Archive for January, 2014

10 Travel Hacks for a Hitch-Free Vacation

Wednesday, January 29th, 2014

Travel Hacks are the tips and tricks you need to know in order to save time and money during a trip.  The following travel hacks are some of my favorite, and most proven ways, to make traveling go more smoothly.

0_120-CIOL4J-JJ1. Keep copies of your important documents on your smartphone.  Scan your driver’s license, passport, even your credit card and then email them to yourself. This provides an extra copy of each in the event of loss or theft. As an iPhone user, you can open them and then save them onto iBooks that can be accessed regardless of Internet connection.

2. Use ATMs to get local currency. When traveling abroad, stay clear of money converters in the airport that tack on their own fees and high exchange rates. ATMs always dispense local currency, and are usually located within the airports and train stations, so use your debit or credit card and get your money there.

3. Use a dryer sheet to keep your clothes fresh in your suitcase.

4. When you pack necklaces, run them through a plastic straw so they don’t get tangled. Put earrings and other small jewelry pieces in a pill box or other separated storage box.

5. Use plastic bags…for just about anything. Whether you are the only one traveling or you have the kids in tow, use plastic bags to separate undergarments, socks and even complete outfits. Once you put the folded clothes inside, push down on the bags to let out the air before sealing them.  You will save lots of space and keep organized.  Extra bags are great for anything that might leak, wet clothing (bathing suits) and stinky shoes. And for the return trip, the plastic bags are great for keeping track of dirty laundry.

6. Use the doorstop as a security device. Little rubber doorstops hide out behind hotel-room doors. Instead of simply using it to prop open your doors, you can also use them to keep your door shut. Trust me, I’ve been in a room where a stranger was mistakenly given the key to my occupied room. It’s an alarming feeling. So if you want an added level of security when you turn in for the night, wedge the doorstop under the bolted door.

7. Make a facial scrub for a long-haul flight. When I fly to Europe from the US, I like to feel fresh and not look as if I traveled all night (even though I did).  Here’s something that can help.

  • Ask the flight attendant for some lemon slices and a packet of sugar. Take these and head to the bathroom.
  • Mix the sugar and lemon juice together and use a scrub on your face. This works on your lips as well.
  • Rinse off and you’ll feel instantly refreshed!

8. Travel with an empty water bottle. Staying hydrated is important. Take an empty bottle (plastic or metal) and fill it up for free at a tap or drinking fountain when you get through the gates. Flight attendants will fill it up for you on a flight.

9.  Secret Storage at the Beach. Clean out an old bottle of sunscreen and use it to store keys, money, even your phone.  You may need to be creative and cut a secret door on the back to fit your items inside.

10. Refill hotel shampoo and conditioner bottles with your favorite hair care products. The bottles are just the right size for your carry-on and you’ll feel better about how your hair looks during your travel.

 

Have a favorite travel hack? Share it here with us on Travel Smart Blog!

 
 

 

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Travel Sticky Situation: Oh No! They Lost My Luggage!

Monday, January 27th, 2014

Losing luggage is sort of like jury duty.  If you’ve never had it happen to you, chances are you will one day. But finding out that your bags are stuck in another city is frustrating and requires that you follow a series of steps to ensure that you retrieve your belongings.  First things first:

Don’t panic!

Chances are in your favor that you will (eventually) retrieve your luggage. The good news is that according to the Department of Transportation only 2% of luggage mishandled by airlines is forever lost or unclaimed.  The most common causes of lost and delayed bags are late check-ins and tight connections. Avoid both when you can by giving yourself ample time to get to the airport and to make flight changes.

What to do when the airline loses your luggage

Once you realize that you and your luggage are not in the same place, you need to speak with the airline’s baggage counter.  Be sure that you have the luggage receipt for each bag you checked as these slips enable the airline employee to determine if your luggage is delayed, left behind in transit or completely lost. Do NOT leave the airport until you have filed a claim.

If your bags are delayed

Airlines will usually take down your local information and deliver your bag to you once it arrives.  If you will be without your bag for more than a few hours or not having it will cause you to need to purchase some items, airlines will normally pay “reasonable” expenses until your bag is found. The amount paid is subject to negotiation, and you may have to fight for a decent payment. Keep in mind, if they’ve been sent to the wrong airport, it could take a couple of days.

