Wanderlust Blog

Posts Tagged ‘Travel Tips’

Here at Amazing Journeys, we’re lucky have the best jobs in the world—and we think our good fortune is worth sharing. So, when your next journey seems like a distant dream, take a few minutes to explore our WANDERLUST blog—it’s chock full of engaging tales and helpful tips from our travels around the world. Check out the most recent entry (at the top) or search by your preferred criteria. Consider it motivation for your next embarkation.

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Hanukkah Shopping Guide: Travelers Edition 2014

Wednesday, November 19th, 2014

With Hanukkah right around the corner, we’re all racking our brains, trying to find that perfect gift for friends, family, or what to tell others we want… Amazing Journeys to the rescue! Here is our Top Ten Travel Gift Idea list! Buy for others or share the list to hint at what you want!

10. Multiple Device Travel Charger

chargepod_2

This portable charger minimizes cable clutter by placing multiple charging outlets on a single unit. You can refuel up to six devices simultaneously while occupying just a single wall outlet. Available here.

9. Scratch Map

normal_scratch-map-poster

Track your travels with a scratch-off-where-you’ve-been map that charts globetrotting in a fun, colorful and innovative way. Scratch off the areas you’ve visited and show off your travel progress! Available here.

8. Foldable Water Bottle
bubibottle

Another way to save space in your bag!  Roll it up and a metal loop keeps the bottle scrunched up so it fits easily into your bag. Available here.

7. iPhone Life Jacket
ip4_lifejacket

Want to take pictures as you take a dip in the pool?  Throw your iPhone in a waterproof case and life jacket and let it float right alongside you. Available here.

6. Crease Release
crease release

In a world of overpacked schedules (and suitcases!), ironing isn’t always an option. As soon as you make it to your destination, unpack your clothes, give them a quick spray and blast of the blow dryer and start looking fabulous. Available here.

5. GoPro Camera
gopro

This rugged, waterproof, portable camera will take all the action shots you ever need to become the adventurous envy of all your friends back home. Available here.

4. A good travel book

Whether you’re reading up on your next destination, learning about a new culture or just escaping from reality, its always great to travel with a book. And who knows? When you’re done with your book, you can always trade with a friend on your trip and read their new favorite, too! Available here.

3. RFID Blocking Wallet
rfid wallet

This lightweight organizer protects your passport, ID and credit cards from identity theft with advanced RFID-blocking technology. Thieves with scanners can’t get at the radio-frequency tags embedded in your cards and documents because of the secure lining that shields your information. Available here.

2. Global Entry pass
globalentry

Global Entry is a program that allows pre-approved travelers the opportunity travel easier at the airport. Once you have been approved for Global Entry, you can use this for Pre-Check, a special quick security line in most major US airports, allowing you to breeze through while keeping your shoes and belt on, your liquids stored away and your laptop snuggly in your carry-on. How nice is that? There is an application process but we think it’s worth the work upfront, knowing how much time it will save at the airport. Available for US citizens only.

1. Packing cubes
packing cubes

This is the very favorite of our AJ staffers. If you’re looking for an easy way to pack and unpack while on tour, here is your answer! Throw all of your socks into one, your accessories in another and your shirts into the larger one. When its time to unpack in your stateroom or hotel room, you know where everything is and you’re done in 3 minutes. Simply unzip the cube, open the top, and lay right inside of the drawer. When it’s time to pack it up again, zip it all up and throw it in the suitcase. Only staying at the hotel for a day or two? Leave it all in the suitcase and reach right in to easily find what you are seeking! Available here.

Enjoy your holiday shopping, happy Hanukkah and hope to travel with you soon!

New TSA security regulations

Thursday, July 10th, 2014

cell phone
Is your cell phone charged?

It will need to be going forward. In order to continually protect US borders, TSA has added an additional security regulation at certain overseas airports on inbound flights to the US. TSA agents might ask you to power on any electronic or battery-powered devices in front of them that you bring through airport security, including cell phones, tablets, e-readers, laptops, etc. This is to demonstrate the item’s functionality. This new security regulation is focused on intercepting explosives that could be disguised as electronic devices. If you are asked to do this and your device does not have power, you will not be allowed to bring it through security.

Moral of the story – make sure all of the electronic devices are fully charged before you head to the airport.

Tips for sleeping at 35,000 feet

Thursday, June 12th, 2014

airplane

With all the distractions and hassles of air travel, everything makes it tough to sleep on a plane – not enough legroom, people climbing over you, noise from movies and video games and screaming children., sunlight pouring in your neighbor’s window at 35,000 feet.

If you struggle to get some shuteye each time you take to the air, you’re not alone – but choosing the right seat, bringing the right gear and making a few small changes in your flying habits could help you sleep better on your next flight.

Choose your seat wisely

Your seat location could be one of the most important factors in how well, or how poorly, you sleep on your next trip. Try to get a window seat if possible; it will give you something to lean against and get you out of the way of other folks in your row, who won’t have to scramble over you each time they need to use the bathroom. You’ll also have some control over the window shade.

Think twice about bulkhead or exit row seats. Sure, the extra legroom is great, but some exit row seats do not recline (so that they won’t be an obstruction in case of emergency), and some bulkhead seats have armrests that can’t be raised. Sleeping in one of these is like sleeping in a straitjacket.

Another area to avoid is the last row of the plane. Again, the seats may not recline, and they’re often located right near the bathrooms where both noise (and odor) could be an issue.

