You’ve planned and packed – you’re all ready for your trip – but you may have overlooked one of the key ingredients for a great vacation: taking the necessary steps to make sure you and your family have a safe and healthy trip.
The healthier your body is, the easier it will be for you to adapt to the effects of jet lag. If you plan a few days ahead, however, even the most out-of-shape may be able to head off the misery of jet lag. Several days before you leave, try going to bed a little earlier or a little later (if you are flying east or west, respectively), and start a stretching regiment. Hydrate yourself and eat lightly the day you travel. The headache, light-headedness and nausea associated with jet lag should lessen significantly when such measures are taken.
COMMON TRAVEL AILMENTS
Motion sickness is an unpleasant problem for many travelers; however, there are some over-the-counter and prescription medications available. If you wish to combat motion sickness on your own, try the following:
When traveling by car, try to sit in the front seat and, if you can, avoid reading as it only heightens the feeling of motion sickness.
When traveling by boat, sit as close to the middle of the vessel as possible and look straight ahead at the horizon, a fixed point that will not move. Today’s high-tech cruise ships are built for comfort, with stabilizers for smooth sailing, and most passengers experience little or no motion sickness.
When flying, try to sit near the wing of the plane, or the side where you are accustomed to driving. Ear plugs also may help.
Extremes: Heatstroke and Hypothermia
To avoid heatstroke, stay out of the sun for prolonged periods of time. By the same token, try to avoid unusually cold water to prevent hypothermia.
It’s very easy to get caught up in the excitement of a vacation and get dehydrated. Be sure to drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration, and don’t wait until you feel thirsty. Avoid caffeinated drinks, which can dehydrate you even more.
People who suffer from allergies should take the same precautions on vacation as they do at home. Bring any medications used on a regular basis. It’s also a good idea to bring an antihistamine in case of accidental exposure to a substance that triggers an allergic reaction. It also may be helpful to pack your own pillowcase for use in hotels, and to request a non-smoking room.
The inflammation of the joints that occurs with arthritis may be especially troubling during long trips that restrict movement. Taking frequent breaks to walk around and relieve stiff joints and muscles can make car, plane and cruise trips more enjoyable. Remember to pack aspirin, anti-inflammatory drugs, or any prescription medications you normally use for arthritis.
There’s nothing more miserable than getting sick while on vacation. For most destinations, the major health risk to travelers is diarrhea, which may be easily avoided. In general, common sense prevails. When in doubt, steer clear of uncooked meat, raw fruits and vegetables and unpasteurized milk products, and drink only bottled water (although the tip of the bottle may be contaminated, so wipe it clean before drinking from it) or water that has been boiled for at least 20 minutes. If you begin to feel sick or develop a fever, rest and drink tea or purified water. Most cases of traveler’s diarrhea clear up within a few days.
Overactive Bladder and Irritable Bowel Syndrome
If you suffer from an overactive bladder or irritable bowel syndrome, you may require frequent bathroom visits during long trips. Over-the-counter anti-diarrheal medications are often helpful for the latter, and there are prescription medications available for people who may experience more severe symptoms. Avoiding stress, caffeine, and certain types of high-fat foods can help keep these conditions under control.
Animal and Insect Bites
If you are bitten by a wild animal, it’s important to see a doctor as soon as possible. Many animal bites require a tetanus shot and, in certain cases, a rabies shot. If bitten by a snake, lie as still as possible so not to spread the venom that may be present; then send others to get help immediately.
Check your body for ticks. Remove any with tweezers and watch the area for rash over the course of the next few weeks. See your doctor if you develop abdominal pain, diarrhea, fever, rash, cough or weight loss.
FIRST AID KIT
It’s a good idea to keep a first-aid kit handy for any emergencies that may arise during your trip. It should include:
A first-aid manual Throat lozenges
Bandages, gauze and tape Anti-diarrheal medication
Scissors Motion sickness medication
Tweezers Water purification tablets
Antibiotic ointment Insect repellent
Antiseptic Calamine lotion
Antihistamine Cortisone cream
Cold and flu tablets Health and vaccination records
PERSONAL SAFETY TIPS
Work with your travel agent to get as much information as possible about the destination, especially if you will be traveling alone.
Stay in hotels on well-traveled streets in safer areas of any city. The more expensive hotels usually have better security. Stay on lower level floors in case of fire or other need to evacuate quickly. Avoid the first floor, as it may not be safe from burglars. When returning to your hotel at night, use the main entrance. Be observant before entering parking lots.
Close and lock your hotel room door at all times. Check sliding glass doors, windows and connecting room doors. Acquaint yourself with the location of stairways, fire escapes, exits and alarms.
Do not answer your hotel room door without verifying who it is. If someone claims to be a hotel employee, call the front desk to verify. Never invite strangers into your room.
If you see suspicious activity or suspicious object, contact someone in authority immediately.
Your travel agent can arrange for transfers from the airport or port, if necessary. Taxis or private car hires are recommended, as you are more insulated. Most airports, ports and train stations have areas clearly marked for taxis and car service pick-up. Do not enter any vehicle that does not have a proper license or does not pick you up from the designated area.
If you will be renting a car, get maps in advance and clearly write out the directions from the airport to your hotel. If you need to stop for directions, go to well-lit public areas. Keep the phone numbers of your destinations with you.
Lock your car doors while driving. Do not pick up strangers or stop for people you don’t know. Police cars will have blue and red lights; do not stop for cars flashing their high-beams.
Keep a low profile
Do not discuss your travel plans or itinerary publicly. Vary your schedule, if possible. Vary travel routes when possible.
Maintain a low profile. Dress down, if possible, and leave the expensive jewelry and watches at home. Do not display large amounts of cash or travelers checks. Look like a person of modest means. Do not leave your itinerary or other sensitive business information in your hotel room.
Blend in with the locals as best you can so you do not want to stand out. Cultural and racial differences may make this impossible, but you can still make yourself look like a person of modest means.
Be alert for surveillance, especially in high-risk countries. Kidnappers and extortionists identify their targets and then watch their potential victims to determine daily patterns.
Avoid disturbances and civil demonstrations, as they may become violent. Seek safe shelter away from the disturbance as quickly as possible.
Out and about
Keep your valuables, including passports, etc., in a money belt concealed under your clothes. Or, use the hotel safe to store valuables. Keep a copy of your passport with you at all times, but separate from where you are carrying your passport. In high-risk countries, it is a good idea to check in with the American Embassy and provide them with a copy of your passport in case you need to have it replaced. Pickpockets and thieves operate widely in many cities around the world, but especially near tourist attractions.
Whenever you use your credit card, keep an eye on it until it is returned to you. Always verify that it is your credit card before storing it again. Check credit cards when they are returned
If you are unfamiliar with the local language, carry a card or matchbook with the hotel’s name and address. You can show the card or matchbook to a cab driver or police officer if you get lost. Before leaving the United States, make up several pocket cards with key phrases in the local language. (i.e., “Which way is the airport?” and “Where are the restrooms?”)
Be careful when out on the town at night. Watch your drinks being poured and never accept a drink from a stranger. Get advice from your hotel concierge or other trusted source about reputable restaurants and other entertainment. Avoid being out on the streets late at night. Have your hotel arrange for car service or taxi service and know the addresses and directions before getting in the car.
BLAZING YOUR OWN TRAIL SAFELY
If you’re charting unknown territory, you’re going to want to take extra precautions to avoid putting yourself in harm’s way. Plan for the worst. Pack a survival kit that includes your first aid kit, a map, compass, flashlight, knife, waterproof firestarter, personal shelter, whistle, warm clothing, sturdy hiking boots, rain wear, high-energy food and water. Ask your doctor about necessary immunizations. Take a first aid course before you leave and learn the ABC’s of treating emergencies. Learn to recognize medical emergencies and respond to them immediately and appropriately, comforting the victim until help arrives. As common sense would dictate, avoid areas of natural hazards such as avalanche, rock fall, floods, and hazardous plants and animals, and check for potential hazards of terrain, sanitation (including infectious disease) and climate.
