Travel at Off Times
Be flexible with your travel dates. Did you know that traveling on a Tuesday is usually much cheaper than traveling on Sunday? Also, planning travel around the shoulder season of the destination could save you thousands, depending on the destination. For example, going early or late in the season for Alaska cruises or river cruises might require some extra layers, but the crowds are smaller and so is the price tag.
Skip the Views
Most people want a room with a view. However, if you will settle for a garden, resort, or pool view, you can save dollars for dining and other activities. We usually don't spend a lot of time in our rooms while traveling, and at night it’s too dark to see the views anyway.
Make a Checklist
Create a checklist for packing. How many times have you forgotten to pack a jacket, toothpaste, or other important item? Getting organized before you leave home will ensure you have everything you need and prevent you from spending money when you get there on things you already own.
Take Free City Tours
Many large cities, such as London, Paris, Venice, and New York all have free walking tours. Find these ahead of time and book your spot if necessary. Most are led by local volunteers who can give you a lot of insight into the destination.
Plan Shorter Stays
No matter how much time you have to travel, sometimes if you can find a way to shorten your vacation by one or two days, it’s a big money saver. Of course, you want to get the most out of your vacation, but if you have a choice between getting exactly what you want or going over budget, it’s always worth considering dropping a little time. Plus, it gives you time to relax at home before diving back into real life.
Learn How to Tip
Know the tipping etiquette where you are traveling. Americans are accustomed to tipping; however, many times we are tipping when none is expected. For example, in Costa Rica, a mandatory service charge is added to all restaurant bills so no tipping is expected. Research your destination before you travel.
See What Your Credit Card Offers
Many times your credit card can be used for added perks or upgrades. For example, American Express offers a collection of nearly 900 hotels worldwide that offer Platinum Card Members exclusive benefits, including early check-in, room upgrades, free Wi-Fi, and food and beverage credits.
Go Cheap One Night, then Go Big
Sometimes travelers have their heart set on a particular hotel or resort. But when they see the cost, it can sometimes cause sticker shock. One way to make it work is to stay at two different resorts, or change room categories mid-way through your trip. Start off at a different hotel in a lower room category. Then switch it up and end your travel on a high note.
Avoid Airport Snacks
Bring your own food to the airport. You can't take drinks through security, but you can bring an empty reusable water bottle and fill it after going through the screening. You will save money on the over-priced snacks and drinks from the airport food vendors.
Find Out About Tourist Cards
Many cities offer a card for purchase that gives you free or heavily discounted rates on attractions, museums, tours, dining, and even public transportation. However, not all tourist cards are created equally, so be sure to look carefully at what’s included.
Use the Services of a Travel Consultant
Not every trip requires a travel consultant, but when planning a big trip or bucket list destination, travel agents are money savers for clients. Even if your agent charges a planning fee, you will often get much more value and more amenities than you can get on your own. You will also have a guarantee that you are getting what was promised. You can travel worry free and know that you have someone to call should something go wrong.
Many of my clients tell me the airport experience is the very worst part of their vacation. It does seem that airports are busier than ever and getting through security is becoming more and more stressful. Here are a few tips to make flying to your destination just a little bit easier
Sign up for TSA PreCheck or Global Entry
If you travel more than once a year, this is one of the best things you can do. You will breeze through security while wearing your shoes and keeping everything in your bag. If you travel internationally, Global Entry is definitely for you. You will save lots of time by eliminating the need to stand in the passport control lines.
Load Important Phone Numbers into your Phone
Don't leave home without the phone numbers to your airline, travel insurance company, and travel agent so that you can reach someone quickly if there is a flight delay or cancellation. While everyone else is waiting in line, you can have someone working on your behalf to fix the issue.
Check-In Online 24 hours Before Your Flight
Make sure you either print your boarding pass or have it sent to your mobile phone. If you are not checking bags, you can avoid the crowds at the airline counter and proceed directly through security. Be aware that some airlines may take your reserved seat assignment away if you have not checked in online, especially if the flight is over booked.
Always Check Your Flight Status Before Leaving for the Airport
Most people don't take the time to do this, but this simple step can save you a lot of hassles. Go to the airline's website or app and find out if your flight is still on time, if there are any weather delays, or if your flight has been cancelled. Check it again at the airport before you pull into the parking garage and unload all of your luggage.
