In my last post I shared some travel tips on finding cheaper travel,getting discounts, etc. Now I want to delve a little deeper and cover some of the things people don’t always think about or issues they don’t always know how to resolve. And just so you know, I’m not receiving any type of renumeration for these recommendations. They’re just things I’ve found to be helpful, and I wanted to pass them along.
Flights/Trains: Sometimes you’re lucky enough to be able to select your seats online either when doing a reservation or an online check-in. The little airplane maps on their website don’t really give you all the information, though. Had I not used SeatGuru.com for a really long flight I was going to be taking, I wouldn’t have known that my seat had a poor view of the movie screen, it didn’t recline, and it was too close to the bathroom and a crew area to ensure decent sleep. It’s a free site and very user friendly so take advantage of it.
Layovers are often at inconvenient times and/or duration. When I was preparing to travel to Lima from Denver two years ago, I was going to end up arriving in the airport at about 1:30 AM, and my connecting flight wasn’t leaving for about 7 hours. Touring around Lima in the middle of the night wasn’t an exciting prospect, and neither was paying for a hotel room for the chance of getting maybe 5 hours of sleep. So I consulted The Guide to Sleeping in Airports to find out if an overnight stay in the airport was feasible. It gives you reviews, suggestions on the best places to catch some winks, etc.
Airlines charge a bazillion fees these days. If you’re researching multiple airlines for your next flight, it can be tough to find all these various add-ons in one place, and they can significantly increase your travel costs. This comparison chart is very handy and makes planning quite a bit easier.
If your travel plans include trains, you’ll want to explore The Main in Seat 61‘s site. It’s another incredibly useful site that you’ll most likely want to bookmark.
Communication/Internet: Almost everyone knows about Skype. It’s a fabulous tool for travelers, and I love that it enables you to call any other user for free. You can also call toll-free numbers in the States for free which makes communicating with your bank more easy as well, an especially nice feature that allows you to call from the privacy of your room so the entire Internet cafe doesn’t get to hear all your personal information.
When entering a new country, it’s always helpful to be prudent. Emergency telephone numbers can be different across borders, and sometimes even within the same country. I have found this site to be very helpful, and before going to a new country I either note important numbers or enter them into my phone just in case. It never hurts to be prepared.
Sometimes travel also means flaky Internet connections. Here are some tips for dealing with these hair-pulling moments.
Some countries censor what can be viewed online. Surprisingly, Cuba doesn’t for foreigners, which is nice since you’ll be paying $6-8 USD per hour to use the Internet there. However, countries like China and Vietnam are well known for censoring social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, among others. Even when not dealing with censorship, if you are traveling outside North America or the UK, you may not be able to access sites like Hulu or Netflix. Thankfully, there are some easy ways around this problem, and most of them are free. We use Hotspot Shield quite a bit.
If your phone is unlocked and uses a SIM card, then you can usually purchase these quite inexpensively at your destination. Often international rates are quite reasonable this way as well. If your phone isn’t unlocked, don’t be afraid to call your provider and let them know you’re about to travel and would like to unlock your phone. Most of them will give you the code or do it for you. If not, there are other sources to help you unlock your phone that are easily discovered via Google. Keep in mind you may lose some functions when your phone is unlocked while you’re in your country of residence, however.
Banking: If you aren’t aware of the problems with fake card readers and cameras planted nearby ATMs, it’s time to get familiar with them. Some people have had their entire account wiped out by these thieves. When using an ATM, it’s best to use the ones attached to a bank, as in attached to their building. Avoid kiosk ATMs like the plague. They are much easier for thieves to rig so that they can steal your data which leads to loss of money, extreme difficulties (have you ever had to replace your card while overseas?), and so on. If the PIN pad doesn’t have a cover, I’d suggest going to another machine. If that isn’t possible, use your hand to block the pad while you enter your code. I also prefer ATMs that have bars over one side of the card reader so that it can’t be manipulated or replaced easily.
You should always notify your bank and credit card companies of any impending travel before leaving. Make sure to get their foreign telephone numbers in case you need assistance. Another important thing to ask, especially if they are a large bank, like Bank of America, is if they have any relationships with other institutions in the country you’re traveling to. Many of them do and using their ATMs will save you a lot of money in transaction fees. Also ask if they charge currency exchange fees since these can add extra charges. My personal recommendation, if you’re in the US, is to open a free account with Charles Schwab. They are extremely easy to work with, have excellent customer service, and they don’t pile on extra charges, including currency conversion fees. An additional nice feature is they will reimburse you once a month for any ATM fees you incur while at home or abroad. In the last year we’ve traveled this has ended up saving me over $100 in just ATM fees alone.
In my next travel tips post we’ll discuss planning and some other tips. What other types of tips would you like to know more about?
May 16, 2012
Some good advice there. Never used SeatGuru before, will check it out!
May 16, 2012
Always happy to hear when a tip is news for someone. Thanks!
May 10, 2012
Good tips. Lots of information in here. I’ve used SeatGuru before and like it. Great site for researching plane seats. Some of these other ones I didn’t know about. I will definitely use this as a reference for airline fees and train info. Lots of good research on this.
May 10, 2012
Thanks! Glad you found them helpful. More coming soon. J
May 9, 2012
Goodness, but I rarely bookmark *3* new links from a blog post, but yours today is chock-full of travel-handys!
Couple few comments/tips of my own:
Note that Vietnam (where I presently live/teach EFL) blocks only Facebook (though even that you can bypass the ban w/ a free proxy – I use “Ultrasurf”. For some strange reason, twitter, et al remain open.
Yes, yes, a Schwab account. It’s likewise saved be a goodly bundle of ATM fees as well.
And yup, seat61 – THE definitive guide for all train travel (presently I’m investigating the options for the Trans-Siberian to Mongolia.) Also has good info for bus/ferry options ’round the world.
Emergency numbers all in one place? Genius. (well duh!) I’ve been here in Vietnam more than 6 months, and thanks to you, just now jotted down the numbers for VN. Likewise (191) for Cambodia where I’m headed next week. Ya never know…, yes?
Skype my bank you say? Brilliant! I never thought of that. So I can just use their 800 number and connect via Skype?
Long layover you say? Well yes, middle of the night is a pain, but I often DELIBERATELY book a 12 hr. day layover somewhere – to go GEOCACHING! Indeed, there’s a worldwide community of geocachers (see geocaching.com), and I’ve hooked up with geocachers in both Taipei and Amsterdam, who were kind enough to meet me upon arrival and show me the sights (not to mention grab the best local caches along the way), before pouring me on my onward flight.
Thanks ever so much, for a most fruitful morning of very handy travel tips!
May 10, 2012
Well, that’s a new one for me. Never heard of someone planning a long layover just to go geocaching! LOL That’s pretty cool.
For contacting an 800 number, just go into Skype and select call phone. Choose the US as the country, enter the number, and call and voila! It is VERY handy!
Thanks for the other comments. Going to check out Ultrasurf, too. That’s a new one for me. Glad you found the links so helpful!