Avoid Booking a Bad Hotel

January 6, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

It’s one of our worst nightmares. The only thing worse than being stranded or lost while traveling is being stuck in a bad hotel. But how can you be sure if the hotel you’re considering is a good one, and not just the result of a few faked reviews and a clever Photoshop job?

Your best bet in finding a good hotel is to do your research before you book a stay.

TripAdvisor — the app or the website — is a great resource for the traveler looking to avoid a night of pure misery at some flea bag motel next to a loud bar. Although TripAdvisor has received some criticism about its review system, it’s still a great resource because it lists so many reviews from different folks.

While it’s normal to see one or two bad reviews in a great hotel, and one or two great reviews at a bad hotel, these anomalies sometimes make people worry that something’s fishy on the review sites. When researching hotels on review sites, look for patterns. You may see one or two people who either have an axe to grind or they’re just jerks and like posting bad reviews. That’s almost normal these days, because people like to do that sort of thing. But if you see a pattern — 12 bad reviews, and one good one, or 12 positive reviews that all misspell the same word (which means they were probably planted by management) — then you can get a better picture of what that hotel is like.

A recent article in USA today mentions some other red flags. Visit the hotel’s website. If it’s outdated or doesn’t have a lot of information or photos, that could be a bad sign. If you can’t get someone on the phone when you call to ask questions, that’s also a bad sign.

An adult bed bug (Cimex lectularius) with the ...

An adult bed bug (Cimex lectularius) with the typical flattened oval shape. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You can also check out Google Street view to see what the place really looks like. Another great resource to find out if other, unwelcome guests will be staying in your room is the Bed Bug Registry.

Another way to improve the odds of finding a good hotel is simply to stick to the chain hotels. They have performance standards they have to meet in order to maintain that license. While many of us may prefer the local experiences when we visit new cities, sometimes you have to stay with the thing you know just to make sure you know what you’re getting. (Save the local experiences for the restaurants and sights.)

After you finally check into your nice hotel, you still have to stay on your toes. The desk clerk is probably a very nice person but often has a goal of filling the least desirable rooms first, which means you may be steered toward a room next to the elevator or with a view of the trash cans. Ask questions about placement, noise, and views right off the bat and you’re likely to settle into a more comfortable perch for the night. One trick we like to use is to ask for a room on one of the higher floors. At the very least, it’s a little more secure, and you’re less likely to get a terrible view. You can also ask about rooms at the end of the hall, away from the elevators.

How do you avoid booking a bad hotel? Tell us your tips. Leave a comment here on the blog or on our Facebook page.

Some of the Best Luggage Hacks Ever

December 26, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

Everyone loves a list of life hacks, so we were unable to resist a recent article on Australia’s News.com called The 15 Best Luggage Hacks Ever.

There are some great ideas on this list, and we’ve even talked about some of them in the past, but we found a few old favorites as well as a couple new ones.

Everyone should follow rule number one on this list, which is to put some sort of distinctive marker on your luggage so that you can easily pick it out from the crowd when retrieving it from the luggage carousel after your flight. Most suitcases, including ours, are black. We make several others with distinctive colors, but still, the majority of bags you see on a carousel are black. So tie a bright piece of cloth around the handle or put a sticker somewhere easy to see, as a way to distinguish your black bag from everyone else’s black bag.

Maxlite3 Expansion Spinner

Maxlite3 Expansion Spinner

We especially liked tip number 14, Buy a lightweight suitcase. Most airlines charge extra if a packed bag exceeds their weight limit, so you want to start with luggage that doesn’t weigh very much to begin with.

That’s where our line of Maxlite 3 suitcases comes in handy. We designed them to be lightweight and sturdy, so they hold up well to the rigors of travel without adding a lot of weight. We also recommend that you choose your size wisely. If you only need a medium sized bag, don’t lug a large one to the airport; that only adds to your load and the overall price tag.

We did wonder a bit at some of the suggestions in tip number 15 Have a little bag full of these random but useful essentials. The list includes small sheet of bubble wrap, universal bath plug, pencil sharpener, and a calculator. Those don’t strike us as essential items. And since many of the other items listed are very sharp (mini scissors, safety pins, tweezers) make sure you don’t stow this little kit into your carry on as the TSA could possibly confiscate it (or at least the sharp pieces).

Other good tips on the list include suggestions to keep your luggage fresh by sticking a scented dryer sheet in there during down times, using compression bags to save space, and turning light colored clothes inside out so they don’t get marked up if they happen to come in contact with the bottom of your shoes.

What are some valuable luggage hacks you’ve learned over the years? Share them in the comments below or on our Facebook page.

