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Travel Tips

New “Carry-On” Rules for Some Airlines

l. American Airlines, United and Delta have changed the size regulations for carry-on luggage.

2. Bags must be a maximum of 14 inches wide, 22 inches long and nine inches deep.

3. Virgin America, Southwest, Frontier and Jet Blue have a more generous 24 by 16 by 10 inch “carry-on” limit.

4.  However, not all airlines have made this change.

VIP Treatment on a Cruise Ship–Your travel agent can do this by writing the shipping line. The more expensive your cabin, the better the service will be.

l. As soon as you board, tell the maitre d’ what you want, along with a tip.

2. Have an early talk with your dining-room captain and waiter about chef’s specialties and order them far in advance for dinners later on in the cruise.

3. Tip the dining room captain and let him know there is more available if service is excellent.

4. Also, give the dining room waiter, in advance, half the amount you would normally tip. Ask him what snacks are available and if there is a best time or order these for your cabin.

5. Give the room steward half the tip in advance and let him know there is more for good service.

6. Book the second sitting for meals.

How NOT to stand in long lines in the airport—Global Entry Program,

This is a US Customs and Border Protection Program for expedited clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travelers. (No taking off shoes, belts or light jackets or separating out laptops, etc.)

Participating entry points for returning to the US are increasing and there seem to be enough to make the program fee of $100 (paid by credit card) worthwhile.  The fee is nonrefundable if you are not approved. You must submit an application online at www.globalentry.gov where you will find a description of the program. If you are approved for the program, the fee is good for five years.   To apply, you will need to have a passport, birth certificate number and a list of countries traveled to in the last five years, in addition to providing personal information such as name, address, etc.

When you receive an e mail approving your application, you need to book an appointment at an approved Enrollment Center for an in-person appointment.  The locations are listed on the website.  The email explains what you need to take with you and that you will be interviewed, photographed and fingerprinted.  The appointment can take 20 minutes.  Your passport will have a special sticker on the back and you go up to the Global Entry kiosk in passport control and use a machine that looks like an ATM to get processed.   You fingerprints are checked and you are screened on a camera. You may be issued a Global Entry card to use when traveling across the borders into Canada and Mexico. Note:  Few security personnel are trained in the program so you may need to explain to them your special status to join the crew and diplomat line.

You still have to present a Customs declaration form to a Customs agent. You receive this document from the machine that processes your passport swipe.

A passport is required for any international travel, including travelling across a border by car, bus or on foot.

Tipping on tours:  I have read numerous articles on client opinions concerning tipping during tours. I want to share my philosophy about it.  I am very aware of the importance of giving tips in Latin American countries because the workers depend on them.  In an effort to make it convenient for my clients, I include the normal daily tips (maids, luggage, food, local guides) in the price of the package.  I encourage the traveler to tip the main tour guide, and sometimes the chauffer.  In my opinion, this is the right compromise between automatically including all tips in the tour cost and leaving clients to do all the tipping

Charge Cards Are Still Best.

  • Be aware that some banks (such as Bank of America, Chase and Citibank) that issue charge cards are tacking their own fee — generally 2% — above the 1-2% charged by the card for charges outside the U.S. This is also spreading to debit cards. The extra fees are not listed on your monthly statement. Instead, they are included in the cost of the goods and services you purchase overseas. Check with your credit card company before leaving on your trip. Even with these fees, you will still get the best rate overseas by using a charge or debit card, according to www.bankrate.com. That is because you are getting the corporate exchange rate. The exchange rate at a local bank is 5-8%. Consider using cards issued by Capital One and MBNA, which charge no extra fees for overseas transactions; thus, you only pay the Visa, MasterCard, American Express rate.  Invaluable currency exchange information is found on www.oanda.com
  • Inform your credit card companies of your travel plans or they can put a block on your overseas purchases if they deem them suspicious.

Traveling with an ATM or Debit Card:  Know Your Rights Before You Go

  • Travelers find that withdrawing money in a local currency with an ATM or debit card results in better exchange rates.   Learn your PIN in numerals as many foreign machines do not contain letters on the keypads.  Use a 4-digit PIN number as some overseas banks do not accept longer codes. A debit card can be used as a credit or debit card and carries the Visa logo on it.  That is the main difference from an ATM card.
  • Visa and Master Card voluntarily self-impose a debit card liability limit of $50.  Unlike credit cards, this liability limit is not legislated under federal law.  Liability is only $50 if a loss is reported within 2 days; the amount rises to $500 after that timeframe.  You must inform the debit or ATM card issuer of a theft or loss within 60 days, or you may be held responsible for the entire amount. Ask your card company about their payment protection before you travel.
  • Warning:  there are over l million ATM machines worldwide.  Using debit or ATM cards, especially internationally, represents a risk.  If you experience fraudulent money withdrawals, it is your own money you have lost.  Merchants do not necessarily require a PIN number when accepting debit cards.  A thief could easily sign your name to charge slips for a purchase.
  • AAA advises its members to carry a mixture of cash, credit cards and traveler’s checks.  (Sue’s comment:  traveler’s checks should be the last choice because you pay a fee up front for them and a fee to cash them in.)

Real-time Traveler Alerts Now Available. For a $25 fee, your traveling is now easier through a service by iJET Travel Intelligence. The company’s Worldcue Traveler service monitors your destinations from the moment you begin planning your trip, alerting you to events or situations that might disrupt your travels and informing you of requirements, weather, etc. www.ijet.com.

