Biggest Mistakes People Make When Traveling

March 12, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

A recent article in Yahoo travel about the mistakes that travelers tend to make got us thinking about our own advice for travelers.

One tip we make over and over is not having cash in hand before we set out on our travels. Although we mostly recommend that travelers use their cards when traveling and to have a limited amount of cash before you set out is extremely helpful because some places in the area you’re visiting might not take cards (for example, the toll booths on the Florida turnpike don’t take plastic).

Nice ATM

ATM (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of our employees has upcoming travel plans that include Spain and he plans to get Euros at his bank before he heads out. He says that using ATMs overseas can be dicey in that you may have your card flagged. We also feel that the exchange places at and near the airports can be overpriced.

We also believe not researching your destination is a huge mistake. Know what you want to visit before you go. Otherwise, you may end up in a beautiful area and not know what’s so great about it. Smartphones can help in this case, but they may not know important tourist destinations could be booked or you could arrive on the wrong day to hit a hot spot. Know before you go.

Our same globe-trotting employee took a list of destinations on a recent trip to Italy. Once he got there, he and his family cut back on the list and talked to locals about what was really worth their time. They ended up having the best possible trip because they were able to create a big list and cull from it, rather than try to decide where to go each morning, and miss better sights and venues.

The article says that relying heavily on public transport is a mistake. However, we tend to think that renting a car is the bigger mistake relating to getting around while traveling in a foreign land. That’s because it’s hard to really understand the traffic patterns and it’s certainly difficult to navigate when you can’t read the road signs.

It’s probably better to rent a car only if you plan on staying somewhere for an extended period of time. Stick with the public transportation whenever possible; in many of these countries, especially Western Europe, they excel at public transportation, and many locals don’t even own cars because the transportation is so good.

What are some of the travel mistakes you’ve made? What have you seen other people do? Leave us a blog comment or post something on our Facebook page.

Bring This, Not That: MP3 players vs. Mobile Phones

March 10, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

Music is an integral part of travel for many of us. And the advent of mobile devices, whether mp3 players or mobile phones, has made traveling with music easier than ever. Sitting in your seat with ear buds or perhaps a set of Beats by Dr Dre embracing your head can be a great way to avoid talkative seat mates, if you’re the sort of person who prefers not to chat in transit.

But which is the best option? Should you take your phone and use up precious battery life and even more precious data? Or do you take an extra mp3 player, like an iPod Classic, and have one more device to keep track of?

As usual, it depends on your own needs and preferences: what are you doing, and what do you need the device for?

A stack of the iPods I now own... included are...

A stack of iPods. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If space and weight is an absolute concern, just take your phone. Any smartphone on the market today can store music and stream music from one of the streaming services such as Pandora, iHeartRadio, Spotify, or even Stitcher for podcast fans.

But an mp3 player can be a great option if you have space or data concerns or if you want to work out while you’re traveling and prefer not to use your phone while exercising. It’s also a great option to avoid wearing down the battery on your phone while you’re in transit.

A small iPod shuffle can be extremely convenient when you’re traveling. You can easily stick the device in your pocket or clip it to a clothing item so you don’t lose it. And since it was specifically marketed for those that work out, it’s a great option if you want to work out on the road.

Another choice to make is whether you should store music on your device or use a streaming service such as Pandora iHeartRadio, Spotify, or Stitcher. Storing music on your phone takes up storage space, while using a streaming service uses data and your service may cut out while you’re in transit, unless you want to pay for wifi on the plane.

But no matter whether you bring your smartphone or your mp3 player and no matter how you store it, take a moment to remember that people used to make mix tapes or CDs.

How do you listen to music when you travel? Leave us a comment on our Facebook page or in the comments section below.

Keep Your Devices Charged When You Travel

January 20, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

A recent article in CIO magazine got us thinking about how to make sure your phone stays charged. There are a few new pieces of technology the article discussed, a couple of which we weren’t familiar with.

One option is the Powermat. This is a wireless charging station that doesn’t plug your phone directly into the wall. To use Powermat, you can plug a Powermat ring into your phone, and set the ring on or near the Powermat. If your phone is already Powermat enabled, you simply set the phone on top of the mat, and it will charge wirelessly. You can buy both the Powermat and the charging ring online or at electronic stores.

Duracell PowermatStarbucks has rolled out a Powermat program in the San Francisco area; if it’s successful, expect to be able to walk into a Starbucks and charge your phone wirelessly across the country for free. There’s even an app that tells you where to find Powermat-friendly locations. Or you could rent a ring from Starbucks while you’re enjoying your latte.

