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airport airplane snowEvery Wednesday, we’ll feature one practical travel tip here, on our blog. Get our clever weekly tips and other travel resources in your inbox by subscribing to our blog or signing up for our newsletter.

Fliers, grab your scarves and brace yourselves. Winter starts tomorrow, ushering in the season of snow, ice, sleet, freezing rain and other weather conditions guaranteed to make your life miserable at the airport. And if it’s anything like last year, this winter could be a doozy. (Here in New Jersey, I didn’t see my front lawn for two months straight.)

Don’t let the season snow on your parade this year. Delayed and canceled flights are almost a given during winter storms, so if the 10-day forecast looks grim before your departure date, consider the following tip from Ed Hewitt:

“Most hotels don’t charge your card until you show up at the front desk, so you can usually safely book a room and cancel if your flight does take off reasonably on time. If you’re stuck in an airport without easy Internet access, a good tactic is to have on hand the phone number of your preferred booking Web site. … Check out airport hotels first. Subsequently look for off-airport hotels that offer shuttle service to the airport so you can ditch your rental car or otherwise count on a ride to the airport without too much trouble or expense.”

For best results, book that airport hotel several days before your scheduled departure date, and then cancel the reservation if you don’t need it; it’ll be much easier to find a room in advance than on the day a foot of snow closes your airport and leaves thousands of travelers stranded. Just be sure to check the hotel’s cancellation policy.

For more advice, read Airport Delays: Six Ways to Cope and Winter Travel Tips.

– written by Sarah Schlichter

passports map sunglasses keys travelEvery Wednesday, we’ll feature one practical travel tip here, on our blog. Get our clever weekly tips and other travel resources in your inbox by subscribing to our blog or signing up for our newsletter.

In the run-up to my last vacation, I spent hours hunched over my laptop, a dozen windows pulled up on the screen and a couple of guidebooks open at my side. I was slaving over my trip itinerary, a Word document peppered with hotel names, important Web sites, parenthetical notes to myself (“Must check in by 8 p.m.!!”) and booking confirmation numbers marked in bold.

The document, dubbed “FINAL ITINERARY.doc,” was a step up from leaving my booking information scattered among 15 different messages in my e-mail inbox — but it was still a rather inelegant way to organize all the bits and pieces of my trip schedule. In How to Create the Perfect Itinerary, Caroline Costello and Ed Hewitt offer another strategy:

“Get crafty on the computer by using software to make your own itinerary. Owners of Microsoft Office can download free itinerary templates at Office.Microsoft.com, which are basically blank schedules with spots for you to record your travel information. Outer Level offers Knapsack, an itinerary program for Macs. The program’s features, from interactive maps to printed itineraries that appear professionally designed, make trip planning more fun than an in-flight movie.”

I decided to give it a whirl. I chose a template from the Microsoft site called “Family Travel Itinerary,” which offered a comprehensive Excel spreadsheet into which I could enter items like lodging details (arrival date, destination, number of nights, name of hotel, reservation number and notes), transportation schedules and even a packing list. It included a few additional fields I wouldn’t have thought to put on my own itinerary, such as emergency contacts and the blood type of each traveler. And it was aesthetically pleasing too, with color-coded charts and an orderly layout.

How do you keep your travel itinerary organized?

– written by Sarah Schlichter

airport parking garageEvery Wednesday, we’ll feature one practical travel tip here, on our blog. Get our clever weekly tips and other travel resources in your inbox by subscribing to our blog or signing up for our newsletter.

When you head to the airport for your next flight, don’t just settle for any old spot in the airport parking lot. Where you leave your car can actually help determine how safe it is while you’re out of town.

As Ed Hewitt writes in Nine Ways to Keep Your Car Safe on the Road, “In airport lots, I recommend parking in view of the exit toll booths or parking office if possible, or just as well within view of a shuttle pickup location or kiosk. The increased foot traffic and eyeball count will discourage potential thieves. Well-lit areas are next best; most airport lots have surveillance cameras in place, so making it easier for an attendant to see your car on a grainy camera will help.”

