Travel Tips

There’s no denying it: Florida has a reputation. A Google search for “crazy Florida news stories” yields nearly 40 million hits, ranging from freak tragedies like the Miami “Face Eater” to hilariously bizarre crimes of passion, like the story of diaper-clad astronaut Lisa Nowak. With characters like manatee-rider Ana Gloria Garcia Gutierrez running amok, it makes sense that vacationers would seek refuge in the controlled environments of Disney World, Islands of Adventure, Busch Gardens, and other theme parks. But with ticket prices reaching unprecedented highs, it’s worth exploring the Sunshine State’s other offerings–and there are plenty.
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Does this photo set your heart a-racin'? You're not alone.

Does this photo set your heart a-racin’? You’re not alone.

 

Afraid to fly? You’re in good company. Big names like Stanley Kubrick, Travis Barker, Lars von Trier, John Madden, Doris Day, Whoopi Goldberg, and even Issac Asimov are all purported aerophobics, demonstrating that the fear doesn’t discriminate based on race, gender, life experience, or intellect. If you long to see the world but feel held back by a fear that’s so often shrugged off by others, you don’t have to resign yourself to road trips or costly cruises. Continue Reading »

Tip #65: Don't drink the water

Tip #65: Don’t drink the water

There are basic precautions that everybody can take to minimize risk when away from home. Don’t leave your luggage unattended. Don’t trust hotel safes. Don’t keep all of your money in one place. But, at the risk of sounding alarmist, some risks are unpreventable or simply overlooked. They range from minor annoyances (spilling mustard on jeans that were supposed to last you four wears) to potentially life-altering crimes (RFID identity theft). It’s true that nothing worth doing comes with zero risk. But with a little foresight and a few key accessories, traveling doesn’t have to be one big paranoid headache.

Problem: “I spilled [bulgogi/bruschetta/biryani] on my shirt, and I need to wear it a second time.”
Solution: Travelon Laundry Soap Sheets
No matter how luxe the trip, we sometimes feel a little not-so-fresh by day five or six. Odors and stains can strike at any time, and if you’ve packed light, it’s imperative that you get maximum use out of each garment. Hotel laundry facilities, if they exist at all, are often pricey and annoying to use. But if you have access to clean water, you can have fresh clothes with the ingenious Travelon Laundry Soap Sheets. One sheet (they come in a pack of 50) washes one garment, so you don’t have to worry about waste. Once they come into contact with water, each sheet dissolves in a matter of seconds. Hand-wash your clothes in the resulting sudsy water, then rinse them out and let them air-dry for a daisy-fresh outfit when and where you need it.

Problem: “My hotel lost power, and I have to be up at the crack of dawn for a kayaking trip.”
Solution: Lewis N. Clark Digital Alarm/Flashlight
Brush your teeth, read a book, lay out tomorrow’s clothes, and be sure you’ll be up on time with this convenient multi-tool. Aside from emergency situations, it’s perfect for camping, backpacking, long-haul flights, or anywhere an outlet isn’t readily available. Its backlit display illuminates the time, date, and even the temperature at the push of a button. Though the built-in LED flashlight is a typically overlooked just-in-case travel item, it’s nice to have if you need to let your roommates sleep while you get ready in the morning or find an unobtrusive place to relieve yourself in the middle of the woods. Its loud, easy-to-program alarm wakes up on time for meetings, tours, and flights. Of course, it’s quite possible that you’ll never need to use it, but you’ll always be glad you have it.

Problem: “I have a money belt, but I’ve heard it’s not enough these days.”
Solution: Travelon RFID Blocking ID and Boarding Pass Holder
Unfortunately, you heard right. Newer passports, credit cards, and IDs now contain RFID (radio frequency identification data) chips that store your personal information. While the use of RFID chips has made traveling and day-to-day business transactions more efficient, thieves can easily extract your personal data without your knowledge by using an easily attainable, relatively inexpensive RFID scanner. Though these crimes certainly aren’t the norm, they do happen. Happily, it’s easy to prevent them with RFID-blocking items like this passport case. Using special materials, the ID and Boarding Pass Holder effectively blocks scanners and keeps your TSA Lockinformation safe. Wear it around your neck for a low-tech boost of extra security.

Problem: “I can’t lock my suitcase anymore because the TSA wants to snoop around in it.”
Solution: Eagle Creek Travel Safe TSA Lock
Well, yeah, they do want to snoop. A few bad apples ruined it for everybody, so we can’t help you with that. But you can still keep your belongings from falling into the wrong hands with a TSA-compatible lock. TSA locks allow you to set the combination yourself, just like regular locks, but they also feature a keyhole that only the TSA can access. This particular model features a resettable three-digit combination, so you’re free to change it to something that’s easy for you to remember. You don’t know what happens to your luggage after you check it. (Really, does anybody?) But you can restore some pre-9/11 peace of mind with a TSA lock like this one.

