The Dirtiest Place in the Airport is Not What You Think

August 14, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

Often thought of as the filthiest of places, an airport public restroom may not necessarily be the dirtiest place in the airport. What could be worse? Security bins? Ticket counters? The place where you and thousands of other travelers have to take your shoes off?

Curious as to what spot actually is the dirtiest, InsuranceQuotes, a Texas-based insurance company, went to three major U.S. airports and airline flights and performed 18 tests across six different surfaces. Samples were sent off to a laboratory to find the average number of colony forming units (CFU) or bacterial or fungal cells per square inch.

Basically, the more CFUs there are, the more contaminated a surface is.

Self-check-in kiosks is often the dirtiest place in the airport.The results were surprising: self-check kiosks contained the highest level of CFUs with 253,857. Armrests at the gate were second with 21,630 followed by water fountain buttons with 19,181.

It makes sense: all day, countless people tap the same screen to get their tickets, unaware the dirtiest place in the airport is right at their fingertips. The self-check-in kiosk is the one place nearly everyone is forced to touch. Not surprising then is that the world’s business airport, Hartsfield-Jackson, was the germiest of all three subject airports. Just one kiosk alone came back with 1 million CFU.

Remember that “filthy” restroom? An airport toilet contains 172 CFU on average.

The close proximity of other passengers and stale air in the airplane is blamed for illnesses, but maybe it’s the pre-flight contact instead. We may never know.

So what can you do to protect yourself?

The best way is, of course, complete avoidance whenever possible. Check into your flight from your smartphone or at home on your computer (just your germs there).

That being said, if you do find yourself at the airport, here are a few tips for cleaner traveling:

  1. Barefoot is bad! Walking barefoot through security makes you more susceptible to germs and infections like athlete’s foot, so always wear socks through the airport security line.
  2. Hand sanitizer. Carry TSA-approved size mini bottles of hand sanitizer for quick clean ups after touching dirty screens.
  3. Resting your elbows on armrests at your gate is comfortable, but if you wipe them down with disinfectant wipes first, they’ll be comfortable and clean.
  4. No brainer: always, always, always wash your hands after using the restroom. Public or private. Airports and everywhere. Always. Use soap and warm water for seconds; that’s “Happy Birthday” twice or the Alphabet song once.

“Safe travels” has a whole new meaning when you say ‘bon voyage’ to germs.

How do you avoid germs on your trips? What did you think the dirtiest place in the airport was? Tell us about it in the comments below, on our Facebook page, or on our Twitter page.

Photo credit: Marek Ślusarczyk (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 2.5)

Which Travel Vaccinations Do You Need for International Trips?

August 9, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

Our bodies are homebodies. While you may like the idea of visiting exotic foreign destinations and experiencing all the culture has to offer, our bodies don’t embrace it. But if you get travel vaccinations before you embark on this dream trip, your body won’t have to worry about “what’s in the water,” and you won’t come home with a souvenir you never wanted.

Some courses of these vaccines were administered when you were a child and you’re covered for life. Others require a booster or must be administered over a period of weeks or months prior to departure, so have a conversation with your travel agent and doctor as soon as you determine your itinerary.

Zona Sur area of La Paz, Bolivia. You need travel vaccinations if you visit Central or South America.

Zona Sur area of La Paz, Bolivia

Here’s a list of some of the vaccinations readily available either through your doctor’s office or county health department (borrowed from Matt Karsten over at Expert Vagabond). You may be required to show proof of vaccination in order to enter the destination of your choice, so do your homework as part of your preparations. If you’re afraid of needles, don’t despair. Some vaccinations can be administered in pill form. Otherwise, close your eyes and dream of your destination.

TDaP (Tetanus, Diptheria, and Pertussis): Yes, you were vaccinated for this when you were a baby, but if you’re going out of the country it’s a good idea to get a booster of this combo in order to avoid tetanospasmin, a deadly bacterial toxin found in the soil and animal excrement. Any open wound you may have exposes you to this possibility, and if left untreated, tetanus can be fatal. Diptheria and pertussis are also bacterial diseases which are prevented with the vaccine.
Recommended: All countries, regardless of where you’re going.

