Read Traveler Reviews
. User review sites have changed the way most people plan their travel, giving us an enormously useful tool for evaluating hotels, restaurants, tourist attractions and the like. TripAdvisor.com is the big kahuna, with more than 20 million reviews, mostly of hotels but also less traditional lodging like B&Bs, villas and private homes as well as restaurants and attractions. TravelPost.com is another, owned by Kayak.com and recently relaunched; li
Join Travel Forums
. Years ago, travel forums in which users answer other users questions were hit or miss, with too many crackpots dominating the conversation. Certain forums, however, have matured to the point that youd be unwise to ignore them. Forums like those on TripAdvisor.com, Fodors.com, Frommers.com and LonelyPlanet.com all handle destination advice well. But bear in mind that sites attract different kinds of travelers Fodors users can skew older and we
Suck Up to a Blogger
. Every major city has bloggers who are obsessed with whats new and great in their backyard, particularly in regard to restaurants. You can use Google Blog Search to find bloggers in whatever city youre visiting. Theyre a phenomenal resource, but dont just read what theyre writing Contact them for personal recommendations. The more specific your request and the more you flatter them for their insight and wit the more likely youll be to pique th
Update Your Status
. Dont forget social networks like Facebook and Twitter, which are useful not only for planning before you go, but also for once youre on the road, since you can continue to access them through your mobile device. Ask in your status update Does anyone know a good value hotel in Rome Coolest spots for dessert and coffee in New York? The best place to get cowboy boots in San Antonio? Youll be surprised at the number and variety of suggestions youll g
Dont Snub the Bus
. Traveling by bus is not as uncivil as it used to be. So before you rush to book a flight or train for short hops, check out MegaBus and BoltBus. The buses are new and clean, with unexpected perks free wi fi and outlet access, for starters and no funky bus smell. BoltBus, which is part of ?Greyhound, connects major Northeast U.S. cities (New York, Boston, Philadelphia and Washington), while MegaBus has a larger route map, traveling throughout
Use Your Miles
. Theres no advantage in holding on to frequent flyer miles, as theres no way of knowing whether theyll be worth anything down the road. Miles typically expire within 18 months (though that deadline may be deferred if you keep your account active, either by flying or using an airline reward credit card that is linked to your account), so get a free flight or golf clubs, electronics, magazines or anything else the airline lets you trade miles for
Spend Credit Earn Miles
. If youre the type of person who actually pays off his credit card bill on time and in full, get a card thats affiliated with an airline or hotel you like. The first purchase bonuses alone usually translate into a free domestic flight or a nights hotel stay. After you get your freebie, you can continue generating loyalty points by spending with the card but take a moment to evaluate whether the payoffs are worth the high APRs and annual fee.
. Travel insurance is worth purchasing for big ticket trips that are largely non refundable. The typical plan will cover emergency medical expenses and baggage loss and delay, and recover at least some of the cost of your trip if your vacation has to be canceled or cut short (the amount is partially determined by which state you live in), including if the travel operator goes belly up. Note Most insurers consider a layoff to be a valid reason to ca
. The goal is to pack with one bag. As much as possible, pre plan your itinerary, figure out the specific items youll need for your trip and stick to that list if you start contemplating what to bring the night before you take off, youre doomed. But packing light doesnt have to mean going without. Just be strategic about what you bring. Mix and match everything, so you can coordinate more outfits with fewer clothes. If you pack all neutral pants
Five Must Haves