Weigh your Luggage Before You Get to the Airport
Avoid expensive overweight bag fees. Ensure that your luggage is not over 50 pounds before you get to the counter. If you have to move heavy items from your checked bag to your carry-on, you don't want to have a long line of disgruntled people behind you.
Survive Security Screenings
When you arrive at security screening, put everything in your carry-on except your ID and boarding pass. That includes your phone (unless you are using it for an electronic boarding pass), your keys, money, etc. Grab a bin and quickly place your shoes, laptop, and zip-lock toiletry bag into the bin and proceed. Keep a positive attitude, especially if you're stopped for additional screening. The TSA employees don't enjoy this any more than you do!
Find Your Gate Before Doing Anything Else
Once through security, double-check the departure monitors to make sure your gate hasn’t changed. Walk directly to your gate to make sure everything is still accurate and on time. Then you can take the time to get something to eat or drink and visit the restroom. Stay in range of your gate as much as possible so you can hear any last-minute announcements like gate changes or delays. You will be on that plane soon, high above the clouds to your perfect vacation destination.
There are so many things to remember before you depart on a vacation. I have put together a short list of the Top 5 reminders before you leave on your trip:
Stop the mail . A pile of mail is a sure sign that you are not home. Deter burglars by stopping the mail altogether. It’s easy to do- simply go to www.usps.com, hold mail, and request that the mailman deliver accumulated mail a day or two after your return.
Adjust your thermostat. In addition, if you have a programmed thermostat, make sure the batteries are new to prevent the heat or air from malfunctioning due to a dead battery.
Call your bank and credit card companies to let them know you will be traveling. There is nothing worse than trying to purchase something abroad and the transaction declining because your bank thought it was fraudulent.
Pack an extra duffle bag or suitcase or even nest a carry-on into your checked bag so you can bring home your treasures. You don't want to pay those overweight bag fees when you arrive at the airport overloaded. Unless you have a hard fast rule of “no shopping,” this will be the easiest way to bring back more than you brought.
Don’t post your every move on social media . In addition, turn off the location on your cell phone. Anytime you post on social media, it will show where you posted from.
While there are dozens of items on the average traveler’s packing checklist, one item commonly omitted is tip money. This can be a confusing topic- who to tip, when, how much? Here are some guidelines that may help.
If a rental car shuttle driver is helping load heavy suitcases, it’s a good idea to tip at least a dollar or two per bag. Double that for airport skycaps who assist in checking your bags. And depending on the length of the trip from counter to gate, a wheelchair attendant should receive $5 and up.
Arriving by taxi? Taxi drivers should receive 15 to 20% for good service. You can adjust upward or downward for a particularly good or bad ride. If you drive in with your own car and use the hotel’s valet service, there’s always the question of when to tip- coming or going? Answer: Definitely going. Tipping $2 to $5 when the valet retrieves your car when you are leaving is fairly common. Bellhops should receive $3 to $5 a bag, obviously on the lower end for a gym bag or shopping bag and on the higher end for carry-ons and larger suitcases. Tipping the concierge can be tricky, so think of it in terms of hierarchy. A simple dinner reservation is worth a tip of $5 to $10. But if he or she is scoring you tickets to Hamilton or pulling strings to get you front of the line at a trendy club, it clearly demands much more — even upward of $50. The concierge doesn’t necessarily expect it, but it is always appreciated. Your hotel maid also deserves a tip, and most experts suggest $2 to $5 a day, a little more for a larger room or a suite. Clearly mark the envelope and place it on the nightstand or another prominent place. If you are staying at a high-end hotel/resort and have butler service, the general rule of thumb is 5% of the hotel bill.
You should know the tipping policy of your cruise line before you go. In general, the mainstream cruise lines will charge you about $14 a day per person in gratuities. That money is split among the crew members you come in contact with most every day, mostly your housekeeping and dining staff. And some cruise lines, such as Seabourn and Regent Seven Seas, have strict no tipping policies because such charges are often built into the cost of the ticket. Your bar bill will likely already include a 18 percent tip on it, but just like a night out at any establishment a few dollars up front will certainly serve you well with your bartender. Spa treatments also usually include a 15 to 20 percent tip on the bill. It is still customary to give a couple of dollars to porters who help with your bags and for a room service order. Shore excursions are sometimes set up by companies separate from the cruise line, but you should generally tip your guide $2 to $4 for half-a-day, double that for full-day excursions.
Did you raft down the Colorado River and live to tell about it? Think about tipping your guide $25 per day per person in your party.
