How To Travel Practically Anywhere

Overview

An essential guide for today's traveler: timesaving tips to navigate, book, and troubleshoot your travel planning, on and off the Web.

If you’ve ever tried to find a sale fare you saw advertised for a flight, only to turn up much higher prices, or discovered that the hotel you booked wasn’t exactly “steps away from the ocean,” you know that the do-it-yourself era of travel can mean something else entirely: you’re on your own.

Now Susan Stellin,...

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How to Travel Practically Anywhere

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Overview

An essential guide for today's traveler: timesaving tips to navigate, book, and troubleshoot your travel planning, on and off the Web.

If you’ve ever tried to find a sale fare you saw advertised for a flight, only to turn up much higher prices, or discovered that the hotel you booked wasn’t exactly “steps away from the ocean,” you know that the do-it-yourself era of travel can mean something else entirely: you’re on your own.

Now Susan Stellin, a regular contributor to the New York Times, offers the ultimate guide to the sometimes overwhelming logistics of travel, from researching trip plans to avoiding pitfalls on the road. This comprehensive guidebook presents practical advice on the most useful Web sites, strategies for finding the best deals, and resources to help you decide where and when to go. It also provides crucial tips to ensure your trip doesn’t disappoint, including

- what you should research before you book your hotel - how to avoid hidden fees and expensive change penalties - what your credit card covers when you rent a car - whom to call if you need a doctor far from home

No matter what type of trip you're planning—business or pleasure, domestic or international, budget or splurge, exotic getaway or family visit—How to Travel Practically Anywhere will be an indispensable resource.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Even the most experienced travelers are sure to learn a thing or two." The Chicago Tribune

"A good place to start assessing risks before leaving home. Stellin lays out sound advice." San Antonio Express-News

"Packed . . . with a very rich cargo of information and advice for travelers, from neophytes to seasoned voyagers. . . well-organized."—Louisville Courier-Journal Verbatim

"Helpful advice . . . Even seasoned travelers could benefit from information in the book, and neophytes will save themselves a lot of mistakes."

Atlanta Journal Constitution

"Helpful and well-explained . .. well-researched . . . If you know everything there is to know about travel, this might make a good gift for a graduate about to head off for that precollege backpack across Europe."

Denver Post/Rocky Mountain News

"A distinctive guide . . .Including all types of travel from cruise to rail, this comprehensive and well-researched guide is useful for both new and seasoned travelers." Library Journal

Library Journal
Stellin, a regular contributor to the New York Times travel section, has produced a distinctive guide to travel planning that covers the ins and outs (and ups and downs) of do-it-yourself travel. Enabling readers to become their own travel agents, Stellin covers all aspects of trip planning: from deciding when and where to go to navigating the path along the way. She offers information and advice on topics that traditional travel guides discuss only minimally: solo travel, travel insurance, last-minute planning, government travel advisories, web fares, home-exchange information, and more; she also includes a helpful section on what to do in an emergency-when you need a doctor or have lost your passport. Including all types of travel from cruise to rail, this comprehensive and well-researched guide is useful for both new and seasoned travelers and is highly recommended for all libraries with travel collections.-Louise Feldmann, Colorado State Univ., Fort Collins Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780618607532
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 4/1/2006
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 879,701
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.75 (d)

Meet the Author

The travel reporter SUSAN STELLIN has contributed features on travel advice and trends to the New York Times, the International Herald Tribune, Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel, and Travel + Leisure.

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Read an Excerpt

1 Researching Your Destination

If your days off aren't already set aside for your best friend's wedding in
Denver, Christmas with your parents in Atlanta, or a family reunion in
Montana, you have the luxury of planning an actual vacation — a rare
opportunity when so much of our leisure travel involves visiting friends or
relatives. Not that there's anything wrong with those trips: They certainly
account for most of the travel charges on my credit card. But to paraphrase
someone I once overheard on the subway, "Visiting family is a trip; going to
Tahiti is a vacation."

Of course, there is one thing that makes visiting loved ones easier
than traveling somewhere new and exotic: There's much less planning
involved. (As far as I'm concerned, whoever said, "Planning a trip is half the
fun!" made that comment when travel agents still did most of the work.) But if
you know where to look, the planning process can be part of the fun, and
doing it right can make or break the trip itself.
This chapter guides you through the research phase, whether you
already have a destination in mind or are still deciding where to go. Among
the topics covered: how to find articles about your destination in back issues
of travel publications, choose a guidebook that fits your style and budget, and
track down tourist bureaus and other local sources of advice. There's also a
list of Web sites where travelers trade tips — often, the best source of
information about where to go and what to do all over the world.
As you're deciding where to go, it's also wise toconsider when to
go, another issue this chapter covers. Hurricanes, spring-break revelers, and
local festivals and holidays are just a few things you should factor into your
decision, and if you're traveling abroad, State Department advisories are
worth checking for other timely concerns. There's more planning advice in
chapter 8 ("Pretrip Preparations"), which covers the types of things most of
us put off until after we've booked a trip — and some of us, until just before
it's time to go.

