TRAVEL TIPS

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Hints and ideas to make your vacation more pleasant and make your next business trip less stressful.

We do not reproduce here all the travel advice you can find elsewhere. Links to other web sites with travel tips are provided.

Disney World Hints


Major Travel Topics

  • Not Enough Seats For Kids

  • Baggage Lost, Late For Appointment
  • Parent Practice For Kids Flying Alone
  • Help Me With My Suitcase
  • Oil Filter Stuck? Use Two Wrenches
  • Airport Free Parking Scam
  • Take Earlier Flight, Miss Connection
  • No Need to Hustle Stepping Aboard Plane
  • Bumped By Someone On Previous Flight
  • Carry Two Watches
  • Learn the Policies Before Renting Car
  • Empty Your Pockets, Save Your Film
  • Flight Cancelled Due To Sickout?
  • Weekend in Hidden City for Lower Fare
  • All Aboard the Vomit Comet
  • Changing Baby Inflight
  • Screaming Children In Airplane
  • Airplane Sweltering? Wear a Swimsuit
  • Stranded at the Crowded Airport? Do the Town
  • Our Unofficial Disney World Page
  • Don't Volunteer After Successful Standby
  • Room Too Dark? -- Take Off Lampshade
  • Extra Large Carryon? -- Fly American
  • Before You Leave Home
  • Bomb Detectors Spoil Your Pictures
  • Missed a Plane Connection?
  • Don't Jar the Laptop
  • Wait For a Fare War to Buy Plane Tickets
  • Carry-On Alert For Business Travel
  • Too Tight Lug Nuts
  • Telephone Ripoffs in Hotels
  • Useless Certificates and Packages
  • Other Web Sites With Travel Tips

    Carry Two Watches

    Two is enough for most folks, three is enough for the most paranoic.. So long as both/all watches are running and show the same time you can be assured that you are not going to miss something because a watch stopped or was inaccurate.

    It is very very unlikely for two watches to stop at or about the same time.

    Your friend's or spouse's watch can be the second watch so long as s/he is not offended by your asking for the time while wearing your own watch.


    Hotel Room Too Dark?

    Take the lampshade off. Many lampshades absorb a lot of the light.

    One other travel tip web site recommends carrying your own 100 to 150 watt lamp (light bulb). There are some disadvantages:

    1.  If your suitcase is really tightly packed or is treated roughly by baggage handlers, the lamp might be crushed, leaving broken glass all around inside your suitcase.

    2.  If you forget to take out your lamp and put back the one the hotel provided, the maid might pilfer (or confiscate) it.

    Also if the smoke detector beeps because of a nearly dead battery I ask the front desk clerk for a new battery. Meanwhile I take a chance on fire safety and throw the old battery away immediately. I cannot stand the periodic beeping which is a form of Chinese water torture.


    Extra Large Carryon Baggage?

    "Fly American Airlines, official airline of the Boston Pops."

    In September and October of 1998 American Airlines prepared a number of radio and TV commercials featuring the Boston Pops orchestra. In one scene the flight attendant was helping one of the musicians strap a cello into a seat.

    There is a catch. You must buy a ticket for the large object since it must occupy a seat, not the overhead bin..

    In one Internet travel forum a reader reported doing just that. One time the flight was overbooked and the airline personnel still insisted that the large carryon (a cello) be removed to the luggage compartment. It was also reported that tickets bought for objects would not earn frequent flyer miles.

    Now American Airlines has a new reputation to uphold. From now on they are going to have a hard time telling you to check luggage that sits in a seat for which you bought a ticket. Otherwise they could be subjected to false advertising claims.

    By the way, I suspect that extra insurance to cover checked baggage can be bought for far less than a ticket to fly the object sitting in a seat.

    Always pack items sturdily and ruggedly as if they will be checked into the baggage hold. Failure to do this has lead to lots of arguments with flight attendants. Musical instruments need to be put in hard cases.


