13 Travel Secrets Veteran Globetrotters Wish You Knew
Little-known tricks to make your next trip cheaper, easier, and more convenient.
Get to know the ABC islands in the Caribbean
Hurricanes not only do major damage, but they also scare the heck out of tourists. So what to do? The best places for a Caribbean vacation are the ABC islands: namely, Aruba, Bonaire, and Curaçao. They all lie outside the path that hurricanes have been following for hundreds of years. So next time you book that summer getaway, be sure to sneak a peek at these less-traveled gems.
Car rentals are a fantastic deal on Priceline
It’s a rare day when a $20 bid on priceline.com won’t get you an economy rental anywhere. Be sure to avoid these travel mistakes that will make your trip a lot more stressful.
Shopping for a flight on the web? Trash your cookies
You’re shopping for a flight on the Web and the flight prices seem to keep going up, not down. Why is that? Many Internet sites install “cookies” on your computer when you visit. A “cookie” is a collection of information that will include your username and the date and time you visited the site. Sometimes travel websites use this information to increase their prices if you repeatedly run the same searches for airlines or hotels. If you price a flight, and go back to the site a few hours later only to find that the price has increased, it’s probably a cookie at work. Before you buy a ticket, erase the cookies from your computer. Don’t miss these other secrets that booking companies don’t want you to know.
Bid adios to traveler’s checks
If you have been faithfully ordering traveler’s checks every time you hit the road, give up the habit. These days, the most economical way to manage money in a foreign country will probably be withdrawing currency from local ATMs as needed with a bank card. But be sure to ask your bank in advance what fees are charged for international transactions. To lower the impact of a significant flat fee, make larger, less frequent withdrawals during your trip.
Also, ask your bank of it has a no-fee arrangement for ATM withdrawals from certain banks at your destination. If so, gravitate toward those automatic tellers during your travels.
Save on hotel dry cleaning bills
Hotels are more than willing to charge guests an arm and a leg for the dry-cleaning service to revive suitcase-squashed clothing. A product called wrinkle-release spray is an inexpensive solution to hotel laundering. You just hang up your clothing, spray it, smooth out the wrinkles with your hands, and let it air dry. Several brands are available, including Wrinkle Free, Austin House, and Downy. Look for them in the laundry products section. Or you can try making your own by mixing 1 tablespoon of fabric softener and 1/4 cup of unscented rubbing alcohol with 1 cup of distilled water. Put it in a travel spray bottle and gently mist the garment about a hand’s length away. Don’t miss these other hotel booking secrets you should know, too.
Upgrade your flight experience
It’s every traveler’s dream: You buy a discounted coach ticket, ask at the gate if you can be upgraded, and before you know it, you’re in a big, comfy seat with a flute of champagne in your hand. Stop dreaming—it’s not going to happen that way. But if you’re willing to spend a little extra money, it’s worth asking the agent to “split the difference” on the price of the first-class ticket. If first class isn’t booked, which usually happens on less-traveled routes on off-peak travel days, the agent has some discretion when it comes to moving people into first class. Some airlines also let you use your frequent-flier miles to “purchase” an upgrade. Here are some other travel tips to know before your flight.
Stick to one cruise line
All cruise lines have loyalty programs, and the more you vacation with one company, the better the perks will get—they could be anything from $100 cruise vouchers to private cocktail parties or free bottles of wine. In addition, once you prove that you’re a loyal customer, many of the big lines will allow you to skip from brand to brand within the same company and still retain your standing in their frequent-cruiser program. For instance, Royal Caribbean and Celebrity are part of the same corporate structure; once you’re a return customer at one, ask if you can use your loyalty points on the other line. Chances are, you can. Here are some other dos and don’ts when booking a cruise.
Watch those ‘resort fees’
You shopped around for your vacation hotel. But when you get to the registration counter, you find out that you will be charged an extra $10 to $15 per day as a “resort fee,” supposedly to cover such amenities as the swimming pool and fitness club. This is nothing but a ruse to make a hotel’s rates appear lower at the time you are scouting for a room, say industry insiders. The hotel knows that by the time you arrive, fatigued from travel and dragging your luggage and kids along, there’s no way you’re going to refuse your hotel room because of an add-on fee. So at the time of booking, scan the fine print of your agreement and ask the hotel about any fees that are not included in the quote. If you’re surprised by such fees at the registration counter, call your credit card company after checking in and ask it to get the fee waived.
Make best friends with cab drivers
Mark Zwick takes at least four big trips a year to destinations all over the United States and Canada. You would think he’d go broke buying guidebooks, but he doesn’t. “I always depend on the taxi drivers,” Zwick says. “They always know the places to go, the things to see.” As an added bonus, many taxi drivers work in tandem (and on the sly) with restaurants, bars, and nightclubs. Many times a taxi driver will have special coupons for his favorite places, and he’ll be more than happy to let you have them. Why? Because he gets a kickback from the establishments. So let those taxi drivers take you to some places where they get a little something extra, because most of the time you’ll be getting something extra as well in the form of discounted meals or drinks.
Get a first-class ticket on the cheap
Airlines don’t exactly promote this fact, but it’s possible to book a business-class or first-class ticket for the same price as a regular (not discount) coach seat. They’re called Q-up, Y-up, or Z-up fares, and they all amount to first-class upgrades of coach fares, according to Laura Powell, a longtime travel journalist and expert. The fares were created by airlines to help business travelers, many of whom work for companies that don’t allow them to buy first-class tickets. The website www.farecompare.com helps you search for these fare deals. Here are some other things airlines aren’t telling you, but every flier should know
Search solo even for a group
Airline search engines mess with your head a little when it comes to booking your family’s travel. Consider: If you’re booking a flight for you, your spouse, and your cousin Larry, you’re going to type “3” when the site asks you how many tickets you want to buy. The truth is, sometimes you’ll get a cheaper rate by booking seats individually, because single seats can easily go unsold (especially middle seats in the back of the plane). Airlines jump at the chance to get rid of them. See what happens when you book seats individually.
When abroad, think trains rather than airplanes
While traveling by train in North America is not the most popular choice, it’s the way to go when traveling abroad, especially in Europe. If you really want to become an expert at this type of travel, you must go to www.seat61.com. It’s the most comprehensive site out there when it comes to trains the world over. Don’t board without first checking it out. (Did you know that ghost trains run every day in the U.K.?)
Trim those credit card transaction fees abroad
Some popular credit card companies tack on as much as three percent in foreign transaction fees. Before you depart on an overseas trip, shop around for a card that offers low fees or even no fees on purchases you make in foreign countries. Make sure it’s a card that’s commonly accepted in the country you intend to visit. Don’t miss these ways credit card rewards can upgrade your vacation.