Bring This, Not That: Tour Guides vs. Self-Guided Tours

February 27, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

So you’re traveling to a new country and you want to explore a bit. How do you do go about it? Should you hire a tour guide to take you around, or should you grab a map and venture out on your own? There are plenty of reasons to go either route — no pun intended — and either has its pros and cons.

Tour Guides

Tour guide at Paul Revere's Grave, Boston MA

Tour guide at Paul Revere’s Grave, Boston MA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Hiring a tour guide, whether local or from a travel agency, is a go-to option for many travelers. And why not? You can sit back and enjoy the sites as someone else does the hard work. They have all the knowledge and can share insider knowledge of all the best locales.

The downside is that you’ll spend extra cash for these guides to show you around; self-guided tours are free (except for the attractions themselves). Another point to ponder is whether you want to have a structured tour where you know where you’re going ahead of time, or if you’d like to be surprised as the guide shows you around. Just be careful with some tour guides because they often have formed relationships with the places they stop at, so they may have financial interests in making those stops.

Self-Guided Tours

You may be a go-getter and think a tour guide is not for you. The upside of this type of exploration is that you’re not on a time constraint and can explore a place as long as you like, or leave after a few minutes. Self-guided tours are also cheaper, because you’re not paying someone to usher you around. If money is a concern, you may want to try this option.

A pitfall with this type of tour is that you could end up flopping around aimlessly and miss out on a few important places if you haven’t done your research. So put some time into figuring out where you are going and have a plan, including a prioritized list of “must see” versus “could miss” venues.

Bottom Line

Whether you hire a guide or grab a map and go out on your own is solely up to you. The important points to consider here are cost, your personal preferences, and where you are.

This last point is important, because personal safety is also a consideration. There may be some places where it’s not safe to venture out on your own, so the best way to see the area is with a guide. In these situations, work with an established, reputable tour guide, and not someone you just met at the airport. Don’t venture out on your own, and make sure to follow basic common sense in ensuring your own safety.

Enhanced by Zemanta

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.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Should You Drive or Fly?

October 31, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

When it comes to making travel arrangements, there are certain circumstances where traveling by airplane is a no-brainer, like that cross-country trip from New York to California. However, given the rising price of airline fees paired with added time to accommodate time spent in airport security, are there certain circumstances where it makes more sense to drive rather than fly? Our answer is yes, but it all depends on the circumstances.

As a quick rule of thumb, the TravelPro team tends to agree that for trips that would take five hours or less, it makes sense to drive. For one, when taking into account travel time from your home to the airport as well as the additional time spent in the airport (which usually amounts to at least one to two hours), driving will likely take the same amount of time as if you were to fly.

Vehicles ply I-70, the oldest interstate in Mi...

Vehicles ply I-70, the oldest interstate in Missouri. According to David Ahlvers, state construction and materials engineer with the Missouri Department of Transportation, the highway was originally designed to last 20 years. Ahlvers added that over its about 50 years history, there have been many overlays on the highway, which are not cost effective. (KOMU Photo/Manu Bhandari) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Of course, there are other factors to consider. For example, if you’re traveling with others, driving will most likely be the most cost-effective measure. Additionally, if you’re visiting a place that requires you to either rent a car or take a fair amount of cabs, you may end up saving money by simply bringing your own car.

If you do plan on driving, should you take your own car, or rent one? Unless your company is willing to reimburse the cost of a rental car, it’s probably more cost effective to take your own car. However, if you’re concerned about the wear and tear that additional driving may put on your car, then a rental car is probably the best option. Just bear in mind that many rental car companies charge an additional fee when you travel over a certain number of miles.

If you’re looking for concrete numbers to help you make the decision between flying and driving, BeFrugal.com has an excellent “fly or drive” calculator on their site. Once you’ve answered a few questions about your trip, you’ll be presented with surprisingly detailed results, featuring your door-to-door travel time, the total cost of both flying and driving, and even each travel method’s respective CO2 impact. We created a few trips and were quite surprised at the results. In many cases, driving truly is the most cost-effective (and environmentally friendly!) option.

When you travel, which option do you prefer — driving or flying — and why? Share with us in the comments below.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Hotel Room Service Not So Popular, Useful, or Budget Friendly

August 29, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

When is the last time you ordered a meal or drink from hotel room service? If you’re like many travelers, you probably haven’t done so recently. In fact, many hotels (including one of NYC’s most popular hotels, the New York Hilton Midtown) have decided to make room service a thing of the past.

