Travel Robots Are Taking Over Our Vacations

June 4, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

While we still don’t have jetpacks, or personal hovercraft to take us to work, we are seeing more robots that assist travelers with mundane, easily automated tasks.

After reading about them in a Yahoo Travel article, these robots sound like they will add a lot of comfort and convenience to the weary traveler.

English: Amsterdam Schiphol Airport entrance

Amsterdam Schiphol Airport (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

First up is the car parking valet robot, located in Germany’s Düsseldorf Airport. This handy robot allows travelers to drop their cars off and then actually transports them to be held in a secret parking location. When you return, the parking robot will already have your car waiting for you, and you don’t have to tip. That sounds pretty great.

Another exciting robot is located at the award-winning Indianapolis airport. This robot is located atop a Segway and gives travelers directions around the airport. It’s like the virtual presence device Sheldon created on Big Bang Theory when he met Steve Wozniak.

Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport has included some robots on the payroll as well. These robots sort baggage and load it onto carts.

Royal Caribbean’s new ship, Quantum of the Seas has an even more exciting robot. It actually makes drinks! Travelers input drink orders into a tablet and the robot cranks them out for you.

And finally, Starwood’s Aloft hotel in Cupertino, California, has put a robot to work delivering room service. The main benefit here is that you don’t have to worry about looking respectable when your room service arrives. We’re not sure about the etiquette of robot tipping, however.

We do wonder how far away we are from fully automatic baggage checks. It seems like it would be a pretty great use of this type of technology and it sounds like some places are already halfway there.

We noticed that the bottom of the article contained a survey for readers to indicate how comfortable they are with the new robot technology that is beginning to surround us. Over half of those answering said they are excited about the technology with a much smaller percentage of people worried about robots taking jobs and/or destroying humanity.

How do you feel about robots in the travel business? Visit our Facebook page and leave a comment, or just leave one below. Let us hear from you.

Travel Hacks: Book Hard-to-Get Flights With Travel Miles

May 28, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

What do you do when you can’t find a way to use the miles you want at the particular time you want it. Airlines often black out popular travel dates. Or someone else may have nipped in and gotten the only mileage seats associated with a particular flight.

A recent article on Yahoo Travel discusses an issue arising from airlines giving out more and more bonus miles: they aren’t necessarily increasing the number of airline seats sufficient to absorb all these bonus flights.

Business class seat in a Lufthansa Boeing 747-400

Business class seat in a Lufthansa Boeing 747-400 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It can sometimes be difficult to use the very travel miles you’ve worked so hard to get, so here are some solutions Yahoo Travel offers:

  • Rather than booking online, call the airline. An agent may know some insider tricks to get you a seat.
  • Rather than use a free seat, use your miles to upgrade an economy seat to the business section. The article cites the example of buying a $300 ticket from New York to LA and then upgrading to business with your miles. You pay a fee, but end up with a $2,400 ticket. We encourage you to use these upgrades on very long or international flights, however. If you have a lot of miles, you’ll sometimes be automatically bumped up to a business class seat when traveling within the U.S.
  • Use award maps to see where you can spend the miles and be flexible about your destination.
  • Think about using alternate airports. If you can get a mileage ticket to near where you’re going, you can then rent a car or hop on a train to your final destination. Keep the convenience of getting to where you’re going in mind before you decide on doing this.
  • Have a mileage guru help you out. (For a fee, of course.)
  • Book your tickets far in advance or very quickly to avoid someone else getting your seat.

Have you found some travel hacks to using your travel miles? Share them with us or on our Facebook page.

Travel Mistakes You’re Not Too Smart to Make

May 21, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

A recent article on Conde Nast Traveler discusses some common travel mistakes that many travelers think they’re too smart to make.

In other words, even the wiliest traveler can fall prey to these common trip-ups from time to time.

This includes mistakes like paying the airline ticket change fees. Instead of paying a high change fee, the article suggests that you go with an airline that will allow you to change tickets fairly easily if you need to. American Airlines has a travel insurance-like program that does cost a bit, but lets you make changes for free. And Southwest tickets can generally be changed for free if you make the move far enough in advance or for a fairly small amount closer to departure.

English: Cafe Evropa in Prague Ελληνικά: Η Αρ-...

