Travel

Why Kindle Paperwhite Is Perfect for Travelers

Posted August 1, 2014 by SmarterTravel.com

What Is it: Amazon's Kindle Paperwhite with 6-inch High Resolution Display, Next-Gen Built-in Light, and Wi-Fi

Price and Where to Buy: Available from Amazon.com and some brick-and-mortar retail outlets like Staples and Best Buy. It's $119 for the Kindle Paperwhite with "special offers" and $139 for the advertisement-free version. (A 3G version is available starting at $189.)

Pros:

* It reads like a real book. More than any other e-reader I've tried, and way more than any tablet, the newest version (2013 release) of the Kindle Paperwhite excels at delivering a comfortable reading experience. There's no eye strain from reading for hours at a time.
* The adjustable brightness levels allow you to read in any lighting condition, including bright sunlight or complete dark. If you read at bedtime and a traditional book light disturbs your partner's sleep, the Kindle Paperwhite's adjustable brightness control is the solution.
* The battery life is outstanding. I took my Kindle Paperwhite on lengthy trips to Asia and Europe and never had to charge it. In the three months I've owned it, I may have charged it twice, total. And I read a lot of books.
* At just 7.3 ounces, it doesn't weigh much. I can hold it for a long time in one hand without strain. It also fits comfortably in my back pocket, which makes it easy to carry through airports and train terminals and allows me to access it quickly whenever I have a minute to read.
* The Kindle Paperwhite displays a "time left in chapter" indicator based on your reading speed that lets you know how long it will take you to finish a chapter. This is great for trains and buses and airports, where you need to know if you can squeeze in a few more pages before your stop. (You can also turn off this display if you don't like it.)
* The touch-screen technology makes it easy to turn the page with a tap of the finger. It is actually easier than reading a physical book.
* You can borrow e-books from your local library and easily download them to your device. No need to transfer files from a computer. (Pro tip: Load up on library books then turn off your wi-fi—the books will stay on your device even after the loan has ended, until you turn the wi-fi back on.)
* It's easy to switch between devices (Kindle Fire, iPad, your smartphone, etc.) without ever losing your place; the Kindle Paperwhite tracks your progress and allows you to jump to wherever you left off from your last reading session.

Cons:

* I'm not a fan of the "special offers" version, which is $20 less expensive than the advertisement-free device. The offers are limited to the sleep screen and don't intrude upon the reading experience, but there's something mildly irritating to this voracious reader about having ads on my device. (Your mileage may vary.) If you decide to purchase the cheaper device with "special offers" and later discover you feel like I do about them, you can pay the $20 difference at any time and Amazon will remove them from your device forever.

How it Rates:

* Usefulness: 10/10. This is the best e-reader ever. You can read it in any lighting environment. It's easy to hold with just one hand. And you can load up on an entire library of books for any given trip. (In fact, it can hold about 1,100 books at a time.)
* Portability: 10/10. It fits in your pocket!
* Value: 8/10. At $119 or $139, this is a reasonable price for a great e-reader, but it's still not cheap. You'll save money eventually if you're a rabid reader: The cost of buying new hardcovers (which tend to be expensive) as e-books (which tend to be less expensive) will ultimately make up the difference and then some. But there's still a sizable down payment involved.
* Cool Factor: 10/10. For book purists and late e-book adopters like me, the Kindle Paperwhite is the e-reader we've been waiting for.

Final Verdict: This is the device that finally converted me to e-readers. I may never go back to physical books now. The Kindle Paperwhite is that good.

Editor's Note: Reviews are based on usefulness, portability, durability, value, and "cool factor." Some review products are sent to us free of charge and with no incentive to offer a favorable review. We offer our unbiased opinions, positive and negative, and will never accept compensation to review a product. If you have any questions or comments concerning our reviews, or would like to suggest a product for review, please email editor@smartertravel.com.

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This article was originally published by SmarterTravel under the title Why the Kindle Paperwhite Is the Perfect E-Reader for Travelers.

Follow Josh Roberts on Google+ or email her at editor@smartertravel.com.

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10 Unique City Tours Around the World

Posted May 5, 2014 by SmarterTravel.com

(Photo: Magic Bus)

See a completely different side of a city when you break away from the mob of tourists following the guide with the red umbrella. On these 10 unique city tours, you'll venture into the Bronx with an old-school rapper, see abandoned buildings in Portugal's second city, and go longboarding through Amsterdam's most famous park. You're sure to come home with a camera full of authentic experiences that most visitors miss.

 

(Photo: Bats Over Congress Avenue Bridge via Shutterstock)

Never Unpack Your Travel Items

Crowds gather from March through October on the Congress Avenue Bridge to see a natural spectacle that has earned the resident bat colony celebrity status in Austin. Each night at dusk, 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats emerge from beneath the bridge, swirling like a black ribbon into the sky. For a unique perspective on the mass exodus, watch it from the water on a Congress Avenue Kayaks bat tour. With a small group of 10, you'll paddle under the bridge in sit-on-top kayaks. After encountering the bats, you can venture out on your own to see other sights on the water.