Sources of Inspiration: A Week Off and No Idea Where to Go

Some people seem to know exactly where they want to go on their next
vacation, their dream destinations stored in a mental must-see list like titles
of movies to rent. Other people are more likely to ask a friend at a Memorial
Day barbecue, "I've got a week off in August — where should I go?"
Twenty or thirty years ago, that question would have been directed
at a travel agent, and the options would have been limited to certain
predictable parts of the globe. But these days, adventure travel means
trekking in Tibet, and once-inaccessible places like China, Eastern Europe,
and Vietnam have become popular places to travel. So figuring out where to
go on your next trip can literally be a matter of spinning the globe.

Search the archives, on line
Newspapers and magazines that cover travel are a great source of ideas
when you're planning a trip, highlighting places you may not have considered
or giving advice on what to do and where to stay if you know where you want
to go. The problem is, there's a slim chance that you're planning to visit one
of the current month's featured destinations, and the article you remember
reading about a place that is on your short list has probably been recycled by
the time you're ready to book.
Fortunately, back issues of most newspapers and magazines are
now easily accessible on the Web, saving you the trouble of searching for a
page you tore out or flipping through dusty periodicals. Even better, many
publications have set up their on-line archives so you can choose a
destination and see all the articles that have been published about that place
in recent years — usually for free, though sometimes you have to register
first.
Browsing the archives of travel publications can be somewhat hit
or miss. For instance, you may click on a headline about Lake Como, Italy,
only to find out that the article is really about how George Clooney decorated
his home there — great if you're choosing rugs for your own villa but not if
you're looking for a hotel. But with a little digging, you can find useful features
on topics like the fifty best beaches in the Caribbean or where to go in
France if you've already been to Paris and Provence, so don't give up if your
mouse ends up at a few digital dead ends. (See the sidebar above for sites to
check out.)

Hit the books
Of course, you can also hit the magazine rack of your local bookstore for
current issues of travel publications — and while you're there, the travel
section offers plenty of ways to dream about your next vacation during your
lunch hour.
Although guidebooks tend to be more useful once you've got a
destination in mind, publishers are starting to catch on that travelers also
want help deciding where to go. One book that literally outlines a road map
for a lifetime of travel is 1,000 Places to See Before You Die, by Patricia
Schultz. Organized by country, the book is nearly 1,000 pages itself, offering
encyclopedic entries on must-see cities, towns, attractions, and experiences
all over the world. Another option is The Travel Book, published by Lonely
Planet. This A to Z guide to more than 230 countries is mostly a pictorial
book, but there's also a description of each country.
Travel narratives are another source of inspiration for many
people — evoking a place so artfully that you're motivated to follow in the
author's footsteps. So don't overlook this section of the bookstore if you're
searching for ideas, especially if you're looking for a more exotic place to
explore.

Word of mouth
One of the best sources of advice on where to go is other travelers — often, a
neighbor, relative, or coworker who just got back from a trip and can't wait for
you to make the pilgrimage yourself. Of course, most of us have a pretty
good sense of whom we trust for travel advice: Uncle Lou always knows the
best undiscovered resorts, but beware Aunt Sally's preference for high-rise
hotels.
So when it comes to relying on the opinions of strangers —
available on countless travelogues all over the Web — you have to be
somewhat savvy about the source. The on-line communities described later
in this chapter can be great for generating ideas, with travel journals you can
browse and message boards where you can post questions like, "I'm
planning a trip to New Zealand. If I can spend only ten days there, where
should I go?" These Web sites are also helpful once you've decided on a
destination and want advice on topics like where to eat or how to get from the
airport to your hotel.


Choosing a Guidebook: Which Series Fits Your Style — And Budget

One of the first places most people turn to when they're planning a trip is the
travel section of their local bookstore, where you can always find plenty of
customers leaning against the shelves, paging through books about places
they may never go. (I'm certainly guilty of being one of those loiterers.)
This can be a pleasant way to kill time while a friend is searching
for a present in the cookbook section, but if you're in the market for a
guidebook, the number of choices can be daunting. Going to London? You'd
better find a place to sit down. I once counted seventy-three guidebooks just
about London in my local bookstore — and that's not including guides
covering the rest of the United Kingdom.

