Travel Tips

New tips category for travel.

Tripit

We were an early adopter of TripIt about 7 years ago. It’s been a love/hate relationship. It’s come along way over the years. Things really seemed to improve after they were acquired by Concur.

TripIt is good for some things and not so great at others. When it works, it works beautifully. When it fails, it’s an epic fail.

TripIt is great for collecting all of the various confirmations and assembling a comprehensive itinerary for your travel plans. It’s as simple as forwarding on your confirmations via email. TripIt collects those and constructs the trip itinerary.

While TripIt supports most major travel providers, if you’re going with smaller, non-chain or lesser known companies, TripIt makes it difficult. They’ll simply send you an email indicating they couldn’t process your confirmation. Then, you have to enter all of the details manually. While it’s not that difficult to fill in all the fields, it is time consuming. They could easily simplify the process by capturing the data and then letting you apply the appropriate data to the correct fields. It would make adding these “unsupported” confirmations much easier.

Since TripIt captures the information from the confirmation, it doesn’t keep a copy of your original confirmation. If you ever need to have the actual confirmation document, your hosed. You’ll have to keep that elsewhere. While it’s not often you need the original, we’ve had several instances over the years where it’s been necessary. That’s why we use Dropbox and SendtoDropbox for the actual confirmations themselves.

Sharing or printing your entire itinerary with TripIt is fairly straight forward. If you want to leave a copy of your itinerary with friends, or give them access to view it online, TripIt works well. It would be nice to have more customization options as to what information is included, but many will find it adequate.

TripIt is great for groups that travel together. You can make connections and share your travel information. For co-workers or travel buddies, this feature can be indispensible. Especially if your travel plans differ from theirs. It’s a great way to stay up-to-date with changes that others incur.

TripIt Pro can also be used to track all of your loyalty programs. Simply input your various airline, hotel or car rental programs and you’ll have all of your information in one place.

While TripIt is free for basic services, you can pay an annual fee of $49 and upgrade to TripIt Pro. You’ll get flight update notifications, baggage pick up information, as well as itinerary changes via email or pushed to your mobile device if you have their app. We’ve had varying luck. It’s very nice to know that as you pull up to the gate, where you’ll be going to pick up your checked baggage. The problem is sometimes the information is delayed. There have been times when we’ve already picked up our luggage, 30 minutes after landing and the notification finally comes through.

TripIt is certainly helpful. We just home someday, they’ll fix a few of these overlooked items and have better consistency at push notifications.

Blue Ribbon Bags

We’ve been fortunate enough to never have our baggage eternally lost.  Delayed yes, lost no. But, we know the airline gods will eventually be angered and our time is coming.  

We ran across an article earlier this week about Blue Ribbon Bags.  Blue Ribbon Bags is a company that provides insurance against lost baggage.  What makes Blue Ribbon unique, is that there are no receipts required if your baggage is lost.  Blue Ribbon Bags will pay you for your lost baggage with no questions asked.  

You can purchase baggage insurance for $1,000, $1,500 or $2,000.  Keep in mind, the amount of coverage is per bag, but is limited to two bags maximum.  It also does not cover theft or missing items.  Premiums are $5, $7.50 and $10 respectively.  Blue Ribbon Bags is reinsured by AIG, rated “A” by A.M. Best.

To file a claim, you must start with the airline once your baggage is lost, then file another claim with Blue Ribbon.  If you baggage isn’t returned to you in four days after you flight arrives, Blue Ribbon Bags sends you a check.  If your baggage eventually arrives, you keep the money.

Is this a good deal?  Maybe.  Keep in mind that while airlines do lose a lot of baggage each year, 98% of all baggage does eventually get returned.  And much of that is returned within 4 days.  But, if you’re flying internationally where everyday counts and lots of various airlines are responsible for your bags, it could be a lifesaver.  Being stranded on a weeks vacation or longer without your belongings is tough.  The claims process at airlines for luggage that’s never returned can take weeks, maybe months.  Plus, you’ll probably need receipts for many things in your baggage or you’ll have to settle for a paltry sum.

We’re going to give this a try on our next international flight.  For the small amount of money, it’s a small price for piece of mind.

Comparing Airfares

With airlines trying to get every nickel from every passenger, it’s important to compare airfare.  Just checking airfare on-line may not give you an accurate picture of what you’ll actually be paying for your air travel experience.  Many airlines quote only the airfare portion of your trip, which doesn’t include many add-on fees.  Unfortunately, this means you’ll have to do a bit of research and some handy calculator work to see what really may be the total cost of your trip.

So, here’s a quick list of fees you will want to investigate before you make your final airfare selection:

  • Luggage fees
  • Carry-on luggage fees
  • Overweight luggage fees
  • Seat selection fees
  • Early boarding fees
  • Food & Beverage fees
  • Cancellation/Rebooking Fees (Should your plans change unexpectedly)
  • Taxes & Surcharges

One last thing to check is to see if you can earn miles on the airfare you’re paying.  Some airlines have lower fares in exchange for not giving you any mileage credit in your frequent flyer program.  Most airlines list eligible fare classes to earn miles on their websites.

Airline loyalty may save you more in the long run

There are benefits to airline loyalty. Loyalty can bring perks.  Depending on how loyal you are, depends on the number of perks you’ll get.  If you have no loyalty, then departure time, flight time, number of connections and more than likely price become your first consideration when booking airfare.

It’s definitely no secret that “great service” is hard to come by with an airline.  (OK, OK….if you fly JetBlue, Southwest or Singapore Airlines that might not be true.)   But giving most of your business to a certain airline, can have it’s benefits.  And, the value of those benefits can add up quickly if you fly even just a few times a year.  On most airlines, you can check at least one piece of luggage for free by flying just a few trips a year.  If you fly 6 round trips a year, that can save you $300, assuming you pay $25 for the bag for each leg of the trip.  So, even if you paid $25 more per ticket for those 6 trips, you’re still saving $150.  Of course, the more you fly, the more benefits you get.

