Mitch Joel’s Best Piece of Travel Advice

February 4, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

Many people ask: what’s the secret to a positive air travel experience? Having traveled plenty in my lifetime, I have survived every possible scenario: flight delays, cancelled flights, red eye flights, missed connections and stressful flights. Along the way, I’ve learned a lot about how to travel better and more efficiently. So what’s the secret to a stress free trip?

Mitch Joel on Marketing Yourself

Mitch Joel on Marketing Yourself (Photo credit: watchmojo)

To summarize a recent post by Mitch Joel, seize the moment.

As they say, preparation is everything, and this is especially true for air travel. This means filling out your customs declaration form the night before, and checking in and printing your boarding pass in advance. Packing snacks in case you’re stuck sitting on a runway, and using a carry-on bag instead of checking luggage whenever possible. Come prepared with magazines, books or other entertainment so you don’t find yourself rushing through the airport to grab a magazine before your flight boards.

If you’re flying across several time zones, my number one tip is to get acclimated to your new time zone before you arrive. Before your plane takes off, set your watch to your new time zone and adjust your routine accordingly. This may mean that you’ll be sleeping while others on your flight are eating lunch, but so be it. Many people spend a full day recuperating from jet lag when traveling across several time zones. A day spent sleeping off jet lag could be a day spent touring a city, spending time with your family or getting extra work done.

Finally, if you’re a frequent traveler, consider applying for a program such as the TSA Precheck which will allow you to move through security lines faster – or in some cases, skip them entirely. This investment can ultimately save you up to an hour per trip – and if you travel often, that can result in days of saved time.

What’s your best piece of travel advice? Share with us in the comments section below.

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Bring This, Not That: Allergy Food Items

January 30, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

If you or someone you know has a severe food allergy or dietary restriction, you know that dining away from home can be a nerve wracking experience. Depending on your allergy or dietary restriction, you may have a difficult time finding acceptable menu items. And if your allergic reaction is severe or life threatening, you’re putting a lot of trust in the people who are serving and cooking your food. Traveling with a food allergy brings an entirely new set of challenges and may require a lot of planning.

With this in mind, we posed the question: should individuals with food allergies or dietary restrictions bring their own food or simply improvise while on the road?

First and foremost, where are you visiting? Depending on where you’re traveling to, you may have a wide variety of allergy-free food items within reach. For example, if you’re visiting a large US city such as New York, Chicago or Los Angeles, you’ll probably find dozens of excellent restaurants that accommodate specific allergies or restrictions, including gluten-free bakeries, vegetarian restaurants, and so on.

Tasty Food Abundance in Healthy Europe

Tasty Food Abundance in Healthy Europe (Photo credit: epSos.de)

In this case, you’ll definitely want to leave your personal food items at home and venture out to explore the many options available! On the flip side, if you’re visiting a small town, you may want to pack a few emergency food items. For example, someone who is gluten intolerant may want to pack a box of gluten free energy bars for backup in case the only convenient breakfast option available is a grain-heavy continental breakfast at your hotel.

A good rule of thumb: do your research before you go. Use a site like Yelp or an allergy specific site such as allergyeats.com to find restaurants that can accommodate your dietary needs.

Furthermore, if you’re visiting a foreign country where you don’t speak the language, make sure you know how to properly communicate your dietary needs in the local language, even if it means writing it down on a piece of paper and showing your waiter.

The final consensus? While you may want to bring a few allergy friendly backup items such as snack bars, your best bet is to leave your personal groceries at home, do some research and venture out and (safely) explore the local cuisine.

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When Hotel Rooms Become Mini-Spas

January 28, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

Say ‘sayonara’ to letting go and doing without while traveling. Thanks to the health and wellness craze that has swept the country, some hotels are now revamping their offerings to include amenities that target travelers concerned about healthy living. Upscale hotels have always gone the extra mile for their guests by offering things like complimentary treats, upscale gyms and high end toiletries, but how about a “running concierge”?

Both the Westin Hotel chain as well as The James Hotels have hired staff members who will give travelers local running tips; The James Hotel even offers running tours of New York City and Chicago. After their morning run, travelers can indulge in gluten free, organic and low calorie menu options at many hotels. Healthy eating and exercise options are the tip of the iceberg. While healthy menus and plentiful exercise options aren’t too outlandish, some hotels are taking the wellness craze one step further — or one step too far, depending on your outlook.

