Travel Tips and Tricks

I know it has been a while since I have last written. I’ve been on many adventures since then – France and England again, Austria, Czech Republic, Germany and across the U.S. – so I hope you’ll pardon my absence.

I visited Crater Lake, Oregon last week. It was beautiful, but dense fog and smoke from forest fires enveloped the mountain tops.

I visited Crater Lake, Oregon last week. It was beautiful, but dense fog and smoke from forest fires enveloped the mountain tops.

Since people always ask me how to travel, I wanted to write a quick post with the travel items I couldn’t live without, as well as other tips I’ve developed on my journeys. These are meant principally for international travel, but some can also be used for domestic trips, too.

Here it goes:

  1. Buy a backup battery for your phone. These range from $10 to $80, and they’ll hold one or two full battery lives, depending on which you select. It’s pretty simple: you charge it, then you hook up your phone to it using your USB or lightning cord that comes with your cell. You can use your phone while it’s charging and it will still have another full battery left to use. I’ve had great success with Anker products. It’s always comforting to know (especially in a foreign country) that you’ve got plenty of battery life left, especially on a long day.
  2. Use a passport wallet. I’ve got a big purse, and there’s nothing more terrifying than thinking you’ve lost your passport in that black hole of a bag when you’re overseas. My passport won’t fit in my typical wallet, so I’ve invested in a passport wallet. For years, there haven’t been many options that weren’t bulky or impractical for carrying any place other than around your neck (and let’s be honest, that looks ridiculous). But never fear! Now, Etsy, Amazon and others have loads of chic choices for the savvy traveler. You can typically fit your passport, ticket, reservation confirmations, credit card and even a hotel key. Here’s one I just bought.
  3. Buy a foreign SIM card. First of all, do not travel without a wireless plan. I know many people who think they can just hop on WiFi somewhere to check emails or communicate with loved ones. But for me, I prefer the security and accessibility of using my phone overseas. You can sign up for an international travel plan with your provider, but a much cheaper option is to buy a re-loadable SIM card and swap yours out for it when you arrive overseas. America is notorious for its pricey phone services, so you’ll be pleasantly surprise that you can get much more “bang for your buck” internationally. I use the JT Telestial SIM card, which connects to local networks for data and talk, no matter where you are. There’s a modest fee to set-up the SIM card, and you can recharge it on the Web, on their mobile application or via text, and you can also use their online portal to check how much data or how many minutes you have left. I typically pay between $50 and $150 to use my phone pretty freely for a week or two when I’m traveling. It’s well worth it. Continue reading
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TSA Adds New Rules for Traveling with Electronics

Most air travelers grudgingly accept the mounting inconveniences of the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA), from taking off our shoes to highly restricted possession of liquids in a carry-on, conceding that the agency is merely trying to keep Americans and visitors safe from the ongoing threat of terrorism.

Now, the TSA will add further complications to boarding an airplane — this time, in another country.

Yesterday, the TSA announced that in order to travel to the U.S. from select airports in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, the airport of departure must check all electronic devices, including mobile phones and tablets. To submit your belongings for the required screenings, all battery-powered devices intended for carry-on must be operational.

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Crowd-Sourcing Travel

Greetings from Washington! I’m back from my Canadian adventure (more on that later), and I’m already planning my next trip. This time, I’m heading back to London to see the sights, visit friends and watch my beloved Arsenal take on Manchester United at Emirates Stadium.

I’m going to have three or four days in the middle of the trip to explore outside of England, so I’m crowd-sourcing to determine where I should go. Here are the parameters:

1. It must be accessible by affordable transportation. Examples of these include: Ryan Air, Easy Jet, EuroStar, Virgin Trains, etc.

2. It must be safe for a twentysomething female to visit alone.

3. It must not be below freezing during the winter.

So, send me your ideas and details of why I should visit! I’ll post the best ones here and give you all the credit, of course.

The Truth About Discount Travel Deals

If you live in a city of more than 5, chances are you’re subscribed to LivingSocial or Groupon emails. If you’re unfamiliar, these are websites that sell vouchers for products, services and events (vacations, concerts and such) at highly discounted rates. You could get a pedicure for $14, a flight and four-night stay in the Bahamas for $599, a ticket to a James Taylor concert for $20 (I snagged that deal!) or yoga classes for $40. Obviously, these seem like great deals.