We fly United or Star Alliance carriers almost exclusively.  We use other airlines only as a last resort.  Why?  Because we have a top tier flying status with United (1K).  Now, it’s not that we LOVE the airline by any means.  But since most of our air travel departs from Denver, a large United hub, they have the most convenient flight times and gateway destinations than any other airline at the airport.  Luckily, Southwest and Frontier also have a large presence at Denver, so it keeps United’s airfares to most destinations reasonable.

So what do we get for that loyalty?  Well, quite a bit actually.  We can check up to 3 bags free each to any destination in the world.  We can also carry an extra 20 lbs per bag than other passengers (which comes in handy when you’re flying to far flung destinations).  We’re at the top of the list for domestic upgrades and should we have to ride in “the back of the bus”, we at least get seating with expanded leg room.  On international trips, we get 6 “free” business class upgrades per year.  Now, we don’t always get those upgrades, but most of the time we do.  We get to board the plane first.  Now, you may not think that’s great, but with everyone trying to carry on vs check a bag, it’s a lot nicer when you’re assured if getting to store your bag right above your seat vs half way back in the plane.

Another advantage of being a loyal customer to one two airlines, is that you have the potential to receive better service, should something go wrong.  Should a flight be cancelled, airlines will usually give their frequent fliers first crack at open seats on the next available flight and probably will automatically rebook them.   Everyday customers will simply have to take their chance, probably stand in line with the masses and hope that they can get on one of the next two or three flights the carrier has available.  Loyal fliers also usually get a special customer service number to call vs being sent to the foreign call center for assistance.  When a problem arises with your travel, it can be very helpful to talk to someone who’s familiar with the way the system works.  These calls usually go to “seasoned” airline employees who have worked in a domestic call center for years and can get you’re issue resolved quickly.

So, is loyalty worth it?  

Well, you really have to decide if you want to put your eggs in one basket.  We’ve been flying United for almost 10 years and while the airline is just so-so at treating it’s premium passengers well, they are getting better.  And, if we added up what that loyalty is worth, it’s certainly worth more than the extra $20 or $40 we may spend on a ticket from time to time.  Since we fly to Asia quite a bit, I can tell you that as much as we may complain, those complaints go away when we’re sitting in Business on a 17 hour flight to Singapore at a mid-range economy fare instead of being scrunched up in the back of the bus in Economy.

As airlines continue to add fees for just about everything you can think of, loyalty to one or two carriers does look like it will become more and more advantageous.  If you’re just starting out traveling and aren’t sure who you’ll be loyal to, you should still sign up right away for the airlines frequent flyer program so you’ll start earning credit for what you do fly.

 

Use Common Sense When Traveling

Using common sense while traveling
When we travel, we’re amazed at the number of people who have lack common sense.  Common sense while traveling is essential.  There’s nothing more embarrassing for anyone, than to see people from their own country “acting out” while they’re in another country.

So to use that all too familiar phrase they use during airline safety demonstrations, “To reinforce what you already know…….”

    1. When you’re in a different country, YOU’RE A GUEST. Things will be different.  Things will not be the same as they are at home.  Get over it and get used to it.  Think about how you’d like a guest to act when they came into your home.  Be courteous.  Be patient.  Be humble.
       
    2. Not everyone speaks English. Get over it.  Believe it or not there are other languages in the world.  Talking louder in your native language, does not make the other person understand it.  Learn simple, basic phrases in the language of the country you’re visiting.  Take a phrase book with you.  You’ll be amazed at how much good will and kindness you’ll receive just by making the tiniest effort.

    3. Readjust your concept of time. The US and UK are probably two of the most “punctual” places on the planet.  That’s two of 195 countries.  In many other places, things operate on “local time”.  Adjust.  2PM in Mexico, means sometime between 1-3PM.   Don’t sweat it.  It will all work out. On the other hand, turn up at a Swiss train station 2 minutes late for a train and your dead in the water.

    4. Ask questions. You’re not at home, so don’t assume.  If you’re in a different country, don’t be afraid to ask questions.  Do buses here run on time?  Do restaurants serve dinner before 8PM?

    5. Be patient. When things don’t go quite as expected, take a breath.  Don’t react.  Just take a breath.  All will be right with the world.  Clear your head and take a moment.  Things will work out.

    6. Blend in. When we go to different countries, we like to blend in.  We want to be part of the culture.  When you stick out like a sore thumb, you’ll attract attention.  You’ll be a “tourist”.  Trust me, no one wants to be a “tourist”.  Dress like a local.  Behave like a local.  You’ll have a much better time.

    7. Travel light. The days of taking steamer trunks on overseas trips has long subsided.  You can travel light.  Really, you can.  Take only what you need.  Leave the expensive jewelry at home.  Really, no one will notice and you’ll be a lot less likely to be a target for theft.  And, remember, vehicles are awfully small in some countries, so you’re luggage might not fit in that taxi or there might not be enough space in your hotel room to keep it.

    8. Not every country runs on the US Dollar or the Euro. Almost every trip we go on, there’s always someone trying to use US Dollars or Euro’s to pay for something.  It may work in airports, but get out into the hinterland and it’s a different story.  Make an effort to get local currency.

    9. What, they don’t take credit cards? Once again, believe it or not, not every place in the universe takes credit cards.  Make sure you have some cash in local currency to get you by just in case.

    10. Be nice to the Customs people. You should always be nice.  It amazes the people who raise their voice or are rude to Customs Officers when entering a country or returning home from vacation.  These people control your destiny at that moment in time.  They say “You’re in” or “You’re out”.  You don’t want to be “out”.

    11. Keep your kids contained. Kids in the US have a lot of freedom.  (Maybe too much freedom).  We can go to any airport in almost any country and about100% of the time point out children from the US.  Their the ones running unsupervised, being unruly, loud or obnoxious.  If you’re traveling with children, make sure they know “the rules of the road”.

