Lights Out for These Hotel Mattress Myths

September 20, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

Ah, the hotel bed. Sometimes it’s a real crap shoot as to whether you find a comfortable bed like you’ve got at home, or something that should be outlawed by the Geneva Convention. If you don’t sleep well while you’re traveling, it may not just be that you’re away from home. It may be that your bed is, well, terrible. Or at least, not very comfortable.

While hotels advertise that their beds will give you “sweet dreams” and dispel any idea of counting sheep, not all guests would support those claims.

According to published reports in a USA Today article, two recent surveys say guests aren’t buying the idea of amazing beds.

The article asserts that hotel beds are at best, just plain old average.

Eighty-one percent of travelers say the “single-most important feature” in a hotel room is the bed, according to a hotel guest survey by MattressAdvisor.com. With plenty of guests complaining about poor sleep, not enough sleep, and restless sleep, what’s a weary traveler to do?

First, be picky about where you stay. Choose wisely.
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Robert & Mary Carey Spotlight Seattle, Washington

September 11, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

We are pleased to publish this blog article from Robert & Mary Carey of the RMWorldTravel radio program. Robert and Mary will provide us monthly blog articles covering their different favorite travel destinations.

On our weekly national radio show, we regularly spotlight some of our favorite destinations around the U.S. —- that are less traveled but offer outstanding travel experiences. A recent focus was Seattle, Washington. Seattle is a popular year-round destination for many reasons.

The Seattle city skylineFirst, it’s a city with spectacular views that offers ample outdoor activities for travelers of all ages. On clear days from various points in the city, you can see the Puget Sound, the rugged peaks of the Cascade Mountains and of course, Mount Rainer, the highest mountain in the state of Washington. For more expansive views, the iconic Space Needle reopened in July, after a major renovation and is worth checking out. There is now an observation deck that includes floor to ceiling glass views on the interior and exterior. There’s no shortage of gorgeous views from the top of the Space Needle!
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Here Are the Top Reasons Travel Insurance Claims Are Delayed or Denied

September 4, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

Dealing with insurance companies can be frustrating and worrisome. Whether it’s an auto claim, a homeowner claim, or medical claim, the insured is often told a claim is denied or delayed without explanation. Travel insurance is no different. A simple misstep can cause a claim to be delayed or even denied despite the best of intentions.

InsureMyTrip, a travel insurance aggregator, recently published a list of the top reasons claims are delayed or denied.

One reason for a delay or denial is pretty basic, and that’s whether your policy covered this type of claim. Before you sign up for your travel insurance, read the fine print. Many of those crucial details about what you’re getting coverage for are outlined in the fine print. Check your terms and conditions because every policy is worded differently.

You should get travel insurance for trips like cruises and business trips.Not all flight delays qualify for a claim. For example, a delay needs to be three hours or more in order to qualify. So, if your flight is delayed two hours and 59 minutes, your claim will, in all likelihood, be denied.

Has your trip been canceled due to weather? Many vacationers discover they are not covered because the storm’s impact is not sufficient enough to warrant cancellation. Another common reason is that people waited too long to purchase their policy and bought it right before the trip began.
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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)

Chain Hotels vs B&Bs vs Airbnb

June 7, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

When considering your lodging accommodation options, what’s most important to you? Do you want a standard cookie cutter room that will be the same(ish) wherever you go? Or do you want to experience something new and unique each time you travel?

If you’ve only ever stayed in hotels, why? If you’re a fan of Airbnb or independent bed and breakfast operations, what appeals to you about them? Or if you love to stay in cozy little B&Bs, what draws you to them?

These are some good questions to ask yourself as you think through your itinerary each trip. There are some good reasons to stay at any of these three options, and a few downsides as well.

Hotel room in the Renaissance Columbus, OHHotels provide a consistent experience, they’re located close to major attractions or downtown business districts, and you can count on them being clean and maintained for you during your stay. You’re also rewarded with loyalty points and other benefits like upgrades for frequent stays.

Of course, if you’re looking for an individual, unique experience, hotels won’t give that to you. They’re there for convenience and/or price. It’s a place to sleep, or to be pampered if you’re staying at a luxury vacation hotel, but you’re still just one of hundreds of guests.

If you want to investigate a specific part of a city, live like the locals, have more room to relax, and cook some of your own meals, Airbnb offers many options.

An Airbnb house in Santa Barbara California; they have a new tool for business travelers.

An Airbnb house in Santa Barbara, California

Typically, you have a more personal experience, possibly interacting with the owner of the property who may also live nearby. You’re often nestled in a residential neighborhood, and you can discover local finds that are off the beaten path from the heavily frequented tourist areas. You can also save money on your trip by eating in. In order to compete with chain hotels, Airbnb is now rewarding loyalty as well.

