Category Archives: Travel Tips

When something went wrong at the Airport for Me!!

You don’t think I’m just going to tell you off the bad what went wrong, do you?  I need to set the stage so you can really understand.

I was traveling with a girlfriend to Cancun for a few days.  As we had an early 7:30 AM flight, I spent the night before at her home because I live 125 miles from the airport. Before I left home I checked everything – passport, credit cards, confirmation number for flight, suitcase, etc.  I even went back home to make sure I had turned something off before I was too far from home.  Perhaps you can already tell where this story is going. We were even upgraded from economy to First based on my newly acquired silver status with United that I had earned less than 48 hours earlier.  I was truly excited for this experience.

We got up early (4:30 AM) as she had the spouse of a mutual friend picking us up at 5:00 for our quick 15 minute trip to the airport.  Knowing we would have time in the lounge after check in and security, we ate nothing at her house anticipating pastries, fruit and oatmeal at the United lounge.

He dropped us off, we made our way to the International Check in.  We were asked for our passports.  I took mine out of my backpack and gave it to the ticket agent.  She surprised me when she said “is he going too?”  HE???? What is she talking about?  It was then when I looked inside of the passport that I realized I had grabbed my husband’s passport and mine was 125 miles away at home!  Oh no!  My heart starting beating fast and I needed to calm myself done and figure how we could solve this problem. Obviously I couldn’t make the next flight which was at 8:30 – I would just be hopefully getting home at this point.  After much time searching for the best option for me, the ticket agent found a flight that left at 12:40 connecting in Houston and I would arrive in Cancun around 7:00. instead of the 10:00 AM I would have had.   That was the best I could have hoped for and I was extremely grateful that it wasn’t late at night or even the next day. After telling my friend to go ahead without me and that I’d meet her sometime at the hotel we called our friend again and asked him to return to the airport, pick me up, take me to her house and I would be on my way.

Luckily this was a Sunday morning and it was still dark out.  Not much traffic for which I was thankful for.  Fortunately I have a cousin that lives about 15 miles from my home and is an early riser.  I sent her a text message told her I had an emergency but not life threatening.  She graciously went to my home, grabbed my passport and met me at a highway exit about 50 miles north of my home.  I am forever in debt to her.  As I was driving back to the airport I called my son and asked him to locate a shuttle ride for me to the airport – he is a bargain hunter and I knew he would get a great deal for me.  I called my daughter and gave her my new record locater number and asked that she check me in.  I didn’t want to find out that I had been bumped because I was the last one to check in.  Finally, I called the Hyatt Globalist number and asked them to get in touch with the Hyatt ZIVA, where I would be staying, and let my friend know when she goes to check in, that I would be arriving around 7:00.  I wanted her to know that I did get my passport and I was ticketed on the flight.

I got back to my friend’s house where I left my car, called my friend for the ride again and was back at the airport and checked in.  I now had about 2 1/2 hours before boarding so I went to a United lounge.  I told my tale of woe how I had the wrong passport, drove 150 miles to get it, lost my first class seat and now had economy plus. She took pity on me and told me to go downstairs and rest a little.

First thing I did was to get some breakfast, call my family to let them know I was back at the airport and that I was fine.  It’s irritating when something like this happens but I couldn’t dwell on it as I needed to keep moving forward.  I had checked numerous times that I had my passport – I just had never looked inside to make sure that it was mine.

Meanwhile as I was sitting in the lounge I heard an announcement about a delayed Cancun flight and that when they had more information, they would pass it on.  My ears perked up.  I went to the desk in the lounge and they said that this was the 8:30 non stop flight (it’s about 10:45 now).  When I inquired if there were any seats available I was told “no”.  Never one to take the first answer I was given, I decided to walk down to the gate and ask them there.

Luckily no one was standing in line at the gate agent’s desk when I walked up.  I again asked if there were any seats available and as he was looking on his computer, I looked at the screen over his head and it showed one seat available.  Excitedly I asked if I could have that seat.  He looked at my boarding pass and said that it was First Class and I had an Economy Plus seat.  I then pulled out my earlier boarding pass for the 7:30 flight that I didn’t take, and showed him that I was originally a First Class passenger.  That one available seat became mine but I did ask him to protect me on the 12:40 flight to Houston in case this delay lasts even longer.  While he was doing that, he got a call to begin boarding.  How lucky did I get!

Once again I called my family to share my great news and let them know what flight I would be on and to change the time of my shuttle from 7:00 PM to 2:30 PM.   I called the Hyatt Globalist number again and asked them to send an updated message to the hotel to pass on to my friend who should be arriving within the hour.

I put my seatbelt on, was given a Bloody Mary by the flight attendant when he heard my tale (he thought I needed it) had a fruit breakfast and then slept, and slept and slept.

Going through Immigration and Customs was a breeze. I walked outside and found the Cancun Shuttle representative.  This was the shuttle that my son had arranged at $12 for one way.  I arrived at the hotel around 3:30, got the key to our room and said a little prayer of thanks that for such a disasterous start to my day, everything fell into place.

I couldnd’t have done this without the help of my cousin Linda, Sue W who was the United ticket agent who initially spent time trying to find me a flight into Cancun, our friend who dropped us off, picked me up, dropped me off to get my car and then picked me up again to take me to the airport, my family for arranging a shuttle for me and checking me into the later flight and finally Hasan S who was the United gate agent for the delayed flight and managed to get me on it.

This was totally my fault.  The United employees that I worked with reaslly tried to help me and I think it was because I remained cool, not panic stricken and I didn’t lash out at anyone.  I praised them for the help they gave me.  Flexibility was the key word for the day knowing that I wouldn’t get the same experience if I had made the earlier flight but with all the changes, I came pretty darn close.  I needed to be open to not having a non stop flight as well as having a later one.  Finally, I was able to ask for help and everyone that I asked for help was able to help me.

The take from all of this – we have decided to get some painters tape and put it on the outside of our passport and write our first names on it so it is visible from the outside whose passport is whose.  Another idea is different colored passport colors.  Just something so we know which is mine so this will not happen again.  From every experience that we have, we learn something and generally do not make the same mistake twice.  You can be sure that I will double and triple check that I have the correct passport – you will never have to remind me.

 

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Packing for a Month’s Trip to Europe in a Carry-On

For our travels before and after our river cruise on the Rhone on AMAWaterways, we were planning on using public transportation, mainly trains as well as subways and buses.  What we found on our train trips last year through northern Italy was that the luggage racks are above your seats and Blogger Hubby was always lifting our fully packed 26″ suitcases up to the racks.  He is in his early 70’s and quite fit but I still worried about all that lighting as well as all the stairs we had to climb up and down in some of these smaller train stations.  I vowed to pack lighter.

I was determined to fit everything into a wheeled carry-on piece of luggage.  I wanted to be responsible for my own luggage.  I didn’t want to have to ask for help from strangers and I didn’t want to take only what I could handle. I need to be able to lift it onto a train up the step or two as well as if we went up to the upper deck on the train.   If I couldn’t handle it, then I was taking too much.  My friends were somewhat aghast that I would be gone for almost a month but you know what….I did it and felt so great.

I brought with me 2 pairs of printed capri pants, one pair of nylon travel capris, a pair of shorts and three pairs of long pants and a dress.  I stayed with colors that were blue, white and black.  All the tops could be worn with at least three pairs of pants.  One of the tops I brought was a tank top that I could wear by itself if it was really hot and conversely I could layer it under long sleeve tops if it were chilly.   I brought a white sweater, a long sleeve heavier white top that would be layered, a knit outer layer quarter zipped pullover, a thin nylon raincoat/windbreaker, 3 pairs of shoes, underwear/night clothes, curling iron and a bag of meds.  My packing cubes from e-bags helped keep me organized and it made it easier to pack, unpack and repack throughout our journey.  In addition to my carry-on, I also had a LL Bean medium size tote bag that I could loops over the handles of the suitcase and I wore a backpack.

img_1368 img_1369I brought my knitting with me, my iPad that held the books I was reading and as a way to get in touch with family through the free wifi on our river cruise ship and the wifi that came with the hotels that we stayed with.  With my iPhone, iPad, Blogger Hubby’s Kindle and my camera all needing charging I found it an inconvenience last year plugging items in and then unplugging them to charge other items.  I bought for myself on Amazon an Anker 60W/12A 6-Port USB Charger PowerPort so I could charge everything at the same time  Here is a picture of it:

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I did bring a small purse with me so I would have it when we would go out to dinner rather than bringing my backpack.

With a limited amount of clothing, it was never an issue of what I was going to wear.  We did make use of the laundry on the AMADagio before we left to make sure we were leaving with clean clothing.  We brought a small bottle of Woolite with us to wash out some things in our bathroom sinks but found we ran out and bought some inexpensive liquid laundry detergent to supplement.

I’ve mentioned how I brought a 22″ carry-on and you are probably wondering what Blogger Hubby brought.  He actually brought the next size up though all of his things did fit in a carry-on.  He brought the next size along so we would have room for anything we might purchase along the way.

Coordinating colors certainly helped make the packing easier, not caring if you wore the same top twice within a few days, be willing to rinse out some of your items in the sink, and not always having your shoes match your outfit gave us the freedom to move around easier as well as for me, being responsible for what I bring.  It truly felt liberating.  Try it sometime

The AMA Dagio

I got a little ahead of myself when I spoke about our tour to the Artist Experience.  I neglected to tell you about our ship, the Ama Dagio.

We had been on the newer AMA Primo the year before and for the cruise up the Rhone, we were to be on their oldest ship.  I had been told that it was in great shape, which it was, but on first glance, it left me a little wanting.  Before on the Prima, our bedroom had a small little round table with chairs by the French balcony.  Our stateroom on the Dagio did not have that or a mini refrigerator.  We had bought cheese anticipating a refrigerator.  Also, on the Sun Deck (the top deck) there was a hot tub,not the small pool that we had on the Prima.  There was also less furniture and groupings than on the Primo where there were many rattan sofas and chairs as well as loungers and chairs with canopies and screens to shade you.  The only seatings under the umbrellas on the Dagio were loungers.  We had to move some chairs so we could sit and have shade while we were playing cards.  A reoccurring problem for us on the Dagio was the very loud dining room.  On our first night we could barely hear our table mates.  The Prima had a divider down the middle with booth seating.  I think that might have absorbed some of the noise.  We found out the next night that if we sat in a rear corner near the doors where the food comes out, that the noise was much more tolerable.  That’s where we sat for most of our meals.img_1366

What made up for some of these minor problems was the crew.  I have never had a better cruise director than Rachel Couto Gomes.  Not only did we learn French in an amusing way, we learned a little French etiquette.  We all left her daily briefings with a huge smile on our faces.  She was really a part of “us” – she participated in the dancing one night, came along to some of the tours, helped with problems that were not cruise related as well as helping with cruise related questions.  I would follow her on any AMA cruise and to be honest, before I booked another cruise, I would email her to see what her schedule would be.  Every single crew member went out of their way to be helpful to all of us.

On one of our first cruise days I learned why our staterooms were as small as they were – the locks!  I could open our French balcony and touch the lock wall.  There were no ships on the Rhone that had regular balconies because of these narrow locks.  Also, for many of the times that we were cruising during the we were not allowed on the top deck due to the low bridges that we would be sailing under.  In fact, while we were on our cruise a Viking cruise line ship’s bridge was not lowered (and no one knows why yet) and it was flatten and torn off the ship with the occupants inside killed.  That made our captain’s decision to close off the Sun Deck even more meaningful to us.

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p1060418Something new on the Dagio from the previous year was when we boarded the ship, our photograph was taken, like an ocean cruiser.  Whenever we left the ship, we had our room key card scanned so they could be sure it was us getting off and us getting on.  They were increasing the security because of events that had been happening in Europe this past year.

We found the food to be delicious and there was always something that we wanted to eat.  What we especially liked was that their food was lighter than our American food.  The Fettucine Alfredo’s sauce was delicious and light – unlike the heavier versions that I have tasted.  The same with their salad dressings.  I asked the Maitre ‘d for the recipes and he complied.  I look forward to making some of these recipes.

We did have dinner one night at the Chef’s Table on 3rd deck aft.  It was a beautiful view as we sailed down the Saone on our way back from a winery to Lyon.  It was a fixed menu and it was received mixed reviews from those on the ship.  It was more like a tapas meal, small offerings and there are a few choices you can make.  The service was outstanding as they only have a few tables and stagger their reservations.  I’m not a seafood fan and felt that there was a lot of seafood.  On the other hand, Blogger Hubby loves seafood and pates and he was in seventh heaven and thoroughly enjoyed it.  I’m not sure that I would do the Chef’s Table again though some people did enjoy it. The experience was worthwhile to me. My only suggestion is to look at the menu before you book

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I did book myself a massage on the ship and although the massage was fine the room and location where it was done was not good.  The hairdresser and the masseuse share a room, a tiny room at the back of the ship.  There was no room to change into or out of clothes and barely with the chair for the hairdresser, the room was tight to open up the folding massage table.  Throughout most of the 60 minute massage I listened to the boat rattling and the sounds of a ship that was moving.  I asked if this was unusual and she replied that it wasn’t.  It did distract from the relaxing environment that I had envisioned for my hour long massage. Before I book again, I’ll take a look at the room where is done.

Our first night on the ship, we had a very special treat.  If you read my previous blogs, you will recall that this weekend was the Festival of the Harvest of the Rice.  This area of France, the Rhone Valley, is known for the mistral winds.  They are a strong, cold, northwesterly wind that blows from southern France into the Gulf of Lion (a gulf of the northern Mediterranean but can reach about 115 mph.  It is most common in the winter and spring, and strongest in the transition between the two seasons.  The Rhone Valley is particularly susceptible to these winds and in fact the winds get faster as they go through the valley on the way to the coast.  Seems like the mistral winds went through this area on Bastille Day in July and they were not able to have the fireworks for their national holiday.p1060196They “saved” the fireworks and chose to combine them with the fireworks for the Harvest of the Rice festival.  As it got dark, we all headed up to the Sun Deck (or maybe Star Deck) to grab a chair and watch the festivities.  We had the BEST seats in the entire area, at least in my opinion.  We were on one side of the river and the fireworks were shot off directly opposite of us.  It was amazing and rank up in my mind with fireworks that I have seen in both Boston and Washington DC on the 4th of July.

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We looked forward to more experiences and memories like these.

Do You Purchase Travel Insurance and if so What Type?

No issue brings us as much angst as the question as to whether we are going to insure a trip.

Buy Travel Insurance Online                     We used to always purchase travel insurance and yet when we did, we were never sure if it was a good policy or not.  You really have no way of knowing till you have file a claim, or someone you know, and how their claim was resolved.  The other part of this equation is,  if their claim was not paid, was it because the claimant didn’t follow the rules.  Perhaps they didn’t notify the insurance company and make a phone call before seeking out medical help first….or save the receipts…go to an authorized physician or facility.  Just  because it was denied doesn’t mean that it wasn’t a good company, it could be as I have alluded, that it was the fault of the insured.  But then again, maybe it just wasn’t a good company.

Let’s go a step back and talk a little bit about travel insurance.  I’m no expert and I don’t hold myself up as one but if you are going to purchase travel insurance make sure you ask questions and compare policies before you purchase.  If you are purchasing through your travel agent, they are not the ones to ask questions of.  They are not insurance agents but merely passing on to you the travel insurance that their agency sells. It may be a good policy but ask questions of that insurance company. Some questions to ask: are  you looking for a cancel for any reason insurance policy? cancel for health or death in your family?  how close must the family member be? do you want your pre-existing medical conditions covered?  do you want medical evacuation?  medical coverage? if you have several trips do you want year long coverage?  Lots of questions to consider and to ask. One thing that I will say about having your pre-existing medical condition covered, you generally need to purchase your travel insurance within 14-21 days of putting down your deposit on your trip.

If you are looking to compare different policies, I recommend you going over to the Insure My Trip website.  You can check off what you want in your policy and then compare them.  If you are more comfortable, give them a telephone call and tell them what you are looking for.  They will be able to guide you.

Another option for you to look at is your credit cards.  Chase Sapphire Preferred has primary rental insurance for your car rental.  In addition to that they also have Trip Interruption/Trip Cancellation coverage of up to $10,000 per trip; Baggage Delay insurance of 5 days at $100 per day.  Make sure you save your receipts to get the reimbursement. Finally, they have Trip Delay coverage.  You need to have purchased your tickets using your Chase Sapphire Preferred card which you should be using since you do get 2 x points on travel.