What's new
With people traveling more — and to more places — it's not surprising that
more guidebooks are being published. But people are also traveling
differently, so guidebooks have started to reflect some of those trends. For
instance, with travelers taking more short trips, publishers have created more
miniguides that focus on one city. Among the options: Dorling Kindersley's
Top 10 series, Fodor's City Packs, Frommer's Portable Guides, Lonely
Planet's Best of books, Insight's City Guides, and Rough Guides' Directions
series. These pocket guides are smaller and lighter than their country
cousins — and cheaper, too — but they generally maintain the writing style
of the brand.
Travel publishers are also selling more specialty guides, either
targeting a specific segment of the population — such as families, women,
gay travelers, or people who won't leave home without their pets — or a
certain type of trip, from camping, hiking, or biking getaways to spa vacations
and road trips. Guidebooks also tend to have more of a "best of" focus these
days, so you'll often find a list of must-see attractions at the beginning of a
book, as well as books about the best spas worldwide, the best cruise
vacations, or the best hotels.

Deciding which guide to buy
So what's the best guidebook? There's no one-guide-fits-all answer to that
question, but here are some tips on choosing a series that's right for you,
which will probably vary from trip to trip. Much as publishers insist that their
customers are loyal to a particular brand, I've snooped around lots of home
bookshelves and found a wide range of travel titles sharing shelf space. (By
the way, if you live in a big city, there may be a travel bookstore nearby,
where you can often get more personal advice from the staff.)
Look at the publication date. Guidebooks aren't always updated
yearly, so before you head to the register, check the publication date. It's
usually on the page with the copyright information, at either the front or the
back of the book, though some publishers make this detail difficult to find. If
the book was printed two years ago, the research was done at least three
years ago, so that "undiscovered bistro" the writer mentions may be a
shoe store by now. In general, guidebooks don't improve with age.
Get to know the writer. It's important to read not only about the
author's qualifications (the author should get bonus points for having lived in
the destination and for understanding the language and culture) but also
enough of the text to see whether the author's tone is a good match. Some
guidebooks are completely devoid of opinion, whereas others aren't shy
about saying that a certain hotel or restaurant is overrated, and occasionally,
the author's judgments get in the way. As a well-traveled friend once
said, "Sometimes the writer will just irritate you to no end and you think, 'I
have to get a different guide, because I can't have this person with me on
vacation.'"
Read about a place you've been. If you haven't been to the place
you're planning to visit, it can be tough to tell whether the guidebooks you're
considering recommend restaurants or hotels you'd like. One solution: Check
other books in the series about destinations you know pretty well. If one
raves about a resort you think is a dud and the other highlights a hole-in-the-
wall bistro you love, you know which guide to buy.
Check the prices. No, not the prices of the books — the prices
listed inside. You may be seduced by the color photographs and the glossy
paper in a well-designed guidebook, but if all the hotels and restaurants it
recommends are beyond your budget and there's no information about public
transportation, you may need to rethink your choice.
Look at the maps. Besides your guidebook, no doubt you'll also
take along a fold-out map of the city you're visiting, but you probably won't
buy a map for every city you pass through and certainly not for every one-
horse town. There are also times when it's easier or more discreet to consult
a map in a guidebook rather than a document the size of a coffee table. All
good reasons to check out a guidebook's maps: how many there are, how
well they're labeled, and whether you need a magnifying glass to read the
street names.
Don't be afraid to stray. Just because you've always bought the
same guidebook series doesn't necessarily mean that you have to be a
customer for life. People change, and sometimes so do travel guides. Some
brands that were previously known as backpacker favorites have been
broadening their focus to appeal to kids now grown up and staying at nice
hotels; others have updated their look with more photos or a different layout.
Shop around; you may discover a new series you like.

On-line Travel Forums: Advice from Fellow Travelers

When you're planning a trip, a strange phenomenon happens the minute you
start telling people you're thinking about going to Mexico or you just bought
tickets to Hawaii. Suddenly, it seems that everyone you meet has already
been there or knows someone who just got back and can't wait to give you
advice.
Often, this is a great way to learn about a destination or get
answers to questions like where to find the best margaritas in Puerto Vallarta
or whether you should spend more time on the Big Island or Kauai. But what
happens if the person you just met doesn't drink margaritas or didn't really
care much for anything about Hawaii? Or you're thinking about going
somewhere your friends haven't been?
Then you need to seek out some like-minded travelers on line.
With all the travel communities that have blossomed on the
Web — and for the most part, survived the dot-com bust — I'd venture to
guess that there's not a single travel question you can't find someone to
answer in some on-line forum.
Many of these Web sites started as one person's personal
passion but have gradually become on-line gathering points for distinct
groups of travelers: FlyerTalk for frequent fliers, CruiseMates for cruise
aficionados, and BiddingForTravel for people trading advice about getting a
bid accepted at Priceline. There are also on-line travel communities affiliated
with guidebook publishers, sites where you can read or submit hotel reviews,
and places where you can post a journal and photos from a recent trip — or
read other peoples' travel diaries, if you're so inclined (see the sidebar on
page 16 for where to point your browser).

