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And Now, For a Change of Pace, Let's Look at All the Good Things That Are Happening in the World of Travel.

The holidays are here, and for many, that means counting blessings. So instead of devoting a column to the problems of travel—and there certainly are many—I’d like to celebrate what’s right and fervently hope these trends continue into 2014.

1) Its getting easier and easier to meet locals when you hit the road, thanks to the Internet

No, not if you spend all your time away from home texting buddies.

But those who decide to set up meetings with locals before they leave have more resources than ever for making this sort of connection. Want to eat in a local’s home? Try DineWith.com, EathwithaLocal.com, Feastly.com, EatWith.com or HomeCooking.it. Each has a different method for hooking up diners with local home chefs (and each has its own areas of coverage; HomeCooking, for example, is only for Italy). Heck, your much more likely to make a new friend over a home-cooked meal than you are as another faceless customer at a restaurant.

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Friendship is also the basis for WomenWelcomeWomen.org.uk, CouchSurfing.com and GlobalFreeloading.com, three organizations where members swap hospitality—everything from a night in a spare bedroom to advice over the phone on the best bars and local shops. They do so just for the fun of it--no money changes handes.

And frankly, some of the best connections are those made on non-travel sites such as Twitter and Facebook where travelers can meet those with interests similar to their own in the cyber world, and then in person. We have one reader at Frommers.com who became so close to the other travelers on our message boards that he stayed in their homes as he hopped from his place in Florida to New York City and London. I had lunch with him and two other readers in NYC this summer, and it was the highlight of my week!

2) Airports Are Getting Nicer

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Yes, they are! If you’d told me a decade ago that I’d be able to get a meal in a restaurant helmed by a local celebrity chef and a good pedicure before my flight, I would have laughed out loud. Now these amenities are becoming standard, along with children’s playgrounds, art displays, meditation spaces and chapels (San Francisco’s International Airport even has a yoga room!), name brand stores and more. It’s the upside to having to spend more time at the airport, thanks to increased security measures. (Hey, there’s always some silver lining).

3) More and More High Speed Rail Options Are Opening Across the Globe

In early December a new line debuted connecting two of Europe’s hippest cities: Barcelona and Madrid. (Dine on cassoulet for lunch and tapas hop just six hours later in Spain). Its just one of the many new European and Asian rail initiatives that will be giving travelers a scenic, convenient and sometimes quicker (when you factor in time at the airport) alternative to air travel.

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4) Travel Is Now For Joyous Reasons Rather Than to Escape Tragedy

This last trend is not particular to 2013, but goes back several decades. But I think its important to remember that we are just the second, or perhaps the third, generation who have been able to enjoy long-distance travel as a leisure activity. Before the so-called “jet age” if you were crossing an ocean, or even just going several hundred miles, likely you were not doing so of your own free will. An army had invaded your town, you found you couldn’t practice your religion in peace, some plague swept through or some other catastrophic event forced you to flee the place of your birth. Sure, there were a privileged few who were able to take the “Grand Tour” of Europe just for the fun of it, or make a pilgrimage to Lourdes, but the vast majority of human beings rarely saw the world beyond their own backyards.

So count your blessings this holiday season, one of the most potent being our ability to easily and usually affordably expand our minds and hearts through travel. There truly are few greater privileges, and I, for one, am grateful that I live today for this very reason.

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