Cafe Evropa in Prague (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Another thing that stood out to us was the credit card foreign transaction fee when traveling internationally. You generally want to use your credit card when traveling to get the best exchange rate, but having to pay a fee works against you. So try to get a credit card that doesn’t charge a foreign transaction fee and carry some cash to use for small purchases. If you are traveling overseas, try to exchange your money at your local bank. Generally, the exchange fees are lower than exchanging at your overseas destination.

The article also recommends that you don’t try to tough it out and figure out everything in your destination on your own. Instead, take some time to ask someone at your hotel how to do something or how to get to a particular destination. You can waste your vacation getting overly wrapped up in basic logistics, when you could find the fastest mode of transportation and spend more time enjoying the sights.

Do research in advance so you know ahead of time where you want to go. You can even learn whether the place you intend to stay has a helpful staff. The last thing you want to do is spend your whole vacation floundering around looking for where you want to go.

On a structured trip where you’re going to stop at several destinations, be careful that you don’t miss the one place you want to go. The article suggests that if you have a particular destination on your trip that is particularly dear to you, you should start or end your vacation there to make sure you’re able to make it, rather than squeezing it in somewhere in the middle.

Travel insurance is something we suggest you consider, especially on long trips or those once-in-a-lifetime trips. It’s something that many travelers routinely decline, but in the case that an emergency comes up, it can be a real life saver and money saver.

What are some travel mistakes you’ve made, or work hard to avoid? Leave us a comment and let us hear from you. Or stop by our Facebook page and share your ideas with our Facebook fans.

Traveling Ultra Light: What to Leave Behind

May 19, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

A recent article on About Travel, a student travel website, brings up the issue of what items you should leave behind when traveling. We think the advice could apply to anyone, although the advice for hostels may indeed be more of a student/cheap traveler thing. (We’ll leave the youth hostels to our younger compatriots!)

A lot of the advice boils down to the simple recommendation that you act like you do at home instead of gearing up and buying a lot of specialty items. For instance, the author said she paid $100 for a silk sleeping bag liner that she had never used.

Wenger Swiss Army knife, opened.

Wenger Swiss Army knife. These aren’t always necessary, unless you’re going camping. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The article also discusses the fact that money belts aren’t necessarily as useful as some may think. Just be conscious and careful as you are at home with your money. A Swiss army knife is another overrated item. It can be useful, but isn’t strictly necessary because things you need will probably be available unless you’re camping.

And don’t buy dedicated travel clothes. Just wear what you normally wear instead of buying special clothes. People do tend to over pack in general. You can’t really pack for every possible situation unless you want to deal with a massive suitcase. Just plan in advance, and figure out how to do laundry while you’re on your trip.

You can also assume that wherever you’re going, they have stores and you can purchase something if you have an emergency.

Another thing to think about: Do you need to take a laptop on a non-business trip? Especially if you have a tablet or even a smartphone. You can give up that luxury of the bigger screen for efficiency. You’d be surprised at what you can accomplish with a smartphone, and a pen and notebook.

The advice in the article and from TravelPro boils down to keeping common sense in mind when packing. Be realistic about what you will really need while you’re traveling and try to think back to other trips where certain items have sat in your luggage for the entire time. Leave that stuff behind.

What are some travel items you’ve learned to live without? Visit our Facebook page and leave a comment, or just leave one below. Let us hear some of your travel secrets.

Bring This, Not That: Work On a Vacation

May 14, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

At TravelPro we encourage folks to take “real” vacations where they can truly unplug, disconnect, and fully relax.

However, I’ll admit to weeding through my email inbox and taking care of easy emails during the break, just so I’m not buried on my first day back. That can almost take the joy out of time off!

But other than that, I don’t take work with me during the time I’m supposed to be enjoying time with my family. I think it’s important that we distance ourselves from work as much as possible. Here’s why you should leave your work at home the next time you take a vacation.

A change of scenery can let you refresh yourself mentally. People with stressful jobs may need a break. We think there should be an opportunity to shut off and log out. Studies have shown that taking time off is actually good for you both physically and even professionally.

Cruise ship Norwegian Dawn leaving Ney York Ci...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Taking time off can actually help rejuvenate your work life. You come back with a renewed sense of energy and perhaps even a different perspective. Things that seemed like huge problems before your trip no longer seem so daunting. People who seemed extremely annoying no longer make you grit your teeth. And you may find that a true break makes you appreciate your job when you come back because you can almost see it with new eyes.

