Home

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

family plane airplane sleep parents childEvery 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.

Between the lack of legroom, the desert-like air and that annoying little kid practicing his soccer kick against the back of your seat, it’s tough to get comfortable on a plane. And being too hot or too cold only makes things worse. In Five Things You Shouldn’t Wear on a Plane, Caroline Costello writes:

“Fliers must brave a multitude of temperature changes throughout their journeys. There’s the sweat-inducing jog through the sunny airport terminal, the warm 20 minutes while the plane sits on the tarmac pre-take-off and that in-flight arctic chill (against which paper-thin airline blankets do nothing). Layers are a traveler’s best weapon against such varying conditions. Furthermore, the more apparel you tie around your waist or throw over your shoulders, the fewer clothing items you need to ball up and stuff into your suitcase.”

With airplane blankets going the way of the dodo (especially on domestic flights), bringing an extra layer is vital for travelers who tend to get chilly as soon as the plane takes off. Just remember that some of these layers, such as coats or suit jackets, will need to be taken off when you go through airport security.

A scarf is another must-pack item for many travelers. Not only can it help keep you warm in a chilly airplane cabin, but it can also serve a number of other purposes, according to reader Pat Van Alstyne: “It can be a pillow if rolled up … it can be placed over your eyes [and] it can ward off foul odors if held under the nose. … (I also place a small dab of perfume on scarf to help with foul smells. One little dab does it!)”

See what else you should — and shouldn’t — wear on a plane.

– written by Sarah Schlichter

suitcase pack packing clothes overflowEvery 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.

While creases are a common consequence of stuffing shirts and pants into a suitcase for hours on end, that doesn’t mean you need to consign yourself to the ironing board the moment you arrive at your hotel. In Four Signs You Have a Packing Problem, we recommend the following tips for avoiding wrinkles:

“Before your trip, lay your clothes out ahead of time to make sure you have everything you need — but don’t actually put them into your bag until shortly before you’re ready to depart. That way you’ll minimize the time they spend scrunched up in your suitcase. On the other end of your trip, be sure to hang up your clothes as soon as you arrive in your hotel. (If they’re looking a little rumpled, hang them in the bathroom while you take a shower — the hot, moist air will relax away most minor wrinkles.)”

Letting your clothes hang out while you shower is almost as effective as ironing — but with a lot less work for you.

To further ward off wrinkles, choose your clothing wisely. Linen and cotton garments are most prone to creases; animal fibers (like wool) and synthetic fabrics (nylon, polyester) are less so. And knitted garments tend to fare better than woven ones. These days, travel supply companies like Magellan’s and TravelSmith offer wrinkle-resistant clothing in a wide range of styles and prices.

Tell us how you keep your clothes wrinkle-free in the comments below — and don’t forget to check out our solutions to the Five Worst Packing Problems.

– written by Sarah Schlichter

credit cards upsetEvery 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.

American globetrotters, take note: On your next trip overseas, you could find yourself in a credit card quandary. A growing number of countries in Europe, Asia and South America are adopting a new chip-and-PIN credit card system that isn’t fully compatible with the standard magnetic stripe cards we use here in the States. Here’s the scoop from The Best Way to Carry Money Overseas:

“Designed to reduce fraud, [chip-and-PIN] cards rely on an embedded chip that transmits information to a merchant, which the consumer then verifies by entering a PIN. While U.S. cards with magnetic stripes will still work as long as there’s someone to swipe them, many travelers report problems using their cards in ticket vending kiosks, at gas stations or in other places featuring automated payment machines. If you find yourself in this dilemma, your only alternatives are to find an attendant to scan your card or to use cash instead. … However, [to solve this problem] Travelex has introduced a prepaid chip-and-PIN MasterCard that works like a hybrid between a credit card and a traveler’s check.”

While a few U.S. banks have begun offering chip-and-PIN cards to a limited number of customers, this prepaid offering from Travelex is the one that’s widely available to all travelers. The Chip & PIN Cash Passport can be purchased online at Travelex.com and must be preloaded with at least $250 worth of funds in either euros or British pounds. There are no fees for loading the card, making purchases or withdrawing money at ATM’s, and if the card is lost, Travelex will immediately offer a replacement — or emergency cash up to the remaining balance on the card.

Of course, there is a caveat: the lousy exchange rate. This morning, I tried loading the card with $1,000 (USD), which translated to a balance of 664.90 euros — an exchange rate of $1 USD = 0.6649 EUR. Compare that to the inter-bank rate listed on Oanda.com, a popular currency site: $1 USD = 0.7153 EUR. (The inter-bank rate is what large financial institutions use when exchanging currency with each other, and it’s the rate you’d get if you made a purchase with a regular credit card overseas, minus any conversion fees.) If the Travelex card offered that exchange rate, my $1,000 USD would have given me over 715 euros of spending money.