Typhoid Fever: This is another deadly disease spread that’s caused by animal excrement contaminating the water supply. It’s 100 percent fatal.
Recommended: Central and South America, Asia, Africa, and Pacific Islands

Malaria: Think of how many times over the course of the summer you’ve swatted at a mosquito without wondering if the insect was a female carrying one of four strains of this parasite infection. While some may dispute whether travelers really need to get this vaccine, talk with anyone who has ever had malaria, and they’ll advise you to follow the protocol.
Recommended: Africa, South America, parts of the Middle East and Asia

Japanese Encephalitis: Never heard of it? Neither had we, but it too is spread through mosquitoes in rural farming areas. If you are traveling during monsoon season to the Far East and Southeast Asia, this is one vaccination you should seriously consider.
Recommended: Asia and Southeast Asia

Cholera: This is one of the cheapest vaccines available and may save you from wasting valuable adventure time in the bathroom. It’s spread by consuming food or water contaminated with feces of an infected person.
Recommended: Africa, Southeast Asia, and Haiti

Are you headed on any international trips? Or have you been on any lately? What kinds of vaccinations did you get? Tell us about it in the comments below, on our Facebook page, or on our Twitter page.

Photo credit: Matthew Straubmuller (Flickr, Creative Commons 2.0)

Take Care of Yourself if You Travel Frequently

August 7, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

If you travel frequently — 15 or more days a month on business — you can consider yourself a road warrior. But a new study by the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health and City University of New York says a better description might be wounded warrior.

The study of 18,000 business travelers who are away from home half the month or more found these individuals struggling greatly with their health. Many have mental health issues such as anxiety and depression, and they are sleep deprived and overly dependent on alcohol. They don’t get exercise and they tend to smoke more than those who don’t spend as much time away from home for work. They also have higher blood pressure and lower than acceptable good cholesterol levels.

Hotel Gym at Casa Velas Hotel in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. A hotel gym is a great place to work out if you travel frequently.

Hotel Gym at Casa Velas Hotel in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

One of the study’s lead authors, Andrew Rundle, wrote in the Harvard Review that “the clustering of all these health conditions among extensive business travelers is worrying, both for their own health and the health of the organizations they work for.” He suggests education both for the individuals as well as for the companies as a good first step toward changing this alarming situation.

“At the individual level, employees who travel extensively need to take responsibility for the decisions they make around diet, exercise, alcohol consumption, and sleep,” Rundle explains. “However, to do this, employees will likely need support in the form of education, training, and a corporate culture that emphasizes healthy business travel.”

Rundle offered practical tips for employees that included being very selective about when travel is absolutely necessary and being honest with themselves about what constant travel is doing to their health and well-being.

One thing he suggested could serve as a tangible affirmation of the company’s commitment to the health of its warriors is providing memberships to national fitness centers for these frequent travelers.

Bottom line: If you travel frequently, please eat healthy, drink plenty of water, get plenty of sleep, and exercise 20 minutes per day, three times a week. That means things like walking to appointments, working out in the hotel gym, or just going for a walk in the evening. Don’t load up on rich heavy meals in restaurants, avoid soda and lots of alcohol, and drink water throughout the day. If you can do that, you can improve your health greatly while you travel.

Do you travel frequently for business? Do you take care of yourself, exercise, and get plenty of sleep, or do you find yourself lacking in a couple of those areas? Tell us about it in the comments below, on our Facebook page, or on our Twitter page.

Photo credit: Casa Velas Hotel (Flickr, Creative Commons 2.0)

American Travelers Really Want Hotel Loyalty Points

July 24, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

How far would you go to earn loyalty points? According to a surprising study by Carlson Wagonlit Travel, some travelers are willing to go farther than you might expect.

