Ultimate Guide for Travel: Planning, Tips and Advice
Comprehensive. Practical. Endlessly helpful. Discover tips within this guide that can change the way you plan your travel now and into the future
Do you approach travel planning like an airline pilot who takes pride in nailing the perfect landing? Or does a gypsy live in your soul—a countenance demanding spontaneity so you wind up tossing stuff into bags at the last minute? There’s no explaining personal style. You’re unique. And we’re an equal opportunity resource. So, whether you identify as a gypsy or perfectionist our tips, tales and travel advice won't just improve your experience but it should make it better.
The Best Laid Plans of Mice, Men and Harried Travelers
You needn’t be a fan of Scottish poet Robert Burns to appreciate his famous phrase about “the best laid plans” because if you travel frequently, your mantra may already be, “If it can go wrong it will.” Interested in dispelling that myth? It’s easier than you think if you seek clever ways to get yourself organized. Act like an FBI agent and keep a ready bag. Save money with aggregators. Make lists. Cross off tasks. Ready to dig in?
Set a budget.
If you’re traveling on your own, you have only yourself to blame if you don’t allocate enough funds for your trip, but budgeting takes several forms. Pre-pay your arrangements using money transfers. Pay off a credit card and dedicate it to trip expenses. If you’re planning to travel as a group, we’ve opened a joint travel bank account into which participants made regular payments to underwrite the trip. If you find budgeting to be a daunting process, maybe pictures can help. Refer to this WikiHow article for inspiration.
Pick a destination.
Got a bucket list? This task is done and done. If you’ve no clue where you want to go, we admit to being envious. You wouldn’t be the first wanderer to throw darts at a world map after making a commitment to go wherever the dart lands, but a more sensible approach is to troll aggregators and travel websites because no matter the season, something’s always on sale. This may require you to hit the tropics during rainy season, but think of the cash you’ll save by going somewhere that's neither crowded nor pricey.
Go the distance.
International destinations are romantic and compelling and if you’ve never before left the U.S., you’re in for an unforgettable experience. Will you learn another language or count on running into English speakers? You can do either if you go to places like Belize or Scandinavia where just about everyone converses in English. Not that ambitious? The growing variety of translation tools (voice and keyboard) on today’s market are available to suit many budgets, so find the one that prompts you to open your wallet. Visit this page to scope out five solid recommendations for 2017, four of which are free.
Time to leave home.
Some folks can’t wait to leave home. Maybe you still live in Mom’s basement or you share your digs with an embarrassing number of cats. You’ve got bills to pay and pet sitters to hire. This is where that list comes in handy! Use your bank’s automated system to set up automatic payments during your absence if creditors don’t already debit your account. Let the post office know you’ll be gone. Get your house ready for your departure by following 13 tips from HGTV to get your place ready for your absence so you don’t catastrophize during your journey.
Get your papers in order.
Admit it: You’ve watched the movie “Casablanca” so often, you’ve memorized Captain Renaud’s identity papers speech. If you’re going abroad, you can be spontaneous and flee if you always keep your passport up-to-date—which means it features the chip being mandated by the international airline industry starting in 2018. Some nations require special visas. Others won’t admit you unless you’ve been vaccinated against diseases. The U.S. Department of Transportation website offers you the skinny on the nation you’ll be visiting, and while you’re browsing, thank the government for other valuable information designed to keep you safe and informed during your travels abroad.
Become a convert.
Once you’ve arrived on the soil of the country you’ll visit, getting your hands on the proper currency requires some thinking. Money exchanges at airports can charge a fee. Banks at your destination probably don’t keep the same long hours as your bank back home, but at least you get a fair exchange rate. Some hotels, resorts and accommodations exchange money as a courtesy but they may add surcharges for the convenience. One way or another, having a perpetual understanding of conversion rates is important. Lots of apps do the job, but if you haven’t already got one, this one will do the job.
My kingdom for plastic.
Sure, you’ve got a wallet full of credit cards and a few stowed in your safe for emergencies—-but try to use them in Berlin or Oslo and unpleasant surprises could land in your e-mail in-box or mailbox after you return because fees and surcharges for using domestic credit cards abroad have a nasty way of popping up. Avoid this nightmare by applying for a dedicated card with no foreign transaction fees. Where to sleuth one or more out? Visit Nerd Wallet and kiss the thought of transaction fees goodbye.
Call your insurance pro.
You have car insurance. Life insurance. Health Insurance. Homeowners insurance. There’s no mystery here: having coverage protects you from any number of surprises life throws your way. So, it just makes sense to investigate travel insurance for any number of reasons. Our article "How to Pick the Best Travel Insurance" is comprehensive and helpful, addressing subjects you likely think about and some you haven’t. Once you’re covered, add this “insurance” to your overseas journey: Emergency contact numbers for the U.S. government should you need help can be found here. Put these 24/7 numbers on your phone, 888-407-4747 or 202-501-4444, in case the Internet isn’t available.
Don’t leave home without it.
When Yahoo conducted a reader’s survey to find out what travelers forget to pack when they depart, answers ranged from the humorous (“My children!”) to items that can make or break a vacation like left-behind medicines or washing packets for hand laundry. We recommend reading our Ultimate Guide for Travel Gadgets & Electronics (link here) to learn about clever items you may not be able to live without. In the interim, these basics should make your packing list, no matter where you intend to travel:
- Cell phone charger
- Extra contact lenses
- Rain gear
- Eyeglass repair kit
- Backup sunglasses
- Travel scissors
- Magnifying mirror
- Dental retainers
- Copy of travel documents
- Collapsible carrier to hold purchases
- Extra batteries/charging station
Will You Be a Sherpa, a Mule or a Wise Packer?
It was a joke among friends who traveled together to distant lands: Would two members of our group (known for schlepping so much, they could have used camels) ever learn their lesson after repeatedly stressing out their spirits, backs and patience? Sadly, we never witnessed a metamorphosis, but those of us who packed wisely felt smug every time we found ourselves ready leave for a new country half an hour earlier than our two pack rats with nary a physical ache between us. It’s a delicate balancing act, but if you follow our packing advice, you can look perpetually smug, too. Start with The Mother of All Packing Lists so nothing important is overlooked, and keep on reading...