    12. Be safe. Use your sixth sense.  Those “feelings” are usually correct.  If something doesn’t feel right or look right, it probably isn’t it.  Don’t put yourself in a situation that you can’t get out of.

    13. Don’t be obnoxious. No one likes an obnoxious person, especially an obnoxious tourist.  See #1.  You’re a guest.

If you keep your wits about you, use common sense and a large dose of patience, you’ll be just fine.

Travel Packing Tips

Tips on packing for your trip

Our vacation packing tips can save you a lot of time.  Packing for a trip is almost an art. Everyone learns the more they travel, what they absolutely have to have and what they can do without. By putting a little thought into packing, you’ll reduce your chance of excess or overweight baggage charges and won’t have to worry about lugging all those bags around with you. The first thing you should do is check the luggage restrictions for your airline.  You can do that here. Our years of traveling and varied destinations have taught us to pack wisely. Here’s some tips about what we’ve learned that may help you as well.

Do you really need to bring it?
Think about your destination when packing your luggage.  What’s the weather like?  Where are you staying?  What will you be doing while you’re at your destination?  Do you really need to bring your best shirt, finest dress or in some cases, the kitchen sink?  Our motto is never bring anything we can’t give up or leave behind.  Your luggage could get lost.  Someone could take clothes from your room.  Leave the best stuff at home.

IAH TIP:  If you can, take more than one bag , pack a bit of each clothing item in each bag. That way should a bag be lost, you’ll still be able to hit the beach or go out to dinner in fresh clothes when you arrive at your destination. It’s also a good idea to pack at least one change of clothes in your carry-on should all your bags be lost.

How much stuff do you really need?
When we first started traveling, we made sure to bring a change of clothes for every day we were gone.  In some cases, two changes of clothes.  Those days are long gone.  All it does is add up to more weight and luggage to carry around.  For warm destinations, you don’t need a different swim suit each day.  A different one for every other day is fine.  There’s so much clothing options that are made of easy care fabrics, that make travel easy.  Whether your staying at a hostel or a five-star resort, you can always find a place that you can do laundry or will do laundry for you.

Everyone has a tendency when packing to overpack.  If you have the right travel clothing, you can even wash your clothes yourself, right in your hotel.  We always carry a small 3 ounce bottle of Woolite or Tek-Wash in our Ziploc bag.  You’d be amazed at what you can wash in your hotel sink.  Plus, if you have clothing with the right fabrics, it will dry in no time, even if you’re in the hot, humid Amazon.

IAH TIP:  We use compression sacks to maximize space in our luggage.  If you pack them correctly, you’ll also minimize wrinkles.  They also work great to repack dirty clothes, so they’re separate from your clean clothes.

Is your clothing travel friendly?
The best tip for packing travel clothing is pick anything that’s lightweight, wears well, is low maintenance and easy to care for.  And, it should look good without the need to iron when it comes out of your luggage.  Here are some of our favorites:

For shirts/tops:  Get those made with polyester blends, Coolmax, Cool-dri or wool (yes, there’s summer weight wool as well, that will keep you surprisingly cool).  They’re all lightweight and don’t wrinkle.

For pants/bottoms:  Light cotton, polyester or those made of sport-friendly fabrics work well.  The last thing you want to do is iron and you never know when that unexpected rain shower will hit.  Jeans and heavy cotton items won’t dry quickly and you’ll be a wet mess.

For underwear (T-shirts/bottoms/socks):  You can’t go wrong with anything made from Merino wool.  We’ve traveled in all types of weather and worn cotton, polypropelene, nylon and polyester blends and just about every other “fabric” known to man (or woman).  We switched to Merino a couple of years ago and have never looked back.  It’s lightweight, can be washed and dried in less than 2 hours and no matter how much you sweat down there or amount of heat you encounter, it never stinks.  We’ve worn ours for 2-3 days at a time without washing (not necessarily by choice) and at the end, they feel as fresh as they did on day 1.

For shoes:  While you’re on vacation, make sure your feet can relax, too.  Comfortable shoes are a MUST when you travel.  You never know when you’ll have to run to catch that connecting flight, or walk a lot farther than you thought to that hotel.  One bad thing about shoes is how much room they take up in your bag.  We try to take just 1 pair of shoes, in addition to the pair we wear on the plane.  If it’s a warm weather destination, we’ll also take a pair of sandals.  We make sure one pair can be worn in both casual and not so casual situations.  (Think all brown or all beige/brown walking shoes) and the other a tennis/outdoor hiking type shoe (think Keens/Ecco).

For outerwear:  Regardless of the weather (rain, snow, wind, cool) take something that’s lightweight and packable.   A good lightweight jacket that’s made of Gore-Tex with Windstopper, will get you through almost any type of weather from warm to freezing cold.  Get a color that matches everything (like black), so that it will go with anything that you have.   We’ve taken the same jacket from Antarctica to Thailand.  Sure, they cost more than a regular jacket, but if you only need one, it’s a worthwhile investment.

Some of our favorite brands for travel clothing are ExOfficio, North Face, Cloudveil, Arctyrex, REI, Helly Hansen and Icebreaker.

IAH TIP: Check out our GEAR REVIEWS section for some of our favorite items.  We’ll also tell you where you can find these brand names at great prices.

What else?
For a lot of incidental needs, check out Minimus. Minimus has just about everything you can think of in travel size.  From cosmetics to health care, food to survival items, Minimus has it.

Another great source for nifty packing and travel items is Flight 001.  You’ll find them not only on the web, but also in San Francisco, Chicago, New York and Sidney.  A store geared to all things travel related, Flight 001 has some hard-to-find items.  While it is somewhat expensive, they do have good sales from time-to-time to customers who sign up for their email list.

IAH TIP: Look on our LINKS page in this section for more places to find great deals on everything you need for your trip.

