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TRAVEL TIPS

Hotels

  • Always ask for the corporate rate at a hotel, even if you don’t work for a big company. It usually saves you 20 percent. Few hotels ask for I.D. when you arrive, and a business card is usually all you need to show.
  • Don't call the 800 number to reserve at big hotel chains; they don't always know about local specials.
  • Don't accept the first rate offered at a hotel; always ask if something cheaper is available. If they aren't full, most hotels are amenable to a little bargaining. Be sure they incorporate lower weekend rates into your bill.
  • In the United States, big savings are available from hotel discount services, sometimes as much as 50 percent off the published rate. Two major services are Express Reservations (800-356-1123) for New York and Los Angeles, and Quikbook (800-789-9887) for Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C. Hotel Reservation Network (800-96-HOTELS) handles hotels in London and Paris, as well as 11 U.S. cities.
  • No rooms available at the hotel? Call back after 6:00 p.m.; that's when rooms saved for no-shows become available.

Airlines

  • Can't get through to the airlines during a fare sale? Try calling at 7:00 a.m. or after 11:00 p.m., when you're less likely to get a busy signal.
  • During bad weather months, avoid delays by flying early in the day and choosing nonstop flights. When you must change planes, look for winter hubs like Dallas, Atlanta, or Las Vegas rather than northern cities such as Chicago, Denver, or Detroit. Don't book the last flight of the day; if it is canceled, you're out of luck.
  • To avoid getting stuck in the middle seat on a plane, always ask for seat assignments when you reserve your ticket. Check in at least twenty minutes before departure in order to hold your seat.
  • Always pay for tickets and tours with a credit card; it is your insurance in case the airline or the tour company goes out of business
  • Avoid flights during which you change planes and airlines—transfers account for 40 percent of lost baggage. If this proves impossible, don't check your baggage through (make arrangements to recheck it between flights).
  • To minimize the risk of having your baggage stolen, get to the baggage claim area as soon as possible after landing.
  • If your luggage fails to appear, notify the baggage-service personnel immediately. Then fill in the proper tracing form. If you don't file the claim promptly, the airline may deny the loss, particularly if damage is involved. If your baggage doesn't arrive on the flight you were on, it's likely to show up on the next one.
  • Insurance: The federal government increased the amount per bag for which airlines can be held liable (from $500 to $750). Recommended: Make an inventory describing each bag and its contents. Keep this with you, separate from the baggage.
  • Never accept the first fare quoted. Half the time, some other airline's flight within hours of the one you booked has a special, less expensive deal.
  • Some supersaver fares are so low that even if you can't stay as long as the requirements (usually seven days), you can save by buying two round trip tickets—one from your home to your destination for the day you want to leave and one from your destination to your home for the day you want to return.
  • If you miss your flight and there's just time to catch another, go right to the other airline's departure gate instead of its ticket counter. If it has an empty seat, the second airline will usually honor the ticket for the flight you missed.
  • Best seat in the plane. After first class, the choices center on your priorities. For comfort and a smooth ride, pick a seat over the wings. For silence, sit as far forward as possible, but avoid the galley and the rest rooms. For leg room, try the first row of seats beside the emergency exits.

Tours

  • Decide how much you can spend, and contact a travel agency specializing in personalized tours. For example, Journeys!, 800-344-8890, will arrange a budget-minded one- to two-week walking tour of a historic city.

Trains

  • Buy a round-trip ticket even if you don't intend to return. For example, you can pay Amtrak, 800-USA-RAIL, $155 for a one-way ticket from New York City to Orlando, or you can ask about discount availability and pay as little as $138 for a round-trip ticket. Possibly, sell the return ticket to a friend.

Traveler Beware

  • Don't fly within 12 hours after dental work. The change in atmospheric pressure can cause severe pain.
  • First-class air travel. Not worth the 30 percent premium unless the flight lasts more than four hours.
  • You shouldn't pay the federal tax on airfare if you're flying from one US city to another US city in order to catch a flight to another country. You may have to show the agent the foreign ticket.
  • Carry your medical history. Fold a one-page summary of health data into your passport. What it should include: Blood type, allergies, eyeglass prescription, medications currently being taken, any preexisting health condition.
  • Confirm airline reservations when the small box in the center of the airline ticket is marked "RQ." It indicates that the travel agent has only requested a seat, and wait-listing status is a possibility. A confirmed reservation is indicated by an "OK" on your ticket
  • Avoid consuming the food and drink offered on the airplanes. Alcohol, nuts, soft drinks, and other "empty calories" can cause a swing from high to low blood sugar. You go from feeling great to feeling tired, cramped, and headachy.
  • Alcohol has more punch during an airplane flight than on the ground. Reason: Body fluids evaporate more quickly in the pressurized dry cabin. And under pressure, the alcohol absorbs more fluids in the intestinal tract, thus making itself felt more quickly. Alternative: To reduce the dehydration caused by a long flight (six hours or more), drink three or four pints of water during the flight.
  • Preventing Montezuma's Revenge: University of Texas Medical School researchers found that the primary ingredient in Pepto-Bismol (bismuth subsalicylate) can help to prevent the most common traveler's ailment. A group of students in Mexico received four tablespoons of the medication four times a day (for 21 days). Others were given a placebo. Diarrhea developed in only 14 of 62 students on medication versus 40 of 66 students on the placebo.