Hewitt goes on to suggest parking with your trunk out, particularly if you’re storing anything in it while you’re gone. Backing into a space may make for a more convenient departure at the end of your trip, but parking nose-first makes your vehicle’s trunk more visible to passersby — and therefore tougher to break into.

Of course, you can make your car an even less appealing target by removing anything that looks remotely valuable, such as E-ZPass transponders, GPS units or iPods. Hide your goodies away in the glove compartment or take them out of the car altogether. And don’t bother trying to artfully arrange jackets or blankets over valuables left on the seat. Thieves are wise to this tactic — it just makes it look like you have something to hide.

See eight more ways to keep your car safe while traveling.

– written by Sarah Schlichter

rain rainy airport Every Wednesday, we’ll feature one practical travel tip here, on our blog. Get our clever weekly tips and other travel resources in your inbox by subscribing to our blog or signing up for our newsletter.

As if long security lines and full airport parking lots weren’t enough, there’s another hurdle facing Turkey Day travelers this year: nasty weather. Relentless rain and heavy thunderstorms have already caused flight delays in Northeastern and Midwestern airports this week, and the outlook is still looking a little shaky today.

How can you make your Thanksgiving trip go more smoothly? As Ed Hewitt advises in Winter Travel Tips:

“Check weather at your connecting cities as well as at your departure and destination airports. We all want to know what the weather is like for the departure and arrival airports (particularly if we’re traveling on vacation), but you’ll want to know what is going on at your connecting airport as well. If the weather looks very bad, you may want to contact your airline to see if it can reroute you; it may be in its best interest to do so.

“If it does look like you will need rerouting, your chances of getting on a different flight will be greatly enhanced if you’ve already done the research yourself to determine which alternate flights might work best.”

We recommend programming your airline’s 800 number into your cell phone, as well as the contact info for any other airlines that also serve your route. And, of course, you’ll want to arrive as early as possible at the airport and check flight status frequently. Web sites like FlightStats.com can help; many airlines also let you sign up for flight status alerts to be texted or e-mailed directly to your phone.

For more tips, see our Holiday Travel Survival Guide and 16 Ways to Get Through the Airport Faster.

– written by Sarah Schlichter

rockefeller center christmas angels starsEvery Wednesday, we’ll feature one practical travel tip here, on our blog. Get our clever weekly tips and other travel resources in your inbox by subscribing to our blog or signing up for our newsletter.

No other city does the holidays like New York. The Rockettes kick up their heels in the Radio City Christmas Spectacular, angels blow their golden trumpets at Rockefeller Center, department stores vie for the title of the most impressive window display — and a flood of visitors arrives to soak up every second of the spectacle.

With bigger crowds come higher prices, but there’s no need to blow your holiday shopping budget on entertainment while you’re in the Big Apple. As we write in Top 25 Ways to Save on New York City Travel, “There are free or inexpensive concerts, readings, art exhibits and other events happening all over the city on any given day; the only challenge is finding them. Check out nymag.com/agenda, New York Magazine’s online event search feature that lets you filter results by cost (try ‘$10 & Under’ or ‘Free’).”

I did a quick search for events the weekend of December 9 – 11 and turned up several comedy shows, a Brooklyn brewery tour and a Native American art exhibition in a SoHo gallery — all free.

If you’re visiting the Big Apple in the next six weeks, it’s also worth checking out New York’s official tourism Web site at nycgo.com. There you’ll find a list of popular seasonal events, including the lighting of the world’s largest menorah on December 20 and nightly performances of “The Nutcracker” by the New York City Ballet (running through December 31). Note that some of these events do carry a price tag; check nycgo.com/free for the most budget-friendly options.

Get more help planning your trip with our New York travel deals and complete New York travel guide.

– written by Sarah Schlichter

family vacationEvery Wednesday, we’ll feature one practical travel tip here, on our blog. Get our clever weekly tips and other travel resources in your inbox by subscribing to our blog or signing up for our newsletter.