The Cash & PIN Passport card could still provide a decent value for your purchases, depending on how steep the foreign transaction fees are on your usual credit card. But even if you’ve got cheaper alternatives, it may be worth carrying the Travelex card as a backup when traveling in a country where chip-and-PIN systems are the norm.

See more tips on how to Get the Best Exchange Rate.

– written by Sarah Schlichter

waiter plates server 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 (top right) or signing up for our newsletter.

Your burger is cold, the service is sluggish and your gum-chewing waitress snaps your head off when you ask for extra ketchup. When you have a restaurant experience this bad, is it ever okay to show your displeasure by stiffing your server on the tip?

That’s the question we asked Lizzie Post, the great-great-granddaughter of famous etiquette expert Emily Post, in an interview about all things tipping. Here’s her take:

“You should never let your money talk for you. If you get good service, in addition to leaving a good tip, you would want to thank your server, bellboy, etc. When it goes the other way, you still should leave the customary 15 percent. If you had horrendous service and it was the service provider’s fault, some people might go as low as 10 percent. But we suggest that you leave 15 percent and then immediately speak to a manager to express your dissatisfaction. Say that you’re unhappy with how you were treated and that you’re reluctant to return after such an experience. That will speak volumes to a manager.”

The idea of paying someone for lousy service is anathema to some travelers, but personally, I’m with Post on this one. Waitstaff, bellhops and other people in the service industry depend on tips to supplement paltry salaries — and I rarely get upset enough over poor service to harm someone’s livelihood. Besides, speaking with a manager is arguably more effective than withholding a tip; he or she has the authority to encourage better behavior or take action against the server if necessary. Finally, remember that tips are sometimes pooled among multiple members of the staff (such as busboys or bartenders), so in stiffing your waiter you could also be penalizing people who did nothing wrong.

You can read the rest of our interview with Lizzie Post in Tipping Etiquette: A Guide for Travelers.

Do you leave a tip for lackluster service? Vote in our poll!



– written by Sarah Schlichter

volunteer beach ocean clean trash bagEvery 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.

If teaching English in Peru, planting trees in Costa Rica or helping at a women’s shelter in South Africa sounds appealing, a volunteer vacation may be right for you. But for travelers who want to combine exploring a new place with giving back to the community, it’s not as easy as picking a country and just showing up. With countless volunteer vacation programs across the globe, how’s a traveler supposed to find the right one — and make sure it’s legit?

Writes IndependentTraveler.com contributor Colleen Costello, “Once you have found a company with a project that interests you, consider the caveats and other pertinent considerations. You should have access to program alumni, and you should not have to pay for program information. Do not send money until you have chosen a project and are securing your reservation. If you are browsing an organization’s Web site or program guide, you should see a detailed breakdown of how program fees are used; a reputable organization will use 90 to 100 percent of funds received towards the various costs of the program.”

One good place to start your search is VolunteerInternational.org, which lists only member organizations that meet a strict set of criteria. Among other requirements, qualifying programs must provide safe and clean volunteer housing, offer a clear breakdown of fees and expenses, and encourage local field trips beyond the volunteer’s main work responsibilities.

For more information, see our full story on Volunteer Vacations.

– written by Sarah Schlichter

hotel room man laptop bedEvery 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.

You’ve shopped around, read hundreds of reviews, scrutinized neighborhood maps and finally booked a great hotel — with a great rate to match. Now you can sit back, relax and dream about how fantastic your stay is going to be, right?

Wrong. If you want to get the lowest possible rate on your stay, your work isn’t necessarily done after you’ve made your initial booking. As we recommend in Get the Best Hotel Rate, “Once you’ve booked your hotel, don’t just rest on your laurels. Call back or check online in another month or so and see whether rates have gone down. If they have, cancel your booking and rebook your stay at the lower rate. (Read the hotel’s cancellation policy carefully before doing so to make sure you won’t have to pay any penalties.)”

Yapta.com is well known for monitoring airfare and alerting travelers when prices drop, but the site recently added hotel tracking as well. Before or after you book, you can select specific hotels for the site to keep an eye on. If the rate drops, you’ll get an immediate e-mail, enabling you to act quickly to make or change your reservation.

Of course, you may be out of luck if you’ve already put down a hefty nonrefundable deposit on your hotel, or if the property has a stringent cancellation policy. But if you’ve got a little wiggle room, checking for falling rates is an easy way to trim your vacation budget.

Don’t miss 14 more ways to save on your hotel.

– written by Sarah Schlichter

luggageEvery 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.

