Travel Tips for the First 40 Minutes In Country

December 29, 2011 by · 1 Comment 

Our friend and travel-writing hero, Mark Eveleigh, has been doling out some pretty great travel advice on a number of different blogs, and his latest one — The First 40 Minutes on RoundTheWorldFlights.com — really caught our eye.

In it, Eveleigh details some of the different traps and pitfalls that international travelers, especially backpackers, can fall into if they’re not careful.

We found a few of our favorite tips, and think they’re especially important, whether you’re an adventure traveler on a backpacking trip around the Far East, or a business traveler landing in Mexico City, or even Chicago.

1) Don’t arrive late at night when security is lax, taxis are expensive, and you’re too sleepy to be fully alert. This is true whether you’re landing in London or touching down in Thailand. You need to be alert, even if it’s just to make sure you get the right airport shuttle, and don’t inadvertently leave something behind.

2) Know in advance what the exchange rate is, and if possible, try to arrive with enough local currency to get you through the first night. We’ve talked before about how credit cards are going to be your best bet to finding the best exchange rate. But also, the worst places to exchange money are right there in the airport — exchange rates are not in your favor in most places, but especially in the place where people are in a rush to change their money. Find a bank away from the airport to make exchanges the next day.

5) If there’s a domestic terminal in the same airport, head there and take a (often cheaper) taxi from the same stand where you see locals waiting. Some taxi services see international travelers as a way to make a little extra cash, especially if you show up wearing a suit, but that doesn’t mean you have to fall victim to it. Walk over to the domestic terminal, step outside there, and catch your cab on that end. The prices may be a little cheaper, and you are less likely to be taken advantage of. And, be sure to take only an official taxi, don’t get a ride with someone who says they’re “just as good.”

7) Don’t let yourself be rushed into anything — it can be a benefit in a particularly hassled airport simply to grab a seat at a cafe and ‘people-watch’ for half an hour. We know from personal experience that it’s easy to get caught up in the stampede of people all rushing to get off the plane, get out of the airport, and get to your destination. If you’re in a brand new country and a brand new culture, don’t get caught up in the rush and miss something important. Take a few minutes, sit down, relax, and soak up some of the atmosphere. Get an idea of what’s going on, plan out your next step (probably the hotel), and then move to the taxi stand or shuttle station at your own pace.

Going to a new country can be frightening for some people. But if you plan in advance, move at your own pace, and — this is especially important — look like you know what you’re doing, you can get to where you need to be without any hassle or problems.

  • 40 minutes (leggotunglei808.wordpress.com)
  • Banks offer ‘worst’ exchange rates for your holiday money (telegraph.co.uk)
  • Taxi Scam 101 (winadventures.wordpress.com)
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Winter Packing Tips

December 27, 2011 by · 2 Comments 

Whether you’re heading out on a ski trip, jetting off to see relatives up north, squeezing in some last-minute chilly business travel, or pursuing any other cold-weather activities during a trip this holiday season, you’ll need to pack for the frosty weather.

When you’re staring into your closet and trying to decide what to pack for the cold — all while taking into consideration what will actually fit into your luggage! — it can be a bit daunting. But don’t despair. Here are some tips that should make your frigid travels much less shivery.

Ice skating in Montreal, Canada.

Image via Wikipedia

Consider where you’re headed.

If you’ll be spending a lot of time outdoors — like on the ski slopes or at an ice-skating rink — of course you’ll need to bring along several pairs of insulated socks, a warm coat, toasty boots, a warm hat, gloves, and so on. But if your exposure to cold weather will mostly be the brief times between the car and the mall or on the short trips from one family member’s house to another, you may want to save yourself some space and hassle by leaving your heaviest, most cumbersome coats and boots behind.

Bring along thin layers.

One of the most essential principles of clothing yourself for cold weather is wearing plenty of thin layers. Bring along lightweight shirts to layer under sweaters and thin jackets. Don’t forget tights, leggings, thermal underwear, or leg warmers. Pack some garments made of fleece for a toasty option that will resist wrinkling. Also consider toting along items made from Thinsulate and Gore-Tex.

Get creative.

Ladies, bring along a pashmina shawl that can also serve as a blanket on the plane, a wrap or a shawl, as well as a scarf. Pashmina shawls are available in a wide variety of prints, colors, and designs and are quite fashionable in addition to their practicality.