A few weekends ago, I went to Kentucky to be part of a friend’s wedding. She’d rented out an entire B&B for the bridal party, and our group stayed up late into the night chatting and laughing in front of the huge outdoor fireplace.

As I drove back home at the end of the weekend, I wondered why I didn’t travel with friends like that more often. It was incredibly fun — and as Caroline Costello points out in The Seven Cheapest Ways to Travel, it could actually save me money:

“Vacation rentals may not be your best bet if you’re a solo traveler or you like to eat out. But if you’re traveling with a family or another couple, a vacation rental could save you big bucks over a hotel. Staying in a vacation rental with a number of people is less expensive because each person you add to your party cuts costs significantly.

“For example, on HomeAway.com, we found a two-bedroom, two-bathroom ocean-view villa in Maui that sleeps four for just $195 per night — that’s less than $50 per person per night if you can find three travel buddies to bring along. Plus, buying larger quantities of food at the grocery store and cooking in instead of eating at restaurants can help you save even more (who doesn’t love a good barbecue?).”

Ditch the Hotel: 10 Cheaper Ways to Stay

Vacation rentals tend to be most popular in kid-friendly beach destinations, where families pile into shore houses with colorful towels hanging from the balcony. But you can find them just about anywhere. Imagine waking up in an apartment on a quiet residential street in Rome and getting your morning cappuccino at the little cafe on the corner … or booking your own private little Maine cabin in the woods just for you and your three best friends.

A word to the wise: Vacation rentals tend to be best for travelers planning to stick around at least a few days, as some have minimum-stay requirements — particularly in the most popular beach destinations.

Still not convinced? See Vacation Rentals: Right for You? And don’t miss our guide to Finding a Vacation Rental.

– written by Sarah Schlichter

open mouth breathEvery Wednesday, we’ll feature one practical travel tip here, on our blog. Get our clever weekly tips and other travel resources in your inbox by subscribing to our blog or signing up for our newsletter.

You’ve been on a plane for nine hours. The inside of your mouth tastes like some combination of morning breath (thanks to that three-hour nap you just woke up from) and the remnants of your delightful reheated airline dinner. You’re afraid to open your mouth, lest your breath knock your seatmate unconscious.

10 Ways to Survive a Long-Haul Flight

While a mint might temporarily help the cause, Dan Askin recommends a couple of more powerful mouth-cleaning products:

“Colgate Wisps are disposable mini-toothbrushes that provide a quick and easy mouth-freshening option when you can’t brush your teeth for real. The brush head has a freshening bead that releases a mouth cleaning liquid when you scrub, and a pick on the opposite end provides a floss option. It requires no water to use, and the ingredients are safe to swallow (except for the brush itself, of course!).

“Another product of choice is Listerine PocketMist, introduced to me as part of a hotel’s complimentary in-room toiletries. This is Binaca for the modern age — in a smaller key-chain-sized container and with a more potent punch. You can literally feel the bacteria being singed away.”

Askin also suggests fruit to cleanse the palate, including Granny Smith apples, lemons and limes. And, of course, there’s always the old standby: mint gum, which pulls double duty for air travelers by freshening breath and easing pressure on the ears during takeoff and landing.

For more advice, including tips on keeping your face, hands and clothing clean while traveling, see Travel Hygiene Tips: Staying Fresh on the Road.

– written by Sarah Schlichter

tip coins restaurantEvery Wednesday, we’ll feature one practical travel tip here, on our blog. Get our clever weekly tips and other travel resources in your inbox by subscribing to our blog or signing up for our newsletter.

One of the most enduring travel conundrums is figuring out whom to tip and how much. Should you tell your Moroccan cabbie to keep the change, or tack an extra 10 percent onto your New Zealand restaurant bill? (The answers, in case you’re keeping score at home: yes and no.)