American business travelers top the list (47 percent of all respondents) of those willing to risk a certain level of personal safety in order to earn loyalty points from their overnight stay. If given the choice to stay at a property where they’re not a loyalty member or stay where they are, business travelers will choose the loyalty program benefits over their personal safety.

But before you get images of people staying in rough neighborhoods for the sake of a few points, let’s define the sense of “feeling unsafe” most respondents described. Most wouldn’t put themselves in physical danger, but they would be willing to put up with disruptive fellow guests that made them feel uncomfortable. Others (44 percent) said they would disregard their fear of someone breaking into their room so they could earn more points.

The hotel front desk at the JW Marriott in New Orleans, LA. This is where you ask for your hotel upgrade.

The hotel front desk at the JW Marriott in New Orleans, LA.

Among those traveling for business internationally (37 percent), the personal safety concern was less physical. They were concerned their privacy would be breached by their information being given out without their knowledge or someone discovering their room number or procuring a key.

Many respondents also indicated they believed staying on higher floors of a hotel to be safer. Thirty-two percent said they avoid staying on the ground floor if at all possible.

Bottom line? No amount of loyalty points is worth risking your personal safety for. Your work and your life are too important, so don’t take unnecessary risks. Be smart, and don’t make unwise choices. There are other ways to get points!

How far will you go to earn more loyalty points? Where do you draw the line? Leave us a comment on our Facebook page, or on our Twitter page.

Photo credit: Prayitno Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 2.0)

More Business Travelers Including Bleisure

July 19, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

We’ve been coaching, cajoling, and cheering you business travelers on when it comes to tacking on some extra personal time before or after your work trip. And Expedia says you’re listening!

Expedia Group Media Solutions commissioned Luth Research to find out more about what you’re doing and how you’re making bleisure work for you. The study asked American, British, Chinese, German, and Indian bleisure travelers to share what influenced their decisions, what resources they used to make their decisions, and what their resulting preferences were after their experiences.

Here’s what they found out.

The first thing Expedia discovered is which group of you is taking advantage of this. Those of you who work in technology, IT, and software—you’re making this work for you once every two to three months after you’ve been on the road for a two-to three-day trip.

Next, Expedia found there’s been a dramatic increase in the number of business travelers taking a couple bleisure days: a 40 percent uptick over the same period in 2016. Sixty percent of business travelers reported turning your work travel into a vacation sometime in the reporting period between March 2017 and March 2018. Bravo!

The British Museum Great Court, a great bleisure stop if you're in London on a business trip.

The British Museum Great Court

While the largest percentage of business travel was to participate in a conference (67 percent), the leading factor in whether or not the destination was considered for bleisure wasn’t proximity to family and friends, but other factors such as the availability of great food, a beach, or the opportunity to check it off your bucket list. Way to multi-task!

Even the time and cost of the bleisure trip had an effect: 37% of respondents said the proximity of their trip to the weekend played a role in their decision; the same number of people said the additional costs of the trip helped them decide. That’s always a good strategy: if you can end a trip on Friday or even Thursday, why not stick around for a nice weekend away? (Or if you can manage it, end your trip on a Monday and then stick around for the rest of the week. We won’t tell.)

Among the most popular US bleisure destinations were New York, LA, Washington, D.C., Chicago, and San Francisco.

What are your bleisure travel habits? What do you do to turn your business travel into a little bit of fun? Share your ideas on our Facebook page, or on our Twitter page.

Photo credit: David Iliff, License: CC-BY-SA 3.0 (Wikimedia Commons)

Five Apps to Keep you Entertained and Informed

July 17, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

We’re busier than ever. While we used to have to DVR our shows and catch up with them later — and before that, we videotaped them or made sure to sit down when they actually aired! — mobile devices now give us the opportunity to not only be entertained but informed, no matter where we are or what we’re doing.