Details: The 90-minute kayak bat tour departs at sunset in season and is $30 for a two-person kayak.

Insider Tip: You can also watch the bats from the Four Seasons Hotel Austin's lobby lounge, which serves a "Batini" cocktail. Plan an August visit to coincide with the city's annual bat festival.

 

(Photo: Magic Bus San Francisco Tour)

1960s Summer of Love Tour, San Francisco, California

It's all peace, love, and bubble-spewing on this psychedelic hippie bus that takes you on a trip back to San Francisco's 1960s counterculture. The Magic Bus Tour stops at landmarks of the city's hippie movement; you can even join in a drum circle (this time without the purple haze). On the bus, a groovy guide/actor will share interesting stories and rock out with you to the music of the era. It's a multimedia adventure that evokes the decade's politics and attitudes through live action and video projections on the bus's retractable window screens. The tour hits Chinatown and the North Beach spot where Jack Kerouac hung out. You'll see Golden Gate Park and the crossroads of Haight and Ashbury streets, home of the Summer of Love, in a whole new light.

Details: The two-hour tour is $55 and starts at Union Square.

Insider Tip: Bring a jacket or sweater. It can be chilly at Golden Gate Park even if it's warm downtown at the tour's start.

 

(Photo: Rob Moody)

Downtown Yoga Tour, Asheville, North Carolina

Take your downward dog downtown in Asheville, North Carolina. On this Travelling Yogini Tour, you'll strike a pose and connect with your breath in several of the city's iconic spots. A yoga guide will start with beginner-level stretches and, as you move from Pritchard Park to the Flat Iron Building to the artsy Chicken Alley district, the poses will become more challenging. By the time you finish with a cooldown and meditation, you'll have heard about Asheville's history and architecture. Between flowing in and out of poses, you'll meet street performers, artists, and others who are out exploring the city.

Details: The 90-minute downtown tour is $20.

Insider Tip: Along the way, the yoga guide will point out funky boutiques and specialty shops, giving you interesting tidbits on the history and products so you can plan your apres-yoga shopping route.

 

(Photo: Berlinagenten)

Urban Home-Visit Tour, Berlin, Germany

Want an invitation to sit in a Berliner's flat and chat over coffee or beer? The Urban Living Tour, the ultimate insider's tour, will introduce you to three different Berliners in three different neighborhoods. You'll get to go inside their homes and spend an hour visiting and checking out their decor. The hosts you'll meet will depend on who is in town on the day you're visiting. It could be a set designer in an underground courtyard apartment or a photographer with an uber-luxe pad on a main thoroughfare built in the Stalin era. While you snoop around and see how they live, you'll hear about what drew them to the city and what they love about it.

Details: The 4.5-hour tour includes visits to three private apartments, drinks and sweets, sightseeing between the visits, transport, and a private guide. Prices vary based on how many people are taking the tour; see website for details.

Insider Tip: Keep an open mind and come with questions.

 

(Photo: Dominic Stevenson)

City Tour Led by Homeless Guide, London, England

See London through the eyes of someone who lives on the city's streets. Unseen Tours hires and professionally trains homeless and formerly homeless people to lead its walking tours of London Bridge, Camden, Shoreditch, and Convent Garden. See the stark contrast between historical landmarks and sites where the guides have slept, hear riveting personal stories, and discover tucked-away places few others ever experience. The tour ends at either a pub or a cafe, so you can carry on with your guide or group in a discussion that ebbs between the politics of street begging and the effects of gentrification on the East End.

Details: The tour runs $9 to $14 per hour and usually lasts about 90 minutes.

Insider Tip: On each tour, the company reserves two free spots for those who are either unable to pay or are accompanying someone as a caregiver. Wondering how much of the ticket sales goes back to the guide? About 80 percent. Unseen Tours was the winner for best tour operator for local experiences in the World Responsible Tourism Awards 2011.

 

(Photo: Thinkstock/iStock)

'Worst' Walking Tour, Porto, Portugal

This tour in Portugal's second-largest city is the antithesis of a tourist trap. Avoiding all of Porto's polished postcard-perfect sites, it takes visitors past decrepit homes and crumbling shops. Started by three out-of-work architects who stuck around after the country was hit hard by the recession, The Worst Tours will show you the not-for-tourists sites and guides will tell stories about the old markets and abandoned buildings, helping you understand what's behind Europe's economic crisis. Learn about Porto's architecture, history, politics, and urbanism from a few people who are "OK with not being popular or cool or the best in anything, least of all touring."

Details: Tours are two to three hours and are free.

Insider Tip: Let your guide know which parts of the city you've already visited and what your interests are, and he or she will create a route that shows you things you haven't seen.

 

(Photo: Urban Adventures)

Gwana Music Tour, Essaouira, Morocco

New this spring, the Gnawa Music Experience tour gives you a unique encounter with one of Morocco's off-the-charts popular trends: trance-like Gnawa music and its acrobatic dance moves. You'll be introduced to the addictive music's Afro-Moroccan culture and customs in the medina, where musicians will be jamming. Then, you'll step inside hidden domains typically inaccessible to visitors: You'll go into the home of a dancer to see him perform, watch a troupe master play a traditional lute-like instrument in his private quarters, and visit a temple where sacred rituals drive out evil spirits.

