Feb
27th
  Don’t Lose Frequent Flyer Miles this Winter..Here’s a Little Known Secret
From WTDN

From WTDN

The past two winters have been brutal for flight cancellations and rerouting due to inclement weather. Yes, this costs the airlines money having to terminate flights – but it also costs passengers.

Don’t let it cost you in frequent flyer miles! For those of you who are mile mavens, keeping precise track of how many miles you earn and are already calculating to reach a new premier level, every little mile counts.

So if you’ve been rerouted this winter due to storms, make sure you check on how many miles the new route brings you. If it brings you LESS than  your original route, you are entitled to collect higher number of miles you originally booked.

Also – if you have been rerouted to another airline, you can call the original airline and collect from that airline – presuming it is the airline you fly frequently.

Sometimes you then get to double dip with the airline you actually fly, and the one with which you originally booked.

All of this, of course, ONLY if you get rerouted or rebooked involuntarily.

Yeah yeah I know. It can be a hassle to call the airlines and work it out, and frankly, may people just don’t do it. But trust me.. when you are booking your summer vacation flight to Orlando and are 120 miles short of getting a free ticket, you will appreciate having laid the groundwork.

Happy Travels!

 

 
Feb
10th
  The Nightlife Rage in Budapest: The Ruin Pub. (Where to get your Groove Back)

DSC02767What is this mom of three doing writing about some of the so-called hippest nightlife in the world?

Let’s just say after the daily carpooling, meal-making, & weekends on the soccer fields, I appreciate reigniting my mojo.  And adult nightlife doesn’t get much more creative than in Budapest, Hungary.

Specifically, in the ruin pubs.  The “ruin pub” is the hottest thing, emerging about 12 years ago & gradually becoming more popular.

Budapest, Hungary

Budapest, Hungary

Many are in the Jewish quarter of Budapest. A formerly run-down hood, buildings were deserted & the area impoverished after thousands of Jews were deported after World War II. Neglect continued through the years.

Inside a ruin pub - Budapest, Hungary

Inside a ruin pub – Budapest, Hungary

Until… the story goes.. some young men looking for cheap places to get a drink, took over an abandoned building, invited artists to spruce it up. People started coming for the unique ambiance and very cheap beverages. Some of these buildings look like they could be condemned, but the decay and grafitti have instead become part of the charm.

I went to the most famous ruin pub among a few others – the Szimplakert. It was the first one of its kind, and Lonely Planet has listed it as the third best bar in the WORLD, for whatever that’s worth – one person’s opinion… but I must say, I’ve never felt so alive as in some of these places. They are eye candy… mixed with a foreign avant garde vibe. I must not be alone because ruin pubs have spread in the hood.

Notorious Trabant car turned into dining seating at a ruin bar

Notorious Trabant car turned into dining seating at a ruin bar

Check out the cool design… an old Trabant car (iconic in Budapest) turned dining table….bikes hanging from the ceiling… a gnome on a swing..  This ruin pub also offers live music and film screenings.

DSC02759The entry is a long hall of eclectic rooms to stop and get a drink or just look…

DSC02776

There is a second floor with a  great view of the courtyard.

Chair made from old tires at ruin pub

Chair made from old tires at ruin pub

.. and whimsical items like a chair made of tires. Everything that may have been rubbish has been turned into art or something functional .

Think thrift store meets German beer garden.

Granted… I quickly realized the place was filled with travelers/foreigners… locals have moved on to other, newer ruin pubs… but that certainly doesn’t spoil the ambiance. I still recommend it highly.  But ironically, now that the entire area is becoming gentrified because of the ruin bars, there is concern they may be harder to find. Here are some sources: Take a tour with underguide.com – Or check out ruinpubs.com

Nightlife in BudapestThat’s not the only vibrant nightlife scene in Budapest… Another night I visited different unique hang out – An outdoor mall of sorts with various bars and restaurants..

Nightlife in Budapest

…one even had a car show going on. And… Seriously, there is no shortage of people out after sunset on ANY summer night in Budapest.

So if a glass of wine for $3, along with a vibrant scene is your idea of exploring another country – check out the ruin pubs and other venues for a really fun time. Take it from this mom… who, like those ruin bars, transformed her M/O for a short, but really memorable time.

