Learn to Pack Like the Marines

August 28, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

The Marines are known for their dedication, skill, and bravery. What you might not know is how well they can pack. A Marine is only given one sea bag, a military duffel bag, to fit all his or her belongings. Packing efficiently is a must.

They have developed a packing technique called the skivvy roll or grunt roll. It combines a t-shirt, shorts or underwear, and a pair of socks into a single small roll that’s easy to count and manage. If you have a complete roll, you have a complete under-outfit.

  • Place t-shirt flat and unfolded. Stretch and smooth it to remove wrinkles.
  • Fold underwear in half length-wise, and place on top of shirt below shirt collar.
  • Fold the sides of shirt length-wise over the underwear.
  • Lay socks flat over shirt sleeves in a crisscross pattern. Leave the leg of the sock hanging outside of the shirt. Ankle socks will not work. It will look sort of like a letter ‘T.’
  • Roll items from collar down. Leave sock legs outside of roll.
  • Fold one loose sock leg over rolled items.
  • Repeat with other loose sock leg. You will have a completed skivvy roll.

There are many sites with step-by-step instructions and pictures demonstrating each step (we like the one on Huckberry.com). This technique may have Marine origins but that does not mean we civilians can’t use it for our everyday travel needs.

The skivvy roll is great for going on camping trips or traveling when space is very limited. You don’t want to lug three bags through the airport because of inefficient packing. It also ensures you have plenty of socks and underwear for each day you will be gone, since one roll equals one shirt, one pair of underwear, and one pair of socks. One day, one roll. Five days, five rolls.

What are some packing techniques you use? Leave a comment and let us know.

Bring This, Not That: Charging Cables and Extension Cords

August 19, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

Have you seen the new cell phone commercials that show travelers and their phones hugging the walls while they try to power up their battery hogging devices? Have you ever been one of those wall huggers? It may get worse, thanks to the TSA’s new rules that require devices to be able to power up at checkpoints.

This is going to be a bigger problem, as most airports seem to have only one outlet for the entire terminal, although some airlines, like Delta, are adding more power outlets to their gates. Even so, there are still a limited number of outlets to use. And half the people using them are watching Netflix on their iPads, when you’ve got important work to get finished.

Pivot Power GeniusThis is where a charging cable and extension cord may come in handy. We’re not referring to those bulky beige utility-style surge protector extension cords. There are smaller more compact and flexible options out there, like the Pivot Power Genius available at ThinkGeek.com or other electronics stores.

Imagine pulling one of these out of your bag and asking someone nearby to plug it in. What cranky flight-delayed person would say no? They may not be any happier, but you may brighten a couple other people’s days.

The Pivot Power is just one option out there. There are hand crank generators, portable hydrogen fuel cell generators (no, seriously), and even Tony Stark’s Iron Man Mark V Armor Suitcase Mobile Fuel Cell. And of course, even a 3-in-1 splitter and 1 foot extension cord would let you share a plug with two new friends.

An extension cord is not only convenient in airports but also for hotels. Most hotels have made it so outlets are easily accessible and plentiful. However, if you happen to book a hotel that hasn’t been updated in the last 20 years, the extension cord can save a lot of hassle. You may also run into problems if a hotel’s desk lamp plug doesn’t accommodate your bulky charger block.

Now that we depend on all these electronic devices, it’s just as important to be able to power them up conveniently and quickly. Now that the TSA’s rules are changing, and we’re dependent on our phones and tablets, don’t leave yourself without an option to power up.

TSA’s New Smartphone Rules May Cause Bigger Problems

August 14, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

Thanks to new proposed rules regarding dead mobile phones and tablets, many travelers are worried about what could happen if their portable electronics die before they get through airport security.

The new rules require that all electronic devices must be able to be powered up at security, after it was revealed that Al Qaeda has figured out how to disguise bombs in electronic devices without detection. Currently, the only flights affected are those going into the United States, but not out of the country, or within it.

The Controversy

Cell phone and battery charger

Cell phone and battery charger

What happens when someone cannot power up his or her devices? According to an article by Conde Nast, the dead devices would be held at the airport or could be shipped to the owner’s house. If the devices are held at the airport, where would they be stored and what kind of security would oversee this storage? Many people have expressed concern at possibly being without their phones because of a dead battery, especially when their power cable is in their luggage.