On the downside, you don’t always get as much privacy, as some Airbnb rooms are just a bedroom in someone’s house or apartment. That’s fine if you’re going to be out for most of the day, and if you don’t mind bunking with a stranger, but some people don’t like the idea. (If that’s you, keep in mind that you can specify a private house or private apartment on the website; you won’t be surprised with a roommate when you book your Airbnb.)

Long before Airbnb, independent bed and breakfasts provided a similar experience for travelers seeking something unique.

When you book your stay at a bed and breakfast, you may have all the benefits of a hotel—clean, maintained rooms—but you also get the chance to interact with a smaller group of guests and the owner/operator, who may be cooking your meals and can provide expert knowledge about the area’s sites and history. In fact, if you love history, a B&B may be your best bet, as many of them are originally historic homes that have been converted into a place to visit and relax.

But on the downside, it’s like staying in a small hotel. You may have your own bathroom or you may end up sharing one with other guests. If you need your privacy and space, be sure to check out the B&B’s website and room type before you commit.

What’s your lodging preference when you travel? What makes it your favorite? What option do you like the least? Tell us about it in the comments below, on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: David Jensen (Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)
Scott Cutler, an Airbnb house in Santa Barbara, CA (Flickr, Creative Commons)

Mysterious Hotel Fees Explained

May 22, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

When checking out of a hotel, do you ever really examine the bill that’s slipped under your door before you actually leave the premises? If not, you could be paying more than you expected for your room, thanks to some hidden fees that were tacked on to your bill but didn’t show up on the website when you booked it.

The use of fees isn’t uncommon in the hotel industry. It allows them a certain “sleight of hand” in advertising, claiming a certain room price and not disclosing what will be tacked on when you check out. This isn’t illegal so much as one of those unspoken things that just sort of happen but no one talks about.

So let’s talk about it! Here are some explanations for commonly added fees.

Let’s start with the resort fee. Basically, this allows a hotel to charge travelers for specific amenities that are part of the hotel’s property. It might include access to the business center, the fitness center, or newspaper delivery. It can vary from property to property, with some charging a flat fee while others tack on a percentage based on your room rate. Another little-known fee can be added for lawn maintenance called a groundskeeping fee. You value that there aren’t any weeds in the grass and that the lawn is edged, don’t you? Well, someone’s got to pay for that.

Some Fees are Negotiable

According to the LA Times, these fees aren’t mandated by law, nor have they been “levied by a legitimate taxing organization.” That’s good news for you because it means you can contest them before you ever check in and negotiate your way to a rate you can live with.

However, this is easier said than done.

Hotel lobby. This is the place to negotiate your hotel fees *before* you check inOne strategy for getting out of a resort fee is to know what your benefits are as a member of that hotel’s loyalty program. For example, a hotel can’t charge you for wifi if it’s included as an amenity in your loyalty membership. According to The Points Guy, Nick Ewen, fees of this nature can be waived at certain properties in the Hilton, Hyatt, Marriott, and Starwood chains.

If the hotel you’re staying at doesn’t have a loyalty program, you can try to negotiate the resort fee by telling them you don’t want to pay for amenities, such as the pool or the gym, you don’t plan to use. If you don’t do this at check-in, though, you’re going to have a hard time getting waived when you check out.

And don’t try to be tricky: Don’t negotiate and then surreptitiously use them anyway. (That doesn’t work with the pet fee, and it won’t work in this case. Hotels have eyes everywhere.)

Another strange, annoying fee is the occupancy tax. This one is harder to dispute because local municipalities and some state governments have legislated these for the benefit of their city and state. Don’t confuse these with state and local taxes; they’re different. And, on top of both of these, some states and cities charge a bed tax, also known as a hotel unit fee.

For example, in New York City, the New York State Department of Taxation requires hotels in the Big Apple to charge $1.50 per day as a hotel unit fee. Houston charges 17 percent, Palm Springs charges 13.5 percent, and in San Francisco, the charge is 14 percent plus and additional 1 to 1.5 percent in certain tourism improvement districts.

Don’t let late-night snacking at the mini bar end up as an additional charge on your bill. On top of the overpriced item you bought on a whim, you may be charged a restocking fee Ask ahead of time if you plan to “take advantage” of this particular amenity, or stock up on snacks at a local convenience store and save yourself the remorse. (And don’t try to replace it on your own. Many of these minibars have sensors to tell if an item has been moved, and that’s how they know to charge you.)

Be aware that some hotels may charge what they call a “service charge” that ensures the staff are appropriately tipped for making your bed, vacuuming, and leaving you clean towels. If you plan to tip the staff yourself, discuss this with management, not the front desk staff, upon your arrival, but don’t be surprised if the explanation of this fee is frustratingly vague. After all, the housekeeping staff don’t make a lot of money to begin with, so shorting them on tips is kind of selfish and uncool.

