Many people don't realize how magical Europe becomes in the winter time. Here are some great reasons to take a European vacation this winter.
1. Fewer tourists
Goodbye summer crowds! During the winter, Europe's tourism is slowing down, which means less lines, more space on flights, and the ability to really soak in the sights.
2. Better rates
For those on a budget, winter is the best time to travel since air, hotel, and even sightseeing tours will be less expensive. Summer pricing can have rates up to 40% higher.
3. True cultural experiences
With the crowds of tourists taking over Europe during the summer, the locals are ready to celebrate during the winter. Nightlife will be much more alive with locals. Traditional dishes that are not served during summer will also find their way onto menus for an even more culturally rich experience.
4. Enchanting Atmosphere
The setting of winter in Europe is magical. With colorful lights hung everywhere, festive markets, and the smell of freshly-baked goods in the air, travelers can't help but relish in their heavenly surroundings.
Even with the chill in the air, Europe loves to celebrate year round. The Venice Carnival is
just one of the popular festivals with over a million attendees each year. Look for local festivals in the cities you're visiting for an enchanting experience.
If you will be flying at all in the new year, these reminders will help make traveling easier.
Make sure every item in your carry-on luggage is allowed before checking in your larger bags. Prohibited items found when your carry-on is screened may be lost to you forever. Use "What Can I Bring?" on TSA.give to make sure nothing gets left behind.
If you've been enrolled in TSA Pre-Check for five years, you're eligible to renew membership online through the TSA.gov site. If you aren't enrolled in Pre-Check or another trusted traveler program, consider the advantages of saving time and stress via expedited security lines and no need to remove laptops, liquids, light jackets, belts, and shoes.
Have your identification and boarding pass in hand before heading into security checkpoints. If you don't have trusted traveler status, be ready to place larger electronics into a separate bin for screening. Have nothing in your pockets and remove jackets, larger scarves, and any glasses perched on your head. Keep bulky jewelry and belts to a minimum. You may be asked to remove them or face additional screening if they set off alarms.
Security screenings may leave even seasoned travelers ruffled, especially when running late. Whether or not things go smoothly, don't be in such a rush or so overly confident that you leave belongings behind. Take a good look before heading to your concourse or gate. You don't want to be the person whose laptop or wallet is still at security as you're ready to board your flight.
How willing are you to travel during hurricane season? If you decide to take a risk on the less predictable weather during this time, you can find some great deals out there! Here are some ways you can take advantage of the savings and be prepared for the weather.
1. Don't let the weather stop you
Hurricane season is from June through November, but the chances of a storm hitting exactly where you are on the exact date you are traveling are very low. If the airline or cruise ship cancels, you will get a refund.
2. Consider a cruise
There are great deals on cruises during hurricane season. If you are cruising, and a hurricane is approaching, the crew has fair warning, and can easily divert the ship and head out to sea.
3. Get the right travel insurance
There are many types of policies, and each involves different amounts of risk. Some pay travelers in cash and some in future travel credits; some pay only if the trip is canceled by the supplier or if a storm is named, not if the traveler is just afraid to go because a storm is headed their way. For total peace of mind, you can purchase a "cancel for any reason" policy. Read the fine print on your insurance policy and make sure you understand what is covered and what is not.
4. Be flexible
Be prepared for change and do not let it ruin your trip. On a cruise, for example, the captain will make port changes based on safety. These will vary by trip, but any change is to keep the passengers and crew safe.
5. Factor in buffer time
Plan an extra day or two at the end of the trip, just in case weather does affect your trip.
You don't want the most important business event of your life or a child's wedding to be missed because you are delayed. Think about where you park your car also. Many cruisers returned to Florida to find their cars under water in last year's flooding, because off-site locations are usually ground floor. Pay the extra money and book the on-site garage on a higher level, just as an extra precaution.
6. Take some extra items
Be prepared for an additional travel day or two by bringing extra clothes and medication in case you get delayed flying home. Also keep your iPad, phone charger, medication, and other essentials in your carry-on just in case you and your checked bag become separated. If you are traveling with a companion or a child, put one or two outfits of each person's clothing in each checked bag, so you both have something to wear if one bag gets lost.
7. Use a travel advisor
A travel advisor can provide some extra clout just in case things go wrong. You will find the same prices, and a well-connected travel advisor will book you with reputable companies, which will make a big difference in how you are treated.
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.
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.
Ann Jones, CTC, MCC