Before my recent trip to the Dominican Republic, I was warned by a number of colleagues, relatives and friends (including one who’s Dominican) that I should be careful. Not just “don’t drink the water” careful, but “wear no jewelry, don’t make eye contact and don’t even think about going outside at night” careful. The good news: I survived my trip safe and sound. But with so many dire warnings, I didn’t stop to consider some of the more practical (and less dangerous) issues I might encounter.
Rental Car Runaround Scenario: Even though I’d reserved a rental car ahead of time for pickup at the airport, it still took an hour for the paperwork to go through — and I was the only customer.
Lesson: Because of differences in languages and processing methods, you should always leave extra time for things like this, especially in places with a slower pace of life.
Scenario: After the first time I stopped to refuel, the car wouldn’t start. I called the rental agency, who told me that the vehicle’s keyless entry safety feature was prohibiting the engine from turning over. I clicked a few buttons, and the car started right up.
Lesson: Ask if there’s anything specific you should know about the car before you leave the rental agency. Ask also for a phone number where you can reach someone if you have problems (and keep a phrasebook handy in case the person on the other end doesn’t speak your language).
Scenario: On the day I flew home, I tried to return the rental car an hour earlier than scheduled — but nobody was at the desk. I waited 20 minutes before calling the customer service number again. I was told that because I was an hour early, nobody would be there to take the key. I was instructed to hide it behind the computer at the rental counter.
Lesson: In other countries, not all businesses are open during what we would consider “normal” operating hours. This is especially true in locations that don’t see many tourists. Treat rental car reservations like doctor’s appointments: show up only at the times you specify for rental and return.
GPS Guffaw Scenario: While driving from the airport to my hotel, the GPS in my rental car kept screaming at me to “turn right” when no right turns were present, leaving me lost in Santo Domingo for two hours. I called my hotel’s front desk, and they were able to get me on the right path.
Lesson: Don’t rely entirely on technology when traveling. If possible, find and print directions to take with you in case your cell phone or GPS gets lost, breaks or dies along the way. And carry the phone number of someone at your destination in case you find yourself in a pinch.
3 C’s: Credit Cards, Currency and Cell Phones Scenario: My credit card was denied when I tried to purchase snacks. I paid with cash and promptly called the company to discuss the problem. (I always call to alert my bank and my credit card company before traveling to avoid having my cards blocked when I need them most.) I was told that some card companies won’t allow transactions in certain locations if they’re considered “high-risk.”
Lesson: Sure, you know to tell your card company that you’ll be globetrotting, but it’s also a good idea to bone up on its policies regarding the specific places you’re visiting. Keep the company’s phone number handy and carry cash as a backup.
Scenario: On my last day, I made a wrong turn on the way to the airport. (Thanks again, GPS.) I found myself at a pesos-only tollbooth (having purposefully gotten rid of my remaining pesos immediately prior) and conjured up my high-school Spanish to ask if they’d accept U.S. dollars. When two heavily armed police came out of the booth, I took that as a firm “no.” But one officer did offer me 500 pesos — enough for the toll — in exchange for a $20 bill. He made a $10 profit on the deal, but you don’t refuse a man with a machine gun when he stands in the way of your flight back to civilization.
Lesson: Always carry enough local currency to get you through end of your trip. Airports usually offer exchange services, so don’t worry about having too much leftover cash.
Scenario: Although I added international texting and data coverage to my cell phone plan before embarking on this adventure, I turned down the international calling plan since I didn’t think I’d use it. But with all my hapless calls to the hotel, car rental agency and credit card company, I used quite a few minutes. At $2.95 a pop, I’m now facing a pretty nasty bill.
Lesson: Always, always say yes to a calling plan. If you run into trouble, phone calls are almost always your best means of finding help. Keep in mind, too, that if you’re traveling abroad, your phone will be roaming the second it connects to a network, even if you don’t make any calls. Because service can be spotty in some locations, ask your carrier about availability and consider purchasing a prepaid phone when you arrive at your destination.
I love to globetrot, but I’m not the biggest fan of air travel — particularly because I get bored on flights longer than an hour (which, unfortunately, is most of them). Cue SkyMall, the infamous and ubiquitous mail-order catalog found in most seatback pockets. Targeting impulse buyers who have nothing better to do while soaring, it provides a means of procuring “Star Wars” plush toys, talking dog collars, gold-dipped roses and even Harry Potter’s wand. If those examples aren’t ridiculous enough, check out our list of the nine most head-scratching, money-wasting, dust-collecting products from the company’s early spring 2013 catalog.