Finally, the best thing you can do for yourself to keep healthy and happy while on vacation is to purchase travel insurance. Neither Medicare nor Medicaid pays for care outside the United States, and most health insurance plans don’t, either. Travel insurance is advisable, especially since the odds are you or someone in your family will need to seek some type of medical assistance while away. Talk with your travel agent to help you decide what coverage you’ll need based on your type of travel (developing country, adventure safari, Disneyland, etc.). Be sure to examine different policies, make careful inquiries and always read the fine print. Two features are essential: a 24-hour, toll-free, English-language phone assistance and a plan that provides direct, immediate payment to the medical provider.
Although you can’t anticipate every contingency, these are steps you can take to ensure a healthy vacation. For travelers with special needs, your travel agent can assist you with any personalized services.
Most of us learn the hard way…and still forget to pack that elusive item for our next trip.
After all of my travels, mostly cruises and a smattering of hotels, I’ve learned to keep these ten essential items pre-packed, ready to toss into whatever suitcase I plan to take.
- A flashlight. Seems kind of obvious…for when the lights go out. But what about if there’s a fire (not raging out of control of course but escapable)? When keeping low and crawling to the nearest door, it would be nice to have a flashlight. Power failure. Looking behind furniture for that earring that fell. I never travel without one.
- Cute little foam ear plugs. Yes, they work. Whether your roommate is a snorer or your neighbors are tossing about all night or even a drippy shower, these things really muffle the sounds.
- Zip-lock bags. A zillion uses are possible; for packing a piece of fruit for your day trip/shore excursion, safe storage for that gorgeous new silk scarf, accumulation of bar coasters (so you can remember what beer you tried) and business cards, those pesky little amenity bottles, shells collected at that remote beach. You just never know.
- Thermos bottle. Don’t go on a trip without one. But you’re going on a cruise, you say. OK…I don’t know about you, however after a few days at sea, I easily tire of having room service deliver my coffee and Danish. I don’t put out the hang-tag on the doorknob because it never fails that if I request an early coffee, I will have had trouble falling asleep and would rather sleep late. Or vice versa; I wake up early and have to wait till it arrives. With my own thermos, here’s what I do: making sure it’s clean of course, I fill it up at the 24/hour coffee stand just before I retire. In consideration of others, I use one of the ship’s coffee cups to fill my thermos with the near-boiling hot water or coffee. Quickly, I put on the cap and head back to my room. Oh…I bring back a cookie, too. In the morning, at my leisure, I uncap my thermos and pour the still-hot coffee or water into a coffee cup. Starbuck’s Via is perfect for adding to the hot water. I keep a carton of milk in the refrigerator and have sugar packets and stirrers. This way, I can enjoy a steamy cup of coffee when I want it, usually within seconds of when my feet touch the ground. Also, bring a nice covered coffee mug, too. But remember…don’t fill any containers directly from the public spouts. It’s just not sanitary. It’s so nice to walk around the deck, not spill your coffee and have those “ahhhh” moments to savor.
- Electric power strip. First, make sure that the ship allows this in your cabin. If they do, never leave it unattended and unplug it when not in use. Make sure it has an automatic reset switch. Fire is the worst hazard aboard a ship. That said, if you have a lot of equipment that you absolutely must lug around with you, you know it’s impossible to recharge everything at the same time with one, maybe two outlets. The power strip is great because you can recharge your laptop, iPhone, camera battery and Bluetooth earpiece all at once. Start charging when you return to your room and by the time you’ve unpacked your souvenirs, relaxed for a half hour, showered and dressed for dinner, everything will be ready to go. Conversely, if the idea of a power strip is either too cumbersome to pack or just in case it’s not allowed, bring a couple of European converters, instead. Much lighter and compact, you might be able to plug in three or four electronic pieces, especially if you are on a cruise ship from North America. European river ships only have 220 voltage outlets. And usually only two of them.
- Bubble wrap. Huh? OK…so tell me how you manage to bring home those ultra breakables? Or what if you must mail some of your things home along the way? You can layer the bubble wrap in between your clothes (helps prevent wrinkles, too) and then use as needed. When I’m on a river cruise in Europe, I always end up shipping clothes and souvenirs home. And without bubble wrap, I used to worry about something breaking in transit. If you need to know the ins and outs of shipping from Europe, let me know. I’ve done that in a half-dozen cities, both river and ocean cruises.
- Suction hooks. Goofy little gizmos that are so incredibly handy. Just stick them on the bathroom walls and voila! Instant storage hooks. Depending upon the interior of your room, you can use these for caps, scarves, light jackets,wo etc. Most ships only have two or three hooks, usually on the inside of the bathroom door. Hotels never seem to have any hooks at all.
- EXTRA AA / AAA batteries. This is so obvious, but so easy to overlook. Not everything is rechargeable. I also suggest bringing a spare camera battery, too.
- Portable battery charger for your iPhone. There are several of these on the market…and I never travel without one. The two that I am familiar with are Mophie and Beam Box Power Pack. Both will allow you to get an addition 5-7 hours of use (depending on what your are doing â€“ video burns up juice like crazy.) Just charge it up, snap it onto your iPhone like a protective case. When you get the dreaded “10% power remaining” message, simply flick the switch and it will recharge your phone.
- Extra SD cards and at least an 8 GB flash drive. I could write a book about this idea. In many countries, it’s nearly impossible to find a brand name SD card. I once bought an unpronounceable named SD card solely out of desperation. The next day it “blew up’ in my camera and I lost four days worth of photos, including an entire ship tour.
Which brings me to my next must-do: every night, back up your photos in at least one other place. I learned the hard way…the one night that I didn’t’t download, the next day was when the SD card crashed. Now I back up onto a flash drive and transfer all the photos to my laptop EVERY NIGHT. The photos remain on the flash drive until I get home. Bring a small case to keep all of the flash drives and SD cards. Or a small Zip-Lock bag.
That’s how I travel…all this and only one medium-size suitcase and my wheeled carry-on with my computer and electronics. Don’t forget small packets of clothes detergent (Tide and Woolite make small packets, but put them into a Zip-Lock bag!)
The permission slips are signed, your bags are packed and you’re, like, so ready to ditch the classroom and head out on your class trip. Travel is an exciting opportunity to experience different places and wondrous cultures, so the key is not to blow it by doing something that will ruin the trip for yourself and others.
While it’s tempting to forget about all the rules as soon as your chaperones turn their backs, you should keep in mind these tips from ASTA (American Society of Travel Agents). Some of the most travel-wise people in the world, ASTA members know that studying for your upcoming trip is a homework assignment you’ll actually enjoy.
student travel, what to know before you goBefore You Go
Before you go, learn about the local laws and customs of the countries you’re visiting, especially those concerning drinking age, drugs and curfews. You are not immune to a country’s laws just because you’re a visitor, and you can be arrested.
Bring an extra pair of glasses or contact lenses. It’s hard to enjoy the sights when you can’t see them.
Pack a simple first aid kit with bandages, antibiotic cream and pain relievers. It’s a good thing to have “just in case.” And tell your trip leaders about any medications you’re taking.
Give your parents the phone and fax number of your hotel, the cell phone numbers of the chaperones and a full itinerary of your trip. If anything changes during the trip, e-mail your parents immediately with the new info.
Pack all valuables, medications, travel documents and passport in your carry-on bag. Occasionally checked luggage gets lost at airports, so you want to have your important items on you.
While You’re There
Do not carry all your cash at once, especially if all you need is enough to buy lunch and a few sodas. And keep your wallet in a zippered pocket, preferably inside your jacket. If you need to exchange money in a foreign country, only use authorized vendors like banks.
Don’t be flashy. Wear an old, inexpensive watch and leave the bling at home. You don’t want to be a walking target for thieves. If you bring a fancy digital camera or an MP3 player, don’t flaunt them.
When you check in at your hotel, grab a card from the counter with the hotel’s name, address and phone number on it. Keep this card on you at all times.
Look both ways before crossing the streets. Yes, you’ve heard that a billion times, but you’ll be surprised how easy it is to step into oncoming traffic in foreign countries, especially the ones where they drive on the other side of the road.
Student Travel, be respectfulTravel with a buddy at all times and never wander off alone from the group.
Be respectful around, and ask permission before taking photographs of, churches, mosques, temples, synagogues and other religious sites. Also, ask permission before taking photographs of government buildings and military installations. In some countries you can be detained for taking a picture of the wrong building.
Talk to your trip leader or to a travel agent about types of food or beverages to avoid, and don’t buy food from street vendors.
