Posted November 8, 2013 by SmarterTravel.com
Charge up that phone the night before a trip: Most of us have this straightforward—yet vital—task down pat. But that's not all you need to do before bringing a phone abroad. Here are 10 additional tips that smartphone-wielding travelers should heed before hitting the road, from adding travel apps to guarding against exorbitant roaming charges.
Know Your Plan (and Your Phone)
Step one: Examine your phone. Only GSM and CDMA phones will work abroad. Check with your provider to verify that your phone is operable overseas. Step two: Examine your phone plan. A thorough investigation of your data and calling contract will reveal exactly how much it will cost to make a few phone calls or download some emails while abroad. It's expensive, right? That's where step three comes in: Consider buying an international calling or data package. If you plan on using your device overseas and don't want to swap out your SIM card (more on that later), an international plan is likely a wise investment. Simply call your provider and request a temporary plan that works in your destination of choice; in most cases, you can cancel the plan upon return (just make sure there's no minimum-length-of-time requirement).
One provider in particular, however, doesn't necessitate the purchase of an international package. Earlier this month, T-Mobile announced that it will get rid of roaming charges for data usage in more than 100 countries, and it will cap international calling rates at 20 cents per minute.
Consider a Text Package
One or two text messages from the road might be all you need to use during your trip. You might want to text your family to let them know you've arrived safely, text your pet or house sitter, or send a cheery text from the beach to make a friend jealous. Sound good? Then purchase a text package before you leave. For example, AT&T offers Global Messaging Packages that start at $10 per month for 50 messages sent from more than 150 countries. Messages received are deducted from your domestic plan.
Get the Right Gadgets
From portable batteries to travel-friendly phone cases, a range of gear and add-ons will enhance and protect your phone while abroad. Some of our favorites include the MapiCases leather belt-clip iPhone case; myCharge and New Trent's rechargeable, portable battery packs; and GoSwype microfiber cleaning cloths.
Turn Off Data
If you don't plan on using data while abroad but plan to pack your phone, there are two steps you need to take before departure: Turn off cellular data and turn off data roaming. You'll find instructions for doing so on an iPhone here, and here for an Android phone. Contact your cellular provider for further details on shutting off data. Fail to shut down the automatic downloads that bring emails, program updates, meeting notifications, and other data to your phone and you'll likely see some very expensive roaming charges on your bill at the end of the month.
Stock up on Apps
There are umpteen mobile apps that could prove very valuable on your trip. Ideally, you'll want to snap them up well before your departure date, so that you have time to research, compare prices, and, of course, download the apps before you leave. Some of these might include flight-notification apps, map apps, itinerary apps, language-translation apps, destination-guide apps, gas-finder apps, and weather apps. For more ideas, see Nine Apps That May Change How You Travel and 10 Free Travel Apps You've Never Heard of.
Avoid data charges for big downloads on the road by lining up your music and entertainment purchases before you head out that door. Does your airline offer good in-flight entertainment? If not, a few episodes of your favorite show might make coach class a little more bearable. Will your hotel room have an iPod player? If yes, then a new album or two could enliven your stay. Further, there's little that will improve a long cross-country rail trip or an interminable wait at the airport more than a diverting and fun new playlist.
Pack Chargers and Adapters in Your Carry-on
On the road, chargers and adapters are as important as your phone itself; after a day or two, your device is useless without them. You wouldn't put your iPhone in your checked luggage, right? So your charger and adapter need to go in your personal item or carry-on bag with your other essentials (medicine, wallet, identification, etc.). This way, if your suitcase gets lost, you won't need to pay a visit to one of these airport vending machines to buy a new charger.
Take Some Important Photos
This tip is more about using your phone to prepare for your trip than preparing your phone; nonetheless, it belongs on your to-do list. Prepare a digital backup in case your identification gets lost or stolen. With your camera phone, take a photo of your passport or driver's license, and email the photo to yourself. You might also want to take a photo of the contents of your checked bag, which may come in handy if the airline loses your luggage. (Use the photo to help document your missing belongings when filling out a claim form.) Throughout your trip, take advantage of the camera on your phone and snap photos of anything that might serve as a helpful reminder, from your airport parking-lot spot to your hotel-room number.