10 Interesting and Helpful Travel Websites

December 18, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

If you’ve ever needed help with travel planning, but have some specific needs that the giant travel sites can’t help you with, Nomadic Matt published a very useful blog post in September about some lesser-known travel sites that can be very helpful when planning trips.

One site on the list that we really enjoyed was Tripping, which aggregates information from a variety of apartment rental websites, including FlipKey, Housetrip, and Booking.com. One thing to note about Tripping is that it doesn’t pull information from Airbnb, so you need to do a separate search on that site if you want to compare.

English: Apartment in Pursilahdenranta, Helsinki.

Apartment in Pursilahdenranta, Helsinki. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We like the idea of apartment rental as an alternative to staying in a hotel because it can give you a more authentic travel experience. You get to live the way locals do, rather than tucked away in a hotel. You’re close to the shops, restaurants, bars, and coffee houses the locals use, and you get to experience the city the way they do.

Apartment rental can save you a lot of money, especially if traveling in a large group. It’s often cheaper to rent a house or apartment, plus there is usually a kitchen included so you can cook some of your meals “at home.” And you have more privacy and intimacy with your group.

Trover is another interesting site. It adds photography to short user reviews of restaurants, hotels, and landmarks. It gives a more realistic look at restaurants or hotels you’re considering. Some places Photoshop their photos, or are selective about what they post, to present a better image than the reality, so this lets you see what the place is really like. You can share your photos with fellow travelers, and add a review to the mix to help future visitors make an informed decision.

Finally, we were also impressed with Busbud, a site that offers extensive information about bus services in countries around the world. This can be an invaluable resource for international travelers because in some cases, this information is difficult to find anywhere else.

What about your favorite travel sites? Do you have any unusual or little-known sites you prefer? Leave us a comment here or on our Facebook page.

Demanding a Return on Investment From Business Travel

December 9, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

Business trips are a necessary part of doing business around the country or around the world. Trade shows, conferences, and client meetings are all a part of the game. Meeting someone face-to-face can change the dynamics of a key business relationship. The personal touch is still an important part of business, even in a world of e-mails, social media and text messages. But are you actually accomplishing goals with your travels, or are you just “traveling to travel?”

Business class coach.

Business class coach. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Amanda Stillwagon explains in her article on Small Business Trends the importance of demanding an ROI from business trips. She suggests making a list of must meet people, and then following up with them afterward.

If all you’re doing is traveling because it’s what you’ve always done , it might be wise to rethink your travel strategy into a business strategy. According to Stillwagon, the U.S. Travel Association states every dollar spent on business travel returns $10, if done properly.

You need to have some method of determining the trip’s value, by calculating potential sales or marketing opportunities, and then measuring the actual results. Set up goals before your trip, and measure the results afterward to see if you hit them. For example, if a trade show isn’t generating a positive ROI within a year, drop it and find a better one.

Take these trips as an opportunity to learn more about an industry to expand your network, showcase your products and/or to close a big deal.

Is a trip halfway across the world worth your investment? If there are top industry leaders you could meet, then probably, yes. But if it does not generate a positive ROI to the business, then it is just glorified sightseeing, and definitely not worth the money.

Last-Minute Travel Upgrades: Are They Worth It?

December 4, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

We have discussed the little luxuries of traveling and how the experience can be enhanced by little niceties such as a mint on your pillow or a bottle of water when you check in. Getting an upgrade can be one of them.

Or not.

I have been offered upgrades due to my loyalty status in a frequent traveler program. They have been offered as a courtesy and to keep my continued business. In that sense, it’s worth it, because I’m going to keep using that airline, hotel, or rental car company. But for others, it may not give you the benefits you need.

English: EK J-Class

EK J-Class (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When checking into the airport or hotel, or renting a car, companies have begun asking at the counter if you want to pay for an upgrade, trying to make it sound like a good deal. For some, the upgrade is totally worth it, while others end up feeling like they suffered from a marketing scheme.

In the past, car rental companies ask if you want an upgrade for $10 a day more, but this is a relatively new concept for hotels and airlines. Airlines have increased their profit margins by this method of marketing alone, selling seat upgrades from Economy to Economy Plus, for example.

Some people have had good experiences with this new airline trend while others have not. According to Christopher Elliott’s article in the Seattle Times, Linda Petzler had a wonderful experience with her upgrade and found it well worth it. As she journeyed from London to Dallas, she made an upgrade to business class for $500 more. On the other hand, Judith Patrizzi made an upgrade on her trip from Rome to Boston, which she later regretted. She received terrible food and bulkhead seats with no more room than the ones she would have received without the “upgrade.”