Envision how you can layer your individual clothing items differently so you can re-wear each piece multiple times. Mix and match colors, and have fun with your look!

And if you’re running short on luggage space, wear your bulkiest items onto the plane. You’ll always be able to take off a layer or two once you’ve boarded if you get too warm. Travelpro® Rollaboards have extra large front pockets that are ideal for storing hats, scarves and sweaters.

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Finding the Best Seats on the Airplane

December 22, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

These days, as flights are more crowded and more in demand, it’s hard enough just to score yourself a seat at an affordable price, let alone a great seat. It’s especially worse if you’re on a tight budget. So how can you avoid the bummer experience of being trapped with no legroom next to the lavatory and get one of the better seats instead?

First off, plan ahead. The more time in advance you book your flight, the more likely it is that you’ll be able to nab one of the nicer seats on the airplane, simply because more seats are available earlier. And while booking, seek out the seat you want, if possible, and choose it from the get-go. This will save you a lot of hassle and discomfort later.

If you book online, you can use the airline’s seat selector. Or if you book on a third-party site like Orbitz or PriceLine, log into the airline website and use the same seat selection process.

SeatGuru.com is also a powerful tool to use during the flight-planning process. Check out this site to get details on everything from seat maps to in-flight amenities to detailed ratings of individual seats on planes. The site uses helpful color-coded diagrams and incredible depth of detail in its descriptions. You can even submit your own comments on particular seats or airplanes, if you’d like.

Pick a seat near the very front of the plane to get on and off your flights more quickly. This is great if you’ve got a tight connection to make, or you simply want to get home or to your hotel as quickly as possible.

Tall passengers may want to choose seats in the bulkhead or exit-row seats. These seats typically have much more generous legroom than those on other parts of the plane. Take advantage of this if possible.

If you do, however, find yourself without your desired seat on the day of the flight, you may get lucky and land a better seat if you just ask airline employees nicely. This won’t, however, work for flights that are packed to the brim. (Hint: If there are standby passengers, count yourself lucky that you have a seat at all.) And for flights that have plenty of empty seats, it never hurts to ask if you can change seats. If possible, the folks with your airline will often accommodate you.

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Why Do Airlines Pad Their Flight Times?

December 20, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Have you ever wondered why it takes so long to get anywhere when flying these days? And have you been curious whether airlines are just trying to make themselves look better with more “on-time” flights by padding their schedules? It can be pretty easy to take a cynical stance on padded flight times and more time-consuming travel, especially with all the other hoops to jump through when traveling by air. But maybe we shouldn’t be so quick to assume airlines are padding their flight times without legitimate cause.

The general consensus among many experts seems to be that airlines actually pad flight times for no reason other than to plan for the worst-case scenario. So many variables come into play when it comes to air travel: congested airports, air-traffic control delays, unpredictable inclement weather, unfavorable headwinds, crucial last-minute maintenance tasks, and much more.

Today’s more heavily congested airports can up the wait time for flights. With the oft-crowded airports of today, it often takes travelers a long time to make it through security and to one gate from another. Consider, too, that travelers have different levels of experience navigating their way through airports, which can also add to necessary travel time.

Also think of how the huge number of planes arriving and departing influence travel time. It makes a lot of sense — the greater the number of planes heading into the air, the more time it will take for air-traffic control to organize the incoming and outgoing flights. On the runways, it’s the same principle as rush hour vs. off-peak times on your local roads: high-volume traffic can create bottlenecks and logjams that leave people waiting and waiting.

Bad weather and headwinds also contribute to padding of flight times. As soon as thunderstorms, fog, snow, or other bad weather situations enter the equation, flights times can become very uncertain. Unfavorable headwinds, too, can slow down planes significantly.

Flight times are also padded to allow for any necessary maintenance work.

Airlines tend to pad their flight times a bit to help compensate for any of these uncertainties, which can actually be a great thing for travelers. There’s a bit of a built-in buffer to help customers arrive in time to make connecting flights or to touch down on time at their final destination.

So that’s that: With the skies heavily saturated with air travel and abounding unknowns thrown into the mix, it simply takes longer now to get from Point A to Point B. And just think — without those padded flight times, it’d be far more common to find yourself at the airport in a crowd of disgruntled travelers who expected to arrive at their destination much, much sooner. So maybe they’re not such a bad thing after all.

