Tuesday, August 23, 2011

10 things to pack

1. Wet Wipes/sanitizer - Airplanes, hotel rooms, and rental cars are disgusting because people are disgusting. Period. When I enter a plane, no matter which class I'm seated in, I wipe down all of the surfaces I'm going to touch including the handle for the tray table, the tray table surface, and the button to recline your seat. When you return from the bathroom, sanitize your hands. Before you eat, sanitize your hands. After you read the inflight magazine, sanitize your hands. When you get into your rental car, do the same thing and wipe that thing down. When you get to your hotel room, wipe down the remote control or put it in the plastic bag that is usually sitting in the ice bucket. Or use the shower cap instead. Wipe down the phone and alarm clock too. You don't want to be sick during your trip, so take these precautions. And if you are going to Asia and you really want to fit in with the germaphobes, then you can don one of those SARS/Michael Jackson surgical masks.

2. Vitamins - Get on some kind of regimen and stick with it. Even if you don't regularly take vitamins on a daily basis, do it on your trip. Take extra vitamin C, zinc, echinacea, Airborne, or something equivalent and start it a day or two before the trip and continue it after the trip. On a couple of vacations, I got sick the day after I got home, probably from the sick person I was seated next to on the plane ride home.

3. The pink stuff & antacids - I think the liquid is too cumbersome especially with the liquid nazis at security these days, so get the chewable tablets. If you are going to a place where the food is very different from what you are used to, you might have some stomach issues or what my grandma calls "oily stomach." The good thing about the chewable tablets is that you can use them as a preventative measure by chewing one before you eat and it will coat your stomach. I chewed on these things like they were going out of style when I went to China because the food is so oily and I never had any stomach problems. I don't like to take pills and medicines that just mask symptoms, but I don't want to have stomach issues in a foreign country either. You will be thankful you brought antacids and so will your travel partners. If you are like me all airplane food instantly turns into enough natural gas to power a 777 at least a few hundred miles. At the Dubai International airport there was a pharmacy and I bought some tablets called antacid/anti-flatulence and they are amazing. They really help when you eat something like a really strong curry and your stomach is just gurgling out of control.

4. Important numbers list - In your wallet or somewhere safe, put a list of your credit card numbers and the company phone numbers in case they get stolen or lost. On this list you can also include contact numbers and website logins and account numbers. You never know when you'll need to access things. The good news is that in just about every country except our, internet access is ubiquitous and free. If you rely solely on your smart phone or website backups, you might not be able to access those as freely as you think, especially if your phone gets lost or wet, or you happen to be in a country where their fire wall blocks certain cites (i.e. China, Vietnam). Also include your passport number, expiration, and any visa numbers too. You should also have a photo copy of your passport with you too. I made a file on google docs with all of this stuff and when I was in China, I couldn't access google docs for whatever reason. I did need something from that list and I was glad I had it in my passport wallet. If you are worried about having a list of these things with you, then disguise some of the numbers and passwords.

5. Outlet adapters & Chargers- Obviously if you travel with electronic devices, this is important. Just about all electronics will convert voltage, so you won't need a converter. But you will need an outlet adapter so you can plug it into the wall. Many hotels have universal outlets in the rooms, but they might only be on the desk and there might only be one. If you have several devices to plug in, then this won't help you. So bring adapters. Chargers are only necessary if you have a device that requires them like a camera, iphone, or laptop. This also includes battery chargers. On a recent trip to Thailand I brought 2 sets of camera batteries, but they both drained before the trip was over. I didn't bring the battery charger because I thought I had enough juice. I didn't really want to buy more lithium whatever-the-hell batteries so I had to be selective about using my camera.

6. Change of clothes and some toiletries in carryon - I don't always do this, but it's a good idea because you never know if your bags will get there or not. My partner has the philosophy that the bags will not arrive, that way we are pleasantly surprised when they do. On a trip to Nice, France my bag didn't make the connection in Paris and I was without anything for an entire day. It was terrible not having a change of clothes after I arrived and took a shower.  I always look forward to that shower after I arrive to make me feel human again. So, at the very least put an extra pair of undies and a long-sleeve shirt in your bag because planes can get cold.

7. Printout of reservations - I know that this is not a very green practice, but you can always print it on the back of another sheet of paper that you already used from another trip. Make sure you recycle the paper afterwards. Even though everything is electronically based these days, if they can't find your reservation and you have nothing to show them, you might be S.O.L. Or it might take a long time for them to search for it. This happened to me in Phuket, Thailand and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia when I checked-in for my flight. Malaysian Airlines couldn't find the ticket number because my ticket had been reissued by Delta each time there was a schedule change. So it was Delta's fault but I was flying with Malaysian and there is no Delta office in KL and I didn't have that print out with the ticket numbers. I just had the itinerary printed out. They told me to go to the ticket office down the way and have them find it. All I had was the boarding pass stub from the previous flight and the record locator. Fast forward 20-25 minutes and they found it. But that time could make the difference in making your flight or not.