Size and type of luggage

Our motto with luggage, is to take the right type of luggage for wherever we’re headed.  One thing we’ve learned over time is to pack light and pack wise.  If we do a good job at that, we don’t have to take a lot of luggage on a trip.  You certainly don’t want to be lugging a ton of luggage around with you as you travel from location to location.  It never ceases to amaze us at the number of tourists who look like they’ve packed for a 9 month stay and they’re only on vacation for a couple of weeks.  Here are a few things to consider:

Size Matters

When it comes to size of luggage, you have several things to consider.  Most airlines now have size limitations on checked luggage.  Plus, don’t just consider the requirements of the airline you’re departing on, but also those you’ll be connecting to.  Size and weight restrictions on international airlines differ from those of US airlines.  There’s nothing that can ruin a trip faster than paying sizeable additional fees every time you catch a flight. Charging for excess or overweight baggage is at the discretion of the airline. Don’t think that if you aren’t charged for one portion of your journey, you may not be charged on another leg. The most notorious for this practice are South American airlines like TAM, Vario, LAN and Aerolineas Argentina.

You’ll also want to consider what your transportation arrangements are when you reach your destination.  Remember that taxis in locations in Europe and Asia are much smaller than those in the US.  If you take a two or three large bags, you could actually finding yourself paying for two cabs, one for you and one for your bags.  If you’re traveling with friends, consider what their bringing for bags as well, especially if your sharing the same transportation.

IAH TIP:  Don’t forget that different airlines have different size requirements for luggage.  Make sure to check before you start packing.

Hard or Soft?
We almost always take “soft-sided” luggage.  You can squeeze it, stuff it, squash it which allows you to fit it in the most unaccommodating spaces and give you that little extra room when you need it.  While “hard-side” luggage may be sturdier, its definitely less flexible.  Whichever you choose, try to get luggage of various sizes.  For some trips, you’ll find you would rather have a small and medium sized piece of luggage than one large.  Sometimes, it’s the other way around.  Having a good variety of luggage styles and sizes will help you prepare for any adventure.  Also, make sure your luggage is in good shape.  Wheels should roll and handles should be sturdy.  The last thing you want is for your bag to fall apart at the airport or worse, while your rolling it around town. 

IAH TIP:  We usually pack an additional smaller soft-sided bag inside of a larger piece of luggage.  It’s easy to do because it packs very flat and takes up very little room.  That bag comes in handy as an additional carry-on, a bag for wet clothes or an additional checked bag if your have more purchases than you planned on.  It can also serve as an emergency backup bag, should a piece of luggage get damaged on your journey.

Light is Right
In addition to worry about size, you need to worry about weight.  Airlines have continued to be more restrictive on not only how many bags you can check before incurring a fee, but also how much they weigh.  If you pack light, you won’t have an issue.  One other thing to keep in mind is that you weight on your return trip may be different.  Think about all those great souvenirs you’re going to buy.  That shirt.  That knick-knack.  If you pack too close to the weight limit on your outbound trip, you may find yourself in trouble on the return trip.

IAH TIP:  If it makes sense, we will pack two smaller bags and pack them one half to three quarters full, so we not only have room for purchases on our trip, but we’ll also stay under the weight and size requirements.

Tag your luggage
Make sure you tag each piece of luggage with your regular name and address, along with a cell phone number or a number where you can be reached at your destination.  If your bag is lost, it has a much better chance of catching up with you if the airline can contact you.  If you put just your home number on the tag, who will be there to answer it if you’re half way across the world?  As a secondary precaution, put a large piece of paper in each piece of luggage with the same information.  That way if the tag comes off, airline personnel can still find your information when they look in your bag.

IAH TIP:  Keep your airline bag tag receipts until you have reclaimed your bag at your final destination. That receipt is the key to getting any lost or misrouted bags to you quickly.

Carry-on luggage can be a pain.  First, it’s hoping that by the time you board, you have a place to put it in the overhead bin.  Next, it’s just one more thing you have to lug around and keep track of in the airport, in the taxi and elsewhere.  We limit ourselves to two carryons max.  If we’re not taking our camera gear, we limit ourselves to one. 

What’s in your carry-on

 And..that’s a SMALL carryon.  We leave the rollerboard at home and usually take just a backpack as our carry-on.

What goes in your carryon
No matter what your destination, you should always pack a days worth of clothing in your carry-on.  You don’t have to pack your “best outfit”, but you should throw in underwear, socks, shirt and shorts or pants.  You never know if your checked luggage is going to take a different route to your final destination.  It’s happened to us a few times and unfortunately, seems to be happening more often.  If you’re headed to a warm destination, throw in a swimsuit.  If your bag is delayed, the last thing you want to do is be tied up in your hotel room or sitting by the pool in jeans and long sleeve shirt when it’s 102 degrees.  Headed to a cold destination?  Throw in a sweater or jacket.

IAH TIP: Note that foreign airlines can be far more strict in enforcing carry-on bag restrictions than US airlines. Make sure any variables you’re carrying on aren’t in a bag that may have to be checked.

The 3-1-1
One thing you’ll want to have in your carry-on is your Ziploc bag full of liquids.  Pack it in an easy to reach part of the bag, so you’re not holding up the security line. Remember, your checked bag may not be at your destination when you get there, so always put your Ziploc in your carry-on.  And remember, the 3-1-1 rule (Maximum 3 oz liquids, 1 qt Ziploc bag and 1 Ziploc per person) applies in many areas beyond the US.  That includes most parts of the European Union (EU) and many parts of Asia.

IAH TIP:  We always pack a couple of extra quart-size Ziploc bags in the bottom of our backpack.  That way, should ours break, we have a backup. While most US airport security checkpoints have extra bags on hand, many international airports do not.

airplane icon

Airport Layover Tips

It’s hard these days to get any flight that’s non-stop to your final destination.  Here’s some connecting flight and airport layover tips that you may be able to use while you’re enroute to your final destination.

Tips for on the plane

While you’re on the plane, make sure to keep an eye on your items in the overhead bin, especially on overnight flights.  While it’s hard to believe, thefts from carry-on’s have been reported on overnight flights.