Photo credit: Daniel Gasienica / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

FarmstayThere’s been a push in recent years to get closer to our food. “Eat local” has segued from gimmicky buzz phrase to familiar mantra, and thanks to the efforts of writers, chefs, farmers, and other visionaries around the world, today’s consumers are far more knowledgeable than they’ve ever been about the origins of their food.

It’s no surprise, then, that the tourism industry has caught on to this newfound awareness. Agritourism, sometimes referred to as a farmstay, provides visitors with an opportunity to spend their next vacation on a real, working farm. For rates comparable to a typical B&B or inn, visitors receive room, board, and, often, hands-on demonstrations of activities specific to their farm. At a dairy farm, for example, you may learn how to make cheese or milk a goat. At a berry farm, you might spend a leisurely afternoon picking blueberries and enjoying them later that evening in a delicious dessert that you helped bring to fruition (pardon the pun).

Hundreds of farms across the US offer a farmstay option, so there’s something for everyone–from an active family with young childrenZero Whirl 24 Red to a retiree who’s long overdue for a relaxing weekend. Whether you choose to rise with the sun and help with chores or spend your visit at your own pace, there’s never a shortage of things to do, see, and learn during a farmstay.

Find a farm close to you at farmstayus.com.

Packing for a farmstay, however, offers its own unique set of challenges. Rugged conditions, bulky clothing, and puddles of dubious origin can all wreak havoc on luggage that’s not up to the task. Zero Halliburton, a brand synonymous with toughness, passes the “farm test” with flying colors. Continue Reading »

Business TravelBusiness travel spending is expected to exceed $100 billion in 2013, edging closer to pre-recession levels. Good news? Definitely! An early indicator of an upward trend? Hopefully! But companies are still being cautious with their money, and business trips in 2013 may not be as cushy as you remember them.

Pre-recession, business travel had a luxurious reputation. Though it often came with grueling schedules and red-eye flights, employers tried to sweeten the pot by picking up the tab on business class seats, room service, higher-end rental cars, in-flight cocktails, and more. Lately, though, they’ve been cutting back–some going as far as mandating that all employees fly coach, regardless of job title. As a result, they’re saving millions. According to a recent article by the Wall Street Journal, the North American division of T-Systems International, a subsidiary of Deutsche Telekom AG, has done just this–and cut company spending by a third.

If business travel is on your agenda this year, you can have a first-class experience even if you’re relegated to coach with the rest of us vacationing plebs. Travelpro, one of the travel industry’s favorite luggage brands, recently released Executive Pro, a line of suitcases, briefcases, and laptop bags intended for the wandering professional.  Continue Reading »

As store displays have been “helpfully” reminding us since December 26, Valentine’s Day is just around the corner! Whether you love it or hate it, chances are high that whomever you love is going to expect some kind of acknowledgment. This year, the big day falls on a Thursday, making it perfectly placed for a long weekend away.

CampingIf you’re outdoorsy people, camping is a natural option. Spend the day lakeside with a good book, or enjoy an invigorating hike in the mountains. But save your energy–after sharing a s’more, you’ll want to turn in as soon as the sun goes down. Can two adults fit in a one-person sleeping bag? That’s for us to wonder, and you to find out.

For rustic expeditions, Eagle Creek is your brand. Built with adventure in mind, Eagle Creek products are travel-tested and match beautifully with the great outdoors. The EC Adventure Weekender Bag is sized perfectly for a weekend away. An interior divider and lots of pockets keep you from digging around endlessly, ensuring that the bear spray is close at hand when you need it. Plus, it has “Adventure” right in the name. I mean, come on. For heavier packers, the No Matter What Large Duffel handles all kinds of abuse–go ahead, test its limits. Compression straps stabilize whatever it is you’re hauling, and a storm flap protects the main compartment from the elements. Two-way lockable zippers keep unwanted hands (or paws) out of your stuff when you’re away on a marshmallow run.

Find the perfect campground for you and your sweetie at campgrounds.com or koa.com.

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Another new year, another set of resolutions that’ll be toast by Valentine’s Day. Swearing off carbs or cola? Admirable, for sure, but not particularly interesting or realistic. Why not deviate from the norm and make some resolutions you can actually look forward to keeping? This year, we’re resolving to make 2013 unforgettable–by hook or by crook (or plane, train, or rickshaw). Here are six travel resolutions to get you started.