English: MGM Grand Hotel, Las Vegas.

English: MGM Grand Hotel, Las Vegas. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For example, this past December the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas increased the number of their “stay well” suites (which cost $30 more per night) to a whopping 171 rooms featuring high tech amenities that have been endorsed by famed guru Deepak Chopra and other wellness experts. Dubbed the hypochondriac hotel by some, the rooms feature anti-microbial coating on bacteria susceptible surfaces such as doorknobs and countertops and a dedicated cleaning crew that will come armed with UV wands to sanitize and HEPA-filtered vacuum cleaners. If you’re planning on pulling an all-nighter in the casino, these rooms may be just what you’re looking for, you’re in luck – the rooms also feature melatonin-friendly lighting and dawn-simulator alarm clocks, allowing travelers to sleep as late as they please and still get the sunlight they need. As if that wasn’t enough, guests can enjoy a Vitamin C infused shower, which is said to neutralize chlorine and promote healthy hair and skin.

According to Stephanie Serino, a New York-based travel agent, “Business travelers want to keep their regimen going. I do have them asking for perks that go beyond the gym.” However, she adds “for many consumers who do care about wellness, a gym and a few healthy restaurants nearby will likely suffice.”

Would you spend an extra $30 per night to stay in a room with top-of-the-line wellness options? Share with us on our Facebook page.

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Six Tips to Embarrass Yourself Abroad

January 23, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

We hate to admit it, but it’s no secret that we Americans have a reputation for being, well, a little embarrassing abroad. While this is only as true as other stereotypes you encounter (i.e. not much), it’s still a stigma that should make American travelers a little more aware of their behavior when visiting other countries.

No matter where you’re from or what country you visit, it’s always a good idea to keep your manners in check when traveling abroad. With this in mind, we’ve compiled a list of six sure-fire ways to embarrass yourself abroad.

1. Not being able to say ‘thank you’

While you probably don’t have the time to become fluent in Italian before visiting Italy, you should at least know enough to be polite. Before you travel, take some time to learn the obvious phrases. After all, if someone came up to you on a street in America saying, “Dov’è il bagno?” (where’s the bathroom?), you’d have no idea what they meant, and keep walking.

2. Wearing sweatpants

In America, we love to wear sweatpants, yoga pants and hoodies when running errands. If you do so in many other countries, be prepared to stick out like a sore thumb. When visiting another country, it’s a good idea to put your best foot forward – and make sure that foot isn’t wearing flip flops.

3. Complaining

English: A bicyclist in Amsterdam, the Netherl...

English: A bicyclist in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Nederlands: Een fietster in Amsterdam, Nederland. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

No matter where you go, you’re going to find plenty of things that are very different than America. While you may instinctively want to comment on the differences, don’t. When in doubt, act as if you’re in someone else’s home. Some things may seem a little strange, but it would be rude to mention it, right?

4. Getting impatient

We Americans have a need for speed. However, many countries move at a slower pace and enjoying a relaxing meal at a restaurant is the norm. If your waiter is moving a bit slower than you’d like, don’t get frustrated — use it as an opportunity to r-e-l-a-x.

5. Not eating the local fare

We recently heard about a young woman who spent two weeks in Europe and only ate pizza or hamburgers everywhere she went. Don’t turn your nose up at the local cuisine or ask a restaurant if they can ‘Americanize’ a dish. Take a risk and order something new – you just may like it. And if you don’t, refer to #3.

6. Being ignorant to local etiquette

Did you know that in Hawaii, it’s rude to surf at the locals’ beach, and in Bali, it’s impolite to visit a temple without a ‘blessing’ such as a basket of flower petals? Before you travel, always do your research. With so much information at our fingertips online, you have no excuse not to.

We’d love to hear your thoughts. Do you have anything that you’d add to this list? Tell us in the comments section below, or post your comment on our Facebook page.

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Airlines Promise to Return Civility, But It’ll Cost You

January 9, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

Once again, airlines are charging their customers new fees in an effort to boost revenue. If you’re getting ready to roll your eyes, not so fast – once you hear some of the perks that accompany these optional fees, you may be more than willing to fork over the extra dough.