Heading North? How and what to pack for cold weather trips
When the “Huffington Post” reprinted a cold-weather trip packing article, we expected to find the usual suspects: bring warm clothing, layer and it’s okay to leave the deodorant behind if you’ll spend all of your time outdoors. What we didn’t expect was commonsense advice courtesy of Go Ahead Tours that addressed things most travelers don’t think about. For example:
Discover the magic of compression bags.
These little gems save so much room in suitcases—especially when everything you’re bringing is bulky—you’ll want to buy several. No tutorial needed to put compression bags to use: Fill them with garments and roll them up to remove the air. You can stuff an extra pair of boots into your suitcase with the room left over if you employ the magic of compression. Join the conversation on Rick Steves’ online forum to learn the good, bad and ugly about compression bags from folks who won’t leave home without them.
Board your transport emulating the Michelin Man.
If you wear your bulkiest, thickest garments on the plane, common sense notes that you don’t have to pack them. Ditto boots and accessories. Yes, you will look like you’re preparing for an Arctic dogsled ride, but wearing your heaviest stuff on the plane makes total sense. If you’re shaking your head because you sweat up a storm while traveling, you can roll up that puffy coat and turn it into a travel pillow thereby avoiding suspect pillows and blankets loitering in overhead bins.
Don’t skimp on your winter wardrobe.
Don’t be lulled into complacency by off-brands of winter clothing that won’t help to maintain your body temperature in winter. We turned to “The Guardian” for advice and share their recommendations with you. Stick to strong fabrics like acrylic yarn that are tough and outperform wool every time. On the other hand, renewable plant sources like wool not only keep you warm but wool burns slowly and can put itself out if you get too close to a fire. Our favorite comment about polyester? “The Guardian” compares wearing it to “looking like a human condom” wearing weaves that don’t guarantee warmth. If you find travel garb made of slag wool or hemp, grab it.
The layering game.
What’s not to love about layers? Wearing multiple garments will insulate your body against the cold, but make certain you layer the right types of fabric to achieve this state. A thin, long-sleeve undershirt beneath a wool sweater traps air just as effectively as a woolen undershirt and in some cases, better. That’s why designers of winter undergarments have perfected the art of weaving natural fibers into lightweight garments. You can also pack less if you layer because nobody sees what’s under your outer sweater so everything you bring (besides lingerie) can be worn several times during your trip.
Is there a palm tree in your future? Packing for tropical destinations
Orvis has dedicated itself to helping adventurers, timid travelers and ordinary vacationers make proper plans for journeys and since the company focus is on gear and garments, their warm winter packing advice is usually right on the money. We culled some of their tips and added a few of our own so you wind up tossing more than three pairs of shorts, your Margaretville t-shirt and one pair of flip-flops into your suitcase.
The fabric of your life.
Just about every packing authority on the planet will advise you to pack items from your wardrobe for a trip to warmer climes that are lightweight, but did you know that including wool garments in your stash makes just as much sense? Wool is a natural fiber; it breathes and helps air circulate, so just because your past experience with wool is limited to thick winter coats, you’ll be happy to learn that lightweight wools are making the travel scene in tropical areas as often as 100-percent cotton, rayon and linen. Invest in Merino wool garments because Merino wool resists odor, just in case you forget to pack your roll-on.
Fill your luggage with cotton, silk, linen, chambray and rayon. All of them are light, airy, easy to wash and dry, so if push comes to shove and you spill a cocktail on your favorite shirt, a packet of laundry soap dissolved in warm water makes quick work of your dilemma once the shirt dries on a hanger. Are there fabrics you should leave home in your dresser? Anything stitched of polyester because this textile traps heat and sweat from escaping so the phrase hot mess takes on new meaning if you’re dancing on Copacabana beach in polyester.
Do colors matter?
That depends upon your fashion sensibilities and the Macy sale you hit last season when winter coats hit the sales floor. If you didn’t know that some colors are cooler than others, consider this your tutorial. Light colors reflect sun back out into the universe, so if you fill your luggage with pale pastels, tans, whites and creams, even the look of these ice cream colors could keep you cool. Keep your blacks, blues and burgundies in your closet—even if these separates are sleeveless and made of natural fibers. Need something formal for a dinner, funeral or other occasion? Take along one dark ensemble in linen, Merino wool or cotton.
If you’re all about “simplicity,” have you thought about limiting yourself to a three-color palette? Even if you dress in the dark, plucking a random selection of, for example, light blue, tan and cream separates from your suitcase, you will automatically coordinate your ensemble without a second look. When we went to Africa, an abundance of khaki separates filled our suitcases and to our delight, fellow travelers on our photographic safari also wore mostly khaki—even when we stayed at the swanky Mt. Kenya Safari Club.
Safety above all.
A warm-weather vacation or business trip would seem to come with fewer warnings because you’re not going to flirt with hypothermia, excess strain on your body or encountering into a bear or two, but don’t be lulled into a sense of complacency. The closer to the Equator you travel, the more you risk sunstroke and other cataclysmic conditions that can short-circuit a vacation tout suite.
Even if you hate hats, the number of fashionable and lightweight travel chapeaus on the market is so vast, you’ll find something that you can tolerate wearing. Bring lots of sunscreen and soothing lotions for your skin so once the sun goes down, you don’t suffer. Did you know that you can purchase clothes that offer extra protection against damaging skin rays? And no, you won’t be overdoing it if you bring three pair of sunglasses so you always have a backup.
Does fit matter?
Twenty-first century clothing trends continue in the “bare all” tradition. Tight-fitting garments are the exception rather than the rule, but when you dress for warm weather travel, fabrics that stick to your skin can deliver a big helping of misery. Loose clothes are the way to go, whether you’re a man or woman. But there’s a difference between light, airy and not clingy and bringing clothing that is at least two sizes too large. You don't want to look sloppy when you travel, do you?
Travel to Muslim countries where modesty isn’t just a way of life but the law and women may be obliged to cover their hair and make sure hems on sleeves and pants cover as much skin as possible. Conversely, the Vatican once had to issue a ban on tube tops when young tourists began showing up at St. Peter’s dressed for a disco rather than a tour of the Catholic religion’s holiest compound. Keep in mind that the warm weather travel accessory that’s most flattering to your health is your water bottle and if you carry a large bandana with you everywhere you go, you’ll always have a way to cool down your forehead using your bottle as a water source.
