Archive for the ‘Transportation’ Category

Traveling When You Don’t Speak the Language

Monday, February 10th, 2014

English is one of the most popular languages in the world, which helps greatly when traveling outside the US.  But we can’t always assume that everyone is as willing or able to speak to us in English.  What can we do to get around comfortably in countries where we do not know the language without being the “ugly American?”

Know the basics.  People are appreciative of even a small effort by foreigners to speak their local language.  Learn how to “hello,” “please” and “thank you,” as well as “toilet,” “do you speak English?” “how much?” and “help.”

0_125347631Get directions in the native language.  Either print them online before you leave or have your hotel concierge help you by writing down the hotel, and any attractions you’re planning on visiting. This way you can show a taxi driver or someone trying to help you where you are trying to go using their native language. It’s great to make it easier on the person actually trying to help you.

Enjoy lessons with a local.  Make an effort to learn the local language by speaking with the locals. Once in Florence, Italy, my husband and I found some local college students at a pizza spot who were willing to converse with us.  They could practice their English and we could work on our Italian.

Ask the experts. Major tourist destinations such as Rome and Paris often have English versions of their restaurant menus. These will be given to you automatically upon arrival, but if you really want the foodie experience, ask the server for his or her favorite dish.

Be polite.  Don’t get frustrated with the locals when you are the visitor. Speak slowly and clearly and try to avoid slang.

Have a translator app available.  Be sure to download a few translator apps to help you communicate while traveling. Many now have audio translations available so that you can hear the proper pronunciation of a word or phrase. I like Jibbigo, which is available on iPad, iPhone and Android. It is available in offline mode after an initial download, which greatly saves on roaming charges.

If you really want to learn the language, Duolingo is a great website and app that has language learning programs and lessons for its users.

Have a good language barrier story or tip to share? Tell us about it!

 
 

 

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Subways, Buses, and Trains…Oh My! Let Public Transportation Be Your Tour Guide

Thursday, February 6th, 2014

“Live like the locals” is one of my favorite travel tips. And one of the best ways to do just that is to see the sites and get around by using whatever transport means the local residents use, and going it on your own.

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Just like a local, you have to discern whether driving a car yourself (car rental), taking a taxi or a bus, or just walking is going to be the safest, most convenient, and cost effective. The good news is that you don’t have to figure that out by yourself. You could ask the concierge at your hotel or a local, or check out PublicTransportation.org, which will help you find the best transportation options the city you are visiting.

Another great resource is HopStop. This website and smartphone app gives you door-to-door transit, walking, biking, and taxi directions in over 300 cities worldwide. It even helps you to estimate travel time and cost for a taxi.

The following three U.S. cities have the best FREE transit offerings:

Pittsburgh Free Fare Zone
Ride buses and light-rail trains at no cost seven days a week.

Portland’s Free Rail Zone
Passengers can ride light rail trains and street cars nearly everywhere downtown for free, all day, every day.

Seattle’s Ride Free Area
Ride free from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Metro buses within Seattle’s downtown area.

Safety Tips to Remember When You Take Public Transportation.

  • Have your pass or fare ready before you board public transportation so that you aren’t rummaging in a wallet or purse, exposing money and credit cards.
  • Always sit near the subway or bus driver when riding late at night or by yourself.
  • Report any strange behavior from another passenger that makes you uncomfortable.
  • Be sure you know where you are going. Easier said than done. If you do need to stop and pull out a map, don’t just stop on the side of the road or in the subway terminal.  Take a break at a nearby coffee shop, sit down and figure it out. You won’t stick out as a lost tourist this way.
  • Always maintain control of your belongings and be aware of your surroundings.
 
 

 

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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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Travel Sticky Situation: Delayed/Stranded by Winter Weather

Wednesday, December 18th, 2013

Tis the season to be traveling, so as we prepare for another holiday travel week, let’s review the top winter travel tips. The good news is that The Weather Channel is not predicting any major snowstorms in the U.S. over Christmas. Nevertheless, Mother Nature is never beyond a good storm surprise, so let’s be ready for whatever she throws at us this winter.