But first, you need to ensure that you have space on your phone to store such images, which brings us to our next tip.
Check Available Storage
The perfect yet ephemeral travel shot appears: a candy-red sunset or a humpback's tail emerging from the ocean. You aim, shoot … and a message appears on your phone saying that there is no available storage left. You lost the shot! Argh! To prevent this pesky little mishap, check your phone's storage before you leave. On an iPhone, for example, you can do this via the "General" tab within "Settings."
Free up room on your phone by transferring photos and videos to your computer, deleting unused apps, and clearing your Internet cache.
Get a Country-Specific SIM Card
Will you be spending a lot of time in one particular country? A prepaid SIM card for the region you're visiting is an economical choice for overseas phone usage, and it allows you to make calls and use data exactly as many locals do: through a local provider. Switch your SIM card and you'll have a new local phone number and likely an affordable plan that puts scary-expensive international calling packages to shame. You won't be able to make or receive calls via your usual phone number, though.
Here's how to get one: Either pick one up prior to your departure date or get one from a local store after you arrive. We recommend the former, especially for those who don't want to waste precious trip time shopping around for SIM cards. You can order the cards online from companies such as Telestial and Brightroam.
But remember that not all phones will accept new SIM cards. You must have an "unlocked" GSM phone for this to work.
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This article was originally published by SmarterTravel under the title 10 Ways to Prepare Your Cell Phone for a Trip.
Follow Caroline Costello on Google+ or email her at at [email protected].
Posted October 4, 2013 by SmarterTravel.com
Sometimes romantic, sometimes sinister, Europe's best castles evoke a
palpable sense of both melancholy and wonder. Their ancient stones brim
with mystery and history—but not the stodgy old history of musty
textbooks. Castles are the past brought to life, a visceral reminder
that quests and battles and chivalry weren't always the exclusive
province of fantasy novels. Go medieval on your next trip with a visit
to one of these castles where ancient history is alive and well.
Carreg Cenne Castle, Wales
Never trust any list of Europe's best castles that doesn't include at
least one entry from Wales. Owing to its tumultuous history of war and
rebellion, the Welsh countryside is home to more castles per square mile
than anywhere else in the world. Our favorite is Carreg Cennen, the only ruined stronghold to make this list. Actually, we like that Carreg Cennen has been in a ruinous state since 1462. Perched on a lonely limestone hilltop in Brecon Beacons National Park
and often shrouded in mist, Carreg Cennen is easily the most evocative
castle in the land. And while it may not be quite as popular as the
larger Caerphilly Castle, Carreg Cennen will always be first in our hearts. It's open daily between April and October.
Hohenwerfen Castle, Austria
Brooding high above Austria's Salzachtal Valley amid the dramatic
peaks of the Berchtesgaden Alps, this stronghold has served alternately
as a home to kings, archbishops, and prisoners (it was a state prison
for a period of time) for more than 900 years. Today, Hohenwerfen Castle
is a popular tourist draw and the site of Austria's foremost falconry
center, where the royal hunting art is on full display with daily
Predjama Castle, Slovenia
Predjama Castle is an easy sell to castle lovers. Most famous for
being built into the side of a 400-foot cliff, it may also call to mind
visions of Tolkien's Helm's Deep. But this real-world stronghold has the
requisite dungeons, secret tunnels, and bloody history to make it a
must-see on its own merits. Visit Predjama Castle during the annual medieval tournament, held each July, for a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Guedelon Castle, France
Who says the age of castles is over? Take a trip back in time at Guedelon Castle
in Burgundy, France, where a team of 50 craftspeople and laborers are
currently using 13th-century building techniques and technology (think:
horses) to construct an authentic castle from scratch, deep within a
secluded forest. Visitors are welcomed from mid-March to early November
each year. The project has been running since 1997 and hopes to reach
completion in the 2020s.
Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany
It might be the most photographed castle in the world, but there's
still nothing quite like seeing Germany's fairy-tale castle in person.
The brainchild of "Mad King Ludwig" (or, more generously, "The
Fairy-Tale King"), Neuschwanstein has influenced everything from Disney attractions (note the similarity to Disneyland's Sleeping Beauty Castle) to books and computer games.
Take a tour of the castle grounds, but leave time for an off-site walk
along the myriad nearby trails. That's where you'll find the most
stunning views for photographs.