You should check with your health insurance company to see if you are covered overseas.  I do not believe that Medicare covers you overseas but my military health insurance, Tricare does.  It is called Tricare Overseas and if you do have Tricare and find that you need medical care while overseas, call their telephone number for the region that you are in.  Wondering how I know that?  When we were in Denmark I did have an accident – I fell out of a very tall bathtub while attempting to take a shower because there was no mat and the tub was very slippery.  I cracked my head open on the toilet and was laying on the bathroom floor bleeding profusely from the back of my head.  All I could think about was that we didn’t get health insurance.  Visions of the English actress Natasha Richardson with her head injury from her fall kept going through my head.  Tricare Overseas was called and off to the hospital we went.  But you know what?  Since Denmark has socialized medicine, there was no charge to be seen, for the tests, for the suturing of my head or for the two bags of medicine they sent  back with me to the hotel.

Right then and there it had reaffirmed my decision that if I was traveling in a country with a western culture and socialized medicine, I would forego travel insurance for medical purposes.

The next issue we consider is whether we would cancel due to a death in the family.  My husband’s father is still alive at age 90 and is quite healthy but we know that things can happen.  If something did happen, would we cancel the trip or would we need to return?  We discussed different scenarios and made the decision that works for us.

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Using our points for our airfare and hotel stays, we are able to cancel and get the points, sometimes with a small fee, redeposited to our account.  When estimating the cost of a trip, I have to exclude those arrangements that we are not paying for and that are refundable.

For our cruise to South America that we just booked, we did decide to get travel insurance.  We figure that being at the bottom of South America, medical care may not be readily available if something serious was to happen.  The insurance covers medical evacuation up to $500,000 if I should need to leave the area.  It’s been years since we purchased insurance but at our age and our destination, we feel that we are being prudent in purchasing it.

 

 

Cruise Excursions and How To Find Non-Cruise Line Tours

If you have been reading me for awhile then you may remember that I try to never book an excursion with the cruise line when I am in port.  There have been a few exceptions when I have had no choice – I’ll get to those later.

You may wonder why I would book non-cruise line tours.  Doesn’t the cruise line try to get me paranoid about arriving at the pier late from a private excursion and standing on the dock watching the ship sail into the colorful sunset.  I mean, I have heard many people tell me that if you are on a ship’s excursion and are running late then they will wait for you.  Isn’t this all true? NO, it is not.

The main reason that I book private excursions is that they tend to have fewer people on them and that they are less expensive and more interesting.  Do you enjoy being herded by cattle onto a bus that seats 44 people generally waiting for one or two who don’t feel that they need to be back at the same time as others on their tour?  If you found something interesting, wouldn’t you like the option of staying a little longer?

I have found that when I am on a private excursion in a foreign country (and I am excluding the Caribbean countries here since most of them take the American dollar), then you can pay in local currency which may have a better exchange rate for you than paying the cruise line in US currency.  Case in point: when we were in New Zealand, the excursion that I booked was $135 NZD which equalled about $83 USD.  The ship was charging for a similar excursion $150 USD.

With all the cruises that I have been on as well as the number of private excursions, we have never been late to the ship, not even close.  For me, I always inform my tour guide that we need to be back earlier than what we need to be.  I also look around as we are leaving the port city to see if there is construction or some problem that would take extra time in returning to the ship.  On one excursion a few years ago we were with passengers from another ship and we had a much earlier departure.  Our tour guide called a taxi to meet us and return us to the ship so we wouldn’t be late.  How is that for service!

Finally, the cruise line is not guaranteeing you that they will wait for you if you return late.  They will certainly try to but it is not guaranteed because they pay for their berth at the docks.  If it is too expensive to wait or if there is another ship coming in, they will leave.  However, they will get you to your next port of call.  If it is a large group, you all may not be able to get on the next plane; after all, most of the islands are connected by small island hopper planes.  This hardly ever happens so I would not worry about it but if you are concerned, bring your passport with you and a credit card.  That way if you need to get to another island, you will be able to.

Now that you have made the decision that you would like to try booking a private excursion, I’ll give you my trade secrets though they are not that secret.  I simply google “shore excursions in ____”.  I’ll also go to Cruise Critic and find their Ports of Call thread and look for my port of call.  I’ll read what others are saying about their tours. I will also go to Cruise Critic’s Roll Call where I find my cruise line, my ship and my sailing date.  Often times others in your Roll Call will organize a private excursion and are looking for others to join them.

Finally, I go to Trip Advisor and enter in the city/island that I will be visiting and then I enter “Tour Guide” or “Things To Do” in the search box.  Make sure you read all the reviews.  I tend to ignore the very best and the very worse and focus on what the majority are saying.

I’ll email the tour operator with any questions I may have.  During the busy season, I’ll give them about 3 three days to get back to me.

I mentioned earlier that several times I have had to take the cruise lines excursions. While on Half Moon Cay, the private island that the cruise line owns, rather than just spending time at their beautiful beach, we elected to take a Tram Tour of the island.  It was very interesting and something that I had never done.  I saw where they kept the horses for those who wanted to go horseback riding, Sting Ray City where the passengers feed the sting rays (that was amazing), the airport on the island (actually where seaplanes land in case of emergency), where 40 staff members live, desalination plant converts salt water to drinking water, power generators and so much more.  The other time I had to take a ship’s excursion was last year when we were docked in Gatun Lake in the Panama Canal. The only way we could get to land was to book an excursion.

I have had fantastic experiences, met some wonderful people who happened to be my guides and have no qualms about recommending them or their tour.  Everyone has different expectations of what they want on their tour and emailing your tour operator to express what you are seeking is a great way of ensuring that you have the right tour for you.

Don’t let the cruise lines get you scared or nervous.  Wouldn’t you rather have a tour more geared to you and your needs than a vanilla type tour where you are just a person in a seat.  A few days after I returned from my cruise I received a survey from Holland America.  Some of their questions had to do with excursions and they wanted to know how many I had booked with them and how many I booked independently.  they also wanted to know “why”.  I think they are finally getting the idea that many of us are going the independent route.  Hopefully they will make some changes but until then, I’m booking my own private tours and I hope you will consider them as well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cruising Through the Wachau Valley, Austria with AMAWaterways

This afternoon on our AMAWaterways Danube River cruise we had the option of staying on the boat as we cruised on the Danube through the scenic Wachau Valley in Austria.  The Wachau Valley is the name given to the 40 km stretch of the Danube between Melk and Krems.  The Wachau River Valley is another UNESCO World Heritage Site because of the Cultural Landscape – another check mark on my list of UNESCO sites visited.  The river cuts through the  picturesque narrow, rocky valley between the foothills of the Bohemian Forest and the Dunkelsteiner Waldone and is one of the most beautiful and well known regions in all of Austria.  It reminded me of when we cruised through the Rhine River Gorge years ago on the Rhone River.  So much beauty around the rivers of Europe.

The other option for the afternoon, and Blogger Hubby chose this option, was to bicycle from Melk to Krems on a bicycle path along the banks of the Danube River.  He’ll be writing of his adventures in a separate blog post.

I didn’t feel that I was up for the 36 k bike ride to Krems so I chose to stay on the ship and listen to the narrative of what we were seeing by our Cruise Director Monika.  Another reason was that we were going to have an ice cream social while cruising and I had heard they were having lemon gelato – my favorite.

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Ice Cream social while cruising through the Wachau Valley

As we plied the waters of the Danube we went passed Schonbuhel Castle .  This castle was built in the 12th century on the site of a former Roman fort.  Like other castles and churches, it has undergone repairs and remodeling.  What we were seeing was the remodel from the early 19th century.

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We also cruised passed the ruins of Aggenstein Castle.  Picturesque village dotted some of the landscape and none prettier than Weissenkirchen which means “white church” with over 1200 acres of grape vines growing in the area.  This is a major winemaking area.  They produce some world class Rieslings (my favorite wine) and apricot brandy  (Marilleschnaps).

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The Weissenkirchen in the Wachau Valley

Finally, we passed by the ruins of the Duernstein castle.  This castle, which is linked to the Crusades, was the the castle said to have been the prison of Richard the Lionheart in 1193. The story goes that when Richard was trying to get back home his boat washed up on the rocks of the Adriatic and he tried to sneak through Austria disguised as a peasant.  He was turned him in, arrested and imprisoned by Leopold V, the Babenberg duke ruling the country at that time.  Leopold was seeking revenge since he felt that he had been insulted by Richard in Palestine during the Crusades.     History comes alive for me when I see historical sites such as this castle.  I use my imagination to see the event as it happened in my mind.

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The castle where Richard the Lionheart was imprisoned
beautiful white and blue church in Durnstein
beautiful white and blue church in Durnstein

Finally we docked at Krems.  We boarded our buses to go to Durnstein where, the optional tour I took, was “Apricots and Sweets” which I would not recommend.  We went up a small flight of stairs to a room over a little shop where we sampled numerous apricot product.  It was an unventilated, small room where we sat on a bench against the wall.  It was so hot with no air circulating that  I asked them to turn the fan on that was in the corner of the room.

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“Apricots and Sweets” excursion – not recommended by me. Here we are in a hot, windowless room with no ventilation.

This part of Durnstein is not one that I would recommend for anyone with mobility problems as it is uphill and cobblestoned.  Many older people had difficulty and even if they were in the Gentle Walkers group and traveled there by train, they still had to walk on the cobblestones and go uphill a little.  We were there on the Corpus Christi holiday and spread all over the cobblestone were grasses which made it even more slippery.

the train from the pier that the Gentle Walkers or those who needed assistance took to Durnstein
the train from the pier that the Gentle Walkers or those who needed assistance took to Durnstein
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Corpus Christi Day – you can still see some of the grass that was on the cobblestone. Made for slippery walking.
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Narrow streets with cute shops featuring a number of apricot products as this area has many apricot orchards.

As we walked back to get to the bus, we passed a little boat that was docked waiting for passengers to ferry across the river to Rossatz.  I could not believe that this was an actual ferry.  Look at this picture and tell me what you think.

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Finally a few more pictures that I took while we cruised.  Tomorrow Blogger Hubby’s post about bicycling along the Danube from Melk to Krems.

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sign in Durnstein locating all the castles along this stretch of the Danube River
Richard the Lionheart
Richard the Lionheart
the beautiful white and blue church in Durnstein
the beautiful white and blue church in Durnstein

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How to Book a United Award Ticket and Save in Two Different Ways

Blogger Hubby received an invitation that he would not refuse a few weeks ago.  Blogger Son #2 went out to Bozeman, Montana from the East Coast with his family the middle of June to begin work on his Masters in Science Education.  Spending some time in the West with his wife and two little children had been something he had wanted to do.  Combine that with his desire to begin his masters and the two ideas were able to come together this summer.  Of course, since he doesn’t live in Montana he will continue to work on his masters online and to go back out next summer for more classwork.

Blogger Son #2 recently took up fishing although he did have some lessons a few years ago from my husband in fly fishing.  Additionally when he was younger we took a family vacation in Montana at the 9 Quarter Circle Ranch and he watched his older brother take an avid interest in fly tying and flyfishing.

Knowing that my husband loves, did I say loves, flyfishing, he invited him to go to Montana and join him for some fishing in the Madison and Gallatin Rivers.  The Gallatin River was made famous in the movie “A River Runs Through It”.  Blogger Son #2’s family would be flying home while our son would be driving the family van back to the East Coast.  The plan was for my husband to overlap with our daughter-in-law and their two children then to spend some time alone with our son after his family left.

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The only airline that made sense for him to fly was on United using our Ultimate Reward points that we earned with our Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card.  Actually, United had good flights out but not any returning.  Instead, he would fly Delta home now that they had one way flights for half the points.  I quickly transferred our American Express Membership Reward points over to Delta and booked the return since we didn’t have many options.

For the flight out there United didn’t have any economy seats so I was forced to consider First Class but since he was only doing it one way, I was going to have to use 25,000 points AND have to pay $80 in fees.  Yikes, I could do the 25,000 but $80 in fees.

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Then I began thinking.  What if I transferred the points over to Singapore Airlines; would that change how many points I would need?  I called up Singapore Airlines and was told that it would be 20,000 points and 7.50 Singapore dollars which I quickly converted to be $5.49 USD.

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Instead of transferring my Ultimate Rewards points to United I would be transferring them to Singapore Airlines.  I called up Chase and it took about 5 minutes to do the transfer since I already had a Kris Flyer (Singapore’s Loyalty Program) account although the points did not show up in my Kris Flyer  till about 12 hours later.  Once in my account I called up Kris Flyer to make the reservation.  The seats were still there luckily but one thing that I didn’t know was that since the points were in my account with Singapore Airlines, I needed to “nominate” my husband to be the recipient of my points.  That was easily done online and then I quickly called up Singapore to continue booking.  I asked for the Record Locator number so that we could go on the United site and reserve his seat.

Final analysis was that I saved 5,000 Ultimate Reward points and $75 dollars.  Sounds like a successful award booking to me.  Remember, even though you might to fly on United, it might be better to book the trip through Singapore or another Star Alliance airline.

Wrapping Up Prague – Weird Stories, a Great Restaurant and Activities on the Main Square

We spent 4 nights and three full days during our recent Prague visit. When Blogger Hubby and I travel we really pack a lot into our time.  Our philosophy is that we may not return and we want to see the usual sights as well as something a little different and Prague was no exception.

You’ve read about the free Walking Tour we took with the green umbrella man but did we tell you about St. James Church and the story of the mummified arm that hangs inside the church entrance?  Really.  First off our guide calls this the Bling Church because of all the jewels and gold in the church.  But back to the story.  As soon as you walk in to the church turn to your right and look UP.  You’ll see a withered, black, shriveled arm hanging from a meat hook.  The story goes that after dark one night over 400 years ago, a thief went into the church to steal the jeweled necklace off the statue of the Virgin Mary.  As he reached up to slip it off her neck, she came to life and grabbed his arm and he remained like that till the next morning when the parishioners arrived.  They could not release the grip of the Virgin Mary.  Supposedly the thief suggested that they cut the arm and the parishioners thought it was a good idea.  Since many of them belonged to a butchers’ guild, they went to their shop and got a large saw to cut the arm.  When they put the saw against the thief’s arm he became hysterical – he meant for them to cut off the arm of the Virgin Mary but they were not going to do it.  Without any anesthesia, they cut his arm and as soon as it was cut, she released her grip and returned to her normal pose.  The arm was hung up in the narthex as a deterent to future thieves.

entrance to the church
entrance to the church
the beautiful church of St. James
the beautiful church of St. James
the ceiling is impressive to view
the ceiling is impressive to view
The Virgin Mary statue who grabbed the thief's arm
The Virgin Mary statue who grabbed the thief’s arm
Walking into the church, turn to the right and look up
Walking into the church, turn to the right and look up and see the meat hook with the dangling arm
a close up of the withered arm
a close up of the withered arm

Changing to a more pleasant subject, I want to let you know of a wonderful restaurant to eat at in Old Town Prague.  Around the corner from the Old Town Hilton is the Cafe Imperial.  We had read about it on Trip Advisor and it had been mentioned on the River Cruise thread on Cruise Critic.  I quickly pulled up the website and the restaurant was beautiful, with carved walls and an art deco interior.  The ceiling was a large mosaic and it was difficult to not look up.  The columns, the walls, the ceiling – it was the most ornate yet beautiful restaurant that I have been to in a very long time.  With a restaurant looking this beautiful I imagined that it would be out of our price range……but it wasn’t.  I needed to continually remind myself of the conversion rate.  I tried to make a reservation as it was suggested but to no avail.  Disappointment set in and then I remembered that we were staying at the Intercontinental and wrote to the concierge and asked them to make a reservation for us.  Success!  Old world service, delicious food and prices for us which made it a steal.  I had ordered the Chicken roulade stuffed with salsiccia  and it was priced at 277 CZK which equaled about 11USD.  If you have a chance, treat yourself to a meal at the Cafe Imperial.

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If you want to do something very touristy, I would recommend going to the Czech Folklore Dining and Dancing.  Yes, it is for tourists and may not have the highest ratings on Trip Advisor but for our group, it was great.  You need to make reservations online (you pay when you get there) and fill in where you are staying.  They send minivans to pick you up at your hotel and that is included in the ticket price.  We went about 30 minutes outside of Prague to the countryside.  We walked into a large, but not too large, room where picnic style tables and benches are set up.  In the front of the room is a small stage for the singers, dancers and musicians.  As we walked in we were given a choice of drinks – a honey wine or juice.  The wine was delicious. Beer and wine, both red and wine, was included though to be honest I think the wine was watered down.  The drinks flowed freely even when you didn’t want anymore!  The meal was served family style and although not the best food I’ve had, it was certainly fine.   As we ate, we were entertained and even a few members of the audience were brought up to the stage. The singers and dancers were in their native clothing and it was colorful to see.  We all enjoyed the evening particularly when it included transportation, wine, beer, dinner and entertainment.  They take cash and credit cards.  I would recommend taking in this show as it was a fun evening.

