Free Travel Advice

Spring is a mere week away! Some of you may be planning a vacation and I wanted to fill you in on some travel tips I've recently discovered. 

First, if you're interested in getting some really great deals throughout the U.S., Caribbean, Mexico, and even abroad — you should check out www.skyauction.com. It's an auction site — you're bidding on trips, cruises, flights, and hotel stays. They even have a section for Broadway shows and goods. If you decide to sign up, there are a few things to remember. First, there is usually a $20 one-time fee for each auction you win. Taxes are usually extra, so if you bid on something say for $20 per night, keep in mind there are probably $49 per night taxes (taking you up to $69/night + the $20 fee). But I've successfully bid on auctions where I won a $1 bid on a week in Orlando in a 1-bedroom condo (Wyndham Cypress Palms) that was recently upgraded to granite and stainless steel. For the week it came to $300 (for 2 — that's $150 each), including taxes and fees. Not bad. I've also won a 6 day/5 night (1 night short of a week) all-inclusive stay at Barcelo Maya Palace on the Mexican Riviera . . . I stayed with my boyfriend and the two of us paid $320 for the hotel during that time. Airfare was separate. But — ALL INCLUSIVE, AAA 4-diamond, 5-star accommodations, plus top-shelf restaurants (surf and turf!) and top-shelf liquor (Grey Goose, etc.) for pretty much a week for $160 per person? Whaaaat? Definitely worth it. I can't even stay in my own home for that price! Just be careful and watch the fine print. Plus, I always check out the reviews on hotels on TripAdvisor.com. Make sure you're not getting a "deal" on a dump. 

The other travel item I wanted to share relates to Europe. If you're from the U.S. and trying to book Eurail tickets on raileurope.com, know that you are being overcharged. If you can book on a European site like www.tgv-europe.com you will be able to choose some other country (take your pick, just make sure it's not the U.S. — that will kick you off the site and take you to raileurope.com) and book from there. Just choose to have your tickets e-mailed to you. No worries. If you can't have them e-mailed, you can also pick them up at the train station with the credit card you used to pay. (It's easier if you have a credit card with a signature chip in it — that's the kind they use in Europe). Alternatively, you can also book French rail on www.capitainetrain.com. You can save over $100 on just a couple of train rides!

Bon voyage!

 Image © Claudine Gandolfi

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Happy Travel Tips

 

 

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Greetings Wednesday Readers!

I'm finally done with my show season travel — that's San Francisco above — and I've managed to come down with a nasty chest cold.

But as someone who travels a lot, I wanted to pass along some tips for making your journeys a little bit easier.

My first suggestion is if you travel internationally, I heartily recommend joining the TSA Global Entry Trusted Traveler program. There is a $100 fee for a 5-year membership, but $20 a year isn't bad. Membership entitles you to bypass U.S. Customs upon your return from abroad (even when you return from Canada and go through U.S. Customs before boarding the plane home). It also gives you a TSA Pre membership. TSA Pre allows you to bypass security lines at quite a few major airports. You'll be in a shorter line and every once in a while you can completely bypass the removal of shoes, jacket, belt, computer, and 3-ounce liquids from your carry-on. You simply put everything through at once. It does save time if you travel for business.

If you travel in Europe or elsewhere abroad and want to avoid paying cell phone fees worthy of a billionaire (assuming your cell phone works in Europe), I would also suggest renting a personal WiFi hotspot. There are several companies that provide WiFi (or MiFi) for use in the U.K. and Europe and it's relatively inexpensive. So, instead of incurring a $500 phone bill bloated with "international roaming fees" just so you can get e-mails on your smart phone, you pay $5 a day for WiFi which comes with 1 GB of data (or something akin to it). I also turn "data roaming" off on my phone, and enable "WiFi calling." That way you're paying nothing in order to receive your e-mails and phone calls, and it's your cell phone number, not some new number that goes with the SIM card you rent. Plus, you can connect it with up to 5 devices, so you can have multiple users linked or have your laptop, iPhone, iPad, Android, etc., all on at the same time.

Normally I rent a TEP, but lately their customer service has been less than stellar (devices not getting delivered, double shipments, mailing labels with incorrect return addresses, and no fees refunded for not even receiving a device). There are other companies which provide the same services. They work across multiple countries as well.

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Restaurgatory: Travel Tuesdays and the Infernal Menus

If you weren't aware, fair readers, Peter Pauper publishes a lovely suite of travel guides. Among other things, said guides provide many (many, many) quick glimpses of their respective subject destinations' gustatory highlights. They feature a potpourri of dining options, selected to the best of our ability for merit, price range diversity, uniqueness, convenience, and notable appeal. When we update a travel guide or expand its content for an app, the author and editors working on it verify that the restaurants (and other venues) listed are still open, that their contact information and operating hours haven't changed, and that our description of the establishment is still accurate.

The last, as you might imagine, occasionally involves looking at an online menu.

I don't know if you have ever, in the course of a day, looked at around twenty of a city's choicest restaurants' menus. I do not recommend doing so if the most appetizing thing immediately available to you is the scent of your mango-vanilla hand sanitizer. You're liable to sink into a fugue of sorts, morosely pondering the utter inaccessibility of dragonfruit gelato capped with cacao foam and apricot nectar faux-caviar, or burrata nestled in an artful huddle of braised figs, or really great Sabich from the sort of hole-in-the-wall falafel shop your neighborhood would have if it featured enough pedestrian traffic for a hole-in-the-wall falafel shop.

Menu-purgatory has its perks, though. I first learned of Boston's unparalleled Flour Bakery through an update to our Boston guide, and discovered New York's renowned City Winery—now one of my favorite music venues, as well as a fine place for a bite—while working on the New York app. Other places I haven't yet visited, but have added to my bucket list: It's a bit pricey, but I'd love to get a drink from Bemelmans Bar, in order to sit and take in the murals of Central Park painted by the illustrator of the Madeline books. If I ever make it to Chicago, I think I'd have to turn in my vegetarian card should I not make it to Green Zebra. (Vegetable-inclined kindred, check out their menu only if you wish to discover vertiginous heights of food-coveting.)

Has anyone reading visited a restaurant featured in one of our guides? If so, we'd love to hear about it!

Photo credit: Shutterstock.com/mates

Sky Spectator! Travel Tuesdays Gets Celestial

Fair voyaging-inclined readers, flying is awesome.

Yes, I see you over there, giving me the side-eye. Okay, flying does involve cramming yourself into a seat whose dimensions seem calculated to keep you juuuuuust on the wrong side of comfortable. And then sitting that way for two to sixteen hours, hoping the stale air in the metal tube that encloses you doesn't transmit whatever pathogens the person three rows behind you is coughing up. But consider: you are above the clouds.

The vantage point you experience on a flight is one that people could only dream of for most of human history. More to the point: it's gorgeous. When I manage to secure a window seat, I generally spend most of the journey with my face and camera pressed to the porthole, photographing the swirling vapor skyscape and the earth and sea below it. Human society creates a fascinating array of visual patterns from 30,000 feet. For perspective on the shape of civilization, it doesn't get much better than that.

I thought I'd post a few plane-photographs today, and share the cloudscape joy. If you have any of your own, please do share! Does anyone else like to spend a flight looking out the window? If so, what's the most interesting thing you've flown over? Has anyone seen the Grand Canyon or a famous mountain range from above?