Aside from the very last row, there are pros and cons to sitting near the front of the plane and sitting near the back. Seats near the rear of the plane may be noisier due to the planes’ engines and clink-clanking from the galley, but it’s also more likely that you’ll have a couple of seats (or even a whole row) to yourself back there – and the extra space could make up for the extra noise.

Cut down on your carry-ons

If you have two full carry-ons, one might end up under your feet, limiting your legroom and making it harder to sleep. Instead, pack lighter so you can fit everything into a single bag. Keep a few small necessities near the top of the bag – a book or magazine, a snack, a bottle of water. Before you stow your bag in the overhead compartment, pull out the important items that you’ll need during the flight and put them in the back of the seat in front of you. Keep the items you stow in the seat back pocket to a minimum, and be aware that flight attendants may ask you to put the items back into your carry-on bag.

Skip the caffeine

Especially on a daytime flight, where even the view out the window can be a distraction, you’ll find it much harder to sleep if you have caffeine coursing through your veins. Skip the temptation to have a cup of coffee or a soda before boarding, and stick to water or juice when the drink cart comes around.

Blankets and pillows – stake your claim

There are never enough blankets and pillows to go around. Board early and stake your claim. If there isn’t a set in your seat, immediately ask the flight attendant for one.

Bring a neck pillow

Many travelers swear by their supportive neck pillows. Experiment a bit and see which ones will work best for you.

Free your feet

This is a controversial subject. Some people slip their shoes off as soon as they get on a plane; others wouldn’t dream of it. Further, there’s the issue of keeping your circulation flowing; going barefoot permits your feet to swell.

Take care of your feet and wear clean socks. Bare feet don’t offend; stinky feet do. Wear shoes you can slip on and off easily. This way you’re not pulling at shoelaces mid-flight. On overseas flights, some airlines give you socks that will keep you warm and encourage circulation in your feet.

Try a sleep aid

I am not a doctor and will not attempt to advise you on what drugs you should take as sleep aids. That said, here are a few products that have been used with some success:

Melatonin: This is a naturally occurring substance – it’s the compound that triggers our sleep patterns, and it’s as natural as eating. The level of melatonin in our bodies declines as we age; this is why older folks often sleep less as they advance in years. As it is a gentle approach, melatonin doesn’t seem to work for everyone.

Dramamine: This motion sickness remedy is a pretty common over-the-counter drug, but beware; it will knock you out, and the advice not to operate heavy machinery (like, say, a car) is to be heeded. If you are on a shorter flight or need to be alert when you wake up, you may want to avoid this one.

Use headphones with discretion

Save yourself the $4 – $5 and catch some more winks by passing on the airline’s headphones. TV and movies can keep you up the entire flight. On the other hand, listening to soothing music can help tune out distractions and lull you into a peaceful sleep. For best results, try Bose’s popular noise-canceling headphones; they’re pricey, but they’re the best product on the market for frequent fliers looking to escape engine noise and other in-flight distractions. (Ear plugs are a less effective but much cheaper alternative.)

Recline your seat – but be courteous

On a night flight, expecting someone not to sleep is like asking them to put down their window shade during a flight over the Grand Canyon or Haleakala. Ideally, everyone has the same idea and seat backs will tip backward soon into your flight.

However, you should always look behind you to make sure the coast is clear before pushing the button to put your seat back. It gives the person behind you a heads up if they have coffee in front of them or have their head down on the tray table. Simple common courtesy applies here.

Make sure you won’t be disturbed

Notify your flight attendant that you want to sleep – that way he or she will know not to disturb you when the drink or snack cart comes around. If you’re under a blanket, be sure your seat belt is buckled over top of it so the belt is visible at all times.

Stay away from the light

The animated flash of movie screens, reading lights, cabin lights, sunlight bursting in on an eastbound flight – all can disturb your slumber. Get yourself an eye mask. Some airlines provide them, but it’s best to keep one in your traveling kit just to be safe.

When it’s time to wake up…

The worst part of sleeping is waking up. It’s even worse on a plane, when you’re waking up to bright lights, luggage carousels and sunshine so bright you can hear it.

If it’s a long flight, consider setting a watch or cell phone alarm for 45 minutes before you have to land. That gives you time to go to the restroom, gather your gear, tie your shoes, watch the approach to your destination and walk off the plane fully awake.

Reaching your destination fully rested, whether you indulge in a short and sweet nap or a full rack en route, always beats lurching around an airport tired and crabby. Grab your winks in flight and you’ll be a happier traveler.

 

Originally posted on Independent Traveler

Apps that make your trip more fun and less frustrating

Wednesday, May 21st, 2014

rickshaw asia

You’ve booked your vacation and are counting down the days before you leave.  Take a few minutes to check out some of these awesome apps that can save you time, frustration and even embarrassment when traveling.