Hotel Safety

  • Don't accept delivery of items or services in your room that you didn't order. Have them left at the front desk.
  • Use the peephole to identify visitors. If you don't recognize the person, call the front desk.
  • Stand next to the floor button panel when riding elevators alone. If you sense a problem, press the button for the next floor and get off immediately. Don't press the emergency button because this could leave you trapped.
  • When you leave your room, leave a light on and close your curtains if returning after dark.
  • Ask the concierge or front desk to point out unsafe areas in the city and avoid them.
  • Have your keys ready when you return to your room, so you arn't left standing in the corridor fumbling for them.
  • Have cash ready for busses and cabs for the same reason.
  • Ask for a room near the elevator. When checking in, make sure someone from the front desk escorts you to the room and checks it out before you go in. Make sure sliding doors have a lock or rod to install on the floor track.
  • Don't hang the "Make Up My Room" sign on the door handle. It advertises that the room is unoccupied.
  • Outsmart Pickpockets
    Forget backpacks. They're too easy for a pickpocket to get into without your ever noticing.
  • Wear your shoulder bag away from the street, across your chest, under your arm and close to your body.
  • Don't lose control of your bag on a crowded bus or a subway. It's just as vulnerable as a backpack if it's pushed across your back and you can't see it.
  • Don't keep all your cash and credit cards in one place: you may be left without funds if a pickpocket strikes. Keep your main stash and your passport in a money belt or safe travel pouch that can be worn out of sight.
  • Stick your big bills and credit cards in your bra temporarily if you're leery about where you're going.
  • Empty your wallet of everything but essentials if you're going on a trip and make photocopies of essentials. Leave one copy at home and one copy in your luggage.
  • Memorize your PINs instead of writing them down; if your ATM and phone cards are stolen, they can't be used.
  • Beware of people who jostle you or even speak to you in airports or train stations. Their partners may be picking your pocket on the left while you're distracted on the right.
  • Don't let a stranger touch your belongings. A common scam starts with someone spilling something on you or your bag and offering to clean it up. While this is happening, the partner is cleaning out your wallet.
  • There are many travel scams that occur on the road, but one to be aware of and avoid is overcharging at the airport for transportation to the center of the city. Find out what the fares should be and agree before you get on board.

"Travel light and you can sing in the robber's face."
—Juvenal

Packaging Tips

  • If your luggage goes astray and you need to account for the contents, this list will come in handy.
  • Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel
  • alarm clock
  • batteries
  • binoculars
  • camera
  • clothesline
  • credit cards
  • driver's license
  • ear plugs
  • film
  • flashlight
  • glasses/ contact lenses (spare)
  • knife
  • clock
  • maps
  • money belt
  • passport (and photocopy)
  • pen
  • plastic bags
  • playing cards
  • prescription (eyeglass)
  • prescription (medical)
  • safety pins
  • sewing kit
  • sunglasses
  • swimsuit
  • traveler's checks
  • travel iron
  • umbrella
  • walking shoes
  • watch

