When I was in college, my friends laughed at my coupon-clipping mother when she bought me an expensive dress for a wedding. “She saves money on cans of tuna, then buys you that dress?” they said.
It made perfect sense to me. Save money when you can, and spend it where you want. So when I travel, I’ll find the cheapest coach fare available, even if it means leaving for the airport in the pre-dawn hours. And I often take my own food onboard. But then I can justify buying that one-of-a-kind handcrafted necklace in Santa Fe.
That’s why I love the CityPASS, a discount coupon booklet available in 12 cities.
Purchase the CityPASS for your destination, which is good for nine days from the first time you use it. They are good for several attractions, and in some cases, for transportation. For example, in San Francisco, the pass includes unlimited transportation for seven days on cable cars, buses and all Muni trolleys.
You’ll save money.
That’s the prime reason many people purchase these popular discount booklets. On my recent trip to Chicago, a CityPASS booklet was $98. If I had purchased entrance fees separately, I would have spent $207.95.
I could save 53 percent on entrance fees to five attractions per person. My husband and I could use that $200+ in savings to go out to dinner. Or maybe even do a little shopping on the Miracle Mile.
One may assume that attending an event called The International Festival of Love may require just a few love beads and a sarong. I did know better than that – after I enthusiastically accepted the invitation based on the name and location alone (Bermuda!) I did my research. The festival offered a more spiritual vibe, with would require real clothes.
Bermuda is an island, right? And it would be warm in February. Wrong on both counts. The average temperature in this island found roughly parallel to South Carolina is 68. And it’s hardly tropical.
So when I packed my floral sundresses, flip-flops and sunscreen, I looked like I was searching for the nearest limbo line and an umbrella-embellished rum drink while other guests were dressed in somber shades of gray and black and elegantly drinking their gin and tonics. So that’s mistake #1.
1. Took the wrong clothes for the location.
I generally do well at fitting in with where I’m traveling. I pack black, black and more black for Paris and stylish walking shoes for any European destination. In India I knew to cover my shoulders and wear long pants for many of the sites we visited.
When I’m unsure, a quick bit of research guarantees I won’t pull a “Sex and the City 2” – called torture porn by one reviewer – and wear wildly inappropriate clothes.
Yet somehow I missed this one. But I learned my lesson and have not repeated that mistake.
2. Took the wrong clothes for the weather.
I’m not a complete idiot. Years ago when I was packing for a summer trip to Colorado I did check the average temperature there. But I was sweating in the 90-degree heat, and kind of didn’t believe it. How could it get down to the 40s at night?
So we get to Breckenridge, where the thermometer never rose about 60. We wrapped ourselves in blankets to go on a boat ride and shivered through a picnic. I wore the same pair of long pants and the Breckenridge sweatshirt I hurriedly bought the first day every single day. Ok, maybe I did wander into idiot territory.
I just did the same thing last week on a trip to eastern California. While searching the weather forecast, I saw lows of 43, so I packed my travel down jacket. I never wore it once, while I had no appropriate clothing for the day in Death Valley when the temperature on the van reached 150. That is not a typo – 150 degrees.
We were allowed to leave the van on very short excursions, while being admonished to constantly down water. Stepping out of the van felt like walking into a giant hair dryer. I had packed not one pair of shorts, and resorted to wearing my hiking pants and one sleeveless shirt. Again.
3. Forgot my underwear. Four times.
I read a quote recently that said, “Make mistakes. Learn from them. Move on.” Apparently, I’ve only incorporated one of these steps when it comes to packing this most necessary item.
My solutions to this situation have been varied.
– Word my husband’s boxers
– Wore the one pair of underwear I had, wash it, and alternate with a bathingsuit bottom
– Considered buying the piece of dental floss that was marketed as underwear at the resort where I was staying in Panama, but rejected both the high price ($15) and low coverage. I tend to prefer the other way around on any underwear purchase.