 

 

 

 

 
Feb
06th
  Yet Another Tragic Plane Crashes in Asia. Does it Make You Think “How Safe is my International Airline?”

transasia-plane-crash-taiwan-3

Sheesh. The photo of that TransAsia plane clipping the roadway looks like a scene from a blockbuster action movie – unreal. Unfortunately, it WAS real, and sadly, people have lost their lives.

The world has seen an unprecedented number of plane crashes in that region of the world lately – most in SouthEast Asia. Many reports I’ve read point out this may not be coincidental, including this one from Bloomberg news http://www.bloomberg.com/bw/articles/2014-12-29/why-air-disasters-keep-happening-in-southeast-asia

The aviation industry in areas of Asia  has grown at such a rapid pace, and low-cost carriers have proliferated so quickly, that it may be putting a  strain on the quality and training of employees to fill all the jobs. That region also has crazy weather systems, for which pilot experience is important.

Also, according to Bloomberg, “the increase in flights seems to have also  taxed air traffic controllers, and mechanics operating in Indonesia. The country has become infamous for poor management of planes in the air and coming in for landings, and for lax enforcement of airlines’ need to maintain planes. Pay for air traffic controllers, mechanics, and regulators of the aviation industry remains low by regional standards, “and corruption is endemic at all levels of regulatory agencies in Indonesia.

So if we are visiting another region of the world, how do we know if we are booking a flight on a safe international airline? There are no guarantees, but doing your homework could land you a seat on an airline that has taken better safety precautions and has stronger regulation.

Here are some tips:

1) Try to fly an American airline that comes under the FAA regulations. Yes, the flight may be more expensive. But at least you know better what you are getting.

2) Check with a great resource: airlineratings.com. It lists all airlines, and gives them scores based on things like their air safety record and number of fatalities… and even if they fly all Russian planes. ( Russia’s aviation industry suffered with the dissolution of the Soviet Union.)

Look at all the scores – and compare. Note though – it looks like many low-cost carriers are marked down two points because they don’t belong to a large industry group… You be the judge if that is a reason or not to fly.

3) Check which airlines are blacklisted by the FAA and the EU aviation authorities. List is here : http://www.1001crash.com/index-page-liste_noire-lg-2.html

To illustrate the point about the explosion of airlines in Indonesia, and the questionable safety, more than 40 airlines in Indonesia are on the blacklist.

Be safe. Travel far and well.

 

 
Jan
26th
  Good Reminders of What to do if Your Flight is Cancelled due to Weather

From ausbt.com.au

Argh. Winter storms can wreak havoc on the best laid travel plans. But since flight delays & cancellations are out of your control, I know it’s hard, but try to accept it & move forward. Let’s talk about what you can do to try to make the situation more tolerable, & still keep your sanity if possible :)

1) When you book your flight, always sign up for mobile notifications from the airline sent to your phone. This is helpful in many ways – I was once at the airport when my flight was supposedly delayed for two hours… I went to a restaurant, & the status quickly changed – the flight was boarding in 30 minutes instead of 2 hours. Luckily, I got a text, otherwise I surely would have missed my flight while enjoying a glass of wine and a book at the cafe.

If your flight is cancelled, & you’ve signed up for mobile notifications, you could also receive a text that you’ve automatically been rebooked. That could even save you a trip to the airport if you find out soon enough. However – there are also problems with this. If you are traveling with family members or friends, you may not be rebooked on the same flight – so getting a notification in advance helps you to change the flights as soon as possible.

2) When you make your travel plans, it is a good idea to either use a travel app like Trip It to store all your travel info, or simply load it into your phone in notes. That way, all the important phone numbers – hotels, airlines, etc are at your finger tips once you hit the road or wait in the airport. You may not have WiFI when you need it to get this info. Or, some airports only give you 45 minutes or so of free WiFi, and you pay afterwards.

With those phone numbers, start working the phone when you find out your flight is delayed or cancelled. YES  – if you are at the airport also wait at the main airline desk to try and rebook your flight, but also work the phone. There will be long lines at the desk. Many travelers already  know about this trick, but there are more phone agents working than people working at the desk, so it will still be more efficient if there are long lines at the gate or desk.