    Before You Leave Home

    These tips are for short vacations. Closing down your summer home for winter requires more complex preparation, descriptions under construction on this web site. Also be careful not to choose the tips that conflict with other plans, for example if someone is going to come and house sit, you of course don't want to turn off the water.

    o   Turn off water heater. Caution: On some gas water heaters you turn the knob all the way to the right to turn it off (unlike a radio or TV). Better yet, turn off the circuit breaker or gas cock.

    o   Turn off wall faucets that feed the washing machine hoses.

    o   If no one is coming to water the lawn, turn off garden hose faucets using the inside shut off valves provided. This prevents vandals from running up your water bill or causing other water related problems.

    o   Unplug appliances except refrigerators and freezers. Also unplug lamps not part of a timer system. But is OK to leave plugged in answering machine, clocks, and devices containing clocks such as VCR's.

    o   If you don't have an answering machine or don't want to leave one running, unplug all telephones.

    o   Turn off garage door opener and lock all garage doors.

    o   Try to give away perishable foods.

    o   You can go to the post office and arrange to have mail held or forwarded. But it is still desirable to have someone check the mailbox for items that persons other than the postman stuffed in.

    o   In winter open cabinet doors under sinks and washbasins, so warmer air in the middle of the room will flow around pipes better.

    o   Send in at least a minimum payment for every bill, especially credit card bills, that have arrived. Some mortgage companies and finance companies treat early payments as principal which does not relieve you of the obligation to send a payment closer to the due date, but they may on request mark your file to take an early payment as a payment. But try to avoid calling anyone to whom you send monthly payments unless they have a toll free number.

    o   Also the usual, stop newspaper and milk deliveries, etc., have someone come and walk around the yard, pick up mail, mow the lawn or plow the driveway, have a few lights operated by timer switches.

    Optional Advanced Items:

    o   In spring, summer, and fall, turn main water valve almost off. (Don't turn it completely off unless water heater is turned off. Test it by running an upstairs (top floor) faucet for two or three minutes, it should take that long to fill a drinking glass.

    o   In winter, drain plumbing and hot water tank. Do this after all family members have used the bathroom for the last time. (Be absolutely sure water heater fuel or power is turned off before starting this task.) Leave a faucet on the lowest level (such as in a basement laundry sink) open so just in case the main shutoff should be leaky the system won't fill up again. If a friend or relative will visit the house to inspect it, let him know the water is off.

    o   Pour a cupful of undiluted car antifreeze in each toilet and bathtub, half a cupful in each sink drain. If your home has master traps further on down the drain line, pour about a quart of extra antifreeze down one washbasin (not a toilet) to make sure some antifreeze reaches these traps.

    o   If your basement does not reach freezing temperature in winter, take all canned and bottled unrefrigerated foods down to the basement. This prevents freezing if the heating system fails. Non-dry goods will be ruined if they freeze and then thaw. (Swollen cans may spring tiny leaks that admit bacteria even if they aren't burst or leaking out.) You can save freeze burst cans for a little while if you get home before they warm up and you keep them in the 'fridge for a few weeks.

    o   Bring along checks and addresses and toll free information numbers of credit card companies, electric company, etc. so you can pay bills closer to the due dates and keep the money earning interest in your bank account a bit longer.


    New Airport Bomb Detectors Spoil Your Vacation Pictures!

    Before reaching the security check in:

    1.  Take all metal objects, coins, jackknife, etc. out of your pockets and put them into your carry on suitcase. Put camera accessories, empty cameras, flash units, light meters in the suitcase also.

    2.  Take the film cassettes or spools out of the boxes, plastic cans, and wrappers and put just the bare cassetes and spools in a plastic bag, preferably transparent. The cans can be put in your suitcase, you may as well throw away the boxes except maybe keep one box of each film speed if there are instructions inside.

    3.  Tape the cameras so they can't be opened accidentally. Carry the loaded camera(s) separately or hang their straps around your neck.

    4.  At the security checkpoint "empty your pockets" by pulling out the plastic bags with the film and putting these in the basket they provide. Don't pull out your wallet.

    A long neck strap can come in handy. The security person can examine the camera while the strap is still around your neck. There is no danger of the camera falling on the floor if it is accidentally dropped.

    After going through security, open the suitcase and take your keys, loose change, etc. and put that back into your pockets. Put the cameras and film back into the suitcase.

    So the airline officials say the older style X-rays won't damage your film? Well they are both right and wrong. A suitcase passing normally through the older machine (not the newer bomb detector) probably won't get enough X-rays to damage the film. But the operator may stop the conveyor belt to take a closer look and even discuss things with the supervisor. All the while the suitcase sits under the X-rays for ten, twenty times the X-ray dosage. This is certainly going to spoil the film.