Once your plane is in flight, set your watch to the time at your next destination.  When traveling across multiple time zones, this way you’ll be “oriented” when the plane lands.

Tips on making connections

If you have stopovers before you reach your final destination, you usually do NOT need to clear local customs, as long as you are not picking up your bags or leaving the terminal. Make sure you pay attention to signs as you disembark your original flight and follow the signs for TRANSIT passengers to the gate of your next flight.  In some cases, you may need to go through another security screening before reaching your gate.

If you’re switching airlines for your next flight, you will more than likely need to check-in with that airline, even if you have your boarding pass.  They will reconfirm your seat assignments, as well as make sure your bags are transferred correctly to your final destination.  They will also recheck your ID.

Tips for stopovers

Stopovers are different than connections.  A stopover is when you’ll be staying at a connection point for an extended period of time (usually a day or more) and leaving the airport. In this case you will need to clear customs at your stopover destination.  You will also, more than likely, need to collect your luggage, unless you’ve made arrangements with your connecting airline.

If your stopover is short and you need to claim your luggage, many larger international airports have on-site luggage storage.  Before you leave, check that airport’s website to see if they offer storage.  Most places will charge between $5-$10 per piece per 24 hour period.  The advantage to storing your luggage for short stopovers, is that you won’t need to haul it with you.

Tips on handling flight cancellations or delays

For flights inside the US or other non-EU countries, policies vary by airline as to compensation or allowances that you can get.  There are no government rules or regulation, so it’s up to each airline.  Before you leave on your trip, you should look at your airlines policies.

For flights within or departing from the EU,  passengers can get relief under EU Regulation (EC) 261/2004. There are three various levels of compensation:

  1. For most delays of two hours or more, you should be offered free meals and refreshments plus two free telephone calls, fax messages or emails
  2. If the delay is five hours or longer, you may opt for reimbursement of the full cost of the ticket and when applicable, a return flight your original point of departure
  3. If you flight does not depart until the next day, you should be offered a hotel room and transportation between the airport and the hotel

This EU regulation applies to all flights leaving from an EU airport or inbound flights from outside the EU to a EU airport.

Traveling with Technology

 We have some great travel tips for traveling with all of your electronic gear.  With just a bit of preparation, you and your phone, laptop and camera will be ready for just about anything in any country.  We’ll also include security tips on keeping your data secure.  After all, you never know what may happen when you travel.

Phones, smartphone and tablets

We take the view that vacation is vacation and it’s good to remain “disconnected”.  There are occasions when it is handy to have a wireless phone when traveling internationally.  If you think you’ll be taking your phone, before you leave make sure you:

  1. Verify your phone will work outside of the country
    Most foreign countries outside of North America use GSM technology.  Most Smartphones utilize GSM, but many regular cellphones in the US do not.  Check your carriers website and look at your destination’s wireless coverage maps.  You’ll find roaming maps for major US and UK carriers here:  T-mobileSprintVerizonAT&TVodafoneOrange.
     
  2. Make sure your phone is activated to work on international networks
    Most carries levy an extra surcharge for this service and it must be activated before you leave.
     
  3. International cell phone and data roaming can be expensive
    Make sure you check with your carrier and see what roaming rates are at your destination.  Data transfer adds up quickly.  You may want to turn off your email and web browsing capability while outside your home country.
     
  4. Set a device passcode
    Travelers lose or leave behind items every day.  Just in case you forget your phone, make sure to set a passcode on the device.  This will not only protect your phone from being used in a foreign country, but it will also help protect your valuable data stored on the phone. 

Another alternative, based upon your destination, is to purchase a world cellphone or rent a sattelite phone if you’re traveling to extremely remote areas.

Buying SIM cards at your destination can be cumbersome and some phones no longer have SIM cards that you can change.  If you’re going to be in a destination for a month or more, consider just buying a disposable cell phone when you get there with prepaid minutes.

IAH TIP: Mobal Communications is our world cellphone carrier and has reasonable rates for most countries.  You pay no monthly fee, only for the time you use the phone.  They also rent sattelite phones if you’re going to be in remote areas.  We’ve used their service for over 4 years and have been very happy with both the service and call quality. 

Laptops and tablets

If you’re going to be traveling with your laptop or tablet, here’s a few tips:

  1. Backup it up before you leave
     That way if you lose it or it is stolen, you’ll have a current backup of your data
     
  2. Secure it
     Setup a Logon ID and/or passcode.  It’s one extra layer of security that can help protect your data if it is stolen or lost.
     
  3. Setup remote wiping
    If you have the ability to setup remote wiping of your laptop or tablet, enable the functionality before you leave.
     
  4. Plan on alternate protection.
    Hotel safes vary in size.  Sometimes there’s not a safe at all.  Sometimes safes aren’t safe. Plan on an additional way to secure your laptop if necessary.  Pac-Safe gear is one way to protect your electronic equipment if a safe isn’t available.
     
  5. Power supply and adapter.
    Make sure you have the right electrical adapter for your destination country.

Using the internet in other countries

Anytime you use your laptop, tablet or smartphone outside of your home, you should always be aware of keeping your surfing and data secure.  That’s especially true when you’re outside the country.  That hotel your staying in or internet cafe you’ve stopped into, may not take data security as seriously as you do.  Plus, you never know who may be trying to sniff 

 

your data from nearby locations.  To protect yourself, consider getting a personal VPN.  

A personal VPN protects your information once it leaves your computer.  Your firewall and virus protection don’t do that.  When you use an internet connection or hotspot, you don’t know who may be “sniffing” that traffic just looking for personal information, credit card numbers, etc.  Who knows who’s in the hotel room down the hall that’s monitoring your internet traffic on the hotel network.

We’ve used WiTopia for PersonalVPN service for over five years.  It’s extremely reliable and really doesn’t have any affect on internet speed.  It’s very reasonable at around $60 per year and it’s easy to install and use for both Windows and Mac users.  Plus, you can also enable a WiTopia VPN on your tablet or smartphone.