  • If you are taking the effort and paying the cost of checking a bag then take the time to make an itemized packing list, in the event that your bag does get lost, and keep it in your carry-on bag.
  • Always keep a clean shirt (if you are wearing a suit) and a set of undergarments in your carry-on. Additionally, never pack medicines and valuables into your checked-bags. Keep those with you.
    • The airlines typically have a long list of items for which they will not be held responsible; these include jewelry, money, heirlooms and other valuables. These sorts of items should always be left at home or kept in your possession in your carry-on bag.

If your bags are really lost or stolen:

You’ll have to file a claim for when your bag is officially “lost” too. Not just delayed. There is usually a time limit in place to do this, so stay on top of it. Of course, the airlines are not so quick to reimburse your losses but they will do it. Airlines typically pay out a claim within 100 days of the loss.  For bags lost or damaged on flights within the U.S., a liability limit of $3,300 applies. On international trips, the liability limit may vary, as it is different given the various international jurisdictions.

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Please note: once they pay you, the bag is now the property of the airline. After that, if the baggage is found, it is the airline’s to sell. Your former bag then makes its way to Scottsboro, AL to the Unclaimed Baggage Center (your guess is as good as mine as to why bags are sent to Alabama).  If you can’t make the drive, you can shop online www.unclaimedbaggage.com.

Tools You Can Use

One of the smartest things you can do during this process is to stay on the airline’s case with Twitter and Facebook. Airlines do respond quickly to problems they hear about on social media.  Just remember that it is okay to share your frustration but don’t become hostile: it won’t help your case. Try and imagine if you had the baggage recovery job at the airport, and take a deep breath.

Want something more sophisticated? The Trakdot hitches a ride inside your bag and uses local cell networks to determine what city your bag is in and relays that information back to your smartphone as a text message.  Less official, but equally effective, would be a mini GPS tracker. Simply be aware of the device’s range and you can take tracking your bags into you own hands.

Perhaps reading this blog post will be like carrying an umbrella: once you’re prepared, you won’t even use it!  But in the event your bags do get lost one day, I hope that these tips help you along the way.

Ever had your bag lost or stolen? Share your story with us. What did you do?

 
 

 

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Are You Ready for The Winter Olympics? Tips for a Front Row View (Whether You Are Traveling or Not)

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014

The upcoming 22nd Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia will feature some of the greatest demonstrations of athleticism and skill in the Games’ history.

Travel Warning for Those Heading to Sochi

If you are packing your babushka and making the trip to Russia next month for the Winter Olympics, be advised that the U.S. State Department has issued a travel warning for Americans planning to attend the Games. United States intelligence officials are considering recent threats from terror groups against the Olympics to be very serious.

  • Sign up for the STEP program (allows the US government to better contact you with information during overseas travel) and keep up on important Visitor information for Travel to the Olympic Games.
  • The State Department also said that Americans should consider buying private medical evacuation insurance as medical facilities are “untested” in Sochi.
  • An additional warning was also made for Americans to be wary of common criminal activity, which tends to increase at most large gatherings around the world. Here are a few tips on how to keep money safe when traveling abroad that we posted a few years ago here on Travel Smart Blog.

Safety Precaution: Ban on ALL Liquids
Most people heading to Sochi will travel through one of Moscow’s two main international airports. A flat ban on all carry-on liquids as part of a mass security clampdown has been announced, and the ban covers “all liquids, including personal hygiene items, cosmetics, medicines, liquids, sprays and gels in any amount.”

Watch Every Competition as it Happens

Thanks to amazing sports production, the best seat in the house may literally be in your living room. And this year, that statement couldn’t be more truthful.  You can have a rink-side seat to all the Winter Games thanks to NBCOlympics.com.  NBC will broadcast ALL competitions online as they happen. With more than 1,000 hours of live streaming coverage, combined with the 539 hours scheduled to be televised on NBC and its affiliate stations, next month’s coverage of the 2014 Olympics will be more than the coverage of the past two Winter Olympics combined.

The NBC Olympics Twitter handle and Vine app will be great for real-time Olympic news and athlete interviews once the games begin on February 6th.

  • If you do want to stream the Games live, you’ll have to register your satellite or cable TV subscription with NBC’s Live Extra site.
  • The NBC Sports Live Extra App is another option if you have a paid-TV subscription, as the app allows for live streaming and full event replays on your phone. The app, which is free, is available for both iOS and Android operating systems.