Details: The evening tour costs around $100 and lasts two to three hours.

Insider Tip: Both men and women should dress with respect, covering everything from the shoulders to the knees. At the end of the tour, your guide can recommend places to go dancing where you'll hear Gnawa music fused with Western and Latin music.

 

(Photo: TripAdvisor LLC)

Hip-Hop Tour, New York, New York

With a legendary hip-hop artist as your guide, Hush Tours will give you a truly entertaining experience in the Bronx and Harlem, the birthplace of the culture. Here, people on the street might recognize and give shout-outs to the Hush Tours guides—Grandmaster Caz, Kurtis Blow, and others—as they delve into four aspects of hip-hop culture: DJing, MCing, B-boy and B-girl dancing, and graffiti artistry. You'll see the important landmarks and check out where Biggie, Nas, and Jay-Z grew up on this fun tour.

Details: Tours range from two hours ($32) to four hours ($75).

Insider Tip: Wear comfortable clothes and shoes. At one point on the tour, you'll learn hip-hop moves and try them out on the streets.

 

(Photo: LiveToronto)

Date-Night City Tour with a Photographer, Toronto, Canada

Nothing against snapping a selfie with your iPhone, but on LiveToronto's Date Night Tour, you'll get enviable pics (without your arm) for posting on Facebook or printing in a photo book. Depending on your interests (sports, architecture, music, etc.), your personal paparazzo will plan a walking route to hit Toronto's key sites and set up photo ops. As you explore downtown's icons and hidden gems, your photographer guide will share interesting details about each landmark while capturing everything from classic poses to silly shots. Choose your own adventure: You can include the Harbourfront, the base of the CN Tower, Osgoode Hall, Roundhouse Park, and others.

Details: The 60-minute private tour is $100 to $200 per couple and includes 50 fully edited digital photos, which will be delivered within 24 hours.

Insider Tip: Don't surprise your significant other with this date-night tour—there are too many things to consider beforehand (including hair, nails, and a second outfit or pair of shoes for another look). The company runs tours for families and corporate groups, too.

 

(Photo: Vondelsurfing)

Longboarding Tour, Amsterdam, the Netherlands

You won't find this longboard tour through Vondelpark in your guidebook or officially operated by any local tour company. But check Vayable.com and there it is: Vondelsurfing, offered by a "semi-professional amateur" longboarder named Milan V. In the new sharing economy, websites like Vayable.com connect you with a vetted local guide. Here, Milan V. puts you on a long skateboard in the middle of Amsterdam's most popular park, hands you a rope, and pulls you behind a fixie bicycle for a couple of hours. It's a chance to see the park like a true hipster Amsterdammer, says Milan V., who has hosted beginners as well as seasoned longboarders.

Details: The two-hour tour is $24 and includes all gear, a drink, and photo/video of your ride.

Insider Tip: Vondelsurfing is fun in pairs of two, so you can switch and watch how the other is doing.

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This article was originally published by SmarterTravel under the title 10 Truly Unique City Tours Around the World.

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9 Packing Tips for Lazy People

Posted May 2, 2014 by SmarterTravel.com

(Photo: Thinkstock/iStock)

Digging out your suitcase, deciding what to bring, panicking that you've forgotten something—it's no way to start a trip. That's why we've distilled the art of packing down to nine essential tips that will transform the way you pack, even if you're a lazy procrastinator.

 

(Photo: Thinkstock/iStock)

Never Unpack Your Travel Items

You probably won't need your adapter, inflatable neck pillow, or mini laundry bag in daily life, so why bother unpacking them? Leave all of your travel items in your suitcase after a trip. That way, they'll be in your bag and ready to go when you need them. Plus, you won't have to worry about forgetting them if they're already packed.

 

(Photo: Thinkstock/iStock)

Commit to a Travel Uniform

I wear the same outfit every time I fly. I know that it's comfortable, presentable, and warm—key elements whether you're in the air for an hour or for 20 hours. Choose something from your wardrobe and commit to making it your travel uniform. That way, you won't have to stress over at least one outfit on your trip—you can just pull it on and go.

 

(Photo: Thinkstock/Stockbyte)

Keep a Basket Handy

Do you wait until the last minute to pack? Keep a basket in your bedroom, laundry room, or bathroom that you can use to throw in items you'll need to pack as you come across them. This makes you less likely to forget these items; plus, you can just toss the contents of the basket(s) into your suitcase when you panic-pack right before leaving for the airport.

 

(Photo: Thinkstock/iStock)

Buy Wrinkle-Free Clothing

You won't need to worry about carefully packing your items of clothing if they're made from wrinkle-free fabrics. Ball them up in your suitcase, crumple them at the bottom of your carry-on, whatever—you'll still look fresh and pulled together when you arrive in your destination.