. Five things every traveler should have ready to go for a trip1. A durable, lightweight, smooth rolling wheelie bag that holds a lot and doesnt tip over easily, like the REI Stratocruiser 25, which comes with handy backpack straps and a detachable day pack. Four wheeled bags are even less likely to tip over, but theyre slower to walk with and prone to rolling away when youre standing in line somewhere.2. A slim digital camera that turns on and foc
Start with Kayak
. Ironically, the best site for booking a flight is not one that actually books flights, like Expedia, Orbitz or Travelocity. What you want instead is a meta search site that scans the fares of multiple airlines and travel booking sites simultaneously and sends you to the source to book the fare you want.Kayak.com is the best option, but even this mega meta searcher doesnt pull up departure info and prices for every airline. To fill in the gaps, ch
Check Airport Websites
. To root out cheap fares you might otherwise miss, check the website of the airport that youll be flying into; it will list all the carriers that offer service there, including charter airlines that dont show up in online flight searches. Also, look closely at low cost carriers, like Spirit Airlines, AirTran and, in Europe, RyanAir, which will usually save you money on the fare but be prepared to be nickel and dimed for everything else (includin
. One of the first steps to getting a good price on a flight is figuring out how much other travelers are paying. To find out, plug your route into Kayak.com, then click on the sites Fare History charts, which display the lowest fares and the overall average prices found during the month youve selected. Kayak also shows you a calendar of the best fares for your itinerary found by other users in the past 48 hours. While theres no guarantee youll get
Get on the A List
. Yes, its more inbox clutter, but if you subscribe to the e newsletters of the airlines, hotels and car rental companies you like to use, youll often find out before the general public about promotions like last minute hotel discounts, weekend rental specials and flights that can suddenly be booked for fewer frequent flyer miles. The prime deals are always snapped up quickly, so any edge helps. Note that for many of these promotions, you must ente
Search a Day Plus or Minus
. Unless your travel dates are absolutely set in stone, use flexible date searches for flights. Just about every airlines website offers the feature in which you can retrieve prices for a few days before and after your selected dates as do major sites like Travelocity and Kayak. It tends to be cheaper to fly on days other than Friday and Sunday, but dont assume anything. Flying just one day earlier or later than your ideal date could mean savin
E Track Your Fare
. Once you have an ideal flight price in mind, track airfares with a service like Yapta.com or Hotwire.coms Trip Watcher. Simply register your route and dates, and when the fare drops to a price youve chosen, youll be alerted via e mail. Its way less time consuming than the old method of doing a new search every few days or every few minutes.
Ax the Middleman
. Its a basic rule of economics if you want a deal, eliminate the middleman. Major booking engines like Expedia have been dropping their transaction fees, but even so, when you book directly with an airline or a hotel, you get same or better prices 99% of the time and better service 100% of the time.
Do Your Own Math
. Most airlines and booking engines sell packages that lump together airfare, hotel and sometimes meals, airport transfers and activities into one price. The vagueness of the combo approach favors airlines and hotels because it allows them to quickly fill up planes and rooms without announcing how low theyre willing to go. Certainly, packages can be incredible deals, but occasionally theyre not. To be sure, check DealBase.com, which will break down
Shop After Purchase
. Hotels and car rental companies will discount drastically to use up inventory, so keep shopping even after you buy. That $60 a day rental car you reserved might end up being $30 the week before your rental date, or you may get an ocean view hotel room for the price of the garden view you reserved. Always review the cancellation policy first, of course.
. Southwest, Alaska and JetBlue will refund you the difference (as a credit for future flights) if the fare for your flight drops after you buy your ticket. Other airlines consider it an itinerary change and apply a fee of $50 to $250.