Postale
This app combines the fun of old-school postcards with the modern convenience of social media. You can use your own just-shot vacation snaps to create your card and the whole process takes mere minutes: Choose a layout and background, add photo, title and message, then finish it off with an artsy postmark. Send it straight from the app using e-mail, Facebook or Twitter. A unique stamp is automatically added that shows from where and when your card was transmitted. It’s a personal way of updating family and friends on your how your vacation is going. Click here for app

TripLingo
You’ll never be lost for words with TripLingo, a free app that’s part phrasebook, part phonetics coach. Search the word bank in 13 languages – including German, Italian, Hindi and Japanese – for everything from body parts and emotions to weather conditions and restaurant-relevant vocabulary. A handy slang-slider translates must-know questions and pleasantries in four different ways, from a formal approach to the most colloquial. An automated voice coach can even fine-tune your accent. Click here for app

JetPac City Guides
This free iPhone app analyzes details of more than 100 million Instagram images to point travellers to the world’s hippest hangouts, happiest places and best views. It ranks publicly shared digital photos by such details as the amount of blue sky, the number of smiles, evidence of coffee cups or wine glasses, and so on, to come up with Top 10 lists. The results are hit and miss. If you’re heading to Paris, and want to know where the city’s best museums are, you’ll be offered the usual (Louvre, Centre Pompidou, Musée d’Orsay). Searching for the happiest places, however, leads to a list of nightclubs, restaurants, bars and an office tower. Stay away from gimmicky recommendations and instead look for coffee shops, dog-friendly places and where parents go with kids. Click here for app

Rove
Having trouble retracing the steps of your recent Roman holiday? This free iPhone app uses GPS data to track all the places you’ve been. It works in the background to create a travel log of sights, restaurants, hotels and shops that you’ve visited. The part calendar/part map layout is easy to read and tracks whether you got somewhere on foot, bike, bus or taxi. You can tailor things further by adding notes. Click here for app

Symbolic App
Looking for a pair of chopsticks in Tokyo or a cut of sirloin in Argentina? Symbolic App can help you find the right words. The iOS app is loaded with more than 3,000 symbols in English, French, Spanish, Chinese and Japanese, depicting everything from basic food and drink and health-related matters to hard-to-decipher settings on foreign washing machines. Use the search function to find the right word or phrase. While the pictorial dictionary includes a wide range of categories, it takes a while to navigate the pages. Under “Security,” for instance, you have to scroll randomly through symbols like bomb and battery explosion before finding a way to say “immigration.” Click here for app

Travel List
Get your suitcase in order! This app takes the guesswork out of packing. Start by setting up a series of lists based on the type of vacation you’re taking (beach, safari, city weekend, and so on) and populate them from the preset menus. Within minutes, you scroll through categories that include personal care, clothing, gadgets and documents, and pick must-have items from GPS and mosquito repellent to bikinis, belts and sunscreen. Specify quantities of each item and tick them off once they’re packed. While there are other packing-list apps out there, this one has a simple layout, is easy to navigate and it allows users to copy pre-existing lists, so you don’t have to start from scratch every time. Click here for app

Originally posted on The Globe and Mail

A Guide to Tipping

Thursday, March 6th, 2014

-by Erin

You’ve enjoyed a lovely meal: The ambiance is perfect from beside the Vltava River, the River Thames or the Bosporus Strait, the food seemed to transport you further into the exciting city, and you feel a delicious sense of wonder about the world. Then the bill comes – how does one tip for such an experience? How do you keep yourself from being marked a tourist or worse – a cheap tourist? Never fear: We’ve researched the rules of conduct in 10 popular cities around the world, and here they are in plain English.

London

london changing of the guards

Across the pond in foggy Londontown, tipping etiquette is only slightly different than it is in the States. When you’ve enjoyed a nice meal out at a restaurant, it’s customary to leave anywhere from a 10 to 15 percent tip. But before you leave your extra coins on the table, take a good look at your check: Some restaurants automatically add 12.5 percent, especially on bills for larger parties. It’s not routine to tip at fast food joints or if you’re picking up take-out. When you’re at the bar or pub, tips aren’t customary either — though feel free to leave one if your American reflexes get the best of you. It’s also good manners to leave your taxi driver a 10 to 15 percent tip, though many locals will round to the nearest £1 GBP (about $1.65 USD). Still, if you’ve traveled a longer distance, say from London Heathrow Airport all the way to Buckingham Palace, you might want to leave a bit of a larger gratuity (up to 5 quid or about $8 USD).

Barcelona

After stuffing yourself full of the divine tapas that were delivered by a super attentive waiter or waitress in a Barcelona restaurant, you should consider tipping anywhere from 7 to 13 percent of the total bill. But if the food was subpar and service just so-so, feel free to make your displeasure known by tipping nothing. Tipping in Spain is supposed to be a prize for superior food and service; it’s not an assumption like it is in the U.S. Meanwhile, when it comes to local taxi rides, it’s customary to leave €0.50 EUR (about $0.70 USD), though if you’re traveling farther afield, you may want to tip your cabbie a couple euros.

Paris

paris eiffel tower

You’ve had a marvelous time pretending you are Parisian as you sip your vin and watch the River Seine at a cafe, but you turn into the befuddled American when you receive the bill. It’s a common plight, so here are the rules: A service compris (service charge included) of 15 percent is usually already included in your cafe or restaurant bill. The service charge is probably even included in the price you saw listed on the menu. But rest assured that you wouldn’t be committing a faux pas by adding a few more euros for extraordinary service. When it comes to tipping a taxi driver, it’s customary to tip 5 to 10 percent of the total charge.

Sydney

Down under, the tipping customs aren’t too different from the United States. But one reason for that might be because Americans have influenced the tipping practices in Aussie Land. All you need to remember is the number 10: Whether you’re in a taxi or dining at a restaurant, it’s now customary to tip 10 percent. However, if you only incur a small bill, leaving your extra change should be sufficient.

Prague

prague

When you’re dining on Czech dumplings or beef goulas at a Prague restaurant, you’ll see that a service charge is sometimes included. However, just to be on the safe side, you might want to tip 10 percent of the total bill. When you’re departing a taxi, you should round up the fare to the nearest 20 Czech koruna (the equivalent of $1 USD), or 50 CZK (the equivalent of $2.50 USD) if you’re feeling generous.