I have no explanation and no excuse for making the same mistake four times. One solution would be to leave several pairs of underwear in my suitcase. But my husband and I switch back and forth with suitcases, and I’m not sure that method would work well for either of us.
I’ve decided to employ another method. I scrawled a large sign with a Sharpie and put it in my pajama drawer, as I always remember those. It’s a kind note to myself, intentionally not mentioning my past transgressions. It simply says, Forgetting anything, Jan?
If I had a quarter for everyone I’ve told about Waze, I could buy my own plane. Waze is the world’s largest community-based traffic and navigation app. All the info is in real time, so if there’s a jam up ahead, the “Waze lady” as we call her, calmly navigates you around it. Even when I’m driving in my own hood, I check with her for the best route to take.
This app has lists of all the amenities available at airports, from what retail outlets are on your terminal to where to eat. Reviews have tipped me off to the best food. It won my heart when it led me to a killer reuben sandwich in O’Hare.
On his show “Hotel Impossible” Anthony Melchiorri helps floundering inn owners deal with near bankruptcy, mismanagement, family issues and bedbug infestations. After more than 20 years in the hotel business, he’s seen it all. From dysfunctional to disgusting to downright dangerous.
During a recent interview, I asked him for some safety tips for women traveling alone. Here are a few he shared with me.
• “If you hear the clerk announce your room number, don’t go back there. That means they are not training their staff on safety and it is not a major concern for them.”
I have been pleased to note that in just about 100 percent of cases, the clerk will write my room number on the key envelope and slide it over to me. It this does not happen, ask for another room and ask the clerk to write it down for you rather than saying it out loud.
• “Check your room to see if there is a peephole, safety latch or deadbolt.”
Engage the safety latch or deadbolt whenever you are in the room. I travel with a small doorstop that I keep in my suitcase and slide under my door whenever I’m in my room for extra protection. These are available online for just a few dollars. These steps also prevents housekeeping staff from barging in on you.
If you have a peephole, always use it if someone comes to your room. If someone comes to your hotel room and is not in uniform, ask to see their hotel I.D.
• “Check out other items in the hotel to see if the management makes safety a priority. For example, look at the fire extinguisher. If the latch is locked, it won’t be accessible to guests during a fire.”
While we don’t like to think about it, fires do occur. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), there are an average of 3,700 structure fires per year at hotel or motel properties.
Can you locate fire extinguishers? You can check to see if they are regularly inspected by looking at the paper tag hanging from it, which records its last TIM, which means Testing, Inspection and Maintenance. If it’s been more than a year, the hotel is not taking fire safety seriously.
• “Check online reviews and pay attention to anything that mentions safety.”
Yes, some online reviews are fake, but according to Anthony, 90 percent are real. To determine if there are any concerns about safety in a hotel, go to your favorite review site – mine is Trip Advisor – and type in the words safe and safety on the review pages to see if anything comes up.
I feel fortunate in that I’ve never felt unsafe in a hotel room. And with these tips, I plan to keep it that way.
Safety is always a concern when I travel and in addition to be physically safe, I’d really rather hold onto my cute purse and all its valuable contents. I recently received some travel tips from Krav Maga Worldwide, which trains and certifies instructors in self defense, and it contained a tip contrary to what I’d always heard.
“Don’t wear your purse so that the strap crosses your body. Wearing a purse strap across your body makes you more connected to your bag. If someone tries to steal your purse, you will be pulled with the strap. You can become unbalanced and put into a vulnerable position or you could end up in a physical altercation with the assailant. If your purse is draped on one shoulder you can easily let go of it.”
When I read this, it made sense. But I’d always heard the opposite – wear it diagonally across your chest and hold onto it. So what’s a purse-lovin’ girl on the go to do?
I’m taking the approach that the best thing to do, besides keeping a death grip on my purse, is to avoid making myself a target in the first place and follow some common sense tips when out in public. If a thief really wants my purse, they could slit the strap, slit it from the bottom or somehow jostle me and grab it.