On the other hand, some folks enjoy working while traveling because it gives them the ability to take longer vacations. Or they have a job that allows them to work from anywhere, thus encouraging a lifestyle of more travel and exploration, without needing to be “at work.” In those cases, you can take longer vacations if you take work with you.

Even if you plan to work during your vacation, if you’re going to family events, focus on your family and be present rather than investing time in going through work on your phone. It can be seen as rude, especially if you don’t get to see them very often.

What are your thoughts on taking work on vacation? Have you? Would you? What are some ways you disconnect from life at home while you’re on a break? Leave us a comment below or stop by our Facebook page and share your thoughts.

4 Ways to Prevent Your Miles From Expiring

May 5, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

Airlines are tightening their mileage programs, raising the rates, and setting expiration dates on unused miles. This has travelers looking for new ways to get additional miles, and to hang on to their old miles until they can finally reclaim them.

The Huffington Post recently addressed one of the frequent traveler’s most burning dilemmas: how do you keep your frequent flier miles from expiring?

English: Express by Holiday Inn, Inverness The...

Holiday Inn Express, Inverness, Scotland (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

First, it’s a good idea to keep track of your miles, especially if you’re using more than one loyalty program. The article suggests AwardWallet as a helpful tool. It not only keeps track of your miles, but also alerts you when something is about to expire.

HuffPo also notes that most programs simply require some form of activity every 18 to 24 months in order to keep your rewards on board. And in some cases, not much activity at all is required in order to count. You can often find partners that work with the airline or hotel and do something simple, such as ordering flowers, to keep your miles active.

Best of all, all the miles renew when you do this, not just certain miles as many people think.

Other options include using a hotel or airline website as a shopping portal for your online purchases.

You can even trade miles around using an online travel point exchange, such as points.com.

For instance, if you have 5,000 Holiday Inn Points and 20,000 Delta points, for around 10 percent of the points, you could transfer the Holiday Inn points to your Delta points account. This is very helpful if you have no upcoming plans to stay at a Holiday Inn.

It works almost like a co-op or a bank. The companies themselves aren’t working on these exchanges but simply allowing people to trade points via the points.com website. It’s a really handy way to keep at least some of your travel points alive.

What are you doing to keep your travel points from expiring? Share some of your best tips with us in the comments or on our Facebook page.

How is Airbnb Changing the Travel Industry?

April 28, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

You’ve no doubt heard of Airbnb, the online travel site that allows travelers to book stays in private homes and apartments, working directly with the hosts. It’s a fantastic way to get a good deal on a room, find a larger space to rent, and even meet local people while you’re traveling.

Many of the rental properties are actually private homes with rooms where travelers can interact with hosts on their own stomping grounds. You can also rent entire homes, cabins, or apartments for one night, or a few weeks.

You can chit chat with your host, eat a home cooked breakfast and get travel tips straight from the locals sitting across the table from you.

According to a recent segment on CBS News, Airbnb booked 37 million room nights last year.

Sansome & Lombard Streets in San Francisco

Sansome & Lombard Streets in San Francisco

“It’s not just a gamechanger, it’s a huge gamechanger,” said travel writer Peter Greenberg.

Airbnb is mainly a place for leisure travelers not business travelers, although if you wanted a little adventure, business travelers can partake as well.

In San Francisco, Greenberg noted, there are almost as many Airbnb available as there are hotel rooms.

And in a place like San Francisco, which is so expensive, looking for a homeowner with an affordable spare room is a fantastic option for tapped out travelers.

We even know someone who rented a room in Manhattan for $90 a night while nearby hotels were around $200. She even got free parking in front of the apartment building.

Another friend booked a small cabin in rural Idaho on a working goat farm, where she and her family were treated to ice cream made by the property owners and daily romps with goats.

We suspect that Airbnb is only going to grow and get bigger and better, especially as people are trying to stretch their travel dollars, as well as expand their horizons.

Have you ever stayed in a Airbnb property? What did you think? Would you do it again? Leave us a comment and let us know.

Photo credit: Brad Coy (Flickr, Creative Commons)

5 Hotel Scams You Need to Know About

April 23, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

We’ve talked about hotel scams in the past, but it’s always good to review alarming information from the world around us.

We found a Yahoo Travel article on different travel scams that revealed some of our old favorites, as well as several new ones worth bringing to your attention.

When you’re staying at a hotel, the restaurant menu under the door is an old trick. Someone slides a menu under your door. You call and order takeout, and trustingly give out your credit card information. Except that’s no restaurant on the other end of the line. Instead, it’s a thief taking down your info and using your card information for nefarious purposes.