The Costs

If the devices are to be shipped to the owner’s house, this method could be quite costly, especially for travelers returning to the US. Depending on how the policy is enacted and enforced, there could be a lot of confiscated devices to process.

One suggestion we’ve seen lately is to install electrical outlets and chargers at security stations. This means airports would have to relocate power supplies and install plugs. Then they would have to allow time for devices to charge enough to power up. However, this would solve the problem for travelers whose mobile device died in the airport. Another possibility would be charging stations outside security, where people can charge for several minutes before entering the line.

Will This Create Backups?

On the other hand, what kind of problems could be created as people fumble with dead phones, trying to charge them at the new stations, or even arranging them to have sent back home. And, what if you miss your flight? Though the new rules are for safety and security, the implementation process could cause quite a dilemma for many travelers if it’s not planned and implemented well.

Word to the wise: regardless of where you’re traveling, charge all your devices before heading out to catch your flight.

Gatwick Airport Tests Hi-Tech Security and Passenger Technology

August 12, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

Remember how impressed you were the first time you saw an airport faucet that turned on automatically when you waved your hand in front of them? (Don’t pretend you weren’t!)

It’s almost shocking how far airports have come technologically since then. Case in point: Gatwick Airport’s chief information officer, Michael Ibbitson, recently told FutureTravelExperience.com about the new technology that’s not just wowing passengers, but also streamlining the passenger experience and making travel safer for everyone. Let’s take a look at some of the technological advances Gatwick has made.

Speeding Up Bag Check

English: Gatwick South Terminal Zone K check-i...

Gatwick South Terminal Zone K check-in concourse (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Automated bag check and check-in are technologies well on their way to mass adoption at this point, but Gatwick is aiming to make them more efficient than ever.

EasyJet has been testing a bag drop system fueled by Phase 5 Technology at its Gatwick hub. According to Ibbitson, the average passenger took 76 seconds to process — the goal is to get passengers through in 45 — so they’re tweaking the system, working toward maximum efficiency.

Automated Security

One of the major headaches of air travel, no matter how far you’re traveling, is getting through security. Gatwick is attempting to make security checkpoints smoother by automating them — the systems installed in 2012 have cut wait time to an average of a mere 107 seconds — and installing Security Max lanes that will enable even more passengers to prepare for the checkpoint at once.

Iris Scanning Technology

The wildest technology we read about: Biometrics as a single passenger token. The gist is that when you check in at the airport and drop your bag off, a machine also scans your iris — an identity marker that’s almost impossible to forfeit — and all your passenger information, from baggage tracking to your passport and boarding pass, is encoded into the scan.

A single scan of your iris is all it takes to move you through the rest of the travel process throughout the airport — and even at your destination.

According to the Future Travel Experience post, this technology is well within reach — it’s the widespread implementation of the technology at airports worldwide that will take some time.

What technology would you most like to see implemented in your favorite airport? The sky’s the limit, so they say — leave a comment with your loftiest technology dreams.

How to Cope With The Worst Travel Scenarios

August 5, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

Not to diminish any travel woes you’ve experienced — trust me, we’ve all been through enough horrible delays and cancellations to know how frustrating they are — but after reading a recent Budget Travel blog post, I’m grateful for the low drama factor of my travel mishaps.

If you thought having your flight canceled and being stuck overnight is the worst it can get, think again. Here are a couple of the worst-case scenarios I hope you’ll never have to face.

Getting Arrested in a Foreign Country

English: Chancery of the Manila American Embas...

Chancery of the Manila American Embassy. Official photo from THE SECRETARY OF STATE’S REGISTER OF CULTURALLY SIGNIFICANT PROPERTY. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We’ve all heard horror stories about winding up in a Thai prison…well, for some it’s a reality.

Cultural differences can sometimes translate into legal differences, too — or maybe you’ve just behaved very badly — but your first step in the right direction if you’ve gotten into legal trouble is to call the embassy. They may not be able to get you off the hook right away, but the embassy will at least help ensure that you have legal counsel.

It would also behoove you to check out the State Department’s website for insight into the customs and laws of the area you’re traveling to.