P1030392 P1030388 P1030386 P1030385Finally, go to the Town Hall Square and just sit.  There is so much activity around and you never know what you will find.  The weekend that we were there they were celebrating diversity.  All different areas were represented by dancers in their native costumes dancing to music.  There was also a young man making the giant bubbles for the kids.  We had a great time people watching and relaxing.  Hope you enjoyed my series on Prague.

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What I take on the Plane with me for an Overnight Flight

I tend to be a hoarder with my points and want to save them for Business Class tickets when we have long flights.  Our flight, on KLM, is under 8 hours and I did not want to waste points for that so…we are flying economy.  Even though I wish we were flying Business Class for a myriad of reasons, I just can’t justify it for this flight.

One of the things that I will be missing on our flight home (on Star Alliance) is the lounge since we will have about a 3 hour layover.  I do not have the Chase United Explorer which would give me 2 United Club passes a year.  Instead I went to DansDeals to the Buying/Selling forum and was able to purchase 2 lounge passes for $20.

Sitting as long as we will be, my ankle will get very swollen.  I went to our medical pharmacy yesterday to purchase a compression sleeve for my ankle.  I do have the knee high support hose but the top rolls down and they are very, very hot.  The sleeve that I have is open toed and goes just slightly above my ankle.  There was another one that was open heel and open toed and was much easier to get on though my thought was that it would give me less support and structure.  I’ll report back whether I made a mistake or not.

I have downloaded books to both my iPad (for me) and my Kindle (for Blogger Hubby).  They need to be preloaded in order for you to read them when there is no WiFi available or it is very expensive.  We’ll be reading for awhile and won’t run out of books.

I am wearing on the plane very comfortable pants, a short sleeve shirt with a sweater over it hoping I can find a comfortable zone.  I also have little knit slippers from one of my amenity kits to put on my feet to walk up and down the aisle of the plane – I have to take my shoes off.  I also bring a scarf as another layer or just a light layer over me.

I always wear my heaviest shoes and in this case it will be my running shoes (for me, it’s walking shoes) from Saucony.  I hesitated to bring them but we will be in some rain and my other shoes are more open on top and I thought these shoes would keep my feet drier.

I have Sjogrens Syndrome, an autoimmune disease,  and my skin,mouth and eyes are always dry.  In my CamelPak that I’ll bring on the plane I’ll have a bag of hard candies to suck on as well as eye drops to help my dry eyes.  I’ll also bring hydrating moisturizer for my face.

In my backpack, I will have all of our cords for our electronics and a small travel cord that I can plug multiple items into.  If we need to recharge our electronics, I’ll be ready.

I’ll also have in my pack my knitting and my smocking – need to keep my hands busy and flexible.

Have I forgotten anything?

Pre – Travel Preparation – a little old school for us

Yes, we are at it again.  We leave in a couple of days to begin our trip to Prague and then the Danube followed by northern Italy.

As I have mentioned before, we tend to be a little “old school” in that we take paper copies of confirmations, tickets, maps with us.  We have a 3 ringed flexible travel notebook with divider tabs to help organize ourselves.  We just spent two nights going through our notebook and updating our Excel spreadsheet of our itinerary.  The spread sheet is basically a condensed version of what we are doing, confirmation numbers, activities, lodging information, transportation info arrival/departure times, etc.

We have also emailed ourselves scans of our passports and wrote down all the international phone numbers of our credit cards (disregarding our banks instructions of writing down the actual credit card numbers).  Additionally we have ordered three different foreign currencies so we will have some money when we arrive in each country; notified our credit cards companies that we will be traveling and making sure that I only bring the credit cards that have no foreign transaction fees; also notified our Schwab Bank, whose no-fee ATM card we will be carrying, that we will be traveling.  I have reconfirmed all of our confirmations that are made with individuals, confirming the date, time and location of where we will meet.  I have down loaded onto my cellphone the Rick Steves audio walking tours of the cities/area that we will be in.  Finally, I have stopped our mail and our newspaper delivery.

Traveling in the spring I wanted (wanted, not needed) a new safety purse in a lighter color.  I went to my favorite bag retailer – Ebags –  and found just what I wanted.  Going through my Chase shopping portal, I received 8 points per dollar for my purchase at Ebags.

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What I really liked about this purse is that its heavy-duty water-resistant nylon bag features cut-proof Chain Link construction, it protects me from pickpockets with a lock where you main zippers are located so it can’t be easily opened, it has a cut proof chain link construction on the shoulder strap, it also has a RFID blocking card to prevent thieves from getting wirelessly our information from our chip enabled credit cards.  There is even a side mesh pocket for my water bottle.  If you are interested in this purse (and I do not get get a commission, just like to pass on what I like) you can go here.

While I was looking at my purse on E-bags I also decided to look at the packing cubes that  have heard so much about.  I really didn’t understand why everyone was raving about these cubes since I feel that I already packed very well.  I use ziplock bags, roll my tops to take up less room and feel that I “stuff” things in every nook and cranny that comes with having odd size items.  Nevertheless, I purchased a set of medium as well as small cubes.  Now that I have packed, I’m beginning to realize why travelers like them.  All my tops are in two medium size cubes, underwear in a small, accessories in another.  My pants are not in cubes. It is very easy to unpack as well as to pack again.  My suitcase looks a lot neater and Blogger Hubby thinks that I am bringing less because it looks so neat.  These are the cubes I purchased, again getting 8 points per dollar spent by going through my Chase shopping portal.

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I also purchased new shoes.  I ordered them Shoes.com (going through Chase also at 8 points per dollar) and as soon as I put them on my feet it felt like my feet were in feet heaven.  I kid you not!  The adjustable heel strap made sure that my narrow heel fit well in the shoe.  It also has a Velcro strap that goes over my foot which will come in handy with swollen feet (elastic straps do not work well for me).  Additionally it has a roomy toe box which is where I find shoes snug.  I put them on and felt like they were already broken in.  If you are interested in these shoe here is the link:

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To help me know what the weather will be like, and therefore what clothes to bring, I went to http://www.worldweatheronline.com  With their 10 day forecast I would plug in every city that we were visiting.  I also saw that I should bring an umbrella and raincoat!

Finally, with our daughter due to deliver her second child while we are traveling, I looked into finding and purchasing an unlocked phone (didn’t find one), and into the Verizon Global Plan to use on my phone.  All of our children have our itinerary with telephone of our hotels and the ship.

I think with all this, I am done and can relax.

Hope you enjoy this YouTube video about packing

 

 

Panama Canal Cruise – our First Day on Holland America Zuiderdam

I just returned home after a last minute booking on the 11 night Holland America Sunfarer cruise aboard the Zuiderdam.  Booking at the last minute does save you money however, your choices in staterooms are limited.  I had looked at the deck plan and saw that one of the staterooms available was 4119 which is listed as having an obstructed view due to the lifeboat outside our window.  Looking closely at the deck plan, it appeared that this stateroom was at the end of the lifeboats and that perhaps not the entire ocean view window would be blocked.  I then googled “Zuiderdam stateroom 4119” to see if there were any reviews of this stateroom.  The reviewers were saying what I was seeing – that it is not a totally obstructed stateroom, that it has a floor to ceiling window and it has a bathtub (not important for me but important to some people).  I was feeling pretty good about our chances for a decent stateroom.

Like many travelers, we flew into Fort Lauderdale the day before our cruise.  During the winter months, this is very important to me.  There are so many hotels to choose from that will offer free or low priced shuttle rides to the dock.  We chose to stay at the Hyatt Place mainly because it was within walking distance of the Harbor Shops, a nice strip shopping center that had restaurants, shops and a Publix grocery store.  We paid $169 for the 2 bed suite.  They had a nice breakfast bar but it does close very promptly at 9 AM.  We could walk to the Harbor Shops but elected to have the shuttle bus drive us there.

cruises harbor shops

At the Publix I was able to buy my wine for the cruise (HAL allows you to bring in 2 bottles of wine at the beginning of the cruise per stateroom), my 12 pack of cola and a 12 pack of water.  I would carry the wine on board but for the cola and the water, I taped a luggage tag onto them and had them delivered to my stateroom with my luggage.  I had brought down to Florida my clear packing tape as well as a couple extra luggage tags that I had printed off to use on the cola and water.

I like to get to the docks early and this time was no exception.  We signed up for the first shuttle from the hotel which was at 10:00.  The shuttle to the dock cost us $7 and we had to pay the driver separately from the hotel bill – make sure you sign up for the shuttle when you check in to the hotel.  If you elect to leave your car here while on the cruise, the price as of this date is $7 per day.  By 10:30 we were at the dock, luggage, cola and water dropped off outside, checked in and received our boarding group number, with the deck plan and our ship card in our hand, which is used whenever you leave or return to the ship or when you want to purchase something on the ship.  Getting there early allowed us to find a seat to sit and wait in comfort.  As we were waiting we could see the line to check in was getting longer and longer.  We liked our strategy to get there early.   At 11:45 we were boarding our home away from home for the next eleven nights and going to our stateroom to drop off our carry ons.

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Since we had sailed on Holland America previously, we were Mariners.  I was a three star and my friend was a one star – the number is based on the number of sea days you sail and how much money you spend while on the cruise.  Many people do not know that one Holland America Mariner perks is that  you can eat lunch in the Vista Dining Room upon embarkation rather than the crowded Lido buffet.  We had a delightful luncheon with a couple from Canada that we would see off and on throughout our cruise.

We explored the ship going to one of my favorite locations first – the Culinary Arts Center by day and the Queens Row Lounge by night.  In this lounge, cooking demonstrations are held during the day as well as a few hands on cooking lessons that are $29.  The cooking lessons are held on sea days and there were two lessons during our trip.  Ten participants are allowed at these classes and there always is a waiting list.  I quickly signed up for the class and chose which one I wanted to do.  I chose the class that featured Cajun Grilled Shrimp over Greens with three different vinaigrettes, mashed potatoes with surfeit, grilled pork chops with a picadillo salsa and tres leche cake.  We were to work with one of the chefs on the ship as well as the “Party Planner” in preparing the meal.  After we made it, we would be served the meal made by the kitchen on board the ship at the specialty dining room Pinnacle Grill complemented with our choice of red or white wine.

cruise culinary arts center

We continued our tour and went to the spa area.  Holland America has a separate thermal pool, a relaxation room with five tiled heated loungers, and two saunas.  There is a few to go here and if you book on the first day there is a discount.  We signed up for this and knew that we would avail ourselves of the thermal pool with jets to ease our aching muscles and to put me in the relaxation mood for this trip.

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We stopped by the Digital Workshop which is staffed by Microsoft.  Unfortunately, it wouldn’t be open for the first five days of the cruise.  Once it was open, they would offer workshops three times a day and then another session for a question and answer period.  Laptops were there but the number of laptops, as well as seats, were limited.  Even getting there 30 minutes prior to the workshop did not allow you to get a seat.  If this interests you, get there about 45 minutes before the class begins.

cruises digital workshop

We had signed up last minute for this cruise and were given the fixed dining time of 7:45.  We did not want this time knowing that we probably would not be having the dining room till about 9:30.  We met with the maitre’d and he could not change us to the early seating and said if we went to the Any Time You Wish seating then we would have to eat at 5:15 as they had no reservations left.  We were a little frustrated but then a waiter whispered to us to just show up.  We decided to take his advice when it was time to dine.

Our final stop before heading to our stateroom to unpack our suitcases was to the Shore Excursion desk.  We had only booked one excursion before we left and although I probably wasn’t going to book another ship excursion, my traveling companion was interested in getting more information for our stop in Aruba as well as Costa Rica.  They explained some of the differences between the excursions as well as the activity level needed for each excursion.  Two booked excursions later we finally went to our stateroom to find our luggage in the room and we began unpacking.

We walked into the Any Time You Wish dining room (Vista Dining room, deck 2) and were seated sharing a table with four other people.  This is the benefit of having Any Time You Wish dining – you get to meet new people every night.  Each night we widen the number of  people that we met and began to know on this ship.

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A delicious meal, entertainment in the Vista lounge, going to the Piano Bar and have a late night ice cream in the Lido buffet ended our first day on the Zuiderdam.

I want to say hello to my fellow HAL cruisers who may be reading this blog for the first time.  It was a pleasure meeting you and talking about travel and points.  If you like this blog, please consider receiving my blogs in your email by clicking “Follow Me” on the right side of this blog.  To read more about cruising, go to the category tab and look for it in the drop down menu.

 

 

Travel Clinics and My Experience

When we recently traveled to South Africa, it was suggested to us, a few couple weeks before our departure, that we might want to consider getting some anti-malaria pills.  The only location where we would have had a remote chance of getting malaria would have be in Kruger National Park.  Additionally, since it was winter in the Kruger, the chances were extremely low.  Nevertheless, since I do have an auto-immune disease I thought it was prudent to get anti-malaria medication.

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We immediately called the local travel clinic to see about scheduling an appointment.  When the clinic called back they basically said that they could not help us as they would need to see us two weeks prior to our trip to begin the shots and medication regimen and they didn’t have any available appointments.  I questioned them about shots since I “knew” that all I needed was anti-malaria medication but they wouldn’t budge.  I would get no appointment and no medication from them.  Now what!

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I then went to the CDC website to see what they story was.  I was able to look up country specific information again confirming that the risk was low and it would be only for Kruger.  The CDC website listed different malaria medications, the reasons why we would consider the specific ones and the reasons that we might want to avoid using some of the drugs.  Some of the medications only required us to begin taking the pills 1-2 days before we enter the area where malaria transmission could occur.  Additionally, some pills we only had to take for 7 days after leaving the area instead of 4 weeks as some meds required.

I made an appointment with my family doctor, brought the print-out from the CDC website.  She was very happy that I did bring the print-out as she didn’t have to leave the examining room to go to the website and print it out.  We went over all the medications available, the pros and cons including costs.  I walked out with my prescription.

I was very happy that I pursued this even after the travel clinic did not give me reason to pursue it.  If I had listened to them, I would have gone to South Africa without any medication since I was “late” in contacting them.  No shots were needed for this trip – only pills.

What I am trying to say is to do your homework.  You need to be responsible for your well being.  If you find that you are late like I was, go to the CDC website.  Print off their recommendations and bring it to your local doctor or clinic that you go to for medical care.  Your doctors will appreciate your bringing the information to them.

What Happened When I was Injured Abroad

Okay, I’m almost done with Kruger National Park and our safaris posts and thought this might be the time to switch it up and talk about something else that happened to me on our trip.

As some of you might know, we did a stopover on our way home from South Africa.  We spent a week in Copenhagen and other parts of Denmark.  With our Club Carlson points we booked a 3 night stay at the Radisson Bleu Royal Hotel, a block from the Central Train Station, in Copenhagen  I’l report of the hotel later.

Anyway, on our last night before we headed into another part of Denmark, I went in the bathroom to take a shower.  We had  been touring Copenhagen all day, walked ten thousand miles or steps (which is greater), and packed our clothes to get ready to go on a 8:00 AM train to Odense.  I was feeling icky and tired.  The tubs at the Radissons we went to in Denmark are retrofitted so you can shower in them and they are also very tall tubs.  The shower controls are on the side of the tub with the portable shower head along the side as well.  The tub had a swinging door on half on the tub at the end where the shower head would be.  Yes, a swinging door!

When I had taken a shower the night before I noticed the tub was a little slippery so I laid a bunch of towels on the bathroom floor to give myself a little traction.  Can you imagine what happened yet?  Yup, you are correct but stay with me and follow along.

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I got in the shower, bent down to adjust the water temperature and before you could say “Be Careful” I had slipped out of the tub, the door swung open and my head hit the toilet seat where I swear I heard it crack.  Now I am laying on the bathroom floor, bucknaked, with lots of blood around me from my head wound.  Had to call to Blogger Hubby because with the water running from the shower and the television on, he couldn’t hear me.  The one thought that kept going through my mind was Natasha Richardson, the actress who was married to Liam Neeson and daughter of Vanessa Redgrave.  She fell on the bunny slopes and died form a head injury.  Initially she refused medical treatment feeling fine.  I knew head injuries could be serious so I was quite adamant that Blogger Hubby talk to the concierge and have him call the hotel doctor.

The hotel doctor hearing of my head injury and the fact that I couldn’t stop from violently shaking, referred us to a hospital.  He would call ahead to make the referral for us.  We also called our military insurance company – Tricare Overseas – to alert them in case I needed to be admitted as well as to inform Blogger Hubby if he needed to do anything.  They went over our plan and what they would cover and what they wouldn’t.