Rome

Even though Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg supposedly didn’t tip a couple of Roman waiters while on his honeymoon in 2012, we suggest that you do. In Zuckerberg’s defense, the tipping tradition here is a bit murky. Make it easy on yourself and live by this general rule: Tip up to 10 percent (but no more) of the total bill. However, if you see the words “servizio incluso,” you don’t have to leave your server an additional gratuity, as the service is already included. For taxi drivers, you may want to round up the bill, saying, “tenga pure il resto” or “keep the change.”

Rio de Janeiro

rio

Although Rio de Janeiro’s Carnival celebration is anything but discreet, its tipping practices are. So when you’re handing out a tip, try to be inconspicuous about it — Brazilians are a modest people when it comes to receiving gratuities. At restaurants, however, you don’t need to tip, as a servico (or service) charge of 10 percent is usually included. For taxi drivers, rounding up to the nearest Brazilian real (about $0.40 USD) is usually sufficient.

Istanbul

When you’re dining in Istanbul, you should always try to tip in lira (for reference, 1 Turkish lira is approximately $0.45 USD). For mid-price restaurants, anywhere between a 5 to 10 percent tip would be adequate. However, if you’re enjoying a fine dining experience, you should bump that ratio up to 10 to 15 percent. As for taxi drivers, simply rounding up the taxi fare to the nearest 50 kuru (one hundredth of a lira) is adequate. And if you enjoy one of those quintessential Turkish experiences — like bathing in a hamam — anywhere between a 10 and 20 percent tip is appreciated.

Bangkok

bangkok

Even though you may have some trouble adjusting to Bangkok’s language and landscape, you can rest assured that at least the tipping customs are rather easy to remember. When you’re dining on some delicious Tom Yum Goong (spicy shrimp soup) or Som Tum (spicy green papaya salad) or any other menu specialty at a Bangkok restaurant, you won’t be expected to tip, however you can leave small gratuities for decent service or up to 10 percent of the bill for exceptional service. With taxi drivers, it’s customary to round up the fare. (The currency used is the Thai baht and 1 baht equals about $0.03 USD.)

Cape Town

If we were to generalize about Africa as a whole, we’d say that western generosity is very much appreciated. In Cape Town, in particular, you’d probably want to tip restaurant servers 10 to 15 percent of the total bill (sometimes it is already included in your total). Cab drivers are accustomed to receiving about 10 percent of the total taxi fare. And if you’re traveling from Cape Town International Airport (CPT), you might notice porters mingling about. For their help with your luggage, you might want to hand over 20 to 30 South African rand (ZAR), the equivalent of about $1.80 to $2.70 USD. If you’re traveling by rental car, you may run into “car guards” or valets. When you’re coming back to retrieve your car, an appropriate tip is anywhere from 15 to 20 rand, the equivalent of about $1.35 to $1.80 USD.

Original source: Huffington Post

How to Make the Most of Your Airport Layover

Tuesday, February 25th, 2014

-by Erin

Flights with layovers are often cheaper than direct flights, but despite the savings, many travelers will pay more to avoid the extra time in the airport. Can we blame them? The thought of sitting around in an airport for six hours is only vaguely more enticing than a dental appointment. And who would want to prolong their travel time more than necessary, especially when beach side hotel in Hawaii or a South American New Years cruise awaits at the end of the journey?

But despite their reputation as a necessary evil, layovers don’t have to mean endless hours of watching the clock and waiting for your Amazing Journey to start. In fact, a layover can be a memorable part of your trip and, dare we say it, fun. Instead of killing time filling out crossword puzzles and browsing the bookstore (there are only so many hours you can spend flipping through magazines you haven’t purchased before you’re asked to leave), why not dine on dishes created by celebrity chefs, take a mini-excursion to a local city or burn some calories in a fitness center?

Leave the Airport, See the SightsphpThumb-6

Airports that offer fast and affordable transportation to the cities they serve are the best places for an airport layover adventure. In cities like Amsterdam, Sydney, Washington D.C., Chicago and London, travelers can easily take public transportation from the airport to the city center and spend a half-day exploring.

For best results, sketch out a rough itinerary ahead of time. Find out what kind of transportation you’ll need to take to and from the airport (most airport Web sites list this information) and research the locations of attractions you want to visit. You may want to focus on a single attraction or neighborhood to save travel time. Allow plenty of wiggle room for traffic, long airport security lines and other variables.

Work Out

If you’re not shy about folding into downward dog in public, pack a yoga mat and work on your positions at the airport. A few minutes of deep breathing and stretching is a fantastic way to get your blood flowing after a flight. Check your airport’s Web site to see if it offers a yoga or fitness area. Singapore’s Changi Airport has a gymnasium where you can do a few stretches (for a fee), while Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport has a meditation center that’s available to travelers at no cost. The quiet corner of an airport lounge also works as a suitable place to do some yoga if your airport doesn’t offer an appropriate facility.

Want to get some cardio in during your layover? AirportGyms.com is a useful Web site where you can search for fitness centers in or around airports in the U.S. and Canada. If there’s no gym in your airport, stuff some sweats into your carry-on bag and go for a jog around the terminals. This is best to do at an airport that offers shower facilities — be considerate of the person who will have to sit inches away from your sweaty armpits on the next flight.