We used to be held captive by the TV monitor at the airport gate area, now we can use some mobile apps to control the content we read, watch, or hear. While everyone knows about apps like Spotify, ESPN, and Netflix, we wanted to share some more unusual, lesser-known apps for your consideration as you’re on the go. You can use these while you’re in the car, on the plane, or just shuffling around your hotel room as you get ready for bed. And you can use them at home as well.

TuneIn Radio - One of the five best entertainment apps

TuneIn Radio

If you like listening to the radio, particularly to keep yourself updated about what’s going on in your hometown, TuneIn Radio allows you to hear your local commercial or NPR station from anywhere in the world. It will let you listen to any local radio station that also broadcasts on the Internet, as well as download podcasts and even listen to certain sporting events, like MLB, NFL, and even the World Cup.

The same is true for your local TV station and your local newspaper. An easy check in your app store will let you know if your local ABC, NBC, or CBS affiliate has an app where you can find local news. If your town’s newspaper doesn’t have its own app, you might be able to access it if it’s owned by Gannett Company. The publisher of USA Today also owns over 100 daily newspapers and over 1,000 weekly newspapers and offers this local content through its app. All these can provide you with a taste of home even when you’re away.

Six of our favorite entertainment apps for when you're on the road

Six apps to help you stay entertained and informed while you’re on the road.

If you want to stream content on your phone or tablet and protect yourself from being throttled by your data provider, you may want to look into VPN Unlimited. While not an app, this virtual private network service allows you to sign in and choose from a list of preselected servers in different countries. For example, you can access international content from these servers such as World Cup coverage in Iceland or the Olympics as they’re televised in Canada. For those who don’t have cable, this is one way to access premium sports coverage without paying. You’re just watching content provided by another country’s public access channels. Finally, if you’re traveling overseas and want to watch Netflix, you can’t, since Netflix doesn’t allow access to U.S content from outside the country. To work around that lockout, VPN Unlimited also has a dedicated Netflix server which allows you to watch your U.S.-based Netflix from anywhere in the world.

NPR One is the news junkie’s favorite app. Unlike the regular NPR app, which is sort of like a streamlined public radio-only version of TuneIn, the NPR One app lets you select the news, stories, and podcasts just for you. It’s like building your own NPR newscast. The regular NPR app is great for if you want to find your favorite classical, jazz, or eclectic music radio station (like KCRW’s Eclectic24 from Santa Monica, California), but I especially like NPR One for its focus on news and information.

What kinds of entertainment apps do you use to stay entertained and informed? How do you keep up with news from home or your favorite destination? Share them with us, the more esoteric the better! Leave us a comment on our Facebook page, or on our Twitter page.

Photo credit: Erik Deckers (Used with permission)

Airlines Predict Fare Increases Due to Fuel Costs

July 10, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

While this summer is already trending to be the largest travel season ever — up 100,000 fliers per day over last year — travelers may find airline ticket prices going up due to a spike in fuel costs, even while seat availability decreases.

According to the International Air Transportation Association, the cost of gassing up is up 50 percent, with oil selling at $65 a barrel this summer compared to $45 for the same quantity in 2017.

Airline executives told attendees at IATA’s annual meeting they were still optimistic about their carriers’ profitability, since they’ve worked to restructure their businesses so they can absorb the increased cost that always seems to come around this time of year.

Delta Airline A330 airplaneWhile you might think a fuel surcharge may be tacked onto your ticket, there’s good news: the Department of Transportation has made such fees illegal on domestic flights five years ago because the DOT determined they were really just a hidden price increase. These surcharges are permitted on international flights, however, and flights to Asia have seen figures between $50 and $200 — almost 15 percent of the ticket price — tacked on.

Ticket prices to popular summer destinations, such as Europe, haven’t been severely impacted due to competition from the low-cost carriers, but flexible business class seats and fares to parts of the country where there’s less competition have begun to see hikes.

While this recent spike may seem large, airlines learned from the disastrous $140 per barrel season a decade ago. To avoid seeing profits plummet, they’ve implemented price hedging policies to protect their margins.