Going on an extended class trip may be the most fun you’ll ever have while actually learning something. If you follow the rules above and stay out of trouble, the only memories you’ll bring back are good ones.
Never underestimate the power of a good night’s rest, especially while on vacation or a business trip. To ensure the best possible hotel stay with the least amount of worry, follow these helpful hotel tips compiled by the ASTA (American Society of Travel Agents). ASTA members are trained professionals who know hotels, the services they provide, and, most importantly, the quality you expect.
CHOOSING A GOOD HOTEL
Choosing the right hotel is half the battle. Most Americans will spend hours finding the perfect airline ticket, but only minutes to research a hotel room, often going with the lowest price option.
While price is a universal factor, remember that all hotels want a full house and strive for this goal every night. To get the best deal, book early through a travel agent and try to be flexible with your dates. Hotels that cater to business people surprisingly will have great weekend rates, which they consider “off season.”
Travel agents will ask for special package deals loaded with options or discounts for seniors, families or the military that may apply. They also understand your needs and expectations, so they will be able to choose the hotel that’s best for you, based on the amenities and services it provides, along with its proximity to the interstate, airport, restaurants and attractions.
MAKING HOTEL RESERVATIONS
While direct online booking is an option, it’s still advisable to book through a travel agent. If you choose to contact a hotel directly, travel agents recommend that it may pay to connect in a more conventional way – by phone. Many hotels, both national and independently owned, have toll-free numbers to connect you to reservation specialists. If no such number is available and you must call the hotel directly, be sure to call in the afternoon or night, for the mornings are hectic times while guests checkout.
When making a reservation, confirm the quoted rate and record the confirmation number and the name of the person with whom you spoke. Ask the reservation specialist to repeat him or herself, write down the details, and be clear about the type of room you are getting, if it’s smoking or non-smoking, and what are the check-in and checkout times.
Once the room is reserved, document all hotel information and a full itinerary to leave with a friend or neighbor in case of emergencies. If you book your room through a travel agent, make copies of the reservation confirmation they provide you, for it will clearly state the hotel’s information and your arrival and departure dates.
Have this confirmation information or a printout of your e-mail reservation available when you check-in. Hotels never intentionally misplace or incorrectly enter reservation information, but it’s always a good idea to bring evidence just in case.
GUARANTEEING HOTEL RESERVATIONS FOR LATE ARRIVALS
There’s nothing worse than driving all day through syrupy traffic only to arrive at the hotel and discover your reservation is expired and there are no more rooms available. The key to never having this happen is knowing how late is late.
Most hotel chains will hold a normal reservation until 6 p.m. For those arriving later in the night, ask to guarantee the reservation with a credit card number. Even those pulling up after midnight with a guaranteed reservation will find a warm bed waiting. Hotels hold the right to cancel reservations that are not guaranteed. If you are delayed en route, call the hotel and ask to hold your reservation until you arrive.
OVERBOOKED HOTEL – NO ROOM IN THE INN?
Even though losing an expected room due to over-booking or a misplaced reservation may come as a shock, don’t let it get you down. Most hotels will assist in remedying the situation by transferring you to a sister location, an associated hotel nearby.
If the lost reservation was guaranteed, then the burden falls on the hotel to ensure that your new room at the sister location is of equal or greater quality and at no additional cost. The hotel should cover any transportation expenses incurred by paying for a taxi or providing the use of their shuttle service.
If this courtesy is not extended, then ask to speak to a manager or contact your travel agent to act as your advocate.
CUSTOMER SERVICE WITH A SMILE
As a valued consumer, your satisfaction is important. Hotel staffs are thoroughly trained, working around the clock to meet your needs. However, problems may arise, such as uncooperative neighbors, so know the hierarchy of the hotel’s customer service for a swift resolution.
A quick call to your travel agent is always a good first step, for they speak the hotel language and understand reasonable reparations for each problem. Through advocacy and advice, travel agents can assuage most situations, pleasing you and the hotel.
Staying within the hotel, the front desk clerk is trained to handle problems without involving the manager, so state your complaint clearly and allow them to arrange a remedy. From forgotten toothbrushes to room relocations, front desk clerks offer the quickest and most direct assistance.
If your complaint falls outside their jurisdiction, politely ask to see the manager. Managers better understand the necessities of customer loyalty and possess the authority to offer guests discounts on current or future stays.
If nothing is resolved with the manager, contact the hotel’s customer service department. Be sure to write down the names of the people you spoke with, the dates of your stay and the rates charged to aid the operator in assisting you in the most proficient capacity.
CHECKING INTO YOUR HOTEL
The only obstacle during check-in should be the line at the counter. With your reservation made, hotels will want to usher you to your room as quickly as possible, so have your confirmation information ready and verify that the rate charged is the rate originally quoted.
Know the proper check-in time and ask specific questions about the area and the provided services. Request a card with the hotel’s name, address and telephone information in case you get lost exploring the city.
FULLY STOCKED – THE THINGS YOU MIGHT NEED
Depending on your needs, ask if the hotel offers or provides the following:
Laundry service or in-room ironing board and iron
In-room coffee makers, refrigerators or kitchenettes
Morning newspaper service
Complimentary meals (usually breakfast)
Access to fax machine, copier or printer
Mini-bar or refreshments
Cable television, movies or video games
Portable cribs or rollaway beds
Shuttle service to airport or other points of interest
Telephone access charges
Hotels often have a limited number of internet-ready rooms or hair dryers, so ask for specific items during check-in.
HOTEL SAFETY TIPS = SLEEP TIGHT
Safety is a priority for you and the hotel. From your car to their bed, take a few precautions and don’t leave anything to chance.
Park in a well-lit space near the hotel entrance or your room,and be sure to lock all doors and keep valuables in the trunk and out of sight. If given the option, always ask for a room with an interior entrance. At the front desk, ask that the attendant write your room number down so that no one can hear it, and quickly pocket your key if it has the room number printed on it.
Once inside your room, lock your door with the deadbolt and the chain lock, and familiarize yourself with the fire exits posted on the back of the door. Do not open the door for anyone unless you verify the identity of the person either through the peephole or verbally, even if you are expecting a friend or room service.
CHECKING OUT WITH NO SURPRISES
At the end of a hotel stay, checking out should be a pleasant experience as long as there are no surprises like left-behind items or incidental charges. Check the room thoroughly before vacating, including drawers, closets and the bathroom, especially behind the shower curtain and the back of the bathroom door.
Most hotels have established checkout times ranging from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. If you need additional time, request it in advance, or else you may be charged an additional night.
Review the bill to ensure all charges are accurate, and you received all entitled credits and discount. Get a receipt, and if you pay in cash, make sure it is marked, “Paid in Cash.”
They’re furry, they’re friendly – they’re absolutely lovable. Family pets are often a big part of the family, and sometimes it’s hard to leave those adorable rascals behind when you leave town. With these simple tips, your pet won’t have to miss out on one fun moment of the family’s big vacation!
GET A CLEAN BILL OF HEALTH
If you are a disabled person traveling with a seeing-eye dog, notify your destination hosts and airline ahead of time.
Before you take your beloved pet anywhere, take him to the vet for an overall checkup, and ask for the number of an associate in the area where you will be staying. A few weeks before you depart, get your pet a physical, complete with vaccinations necessary for the area to which you are traveling. A direct, uncrowded flight is best (an evening flight if the weather is warm), but the vet can also give you tranquilizers to calm your pet for the long journey. If you’re unsure whether your pet is up for the trip – ask. Although a cross-country flight may be no problem for you, a pet may suffer greatly while left in a hot baggage area. Don’t wait to find out that Fido couldn’t handle the hike up the mountain – or even the plane journey there.
Most airline and state officials mandate a clean bill of health in the form of a health certificate dated within 10 days prior to travel before your pet can fly with you. And even if he is in tip-top shape, traveling abroad sometimes assumes an automatic quarantine upon arrival for your pet whether or not there is an outbreak of a disease (Hawaii does, so contact your travel agent for assistance in this matter).
For U.S. territories and foreign countries, contact the appropriate embassy, governmental agency or consulate at least one month in advance before making arrangements for your pet. Moreover, some states require certain pets to have entry permits issued by the destination state’s regulatory agency, and may request to view the interstate health certificate in advance of issuing the permit. Some even limit the time during which the entry permit is valid.