Do Not Miss

  • 12 new events have been added to this year’s Games including the women’s Ski Jump, and Ski Half Pipe and Ski Slope Style are two new freestyle skiing events for both men and women.
  • Men’s and Women’s Figure Skating. It’s always popular but the U.S. Team is already packing its own controversies, which will make chasing Gold that much harder.
  • Men’s Hockey. Rumor has it that of all events in the Games, this is the one that host-country Russia really cares about.
 
 

 

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New Year, New Hotels

Friday, January 17th, 2014

2014 may just be the year of the hotel.  There are numerous new hotels scheduled to open this year from Asia to the Caribbean and everywhere in between; new brands, new concepts, and hotels that are “new again” will make their rooms available to you.

Here are a few of the standout hotels launching here in the U.S. in 2014:

Loews Regency Hotel New York reopened this week at its power location on Park Avenue. After closing for nearly two years for a mega $110 Million makeover, the new-again hotel will feature all the luxury you’d expect plus a sophisticated new restaurant and a 17000 square foot Julien Farel Salon, a complete spa and fitness facility.

New York City is also now home to the tallest hotel in North America. The $320 million, 68-story building houses both a Courtyard by Marriott and a Residence Inn. The Courtyard’s 378 rooms are located on floors six through 33, while the 261-suite Residence Inn takes up the upper level floors 37 through 65. The latter is only available for stays of five nights or more. However, it doesn’t come close to being the tallest hotel in the world. Those honors belong to the 1,164-foot JW Marriott Marquis in Dubai.

InterContinental Hotel Groups is set to introduce a new line of hotels that is all about healthy living, fitness and wellness while traveling. EVEN Hotels will debut in cities across the U.S. with the first properties opening this June in Rockville, M.D. and Norwalk, C.T.

Next time you are in Los Angeles, plan to stay at the new Ace Hotel L.A.  The recently opened hotel is as refreshing to the Los Angeles hotel scene as a truly unique actor is to an audition. Don’t miss it.

Chicago will be adding a few new hotels to its roster.  A hotel transformation is underway for the Amalfi Hotel, which will soon become The Kinzie Hotel. After a multi-million dollar renovation, the 215-room hotel makes its debut in February. Guests can expect FREE Wi-Fi, breakfast goodies and coffee.

Sir Richard Branson is bringing his brand into bed with the opening of The Virgin Hotel Chicago expected summer 2014. The 250-room hotel will feature contemporary style, personalized service, innovative technology, and of course, Virgin’s signature Clubhouse.

Let us know if you plan to visit any of these new hotels!

 
 

 

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Mulled Wine, Snowshoes and Ice Climbing – Best Ways to Brighten Your Winter Months

Thursday, January 16th, 2014

Skiing and snowboarding may be winter’s top activities but there are plenty of other fun ways to embrace the cooler temps. If you’re looking for something to do this winter, whether with friends, on a date, or just some family fun, try a few of these winter must-do’s.

  1. Drink hot buttered rum and mulled wine – and hot chocolate for the kiddos, of course.
  2. Hot tubbing – Kick back in an outdoor Hot Tub. Is there really anything better?
  3. Take a carriage ride through downtown – Assuming that the weather outside is above zero, take a romantic carriage ride through a downtown near you.  By day or by night, there’s something special about snuggling with blankets and the gentle jingle of bells tinkling to the stride of strapping horses.Snowmobiler Driving Through Snow
  4. Ride on a snowmobile – A snowmobile is winter’s convertible.
  5. Take a trip to Reno - The city’s proximity to ski resorts and other recreational areas make Reno a top winter vacation spot. You can find 18 ski resorts in the Reno and Lake Tahoe area.
  6. Stay in the Québec Ice Hotel - The Hôtel de Glace is a must-see attraction to discover each winter. With its huge snow vaults and its crystalline ice sculptures, the Hôtel de Glace impresses by its dazzling decor. From January 5th to March 23th, enter this magical universe and live an incredible experience by visiting this ephemeral work of art.
  7. Strap on some snowshoes – Even your backyard can become a new adventure.  Local outdoor stores have hourly rentals for a one-time extravaganza.
  8. Try ice climbing – Learn to climb waterfall ice in New Hampshire. There are multiple guide companies to help you get your crampons.
  9. Visit Old Faithful and Yellowstone National Park - The famed national park is even more splendid in the. For a very unique experience stay at the Old Faithful Snow Lodge. The only way to get there is by a commercial snow coach.
  10. Watch the 2014 Olympic Winter Games – A great excuse to veg out on the couch and cuddle up by the fire in the dreariest month of the winter.

 

 
 

 

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Omaha! Omaha!