Editor’s Note: Click on the thumbnail images for a larger view of each product.
9. SkyRest Travel Pillow: If you’ve ever fallen asleep on a flight and woken up with a stiff neck, this lap-based, wedge-shaped travel pillow appears to offer an affordable ($30) solution. Its cumbersome size may initially be a turn-off, but don’t worry — it’s inflatable, ensuring that you’ll thoroughly disturb the person in the seat next to you with all of the huffing and puffing required to blow it up.
8. Nano-UV Wand: Pack this $160 bad boy when you travel, and you can instantly kill dust mites and their eggs on pillows, bedding and carpets, according to the ad. Awesome — now you can sleep on dead bugs instead of bedbugs. If your sheets aren’t what’s worrying you, you can also pick up less expensive models for killing foodbourne bacteria ($60) or for sanitizing dinner plates and tap water while traveling ($100).
7. Bacon Throw and Pillow: Now bacon lovers of the world can do more than just eat it; they can sleep on it, too. This polyester pair is expensive at about $65 for both items, and apart from the hefty price, my question is simply: Why bacon? Why not eggs? Why not pancakes? I’d imagine the hash browns feel pretty left out too.
6. DermaTend: Talk about getting personal. With this handy-dandy tube of miracle cream, you can “safely remove your unwanted moles and skin tags at home.” Ranging in price from $40 to $100 (depending, of course, on how many moles you have), this product can be described in one word: gross.
5. Porch Potty: Has your pooch ever wanted his very own patch of synthetic grass on which to do his business? This wicker-enclosed 52″ x 6″ faux lawn — including a drain hose for outdoors, a catch basin for indoors and a scented fire hydrant — is certainly one step up from a Wee-Wee Pad, but at $260, it should be. For an extra $20, they’ll even throw in a sprinkler system to clean the Porch Potty. (After all, if you’re too lazy to take your dog outside in the first place, it’s likely you’ll also be too lazy to clean this darn thing.)
4. Tabletop Photo Studio: If you find yourself wanting to take professional photos on the go, be sure to pick up this portable 40-inch foldable photo studio ($200), which will give you the perfect shot … after you set up one of four backdrops, a tripod, two lights and whatever it is you’re hoping to photograph. For a smaller — but equally intricate and infuriating — experience, you can always try the 20-inch one instead ($100).
3. Bigfoot, the Garden Yeti: Pink flamingos are SO last-century. If you agree, show your disdain by snagging yourself one of these statues. It’s sure to be a conversation-starter at any garden party. (“Pssst! Did you SEE that thing? It’s so tacky!”) Ranging in height from 21″ to nearly 6 feet, medium ($90), large ($125) and life-size ($2,250) versions are available. Oh, and don’t forget to budget up to $200 extra for delivery charges.
2. Mounted Squirrel Head: Don’t hunt? Don’t worry! Pretend you do with this disturbing and not-at-all-lifelike squirrel head … and torso … and arms. Ew. This item is perfect for anyone interested in glorifying roadkill or a “Deliverance” revival. I beg you, spend your $25 elsewhere.
1. iGrow Hair Rejuvenation: If you’re in flight and really wishing you had more hair, this is one product you won’t want to pass up. Expose your scalp to 51 lasers and LED lights that will regrow what nature has taken away. This gadget, which will set you back a cool $695, looks like a cross between a space-age bicycle helmet and unnecessarily large headphones (for use with the built-in iPod interface, naturally). Whether you’re a male or a female, you’ll look stunning in this … contraption.
There’s a lot going on in February. At this point, most people are pretty excited for some Presidents’ Day downtime and the impending flowers and chocolates that Valentine’s Day will bring. But what about Groundhog Day? Even though it’s already passed, it’s still something to celebrate, particularly if you’re in an area of the United States that’s prone to large amounts of snow.
The quirky holiday and its lovable mascot have put Punxsutawney Phil’s home town on the map. Tens of thousands of visitors come to Gobbler’s Knob in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, to watch the little groundhog make his annual appearance each February 2. Legend says that if he sees his shadow when he emerges from his hole in a tree stump, we’re in for six more weeks of winter weather. (In case you missed it, Punxsutawney Phil told us spring will come early this year.)