5. Disney World (tie)
PAPERS FOR YOUR POOCH
Always keep an ID collar with your name and phone number on your pet, and always travel with favorite toys, proof of vaccination and proper licenses. Bring color photos of your pet, as well, in the unfortunate event he gets lost.
PETS ON PLANES
Because airlines limit the number of pets that can be on board at once, have your travel agent notify the airline of your pet when your reservation is made. Also ask for the allowable dimensions of your pet carrier. Regulations state that dogs and cats must be at least eight weeks old and fully-weaned before flying. If your pet is pregnant or in heat, do not subject it to air travel. Written instructions for food and water must accompany any shipped pet regardless of the amount of time they are scheduled to spend in transit. Unless your vet signs a certificate otherwise, your pet may not be exposed to temperatures less than 45 degrees.
If your pet is less than 15 pounds and you are on a domestic flight, you may be able to fit a small, airline-approved kennel (check with your travel agent) under the seat in front of you. Out of respect for the person sitting next to you, inform passengers that you’ve brought your pet along so they may switch seats with someone else if they suffer from pet allergies. Have paper towels and a scooper on hand for any inevitable accidents that may occur. On international flights, larger animals can be shipped (for a fee) in the forward cargo bins, which are climate-controlled. Contact your travel agent or the airline for specific information on fees and requirements.
TRAVELING ‘KENNEL’ CLASS
One thing you should not underestimate is the importance of a quality travel kennel, no matter if you’re traveling by bus, car, plane or train. Let your pet eat and sleep there before you leave, and throw an old sock – worn by you – in as well so he may accustom himself to the kennel in time for travel. Exercise, feed and give water to your pet before you leave, and place a dish for food and one for water inside the kennel. If you’re shipping your pet, write the words “LIVE ANIMAL” all over the crate with arrows pointing in the upright direction, and put your name, phone number and address on a well-fastened label. Secure but don’t lock the crate so airline personnel can access it if necessary. Make certain enough air is getting in. Check with your travel agent or call your airline and find out if there is an additional cost for your pet to travel with you.
ON THE ROAD WITH FIDO
Be careful if you’re driving to your destination. Countless pets die each year from heat stroke after being left alone in hot cars for even a few moments. As a general rule, if you leave your car, your pet should leave, as well. If you park, make sure it’s in a shaded area to keep the car cool. For safety’s sake, check that your car’s air conditioning is functioning before taking a long trip on a hot day. Never let your animal jump around or hang out the window – it’s dangerous for both you and him.
A NOTE ABOUT BIRDS, REPTILES AND SMALL ANIMALS
Travel is not recommended for smaller animals and birds because of the stress it causes them. Reptiles are especially discouraged because of their specialized requirements.
A strong, mesh crate (the bottom lined by towels) with plenty of food and water is advised, with enough room so your pet can stand, turn and lie down. But exercise is necessary – stop frequently at rest stops for water and exercise, keeping a leash on your pet at all times. If your pet is unaccustomed to car trips, increase his time in the car before you take him on vacation. One piece of sugar candy – not chocolate – before hitting the road may quell motion sickness. Although you do want to feed your pet at least four hours before air travel, leave a window of six hours before a car trip during which your pet is not eating. If he’s overly fussy, it may be best to rethink bringing him along.
YOUR PETS AND HOTELS
Ask you travel agent to call ahead to make sure your hotel or motel allows pets. Or, for a list of pet-friendly lodgings, call the Convention and Visitors Bureau at your destination. Once there, clean up after your pet – don’t abuse the privilege. Likewise, pack a supply of plastic bags to make this chore easier. Request a room at the end of the hall so other guests aren’t bothered by the possible noise.
So plan ahead, bring the right supplies and rely on these Tips on Traveling With Pets to ensure that you and your pet have a safe and enjoyable trip. With the helpful hints we have listed here, your pet can be the perfect addition to a perfect vacation.
The holidays are steeped in family traditions – opening presents at first light on Christmas Day, napping during the football game on Thanksgiving, lighting the menorah during Hanukkah, inching the car through a traffic jam on the interstate and standing in an airport line that just doesn’t move.
To maximize holiday travel happiness and minimize coal-in-the-stocking grief, follow these helpful holiday travel tips compiled by ASTA (American Society of Travel Agents). Some of the most travel-wise people in the world, ASTA members know the secrets that will help you and your family arrive at Grandma’s house full of holiday cheer.
‘Twas the Night Before Christmas – Before the Holiday Travel Begins
Contact a travel agent well in advance of your trip to secure the lowest-priced airline seats, hotel rooms and rental cars that usually sell out quickly for holiday travel. Be aware that prices generally escalate during the holiday season, as demand is higher.Packing light saves time and energy when it comes to filling the trunk with fragile bags packed with gifts or racing to fill the last empty space in the overhead bin. Some airlines place special restrictions during the holidays and allow only one carry-on, so less luggage is vital. For detailed tips on how to pack wisely, click here.
One holiday travel tip for packing lighter is to ship your gifts to your destination ahead of time. Allow at least two to three weeks for your package to arrive, for the holidays are hectic times for courier services like UPS and Federal Express.Before leaving, be sure to secure your house. Lock all doors and windows, and don’t forget to set the alarm. Also, give your home that lived-in look to repel potential burglars by having a friend collect your mail, setting lights on timers and not leaving details of your trip on the answering machine.
Now Dasher, Now Dancer – Flying During the Holidays
Without a sleigh and eight reindeer, your holiday travel plans will most likely bring you, and millions of others, to the airport. But fear not – with a few precautions and a little TravelSense, your pre-flight schedule will be absent of anxiety.First, avoid peak travel days. As your travel agent will tell you, the busiest days to fly are those immediately before and after the actual holidays. Book your flights two days before and after Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s.Your travel agent can secure you a non-stop flight, or one involving the fewest connections and stops. Every time your plane touches the ground during peak travel times, the possibility of delays due to inclement weather or air-traffic problems increases. Also, aim to book morning flights, which tend to be delayed less often than afternoon departures.
If possible, have a friend drive you to the airport, or take a shuttle or public transportation. Shuttle services generally pick up guests early to ensure a timely arrival. If you drive and park at the airport lot, do not leave any valuables, such as CDs, or GPSs in plain view. Also remember to put jumper cables in the trunk in case the battery dies during your trip.
Take the worry of getting to the airport completely out of the equation by staying at an airport hotel the night before an early flight. The additional sleep is well worth it. In some cases, hotels will allow guests to leave their car in the hotel lot for the duration of their trip, so make a few calls to discover which hotels offer this valuable service.
As flights are sometimes overbooked during the holidays, it’s critical to check in early. Domestic travelers should arrive at the airport two hours prior to departure, while international travelers should arrive three hours in advance. Spending an idle hour in the gift shop is much more fun than missing your flight by ten minutes.
If you do not send your gifts ahead, then do not wrap them before the flight. With safety a priority for all airlines, security personnel will need access to all items. Pack collapsible gift bags to be used as wrapping upon arrival.
Keep a positive attitude, but also be mentally ready for setbacks. Delays happen, and airlines do the best they can to keep their schedules on time. Bring water and snacks, an inflatable pillow and eye mask, a good book, your favorite CDs, MP3 player and a deck of cards. Boredom is the true enemy in these situations, so be prepared to conquer it!
Turkeys Can’t Fly – Holiday driving Tips for Navigating the Open Road
Most Americans tend not to stray too far from their family’s roots, making long drives on the interstate an integral part of the holiday ritual. The first step to ensure a smooth car trip is to keep your car in good working order. As temperatures drop during November and December, being stuck on the side of the road while waiting for an overworked tow-truck driver is not the place to be. Before you leave, have a qualified mechanic check all the car’s vitals: brakes, battery, fluid levels, tire pressure, light bulbs and any parts that need regular maintenance.
As with all long-distance winter road trips, it’s wise to bring emergency equipment, such as a first-aid kit, flashlight, blankets, drinking water and snacks, along with flares and jumper cables. An ice scraper and chains for the tires will also come in handy. While a white Christmas is great for the memories, it’s not ideal for winter driving conditions.