This is a situation where you have to weigh the pros and cons. Is the room worth it? Or is saving money more important? We suggest always asking if you want an upgrade. Sometimes it may be given to you without a fee. For example, if your hotel has multiple stories, ask if they have any rooms on a higher level available with a great view. These are usually nicer and bigger anyway, and won’t necessarily cost anymore.

Would you pay for an upgrade to a nicer seat, room, or car? Is it worth it, or an unnecessary expense? Leave a comment on our blog post or on our Facebook page.

Why Airline Ticket Prices Vary So Widely

November 27, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

The ticket you bought for your next flight could cost twice as much, or half as much, as the person sitting next to you. It’s a rule of flying that buying a ticket at the last minute means you’ll pay more than someone who bought when prices were at their lowest. If you have to book a ticket because of a family emergency or a last minute trip, you reluctantly pay a premium.

But did you know that ticket prices on an hour long economy flight can vary by as much as $1,400? This rather startling price difference was revealed by Hopper, a travel research website. A recent report they put out states that ticket prices for economy seats between LAX and Vegas — a 60 minute flight — ranged from $200 to $1,600.

DragonAir Economy SeatsThat’s quite a price difference and $1,600 is a lot to pay for such a short flight. The person who paid $1,600 must have been desperate, or quite the high roller.

So how do you avoid being the person who paid the most for their seat?

Part of it is a matter of luck: prices for the same flight vary day to day and even hour to hour. Your best bet on scoring at the lower end of the scale is to buy ahead of time, of course.

You can also check out Hopper’s website, which gives you a good idea of the range of prices for a particular destination and what the best deal is likely to be. If you see something within your acceptable range, be sure to snap it up right away. That price may be gone in 60 minutes.

If you enter the airports you’re flying between, you’ll also get a detailed breakdown of varying flight costs, the best time to buy tickets, and the most popular days to travel to a particular destination. They also provide info on what carriers make the trip, with a percentile breakdown. Plus there’s a list of alternate airports you can travel through to get close to the same spot.

If you want to avoid getting stung by high ticket prices, plan ahead, and use the tools to do some comparison shopping. Whether it’s Hopper or any of the other travel sites online, it’s a matter of good planning and plain luck.

Photo credit: Luke Lai (Flickr, Creative Commons)

Hotels with Women-Only Floors

November 4, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

More women are traveling for business than ever before these days. With this increase comes a new form of travel marketing: some high-end hotels are offering floors dedicated only to women.

The Naumi Hotel in Singapore offers women-only floors to its female travelers.

The Naumi Hotel in Singapore offers women-only floors to its female travelers.

Some of these “no men allowed” floors even go so far as to having female staff and a female concierge serve that floor. For some hotels around the world, it’s a question of safety. For others, it’s a marketing tactic geared toward attracting more women. Some of these gender-specific features include:

  • A focus on creature comforts that are actually sized for women, such as smaller robes, slippers, hangers, and other petite items.
  • Luxury items that are seen as more appealing for women, such as yoga mats, silk clothes hangers, and white wine in the room.
  • Decor that may appeal more to women, such as floral wallpapers and so on.

It sounds great, although we recognize that some people may see these single-sex floors as sexist. A recent court ruling in Denmark stated that a hotel’s women-only floor was discriminatory and the hotel was forced to open its rooms to men as well. In other countries, the women-only floors have remained open for business. Similarly, a hotel in Calgary has offered up a men-only floor to complement its women-only offering.

Perhaps the main beneficiary of women-only floors is the hotel industry. These rooms generally come with a hefty price tag for all the extra amenities and security. And whether these floors are successful will, in all likelihood, be determined more by the bottom line than the courtroom. Hotels are driven by profit which means filling rooms. If these gender specific floors can’t stay filled, we can’t imagine they’ll be kept around.

What do you think? Would you stay on a gender-specific floor? Would it be worth the extra cost? Leave a comment on our blog or Facebook page.

3 Tourist Scams to Avoid: Extreme edition

October 23, 2014 by · 1 Comment 

For the last few blog posts, we’ve looked at different travel scams and petty crimes from Lifehack.org infographic on common travel scams. We’ve talked about scams, pickpockets, and even identity theft. But we’ve saved the most outrageous scams for last. Scam artists will go to almost any length to get your money, so be on the look out for these.

1. Thrown Baby

Using pretend children is a low blow, but it happens. A woman will throw a baby, which is usually a doll so that you catch it. The woman and her accomplices will rummage through your pockets taking all they can find while you try to save the “baby.”

2. Expensive Taxi Driver

English: A checker taxi cab. Deutsch: Ein Chec...