Sleepsleeping

Some travelers think sleeping in the airport is disturbingly analogous to sleeping on the street (especially during an overnight layover), while others have no qualms about catching some Z’s on a terminal bench. One’s comfort level depends on a number of factors, from personal experience to conditions in the airport in which you’re staying. Many airports have designated sleeping sections or special sleep chairs that make for painless napping. Hong Kong International Airport, South Korea’s Incheon International Airport and Vancouver International Airport are a few major hubs that offer comfy lounge chairs and padded benches on which travelers can fully stretch out.

If you’re planning to spend the entire night on an airport bench, you may be awakened by airport security guards who aren’t fond of travelers setting up camp in public, depending on what airport you’re snoozing in. Stay overnight in the airport at your own risk.

Get a Room

Your eyes are heavy after a seven-hour red eye, but you don’t like the idea of dozing off in public. There’s a solution. Consider paying for short-term lodging, even if it’s for a layover that’s only a half-day or so long — it may be cheaper than you think and well worth the cost.

London Heathrow, London Gatwick and Amsterdam Schipol airports all have YOTEL facilities, which are accommodations within the airport terminals inspired by Japanese capsule hotels. A standard cabin can be rented for a minimum of four hours, and comes with a bathroom with shower, a bed, a fold-out desk and a flat-screen TV (all amazingly squeezed into seven square meters).

To get the cheapest rate at an airport hotel, plan ahead as opposed to showing up and requesting a room on the spot. Check rates online for airport hotels before you leave for your trip, and keep an eye out for special rates and other offers. On Hotels.com, we found rates at the Days Inn Airport Best Road, located just 1,600 yards from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, for $47 per night plus taxes, including free shuttle service to and from the airport — which is arguably a reasonable price to pay for a few hours of peace and quiet during a layover.

Play a Gamepoker

Pack one or two board games in your carry-on and get your travel companion or a friendly stranger waiting in your terminal to join in on the fun. Computer solitaire doesn’t count; get your face away from that computer screen for half an hour and engage with a real human being — it’s a great way to pass the time. Some good, packable games include Bananagrams, Travel Scrabble and Yahtzee To Go.

Chat with a Stranger

Chatting it up with an approachable stranger at the airport bar, in the lounge or in a restaurant could lead to a short, dull conversation at worst and a fascinating glimpse into a fellow traveler’s experiences at best. Talk to someone waiting near your gate; odds are you’ll both be heading to the same place. If the person is a local or a repeat visitor to your destination, your chat could yield a wealth of valuable vacation tips.

Eat Like a King

Airport food is notoriously bad, but there are definitely some exceptions to this rule. Select airport eateries offer genuine gourmet cuisine, from locally inspired classics to luxurious dishes. Stranded in JFK? Skip the KFC Express and head to La Vie, a French cafe that serves sophisticated fare like sauteed prawns Provencal and sole meuniere. There’s a popular Legal Sea Foods restaurant at Boston Logan Airport where travelers can get the same fresh fruits de la mer as those served downtown.

On the international front, celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay recently set up shop in at London’s Heathrow Airport with a Michelin-starred restaurant cleverly called Plane Food. Travelers in a hurry can pick up a Plane Food “picnic” in a portable shoulder bag and bring their gourmet meal on the plane (warning: may cause jealous seatmates).

Play an Instrumentguitar

The guy who led stranded travelers in a sing-along at Newark Airport became a hero for the moment (and a YouTube sensation) when he saved dozens of passengers from their momentary boredom with his trusty guitar. Entertain yourself and others around you by packing your instrument and playing some tunes. If you’re especially talented, perform next to an upturned hat and use the proceeds to cover your baggage fees.

People Watch

Lots of big cities are famed for their people watching opportunities. In particular, New York comes to mind, and there’s even an amusing Web site, OverheardinNewYork.com, that features snippets of conversation from around the Big Apple. I haven’t found an airport version of this site, but I bet it would be a fabulous read.

With their hodgepodge of interesting characters from every corner of the globe rushing about, airports are the perfect places to conduct casual anthropological research. You’re in a public place, so there’s nothing wrong with eavesdropping on a loud conversation or taking a second look at the 20-something anarchist with tear-drop tattoos on his face. Share the interesting things you see and hear on Facebook (we’d love to read about them).

Original source: Independent Traveler

Will your flight be grounded? Ask ‘The Cancellator’

Thursday, February 20th, 2014

-by Erin

Between the polar vortex and record snowfalls, most of us have had quite a winter. And if you add travel and flying into the wintry mix, you should consider yourself lucky if you made it to your final destination on time. But the weather is not the only reason why tens of thousands of passengers might find themselves stranded and struggling to make their way home.  Watch the video below and read the article to learn about ‘The Cancellator’, a computer system that helps to determine which flights will actually take off, and what preparations you can take to try and make it to your destination on time.

cancellator
click here to watch the CBS News video


A computer system named ‘The Cancellator’ decides if your flight is grounded, report says

by Claudine Zap

Meet the Cancellator: the “Terminator” of airline travel. The computer system decides which flights will go, and which will be cancelled, according to Time magazine’s latest cover story.

“The Cancellator,” the nickname American Airlines employees apparently gave their system, “attempts to keep the chaos in the system to a minimum even as it maximizes the headaches for the unlucky. The idea is to use predictive models to cancel flights early, before people even leave for the airport,” according to Time. Other airlines use similar programs.

More than 75,000 flights have been canceled since Dec. 1, according to CBS “This Morning.” In fact, Time magazine asserts — and passenger experience may confirm — that more flights have been grounded this winter than at any other time since 1987

The paralyzing polar vortex combined with government regulations that slap airlines with steep fines for keeping passengers stuck on the tarmac has led airlines to “prespond”— cancel flights before travelers even arrive at the airport.