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Tips For Traveling With Children

December 15, 2011 by · 1 Comment 

Traveling by air with children can be a real challenge. It used to be that most airlines took plenty of measures to cater to traveling families, with guaranteed early boarding, plenty of kid-friendly meal options, and seats close together for Mom, Dad, and the kids. But airlines are in a tight spot now, with extra-crowded flights and slashed amenities. So when flying with children today, it’s important to plan earlier and be more prepared than ever.

Consider the following when traveling with children:

  • Ask yourself plenty of questions.
    • “What do we need to carry on, and what do we need to pack away into checked luggage?” Think what your child might want or need while the plane is in the air, and carry that on. Things you won’t need until you arrive at your destination can be stowed away with the checked luggage.
    • “How will the children be entertained and at ease throughout the duration of the flight?” Sometimes airlines will offer to play television shows or movies during a flight, but always be prepared to keep your children occupied in case no such entertainment is on your flight. Bring along quiet toys, books, and so forth that will keep your child happy but won’t draw the ire of other passengers.
    • “Should the child bring his or her own luggage, or should the parents take care of it all?” This really comes down to the age of the children and the personal preference of the family. Figure out what will keep the trip most streamlined and stress-free for your family, and go with that option.
  • Check into early boarding for families with children. While the early boarding may cost a bit extra, this could save you a lot of hassle if you’re not feeling rushed at the gate.
  • Inquire about getting seated together. This may also cost extra, but it could make both you and your children much, much more comfortable if you’re traveling close together.
  • Ask about kid-friendly meals, but be prepared for them to be unavailable. Though options may be limited, some airlines still carry kid-friendly meals, like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. It’s best, though, not to take the risk because the meals may be sold out or otherwise unavailable. So bring along plenty of snacks — and even meals, for longer flights — to keep your children from getting hungry and grumpy.
  • Bring what you’ll need, because the flight may very well not have it. This goes for food, blankets, pillows, and just about any other need you can think of. Many flights will have plenty of amenities available for free or for purchase, but being prepared is always the best way to keep from being unexpectedly disappointed and to keep stress at bay.

If you prepare in advance, flying with your children doesn’t have to be a hassle. Just ask the right questions beforehand, and plan accordingly.

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What to Pack When It’s Winter at Home, But Summer Where You’re Going

December 13, 2011 by · 1 Comment 

As if packing for a big trip isn’t enough of a challenge already, sometimes you need to use some strategic planning to figure out what to tote along when it’s cold where you are, but your final destination is balmy and sunny.

The temptation is to take a big coat, and maybe a couple of sweaters. But you’ll find once you’re down there that you’ll never need it, and you never needed to pack that stuff to begin with. So what steps do you need to take to make sure you pack smart for where you’re going, not where you’ve left? You may be able to get by with one or two pieces of Travelpro luggage depending on the duration of your trip. Travelpro Rollaboards can expand 2 ½”. This allows you to expand the luggage, instead of taking additional luggage. This saves you the cost of checking an extra bag.

Leave bulky stuff at home.

It may be sub-zero in your departure city, but that doesn’t mean you have to drag your heavy parka to sunny locales like Jamaica or Florida. Unless you’re flying out from the frozen tundra, you’ll likely be able to get by just fine in the short times you’re outdoors in the cold with a jacket or sweater. And though you may be uncomfortable for a few minutes between the house and the heated car or the heated car and the airport, it’s worth leaving a heavy coat behind to save precious luggage space and hassle when you touch down in a tropical climate.

Pack a variety of light, thin garments for layering.

You’ll want to be warm enough in your departure city, and airport and airplane temperatures can be incredibly unpredictable, so be sure you’ve got several layers to keep your parka-free self from freezing until you make it to your sunny destination. Think layered T-shirts, cardigans, and jackets paired with comfortable bottoms. You can always shed the excess layers as you get closer to your destination. Men can change into more lightweight clothing during layovers, and women can even wear thermal tights or leggings under a dress, then remove them when they touch down.

Check the weather.

