Home

Home Travel Tips Travel Deals Destinations Trip Reviews Forums Blog
The IndependentTraveler.com Blog

seniors car driveEvery 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.

Age has its privileges — such as grandkids, retirement, a lifetime’s worth of passport stamps and, of course, those enticing senior discounts. But older travelers could find themselves facing a few unpleasant surprises as well. As we caution in International Car Rental Tips: “Be aware that many countries have a minimum and maximum age for renters. Drivers under the age of 25 or over the age of 70 may face surcharges or not be permitted to rent at all.”

Here in the U.S., the idea of a maximum rental age is nearly unheard of. But if you’re a senior traveler headed overseas, it’s important to check ahead.

For example, Auto Europe’s Web site states that renters in Ireland may not be over age 75, and that those over 70 may be subject to additional fees. (Editor’s Note: An Auto Europe spokesperson tells us that this maximum age does not necessarily apply to all of the company’s suppliers.) On Budget Rent a Car’s Web site, we found maximum ages of 75 in Aruba, 65 in Jamaica and just 60 in Morocco. Apollo Car Rental in Australia permits renters over the age of 75, but only with a doctor’s note.

Seniors can often evade these restrictions by shopping around, as terms and conditions vary widely from company to company. An 80-year-old traveler looking to rent in Ireland can try booking with Hertz, which permits renters over 75 as long as they’re willing to jump through a few hoops. “Customers aged over 75 can rent with specific conditions,” says a pop-up on the Hertz Web site. “You must drive on a regular basis, you will need to provide to the counter a letter from your doctor to state you have been in good health for at least 12 months and a letter from your insurance company to state you have not had an accident within the last 5 years, that you hold a current policy of motor insurance with them and that you are currently driving.”

Tips for Senior Travelers

Never book a car without reading the fine print. If you’re traveling with a younger companion, you can save money and avoid hassle by naming that person as the driver on your rental contract. If all else fails, look into guided tours or local public transportation instead.

Older travelers, have you ever had trouble renting a car overseas?

– written by Sarah Schlichter

sun hat suitcase vacation 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.

Last week, we blogged about a nifty new suitcase that beats baggage fees — and gave readers a chance to win it by submitting their smartest packing tips. More than 500 people weighed in, offering a wealth of practical, travel-tested advice.

We discovered that our readers are avid proponents of doing laundry midway through their trips, rolling clothes rather than folding and using compression bags to squeeze a few extra outfits into their carry-on. (We also decided that we might not want to sit next to a few of you on the plane, based on how many times you apparently re-wear your clothes before washing!)

It was almost impossible to pick just one reader to win the CarryOn Free rolling suitcase, but in the end our favorite tip came from a reader named Bruce:

“Always bring a hat [even] if you think you won’t need one. In the hotel, place it on the nightstand and empty your keys, wallet, passport, etc. into it before bed. When you get up (or God forbid if you need to leave in a hurry due to fire, or some other emergency) you’ll already know where everything is — secure and ALL in ONE place, and so won’t have to search around to make sure you haven’t left something essential behind!”

While Bruce is our big winner, we’ve also got something cool for the rest of the travelers who played along: a special coupon code from the folks at CarryOn Free that readers can use for the next two weeks to get 10 percent off any product in the company’s store. Just enter discount code P092811 during check-out.

We couldn’t resist sharing a few other creative tips out of the hundreds we received:

“Scan your passport, passport photos and paper tickets (if not the [electronic] type). Store this … in your Web-based e-mail account. You can also store the details of your emergency ‘lost card’ telephone numbers in your Web-based e-mail account so you know who to contact if your credit card or ATM card is lost or stolen. This way, even if you lose everything, you have immediate access [to] your all important information.” — Dan Freeman

“For women who love perfume — I tear out the paper perfume samples from the fashion magazines and trim them to just the width of the folded scent sample; they last forever, [and] take up/add minimal space and weight.” — Martha Meier

“I have seen very expensive plastic padded sleeves for sale to carry bottle wines. I have been bringing wine and liquor bottles from all over the world using two pairs of socks (putting the bottle inside the socks, it gets protected by four layers), then inside a regular plastic supermarket bag, and then a T-shirt wrapped around. Then I place the bottle in the center of the suitcase. I never had a broken bottle.” — Angel

For more indispensable packing advice, check out Packing Tips from Our Readers.

– written by Sarah Schlichter

couple chairs argue 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.

You love the beach, but your best bud would rather shop. You could happily spend hours wandering through an art museum, but after half a dozen Rembrandts and Raphaels, your husband is ready to head for the hills. Is your trip doomed?

Mismatched interests are common between travel companions — and vacationing, like life, is an exercise in the delicate art of compromise. If you’re traveling solo, you can do everything you want to do and nothing you don’t; for the rest of us, a trip is a time for a little give and take.