Finding Yourself in the Middle of a Natural Disaster

This actually happened to me back in the ’90s: During a sales meeting in Key West, Fla., a hurricane rolled through during the night. There was a lot of wind and rain and the power went out, but we were otherwise unaffected.

If you find yourself in a more severe situation, the best thing to do is listen to local authorities. Also be sure to contact family and loved ones as soon as possible to ensure they know you’re all right.

If you have access to the Internet, your local embassy’s website is a great resource for emergency personnel, hospitals and the like — but the Budget Travel article recommends finding a major hotel if you can’t get online and need to know what to do beyond following the authorities’ instructions.

Our favorite tip: Register your travel abroad with the State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program — we’d never heard of it until we read the Budget Travel blog post, but it’s a great idea and sounds easy to implement.

Have you experienced one of these nightmare travel scenarios? How did you react, and how did the situation turn out? Leave a comment and tell your story.

How to Avoid Being Stranded at the Airport

July 17, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

If you’re a frequent traveler, you know that feeling in the pit of your stomach when you get the notification: Flight canceled. There are few worse feelings when you’re headed to an important meeting, on a long-awaited vacation or — worst yet — home after a busy time away.

There’s a silver lining: Conde Nast Traveler’s The Daily Traveler blog published a post with some great tips for making your way home if your flight’s been canceled and you’re stuck at an airport.

A busy airport

(Photo credit: eGuide Travel)

The steps CN outlines are ones I haven’t given a lot of thought to honestly. I’ve had a few major cancellations happen to me in my travels — and while I don’t recommend it, I pretty much rely on my past experiences of “playing the game.” The key to winning said game? Make sure you have a lot of alternatives.

The first step for me has always been to approach the airline directly to find out your options. But from there, what you do depends on how badly you want to get home.

Having a sort of slush fund for a recovery budget is one thing CN’s article recommends. Recovery budgets and security measures like travel insurance can alleviate the financial burden of a canceled flight or long delay, but it doesn’t necessarily make getting home any easier.

When I lived in Michigan, I had a flight canceled during a snowstorm — there were no flights coming or going out of the Detroit airport. But we were headed to Grand Rapids, which was only a few hours’ drive — so my coworkers and I rented a car and drove through the snow to reach our final destination. (Renting a car is often cheaper than getting a hotel room.)

I encountered a similar situation in a past life, when I was working on the East Coast. I had a presentation to give in Hyde Park, N.Y., and our flight out of Philadelphia got canceled. We didn’t have the option to spend the night — we had a presentation to give and had to be there — so we drove six hours to our destination and made the presentation as planned.

However, the airline refused to surrender our luggage to us before we left, so we met our bags at the Hyde Park airport when the canceled flight eventually arrived. In that case, we just had to punt, wear the same clothes from the day before, and give the presentation. There are times the show must go on, regardless of what you’re wearing. (It was also a valuable lesson in why it’s better to travel with carry-on bags than checking them on short trips.)

If driving isn’t an option for you, my two favorite tips from CN’s article are to find an airport with a lot of flights and be open to alternate airports. If you’re reasonably flexible with your travel plans, you can often find another way home or to your destination with minimal pain.

What’s your biggest cancellation nightmare? Commiserate in the comments section and give us some ideas.

How To Improve And Differentiate The Passenger Experience

July 15, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

Go through enough harrowing travel experiences, and you might start to wonder whether airports, airlines and security personnel are conspiring to conduct a cruel, long-term experiment on just how much stress and misery travelers can take.

Contrary to popular belief, many officials are working to make the experience better for travelers. An encouraging blog post on FutureTravelExperience.com features some technologies and ideas that airports are trying out to make travel more pleasurable.

Music

English: Scandinavian Airlines Airport Lounge ...

Scandinavian Airlines Airport Lounge at Helsinki-Vantaa Airport (HEL). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Many airports have started introducing music — both recorded and performed live — as a way to enhance the passenger experience. And this choice wasn’t made on a whim! Results of a study by researchers at Montreal’s McGill University released in March 2013 say that listening to music helps with four major health-related factors: “management of mood, stress, immunity and as an aid to social bonding.”

