Travel fast or travel slow

by S&M

This might be a good starter to a conversation about what kinds of travel people prefer—spend a month, as Fred says he plans to do post-retirement, spend an afternoon while your cruise ship is at port, or something in between.

I “travel fast” and don’t care what you think about it. Here’s why

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Insider travel ideas

by S&M

Regulars on the blog are spread across the US, including major cities and smaller spots some of us would like to visit on vacation. We’ve exchanged travel reports, but what about our own backyards? I wonder if regulars in Houston and Seattle agree with these “insider” ideas for their cities, and what others would tell us to see and do where they live.

Travel Like You Live Here

Open thread

We have an open thread today all day.

Here’s a topic on my mind.

How to Pack a Suitcase

Many of you will be pleased that packing cubes are recommended.  Right now I’m looking for a more efficient toiletry bag, one that hangs on a hotel door hook..

In shopping for a rolling bag recently I noticed that four wheels (spinners) seem more popular than two wheels.  I prefer two wheels because it’s slightly more compact and I don’t notice the extra ease of a four-wheeler.

At what age did your children become mostly responsible for packing their own suitcases?

Tips for Traveling Overseas

By North of Boston

This summer, my family and I are traveling to Europe to celebrate my 50th birthday.  Back in my young, single days, I used to travel internationally a lot.  However, those days are long gone, and I realize that it has been over 20 years since I last went abroad.  As I think about the upcoming trip, I realize that I have a lot of random questions about traveling overseas in the modern era.  Who better to help me with my questions, I thought, than The Totebag?

Totebaggers, I would love your input on the following questions.  If you have any additional tips for traveling internationally, please share those as well.  Also, if other Totebaggers have questions about their own travels, or would just like to chat about upcoming summer trips, feel free to jump in.

  • Many totebaggers have remarked in the past that it is considered very rude these days to recline your seat if you are sitting in coach on a plane. Is that true even for overnight flights when, presumably, most people want to sleep?  I don’t want to be rude, but I also want to try to rest on the eastbound, overnight flight.
  • Even when I was young, I had a lot of trouble with jetlag when going across several timezones . What is the current thinking about ways to minimize jetlag?
  • Back InMyDay, I remember that if you wanted to use anything electric overseas, you had to carry not only a plug adapter, but also a converter to change the voltage of your items. I think I have heard that most modern electronics (e.g. laptops, chargers, etc) already have converters, so you just need the plug adapter; is that true?
  • Also InMyDay, my pre-trip preparations always involved a trip to the American Express office to get a stack of U.S. dollar traveler’s checks. How do people pay for things these days?  Can I expect that credit cards will be acceptable pretty much everywhere (we’ll be in England and France), or should I also bring cash?  If the latter, is it better to get the cash in the U.S., or wait until we’re overseas?
  • What is the best way to get cell phone service overseas (I would like to be able to get my work voicemails, and to respond to any that need immediate attention)? Should I just ask my carrier what plans they offer, or should I do something else?

Happy travel

by S&M

This post mentions the famous (I think) free 3-day Reykjavik layover from Iceland air. It got me thinking about other possible things to do on layovers, like the Air and Space Museum right next to Dulles. Then I started reminiscing about past layover “wins”.

Flying between Ethiopia and Germany, I had my flights rearranged in Entebbe as Clinton (and AF 1) delayed our departure. When I got to Rome, I had an 8 hr layover, and didn’t want to hang out in any more airport space. I rode the subway into the city, not sure where I was going, but happy to be out of the airport (I was 32, single, and childfree). As I came up from the station, most of the crowd seemed to be going in one direction. I saw no reason to swim against the tide. I continued to move along for a couple of blocks before the people ahead of me handed over their bags for someone to search. The whole crowd seemed to be lining up. Huh? Random security checks on the sidewalk? I looked around and realized we were at the gates of the Vatican. I went on in, no ticket required, and found myself standing in St Peter’s Square, just outside the Basillica, with hundreds if not thousands of people. What now? The pope? I was joking to myself, but sure enough, the crowd at one end parted, cheers went up, and there was the famous Popemobile, with the pontiff smiling and waving as he drove through the crowd. He drove around a bit before he gave a brief welcome and blessing and I think that was it. It was a bit of a surreal experience.

Another time, I knew in advance that my son and I would have an 11-hr layover after flying across the Pacific. We had nearly missed our outbound flight in LAX, so I was fine with the wait, but with a 3 year old? We took a cab to the beach, played in the surf, slept in the sun, ate in a cafe, and were refreshed when our redeye began.

So how ’bout it? Do you have any good layover stories, intentional or not?