To keep things going smoothly, Ed Hewitt advises travelers to do their own legwork for the attractions they’re most interested in: “Want to go to a museum? Find out on your own what tickets cost, how to get there and when it’s open. Then when you drag your companion along, he or she doesn’t have to worry about all the logistical hassles and might actually enjoy the experience. Sweeten the pot by paying the admission fee or treating your companion to lunch as well.”

Also helpful: having the less enthusiastic partner bring along an alternate form of entertainment. I once spent an hour contentedly scribbling in my journal while my partner, a geologist, hunted for fossils.

And don’t disregard the value of going your separate ways. After playing solo traveler for an afternoon or a day, you and your companion can meet up again for dinner and appreciate all the reasons you really do love traveling together. It’s the best of both worlds.

See 17 more ways to keep the peace with your travel companion.

– written by Sarah Schlichter

moroccan couscous chicken dishEvery 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.

For every unique and tasteful souvenir, there’s a raft of cheap “I ♥ New York” mugs, useless bobblehead figures and oh-so-classy boxer shorts imprinted with the X-rated bits of Michelangelo’s David statue. Your trip deserves better.

I’ve found my own way to memorialize my travels, and it doesn’t start till I get home. As I wrote in 35 Travel Tips Revealed: Top Secrets of Travel Writers, “I like to bring a little bit of each trip home with me — and not just with postcards. After I return from a foreign country, I always try to recreate a local dish in my own kitchen, like Moroccan couscous or Belizean stewed chicken. The smell of the meal will often transport me right back to the place I just left.”

Be warned: It sometimes takes a little experimenting and Web searching to find a recipe that truly lives up to the flavors and scents you remember. Learning to cook in a new style can be a challenge too (I set my wok on fire one of the first few times I tried to season it). And don’t be surprised if you have to venture out to a specialty grocer for that hard-to-find banana flower, yuca root or Sichuan pepper.

But for me, the hassle is all worth it when the scent of toasting cumin calls up vivid sense memories of those colorful Moroccan spice markets I loved to visit. It’s the next best thing to being there.

What’s your favorite memento of your travels?

– written by Sarah Schlichter

baggage claim airport woman suitcaseEvery 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 a recent poll, IndependentTraveler.com readers rated airline baggage fees as the biggest rip-off in the travel industry, beating out Wi-Fi charges at hotels, car rental fees and even timeshares.

I’m with you guys — I loathe those fees. And while my personal strategy for avoiding them is to cram everything into a carry-on no matter how far or how long I’m traveling, that’s not the only way to outsmart the airlines. Writes Caroline Costello:

“Virtually all major airlines offer some kind of frequent flier program that includes baggage fee discounts or waivers for ‘elite’ or ‘preferred’ members. … If racking up 25,000 miles a year doesn’t seem attainable, consider applying for an airline credit card. Several major airlines waive checked bag fees for cardholders. For example, Delta SkyMiles cardholders can check one bag for free on Delta flights, and Continental Airlines Presidential Plus cardholders can check two bags for free.”

Of course, you’ll want to read the fine print before adding yet another piece of plastic to your wallet. The annual fee on the Delta SkyMiles credit card is $95 — so getting that free checked bag won’t pay off until you fly at least two round trips. (A single checked bag on Delta usually costs $25 each way.) Alternatively, if you travel with a buddy, you can cancel out that annual fee even sooner; the card grants a free checked bag not only to you but also to your travel companions — up to eight of them.

Meanwhile, Continental’s Presidential Plus card will set you back a whopping $395 per year. That fee gets you plenty of extra perks, such as waived foreign transaction fees and miles that never expire, but they may not be worth it if you only travel once or twice a year.

For more ideas, see Seven Smart Ways to Bypass Baggage Fees.

– written by Sarah Schlichter

hotel front desk receptionEvery 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 (top right) or signing up for our newsletter.

With the vast majority of properties offering some form of online bookings these days, picking up the phone to book a hotel may seem so … last-century. And yet, sometimes there are benefits to calling the front desk and talking to a live human being.

As we advise in Choosing a Hotel, “Calling a hotel directly … might get you a room at the last minute or during peak travel times. National reservations desks often have a cap on the number of rooms they can fill at any given hotel, with the rest left to the specific hotel staff. Those working at the front desk have a better sense of the hotel’s capacity and will be more likely to check for cancellations or no-shows. … Avoid calling in the morning or mid-afternoon, when front desks are busiest.”

While you’re on the phone, you can also ask for information that might not be readily available online, such as which rooms or floors have better views, how safe the neighborhood is if you’re arriving after dark, and which amenities will be available in your particular room.

If price is a concern, this is your chance to negotiate for a better deal. Ask if the hotel is currently offering any specials, or if they have discounts for seniors, AAA members and the like. The worst they can say is no.

See more ideas for lowering your hotel rate.

– written by Sarah Schlichter

produce grocery store fruit colorful europe supermarketEvery 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 (top right) or signing up for our newsletter.