We’re hitting the road in a new era of air travel, when excessive airline baggage fees have forced untold passengers to pack the kitchen sink into a carry-on and haul it onto the plane. The result? I don’t think I’ve boarded a single flight in the past year without hearing the airline staff announce that the overhead bins are full and some passengers will need to gate check their bags.

This announcement moves me to clutch my bag fearfully. In my carry-on, I pack a variety of things I intend to use during the flight — especially if it’s a long one — like books, snacks, hand sanitizer, magazines, even a pillow. I don’t want to gate check my carry-on bag, ever. But, if I’m last in line to board and I’m left with no choice to but to say goodbye to my precious rolling suitcase — there’s a simple solution.

Writes Ed Hewitt: “You never know if they’re going to start taking your stuff from you at the end of the gangway, so my recommendation is to pack a small bag inside your larger bag in case you are forced to check your carry-on. This way you can take your most valuable (and most easily stolen) items, and put them in a small bag you can keep at your feet if necessary.”

Put together a bag within a bag — a sort of nesting doll suitcase. Just pack the essentials you know you might need on the plane (including things like vital medications or anything else that you absolutely can’t be without) in a smaller sack like a purse or a plastic grocery bag, so that you can easily remove it in case your suitcase is taken away at the gate.

For more tips like this, read Seven Ways to Keep Your Stuff Safe When You Fly.

– written by Caroline Costello

boarding pass suitcase travel tripEvery 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.

After your latest and greatest trip has come to an end, you find yourself glumly unpacking your suitcase. Your dirty unmentionables go straight into the laundry hamper, your shampoo and conditioner return to their usual perch in the shower, and your used airline boarding passes get tossed in the trash … or do they?

Not so fast, writes Ed Hewitt: “Your boarding pass can serve as proof of travel if your airline fails to give you the proper credit for frequent flier miles; this type of problem is particularly common if you’re flying on a codeshare partner of the airline in question. Your boarding pass can also be useful as a receipt for tax purposes, particularly if you’re self-employed.”

This advice holds true even if you’re using those new mobile boarding passes for smartphones — don’t delete that boarding pass e-mail from your airline until you’ve seen your frequent flier miles safely credited to your account.

Of course, there are more fun reasons to keep your boarding passes too, at least if they’re the good old-fashioned paper kind. Crafty types can create a collage, pin them to a wall map or include them in trip photo albums or scrapbooks.

See nine more tips for a smoother trip.

– written by Sarah Schlichter

hotel door do not disturb signEvery 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.

We know that travelers judge their hotel rooms on a wide variety of criteria — like how great the view is (or isn’t), how comfy the mattress feels, and whether the Wi-Fi is a) functional and b) free. But did you know that your hotel room — specifically, where it’s located — could also determine how safe you are during your stay?

Here’s the scoop, from our own Hotel Safety Tips: “Don’t accept a room on the ground floor if you can avoid it. Many safety experts recommend staying somewhere between the third and sixth floors — where rooms are high enough to be difficult to break into, but not so high that they’re out of the reach of most fire engine ladders.”

It’s not something travelers should obsess over, but hotel break-ins and fires do happen — so taking a few precautions to safeguard yourself is just common sense. Before you book, call the hotel to find out what it does to protect its guests. Surveillance cameras, round-the-clock security staff and elevators that won’t take guests to upper floors without a keycard are all good safety measures to look out for.

For more ways to stay secure on your next trip, check out Money Safety and Seven Ways to Keep Your Stuff Safe When You Fly.

– written by Sarah Schlichter

high gas prices sign arm leg expensiveEvery 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 U.S. gas prices hovering around a budget-busting $4 a gallon, that summer road trip you’ve been anticipating may be looking pricier than you’d originally planned. While we can’t promise that gas prices will plunge just in time for you to hit the road, we can offer a few hints for cutting costs when traveling by car. For example, IndependentTraveler.com Ed Hewitt gives the following advice about where to stop and refuel:

“Choose an exit with several gas stations. You can usually tell these from the amenity signs on the highway leading up to the exit. If the sign lists two or more stations, you will often benefit from the simple fact that there is competition for your business. Upon exiting … choose the station that is farthest from the exit ramp. Typically [it] will have the lowest prices, simply due to the inability to gouge outsiders looking for a quick off-and-on fill-up (the locals often use this station).”

Hewitt goes on to point out that even if you have to pay a few cents more to drive to the farther station, your savings per gallon will easily help you make that back — especially if your tank was nearly empty before you stopped.

Got a smartphone? There are heaps of apps out there that will help you check for the best local gas prices: GasBag, Cheap Gas! and Local Gas Prices are just a few.

See more ways to save gas and money.

– written by Sarah Schlichter