Wednesday, January 15th, 2014

Apart from Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos team, no one really knows what ‘Omaha’ means, but it was certainly part of the team’s strategy to determine their in-game play calling against the San Diego Chargers on Sunday.

Central Park in Omaha, NebraskaManning used the word “Omaha” 44 times during Sunday’s playoff game, resulting in the city becoming a trending topic on Twitter during the game.  According to Hotels.com, Omaha also saw a 21% increase in hotel searches for January 12-13 compared to the previous weekend.  Omaha may just see a boost in travelers thanks to Peyton’s secret language.

But don’t visit Omaha just because Peyton says so.  It’s also a vibrant vacation destination chock-full of family activities like the Henry Doorly Zoo which houses the world’s largest indoor desert and tropical rainforest.  Summer is the best time to travel to Omaha to experience great outdoor activities like the Lee Simmons Wildlife Safari and Conservation Park and to go fishing, boating and tubing along the Keystone Trail.

Travelers interested in exploring Omaha can visit Hotels.com, which has a selection of hotel deals offering up to 50% savings.

 
 

 

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Warm Weather Escapes to Beat the Winter Woes

Friday, January 10th, 2014

The New Year has certainly started off with a chilly beginning. The record freezing temps that terrorized much of the US earlier this week may just be the beginning of what Ol’ Man Winter has in store for 2014. That leaves me with the need for a warm weather escape. If you’re feeling the same way, pack up your sunglasses and swimsuits and chart a course for warmer weather at one of these amazing hotels.

Montage Laguna Beach
Laguna Beach, CA
The Montage Laguna Beach makes it easy to put your winter woes behind you. This craftsman-style luxury resort in arts-oriented Laguna Beach offers ocean-view rooms and suites, seasonal artisanal cuisine, and a nature-based spa. The service and staff of the large resort make it feel like a boutique property. The resort also has children and teen programs.

The Atlantic Resort & Spa Hotel
Fort Lauderdale, FL
The Atlantic Hotel is a great place to put your frostbitten toes in the sand. The beachfront hotel has 124 guest rooms with private terraces with ocean views, as well as kitchenettes and BOSE sound systems. The guest reviews are overly positive raving on the stellar customer service, amenities, and overall stay experiences. Will you join them?
TSB INSIDER TIP: Flying into Fort Lauderdale’s airport (FLL) can often be easier and more affordable than flying into busy Miami International (MIA).

Omni Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Montelucia
Scottsdale, AZ
You’ll forget you are in Arizona when you set foot in this five-star, 35-acre, Spanish-inspired retreat. Made up of four “villages” featuring fountain-filled courtyards, pools, a full-service spa and health club. Set up against Camelback Mountain, you’ll be winter warm poolside at this Scottsdale retreat.

Jake’s Hotel
Treasure Beach, Jamaica
An eco-chic bohemian hotel that is as fun as it is functional and affordable, Jake’s Hotel is on Jamaica’s southern coast and is a unique family-run hotel features 35 hippy-chic cottages on Jamaica’s Treasure Beach. The restaurant at Jake’s uses only locally-sourced ingredients and serves up some of the tastiest meals on the entire island. The hotel’s Driftwood Spa is naturally elegant and therapeutic. It’s a true treasure on Treasure Beach!

Aston Waikiki Beach Hotel
Honolulu, HI
Want Hawaii on a budget? It can be done. The Aston Waikiki makes it possible with rates that tend to range between $100 and $150 a night. Free breakfast, ocean front views, and lots of attractions such as the Zoo and Aquarium are within walking distance.
TSB INSIDER TIP: Set up a fare alert on airfarewatchdog.com from your origination city to Oahu to get the jump on Hawaiian airfare deals.

Disney’s Vero Beach Resort Hotel
Vero Beach, FL
On Florida’s Atlantic Coast, and less than two hours southwest from the Magic Kingdom is where you’ll find a Disney beachfront family oasis. The resort features four restaurants, mini putt-putt, a sing-a-long campfire, pools, and more. And in the winter, temperatures rarely drop below 65° in this balmy Florida city. 

Hotels.com is featuring some great deals in California and Arizona for warm-weather hotels and resorts. So, shovel out the driveway and get planning your winter vacay today!

