4 Health Travel Apps We’d Like to See

January 22, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

A recent article in Forbes Magazine by Robert Szczerba pointed out some rather gaping holes in the travel and health app world. They all relate to dealing with medical emergencies while traveling abroad. This is one aspect of travel many people overlook; they don’t think that a sudden ailment or accident will come up as they daydream about their glorious trip to Italy they’re taking next summer.

Unfortunately, accidents do happen. Being struck down by a car or strep throat is no fun at any time, but especially if you’re in a foreign country where you don’t understand the customs or language.

Here are four useful apps Szczerba suggested and we’d like to see.

English: High View Chinese Medical Clinic

High View Chinese Medical Clinic (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Find-A-Clinic could help you find the closest clinic or medical care facility that could help you with whatever medical situation you’re dealing with. It would even have a way to notify the facility you were on the way.

InsuranceAssure would interface with your insurance and let you know what is covered and what isn’t in real time instead of waiting several days. (This may take longer than the others, given that it isn’t always possible to get a straight answer from someone on the phone, but it would at least be a start.)

MedBox would guide you to find the nearest pharmacy that carries the over the counter or prescription drugs you need for the situation you find yourself in. We’re fairly close on this one, since you can use a barcode scanner to read the UPC code of the needed product. You can do that right now in the United States and a few other parts of the world, but you need to have the UPC code on hand.

HealthyFoodAnywhere can help you find the healthiest places to eat. This is useful for healthy eaters, of course, but it could also help those with health problems, such as diabetes or heart disease. The app could also be invaluable for people with food allergies or even people who choose to eat a specific type of diet, such as vegetarian.

Even if these apps are never developed, it’s a good idea to carry a list of your prescriptions, health problems, and any other key information a health care worker would need if you do become sick while traveling.

What health travel apps have you been using? What would you like to see someone create? Leave us a comment on our Facebook page or in the comments below.

Bring This, Not That: Travel Items We Can’t Live Without

January 15, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

We’ve talked frequently about the things you should or shouldn’t take the next time you travel, especially on flights. But what are those things you absolutely can’t live without, the items that, if you forgot them, might ruin the entire trip.

We talked to several Travelpro employees about those little must-have items that make traveling more bearable and comfortable for them, and the things they always pack first, just to make sure they didn’t forget them.

For many people, the answer is electronics. One of the essentials (no surprise) is the smartphone. A smartphone keeps you connected (with talk, text, e-mail and social media), amused (games), and even serves important functions like keeping time and getting you around (maps).

Another key item is a laptop computer. Some folks just can’t be separated from their work even for a short little trip. While it’s nice to unplug once in a while, others don’t have that luxury (or personality).

This vintage hair dryer is from the 1970s.

This vintage hair dryer is from the 1970s.

A tablet is another new favorite. For those that can’t bear to travel without books, a tablet is a much lighter version that allows you to select new titles while you’re sitting at the airport. You can carry an entire library in a single device, and watch TV or movies on it later. Some tablets can replace the need for bringing a laptop.

And many people don’t want to move an inch without a more traditional device, the hairdryer.

With all these devices jockeying for space in your luggage, make sure you not only bring their charging cords, but also that you make sure you have the correct adapter if you’re traveling overseas.

Quite a number of the Travelpro women said they don’t move an inch without their makeup case. Looking your best on vacation or business is important, as is personal comfort. Several people mentioned neck pillows. Some folks want to make sure they have something comfortable to sleep in, or they bring their favorite t-shirts with them. You can bring exercise clothing along for the ride. Whether you make it to the gym or not, the idea that you’re making your health a priority for your trip can be of great psychological benefit.

Finally, when you’re packing for your trip, make sure you have a high quality suitcase! A poor quality bag can ruin your trip or even break open and leak all your favorite items. You need something durable, light, and tough enough to handle the rigors of airline travel.

What are your must-have travel items? What do you always take with you, no matter where you’re going? Leave a comment here on the blog or on our Facebook page.

Photo credit: H is for Home (Flickr, Creative Commons)

Track Ticket Prices and New Airline Fees to Get the Best Deal

January 13, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

The best way to keep track of ticket prices and airline fees? Check the travel sites every day, sometimes more than once, keep a spreadsheet of the results, and buy your tickets when you see the price hit its lowest.

Actually, that’s the worst way to do it. It wastes time and you can’t always be sure you’re finding the lowest fees. Plus, it’s difficult to keep track of alternate routes.

English: Photo of a mobile boarding pass (a 2D...

Photo of a mobile boarding pass on top of a paper boarding pass for a KLM flight. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A September blog post on Peter Greenberg’s travel blog discussed two great sites for tracking ticket prices and fees. These are the best ways to track your fees, because you can use it to find the average and lowest ticket prices for your chosen destination, as well as find the cheapest time of year to fly.

Hopper.com will do all of that, plus give you information on alternate places to fly to and from. That feature is pretty standard these days, but Hopper’s detailed breakdown isn’t. It’s the best place to find out if you’re really getting a deal on a ticket and to give you a heads up on what you can reasonably expect to pay. It even lists the lowest recent price, just to make you jealous.

There’s also AirfareWatchdog.com, which has several useful sections, including a large list of airline fees, listed by carrier. For example, you can see how much it costs to bring a pet into the cabin, or reserve tickets by phone instead of online. Watch out for new fees, such as a $5 fee for printing out your boarding pass at the airport. Instead, use your home printer or the airline’s smartphone app instead.