Here’s the key: If the person on the phone rebooks you, ask him or her to send a link to a mobile boarding pass if possible. I have been rebooked on the phone, only to get to the gate and the gate agent says I do not show up in the system. So after all that, I could not board the plane I thought I so ingenuously rebooked. (Cue the sad trumbone.)

3) If you rebook yourself, thinking out of the box, and flexibility can reward you. Is there another airport nearby that is not affected by weather that you can fly into and then drive to your final destination? This is a good option if you have to be somewhere by a certain time.

4) In cases of cancellations due to weather, the airlines are not obligated to put you up overnight. There are some travel apps that can help you with finding a place to stay – I have used Hotel Tonight  – discount rooms at the last minute.

5) If you know of up coming storms, think about rebooking your flight in advance of your flight day. Many times airlines won’t charge a change fee.

Most importantly – hang in there. This too will pass.

 
Jan
12th
  The Hotel that Inspired a Golden Globe Winning Film

I was so happy to see the film “Grand Budapest Hotel” win Best Picture Musical/Comedy last night at the Golden Globes!

I have seen it three times now, on flights I took last summer. Loved it every time – it is an eccentric but charming movie following a concierge at the height a grand dame hotel’s popularity during the period between World War I and World War II.  I’m no movie critic, but Ralph Fiennes is captivating – he brings to this role a freshness anyone can appreciate – very different from his roles in the “English Patient” or the “Harry Potter” series. And… there are some unexpected, fun cameos throughout.

Corinthia Budapest Hotel

Yes, there is a travel theme – thus, my enthusiasm. If you love being in hotels, that is the film’s backdrop. But there is allegedly some real life inspiration for this. Some have drawn parallels between the Grand Budapest Hotel and the hey day and even architecture of an existing Budapest hotel, the Corinthia Budapest in Budapest, Hungary. Filmmaker Wes Anderson reportedly stayed there, and the similarities are striking.

Corinthia Budapest Hotel

The Corinthia Budapest has quite a history – opened in 1896, it survived wars and the Hungarian Revolution… In the upcoming months, I will have a story about that on Travel Detective on PBS member stations on a recurring segment “Hotels with a Past.”

By the way, if you can get to Budapest, I recommend it. It has has areas that are as lovely as other top European destinations, and is less expensive… with historic sights and a great nightlife atmosphere.

In the meantime, catch the film! In a surprise win over “Birdman”, it may have some Oscar traction….

 

 
Dec
18th
  How to Find Meaning in the Wake of Devastating Events – Even While You Are Traveling

132 children. Killed.

I can’t even talk about it. This week’s news is so heart wrenching. I know many of you feel the same way. It doesn’t matter if it’s at a Pakistan school or in your own community, the loss of so many young, innocent life, so brutally, is painful.

It may ache to think of  this tragic incident. It may make us mad as heck to think about the cold-hearted act. But it won’t do any GOOD.

Instead, I would like to share something with you, that may do some GOOD when tragedy hits.

After another senseless attack just last month, I read something that resonated. A man reflected on his friend, Rabbi Kalman Levine, who was one of four killed while innocently praying in an Israeli synagogue. The friend said the rabbi would have advised this about finding meaning in his murder, or other tragedy:

“He would say when you observe this type of act, you need to increase the force of good in the world. Do something good you wouldn’t have done otherwise,” he said. “It’s the only way we’ll defeat the forces of evil.”

THIS is something we as individuals, who may feel helpless, can do. Try to make the world a better place with little moments.

I especially believe  this is important while we travel. We are giving everyone around the world an impression of Americans. Do they want to be our friends? Can we help make the world beyond our familiar borders a little less evil?

One meaningful, and adventurous way to make your trips meaningful and help is by voluntourism. It’s not only important to giving back, but how you help  can be a bridge between cultures… and intellectually interesting on a personal level.

 

Accommodations for Voluntourism on Mexican farm

Accommodations for Voluntourism on Mexican farm

IMG_3450

I report on voluntourism opportunities for the tv show “Travel Detective” on PBS member stations.  Above is a family farm in Mexico where I  helped in a garden…and the accommodations for volunteers.