Ask a question, get answers
Most of these Web sites have message boards or forums where you can
post a question that other visitors can read and answer, or you can browse
through what's been posted and offer a response. Sometimes, you have to
become a member to join the dialogue — which is usually free — but you
can generally read what other people have written without signing up.
So what do people discuss in these forums? Pretty much
anything related to travel: where to see orangutans in Borneo, which cruise
lines have the most restrictive smoking policies, or whether insects are a
problem in Alaska in July. Many of these message boards are organized
geographically, so you can often post your question in a forum designated for
discussions about a specific region or country, which increases the likelihood
that someone else will post a response.

Pros and cons
One advantage of these on-line forums is that you can participate
anonymously, so you can ask the types of questions you might be reluctant
to raise in person, lest your cocktail party companions roll their eyes when
you walk away. Plus, it's free advice, which can save you time, money, and
the misery of having a bad experience when someone warns you away from a
shady tour operator or a resort that nickels and dimes its guests.
Like any Internet community, these travel forums also have some
drawbacks. The advice is sometimes contradictory (four people rave about a
hotel five other people thought was horrible), the opinions can get obnoxious
from time to time (though I'm generally impressed by the level of discourse at
travel sites), and you may have to weed through a lot of irrelevant messages
to find the information you want. That said, most of these forums offer some
type of search function, which can help locate that needle in a haystack, and
their search tools are getting better all the time.

Visitor and Tourist Offices: On the Web, a .com for Every Destination

Another good source of travel information is one many people overlook: the
tourist offices that serve as a destination's official liaison to the camera-toting
crowd. Even if you've never explored what these agencies have to offer,
you've probably seen their ads in travel magazines or on billboards — often
showing an enticing beach scene just when the snow is starting to fall at
home.
Although they go by various names, such as the Greek National
Tourism Organization or the Italian Government Tourist Board, nearly every
country in the world has one, except the United States, where each state
has its own. Many cities and regions also have some type of tourism entity,
which are often more useful than their national counterparts.

What they offer
Before the Internet, these agencies weren't all that accessible to travelers
unless you hunted one down to request a visitors' brochure — which often
arrived in the mail three weeks after your trip or not at all. But now that they
have Web sites, usually in multiple languages, tourist offices can be much
more useful when planning a trip, with advice on what to do, where to eat,
where to stay, and how to get around.
These agencies are tasked with promoting tourism, so they're not
the most critical sources you'll come across. In other words, a tourist office
will never start a sentence with "Don't bother . . ." But they're still a good
place to find practical information about local festivals and events, typical
weather patterns, national parks and attractions, suggested itineraries,
transportation options, and travel agents who specialize in the region — as
well as the occasional odd find, like a downloadable screensaver to get you
in the mood, recipes for local dishes, or advice on getting married locally.
Another advantage of these Web sites is that they're not limited
by printing costs, so they sometimes offer more detailed information than
you'd find in a guidebook, especially if you're researching a small city or
town. For instance, when I was planning a trip to Búzios, a resort town north
of Rio de Janeiro, I found that the city's Web site (buziosonline.com.br) had
much more information about the area's nearly two dozen beaches than I got
from any guidebook or magazine article. (No, I didn't get to all those
beaches — but I tried.)

How to find them
The one catch is, it's not always easy to find these organizations online. It
would be great if there were some consistent naming convention for these
agencies or at least their Web sites. Instead, they live at Internet addresses
ranging from the simple (spain.info or australia.com) to the more descriptive
(incredibleindia.org or magicalkenya.com) to the downright commanding
(visitmexico .com or discoverhongkong.com). Even U.S. states go their own
way — there's virginia.org, traveltex.com, and arizonaguide.com — and cities
are just as unpredictable: nycvisit.com, barcelonaturisme.com, and
visitlondon.com.
So how can you find the tourist office for the place you're planning
to visit? One source worth trying is the Tourism Offices Worldwide Directory
(towd.com), which has a fairly comprehensive list of country, state, and some
city tourist offices, with links to their Web sites — although at the city level,
it's not nearly as thorough. For destinations within the United States, try
SeeAmerica.org. This Web site, developed by the Travel Industry Association
of America, includes basic travel information about each state and links to
the state's official Web site.
Another option is to search the Internet for the name of your
destination plus the word "visitor" or "tourist" or "tourism," which will usually
lead you to the official tourism agency, if there is one. Within the United
States, you can often find city agencies by searching for the name of the city
and the phrase "convention and visitors bureau."