FTE’s article mentions regular musical performers at the Seattle-Tacoma airport, and that introducing music for its travelers’ enjoyment has increased the airport’s Airport Service Quality (ASQ) score to 4.14 out of 5.

I have even enjoyed an authentic Chicago blues band while waiting for my luggage at Chicago Midway’s baggage carousels. This is one way to reduce the stress, while waiting for your bag to arrive at the carousel.

Places To Rest

It’s safe to say that much of the stress and unhappiness around air travel happens because of a lack of rest. From waking up early to wait in long security lines and gate seating areas, everything’s a little worse when you don’t have the rest you need.

Helsinki Airport has created some potential solutions to the stress and exhaustion of travel: relaxation areas with sleeping tubes, rocking chairs and even a book swap.

Traveling to Abu Dhabi? The Guide To Sleeping In Airports, a blog dedicated to exactly what the name says, mentions sleep pods right out in the middle of the terminal with roll-up shades that completely enclose travelers trying to get a bit of shut-eye.

In the United States, Minute Suites at airports in Atlanta, Dallas-Fort Worth and Philadelphia offer a private place to catch a quick nap or enjoy some peace and quiet to get a bit of work done at the airport. The price is $34 an hour.

Or if you’ve got the time, you can purchase a day pass at an airline’s travel lounge and spend a few hours there between your flights. For example, a day pass at Delta’s Sky Club is $50 for a single day. The chairs are comfortable, there’s snack food available, and even easy access to electrical outlets and wifi.

What’s Your Experience?

Have you experienced any of these new travel amenities? Seen something we didn’t mention! Comment here with your thoughts.

Airliners, Travelers Need Luggage Etiquette

July 8, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

As airlines keep raising and creating fees, people are always going to look for ways to avoid paying them. Luggage fees are no different. No one wants to spend an extra $50 just to to check one suitcase, so everyone is bringing on carry-on’s, which are creating further problems and serious breaches in good manners.

As passengers, we need to have some etiquette about our luggage, like not whacking people in the noggin with it, or not cramming both your bags in the overhead bin. This prevents other people from getting their bag into the bin, which means they’ll have to gate check them, which means they’ll have to get them at baggage claim. It also means the boarding process is slowed down, which means we all reach our destination much more slowly.

English: Luggage compartments of an Airbus 340...

English: Luggage compartments of an Airbus 340-600 aircraft (economy class). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Pack lightly. If your rollaboard is completely full for a 4 day trip, you may have too much stuff. Imagine having to pay for your luggage by the pound. Now what could you get rid of? What is it you don’t actually need? Once you figure that out, you may be down to a reasonable amount.

Of course, you could always ship your belongings, possibly for much less than you’re going to pay in baggage fees. You can even ship your suitcase itself in a box. Ask your local Fedex or UPS store for help.

Finally, arrive early, and maybe consider buying a seat upgrade. For the cost of a checked bag, you may be able to upgrade for the same amount, and ride in much more comfort than your original seat. Not only that, you can get on board early and find a place for your luggage. So weigh your options: fly for less — in less comfort — and check/gate check your bag, or fly in more comfort and have your bag on board with you.

Passengers aren’t the only ones who should have to display some patience and manners. We hope the airlines can encourage this etiquette as well. Make sure people are only putting one bag in the overhead bin. Adopt a seating system where the people who sit near the back can get on first (and then make sure they’re not putting their bag up front). And would it be too much to ask that the overhead bins actually be large enough to hold everyone’s bags?

Here’s Why Plane Ticket Prices Change Every Day

July 3, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

These days, air travel seems pricier than ever (and that the amenities less amenable than ever). Would you believe, though, that when you adjust for inflation, airfares have actually fallen by about 50 percent in the past 30 years? It’s true, according to a chart-filled article in The Atlantic.

English: Airline Ticket Receipt of Southwest A...

English: Airline Ticket Receipt of Southwest Airlines (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

That’s no consolation to the average passenger, though. Paying hundreds of dollars just to get from Point A to Point B — often with nary a free bag of peanuts to soothe them — leaves many travelers with a bad taste in their mouths.

But perhaps even more frustrating than the high price of air travel is the constant change in exactly how high they’ll be. That’s because there are many factors, some not even remotely related to the airlines themselves, that determine what your airfare will be. And some of those factors change by the day.