 

(Photo: Thinkstock/iStock)

Drop Off Your Laundry at a Laundromat

Anyone who lives in an apartment or a house without a washer/dryer is familiar with the joys of the "wash and fold" service that many laundromats offer. Simply drop off your dirty clothes and return a few hours later to collect your clean, perfectly folded laundry. The beauty of this service? You can simply drop the crisply folded clothing into your suitcase—no need to wash and fold clothing on your own. If you're really lazy, many Laundromats offer door-to-door services: You can have your dirty laundry picked up, cleaned, and delivered to you without ever leaving the house.

 

(Photo: Thinkstock/Hemera)

Keep Old Packing Lists

Odds are you end up taking trips that require you to pack similar items. Keep old packing lists from former vacations to the beach, ski resort, and city—that way, you'll always have a list of at least the basics. The best way to do this is to save lists on your computer or smartphone, so you're not scrambling to remember where you left handwritten packing lists.

 

(Photo: Toiletries Bag via Shutterstock)

Pre-Pack Your Toiletries Case

You know those small product samples that come free with purchase, after your haircut, or from the dentist (travel-sized toothpaste, anyone)? Keep those in your toiletries bag for the next time you travel. You can even take the hotel toiletries—keep them in your bag and you won't have to worry about decanting all your regular products into 3-1-1-sized bottles for your next flight.

 

(Photo: Thinkstock/iStock)

Schedule a Packing Time

Time can get away from you before a trip, what with making sure that you're caught up at work, at home, and with the other responsibilities of daily life. Schedule a night well in advance of departure to pack. That way, you're not frantically last-minute packing at 1:00 a.m. on the day that you leave.

 

(Photo: Thinkstock/Creatas)

Buy Stuff When You Arrive

Decide that at your destination, you'll buy any toiletries or anything else you were too lazy to pack. The downside: You'll waste time, exert effort, and spend money to obtain these things while on your trip. But hey, that's a problem for future you, right?

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This article was originally published by SmarterTravel under the title Nine Packing Tips for Lazy People.

Follow Caroline Morse on Google+ or email her at editor@smartertravel.com.

Like this story? Join the 1 million other travelers who read our free Deal Alert newsletter. It's full of our best tips, trip ideas, and travel deals. Subscribe here today!

Seven Scenic Roads Too Terrifying to Drive

Posted November 10, 2013 by SmarterTravel.com

North Yungas Road-580x382

Forget about your seat belt: You might want to strap into a parachute for some of these dizzying and dangerous roads. We hear there are some killer views. (Literally!)

North Yungas Road with Roadside Memorial-580x382

North Yungas Road, Bolivia

Maybe it's the dizzying heights that will scare you. Or maybe it's the shocking lack of guardrails. Or maybe, just maybe, it's the 300 drivers who reportedly plummet to their deaths each year that will give you pause before you tackle this narrow death trap with a view. The careening adventure cyclists probably won't help, either. Toss in a healthy dose of wet weather and accompanying fog and you can see where "Death Road" got its nickname. Forget about wearing a seat belt—you might be better off with a parachute.

Find Your Way There: North Yungas Road connects Bolivia's Amazon region with La Paz.

Watch: Drive the North Yungas Road vicariously here.

 

Irohazaka-580x382

Irohazaka Road, Japan

A thing of hyper-winding beauty, Japan's Irohazaka Road features a staggering 120-degree bend and 48 frightful hairpin turns. To complicate matters, American drivers must also be prepared to navigate the drive on the opposite side of the car—and probably in a stick shift, to boot. But hey, at least there are guardrails!

Find Your Way There: Irohazaka Road is actually two roads, one going up and the other going down, on Route 120 near Nikko, Japan.

Watch: Drive the Irohazaka Road vicariously here.

Spreuerhofstrasse-580x382

Spreuerhofstrasse, Germany

Squeezing in at a mere 12.2 inches at its narrowest, Germany's Spreuerhofstrasse is not for the broad-shouldered or wide-girthed set. Its claustrophobia-inducing measurements were established in the 18th century, and today it holds the title of narrowest street in the world. Sadly, this record-breaking street may soon cease to exist due to a water-seepage issue that has caused the already-constricted walls to bulge.

Find Your Way There: Spreuerhofstrasse is in Reutlingen, Baden-Wurttemberg, Germany.

Watch: Walk the Spreuerhofstrasse vicariously here.

Guoliang-580x382

Guoliang Tunnel, China

If Germany's Spreuerhofstrasse is anxiety inducing, China's Guoliang Tunnel is borderline hyperventilation worthy. This three-quarter-mile-long tunnel was literally carved along the side of and through a mountain. Speed, altitude, and incoming traffic don't help the hair-raising situation, either.

Find Your Way There: The Guoliang Tunnel is near Guoliang Village in the Henan province of China.

Watch: Drive the Guoliang Tunnel vicariously here.

Highway 110-580x382

National Highway 110, China

What's scarier than rush-hour traffic? Try a 12-day traffic jam. Back in 2010, a two-mile-per-day pace on this highway was attributed to an influx of vehicles on a single road. Ironically enough, the main cause of the congestion was a large number of trucks transporting building materials to be used for highway expansion. Stranded drivers took to card playing and reading to keep entertained. For nearly two weeks. Traffic on National Highway 110 remains routinely congested to this day.

Find Your Way There: National Highway 110 runs from Beijing to Yinchuan, China.