8. Frequent flyer cards - Don't travel with all of them, but in the event you get bumped to another airline or some other kind of cancelation incident, you will still get miles, preferred seats, or even better treatment because you are a member. See previous post on this issue. If you are moved to another airline, it is much easier for them to add your number right then and there than it is to retroactively request credit after the flight. Also, in the event you have a cancelation or some other mishap, you do have a choice in airlines. If you know that an alliance partner airline can get you to your destination vs. the one they are telling you is the option, then ask for it. Don't assume that the airline agent knows everything about all possible airlines. I have airlines' numbers programmed into my phone and if you don't, the number will be on your card. One time I was on the plane from Minneapolis to LAX and they canceled the flight due to a mechanical issue. They made everyone get off the plane and get in line to rebook. Instead of getting in line, I called the airline and told them the situation. After a few minutes they had me confirmed on another airline's flight through Salt Lake City and back home. All I had to do was walk to the new flight's gate and pick up my boarding passes. All 200 of the other poor schmucks were waiting in line while I calmly made my way to my new flight.

9. Ear plugs - These might be useful on the plane and depending on the airline and your destination, they might provide you with some in an amenity kit. Don't throw those out. When you get to your hotel, you have no idea what kind of noises you will encounter or how thin the walls are. You could be woken up in the middle of the night or extremely early by anything and everything. In St. Maarten it was frogs that sounded like birds. In Phuket it was peacocks. In Las Vegas it was the whirlpool tub in the room above and housekeeping vacuuming in the hall. In the United Arab Emirates it was the Islamic call to prayer. In London it was the couple having sex next door. At Disney it was the little kids running in the hallway. You get the point. You have no idea what new sounds there will be and no way to anticipate them. Bring the ear plugs. 

10. Snacks - Go get cereal bars, protein bars, nuts, or dried fruit from the store and pack some in your carryon and some in your luggage for the return flight. You never know what kind of $hit-on-a-bun the airlines will serve, if anything at all. And you probably don't want to spend $5 on a bag of chips in the terminal or $10 on the plane for something that costs $0.75. If you are traveling during the holiday, bring a bag of candy with you and give some to the airline staff when you check in. It lightens the mood and it might help you score an upgrade or a better seat. This tactic helped me score upgrades to Hong Kong from San Francisco. I still had to use my miles, but the person became willing to help instead of dismissing me and I didn't have to pay any change fees.

    7 Activities That Could Get You Jailed (or Killed) While Traveling

    Full article at:

    1: TRANSPORTING DRUGS, SOUTHEAST ASIA - There was a movie made about this. I think in Singapore you will get the death penalty.

    2: TRESPASSING, TEXAS - Well it's Texas and they like their guns.

    3: INSULTING THE KING, THAILAND - Thailand is an amazing country and the Thai people are just lovely. The devotion to the king is one of the things you will notice immediately when you visit.

    4: KILLING A COW, INDIA AND NEPAL - Not surprising at all.

    5: NOT CARRYING ID, JAPAN - They do not joke around. Japan quarantined their own citizens after they simply visited a country that had swine flu a few years ago.

    6: EATING IN PUBLIC, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - This is referring to Ramadan, which is happening now. I can just imagine how cranky I'd be by the end of the day if I wasn't eating during the day. But being disrespectful of the faith in Muslim countries is not taken lightly.


    Sunday, August 21, 2011

    7 things I hate about travel

    Full article:

    This is a funny article with some great suggestions/solutions. Only the first 3 are serious, but it's worth taking a look at the full article. Here is the synopsis.

    1. Too many other travelers.
    Solution: First, don’t go in the peak season (typically, the summer months). Second, get up early or go late — if there is access to the sight at night, and it’s safe. Third, go somewhere off the beaten path. Instead of Italy, go toLebanon.
    2. Touts.
    Solution: Avoid eye contact, say no politely. And, if all else fails, try to sellthem stuff.
    3. No public toilets and diarrhea.
    Solution: Clean your hands often, and carry some loperamide on you at all times.

    4. Delayed flights and missed connections.

    Solution: Become rich and buy your own airline.

    5. Visa fees.Solution: Haha. Dream on.
    6. Jet lag.
    Solution: So many solutions, but none are guaranteed to work.

    7. Irish pubs everywhere.

    : Please drink elsewhere.

    Article: Thailand: a little something for everyone

    10 things to do before you travel

    I think these are some useful tips and things to keep in mind before you plan your trip.

    1. Sign up for every airline, car rental, and hotel loyalty card
         This may sound like overkill, but all of these entities give deals to their members. Even if you don't have elite status, being a member opens up more opportunities. I have a drawer full of membership cards and most of them never expire. Also, if I ever need to book anything, I have a login and account for just about every company.

    2. Sign up for email lists and "like" facebook pages
         This may sound like overkill too, but there are so many freebies and extra points or miles to be gained by doing this. You can always unsubscribe from them or create a filter for your inbox. I would say that I don't read most of the emails I get, but I dump them into email folders such as: Las Vegas, Rental Cars, Coupons, Airlines, Reservations, Hotels, etc. in case I need to look for a deal. Again, these companies like to reward loyalty, so you are more likely to find a deal this way.