Speaking of charging stations, ChargeAll is another charging station widely available throughout the U.S. Rather than scrambling to find that one outlet in a coffee shop or fast food restaurant, many of them are installing ChargeAll stations so travelers can get a quick boost when they stop for a break or a bite to eat. You can find a list of the ChargeAll stations here. They also offer an app to help you locate their stations.

You can also buy an external portable battery. The battery itself is about the size of your phone, and only adds a half pound to your bag weight. You can even plug into it with your USB cord, and charge it overnight with another power cord.

If you’re at the airport, be aware that many now offer a variety of charging stations. Just scout around or ask an airport employee. In some cases, you may have to circle the charging area like a shark in order to secure a newly opened spot. You can also make a pit stop at a coffee shop or airport restaurant, where you’re fairly likely to find a charging station or at least a couple plugs. (This is why you should carry your charging cord with you at all times.)

More planes now offer in-flight charging for passengers. Although it’s mostly a first class or business class perk, some airlines have begun offering USB chargers throughout the plane for all seats in all sections of the plane.

Finally, just make sure you’re fully charged before you leave for your trip. A lot of people end up taking off when they’re not fully charged, so they’re already starting at a disadvantage.

How else are you keeping your electronic devices charged? Any tricks or devices we didn’t cover? Leave us a comment and let us know what works for you.

Photo credit: Julia Roy (Flickr, Creative Commons)

Best Apps to Prevent Travel Mishaps

October 28, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

Apps are abundant in every category including travel. We thought we knew all the travel apps, but alas there are some NEW travel apps with a lot of great features including offline access and family emergency notifications. USAToday showcased some of the best travel apps to prevent mishaps or to notify when mishaps will or have occurred. Best of all, a lot of them are free.

BSafe ensures your personal safety by helping you set up a network of close family or friends to be notified in case of an emergency. The app allows you to set up times to be at certain locations. If you’re not at your specified location at the specified time, a notice will be sent out to your network. You can even set up fake incoming calls. Who hasn’t pretended to talk on the phone to avoid a situation (or at least wanted to)?

Smart Traveler, developed by the U.S. Department of State, is useful when traveling abroad. The app allows for you to check official country information including embassy locations.

TripAdvisor has developed an offline mobile app that allows you to download city guide information that you can access even if you don’t have wifi or a cell signal. When I went to Florence, this app would have been very useful as we kept getting lost, no matter what directions people gave us.

We really like the app the American Red Cross has developed for severe emergencies such as hurricanes or other natural disasters. Though we hope you never have to use it, it doesn’t hurt to have the information on hand. Similarly, the Red Cross also has a first aid app that gives you step-by-step instructions for medical care if you or a companion become injured on a trip.

These apps are very helpful, both in dealing with personal mishaps as well as larger emergencies. If you’re traveling soon, and want the peace of mind, download them, play with them, and get very familiar with them, so you’re not figuring everything out when you absolutely need it.

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.

Photo credit: Jeremy Page (Flickr, Creative Commons)

Five Baggage Handling Solutions That Can Enhance the Passenger Experience

May 6, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

We’re seeing a lot of technological changes that can improve travelers’ experience as they fly around the world. Here are five baggage handling solutions that we think, if they were adopted around the world, would make flying much more enjoyable (or at least less stressful).

1. Home-Printed Bag Tags

Example of IATA airport code printed on a bagg...

Example of IATA airport code printed on a baggage tag, showing DCA (Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Bag tags printed from home allow passengers to skip check-in and have the bags ready to go when arriving at the airport. You will have more control over your travel experience and could lower your drop off time to as little as 30 seconds. One drawback is some passengers don’t have the printing capabilities, so not everyone can take advantage of it. In addition, if your home printer is low on ink, the tag will not be able to be read by the baggage scanning device. Even with these potential drawbacks, the number of passengers who will not need to print tags at the airport will dramatically speed up check-in times.

2. Permanent Bag Tags

To those annoying bag tag stickers that can fall off, we say enough! The Vanguard ID company has created the ViewTag, designed to replace the throw-a-way paper tags used today. This permanent tag can be updated with a synchronization of a smartphone or tablet. Think about the positive environmental impact of using a permanent tag. Think about the waste of the huge number of throw-a-way bag tags that are created throughout the world’s airports.

After meeting Rick Warther from Vanguard in our office, we know how hard it is to design a permanent tag. There are still some things to consider when thinking about wear and tear and the clarity of the tags for scanning over time.

3. Bag Drops

A few airports are allowing offsite or remote bag drops for travelers, leaving them at a location like your hotel. It’s one less thing to worry about at the airport, but not many have adopted it. We nearly tried it out at a hotel in Las Vegas, but they needed the bags there too early so it didn’t meet our timeline. Aside from some minor issues, we think bag drops are a great idea, and expect to see more convenient systems in the future.

