Travel Headline Roundup

I was skimming the travel headlines today and came across a few jewels in the rough that haven’t gotten mainstream press (yet).  Here are my favorites:

 The shocker story.

Passengers using free wifi at a major Canadian airport were tracked by for a week afterwards by Canada’s version of the NSA as their phones and laptops plugged into other wifi spots across the continent.  In coordination with the NSA.

Why should this concern you?   

Because it’s illegal.  And because it begs the question who else can monitor you wanted to check your email between flights.  I’m working under the assumption that my readers are not part of some illicit organization whose movements maybe should be tracked, but it does act as a reminder to think twice about the types of wifi networks we use when traveling and that when possible, to use a secure network over an unsecured one.

 The funny story.

For the first time since…ever…the state of Louisiana is releasing advertisement

to encourage tourists to visit for Mardi Gras.  The Governor of Louisiana says its meant to draw tourist to other parts of the state.

Let’s be honest, if you’re going to go to Louisiana for Mardi Gras, you’re probably (in all honesty) going to New Orleans.  Last I checked, NOLA didn’t need any help drawing a crowd even when it’s NOT Mardi Gras!

The not so disappointing story.

Ryanair’s CEO has ruled out low-cost transatlantic flights because competing airlines, such as Etihad and Emirates, are driving long-haul aircraft prices up because of the amount of planes they’re buying [to meet their expansionist objectives].

I don’t mind.  Honestly.

Even if he could drop transatlantic prices to half of what they are now, Ryanair boasts some of the most expensive baggage fees and airport check in fees of all the airlines. Thank goodness you can still use the toilet for free!

And finally, the absolutely ridiculous story. 

Japan’s new ANA ad launched with the intent of  appealing to non-Japanese travelers as it launches new international routes.  Two pilots talk about their new destinations: Hanoi and Vancouver.  One says to the other, “Let’s change the image of the Japanese.”  The other responds – now dressed in a blonde wig and a long pointy nose – “Of course.”

The ad was pulled after it was criticized as being racist.

Was it?
You tell me.

Travel Safety Part III – At the Hotel (Motel, Holiday Inn…)

This is the third post of my travel safety series.  Read on for common sense tips on how to stay safe in your hotel so that you can get a good night’s sleep!

Over the years, I’ve stayed in all kinds of lodging.  Hotels, motels, hostels, guesthouses, B&Bs…some reputable, some not so reputable.  I don’t require much.  A clean bed.  A cleaner bathroom.  Enough plugs for my phone (and iPad, and laptop), hair dryer, and straightener.  And a working wifi connection.

I routinely hang the “Do Not Disturb” sign outside my locked door at night using the deadbolt – and latch or chain if there is one – before (safely) tucking myself in for the night.

Once upon a time I was on a business trip in Wichita, Kansas (long story).  We were put up in an average 3* hotel located near the office.  In the middle of the night someone started pounding on my door.  It sounded like a very angry man who kept shouting the name of a woman (not me).  He attempted to jiggle the handle several times and pushed his weight against the door.  My initial thought was “WTF? Is this really happening?” Once my brain started working again, I dialed the front desk to report the attempted break-in (intrusion?).  I don’t know what happened next, but the banging stopped and I was able to (finally) get to sleep.

rickshaw

Rickshaw ride in Old Delhi, India

Fast forward a few years later, and I had just arrived to my New Delhi hotel.  It was my 4th or 5th visit to India and easily my 3rd stay at a very nice 5* hotel. The staff knew me well since my visits were often 2-3 weeks long, and one in particular had taken a liking to me. He always offered to help me with my luggage upon arrival (usually around 3am).

On this trip, he began appearing at my door without notice to ask if I needed anything.  He also made several unsolicited phone calls to my room to inquire about my day and to offer to take me out on the weekend. Finally, I reminded him that I was a guest at his hotel and that all visits and phone calls needed to end immediately or I’d have to bring this up with the hotel manager. Thankfully, he respected my wishes, but it could have easily gone a different way.

As a solo female business traveler, specifically, I’ve since learned that there are additional precautions that I can take to avoid any unnecessary attention and keep myself safe at night.  However, these tips can be used by anyone – male or female – and will bring additional peace of mind during your stay at your home away from home.

1. Request a higher floor.  Ground floor rooms are easily accessible by other guests, staff, and visitors.  Guess where my room was in Wichita?

2.  Ask that your room be in a heavily trafficked part of the hotel and not isolated.  That way, if something happens, there will be enough people around in the event of an emergency.

3. Throw a rubber door stop in your bag.  Instead of using it to prop the door open, insert it from the inside of the room.  This helps to keep the door closed in the event someone is trying to force entry into your room.  The door stop doesn’t take up much room and it slows down a potential intruder possibly deterring them altogether.

Rubber Door Stops can slow down a potential intruder

4.  DO NOT give your room number to anyone (unless this person is someone you know and trust and you feel comfortable doing so).  If you have to meet someone, arrange to meet in the lobby or breakfast room.

5. Grab an extra business card at check in and carry it with you at all times. If you need to duck into a taxi and cannot communicate in the native language, you can quickly share the hotel information and be on your way.

6. Don’t open the door just because the person on the other side claims that they’re part of the hotel management, room service, etc.  If you didn’t call for service, and feel uneasy about the situation, call down to the front desk and confirm.

7. Don’t let others know that you’re not in your room.  Avoid using the “Please Make Up Room” (or whatever the variant is) when you leave.  This is a clear marker that you’ve left your room and an open invitation to anyone who’s ready and willing.