Watch: Drive National Highway 110 vicariously here.

Dalton Highway-580x382

James Dalton Highway, Alaska

Alaska's unforgiving landscape is for neither the weak nor the unprepared. In fact, the James Dalton Highway is so desolate that you'll come across just three towns (combined population: 60) over the length of this roughly 400-mile-long road. Expect minimal roadside assistance.

Find Your Way There: The James Dalton Highway is mostly a utility highway frequented by trucks serving the area's oil fields. It runs along the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System, starting north of Fairbanks and ending just shy of the Arctic Ocean.

Watch: Drive the James Dalton Highway vicariously here.

Atlantic Ocean Road-580x382

Atlantic Ocean Road, Norway

Norway's Atlantic Ocean Road topped The Guardian's list of the Five Best Road Trips in 2006. The road features eight architecturally interesting bridges and viewpoints that will take your breath away, and it even passes by scuba-diving resorts. But the 5.2-mile-long stretch also has a dark side: storms—lots of 'em. When the fierce Norwegian Sea whips its fury upon windshields, visibility drops and danger rises. So file this one under "scenic but deadly."

Find Your Way There: The Atlantic Ocean Road runs across a partially inhabited archipelago and connects Averoy with the mainland at Eide.

Watch: Drive the Atlantic Ocean Road vicariously here.

 

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This article was originally published by SmarterTravel under the title Seven Scenic Roads Too Terrifying to Drive. 

 Follow Patricia Magaña on Google+ or email her at at editor@smartertravel.com.

 

10 Ways to Prepare Your Cell Phone for a Trip

Posted November 8, 2013 by SmarterTravel.com

580x382hipsterswithphones

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.

580x382Knowyourphone

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.

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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.

580x382Gettherightgadgets

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.

580x382turnoffdata

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.

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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.

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Download Entertainment

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 editor@smartertravel.com.

 

America's Most Haunted Restaurants and Bars

Posted October 19, 2013 by SmarterTravel.com

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Bordello murders, fatal wedding-day accidents, hate-fueled arson attacks, and other tragedies have left behind unsettled spirits in historic restaurants and bars across the country. For the spine-chilling chance to see the resident apparitions and experience their antics, sit down to a filet mignon in Michigan or hit the slot machines at a Nevada saloon. Here are some of America's most haunted restaurants and bars—ones that have given employees, patrons, and even ghost hunters more than what they ordered.

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Mission Table, Traverse City, Michigan

The unhappy ghost of Genevive Stickney, an obese and jealous woman, still frequents her former residence, now Mission Table restaurant. As the story goes, Genevive and her Chicago lumber-baron husband built the home in the late 1800s. Succumbing to the excesses of good food and fruit brandies, the attractive Genevive became quite stout. She had a special gilt-edged mirror installed that made her appear thinner than she was, but eventually she became so large that she needed an elevator to transport her to the second floor. When her philandering husband took up with a mistress and left the mistress all his money, Genevive took her own life.

Haunted Encounters: In Genevive's mirror, restaurant guests have seen the reflection of a woman dressed in 19th-century clothing with hair pulled into a tight bun, the way Genevive wore hers. Lights turn themselves on and off, objects are mysteriously hurled through the air at people, hands on the grandfather clock are moved ahead, and candles are found burning in the morning.

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The Brass Rail, Hoboken, New Jersey

A ghost bride is said to haunt the historical Brass Rail restaurant in downtown Hoboken. Legend has it that on her wedding day in 1904, she tripped at the top of the staircase, fell, broke her neck, and died. Later that night, her distraught husband, who was drinking heavily, wrote a suicide note and hung himself in a room near the stairs.

Haunted Encounters: Restaurant staff and patrons have spotted spirits of the bride and groom wandering up and down the stairs. A photo taken by the New Jersey Ghost Hunters Society revealed a white wisp of smoke hovering above the stairs when no one was smoking in the room. Others say they have heard walking in the upstairs dining room when it was empty and seen the ghost of a woman wearing white in the back alley.

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The UpStairs Lounge, New Orleans, Louisiana

Forty years ago, one of the deadliest crimes against the LGBT community in U.S. history took place at this French Quarter gay bar above The Jimani Lounge & Restaurant when an arsonist set it on fire, killing 32 men. The UpStairs Lounge had only one entrance—the door at the bottom of the stairwell, where the fire originated. While the fire blazed, patrons tried desperately to climb out the windows but couldn't escape, since windows were mostly barred or blocked completely. Several bodies were unclaimed by embarrassed family members, and the arsonist was never caught. The UpStairs Lounge area is now the kitchen of the first-floor Jimani Lounge & Restaurant.

Haunted Encounters: The building's current owner, who witnessed the event as a child when his father was owner, has seen apparitions of charred bodies, dark shadows, white orbs, and flashes of light in the building. When Syfy's Ghost Hunters crew visited last year, detectors picked up screeching noises in the stairwell.