1. Go it alone. We’re not saying you have to take six months to backpack through Europe or hike the Appalachian Trail to “find yourself.” (Though how cool would that be?) A weekend getaway to somewhere you’ve always wanted to visit can be just as illuminating. What would you do if you only had to worry about yourself? Linger in a museum, take a long walk to nowhere, try a crazy new food, or experiment with the settings on your camera–the possibilities are fabulously overwhelming. If vacationing on your own just isn’t in the cards, take a couple hours for yourself on your next family trip. You’ll return relaxed, refocused, and hopefully with a great story to share with your loved ones.

2. Use your vacation days. Though Americans receive fewer vacation days than other industrialized nations–only 12 on average–we actually use even less. It could be because we’re worried about how the boss will respond; or perhaps we just don’t think we can swing it financially. But those days are there for a reason. How you use them is up to you–just don’t spend them at work!

Invest in a swanky new luggage set for your year of adventures–the American Tourister POP 3-Piece Luggage Set and the Swiss Army Luggage Spinner Lite 3 Piece Set are solid choices. Durable and attractive, three pieces of luggage instead of just one ensures that you’re ready for anything, whether it’s an overnight at a B&B or two weeks in Australia. (And we love the color options of the American Tourister set. A bright blue suitcase is hard to miss on the luggage carousel!)

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Flying isn’t what it used to be. Beverages, snacks, pillows and blankets, all previously expected comforts on even short flights, have become costly luxuries. Leg room has been sacrificed in favor of fitting more seats–and more profits–onto every flight. Ancillary charges for things like checked baggage and pre-boarding privileges have become a frustrating part of the air travel experience. With all the hidden taxes and fees tacked on to our tickets, the original fare becomes the least of our concerns.

Up against huge corporations and a largely unregulated market, it’s easy for consumers to feel powerless. We may feel as though we have few options–besides just driving to our destination, which, depending on the circumstances, is impractical at best. In May of 2013, the Department of Transportation will decide whether or not to require airlines to fully disclose all fees and taxes to outside services (think Orbitz and Expedia) and consumers. Doing so would make it easier for prospective travelers to comparison shop. Sure, that $100 fare from LAX to JFK is a steal, but the odds that you’ll only pay $100 when all is said and done are quite slim indeed.

Until the DOT makes their decision, there are options. For one, travelers can invest in larger, more space-efficient carry-on luggage. The Eagle Creek Travel Gateway 2-Wheeled Upright 22 is a vast improvement over an overstuffed, disorganized duffel that would require divine intervention in order to fit under the seat in front of you. At 22″, it’s the maximum size that most airlines will allow for carry-ons, and it’s loaded with extra features that make it special. Continue Reading »

All aboard, for the most luxurious train trips in Europe.

Sophisticated travel calls for superbly styled luggage. Briggs & Riley Baseline 24″ Expandable Upright Spinner with its ability to increase in space over 15 percent, making it simple to pack a week’s worth of dress to impress outfits.

The four-day Polish Express, with the Danube Express, begins in Budapest as passengers first gather at a reception in the Royal waiting room of the city’s Nyugati station. Leaving Hungary’s capital the train follows the immortal river towards Bratislava, 124 miles northeast.

Windows filled with views of old castles and vineyards set in the excitement for arrival into the capital of Slovakia by early afternoon. Tour Old Town and its ancient castle located high above the city.

As the train speeds into the Moravian night a delight of locally produced ingredients create an unforgettable dinner accompanied by fine Hungarian wines. Continue Reading »

Summer is here – time for thousands of tourists to hit Washington, DC. in the muggy heat. How bad is the humidity? In the days before air conditioning, ambassadors, assigned to the nation’s capital, received hardship pay.

With the lightweight Eagle Creek Cloudstream 28″ Upright, getting into DC is no sweat. Slightly more than nine pounds, it is a breeze to wheel around National or Dulles Airports or Union Station.

As a former licensed DC tour guide, here are some must-do tips:

1. Keep hydrated.

Standing in lengthy lines is a common sight at many DC monuments, memorials, and museums as are the great number of tourists who drop in a dead faint due to dehydration.

2. The walk from the Lincoln Memorial to the Capitol Building is much farther than it looks on the map.

Gasping for breath while holding their sides, family members or passing members of Congress, many a tourist looked at the tour guide map and thought ‘that’s not too far’. It is close to three miles and the final mile or so is uphill. No, it is not like climbing the Alps, but in high humidity and weighted down by souvenirs, brochures and water bottles it can take a toll on some. Continue Reading »