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sick flu bedWhether it’s courtesy of jet lag’s effect on my body or the sniffling/sneezing/coughing child in the seat behind me, it seems I return home with some sort of cold or sinus issue every time I travel, leaving me feeling like I’ve been hit by a bus.

Enter Sickweather, a website and app that use social media posts to generate alerts that tell you whether illness is running rampant in your area. Simply set alerts for wherever you’re traveling — or for your home town — and be informed when the over-sharers on Facebook start chattering about their (or their children’s) latest maladies. Sickweather CEO Graham Dodge compares the technology used to gather data and tie it to a geographic location to the Doppler radar used to predict weather.

Pros: It’s always nice to know what you’re up against, abroad or in your own backyard. Imagine catching the flu while on vacation because you were unaware it was going around the city you were visiting, or contracting Norovirus during a trip to see Great Aunt Edna at the retirement home because you had no idea there was a local outbreak. It can often be easier to prevent illness than to fight it off after you’ve already gotten sick. The alerts offer solid reminders about hand washing and other precautions. Plus, the service and the app (available for iPhone now and Android later this summer) are both free.

18 Surefire Ways to Get Sick While Traveling

Cons: Just because an acquaintance of yours tweets that her daughter has strep throat, it doesn’t mean she’s actually had the illness medically diagnosed. But Dodge tells us that with enough people reporting, the occasional misdiagnosis doesn’t matter: “The research of our advisors from Johns Hopkins University has concluded that this anecdotal data has a high correlation to clinical data provided by the CDC.” Right now, the service only gathers social media results that are in English, but Dodge says that the company will branch out as it grows. It’s worth noting that the app’s alerts will be useless if you’re planning to travel abroad with your phone in airplane mode, and although international alerts are available via the app, international maps are still in the works.

Would you try this app? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

– written by Ashley Kosciolek

American Airlines seat chartWhen checking in for an American Airlines flight last week, I noticed that I hadn’t been given a seat assignment, and all that remained were for-fee options, the least expensive of which would have set me back $27. I was confirmed on the flight and knew that if I held off until the day of departure, I’d likely be given the more expensive seat for no charge.

That was exactly what happened, but what didn’t escape my notice during the online check-in process was the description of what, exactly, one would receive for his or her extra $27:

“Easy access to overhead bins.” Golly, that’s just swell, but what does it mean? Do I get to stow my carry-on before the other passengers, thereby eliminating the need for me to gate-check my bag? Do I have access to a special stepstool to help me reach the overhead bin? Or, better yet, am I entitled to the services of a baggage butler who will load my stuff into the bin for me? I mean, seriously, is this really giving me any sort of advantage?

“A seat with standard legroom.” Uh … did you say standard? Heck, who wouldn’t be impressed by something as compelling as “standard.” So, what you’re telling me is that I’m getting the same amount of legroom as everyone else who didn’t pay $27? Forgive me if my expectation of more for, well, more is presumptuous, but something doesn’t quite add up here.

How to Score the Best Airplane Seat

“A streamlined experience at the airport.” I’m sorry, but unless this means I get to arrive a half hour before takeoff and bypass security, it’s not a streamlined experience.


“Moveable armrest.” Ok, this just seals the deal. Who knew armrests could move? Mind. Blown.

I thought perhaps I was misunderstanding something about how great these upcharge seats really are. An attempt to contact the airline for an explanation of the aforementioned “perks” was met with a lovely 20-minute wait on hold, after which I hung up.

Do you pay extra for “special” seats when you fly? Have you found them to actually be “special”? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

– written by Ashley Kosciolek

inkwell and penDid you know that Monday was Limerick Day? According to DaysoftheYear.com, it’s held each year on May 12 to honor the birthday of Edward Lear, who popularized the short poems and named them after the Irish city of Limerick.

To celebrate the day, you’ll find some creations of our very own below — travel-themed, of course.

Today we’re writing a blog
About Shanghai and Tokyo and Prague.
How ’bout Barcelona?
You want to go, don’t ya,
To London, all shrouded in fog?

Australia‘s a fun place to play,
But the trip takes almost all day.
So start in the morning,
But here’s a fair warning:
Your connecting flight’s on delay.

Why not head to the equator,
Where you’ll lie on the beach till much later?
Be sure to use sunscreen.
The heat can be quite mean,
So ask for a drink from the waiter.

Bucket list places abound,
But they’re not that easily found.
Antarctica’s pricey,
And Egypt is dicey.
Maybe save them for next time around.

Now it’s time to start packing.
Make sure that nothing is lacking.
Camera and clothes
And a suitcase that rolls:
Check out our list, and get cracking.