Beware imposters
Figuring out whether you've happened on the "official" agency is another
challenge. Because anyone can register an Internet address that includes
the name of a city or a country, you may come across a Web site that looks
as though it's operated by an official tourism of- fice but doesn't have any
government ties. The site may still be useful for research purposes, but if it's
primarily selling a tour package or soliciting hotel bookings, chances are it's
not an official site.

The Local Perspective: When Going to Rome, Ask a Roman

Leafing through a guidebook or a magazine article is a great way to get an
overview of a destination, but these sources also have some limitations. For
one thing, they're written specifically for travelers — often, a wide range of
travelers — which lends them something of a generic, outsider focus.
They're also usually written by people who are tourists
themselves — which can be a good thing when it comes to choosing a hotel
or learning about places locals don't visit, but it often means that the writer
isn't connected to the city's real pulse. And books aren't as useful if you
want to find out what's going on somewhere next week or next month.
So how do you get that up-to-date, insider perspective on a
destination? From someone who lives there, of course. Reading local
newspapers and magazines is a good place to start, and with the Internet,
you don't have to wait until you arrive to hit a newsstand — most of these
publications are available on line. (See the sidebar on page 23 for advice on
getting tours from locals once you're in town.)

How to find local publications
Almost any newspaper Web site offers information useful to travelers,
including restaurant reviews, event listings, and local coverage of arts and
culture. Reading the news is helpful, too, so you'll know whether you're
arriving in the middle of a festival or whether transit workers are contemplating
a strike.
Two Web sites that list newspapers and magazines all over the
world are World-newspapers.com and Newslink.org. You can search by
country, state, or city to see what newspapers are published wherever you're
traveling, and both sites link to the publications, if they're available on line.
Although the two sites are fairly similar, there are a couple of
differences that make bookmarking both worthwhile. World-newspapers.com
includes only English-language publications in its listings for foreign countries
(most major cities have at least one), whereas Newslink lists foreign-
language publications as well. Newslink also links to radio and TV stations
throughout the United States, another source for local news and events.

Other ways to get the local scoop
Besides reading newspapers and magazines, you can get the local flavor of a
city by searching out community-orientedWeb sites. One of the pioneers of
that genre is Craigslist.com, which began as an on-line classifieds service for
San Francisco residents but now has versions for more than one hundred
cities, mostly in the United States. Although Craigslist is meant primarily for
local residents, its message boards are active and wide ranging, and each
city has an events calendar, which is one way to connect with people in
another town.
You can also try searching the Internet for more home-grown on-
line communities, though if you're headed overseas, it helps if you
understand the language, since these sites don't usually offer English
translations. One that does is Inyourpocket.com, which offers several dozen
downloadable guides to cities and countries in Eastern Europe — all written
by locals.
Sports, hobbies, and clubs can also open doors when you're
traveling or help you get beyond a destination's usual tourist haunts. So if
you play soccer, love to knit, or belong to a sailing club at home, search for a
soccer league, yarn store, or yacht club wherever you're going. That's often
the best way to cross that invisible barrier between travelers and local
residents, who — let's be honest — normally avoid the areas where tourists
hang out.

When to Go: Avoiding Hurricanes, Honeymooners, and Holidays — or Not

When planning a trip, travelers sometimes overlook a key question: When is
the best time to go? Or alternatively, when might hordes of spring-break
revelers, monsoons, or local festival goers ruin your vision of quiet sunset
strolls?
Sometimes, these timing issues are fairly well known. For
instance, most people thinking about heading to Rio de Janeiro in late winter
are either planning their visit to join in the Carnival bacchanalia or know
enough about Brazil's biggest party to steer clear of the crowds.
But other time-and-place considerations aren't always so obvious.
My sister and I once celebrated her September birthday with a trip to a
Mexican resort where we were the only guests who hadn't just tied the knot
(though apparently, some of those honeymooners thought we were a couple,
since several reacted to meeting us by saying to their spouses, "See, I told
you they looked like sisters!").
On the plus side, we had perfect weather during our four-day
stay — a lucky break in the torrential rain that had recently passed through
the area. Turns out we were also there during hurricane season, another
issue I had overlooked.
So before you put down a deposit on that beach bungalow in the
Caribbean or buy four plane tickets to Rome for Easter, here are some
factors you should consider as you weigh various dates on the calendar.