It’s no secret that airlines make the majority of their revenue from the extra fees they charge, namely, baggage fees, in-flight meals, cancellation fees, and the like. While we’re all guilty of griping about airline fees (and no one likes paying them), many consumers don’t realize that thanks to the high cost of oil, these additional fees help keep fare prices from skyrocketing – up to 15% higher, according to some experts. In fact, such fees bring in more than $15 billion a year and are one of the reasons many airlines are profitable.

Julie Watching Ponyo on Plane

Photo credit: camknows

Unfortunately, revenue from such fees is dropping. According to recent figures released by the government, 2013′s Q2 revenue from bag fees fell seven percent compared to the same period last year. In other words, airlines are now scrambling to find new sources of revenue, and this means more fees.

Thankfully, airlines have learned a lesson from their last few fee changes. Instead of opting to charge customers more for things that used to be free, they’re using this as an opportunity to find new ways to improve their customers’ travel experience by offering VIP worthy perks and services in exchange for a small fee. While some of these upgrades have been around for a while (think access to private lounges or a seat with extra legroom on your flight), some of these new upgrades are designed to make travelers’ lives easier.

For example, we’ve all had those times when we need to get work done on our flight, but can barely fit a large, unwieldy laptop on the tray table. To remedy this issue, some airlines are now offering in-flight iPad rentals. You’ve probably also had those moments where you find yourself wishing you’d sprung for the extra leg room upgrade – now, many airlines are offering in-flight upgrades. And, our personal favorite, some carriers are even offering luggage delivery service.

As airlines begin to focus more on customer experience, particularly through the use of technology, we expect that we’ll see more perks come available in the future. According to John F. Thomas of aviation and travel consulting company L.E.K. Consulting, “We’ve moved from takeaways to enhancements. It’s all about personalizing the travel experience.”

Would you pay extra for VIP-worthy add-ons? If so, what type of perks would you like to see airlines offer? Share with us in the comments section or via our Facebook page.

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Expedited CLEAR Security Lanes Open at San Jose Airport

January 7, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

If you’ve ever wished you could bypass extensive airport security lines, now you can. A private traveler program called CLEAR now gives travelers the opportunity to jump to the head of the airport security line — think of it as a sort of high tech version of Disney’s Fast Track pass.

It may sound too good to be true, but it’s not. In fact, the CLEAR program was awarded Safety Act Certification by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, making it the only expedited traveler program to be placed on the “Approved Product List for Homeland Security.”

How CLEAR Works

Is it just me or are TSA lines getting longer ...

Is it just me or are TSA lines getting longer at airports? (Photo credit: Wayan Vota)

In order to join the CLEAR program, interested participants are required to go through a somewhat extensive application process. Those who wish to participate in the program need to provide everything from their social security number to the make and model of their car. Additionally, participants must have their iris and thumb print scanned and pay $179 per year for their membership.

Once approved, users will receive their microchipped CLEARcard, which they can then present to CLEAR representatives at participating airlines. Once scanned (they asked for those iris and thumb print scans for a reason), members can then proceed to the front of the security line. The only downside to the CLEAR program is that, unlike the TSA’s Pre-Check program, CLEAR members must still go through the standard TSA security screening process, shoe removal and all.

Currently, the CLEAR program is available in seven airports within the United States: San Francisco, San Jose, Denver, Dallas/Fort Worth, San Antonio, Orlando, and Westchester County. The program also has two more Texas locations on the way.

So the real question is, at $179 per year, is the CLEAR program worth it? That depends on where you’re flying to and from, and how often you travel. As they say, time is money, so if you frequently fly in and out of one of the participating airports, the $179 per year fee might be worth the ability to breeze through airport security in five minutes.

Would you participate in the CLEAR program, or are you a current member? Share your thoughts in the comments section below or on our Facebook page.

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How To Travel Like a Pro

December 26, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

While traveling can be an enriching, wonderful, life changing experience, it can also be stressful, especially if you’re not well prepared. Whether you’re traveling for business or pleasure, there are certain things you can do to ensure your trip goes as smoothly as possible. We have compiled a list of our five favorite travel tips from the TravelPro team and other travel industry experts to ensure your next trip goes off without a hitch.