New York Hilton MidtownAccording to PKF Hospitality Research, room service accounted for just over 1.2 percent of standard hotel revenue in 2012. PFK’s Senior Vice President John Fox said in an article on PeterGreenberg.com, “I don’t think anyone makes a profit on room service, because of its labor costs. I’m sure all the big hotels will be looking at what Hilton is doing.”

A spokesperson for the New York Hilton Midtown told Yahoo Travel, “Like most full service hotels, New York Hilton Midtown has continued to see a decline in traditional room service requests over the last several years as customer preferences and expectations continue to evolve.

As a substitute, many hotels are offering alternatives, such as the ability to order food from an on-site restaurant, while others (such as New York Hilton Midtown) will offer café-style “grab-and-go” restaurants within the hotel.

So is this really the end of an era? Not quite! In an article on HuffingtonPost.com, a spokesman for the American Hotel & Lodging Association said the number of hotels offering room service actually increased by 8 percent between 2011 and 2012.

In fact, many other hotels have gone the opposite direction, trying to make their room service offerings more of a draw by offering unique in-room dining options. For example, the JW Marriott Chicago offers an array of specialty treats, including artisan cheeses paired with craft beers, a tasting plate of appetizers and desserts, and even wine and food pairings.

If you’re a solo traveler looking for in-room dining options outside of room service, fear not. Most hotels will offer menus for local delivery options, such as Chinese food or pizza. If you find yourself in a larger metropolitan area, check out an online delivery service such as GrubHub.com or Seamless.com. You’ll be able to try out some of the city’s best restaurants without leaving your hotel room or breaking the bank.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Photo credit: ChicagoCeli (Flickr, Creative Commons

Six Tips to Cut $100 From Your Hotel Budget

August 22, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Whether you’re hitting the road for business or pleasure, one thing’s for certain: it’s becoming more and more expensive to travel. Fortunately, there are dozens of little ways to save money while traveling. While the little things (such as a bottle of water from the minibar) may seem insignificant, they can add up to big savings. We saw a recent article on PeterGreenberg.com about different small ways to trim off your hotel costs, so we borrowed some of his, and came up with a a couple of our own. Here are six of our favorite tips to cut more than $100 from the cost of our hotel stay.

1. Supply Your Own Wifi

Hotel Miramar 2

Hotel Miramar 2 (Photo credit: Son of Groucho)

While some hotels offer complimentary wifi, others charge big bucks for it. According to HotelChatter.com, the average cost of wireless Internet service at a hotel is $13.95 per day, or about $97 per week (and is not all that fast). Instead, supply your own. Many smartphones have the ability to act as a wireless hotspot — it pays to call your wireless carrier and find out. You can also park in a nearby coffee shop, and for the price of a latte, hang out for a couple of hours and check email.

2. Bargain With Your Hotel

You may be able to negotiate some perks with your hotel. Before arriving, call to see if they’ll offer any specials, such as free parking. It also helps if you’re a member of their loyalty program. Some hotels offer better rates to loyalty program members than their “lowest” rates.

3. Bring Your Own Snacks

Everyone knows that taking something from the minibar is a bad idea — unfortunately, most people tend to break when they’re starving or need a drink. Ditto for visiting the hotel “store” or the vending machines. Instead, come prepared by stocking up on drinks and snacks at a nearby store.

5. Find Different Parking

Parking at your hotel may be the easiest option, but it may cost up to $75 per night. Do some research online instead; you may be able to find nearby parking for up to 50% less. Visit sites like BestParking.com or even Google Street View to check the parking situation. Also, check out this Lifehacker article on finding parking in a new city.

6. Don’t Just Look At Hotel Prices

You’ve made the decision to forgo location in favor of a lower price. However, if you find yourself far away from your final destination, you may not be saving much after all. Do some research and consider how much you’ll spend on cabs or other transportation costs to and from the city’s attractions. You may find that the savings at the cheaper hotel are eaten up with transportation and parking. Do the math, and you may find it’s cheaper to stay at the more expensive hotel. What are some ways you’ve trimmed costs from your hotel budget? Leave your tip in the comments section, and let us hear from you.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Practice Phone Security While You’re at the Airport

June 11, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Using the airplane node for your mobile device isn’t just for when you’re traveling in an airplane. There are additional uses for the this mode that many travelers find extremely useful. For example, putting your phone and tablet device in airplane mode can help avoid roaming charges, and can help you avoid unwanted hackers who are looking for easy-to-grab private information.

When you’re traveling in an unfamiliar place, you may be especially susceptible to hackers who are looking for illegal access to your private information. In an article featured on Bloomberg.com, computer security expert Tom Kellermann said that he has recently identified multiple security hacking attempts on his personal mobile device while he passed through busy airport terminals.