9 Rules for packing for your journey
Whether you’re heading for Rio or Oslo, there are certain packing tips that can save both your sanity and a potential war cry of, “How could I have forgotten to bring [fill in the blank]?” You know the strategies in which you pride yourself when you’re at the office? Apply due diligence to your packing process and you’ll rule.
- Pull garments from your wardrobe. Then lay every item out on your bed. Squint your eyes. How many colors are represented? Do some wardrobe editing so you’re not bringing too many hard-to-match colors. Calculate how many outfits you will be able to put together with the items before you.
- Start a packing list. Do this as soon as you book your travel arrangements. This list is not the same list that mentions booking the cat sitter and stopping your mail delivery.
- Check your toiletries inventory. If you already own small plastic travel bottles, refill them from larger shampoo, conditioner, lotion and other bottles. If you’re already in possession of plenty of hotel freebies, you’re good to go.
- Don’t pack the morning you leave. Do it the night before, leaving room for essentials you need to get ready on the day of your departure. Use strategies for packing pioneered by the military. Roll up your garments. If you own compression bags or cubes, put them to work.
- Position contents wisely. Bag your shoes so they don’t soil clothing and put them into your suitcase first. Tuck rolled garments into the suitcase next. Those extra sunglasses will travel nicely tucked into socks and you’d be amazed how much cushioning electronics receive if you slide them into a package of sanitary napkins.
- Pack plastic bags in varying sizes. You may think you don’t need them, but baggies do everything from sealing a leaking lotion bottle to acting as a wet bathing suit or laundry carrier.
- Don’t forget exotic stuff. If you won’t see a retail shop until you return to the airport, pack your own mosquito netting, laundry soap pods and little packets of mustard and ketchup found at fast food restaurants. These can be priceless treasures.
- Plan to survive with just a backpack. Our Africa trip began with the loss of our luggage between Madrid and Nairobi. Fortunately, our backpacks were filled with two underwear changes, toiletries, camera gear, a change of clothing and essentials. The airline gave us some cash to buy a few items and off we went. Best trip ever!
- Expect to forget something. It’s part of the travel experience and makes for a great story around a campfire or at a party. The chances you will forget something important shouldn’t be part of your vocabulary if you’ve read every word of this article!
Reasons to Stay on the Road: Travel by Car or by Train
Road trip anyone? Whether you’re eager for domestic or overseas travel and want to do it by car, you’ll make great memories. Our journey through Europe taught us valuable lessons that no guide book covers—like what happens when your rental car gas cap goes missing in France, you sideswipe a wall in Switzerland and why it’s never a good idea to panic on precarious mountain roads in Germany as a tour bus raced in our direction.
Travel by Car in the United States
Do you belong to a motor club? Love taking charge of your own planning? Need help formulating an itinerary? Relax. We’ve got you covered. Answer the following questions to put your grand plan into action.
Will you drive your own car or rent one?
Travel experts say that both options are good choices—but the age of your car and its condition should play a major part in your decision. Getting a full tune-up before you leave is a great idea, though that action offers no guarantees—as we found out somewhere between Atlanta and Chicago when our newly-tuned car died.
Airports are terrific hubs for car rentals; selection and prices are usually optimal—just as long as there are no airport fees associated with airport rentals. “Travel + Leisure” writer Christopher Tkaczyk’s “The World’s Best Car Rental Agencies” can help you weigh your choices.
How much travel time can you spare?
While young families with more ambition than cash use road trips to save money, it’s the senior crowd that takes most advantage of this travel method these days because they have more time. Travel+Leisure is our resource on time maximization so every minute counts.
Among author Shivani Vora’s tips are bringing extra batteries for key fobs, using the iExit app to see what awaits if you get off freeways, bringing large water bottles for every traveler, loading nonessential items into the trunk first to eliminate frequent unpacking/repacking, bringing a cooler for snacks and--if you’re traveling with kids--invaluable apps that direct you to nearby toilets are essential.
What’s your budget?
OutdoorBlueprint.com wants to help you stay within your budget when you travel so they’ve posted a page on their website devoted to helping you do just that. In addition to offering tips like estimating food costs at $10 per day per person if you’re grocery shopping and making meals on the go rather than frequenting restaurants, you can save some cash.
But, the ability to use the site’s Road Trip Cost Calculator to estimate how much you’ll likely spend is a resource you may not be able to live without once you get accustomed to referring to it. But we recommend adding 10-percent to all of the totals you come up “just in case” you wind up blowing through your limits.
Obey the rules.
If you haven’t taken a road trip across the U.S. lately, you could be surprised to learn how many interstate highways have upped their speed limits, which doesn’t necessarily mean that speed freaks obey them. A working understanding of the U.S. Interstate Highway System can help—as long as you don’t take everything as gospel. In general, speed limits east of the Mississippi are typically 65mph but you’re going to find desolate stretches of road that invite you to do 70.
Are you directionally challenged? Remember that odd numbered interstate highways run north-south and evenly-numbered ones run east-west. If you see blue signs with white letters before exit markers, these are hospitality signs that indicate gas, food, hotels, etc. Brown signs advise you of heritage sites. If you’re nearing Canada, mile markers may be posted in kilometers, so knowing that one mile equals about 1.6km helps.
Driving etiquette is important.
If you’re scared silly every time you watch the news and hear about some driver lapsing into road rage after being cut off or otherwise offended, you’re not alone. But don’t let fear of road range govern your road trip or you’ll wind up in a terrible state. Whether you and your passengers are traveling the historic Route 66 or just going to Grandma’s in Seattle, civility is your guide and the adoption of reasonable habits is your goal.
Follow these 3 etiquette tips so you collect more memories than gripes:
- Everyone’s got their seat belt on, right? If you drive across state lines with kids, did you know that every state has different seat belt age requirements? Visit the Governors Highway Safety Association website to make sure your little passenger is in compliance.
- Being stopped by a state trooper, police officer or other law enforcement official is no fun but if happens, put it behind you so you don’t sulk. On the other hand, if you’re stopped by law enforcement, there are kids in your car and you’re smoking, speeding may not be your only problem. Some states prohibit smoking in cars if kids under 18, so consult LegalBegal.com to cross-reference your travel itinerary with their list.