    Don't take out your wallet and put it in the basket they use to hold loose objects. After showing it to the security officer if s/he asks, put it back into your pocket.


    Want the lowest airfare?

    Yes you should wait until a sale (fare war).

    A long time ago, airlines would refund to you the difference if they offered a lower fare for the same trip after you bought your ticket. You did have to go back to the travel agency or ticket counter and ask.

    Nowadays you are charged a fee for making a change to your super saver reservation and that usually wiped out your savings. Also, they only give gift certificates, not cash refunds. (A few airlines, I don't know which, will give you the benefit of the lower fare without the change penalty if everything else on your trip stays the same.)


    Renting a Car -- In a nutshell

    Renting a car is not easy, even the experts get stung. There are too many cases when you arrive at your destination and the car rental agent is unable or unwilling to give you the car for the price and terms you thought you had arranged. Here are some hints.

    1. Use a nationwide well known company.
        Easier to resolve disputes after you return home.

    2. Reserve in advance, preferably at least a week.
        Otherwise you may find only expensive cars.

    3. Learn the rules and policies before renting.
        Some companies demand you buy insurance.

    3. Confirm the price for the entire rental.
        In case weekdays cost more than weekends.

    4. Allow for late airplane arrival.
        Your car reservation might get cancelled.

    5. Use a credit card with collision coverage, if possible.
        Then you can skip the expensive collision waiver.

    6. Don't buy an entire tankful of gas.
        Cheaper to refill the tank yourself.

    7. Inspect the car before leaving the rental lot.
        Familiarize yourself with controls, verify scratches and dents.

    8. Fill up the gas tank the night before you return the car.
        Less last minute hassle, also top it off just before return.

    9. Allow time to get back to the airport and return the car.
        Some rental lots are far from the airport.


    Rental Cars - Gas

    Most rental companies offer you three choices:

    (1)  Refill the tank just before returning the car (best),

    (2)  Buy an entire tankfull and return the car unfilled,

    (3)  Don't pay for gas first and return the car unfilled anyway.

    Of these choices, (1) is the cheapest. Check the wording, that may be confusing and you might accidentally select (2).

    About (2):  When you pay for a tankfull of gas, there is no refund for gas left behind when you return the car. It is almost impossible to return a car absolutely empty, and it is a big hassle and worry about running out of gas if you try. That is, you enjoy the convenience of not having to fill the tank only when you come back with lots of gas to spare. So the effective price per gallon you used is much higher than the price they quote. Normally they sell you the tankfull up front for the same or a few cents less than the local gas station.

    About (3):  When you don't buy a tankfull and return the car unfilled anyway, they charge you to refill the tank at a price much higher (typically double) than the local gas station. It's convenient but costly to use this choice.

    We actually suggest that you fill up somewhat in advance of returning the car, and top it off just before returning it. Then, if a last minute errand leaves you not enough time to fill up at return time, you are forced into choice (3) but only charged for a few gallons at double price. Also you might find a cheaper gas station some distance from the rental station.

    Keep in mind that on most cars, the gas gauge reads above the "F" mark when the tank is filled. If, when you take out the rental car, the gas gauge moves as you drive, or is not above the "F" after driving fifteen feet, you cannot be sure it is full.


    Rental Cars

    - Name Brand Rentals

    Unfortunately, small local car rental companies are more likely to leave you with problems.

    Such As -----

     --- Car not available; sold out.

    --- Shortchanging you on gas.

    --- Car itself not in good condition. I once found the front license plate missing only after I had driven awhile.

    Nationwide car rental firms are more likely to upgrade you if the car you ordered is not available.

    You can take care of problems involving a nationwide car rental firm after you get back home if they also have rental stations in your state. Whereas dealing with a local firm has to be done in the state it is in.


    Rental Cars - Pick up time should allow for delayed flight

    If you don't pick up your car on time, your reservation might be cancelled. I have had no problem telling the rental company I will pick up the car a few hours after my plane should arrive and then come early. Some rental companies will take down your flight number and then if the plane is delayed, they will hold the car. You should ask. Rental car pickup may make it difficult for you to volunteer to be bumped, if you like to do that.


     Rental Cars - Reserving in advance

    Always reserve in advance, otherwise you may only find very expensive cars. We have observed people going up to the rental counter at the airport and heard the rental agent begin the conversation with "we only have full size cars left".