Here’s a look at three of those factors, drawn from a Fox News article on the “9 Surprising Factors That Influence The Price Of Your Airline Ticket.”

  • The Price Of Oil: Gas prices ruin everything, from the cost of your daily trip to the office to the price tag on your plane ticket. Fuel has been airlines’ No. 1 operating expense since 2011, and so airlines keep adding fuel surcharges to the price.
  • The Timing Of Your Flight: Convenience is costly. So is flying when everyone else wants to fly. That’s why it can be extra pricey to fly on major holidays, spring break and even dates like the Super Bowl. The least-expensive days to fly: Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and sometimes Saturdays.
  • The Government: Yes, there really is a Sept. 11 Security Fee. It’s rising to $11.20 per round-trip flight later this year, and that’s on top of the taxes and other fees airlines tack on to the price of your ticket to pay the government.
  • Strike A Bargain: Looking for your best bet on ticket prices? Several websites, including Fare Detective, Kayak and even the search engine Bing now offer historical fare comparisons that will let you know when it’s “safe” to buy.

What’s the best deal you’ve ever gotten on a plane ticket? What’s the most you’ve ever paid? Share your booking tales with us in the comments section.

Avoid These Common Travel Scams

June 26, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

Benjamin Corey is an author, speaker, and blogger who frequently travels internationally, so he knows part of the travel game is for some locals to try to rip off unsuspecting tourists. He’s always on his guard and knows most travel scams. But after his flight to the Democratic Republic of Congo was delayed by a few hours, he found himself stranded outside the airport without his designated ride.

In a very dangerous area, he was very relieved when a taxi driver called his name and announced himself as the new ride. Turns out, this taxi driver was not his new designated ride at all, and Corey found himself in a life-or-death situation. Corey was able to draw on his years of experience and knowledge to escape the situation unharmed, frightened and embarrassed, but able to see where he went wrong. (It’s an interesting read.)

We were reminded of Benjamin’s story after seeing a Mental Floss article about several different travel scams flogged on unsuspecting tourists. Here are a few of our “favorites,” and how you can avoid them.

    Attention aux PickPockets (dans La Tour Eiffel...

    Attention aux PickPockets (dans La Tour Eiffel) @EiffelTower (Photo credit: dullhunk)

  • The Store Scam: A local starts up a conversation and mentions that his family owns a local store where you can get great deals on local goods. Deals that sound too good to be true (which should be your first clue). When you go to the store, you will be extorted and badgered for everything you have, and the deals aren’t that good to begin with.
  • The Change Scam: Merchants will often try to not give you exact change back, or give you change with incorrect exchange rates. To prevent this, carry small bills/coins or pay with your credit card. This helps you avoid getting shortchanged on the exchange rate as well.
  • The Taxi Scam: The very same scam that Benjamin Corey knew to avoid but still fell victim to. Before getting into cabs, ask if the driver knows the directions and for the ride fee. If he or she cannot answer, the ride is likely not legitimate. Try to only catch cabs in front of an airport or hotel, rather than just flagging one down that “looks like” a cab. If at all possible, arrange for a private driver to pick you up beforehand. Try to get a photo of your driver emailed to you, and ask him or her to confirm with you, even with a simple passphrase, like “John sent me.”
  • The Distraction Scam: You’re walking down the street. Someone bumps into you, spilling their drink or food on you in the process. They apologize and try to help clean you up, or so you think. You were actually just pickpocketed. Keep your money secured on your person, and don’t carry everything with you.
  • The Fake Cop scam: If a cop asks for you to pay a fine on the spot, he’s most likely looking for a bribe. Respond by politely saying you will only pay at a police station. Stick to this answer even if the cop becomes loud and aggressive.
  • The Dropped Ring Scam: A local will say he found a dropped gold ring, which likely isn’t even gold. He will give it to you, then demand a finder’s fee. He may even begin shouting to attract attention in the hopes of embarrassing you into paying. Don’t accept the ring in the first place, and just walk away. Drop it again, if necessary.

In all cases, it’s best to walk away from the situation as soon as you realize what’s going on. Never hand anyone your money, your camera, or any of your belongings. Keep your wallet and money in a secure place. And always take an official taxi; never accept a ride from a local.

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