4. Bag Delivery

A delivery service called Airportr will allow passengers traveling to and from an airport in London to have their bags delivered, making the process less stressful. The VIP Luggage Delivery in the U.S. offers the same service now. Our only concern is the issue of security and the ability for a complete stranger to take a cartload of bags without being stopped.

5. Lost Luggage Improvements

Using the WorldTracer App on iPads, airline agents can scan your boarding pass and pull up your information quicker than trying to call the “hotline” for your airline, or visiting the lost luggage desk. You can even trace your own bag with other devices like the Trakdot device.

What are some baggage handling solutions you would like to see? What would make your own travel experience more enjoyable when it comes to dealing with your luggage? Leave a comment and let us hear from you.

How Will NFC, Biometrics and Wearable Tech Affect Travel?

April 17, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

If a group of people traveled twenty years into the future, from 1994 to today, and saw the amount of commercial technology available, they would be staggered at the sheer connectivity we enjoy. We have portable computers and tablets, sports bands that monitors our heartbeats, and mobile phones that we use for everything except for making calls. We may not be living in the age of the Jetsons, but we’re getting close.

And we’re continuing to advance, thanks to a group of people who specialize in “outcome-focused thinking,” or thinking that creates ideas without worrying of positive or negative consequences.

At Walt Disney World, biometric measurements a...

At Walt Disney World, biometric measurements are taken from the fingers of guests to ensure that the person’s ticket is used by the same person from day to day (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This raises the question, where are we going next? According to Rob Girling, the co-founder of the Artefact Group and one of the more prominent outcome-focused thinkers, he sees technology moving towards three directions.

  • Near Field Communication (NFC): NFC will play a large role in the future of wearable technology. NFC, when partnered with wearable devices, will function as a form of identification, allowing the wearer to create checkpoints at restaurants, make payments and unlock certain secure areas.
  • Biometrics: In some ways, biometric data (iris pattern, thumbprint, heart beat) is almost like NFC technology. Biometric sensors can be placed in hotels or airports for security purposes, and will only respond to a specific individual’s biometric data. Think unlocking a door with your finger print or identifying yourself on a plane ride with an eye scan. We’re already seeing this with the iPhone 5’s thumbprint scanner.
  • Natural Language Processing: As impressive as NFC and biometrics sound on paper, natural language processing may be the most promising and useful advancement in technology. NLP will allow your device to actually follow through with a complicated task and execute a complex search query, such as finding the cheapest price for a car rental. Asking SIRI to set a reminder is simply the first step on the NLP ladder.

So what does this mean for the travel industry? In some ways, traveling will become a lot easier. Imagine wearing NFC tech that you can wave at a security checkpoint or can use to make payments with your phone.

Biometrics are already being used in some office security protocols, such as a thumbprint scanner for a computer, or even Dublin Airport in Ireland using an automated passport scanner for immigration checks.

And you can already use Siri or any number of Android personal assistants to find nearby restaurants, gas stations, and tourist attractions. How much longer before you say, “Siri, rent a car for me”?

Outcome-focused thinking is already making itself felt in the travel industry. The next 20 years will be interesting, and we’re looking forward to seeing what that time is going to bring.

Big Travel Changes In 2013

March 18, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

The travel industry has changed immensely in the last few years, thanks in large part to Millennials and their travel habits. Commonly referred to as ‘Gen Y’, this tech savvy generation has caused big changes within the travel industry over the last year. Here are three surprising changes we’ve seen take place.

Home-As-Lodging > Hotels

Airbnb sticker

Airbnb sticker (Photo credit: Effie.Y.)

Many savvy travelers are skipping chain hotels in favor of lodging through sites like Airbnb, Homeaway, FlipKey and VRBO. These sites enable travelers to book anything from a spare room to an entire home in cities around the globe for significantly less than hotel room rates. This trend is especially appealing for group travelers who want to stay under one roof, budget travelers looking for cheap digs in a good location and solo travelers who wish to stay with a local. The home-as-lodging trend is so hot, that Airbnb is expected pass InterContinental Hotels Group and Hilton Worldwide and become the globe’s largest hotelier by the end of 2014.

Indie Travel Guides > Tours

Savvy travelers are forgoing the mainstream guides and booking tours through sites like Sidetour, Getyourguide and Canaryhop. Such sites hook travelers (and locals) up with unique city tours, classes and experiences in major cities around the world, making them a great way to get off the beaten path and meet locals.