Phil isn’t the only animal to draw curious tourist crowds. A man-eating crocodile named Lolong was a prime attraction in Bunawan Township, Agusan del Sur province, in the Philippines, until February 10, when he died at the approximate age of 60. The town’s mayor and other dismayed locals are now planning an official funeral for the reptile. Lolong measured more than 20 feet in length, weighed about a ton and had been accused of eating several residents before townspeople embraced his presence as a tourist attraction.
Another famous animal — and tourist favorite — passed away last year. Lonesome George, a one-of-a-kind tortoise who was first spotted on the island of Pinta (part of the Galapagos Islands) in 1971, gained notoriety for being the last of his kind in existence. Although several attempts were made to mate him after his relocation to Santa Cruz Island, none was successful. George died in June 2012, driving his particular species to extinction. At the time of his death, he was estimated to be more than 100 years old.
Which famous animal is your favorite? Be sure to tell us in the comments below.
With temperatures dipping as low as 10 degrees the last two days here in IndependentTraveler.com’s neck of the woods, we’re thinking about ways we can pretend we’re someplace warmer — without emptying our wallets or burning vacation time so early in the year. The result is a list of tongue-in-cheek ideas for how to bring the sun and sand to us. Read on for a five-step plan to travel without leaving home.
Step 1: “Pack” for a week’s worth of beachy fun by bringing all those summer clothes to the front of your closet. Put together the most crazy, touristy outfit you can find — Hawaiian shirts, board shorts, white athletic socks, hats, sunglasses, lanyards and even some zinc oxide for your nose.
Step 2: Create a menu of tropical drinks and mix ‘em up. Then set up beach chairs in your living room, and invite several friends to lounge and sip with you. You get bonus points for playing ocean sounds on your iPod or scenes of beaches and palm trees on your television.
Step 3: Dig the kiddie pool out of the basement, fill it with sand — colorful play sand is always fun — and pick up a bucket-and-shovel set to make yourself some sandcastles.
Step 4: Crank the heat up to 85 degrees, put on your tiniest bikini or Speedo, and set up a “beach” volleyball tournament in your dining room. (Use a beach ball so as not to break anything.)
Step 5: Soak your feet in a warm foot bath to get that ocean sensation while applying self-tanner. (Keep your swimsuit on while you do it, as tan lines add to the authenticity.)
From misspellings and incorrect translations to messages that elicit a big, fat “duh,” we’ve all seen signs that have made us chuckle. Inspired by the folks over at AOL Travel, here are a few of the amusing ones the editors here at IndependentTraveler.com have captured, whether far from home or right down the road.
During a European river cruise on Avalon Visionary, we spotted this sign in our cabin bathroom — right above the toilet. Good thing we weren’t hoping to flush any Oreos or cartons of milk.
This shot, snapped in Portland, Oregon, isn’t exactly a side-splitter, until we tell you that it was taken a mere step from the river itself, making the bottom arrow just a tad obvious.
When we landed at Chicago‘s Midway Airport, we saw this gem upon exiting the terminal. In Amsterdam, we get it … but in Illinois, not so much.
Take your chances at this business in Annapolis, Maryland, which we assume is also “open: sometimes.”
Posted in the parking lot near the entrance to the Oosterbeek War Cemetery in Arnhem, Netherlands, you’ll find this message. We aren’t sure what it means, but you may want to lock your vehicle.
This not-so-subtle threat serves as a gentle reminder that you shouldn’t throw anything (especially cigarette butts) overboard on MSC Poesia, which carried us on a cruise through the Western Caribbean last year.
It’s a cold, dreary workday here at IndependentTraveler.com’s world headquarters, and we want to share something fun. If you like travel, technology and cinema, check out these short films, selected by Roman Coppola from more than 1,000 screenplay entries as part of a contest run by Intel and W Hotels. Sure, it’s shameless product placement for W’s accommodations and Intel’s new Ultrabook, but the mini-movies actually aren’t too bad.
Whether it’s cyber romance, Mexican wrestling or creepy wishes in Washington D.C., who doesn’t need a few more ways to waste time on a day like today?
Which is your favorite? Be sure to post your thoughts below.
If you’ve ever wished for a crystal ball, you might be in luck — at least as far as air travel is concerned. Imagine the scenario: You’re flying home for Christmas, presents crammed carefully into your carry-on. After arriving at the airport, you learn that due to impending snow, your flight has been delayed by hours or, worse, canceled completely. Talk about a holiday headache. That’s where KnowDelay comes in.