To avoid calling attention to myself, I don’t travel in urban areas or countries prone to crime with any jewelry. I leave my good stuff at home. That goes for my nice leather handbags, too. I opt for my Longchamps bags, which are lightweight and durable, and don’t really call attention to themselves.
I try to always be aware of my surroundings and read up on the latest scams in the cities where I’m traveling. I don’t talk with strangers and would be immediately on alert if someone jostles me or as happened in Paris, approached us telling us we’d dropped a gold ring. Nice try, buddy.
We’ve all heard the stories. The guy who broke his arm in a remote location and had to spent thousands of dollars to be flown home. The couple that booked their dream cruise and had to cancel because the wife needed emergency surgery.
While we may understand that purchasing travel insurance may ease the financial burden in some situations like these, it can still be hard to pull the trigger on paying for it when you’re already shelling out a lot of money for the trip in the first place.
Consumer Affairs, a consumer news and advocacy group, has developed a tool to make that decision easier. The aptly named Travel Insurance Tool allows you to better understand how travel insurance works and whether you need it.
The tool allows to compare brands of travel insurance and see reviews for those brands. Discover which features matter most to you. Do you want protection from cancellation, delay or interruption? Is customer service most important to you, or coverage for property loss or damage?
Learn about the different types of travel insurance, such as annual plans, one-time only or plans for domestic versus international. The section on Travel Insurance Scenarios covers what happens in certain situations, such as when I have a medical emergency? Or I wreck my rental car? Or maybe I just don’t want to go on my trip anymore?
If you’re investing a lot of money in a trip, make some time to check out the site. That way, whether you decide to purchase travel insurance or not, you’ve made a more informed decision.
I’ve toured fancy hotel rooms where the nightly rate costs more than my first car. Even if I was a gazillionaire, I’d feel like I had to stay up all night to get my money’s worth! Of course all the high-class toiletries would find their way into my suitcase as well.
I enjoy staying in lovely accommodations, and my days of roughing it in budget motels is over. But I like to save some money on accommodations so there is plenty left over to go out to nice restaurants, indulge in a fun activity, and yes, maybe do a little shopping.
Here are a few ways to save on accommodations when you travel, which is the number one expense on vacation – 47 percent of the money we spend typically goes here.
Savings on Hotels
• Call the hotel directly for the best rate.
• After you book a hotel, check back a few days before you travel. The rates may have dropped and you can cancel and rebook for a lower rate.
• Stay at a hotel that offers free meals or has kitchen facilities. We recently stayed at a Residence Inn in Washington D.C. It had a good complimentary breakfast, serves a complimentary dinner a few nights a week and has a kitchen where you could eat on your own if desired.
• Join loyalty programs at hotels. If you join the loyalty program at a Starwood Hotel you can get airline miles with Delta. The loyalty programs at Fairmont and Omni Hotels offer free wifi, as does Kimpton Hotels. You’ll also get a $10 credit for the minibar at Kimpton. Granted, that may get you a candy bar or a bag of nuts, but what fun to raid the minibar guilt-free. (We won’t mention the calories.) IHG, Intercontinental Hotels Group, has 4,600 properties and you earn points for stays and they never expire.
• Join AAA. They have great rates on dozens of hotels in every city. This is often the first place I look when booking a hotel.
• Rent an apartment, condo or home directly from the owner through VRBO or HomeAway. You can often save a lot off the price of a hotel and some owners are willing to negotiate prices. If they won’t come down on the price, they may throw in an extra day for free. I’ve booked several properties through VRBO and have always had a good experience.
• I haven’t used it but a lot of friends swear by Airbnb, where homeowners will rent out their own homes while they are out of town, or may just rent a room in their home while they are there. There are listings in more than 190 countries, and I loved that they could be sorted by neighborhood. For example, when I searched Washington D.C., I saw descriptions for the neighborhoods. “Logan Circle: Night owls are sure to have a hoot.” “Dupont Circle: Champagne at brunch and gin at dinner.” Say no more!