English: A checker taxi cab. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you don’t know where you’re going, taxi drivers may take more twists and turns than necessary to get you to your location in order to make your bill higher. I have had this happen to me. When I questioned their route they said they wanted to “avoid traffic.” Make sure you’re only taking licensed cabs from official taxi stands, and if possible, double-check your route on your smartphone.

3. Windshield Washers Scam

We actually see this more in the United States than in foreign countries. A homeless person, or seemingly homeless, will run up to your car at a stoplight and start washing your windows, hoping for a tip. If you don’t do it, they’ll yell and raise a fuss, hoping to embarrass you into paying them to stop.

We don’t want you to be afraid of traveling. Rather, we want to make sure you travel smart. So please look over these possible scams, and when you travel, move confidently, say no politely, and continue moving. Avoid the situations where you might be scammed and you’ll finish your vacation with everything — hopefully — still on budget and on schedule.

5 Tourist Scams to Avoid: Money Edition

October 21, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

For the last couple of blog posts, we’ve been discussing different travel scams and petty crimes found on a Lifehack.org infographic on common travel scams. In our last two posts, we’ve discussed pickpockets and con artists. Now let’s look at how people can take your money through general theft or even identity theft.

1. The Drop and Swap

This one happens when someone is returning your change. They will drop it, pick it up, but give you less than what you should be given. They might exchange the dropped money for coins or bills that are worth less. It’s important to know the currency in the places where you’re traveling. Know what each bill and coin is worth, how much you are giving, and how much you should get in return.

2. The Cashier on the Phone

Credit card

Credit card (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is a sneaky one. The cashier will act busy on their phone, but in reality, they are taking a picture of your credit card to get your card information, which they’ll use later.

3. Slow Counting

A cashier will count your money very slowly. While this may not seem like a big deal, they are doing this to see if you notice they are counting a bill twice. Count the money again yourself, once you’ve been given your change.

4. The Fake Takeout Menu

If a menu is slipped under your hotel door be warned! It may not be a real menu. You’ll call the restaurant to place an order, only to have your credit card number stolen, and no one will show up with your food either. So now you’re hungry, and significantly poorer.

5. The Fake Front Desk Call

If you ever get a call from the front desk saying there were problems with your credit card, always go down to sort out the problem. Scam artists have been known to call hotel rooms asking for credit card information, especially in the evening. Instead, they steal your credit card number and take your money. But if you go downstairs to deal with the problem, you can make sure you solve the right problem.

Have you ever been scammed on your travels? What happened? How did they do it? Leave a comment, or tell us on our Facebook page.

5 Tourist Scams to Avoid: Pickpocketing Edition

October 16, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

If you’ve ever traveled, especially overseas, you may have run into a variety of scams and cons. In our last post, we talked about different, mostly harmless, scams you may encounter on a trip. This time, thanks to a Lifehack.org infographic on common travel scams, we’re going to discuss some of the scams that involved pickpocketing.

1. Train Pickpockets

This is one of the most commonly known pickpocketing methods. Trains are often cramped and crowded. Locals will take advantage of tourists traveling with their duffels or backpacks, and rummage through them without your knowledge, or even the ability to get away from them.

2. The Punctured Tire

sketch "pickpocket" with George Appo...

Sketch “pickpocket” with George Appo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Rental cars are usually obviously rentals. Locals will search for them and inconspicuously puncture the tire. They will then come over offering to help. While you are busy with the flat, their accomplice will go through your trunk taking valuables.

3. The Fake Policeman

A policeman (supposedly) approaches you explaining an issue with fake money circulating around. He will demand to inspect your wallet. Once returned, you will notice it quite a bit lighter. You’ve been scammed.

4. The Overly Helpful Local

Cash machines and ATMs can be confusing in a different country. We suggest you just try to figure it out on your own. If a local comes over offering to help while it may seem nice, they are probably memorizing your pin number for when they swipe your wallet later. Better yet, just use a credit card whenever possible, and get the most favorable exchange rate in the first place.

5. The Charity Petition

This scam involves a group of children who often have a disability such as being deaf. They will ask you to sign a petition to help them out. While shoving paper and clipboard in your face, they will touch and grab at you. If this happens to you, you’ve probably been pickpocketed.

Your best line of defense is to keep your money in a special traveler’s belt wallet, something that loops on your belt, but hangs inside your pants. Keep a small amount of money in your front pocket, and then pull more money out of your pouch in the restroom.

Have you ever been pickpocketed, or nearly so? What did you do? How did they do it? Leave a comment, or tell us on our Facebook page.

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