 Leverage “the cloud” when you travel

What happens if you lose your hotel confirmation while you’re on your trip?  Worse yet, what if you lose your passport?  While everyone should always take copies of important documents (like your passport) with you when you travel, as well as copies of itineraries, confirmations, etc., it’s easy to misplace or lose them.

Our backup plan is to use the “cloud”.  There are many different cloud-based services you can use, such as iCloud or Dropbox.  These sites allow you to securely store files in the cloud and then access them from anywhere that you can logon to the internet.  You can store copies of your itineraries, passport, travel insurance documents, visas, etc, then be able to download or print them from wherever you are. Your files are safely stored and accessible only by you.  As an extra measure of precaution, we store all of our files in PDF format and encrypt them with a password.  Even if someone were to find out our login credentials to the site, they’d also need to know the password to the file to open or view it. 

Cameras & video gear 

There’s nothing better than getting back from a trip and reliving your travel experiences with your photos & video footage.  Before you leave on your trip, make sure:

  1. You have plenty of memory cards.
    The last thing you want is to miss out on being able to take photos half way through your trip.

  2. Don’t put your eggs all in one basket
    While it might be more convenient to buy one large capacity memory card, we prefer to use a few smaller capacity cards.  That way if your camera or card are lost, you don’t lose all your photos.
     
  3. Make sure you empty your memory card
    Before you go, make sure your memory card is empty and you’ve downloaded past photos.
     
  4. Make sure your camera’s batteries are charged before you leave
    That way you can hit the ground running and don’t have to worry about charging your batteries right away.
     
  5. Make sure you have the right power adapter for your destination
    You want to make sure you can recharge your batteries once you get to your destination.
     
  6. Lens cloth
    Make sure you take a small lens cloth.  If you get the right one, you won’t even need any lens cleaner and you’ll be ready for any dust, dirt or fingerprints that may get on your lens.
traveller icon

Travel Insurance & Advisories

Review travel advisories

If you’re planning on a trip abroad, you should always check the US Department of State or the UK’s Foreign & Commonwealth office website for the latest in travel advisories for the countries you are visiting.For more detailed information about what’s happening in the country your about to visit, another great resource is the Overseas Security Advisory Council.They have links to recent news stories in the country that may affect your travel plans.  Here are some additional travel health and safety tips:

Travel insurance is always a good idea

Travel insurance is a must if you’re traveling internationally.   While you may think that you’re invincible, trip insurance can keep your trip from being ruined. Whether it’s a bad case of the flu, or a twisted ankle, you don’t want to be without insurance.  Most people think that their health insurance will cover them anywhere. That’s not necessarily true. Do you really want to come up with $1500 in cash to pay for a doctor in Singapore? Do you want to spend two weeks in a hospital in Poland, or would you rather be in a hospital at home? Evacuation insurance is usually part of better trip insurance policies.  Remember that if you do end up needing medical care while you’re gone and can’t pay your bill in full before you leave, you may not be able to leave the country your in.

Don’t Procrastinate
So you can make sure you have maximum coverage for your trip, you’ll want to buy insurance as soon as you make your first trip payment or deposit.  Many policies offer lesser coverage the longer you wait.  Travel insurance varies in price based upon your destination, how long you’ll be gone, your age and how many people you’ll be insuring.  You’ll be surprised at how inexpensive it is.  For medical only, you’ll probably pay around $39 or so for a week long trip.  Make sure to shop around for the best rate and options that fit your type of travel.  Before you buy insurance, check with your current medical insurance carrier and regular insurance agent to see what coverages you may already have when you travel abroad.  That way, you can just buy the insurance coverage you need.

Where to Buy Insurance
There are many different places on the web to buy insurance.  You’ll want to make sure you stick with reliable companies, so that you don’t end up uncovered.  All companies that sell travel insurance in the US are rated by AM Best.  AM Best rates all insurance companies, so you can be assured of the companies financial viability to pay your claims.  We use Squaremouth to purchase travel insurance when we travel.  It allows you to compare all kinds of companies and coverage side-by-side.  For some companies, Squaremouth also will give you a satisfaction guarantee, which most individual carriers do not.  If you’re planning on doing sporting activities while traveling, you should also check out World Nomads.  They often cover you against potential injuries that other companies won’t.

Find the Right Fit
Just like any insurance policy you buy, there are a lot of different flavors of travel insurance.  You certainly don’t want to buy more coverage than you need, but you definitely want to make sure you have the right coverage..  Where to start?  Here are some features of the major basic coverages:

  • Trip Cancellation/Trip Interruption
    This provides reimbursement for non-refundable trip payments and deposits if a trip is canceled and/or interrupted for illness, death or other specific unforeseen circumstances.
  • Terrorism
    Provides coverage in the event of a terrorist incident.  Coverage varies widely for terrorism, so make sure to read the details closely.
  • Financial Default
    Even the best known companies can have unforseen financial issues.  This covers you if there is a complete suspension of operations by your tour operator, airline or other travel provider due to financial circumstances whether or not bankruptcy is filed.  Coverage details vary based upon many factors so read the fine print carefully.
  • Hurricane & Weather 
    Covers you if there’s a travel delay coverage due to a mandatory evacuation; complete cessation (meaning the destination airport has been closed for a certain amount of time)of either a common carrier (ticketed public transport) or travel supplier (hotel, condo manager etc.) or your accommodation at destination being rendered uninhabitable by weather (meaning it has either been flooded or so damaged that you cannot stay there).
  • Missed Connection
    Will reimburse you in the event of a missed flight connection or for the additional costs to “catch up” to a cruise if the cause of delay is an accident or bad weather.
  • Travel Delay
    Travel Delay provides reimbursement for meals and accommodations when a trip is unexpectedly delayed.
  • Baggage & Personal Items Loss
    Provides reimbursement for lost, stolen or damaged baggage or personal items.
  • Baggage Delay
    Can reimburse you for clothing, toiletries and other essential items if luggage is delayed for a specific amount of time.
  • Emergency Medical & Dental
    Reimburses you for the cost of treatment associated with a medical or dental emergency incurred while traveling.
  • Medical Evacuation & Repatriation 
    Emergency Evacuation arranges to medically transport you to an appropriate medical facility. Medical Repatriation arranges for you to return home to receive care. Repatriation of Remains arranges for return of your remains back to the place of your residence.
  • Life Insurance
    There are various flavors of Life Insurance coverage, so read your policy carefully.  Basically it provides cash payment for accidental loss of life or limb while traveling.
  • Rental Car Damage
    Collision loss/damage insurance for rental cars covers the costs of damage to, or theft of, a rental car.  You may want to check with your credit card company to see if they will provide this coverage at no charge.