Keep in mind that some hotels have taken their cue from the airlines and have begun charging for those little “extras” you may consider complimentary, such as:

  • Extra towels
  • Local phone calls
  • Late checkout
  • Choosing your own room

One last piece of advice about these fees: don’t get caught being charged a cancellation fee if you have to cancel your reservation. You may not be aware that some hotels charge you for the night if you cancel less than 72 or 48 hours in advance.

What kinds of hotel fees have you encountered on your travels? Have you been able to negotiate them off your bill or been surprised to find them? Tell us about it in the comments below, on our Facebook page, orin our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Radesigns (Pixabay.com, Creative Commons 0, Public Domain)

Air Travel That’s Easier on Your Brain and Body

May 8, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

We all know the basics for staying at our best during air travel: get plenty of rest, eat right, stay hydrated, exercise, and avoid caffeine. But here are a few tips to enhance your experience as you prepare for your next time to fly.

Knowledge is power, so instead of allowing your brain to be preoccupied the night before you take off with details about how you might make that 40-minute layover window, go online and determine the best way to navigate the distance between gates or terminals. You’ll go in with a plan and your brain will then be able to relax and solve other less troublesome problems while you sleep.

There are a few things you can do to make your air travel easier on your brain and your body.Instead of relying on airline food or airport food to nourish you, pack your own snacks, such as trail mix, jerky, or dried fruit. Sticking to your diet or eating regimen will allow your body to weather the rigors of travel without diverting energy and effort to digestion. If you need some sort of energy boost, pack a high-fiber snack such as an apple, a pear, or some raspberries. Even choosing to pack a simple baggie of bran flakes can, with the purchase of a carton of milk at a terminal restaurant or store, become a healthy alternative to a donut with coffee.

Speaking of caffeine, avoid it in order to remain hydrated during air travel. Notorious for their dry environments, the recycled air in planes doesn’t help your system function at its best, and caffeine is also known to increase dehydration. Drinking extra water the day before will help ward off the sluggishness associated with dehydration. Pack a reusable water bottle — make sure it’s empty when you go through security — to help you have access to water without paying through the nose for a plastic bottle.

Substituting green tea for coffee will give you some caffeine with extra benefits. Green tea also contains EGCG, an immune-boosting antioxidant, and L-theanine, a naturally occurring amino acid known to help you be calm and relaxed in flight.

Exercise while traveling doesn’t have to entail packing special shoes or clothing. Simply choosing to walk up the escalator or between terminals instead of taking the airport’s shuttle system will kickstart your body’s metabolism and increase your mental sharpness.

Traveling by plane can be physically, mentally, and emotionally taxing. How do you cope with flying, especially if you’re a regular flyer? Share your tips in the comments below, on our Facebook page, orin our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Adrian Pingstone (Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)

Price of US Passports Rose at the Start of the Month

April 5, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

As of April 2, the price you’ll pay to obtain a United States passport increased from $135 to $145, and passports for children 16 years of age and younger rose to $115 instead of $105.

According to the U.S. State Department, the price increase stemmed from a study done by the U.S. Department of Consular Affairs that determined that the $25 execution fee the U.S. Postal Service was charging was insufficient, and they weren’t making enough money. Thus the $10 increase.

The application fee for an adult passport book is $115 ($105 for children 16 or younger) remains unchanged. Those who apply for passport renewal also will not see an increase in their prices. Renewal fees are not determined by age and cost $110 per passport book.

Photo of a US passport on a map of the United States. Which is weird, since you don't need a passport to travel within the US.According to the Department of Consular Affairs, residents qualify for passport renewal if their original passport is undamaged when submitted, was issued when they were 16 years or older, was issued in the past 15 years, and was issued in your current name. (Name changes must be submitted by mail with an original or certified copy of a marriage certificate, divorce decree, or court order.)

For those looking for a less costly alternative and do not plan to fly internationally, a passport card can be obtained for $55 for residents over 16 and for $40 for residents under 16, with renewals only costing $30.

This card may only be used for land crossings and sea ports of entry, and is only accepted in lieu of a passport book for border crossings in Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, and the Caribbean. In other words, you can’t fly into those countries with the passport card, you must have the full passport.

But the passport card may be a viable option for anyone on closed-loop cruises which starts and ends in the United States. That’s enough to let you get off the boat on a Caribbean cruise and get back into the country.

The passport card is also Real I.D. compliant and can be used for domestic travel. This is important, since some U.S. states still do not have Real I.D. compliant driver’s licenses and state ID cards, which means people in those states are not allowed to board an airplane.