Weather
I'm a slow learner when it comes to looking up the weather before a trip —
not the seven-day forecast but average highs and lows during the time I'm
planning to be in town. But if you don't want to risk having your trip ruined by
hurricanes, tropical rainstorms, extreme temperatures, or even pests that
make regular visits to a particular area, these things all follow predictable
patterns you can research before you book.
Guidebooks are often the best source of information about
seasonal weather patterns and issues like when a black-fly invasion might
keep you from venturing beyond the screened-in porch. You can also post a
message at an on-line travel forum (see page 14), and a couple of weather
sites let you look up average temperatures for a specific destination and
month: Try Weather.com's "vacation planner" or Wunderground.com's "trip
planner" option.

Holidays and events
Holidays and events aren't necessarily a negative: Many people plan trips
specifically to attend celebrations like the running of the bulls in Pamplona or
New Year's Eve in Times Square. But if you don't know about a big festival or
local holiday that draws huge crowds, it may not be a pleasant surprise.
I've been caught off guard in Italy when the trains were standing-
room only due to the local Labor Day holiday, accidentally timed a visit to
Amsterdam on Queen's Day — Holland's biggest party — and once drove
into Las Vegas at the beginning of a three-day weekend with no hotel
reservation, not realizing that the city would be sold out. Besides crowds,
another drawback of traveling during a local holiday is that museums,
restaurants, and other places you want to visit might be closed.
So whether you plan to join the party or want to avoid it,
guidebooks, on-line travel forums, and local tourist boards are all good
sources of advice. You can also search the Internet for the name of the
country you're visiting and the phrase "public holidays," which will often point
you to a list posted somewhere on line.
There are also a few Web sites that track what's going on around
the world. Festivals.com lists art fairs, music festivals, and other local and
community events, mostly in the United States. Whats OnWhen.com offers
a searchable database of events worldwide, including local celebrations; art
fairs and exhibits; music, theater, and film festivals; and sports competitions.
And some events have their own Web sites, such as Venice's Carnival
(venice-carnival.com) or the U.S. Open (usopen.org), so another option is to
search the Internet for the one you have in mind.

Other guests
It didn't occur to me to inquire about demographics when I booked the trip to
that resort in Mexico, but when I asked the owner whether his September
guests were typically honeymooners, he quickly rattled off the seasons that
corresponded to his changing clientele: newlyweds in the summer, families
during the holidays, and retirees throughout the winter months.
Getting the lowdown on your fellow travelers is more important if
you're staying at a secluded resort or taking a cruise, since you'll all be
stuck together in a confined area. As a general rule, you're more likely to find
families vacationing during school holidays, and spring break often means a
partying crowd. Sunny destinations tend to attract more older travelers
between January and March — "snowbirds" escaping colder climates up
north.
Regardless of the time of year, cruises sometimes host groups of
travelers that tip the demographic balance on board, which can make you feel
trapped at an event you didn't intend to join (such as a company retreat or a
club outing). Before you book, ask your travel agent or the cruise line to
check whether any big groups are signed up for the cruise. Your agent might
not know who else is sailing, but it's worth trying to find out.

Seasonal prices
The time of year you travel also affects how much you'll pay for your trip,
including your plane tickets, cruise, or hotel. Most destinations have "high,"
or "peak," seasons, which correspond to the months when the weather is
best or when most people want to travel. Holidays usually fall within peak
season, though "holiday" rates sometimes are even higher than peak prices.
If you're on a budget, try to book your trip during the off-peak, or
low, season, though there's often a reason it's a less desirable time to visit, a
factor you should investigate before you snap up a seasonal bargain. Another
option is to travel during what's called "shoulder" season — typically, spring
and fall — when prices are lower than you'll find during high season but not
as low as the deep discounts offered to drum up business in off-peak months.

Government Travel Advisories: Reading Between the Lines I

f you're planning a trip overseas, you might not think to pay the State
Department a visit as you're making the rounds of travel Web sites — and if
you're just going to Cancun for the weekend or crossing the Canadian border
for a ski trip, it may be overly cautious to suggest that you see what the
government has to say about your destination before you make any plans.
Then again, the State Department has put some of your tax dollars to work
compiling information about the travel situation in nearly every country in the
world — why not see what you paid for? In fact, some of the information is
rather eye opening, even for destinations you might not consider especially
dangerous. And if you are planning a trip to a country where the political or
military situation is precarious, best to know what you're getting into before
you commit.