Part IV will be the last installment of my travel safety series. In this post, I’ll discuss tips for how to stay safe in emergency situations. Things can, and will, go wrong.  The key is being prepared so you know what to do when it does.

Related Links:

Making Travel Affordable

If I were to ask a random group of people about what prevents them from traveling, do you know what the overwhelming response would be?

Not lack of time or interest.
Not because they have small kids or pets at home.
It’s because of money.

Yet they often tell me how much they wish they too could take off for a week or more to [enter your favorite destination here].  What they don’t understand is that they can.

Traveling – whether for a weekend, a week, or a year – does not have to be a luxury affair.  With proper planning and budgeting, you can make that dream vacation or career break a reality.

So where should you begin?
Here are eight great tips to get started.

Make Travel a Priority The reason I travel so often is because I want to more than I want to do other things.  That means I’m more willing to put money aside for this purpose.  Until you’re willing to make travel a priority, it won’t be.

That’s a fact.

tropical

Montego Bay, Jamaica

Set Realistic Budget Expectations Once you’ve decided you are willing to make that long weekend in the big city a priority, it’s time to get real about what it might cost you.  This will help you keep your budget in line as you start to plan your trip.  Lodging and food are the two biggest travel costs (aside from airfare) that you’ll incur.  They are also the two biggest variables that you can control.

Something else to consider is the cost of your destination.  Some cities in the U.S. are more expensive than others; SE Asia is typically less expensive than W. Europe.  I work with budget travelers, luxury travelers, and everyone in between. Having a realistic budget for your category of travel ensures that you are able to travel comfortably and stretch your dollar as YOU see fit!

Make Your Credit Cards Work for You Don’t misunderstand me.  I am NOT advocating that you open a credit card and charge your vacation to it without the means to pay it off without incurring thousands in interest charges.  I AM advocating that if your current credit card isn’t earning you any miles or exchangeable points – dump it.

If you don’t have one already, I recommend opening a credit card with any of the major airlines that you fly frequently (United, AA, Delta). Upon opening a new account, you can typically earn 30,000-50,000 miles after you spend ~$1000 in purchases that you would have made anyway.  That’s a free roundtrip in the U.S. or to Europe!  An added benefit of most of these cards also include no foreign transaction fees and some premium benefits (free checked bag) on the affiliated airline.  Those are other savings that can quickly add up!

Trim Unnecessary Expenses So you want to take that trip of a lifetime to Machu Picchu. You’ve set your budget and you just opened airline-affiliated credit card. Now what? Unless you have an unlimited amount of disposable income (which I don’t), it’s time to start cutting back on costs temporarily.

It might mean reducing the number of nights you eat/go out with friends, negotiating lower rates for your cable and/or cell phone bills, switching to public transportation where possible, putting off your shopping spree, and curbing your Starbucks addiction. It may seem overwhelming, but it’s only temporary and isn’t that trip worth it?

Be Flexible Americans, especially, have so little vacation time so it’s important to make it count.  That being said, one of the best ways to keep travel affordable is to be flexible to the extent you can.  If you know you don’t want to spend more then $800 on airfare, then keeping your dates open allows you to monitor deals and airfare specials to book when it’s convenient for you.

Alternatively, if you travel during the off-season you will often find lower rates and fewer crowds.  The weather may not be the warmest or the driest, but it can be the most affordable.

Book Alternate Accommodations If a hotel room at $120/night is not part of your budget, then book something else.  Hostels are a great alternative to the traditional hotel stay, as are apartment rentals, guesthouses, and bed & breakfasts.  Make sure to vet things properly through reputable sources such as Curious Tourist or other online rating sites, like Tripadvisor.  Some travel experts recommend couch surfing – because it’s free – and because it provides an opportunity to really integrate as a local. This is not ideal for everyone, but it is a viable option for those who are looking to travel on the cheap and meet new people along the way.

Enjoying an English breakfast at a local cafe instead of the pricy hotel restaurant

Enjoying an English breakfast at a local cafe instead of the pricy hotel restaurant

Eat Like a Local Locals don’t dine at 5* hotels and Michelin-rated restaurants.  Locals eat in cozy, neighborhood locales and so should you.  Not only will it likely be the best meal of your life, but you’ll feel more like part of your surroundings and less like a tourist. I’m also a BIG fan of street food.  Not only is it really good, but I’ve found I’m less prone to get sick watching my meal cooked in front of me in New Delhi, India than eating in some of the nicest hotels where I’ll never know if they washed the vegetables or not.

(In full disclosure I like to splurge on at least one “fancy meal” during any trip.)

Join Frequent Flyer/Point Programs This is the 2nd most effective way to reduce travel costs. If you travel any airline at least twice a year, join their frequent flyer program. If you travel for work, sign up for every airline or hotel loyalty program (unless otherwise prohibited) so that you can accrue miles/points with each trip.

I fly at least 50,000 miles each year for my day job.  I haven’t paid for an international flight in years.

Travel, unlike other hobbies or interests, doesn’t require any pre-requisites, specialized skills, or your life savings.  With these tips, you can look forward to a fun, relaxing, and affordable vacation.

Relevant Links:

Travel Safety Part II – Around Town

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Have You Called Your Travel Consultant Yet?

Travel consultants sometimes seem ubiquitous in our world of instant gratification. Anyone can log on to the online travel agent of your choosing and book themselves a flight or vacation package to anywhere in the world at any time.  At … Continue reading