 
 

 

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10 Ways to Leave A Vacation Destination Better Than You Found it

Thursday, January 9th, 2014

We all want to have fun on our vacations, relaxing by soaking up sun and sipping cocktails on a tropical beach. However, traveling to a foreign country for vacation should be much more – a chance to learn the culture and connect with the amazing people who live there, and somehow leaving the place better off because of your presence. Here are 10 suggestions to do just that:

0_1139286641. Pick up litter.
I carry a few plastic bags in my backpack when I go sightseeing, visit natural attractions, or walk on the beach so I can pick up trash and carry it out. The locals usually look at me like I’m crazy, but that quickly turns to big smiles when they realize what I’m doing. Remember – it’s not just about cleaning up after yourself, but for those who aren’t so thoughtful, and setting a good example in the process.

2. Talk to the locals.
Don’t be afraid to say “hi” to the local people. Start out with a smile, ask their name, about their family, and joke around a bit. You’ll be amazed how warm and endearing people become once they see you show genuine interest in their lives. Some of the coolest people I’ve ever met around the world have humble jobs in tourism, but once we made a simple human connection we became lifelong friends.

3. Leave good reviews.
The tourism industry, like so many others there days, is dominated by online content from sites like Hotels.com, TripAdvisor, LoneyPlanet, Yelp, etc. Reviews can make or break a business so when you’re having a good experience at a hotel, restaurant, or bar, take the time to snap a few photos and leave a nice review on these sites. Be sure to let the management know so they can give good feedback to their employees, but if you don’t like a place for some reason, also tell the management before you leave a bad review, giving them a fair chance to fix it.

4. Make a donation locally.
Before your vacation is over and you get back on a plane, leave a donation with a local charity or community organization. It doesn’t matter how much you give because the simple, gracious act of wanting to help people goes a long way. Donating to a big organization online is great, but next time actually go meet face to face with someone at the church, community center, or town hall and learn about the people you’ll be helping.

5. Tip.
Tipping isn’t required in most countries outside the United States, but it still can make a big difference in someone’s life. In many tourist destinations the locals work 12 hours a day, 6 or 7 days a week for only a couple hundred dollars a month. Leaving a dollar or two may be insignificant to you, but it could mean the world to them and be the difference of a good meal. If a waiter, bellboy, taxi driver, or tour guide was friendly and made your stay better somehow, remember to tip them. I give a big tip to the hotel when I leave to spread evenly among the whole staff, so the more backstage, humble workers like maids and maintenance men get rewarded too.

6. Respect the people who live there.0_BBK67D
Remember that you are in someone else’s home, so think of yourself as a special guest and act accordingly. Of course you want to have a few drinks and have fun, but you can loosen up and still be conscious of the local people around you who make a living in tourism and treat them like gold.

7. Learn to say “Please” and “Thank you,” in the native tongue.
Just by learning a few basic words in the language you’ll open the door to new friendships and opportunities. The locals will love it that you’re showing appreciation and respect for their culture.

8. Patronize locally-owned businesses.
Too often, tourists frequent the bigger chain hotels, restaurants, and attractions, owned by corporations or foreign investors. So make an effort to seek out some smaller local establishments, too – you’ll be directly supporting someone’s family and probably get a better meal or room at a lower price, as well as a taste of the authentic culture.

9. Keep in touch.
Exchange email addresses and add people you meet on Facebook. It’s fun to keep in touch and build lifelong friendships with some of the great people who live there. Who knows – you might come back, or they might come visit you in the U.S. one day so you’ll get the chance to return the hospitality!

10. Practice a random act of kindness.
Before you leave, do something nice for a local person or family you’ve met. Leave a big tip for the cleaning ladies, take a local family out for dinner, or fund a class field trip at the local elementary school. Get creative and have fun with it – the good karma you create will remain long after you’ve gone home.

This is a guest post contributed by Norm Schriever. Norm is an Amazon.com best selling author, pro blogger, expat, cultural mad scientist, and enemy of the comfort zone who hopes to leave this planet a little better than how he found it. 

 
 

 

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Layover Lookout: SFO’s Yoga Room

Monday, January 6th, 2014

Thinking of jumping on the “New Year, New You” band wagon this year? While walking through the open and fresh SFO International Airport over the holiday travel season, we were reminded that even a small effort can make all the difference.

In fact, opportunities to make these small changes in 2014 are all around. For example, if you’re looking to pick up a better wellness regimen in the new year, but feel you don’t have the time to keep it up while traveling, considering booking a flight that comes through SFO International.

One of the airport’s coolest features is a Yoga Room, fully equipped with mats, pillows, mirrors, and a calm atmosphere for you to get in a couple of moments of “me time” in between flights!
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