Now I had to get dressed while holding towels against the back of my head to try and stop the bleeding.  That done, we went down to the lobby and the concierge hailed a cab for us.  Fifteen minutes later we were at the hospital.

hospital

We checked in and were sent to the waiting room.  Still violently shaking and feeling sick to my stomach, I laid down on the floor – we were the only ones and I didn’t see a problem with it.  The hospital staff did.  They came in and saw me and immediately found a room for me.  I saw about 3 nurses and one “bone” doctor.   I was given a blood test to determine if there was any bleeding on the brain and there wasn’t.  Diagnosis and treatment:  I needed four stitches in the back of my head, and had whiplash from when I fell backwards.  Blogger Hubby was given signs to look for in case I needed a return to the hospital.  By the way, the violent shaking was my adrenaline kicking into action.

I would have at least one severe headache for about ten days and achy neck and shoulders from the strained muscles.  I also wasn’t allowed to get my head wet for 48 hours.  Since my hair was gross and very matted with blood, I had Blogger Hubby, when we returned to the hotel get a damp facecloth and try to pull the blood out of my hair.  His comforting remark “at least the color matches your hair”.  Thanks hubby 🙂  As we left the hospital I was given a bag of prescription medicine.  When we went to check out, we found, to our surprise, that there was no charge for the visit, the blood test, the medicine – nada.  We found our that Denmark has socialistic medicine and that they take care of tourists.  If I was a visitor from another EU country, they would have billed my country for my health care.   There is a two tier system of health care in Denmark.  I was at one of the “free hospitals” under their socialized health care system.   If we didn’t want to go there then we could have gone to the paying hospital. For my injuries, it was fine and it might be fine if my injuries were more severe .  Luckily I didn’t need to make that choice.

When we were leaving that morning (and we would return two nights later) we asked to fill out an accident report.  They didn’t have a form so I wrote out what happened.  In my opinion, the hotel didn’t do enough to protect the guests from slips in the bathtubs.  This had never happened to me before and Blogger Hubby also thought that the tub was slippery.   The tub had no bath mat or adhesive grippers on the tub bottom.  It looked like they had stenciled in the grippers because when I ran my hand over the bottom of the tub, it was extremely smooth and slick.  What I will do next time if I find a slippery tub is put a towel inside the tub to stand on.

Blogger Hubby gave my report and a copy of the hospital report to the Front Desk  manager.  As we check-out that morning the Front Desk manager came over to me and wanted to know how I was and what he could do.  We told him we were happy with the care we had received at the free hospital and there was no charge.  I did ask him if they could pay our $60 taxi fare.  He agreed and was going to give us a room credit but we had booked on points.  When we left nothing had happened but he had left me with the impression that they would reimburse me when we returned in two days.

We continued on with our journey though getting a later train to Odense. Head was very tender and I needed to find position where I could rest my head comfortably when sleeping. Eventually I washed my hair and saw pink soapsuds, was able to get the stitches out here in the United States and finally the headaches stopped. I am now going through physical therapy to help with turning my head to the left and right and it is getting better after each session.

When we checked in a few days later, nothing had been said to us about the reimbursement and we decided just to forget about it.  When we checked out the next morning we had the Front Desk Manager checking us out and he did give us the cab money.

We left immediately for the train station to go to the airport for our trip home.  It is still scary to me that an accident could happen as quickly as it did and that it could have had more serious outcome.  I now have a little fear of step in showers and would much prefer a walk-in one.  I am also always feeling the bottom surface of the shower/tub to assure myself that I won’t slip.

I was nervous when this accident happened cursing myself for not traveling with travel health insurance.  But traveling in a country with socialized medicine does make it easier on the mind if you do not buy travel health insurance.  I was very happy with the Danish health care system.  What I will reconsider is purchasing medical evacuation insurance, just in case.

Have you had an accident happen to you while traveling?  What was your experience?

What a Trip We Had – What I Packed, Part 4

What a Trip We Had – London, Part 1

What a Trip We Had – Uxolo Guest House, Johannesburg, Part 2

What a Trip We Had – Touring in Johannesburg, Part 3

What a Trip We Had – What I Packed, Part 4

When you are on a month long trip, planning must take place as to what you are bringing so you don’t overpack.  I’m limited to one suitcase on our trips so I try (operative word – try) to pack smartly.  The challenge on this trip was the variable weather.  It could be cool/cold in Cape Town, cold in the mornings on safari but hot during the afternoon, windy, pleasant, cool and possibly rainy during other times on our trip.  What’s a gal to do?

My first concern was what shoes I would bring. I obviously brought my gym shoes for rugged walking, and warmth but I also wanted to bring some other shoes to appear to be more city like or dressed up if we went out and to change out my gym shoes.  I chose two pairs that I purchased from DSW.com

This first pair is a Clarks Privo Haley Stork Sport Flat shoe that I purchased in black. I felt that I could wear it with my slacks or with a dress.  It was very comfortable and if my feet got cold, I could always wear black socks underneath it.  I believe it is on sale now through Amazon.com

black shoe

The second pair,  Clarks Hare Sport Flat,  are in a taupe tone that would go well with khaki and brown pants.  They are currently sold out at DSW but you might be able to find them or a similar style elsewhere:

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I wanted a pair of blacks pants that wouldn’t wrinkle that could be dressed up or down.  I don’t care for the “slinky” pants that you sometimes see in travel stores.  Since the weather would be unpredictable, I wanted something that had a little structure and wouldn’t be flimsy.  I found these Original Fit Ottoman Knit Bootcut Pants at Travelsmith and I would recommend them.  These pants coordinated well with a grey/white herringbone pair of pants that I brought.  The colorful tops would work well with both of them.

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I also had a pair of medium weight knit pants in a coffee au lait color from Eddie Bauer in the  Travel section on their website.  I did bring a pair of jeans but only wore them a few times – it got hot in the afternoon in the Kruger and I wore shorts then.   The other pair of pants I brought was a grey and white herringbone style pants that could be dressed up or down depending what I wore with it.

I did wear my Smart Wool socks and my feet felt very comfortable.  They are not hot and they are not itchy as you might expect with wool.  I highly recommend them.  They have various weights so find what works best for you.

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I brought two sweaters, a black cardigan and a merino wool pullover.  I also brought a sweater set – short sleeve pullover with the matching cardigan, both in violet.  With a floral scarf I got several outfits out of this combination.  Violet cardigan with short sleeve black jersey under it or violet short sleeve sweater with black cardigan over.  The scarf looked great with both and could dress it up a little.  I could also do black on back or violet on violet.  I was pretty happy with my choice.

I always travel with my Ex Officio travel underwear since they dry overnight and my PacSafe purse with is as pretty close to pickpocket protection as any I have seen.

I had my LL Bean barn coat with my with the flannel lining for those cool times.  I didn’t want to bring a raincoat with me so instead I bought one of those rain slickers that come in a little packet and made out of thin yellow plastic.  I think we got ours at Niagara Falls a few years ago and I just kept it.  At this point, space was a consideration so if I looked geeky, so be it.

Rather than using the travel cubes, I used zip-lock storage bags.  One for undies, another for socks.  I rolled my jersey tops and my knit pants.  I also brought with me my CamelBak for when we would be out for the day and I had multiple things to take with me like my Kindle, snacks, tour books, etc.

camelbak

Speaking of tour books, I really like the Rick Steves series.  I had the good fortune to meet Rick when he and his girlfriend were on the same cruise as we were.  I had seen his shows on PBS as well as borrowing some of his DVDs from the public library but meeting him in person was a real treat.  Since then I tend to read and follow, to a degree, his guidebooks.  Perhaps he is dumbing things down for us but I like knowing which direction I need to walk to find the particular castle that we read about.  We would have found it easy enough at the TI center (Tourist Information) but he saved us some time and steps.  He lists bus numbers, train stops, etc…he makes it quite easy to travel.  Although we do enjoy his guidebooks, we do our own research as well.

There were a few things that I didn’t need to pack because the weather was cool/cold and overcast while we were touring the wineries but who knew.   Each trip is a lesson for us and it does get easier.  Do you find that packing is easy or difficult for you?

 

My Secret Weapon for Cheap Hotel Rooms

While Jane is away, she invited me to submit a guest post.  I blog over at Fishing4Deals, about how to travel cheap, save money, and have fun.  My focus is on budget, domestic travel, and I fancy myself as the Priceline Queen.

Priceline is my workhorse for finding cheap hotel rooms.  I usually have pretty good luck booking rooms at half the going rate.  I love the thrill of the chase, and the suspense of wondering if my low bid will be accepted.

There are some times though, when my best efforts on Priceline have failed, and I need to find a room for the night.

Last Minute Rooms with HotelCoupons.com

If you like to do road trips, you’ve probably seen those hotel coupon magazines they give away at highway rest stops, gas stations and fast food joints.  They used to be called RoomSaver, but they have rebranded as Hotel Coupons, and they are online at HotelCoupons.com.

Okay, I know what you’re thinking:  those coupons are just for one star hotels like Rodeway Inn, Days Inn, or Econolodge.   Not so.

Not Just One Star Motels

To be sure, you will find many offers for roadside motels that cluster near the exits on the Interstate, but you can also find coupons for last minute stays with solid mid-range chains like Holiday Inn, Holiday Inn Express, Hampton Inn, or Fairfield Inn.

You can also find coupons in some markets for upper-mid-range hotels like Crowne Plaza, Embassy Suites, or Homewood Suites.

But what may surprise you is that you can sometimes find coupons for independent hotels, at rates far below the regular walk-in rate.  When we were exploring the Oregon Coast, for example, we found lovely beachfront hotels in Seaside and Newport through the  coupon guide.  These were not cookie-cutter chain hotels, but nice places with real local flavor.

Would you believe that one of the most vaunted hotels in Washington, DC, the historic  Willard Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue, is also listed on HotelCoupons.com?  The Willard is a five star hotel!

Needless to say, you should always shop around to make sure you are getting the best possible rate.

Be aware, also, that the hotel will not always honor the coupon rate.

Earn IHG Points on the Coupon Rate

If you book rooms with most online travel agencies like Hotwire or Priceline, you will not earn loyalty points for your stay.  HotelCoupons.com has an arrangement with IHG properties:  you will receive the IHG Best Rate Guarantee and IHG Rewards Club points for rooms booked via HotelCoupons.com.  The IHG family of hotels includes Staybridge Suites, Holiday Inns, Crown Plazas, and Intercontinental Hotels, among others.

Have you scored any deals with roadside coupons?

If you enjoyed this article, you can find more stories like this on my blog, at Fishing4Deals.com.

Our Trip Notebook – How We Stay Organized

I’m sure that there are some seniors and others out there who are like me – a little technology challenged.  I have an IPhone but leave it off when traveling abroad fearing that somehow I’ll end up with thousands of dollars of charges.  I don’t have an IPod either and I’m leaving behind my laptop (too heavy) for this big trip of ours.  I needed to find another way to stay organized while traveling.

We have come up with a system that works for us when we travel whether it is domestically or internationally.  It helps us stay organized and keeps all of our paperwork, tips, confirmations and maps together.

We travel with a flexible three ring notebook.  Ours has a clear pocket cover so we slip in our itinerary so we can glance at it quickly.  Inside we have our flight information.

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We then have dividers for each of the cities we are visiting with maps, public transportation maps

J2

as well as a list of places that we want to visit rated by Trip Advisor and from other sites.  There is nothing worse than going to a city and forgetting to see a site that you wanted to see.

J3I also have copies of emails from friends and forums that list things that I should see or do.  Everyone usually is so helpful with sharing information and I don’t want to leave that information behind.  We also put in our notebook all confirmation that we have for excursions, hotel rooms, etc.  As we travel, we have the option of getting rid of the pages we no longer need

We found this method to be invaluable a few years ago.  We had made reservations at a small B&B in Switzerland.  What it actually turned out to be was renting a room in someone’s home – more like an AirBnB than what I think of as a B&B.  We showed up late afternoon and no one was there.  So Blogger Hubby and I drove around and had dinner out.  We went back to this complex where there are our version of townhouses/condo with a multi car shared garage.  I saw a car pull in and I asked the couple if they knew Mr and Mrs “X”.  They looked a little wide eyed at me and it dawned on me that it was them.  I told them we had a reservation for the night.  They denied having any reservations; that’s why they went away for the weekend.  I whipped out my email confirmation out of my notebook and they seemed surprised.  They asked if we had reconfirmed it.  That was a new concept for me.  I said no, we had the written confirmation.  Nevertheless, they quickly brought us into the home, charged us half price and made up the room.  I was really glad that we had the written email to show.  IF it was on my IPhone, I probably would have had to go through many messages to find it but doing it our way, it is at our fingertips.

I’ve just heard about Evernote.  I haven’t tried it but it may work for you.  My son uses TripIt but I found that it culled all the emails of mine when friends would send their flight info and it would think that it was mine.  I haven’t tried it in awhile so it may be fixed.  Let me know if you use either of these sites.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Luggage Tips

As I mentioned in my previous post, I recently purchased new luggage at TJ MAXX.  Unfortunately one of the pieces is black like so many other bags.  It’s difficult enough finding your suitcase on the airline carousel but imagine finding your luggage in a warehouse like structure when you are ending a cruise.  Literally there are thousands of suitcases!

A friend of mine told me how he had accidentally taken someone else’s bag thinking it was his till he opened it up and found “girly things” in it.  I would absolutely hate for that to happen to me.  Plenty of people think they have the solution.  I know that some tie on ribbons and I did try that but ribbons can become untied.  Others do pom poms but those can get caught on machinery and get pulled off your suitcase.  I believe that I have found THE solution.  A solution that shows that this piece of luggage is mine and no one would confuse my suitcase for theirs.

Here are the Before pictures:

luggage 1

and the After pictures:

luggage 3

luggage3

That’s right, I used a roll of decorative duct tape.  I marked the top, sides, back and bottom so no matter which direction my suitcase comes out on the carousel, I’ll find it!  My husband prefers a plain color stripe on his suitcase.  Me, I like something a little more lively, as you can see.  There are such fun rolls of tape out there.  I even have a roll of pigs flying.  When we went to Australia and New Zealand last year, I knew that we would be going to a penguin preserve so that dictated my tape choice – I had penguins.  There is no way someone would think that this is their luggage, is there?

Last luggage tip – At the airport, when I am checking in my luggage I always take a picture with my cellphone of the luggage tag making sure that the bags destination is the same as mine.  This actually happened to me a few months ago when we left Puerto Rico.  The bag tag showed that it was only going to Philadelphia and not continuing on with me to Richmond, VA.  Luckily I caught the error and the ticketing agent quickly fixed it.  Crisis averted.  Additionally, I take a photo of my bag so if it should get lost I can show them a picture of what it looks like rather than just describing it.

Now that I have given you my favorite luggage tips, what are yours (other than not checking luggage)?

 

WINNER of the $50 gift card – comment #35 chosen at random by Random.org

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Beatriz A. is the winner of the $50 VISA gift card for her comment: I think I’m going to like your blog in the future.  I like your style and I’m also a senior. …not that young.  I like traveling by air to visit grandkids in USA or or overseas for some continual learning about other cultures and having fun at the same time.  Now I need some luck for that $50 gift card.

Well Beatriz you apparently did have some luck.  I have sent an email to you that you need to respond to within three days.  Once I have your address, I’ll mail the gift card out to you.     Congratulations – Jane

 

Traveling Internationally with Medicines – What’s the Scoop?

As Blogger Hubby and I are of … shall we say, a certain age where we take daily medicines, we try to find out what are the rules are for flying with liquid medicines as well as bringing prescriptive medicines into the countries we are visiting.

The TSA has stated that you can bring more than 3.4 oz of medically necessary liquids and gel and they do not have to be in ziplock bags BUT you must tell the TSA screening officer that you have them.  There rules state:

Travelers who bring medically necessary liquids in excess of 3.4 ounces or medical accessories such as freezer packs, IV bags, pumps and syringes to the checkpoint must inform the TSA officer at the beginning of the screening process. TSA suggests, but does not require, medication be clearly labeled to facilitate the screening process. If a traveler does not want a medically necessary liquid to be X-rayed or opened for additional screening, the traveler must inform the officer before screening begins.

 

We assume that if it is prescriptive, we can bring it into another country without any problem, but not so fast.  There are rules about how much you can bring in, what type and whether you need a physician’s note

drugs

We are traveling to South Africa next month and to find out what their rules are I went to the a South African government site – A Travelers Guide:  Custom Requirements when Entering and Leaving South Africa.  Reading through this online handbook I learned what I can bring in and whether I need a doctors note for medicines that will be for more than a 30 day supply.

To begin my quest to find out what the rules are I go to where most people go to for information – Google.  There you will find lots of information but I am not always sure if it is accurate information.  I look for the “hits” that are from a government source – those I’ll rely on.

Do you travel with medicine?  Do you check to see that you will not have any problems when entering a country with your medicines.  I know that many will think this is an unnecessary step but I always feel better knowing that the rules are.