Tour Bus Drivers
While not necessarily customary, tipping the driver a couple of dollars when you are returned to the hotel or to the port is a nice gesture. There are times when a tour organizer might ask the bus passengers to drop a dollar or two in a jar for the driver as well.
Again, this is an area where you and your travel agent must do some research, because different countries have varying, and sometimes opposite, rules and customs. In some countries, such as Japan and China, tipping, especially at a restaurant, is considered an insult. In countries like the United Arab Emirates, tipping is a government mandate and is often added to a bill. Make sure you're familiar with expected tipping in your foreign destination!
Although many of us complain about losing an hour of sleep when we spring our clocks forward, having the extra daylight is great! In my opinion, I’d like to keep Daylight Saving Time all year long.
What do you do with your extra daylight? Here are a few ideas:
1. Have a Picnic Outside
There’s no better way to enjoy extra sunlight than to get outside and be in the sun. Having a family picnic is a great way to get outdoors. Grab a blanket, make some easy sandwiches, throw in cheese and crackers, and add a bottle of wine for good measure.
2. Go see a baseball game
Baseball is a great way to bring in warmer weather using that extra daylight at the end of the day. Invite a group of friends and go out to support your local team.
3. Walk Around Downtown
Whether you live in the big city or a small town, extra daylight gives you a great opportunity to enjoy your local community. Find an art show, have dinner on a nice outdoor patio, or even pick up a few vegetables at the farmer’s market.
4. Plan a vacation
One of the best ways you can enjoy your extra sunlight is by planning a vacation. Dream the afternoon away, then give me a call or schedule online and let’s talk about where you could go to enjoy the sun!
Finally, you may enjoy this little tidbit. Daylight saving time was started during WWI as a way to conserve energy. It became a national standard in the 1960s. The idea was to shift the number of daylight hours we get into the evening. So if the sun sets at 8 pm instead of 7 pm, we would spend less time with the lights on in our homes at night, saving on electricity. One other thing- notice that there isn’t an “s” on the word saving. It is definitely called “daylight saving time.” Not plural. Not “daylight savings time.” Don’t you feel smarter?
As spring approaches, more and more people will be traveling, especially during Spring Break. Heading out to a theme park or visiting a top attraction or historical site? Unfortunately, many others may have the same idea so you may find yourself standing in a lot of long lines. No one wants to spend their vacation wasting time in lines- vacations are supposed to be fun, interesting, and exciting! So, what is the solution? Here are just a few strategies I have used that can get you out of line and on to your activities sooner. Find the right strategy for you and maximize your time while traveling.
1. Be Up with The Sun
Although we think of sleeping a little later when we vacation, heading out early is one of the best strategies for beating the crowds. Not only will you really get to see and feel the places of your dreams, your photo opportunities will be great also!
2. Stay Up at Night
Iconic sites are even more spectacular when viewed at night. Think of Las Vegas and its millions of neon lights or the Eiffel Tower sparkling in white lights. You will find that many times sites are more accessible and have fewer crowds at night. And if you’re traveling in the heat, temperatures will be much more comfortable.
3. Pass By with the Right Pass
In many destinations, city attraction passes are available. These passes get you in multiple attractions and can save a lot of money. Be sure to do your research. You don’t want to purchase a pass that excludes the sights that interest you.
4. Get Your Tickets in Advance
Purchase advance tickets to attractions that offer a scheduled time to enter. If your ticket has an entry time, you will get to skip the line of people who didn’t come prepared.
5. Beat the Bus Groups
If attractions don’t offer advance purchase tickets or if tickets are on a first-come, first-served basis, get to the attraction before it opens and be one of the first in line.
Have you ever purchased something on sale just because the price was so cheap? We all love to find great deals, but if an item you purchased at a bargain price disappoints later, have you really received a deal? Some consumers will use this strategy to purchase travel, but many of those “deals” you find out there on the internet can turn into costly mistakes. A cheap vacation is often just that- cheap. And cheap usually doesn’t contain value. All vacations are NOT created equal, so using a travel expert who can distinguish price vs. value is a smart idea. Now that our society relies so heavily on finding information from the internet, many people forget that travel consultants can quickly provide the answers you’re looking for, find the same good prices you’re seeking, and keep you from purchasing a trip that turns into a disaster.