- Traffic accidents while on a road trip are bummers but they happen and there are no differences in state laws. You stop. Call authorities. Present your identification and insurance card and wait for the police. Call your rental car company if you’re not driving your own car; contact your insurance agent if you are driving your own vehicle. An accident doesn’t mean the end of your road trip, but it could cause delays if damage warrants attention. This is the time to practice the Zen of road trips.
Travel by Car outside the U.S.
Whether your idea of a great time is pointing your car south and driving through Mexico to Central America and South America or you intend to hit hot spots in Europe by renting a vehicle, recommendations are in order so you return your car to the originating agency without having to explain why there’s a rag in your gas tank instead of a cap. These tips help explain a few differences you’ll encounter when driving on foreign soil.
- Driving on the wrong side of the street. Prepare yourself for a steering wheel that’s mounted on the dashboard in front of the passenger side seat. Even if your driving skills are comparable to James Bond’s, you need time to familiarize yourself with controls on steering wheels that you’re accustomed to seeing on dashboards. Ask your rental agent to orient you to everything on your rental car and accompany you on a test drive. Nothing’s worse than an impromptu rainstorm that hits and you’ve no clue where the wiper control is located.
- Stipulate automatic transmission; don’t assume. Folks in other countries seem to like the feel of control they get from a car that requires a stick and clutch to operate it. Americans tend to prefer automatic transmissions, which is why--when one rents a car in the U.S.--automatic transmissions come standard. If you decide to drive on the wild side and opt for a stick, be cautious on mountains where manual shifting can be challenging if your brain and feet haven’t had enough time to respond appropriately.
- Learn the lingo. Did you know that other nations have a different road vocabulary than the one you rely upon in the U.S.? For example, in the U.K., you’ll get a weird look if you ask about a highway because they’re called motorways. There are no exits; rather junctions. You won’t pass anyone on the road because you’ll be too busy overtaking them and if you spot a zebra crossing like the one depicted on the jacket of the Beatles’ “Abbey Road” album, pedestrians may or may not stop. Importantly, forget 911 and remember 999 for emergencies.
Travel by Train in the U.S.
Training is easy, affordable and barring unforeseen circumstances, dependable, too. The system that connects the U.S. is Amtrak, a vast network that transverses the nation. Visit this page to browse the Amtrak web, purchase single destination tickets or buy packages that cover multiple expenses.
For example, a 5-day excursion to the Grand Canyon includes tickets, lodgings and meals. Look for specials here, but if you need reasons to take a train, these 5 should convince you to consider this method of transportation.
Help save the planet.
You won’t find a better way to support your “steward of the Earth” commitment than by traveling by train because engines run on bio-fuels, large numbers of people are transported at the same time and who can dismiss the ability to walk around during a journey rather than spending days in a cramped car?
Devote your time to something you love.
Pick an activity that makes you happy. We backpacked around the British Isles with needlepoint projects and finished them before our return flight left Heathrow. Do what you like from the comfort of your train seat. Stay connected electronically, catch up on work, your favorite soap opera or watch the movie in your streaming queue.
Dress for comfort.
The Fashion Police don’t patrol train car aisles to make sure your attire is appropriate. Even if you head for the dining car to have a meal, you can wear loose-fitting garments, jeans and outfits that keep you comfy. Bring along your favorite travel pillow and relax.
Trains don’t have the widest aisles on the planet so pack what you can carry in a narrow bag or duffle so you don’t need llamas to carry your belongings. Wear a money belt to hold your belongings under your clothing if you worry about theft.
Tightening security has impacted the U.S. rail system too, so arriving early for your train gives you a chance to settle in. Ask conductors about connections, stops and other trip details before the train leaves and follow the wise advice of “Road & Travel Magazine” editors who recommend booking an early seat in the dining car. First timer? Visit this page on the Amtrak site.
Travel by Train Outside the U.S.
You’ve gotta love progress. Once upon a time, rail passage in India, the British Isles, Japan or Brazil required a travel agent and machinations. These days, you’ve got the Internet and resources like International Rail, your one-stop shop for riding the rails of the nation(s) you long to visit. Some railroads are on the primitive side. Others are Orient Express wannabes. These 4 suggestions can make your rail travel abroad a grand adventure.
Purchase tickets before you leave home.
Take advantage of discounts.
You probably know that some seasons are better for travel by rail than others overseas because weather and seasonal changes from south and north of the Equator trigger low season and high season. If you’ve the luxury of time, you could save big bucks traveling by train in low season.
Prefer to go straight to the source?
Some folks don’t want to use an aggregator to book train tickets, preferring instead to go directly to the railroad. Prepare to be impressed when you scope out Maps of World’s roster of rail systems.
Deals are to be had.
If you’re not sure where you want your train to take you while you’re in country, buying a rail pass is your ticket to everywhere. We were spontaneous and impetuous--awakening in Bath one morning and deciding to see the Edenborough Zoo later in the day because our BritRail pass allowed us to go places on a whim. All of Europe can be your playground if you visit Rail Europe.
Got Your Eye on the Sky? We can Help
Whether you travel for pleasure or you’re all about doing business, domestic and international travel may have become a way of life for you. Security keeps getting tighter. Snafus include delays, cancellations and the occasional lost luggage. But with time at a premium, biting a metaphorical bullet and adopting a philosophical outlook may be all that’s required to get you to 37,000 feet as you speed to any destination you desire.
Basic air travel advice for smarties
Leave the dummies to their strategies; you’re flying savvy. "Real Simple" writer Katie McElveen has taken the sport of flying down rudimentary levels, so before we address niches like flying with kids, flying with pets and flying without having a breakdown, we invite you to adopt one or more of her suggestions:
Always fly direct.
Unless bizarre circumstances or an impressive discount requires you to include a layover or transfer on your journey. Sometimes, a layover can be beneficial if you stretch it out. Our trip to Nairobi was made more bearable by a layover in Madrid that lasted long enough for us to grab a hotel room and sleep.
Don’t mess with your identity.
Airport officials are skittish about deviation these days, so if your name is John, even though you use your middle name of Alexander regularly, slip into your John persona when you fly if that’s what your passport or driver’s license says or you could raise red flags when encountering authorities.
Take a seat.
Most time, people with disabilities are advantaged as are parents with little kids who couldn’t sit still if they tried. Bulkhead seats are gifts from the flying gods, but if you don’t book early enough to request one, you could find that this limited seating is already assigned.