1. Get in the (time) zone

There’s nothing worse than wasting the first day of your trip feeling completely jet-lagged. Instead of making an abrupt switch, set your watch to the time zone you’ll be visiting as soon as you board your flight and act accordingly. This means that if you’re visiting Thailand and it’s 11pm Indochina Time, then guess what? Time for some shut eye.

2. Invest in an international SIM card

An AT&T SIM Card before being taken out and pu...

An AT&T SIM Card before being taken out and put in use in a mobile telephone. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you travel abroad quite often, an international travelers’ SIM card is worth the investment. You can pick these up on sites like Ekit and most work in over one hundred countries around the world. You can even register your SIM card with Ekit and have it map your journey, allowing friends and family members to not only follow your travels, but ensure you’re alive and well.

3. Get your finances in order

If you’re leaving the country, do your research. Your debit card may be useless in many countries. In some places (such as Myanmar), ATMs are not connected to international networks, whereas in others (i.e. Japan), you’ll find that your card isn’t even the correct size for ATMs. Also, don’t just inform your bank of your travel plans once. Be sure to call and confirm they’ve noted your account before you leave. Finally, exchange a small amount of money — enough to last a day or so — prior to leaving the United States. In the event that you run into issues withdrawing money, you won’t find yourself stranded and penniless in a foreign country.

4. Plan for the worst

As the saying goes, expect the best, but plan for the worst. Leave copies of your itinerary and all travel documents with a trusted friend or family member. Hide an emergency credit card and back-up identification in an inconspicuous location, keep scanned copies of everything (especially your passport!) on your computer, and back-up your photos as often as possible. If you are pick-pocketed or your hotel room is robbed, you’ll be grateful you took these extra precautions.

5. Don’t make it obvious you’re a traveler

Nothing screams “I’m new here!” than walking around with tags on your luggage. As soon as you pass through customs, be sure to rip the tags off of your bags and discard them. If you need to pick up a taxi to your hotel, leave the international area make your way over to domestic arrivals. Chances are, you’ll end up paying less for that ride anyway, since some international cab drivers try to take advantage of foreign visitors.

Are you a savvy traveler? Have you picked up any valuable tips on your travels? Share your tips with other travelers in the comments section.

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Travel Tip: Getting On a Plane During Cold and Flu Season

December 24, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

There’s nothing worse than taking a flight when cold and flu season is in full swing. Combine the confined space with that nonstop cougher across the aisle, and you’re almost guaranteed to wake up at your destination with a scratchy throat. Fortunately, with a little education and preparation, you can dodge any viruses that come your way, even if you find yourself sharing a seat with your neighbor’s gross used tissues.

Why is it easier to pick up the cold or flu on a plane? Many of us seem to have an easier time getting sick when flying. While many people believe it’s due to the “recycled air” on flights, that’s actually a bit of a myth. In general, most planes use a 50/50 mix of outside and recycled air, while some planes actually use more outside air. Additionally, newer airplanes are equipped with HEPA air filters that capture 99.9% of particles, including airborne viruses.

Tray Tables Up

Tray tables can often be carrying a lot of germs. (Photo credit: nep)

So what’s the real culprit? Well, aside from any sick people in your immediate area, it’s actually the germs that linger on the surfaces you touch — the seatback tray, arm rests, seat, and so on. You know, the areas of the plane that dozens of people have touched, rested on… maybe even drooled on? And let’s be honest, those airplane bathroom sinks don’t really lend themselves to a good hand washing. To prevent picking up a virus from the surfaces on the plane, wipe everything down with an antibacterial wipe, use hand sanitizer while in-flight and give your hands a good washing with anti-bacterial soap when you first arrive at your destination.

Another common cause of the post-flight virus is low cabin humidity. At very low levels of humidity, we become dehydrated and the mucus in our noses and throats (i.e. our natural defense system) dries up, making it that much easier for germs to invade our system. In order to prevent this from happening, it’s important to stay well-hydrated while traveling. Drink plenty of water before and during your flight and consider using saline nasal drops to keep your sinuses hydrated.