Eilean Donan Castle, Scotland
One of the most iconic castles in Europe, Scotland's Eilean Donan Castle is recognized the world over from its appearances on postcards and in movies like the original Highlander
("There can be only one!"). History buffs will appreciate Eilean
Donan's rich past as a key site during the 1719 Jacobite Rising, and all
will enjoy the stark beauty of its surroundings, where three great
lochs meet at the foot of an impressive mountain range. Today nearly
every part of the castle is accessible to the public for tours and
Hohenzollern Castle, Germany
This ancestral home to a line of German emperors would fit in with the fantastical fortresses imagined by J.R.R. Tolkien and George R.R. Martin. At 2,805 feet above sea level, Hohenzollern Castle really is
a castle in the clouds. The current fortress is actually the third to
be built on the site (the first was destroyed in battle and the second
fell into disrepair). Today it is a popular tourist attraction.
Hunyad Castle, Romania
The imposing Hunyad Castle,
which once imprisoned Vlad the Impaler (Bram Stoker's inspiration for
Dracula), offers plenty for castle aficionados to sink their teeth into.
Marked by myriad towers, multicolored roofs, and exaggerated stone
carvings, this Gothic-Renaissance castle was fully and fancifully
restored after decades of neglect. What we see today may or may not be
authentic (some suggest that modern architects projected their own
"wistful interpretations" of a Gothic castle onto the reconstruction),
but either way, the end result is memorable.
Edinburgh Castle, Germany
One of the best examples of a fully restored medieval fortress, Edinburgh Castle
towers over Scotland's capital city from atop an extinct volcano called
Castle Rock. It was built in the 12th century and has passed hands
between the English and the Scots numerous times over the course of its
bloody history. Today, it's open to the public year-round for tours and
From its origin as an unassuming hunting lodge to its height as the royal court of France under Louis XIV, the Sun King's Chateau de Versailles
is arguably the grandest castle in the world. No visit to Paris is
complete without at least a day trip to see the gardens, canals, and
gilded halls of Versailles.
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This article was originally published by SmarterTravel under the title 10 Best European Castles You Can Visit.
Follow Josh Roberts on Google+ or email her at at [email protected].
Posted September 19, 2013 by SmarterTravel.com
Earn your vacation black belt with these hacks that turn free items
into quick solves for common travel problems. From using a bar of soap
to fix a stuck zipper to repurposing a hotel-room standard as a security
device, hone your road-warrior survival skills with these easy tips. We
know you've got more clever ideas too, so please share them with us and
other readers in the comments section below!
Shower Cap as Shoe Cover
Flimsy shower cap, or custom shoe cover? You decide. In every
suitcase, there's a constant battle between dirty and clean items. Score
a victory for fresh-smelling shirts and dirt-free trousers by keeping
your shoes contained in a shower cap. Place them in, soles down, and let
the shower cap's elastic band cradle the shoes so that any dirt,
grease, or unidentified muck stays safely tucked away inside the plastic
pouch. Depending on the type and size of your shoes, you may need more
than one shower cap, but housekeeping is usually pretty generous with
Bar Soap as Zipper Unsticker
There's nothing quite like the startling claustrophobia that comes
from having a stuck zipper. Whether it's on a suitcase, a boot, or an
article of clothing, a zipper that won't budge almost seems to be
personally reminding you that, when it comes right down to it, it can
trap you at any time. Reclaim control by grabbing the little bar of soap
that rests on every hotel room's bathroom counter. Rub the dry bar
against the teeth of the zipper to lubricate it enough to move. Once the
zipper is unstuck, rub the soap up and down against the length of each
zipper side, and then zip and unzip a few times to prevent further
sticking. Then dust off the flakes and give yourself a high five.
Doorstop as Security Device
Little rubber doorstops hide out behind hotel-room doors, waiting for
fleeting moments of glory. And while the unassuming devices are put
there so guests can prop open their doors, they're just as effective at
keeping doors shut. So if you want an added level of security when you
turn in for the night, wedge the doorstop under the bolted door. Voila,
you've just added an additional lock.