Layovers Don’t Have to Suck: Escape the Airport and Explore

Why flying has gotten suckier

by MooshiMooshi

The current flying experience, in my opinion, totally sucks, and is much worse than say 8 or even 5 years ago. It is just as crammed and unpredictable as before, but now tickets cost a lot more, service to small and medium cities has been cutback drastically and in particular costs a lot more, and to add insult to injury, we now pay fees for almost every aspect of a “normal” flying experience. At some point, I assume, we will end up paying fees for being allowed to sit down. And yes, I pay the fees. If I am flying with a kid, I want to sit next to my kid because even though said kid would be fine alone, it is simply inconvenient to be separated. So I pay the fee to get an aisle or window seat, and I pay the fee to be allowed to choose. And since I would rather not be separated from my bag which has all my snacks and reading glasses, and work to be done, I pay for the priority boarding so I can get bin space. Boarding has turned into a stressed out competition. In the old days, one could relax and wait for your row group to be called. Now, it is a stampede, with everyone in a boarding group hanging by the gate, trying to be first in their group to get that bin space.

This is a great article explaining why this state of affairs is good for airlines.

“Calculated misery”: how airlines profit from your miserable flying experience

Although, they don’t really touch on the main reason why airlines have been able to do this: consolidation. The industry is so much a monopoly now that we consumers cannot vote with our feet.

I thought capitalism and free markets were supposed to IMPROVE things for consumers. But evidently not.

Do you guys think air travel will ever improve or will we end up paying an extra fee for the privilege of sitting?

Holidays from hell

by Grace aka costofcollege

What was your holiday from hell?  Maybe you’ve not suffered from situations as horrible as those in the article linked below, but have you had any time time when your carefully planned trip did not turn out as smoothly as anticipated?  Illness, injury, missed flights, dismal accommodations, horrible weather, unruly or incompatible traveling companions, disappointing destinations, or something else?

Holidays from Hell: From frisky elephants to a loo filled with frogs, tourists reveal the hilarious moments their trips went VERY wrong

One of my recent travel disasters caused me to miss my kid’s college graduation ceremony.  The series of unfortunate events began with a widespread thunderstorm pattern that cancelled our flight and ended with me pulling up to campus the next day just after the last graduate had been handed their diploma.  In between were many snags, including a daylong wait at the originating airport, outrageously priced replacement tickets, misplaced luggage, unexpected highway construction on the way to campus, and a clueless cab driver who asked me for the best alternate route.

My sister once spent the night with her toddler at O’Hare International on Christmas Eve. What travel mishaps or disappointments have you had?  Can you laugh at them now in hindsight?

More holiday season conversation

by Finn

With T-day in our rear-view mirror, we’re well into the holiday season.

Are you sending out cards? What kind do you send? Do you attach a newsletter to your cards? How do you feel about receiving newsletters with cards?

If you do send out cards, here’s some grammar help:

Are Your Holiday Cards Grammatically Correct?

Do you have travel plans for the holiday? Kids coming home from college? Do you have any travel planning tips to share? Ever tried Google flights?

Making travel planning less stressful this holiday season

Do you have any gift ideas to share? What items seem to be this year’s “it” gifts?

Bargain travel

by Grace aka costofcollege

Despite her initial doubts, this NYT travel writer gave a positive review of a trip she took using a bargain package deal.

Looking for a Bargain Vacation? Don’t Rule Out Hawaii

For years I’d seen online ads for surprisingly affordable prefab vacations — airfare and hotel, with maybe a car and a tour thrown in — through unexpected vendors like Groupon and Costco. I remember thinking, “Do people actually buy vacations through Costco?” To me, packaged bulk trips were the five-pound tub of mozzarella balls of travel. Sure, it’s a bargain, but how bland? What quality could you possibly get for that impossibly low price? I was, in short, the worst kind of travel snob.

I regularly check deals that come my way, mainly Groupon Getaway and Travelzoo.  But I’ve never tried any.  Sometimes they seem too good to be true and sometimes they seem to scrimp more than I’d like.  (Are the hotels lacking?  Can I get an aisle seat on the plane?)  Sometimes they don’t seem like such a great value when I start to compare low airfares and housing options that I could assemble on my own.  But I keep telling myself that one day I need to throw caution to the wind and buy a five-night inclusive trip to the Caribbean for under $600.  How bad could it be?