Reporting on Heritage Malta Voluntourism

Reporting on Heritage Malta Voluntourism

You’ll see some more of my stories in the upcoming season:  I’ve profiled some interesting ways to give back to another country, while seeing another part of the world. Above, I was working on an archaeological dig in Malta, preserving Roman baths. It was amazing.

You can do it too. No matter what your passion, there is surely a volunteer trip for you.

How about working on a winery in New Zealand? How about helping preserve an endangered species’ habitat? Many times no experience is necessary. But – many times you do have to pay for your place to stay or contribute in some way. It isn’t always – “help out and you will have a free vacation. “  But you would be paying for a hotel anyway , right? By the way, the accommodations aren’t always 4 or even 3 star, but are you going for the experience or to be pampered? If pampering is your answer, this is not your kind of trip.

Here are some resources to help you begin researching some ways to volunteer on vacation.

https://www.justgive.org/donations/volunteer-vacations.jsp

http://www.wwoof.net/

http://heritagemalta.org/

Around this time if year, when we try to find good in the world, it’s nice to think we CAN do something that impacts others in a positive way. As we are thinking ahead to New Year’s resolutions, this might be anactivity for you to consider.

And although I believe in being modest or even anonymous in one’s charity, this just may be a time when you want to take photos for friends back home to spread the word :) #payitforward

 

 
Nov
20th
  Another Airline Charging for 1st Checked Bag – How to Save $$ On Baggage Fees
From blog.aztec247.com

From blog.aztec247.com

How many more airline fees can we fliers take? Just in time for the holidays, one of the only airlines to not charge for a first checked bag, announced that it is offering new classes of airfare – essentially eliminating the free checked bag with the discount airfare.

The airline – Jet Blue. Southwest now remains the only airline to not charge for the first checked bag.

The nation’s largest 15 airlines made $3.35 billion on baggage fees last year- With those kind of numbers, Jet Blue is calculating it to be a smart business move. Gas prices are down, so the airlines are poised to make even more money.

So how can we beat the airlines at their own game and save money? Travel smart and know before you go.

1) First way to avoid baggage fees: Consider getting an airline-aligned credit card that allows free checked bags. Even though the cards usually come with annual fees, if you travel & check bags frequently, the card pays for itself in saved baggage fees. Plus – you can earn other perks like extra miles, & free passes to the upper class lounges. Not to mention – your travel partners reap benefits too.

Here are some cards and baggage bonuses I researched  - but please double check before becoming a card holder!!

United Mileage Plus Explorer  - First bag checked free, & one companion on the reservation also gets a bag checked for free.  Upgrade to a United Club card & you & a companion get two bags checked for free.

Platinum Select American Airlines AAdvantage -first bag checked for free, plus FOUR people on the reservation get bags checked for free – big savings for a family.

Delta Gold Sky Miles -  Not only do you get one bag checked for free, so do up to NINE people on your reservation. Sounds great, but… I don’t really know anyone who books nine people on one reservation, but heck, if you do – that’s a $450 savings round trip at $25 a checked bag.

From Fedex.com

From Fedex.com

2) Second way to avoid baggage fees: Mail your bags in advance with a carrier service like Fed-Ex or UPS. The farther you plan in advance, the cheaper it is. Depending on how heavy the bag is & where you go will determine how much you save, (or not.) BUT – it is more convenient, and the airlines won’t lose your luggage.

compression bag3) Third way to avoid baggage fees: Pack light so you can fit everything in your carry on.  Vacuum storage bags make everything compact & give you more room  – I recommend them if you have a lot to pack with little room for it. Wear your bulky clothes on the plane, & put your toiletries in your personal purse/bag if possible, as long as liquid items are  less than 3.4 ounces.

4) If you have to check bags & pay a fee, make sure you know the rules of the airline, & any weight limitations. You can buy a small scale so you can weigh your bags before you get to the airport  – overweight bags get charged extra, so know before you go. Digital luggage scales can easily be found on Amazon.com.

Good luck!

 

 

 

 
Nov
14th
  Hotel of the Week: Orlando, for Less than $200 – Top Destination for the Holidays!