We’d love to hear your travel limericks! Write your own, and post it in the comments below.

– written by Ashley Kosciolek

living roomWhenever I’ve got a long-haul flight coming up, I console myself by vowing to sleep for several hours … or at least try to. I don’t know who I’m kidding, though; I have a difficult time sleeping upright while crammed next to complete strangers. What if I snore or drool? What if my head ends up on someone’s shoulder? Or — gasp — what if I miss beverage service?

If you’ve got a long flight and $21,000 extra dollars to spend (each way, according to Mashable), you can test out Etihad Airways’ multi-room suite, dubbed “The Residence.”

Sleeping on Planes

Found only on the upper level of A380 planes, The Residence offers accommodations that include a private living room, bedroom and bathroom. Oh, and did I mention there’s also a butler? To top it off, passengers also have access to more than 750 hours of TV programming (to use with their complimentary noise-canceling headphones) and full mobile and Wi-Fi services while in the air.

A second grade of private cabins on the A380’s upper level is the “First Apartments” class, which features reclining seats, beds and stocked minibars.

Although Etihad isn’t the first airline to offer beds, it’s the first to offer entire private suites.

With all of these uncommon in-flight amenities, you’ll never have to worry about snoring or missing the dinner trolley again.

How Flying Coach Could Save Your Life

If you had an extra $21,000, would you spend it on a one-way flight? Share your thoughts below.

–written by Ashley Kosciolek

airlines behaving badlyThis post is part of our “Airlines Behaving Badly” series, which chronicles the oft-wicked ways of the air travel industry.

Regional carrier Frontier Airlines plans to lower its fares by adding a slew of new charges for things that used to come standard for economy-class passengers — like carry-on bags.

In a statement, the airline refers to the change as “unbundling” and says it’s “enabling customers to choose and pay for only the products they want to truly customize their flight.”

Gee, thanks for the favor.

Not only has the line compressed its former fare structure into just two types — Economy and Classic Plus — it has also introduced a discount club called Discount Den, which will allow passengers to access special savings (for a fee, of course — which has yet to be revealed).

“You can choose an all-in fare by purchasing Classic Plus, or only pay for what items matter to you with our Economy tickets,” the airline’s Facebook page optimistically chirps. “When you purchase our Economy fare, you start with our lowest fares and then add on the items that you want such as carry-on bags, advanced seat assignments, and onboard beverages.”

Many customers aren’t buying that argument, though: “Haha! I just read your email – $25 for a carry-on?” says Andrea Lee on Facebook. “$3 starting price for the ability to choose a seat to sit in? I had to check out your Facebook page to see if this was a joke….”

“Are the ‘new low fares’ not loaded yet?” asks Christine Malinconico Rhodes. “I am not seeing any competitive fares for the places I go!”

“#neveragain,” adds Jayson Vonfreizer.

How to Hack Your Way to a Cheaper Airfare

In its FAQs about the changes, which went into effect on April 28, Frontier boasts that the unbundling has decreased Economy base fares by more than 10 percent. Although Frontier answered some of our other questions, its reps still won’t say what the percentage increase in Economy fares will be if passengers choose to add all of the amenities that are now a la carte.

If you want to bring a carry-on bag, you’ll be shelling out anywhere from $20 to $50 for the privilege, depending on when you make the payment. (It’s cheapest if you pay when you book, most expensive if you pay at the gate.) Oh, and in case you were wondering, you’ll still have to pony up for checked bags too, but you’ll pay less for a checked bag than a carry-on. Frontier spokesperson Kate O’Malley says fewer carry-ons equal a more streamlined boarding process.

Don’t worry, though. You won’t have to pay anything extra for toting a purse, backpack or laptop bag. What a deal!

Those of us who prefer to be treated like people, rather than cattle, can always purchase the more expensive Classic Plus fares, which are fully refundable and include one checked bag, one carry-on bag, pre-assigned seating and extra legroom. In the few sample fares we scoped out between a handful of randomly chosen destinations, we saw differences of nearly $200 roundtrip between some Economy and Classic Plus fares. Oof.

7 Mistakes to Avoid When Booking a Flight

Allegiant and Spirit Airlines pulled something similar not too long ago, and we’ve still got a bitter taste in our mouths. The only question remains: Which airline will be next?

– written by Ashley Kosciolek

zodiac aerospace face to face seatsWoe to the flier who’s stuck anywhere near a screaming infant, a guy who snores or a woman who’s unaware of a little something called deodorant. It’s bad enough when you’re wedged next to an undesirable flight companion, but imagine sitting face to face with one (or all) of them.