Got proper documents?
Not sure which countries require visas and other credentials? Visit this page. Some countries have quirky requests for travelers—like the two- blank-page passport requirement South Africa demands. Further, if an Israeli entry stamp appears anywhere within your passport, gaining entry to an Islamic country could be difficult if not impossible.
Know the code.
The airport code, that is. Until you adopt revolutionary technology that lets you print out your own baggage tag as a precursor to the new luggage check-in system that’s completely automated, knowing your destination code could stop your bag from being sent to Cairo, Illinois when your itinerary says Cairo, Egypt.
Be kind to fellow flyers.
Resist the temptation to slap your carry-on into the first bin you encounter as you mince your way down the aisle of your aircraft. Find space closer to your seat so you don’t slow down traffic when it’s time to get off. Further, recognize signs that your seatmate doesn’t want to chat! The telltale sign? “Face in a book or magazine.” Save your gab for the folks awaiting you at your destination.
Join the club.
Are you aware of the fact that you don’t have to pay for an annual airline club lounge membership? Many airlines are happy to give you a respite from crowds and bathroom lines and offer travel assistance from concierges. Fork over around $50 on the spot to receive all of the perks these enclaves of peace offer.
Let your fingers do the walking.
The announcement that a plane is being cancelled is like a death knell if you’re on a time deadline and while infrequent travelers are going to rush the gate counter like lemmings on cliffs, dial the airline’s customer service number instead (you did put it on speed dial, right?) to re-book.
Don’t shop too much.
You’re delayed at your point of origin, so you stroll around and acquire an extra book, a cute sweatshirt and a sale item or two. Alternatively, duty-free shops during layovers can be hazardous because not every duty-free bottle of vodka is a bargain. Adding extras to your carry-on bag isn’t always wise; especially if you have back problems.
A dude sits down next to you and opens a hot container of curry as the plane levels off at 25,000-feet. That’s when you realize you’re starving and a 3-inch bag of pretzels won’t cut it. You can wax nostalgic for the old days or bring your own sustenance—even if it’s just a granola bar.
Flying on Business in the U.S.?
Kayleigh Kulp, reporting for the Travel Channel, knows a thing or two about the nuances of business travel. It can be a hassle. Frustrating. Sometimes impossible. But your job depends upon your ability to get places fast, and the best way to do that is to arm yourself with the following information and that granola bar!
Join a rewards program.
Stay loyal. If you use the same airline repeatedly, everyone from administration to the flight crew will treat you better, thus making flights more tolerable. Have you been an equal opportunity business flyer in the past? Time to pick a home team. “U.S. News and World Report” researchers are happy to help you decide on a rewards program.
Locate your seat beforehand.
You already know that the right seat can make or break a flight, so unless you prefer being in the middle seat, bookmark the website Seatguru.com to scan your plane’s configuration so can figure out where your assigned seat is located. While using your electronics to prepare for your trip, program customer-service numbers for the airline, hotel, car agency or taxi service into your phone and take advantage of cell-phone lots at airports to summon pre-booked limo drivers.
Pile on the charm.
You do it when you deal with everyone from your boss to your clients, so why not charm airline personnel, rental car staff, taxi cab drivers and anyone else who can help you get where you’re going? Motivational speaker Barry Maher doesn’t get his feathers ruffled when all hell breaks loose. He says that “people start out annoyed or even hostile. I tell the agents what a great job they’re doing and how I admire their patience; they'll often go to extraordinary lengths for me.” ‘Nuff said?
Dress for success.
Passengers wearing business attire not only receive better service than those wearing sweat pants and t-shirts but if you’re delayed and your presentation or meeting is too close for comfort, traveling in your business suit not only makes sense but you won’t mind the discomfort.
Traveling abroad on business?
If you have yet to read our “Best Tips for the International Business Traveler" it’s a great place to start your planning. That stated, travel trends move faster than jets these days, so we turned to Lauren Thomann, writing for the website Life+Storage, to learn about breakthroughs in the world of international business travel that impacted about 480.5 passengers in 2016 alone.
Did you know that carriers often base price quotes on the number of times you’ve booked with their site? Thomann recommends that you turn your browser to incognito mode so your cookie history stays private. Here’s another surprise: if you keep refreshing the page in hopes of getting a lower price, your actions could have the opposite effect.
Use your loyalty plan.
Book hotels and ground transportation, too, so you only have one customer-service number to call if things go haywire once you land. Should you ask for an upgrade at every opportunity? As your Mom told you, it never hurts to ask so speak up.
Get TSA clearances.
This will hasten your trips. A 5-year Transportation Security Administration TSA Pre-check credential gets you through checkpoints without removing shoes, belts, electronics and liquids. Use this service to depart from U.S. airports to foreign countries, but you’ll need a Global Entry card to be fully credentialed for your return from abroad.
Use shipping services.
Ship work materials directly to your overseas hotel. “Entrepreneur” magazine offers sage advice for business travelers who must take hand-outs, demonstration materials and other necessities and don’t want to pay to pay a fortune to take them on the plane. Use a reliable shipping service. Address labels properly. Call hotel staff to advise them to expect materials and give them your phone number. This article lists 2017 top international shipping picks.
Don't forget the gadgets.
Bring battery power chargers, travel adaptors, transformers and other gadgets you require that can save your presentation from certain death if your laptop dies. Our gadget guide tells you more than you need to know about what’s currently available. Don’t forget low tech business necessities like a wrinkle-release spray so you look presentable and an emergency kit that includes needle, thread and safety pins.
Dealing with jet lag.
This condition is bad enough on vacation; suffer the effects of jet lag on a business trip and your bottom line could be impacted. About 93-percent of all travelers experience jet lag, says the American Sleep Association. The more time zones you pass, the more your body’s internal time clock is disrupted. You can prepare your body by adjusting your bed time to synch it with your destination, eat healthy snacks on the plane and moderate your intake of caffeine and alcohol.
Nobody’s immune from random terror attacks but there are steps you can take to secure your own safety. Never tell anyone that you’re traveling alone—even if you are. Notify folks back home of your departure and return dates and provide them with your hotel phone number. The Department of State has instituted STEP, the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program, so take advantage of it. You did leave copies of your travel documents with a trusted party just in case they go missing, right?