Be sure to study the forecast for the area you plan to visit. Pay special attention to both projected daytime temperatures and nighttime temperatures. After all, it can be shorts-and-T-shirt weather all day, then drop to jeans-and-jacket weather once night falls. A-ha! This is where your thin layers will come in handy. Also be sure to research whether you need to be prepared for rain. Temperatures in even the warmest of cities can quickly drop when storms blow through.

 

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Where would you go for a December vacation?

December 8, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Got some leftover vacation days to burn before the end of the year?

You’re in luck: The little pocket of time between the high-traffic holiday travel rushes between Thanksgiving and Christmas is one of the most budget-friendly times of the year to get away. The boom of Thanksgiving travel is over, and the Christmas and New Year’s vacationers have yet to descend on the hottest spots.

And in addition to falling between holiday travel blitzes, business travel tends to wane during this time of year, as well. This cuts airfare rates, frees up hotel rooms, and deflates the demand for other services, too.

Taking advantage of this travel lull can set you up for a real cheap — and real quiet — vacation.

Whether you gravitate toward wintery getaways or more balmy vacations, you’ll still be able to go easy on your wallet.

We asked around the Travelpro office and got some great ideas for December destinations. What would you add to this list?

  • Sunny resorts: Soak up some rays, enjoy an icy beverage, and take a leisurely dip while staying at an all-inclusive resort in the Caribbean, Mexico, or even domestically. You’ll likely find that it’s less expensive and much quieter than usual because you beat the peak of resort season, which starts around Christmas time and runs through April. Your stay may also be more personalized, with more attentive service than during the busiest of times. Don’t forget the sunscreen!
  • New York City: During this time of year, The Big Apple is abuzz with holiday excitement. Enjoy the fabulous store window displays, catch a Broadway production, and open up your ears to some world-class live music. And enjoy the luxury of taking in all the cheer and festivities before the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree and Times Square get too crowded.
  • Ski resorts: If you reside in our country’s warmer climes and are looking to mix it up, or you simply enjoy outdoor winter recreation, hit up a ski resort this December. The ski resort season will just be getting started around this time, so you shouldn’t have to fight too many crowds while you refresh your skills on the slopes. What a lovely opportunity to revel in the gorgeous scenery, ramp up your holiday-season exercise routine, and cozy up with a book next to the fire!

And for those of you who might not be able to swing a December vacation in 2011: Start planning for next year!

 

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Holiday Gift Ideas for the Frequent Traveler

December 6, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Some people are seemingly impossible to shop for during the holiday season. Maybe they already seem to have everything, they’re very minimalist, or they’re just really hard to read. But if that difficult-to-buy-for person on your list happens to be a frequent traveler, you’re in luck. Travelpro and Austin House have some great gift ideas for the frequent flier in your life.

Universal adapter with dual USB
  • Austin House Universal Adapter with USB: This adapter allows travelers to plug in and charge USB devices, such as MP3 players or even compatible cellphones, in more than 160 countries. This item works with most outlets in Africa, Asia, Europe, the Middle East, New Zealand, and Russia.
  • Executive Pro™ Checkpoint Friendly Computer Brief: Those people who can’t leave their laptop behind when they hit the skies will love this computer bag. Travelers can tote this sleek bag with the handy shoulder strap or the padded handle, and there’s an intelligent business organizer for pens, business cards, cables and electronic items. Best of all, this bag will get a traveler through the airport quickly because laptop computers do not need to be removed and placed in a separate bin (and then packed up again!) when carried in this security-friendly bag.
  • Deluxe Totes Ladies City Tote: This tote would be a great gift for any stylish lady on the go. The bag is sleek, yet durable, and includes a laptop sleeve.
  • Austin House Travel Neck Pillow: Frequent travelers will appreciate the much-needed support and shuteye or relaxation they can get when using this neck pillow on long flights, car trips, or train excursions.
  • Platinum 7 22″ Carry-on Rolling Garment Bag: This stylish garment bag, available in two colors, is a great gift that will keep your favorite traveler from arriving at their destination with rumpled, messy clothes. The bag has plenty of pockets for storage and even features a leather monogram patch so the gift can easily be personalized.
  • Atlantic Graphite Lite 3 21″ Carry-on Spinner: This bag has all the convenience of a regular roller bag, but with some extra bells and whistles. Best of all is its eight-wheel spinner system that allows for the bag to roll easily in all different directions, making travel through crowded spaces infinitely more simple.
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