Which flights are nixed is decided by these Cancellator systems. “Turns out, the cancellations most travelers experience as random and cruel are anything but,” the Time story notes

“The Cancellator is the series of programs that decides who flies,” Time magazine assistant managing editor of Bill Saporito told ” CBS This Morning.” He traveled to the American Airlines operations center during a recent winter storm to see how the fate of travelers was handled.

“There’s a weighting system that takes a look at who’s flying, where are they going, where are the jets, where are the pilots, everything has to be measured.”

How do you beat the system? International flights are less likely to be canceled, Saporito says. “If you’re on a domestic flight that has a crew that’s ferrying to an international flight, that’s not going to be canceled, because if they cancel that flight they’d have to cancel the international flight.”

If your flight is full of travelers who won’t be connecting to another flight, you might be out of luck. Ditto for flying from one busy hub to another, such as Dallas to New York, because it will be easier to rebook the flight, writes Saporito. Airlines also factor in the price you paid for your ticket. Discount leisure fare customers will take a back seat to full-fare business fliers.

Original source: Yahoo Travel

8 Tips for Busy Travelers

Friday, February 7th, 2014

-by Erin

8 Tips for Busy Travelers

Many frequent and hardcore travelers are extremely busy people. One type of traveler crams business and pleasure trips into single junkets. Another type corrals an entire family through an itinerary that would kill a hardy donkey, let alone an exhausted working parent. Another type micromanages their trip down to the minute such that they’re setting alarms at all times of day to keep themselves on schedule. And then there are those who are so busy they can barely find enough time to take their vacations, much less do all the nuts-and-bolts tasks of planning those vacations.

Below, you will find eight tips to make your trips more efficient and to meet the ultimate goal of any busy traveler: to get you there on time and with minimal hassle.

But First: Slow Down, You Move Too Fastrelaxing foot massage

Before we get started here, let’s take a step back and think about slowing down. I appreciate that to do both of those (step back and slow down) at the same time might be tough for some of us, so grab the arms of your chair and take a deep breath first.

Okay.

In some cases, folks just need to slow the heck down. It wasn’t so long ago that you’d take a boat to Europe. Travelers in less hyper-developed countries will continue to experience maddening slowdowns and complete shutdowns; in the nation of the all-night CVS and the 24-hour ATM, some folks are shocked to hear “I’m sorry, sir, we’re closed.”

Time isn’t always going to bend to your will; for your own sanity, you’d better get used to it.

Okay, that’s enough deep breathing and slowing down for a weekday. Let’s put the hammer down and get back up to speed. Here come the tips:

1. Travel WAY light.airport luggage

This is the one key thing you can do to guarantee easier passage through security, tight connections, terminal shutdowns, backtracking planes, and other serious and mundane hazards of post-9/11 travel. It’s also the best way to avoid the many baggage fees that the airlines are now heaping on travelers who dare to bring more than a carry-on.

2. Dress for success at security.

Your favorite traveling clothes and accessories could cause slowdowns at airport security. Leave the jewelry at home, remove your piercings (if possible) and wear clothing that won’t hold you up in the security line — like slip-on shoes, belts with plastic buckles instead of metal, and simple clothing that doesn’t require elaborate searching.

3. Expect delays.traffic

A truly busy person has learned how to move projects around, make doctor’s appointments from the train platform, walk the dog while the coffee’s brewing. If you’re this kind of person, you’re probably only truly put out if you can’t get anything done at all. Thus, a couple of traveling items to help you cope with those all-too-frequent delays at the airport:

Program the phone numbers of your airline, car rental company, shuttle service and hotel into your cell phone. If you’ve got time to kill during a flight delay, you can make a few calls and provide your new ETA to anyone waiting for you at your destination. (For even more efficiency, check to see which other airlines also fly your itinerary and program their phone numbers in as well — that way if your original flight is delayed, you can start calling around for alternatives.)

Have a to-do list of productive things you can work on during delays. This might be a good time to read that chapter in your guidebook on the history of the place you’re visiting, or to sketch out a detailed itinerary for the first few days of your trip.

4. Use a travel agent.

Why not leave all the heavy lifting to someone else? Consider the difference between scouring countless websites for the best deal and itinerary, then making a purchase, then putting together your own travel itinerary versus placing one phone call or e-mail to your travel agent – this could add up to hours of your life on every trip.

5. Ask for seats near the front of the plane.airplane

You’ll get on last, granting you time to get more things done before boarding lockdown, and you’ll get off first. Many airlines now allow you to select your seat online at the time of booking or check-in (sometimes for a fee) – this is the best way to guarantee yourself the seat you want.

6. Know where the airport gas station is.

If you are responsible for returning your rental car with a full tank of gas, ask where the closest gas station is before you drive off the lot. This way you won’t be driving around looking and hoping for a gas station to fill your tank just before returning.

7. Reuse your packing list.

If you’re the type of traveler that scribbles down a hasty packing list before every trip (and inevitably forgets some vital item each time), get organized by creating a single comprehensive packing list and saving it on your computer. Before each trip, customize the list as necessary and then print out a copy to refer to as you pack.

8. Use these time-tested tactics.

Fly direct. Connections cost time; missed connections cost lots of time. Avoid layovers where you can.
Fly early in the day; there are fewer delays, cancellations and people in the airport.
Consider alternate airports. They’re less crowded and often better located than the big hubs, and they have fewer flights going in and out – reducing your chances of delays.