Magic Kingdom Main StreetAccording to an Orbitz travel survey, Orlando ranks as  the top place travelers are going this holiday season.While many of us are visiting Grandma, many more are apparently visiting Mickey and Minnie :)

IMG_1114I ‘ve been to Orlando a dozen times for work & pleasure, visiting  Epcot, the Magic Kingdom, Universal Orlando, and all the other attractions. So I gotta tell you: For as much as Disney is SO great at making family vacations memorable and fun, choosing a hotel at Walt Disney World Resort can be VERY overwhelming. I am not kidding you when I say that if you look for a hotel at Walt Disney World Resort online, 30 very different lodging options pop up. Who has time to research which one is best?

(You can go through travel agents who specialize in Disney – They are also in the know about meal plans, ticket packages, etc & can steer you to the best savings. )

Most people booking the hotel themselves look at the price point for his or her budget- and there is a wide range…from thousands of dollars, to hundreds a night.

This past summer, my family and I tried one of their moderate/budget hotels -  we were only there two nights, with more time spent at the park than in our room. I was curious to see what $180 got you for one room where my entire family of five could stay together – two queen beds, and one pull down bed with  REAL mattress, not a roll away. A little squeezed, but as I said, the kids were up at the crack of dawn to get to the Magic Kingdom, and we were out late.

Port Orleans Riverside Walt Disney World ResortWe stayed at Port Orleans Resort – Riverside and were pleasantly surprised.

Port Orleans Resort RiversideLike all the Disney resorts, this one had a theme:  The Louisiana Bayou,  – think swamps and riverboats. Other Walt Disney resort themes are the Animal Kingdom Lodge, All Star Music, All Star Sports Resort, and a Beach Club to name a few.

Port Orleans wasn’t one of the more exciting themes for kids, but there is something nice about being in a tranquil setting near nature – ponds, greenery, etc – rather than neon lights and loud music. You’ll get plenty of that on the rides at Orlando’s theme parks.

Port Orleans Riverside, Walt Disney World Resort

The tranquil design is done really well -but lends itself to  be spread out on a lot of land. So if you can’t walk a lot, or get in late at night, try to request a room close to the main lobby BEFORE you arrive.  There are multiple pools and lounging areas and can make it more confusing when not in the light of day.

The rooms themselves are an ok size – But most importantly – they are clean. That is a consistent Disney trait. Port Orleans has connecting rooms for families as well.

Port Orleans Riverside

One trait that makes this resort unique is that it has a 95 foot waterslide on “Ol Man Island” – a man made island that is part of the hotel with a swimming pool and fishin’ hole. Think Tom Sawyer. Around the resort, there are five other pools. When it gets too hot in the middle of the day at the parks – and it DOES – it’s nice to come back & take a afternoon break. Although Disney does put spray misters on some of the park’s ride lines, they really can’t keep everyone cool – those lines can get really uncomfortable if they are long.

If you are a rare person who sleeps in late while at Walt Disney World, or anticipate being jet lagged, request a room away from any of the pools because they can be loud. Some of the favorite rooms are Magnolia Bend mansion rooms… closer to everything… & the Alligator Bayou Lodges are more rustic, & spread out.

photo 1There aren’t many places to eat here – one casual sit down restaurant open only for dinner, and heavy on Southern food – Boatwright Dining Hall.. or a food court with buffet service that is packed for breakfast!

photo 2One note – there are some Disney resorts like the Contemporary that are walking distance to the Magic Kingdom. Port Orleans is one of the farthest resorts from the park – it’s near Downtown Disney. (For those of you who know, Downtown Disney is like a Disney outdoor mall area, not part of the theme park.)  However – Disney offers great complimentary shuttle service to its resorts and parks. It is about a 15 minute shuttle ride from Port Orleans Riverside- which does seem like a long time at the end of a hot sweaty day at the Magic Kingdom- but for $180 a night? Worth it.

With tickets to the Magic Kingdom looming near the $100 range, my theory is that travelers will start compensating by staying at more of the budget hotels, not eating at the restaurants as much, and buying fewer souvenirs. If that’s the case – Port Orleans -Riverside should be considered.

 https://disneyworld.disney.go.com/resorts/port-orleans-resort-riverside/

 
Nov
11th
  War Memorials are Worth Visiting Beyond Veteran’s Day

Veteran's DayMany Americans today are giving thanks and appreciation to military personnel who have served in our wars. Around the country there are church services, parades, and moments of silence… as well as each of our own personal odes of gratitude.