    Rental Cars - Learn the policies and rules

    Some companies require you to buy their collision insurance if you don't have collision coverage on your own car back at home. This part of their rules can be complicated, for example apply only to non-US citizens or persons under 25.

    Some companies do not allow you to drive the car on certain roads, including for example a popular dirt road up to a volcano scenic point in Hawaii.

    Sometimes you are advised to contact the office of the location where you will be renting. This may be enough hassle for you to select a different company.


    Rental Cars - Allow time to return to airport

    ABC News has noticed that car rental lots are being moved further and further away from airports, forcing you to ride a shuttle bus. If time is short when returning home I go directly to the car return lot. I do not go to the airport terminal first because that makes it take longer to go return the car. However the others in the party may immediately jump in the first shuttle from the rental lot and I'll take the next shuttle after I check the car back in.


    Avoiding Telephone Ripoffs In Hotels

    Highlights:

    Most hotels add a surcharge for calls made from your room telephone and that may include 800/888/877 calls.

    Even if there is no surcharge, you pay more expensive operator assisted rates.

    The easiest way to avoid surcharges is to go down and use the lobby phones.

    Sometimes the hotel surcharge it is a percentage of what the phone company charged you. Sometimes it is a flat fee per call. There is no charge for receiving calls.

    Some hotels give you the first 20 minutes or so for a flat rate (or free) and add a per minute surcharge after that.

    Surcharge Methods

    1. A flat fee for each time you pick up the phone handset until you hang up. (We won't elaborate on details how calling within the hotel is not charged.)

    2. A per minute charge while you are making calls, sometimes including 800/888 toll free calls (Calls within the hotel are free, and the outside call surcharge rate may vary for local versus long distance.)

    3. A percentage surcharge of what the phone company charged the hotel when you bill the call to your room.

    4. Some hotels' systems block calls to selected numbers notably those of popular competing long distance carriers such as 1-800-CALL-ATT.

    5. For the convenience of persons making short voice calls but to combat tying up lines for long periods with personal computers, some hotels offer the first 20 minutes or so at a flat rate or free and add a per minute surcharge for longer calls.

    Strategies

    1. If you go down to the lobby and use the pay phones there, you escape all of the hotel surcharges. (Unless method #4 is in place.)

    2. If you use a telephone credit card or prepaid calling card, you escape surcharge method #3. Method #4 may prevent you from doing this.

    3. If your calling card or long distance carrier lets you press the pound key to let you make another call without hanging up, you can make several calls and pay only one method #1 surcharge if it applies. You also escape method #3 surcharges but not method #2 surcharges.

    4. If your long distance carrier has a "call me and I'll call you right back" option, you can escape almost all of the method #2 and method #3 surcharges and pay just one method #1 surcharge for a batch of calls. However certain hotel phone systems might be technologically unable to route the call coming back to your room.


    Useless Travel Certificates

    Highlights:

    50% off hotel and car rental certificates are practically worthless.

    Mini-vacation certificates are given away or even sold by the thousands and most are never redeemed.

    Personal Experiences:

    The first time I saw a mini-vacation certificate was when I was in college and someone advertised it on a bulletin board.

    Three Days and Two Nights
    A Fabulous and Exciting Vacation
    Choice of Las Vegas or Orlando
    Only thirty dollars!

    I went to see what he had to offer and he showed me this cheap looking card with fine print on it. What caught my eye were the words "meals and transportation not included". They made it sound nice, something like:

    "Since this package does not include meals or transportation, you are free to come and go as you please and enjoy the many and varied restaurants in the area"

    So I was thinking, what was included? Seems like only a hotel room, and probably from a limited selection of second rate hotels. You had to reserve in advance and put down a deposit, too. I didn't buy it.

    Also you don't get the three days they advertise. You can't check in before 3 PM and you must check out by 11 AM, giving you just one and two thirds days and two nights.

    Then a few years later I joined a half price hotel club and they threw in one of those certificates at no extra charge. I never used it.

    I belong to a frequent flyer club (United Mileage Plus) and when I earned an award, they included a certificate for half off a hotel room for two nights and half off a weekend day car rental. I never used these either. Whenever I wanted to stay where a participating hotel was, there were other hotels nearby whose everyday low rate was less than the participating hotel's rate after 50% discount. Once a convention I was attending was held in one of the participating hotels but that time my desired nights were blacked out.