Shampoo as Leather Polish
Travel can be hard on leather shoes, purses, belts, and jackets, so
if you find yours looking worse for the wear while you're on the road,
turn to your hotel bathroom for a quick fix. Liquid shampoo has an
amazing superpower: A small amount, rubbed in circles with a cloth, can
clean and restore the rich color of leather. And though we've never
tested it, we've also heard that it can be a handy and quick way to
protect leather shoes from winter salt stains.
Bar Soap as Bite Relief
Bugs always seem to be on vacation, which explains why so many people
return from their travels covered in bites. Spare yourself a trip to
the pharmacy and treat an itchy bug bite with a basic bar of soap from
your hotel room. Simply wet the bar a bit, rub it on the bite, and let
it dry. Some people recommend rubbing the dry bar directly onto the
bite, so experiment to see which method offers more itch relief. Take it
with you and you'll have the perfect travel-bite remedy, since as a
solid, your trusty miniature bar of soap isn't subject to the TSA
regulations that itch-relief gels and creams must follow.
Airplane Socks as Scratch Protectors
You know the socks you often get on overseas flights? The ones that
don't fit quite right and come with weird treads that make them
impossible to wear with shoes? Give them new purpose by keeping a pair
on hand to protect items from getting chipped or scratched in transit.
They're the perfect size to hold the trinkets you pick up on your
travels—the ones that don't need to be enveloped in bubble wrap but do
need a bit of extra protection before being tossed into your bag. And in
a pinch, they can serve as a handy alternative to a glasses case in
your bag or purse.
Baggage Tag as Lint Remover
Didn't bring a lint roller (and don't travel with duct tape)? No
problem, you're still likely traveling with an item that can do double
duty and help you get out the door fluff-, lint-, and animal-hair-free.
Just carefully remove the long baggage-tracking sticker from your
suitcase handle, wrap it around your hand with the sticky side facing
out, and blot at any area of clothing that needs cleaning.
Conditioner as Shaving Cream
This nonprofit please-touch museum is actually the world's largest pinball-machine collection.
In 10,000 square feet of space, find an assortment of more than 200
pinball machines and arcade games from a half century of gaming history.
And every game is playable—including an original Ms. Pac-Man from 1981
and Super Mario Bros. from 1985, plus the wooden 1947 Heavy Hitter.
Admission is free, although the games are coin-op (25 or 50 cents per
play). Just arm yourself with the knowledge that all excess revenue goes
to charity. Who knew doing good could feel like such good old-fashioned
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Posted September 18, 2013 by SmarterTravel.com
Fear of flying is a common affliction that cripples countless
travelers. Air travel is, after all, the process of tearing through the
sky in a winged tube at 600 miles per hour, thousands of feet above
solid ground. So to help us keep our natural human anxieties in check,
we turned to Dr. Margaret Wehrenberg, PsyD, a licensed clinical psychologist and author of The Anxious Brain and The 10 Best-Ever Anxiety Management Techniques.
Dr. Wehrenberg, who has worked directly with patients suffering from a
fear of flying, imparted a few wise tips for managing anxiety in the
air. Here are 10 ways nervous travelers can keep calm and carry on when
Prepare Yourself Mentally
There are basic calming techniques that travelers can use in
flight—and even before the start of their trips—to become less anxious.
"The first piece of advice," says Dr. Wehrenberg, "is to prepare
yourself mentally. When people imagine they're going to be scared, they
don't fully envision what is actually going to happen to them; it's a
'deer-in-the-headlights approach' to fear." Recognize that your fears
are not based on reality, and you'll be in a better position to take
care of yourself once anxiety sets in. Wehrenberg also says that
travelers should ask themselves if they are "willing to get through the
discomfort [of being afraid to fly] to have what [they] really want,
which is the opportunity to be on a plane." If your answer is yes, then
it's time to start learning how to manage your fears.
Prepare to Be Distracted
Dr. Wehrenberg shared a few tips for keeping busy during a long
flight. Before you board that plane, make a "panic plan" for yourself.
According to Dr. Wehrenberg, "Think about what you are going to do on
the flight, whether it's watching a DVD, listening to music, or doing
puzzles. Be prepared and have them close at hand. Think about the length
of your flight. If your flight is a three-hour flight, do you have
enough things to entertain or engage you on your trip? And when [the
flight attendant] tells you to turn off your electronics, make sure you
have something to keep yourself occupied … when [your devices] are off."