The new service, which covers 36 of the United States’ busiest airports, uses a combination of weather tracking and airline flight schedules to predict when your flight might be impacted by impending bad weather.
It’s free to sign up, and when you create an account, you can have “Captain Delay” — the mastermind behind the site — track your flights and send you alerts, allowing you to know as far as three days in advance whether you should attempt to rebook before your flight is canceled.
KnowDelay will also provide you with a list of alternate flights that are available, should you choose to change your plans. Keep in mind that you may face change fees for rebooking or canceling your itinerary in advance (although airlines often waive these during severe weather events). For some travelers, paying a change fee may be cheaper in the end than having to shell out for a hotel during a weather delay or missing an important client meeting.
If you’re a last-minute traveler and you’re booking your flight within three days of your trip, you can use KnowDelay proactively to determine which flights are ideal and which ones to avoid.
Here’s a more in-depth look at how the service works:
Have you had a flight delay fiasco in the past? Share your story below.
Would you board a plane with no pilot? Sounds like a crazy idea — but according to an article from the Economist, it’s something that could become the future of air travel.
At some point within the next few weeks, a pilotless flight is slated to be tested during a trip from England to Scotland, meaning that the pilot operating the plane will be doing so from the ground in a control room. (There will also be a pilot in the cockpit, just in case anything goes wrong.)
The article notes that the U.S. Congress has shown interest in the technology, asking aviation regulators to find a way to incorporate unmanned aircraft into America’s air traffic control system as soon as the year 2015. The technology would likely be used on smaller aircraft carrying out functions such as border patrols or police surveillance.
For commercial aircraft carrying large numbers of passengers, it’s unlikely that onboard pilots would be eliminated altogether; instead, opines the Economist, flights might have just one pilot instead of a crew of two or three. (Our two cents: If any airline might try cutting pilots, it would be ultra-discounter Ryanair, whose CEO questions the importance of seatbelts in the air.)
Most of today’s planes are technologically advanced enough to take off, fly and land at a specified destination automatically — much like drone aircraft currently used by the military.
Overall, there still seem to be a lot of unanswered questions: How safe is an unmanned plane? Could this lead to job losses among pilots? Will pilots be able to concentrate better while controlling aircraft from the ground, or will it make them less accountable for safe flying if their lives aren’t at stake like those of the passengers onboard? And how might it affect consumer airfare prices?
I doubt there’s anyone who’d disagree that travel would be more enjoyable if it were cheaper. Regardless of how large your budget may be, it’s never fun to incur all the tiny expenses that come with jaunting to and fro.
Since Thanksgiving is the busiest travel period, we’re excited about this: A new taxi-sharing service called Shairporter has rolled out in New York City, allowing travelers to coordinate rides to and from local airports with others who are going to the same places. (The site plans to expand to other cities in the future.)
Users can either search for rides that match their needs or post rides — complete with start and stop destinations and approximate cab fares — to get matched with others who are going the same way. Then, they meet up and share expenses. Not only is it more environmentally friendly to share a cab than to take one alone, but it’s also more economical. Membership is free.
Sound sketchy? Users sign up through Facebook in order to help keep the community safe while maintaining privacy, and they can go back to review fellow travelers after sharing rides so others will know about their experiences.
If you’re interested, now’s the time to try it out. All cab rides on Wednesday, November 21, will be paid for by Shairporter for anyone who signs up on the site in advance.
Would you share a ride? Leave your comments below.
Traveling is a pricey proposition, and flying adds even more nickel-and-dime expenses to your tab. Checked baggage fees. Extra leg room fees. In-flight movie fees. Wouldn’t it be great if you could get someone else to pay for your airport parking while you globetrot?
FlightCar, a new company based in California, may soon match up travelers looking for rental cars with travelers who have cars sitting, unused, in long-term airport parking lots.
According to the company’s Web site, the idea hasn’t yet come to fruition, but the service is slated to launch later this year in Oakland and San Jose.
What’s in it for renters? Cars rented through FlightCar will supposedly be up to 50 percent cheaper than cars rented through standard rental companies like Hertz, Avis or Enterprise.
What’s in it for rentees? Your car will be earning you money — instead of costing you — while you travel. Plus, FlightCar will even clean your vehicle for you, pre- and post-rental. When you register online, you can set the daily rate and the mileage limit, and each car is insured up to $1 million, according to the company’s Web site.
For more info, check out the video:
What’s your take? Would you let a stranger drive your car while you’re out of town? Share your comments below.