Pad your schedule to allow plenty of time for the drive. Like shopping malls, the roads are busiest on the days right before and after the major holidays. If possible, take an extra day off to reduce the chances of being lodged in a traffic jam.Once on the road, drive carefully, patiently and stifle any burgeoning impulses of road rage. Try not to view other cars and traffic signals as personal obstacles. Work with your fellow drivers and not against them. Indicate during lane changes and give everyone plenty of room. Also, be forgiving when someone demonstrates reckless driving.
Don’t leave valuables in your car. Pack all items, especially brightly wrapped packages, in the trunk. If afraid of squashed bows, wait until you arrive to wrap the gifts. Overall, try to make driving fun, and view it as part of the holiday, not as a chore. If traveling with children, get everyone involved by singing or reminiscing about favorite past holidays. The ride will be over before you know it, and you’ll actually look forward to the drive back home.
Giving Thanks – Arriving Safely Is Thanks Enough
If Santa can travel safely year in and year out, so can you and your family. Just remember these tips from the friendly travel agents at ASTA. With a little TravelSense, everyone will be home for the holidays with warm memories to share.
Renting a car can enhance the flexibility of any trip – be it business or leisure. This information explains the process of renting a car and provides some car rental tips and car rental advice.
FINDING THE RIGHT CAR RENTAL COMPANY
Ask your ASTA travel agent to help you find the right car rental firm for each trip. Different firms serve different cities throughout the world. A travel agent can save you the time and effort of calling several different companies to find the best rate and car for you. Also, a travel agent may be aware of promotional rates and special programs that may not be advertised to the general public.
THE COST OF RENTING A CAR
Car rental companies generally charge four types of basic rates: a daily rate with a mileage charge; a daily rate with a limited number of free miles per day; a daily rate with unlimited mileage; and a rate that has free mileage over an extended period. Rates vary according to the size and style of vehicle but most firms rent economy, compact, intermediate and deluxe cars. Special promotional rates are often available, especially over weekends, but these should be specifically requested in advance.
Other charges may also be added to the rental price, including:
Car Rental Taxes
In addition to the daily rental rate and the charges mentioned above, taxes (which vary by state) are also charged. For international car rentals, taxes often add up to 10 to 30 percent in addition to the rate quoted. International rentals are also subject to a possible Value Added Tax (VAT). At a few airport rental locations, some car rental firms may also charge an “airport surcharge” fee of about 10% of the rental rate in addition to normal taxes.
Be sure to read the rental agreement carefully to see what the rental rate covers, possible restrictions, and the liability for the renter. If a car rental firm is offering a low rate, make sure that the agreement’s restrictions do not outweigh the cost savings.
Car Rental Drop-off Charges
An extra fee is usually charged if a car is returned to a different city or location than where it was picked up. Be sure to advise the agent when making your reservation if you wish to drop off the car at a different location. The drop-off charge may already be included in the car rental rate.
Familiarize yourself with the car rental company’s policy on gasoline when you check in. Some companies charge you a flat rate for gas upon renting the car and expect you to return with the gas tank empty. Most, however, will assess a charge based on the firm’s gas rates for filling the gas tank when the car is returned, if it is not already full. Since gas prices are usually less expensive at gas stations, it is advisable to fill the tank before returning the car if you are expected to return it with a full tank of gas.
CAR RENTAL INSURANCE OPTIONS
Collision Damage Waiver (CDW) or Loss Damage Waiver (LDW)
If a rental car is damaged, the renter may be responsible for the first several hundred dollars of damage (the deductible) up to the full price of the car. By purchasing CDW (also known as Loss Damage Waiver or LDW), the renter is released from responsibility of any loss or damage to a vehicle up to the full value of the car. However, if the renter is in violation of the rental agreement, the waiver is void. Your personal auto insurance may already provide coverage for damage to rental cars and the purchase of CDW or LDW may not be necessary. Regulations for selling CDW/LDW vary from state to state.
CDW/LDW is usually an optional feature, however, a few companies require renters to purchase this waiver. Determine whether or not you need CDW/LDW before you arrive at the rental counter (check your own automobile insurance policy) and consider how much this CDW/LDW may increase the daily rental rate (CDW/LDW costs range from $8 – $12 per day). In some cases, you may find a special rate for a larger car which already includes CDW/LDW. In the long run, the larger car may be less expensive than the economy car with additional CDW/LDW costs.
Also, some credit card companies offer CDW/LDW insurance as a card holder benefit. Be sure to read the fine print on these agreements (as well as on car rental agreements!) Usually the protection afforded by credit card companies could be supplemental to your own insurance. Therefore, if you get in an accident, your own insurance will cover the repair costs up to its maximum and then the credit card company will cover the difference. As a result, your own car insurance rates may be affected.
Personal Accident Insurance (PAI)
Personal Accident Insurance provides accidental death and medical coverage for the renter and additional passengers during the time they are riding or driving with you. Check your personal car insurance policy to see if it covers car rentals. If your policy covers car rentals, you may not need PAI. This insurance is usually optional.
Personal Effects Coverage (PEC)
This coverage provides protection against loss or theft of personal belongings from the rental car. Once again, check your own auto insurance policy to determine whether your coverage includes rental cars.
Additional Liability Insurance (ALI)
ALI is an optional insurance that protects the renter and other authorized operators against claims made by third parties for bodily injury/death and property damage caused by the use or operation of the rental vehicle. Check with your own auto insurance policy to determine whether additional excess coverage is already provided.
CAR RENTAL DOCUMENTS AND REQUIREMENTS
All car rental companies require a valid drivers license. Some car rental companies check the driver’s history and will deny a car to a customer with a poor driving record. In some foreign countries, an international drivers license may be required.
In addition, many car rental companies require a major credit card to guarantee payment even if there is a prepaid voucher or direct billing to the client or corporation. If a credit card is being used for payment, be aware of your credit card limit; many car rental companies require immediate credit approval before renting the car which can substantially reduce your remaining balance of credit.
Alternatives to Credit Card Payment
If you do not have a credit card, most car rental locations will accept their own pre-paid vouchers issued by an appointed travel agent. Some car rental companies require that you fill out a cash qualification questionnaire at the rental location during normal business hours so that it may be verified.
Most companies will require a large cash deposit or a cash advance that can even exceed the estimated charges of the rental if a credit card is not presented for payment. They may also require the renter to be over a certain age. The final acceptance of a non-credit card rental, however, is the decision of each individual rental location.
Usually, car rental companies require renters to be at least 18 years old, but some firms now require a minimum age of 25 years. For consumers under 25, a credit card is usually required for payment and the rental rate may be slightly higher.
Similarly, senior citizens over a certain age may not be allowed to rent cars in some cities. Verify the age restrictions when making your reservation.
Number of Drivers
Although policies vary, many car rental firms allow an immediate relative who is of age to drive the rental car. Some firms also permit a direct business associate to drive. Read the rental contract carefully; it will specify who can drive the car. Signatures of all drivers and their drivers licenses may be required by the rental firm. There may be a charge for any additional drivers added to the rental agreement.
CAR RENTAL CONFIRMATIONS
Travelers should always receive a voucher or confirmation from their travel agent before departing. This document should have a confirmation number, the car rental company name, type of car requested, flight information and date. If the car rental firm is located outside the airport, a telephone number for the courtesy car pick-up should be provided.
Confirmations also often help the car rental firms locate customers who have not picked up their reserved car. As a result of industry automation, the car rental firm can sometimes inquire to see if a renter’s flight is delayed. Usually, a car rental firm will hold a reserved car for several hours before cancelling.
If you are considering two different flights, be sure to advise the car rental firm. Also, the company should be notified of any cancellations so that they can rent that car to another customer.
PICKING UP YOUR RENTAL CAR
Upon arriving at the car rental counter, present your confirmation number, voucher and credit card, if necessary. The customer service agent will then complete the process and direct you to where you can pick up your car. READ YOUR CAR RENTAL AGREEMENT before you sign it to familiarize yourself with your liability and to ensure that you know exactly what you will be paying for when you return the car.
Before leaving the rental lot, inspect the car for the correct mileage information and any visible damage to the car. If damaged, a notation should be made on the contract before leaving.
Take a few minutes to become familiar with the car. Adjust your seat and mirrors. Locate the controls for the turn signals, windshield wipers, lights (high and low beams) and cruise control (if applicable). Notice the placement of the horn and control panel for defroster, air conditioning, etc.