Ridesharing > Taxis

Cabs can get expensive. Enter ridesharing programs like Lyft and UberX, which enable travelers to hitch a ride with a (fully-vetted) person in their personal vehicle. Ridesharing is significantly cheaper than taxi rides, and thanks to their apps, they’re also much more convenient to use in cities where it’s difficult to flag a cab. While the concept may seem a bit sketchy, many travelers report that the experience is actually much more positive than a traditional taxi experience.

With the travel industry changing so rapidly, we’re excited to see what changes are in store in the upcoming year.

Have you tried out any of these newer services while traveling? If so, we’d love to hear your experiences. Share your thoughts with us in the comments section or on our Facebook page.

Bring This, Not That: Travel Guidebooks or Not?

February 6, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

It’s no secret that more people are bypassing ‘old fashioned’ travel resources such as guidebooks and brochures for internet sites. In fact, according to online research firm Market Matrix, 90% of global travelers state that their booking decisions are heavily influenced by websites such as TripAdvisor, Google Places and Yelp. With that in mind, we asked the opinions of the TravelPro team: should you bring a travel guidebook on your next trip?

Say Yes to Guidebooks

Frommer's Travel Guides

Frommer’s Travel Guides (Photo credit: davitydave)

Many people would argue that because of statistics like these along with the rapid rise of travel among digital natives (Millennials who were born with a mobile phone in their hand), travel guidebooks are joining the ranks of the encyclopedia and are about to become a thing of the past.

While we can’t argue with the fact that the Internet offers a thousand times more information about any given destination than a travel guidebook could, there are certain things a guidebook does well, like working as an excellent resource when you’re in fast need of well-organized information about a specific destination. Oh, and travel guidebooks work without an Internet connection.

Or Just Say No

The downside to guidebooks is fairly obvious: they tend to be bulky, heavy, and obviously contain much less information than you’d find online. Also, your guidebook can be as much as two or three years out of date. The “must see” destination or “traveler’s choice” restaurant may have closed down a year earlier, but you won’t know until you get there; an online resource will tell you what’s open and what’s closed before you ever get there.

Additionally, poring over a guidebook and map while you’re trying to find your way targets you immediately as a tourist, which could make you a target for unscrupulous vendors or other ne’er-do-wells who might seek to separate you from your money.

The Final Consensus?

Take the travel guidebook along with you in your suitcase. In the event that you can’t access an Internet connection or are unable to find adequate information from your hotel, you’ll be glad you did. When you venture out into town, be sure to leave that guidebook back at your hotel or hidden in a backpack. If necessary, get a second guidebook and tear out the necessary pages to shove in your pocket. This way your original will still be intact, but you won’t have to carry the entire thing with you.

We’d love to hear from you. When traveling, do you rely more on travel guidebooks or the Internet? Share with us in the comments section or on our Facebook page.

United Enhances Mobile App and Offers Mobile Boarding Pass Scanning

November 12, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

If you’re an avid traveler, you may have noticed that this year’s biggest airline trend has been something everyone can appreciate: convenience. Airlines are looking for new ways to provide faster, more efficient service to their passengers, so many of them are turning towards mobile technology to accommodate their passengers’ needs and stay ahead of the competition.

If you’re an avid smartphone user, you know one thing is true: almost everyone has a mobile app these days. Some are useful; others, not so much. In keeping up with the times, most major airlines now offer mobile apps, which allow travelers to check on flight status or find other basic travel information. However, there’s only so much you can do via most mobile apps before you find yourself calling a 800 number — something which United Airlines kept in mind when re-designing their mobile app this summer.

Launching mobile boarding pass on BlackBerry m...

Launching mobile boarding pass on BlackBerry mobile phones (Photo credit: BritishAirways)

United Airlines’ updated app (available on iPhone, Android, Windows Phone 8 and Blackberry 10) goes behind the basic features, allowing travelers to manage their journey in real time. For example, the updated app is designed to ease the stress of flight delays and cancellations. When a flight is cancelled or delayed, a passenger may find alternate flights and travel options directly via the mobile app, as opposed to dealing with a crowded airport help desk.

In addition, United Airlines’ mobile app currently supports a mobile boarding pass, which allows travelers to simply scan the barcode on a screen at airport security checkpoints. This feature is currently available in over 40 major international airports. United aims to have this option available at all airports they serve by this coming fall.

In a recent statement, United Airlines’ Vice President of Merchandising and e-commerce Scott Wilson stated, “The new features and updated look of these apps give travelers increased convenience, flexibility and control. United will continue to invest in building powerful mobile tools for our customers with many significant enhancements scheduled to roll out over the next year.”

What other convenience features would you like to see United and other airlines include in future iterations of their mobile apps?

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