Will you be Traveling in Groups?
Whether your family will be accompanying you to a conference, you’re taking a vacation or you’ve been saddled with the responsibility of organizing a family reunion, club trip or you’re a teacher who helped raise candy to take seniors to Washington, D.C., group travel planning is a whole new animal. It’s a big responsibility to shepherd people to one destination, but once you’re there, expect to have fun.
How to Travel as a Couple
Does it take work to travel with your partner, better half or new spouse? Yup. Sure, you’re in love, but traveling together means you’ll have to put up with each other 24/7 and you may not believe how many couples learn that endearing personality quirks can be tedious, if not downright annoying, given so much togetherness. No worries. Couples survive. This advice, via a National Geographic blog, could even bring you closer together.
Make a pact before you leave home.
Sign a contract, if necessary. Agree that there will be no simmering resentments between the two of you during your travels; that you’ll immediately address grievances and issues as they occur. Negotiate rather than retaliate. Forget the name game. You’ve got memories to make!
Get what you want.
She wants to see every museum in Paris. He’s only interested in one D.C. attraction: The Air and Space Museum at the Smithsonian. Time to invoke your “equal opportunity” rule by honoring each other’s wishes. Will the journey always wind up as a 50-50 proposition? Not necessarily—but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try.
Step outside your comfort zone.
Your Belize host asks if you want to go zip lining or cave tubing, but your partner reacts with a telltale “deer in the headlights” expression. Instead of shutting down the conversation, ask yourself whether you’d be willing to take the risk “Just this once.” You’ll be surprised to discover how you feel about yourself after the fact if you feel the fear and do it anyway.
Grab some alone time.
Savvy partners know that taking breaks from each other is healthy, so pre-plan break days in advance. This simple action has been known to cut down on the number of eye rolls, sighs and whines that can ruin a couple’s trip. You’ve got cell phones, right? Go forth and do something on your own. Don’t be surprised if getting together again that night doesn’t feel like a honeymoon.
Keep your expectations in check.
Will she leave behind all of her quirks and foibles? Will he stop saying that food prices on menus seem extravagant? C’mon. Going through airport security won’t trigger a personality change. Vacationers expecting each other to forget about work or suddenly turn into bundles of passion could be in for big disappointments if those expectations get out of hand.
Appreciate each other.
Travel is a great opportunity to institute a mutual society that reminds each of you why you fell in love in the first place. You’ll share funny moments. Her luggage wasn’t adequately closed so there’s a bra hanging out on the luggage carousel. He decides to convert money with the dude hanging around the market. These are the stories you’ll tell your grandchildren for years to come.
Traveling with Kids
For reasons known only to parents who put up with restless kids on transatlantic flights, found out too late that a child gets carsick or discovers that their toddler is terrified of the sound the train wheels make, the topic of traveling with kids is a favorite of journalists, book writers, websites and Moms—and especially search engines. Does this glut of information make you even crazier than the thought of shepherding your little ones across the country or ocean? We have your solutions within this section, whether your little travelers are wearing onesies or they’re permanently attached to the headset that delivers your pouty teen’s playlists.
How to pack for kids.
As long as your children are mobile, assigning them their own backpacks is the secret to packing your kids up without becoming a hotel bellhop. Make it a learning experience. Help youngsters pick out separates in the same color range and show them how to roll items up to maximize interior room.
The younger the child, the more reason you’ll have to double up on essentials like PJs and shirts that invite spills. You can even strap a travel pillow and blanket to the backpack for comfort during plane, train or car journeys. Your carry-on is the place for a roll of paper towels, wipes and an empty plastic bag to hold garbage.
Hit the road.
Next to sacrificing your privilege of singing your favorite jam at the top of your lungs to your kids’ embarrassment, make on-the-road entertainment a priority. Singing “100 Bottles of Beer on the Wall” has been declared inappropriate these days but there are plenty of CDs you can check out from your library’s collection to provide a soundtrack for your drive. Alternately, consult MiniTime.com for car games even you will enjoy playing.
Chances are, your offspring are already wired: cell phones, tablets, DVD players and the system hot-wired to your car. Bring tonnage of sugary snacks on the road at your own risk. Kids may turn up their noses at fruit, but if all you pack are healthy snacks, what choice do they have? Oh, and try not to reply, “Can’t you wait?” if the kids start squirming around in the back seat say they have to go potty. Now.
Consider your car a local, not an express.
Road trips with kids are all about frequent stops for bathroom breaks before the urge strikes, viewing historical markers, visiting attractions, undertaking diaper changes and perhaps some calisthenics added to the mix. “Woman’s Day” magazine suggests outside-the-car exercises kids will follow along if you set an example and you can repeat these moves as often as you like:
- Reach your arms to the sky, hold for 20 seconds and release.
- Take a 5-minute walk to stretch leg muscles and get blood flowing.
- Relieve shoulder pain by clasping hands behind your lower back with legs spread. Lift for 15 seconds; relax.
- If you’re at a safe location, a game of hide-and-seek doubles as an excuse to run around.
Fly the friendly skies.
Road trips offer parents some modicum of control, but once that cabin door closes and seat belt snaps are heard throughout the land, you turn into the entertainment director. Bring activities along that your child likes and stow healthy snacks in your carry-on for the inevitable, “Mom, I’m hungry” request.
Wrangling little ones through customs is no picnic, which is why wearing neck wallet holders in different colors for each family member is a great idea. Inform little travelers that their comfort toy or blanky must go through the scanner early so there are no meltdowns at the TSA station. Need the mother lode of info that ranges from bringing bottles on planes to dealing with disabled kids? This TSA page can answer your questions.
Practice in-flight etiquette.
Let’s say your child’s interest in the DIY puppet you made from a barf bag dissipates fast. What to do about pent-up energy? Start by withholding sugary snacks for 24 hours before your flight and if you allow your child to run around the concourse beforehand (this requires your policing efforts) that helps too. Give babies a bottle during takeoff to mediate ear pressure pain. If you’re lucky enough to depart from airports listed in this Family Vacation Critic article, you can help your kids dissipate all of that energy before you board.
Traveling with Kids in Fur Coats
Either you can’t or you won’t leave them at home, so join the trend of bringing your furry kids along on your trips. They’ll do fine as long as you keep their water and food bowls perpetually filled after arrival.