RETURNING THE RENTAL CAR
Rates are usually based on a 24-hour period, with a one-hour grace period allowed to return the car. If you keep the car for more than four hours after it was due back at the rental company, it is usually worth extending the contract for another day since overtime charges average $12 to $15 per hour. Hourly car rental rates are usually higher.
Some rates, like weekend specials, are only available during certain time periods. Keeping the car beyond that time may change the rate you pay for the entire transaction.
INTERNATIONAL CAR RENTALS
If you are renting a car abroad, reserve it here through your ASTA travel agent. At your destination, ask the rental agent to explain the car’s features, which may be different from cars at home. Know the international traffic signs and rules of the road. Ask your travel agent whether you need an International Driver’s Permit. Also, ask about insurance coverage in each country; U.S. insurance may not be valid in all countries.
OTHER USEFUL CAR RENTAL INFORMATION
The renter of any car is liable for all parking and traffic violations both domestically and internationally.
Most contracts and insurance policies are void if you have an accident while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
Be sure to lock the car and trunk and do not leave valuables in the car.
Seat belts should be worn at all times – it’s the law in most states.
Most states require car seats for children under four years old. Advance notice is usually required to reserve a car seat and a small fee may be charged for the rental of these seats.
Many car rental firms have cars or vans that are accessible for customers with physical disabilities. Be sure to make arrangements in advance to ensure that an accessible vehicle is available.
Most major car rental companies offer free local maps. Plan your route before leaving the car rental lot to minimize the need to ask for directions.
Read your rental agreement carefully and ask questions of your travel agent and the car rental agent if you are unsure about anything. The policies discussed in this brochure may vary among companies and locations.
Are you saddened when your commute home ends? Do you go weeks without shifting into fifth gear? Is there an inch of dust on your RV? Regardless of the ailment, the only medicine you need is the open road. With hundreds of scenic highways throughout the United States, a much-needed road trip is just around the next curve.
To unlock the secrets of road tripping without running out of gas, take the next exit and read through these tips from ASTA (American Society of Travel Agents). Some of the most travel-wise people in the world, ASTA members know what it takes for you to experience the soothing gray asphalt, the quirky small towns, the crazy roadside curiosities and, most importantly, the heart of America.
Gator Crossing signRoad Tripping without Tripping Out – The Basic Philosophy of the Road
Road tripping is a state of mind. To truly enjoy it, you must embrace the philosophy of the road, much like European backpackers must bring a mindset of art and culture and beachcombers must be prepared for umbrellas in their drinks and sand in their shorts.
First, there are no boring places on the open road – just places that require a little bit of searching to uncover the remarkable. Be open to the possibilities and reach out for new experiences, like trying the “Roadkill Burger” at the diner or taking an unmarked hiking trail only to stumble onto a Civil War battle site.
Like a hiking trail, every road trip has a beginning and an end, but only the journey counts. The middle, the asphalt glide, the motorized mantra, getting from Point A to Point B, is the purpose of the road trip, realizing that you’re supposed to be wherever you are. Enjoy being there.
Also enjoy the fact that your vehicle is in your control, so take it wherever your heart desires. While your road trip will most likely involve an itinerary with reservations, do not tie your bumper to a schedule. A good travel agent will help you set up a loose itinerary with guaranteed reservations, so rushing is never an option when faced with the choice of hurrying to your hotel or diverting 50 miles east to see Albert, the World’s Largest Bull, in Audubon, Iowa.
The Master Plan – Plotting Your Course
Your journey begins the first day you start planning your road trip, with anticipation as your gas pedal, floored and revving. So break out the map, grab a box of pushpins to highlight the highlights and let a little planning take you a long way.
Before the first pushpin digs into the wall, talk to a travel agent to identify the purpose of your trip. If your goal is four days of backcountry wandering, then all you need is a full tank of gas and sharp eyes. If you plan include a final destination, like your cousin Irene’s wedding in Albuquerque in one week, then advance planning is crucial.
Once your purpose is set, consider your level of comfort. Are you the type who needs to know a reservedturn sign hotel room waits in the next city or will any roadside inn suit your needs? Do you like your roads highlighted in yellow on your map, or do you keep your map in the glove box for emergencies only, allowing the winds of spontaneity to determine your course? Whatever your comfort level, be sure to ask your traveling companions for their opinions.
Once the bases are covered, talk to your travel agent and begin researching all the possible routes. Travel agents know if certain mountain passes are blocked during the winter, or if a festival or event in a city you plan to drive through will cause major delays. Also, spend time on the Internet getting to know the smaller towns on your route. Treasures are often found in the most unlikely of places.
Before the Odometer Reaches 1
With your plan set and the trip already rambling in your mind, now is the time to make sure reality is on the same page.
The first and most vital step is to get your vehicle in top form. Whether you’re traveling by car, RV, truck, motorcycle or lawnmower, your road trip will be smoother if your vehicle is ship-shape, or road-shape in this instance. Before you leave, have a qualified mechanic check all the car’s vitals: brakes, battery, fluid levels, tire pressure, light bulbs and any parts that need regular maintenance.
As with all long-distance road trips, it’s wise to bring emergency equipment such as a first-aid kit, flashlight, blankets, drinking water and snacks, along with flares and jumper cables. Check the weather for your route and be prepared for snow and ice with an ice scraper and chains for the tires.
With the mechanics secure, be sure to create the right ambience inside your vehicle. Take along a wide selection of your favorite cds and a few audio books. If you and your traveling companions don’t agree on music, then the driver chooses and the passengers get two vetoes per three hours or 90 miles. That’s the rule.
Safety – Don’t Wreck Your TripCarriage road sign
Nearly 50,000 people die each year in collisions on the roadways of the United States, with another 22 million injured. Safety is simply the number one concern for you, your traveling companions and everyone on or near a road, so always have the following safety tips on the tip of your mind while driving.
Pay attention. Practically all collisions involve inattention on the part of one or both drivers. Distraction comes in many guises: daydreaming, fidgeting with the radio, sleepiness, fatigue and cell phones. Paying attention makes it possible for you to see, recognize and avoid the hazards lurking on the road; these are the three basic elements of defensive driving.
You are not psychic. You can never rely on what the other driver will do. While driving, always keep a wary eye on other drivers and leave yourself plenty of room. Anticipate the mistakes they might make and be ready. Stay alert and in control.
Yield anyway. If you are in doubt about who has the right of way, give it away. Right of way rules are often misunderstood, and there are situations where the rules may not be clear to everyone. If there is uncertainty about which vehicle should have the right of way, give the other driver the road. When it comes to driving safely, it’s not the principle, but the outcome, that counts.
Don’t speed. Speed limits are posted for a reason. Driving at a higher rate cuts your reaction time and results in more stored energy that must be dissipated in any collision. A safe driver should choose a speed matching traffic as closely as possible without exceeding speed limits. If traffic is moving at higher speed than you should go, keep to the right and out of the way.
Don’t drive impaired. Drivers can become impaired through not only drugs and alcohol, but also fatigue or as a result of injury or illness. Alcohol is a depressant that will diminish your ability with the first sip, acting on the very skills you need most as a driver – judgment, vision and the ability to perceive several things at once. We all have the obligation to make sure we are able to drive safely every time we drive.
Wear your seat belt. Seat belts are the most significant safety device ever invented. They provide impact protection, absorb crash forces and keep you from being thrown out of the vehicle. Modern vehicles are built with “crumple zones,” and seat belts are an integral part of the system. Belts help keep you in your place, in control and better able to avoid a crash. red traffic light
Don’t run red lights. Whether you coast through a red light daydreaming or step on the accelerator when the light turns yellow, running red lights kills hundreds every year. If you get a yellow light, stop. You can anticipate when the light is about to change, so it is no excuse to say it was too late. If you have the green light, watch for the red-light runner. Patience at an intersection is one virtue we can live with.
Drive precisely. Most everyone knows the basic traffic laws, yet drivers impatiently ignore them for the sake of expediency every day. Traffic rules are in place to create the consistency and uniformity that allow us to predict with some degree of confidence what other drivers will do, thereby avoiding conflicts and collisions. Ignoring the rules of the road helps create the chaos you see every day.