Wehrenberg also recommends packing a lavender sachet to sniff or a
peppermint to suck on, both of which work well as calming devices for
One basic calming technique endorsed by Dr. Wehrenberg is conscious
breathing. "Practice soothing breathing," says the doctor. "Breathe in
through your nose and out through your mouth as slowly as possible."
Although this bit of advice may seem obvious, breathing is arguably the
best way to vanquish anxiety. Dr. Wehrenberg tells us that controlled
breathing works because "breathing is the one thing that will stop a
Use an App
Dr. Wehrenberg recommends a few apps that help users focus on breathing: "My clients like Breathe2Relax and Relax Lite: Stress Relief, [available on Android and Apple]," in particular, she says. The Mayo Clinic Anxiety Coach app is another reputable option.
"These apps can help you with breathing, to help you keep your
focus," says Wehrenberg. "There are probably 200 [related] apps out
there, so it's easy to find an app that you like, which you can focus on
when you're trying to breathe and calm down."
Remember That Panic Will Pass
It's important to "recognize that panic will pass," says Dr.
Wehrenberg. "A panic attack [usually] doesn't last for more than a few
minutes. Then it wanes. So it's not going to last the whole trip. It
If you feel afraid of losing control and succumbing to fear during
the flight, remind yourself that even a full-on panic attack is only a
temporary affliction; you'll get through it.
Find Out What You're Afraid of
Perhaps Franklin D. Roosevelt said it best: "The only thing we have
to fear is fear itself." Wehrenberg concurs: "Some people are afraid of
crashing, but more people are afraid of having a panic attack on the
plane. So what they're really afraid of is being afraid. 'What is the
catastrophe? What do I actually think will happen? What am I making a
big deal out of? If I panic, what am I afraid will happen?' Answer these
questions before you get on the plane.
"When I'm working with my clients I tend to try to lighten up the
catastrophe. Usually what they are afraid of is not going to happen
anyway. Making a fool out of yourself is not the worst thing that will
happen. It will pass."
Focus on the Positive
Well, this spot has really blown up. With a soundtrack by Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart, this heart-pounding audio/visual attraction
at the Polynesian-themed Mirage spews fire into the Vegas air beginning
at 7 p.m. every night. The smoke that the volcano spouts more than 100
feet above the water is actually perfumed with a pleasant pina colada
scent (to cover up the odor of natural gas). The spectacle rivals the
well-known fountains at Bellagio, just a half mile up the Strip.
Learn the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT)
Practitioners of the Emotional Freedom Technique or EFT "tap on their
own acupressure points to calm down feelings of fear," says Wehrenberg.
And it's easy to learn how to master this particular anti-anxiety
method on your own. Wehrenberg recommends books such as The Tapping Solution, Energy Tapping, and Instant Emotional Healing for those who want a primer on EFT.
Know When It's Time to Seek Professional Help
The only sting here is from jellyfish. Consistently ranked one of the top free attractions in Las Vegas, the massive saltwater aquarium in Silverton Casino
will transport you from the parched desert to a vast tropical oasis.
Around 117,000 gallons of saltwater house 4,000-some fish and reef
plants as well as six species of shark and stingray. Interactive feeding
demonstrations and a mermaid show round out the offerings, while the
hotel's colossal Bass Pro Shops outpost has more tanks to explore—and
Olympic-level window-shopping to undertake.
Read a Book
Wehrenberg details further calming strategies in her book, The 10 Best-Ever Anxiety Management Techniques. She has also developed an online program for managing anxiety and depression through Candeo.
Additionally, "There's a whole 'nother way of looking at anxiety and
fear that has to do with just letting yourself embrace your panic," says
Wehrenberg. "Reid Wilson's book Don't Panic takes a different approach to [anxiety management]."
This article was originally published by SmarterTravel.com under the title 10 Tips for Nervous Flyers
Follow Caroline Costello on Google+ or email her at [email protected].