Try Coach Plus
. The line between business class and coach has blurred. Many airlines sell premium economy seating, with wider seats and more legroom, with first dibs going to the ?lite members of their loyalty programs. Also, some airlines, such as ?Virgin America and Spirit, dont charge much for their upper class option; just dont expect the champagne and chateaubriand of yore. Other airlines such as British Airways spin off OpenSkies, which flies New York Pa
Reserve a Seat
. Always reserve a seat at the time of booking, and if the airline or booking engine wont let you, keep revisiting until you can. The longer the flight, the more attention you should pay to getting a decent seat resources with detailed seat info include SeatGuru.com, SeatExpert.com and FlyerTalk.com. Dont like the seat options? Select one anyway, then check back every spare minute to change it, including when youre on the plane. (If youre a member
. Bring your own everything. Its safer than putting yourself at the airlines mercy. Bring a travel pillow, a blanket or sweater if you tend to get cold, entertainment (PSP, iPod), headphones (preferably noise canceling ones, which not only combat engine noise brutal in the rear of the plane but make it so that you can hear the planes entertainment system). And, of course, food while on board prices arent extortionate (a charge airports are far
. Do your own everything. Have an ?Internet connection? Use it. Many airlines charge a premium any time you interact with an employee, such as booking a reservation over the phone (instead of online). In fact, US Airways now charges $5 extra to passengers who check a bag at the airport (vs. doing it in advance online). And low cost European carrier ?Ryanair announced it was mulling a
Add Up the Extras
. Airlines are unbundling services that used to be included in the fare snacks, checked bags, entertainment, wi fi, seat selection. In other words, the airline experience is becoming
. If you have kids, buy a portable DVD player before the first time you fly with them. The players cost only about $75, and trust us, its a worthwhile purchase even if you use it on just one trip. (Make sure the battery lasts at least two hours and that its charged beforehand.) We would also advise picking the cheapest unit possible, since your kid probably doesnt care much about screen size or whether the player can handle digital files and will
. Worried about your big carry on bag fitting in the overhead bin? When selecting a seat, choose your row carefully. Airlines tend to board planes in blocks of five or 10 rows, so row 21 may board before row 19. Also, be bold when the gate agent calls the group ahead of yours, get in line as soon as you see that people have stopped joining the line. The odds are that your group will be called before you reach the Jetway, and the worst that can happ
Snap a Pic
. If you absolutely have to check a bag, take a digital photo of it (which will help you describe the bag if it gets lost) and a close up of the airlines baggage tag (so you have a record of the airlines routing info). If nothing else, snapping the photo will remind you to verify that your bag is labeled with the correct destination airport code.
Eke Out Space
. Every fraction of an inch counts. To add a smidgen more legroom, stash the in flight magazine and SkyMall catalog from the seat back pocket in your overhead bin. Keep the emergency info card, though theres no point in tempting fate.
Snooze Through It
. The best way to survive the dreaded red eye flight is to eat dinner at the airport and take a prescription sleeping pill with your doctors approval, obviously after takeoff. Dont take it before youre airborne; you could be in trouble if the plane has to return to the gate (or worse).
Five Flight Tips
. You do have some control over whether you make it through your flight without getting sick1. Dont touch your eyes, nose or mouth.2. Bring a travel size bottle of hand sanitizer and use it after youve washed your hands in the aircraft lavatory.3. Stay hydrated. Bottled water is horrible for the environment, but this is one instance when youre allowed to drink it guilt free.4. Order your drinks without ice the water onboard is teeming with bacter
Join the Club
. Join a hotels loyalty program, even if youre planning only a one night stay. Many hotel brands hand out extra amenities to members Omni, Fairmont and ?Wyndham all give free ?Internet to members, for instance, and ?Omni delivers a free breakfast beverage to your room every morning, as well as presses two of your garments at no charge. Also, if the hotel is overbooked or has to give someone a bum room, the last person it will treat badly is someone
Ask Around First
. Hotel star ratings dont mean anything anymore. Before you book, read multiple reviews in guidebooks and magazines, as well as ones written by previous guests on user review websites and demand that the hotel show you pictures of the kind of room youre going to reserve, not just any room.
. When you negotiate with the front desk for a sweeter hotel deal and you should dont get hung up on rates alone. Hotel managers care mostly about occupancy percentage and the average nightly room rate, meaning its against their interest to budge on the price. But they can find other ways to woo you, such as throwing in breakfast, parking or a room upgrade. If making these demands outright makes you nervous, try asking if there are other packag
. Theres nothing wrong with traditional hotels and resorts, but you shouldnt feel limited to them. Alternatives like B&Bs, house swaps and farm stays may offer more value and certainly more personality. Check out resources such as BedandBreakfast.com, DudeRanch.org, HomeExchange.com, Agritourism.net (working farms that welcome guests), CouchSurfing.com (a network of people who let travelers crash on their couches free of charge) and UHOTW.com, or
By Owner Rentals
. The Internet revolutionized how to rent vacation homes directly from the owners, and the recession provided incentive for tens of thousands of owners to put their second homes on the rental market, via websites like HomeAway.com, Craigslist.org and VRBO.com, or ?Vacation Rentals by Owner. The result is that renters have a huge selection, along with the power to negotiate, especially at the last minute. (Unlike hotels, where not everyone on staff
. When business and upscale travel is down (as it is now), you can get great deals through ?Pricelines opaque bidding feature at high end hotels in big cities what ?Priceline calls four star hotels. For the uninitiated, Priceline.com allows you to bid low prices on a hotel room with the catch that you dont find out the exact property you booked until your credit card is already charged. Similarly, Hotwire.com shows you a price, but you dont kno
New or Nothing
. Before you book, ask when the property was built or renovated a Super 8 can be wonderful if its only a couple of months old, and a W that hasnt been touched in years can be ratty. Beware low priced motels and even midrange chains that havent been renovated in more than five years.