Hotels, Motels and No Telling What You’ll Find
Many road-trippers dismiss the necessity of reservations, letting the road, the weather and their moods guide them to a neon “Vacancy” sign in the night. Travel agents suggest that, while this approach to nightly lodging is right for some, most should reconsider the value of a reservation.
Having a guaranteed reservation is ideal for those who want to save time, instead of pulling in and out of countless hotels looking for the last vacant room in the area due to an unexpected music festival; for those with health issues, preferring a clean and comfortable bed; for those with recreational preferences, wanting to stay at a campground with swimming facilities after a hot, summer drive; for those with limited funds, not desiring to be stuck shelling out a generous sum of cash for the last room; for those with particular taste in lodging, who sometimes find it difficult to sleep on a lumpy mattress; and for those traveling with pets, who want to know that their hotel will accept precious Fido.
Sasquatch Crossing signMaking a lodging or camping reservations at the wrong intervals, in the wrong cities can be catastrophic to a road trip. Seek counsel from a trusted travel agent to perfectly space your reservations. The peace of mind will be a welcomed companion on your journey.
Exploring small towns, interacting with strangers and eating at roadside stands that sell odd fare like fried pie (Independence, La.) and broken chicken (Pike County, Ky.) all require a sense of adventure and a suspension of disbelief. You never know what lies around the next bend, because the moment you take that curve or crest over a sun-blazed hilltop is moment like no other.
Road trips are truly American adventures that everyone can enjoy. Talk to a trusted travel agent to outline your next grand adventure on the road. Travel agents can advise you on the most scenic byways in the land, set up hotel or camping reservations along the way and even help you rent a convertible sports car to road trip in style.
River cruising is hot. From A to Z (Amazon to Zambezi), there’s a river cruise for every taste, style and budget. With nearly a dozen new river boats being built by 2012, it’s no doubt that river cruising is the latest trend.
So far, I’ve spent over two months on the great rivers of Europe in the last two years. I’ve also cruised 2,000 miles on the Amazon River and parts of our own Mississippi. I have to admit, however, I’m in love with cruising the European waterways. While I’m not a bona fide expert, I do have some advice that I’d like to share. First, though, who goes on river cruises?
Statistics indicate that most river cruise passengers have already taken an ocean cruise and they are ready to move inland. With an average age of sixty-one and a median income of $80,000/year, these folks have both time and money to view Europe up-close and personal. However, as river cruise lines want to lure a younger demographic, look for shorter seven-night cruises and more active shore excursions. How about a fifteen-mile bike ride? AMAWaterways is one of the few river cruise companies that still offer complimentary bicycles and bike tours. Some river cruise lines charge a fee to use their bikes. Others have eliminated all onboard bikes and work with a bike rental company in various cities, for a fee of course.
What are the advantages of a European river cruise? While cruise ships only touch the edges of continents, river boats take you to the very heart of magnificent cities and ancient towns. Quietly glide past hillside vineyards, medieval castles and historic monuments. Disembark and walk right into town for a cafe lunch. Stroll along the pier or borrow one of the river boat’s bicycles to explore further.
With so much to do and from three to twenty-five days to experience a river cruise, here are my Top Ten suggestions for getting the most enjoyment.
- Pack light. Not just for the airline requirements but for convenience. There are no formal nights. Men need only a collared shirt and sport coat. Women can leave their long dresses and high heels at home. Attire is country club casual even at dinner. Best of all, there are do-it-yourself launderettes on many of the river boats. Complimentary laundry service is included with many suite-level accommodations.
- Acknowledge your physical limitations. Cobblestone streets, walkways and stairs can be a bit tricky to navigate if you are unsteady on your feet. Europe doesn’t subscribe to the Americans with Disabilities Act. If you are out of shape or have a heart condition, you might want to reconsider that 200-step climb to the top of the castle. Pace yourself accordingly. Some of the river boats do not have elevators, so make sure the boat you choose has one if you need one. Alternatively, once ashore, many river cruises lines including AMAWaterways, offer an easy-paced walking tour option.
- Wine and dine. Unlike cruise ships, river boats have “open seating.”Stroll into the dining room (7am-9am) for a leisurely buffet breakfast. Lunch is fairly relaxed, too, as it is mainly buffet-style dining. Dinner however, doesn’t operate the same. To facilitate good service and freshly prepared entrees, you are expected to arrive fairly close to when the dining room opens. Dinner times can vary based on the timing of the shore excursions, so check your daily planner.
On some river cruise lines, the complimentary wine with dinner tends to abruptly stop when your entrée plate is removed. So if you like to sip wine after dinner be sure to flag down your waiter for a refill before your plate is cleared.
- When in “Rome…” Nothing garners a warm welcome quicker than saying hello in the local language. Learn to say “hello,” “thank you”and “excuse me”in as many of the countries’ languages as possible. Write it on a cheat sheet and put it in your pocket. Chances are that the local shopkeeper, upon hearing your broken German or Romanian will immediately speak to you in English. But you’ve made the effort and it won’t go unrewarded.
- Cash is king. Make a list of the countries you will visit and find a local bank that will order your foreign currency. Mainly, you’ll need Euros. But if you can get any of the other currencies (and there are quite a few on the lower Danube river) you can avoid the high commission exchange fees. Of course, the boat’s front desk will also exchange currency, but there are some limitations. Tipping at the end of your cruise is expected to be in Euros.
- Weather reports. If you travel on the rivers in the spring or fall, there will certainly be a variance in temperatures and precipitation. Bring that nerdy plastic pancho and a folding umbrella. And leave that backpack at home. Nothing says “American Tourist”more than an Eddie Bauer backpack. If you must carry belongings, a tote bag is much more European. Also, when taking a motor coach tour, the bus is locked and you can leave that extra sweater or bag on your seat.
- Remember to bring your electric current converter. While the front desk on some of the river boats may be able to lend out a few converters, it’s always a good decision to bring your own. I always bring two.
- If you are after the perfect photograph while cruising the river, remember the Golden Hour Rule and adjust your dining accordingly. The Golden Hour is that perfect moment near sunset and sunrise. Since you’ll most likely be in the dining room at or near sunset, bring your camera with you to dinner and keep a watchful eye on the passing scenery. When you think the moment is right, quickly walk outside and snap those gorgeous sunset photos. It’s not like being on a huge ocean vessel. On a river boat, it’s only a two minute walk from the dining room to an outdoor viewing area.
- Stop and smell the roses. At least once on your river cruise, get up and outside just before sunrise. A fog-like mist rises from the river, birds slowly begin to chirp and the river looks like liquid silver. It’s a not-to-be-missed experience.
- Arrive early or stay late. You’ve come so far for this river cruise, it seems like a waste if you don’t spend at least two full days in either your arrival or departure city. Taking a Danube cruise from Vienna to Budapest? You should definitely spend two or three days in both cities! Sometimes the river cruise companies offer a pre or post cruise extension. These are good too as they also include your transportation to/from the ship to the hotel. Investigate your options and try to include a few extra days on land to fully appreciate the cities along the paths of the great rivers of Europe.
If you have any of your own tips to share, please add them below.
Time to plan my next river cruise for this year!
There are all sorts of compelling reasons to hit the road, but here’s my favorite: Taking time out together from life’s hurly-burly can refresh and renew a relationship.
Indeed, I think it’s so crucial for couples to deepen their intimacy by traveling together that I recently cowrote a book about it. Places for Passion: The 75 Most Romantic Destinations in the World will be published by Frommer’s/AARP in December.
Travel isn’t all hearts and flowers, of course — I get that. Force a couple in a troubled relationship to navigate the medieval streets of an Italian city, for example, and you risk putting them into a terminal tailspin.
And even for the happiest couples, merely planning to get away can be stressful: Spouses typically have differing tastes and schedules, so choosing the type of experience to have — as well as the time of year to have it — can become unexpected thorns in the side of a great escape.
Still, there’s no denying these three great reasons to grab your honey and get out of town:
1. New experiences replenish a relationship
Every week I read an in-box full of journal articles and case studies about marriage counseling. One thing this “literature review” has taught me is that human beings crave novelty, and that sampling new things together can reinvigorate just about any union. When the two of you travel to an unfamiliar place, you inevitably discover new things to talk about, but you also acquire new memories — and even new skills (rudimentary French, anyone?). Best of all, the exhilaration of shared discovery often spills over into warmer feelings for each other.