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The Masquerade, Atlanta, Georgia

This concert venue in Atlanta's historic Old Fourth Ward neighborhood was originally a mill that produced wood shavings. Since the mill property's opening at the turn of the 20th century, it has seen its share of fires, structural collapses, and the gruesome accidental death of mill worker Hubert Neal in 1899. But the grisly stories that circulate at The Masquerade only add to the appeal for the goths, metalheads, and punk rockers who converge here for shows.

Haunted Encounters: Staff and concertgoers repeatedly report sightings of an apparition of a tall black man and say they've heard voices, screaming, and heavy phantom footsteps. An investigation by the Georgia Society for the Paranormal Sciences gathered accounts from multiple employees who described the feeling of being watched. The group recorded several unexplained noises and encountered a dark human-shaped mass. In the middle of the night, the group watched as a mysterious dense white fog appeared and dissipated on the club's second level, called "Heaven."

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Pioneer Saloon, Goodsprings, Nevada

The paranormal activity at this 100-year-old Wild West saloon just outside Las Vegas kicked off the 2013 season of Ghost Adventures on The Travel Channel. Reportedly haunted by an elderly miner and a cheating gambler who was killed at a card table in 1915, the Pioneer Saloon hasn't changed much since the days of the town's mining boom. Bullet holes from the gambler's murder can still be seen in the wall.

Haunted Encounters: Nearly every bar employee has seen the ghost of the elderly miner, a short man who wears a cowboy hat, standing behind people at the slot machines or hanging out by the potbellied stove. The spirit of the gambler makes an occasional appearance at a card table at the back of the bar. Visitors and staff have also been known to hear disembodied voices and see mysterious trails of cigarette smoke materialize.

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The Brentwood Restaurant & Wine Bistro, Little River, South Carolina

Drawing paranormal-research conferences, A&E's My Ghost Story crew, and numerous investigation groups, The Brentwood Restaurant & Wine Bistro has been called the most haunted location on the Grand Strand. It's just north of Myrtle Beach's main drag in a 103-year-old Victorian home. The restaurant owners have embraced the supernatural, saying they've never felt threatened. They regularly plan special-event dinners with psychics and talk openly about the restaurant's spook factor.

Haunted Encounters: Guests often get "locked" in the second-floor bathroom. Strange voices, unexplained movement of equipment, and shadowy figures have been reported by even the most skeptical guests and employees. When one of the restaurant owners asked the spirit who was there, the reply—captured in a recording—was "Clarence." Clarence and Essie Bessent-McCorsley were the original owners of the Victorian home.

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Jean Bonnet Tavern, Bedford, Pennsylvania

Built in the 1760s at a major junction of the only road connecting eastern Pennsylvania with the Ohio River, the Jean Bonnet was an important trading post and watering hole for early settlers. If the tavern's original stone walls could talk, they'd tell of rowdy trappers and traders, Whiskey Rebellion farmers' meetings, and encampments of troops summoned here by George Washington. Stories of the spirits at the Jean Bonnet Tavern are captured in The Pennsylvania Ghost Guide, Vol. II by Patty A. Wilson.

Haunted Encounters: Guests and staff describe a strange man in the bar after-hours, doors being opened and closed, and the sensation of being touched when no one is around. When members of the Central Pennsylvania Paranormal Association spent the night, a group of apparitions in frontier-type clothing appeared in a doorway and watched a man playing the piano at the other end of the bar.

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Catfish Plantation, Waxahachie, Texas

In the south Dallas suburb of Waxahachie, Catfish Plantation restaurant occupies an 1895 Victorian home where three former residents are believed to have died. The apparition of Elizabeth, murdered here on her wedding day in the 1920s, appears in her wedding gown. A Depression-era farmer named Will walks around the lobby and front porch in his overalls. Caroline, a strict religious woman who detested alcohol, passed away here in 1970, and now she sends wine glasses flying into the wall. The Travel Channel's Extreme Restaurants show, NBC News, and several paranormal groups have reported on the Catfish Plantation's strange occurrences.

Haunted Encounters: Besides seeing the resident ghosts, the restaurant's guests and staff have felt cold spots that move around. Clocks with missing parts chime. Doors, lights, and faucets all operate at will. And several knives go missing every night.

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The Jury Room, Columbus, Ohio

One of the oldest continually operating restaurants in Columbus, opened in 1831, this downtown mainstay has plenty of stories to fuel its ghostly reputation. It was built on Native American burial ground and lost its third floor to a fire in the late 1800s. The original tin ceiling and historical photos are a throwback to The Jury Room's days as a bordello. At the bar, you can order a "Hung Jury," a "Bordello Bubbly," or a "Lorenzo's Revenge," all nods to the prostitute who shot a man on the bordello's front doorstep in the 1850s and her subsequent trial for murder.

Haunted Encounters: A tall, shadowy man has been seen roaming around the bar and appearing behind bartenders. Objects move at will and women describe being attacked by unseen forces. There have been so many occurrences that the staff now keeps a ghost log and The Travel Channel's The Dead Files has come to investigate.