There is a Difference
In addition to checking for the type of coverage you might need, you need to look at more than just the total price.  The last thing you want when you have a claim is a hassle.  Once you’ve narrowed down your choices, check to see if the companies offer these features:

  • Cancellation of your Trip for any Reason
    Provides reimbursement for non-refundable trip payments and deposits if a trip is canceled for any reason. Be cautious, however, as some plans provide only return of premium.
  • Deductible
    Deductibles vary by each plan and can range from $0 to $2500.  Many plans offer $0 deductibles, so determine how much your willing to spend out of pocket, if you have a claim.
  • Hazardous Sports
    This is one aspect of coverage you’ll want to pay special attention to.  Most policies exclude any “activities” that are considered “dangerous”.  Definitely read the fine print and if you have any “out of the ordinary” activities planned, you may want to make sure you’ll be covered.
  • Trip Duration
    Many policies limit the amount of time you can be away.  A trip starts when you leave your home and ends when you return to your home regardless of the number of destinations in between.
  • Pre-Existing Condition Exclusions
    Some companies may cover pre-existing conditions after a specified waiting period, while others may not provide any coverage.  Read the fine print.
  • 24 Hour Assistance Service
    This is one of the most important.  When you have a problem, you want to reach someone….NOW.  Move companies that offer a 24 Hour Hotline to the top of your list.
  • Money Back Guarantees
    Money back guarantees are provided to allow you to decide if the policy you purchased is right for you. Your guarantee or “free look” period can last for up to 14 days depending on insurance company although it expires as soon as you use the policy by making a claim or reaching your departure date.
[box type=”info” ]World Nomads is one of the few insurance companies that will cover most sporting activities. You can check them out here.[/box]

Travel Tips Before Leaving Home

As you’re trip gets closer, it’s easy to forget the simple things.  Here are some of our travel tips before leaving home.  These travel tips before you leave home will make sure you have a worry free vacation.

Keep Your Home Secure

If you’re going to be gone for more than a couple of days, think about stopping your mail delivery.  Also let others know if you’re having packages delivered while you’re out, so they don’t sit near your front door for a long period of time.  You may also want to think about calling your home alarm company and letting them know that you’ll be away.  That way, they can send emergency responders quickly should your alarm go off, without calling you for confirmation first.

Airport Transportation

Make sure you have your airport transportation arranged both to and from your home airport.  If you’re taking a shuttle, car service or other transportation that may require a reservation, make sure you do that far in advance of your departure.  It’s also a good time to make the reservation for your return.

Destination Transportation

Don’t forget to make arrangements for transportation when you get to your destination.  If you’re taking a shuttle, make sure you know where to pick up the shuttle and how often it runs.  If someone is picking you up, predetermine where.  (Most airports have detailed maps of pickup locations on their websites.)  If it’s a taxi, make sure you know what “legitimate” taxis look like vs “hawkers” at the airport.  Most travel guides will give you information on finding authentic taxis that operate in the area.

Flights

Before you head for the airport make sure you check the status of your flight.  There’s no need to head to the airport if you’re flight is delayed.  Also check your seat assignments.  Many times, airlines will change the type of plane on your itinerary, but may not have notified you.  It will be easier to change your seat the day before you leave.  Many airlines prohibit you from changing your seat on day of departure, unless you stop at the airline counter.

[box type=”note” ]Make sure you sign up for text or email updates from your airline. That way you’ll always be in the know on your flights during your whole trip.[/box]

Packing List

While you may think that it’s lame to make a list of things to pack, it can be a great way to make sure you don’t leave something simple behind.  Things can get unexpectedly hectic right before you leave and having a checklist to pack from will make sure you have everything you need for your trip.

[box type=”note” ]Weather is crazy these days. A day or two before you leave, check the forecast at your final destination. If something unexpected is happening at your final destination, you’ll be able to adjust what you pack to be ready for it.[/box]

Luggage

Once your bags are packed, weigh them before you leave home.  If you don’t have a baggage scale, then use a standard bath scale.  While it may not be 100% accurate, it will give you an idea of how close you are to airline baggage weight limits.  If you have an extra collapsible bag (like a backpack or good size duffel bag), throw it in if your close on weight.  That way if you buy souvenirs or more clothing while on your trip, you can use the extra bag to carry on or check without exceeding the weight limit.

[box type=”note” ]Once your bags are packed, take a photo of each bag with your mobile phone. That way, you’ll have a photo of each bag should the airline lose or misplace them. It will make it easier for the airline service agent to try to potentially find your luggage.[/box]

Carry On

Just like your checked luggage, make sure your carry-on is of the right size and weight for the airline you’re flying.  The last thing you’ll need is to have valuables in your carry-on, only to find out the airline will choose your flight to weigh and size your carry-on before boarding and make you check it.  Foreign airlines are much more strict about carry-on bags than US domestic airlines.  Also make sure you’re carry on has a luggage tag.  Many carry-ons look alike and this will help make sure someone else doesn’t pick up yours by mistake.

3-1-1

Do you have everything you need in your 3-1-1 or “ziploc” bag?  If you travel frequently, make sure that you have enough of everything in the bottles/containers inside your bag.  It’s easy to forget you’re almost out of toothpaste or shampoo after your last trip.  If you’re taking along medications on your trip, make sure you pack a couple extra days worth.  You never know when an unexpected flight delay may force you to spend an extra day or two away from home.