The next time you’re getting ready to fly, don’t forget to stock up on antibacterial wipes, hand sanitizer and perhaps a few vitamin C tablets for good measure.

Do you have a tried-and-true method for staying healthy while flying? Share with us in the comments section.

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Automated Passport Control Installed at Montréal-Trudeau

December 19, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

If you have flown internationally more than once, you’ve likely found yourself tied up in a frustratingly long customs line upon arriving at your destination. Between having to fill out customs forms and wait while dozens of people in front of you are questioned by customs officials, there is a good chance you will find yourself waiting anywhere from a few minutes to an hour in order to officially enter your destination country. Now, some airports are attempting to fix this issue through the use of a new Automated Passport Control (APC) program.

The APC kiosks – which were developed by the Vancouver Airport Authority and U.S. Customs and Border Protection – were first tested in Vancouver International Airport and Chicago O’Hare International Airport with great success. Designed to help travelers move more quickly through the border clearance process by entering information at a self-service kiosk, the APC can be used by all U.S. and Canadian passport holders.

Passport US

Passport US (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At the touch screen self-service kiosk, travelers will be prompted to answer a series of questions. Once finished, a receipt will be issued and travelers will present their passport, travel information and receipt to an officer for verification.

Dylan DeFrancisci, Director of Customers and Border Protection Preclearance Operations, told FutureTravelExperience.com: “Automated Passport Control is a key component of CBP’s modernization strategy at ports of entry. By allowing travelers the option to enter their own passport and identification information at the self-service kiosk, we are able to increase efficiency while enhancing security.”

At O’Hare Airport, the average U.S. Customs wait time during peak hours was reduced by 33% and the number of passengers waiting for more than 60 minutes has dropped by 58% and the number of passengers missing their connecting flights fell by 31%. Thanks to its success, the Automated Passport Control program has been expanded to several more airports throughout North America, including the Montréal-Trudeau Airport.

We’d love to hear your feedback! Do you think these kiosks are a step in the right direction, or do you feel the traditional customs clearance method is best? If you’ve had opportunity to use one of the new Automated Passport Control kiosks, how was the experience? Share with us in the comments section below, or via our Facebook page.

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Southwest Airlines Begins Enforcing ‘No-Show’ Policy

December 17, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

When it comes to budget air travel, Southwest Airlines is the go-to option for many savvy travelers. While Southwest’s fares may have risen slightly in the last few years (according to some experts, up to 39% over the last five years) the airline continues to offer an array of complimentary perks that are practically unheard of in a time when airlines seem to be continually looking for new fees to charge their customers.

While many airlines are beginning to charge fees not just for checked baggage, but also for carry on luggage, Southwest Airlines continues to offer free checked bags. In fact, each passenger is allowed to check up to two bags free of charge. The airline also offers smaller perks, such as complimentary snacks in-flight. However, one of the biggest perks Southwest offers is one that many travelers were unaware of: until recently, passengers could no-show for a flight without penalty. Instead, the value of their ticket would simply be applied to their account as a credit for future use, no questions asked.

A Southwest Airlines Boeing 737-300 (N626SW) p...

A Southwest Airlines Boeing 737-300 (N626SW) pictured before touching down on the runway at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, Nevada, United States. The aircraft is painted in Southwest’s canyon blue primary livery. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Recently, however, Southwest Airlines opted to change its ultra-forgiving policy to one that penalizes travelers that simply no-show for flights. While the airline is becoming a bit more strict, Southwest’s policy still remains extremely forgiving, especially in comparison to other major airlines. While passengers who no-show for their flight will lose the face value of their ticket, not all hope is lost.

Under their new no-show policy, Southwest Airlines will continue to credit the face value of the ticket to a customer’s account as long as they notify the airline of their absence within 10 minutes of the flight’s scheduled departure. Additionally, customers can still make changes to nonrefundable tickets ahead of time without penalty. In contrast, most major airlines charge up to $200 for itinerary changes.

While Southwest’s new policy does tighten the reins a bit, we’re not complaining. After all, giving the airline notice of your cancellation up to ten minutes before the flight leaves a simple trade-off in exchange for the ability to change your itinerary up to the day of travel. Without breaking the bank.

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