    The 50% discount is off the full weekday rate, called the rack rate. Most of the participating hotels offer substantial discounts on weekends without the certificates.

    The car rental certificate was useless too. If I were to use it, my credit card, which offers collision insurance for rental cars, would not cover that day. So I would have to pay an additional $15.00 for insurance and that was nearly the entire savings the certificate offered.

    Several years earlier the same airline offered a completely free car rental day with their frequent flyer award. I received and used that certificate where the final cost including collision insurance came out to about half the normal cost of renting the car.

    I have been to many conventions over the years and each one advertises a special room rate at the hosting hotel. Once I helped plan a convention and I found out that if a banquet is held and enough attendees stay at the hotel, the ballrooms and meeting rooms are provided at no extra charge. If conventioneers get a special room rate, then does that mean the casual vacationing traveler staying at the hotel helps subsidize all this?


    Carry On Baggage Alert

    Highlights:

    Avoid carrying more than one carry-on sized suitcase worth of material for which you may be held liable or accountable.

    Use additional baggage insurance offered by airlines.

    Choose a seat behind the wings and not at a bulkhead.

    Get to the airport early.

    Have an emergency plan ready before departure in case you have to check baggage.

    Managers may accept liability in writing and in absentia for parcels to allow travelers to carry more on a trip.


    On many flights, passengers are not able to carry on as much baggage as they planned to.

    Choose a seat behind the wings. People sitting at the back of the plane board first and therefore have more space available for carry on baggage.

    Don't choose a bulkhead seat. Then you are at least guaranteed space under the next seat for one carry-on.

    Get to the airport early. If you don't, everybody else will have boarded first and taken up all of the carry on baggage space. You may even lose your seat selection.

    If you want to board before your row is called, get behind someone who is obviously carrying more baggage than allowed. The gate agent will find it mighty difficult to let him board and refuse your boarding.

    Consider extra insurance coverage. Arrange for its use and cost before departure.

    On business trips prior to departure, the manager should specify the precise procedure in case there is no carry on space on the plane and material has to become checked baggage. Arrangements for contingent costs, such as changing to a different flight or staying an extra night, should also be made before departure.

    If you are not comfortable about the baggage arrangements for your trip, don't take all of it. Let your manager choose what you take. Have the folks at the other end prepare a laptop or other PC and you just bring the diskettes. Government classified material cannot become checked baggage. Courier services are a viable alternative to handle baggage.

    Contrary to popular belief, custody of a parcel and responsibility for it are separable. Nothing forbids a manager, even if not traveling, from accepting the responsibility, accountability, and liability in absentia for the safe and secure transport of company materials (except government classified materials). Travelers should get this in writing.


    Too Tight Lug Nuts

    After you have wheel or brake work done, try to undo all of the wheel lug nuts before leaving the service center. If any are too tight, have the mechanics help you right away. You should be able to undo all of the lug nuts without kicking or jumping  hard on the wrench although it is OK to stand on the wrench.

    I used to find once in awhile, months later the wheel lug nuts are so tight I cannot get them off to change a flat tire. This leads to trip delay and inconvenience at best, or damage to the wheel or injury to a person struggling with the lug wrench. The lug nut can get deformed to the point that a welding torch is needed to get the wheel off.

    Auto clubs like AAA get a lot of unnecessary service calls because service stations, even those they give their stamp of approval to, put the lug nuts on too tight.

    When you change a tire yourself, use only your arms, not your feet, to tighten the lug nuts. In fact, if you are a strong person, don't hold the lug wrench at the extreme end when tightening. This leaves more leverage the next time you must take the wheel off.

    In one of the TV episodes of The Incredible Hulk, David (played by the late Bill Bixby) was injured trying to take off a flat tire and he changed into the hulk and pushed the car down a ravine.


    A few other web sites with travel tips  (Subject to availability and non-obsolescence)

    ABC News Travel
    (http://www.abcnews.com/sections/Travel)

    USA Today
    (http://www.usatoday.com)

    Kaitlin Sherwood
    (http://www.webfoot.com/travel/tips)

    The DIS (Unofficial Disney World Discussion)
    (http://www.disneyinfo.com)

    Diana Fairechild
    Healthy Flying   (http://www.flyana.com)

    Delta Airlines
    (http://www.delta.com)

    United Airlines
    (http://www.united.com)