Airport security line

Airport security line (Photo credit: oddharmonic)

Kellermann said that while airports are some of the safest places you’ll find for physical security, mobile security is another matter. A hacker with enough know-how can access the mobile devices of several travelers at once, looking for email addresses, passwords, and other sensitive information. But if you have your phone in the airplane mode from the moment you step foot in the airport, you are more likely to avoid this scenario happening to you. Airplane mode turns off your wifi and cellular connection, making it impossible for hackers to latch on to your private information.

In addition to keeping your personal information safer, there are are additional reasons for using the airplane mode. If you’re traveling internationally, putting your phone in this mode will not only provide extra security but will help you avoid roaming charges. You will still be able to use your mobile device to access information you’ve already downloaded, or to use your phone as a camera. But as long as your device is in airplane mode you won’t be using your cellular connection, therefore you’ll avoid the huge roaming charges that can occur if you access cellular data when traveling in international destinations. If you do need to use your phone’s data connection while traveling internationally, use it in a wifi hot spot. Just remember to reset the airplane mode as soon as you’re done.

Taking extra steps to keep your personal information safe is never a bad idea. Practicing phone security as soon as you step into an airport will help keep your private information where it belongs: with you, and no one else.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Christopher Penn’s 9 Amusing Travel Hacks

May 21, 2013 by · 2 Comments 

Christopher Penn is an expert in technology, marketing, social media, and how all three can work together to create better business opportunities for you. We’re fans of his, and read his blog fairly regularly.

Due to the nature of his job, Penn travels a lot, and recently he shared some travel tips for a better travel experience. Now, we’re going to make your life a little easier by sharing them with you.

1) Treat your hotel coffee like a teabag. Genius! The free coffee in your hotel room is flavorless and not hot enough, but if you brew it starting with hot water and place the coffee pouch in your cup before you hit the “brew now” button, you’re destined for hotter, more flavorful coffee.

2) If you forgot your toothpaste, create a saltwater solution using water and two packets of salt from a fast food restaurant. It’s not the same as proper oral hygiene, but if you’re about to meet with an important client after scarfing down a quick meal, this tactic will suffice.

English: Single Room View - My Way Hotel

English: Single Room View – My Way Hotel (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

3) Shower with the bathroom door open. Most hotel rooms have dry air which can leave you with sinus problems. If you shower with the bathroom door open, moisture from the bathroom will permeate the rest of the room, making your hotel room a little more tolerable.

4) Sign up for frequent traveler programs. Sure, you might have to unsubscribe from a lot of emails after a while, but frequent traveler programs often offer free perks like pressing your suit, or an occasional free upgrade to a better room.

5) Always use good manners and etiquette. Not only is being polite and treating people well the right thing to do, but occasionally the good karma will benefit you, too. People may not always help people they like or who are polite, but they rarely go the extra mile for people who are rude or mean.

6) If safety is a concern of yours, ask for a room on the second floor. You’ll be less susceptible to break-ins and if a true emergency happens, you can jump from a second floor window with significantly better chances of survival. We’ll take his word on this one.

7) Get water from the ice machine instead of the bathroom tap. The water quality is often better because it’s colder and filtered.

8) If you have several hours to kill and are terrible at ironing, load up the iron with water and then mist your clothes. Give them a little stretch and hang them up to air dry, close to an air vent if possible. Or use that free ironing perk you got when you signed up for the frequent traveler program from #4.

9) Bring an HDMI cable. If you have to practice a speech you’re giving later, you can use the HDMI cable to connect your laptop to the TV — most nicer hotels have HD TVs, which have HDMI slots — and practice as if you were on stage. Plus, if you’re a Netflix fan or brought some DVDs, your laptop will double as your movie projector.

Pretty great ideas, right? So here’s a call to all you road warriors out there — what are some tips and tricks you’ve learned from your travels?

Enhanced by Zemanta

Southwest Airlines Introduces $40 Fee to Let You Board Early

March 21, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Southwest Airlines has made a name for themselves in the airline industry through their light-hearted atmosphere and democratic customer service policies. Southwest’s policies generally rival those of other airlines. For example, their “Bags Fly Free” policy allows up to two bags per passenger to fly free of charge, while many other airlines charge a minimum of $25 or more per checked bag.

In an era when airlines are differentiating themselves by the type of add-ons they offer and the prices of those extra benefits, Southwest has historically made a name for themselves by keeping things simple.