 

Check Your Flight Itinerary

As you might remember, Blogger Hubby and I have a BIG trip coming up next month.  Today in the midst of planning, we took the opportunity to review our itinerary on the airline’s website.  I noticed that on our way home, there were some time changes to our flights and one of them could seriously impact us.

Originally we had about three hours in Toronto after our flight from Copenhagen.  Now, we were down to 90 minutes.  90 minutes – YIKES!  I wasn’t sure if that would be sufficient time to deplane, go through Canada Border Services Agency an  U.S. Customs and Border Protection and then get to our gate.

Thankfully there was another flight 45 minutes after our scheduled one that United was able to put us on.  That meant we would have a little less time in Chicago where we would connect to our last flight to Detroit.

Lesson learned, always check to see if there have been any changes to your itinerary.  Since the airlines have made the initial change, they do not charge you when you need to make a change like we did.

 

The Result of our Home Away Weekend Rental

As you might remember from this post, Blogger Hubby and I decided to rent a seven bedroom home on Lake Anna in Virginia for a long weekend to celebrate his BIG birthdays as well as Mothers Day.

The landlord and I had several emails in the months leading up to our rental – did I need to bring linens?  what about paper goods?  did they have kayaks for our use?  what was I expected to do before we left?  and many more questions.  I felt confident leading up to our weekend.  It was in a great location for those who were flying in since they flew into Richmond and it was only 75 minutes from the airport.  We had our children take care of lunches and dinners and Blogger Hubby and I took care of breakfast.  What was also great about this rental is that there was no check-in or check-out time.  We could have 4 full days there.

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We arrived first and from the street it looks like a small two story home with a three car garage.  From the back it was an impressive three story home.  We excitedly begin exploring. The first plan had the open floor plan that encompassed a large and well stocked for crowds kitchen,  six stools around the kitchen bar, the living area had a two story stone fireplace, a large kitchen table, a screened balcony with table and six chairs and another open aired balcony.  There was also a dining room that we never used.  The master bedroom was on the first floor as well and what a bathroom it had with six shower jets.  We too had our own balcony that overlooked the Lake.  In what should have been the office, held two twin beds with a bathroom in the hallway.  Upstairs there were three huge bedrooms with one of them another master suite with en suite bathroom.  The other two bedrooms shared a large bathroom.   In the basement were two more bedrooms with one having a queen bed, a double bed and two twin beds.  The other bedroom had a queen bed. The huge game room was well equipped with a ping pong table, Wii, a poker table and chairs for 6 people and many more games and activities.  This was a very family friendly home and we appreciated the high chairs, trucks, legos, etc that was available for our use.  We also utilized the sliding door to walk to the dock.  As we walked out there was a huge gas grill (with a spare tank in the garage) for our use.

The land did slope down to toward the Lake but there was a flat enough space for a game of Spite Ball and for our Family Photo Op.

family pic

The dock was huge – the owners told us it was the largest on the Lake.  The children were able to fish off the dock or walk down the few steps to get into the water.  There were so many fish that one of the grandkids actually caught over 100 fish – mainly sunfish and catfish though he did catch a large carp that “got away”.

Our children took turns cooking dinners.  One night it was a hamburger bar with all the fixings, another night it was barbecued pork butt that we turned into pulled pork sandwiches.  Our daughter and her husband did tacos with all the great toppings.  Lunch and breakfasts were casual with an assortment of cereals, fruits, yogurts, lunch meats and leftovers.  We didn’t want anyone stressing over meals and Blogger Hubby and I thought we would “take a break” from meal duty.  We were happy to pass the torch to our very capable children.

All and all it was a great family filled time and I would highly recommend that you stay a vacation close to home with activities and rooms for everyone.  This home and vacation fit our family like a glove.

How to Get Cruise Discounts

I was born a bargainista and nothing excites me more than getting a bargain – even if it is a little bit off full price.  In my mind, a little bit off is better than nothing.  Sometimes it is enough to pay the taxes on my purchase.

save money

Combine my passion for bargain with my passion for travel and you’ll always find me looking for a way to save a buck.  As you all might have realized by now, I really enjoy cruising.  If you are flexible, you can just about always find great rates if you book a last minute cruise.  Blogger Daughter and I once booked a 5 night cruise on Celebrity a week before the sailing and although we did not have a balcony we did score an impressive fare of $250 each.  We were looking for someplace to go and $250 probably wouldn’t have covered our food for 5 days let alone our accommodations and entertainment.  We were also fortunate to find last minute flights for $200 round trip; otherwise, depending on the airfare, we could have driven to Miami.

We did have a very early morning flight and consequently arrived in Miami way to early to go to the cruise terminal.  We sat at the airport near the ground transportation door.  As we were sitting there, I saw a family of three also sitting there.  Hmm, I wondered if they were also going to the Port of Miami as well.  Turned out they were but on a different cruise line.  I asked if they wanted to share a cab to the Port.  Cab fares were $25 per cab.  They indicated they would and when it was time to go, the attendant outside called for a minivan to take us.  Instead of paying $25, we paid $10.  Savings:  $15.  I will go on a limb and suggest that you never purchase transfers from the cruise lines.  You sit in a big bus and wait for it to fill up before you can leave.  The cab was less money and we could go when we wanted to.

bus

Another way to save money while cruising is to purchase 100 shares of stock for the cruise line you are interested in.  I have 100 shares of Royal Caribbean – RCCL(which also includes Celebrity Cruise Line and others) as well 100 share of Carnival Cruise Line – CCL (which also included Holland America and others).  Every quarter I receive a $25 dividend and then an OBC (on board credit) for merely having the stock.

This is the chart from RCCL that shows how much of a credit you’ll receive:

$250           Onboard Credit per Stateroom on Sailings of 14 or more nights.

$200           Onboard Credit per Stateroom on Sailings of 10 to 13 nights.

$100           Onboard Credit per Stateroom on Sailings of 6 to 9 nights.

$ 50            Onboard Credit per Stateroom on Sailings of 5 nights or less.

Some have said that it is not a great stock to have in your portfolio but I disagree.  In the last four years that I have owned RCCL, it has grown by over 130%.  Not too shabby.

alaska cruise

If you are on a cruise and know that you would like to take another cruise in the future, head down to the Future Cruise Office where you can put down a deposit for a future cruise.  By basically pre-paying a portion of your deposit you’ll receive several perks among them, another On Board Credit with your cruise line and a lower deposit when you do decide which cruise to sail next.  RCCL does not let you combine a future cruise credit with a stock purchase credit but can combine them all the lines owned with Carnaval Cruise Line.

One of the best ways to save money is to sail on a repositioning cruise.  At the end of the summer/middle of fall or spring, cruise lines need to reposition their fleet from the Mediterranean to the Caribbean or from the Caribbean to Alaska and other areas around the globe.  Many times you’ll stop in ports that are not traditional port of call for the cruise lines.  I have not done a transAtlantic on a repositioning but I have heard wonderful reviews for the time you are crossing the Atlantic and you think boredom might set in – the crew goes all out to make sure you are still having fun.

Lastly, I suggest going through their Group Sales Department if you have at least a few friends who will cruise with you.  This will get you a certain percentage off your fare (5%).  They want to have at least 8 staterooms with double occupancy for the full discount but if you fall short, you and your group will still get the discount percentage that they offered.

What are your suggestions for saving money while sailing on the high seas?

 

Museum Day Live! – September 27th, 2014

Last year while Hubby Blogger and I were in Hawaii we were able to take advantage of entry to two museums thanks to the Museum Day Live! Promotion and  we didn’t pay anything.  We did need to sign up the month prior to our museum visit, and to request the tickets via the internet.  We were able to download the tickets and take them with us to the museums.  If we had not applied for these tickets  I know that we would not have visited museums while we were in Honolulu but as a frugal traveler, I couldn’t let a good deal pass us by.  Going to the museums really enhanced our trip to Hawaii and we were able to learn about the history of Hawaii and the royal family as well.

Museum Day Live! will be happening again in 2014.  This event, sponsored by The Smithsonian, is an annual event where many museums across the country will give you free admission provide you present a Museum Day Live ticket (downloaded from the internet).

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Follow this link to see what museums are participating in your area or where you might be on September 27th.  I guarantee that you’ll be happy you did.

What do you Do to Prepare for a Trip?

How do you like to prepare for a trip? Since we are fairly new to traveling outside of this country, we do lots of research. There are places and things that I HAVE to see but on the other hand, I also like to see and do some things that aren’t as popular or are known primarily to the locals.

To begin with, I make a list of things that are known to me that I want to see. If I am going to Paris for the first time then I definitely want to see Notre Dame, The Louvre and The Eiffel Tower. I might also want to see the Catacombs of Paris and perhaps Moulan Rouge (just because I like the movie).

Next I go to Trip Advisor and see what they rank for attractions – there might be something there that I wasn’t aware of or is ranked higher than I thought it would be.   I also look in the internet for free walking tours of the area – that’s how we did a tour of Chinatown when we were in Singapore.  Many times Rick Steves offers free audio walking tours of major European cities.  Most major cities also have free walking tours – all you need is to tip the tour guide what you think the tour is worth.  We had a wonderful tour guide in Sydney with the Free Walking Tour guide that we had.

Speaking of the internet, I do a general search of “what to see in —“.  I also go to various forums like Fodors Travel Forum  and ask others who have been there for their suggestions.  I do the same thing when on a cruise only I go to Cruise Critic and explore the Ports of Call section.

I also go to group travel tour sites and see what they are offering their customers. When Blogger Hubby and I did a road trip to the southeastern states we were aware that Road Scholar was also doing a similar trip. We basically copied their itinerary but did it when we wanted to and spent as much time as we wanted to. We did a boat tour that we probably wouldn’t have done unless we read about it on their tour itinerary.

The final thing that I do is when I get to the city that I am visiting, I’ll ask locals “what must I see before leaving your city that most visitors wouldn’t know about?” We’ve received some excellent suggestions. I most recently did this in Savannah and everyone directed us to Bonaventure Cemetery. I’ll do the same thing when looking for restaurants that won’t “cost us an arm and leg and has very good food”.

What do you do to prepare for a trip?

An AirBnB Success

If you remember from this post, I did not have the best experience with my first time trying AirBnB.  I knew that I wanted to try it again and I had the opportunity to do so last week.

airbnb

I headed back up to Washington DC to visit my son and his wife who had a baby a few weeks ago.  This nana needed some snuggling time with our newest family member as well as helping out the tired parents.

For me, I wanted to stay not too far from them so this limited the number of places that I would be interested in.  I didn’t need to rent an entire apartment for myself and I actually found that I preferred renting a room so that I would have the possibility of meetings others and perhaps having an engaging conversation at night when I would return.

I found one that I liked based on their profile, location and the many outstanding reviews that they got in addition to having a private enclosed parking space.  Unfortunately by the time that I made up my mind when I would be heading up to DC, they had already rented their room.  Back to ground zero.

I began looking at other locations that were on my short list.  Two were in the neighborhood that I was interested in.  I looked at the street view of the neighbor and the map where they were located.

I wrote to both of the owners with a few questions I had.  For one of the homes, I wanted to know if it was a residential neighborhood or where it was partially commercial.  For the other, I had read that it was a one hundred year old home. I wanted to know if it was warm or drafty and cool since I would be going up to DC during one of the polar vortexes that we were experiencing.  Both wrote back promptly.

I chose the one hundred year old home that was being rented by Jacob and Zach, a twenty something professional gay couple with an adorable dog.  They assured me that there wouldn’t be a problem with street parking and if I did have a problem, they had a space in the back of their home.  What sealed the deal for me was they were between the two main streets that my son was and only 4 blocks away.

I made arrangements to go over to pick up the key and drop off my suitcase.  I wanted to go in the daylight so I would know where I was heading when it would be dark.  Lucky for me they had an American flag out front which became my landmark.

Both bedrooms were on the second floor and I had a private well appointed bathroom a few steps down the hallway.  My room had a queen bed, two windows, a flat screen television, towels on the desk for me, three bottles of water, granola bars and the wifi network and password.  What more could I ask for?  Downstairs was the dining room, living room , laundry area and kitchen.  This was a very clean and neat home.  I had two evenings of getting to know Jacob and Zach and we had some great conversations.

Clearly they take their hosting seriously and we are the beneficiaries of this dedication to providing a great experience for those visitors to Washington DC.  For those who do not have a car, you are about 3 blocks from the metro.

If you are looking for a room to rent in Washington DC, I would highly recommend this location.

Travel Planning for the New Year

I had planned on writing this post for a few days now and coincidentally a letter from a reader prompted me to write it sooner than later.

At the beginning of a new year, Blogger Hubby and I like to look forward to what our travel plans might be in the new year as well as the year after that.  In doing so it allows us time to strategize as to which airline we most likely would be flying or at least the alliance.  That way we can see how many points we have, how many would be needed for our trip, whether we need to apply for new credit cards for the points/miles and the timing of the cards.  We’d want to allow enough time to get the card, do the spend and have it posted to our account.  For some long haul trips you would need to begin looking for award space 330 days out from when you wanted to fly and therefore we would need for it to post by then.

Next, hotels then come into play.  Where would we be staying?  Do I have any free nights that we can use?  Are there any promotions that I can take advantage of to get more points?  Most hotels do have promotions throughout the year.  Blogger Hubby came to realize that if we spend $60 for a hotel room here, then that would translate into points for a much more expensive hotel on our vacation.  For those new readers, let me explain.  Club Carlson (Radisson, Country Inn and Suites, Park Inn) had a promotion back in 2012 where if you registered and stayed in one of their hotels by a certain date you received 50,000 points plus the points for booking it online and for staying there.  We also had an online coupon for 30% off the price of a room.  We made a booking about 30 minutes from our home and we stayed there (sometimes we just check in and don’t spend the night).  For that one night that cost us $54, we received about 53,000 points which we used at a hotel in Sydney, AU that would have cost us $350.00.  Currently Club Carlson has a decent promotion where you stay three nights and receive 38,000.  Click here to register.   Sometimes you do have to spend a little to get a better reward.  I recently did the same thing for the Big Win with IHG – made a reservation at the Candlewood Suites for $69 but received 39,000 promotion points plus the points for the stay.  That will translate into 2 nights in Copenhagen.  I know roughly how many nights I need accommodations for and will working towards that total.

Planning your travels will help you be successful in your travels.

The Top 3 Best Airports in the World in 2013

I admit it…when we first began traveling internationally a few years ago, I was extremely green behind the ears.  I didn’t really know that airports had personalities or that they were made for more than passing through.  After all I lived a few miles from IAD so I would exit and come home.  Over the course of the past few years I have been fortunate to fly to and through about 10 different international airports.  I was curious to see how the airports that I visited stacked up against other airports throughout the world.

I turned to Airport Awards to see which airport was voted number one in the world.  It’s an airport that I have visited.  Not to keep you in suspense but it was Changi Airport in Singapore.  You may wonder what it has that makes it number one.  For children it has an indoor playground, a beautiful butterfly garden, an interactive Enchanted Garden, a Family Zone with diaper changing areas, MTV booth and gaming area.  If you have a layonver, there are free tours of Singapore with a choice of a Colonial or Cultural Tour.  There is also a movie theatre, koi pond, interactive art for the children, horticulture center, orchid garden, a swimming pool (yes, inside the airport is a swimming pool), a sunflower and light garden and so much more.

Butterfly Garden

Second on the list is Incheon Airport in Seoul, Korea.  Incheon was number one last year and it shows why it is in the top ten of airports around the world.  This spacious airport that is built to let in a lot of natural sun boasts 7 gardens within the airport.  There is a .0001% rate of baggage mishandling so you can rest assured that your bags with transit through without any problems.  The airport has free wifi, computers for you to use that are free, showers for you to quickly feel refreshed after a long flight, a playroom for children, dry cleaning in case your seat mate spills something on you, a sauna and spa area, 2 movie theaters, an area where you can make traditional Korean crafts.  They, like Singapore, also have free transit trips into Seoul for either shopping or visiting historical sites.

one of the 7 gardens at the Incheon

A newcomer to the top three airports is Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam.  It has the world’s first permanent library. It also has an annex of the world famous Rijk Museum in the Museum Annex part of the airport.  If you feel like gambling, there is also a casino.  Children need to run after being on a plane for a long time so the Dutch built a Childrens Park/Playground just for that purpose.  Of course, it has a slower shop where you can buy the famous Dutch Bulbs but if you are planning on bringing them back to the US, make sure that they are of the type that can be imported.  The employees at the flower shop will know and most likely they will be in a separate section.

Childrens Park and Playground at Schiphol

Expiring miles and how to extend them

As I mentioned before, one of my very good friends has about 500,000 UAL miles.  She was concerned this fall because she knew that her points were going to expire at the end of the year.  She had me over her house to try to book a trip for her so her miles wouldn’t expire.  She didn’t need to go to that extreme.

If you are close to having your miles expire, there are several easy ways to save your miles without having to take a trip.