Using Frequent-Flyer Mileage Award Programs: 

  • Do not use frequent-flyer miles for a ticket to a destination when a cheap or discounted ticket or senior citizen rate is available.
  • Unless you fly many times a year, pick one plan / card and concentrate your miles with it.
  • Choose an airline that is a hub for the convenient airport nearest your home.
  • Discern whether hotel points are worth more than the miles.
  • Consider keeping just two cards–your mileage-generating card and one other no-fee card.
  • Programs like American Express Rewards are very versatile and can be used on various airlines, rather than having your points dispersed among several airlines.

When do you need to buy travel insurance?

  • Your trip is particularly expensive
  • You’re taking a multi-leg journey
  • You’re a senior citizen
  • You have a pre-existing medical condition
  • You cannot risk having something go wrong with your trip.

Travel Security:

  • When leaving your hotel room, leave the “do not disturb” sign on your door and turn the TV on to a channel in the local language.
  • Do not volunteer information about your trip to any taxi or limo driver. Put your own luggage in the trunk of the vehicle or supervise it being put in.
  • The safest rooms are on the second (the ground floor is the least safe) to the sixth floor (fire equipment reaches to here).
  • Watch for distractions when sightseeing–scam artists work in pairs or groups.
  • Do not pack your passport in your luggage; however, pack a photo-copy of your passport apart from your original.
  • Your American driver’s license is valid in most of Europe.  Check with your local Dept. of Motor Vehicles for any countries requiring an international license or permit.
  • Carry low-denomination traveler’s checks.  That way you don’t carry too much cash.
  • Leave a copy of important documents at home with a trusted friend or family member.
  •  E-mail yourself important information such as passport, credit cards, phone numbers, eyeglass and medication prescriptions, list of inoculations, e-mail addresses of kin, etc.
  • Make sure you can check e-mail outside your home or office.  Both Gmail.com and Yahoo.com can set up free e-mail accounts to forward your email while traveling.

On long flights: If possible, choose a flight that arrives at night so you can go straight to bed and then get up on local time. Avoid alcohol, caffeine, and most of the food, choosing to sleep more than eat. If you have to arrive in the daytime, immediately start living by the new schedule. Be outdoors as much as possible the first couple of days..

“Direct” and “Non-stop”  flights:  ”Direct” flights may stop several times, but you do not change planes.  “Non-stop” flights are just that—no stops.

Dehydration: The main danger on long plane flights is dehydration. Drink plenty of fluids other than caffeine or alcohol. Too little fluid may contribute to blood clots in the legs. The airplane air (though some of the cleanest you will ever breathe) contributes also to respiratory problems. Lots of fluids will help. Also, a decongestant or cough medicine is handy if the symptoms become intolerable.

For earaches on a plane: New on the market are pressure-equalizing ear plugs. (They can be ordered on magellans.com website.) Attempt to avoid boarding a plane with an ear infection.

Water Purification: Though all of our hotels in Latin America pride themselves in good potable water, it is always possible to have difficulty, even in the United States. Ionic filtration water bottles, such as those offered by Nikken, Inc., are useful whenever you’re traveling. We use the water bottles ourselves when we are away from home. For more information about these and other great products, please contact my husband, Chuck Stilwell, at chuck4etl@cox.net

There is a test to check for immunity to hepatitis. Ask your doctor about it.

To avoid being bumped on flights: avoid early morning (7:00-10:00 a.m.) or rush hour (4:00-7:00 p.m.) flights on Mondays and Fridays. Sunday afternoons and evenings are also bad choices. (Ed Perkins,consumer advocate for the American Society of Travel Agents.

An alternative to taking out trip insurance each time you travel is a membership in the Travel Emergency Network. Other options are: International SOS Assistance, Medjet Assistance, and Specialty Risk. We recommend you shop around and ask for a specimen policy before buying.

To stay healthy:

  • Pack your walking shoes and walk (in the airport, shopping malls, and city streets if nowhere else is available).

  • Take along healthy snacks such as protein bars, granola bars, dried fruit, whole-wheat bagels and raw nuts as alternatives to high fat foods or skipping a meal.

  • Practice a 10-minute stretch on the train, plane or ship. It will prevent traveling “kinks,” as well as relax both body and mind.

  • Avoid colds while traveling by taking along a travel-sized package of Clorox wipes.  Disinfect the tray table and armrests on the airplane, and the telephone and TV remote in your hotel room.

Packing Tips:  

  • Most common mistake—packing too much. Carry it around the block for a trial run.
  • Plastic Ziploc bags make good storage bags as you can see the ingredients inside.
  • Only take what you are willing to lose on a trip.
  • Keep your passport information handy by writing it on the bookmark of whatever you plan to read on the long fights so you do not have to dig out your passport.  You can then fill out the card more quickly and loan your pen to those who never seem to carry one!

Lowest Airfares:  If you really want to get the lowest airfares, make your reservations at around 1:00 a.m., when discounted fares are most available.  The airlines reload their computers starting at midnight with the low-cost seats they sold but for which they have received no money.  A temporary bulge in the number of rock bottom–priced seat results.  (Arthur Frommer’s Budget Travel)

Learn your rights as an airline passenger.  The rules about overbooking, “bumping,” lost luggage, canceled flights and other problems confronted by air travelers are explained in the 58-page government publication, Fly Rights:  A Consumer Guide to Air Travel.  Download it for free on-line at http://airconsumer.ost.dot.gov/publications/flyrights.htm   or order a printed version by sending a check for $4 to the Citizen Information Center; Pueblo, CO 81009.

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Longitude-Recommended Reading for Travelers:  We’ve got the classic, new and hard-to-find books and maps to help you get the most out of your adventures. Let our experienced staff and travel partners recommend what to read for destinations worldwide.