After all, no airport official at that time would have let me pass through security with a ticket that didn’t match my driver’s license, even if I’d dragged along my marriage certificate for good measure.

Of course, given the horrors that occurred on September 11, 2001, you’ll certainly never hear me or my mother complain about our minor inconveniences. Those are just two of countless examples of how the travel industry has changed since that fateful day – and with any luck, Bob’s right that security procedures will become less tedious in the future.