Many of these formalities are taking place today at monuments or memorials specifically for our soldiers. But, while all the ceremony is nice, let’s not forget about these poignant public statues and reminders even when it’s not Veteran’s Day. There are so many educational displays dedicated to the remembrance of war and the warriors – many are great for families.

This summer I visited what may be the granddaddy of places to visit memorials – Our National Mall in Washington DC, where, in a matter of a couple hours you can visit three different war memorials.

Korean War Memorial, Washington DCThe Korean War Memorial happens to be my favorite – only because it is so different, and can be haunting when seen at low light.

National World War 2 Memorial

The National World War 2 Memorial is beautiful…

Vietnam Memorial from veteranstoday.comAnd the Vietnam Memorial is strikingly personal and human because of the more than 58,000 names you can read of those who sacrificed their lives in the war.

If you visit – here are some tips: In the summer, go at dusk when it’s not so hot and not so crowded. Pick a time when most travelers are eating dinner. BUT  – don’t wait until it’s too dark. The Vietnam Memorial is hard to see after dusk even though it is lit from the sidewalk.

Bring bottled water in a backpack or something, along with sunscreen and an umbrella. Wacky Washington DC weather can be humid, strikingly hot, and rainy all in the same minute.

bike rentals

Also – another way to get around is to rent bikes right there on the mall. The only downer is there are no kid-sized bikes, so teens and adults only.

Washington DC is obviously not the only place to learn about the sacrifices of our vets, and appreciate the memorials built for them. Here is a link to many others devoted to our men and women who devoted so much: www.usa.gov/Federal-Employees/Veterans-Memorials.shtml

Yes the pomp and circumstance is nice at many of these monuments on Veteran’s Day. But if you’d like to spend a more peaceful time, reflecting on our history with fewer people around, these special memorials are worth the visit year round.

And…In case you didn’t know – Veteran’s Day is the anniversary of the signing of the armistice which ended World War 1.

Thank you.

 

 

 
Oct
28th
  Travel Tip Tuesday: Ways to Maximize Your Frequent Flier Miles with Children
Peru, Traveling with Kids

Peru, Traveling with Kids

Family travelers – you know this. It is hard to find multiple open seats for families using frequent flier miles. You may only be able to use miles on one or two tickets instead of the whole family because the seats allocated for awards use are all booked up.

If this happens to you, make sure you do it right in order to maximize your award seats. Here’s how:

Always have the most frequent flier on the paying tickets – that would most likely be the adult(s) in the party. In other words, since you probably travel more than your kids, pay for YOUR ticket, and put the kids on the awards tickets, that way you accumulate even more miles on your account for a trip.

The tricky part is, if you are booking online, airlines won’t let you book a free ticket for a minor unless there is an adult flying with them. For example, if I try to book free tickets for all my three kids, and pay for my ticket, they are separate transactions, so the website reads it as the kids would be flying alone.

(Unaccompanied minors are a whole different story in booking, and require a service charge.)

But don’t give in and put the adult names in the free ticket booking information. Pick up the phone and call the airlines. Make the reservation on the phone – I’ve never had an airline charge me the fee per ticket for reserving over the phone because they are giving me a service that the website is not set up to do. Book your kids on the award ticket, and pay for yours – again to accrue more miles to your account.

Also – many people don’t know this but there are airline loyalty programs that allow families to share their points and miles within a household by transferring them for free.

Here are the ones I know about and should be checked:

British Airways:  The Avios program allows members to pool miles between up to 7 residents at the same address.

Etihad Airways (Airline of United Arab Emirates) The Etihad Guest Program allows family members to pool miles in one account.

Hawaiian Air: The Hawaiian Miles program has a “share miles”  feature, but only to holders of their credit or check cards.

Japan Airlines: The Family Club allows members to share miles between relatives at different households. There is a $30 fee per family that is charge to the account of the designated “Primary Member”.

Korean Air: Immediate family members can combine miles to issue awards.

Be smart about your valuable miles.. especially when it comes to something as expensive as booking flights for multiple people. Ask questions, and book the miles far in advance.

Happy travels!