Country reports
Although you probably know that the State Department issues travel
warnings from time to time (more on that later), it also publishes "consular
information sheets" for about two hundred countries, territories, and regions,
which you can find on line (see travel.state.gov). Don't expect a lively read —
these are government documents, after all — but each report offers useful
information about the country's overall security and crime rate (and penalties
for crimes like drug possession), an assessment of local medical facilities
and any health risks, an overview of traffic and road conditions, and whether
the country's aviation system meets international safety standards. You'll
also find contact information for the local U.S. embassy or consulate and
notes about specific issues in each country, like scams that prey on tourists,
problems with ATM machines, or places where consuming alcohol is illegal —
all useful information to have before you land.
Incidentally, if you're ever accused of a crime in a foreign country,
be aware that you're subject to the laws and penalties of that nation, which
often don't include things we take for granted in the United States, like the
right to a trial by jury or access to a lawyer. If you find yourself in trouble, you
should certainly contact the closest embassy, but its ability to help you may
be limited.

Travel warnings
Besides these country reports, the State Department issues a variety of
advisories to inform travelers about potentially hazardous situations abroad.
The most severe of these are "travel warnings," released when the U.S.
government recommends that Americans avoid travel to a particular country,
usually due to political instability, outright hostilities, or ongoing concerns
about terrorism.
The State Department also issues "public announcements,"
generally for more short-term crises, like a coup, a specific terrorist threat, an
outbreak of a contagious disease, or a natural disaster. These
announcements typically have an expiration date and aren't necessarily
limited to what most people would consider dangerous parts of the world: For
instance, in March 2002, the State Department released a public
announcement about a terrorist threat against several Italian cities during
Easter. A third type of advisory, a "worldwide caution," advises Americans to
be careful wherever they're traveling, which has basically been the case since
2001.
Not surprisingly, some travelers find these advisories frustratingly
vague, and foreign governments frequently object when a warning is issued,
because of the negative effect it has on tourism. One complaint is that travel
warnings are generally issued for a whole country rather than a specific
region, even though there may be a big difference between an area affected
by military unrest or a natural disaster and the situation in cities hundreds of
miles away.
But on the flip side, people also complain when the government
doesn't release enough information about travel concerns. In fact, the current
policy about issuing travel advisories was adopted after the bombing of a Pan
Am flight over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988, when it was later revealed that
the U.S. government had information about a terrorist threat against flights on
that route, which it shared only with its own employees. After that, the
government adopted regulations requiring that whenever a warning about
overseas travel or threats was circulated internally, it had to be released to
the public, too.
Ultimately, you should use your own judgment if you're planning
to travel to a country where there are political, safety, or health risks — and
do enough research about the situation so you know what you're getting into
(see the sidebar on the facing page for other sources of advice).

Registering your travel plans
Another service that the State Department offers is the ability to register your
itinerary and emergency-contact information before traveling abroad (you can
fill out a form at travelregistration.state .gov). Although the government has
long encouraged travelers and expatriates to contact the local embassy or
consulate after arriving in a foreign country, the on-line form — a relatively
new option — has made that task much easier.
You may not be comfortable sharing information about all your
travel plans with the State Department, but if you're heading somewhere
remote or to a place where security is dicey, the benefits of having a local
embassy know your whereabouts and whom to contact if something happens
to you probably outweigh any privacy concerns.
In any case, don't assume that the government knows where you
are just because you got on a plane and left the country. After the tsunami
struck in 2004, many relatives and friends of people in affected areas were
surprised to find out that the U.S. government doesn't keep tabs on every
American traveling or living abroad. Believe it or not, there's still a wide
technological gap between Uncle Sam and Big Brother, so if you want
government officials to know where you are, register your travel plans — or at
least share your itinerary with someone else on the home front.