The parent/pet vacation.
The owner/pet vacation market is heating up. Typical of this travel trend is Canine Camp Getaway in New York State where for around $1100 per four-night visit, owners and pets share a room but not a bed. By day, everyone takes part in “goofy bonding activities” that include decorating dog biscuits and downing brews at Yappy Hour. Pets and owners hang poolside, take agility classes and there’s a scent-detection workshop for dogs with good sniffers. See if there’s a shared experience waiting for you at The Bark.
The definitive pet travel guide.
Our Tips for Traveling with Dogs and other Pets Guide (link here) is loaded with pertinent information that can make your next shared vacation fun. Whether you intend to fly, drive or train to your vacation spot, checklists, advice and suggestions are filled with the type of information you may not find elsewhere. Our guide has been known to persuade skittish pet owners debating the merits of traveling with their pets to give it a try.
Want to take your pet abroad?
We have it on good authority (National Geographic) that it’s getting easier to bring pets overseas, but plan to spend time and energy making arrangements. You’re limited to five animals if you’re going to Europe—unless your dogs are competing at Crufts. Nobody at the Humane Society of the United States recommends the dark, noisy, cold environs of the cargo hold, so you may wish to buy your pal a seat. Otherwise, consult the carrier you plan to use for boarding details, fees and details.
Senior Travel Advice
Americans are living longer, more active lives after retiring and travel is a quintessential way to enjoy the fruits of one’s labor. But with extra time and enthusiasm come unique requirements to accommodate senior travelers who may have lifestyle, medical or physical impediments. That stated, seniors have earned this privilege so if you only stop home long enough to kiss kids the grands and replenish your wardrobe, go for it.
Go the all-inclusive route.
All-inclusive packages are hot tickets for seniors: You pick a spot, choose your accommodations and get on a plane or train. From your resort or hotel pick-up to your return to the terminal, everything in your package is pre-paid except shopping expeditions and perhaps your bar tab. Reader’s Digest’s top all-in-one picks are affordable, so you don’t have to tap your 401K to see the world. Alternately, the silver crowd flocks to cruise liners, according to AARP. Browse their website for ideas.
Prioritize mobility issues.
Our tour to ancient sites at Petra in the Middle East included plenty of seniors, but what the booking agent failed to mention were obstacles in this area that require sure-footed, agile visitors. We felt badly for them but that was years ago. Today’s travel industry acknowledges travelers with all sorts of disabilities and if you deal with a group like AARP, planners are particularly sensitive. This doesn’t mean you have to take a pass on the exotic places on your bucket list; it just means you’ll have to be persistent when you query airlines, travel agents and other professionals to make certain no barriers impair your travel plans.
Why your room matters.
In the event of an emergency--like a fire or natural disaster--finding your way down a dozen flights of steps from the 12th floor of a hotel can be a nightmare. Add the fact that the people making this trip are seniors and the number of problems compounds. Seniors with mobility issues should always request lodgings at the lowest levels possible because if elevators are out of service, getting to safety is can be an arduous proposition. Fortunately, U.S. laws plus the hospitality industry are both committed to addressing this segment of travelers.
Need travel medical insurance?
If you’re venturing forth on your own for the first time and depend upon Medicare for your health coverage, you may be chagrined to learn that Medicare doesn’t cover policyholders once they leave the U.S. Even if you make it a policy not to buy add-on insurance policies for domestic travel, re-think; but you don’t have to overthink if you consult a resource like TravelInsurance.com, an aggregator that takes your trip information, offers free quotes and helps expedite your coverage.
Today’s Travelers Deserve the Best
Whether you’re a fan of road trips, won’t travel unless it’s by train or you’ve made peace with the difficulties of air travel, you live in a world filled with choices. Fortunately, travelers and travel editors are your surrogates; people whose mission it is to rate, rank and evaluate all aspects of travel—from properly-tested TSA locks to hotel rooms that won’t send you fleeing into the lobby after spotting a bug. Our recommendations are by no means the only ones on the planet but if you need a starting place, we've got you covered.
Best Airlines in the World
If you never miss the Academy Awards because you know you’ll see the best of the best on the red carpet while the industry pays homage to outstanding work in the film industry, you might like to know that the SKYTRAX 2017 World Airline Awards are also held annually. These awards are prized because they represent “a global benchmark of airline excellence.”
Winners are determined by passenger satisfaction surveys that determine 100 airlines that exceed expectations. This independent competition is 100-percent transparent and no influence or money comes from carriers to sway the vote. If you noticed a lot of air traffic heading for Paris in June 2017, perhaps it was due to Paris Air Show attendees arriving for the SKYTRAX ceremonies where these airlines were named best of the best:
- Singapore Airlines
- ANA All Nippon Airways
- Cathay Pacific
- EVA Air
- Etihad Airways
- Hainan Airlines
- Garuda Indonesia
Yes, American carriers are conspicuously absent from the Top-10 list, but they are on the larger roster. Visit the award website’s page that ranks all 100 to see where your favorite airline is ranked.
- El Al
- Air India
- Philippine Airlines
- Asiana Airlines
- China Eastern Airlines
- Hong Kong Airlines
- Air China
- Korean Air
- Hainan Airlines
Whether your idea of idyllic lodgings are quaint Canadian bed and breakfasts, your preference is a Singapore skyscraper or you never met a resort you couldn’t fall for, hoteliers work hard to deliver unforgettable experiences so guests not only return but recommend lodgings to friends.
We don’t have to tell you that dissatisfied lodgers aren’t shy about posting less-than-favorable reviews on websites, but you can count on “U.S. News and World Report” for accuracy, transparency and fairness. Researchers fed data from 1,987 properties into their database and the top 50 emerged from the fray. Here we list the top 25 U.S. properties for your consideration.