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High Noon Restaurant & Saloon, Albuquerque, New Mexico

In Albuquerque's Old Town, two different spirits are believed to haunt High Noon Restaurant & Saloon, housed in one of the historic district's oldest structures. Constructed in 1785, the building has served as both a casino and a successful brothel. According to Ken Hudnall's book Spirits of the Border IV: The History and Mystery of New Mexico, some say High Noon is haunted by the ghost of a trapper. The female spirit, investigated by the Southwest Ghost Hunter's Association, wears an old-fashioned white formal dress.

Haunted Encounters: Hudnall says the male ghost may be responsible for the unseen tapping that customers and employees feel on their shoulders, the smell of burning when the fireplace isn't lit, and the calling out of employees' names. Several customers and staff members have reported supernatural sightings, including the female spirit, who haunts the Santos Room lounge. High Noon is one of many restaurants and bars on the lantern-lit Ghost Tour of Old Town.

 

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This article was originally published by SmarterTravel under the title America's Most Haunted Restaurants and Bars.

A Seaside Stay in St. Andrews, New Brunswick

Posted October 11, 2013 by SmarterTravel.com

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Breathe in the ocean air and let the welcoming smiles of St. Andrews' locals invite you into this charming seaside town. Whether strolling along quaint downtown streets, venturing out onto the ocean floor at low tide, or lingering over a meal of regional delicacies, there's no lack of beauty in this close-knit community. Here are some favorite discoveries from my summertime tour of St. Andrews.

Whale Watching

St. Andrews is set on the Bay of Fundy, which has some of the highest tides in the world—each day, the tidal cycle moves about 100 billion tons of water in and out of the bay. During the summer months, these waters are home to all types of whales, including minkes, humpbacks, and right whales, which some consider the world's rarest. Every year, they make their way to the Bay of Fundy to feed, fatten, and mate, and a visit to the region just isn't complete without venturing out for some face time with the majestic giants. Fundy Tide Runners, headed up by gregarious and knowledgeable captain David Welch, is the best game in town for thrilling, up-close animal sightings and even better storytelling. Welch spent his childhood summers on nearby Deer Island, and his intimate knowledge of the West Isles was on display during my excursion on the 24-foot Zodiac. We were miles from shore, yet Welch recognized every sailor and lobsterman who crossed our path; each time, he'd pull up alongside the neighboring boat and ask after their families, how the catch was that day, and whether they'd spotted the elusive minke that everyone was talking about. Each interaction was an illustration of the ties that bind this seaside community.

Kingsbrae Garden

Tear yourself away from the shops and restaurants along downtown St. Andrews' Water Street and you'll be richly rewarded with a vibrant display of plants, flowers, and sculptures in Kingsbrae Garden. Themed gardens, bridges crossing lily-pad-strewn ponds, pergolas draped with flowering vines, a working Dutch windmill, and a farm area with alpaca, pygmy goats, and peacocks are just some of the sights in this 27-acre horticultural masterpiece set on the grounds of a former estate. I could have spent all day taking in its serene beauty. Aside from the natural scenery, what struck me was its cheerful, beaming workers, each friendlier than the next: a gardener lovingly repotting herbs, another pushing a wheelbarrow filled with dirt and weeds, a craftsman painstakingly applying a fresh coat of paint to a life-sized metal horse in the sculpture garden. Maintaining the grounds is truly a labor of love, and it shows. The Algonquin Resort The pride of every St. Andrews resident, the iconic Algonquin Resort sits high on a hill like a grand guardian watching over town. During my visit, the resort was deep in the midst of a $30 million renovation, but I was lucky enough to get a private hard-hat tour of the site with the resort's general manager, Tim Ostrem. Although the grounds were host to construction vehicles rather than guests, it was easy to picture the elegant, historical property post-transformation. Ostrem's boundless enthusiasm helped; as we walked through room after room, he painted pictures of the grandeur that the Algonquin would reclaim when its now-skeletal rooms were brought back to life. The Algonquin Resort will officially reopen this fall, and recent photos show that it is well on its way to becoming the luxurious retreat Ostrem described. The hotel has preserved much-treasured architectural details, including Juliet balconies and a Tudor-style exterior, while expanding and improving existing offerings, such as the outdoor event spaces and spa. Don't miss locally sourced ingredients served up by executive chef Jasmin Kobajica at the on-site restaurant Braxton's, named after one of the Algonquin's original chefs who set the bar for uncompromising quality and inspired cuisine. The Rossmount Inn While taking advantage of a photo op—a breathtaking vista over the bay from the Algonquin golf course's signature 12th hole—I was asked by a couple of friendly golfers about my dinner plans. You would think I was meeting the Queen of England when I informed them of my reservations at the Rossmount Inn. One absolutely insisted I order the lobster cocktail, while another made sure to fill me in on Chef Chris Aerni's focus on honoring the freshest local ingredients. The Rossmount Inn is certainly St. Andrews' most buzzed-about restaurant, and for good reason. The setting typifies elegant fine dining, but the food speaks to a more rustic approach and features mainly local ingredients—often foraged for by chef Aerni that very morning to be reinvented for dinner. The lobster cocktail was as delicious as it was beautiful, and the soup of fiddleheads, a prized ingredient with a brief harvest, was a true taste of the region's food culture. Be sure to top off the creative meal with a hike; the Rossmount sits at the base of Chamcook Mountain, whose peak affords expansive views of Passamaquoddy Bay.