How do you manage your business travel during peak travel seasons, especially to those vacation hotspots? Any tips to share or horror stories to learn from? Tell us about it in the comments below, on our Facebook page, orin our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Cytis (Pixabay, Creative Commons 0/Public Domain)

The Benefits of Train Travel for Business

March 27, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

Ever been frustrated by your desire to follow up on some great brainstorming that happened at a business meeting, but you couldn’t take advantage of that spurt of productivity because you were behind the wheel on your way to your next appointment?

If driving several hours between cities has put a big damper on your productivity, you should consider the possibility of taking the train. Whether it’s a commuter or medium- or long-distance intercity service like Amtrak, taking the train to get from here to there may allow you to make great use of the time spent getting to your destination.

Train travel can be an effective mode of business travel. It takes as long as a car trip, but you can get plenty of work done, or just have a good nap, while you're moving.Many business travelers may not be aware that Amtrak offers routes (called “lines” from their hometowns to regional destinations, such as the Hoosier State (Indianapolis to Chicago), Hiawatha Service (Chicago to Milwaukee); Amtrak Cascades (Portland to Seattle to Vancouver, BC); Acela Express (Boston to Washington DC); and The Maple Leaf (New York City to Toronto, via Albany) just to name a few. And they even have business class seating on most trains.

Plus, depending on where you travel, parking in some major cities like New York and Chicago can be extremely expensive and hard to find. Taking a train and catching an Uber or Lyft can help you avoid those headaches.

Here are a few things to consider for train travel for business:

  • Purchasing tickets online is often the best way to take advantage of deals. You can also decrease your costs by purchasing a rail pass if you know you’re going to make several trips via train in a given timeframe.
  • Amtrak offers a mobile app that streamlines your booking and boarding process. You can purchase your ticket through the app and display it during check-in as you would an airline ticket.
  • Amtrak has a loyalty program and accruing points can help you offset the purchase of your ticket just like you do when you book with an airline.
  • If you want to use the train for a multi-city tour with a day or two between cities, you need to purchase individual tickets for each leg of the trip.
  • Wifi and dedicated quiet cars give you the opportunity to make the most of the time spent en route writing that proposal, setting up appointments, or participating in a conference call. To ensure access to these amenities, be sure to book your ticket in business class.
  • Some train stations have business class lounges that allow you to work in a quiet, internet-equipped space as you wait for your train. This area creates a far more conducive atmosphere for conducting business than the crowded waiting area at a gate before a flight.
  • Train travel can have its delays, so be sure to adjust your arrival and departure times to ensure you don’t miss an important meeting due to unforeseen changes in the route’s timetable.
  • If you’d like to burn the midnight oil while you’re riding the rails, you can book a private bedroom and work as late as you need to before retiring. You’ll arrive refreshed at your destination.

Have you ever tried train travel for business? Did it make a difference in your commuter headaches? Share your stories in the comments below, on our Facebook page, orin our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: PXHere.com (Creative Commons 0, Public Domain)

What to Do in an Emergency While You’re Traveling

February 27, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

When Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, the world’s busiest airport, experienced a catastrophic power failure due to a fire this past December, 30,000 people were affected. If you were stranded somewhere due to a local emergency or natural disaster, do you have a plan in place for letting colleagues, friends, and family know of your safety and whereabouts?

While it may seem obvious that you could text, call, or take to social media to let those important to you know you’re okay, there are other alternatives you might want to consider as a backup plan if needed.

If you’re fortunate to have access to the Internet, contacting coworkers, friends, and relatives can be achieved through the aforementioned options as well as the check-in feature on Facebook.

Hospital Emergency sign in big red lettersThis function became increasingly useful and popular during the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando and the Las Vegas concert shooting. Facebook was able to use a mobile phone’s location finder app, ask users if they were safe, and they could mark themselves as safe, putting friends’ and families’ minds at rest from hundreds of miles away.

But what if an incident were to strand you overseas or you weren’t on social media? There are other methods you can use, such as apps that work on wifi or cellular signals. Apps like Skype for phone calls, WhatsApp and Voxer for texting work on mobile phones or even an iPad or iPod Touch with wifi capabilities. And of course, if you have access to a laptop or Internet cafe, you can always send a quick message that way.

However you decide to get in touch with your loved ones, you should have a plan in place before you travel so that those you leave behind will know how they’ll hear from you in the event of a local emergency. Here’s one suggested protocol. Feel free to establish one that works best for you.

  • Designate one person as your main contact.
  • Provide that person a list of others they should contact once they hear from you.
  • Decide if you want your main contact to broadcast your status via social media or private channels.
  • Let those on that list know who you have put in charge of letting them know of your status.

If you have a basic emergency plan in place, you can easily let people know via simple electronic technology.

But if worse comes to worse, you can always find a phone booth and call someone collect.

What plans do you have for communicating in an emergency? Do you have any plans or strategies already in place? Have you ever had to use them? Tell us about it in the comments below, on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: FreeGreatPicture.com (Creative Commons 0, Public Domain)

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