Thursday, October 25, 2007

Traveling for Thanksgiving?

It's no secret that Thanksgiving is the most traveled holiday of the year. Roads will be congested with traffic--and so will skies. Flights are almost always oversold during the holidays, and this year is bound to be no different.

What can you do to limit your travel hassles this Thanskgiving? Here are some tips:
  • Consider Amtrak. If you're traveling up or down either coast, it's often very convenient to travel by rail. Train stations are typically located downtown, convenient to mass transit. Trains are rarely oversold, and while they'll certainly be crowded, there's none of the hassle of going through security lines when you take Amtrak. Book now, though, if you expect to get a seat. You won't be the only one to realize the train is a smart idea.

  • Fly early. Very early. Even around the holidays, people don't like to wake up earlier than they have to. Most travelers on the day before Thanksgiving will plan to take afternoon flights. Some will leave around 10:00 a.m. Far fewer will opt for the flight that leaves at 6:30 a.m. That means you should be on that flight, because if there is a problem for any reason, you can get it straightened out before the mob arrives in the afternoon.

  • Limit your luggage. Bags get lost at the airport every day. Want to guess what happens to the odds of your bag being one of them when the amount of baggage increases to four times its usual quantity and the people handling it get extremely bitter about their working conditions? You got it: they go up. Don't pack more than you need--and ideally, fit everything into a carry-on.

  • If you have to be on the road... take off the day before Thanksgiving, and leave in the early morning. You want to be outside of any major cities when rush hour arrives (because there will still be plenty of people who aren't traveling trying to get into work). And this advice applies whether you're driving or taking the bus; remember, buses use the same roads that cars use.
Remember, few problems get better when you ignore them. Plan ahead, travel smart, and have a wonderful time this Thanksgiving. Happy travels!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Passports: They're required again.

Effective October 1, 2007, the temporary reprieve that the U.S. government put into place for the summer has ended. That means that from now on, under the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, you'll need to have an actual passport to return to the United States by air after traveling abroad.

The land and sea phase of the Initiative won't take effect until some time in the summer of 2008. By then, we're expected to have a few options, including something called a passport card that's currently in development to use when traveling to Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, and the Caribbean.

For anyone interested, the Initiative was part of the Intelligence Reform and Prevention Act of 2004 (IRTPA).

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Round-Trip Taxi Service: Not necessarily a savings!

In many resort communities, from Orlando to Acapulco, the market for transportation to and from the airport is dominated by transit companies offering fixed-price tickets to major hotels. Since taxi prices vary, buying a ticket from one of these companies can save you time and money.

When you make your purchase, you’ll generally be asked whether you want a one-way or round-trip ticket. At first glance, this seems like a no-brainer: if the service is reliable to get you to your hotel, why would you not want to work with the same company to arrange your return trip? Turns out, there are good reasons why not.

First of all, the price may not be as much a savings as you expect. Once you get to your hotel, you’ll have a better idea of how much a taxi will cost. You can also get solid information on the local bus service. One or both of these options may prove to be a better deal than you were offered at the airport, especially if your resort has arranged discount fares or if there are official rates to bring passengers back to the airport from their hotels.

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, the return service may not be very convenient. You are typically asked to call 24 hours in advance to schedule your pickup for return to the airport. However, the implication that you can choose your pickup time is not necessarily correct. In Orlando, for instance, my girlfriend and I called to request a 4:00 a.m. pickup for our 6:00 a.m. domestic flight, only to be told that the closest available pickup would be 2:15 a.m.

Overseas, the convenience factor takes on a whole new level. Depending on where you are traveling and where you are staying, it may be confusing to call to make your pickup reservation. When you do reach someone, he or she may or may not speak English, and phone quality can make communicating in otherwise-passable “travel language” relatively difficult. That means you might be stuck wondering whether you’ll miss your flight if the shuttle doesn’t show up, even Spontaneous Tourists don’t welcome that sort of stress.

Of course, as long as you keep some money handy, you can always forgo the return service and take an official-rate taxi (as I did on a recent trip to Acapulco). If that happens, though, understand that you’ll have wasted the money on your round-trip ticket, because no one else will honor it and there are no refunds, ever.

My advice? Buy a one-way ticket to your hotel, and figure out your return transportation once you get checked in. Even at a travel hostel, there will be people who can help explain your options, and you’ll maintain the flexibility you need to enjoy your trip.

Happy travels.