Consider for a moment that you and your family would like to go on a cruise. There are many cheap cruises out there, but did you know that the price you see advertised is always the lowest priced stateroom on the ship? These cheap staterooms are always in the least desirable locations and often offer obstructed views. In addition, you will find if you click through on the site as if you’re really going to book, the price will almost double. That is because the lead in price contains no government taxes, fees, or gratuities. You should also be aware that every cruise line has its own personality and each ship in the fleet offers different amenities. To find a cruise that truly works for your family, you have to take all these things into account. Travel consultants are familiar with the cruise lines and ships, so they can help you find the perfect match. No on-line site can do that. We can find you the right cruise line, ship, itinerary, and cabin type for your personality. The result is usually a satisfied customer who almost always wants to cruise again. Because agents are paid commission by the cruise lines, we don’t have to charge you, the customer, a fee for our services. You will pay the same price whether you book it independently or with an agent. However, the agent can usually find you an upgrade or on-board credit. We can also inform you of a senior, military, or location discount that would apply. The cruise line will not usually offer these rates to you unless you ask, and they’re usually not found online. In addition to saving you money, a good agent will act on your behalf should something go wrong. They can get a problem resolved quickly and it takes the burden away from you, the consumer.
This same advice applies to hotels and resorts. Booking a hotel on-line is pretty straight forward, but do you want to choose based on price alone? A real travel agent brings value to your purchase by knowing the differences between hotels in the city you’re visiting. Of course an agent can’t possibly visit every hotel in every location, be we have a network of connections and can get unbiased information from other travel profesionals. In addition, we often have package deals and offers that don’t show up on-line. Why is this the case? Because hotel, resorts, cruise lines, etc. are constantly trying to get us to sell their product, so they will offer some good incentives that we can pass along to our clients. Most good agents also belong to a consortium in order to bring even more benefits to their customers. For example, Trip Quest Travel Services belongs to Ensemble Travel Group, which negotiates with hotels and cruise lines on our behalf to allow us to pass along some free perks and credits.
If price is not enough to convince you to consult a travel professional, consider these facts also. Having the help of an agent means that planning your vacation will be stress free. Sorting through all the information on-line can be a major task which consumes hours and hours of your time and can be very confusing. Additionally, agents are aware and knowledgeable of passport and visa requirements and can help you get all documents in order. An agent can also help you decide on vacation protection or insurance coverage during your travels. They can help you navigate the various policies and have you covered for any situation that may come up. Travel agents are well versed on booking transportation and accommodations for your pre or post cruise travel arrangements. Inexperienced travelers often make costly mistakes, such as booking a flight to Europe without taking the time change into account and missing the ship. If you’ve booked a trip on-line that gets delayed or cancelled, you are on your own. However, if a travel agent arranged your trip, they can work on your behalf to make alternate arrangements and solve the problem. They also have more power to fix a booking mistake because of their relationship with the cruise lines and resorts.
How do you find and select the best travel agent for your needs? Start by looking in your local area. Talk with several agents and go with your instincts. You can usually tell if someone knows what they’re talking about and if you have good communication with them. Ask if they have any certifications or specialist titles. In some states, such as Georgia and South Carolina, there are no seller of travel laws, so anyone can become an agent. Being a member of a consortium or a professional association is a key factor in finding a knowledgeable agent. Accreditation from an established institute confirms that you have found someone who is dedicated to the profession. Also take into account whether that agent seems to be interested in building a relationship with you. They should spend time asking you questions so they can find the best vacation to fit your needs. They should also return your calls or e-mails promptly and stay in touch between booking and traveling.
Ultimately, you don’t have to stop using the web to find your vacation information. Check sites for great deals and then call your agent. They may be able to offer you the same price or explain why the deal isn’t as good as you thought. Today there are simply too many choices for consumers to make. More and more travelers are beginning to see there is a big difference between price and value. An agent can make your whole experience more pleasant and less time consuming. And you’re going to get much more for your money.
There is a lot of talk right now about whether renting through Airbnb would be a better deal than booking a hotel. Never heard of Airbnb? It is simply an online community marketplace that connects people who are looking for accommodations with people who are interested in renting their home, condo, apartment, etc. They have become a huge company, offering accommodations worldwide in more than 192 countries. Airbnb began primarily to serve the budget conscious community; however, they are now attracting a large number of business and professional clients. Why the appeal for something that sounds a little risky? Many travelers say renting an Airbnb gives them a more unique and memorable experience. Before you decide to give up on hotels, give the following points a little thought.