Bahasa Indonesia: Fasilitas WIFI Pusdiklat Dep...

Bahasa Indonesia: Fasilitas WIFI (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Beware of wifi skimming. This happens when a scammer sets up a “Free Wifi” hotspot for you to sign onto. Once you do, your passwords can easily be harvested by the scammer. Just resist the urge to sign on when you see free wifi.

It’s very easy to fake but if you know what to look for, you should be able to see the signs. Small things like a @ or % at the front of the wifi name, or Free_Hotel_Wifi mean you should avoid those like the plague.

A new (to us) scam we never thought of is the faked hotel views. For instance, before booking that expensive beach view hotel, check out the address on Google Street View and see if it really is close to the beach. With Google Street View, you really can see the view from the particular place you’re renting.

Another common scam is the fake front desk calls. They’ll tell you there’s something wrong with your credit card, and could you please give them the number again to confirm it. If you get that kind of call, go down to the front desk and make sure they actually did call you.

Have you ever been scammed? What’s the one people have tried on you? Leave a comment and let us know if there’s anything new we should watch out for.

Travel Secrets You Can Learn Sitting Next to a Pilot

April 21, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

You can learn a lot from people, even on your travels, if you just talk to them on occasion. While most people don’t like to talk to their seat mates on a plane, a recent article on Yahoo revealed a few secrets the author, Leah Ginsberg, learned when flying back from Central America seated next to two off-duty pilots.

One of the things we had never thought of was to wipe everything in the vicinity of your seat down with antibacterial wipes. We were also surprised to hear that you should never touch the faucet handles in a plane. Apparently, pilots know some terrifying facts about germs on planes, although there’s always the possibility that this particular pilot happens to be a germaphobe.

Still, we plan to travel with antibacterial wipes until we hear differently.

We also learned why plane windows are oval: Original plane windows were square, which for some reason was more open to cracking. And cracked windows can lead to window blow-outs, which lead to plane crashes. So next time you’re on a flight, take a moment to appreciate the safe rounded-corner window you’re looking out of.

And pilots, it turns out, are just like us! They like to look out the window, they use travel hacks, and they get tired of each other after long periods spent in each other’s company.

Ginsberg also noted the two pilots she sat next to paid careful attention to the flight attendants directions and followed the rules like champions.

What’s something cool you’ve learned from flying, whether it’s about airplanes, or just from a fellow (non-pilot) passenger? Leave us a comment and let us know.

Marriott Tests In-Room Netflix Service

April 16, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

If you’re staying in a Marriott hotel and find you miss your Netflix, Hulu, and Pandora, and don’t want to chew up the data on your cell phone, you’re in luck. Marriott is planning a new in-room entertainment service that includes access to the three entertainment streaming services.

A Yahoo Travel article reported that Marriott is working with a number of different content providers to get their different hotel chains up and running with the latest in on-demand programming.

English: Copenhagen Marriott Hotel Dansk: Cope...

Copenhagen Marriott Hotel (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We think this is a smart move on Marriott’s part, because it not only helps the people who already have the service, but it could be a lower-cost alternative to the in-room movies or trying to catch up with the shows you may have missed.

Its usefulness will boil down to how much it costs. Hotels already charge a lot of money just to watch movies, so if this service will cost an arm and a leg, it may not be worth it to many travelers.

On the other hand, sometimes when people are bored and trapped in a hotel room, they’ll pay for anything. What else can explain the continued existence of the minibar?

And if Marriott can come up with an affordable way to do this, especially for people who already have accounts, or make it affordable for people who want to take the services for a test drive, it seems like a great idea.

It also seems like allowing people to view Netflix on the hotel TV instead of wifi would be a great way to free up some wifi bandwidth, which tends to get bogged down, as people watch Netflix on their laptops and tablets.

However, Marriott seems to also be exploring the option of allowing guests to upgrade to a paid “premium” Internet connection.

Since guests with Netflix and similar accounts can already access those services through wifi, they could get a guaranteed high-speed service. Or Marriott could throttle video streaming through their regular wifi, which would force viewers to shell out for the extra bandwidth.

Access to movies and music that doesn’t have to endure a long load time can perhaps be considered worth paying for, especially if your kids need it to settle down after a long day on the road.

What do you think? Would you pay extra for Netflix in your hotel room? Leave us a comment and let us know.

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