. Be wary of bargains that require advance booking. The discounts are usually decent 20% off or more but you must prepay for your entire stay, and cancellations and date changes are usually not allowed. If theres any chance youll need to shift dates, reserve a room at a higher rate at a place that allows you to make changes at no fee within 24 hours of check in.
. The first thing you should do in a new room peel back the bedding and check the seams of the mattress for traces of bedbugs bloodstains or actual bugs. And in any case, never, ever, ever put your bag on the bed. The main way travelers bring bedbugs home is when their bags get infested after touching bedspreads or mattresses. When packing or unpacking your bag, put it on an unupholstered piece of furniture a dresser or one of those folding lug
. More and more cruise ships leave from drive up ports, which save you money on airfare but can cost you in parking. Plan on arriving the day before your departure always a good idea in case youre delayed, because the ships wont wait for you and spend one night at a hotel that lets you park your car in its lot free for the duration of your trip. This is a common deal in port cities, more so in a tight economy. And if the hotel doesnt offer it a
Book Last Minute
. Not long ago, the cruise industry announced that last minute discounts had disappeared and that the best prices would always be booked four or more months in advance. Thats hardly the case today. Not only are last minute offers often cheaper than advanced bookings, but there are also tons of vacancies nowadays. Orbitz has even dedicated an entire Web page where cruises are discounted at the last minute by up to 75%.
. The best way to get good service is to tip beforehand thats especially true on cruise ships, where youre guaranteed to interact closely with the same staff members. So tip $20 to your cabin steward upon boarding its awkward but it works. Youll still probably have to pay a service charge at the end of the cruise; as with all fees, ask about it in advance.
Car Rental Clubs
. Hotel loyalty programs are worth joining because you get perks, but car rental clubs are essential. Loyalty program membership often means you dont have to wait in insane lines, fill out annoying forms or get relentlessly up sold.
. Always check attractions websites to see if you can buy tickets in advance you may have to pay a $1 or $2 per ticket fee, but that sure beats standing in line. Timed entry is even better, because it means you avoid both the ticket buying line and the admission line, if there is one.
. Finding souvenirs that were actually made at your destination is getting harder and harder (unless youre visiting China). When youre traveling abroad, get off the tourist track and look for unusual items in places like supermarkets, hardware stores, stationery shops and so on. Not only will the merchandise have unique character, but it will also be stuff that locals really use. And even if the product itself isnt so different from whats available
Bypass the Concierge
. When youre asking around for sightseeing or dining advice, avoid hotel staffers. Theyre often on the take. (In fact, many hotels license out their concierge operations to companies that get commissions on bookings for certain attractions and restaurants.) Instead, find establishments shops, caf?s, restaurants, galleries that match your taste, and ask the folks there.
Call Home for Pennies
. If you need to make a single quick call home, just use your cell phone. Most of them work overseas nowadays, and while you may be overcharged, you avoid the hassle of phone cards. (E mail is obviously the cheapest option, but sometimes you need to hear someones voice.) If youre planning on dialing internationally multiple times or for long periods, try Skype, a phone service that works via the Internet. You can call other ?Skype users for free, a
Maximize Your iPhone
. Before you go buying a mess of travel gear for your next big trip, take a closer look at your iPhone. Its a multipurpose guide1. Before you leave home, e mail yourself your itinerary, as well as all confirmation e mails for hotel, attraction, rental car and other bookings.2. Use the GPS and the ?Google Maps app to find your way around.3. Take photos of anything you might be held accountable for (such as a torn carpet in a hotel room or a dent on