Local Seafood

In a cove around the corner from the famed Algonquin, I stumbled upon a mother and son digging for clams. Toes buried in the muck, they drove clam rakes into the soft mud and deposited their treasures in a wire basket. The beach was covered in a blanket of shells, and the ocean at low tide seemed to stretch on until forever. But this stark, gray beauty of sea and sky belied the rich world of marine life just below the surface; in fact, in 2013, New Brunswick was Canada's largest exporter of seafood. From kitchen to classroom, St. Andrews celebrates its seaside location, and every year, the town hosts the Bay of Fundy Seafood Week, which features renowned chefs from around the world leading cooking expos, forums, and classes, all focusing on local, sustainable seafood.

(Photos: Julianne Lowell)

 

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This article was originally published by SmarterTravel under the title A Seaside Stay in St. Andrews, New Brunswick.

Follow Julianne Lowell on Google+ or email her at at editor@smartertravel.com.



10 Best European Castles You Can Visit

Posted October 4, 2013 by SmarterTravel.com

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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.


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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.


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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 demonstrations.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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 exploration.


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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.


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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.


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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 events.


Versailles, France

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 editor@smartertravel.com.

Should You Tip Your Flight Attendant?

Posted September 27, 2013 by SmarterTravel.com

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Welcome to Upright Position, SmarterTravel's new weekly series in which editor Caroline Costello discusses emotional and controversial travel topics. Join the debate by leaving a comment below!

There is a poll on the homepage of our sister site Airfarewatchdog that asks, "Have you ever tipped a flight attendant when flying?" I found the poll's results surprising, given that the concept of offering gratuities to flight crew hasn't crossed my mind, well, ever. Out of more than 500 people who took the poll, nearly 30 percent of respondents said yes, they have tipped a flight attendant in the past.

This is news to me. There isn't much of an economic foundation for tipping the person who gives the safety demonstration and distributes Terra Blues chips. Flight attendants aren't dependent upon tip income in order to achieve a livable wage. (Still, their salary levels are by no means good rationale for withholding gratuities. Gadling says they make $35,000 to $40,000 annually, on average.) Further, most airlines discourage flight attendants from accepting tips.

Maybe it's not about the money. An essay on tipping on the Financial Page of The New Yorker attests to the social motivation behind the practice: "Tippers aren't trying to drive hard bargains or maximize their economic interests; they're trying to demonstrate their status and to reciprocate what they see as good behavior." If tipping is more a gift imparted in a personal exchange than a requirement in an economic arrangement, then it jibes with air travel.

Flight attendants are super service workers. Their primary role is keeping passengers safe in case of catastrophe—not refilling coffee. They work grueling hours and have extensive training. And their day-to-day grind is poles apart from the glamor of that Pan Am TV period drama. Since attendants are so much more than wait staff, perhaps they do deserve a little recognition in the form of a few bills. Your flight attendant is busy. He's running up and down serving drinks, comforting children, disarming disgruntled passengers. Arguably the fastest and easiest way to communicate some appreciation is to hand him a gratuity on the way off the plane. Will your offer get rejected? Maybe. At least you tried.

It's about recognition and recompense for above-and-beyond behavior. If tips are generally appreciated by flight crew (let's assume here that they are), there's no harm in offering them. There's also no danger that in-flight tipping will become a "thing" and kick off a coach-class shame spiral for budget travelers who keep their wallets closed. A practice that isn't sanctioned by the airline industry is not going to become a trend anytime soon.

What do you think? Should travelers tip flight attendants?

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This article was originally published by SmarterTravel under the title Should You Tip Your Flight Attendant?

Follow Caroline Costello on Google+ or email her at editor@smartertravel.com.

 

Air New Zealand Introduces Love at 35,000 Feet

Posted July 17, 2009 by Katie Blais


Planeheart_formatted As a single gal I'll admit, at times the dating game can be a little daunting. Those magical moments of meeting someone by accidentally grabbing the same gallon of milk at the grocery store or randomly sitting next to a handsome, rich, smart, funny, well dressed, and single stranger during your plane ride seems to only happen in movies.

Air New Zealand is hoping to change all that--well, at least the plane scenario; if you're on the prowl at the deli counter, you're still on your own. My favorite Kiwi airline is offering a match-making flight complete with special guest stars Jason Mesnick and his gal pal Molly Malaney from The Bachelor. Will there be a rose ceremony in place of the usual in-flight movie, or at the very least some tips for finding the guy or gal of your dreams, maybe right after the in-flight safety talk? I'm rooting for it.

Hopeful singles should book a round-trip flight for September 19, 2009, departing from Los Angeles (LAX) and landing in Auckland the next morning. Book by July 19 and you'll receive $200 off your ticket. Even if you aren’t lucky enough to find your soul mate in the friendly (or, in some cases, maybe even frisky) skies, you can still use your cheap flight to New Zealand to check out all it has to offer, culturally and romantically. Who knows, maybe you’ll meet your match during your stay! All the better if he looks like Bret from Flight of the Conchords!

(photo: www.dailymail.uk)


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