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Posted May 7, 2013 by SmarterTravel.com
you have unlimited resources, chances are you're looking for the best value you
can find in a vacation. The overarching theme for many of our suggestions is
"flexibility." When suppliers are especially eager to earn your
business, they typically offer enticements in the form of cut prices or extras,
and it's best to go where and when prices are lowest. But even if you don't
have full flexibility, you can still manage to visit the places you want
Seek the Promotions
first thing you see when you log onto SmarterTravel's Travel Deals page is a handful of promotions that
provide exceptional value. Most are for airfares or vacation packages. As I'm
writing this, one deal features a four-night air-and-hotel package to Amsterdam
for select dates in 2013 at $1,699 per person from New York, compared with $1,250
for the airfare alone. Wherever interests you, you'll find a steady parade of promotional
deals throughout the year.
the Flash- and Private-Sale Deals
reported on a handful of online flash-sale, private-sale, and discount-coupon agencies
like Groupon that offer a constantly changing mix of destination deals. For
example, our sister site SniqueAway currently posts promotional rates of $299 a
night at the elegant Windjammer Landing
Villa Beach Resort in St. Lucia for much of April and May, compared with regular prices of $490
per night. One caution, however: Don't always believe what the agencies say are
the "regular" prices—they're often inflated. Instead, compare
prices with TripAdvisor or some other good hotel-booking website.
vacation destinations exhibit at least some seasonality, and many offer low
off-season prices. At the posh W Scottsdale, for example, you'll pay up to $349
per night in April but as low as $178 for the same room in July. Low seasons
vary by destination: The best prices in the Caribbean are in the fourth quarter
of the year. The best prices in mountain resorts are found in fall (before the
skiing starts) and in spring (after skiing is over but before the summer prices
peak). Low seasons in big cities are the month before and during the Christmas
and New Year's holidays. Low seasons at Disney resorts are when kids are in
school. If you aren't sure about seasonality, check Hotwire's TripStarter, which tracks
average prices for airfare and hotels for many popular vacation destinations. Keep
in mind, however, that the vacation experience is often very different in low
season than in high: Scottsdale in midsummer is not as appealing as during
Close to Home
don't have to schlep all the way to France for a French experience: For North
Americans, Montreal and Quebec City are a lot closer—and when you
compare prices, it's even more enticing to stick close to home. For example,
the four-star La Maison Favart in Paris starts at $500 per
night in April, while the four-star Hotel Nelligan in Montreal is just
$175 per night for the same weekend. Sure, the Alps are spectacular, but so is
the Grand Canyon. The U.S., Canada, and the nearby Caribbean and Gulf have a
lot to offer without having to fly halfway around the world.
for a Bundle
absent a promotional price, you will often find that air-hotel, air-car, and
air-hotel-car bundles can be a lot less expensive than buying the exact same
components separately. Just about everybody is in on the bundle act: airlines,
hotels, independent tour operators, and major online travel agencies (OTAs).
Often, these bundles allow you to specify exactly what you want: flight, hotel,
far the best way to enjoy maximum value in hotel accommodations and rental cars
is to buy through one of the opaque agencies, where you either "bid"
on a room or car or accept a price "blind" without knowing the hotel
or rental company until after you make a nonrefundable purchase. The two
biggest opaque agencies are Priceline
(bid) and Hotwire (blind price), but several other OTAs
now offer opaque options. You can pretty much get what you want by limiting
hotel choices by star rating and, in big cities, neighborhoods. The prices can
be as much as 50 percent off. Opaque agencies also sell airfare, but prices
aren't much better and the loss of flexibility is an important factor.
in One Destination
you elect a city vacation, stay put once you arrive in your destination.
Roaming around via rental car, regional plane, or train adds a lot to your
daily cost. Boston, Chicago, Montreal, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco,
Vancouver, Washington, Beijing, Berlin, Budapest, London, Madrid, Paris,
Sydney, Tokyo, or just about any other major world-class city has plenty to
keep you occupied for a week or two.
Out the Local Deals
possible, use public transportation rather than taxis. Look for day- or weeklong
transit passes, museum and attraction passes, senior or student discounts (if
you qualify), and any other similar deals. Check with the local visitor office,
either before you start your trip or as soon as you arrive, for any specials
available to visitors. Use the discount theater booths in London and New York
or online ticketing agencies that cover events nationwide.
days, you can travel almost anywhere in the developed world by staying at
accommodations that are a cut below your usual preference. If you normally stay
at four-star hotels, dropping down to three-star properties won't cramp your
style much, and even going from midprice to budget is adequate in most places.