To keep your airline miles from expiring you must have some type of activity within your account.  If you have a co-branded credit card and use it at least a few times a year, that is sufficient activity to keep your airline miles from expiring.

united airlines

You can also go through your airline shopping portal (AAdvantage, United Mileage Plus, Delta Skymiles Shopping)  purchase something like flowers for your mother, significant other and it is a win-win situation – you get points for sending flowers as well as extending your miles 🙂

aadvantageeshopping_logo

Another way is by dining.  You can also earn miles when you register your credit card on your airline’s dining  site (American, United, or Delta).  All you need to do is to pay with that credit card at a participating restaurant, and you’ll receive miles in your account.  You can register your card with all three and get miles with both United, American and Delta.  Again, a win-win-win situation.

dining

You can also transfer miles into your airline accounts from either Ultimate Reward points you have, AmEx Membership Rewards or even hotel points from  Hyatt, Marriott, Hilton, Priority Club, and Starwood Preferred Guest.  You do not need to transfer a lot into your account – remember you just need some activity in your account to keep it active.

You can fly on a partner airline and credit it to the airline of your choice that is in your alliance.  When we flew US Airways, I credited the miles to United – kept those miles current.  I did not have many miles on US Airways so I wasn’t losing anything on US Airways.

Hope this has helped you in keeping your miles current.

 

A Visitors Guide to Malta

Allison is back with travel tips for Malta, a small island nation in the Mediterranean Sea.

Hello again Readers! I’m back to share some experiences from the small island of Malta where hubby and I lived for a year between 2010 and 2011.

Malta, located at the southern end of Mediterranean Europe, offers something for everybody. Whether you’re a sun-seeker or adrenaline chaser, party animal or history buff, Malta has got you covered.

malta map

Situated at the crossroads of the Mediterranean, this tiny, densely populated country is split between two populated islands. Malta, the main island, is where most of the action takes place. Gozo, the smaller and more rural island just to the north, considers itself distinct from its larger brother, but anyone not from there would be hard pressed to notice a real difference. Although much of Malta is very cramped and city-like, there is plenty of natural beauty. Sheer cliffs hundreds of feet high plummet straight down to the crashing water, and a giant arch in the sea are just a few of the natural sights worth gazing at. The country is also a popular choice for Hollywood, having played home to Game of Thrones, Gladiator, Troy, Captain Phillips, World War Z, and many others. You can even visit the village from the Robin Williams ‘Popeye’ movie.

The Maltese islands have a truly fascinating history. Around the year 5000 BC, prehistoric man built some of the oldest megalithic temples in the world, which are open to visitors. More recently, St. Paul famously shipwrecked on Malta’s rocky shores, and over the centuries the islands have been colonized or controlled by the Phoenicians, Persians, Carthaginians, Romans, Vandals, Byzantines, Arabs, Knights Templars, Ottomans, Normans, Napoleon, the British Empire, and many more names you may recognize from your high school history books.

With its proximity to Italy, North Africa, and crucial shipping lanes, Malta’s strategic importance was viciously highlighted by some of the most intense bombing of World War II. Axis planes heavily bombed the island for over 150 consecutive days, which nearly pushed the Maltese into submission. But they held, and the island became a meeting site for Roosevelt and Churchill and launch-pad for the Allied advances into Italy. For their bravery and resolution, the entire country was granted Britain’s highest civilian honor. Foreign rule finally came to an end with the British Empire granting Maltese independence in 1964.

Valetta, Day
                         Valetta during the  Day

 

Valetta at Night
                          Valetta at Night

 

But beyond history, Malta offers plenty of culture, scenery, and vibrancy, all in a gorgeous Mediterranean setting. Here’s a closer look at some of my Malta favorites.

Rock Beach – A rock beach might not sound like the most relaxing place to spend an afternoon, but trust me that it’s as comfy as any soft sandy beach. The rock beach nearest to my old Malta apartment was an area of large, smooth, and softly curved rocks that created natural seating areas along the coast. These beaches have ladders built into the rock wall for getting in and out of the water, which is calm, clear, and great for snorkeling.

Gozo farmhouses – The farmhouses on the smaller island of Gozo aren’t exactly what a U.S. native might think of as a farmhouse. They are usually small homes, several centuries old, with just one or two bedrooms, and maybe a pool. Many Maltese “vacation” at these Gozitan farmhouses, where they can get away from the noise and bustle of their city lives. Hubby and I had a great weekend away with friends from school when a professor invited us to his 400-year old farmhouse. The kitchen still had a hook on the wall where farmers of the past would tie up their goats.

Gozo Beach
                           Gozo Beach

“Hiking” on Comino – With no mountains, there is no hiking on Malta as we would think of hiking, but that didn’t stop hubby and I from exploring around Malta’s smallest island, Comino. During high season, Comino is worth visiting but will be absolutely packed with visitors swimming and sunning at the beautiful Blue Lagoon. However, if you find yourself in Malta around April when the island is at it’s lushest, I highly recommend filling a backpack with snacks and heading out on Comino by foot for a day. We spent a few hours walking the entire island – which we had almost to ourselves, taking in amazing views of the sparkling sea, and investigating a medieval fort situated in the island’s center. We also came across a beautiful swimming cove (we didn’t get in) but looking back, I wish we had. It was the greatest day and I’m so glad we got to enjoy “hiking” on empty Comino.

         Hiking Comino
                      Hiking Comino

Tips for visiting Malta:

Malta, in this former resident’s opinion, is best in the summer and fall, with the exception of August which is too hot for most people. Malta has an uneven split of beaches, with mostly rocky/pebbly beaches and a few sand beaches. Some are rocky coastline with smoother, rolling waves, and some are in ancient coves that look like they haven’t been touched in a thousand years. Any beach you choose should have beautiful, warm water safe for swimming, and all the beaches are fairly clean. Beach season winds down in October, but Malta should have warm/mild and sunny weather right up to the December holiday season.

Malta's Best Beach, Għajn Tuffieha
       Malta’s Best Beach, Għajn Tuffieha

The local snack specialty is a small pastry called ‘pastizzi’. They come hot filled with either ricotta cheese or smashed peas and only cost about 50 cents. You can find them along any streetside café.

The capital Valletta is a beautiful, historic city, but one that doesn’t need much more than a day to visit. It’s on the smaller side, and its churches and galleries are easy to get in and out of. One of the most beautiful indoor sights there is the St. John’s Co-Cathedral. For lunch, head to Kantina Café, near the Co-Cathedral.

If you’re into a bit more action and want easy walking access to restaurants and nightlife, St. Julian’s is the place to stay. There is a very nice Le Meridien with reasonable rates.

The best pizza in Malta can be found at a little Italian place in Sliema called ‘La Cucina’.

An experience not to be missed is the hypogeum – an underground temple and UNESCO World Heritage Site dating to 3000 B.C. You’ll need to book tickets in advance.

Happy travels!

 

Thanks  Allison for your great insights into both Norway and Malta.  I appreciate you taking the time to tell my readers about your experiences.

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I have invited Allison, one of my readers,  to be a guest blogger on Air, Land and Sea.  She and her hubby are currently living and working in Norway and exploring this country as much as they can.  She has some great suggestions for those of you who may find yourself traveling in Norway.  Tomorrow she’ll write about her experiences living in Malta. 

Hello Readers and thanks to our hostess for inviting me to share some of my travel experiences here on Air, Land & Sea. I’m a northern Virginia native currently residing with my hubby of six years in a small, coastal Norwegian town by the name of Arendal. This is our third time living abroad – first as English teachers in Japan way back in 2005 and, later on, a year on the Mediterranean island of Malta. In between our adventures abroad we live in Arlington, Virginia.

Life in southern Norway started out for us back in July, when we arrived to a summer of long days, warm weather, and were greeted with an amazing view, looking from our deck out onto the sea below. Historically, Arendal was an important shipping town. Today, it serves as a bustling summertime getaway for Norwegians residing further north and a quaint and quiet town throughout the rest of the year.

norway 1

If you’re visiting southern Norway, there is a lot to do for someone who loves the outdoors. Camping is allowed on any public space in Norway, and the Norwegian Trekking Association maintains extensive trails throughout the southern region and beyond. Hubby and I love to hike and were surprised on our first hike in Norway to see what “late hikers” Norwegians are. On a hike to the Rjukanfossen waterfalls back in August, we had the trail to ourselves until about noon. Southern, coastal Norway shares many similarities with Maine and New Hampshire where we have spent several summers. Pine forests reach down to the rocky coastlines and the hills are dotted with traditional-style wooden houses.

norway 2

The options for water activities are endless here. If you’re into polar swimming, (not for me but hubby braved the water this summer) southern Norway has small, undeveloped stretches of beach where we’ve spent time enjoying the sun and having barbecues. There’s also fishing, kayaking, a floating hot tub to rent, and a lighthouse that you can spend the night in. This part of Norway may not look exactly like the fjord-filled ads typically used for Norway, but it is a great place to relax and enjoy the sea.

norway 3

Arendal is only a few hours by car from Oslo, Norway’s capital, which we first visited back in August. It was already light jacket weather there which is a far cry from the typical steamy weather we are accustomed to back in the D.C. area. Oslo is a medium-sized city that is easy to traverse on foot but also has a user-friendly public transit system of busses, streetcars, and a subway. The city’s neighborhoods range from a typical government/downtown center to a somewhat edgy hipsterville called Grünerløkka. This is where we landed after first getting to Oslo and spent a Saturday afternoon wandering through the neighborhood’s shops, cafes, beer gardens, and outdoor markets. It was a great place to spend time and soak up some local flavor. It’s always nice to see the big sights in a city, but hubby and I really enjoy hanging out without much agenda, eating, drinking, & shopping our way through a new place. Later that day we walked ourselves through Oslo’s immigrant neighborhood – where you can find the best value restaurants in this very expensive city (and country). In the evening we stopped at a free music festival held in a public garden. There was seating to relax in and enjoy the organic and locally prepared food, and you could stroll through the orchards and various community garden plots. The second day in Oslo was a bit heavier with sightseeing and included the National Gallery which houses Norway’s most famous painting, Edward Munch’s ‘The Scream.’ We followed that with a long stroll through a massive outdoor sculpture garden and a visit to one of Oslo’s medieval forts. Oslo also has a Viking museum and a museum dedicated to polar exploration, but we’re saving those for our next visit.

If you’re planning to visit Norway:

Be advised of the cost of everything. Norwegians enjoy a very, very high standard of living and this is reflected in every price tag you’ll see. A local beer can run you over $10 and a sandwich in a café from $15-$20. A little research will help you find some deals, such as free entry to museums on Sundays and free admission to local events, like the festival we went to.

It’s very easy to drive in Norway and renting a car and going at your own pace will allow you to really take in all the wonderful scenery this country has to offer.

Many shops, restaurants, and cafes will be closed on Sundays. Make sure to plan time in your trip for enjoying outdoors Norway. The towns and cities I’ve visited so far are very pleasant, but Norway’s true spirit lies in its natural beauty and accompanying outdoors activities.

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iPhone Apps for Travelers

Many travelers find that their iPhone is indispensable while traveling and can’t appsimagine going anywhere without their phones.  There are more and more incredibly helpful and useful apps out there to make it easier for us when we travel.  Some are necessities and some are just fun and/or helpful.  These apps can start from the beginning, when you make your reservations and keeping them in an itinerary to helping you choose your seat,  lists to aid you when you pack, navigating the airports, exchanging currency, finding lodging at the last minute and so on and so forth.

xe currencyOne of my favorites that I have bookmarked on my computer and now on my iPhone is XE Currency.  This is a great tool for converting money from all over the world.  I’m always trying to convert the price of a meal, hotel room, etc and I don’t always do a very good job  (for those readers who read about my trip to Guatemala will remember I got up early one morning to memorize the conversion table for money).  It uses the iPhone’s internet connection, and therefore the exchange rates are updated making sure your exchange calculations are up to date with the changes in the international currency markets.

Sometimes we have a last minute change of plans or we are driving and didn’t hotel tonightget to where we wanted to be for the night or we got further along, the Hotel Tonight app is a great tool to have in your arsenal of apps.  It guarantees the best rate and has many times you can get great deals.  They also have 24/7 real person support both by phone and email.

Going on vacation and don’t want to leave anything  packing probehind.  Turn to Packing Pro app.  Multiple trips can be listed as well as your grocery store list.  It’s an all in one app for packing.

I always worry about airports – will I be able to find my gate, how far is it from where we arrive, how early are the eateries open in the morning for my early morning flight.  You’ll have all these answers with Airports by Travel Nerd.

Another favorite of mine is seat guru  I ALWAYS and I mean ALWAYS go here before I book tickets.  Will I be flying on an older plane, angle seats or flat seats, what seats should I stay away from?  Which seats give you less leg room  seat guru because of something under the seat in front of you.  I really have changed itineraries based on the information of the planes that fly the routes I was interested in going on.

Which apps do you use?

Keeping Track of your Points and Miles – Award Wallet

With membership in many, many loyalty brands, keeping track of how many points and miles can be hectic.  Add in other family members and it becomes daunting.   Enter Award Wallet.  It keeps track of all you keep track all your miles and points including airline miles, hotel points, and car rental points.  You enter all your loyalty programs, your user name and password and Award Wallet will update your totals each week so you can see at a glance how many miles and/or points you have.

award wallet

It can be hard to track miles and points in different accounts. Award Wallet keeps all your airline, hotel, and car rental miles and points in one place. You always know your exact miles and points balance – and expiration date – so you can prevent them from expiring.

You can add other family members, like I do for Blogger Hubby so that I can manage his miles and points in the same and easy site that I use for mine.

The basic version of Award Wallet is free and it keeps track of over 500 airline,hotel, store loyalty (like DSW, Hallmark, etc) and credit card loyalty brands. You can pay for the

However, Delta, Southwest, and United Airlines do NOT allow Award Wallet to track your miles and points for you.  There is a work around this by using your account mailbox at Award Wallet.   It works by having your statements forwarded to your Award Wallet email address and they’ll automatically import the statement data into your AwardWallet account.

Additionally, Award Wallet Plus keeps track of when your miles or points are going to expire.  That most likely will never happen to me since I have many co-branded credit cards and when I use them for shopping my miles don’t expire as long as I use my card a few times a year.  A friend of mine came to me about two months ago because she has about 500,000 miles on United and they were going to expire.  She was all set to take a trip so they wouldn’t until I suggested that she purchase something on her United Mileage Plus shopping portal which would extend her expiration date.

The basic service is free or you can upgrade to Award Wallet Plus for upwards of $5 for 6 months.

I highly recommend this application to keep track of your miles.

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Locations to Avoid when Booking a Cruise Ship Stateroom

Just as there are some great staterooms to book on a cruise, there are also some that you want to avoid, particularly if you are a light sleeper.  I always choose my room rather than a travel agent because I know what I like and generally I study the deck maps to educate myself on the rooms.

deck plan

Here are some locations to avoid:

  • Above or below a disco or dance floor particularly on a cruise line that is known to attract a younger crowd
  • Under the pool deck – lounge chairs will be moved for cleaning and the scrapping of the chairs as they are being dragged early in the morning would wake me
  • Next to or under the jogging track – the pounding of the feet will drive you  crazy
  • I do not want to be near a laundry room.  I do not want to hear the sounds of the washers and dryers running
  • If you are a light sleeper, you do not want to be near the stairs or elevator.  Personally, I like to be about 3 cabins from the elevators for easy access yet far enough that I am not hearing the “dinging” sound that elevators make. People walking past my room, unless it is a loud crowd, does not bother me.
  • Above mechanical equipment or the anchor.  I do not want to hear the engines being turned off and on or the anchor as it is being dropped or raised.
  • Under a cafeteria where chairs could also be moved for cleaning.

What’s in My Travel/Cruise Box

Before I got the travel bug I would occasionally buy things for our trips and since we didn’t go often, those isolated items would get lost in our home.  Once I started cruising more, I decided to dedicate a box for all these miscellaneous items that I felt that I needed for the cruise/trip or for packing.

travel box

I find that having this box on a shelf in my closet has made it easier for me to pick up and go.  Want to see what is in my box?

travel box inside

Let’s look at this a little more closely:

travel bocx clock:dryer

I love cruising but one thing that the cruise lines ALL do is they do not put a clock in your room.  If I wake up in the middle of the night, I want to know what time it is.  For those who book an interior room, they have no window to even let them know if it is morning or night.  I find a clock invaluable and will never cruise without one.  I have a head lamp so if I want to read at night I can without disturbing Blogger Hubby.  I also have a travel dual voltage hairdryer – not that I need one on a cruise but if I am staying at a Bed and Breakfast, they do not provide them.  This was one that I found on clearance for less than $10 at Walgreens.

travel box plugs

I have extra electrical outlets and a converter.  The cruise lines also only give you one, maybe two (if you are in a suite) outlets in your room and since I want my clock and perhaps a curling iron or to recharge my Kindle, camera battery, etc, I need more outlets.  I simply bring my own compact ones.  The converter, we all know what that is for and now it is in a safe spot.