[box type=”note” ]If you’re taking along medications on your trip, make sure you pack a couple extra days worth. You never know when an unexpected flight delay may force you to spend an extra day or two away from home.[/box]

Itinerary & Confirmations

Make sure you leave a copy of your itinerary, along with contact numbers, with a family member and/or another person you trust.  That way, if there’s an emergency at home while you’re gone, someone will be able to reach you.  Take a copy of your reservations confirmations with you.  That includes airline, hotel or activity confirmations.  That way if something isn’t exactly right, you’ll have proof of your reservation.

[box type=”note” ]If you use a cloud-based service such as iCloud or Dropbox or even your smartphone, put copies of your confirmations there. That way, you’ll also have your confirmations available via the web if you lose your paper copies.[/box]

Passports

Don’t forget your passport if you’re headed out on international travel.  That can bring a quick end to your vacation before it even begins.  Also, if you have any Visas that are required for travel, make sure their in your passport.

[box type=”note” ]Keep track of your passport expiration date. It can sneak up on you. Remember that most countries require your passport to be valid for six months BEYOND your arrival date. Waiting till the last minute to renew your passport can potentially ruin your trip.[/box]

One Last Check

Before you leave, check the US State Department website to make sure there hasn’t been any changes in travel warnings for your destination.  Changes can occur rapidly.  Safety first.

Electronics

The day before you leave make sure you have all of your electronics (camera, laptop, iPod, iPad,phone) fully charged.  Don’t forget your chargers!

Leave for the Airport Early

Find out if your departure airport has a website.  Most do.  Most will update them regularly with security wait times.  Waiting time at security varies widely everyday.  Plus, you never know how long you’ll be waiting at the airport counter check-in before you even start your wait in the security line.  To be safe,  you should plan on being at the airport around 90 minutes early.

[box type=”note” ]Check to see how long before departure your airline will accept checked baggage. You would certainly like your baggage to go with you on your flight.[/box]

As you walk out the door….

Have your airline itinerary, passport and credit card you purchased your ticket with, handy.  That will help speed things up when you’re at the airline counter.  If you can, print your boarding pass before leaving.

Choosing The Right Airline

If you’re flying domestically, choosing an airline is easy.  Your choice will probably depend on airfare, number of connections and departure time.  But, if you’re flying internationally, choosing an airline can be a whole new ball game.  US residents are familiar with most airlines being the same.  Not true overseas.  You should do your research before booking on overseas carriers.  Here are a few tips:

Safety record

That’s a pretty important one.   Usually you don’t give airline safety much of a second thought. You would be surprised at how many countries don’t give full attention to airline safety.  The FAA updates a list of those countries and their compliance level to generally accepted airline safety rules each month. And don’t think that these are just third world countries that have issues. Belize, Uruguay, Paraguay and others were on the list as being “insufficient” in December 2010.  You can find the list by clicking here.  

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) also requires it’s member airlines to submit to continual safety audits.  You can see of those who have passed this audit on their website.  The EU also publishes a “blacklist” of airlines that are prohibited from flying to EU countries due to their being “unsafe to operate in EU airspace”.  That list is updated frequently and can be found by clicking here.    Airsafe.com also tabulates in-depth information on airline safety, including crash and safety statistic by airline.

A couple of years ago we were flying from Singapore to Sulawesi, Indonesia (on a major Asian carrier).  As we were on final approach for landing (in a rainstorm, no less), we passed a mountain with a large (think 3-4 story) cross on the side of the hill right outside the airport.  That was the site of an air crash in 2007 where a small airline’s 737 crashed into the hillside during a storm.  A few seconds later, we did a “touch and go” on the runway as the pilot thought it was “unsafe to land” during the storm.  That pretty much brought safety to the forefront of our minds.

Seating

Before booking on an unfamiliar airline, you should check out the seating plan for that airline.  Many discount carriers abroad, try to cram many more seats into their cabins that traditional US or EU mainline airlines.  For example, EU discount carrier EasyJet’sseat pitch is 29″.  Most airlines average 32″-33″ of pitch.  Seat pitch is the distance between seats. While 3″ doesn’t sound like much, if you’re much taller than 5″10″, you’ll notice a pretty good difference in leg room.  Also, some discount carriers use narrower seats, so they can fit more seats across.  If you think you lack elbow room on a mainline carrier, wait till you get to some of the discount carriers.

A good resource on seating is SeatGuru.  They have seating plans and information for almost every airline worldwide.  They also identify what are the “best” seats to sit in in the cabin as well as the “worst.”

Airline Alliances

When booking on any airline, you should check to see if they are part of an “alliance” or partner of an existing airline that you may use frequently for domestic travel.  If so, you can probably earn miles in your regular airlines frequent flyer program, plus get some of the same benefits you get on your regular airline.  There are several different alliances, but the largest worldwide are the Star AllianceSkyTeam and OneWorld.  If you can earn miles by flying another airline or get additional perks, it may be worth paying a slightly higher fare. 

Non-Stop or Many Stops

You should always look closely when booking itineraries to see how many stops your flight may make before it gets to it’s final destination.  For a few bucks more, you might be able to take a non-stop flight, which means you’ll be able to spend more time at your final destination vs. time in the plane.  If it seems like you’re making too many stops, make sure to check other carriers that may get you there faster. 

On-time record & dependability

The last thing you want while on vacation is to have your flight cancelled or delayed.  Who wants to be spending time in an airport when you could be on the beach or on the slopes.  You should check the on-time performance of the air carriers your considering using for your flights. FlightStats, can not only give you on-time performance and cancellation statistics for most major airlines worldwide, but they can also give you information for specific flights, routes, times/dates or even how often flights are diverted.

Restrictions and allowances

Before booking, you should check to see if the airline you’re thinking about has any restrictions on how much luggage you can bring on board, how much luggage you can check, what type of sporting equipment you can bring, etc.