As reported by Runway Girl Network, a new airplane concept developed by seat manufacturer Zodiac Aerospace would have the window and aisle passengers facing forward and the middle passenger facing backward. Although studies have shown that backward-facing seats are actually safer in the event of an emergency, this would add a whole new level to our loathing of the middle seat and likely create an additional way for airlines to charge for the privilege of sitting near the window or aisle.

Facing your fellow travelers would make it that much harder to politely ignore them if all you want to do is catch a catnap or read that book you’ve been dying to start. Quick! Avert your eyes, lest the overly chatty woman across from you decide to strike up a conversation about her horrible layover, dislike of cats or recent bunion surgery. And imagine trying to eat your airline-provided peanuts in peace without feeling like you’re sitting at a family dinner. Talk about awkward.

10 Annoying Habits of Our Fellow Travelers

There are also some concerns among fliers about whether the seats’ design would impede the exit of passengers during an evacuation. Some argue it could be a hazard, but others think the design’s fold-up construction (much like a theater seat) might actually help to speed things up by offering extra room while entering and exiting each row.

For now, this arrangement is still in its conceptual stage, and it’s only being proposed for short-haul flights. And there’s a silver lining; since the seats would alternate with regard to the direction they’re facing, passengers would no longer have to worry about fighting for room on armrests or tray tables — a minor victory when personal space is at a premium.

Face-to-face flying: Love it or hate it? Share your opinion in the comments below.

– written by Ashley Kosciolek

airport baggage claimYou’re a lucky traveler if you’ve never experienced an air travel glitch. Whether you’ve been bumped from an overbooked flight, had a bag lost or experienced a delay, airline hiccups are a fact of life. A lesser-known fact, however, is that the law might entitle you to compensation if your flight doesn’t go as planned — and we don’t mean just in the form of a better seat or a credit for a future booking. But the airlines’ convoluted policies make it intimidating for most travelers to pursue claims.

Cue AirHelp. Popular in Europe, the company officially brought its services to the U.S. market earlier this month, helping displaced air travelers to seek retribution. As we note in our story on bumping and overbooking, you could be eligible for a refund of up to $1,300 if you’re bumped from an overbooked flight. But who has time to research, file and follow up on claims?

AirHelp does. While we haven’t gone through the entire claim reporting process, it seems easy enough. The initial five-step system asks you to 1) choose whether you were delayed, canceled or bumped; 2) list your departure and arrival cities; 3) tell AirHelp whether your flight was direct or had connections; 4) enter the flight number and the date of the flight; and 5) provide information like your name, email address, reservation number, total time of delay and reason given by the airline.

Airport Delays: 6 Ways to Cope

After you submit your claim, AirHelp will determine whether you’re entitled to some sort of refund and, if so, follow up with the airline on your behalf (for which you give your permission by signing a power of attorney document).

The upside? If you’re not paid, you owe nothing for AirHelp’s services. If they score you some cash, they keep 25 percent. It seems like a lot at first, but without AirHelp’s assistance, it’s unlikely you’d be seeing anything at all.

The downside? If the service catches on, there’s no telling whether already struggling airlines might reflect their losses in the form of higher ticket prices. (AirHelp claims that 98 percent of eligible passengers don’t currently apply for compensation.)

What are your thoughts? Would you try AirHelp?

– written by Ashley Kosciolek

airport plane woman gate suitcase United Airlines generated a collective groan from travelers over the weekend by saying it will be strictly enforcing its carry-on baggage requirements, which limit each passenger to one personal item (like a purse, laptop or briefcase) and one carry-on bag with a maximum size of 9 x 14 x 22 inches.

The issue, however, isn’t with the size of the carry-on luggage allowed; other major carriers, including Delta and American Airlines/US Airways, have the same dimension restrictions. Instead, what’s upsetting is that United will now be charging checked-bag fees for any carry-ons that must be gate-checked due to noncompliance — even if passengers have used their carry-ons for years with no trouble fitting them in the overhead bins.

Of course it’s annoying when you see fellow flyers waddling onboard under the weight of a purse, a backpack, a computer bag and a carry-on that you can just tell exceeds regulation. But instead of making the boarding more efficient, charging for gate-checked bags is certain to slow down the process.

The Carry-On Challenge: How to Pack Light Every Time

United also charges for the first checked bag for each passenger, so it’s understandable that many would attempt to bring slightly larger carry-ons to avoid baggage fees. (Meanwhile, two popular U.S.-based airlines — JetBlue and Southwest Airlines — allow each passenger to check at least one checked bag at no charge. To boot, the carry-on dimensions for both lines exceed those of United and the other major carriers at 10 x 16 x 24 inches.)