Trouble Ahead! Travel To-Dos

AA046865When winter storms approach, airlines begin preemptively waiving change fees in order to avoid stranded travelers.  If you have a trip on the horizon, DO stay tuned to national weather forecasts and check the travel advisories of your airline for delays, cancellations and rescheduling policies to see how any of it may affect your trip. You may not need to cancel your trip yet, but you should be aware of the possibility and begin considering alternate plans.

You are your best advocate. DO always have the hotel phone number, airline number, all of your confirmation numbers, and directions ON PAPER in addition to stored in your smart phone. You never know when you’ll be without battery, coverage or a charger.

If you are heading to your destination and get delayed, DO be sure to keep your hotel informed of your situation so you do not incur unnecessary charges for a no-show. If you are heading home and find yourself needing to stay an extra night, check availability as soon as you can to avoid having to scramble for other accommodations.

If You Get Stranded…

Remember when weather puts your trip to sleep, it doesn’t mean the airline owes you a good night’s rest in a hotel.   If you are already at the airport when delays or cancellations occur, DO be sure to have enough of the essentials to get you through a day… or two. For me, that’s contact solution, my phone charger, laptop and cord.

  • DO pack your patience: you are not the only one trying to cancel and rebook – be kind, don’t give up.
  • DO claim any reimbursement you are entitled to (for example, accidental charges for change fees) in writing and keep a copy. File claims as soon as possible.
  • DO forward copies of all documents to your travel insurer, if you have one.

Road-Trip To-Dos

And if you are behind the wheel this winter, possibly one of the best to-DO suggestions is to make a trip plan.  Pilots file a flight plan before takeoff, so driving our cars shouldn’t be any different. Make sure you DO advise someone of your trip plans.  DO call ahead to your destination and let someone know when you intend to leave, what route you will be traveling and your expected time of arrival.  If someone at your starting point and someone at your destination know your plans, help can reach you much more quickly, in the event of an emergency.

Safe Travels throughout the holidays and a merry and bright 2014!

 
 

 

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Hotels.com International Taxi Survey

Tuesday, November 5th, 2013

The results of the annual Hotels.com Taxi Survey are in, and London’s taxis have come in first place for the third year in a row!

Representing the U.S.; New York City and Las Vegas came in 2nd and 8th respectively. However, New York’s recognizable yellow taxis grabbed the top spot when it came to availability, and will likely maintain this ranking in the coming years due to the introduction of thousands of new green-colored taxis for more widespread access to New York City’s boroughs.

Check out the infographic & rankings for more fun facts about taxis around the world!

hotels.com_taxi_infographic_US-1

The world-wide rankings of the best taxi cab cities -
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And here are the categories listed by order of importance -

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 Do you agree or disagree? Who do you think deserves the top spot? Let us know in the comments below!

 
 

 

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Travel Sticky Situation: Tips for Traveling with your Boss

Friday, October 18th, 2013

Businesswoman talking on cell phoneIt’s bound to happen. If you advance far enough in your career, you will likely take a business trip or two that includes your boss or even your boss’s boss. So what’s the protocol for traveling with your superiors? Here are a few tips to keep things smooth sailing when on the road with “el Jefe”.

Take Care of Yourself. If you are a woman traveling amongst men, don’t assume that the social courtesies made toward a woman on a date apply in business. Be prepared to hail your own taxi, pay the bills and the tips, carry your own luggage and open your own doors. Chivalry is not dead but it should not be expected on a business trip. And regardless of whether you are a man or woman, take responsibility for your travel arrangements, ground transportation, and meals to confidently get you through your trip. Unless your boss suggests meeting for breakfast, order room service or go down to the hotel restaurant and eat your cereal solo. (It’s a good idea to carry a few breakfast bars.)

Assume Nothing. If there’s any question over who is responsible for what on the logistics planning or agenda during the trip, don’t assume the answer, ask and be sure of your responsibilities. Some bosses expect their junior executives to take care of everything from arranging transportation, setting up meetings, and securing reservations for dinner. Other bosses prefer to take the lead and expect you to keep up.

Carry Cash. Stop by the ATM machine before you leave and make sure to carry cash (small bills) for easy tipping. Traveling internationally? Check the exchange rate before you leave. It may be best to grab the local currency from an ATM in your destination. Be sure that you do before you try to get in a taxi or take the train. Many taxis outside of New York City and Chicago are not credit card friendly. Don’t forget to get receipts! If you want to be reimbursed for those tips and cash-related business expenses then save those receipts for the end-of-trip expense report.