Southwest is now being a bit more creative with the fees that they do charge passengers. For example, Southwest has picked up on the fact that many passengers like to board their planes early.

Southwest Airlines photo by Phil OstroffFor an extra $10 fee, Southwest passengers can opt for the Early Bird Check-In and improve their position in line to board the plane. As it turns out, there are plenty of customers who will pay an even higher fee to avoid waiting in line to board and having the last pick of where to stow their carry on luggage. For those passengers, Southwest offers a new $40 fee which guarantees that they will be among the first 15 people to board the plane.

To some, this $40 fee just to board the plane early may seem a bit pricey, but for the right passenger this could be a valuable decision. Travelers who are bigger in size or taller than the average person generally have trouble making their way down a narrow, crowded airplane aisle or sitting in certain seats.

So this $40 early boarding fee could serve these people well. Mothers with small children or busy business people could also benefit from this service. They can board the plane quickly and easily, get settled, and busy themselves with other things while they wait for takeoff, while everyone else is still finding their seats.

Photo credit: Phil Ostroff (Flickr, Creative Commons)

Study Your Digital Maps Before You Travel

March 7, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Now that half of Americans use smartphones as their primary mobile device and the number of smartphone users worldwide tops google_maps_hello_world1 billion, it’s safe to say that most of us are using smartphones or some type of mobile device on a regular basis. In travel especially, it’s common for smartphone users to rely on their devices for entertainment, flight information, and especially navigation.

In the Fall of 2012, Apple came out with its own navigation program dubbed Apple Maps, kicking Google Maps off their iOS platform with their new upgrade. But they may have put the cart before the horse, because Apple Maps failed miserably in the eyes of most iPhone users — and cartographers, journalists, travel professionals, tourists, and people who were lost — due to its inaccurate directions and shoddy 3D renderings. Three months later Google Maps came out with a free iPhone app, but by this time many tech consumers had learned this lesson the hard way: If you’re taking a trip to a city largely unknown to you, it’s a good idea to study maps before you travel.

With the failure of Apple Maps came an outpouring of digital navigation apps, both older companies like MapQuest and also newer startups have been trying to capture the market share freed up by the failure of Apple Maps. So it’s easy to predict that sooner or later, you will be able to find at least one navigation application that serves you well.

But one thing that is difficult to predict is your cell phone service. You may have all the latest map applications downloaded, but if your phone can’t connect to its network, your applications will likely be useless or severely inhibited.

That’s why it’s best to spend some time scanning the layout of your travel destination before you ever leave. You can get a feel for the city before you even set foot there. It may also be useful for you to bring a paper map or travel guide with you on your trip. In the event of a lagging data network, flip through your guidebook for advice on what to do. As for what to do with your smartphone if you don’t use it for navigation. . .?

We suggest using it as a camera.

Enhanced by Zemanta

The Growth of Food Tourism

March 5, 2013 by · 1 Comment 

These days, it seems like everyone’s a food critic, doesn’t it? Between blogs on Tumblr, photo sharing on Instagram, and the foodtourism2myriad of other ways people share information, more and more people are talking about, taking pictures of, and finding even more enjoyment from their food.

But it’s not only about being a food critic. Food is becoming more of an experience. As we focus more on the quality of food that we consume, people are becoming more analytical about their restaurant choices both at home and especially when they travel.

There are now companies and websites solely dedicated to food tourism, such as FoodTourist.com, WorldFoodTravel.org, and WholeJourneys.com to name a few.

Whole Journeys, a food travel company owned by Whole Foods Market, exists purely to connect Whole Foods customers with the food sold in their stores. Whole Journeys travelers get real, genuine experiences with the local cultures who produce Whole Foods products. The company was founded on the fact that people want to make meaningful connections to other cultures through food.

Travelers are now considering food as a major part of the decision on where to travel. For example, a couple deciding where to vacation in Europe might select Italy over Germany in part because the food selection aligns more closely with what they enjoy. Even if you’ve never been to Italy, movies like 2010’s Eat, Pray, Love drive the point home that food can be a major reason to visit a particular destination, and it can even serve as a method of self-exploration. If nothing else, a few great culinary experiences are added benefits that can enhance your trip and nicely complement your other travel experiences like sightseeing and visiting museums.

Celebrity chefs and other television personalities are also adding to the growing popularity of food tourism. Anthony Bourdain’s television shows No Reservations and The Layover focus on the best places to eat in a given city, and Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive Ins, and Dives also highlights fun, unique restaurants with excellent food.

The idea behind shows, books, and websites like these is to give the viewer advice on how to eat like a local, and how to truly enjoy the experience.

 

Next Page »