Similarly, if you feel the need to hit a three-star restaurant, go for lunch
rather than dinner. Also try the "best"-rated places only for one or
two meals and settle for second-best for the rest.
Europe, Stay in the Country
you want to enjoy France, Germany, the U.K., or any other European country, you'll
find that renting a car and moseying through the countryside is both a
wonderful experience and a way to slash your hotel and restaurant bills. Also,
consider using a vacation rental in the countryside as a base for day trips.
In, Eat Out
rentals and "suite" hotels and motels that come with kitchens can cut
your daily food bills substantially. Either look for hotels with "free"
breakfasts or eat breakfasts in your room. Figure on takeout or picnic lunches
where feasible. Buy beverages from a supermarket rather than piling up a big
bill in a hotel or restaurant. At all costs, avoid your hotel's price-gouging
the Urge to Shop
vacation shopping often results in the accumulation of stuff that looked like a
good idea at the time but quickly winds up in the back of some closet or in the
trash. For anything practical, the U.S. generally has lower prices than you will
find anywhere else. Rigorously apply the "where will this be in six months"
test to anything that tempts you. Note that many supposed "bargains"
in fashion and tech goods turn out to be counterfeit. If you can't tell the
difference between a genuine emerald and a piece of a broken Coke bottle, don't
buy emeralds. You get the drift.
Read the original story: 12 Ways to Cut Vacation Costs by Ed Perkins
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Posted May 15, 2009 by Nicki Krawczyk
I’m happy to give credit where credit is due, especially when it comes to genius money-making schemes. Well, genius legal money-making schemes. Which is why I’m willing to congratulate the airlines on their recent success: over the last year, excess baggage fees have earned airlines over $1 billion.
Now, I know that airline fees haven’t been particularly, oh, "popular" with airline passengers. People don’t like to pay for stuff that used to be free. Plus, for those who don’t happen to follow travel blogs (unlike you, dear reader), those extra fees usually came as a surprise right when it was too late to make alternate plans. If you’re at the check-in counter, it’s a little late to pack light enough to carry your bag on and if you’re up in the air at thirty thousand feet, it’s a little late to pack a sandwich.
However, as with all things, we adapted. We grumbled, but we sure weren’t about to drive from Phoenix to Cleveland just to save the $25 checked-bag fee. And, yes, I’m not crazy about shelling out extra dough for a packet of peanuts, but I’m also not crazy about a crucial industry continuing its nose dive into debt and Chapter 11. The airplanes need us… and we need the airplanes.
So, to this recent news of airlines actually making a little money, I say, “Huzzah!” There still need to be major changes in order to avoid a Detroit-style meltdown, but every little bit (and yes, by “little bit,” I mean a billion dollars) helps. Start setting out tip jars, big airlines, and we’ll see if we can’t make that 2 billion.
Posted April 30, 2009 by Nicki Krawczyk
It may not be my job to be your go-to girl for potential pandemics, but there seems to be so much crazy information out there regarding the swine flu and the ins and outs, ups and downs of travel, that I thought it might be a good idea to compile a bit of useful information.
First of all, three cheers for new media! Through the uber-easy-to-use media-darling Twitter, real information from valid sources can be disseminated quickly and easily to those who want to hear it. Case in point (and as reported by NPR) the Center for Disease Control has been tweeting like crazy to keep the public up to date about outbreak information.
Also, our good friends over at SmarterTravel have put together a very helpful and regularly-updated article for those travelers who are concerned about swine flu and equally concerned about how it will affect their trips. Find information about current warnings, which airlines and hotels aren’t charging change fees, how to protect yourself en route, and more.
In an effort to come to your aid in as broad of a spectrum as possible, I’ll even present to you information on how to get into Mexico for less. Please note that the government has recommended that you not visit this country for non-essential trips. However, that means that there are lots of empty planes and plenty of cheap flights to Mexico to be found. It goes without saying, of course, but you'll be traveling at your own risk.
Speaking of which, if you’re willing to hedge your bets a bit, right now might be a great time to try to nab a flight to Mexico for several months into the future after (hopefully) the furor has calmed down. It’s somewhat risky in terms of timing and pricing, but I just found a round-trip flight leaving September 21st and returning the 28th from Boston to Cancun starting at $255. I’m certainly no prophet and prices could always go lower if airlines get desperate about trying to recoup losses, but just keeping your eyes open is never a bad idea.