How do you keep track of ticket prices and fees? Do you use any special tools, or do you have the spreadsheet technique down pat? Leave us a comment below or on our Facebook page.

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.

How Not to Get Nickel-and-Dimed When Flying Low-Cost Airlines

December 30, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

The sad truth about the budget airlines is that they tend to charge extra for everything. You can get a cheap ticket, sure. But you’ll also have to pay extra for just about everything else. In some cases, you don’t get charged for luggage that fits under the seat in front of you, but you have to pay for luggage that goes into the overhead bins.

Of course, luggage charges are now part of just about every airline’s revenue stream. But a recent article in The New York Post indicates that the three lowest-cost airlines (Spirit, Frontier and Allegiant) have turned luggage upcharging into an art.

The terminal ceiling is suspended in a catenar...

Airport luggage check-in area. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When traveling on one of these low-cost airlines, make absolutely sure you don’t have to check a bag at the gate. Doing so can cost you big. For example, Spirit airlines charges under $30 for luggage that’s checked or carried on, but luggage that is checked at the gate comes with a whopping $100 price tag.

Allegiant has a lower starting point for overweight fees since their overages start at 41 pounds, whereas most other airlines start at 51 pounds. Pack light and weigh your luggage before you leave the house, if avoiding these fees is important to you. Carry a luggage scale with you to avoid return trip overages.

Allegiant also may be the only airline that charges a $10 fee to book online. You can avoid the fee by buying a “walk in” ticket at the airport, which seems risky if you’re planning a vacation. You may not get the flight you want, and the TSA will give you a closer look for those “spur of the moment” ticket purchases.

You also need to watch out for fees that are now becoming common in the airline industry at large. Printing out your boarding pass at the airport can be upcharged as can choosing which seat you want to sit in rather than just taking what the airline offers.

The main thing to keep in mind is that you need to be careful and do some research before buying a ticket. If it’s important to you to choose your seat and bring three large bags with you, you may end up paying the same price or more than you would for booking with a more traditional airline. Do your research beforehand, and compare prices before you book your ticket.

How do you avoid airline fees? Any useful tricks you’ve learned over the years? Share them in the comments below 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.

Hotels Join the Hidden Fee Movement: Previously Free Perks Now Cost $$

December 23, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

Sad to say, some hotels are climbing on board the fee gravy train. Things that used to be included can now sometimes incur charges for unsuspecting travelers.

Of course, everyone is familiar with, and usually wary of, the dreaded minibar fees. People know to avoid the minibar if they’re frugal, and they know they’ll get charged an arm and a leg for a beer or can of coke, if they do decide to indulge.

Fees for wifi have become fairly common, especially at high end hotels. But hotel fees are becoming more varied and sneaky.

English: Hotel / Casino New York-New York in L...

Hotel / Casino New York-New York in Las Vegas. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For instance, one of my colleagues recently stayed at a hotel that noted discreetly at the bottom of a page on its website, “We have taken typical hotel fees, discounted them, and rolled them into a resort amenities fee.”

The additional fee was only $7 per day, but items listed as worthy of the charge included pool chairs and an in-room coffee maker, things most hotel customers don’t expect to pay for.

Other surprising new fees are popping up: they’re charging for luggage storage, charging for receiving packages, and even in room safes. You name it, and there’s a fee for it.

One hotel has even taken the minibar charging to a new level. According to a Yahoo Travel article about hotel fees, a resort casino in Las Vegas has sensors in their fridges that can tell when something is moved. If an item is taken out, it will be charged to the room after 60 seconds. They charge $25 just to use the fridge to chill water you brought yourself.

As with anything else related to travel, do your due diligence. Figure out what fees you’ll need to cover before you make a reservation, and decide whether you’re willing to pay for them. In some cases, the fees are rolled into the cost of the initial booking, so you may need to do a little research if the thought of a hidden charge for having amenities you don’t use doesn’t thrill you.

What’s the most aggravating hidden fee you’ve encountered? Leave a comment here on the blog or on our Facebook page.

Bring This, Not That: Packing for Young Children

December 11, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

Many new parents are often tempted to pack almost the entire bedroom when planning to travel with their kids. They want to make sure they’re prepared for every contingency, every situation.

Don’t let this happen to you.

Your kids just don’t need as much stuff as you think they do to survive a flight — you only need the key essentials. There’s often a tendency by new parents to overdo it, because they want to have everything and anything they need.

English: A typical baby's diaper bag, over-sho...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Dragging an enormous diaper bag around the airport, in addition to everything else you have, is just going to exhaust you, and you’ll end up not using most of it anyway. Pack what they need: enough diapers, formula or snacks, one change of clothes, and a small blanket. Everything else you need can be checked in your regular baggage.

The other big concern when traveling with small children is keeping them entertained. The very little ones don’t need much at all, maybe a toy and a rattle. Your best hope is that they fall asleep on the flight, so try to arrange your schedule to make that happen.

Toddlers generally need more to keep them occupied, so a tablet can come in handy. If you don’t currently have an iPad, Galaxy, or Kindle Fire, we recommend getting one for traveling with children. You’ll get to enjoy it as well, so it’s a win-win situation.

Load your tablet with your children’s favorite movies, and some new ones, some games and puzzles, and a few of their favorite tunes. With this setup, you could keep your toddler occupied for the entire trip.

If your child has a favorite toy or blanket they’re emotionally attached to, you absolutely must bring it along. Otherwise, the pain of separation will be loud and heart wrenching to you, your child, and everyone seated nearby.

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.

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