First Aid & Toiletries

  • adhesive bandages
  • antacid
  • antihistamine
  • aspirin/ Tylenol
  • calamine lotion
  • comb/ brush
  • condoms
  • contact lens solution
  • dental floss
  • deodorant
  • diarrhea remedy
  • hair dryer
  • Organize your wardrobe around one basic dark color (brown, black, or navy) to cut down on accessories.
  • Be merciless when it comes to packing your travel wardrobe. Bring half as many clothes and twice as much money as you think you'll need.
  • Expect unexpected weather. Be prepared for a cold, rainy spell in July or a January thaw.
  • The most important item in your travel wardrobe is a pair of comfortable walking shoes with non-skid soles, broken in before your trip.
  • Transfer shampoo and lotions into mini-bottles of lightweight plastic. Don't fill them to the top: pressure may cause the contents to expand. Put spillables into a plastic bag, just in case.
  • Pack heaviest items first; put shoes along the side of the bottom of the bag.
  • Use the smallest suitcase you can get along with and pack a folding tote pack to hold any extras you might acquire. Two smaller bags are easier to manage than one giant suitcase.
  • Pack tightly; don't waste precious space. Fill in spaces with underwear, socks, and hose. Roll pajamas, sweaters, and other casual wear to fit into small spaces.
  • Pack suits, dresses, shirts, and blouses in plastic dry-cleaner bags to cut down on wrinkling, or put layers of tissue paper between garments.
  • Drape slacks, dresses, and any longer garments across the suitcase with the ends hanging over the sides. Put shirts and blouses in the center and fold the long ends over. The center clothing acts as a cushion to prevent wrinkles.
  • Pack some old clothes and discard them after you wear them, lightening your load or leaving room for purchases.
  • Never pack valuables, jewelry, travel documents, or medicines in luggage you intend to check. Pack them in a carry-on together with one change of clothes.
  • Don't force your suitcase to close; it may mean broken hinges or zippers when you can least cope with them. If the suitcase won't close, remove a few items.
  • Lock your luggage to avoid accidental opening and to discourage thieves. Wrap tape around the bag to discourage them further.
  • A bright piece of ribbon or yarn will help you spot your bag among the look-alikes on the luggage carousel.
  • Remove old claim tags so baggage handlers won't be confused about your destination.
  • Clearly tag all luggage and put your name, home address, and next destination address inside your suitcase as well.

Tipping Guide

Here are typical tipping practices:

  • Bellman, porters, sky caps carrying luggage: $1 per bag
  • Doorman hailing a taxi: $1
  • Restaurant waiters: 10 to 20 percent depending on the level of service
  • Bartender: 10 to 15 percent
  • Room service waiter: Check the bill; a service charge is usually included. If not, 10 to 15 percent
  • Concierge: for special services, $5 to $10
  • Housekeeper: $1 per day (leave it on the dresser)
  • Parking valet: $1 to $2
  • Hairstylist, masseuse: 15 percent
  • Tour Guides: Optional, but $1 for a day and $5 to $10 for a week of touring is usual.
  • Shuttle Van Driver: Tip not necessary
  • Health Club Attendant: Tip not necessary

Driving Safely

  • Just you in the car? Chances are you'll be just fine, but don't take any chances. Here are some tips to keep you rolling along safely:
  • Keep the doors locked and the windows up. Use the air conditioner if necessary. Be extra-sure the windows are up when you stop for a light.
  • Keep the gas tank full. When the gas level gauge reaches the halfway mark on your dashboard indicator, fill up. Don't wait for the gauge to read "empty."
  • Park only on well-lit streets or parking lots. Check for loiterers when you get out, even in your own neighborhood.
  • Have keys out and ready so you can get into the car quickly.
  • Never stop if a stranger signals that something is wrong with your car—not even if two or three cars go by with the same message. They may be working as a team. Keep going to a service station to check it out.
  • If you think you are being followed, head for the nearest police or fire station or a well-lit store or gas station. Hit the horn hard in short insistent beeps. If you can't find a place to stop, keep moving and keep beeping. You'll attract attention—maybe even the police, which is just what you want.
  • If you have car trouble in the daytime, lift the hood and tie a cloth to the antenna or outside the door handle to signal for help.
  • If you are arriving at an airport late at night, stay at an airport hotel and get your car in the morning rather than trying to make your way to an unfamiliar destination on dark roadways.

Insurance

One final matter to think about before you travel: insurance. Most tour companies and some independent companies offer trip cancellation insurance. The average cost is low compared to the price of a trip and can prove a worthwhile investment whenever you plan far ahead for a very expensive journey. Cruises, for example, offer sizable discounts for early booking, but if it's necessary for you to cancel your plans at the last minute, you can lose your entire payment without insurance. Insurance also includes coverage for any costs that may occur due to travel delays en route.

Don't buy travel insurance at airports. Coverage is much more expensive and rates vary from city to city. Better: buy directly from an insurance company. Your U.S. health insurance probably will not cover you outside the United States, but travel insurance is available. Access America, Inc. (800-284-8300), Travelex Insurance (800-228-9792), and GlobalCare (800-821-2488) are among several organizations providing this service. Travel agents and tour operators can supply names of other groups who will provide coverage. If you are traveling to remote places, be sure that emergency evacuation coverage is included.

Holders of gold Visa, Mastercard, and American Express cards also may be entitled to travel benefits, from life insurance to car rental discounts to a help-line abroad with an English speaking operator who can advise on medical and legal problems. It pays to check what your card offers, as it may be worth upgrading if you travel often.