#25. XV Beacon, Boston, Massachusetts
#24. Crosby Street Hotel, New York City
#23. The Allison Inn & Spa, Oregon
#22. At Calistoga Ranch, Napa Valley, California
#21. Hotel Bel-Air, Los Angeles, California
#20. Waldorf Astoria, Chicago, Illinois
#19. The Lowell New York, New York City
#18. The Four Seasons Hotel, Chicago, Illinois
#17. Wentworth Mansion, Charleston, South Carolina
#16. Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea, Hawaii
#15. The Greenwich Hotel, New York City
#14. The Peninsula, Chicago, Illinois
#13. Four Seasons Resort Lanai, Hawaii
#12. Mandarin Oriental, Las Vegas, Nevada
#11. The Peninsula Beverly Hills, California
#10. The Primland, Blue Ridge Mountains, Virginia
#9. Rancho Valencia Resort & Spa, San Diego, California
#8. The Montage Deer Valley, Utah
#7. The Hay Adams, Washington, D.C.
#6. Acqualina Resort & Spa, Miami Beach, Florida
#5. The Lodge at Sea Island, Georgia
#4. The Montage Kapalua Bay, Maui, Hawaii
#3. The Jefferson, Washington D.C.
#2. Four Seasons Resort Hualalai, Hawaii
#1. The Langham, Chicago, Illinois
“Conde Nast” travel editors get paid to profile properties around the world (for your benefit, of course) and the magazine’s 2017 list of best international hotels is both comprehensive and enlightening. Rather than try to pit Zimbabwe against the Israel for purposes of rank ordering properties, they compare lodgings within countries to make up their “Gold List.” If you need recommendations for accommodations when you travel abroad, this one is comprehensive enough to do the job.
Best Rewards Programs
When Yahoo! Seeks permission to reprint editorial from resources like U.S. News and World Report, travelers get double the number of assurances that they’re getting accurate information that’s relevant and not out-of-date. Erin Shields digs deep into travel rewards programs, looking for the good, the bad and the ugly. Our synthesis provides you with an overview—though you should read all of Shields’ insights into loyalty programs if you love details.
Best airline and hotel rewards program rankings don’t necessarily stay the same year-after-year, so it behooves you to keep a perpetual eye on top-10 lists to make sure your United, American or Southwest—or your Best Western, LaQuinta or Marriott—perks remain satisfactory. That doesn’t mean some hotel and airline programs aren’t consistently better than others. We’re shining a spotlight on the top three in each category, but if you want to see where your current rewards program ranks, visit this page as well as this one.
Top 3 Hotel Rewards Programs
1. Marriott Rewards
We won’t keep you guessing this time around: Marriott Rewards grabs the number one spot on Shields’ 2017-2018 list because there are myriad ways members can earn and use points. Whether you belong or you want to join the Marriott Rewards party, assess all details for yourself to see what’s in store if you affiliate. There’s a direct link between Marriott and Starwood Preferred Guest programs so this link will help build your rewards empire.
2. Wyndham Rewards
Remember what we said about fluctuating order? Wyndham used to hold the #1 position and while Marriott now has bragging rights, being in second place is nothing to sneeze at. Elite members are treated like royalty. Reduced room rates are the most highly sought-after perk though local discounts for everything from tours and cruises are popular, too. Wyndham members can claim a booking for just 15,000 points per night.
3. Choice Privileges
The Choice Privileges program consists of 6,500+ participating hotels that span the globe and point redemption is available at 500+ locations. Frequent stayers are extremely complimentary, according to guest feedback, because they insist that it’s easier to earn points with Choice properties than comparable programs. Book a stay with from 6,000 to 30,000 points, depending upon location and amenities. Find more details here.
Top 3 Airline Rewards Programs
1. Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan
Love a winner? The Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan has snagged the number one spot for 3 consecutive years and both administration and crews have no intention of letting this distinction go to anyone else. Mileage-based earning helps plan members earn free flights faster than carriers with revenue-based structures. Alaska’s partner network is vast and passengers consistently call this airline’s service superior. Learn more about the AAMP here.
2. Delta SkyMiles Rewards
You may need a calculator to compute points, say SkyMile members. Delta’s partner network is vast, Airline Quality Rating (AQR) scores have improved so much, it’s now in second place for 2017 based on mishandled luggage, on-time performance, consumer complaints and “involuntary denied boardings.” SkyMiles members accrue miles via credit card purchases, partner hotel stays and ride-sharing services like Lyft. Daily flights to global destinations have elevated Delta’s international presence. You can check out the many ways to accrue points here.
3. JetBlue TrueBlue Rewards
If “uncomplicated” is your middle name, JetBlue’s TrueBlue Rewards program is just that. Accrue points for every dollar you spend on flights, packages, car rentals and anything to do with the carrier’s vast network of partners. You won’t get bells and whistles—as a matter of fact, benefits are limited. But it’s the ease with which members can amass points at low redemption rates in concert with an admirable AQR score that got JetBlue’s TrueBlue Rewards to number 3 on the 2017 list of top programs. See for yourself how this program works.
Can’t Get Enough Travel Stuff?
As an homage to Nomadic Matt, one of our favorite travel bloggers, we enthusiastically recommend his reading list, so whether you seek inspiration for your upcoming trip, need a place to park your head while you save for your adventure or want a great read for your upcoming flight, these books will take you to places you’ve only dreamed about:
- “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho
- “On the Road” by Jack Kerouac
- “Do Travel Writers Go to Hell?” by Thomas Kohnstamm
- “Unlikely Destinations: The Lonely Planet Story” by Tony Wheeler
- “The Beach” by Alex Garland
- “Oracle Bones” by Peter Hessler
- “Smile When You’re Lying” by Chuck Thompson
- “Vagabonding” by Rolf Potts
- “Seven Years in Tibet” by Heinrich Harrer
- “In a Sunburned Country” by Bill Bryson
- “The Geography of Bliss” by Eric Weiner
- “The Lost Girls” by The Lost Girls
- “The Longest Way Home” by Andrew McCarthy
- “The Great Railway Bazaar” by Paul Theroux
- “The Sex Lives of Cannibals: Adrift in the Pacific” by J. Maarten Troost
- “Eat, Pray, Love” by Elizabeth Gilbert
- “Cruising Attitude” by Heather Pool
- “The Good Girl’s Guide to Getting Lost” by Rachel Friedman
- “Love with a Chance of Drowning” by Torre DeRoche
- “The Turk Who Loved Apples” by Matt Gross
- “Turn Right at Machu Picchu” by Mark Adams
- “Holy Cow: An Indian Adventure” by Sarah MacDonald
- “Marching Powder” by James MacFadden
- “Paris Was Ours” by Penelope Rowlands
- Anything authored by Bill Bryson.