    3. Pick an airline alliance for your loyalty
         There are three main airline alliances: Star Alliance, which is the most comprehensive worldwide alliance that includes two domestic airlines - United/Continental Airlines and US Airways; Skyteam alliance, which includes Delta Air Lines, and One World alliance, which includes American Airlines. Look up the various alliances and determine which one would best fit your travel needs. One of the huge benefits for sticking with alliances is the mile/point earning potential. Flying on partner airlines lets you earn on your main airline. Another huge benefit is the redemption of miles. As an example, I used Delta miles to fly on one itinerary on Delta, China Southern, and China Airlines. And you don't have to worry about your bags along the way, as they will be tagged all the way through.

    4. Pick a hotel chain for your loyalty
         This the equivalent of #3 for hotels. It really depends on the places you travel, but it is relatively easy to always stay within a hotel chain for all traveling. Sometimes it gets old staying with the same chain or chains, but it's worth it because of the perks that may include upgrades, free breakfast, free internet, etc.

    5. Get a credit card that contributes to your air/hotel preferences
         Every credit card out there has cards that are specifically for a particular hotel chain or airline. Choose one that earns you points/miles on the chains and alliances from #3 and #4. You are beginning to get the point. You start funneling all of your points in the same direction and before you know it, you'll have enough to redeem for your flights or hotel nights.

    6. Follow websites
         There are a ton of them out there, but follow ones that track deals like: Dan's Deals, Slickdeals, fatwallet, etc.  I also follow flyertalk and airliners.net, which are fairly specialized online communities. You might also sign-up to follow: groupon, jetsetter, sniqueaway, or vacationist.

    7. Read review sites
         There are a million of these too, but I find that tripadvisor is one of the best. I regularly contribute to it too. They have great information and forums in which to participate or read. Virtualtourist and wikitravel are some others. As with everything online you need to sort through some of the crap and determine the validity on your own. Don't get turned off by a single bad review and read through many of them. Many people only write bad reviews/complaints because they are emotionally charged and easier to write.

    8. Keep searching even after you book hotel or cars.
         If you have ever purchased an airline ticket, you know how much prices can fluctuate. Hotel and rental car prices do too, but not as much as airline tickets. The nice thing about car rentals is that you rarely have to prepay, so you can change the reservation up until the day of the rental. Hotels are a little less flexible and it's best to read the terms and conditions of canceling a reservation. I wait until the very latest to book non-refundable hotel reservations when I am absolutely sure that I will be using it. I usually book a regular rate as soon as I know I need a room to secure a reservation, then periodically search the same hotel to see if rates drop.

    9. If you find an airfare deal that suits your needs, book it.
         Since airfare fluctuates so much, when you see an amazing deal and the times and dates suit you, then book it. It may not be there the next time you return to it and you will be pissed that you didn't book when you saw it. This is my philosophy at Costco too.  I can't count the number of times I've found amazing airfare only to have it gone because I wasn't sure it would work or I needed to check things out. Don't start seriously looking for airfare without a plan in mind. The way I avoid this is to make a list of 3 to 5 different flight scenarios, alternate airports, routings, dates, and times. That way I have some options to work with whenever I look and can book when I see a good deal. Also, run these options by your travel companions to make sure that everyone is on the same page and can live with any of the options.

    10. Read up on culture and etiquette.
         This is especially important in Asian countries and the Middle East where things that seem like they would be perfectly fine at home would be taken as very rude in other countries. But it's always a good idea to find out about local customs and ways of doing things in that country. I find that books are useful for this. Lonely Planet books always have great sections in their books on this issue.

    First post

    I'm not a travel agent and I don't work for anything to do with travel. I am certainly not a travel expert, but I have been traveling enough to know a few things and I've planned some pretty neat vacations, if I do say so myself. That being said, in just about every country I have ever been to, people always ask me for directions. So I must have an "information" sign above my head that I'm unaware of or I must always look like a local or at least like I know what I'm doing. It must be my friendly demeanor...

    Back to travel stuff...I do have my favorite airlines and hotel chains and I certainly have ones that I avoid for both rational and irrational reasons; but I do a lot of searching and reading before I ever book a vacation. There are certainly some "games" that one has to play in order to get the best deals and there are many sites that I follow.

    I have flown in coach, business class, and first class to many places around the world and stayed in some truly amazing hotels for little to no cost, but it takes some work to do it. Nothing in this world is free, but you don't always have to pay the high-end prices to experience luxury travel. My motto is, "if there is a deal to be had out there, I'm going to get it."

    My goal in writing this blog is to share my stories and experiences, not to disseminate the best travel deals on the web. There are many sites out there that do that and I'll share those too. I will also share some the tricks of the game that I use. Many of my friends and colleagues ask me for travel advice for many types of things such as: hotel recommendations, how to upgrade airline tickets, not-to-be-missed sites in a city, etc.