Also in my box are a few miscellaneous items – an evening handbag for formal night, a fabric bag to put my shoes in so they don’t dirty my clothes up, big beach clips for clipping my bathing suit to a chair on our balcony (don’t want that blowing away) or my towel to a deck chair.  I also have a small travel size corkscrew, perfume, hand sanitizer, shampoo, conditioner, lotion and motion sickness pills if needed.

travel box misc

Finally, my safety items whether it is a compact rain slicker which I used recently when we landed in Kona with wind-driven hard rain (they have no jet ways at the airport), a strap to go around my bag to keep it secure, money pouches for each of us, a hopeful Upgrade Me luggage tag and TSA approved locks.

travel box safety

Do you have a travel box or bag and what do you keep in it?

Seat Harness for Children While Flying – CARES child safety device

Have you wondered about flying with your child when you do not want to bring your FAA approved car seat with you on the airplane.  The folks at Kids Fly Safe have come up with a safety harness to use in flight that has been approved by the FAA.  Below, copied from the FAA site about the CRS (Child restraint system), is information on the harness:

FAA-Approved Child Harness Device (CARES)

young boy in child harness restraint

The CARES Child Safety Device is the only FAA-approved harness-type restraint for children weighing between 22 and 44 pounds. This type of device provides an alternative to using a hard-backed seat and is approved only for use on aircraft. The CARES Child Safety Device is not approved for use in motor vehicles.  If you’re using a CARES child safety device, make sure it has “FAA Approved in Accordance with 14 CFR 21.8(d), Approved for Aircraft Use Only” or “FAA Approved in Accordance with 14 CFR 21.305(d), Amd 21.50 6-9-1980, Approved for Aircraft Use Only” on it.  Learn more about CARES here.

If you’re using a CARES child safety device, make sure it has “FAA Approved in Accordance with 14 CFR 21.8(d), Approved for Aircraft Use Only” or “FAA Approved in Accordance with 14 CFR 21.305(d), Amd 21.50 6-9-1980, Approved for Aircraft Use Only” on it.

If you head over to the Kids Fly Safe page, you will see the video on how to use the system as well as where you can purchase one.  I have not had an opportunity to use on but I will definitely consider it when I fly with my grandchildren as it is definitely less bulky than a car seat that has been approved for flight.

kids fly safe

Flexible Travel Points with American Express Spg

By now most of you know that  love the flexible points that certain credit cards have.  Some of the Chase credit cards give you the Ultimate Reward points that you can use for 5 airlines, AMTRAK and 5 hotels and  American Express gold and platinum cards give you Membership Reward points.  Another card that I really like that also gives me the flexibility that I crave is the America Express SPG card.  SPG stands for Starwood Preferred Guest which is the loyalty brand for Sheraton Hotels, Four Points, Westin, aLoft, St. Regis and  W Hotels.  Of these hotels I have stayed at the Sheraton as well as aLoft.

American Express will have from time to time increased sign-up bonuses for this card.  Currently it is 10,000 points after the first purchase and then an additional 15,000 after spending $5000 within the first 6 months.  Click here for a link to the card.

What I really like about this card, as I mentioned earlier, is the flexibility that if offers.  I can transfer points to Hawaiian Airlines and then book a flight on American Airlines through Hawaiian.  We have three major alliances with the airlines and some non-alliance partners.  Once you transfer to one airline in an alliance, then you have access to all the other airlines within that alliance.  Plus, for every 20,000 Starpoints transferred within the same transaction, Starwood will automatically add another 5,000 Starpoints!  This means that up to 94,999 Starpoints can be transferred into your frequent flyer account, with most airline partners, making a free flight that much closer.   Please keep in mind that only one airline transfer transaction per member, per airline program, is permitted within a 24-hour period.  For more information, go to this link

spg

Where to Stay during Road Trips

When Blogger Hubby and I are on a road trip, we never know when we are going to feel like not driving anymore and calling it quits.  That reason makes it difficult to pre-book a hotel for us.  Many times, we just want something clean, convenient and close to the interstate that we are driving on.

Years ago Blogger Son #2 alerted us to the hotel coupon books at the rest areas found on the Interstates.  We had seen them but never picked one up.  That piece of advice from him in many ways changed the way that we traveled.

hotel coupon book

Generally there are three things that you can count on with these hotels in the coupon books – 1) you can’t make reservations 2) you will not get any loyalty points for staying at these hotels because the prices are as low as you can go and 3)you will never get a ground floor room.

Along with local hotels, you will find Days Inn, Hampton Inns, La Quinta, EconoLodge, Microtel – all the usual hotels that you’ll find in your travels.  We always look for ones that provide a breakfast in the mornings as well as free wi-fi.

Have you ever picked up these coupon books?

I Did It…….I Tried AirBnB

and the results are mixed.  First of all, let me explain that I didn’t know what was expected of the hosts, or what was expected of me.

We drove to the location at about the appointed time to meet our hostess.  It was on a charming section of a street in NW Washington DC.  The location was great and perfect for what we wanted to do.  This AirBnB was advertised as a 1-2 Bedroom.

We met our hostess within 5 minutes of our appointed time.  She took us into the home and showed us around.  She did have a set of keys made but didn’t know which key fit what doors or gate and had to try them all to find out.  She also did not have them on a keyring and had to find one.  This theme of being unprepared was one to resonate throughout our stay.

The upstairs where the one bedroom was located was in a little disarray.  That surprised me as I knew from a previous review that she was moving and when I asked the hostess if she was moved, she answered that she was.  Truth be told, she is still getting settled and things aren’t really set up to be a B&B.  Our room had a king size Sleep number bed leaned up against a headboard that was not attached and that was pushed against the wall.  Every time I turned while sleeping, the headboard would rattle against the wall.  There was no clock in the room (though she did ask us if we wanted one), and two small desk lamps on end tables next to the bed.  The bureau in the room had pictures on it that she was going to hang.  There was one pillow on the bed and a very small therapeutic foam pillow. Pillowcases were on our bed.  She didn’t seem prepared to host us.  For towels we had beach towels and one facecloth.  She asked us if one towel was enough.  We did tell her that we wouldn’t be showering as we had just showered before we left home.  The bathroom was not organized for visitors and there were even underwear on a doorknob.  There was no place in the bathroom (that we shared with her) to put our toiletries like a tube of toothpaste while we brushed our teeth.  A bathmat lay on a heap on the floor in front of the tub.  This was a very cluttered bathroom.  There seemed to be a lot of problems with the house – front light wouldn’t go on (she tried changing light bulb), something in the bathroom that a plumber was coming over to fix, including installing a funky alkaline water purifier.  She had to show us how to get water out of the water purifier instead of the faucet.  When we first arrived, the tub/shower was absolutely filthy.  When we returned later, it was cleaner and she had told us she had been scrubbing the tub with a cleanser.  I would have thought she would have done this before we got there.  She propped up the bathroom sink stopper with a gagdet like a bottle opener and we were instructed to leave it open. Kitchen was cluttered and dirty dishes in the sink.

I did find parking on the street as she suggested (though she did have a spot in the back alley if I needed it) but she wasn’t sure what the parking rules were.  She walked outside with us to find the parking enforcement sign.  I think she should have known this if she is going to host guests.

We were in DC for a family function that we went to in the afternoon, came back to the B&B for about 40 minutes and then left again for more of our family affair.  We told her we would probably return around 10:00 – which we did.  She was working on her computer in the living room while watching a beauty pageant on television.  As we were both tired, we went to bed right away but the loud noise of the television was deafening at times along with the aroma of the popcorn she was popping.  She also told us that she still had a few pictures to hang and we would hear her pounding a nail in the wall.  She went to bed quite late.  When we woke up we decided just to leave since we didn’t think she was going to make us breakfast

Our hostess was a very lovely lady, and we felt secure and safe however I don’t think she had a clue how to receive guests and what her obligations are.

During our conversations before I booked, I casually asked our host if breakfast was included since in my mind, it was a B&B.  She did say we could bring what we wanted or she had eggs, yogurt, coffee and a nurtibullet.  I said I would have yogurt and we could bring some pastries.  Now in my mind at more formal B&B’s I have stayed in, you are given a time when when breakfast is ready for you.  That conversation never happened so we really weren’t sure of anything.  Probably a little fault of both of ours.

The ad lists this house as a 1 or 2 bedroom house though I am not sure where the other bedroom would be if you rented it as our hostess slept in that room on an air mattress.

Will I try AirBnB again?  Yes, but I will be a little wiser and know which questions to ask.  Regardless of my feelings, we did save quite a bit of money by staying in her room and we did feel safe and secure.

AirBnB – trying it out!

I’m back in the Northern Virginia area and need to spend Saturday night in DC.  I looked at the hotels since I am in the IHG promotion – they were about $189 which is high but the parking was $45 additional!  I began looking for alternatives and decided to try the AirBnB that I have written about previously.

airbnb

AirBnB is an online company service that provides a way for private individuals to rent unoccupied living space to guests. The company had over 500,000 listings in 33,000 cities and 192 countries. Listings include private rooms, entire apartments, castles, boats, manors, tree houses, tipis, igloos, private islands and other properties.

I signed up and began looking in the neighborhoods of DC that I was interested in staying in. I also wanted a parking spot as I didn’t want to be driving around DC neighborhoods on a Saturday night looking for a spot.  On paper, I think I found a good match.  It is a room in a cozy townhouse in DC owned by a woman who is about 3 years older than me.  We have communicated back and forth…. what time I would arriving, when I would be leaving, she had a vegetarian household and asked that we keep it that way etc.  I also wanted to make sure that it was a non-smoking house.  She even invited me to attend the brunch she was having at her home on Sunday morning and to attend a concert with her friends.

I paid the fee which included a $12 fee to AirBnB for providing the listing, etc.  At that point I received her name and her telephone number so we could communicate in real time.  During the booking procedure I had to provide  identification on line using their software to take a webcam photo of my government issued ID.  I know what she looks like and she knows what I look like.

I’m really excited about trying this out and I think my first time is going to be a success – I’m going into this with no reservations – I feel completely comfortable.  I’ll let you know next week how this all turns out.

Have you ever done AirBnB, Coach surfing or alternative lodging?

Veterans Advantage Card and Discounts

Have you heard of the Veterans Advantage card?  This is relatively new to me and the benefits are really good.  For a yearly fee of less than $5 per month, you get access to many discounts.  Currently there is a promotion of 20% off your membership.

From their website, some of their benefits are:

  • Benefits Plan with Valuable Insurance & Services: $50,000 in Global MEDEDVAC and $5,000 in Accident Insurance coverage at no extra charge for the full term of membership, plus a prescription drug discount plan accepted at 55,000 pharmacy locations nationwide, free Club O from Overstock, a complimentary personal financial planning package ($500 value), and VIP Concierge and travel assistance benefits from Travel Guard, the leading provider in travel services.
  • Immediate Benefit Access: Benefits Plan coverage and member discounts nationwide provided immediately upon enrollment to honor you and your family for your service 365 days a year.
  • VetRewards Card ID: Personalized with name and branch of service and sent by First Class Mail and — accepted at more than 100,000 participating locations for member discounts.Member benefits available online and by toll-free phone.
  • Printed Member Benefits Directory: Complete 60-page printed color directory covering your benefits plan and member discounts sent by First Class Mail.
  • Family Member Discounts: Add up to four family members to your member plan for HALF PRICE and they get your benefits plan insurance and other savings too!
  • Personal Attention to Member Needs: Toll-free dedicated support plus online help for member assistance whenever you need it.
  • Extra Bonus for New Members: Get a 30-day trial for a low $4.95 enrollment processing fee, or select from special offers for new members only – click here.
  • Flash & Save Big: The VetRewards Card is nationally recognized at thousands of retail stores — including Verizon Wireless company-owned stores nationwide for 15% off monthly voice and data plans, and 25% off in-store accessories

But what I like the best are the discounts with many of their partners, some of which are:

United Airlines (5%), AMTRAK (15%), Avis (minimum 5%) Thrifty (5%), Lufthansa (5%), Dollar Rental (5%), Wyndham Hotels (20%) and so many more discounts.  I just chose a few of the travel discounts.

Click here if you are interested in taking advantage of the Veterans Advantage 20% off promotion.  This is for active duty and retired military personnel.

Wrap Up of the Hawaiian Series – My Tips and Suggestions for a Great Trip

Hotels and Points for Hawaii

Update on Flight to Hawaii and Keeping Track of Our Luggage

Planning the Trip with Points and Miles

Timeshare At The Hawaiian Princess

Polynesian Cultural Center

Aloha Stadium Swap, Museum Live, Punch Bowl and Hanauma Bay

Grand Hyatt Kauai

Hilton Waikoloa Beach Resort, North of Kona

Travel Tips and Aids for Hawaii

We found that the book series called “Hawaii Revealed” helped us enormously in getting around the islands, finding shortcuts, knowing where to stop for beaches that have no signs.  We bought ours on Amazon (5 x points with your Chase Freedom card).  We actually bought three of them, one for each island that we visited.  As we were driving up Rt. 19 on the Big Island, we read the narrative and saw sights that we would have missed without these books.

While on the Big Island at the Hilton Waikoloa Resort, we found that we did not eat any meals there with the exception of the Luau (which was really good).  Just before  the Hilton is a group of stores on both sides of the road called the Kings Marketplace and the Queens Marketplace.  In the Queens Marketplace, we ate at a Macaroni Grill.  We also picked up snacks, soft drinks, muffins and breakfast goodies at the Island Gourmet.  Yes, it was expensive but much less expensive than purchasing snacks from the hotel snack shop.
In Kauai, we were on the Poipu Coast.  We found a Gourmet Farmers Market in the Shops at Kukui’ula that was held on Wednesday afternoons.  If you have a chance, stop here.  There are also a number of great little shops and restaurants as well.  We came back here on Thursday night for dinner.  From the Grand Hyatt, it is less than 10 minutes away on a straight road which is Poipu Road.
As you are on this road going back to the resort area, you’ll pass another shopping area – Poipu Shopping Village.  Stop here for lunch.  You want to find the Puka Dog take out restaurant.  A Puka Dog  is an island specialty.  They bake sweet Hawaiian bread and impale it on a rod.  Once the hole is made they insert either a sausage or a hot dog and then it is topped off with your choice of fruit relishes and/or Hawaiian mustard.
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At this same shopping center, they have Tahitian Dancing twice a week.
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If you are headed to the Waimea Canyon, stop in Waimea and go into Ishihara’s market and head to the deli.  They have wonderful to go lunches there.  We had Korean chicken wings, a noodle salad and rice.  I believe the lunch was under $10 and there was more than enough for both of us to eat and to have leftovers as well.  Just past the market you take a right to go to the Canyon.
Two tips about the canyon – you will find a couple of vendors selling palm woven baskets for about $20 each.  If you get them when they only have two left, you can bargain because they want to go home.  I suggested $15 for one and instead, since he wanted to go home, he gave me 2 for $20.  In my mind, I’m keeping an island tradition alive and have a nice momento.  The other tip, when you get to the restaurant and museum with cabins keep going because it is not the end of the road.  Go all the way to the end which isn’t that much further.  You might find some fruit vendors at the lookouts – enjoy the fresh pineapple, dragonfruit, papaya, etc.
Finding a great beach on The Big Island – as you go out onto 19 North from the Waikoloa Beach area turn left at the next paved road on the right.  Go down the road till you see the Recycling Center and turn an immediate right.  Continue down for about 3 miles and you will come to a small parking lot on your right.  Pull in.  As you leave the parking lot to go to the beach, you will see a little meter for non-Hawaiian residents to pay.  From our understanding, the machine is broken and no one came by to check on us or it.  This is a nice little beach, large lava rocks in the water, calm water for swimming and snorkeling.
beach 2
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The second public beach that I want to mention is at the Mauna Kea Resort.  Again, continue up Rt 19 North and you will see the sign for the Mauna Kea resort.  Turn in and stop at the gate house and ask for a parking pass for the public beach.  They only have 40 spaces so get there before 10:00 on weekends.  The public beach was there first and the resort was built up around it.  The deal that they made was to keep 40 parking spaces available for the public.  It is a very nice beach and I would recommend it.
looking at the Mauna Kea resort from the public beach
looking at the Mauna Kea resort from the public beach
Those are some of my Hawaiian tips – let me know if you use any of them or have been to some of the places I have recommended.
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How to Pack 3 Weeks of Clothes into a Carry-On Bag

While I am traveling this week and part of next week I will be republishing some of my older and earlier posts.  It seems that I can’t always get to a computer – it might be because the sun and surf are calling my name.  Thank you for continuing to read some of these older posts.