If you’re feeling clueless in a new country, it may seem only logical to ask whether a tip is appropriate. Resist the urge, writes Caroline Costello in Tips for Tipping Abroad:

“A common mistake made by travelers is asking their service person if he or she requires a tip. Not only does this present a conflict of interest to a cash-strapped service person who doesn’t normally take tips, but in countries where saying what you mean is not the social norm, a clueless traveler may end up stiffing a polite waiter or bellhop. For example, in India, a service person whose income is mostly generated by tips may say that he or she requires no gratuity out of modesty and good manners. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t tip if it’s the acceptable practice in your destination!”

A good guidebook will always offer advice on how much to tip and under which circumstances; you can also find this sort of information on sites like the Magellan’s Worldwide Tipping Guide. But if you’ve arrived in your destination unprepared, you can ask about tipping norms, as long as you don’t ask your waiter. The staff at the local visitor center or your hotel front desk should be able to assist you.

For more help, see our guides to Hotel Tipping and Tipping Etiquette.

– written by Sarah Schlichter

suitcase packingEvery Wednesday, we’ll feature one practical travel tip here, on our blog. Get our clever weekly tips and other travel resources in your inbox by subscribing to our blog or signing up for our newsletter.

Last week, we explained how old nylons, ratty towels and empty egg cartons can be converted into useful travel gear. (Check out Top 10 Travel Essentials You Can Find in the Trash if you missed it.) But our ideas were just the tip of the garbage heap.

We asked our readers to weigh in with their own thoughts about how to transform trash into travel treasure — and you responded. One of our favorite tips came from member lynclarke, who wrote:

“Save that big oversized shopping bag from one of the ‘good’ [department] stores. Put it in the front flap of your suitcase. It will be an instant raincoat for yourself or your suitcase. [Also], save those ‘Mylar’ mailing envelopes which seem to be the rage these days. Make sure your travel documents, receipts, reservations, all important papers and ALL ELECTRONICS are wrapped in one. There is nothing more discouraging [than] to find your carry-on bag will be stored underbelly in one of the small planes BUT right now it is sitting on the tarmac in the pouring rain.”

I’m also a fan of reusing those simple plastic grocery bags that always seem to proliferate in my kitchen. They’re ideal for padding fragile items, separating dirty laundry from the rest of my clothes, and wrapping up wet swimsuits or muddy hiking boots.

How do you put your trash to good use when you travel? Weigh in on our message boards or leave a comment below.

– written by Sarah Schlichter

sleep airplane planeEvery Wednesday, we’ll feature one practical travel tip here, on our blog. Get our clever weekly tips and other travel resources in your inbox by subscribing to our blog or signing up for our newsletter.

Ever since my first flight, a hop across the Atlantic to London, I’ve been unable to sleep on airplanes. Put me on a train or in the passenger seat of a car, and I’ll nap like a champ — but something about the cramped conditions and ultra-dry air of a plane keeps me from drifting into anything more restful than a semi-conscious doze.

On my last flight I tried taking an antihistamine, which makes most people so drowsy that the label warns against operating heavy machinery while taking the medication. But while my head felt hazy and my eyelids drooped, I still spent the entire overnight flight awake, casting occasional jealous glares at the sleeping passengers around me.

As a last-ditch effort, I’ve been tempted to try to skimp on sleep in the days leading up to a flight. However, in 10 Ways to Survive a Long-Haul Flight, Ed Hewitt cautions against it:

“Don’t count on a long-haul flight as a good place to catch up on sleep — it’s not. As attractive and intuitive as it seems to get on a long-haul flight extremely tired, hoping to sleep the whole way, you are in for a world of hurt if you can’t sleep for any reason. You will be on the plane long enough to catch a few winks even if you are somewhat rested.”

Another reason not to skip sleep before a flight: Staying rested and hydrated can help combat the effects of jet lag. Traveling and changing time zones are hard enough on your body without adding more sleep deprivation than necessary into the mix.

Tips for Sleeping on Planes

So I’m going back to the drawing board. On my next flight I’m going to try a stronger sleeping pill — but I’ll bring a few good books, just in case.

Do you sleep well on planes? Vote in our poll!


– written by Sarah Schlichter