Traveling the Badger State
Lodging, airline and luggage options abound for travelers to, from or around Wisconsin.
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“Shopping for luggage and accessories is like being in a candy store if you like traveling,” says Ray Krut, owner of Landmark Luggage. His stores carry the latest innovative products designed to address two travel macro-trends: increased TSA/security requirements and fees for heavy luggage.
Landmark Luggage has five stores, one of which opened in Madison’s West Towne Mall in November 2011. One is in Mequon and the others are in different states. The majority of the stores’ business is from luggage sales, but they also carry an array of leather goods, like briefcases, including rolling business cases. They have small goods like wallets, travel handbags and travel kits, and a large selection of travel accessories to make your next trip safer and smoother.
New in luggage, the old two-wheeled suitcases you drag behind are being replaced by “spinners,” four-wheeled bags you draw alongside you. They’re lightweight—made of polycarbonate, a strong, resilient plastic that regains its shape if dented. “The industry calls it hard-sided, but it’s not like the old suitcases your parents used,” Krut explains.
Security-related accessories include TSA-approved combination locks. “You lock your luggage, and TSA agents have a master key to unlock and relock it,” says Krut. “For liquids there are TSA-compliant GoToobs, which are very light and hold two ounces. They’re a big hit.”
You can buy travel clothing that protects you from the sun and has built-in insect repellant, which lasts 100 washings. It also stays fresh, because it stops bacteria from building up, and dries in about an hour after washing. Landmark Luggage carries the Ex Officio line, which specializes in light, protective, easy-care travel clothing.
Krut offers free travel seminars as well. “They last a couple of hours. We hold them every other month now and hopefully every month next year,” he says. “People request we come to their locations, like a school with a group traveling to Europe. We cover topics like how to pack more efficiently, understanding TSA rules, international travel rules or how to stay safe while traveling.
“We’re travel experts, and we want to help people make the right decisions for their needs,” Krut continues. “Our full business name is, ‘Landmark Luggage – Your Travel Store.’ We want people to come in and get a sense of adventure, to escape into the world of travel. We know our products and the industry, and whether you’re looking for a business briefcase or a leisure backpack, we’ll help you find the perfect fit.”
Many travelers are dropping their luggage off curbside at Chicago International Rockford Airport, where travel was up 14 percent last year over the previous year, and is up 13 percent so far this year from last year.
The airport’s niche is leisure travel. “We’re a hassle-free, low-cost, vacation-travel airport,” says director Mike Dunn. “Rockford is very easy to get to; highways 90, 39 and 20 all intersect here. It’s four-lane roads practically to our front door. And it’s a great benefit being so close to Madison, Milwaukee and Chicago.”
Four air-service providers fly out of Rockford to nine vacation destinations and Dunn is currently in negotiations to add more, including European destinations. Allegiant has flown from Rockford for seven years, and Apple Vacations puts together many of its travel packages. Frontier flies to Denver and Direct Air to two Florida cities.
“Most travelers to Denver come from close by, since you can also get there nonstop from other airports, but many people going to Cancun or Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, come from surrounding states,” Dunn explains. “We say: ‘If you’re going where we go you can’t beat Rockford.’”
He and his staff do everything they can to make traveling easy and relaxing. “We offer free parking, you can drop your bags curbside for free, there’s a free shuttle from our parking lot, and free WiFi in the terminal,” he says. “The TSA experience is very quick and everyone, from the security people to the rental car agents, is very friendly.”
Business travel isn’t Rockford’s focus. “We don’t attempt to compete with airports like O’Hare on business travel,” says Dunn. “Business travelers need to go where there are frequent flights, so if they miss one, they can get another.”
With about 45 departing flights a day, Dane County Regional Airport does focus on business as well as leisure travel. And both have increased in recent years, business more than vacation travel.
“Business travel had decreased because of the economy and gas and fuel prices, but we’re seeing a rebound,” notes Brent McHenry, director of marketing and communications. “Businesspeople are looking for quick, easy, convenient travel, and they’re not as concerned about ticket prices. They’re trying to be very savvy, and go and come back on the same day or in the same week. They want nearby airports so they can get home and see their families rather than driving to Chicago for a little better price.”
Leisure travelers are typically looking for lower fares along with convenient connections. “Vacation travel is improving slowly across the board,” McHenry says. “We’re seeing more travel to key destinations, like Orlando or Mexico in winter. People aren’t taking as many trips, but families often take one or two big trips a year.”
All travelers are using technology to make travel easier. “There’s been a huge increase, especially among business travelers,” says McHenry. “There’s an app for everything, and every business traveler uses at least one.”
Apps can help manage frequent flyer miles, get hotel upgrades or check in for flights electronically with a QR code. “As a plane pulls up to the gate, people might already be reserving rental cars,” McHenry says. “With in-flight internet access, they can work continually and stay caught up on emails. It makes it easier to be out of the office for trips.”
Vacationers use technology to find affordable fares. “Sites like Travelocity can send alerts for fare price decreases on trips they’re tracking,” says McHenry. “People may be taking fewer trips now, but technology makes it easier to find the best deals.”
McHenry notes Dane County is one of few airports in the nation, except the largest ones, that’s adding flights and capacity. “We have 12 nonstop destinations, which is unusual in a market our size. You can go to some pretty major places without a stop—New York City, Washington, D.C., Orlando—and you can go anywhere in the world with one connection, which very few Midwest airports offer.”
People are learning the hassle to drive to Chicago doesn’t save them that much. “They may have to stay overnight and airport parking is $50 a day,” says McHenry. “And Dane County’s ticket prices will tend to come down the more people support our airport.
“What really sets us apart is that we’re easy and efficient, with quick connections and no faraway parking or long security lines,” he continues. “We’re a small, beautiful, relaxing airport, and leisure travelers especially are looking for this.”