UPIMRF-00019855-001Pack Like a Pro. You don’t want to be the one responsible when presentation materials or a cable turns up missing. In fact, impress them all and make sure you have an extra phone charger, socket adapter (for international usage), and connectivity cables just in case someone needs one. Personally, make sure you have a belt, panty hose (ladies), socks, band-aids, and an extra shirt.

Work on the Plane.  I look forward to a few hours of focused work time on the airplane. When you are in route to a meeting, it’s not the time to watch the latest flick being offered on the plane.

If your boss opens her laptop on transport, follow suit. Perhaps you can relax on the return after a job well done.

Do Your Destination Homework. If you are traveling to a new destination, don’t expect others to get you from A to B or choose the restaurants for dinner.  With just a little bit of research, you can become a pseudo-expert on the fastest way to get to and from appointments, great restaurants that will impress your bosses, and even off-hours diversions.

 

Do you have any great business travel tips to share? Let us know in the comments below!

 
 

 

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Cycling through Cities: Seeing the Sites on Two Wheels

Friday, August 23rd, 2013

0_153975071This week in Colorado, the best cyclists in the world are convening for The 2013 USA Pro Cycling Challenge drawing record crowds to cheer them on. Now in its third year, the seven-day race includes this year’s Tour de France champion Chris Froome and Tour sprint jersey victor Peter Sagan.

There was a time when bicycling was merely a functional affair. Now, cycling is seen as eco-friendly, cool, healthy, cheap and practical. And bikes- and those who ride them – have become the epitome of style. But it’s more than that! From Millennials to older generations, more people are forgoing cars for bikes; and cities are responding with more bike lanes.

In bigger cities like New York, Denver, Washington, D.C. and Boston, to smaller cities such as Chattanooga, Tenn., and Spartanburg, S.C., bike-share programs are taking off.

Check out this article in last month’s USA Today for the Top Urban Bike Paths Across the US.

New York has one of the newest bike sharing programs that is also the largest in the U.S. so far. With over 6,000 bikes at 330 stations across Manhattan and Brooklyn, visitors can strategically plan their day of sightseeing with unlimited 30-minute trips for about $10. Stay at the Millennium Hilton (4.4 Hotels.com Guest Rating; rooms starting at $199) and take a bike across the Brooklyn Bridge or ride along the Manhattan Waterfront Greenway.

Chicago launched its bike share program earlier this year and will soon have 4,000 bikes at 400 stations in its bike share program. The 18-mile Lakefront Trail along the Lake Michigan coastline is one of the country’s top city bike paths. Stay on the waterfront at the W Chicago Lakeshore (4.0 guest rating; rooms from $199) and explore points north and south of the area.

0_161951320Washington, D.C. was the first city to automate bike sharing back in 2010 and currently has a fleet of 1,800 bikes at 200 stations around the nation’s capital and Arlington, Va. Visitors can avoid the city’s traffic and explore Rock Creek Park or visit the monuments of the National Mallon bike. Stay at the Graham Georgetown (4.6 guest rating; rooms from $229), which is centrally located near many of the city’s paths and trails.

Minneapolis was recently named the number one bike city in the U.S. by Bicycle Times. With over 1,550 bikes at 170 stations across the Twin Cities, visitors can enjoy unlimited 30-minute rides starting at just $6. Stay at the Depot Renaissance Minneapolis Hotel (4.4 guest rating; rooms from $139) for easy access to the riverfront’s many bike paths, as well as the Cedar Lake Trail – a paved three-lane bicycle freeway that connects downtown Minneapolis to the region’s other popular trails. Visitors to Boston enjoying a long weekend can take advantage of the city’s three-day bike share pass for only $12. Stay at the Hyatt Regency Cambridge, Overlooking Boston (4.0 guest rating; rooms from $199) and explore the Charles River Bike Path and the nearby university campuses. Or follow Paul Revere’s famous ride and embark on the Minuteman.

Other major cities including Los Angeles, San Francisco and Philadelphia are planning to introduce community bike projects soon. And even without bike shares, many cities are getting “on the bike” offering visitors a healthy and up close way to see their cities. Do you have a favorite bike tour?

 
 

 

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