As a student backpacking across Europe, I lived on convenience store sandwiches, fruit, nuts and baguettes. (Oh, and gelato. Lots of gelato.) Fancy sit-down restaurants were for older, wealthier travelers; I rarely paid more than five bucks for a meal.

Nearly a decade later, my travel partner and I often find ourselves blowing $100 a day on restaurant meals during a trip. We’re gainfully employed and a little more grown up than that cash-strapped college kid I used to be, but I’m still a budget-conscious traveler. Surely I can enjoy great food without the painful price tag?

Writes Caroline Costello, “Especially in European destinations, where many decent restaurants are expensive and authentic local food can be purchased at affordable prices, getting your food from a local grocer is a great idea. Grab a fresh baguette and some cheese in Paris, bring them to the Tuileries Garden for an outdoor lunch, and you’ve got an authentic yet affordable Parisian meal with one of the best views in town.”

Picnics aside, grocery stores are also a great place to stock up on everyday needs such as water (I like to pick up a gallon jug and refill my smaller bottles each morning) and snacks. If your hotel doesn’t offer free breakfast, skip the $14 waffles and pick up some fresh bread and fruit at the local grocer’s; it’ll only cost you a couple of bucks.

See more ways to save on your next trip in Backpackers’ Secrets: Top Tips for Cheap Travel.

– written by Sarah Schlichter

smartphone smart phone cellphone cell man park textEvery 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 (top right) or signing up for our newsletter.

So you’re going overseas and you’d sooner cut off a limb than leave your smartphone behind. (We understand. There’s nothing like a little Angry Birds to while away a long flight.) You probably already know that you can call your carrier and have an international calling/data plan temporarily added to your account to cover the dates of your trip. But Ed Hewitt identifies one potential pitfall:

“When you make a connection overseas, you are typically not connecting to your own carrier’s service, but to a third-party carrier, which then bills your carrier, which bills you. Some of these carriers will not bill your account in an entirely timely manner, such that data connections made in July might show up on your August bill. As such, you will want to make sure the dates for your data package extend long enough after your trip to cover these late-billing companies, and you will want to watch your account to make sure all charges have been applied before turning off your international package.”

If you remove your international package too soon, any subsequent overseas calls or downloads could be charged at your cell phone carrier’s normal (read: exorbitant) rates.

Don’t assume that your carrier’s international plan is your best option. Hewitt offers his own secrets for avoiding calling and data charges in Traveling with a Smartphone: Cut Costs Overseas.

– written by Sarah Schlichter

convertible mountains scenic road trip 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 (top right) or signing up for our newsletter.

Road trippers, take heart: there’s still a month of summer left! Not to mention that fall, my favorite season for hitting the road, is right around the corner with all its leaf-peeping goodness.

As you plan your itinerary, spare some thought for your vehicle. Instead of putting hundreds of miles on your own clunker, consider renting some wheels instead — it could significantly enhance your trip, as we advise in Five Features of a Fantastic Road Trip:

“If you’re renting a car, consider your route when you book your rental. Sure, Highway 1 is gorgeous through the window — but just imagine it in a convertible. If your trip is taking you to the mountains, consider an SUV. Do your homework and you may only end up paying a little more for a specialty car than you would for a compact.”

While an economy car is almost always the cheapest type of vehicle to rent, car companies sometimes offer free upgrades or limited-time discounts on specialty vehicles. See our Car Rental Deals for a sampling of these discounts.

Keep in mind that a fancier class of car might also set you back a little extra in gas. Convertibles lose fuel efficiency when driven with the top down, and SUV’s and minivans guzzle a lot more gas than their compact counterparts. Be sure to budget accordingly and check out our tips for saving gas and money.

– written by Sarah Schlichter

switzerland glacier express train railEvery 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 (top right) or signing up for our newsletter.

There’s nothing like the freedom of riding the rails around Europe, visiting the sophisticated cafes of Paris one day and the cobblestone streets of a tiny French village the next. But while the Continent’s wide variety of rail passes can save you a pile of euros, don’t assume that you should whip one out for every single train trip you take. In European Train Trips, we offer the following advice:

“Plan your itinerary carefully before you purchase your pass. Flexipass holders may save money and travel days by purchasing separate tickets for shorter trips. For example, say you’ve purchased a Eurail Italy Pass, valid for seven days of travel in a two-month period. At $329 for a second-class pass, your average cost per travel day is $47. Instead of wasting a travel day for a trip from Florence to Pisa — which costs just $9 — you can buy an individual ticket for that trip and save the travel day on your rail pass for a night train or longer journey.”

You can check prices for rail passes and individual tickets at RailEurope.com.

If your itinerary includes any lengthy trips, you also may want to consider flying. There are quite a few discount airlines that crisscross the Continent for surprisingly low fares (though you have to watch out for unexpected fees and inconvenient airports). We break down the options in Europe — By Plane or By Train?.

– written by Sarah Schlichter