Posted April 24, 2009 by Katie Blais
I recently got an iPhone and it's quickly become another appendage. I use it for everything: email, texting, facebook, light saber fights with coworkers and my roommate—you know, real important stuff! But when it comes to travel the iPhone can be a huge help with tons of applications to help out at the airport and beyond!
There are a bunch of applications out there that can help you check the status of your flight, maneuver your way through airports, even find another flight if you happen to miss yours.
Also, once you get to your destination, you can use tons of apps to find your way around. For 10 bucks you can download the newest Zagat Guide and babelingo helps you with those common phrases like "donde esta el baño por favor?"
Plus, you will feel less like a tourist and more like a super-savvy tech person having all this info contained in your iPhone instead of lugging around maps and guidebooks all over the place.
Even if your “traveling” is just around the city, there is even an application to find taxi services around you. You can get reviews and even see which cab companies take credit cards, a good thing for people like me who never carry cash.
Get the skinny on a bunch more cool iPhone travel apps at Seat Guru!
Posted April 23, 2009 by Nicki Krawczyk
Score one for the proponents of transparency: Despite the FAA’s best efforts, the rate of incidents of airplanes striking birds will be made public.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood apparently rejected the FAA’s proposal that all bird strike data be kept secret, saying (by way of Transportation Department spokesperson Jill Zuckman) that the public has a right to this information.
The FAA, meanwhile, has been protesting for weeks that posting the information would discourage voluntary reporting and could embarrass or unfairly penalize airports with higher rates. Luckily for the FAA, I’ve got a solution! First, replace that “voluntary” in your reporting strategy with “mandatory”. Other types of airplane accidents must be automatically reported, why not this one? Plus, the government is very good at making "reporting things" mandatory. In fact, having just sent off a lovely check to the IRS on the 15th, I can confirm that they are very good at that.
And to say that airports might be embarrassed or even have travel numbers affected by a high rate of bird strikes is sheer speculation. In general, people have to fly out of the airport nearest to them. Unless there’s some kind of Alfred Hitchcock situation going on, no one’s going drive 50 miles to a different airport with a lower bird strike rate.
Is there a slim chance that would-be air travelers might instead start looking for rental car deals instead of flying? I suppose. But, there’s an equally likely chance that making this information public, if it is, in fact, particularly shocking, might just provide an impetus to figure out a solution to the problem.
Posted April 9, 2009 by Nicki Krawczyk
Here’s the thing about airlines–sometimes they descend and sometimes they ascend. As you may have noticed over the past couple of years, the overall level of customer satisfaction, service and timeliness has hovered around 5,000 feet (metaphorically speaking, of course). Well, good news, air travelers: On that scale they’ve done a bit of ascending. We’re nowhere near cruising altitude yet, but any move up is a good one when it comes to air travel.
According to an annual quality survey put out by private researchers and based on government statistics, things are looking up pretty much across the board. (Seriously!) From better on-time records to fewer lost/mishandled bags and fewer bumped passengers, airline service has improved down to even the small regional carriers.
Great news, right? Now, there’s less of a chance that your weekend getaways will turn into weeklong odysseys or that your one-way flights will turn into no-way flights. Yay! However, the story isn’t quite as cut and dry as it seems—it’s not necessarily that airlines are getting better at accommodating all of their customers; the statistics could be much more influenced by the fact that there are fewer customers to accommodate.
With the economy in a tenuous spot, fewer people are traveling and, with fewer people traveling, fewer people need to get bumped off of overbooked flights. And with fewer customers to provide service for, it may just naturally be easier for airlines to provide said service. Also, fees for checked luggage may have led to more people carrying on their luggage and—yep, you guessed it—resulted in fewer instances of checked bags being mishandled because there are fewer bags to be handled, in the first place.
So, as air travelers, we’re kind of happier. The airlines are treating us (and our luggage) better, but we’re also paying more in fees and, with fewer and fewer flights available, having harder times finding flights that accommodate our schedules. In my estimation, the best way to balance this out (and avoid a zero sum game) is just to bask in the good service you do get … and find yourself some fantastic airline deals.