• State parks can be a very affordable option. In Georgia, we have 48 state parks, ranging up upscale lodges to cabins and campgrounds, or even a yurt. Cute cabins with one to three bedrooms start at just $85 a night. You can even stay in a yurt. North Carolina has 34 state parks, while Florida has more than 160.
• If you’d like to meet Jude Law on vacation, like Cameron Diaz did in the movie “The Holiday,” then try Home Exchange. The home exchange service has more than 50,000 members. You pay a small membership fee, then you can list your house and exchange it with others. Okay, you may not meet Jude Law but you’re sure to have an adventure in a real neighborhood and get free accommodations.
Helpful Apps to Save Money
• DealAngel. I love this hotel comparison site. Just put in your city and the dates you are traveling and voila! You’ll get the best deals with the name of hotel, the rate and how much I would be saving off the historical average. It also rates the hotels by what kind of deal you are getting, from Great to Overpriced. You can see a price trend that tells you whether the rate is likely to go down and what the chances of a sell-out might be. Add an alert to find out when the rates drop.
• Hipmunk. I’ve used Hipmunk primarily for flights but the cute app with the adorable chipmunk also works for hotels. You can sort the results by business, kid-friendly, luxury or romantic getaway.
• Room 77. As soon as I started typing DC, it came up with neighborhoods and categories, like cheap hotels, hotels in Georgetown, hotels near White House, and it maps each one. I appreciate that because location is often of primary concern when I’m looking for a hotel.
• Tingo. Owned by TripAdvisor, Tingo has an awesome feature. If you book a room here and the price goes down, it automatically refunds you.
• Follow hotels and resorts on social media for last-minute deals and specials.
I have a thing about Clairmont Road in Atlanta. Although I was born here and have logged zillions of miles driving around the city, whenever I see the sign for Clairmont Road I know I’m fixin’ to get lost. Last night I set out from my office at Travelgirl magazine to go to my friend’s house in Druid Hills. The route involved Clairmont Road.
But this time I was armed and ready. I had the reassuring voice from the app Waze gently guiding me through pretty side streets, places I’d never seen before and was a bit unsure were leading anywhere, but I made it there quickly and didn’t hit a lick of traffic.
Waze, purchased by Google last year, is a crowdsourced navigation app, so you get real-time traffic and hazard reports from other Wazers nearby. There is a social media component if you’d like to get your friends to join you, and you can also participate as a map editor if you see discrepancies along your route. You can see reports on hazards on the road, police up ahead, cars pulled over on the side of the road and where the traffic is. You can also find the cheapest gas prices along the route.
I attended a media lunch with the Waze folks this week (best goody bag ever!) and they told us that traffic reporters are now using Waze because of its accuracy. They also mentioned plans to add celebrity voices and showed us a funny demo with Kevin Hart. If you’re going to spend time in the car why not make it fun, right?
Waze is available in more than 200 countries, so wherever you’re going you don’t have to get lost. Download it for free from the iTunes Store, and never be lost again. Not even on Clairmont.
Get up to 75% off rates at Westin Playa Bonita/Panama City, Panama for travel through Dec. 2, 2013. This deal starts Black Friday.
Abercrombie & Kent, a luxury tour company, has stretched out Cyber Monday until Wednesday and is offering 30 percent off a companion fare when you book an A&K Signature journey. Check out these destinations: Thailand, South Africa, Croatia, Italy, Eastern Europe, Peru, Tanzania, Kenya, Morocco and Jordan.
For Cyber Monday and on Tuesday, Delta Vacations is offering savings of up to $400 and 23,000 bonus miles if you book air and hotel vacation packages to select resorts in Mexico and the Caribbean.
Get an extra night with a slope side view upgrade (if available) and a day of free skiing at Park Hyatt Beaver Creek Resort and Spa in Colorado with the “Ski Free, Stay Free’ offer good for stays between December 3-20. Use promo code CYBER here.