Bottom line, depending on where you’re heading, those fuel costs surcharges may be unavoidable. Just do your best to find the lowest-priced tickets you can and hope for the best. Also, buy your tickets earlier rather than later when surcharges could get bigger.

Do fuel surcharges affect your business travel plans? How do you deal with surprise fees? Tell us about it on our Facebook page, or on our Twitter page.

Photo credit: Gietje (Wikimedia Commons, public domain)

Passport Expiration Dates Can Impact You More Than You Think

July 5, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

A little-known fact about international travel could snarl your plans or bring them to an abrupt halt if you don’t pay attention to it. Just like you read labels for expiration dates, you need to know your passport expiration date.

Turns out, many countries around the world, with the exception of the European nations, require passports to be valid for six months or more before your entry date. The restriction may apply to your date of entry or your planned date of departure. That is, if you’re flying home from Spain on December 31, your passport can’t expire after June 30.

Twenty-six European countries follow a lesser known law called the Schengen Agreement which allows you to enter their sovereignties, provided three months’ validity remains on your passport beyond your planned date of departure. In the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland, no minimum validity is enforced.

Photo of a U.S. passport. Do you know your passport expiration date?The best way to know which countries have which rules is to check the U.S. Department of State’s website. It has a menu of country-by-country details.

Another thing to keep in mind when traveling with children is that their passports are only good for five years instead of 10. For one family, their son’s passport expiration date completely derailed a long-planned trip to Spain.

They were just two hours from departure when an American Airlines representative told them their son couldn’t board the plane because his passport was due to expire. Turns out a valid passport isn’t always a valid passport.

How can you keep this from happening to you? Follow these guidelines as you plan your next international excursion:

  • Check your destination country’s passport validation rules before you plan your itinerary. Do what you need to do if your passport will expire close to the country’s expiration date. Don’t try to slip through unnoticed, because they’re looking out for it.
  • Check every person’s passport expiration date before you book your flights. Remember that children’s passports expire every five years, so our best advice is to go ahead and apply for updated documents for any that will expire within the year you plan to go abroad.
  • Book your flights with points so you’ll have options. The family in the story above had purchased their flights with miles, so they were able to get their flights refunded. But if they had waited to get them refunded until after the flight had taken off, they would’ve forfeited them and the points. Ouch.

The family in question was able to rebook their flights and used points to put together a last-minute trip stateside. They learned their lesson, so let their experience be a cautionary tale.

Have you ever had passport issues when you travel? Any big problems or narrow-misses? Tell us about it on our Facebook page, or on our Twitter page.

Photo credit: Tony Webster (Wikimedia Commons/Flickr, Creative Commons 2.0)

5 Ways to Save Money on a Business Trip

July 3, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

You may not have a healthy travel budget for your business trip, but that doesn’t mean you have to eat fast food and stay at a cheap budget hotel in a dangerous neighborhood. We’ve compiled a list of tips for saving money that will still provide you with a pleasant, productive, and safe experience that will make you the hero with your finance department.

First, think outside the hotel box. We’re not suggesting you hit up friends for their spare bed or sleep at a hostel, but Airbnb might be a better option than the expensive conference hotel downtown because it can provide you some cost-saving amenities. Sometimes you can rent an entire house or apartment with Airbnb for the price of a luxury hotel in the heart of the business district. If you’re traveling with several colleagues, a multi-bedroom apartment or house might cut the accommodations line item down to a fraction of the cost of everyone having their own hotel room.

An Airbnb house in Santa Barbara California. This would be a nice place for a business trip.

An Airbnb house in Santa Barbara, California

These properties often not only have spaces for lounging or working, most come equipped with a kitchen, which leads us to tip number 2. A kitchen will allow you to stock up on some grocery basics and eat in for breakfast and maybe even dinner a few nights. Conducting a business meeting at the property might also provide the right private atmosphere for a day of negotiations, and you could have food delivered and eat without wasting time going out.