Original source: Independent Traveler

How Does Amazing Journeys select their Upcoming Trips?

Tuesday, January 28th, 2014

-by Malori

malori with globeSo just how does Amazing Journeys select their upcoming trips?  I get asked this question all of the time.  I like to think it’s part art, part science and part wizardry.  Like anyone who has been working at their passion for over 30 years, I have a system.  It all begins about 18 months prior to the start of the new year – I’ve already been planning trips for 2015 for the past several months!  I read tons of professional and consumer journals, newspapers and newsfeeds on destinations worldwide.  Sometimes they are lifestyle articles, sometimes it is about a newsworthy story and often it is about the beauty or the culture in that destination.  If it piques my interest in some way that I think others will enjoy, I write it down on a list I keep behind my desk.  I then watch to see if a world event such as the Olympics, World Cup Soccer, new movie or something newsworthy of a world figure is in the news. Often times this sparks interest in the traveling public.  I look for new trends such as active travel, culinary interests or river boat cruising.  I watch to see which countries are currently doing heavy promotional advertising as that also works to drive interest to a specific area.  All of these things go into my “huge pot of stew” and many of these places will make it onto my list.india taj mahal

Then December / January comes around and it is time for me to start making decisions on which trips actually will make it onto our AJ calendar.  I set up meetings with some of the sales teams who represent my favorite products and we discuss options and also what new opportunities may present themselves.  (I also get to put my two cents in to the Itinerary Gurus at cruise lines and tour companies as an opportunity to say where I would like to see them plan trips!).

My next step is like a huge jigsaw puzzle.  I have my would-be destinations sorted by continents and also best times of the year to explore each destination.  They are also segmented into cruises and land trips as we try to get an equal balance of both.  We look at our summer trips first, because the traveling public, whether they are teachers, have school age children or just love to get away during the summer months; this is our busiest travel time of the year.  We try to get 4 – 6 trips packed into those three summer months of June, July and August.  Logistically, it’s a challenge with the length of the trips, amount of prep time needed prior to a trip and staffing the tours.  We try to take advantage of holidays so that an extra day off of work can be incorporated into the trip, and we also look at Jewish holidays so that we make sure not to overlap with the major Jewish holidays.  Next we schedule in our New Year’s Eve cruise as the dates of that are what they are – December 31 and January 1.  Once we have that in place, we begin to schedule the cruises because the itineraries are on set dates and cannot be moved.  We may drop one cruise or another and look for another one on the list, if the timing or pricing is not what we believe will appeal to our travelers.  Once the cruises are in place, we fill in with our destination oriented land tours.  I have more flexibility as to dates as I am custom designing these tours. From here, I begin to really narrow down my selections to come up with the perfect, well-rounded travel schedule for the upcoming year.7730231954_ecdbfa4003_o

Just like the fashionista gets a huge rush when walking into a favorite boutique, fun mall or new outlet store, I get that same adrenaline buzz when purchasing travel.

So today, as I write this blog, I am sitting here with a list in one hand and my crystal ball in the other, selecting some awesome travel destination which I hope that everyone will love!

The Best Way to Carry Money Overseas

Monday, January 20th, 2014

-by Erin

Before you leave for your next trip abroad, take a moment to think dollars and cents – or should we say pounds and pesos? Get the most for your money when traveling internationally by doing a little homework first. money 1

The most important step is to know your options. In days of yore, traveler’s checks were the most popular way to carry money overseas – but today’s travelers are much more likely to rely on credit cards and ATM withdrawals, which usually offer better exchange rates and lower fees.

What’s the best option for you? And how can you avoid those pesky currency conversion fees when making purchases abroad? Read on for answers to these questions and a comprehensive roundup of all your currency conversion options when you’re traveling overseas.

Credit Cards

Best for: Large purchases such as airline tickets, hotel bills, car rentals and restaurant meals.

Pros: The biggest advantage to using credit cards while traveling overseas is that credit card purchases are exchanged at the interbank exchange rate, usually the best rate you can get for currency exchange. While most credit card issuers charge currency conversion fees each time you make a purchase in a foreign currency (generally 1 percent from Visa or MasterCard plus an additional 1 – 2 percent for themselves), these fees are typically lower than those you’d pay to convert your own currency at a change bureau. And there are a few cards out there (many from Capital One) that do not charge any foreign transaction fees at all, not even the ones from Visa or MasterCard. Check out CardHub.com for a list.

Cons: Some restaurants, stores and even hotels won’t take credit cards, so you’ll need to have cash on hand at all times. While you can use credit cards to get cash advances at ATMs, bear in mind that they’ll be subject to any finance charges your credit card company imposes – which can add up very quickly. Plus, if you’re not home by the time the bills come in and you haven’t made arrangements to pay them, you’ll be hit with hefty finance charges on these advances.

One problem for U.S. travelers is the growing prevalence of “chip-and-PIN” credit cards in Europe, Asia and South America. Designed to reduce fraud, these cards rely on an embedded chip that transmits information to a merchant, which the consumer then verifies by entering a PIN. While U.S. cards with magnetic stripes will still work as long as there’s someone to swipe them, many travelers report problems using their cards in ticket vending kiosks, at gas stations or in other places featuring automated payment machines. If you find yourself in this dilemma, your only alternatives are to find an attendant to scan your card or to use cash instead.