Here are three travel deals I recently came across, all departing from New York:

  • 11-day Thailand & China Tour w/Air for $1499 that includes hotels, transfers, daily breakfasts, and several tours including one of the Great Wall of China
  • London & Rome 6-Night Trip for $799 that includes air, hotels, transfers, daily breakfasts
  • Punta Cana 5-nights all-inclusive beach side resort including air for $589

Do these sound enticing to you?  Have you ever bought one of these deals or have you considered it?  Do you know people who’ve had good or bad experiences?  Do you avoid these mainly because they’re too conventional and you prefer more personalized travel?  In other words, are you a “travel snob”?  Any advice for someone who’s considering buying one of these deals?

Also, do you have any travel plans coming up or any dreamy destinations that you’d like to visit soon?

Vacation splurges

by Denver Dad

We are going to Iceland next month and we booked a tour for an obscene cost. It’s a helicopter ride to the Thrihnukagigur volcano and then you take an open elevator down to the volcano floor. It’s the only place on earth where you can go into the magma chamber. We went back and forth on it, and finally decided it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and we figured if we’re going to do it, we might as well go all in and do the helicopter ride instead of hiking up.

What are the biggest splurges you’ve made on vacation? What was worth it and what wasn’t?

National Parks

by Honolulu Mother

We’ve talked about national park visits before, but it’s summer so why not take the chance to reminisce, plan, and share experiences again.

This FiveThirtyEight article, The National Parks Have Never Been More Popular, notes that the park system continues to get more and more visits over the years. Even though on a per person basis we’re visiting a bit less often than previously, population growth has driven visitor numbers upward. The article goes on to list parks from the most-visited to the least-visited, so if you want to avoid a crowd you can look to the bottom of the list.

Based on the list, the least-visited one I’ve been to recently was Mesa Verde, which was indeed vastly less crowded than the Grand Canyon (our next stop) and for that reason was beautiful and peaceful in a way that Grand Canyon village really couldn’t compare with. We were able to sit out on our porch having a drink and watching the cottontails scurry around in the scrub outside our room while the daylight slowly faded, feeling like we had the place to ourselves.

And I clearly should plan a visit to the North Cascades, which MooshiMooshi so highly recommended and which is in a state we often visit!

What park experiences have stood out for you? What is the least-visited park on the list that you’ve been to? And do you think visitor numbers are all that important in planning a trip, or do you go with the theory that even in the Great Smoky Mountains, you’re pretty much on your own once you get a little way down a trail?

Totebaggy travel

by winemama

How totebaggy are your vacations? Do you pass on the Mousetrap?

To me, teaching moments and travel go hand in hand. So our family vacations are designed to incorporate elements of enrichment: exposure to foreign culture, a brush with history, interaction with nature, discovery of new foods, engaging in activities that make us step outside our comfort zones. Sure, Disney is fun. But school breaks are few and handled with extreme care.

5 Family Vacations That Don’t Involve Disney World

Choosing a Vacation Destination Based on its Economy

by Honolulu Mother

Vox put together this Vacation Index showing which countries are the best – and worst – bargains for vacationers at the moment. According to the article, it’s not intended to compare bang for the buck in absolute terms, but rather to show which countries are cheaper or more expensive than they usually are. Do you think the index is an accurate representation of that? Would you consider choosing a vacation destination based on it?

Our next vacation is to the very worst bargain listed, and yet the exchange rate is still better than it was the last time I was there. I think the index is looking at a relatively short-term timescale.

European travel plans?

by Finn

How have the recent bombings in Paris and Brussels affected you?

I’m guessing that one impact they might have on totebaggers is on travel plans. While Europe is not high on my list of places to go and things to do, there are a few places on my list, but those will probably have to wait for less turbulent times.

We’ve recently been affected. The kids’ school just hosted a group from Japan, who had originally planned a trip to Paris. But the bombings there caused a change of plans, and they came here instead.

Trip of a lifetime

by Milo

Looping With Little Ones

The family featured in this article took a year off from work, sold their house, bought a used cruising yacht, and took their three kids on a trip around the Eastern half of the United States via the Great Loop–the 5,000-mile circular journey from the mostly sheltered waters of the Eastern Seaboard to the mighty Midwestern rivers known to East Coasters like me only through the novels of Mark Twain.

I’ve mentioned that this is a brand new retirement goal for me, but this family, with children close in age to my own, got me wondering why they would do something like this and I wouldn’t. There are reasons, to be sure. He’s an independent contractor; I’m an employee. We’re pseudo-Totebaggers and therefore are loath to alter the kids’ path through traditional schooling. I’d feel too much regret over a year’s lost earnings at this point in my life.

But, oh to daydream about the possibilities if I were a little less boring and a little more adventurous.

What do you think about this trip in general? How about with kids, specifically? What great, long journeys have you enjoyed, or plan to do, or dream about?