If an Airbnb property isn’t an option, consider booking a suite at a hotel. The price of a suite might be $50 more per night, but by using the in-room mini fridge or small kitchenette with a two-burner stovetop, you’ll be ahead in the long run when you add up the savings to your food per diem because you dine in for breakfast and/or dinner. A home-cooked meal might not be as glamorous as a nice restaurant, but knowing you’ve saved time and money will allow you to relax and unwind after a long day. (And you can always spend your per diem dollars on other things, like a bottle of wine and a whole pint of ice cream.)

When you’re searching for airfares, be flexible with your departure and arrival dates. Compare the cost of flying in on a Saturday or flying home on a Sunday to regular Monday through Friday travel. Traveling outside the normal work week will often net you significant savings. Flying the red eye going home might be worth it if you can negotiate some comp time to sleep in. (But don’t sacrifice your health and well-being for the sake of saving a few dollars.)

Finally, see if there’s a way to avoid renting a car during your trip. Not only is car rental $50 a day or more, you’ll pay upwards of $30 or more every time you park, especially in big cities such as Chicago, Miami, and New York. Uber and Lyft might seem expensive, but they could end up being cost effective when you do the math — you could get to your conference and back for $40, as compared to car rental, day parking, and hotel overnight parking.

You might even find you can walk to a meeting or dinner with clients, which is a good way to get some exercise while you’re traveling.

How do you save money on a business trip? Where can you cut costs without sacrificing comfort? Leave us a comment or share your ideas on our Facebook page, or on our Twitter page.

Photo credit: Scott Cutler, an Airbnb house in Santa Barbara, CA (Flickr, Creative Commons)

Travelers Paid Airlines $4.6 Billion to Check Bags

June 26, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

If you don’t know how to pack light, be prepared to pay for the privilege of checking the luggage you need to accommodate your clothes and other essentials. According to a recent CNBC story, travelers paid $4.6 billion in checked bag fees in 2017 alone.

In other words, if you wanted to take a large suitcase, or even check a smaller carry-on, it could cost you anywhere from $50 or $60 for your first bag, and $100 for a second.

But as travel and luggage professionals, we know that many of these checked bags are only necessary because people don’t know how to pack wisely. They make common rookie mistakes like:

Baggage claim, where people waste time if they check bags.

  • Packing one outfit for every single day. This is especially bulky if you’re going to be gone for more than five days. Solution: wear certain items more than once.
  • Packing things “just in case,” like a dressier outfit in case you go to a nice restaurant. Solution: Confirm your dinner plans before you leave to ensure whether you will or not.
  • Packing individual, complete outfits. Solution: Pack mix-and-match outfits. If you’re traveling for four days, take two pairs of pants that go with each of the four shirts.
  • Packing every comfort of home, like pillows or full bottles of shampoo. Solution: They have pillows at your destination. Also, buy your shampoo or other lotions, etc. when you arrive. I guarantee they don’t cost $100.

One way around the checked bag fee is to upgrade to an Economy Plus ticket, from the basic economy. Or use a credit card that gives you one free checked bag as one of your perks.

But the best way to ensure you never pay a checked bag fee again? Get a 21″ or 22” carry-on bag that will let you pack up to a week’s worth of outfits (as long as you pack correctly.)

When Travelpro’s sourcing and design teams travel to China for two-week trips, none of them check luggage. They can do so because they know that any of Travelpro’s suitcases will accommodate their needs, and they’ve perfected the art of traveling light. Travelpro specializes in making carry-on models that accommodate multiple days of clothing in one bag. The MaxLite® 5, Crew™ 11, and our brand-new Platinum® Elite collections are designed with features to help travelers pack efficiently and effectively,

regardless

the length of the trip.

You may not be headed out on the road for two weeks, but if your travel plans take you away from home for business or leisure this summer, scrutinize your clothing and luggage choices so you don’t waste money on unnecessary baggage fees.

How do you avoid baggage fees when you travel? What are your packing tips? Share them with us on our Facebook page, or on our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Unknown creator (Pxhere.com, Public Domain)

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