But, caveat emptor if you are considering purchasing your next vacation with one of these discount sites. Christopher Elliot, Washington Post writer and travel blogger, says you should think twice before clicking “buy.” LivingSocial has faced its own set of challenges, including plummeting profits and a dwindling staff, and reviews from unsatisfied customers probably won’t help.

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My Home State Takes Center Stage

Map courtesy of Louisiana Office of Tourism.

Map courtesy of Louisiana Office of Tourism.

Tonight, my home state of Louisiana is hosting the Miss USA competition, thanks in part to a motion picture tax credit that has made the Pelican State the #1 place to film in the U.S. While Hurricane Katrina wreaked havoc on our home, it also brought a renewed interest for the land of Mardi Gras, those boys in black and gold, alligators, winding oak-lined roads, tasty food, plantation homes and a people whose joie de vivre is the envy of the world.

As a result, Louisiana’s tourism industry has enjoyed record-breaking growth. Last year alone, 27.3 million people — nearly seven times the state’s population — visited La Louisiane. Whether for work or for fun, there are a lot of reasons to visit.

Here are my top 25 ways to “pass a good time” in Louisiana:

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How a $458 International Fare Becomes $1,165

I’m planning to visit the U.K. in a few months, so I’ve been looking through flight schedules to see what my options might be. Although I’ll likely pay with miles, I took a look at how the fare broke down. Now, I’ve always been aware that the fare itself is often significantly cheaper than the taxes and fees on an international flight, but I was still a bit surprised by what I learned.

As some background on the flight I chose, I searched Delta.com for an eight-day roundtrip fare from Washington – Dulles International Airport (IAD) to London, Great Britain (LON). Delta assigned its partner airline, Virgin Atlantic, and set me up for an arrival at London – Heathrow Airport (LHR). I didn’t select any upgrades, and I didn’t opt for a “Pay with Miles” eligible trip.

Here’s how a $458 airfare becomes $1,165:

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Washingtonians, Time to Try IcelandAir

A few months ago, I organized an incredible trip with seven friends to Iceland (much, much more on that later), and we flew IcelandAir from Washington – Dulles International Airport (IAD) to Keflavik International Airport (KEF) outside of Reykjavik, Iceland. The price of our ticket? A whopping $580 (which is actually quite pricey for that flight in the winter). Our trip from D.C. to Reykjavik took less than five hours and we landed just as the sun appeared from behind the moss-covered cliffs of the Icelandic countryside.

If you can get past its staggeringly antiquated website, flying with IcelandAir is a great experience. There was WiFi available for the entire flight, and the seats were pretty comfortable. You have your choice of English language in-flight entertainment, both British and American, as well as Icelandic programming. IcelandAir also shows videos on Icelandic tourism on-board, which are both hilarious and informative. Even their safety video has garnered international attention for being, well, utterly Icelandic. Also, be sure to try the Icelandic Water they offer upon boarding the plane — it’s delicious.

I emphatically recommend visiting Iceland because it truly exceeded every expectation I had. After its economic collapse in 2008, the country sought to attract more Americans (and it worked — we saw Americans everywhere). The jaw-dropping flight deals are even sweeter when coupled with super low hotel rates. Now, it’s quite expensive once you actually arrive in Reykjavik, but getting there and staying there can be done quite cheaply.

But, you don’t have to be heading to the land of elves to fly IcelandAir. In fact, IcelandAir is known for its cheap flights from the U.S. to Europe. Since all of their flights to the rest of Europe stop in Reykjavik for a layover anyway, IcelandAir has a pretty savvy idea to attract tourists: you can enjoy a stay in Iceland en route to your final destination for no additional airfare. So, if you’re heading from New York City to, say, Copenhagen, you’d simply book your fare to Copenhagen using their special search engine and add a stay in Iceland (I’d recommend three days/two nights to see Golden Circle, Reykjavik and Blue Lagoon).

And if you live in D.C., there’s never been a better time to try out IcelandAir. The airline is celebrating year-round service from the capital city with a contest – #icelanDChase – that includes free plane tickets.

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