Blogger Hubby is ALWAYS telling me to pack less particularly when we will be schlepping our luggage from place to place, up very narrow staircases and in and out of trains.

I admit it, I am an overpacker and would go to a support group if I could find one. “Let me pack this just in case I might need it” is something he hears frequently.   At the end of every trip, I admit to myself (never out loud so he could hear it) that I brought too much and also brought home things that I didn’t wear or only wore so I could say that I wore it.

photo courtesy of blog.chegg.com
photo courtesy of blog.chegg.com

I googled about ways to pack more efficiently and learned some important tools.  Choose a couple of complementary colors.  In my case, since I was taking a fall trip, I choose black, grey and herringbone pants.  My tops were a teal, black and a black/grey/white print –  colors that would go with any of those slacks.  Also in my suitcase was a scarf that I could wear to dress up the tops, put over me as a blanket on our flight over and wear with my solid color dress that I needed.  I brought two pairs of shoes – good, sturdy walking shoes and a pair of Mary Janes.  Since my dress wasn’t overly dressy, the Mary Janes worked.  I also brought a thin roll-up water resistant jacket, a sweater (not bulky) and a thinner turtleneck sweater that I could layer under the sweater or wear alone.  Other than my 3 pairs of travel underwear (wash at night and by morning they are dry)and three pairs of Smart Wool socks and my nightgown that is all I brought for clothing.

By staying with a few colors I know that everything will match, blend or coordinate with each other.  I will admit that it made travel much easier by only having one carry-on size suitcase and I didn’t struggle everyday as to what I was going to wear – I only had so many choices.  I’ve learned to roll my clothes to keep them more wrinkle free than regular folding.  I also bring with me a small spray bottle (that I fill with things while packed in my suitcase) so I can give those clothes a quick spritz when I hang them up – perfect for getting wrinkles out.

How do you pack?  Do you have a secret that makes it easier or do you bring everything?  Please share your secrets.

Keeping Track of your Luggage while Traveling

One of the things I absolutely don’t like after a flight is going to the luggage carousel to look for my luggage.  I try to minimize my frustration of trying to find my suitcase by getting a less popular color.  There are  so many black, red and navy blue suitcases and after a while they all begin to look alike, at least to me.  I’ve tied bright bows, pom poms, etc on the handles but bows have become untied, and pom poms have broken off.  I needed to put my thinking cap back on and find something that would make my suitcase stand out so that I could find it more easily and others would know that  it definitely was not their suitcase.

While I was thinking about that I also had wondered this year when we flew to Sydney and had three connections how I could describe my suitcase in the event it became separated from us.  I thought it was a high likelihood with the number of connections that we had.

Hmm….what could I do.  While shopping at Staples one day I passed a display with colorful duct tape

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and a lightbulb went off in my mind.  I could use the duct tape and run it on the front, back and sides of my suitcase.  That surely would be unique and it wouldn’t have to be permanent.  I bought some and did exactly that:

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Now that I solved the problem of identifying my luggage my next step was figuring out how to describe it.  Rather than just saying a blue suitcase with penguin duct tape on it, I took a photo of my suitcase as I gave it to the airline personnel as well as double checking the tags that were put on my suitcase.  I know that accidents can happen and wrong destinations can be put on by accident but I like to try to minimize the risk of losing it.  I take lots of photos.

What do you do to try to keep track of your luggage?

Museum Day Live!

I’ve been very fortunate that my family lived in the metro Washington DC area their entire lives.  For us it was nothing to take the metro into DC and go to one of the world class museums or zoo for free.  Most of the museums in DC are associated with the Smithsonian which are free to the public.  The Smithsonian, also called our nation’s attic, is a collection of 19 galleries and museums, including the zoo.  On the National Mall alone are 11 of these museums and galleries.

We lived close to Dulles Airport where in 2003 the Udvar-Hazy Center of the National Air and Space Museum opened.  Basically it is two large hangers where it houses many air and space artifacts including the Blackbird, the Concorde and the space shuttle Discovery.   IMAX movies are also available at the theatre and an observation tower.  Like the other museums in DC, admission is free but here you do pay $15 for parking till 4 PM.  I had always thought it was a little high for parking out here in the suburbs but it had been explained to me since it was so close to Dulles (actually on the airport property) they were concerned that some people would leave their cars parked at the museum while flying.

So why am I going into all this information about the Smithsonian and museums?  September 28 is  Museum Day Live!  Many museums and galleries across the country will be open free that day.  Yes, you heard me …. F R EE.  However, you can’t just walk up and get it free.  That would be too easy.  Instead you need to go to this site and click on ticket information.  The “rule” is one admission plus a guest for each email address.  Since Blogger Hubby and I each have our own separate email addresses, we were able to request admission to two separate museums.

We are actually on vacation (remember Hawaii bound) during Museum Day Live! and we weren’t sure which museums are in the area that we were visiting.  By going to this site I was able to go to the map and found which museums were in my area.

Hope you are able to take advantage of this special day and visit a museum that you ordinarily wouldn’t visit.

REMINDER :  You still have time to enter the free $50 VISA gift card give away.  You need to go to this post and leave a comment on what you have liked about  a particular post.  I’ll do the drawing with random.org on Sunday night at 9 PM.  You’ll have 48 hours to respond to my email asking for your address to mail you the gift card.

Hotel Points and Award Mapper

If you are anything like me, you probably belong to several different hotel loyalty programs and have points in all of them. I know when we were planning our Hawaiian grip I needed to go to each hotel site and see if they had a facility in the locations that we wanted to stay in as well as how many points it would be to sty there.  It REALLY took a long time to do this, at least for me.

I’ve just found out about a tool that will certainly help me and I hope you.  It is called Award Mapper.  It’s shows hotels on the map as well as on the right sidebar.   It’s a good beginning to finding your hotel.  It does not include all locations or all hotels but it includes many of the big players.

Give it a try and see what you think.

REMINDER:  Leave a comment on THIS post to be entered into the drawing for a $50 VISA gift card on Sunday night at 9 PM.  You can enter once  a day with a comment about what you like about this blog.  Good luck everyone.

AirBnB – a Housing Option when Traveling

airbnb
airbnb (Photo credit: Gustavo da Cunha Pimenta)

Have any of you heard of AirBnB?  I bet you know what VRBO (Vacation Rental by Owner) is.  Well, this is something similar.  Whether it is renting an entire house for a vacation or a room in someone’s home for a few nights, you will find what you need on this site.   There are many reviewers that share their experiences.

They describe themselves as “a global community marketplace that connects travelers seeking authentic, high-quality accommodations with hosts who offer unique places to stay.  With Airbnb, guests can access truly amazing experiences – from stays in castles to holidays in treehouses, caves, or even private islands.”

You can find some unique and very different accommodations   There are properties in 192 countries.  This is a great alternative to a stay in a hotel particularly when you are with your family and want to give your  grandkids or your children room to spread out   Some properties will also have kitchen facilities which will make it convenient. If you don’t know where in the city to stay, let them help you with the neighborhood guide.

Head on over to AirBnB and see if it might meet your need when traveling.

More Reader Questions

More reader questions answered for you……..

1. Is there a way to link actual miles flown to the ultimate rewards account…or would you have to fly on a star alliance carrier as the way to be able to eventually pool those miles flown with the miles you would get by converting ultimate reward points?   There is no way to link miles flown with your Ultimate Rewards.  UR points can be transferred to the following airlines – British Airways, Korean Air, Southwest, United, Virgin Atlantic.  Of these airlines, only United is a Star Alliance member.  Korean Air is part of the One Sky Alliance.  British Airways and Virgin Atlantic have partners but are not in an alliance.  Southwest has no partners and are not in an alliance.  If you were interested in Star Alliance, you would have to fly United and then you could transfer you UR points to United in order to fly with one of the Star Alliance members.

2. On hotels, what is the best way to begin getting free hotel stays…would you recommend just joining the hotel loyalty programs, signing up for a hotel rewards credit card, or both?  The best way to begin getting free hotel stays is to sign up for their loyalty program.  That way you’ll learn about their promotions which will give you multiple points/free nights if you follow the terms of the promotion.  Hotel credit cards are another way of getting free nights.  Hyatt will give you two free nights, Marriott will give you 50,000 points and you will have to check the other credit cards to see what you will get.

3. Is there a way to combine the Chase ultimate reward points for free hotel stays, or is it a better use of those points to save them for flights?   You can transfer some of your UR points to Hyatt, Marriott, Priority Club, Ritz-Carlton.  Whether you think it is a better use to use your UR for airlines or hotel stays is up to you and what is important to you. Personally I prefer to use my points for long distance business class airline travel.

4. If my spouse also gets a Chase Sapphire Preferred card, will we be able to combine our points?  Yes and no.  You will not have a family account but you can transfer yours into his and vice versa.  When we flew last year, my husband transferred his to my account and we made one booking that way.

5. What specifically do you mean between the difference in free flights versus status? I think I am most interested in being able to book free travel, and if possible in business class.   You get free flights from using your points in your airline account.  For status, you generally get it from flying with your butt in the seat – that’s why people do mileage runs.  You do have the opportunity to get an upgraded seat when you have status.  You could have purchased a coach ticket as a gold member.  If there are business class or premium economy available, you’ll get on the upgrade list.  Whether you get it or not depends on how many seats available, and how many elites are ahead of you.

6. I think I know what you mean by mileage run, but in practical terms, would you just pick a weekend and book a bunch of travel and fly all weekend, or would you do it by strategically picking a far away destination and traveling there over a weekend but making a short vacation out of it…or maybe both depending on circumstances? You could do both.  If you were going on a greater distance, you would have the opportunity to add in a bunch of stops, many times for a nominal amount, for the sole purpose of getting miles.  If you wanted to go from IAD to SFO  you might want to try routing IAD through Boston to Chicago to Houston to SFO.  See how many more miles you would get?  Go to Great Circle Mapper and see the difference.  Now my husband’s cousin picks a destination and makes a short vacation.  She is going to Hong Kong for the miles.  My brother-in-law and his wife went to Aruba to preserve her diamond level.  So, it’s entirely up to you.

7. Question about currency exchange. We will be going to Europe in the fall. Would it be better to get a bunch of Euros before we go or to use a debit card (no ATM charge) at banks in Europe?   I like to have some currency when we go to a new country – in fact, enough to last a few days.  I buy it at my local bank over several different months so hopefully I catch it when the rate is the most favorable.  While I am traveling I use my Charles Schwab bank debit card.  They reimburse you for ALL you ATM fees and it is a favorite of many travelers.  If you are interested, call Chuck and set up your account.

Mileage Running Tools and Tips for Finding Great Fares

I wrote the other day about going for status by doing a mileage run.  In this post mapI mentioned the ITA Matrix and I gave you some tutorials by other bloggers.  Using those tutorials, I have found that Great Circle Mapper is extremely handy for me in determining how many miles I would get with a basic flight and how many more miles I would earn by adding in a stop.  Here is the link to Great Circle Mapper where you input the airports and you get the distance or you can see it on a map – the choice is yours.

Another tool to help in finding inexpensive flights for your mileage running is Google Flights  You plug in the city you are flying out of and you will see cities all over the world and what it would cost to fly there.  You will be able to  find an inexpensive flights around the United States and the world!

On FlyerTalk, an online community of frequent flyers,  you can go to the forums and you’ll see a thread on Mileage Runs.  Follow this link to go there.  People in the mileage community will often post great deals there and you need to jump on them as they can and will disappear.

Another tool is Fare Compare  You input your departure city, when you want to travel, the minimum and maximum on your budget and voila…..fares and cities will be shown.  Let the fares dictate where you take your next getaway.

I hope you find these tools helpful in planning for your next trip.

The Art of Haggling

This post was written by Blogger Son #1 about his adventures in haggling around the world.

I thought that I would  talk all about bargaining and the markets. While traveling, one will often spend a good amount of time around the markets – buying souvenirs for loved ones at home or just roaming around.  I know that my wife and I have spent a ton of time in the back streets of Morocco hunting down the most unique gifts at the lowest prices possible. Not only is it really nice to have things to bring home from exotic places …. haggling for the lowest price is pretty damn fun. And I will say, I have gotten pretty good at it (or at least I think so) although I guess I will never really know what the lowest/local price is.

haggling2

A few general notes about haggling: Each country / geographical region is different. I know that when I was in Central America, people would haggle with you for what seemed like hours. You could say “no” a hundred times but they would still chase you down the street asking you for “last price”. In Central America the sellers would often start with a really inflated starting price and you would have to counter with a really low offering…and then you would work your way to a happy medium well,  not a medium more like a quarter of what we started out with.

It has been a while since I was in Egypt but I remember that  the haggling was really animated. The sellers would hold their chest yelling in pain saying that you are breaking their heart (and would expect you to do similar).

haggling1

Parts of South East Asia were much different especially when coming from Central America and  they didn’t seem to enjoy haggling as much. And would often not bargain – or just name a price close to the actually selling price. If you countered with too low of an offer they would get offended and not sell anything to you.

Morocco seems to be similar to Central America.  The sellers will really try to push their luck and give you a really high first offer. Then of course you need to counter with a low bid. But not too low or they wont except it and you’ll have to make another offer. Part of the trick is to avoid adjusting your price too often or at least getting them to adjust their price every time you do. Here is an example of a typical transaction:

haggling3

Customer walks by a shop and just happens to look at something hanging outside
Seller: “Hello, Bonjour, Hola”
Seller: “Are you English?”
Me: (I’m still ignoring him)
Seller: Take a look, no buy just look. Where are you from? England, Germany?
Me: America (or Australia or Germany or South Africa …depending on my mood)
(I have already spotted what I want to buy but I don’t want to give any hint to the fact that I want this item…I am looking at everything else.)
Me: How much for xxx (some other random item….something that should be in the same price range as what I secretly want)
Seller: “I give you good price!” “Today good day”
Seller: “500”
Me: “Woooo too much, How much for this other thing (the thing I really want)”
Seller: “ok ok I give you family price, 450”
Me: “no I don’t want it….” (Leave the shop and start looking at stuff out front (as opposed to inside)
Seller: Ok what is your price?
Me: “too much, I pay 100”   (note: I always tend to say 100 less than I really want to spend).   My first offer will be,  lets say 100, then he will laugh and I will tell him that his price was too high.  If things go according to plan he will make a big drop. Then I will make my biggest increase (lets say to 150) and then we will haggle over 10’s until we converge at 200.

This goes on forever…the seller is always trying to get you to up your price by saying “give me your best price” “give me your last price” and I am always trying to get a new price from him “give me a real price” “I don’t need this” “give me last price”. One nice little trick I learned is to make the same offer twice, but pretend like it is a new offer. The goal is to get him to drop his price twice without you increasing yours). It also helps to have my wife with me. One of us can play the good cop (normally her) and one of us can play the bad cop (me)…this works really well. We have the routine down! I will end this with some random notes about our haggling adventures.

Sellers LOVE gifts/presents. If you are close to a price that you want but can’t get them to lower anymore, offer a simple gift. Even a pen or a little charm or something. My wife is great with this  She was haggling with the guy forever over a price, and as soon as she offered a whole pack of gum as a gift he said “done!” She saved her main item,  the one that  everyone has been eyeing for her biggest purchase and it worked as well.
When we are planning our market shopping trip we sit  down and talk about our game plan.   We know that if we want two of a particular item but we will only let the sales person know that we wanted one until the last second..then we would demand a cheaper rate for two (it works).   We will also wait till a fast is broken (like after Ramadan) or late in the day just before the market closes. There are tons of tricks…and we love it!
Occasionally when we leave a store the seller may be a little disappointed – this is a good sign that you got a good deal.  While I do my duty and support the local economy, a heated negotiation is part of shopping abroad and can be a lot of fun. I can’t tell you how many times I have been called a Berber Man (I think this means frugal or cheap).
Have you noticed different types of haggling throughout the world?   Wondering if your experiences have been like mine.

converters or adapters

This has always confused me – when do I need a converter and when do I need an adapter and what is the difference.  I’m sure you more experienced travelers understand but I didn’t.

adapter:converter

To try and get it clear in my mind, I began to do a little research.  I found out that many electronics have dual voltage listed such as 100-240v.  You will find this in the specs paper that comes in the package.  What this means is that it is able to use either voltage but you will still need an adapter to plug your electronic into the electric outlet.

voltage

There are many different styles of wall sockets so it is important to know which type of adapter you need.  We have a set that has many different type of adapters.

plugs

On one of our trips, I plugged in our little digital clock into an adapter only to find out that I fried it – it wasn’t dual voltage and I didn’t add a converter.  Now I know to check.  Make sure when you travel that you have the correct adapter and know whether or not you need a converter.