Head to sunny Miami with a deal at Turnberry Isle Miami. Get 30% off on Best Available Rate from November 29, 2013 – March 1, 2014. This deal actually starts on Black Friday and can be booked through Cyber Monday.
Get 25% off the best available rate at the newly renovated Hotel Victor South Beach on Ocean Drive, which includes a complimentary breakfast for two, using booking code CYBER for travel through Dec. 31.
Get 30% participating JW Marriott Resorts with promo code 16C, with one-day rates starting at just $91. Participating JW Marriott Resorts include JW Marriott Camelback Inn Resort & Spa, JW Marriott Desert Springs Resort & Spa, JW Marriott Desert Ridge Resort & Spa, JW Marriott Las Vegas Resort & Spa, JW Marriott Starr Pass Resort & Spa, JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort & Spa, JW Marriott Los Angeles L.A. Live, JW Marriott Cancun Resort & Spa and JW Marriott Orlando Grande Lakes.
Beach Rentals of South Walton, my favorite beaches in the world, are offering rates starting at $89 for a one-bedroom cottage and 20% off bike rentals at participating homes in Blue Mountain Beach, Dune Allen Beach, Grayton Beach, Inlet Beach, Rosemary Beach, Santa Rosa Beach, Seacrest Beach, Seagrove Beach, WaterColor and WaterSound.
I don’t know who invented the Girlfriends’ Getaway but I’m raising my glass in a toast to her this weekend during the annual getaway with my college girlfriends. Nothing is more refreshing, more rejuvenating than eating, drinking and laughing until you sprain your stomach with your girlfriends.
Our group is large — we have rented a nine-bedroom home — so it takes some work and organization for it to go smoothly. Here are a few tips for planning your next large getaway.
1. Have a leader
Every group has at least one, the person who can take charge and keep the trip on track. In some groups it may always be the same person, or you may wish to take turns with the responsibilities. Thank goodness for Patti, who has handled booking the houses for our trips several times and is an excellent negotiator.
2. Consider everybody’s budget and location
While some of you may be able to travel in first-class style, others may be more budget conscious. Before anything is booked, make sure everyone is on board with the cost. Don’t guilt anyone into spending more than they are comfortable with just so the group can be together. The highest priority is being together, not finding the most luxurious place.
Because we are spread up and down the East Coast, from Atlanta to Boston, my college friends and I change locations from north to south each year so some of us can drive while others have to fly.
3. Plan far in advance if possible
It’s easier for people to put aside time for a trip if it gets on their calendars early. While sitting around the dining table of our gorgeous rental home at Lake Winnepesaukee last October, we decided on a beach trip for this year. Before we left, we had tentative dates, the location for this year’s trip at the Isle of Palms, and had looked at the websites for a couple of homes we were considering. It was easy to handle the rest of the details by email.
4. Split the duties in advance
We tend to eat most of our meals in our rental house to maximize visiting time and because most of us really enjoy cooking. That does mean some major organization and splitting the shopping, cooking and clean-up duties.
Judy is the best list maker and extremely organized so she prepared a master list of groceries to get us started. She and I both made Costco runs for this trip, as we are in the driving group this year. Unlike when we all lived together in college, we’ve never had a fight over whose turn it is to do the dishes.
5. Leave some free time on the agenda
We generally plan a few outings during our long weekends but want to make sure we have plenty of time to relax and catch up. We may plan one lunch or dinner out but leave maximum time for just chilling. If the group is up for it, try something new. One year we ventured out from our home on Lake Winnepesaukee so Patti could go on her first thing called a “hike.”
And you never know what activities you may dream up on the spot. Last year we invented the rousing game of “How Many Wahoos Can You Fit in a Hot Tub?” After dinner, and perhaps a few drinks on the part of some of us, we put on our swimsuits, and one by one plunged into the hot bubbling water until our entire group was huddled in a mass of giggling steam.
This year? I’m introducing the group to Dizzy Bat. Because nothing builds on wonderful years of shared memories like a face plant in the sand.