2. Time to talk means time to dream
Coupled life can become too mechanical. You evolve into a well-oiled household machine — she shops, he cooks — but that routine can be an intimacy killer. By contrast, there’s something sweet and hopeful about the travel planning process: It’s an ideal time for the two of you to articulate your dreams together and plan something concrete that you can look forward to as a couple.
3. ‘Getaway’ rhymes with ‘play’
Everyday life has this annoying tendency to put sensual pleasures on the back burner — or knock them off the stove altogether. With couples pouring so much energy into work, family and caregiving commitments these days, most duos need sleep more than they want sex. A vacation where bills and phone calls can’t reach you, by contrast, is an excellent chance to simply have fun together again. That spirit of playfulness, in turn, makes lovemaking more frequent — and more enjoyable.
Catch a cruise
Let me save you some guesswork of the “What’s most romantic?” variety: Head for a Greek isle! Steaming into Santorini at night, for example, is romance incarnate; most people are blown away by the villages standing in illuminated silhouette. (Think Mamma Mia!)
Can’t swing a Greek getaway? Take off from New York or Florida for a short cruise to Bermuda, one of my favorite places. Off-season deals abound in fall or early spring, when these 300 coral islands 650 miles south of Cape Hatteras offer generally good weather, often-deserted beaches and views galore. You can’t drive while you’re there — that means no accusations of “You missed the turn!” — and the local ferries are cheap and fun.
Find a beach — and find each other
A beach makes the perfect choice if all you’re looking for is a spot to decompress. If one of you gets antsy while the other likes to loll, pick a beach near a place — Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, is one — that provides forays into town. For domestic options, consider the wild and windswept coast of Oregon or Washington, both of which feature B&Bs, broad beaches and stunning landscapes. If you insist on basking in the sun, the less-famous Keys of Florida offer fine sand and reasonable prices; they include (traveling north to south) beaches in Islamorada, Marathon and Big Pine Key.
Have an adventure — outdoors and in
There’s nothing like exercise-generated endorphins to stir up a dormant hormone or two. If you have even the slightest inclination to hike, bike, ski or board, head for Canyonlands National Park, Yellowstone or Grand Teton. Not only will you get purple mountain majesties for a small amount of green, but who knows where that postexertion afterglow will lead?
En español | “Deals these days are fewer and farther between,” says Rick Seaney, cofounder and CEO of FareCompare.com. But with multiple booking options, they can be found. Here’s how to go after the best-priced plane ticket.
1. Know the websites
Google.com/flights and Google.com/flights/explore let you check the lowest prices to a given destination by month, and they list any specials and will send alerts about good deals.
Set up an airfare “watch” with a site such as Airfarewatchdog.com. It also alerts you when prices to your chosen destination drop.
Sites such as Kayak.com and Hipmunk.com give you the option of comparing pricing on other travel sites such as Expedia, Priceline and the like.
If you have a preferred airline, always go to its site because sometimes it can beat online travel agencies for best prices.
Unfortunately, senior discounts aren’t widely offered. Southwest offers one, which can be useful, but that fare is usually trumped by the low prices of the airline’s Wanna Get Away specials.
2. Time your trip
One rule of thumb generally holds true: Try to fly on Tuesday, Wednesday or Saturday — they’re typically slower than other days, as business travel is lighter.
Don’t travel at peak times, which means not flying on the Sunday after Thanksgiving or any other time when seats are coveted. Consider starting a summer trip before school is out. Visit Europe before May and after summer vacations. Be aware, however, that a tidal wave of boomers is expected to flood Europe in the fall, so don’t count on bargain transatlantic flights at that time of year.
3. Time your booking
FareCompare’s Seaney says not to make the mistake of booking too far in advance — this is when fares are usually higher. A study by CheapAir.com found that the prime booking window for a domestic flight is 21 to 112 days out; 54 days in advance, on average, is a good time to buy. Seaney says to start shopping three months in advance for domestic travel and five months out for international travel so that you’ll be prepared to pounce when the price is right. Sales tend to show up online on Tuesdays, he says.
4. Consider alternate airports
Sometimes choosing an airport farther from home, or from your intended destination, can save you hundreds of dollars.
Sites including Kayak (click on “show airport map”), Google.com/flights and Southwest.com have maps that show airports in relation to destination and departure cities. Southwest’s “Map search” has a bar you can slide to find out which airport destinations are cheapest for you.
5. Keep up with budget carriers
Southwest, Spirit, Allegiant, Frontier and Icelandair are worth checking. Budget foreign carriers are also available to and from the U.S., among them WOW air, Air Berlin and Norwegian Air Shuttle (which sold one-way fares from East Coast cities to the Caribbean for as little as $69 in the winter of 2015).
George Hobica, founder of Airfarewatchdog.com, says it’s smart to use low-cost carriers to get you around other continents. (You may find flights for under $20.) Ryanair and EasyJet offer deals in Europe. Tigerair and AirAsia are big in Asia.
6. Factor in fees
Many airlines charge for checked bags, better seats, priority boarding — and even for carry-ons. So if you don’t pack light or if you want a specific seat location, you could bump up the price of a bargain fare significantly.
7. Check out airline credit cards
If you are loyal to a specific carrier that’s big at your preferred airport, it might make financial sense to carry an airline-branded Visa or MasterCard, says frequent-flier expert Jay Sorensen, president of Wisconsin-based IdeaWorksCompany. You may get a bonus of 50,000 miles plus benefits such as free checked bags, priority boarding and free foreign currency conversion — but you may have to spend a certain amount to get those bonuses.
Also consider cards that give you miles for every dollar spent and will allow you to choose from a longer list of airlines.
8. See if one-way tickets pay off
Buying a one-way ticket used to be pricey until low-fare carriers began offering them at affordable prices. Other airlines followed suit. One-ways may work well for multicity trips.
Airfarewatchdog’s Hobica uses a personal example: He wanted to fly from Los Angeles to New York to Sarasota, Fla. and then back to Los Angeles, with stopovers in New York and Florida. One airline wanted $2,100 for that itinerary. Hobica did his homework and found one-way tickets on various airlines for a total of $550.
9. Name your price
Bidding for a flight via Priceline.com’s Name Your Own Price option can save big bucks. The site is “nearly indispensable” for budget travelers, says Reviews.com.
The downside: You can’t choose flight times or airlines.
10. Consider air and hotel packages
If you’re not wedded to a specific hotel, bundling airfare with lodging can save a bundle. In some cases, Hobica says, it’s even cheaper to buy the package and not stay at the hotel.
11. Use frequent-flier miles wisely
If you are lucky to have amassed a stash of miles, trade them for trips carefully. Seaney says the ideal time to use your miles is when a ticket costs $450 or more. (Hobica says more than $500.)
Miles are lifesavers when you must fly unexpectedly — such as to a funeral or when you’re not sure of a return date. Last-minute fares can cost $1,000 or more round trip.
Consider using miles to upgrade to business or first class on long transcontinental or international flights, where comfort is an issue.
Whatever you do, don’t let miles expire. You usually can keep them by buying something as small as a magazine subscription via the airline-sponsored.
Getting to your departure gate these days is an obstacle course. It’s impossible to say what delays you might face at check-in counters, security checkpoints and beyond. Here are strategies I’ve learned (sometimes the hard way) flying 50,000-plus miles yearly.
1. Book a flight with a lofty on-time record. Quickly see the historical performance of a given flight on websites such as FlightStats.com.
2. Check in online starting 24 hours in advance. If you don’t have access to a printer, send boarding passes to a mobile phone if you can. Get a seat assignment to lessen chances of being bumped from an overbooked flight. Consider paying extra at booking for a good seat. If you’re taking a “codeshare” flight involving partner airlines, know which carrier’s gate to go to. It can be confusing.
3. Gather intel before heading to the airport. I use FlightAware.com to see if my plane is delayed. If it’s coming from somewhere else, I also track it on that site. I use airport websites or iFly.com to see wait times at security checkpoints.
4. Get to airports early. If you are checking bags or tend to get anxious, because so many are flying, it’s safest to arrive two hours early for domestic flights and three for international. Come later if you can use speedy security lines or don’t check bags. Going carry-on also means you can change flights easily if yours has a problem.