Ultimately, United’s decision to charge for the gate-checking of carry-ons reminds us quite a bit of the policy of ultra-discounter Spirit Airlines: one personal item can be brought for free, but passengers are charged as much as $100 per bag — each way! — for the privilege of boarding with a carry-on that won’t fit under the seat in front of them.

At this point, it wouldn’t surprise us one bit if United eventually starts charging for things like bathroom privileges (don’t laugh — this was proposed a few years ago by European discounter Ryanair) and oxygen.

4 Signs You Have a Packing Problem

– written by Ashley Kosciolek

classroom polish studentsThroughout my travels, I’ve learned that the best way for globetrotters to immerse themselves in a destination and its culture is to stay for as long as possible and mingle with locals daily. That can be difficult for average folks like me who hold jobs and can’t exactly afford to scamper off for weeks at a time. But there are ways to do it inexpensively — like teaching, for example.

English teachers are in high demand in countries like Chile, China, Thailand, Spain, Poland, Italy and France, and programs exist to send willing native speakers abroad for free (or at least to cover their costs while they’re in town) in an effort to bolster student learning.

Take, for example, the Teaching English in Poland program, run by the Kosciuszko Foundation. I applied and spent one month of my first post-college summer at an English immersion camp, instructing teens in the tiny town of Limanowa. The program paid for everything but my flights: housing, food, and trips to places like Krakow, Warsaw and Zakopane on weekends. It even provided a small stipend, which was a welcome surprise at the end of my time there.

Living Abroad: 4 Ways to Make It Happen

I made tons of amazing friends with my fellow American teachers, as well as the Polish staff. I’m still in touch with several of them and with many of the students I taught. I quickly adapted to a life with no air-conditioning, no baseball (although we did try to teach the students how to play), crosses on the walls of every classroom, and surpluses of churches and vodka. I took a semester of Polish in college before embarking on the adventure, but my ability to actually speak it improved markedly with each day.

Other “programs” aren’t really programs at all, however. In fact, English-speaking travelers are often approached to teach while they’re already abroad — no experience needed. In China, for instance, teachers providing private English lessons aren’t required to have an education background or even a work visa.

If diving into a new place and imparting knowledge while doing it sound appealing, be sure you’re signing up for something reputable. Sites such as InterExchange.org, TransitionsAbroad.com and TeachAway.com are good places to start your research. If you’re being compensated for your time (or if the program is paying for your expenses), keep in mind that your goal should be to serve as an educator first and a tourist second. Even if you never venture beyond the town in which you’re staying, you’ll be surprised by how much you gain just from spending time with your students; you’ll learn as much from them as they will from you.

Living Abroad: 12 Tips from Travelers Who’ve Been There

– written by Ashley Kosciolek

magellan's card size led travel lightThere’s not much that can take the place of a good book when I’m trying to kill time on a long-haul flight, but airplane reading lamps never quite give me enough light. Enter Magellan’s Card Size LED Travel Light. It claims to charge itself in one hour via a USB cable and provide up to two hours of light.

So, did it work? The short answer is yes, but there are caveats. Read on for the pros and cons.

What We Didn’t Like
Although this little baby only takes one hour to charge, it’s done by USB cable, which means it’s not super-convenient if you’re traveling without a laptop or an adapter for a regular wall outlet. We also found that, once charged, the light started to die out after only 90 minutes — 30 minutes shy of the two-hour usage time the packaging promises.

What We Liked
The travel light charges rapidly (assuming you have a proper place to charge it), and it’s definitely compact — the width and height of a standard credit card, to be exact. It’s a space-saving plus for someone like me who opposes e-readers on principle and travels with at least two bulky novels at all times. It easily turns on and off with the push of a button, and it’s got three different light strengths, so you can conserve battery power if you find that the highest settings are too bright. The USB cord also wraps right around the base for easy storage, and the bendable stem allows you to position the light wherever you need it.

Expert Packing Tips for 4 Common Trips

All things considered, this product is a win, especially at the affordable price of $20. Want one of your very own? Leave a comment below for a chance to win the travel light. Enter by 11:59 p.m. ET on February 17, 2014. We’ll pick one winner at random. This giveaway is open only to residents of the Lower 48 United States and the District of Columbia. To read the full contest rules, click here.

Editor’s Note: This contest has ended. The winner is Diane Lieberman. Congratulations! Please check back in the future for other chances to win great travel products.

– written by Ashley Kosciolek