Will your lodging booked through Airbnb look exactly like those pictures you found online? Will you be able to resolve any issue quickly and to your satisfaction? When you book a well known hotel brand, there are rarely any surprises. Whether it’s cleanliness, special amenities and service, or room size, you know exactly what to expect.
Are Airbnbs safe? Although many travelers report that they’ve been happy with these kind of accommodations, there have also been horror stories. Recently, renters in Paris actually found a dead body in the garden of the home! Of course, that kind of incident is rare; however, hotels have surveillance systems, security guards, cameras, and other measures to keep you safe.
What kind of service can you expect in an Airbnb rental? What will happen if you have a clogged toilet, the television doesn’t work, or the door won’t lock? In a hotel, a quick call to the front desk will usually get any of your issues resolved.
Is location important to you? It is easy to find a hotel located right in a city’s center; however, it’s reported that 74% of Airbnb properties are outside of main hotel districts. That could cause a problem if you can’t get to public transportation or tourist attractions easily.
Have you ever arrived at a hotel with your reservation in hand, only to find that they are overbooked? Although it doesn’t happen often, when it does, the hotel will find a way to accommodate you, even if it means upgrading you to a suite or taking you to another hotel. An Airbnb reservation can be cancelled at any time, leaving renters frantically looking for a new place to stay.
Finally, there are no loyalty programs for Airbnb renters. Travelers who are loyal to a particular hotel brand will accumulate points for each stay that can be redeemed for free nights or other amenities.
Airbnb is definitely growing in popularity with both travelers and renters. The company states that it is constantly working to improve some of the issues discussed. And who doesn’t like to save money? But, in my opinion, there are too many risks I’m not willing to take. I’ll stick to my favorite hotels!
Have you ever stood at an airport baggage carousel for what seemed like forever and found that your bag was nowhere to be seen? Have you ever picked up your luggage and had it look like the plane ran over it on the runway? Who is responsible when your baggage is lost, stolen, or damaged?
Many times when your luggage doesn’t show up on the carousel, it is delayed, not lost. Mistakes can be made and sometimes your luggage actually arrives on a later flight. Occasionally, it can even end up at a different airport. However, the good news is that the airlines are pretty good at tracking it, and about 98% of the time, it will be returned to you, even if it takes a couple of days. Of course, this is a major inconvenience, but most of the airlines will reimburse you for expenses caused by the delay. Just make sure that you keep all of your receipts. If you find yourself in this situation, make sure to report it immediately. Do not leave the airport without making sure that you know the status of your luggage and you have given the airlines a phone number and hotel address.
What if your bags are indeed lost and never show up? You must make sure that you complete the proper paperwork required by the airlines and that you get a written claim for your luggage. Most of the time this can be done while you are at the airport. When requesting a lost baggage claim, you will be asked to produce receipts to prove the value of the items you had in your suitcase. You will send these receipts to the airline with a copy of your claim. There are a couple of things to keep in mind. The airline won’t pay you the full amount on the receipts that you provide; you will receive a depreciated value of your items. Also, there are certain items that the airlines will not be responsible for, such as, jewelry, money, and other valuables. These kinds of items should always be packed in your carry-on bag. If you have some reason to suspect that your bag was stolen, make sure you report it before you leave the baggage claim area.
What can you do about bags that show up damaged? As soon as you retrieve your luggage from the carousel, inspect it immediately for signs of damage, mishandling, or tampering. Report any damage immediately, because the airline will want to inspect your bag themselves. Keep in mind that you will not be reimbursed for what the airlines consider to be standard wear and tear.
There are several things that you can do before your flight that will help prevent these inconvenient situations. Avoid late check-ins and very tight connections. These situations cause the most delays in baggage. When you pack for your trip at home, make a list of what you put in your bag. Although this is a hassle, you must be able to let the airlines know what you had when you make a claim. Make sure your name is on the outside of your bag, and put a copy of your itinerary in each checked bag so that the airline can find you if necessary. Pack all valuables in your carry-on bag, along with medications, wallets, cameras, computers, passports, copies of itinerary and all other necessary travel documents. You should also pack one change of clothes just in case your bags are delayed. Finally, when you check your bags at the airport, watch carefully and make sure that the attendant attaches the correct destination to your bag. Get a baggage claim ticket and make sure that you keep it with your other documents.
Hopefully, these things will never happen to you, but just to be on the safe side, consider purchasing travel insurance. This is the best guarantee that you will be reimbursed to your satisfaction.