Copyright © 2006 by Susan Stellin. Reprinted by permission of Houghton
Mifflin Company.
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Table of Contents

Contents

Introduction........xiii

Part I PLANNING 1. RESEARCHING YOUR DESTINATION........3 4 Sources of Inspiration A week off and no idea where to go 8 Choosing a Guidebook Which series fits your style—and budget 14 On-line Travel Forums Advice from fellow travelers 19 Visitor and Tourist Offices On the Web, a .com for every destination 21 The Local Perspective When going to Rome, ask a Roman 23 When To Go Avoiding hurricanes, honeymooners, and holidays—or not 26 Government Travel Advisories Reading between the lines 2. ORGANIZED TRIPS........30 30 Going With a Group Tours aren’t necessarily just for tourists 35 Get Outdoors Hiking, biking, and other active travels 41 Relax, Already Spa vacations and yoga retreats 45 Culinary Adventures When food is the focus 48 Volunteer Vacations Trips that make a difference 53 Options for Solo Travelers Resources, trips, and travel companions

Part II BOOKING 3. GENERAL ADVICE........61 62 The Travel Marketplace Everybody wants your business, but where should you buy?
65 Evaluating Vacation Packages When they’re a bargain and when they’re not 69 Member Benefits When a discount isn’t a deal 71 Travel Insurance What it does and doesn’t cover 76 Bidding and Booking Blind How you can save with Priceline or Hotwire 79 Help for Last-minute Planners Options at the eleventh hour 83 Using a Travel Agent What an agent can do for you—and where to find one 4. PLANE TICKETS........88 89 Where to Research Fares No one Web site displays them all 93 Search Tips for Plane Tickets It’s not just where you look, but how 96 Choosing a Flight Why price shouldn’t be your only concern 99 Where to Buy Agencies versus airlines; the Web versus the phone 101 Understanding Ticket Rules Change fees, cancellation policies, and refunds 104 International Flights Where to shop for fares when traveling abroad 108 One-way or Multicity Tickets Tricks to keep costs down 111 Frequent Flier Awards What it takes to get the flights you want 117 Unraveling Airline Alliances What’s in it for you when airlines partner up 120 Foreign Carrier Air Passes One pass, several flights, sometimes a bargain 5. LODGING........123 124 Finding a Place to Stay Where to research your options 129 How to Get the Best Rate On-line agencies, hotel Web sites, the phone 136 Hotel Cancellation Policies Rules vary, depending on where you book 137 Understanding Hotel Ratings One rater says three stars; another says four 141 Finding a B&B or Inn Places for travelers who like to feel at home 145 Renting a House or Condo Finding and evaluating rental options 150 Doing a Home Exchange With the Web, house swaps catch on 154 Browser Beware Photos and descriptions may be much nicer than reality 6. CRUISES........158 159 Cuise Lines 101 An overview of your options 165 Narrowing the Fleet Choosing an itinerary, ship, and sailing date 168 Selecting a Cabin Inside, outside, high deck, or low 172 How Cruise Pricing Works When and where to get the best deals 178 Airfare, Shore Excursions, and Land Tours Buying from the cruise line or going it alone 180 Deposits, Cancellation Policies, and Refunds What to know before you book 183 Where To Find Cruising Advice Ship reviews, itineraries, and message boards 7. RENTAL CARS, TRAINS, AND BUSES........187 188 Reserving a Rental Car How to get the best rate 195 Renting a Car Abroad Where to book, potential potholes 199 Supplemental Insurance When you need it, when you don’t 202 Express Pick-up Programs Skip the line, at least some of the time 204 Riding the Rails Timetables, reservations, and tickets 210 Trains, Planes, Cars, and Buses How to decide which way to travel

Part III NAVIGATING 8. PRETRIP PREPARATIONS........215 215 Passports and Visas New rules—and fees—when you’re crossing borders 219 Immunizations and Health Does your insurance cover travel abroad?
223 Maps and Driving Directions When not to trust a computer for help 226 Money Matters Why your bank should know your itinerary 230 Making Reservations What to book before you arrive 234 Technology and Travel Getting your gadgets ready to go 238 Getting To and From the Airport Know your options, avoid being overcharged 241 Preflight Checklist Checking in, flight-status alerts, security lines 9. AT THE AIRPORT........245 245 Checking Bags Avoiding extra fees—and theft from your luggage 251 Navigating Airport Security Keeping up with the rules 255 Upgrading Your Ticket What it takes to move up frontt 258 Flying Standby When it’s free, when it’s not, and when it’s worth a try 260 Getting Bumped What to know about those “free ticket” coupons 263 Surviving Flight Delays and Cancellations Know the rules—and your rights 10. WHAT TO DO IF . . . 269 269 You need a doctor HHow tttto find medical help far from home 272 The Airline Loses Your Luggage How to track your bag—and file a claim 277 Your Travel Company Goes Out of Business What happens when a company folds 281 You Lose Your Passport or Wallet Coping with no ID and no money 284 There’s a Problem With Your Rental Car What to do, who’s responsible 287 You Have a Complaint Dealing with problems—on the road and once you’re home

Acknowledgments........295 Index........297

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