These cards are not yet widely available in the U.S. However, several banks, including Citi, Bank of America and Chase, have begun issuing dual credit cards that use both the magnetic stripe and the embedded chip, and Travelex has introduced a prepaid chip-and-PIN MasterCard that works like a hybrid between a credit card and a traveler’s check.

What You Need to Know: The first thing you should do if you are traveling abroad with a credit card, even if you only plan to use it in case of an emergency, is to call the issuer and ask which fees will apply to your purchases, both in local currency and in U.S. dollars. We recommend calling before each trip, as these policies may change without notice.

While you’re on the phone, you’ll also want to let your credit card issuer know when and where you will be traveling – that way the sudden international activity on your account won’t trigger your issuer’s fraud alert system. As a precaution, we recommend bringing two credit cards on your trip in case one stops working. Finally, get a phone number that you can use to call the company from overseas if your card is lost or stolen. (The 800 number on the back of your card typically will only work in the U.S. or Canada.)

Some merchants (particularly in Europe) offer what’s known as dynamic currency conversion, which means that they’ll charge you in dollars rather than the local currency. Because some card issuers will waive the currency conversion fee if your overseas purchase is made in dollars, dynamic currency conversion could help you save a few coins. However, keep in mind you’ll almost always get hit by a conversion fee from the merchant instead – sometimes up to 5 percent – so you may end up losing out on the deal. Be sure you know which fees apply to either option before deciding which currency to use.

A few other caveats to bear in mind: Some hotels and car rental companies may put holds on your credit card for the amount of your total expected bill. This can use up your credit line before you’ve actually incurred and paid for the charges. All merchants are supposed to inform you if they do put a hold or “deposit” on your card. If they do, make sure you clarify that the hold has been removed when you’ve paid your bill in full.

Keep in mind that you may not have as much protection overseas as you do at home when problems arise over inaccurate charges. Incidents are always being reported of travelers being charged twice for the same item or for items they never purchased, and credit card companies have been unwilling or unable to intercede on their behalf. Always watch merchants imprinting your card and keep your receipts. After you get home, check your credit card statement. If you see charges you didn’t make, call your creditor and ask them to dispute the charges.

Debit and ATM Cards

Best for: Getting cash in local currency.

Pros: You’ll get the same great interbank exchange rate when you make cash withdrawals with your debit or ATM card as you do when you make a credit card purchase. With ATMs available in major cities and airports all over the world, this is generally the cheapest and most convenient way to get cash in the local currency.

Cons: Each cash withdrawal you make will usually be subject to currency conversion fees, foreign ATM fees or other charges from your bank and/or the local bank that maintains the ATM. Debit cards work pretty much the same as regular credit cards for purchases, but if your card is lost or stolen you may not have the same protection. By U.S. law, as long as you report your card missing within two business days, your maximum liability for use of that card will be $50 – the same as for a credit card. However, if you wait any longer, you could be responsible for hundreds of dollars in unauthorized charges.

What You Need to Know: If the ATM card from your home bank isn’t connected to the worldwide Cirrus or PLUS networks, you may want to look into getting a MasterCard or Visa debit card. While they look and can be used like regular charge cards, they actually debit your checking account the same way your ATM card does.

If you are renting a car, you should be aware that while you can use a debit card to pay for the rental charges, you might not be able to reserve the car with this type of card.

Finally, don’t forget to call your bank and make it aware of your travel plans; as with credit cards, sudden international activity using your debit card could cause your account to be frozen.

Cashmoney 2

Best for: The first 24 hours of your trip – to tide you over until you can find the nearest ATM.

Pros: It’s often a good idea to get some foreign currency before you leave home so that you have cash on hand to handle your immediate expenses – like buying a meal at the airport or taking a cab to your hotel. This way you’re not stranded without cash if the airport ATM isn’t working or you arrive after the local exchange bureau has closed.

Cons: You typically won’t get a great conversion rate from your home bank, and you may also have to pay fees or commissions. If you’re traveling to a major international airport in a large city, which will likely have multiple ATMs and change counters, getting currency beforehand probably isn’t necessary.

What You Need to Know: You can get foreign currency from your local bank, online or at the airport. Try your local bank first, as they may waive fees for certain accountholders. We recommend bringing $100 – $150 worth of foreign currency.

Traveler’s Checks and Check Cards

Best for: Emergency backup if you can’t find a functioning ATM (checks) or a secure alternative to cash (checks and check cards).

Pros: Traveler’s checks and check cards provide more security than cash because they can be replaced (usually within 24 hours) if lost or stolen. While traditional traveler’s checks have largely gone the way of the dinosaur, Visa and Travelex offer travel cards that are prepaid like traveler’s checks but work like credit cards for purchases and ATM withdrawals. To avoid the aforementioned problems that U.S. travelers have at overseas chip-and-PIN machines, Travelex even offers a chip-and-PIN card (available in several different currencies). Traditional checks are still sometimes useful as currency if you can’t find a functioning ATM.

Cons: The exchange rate for traveler’s checks is not as favorable as the interbank rate you’ll get when using a credit or debit card, and very few merchants accept the checks for purchases these days. You’ll also have to pay commissions, shipping charges and/or conversion fees to purchase and cash the checks. The prepaid cards give you better exchange rates, but there are plenty of fees here too – look out for activation fees, charges for reloading the card, ATM charges or inactivity fees. In most cases, you’re probably better off using your own debit card.

What You Need to Know: Keep your checks’ serial numbers in a secure but separate place from the checks themselves in case they’re lost or stolen.

 

Original source: Independent Traveler