We’re by no means “Up in the Air”-George-Clooney-type travelers, but we have learned a thing or two from our jaunts around the globe. Since it’s End of Summer Escapes Week here at The Frisky, it’s the perfect time to share them. After the jump, check out our tips on finding the best websites for local culture, how to deal with your money, benefit from airline mileage, and book cute hotels for cute prices. And feel free to share your own suggestions in the comments below!
- iPhone Home: Being an iPhone user has a lot of benefits when you’re traveling thanks to the millions of free or nearly free travel apps out there. However, if you’re going out of the country and don’t want to incur crazy international charges on your phone, use it more as an electronic guide. Before hitting the skies, download maps and guide applications that don’t require the use of a 3G network. Once there, set your iPhone to airplane mode. (Nixing books will also save room in your bag.) Hopping onto free wifi networks will also allow you to make Skype calls from your mobile. To call other landlines and mobiles, a $25 Skype credit will last for months. Seriously.
- (Don’t) Check It: If you’re going somewhere for less than a week, go carry-on. 1) Lost luggage can ruin a trip. 2) You’ll spend less time in the airport. What we often do: shop when we get to our destination (because we were going to anyhow) and wear our new purchases during the trip. You can always buy a cheap-o duffel to contain your new loot, or pack a small extra bag and check your luggage on the return.
- Mileage Does Count: In the age of Kayak and Expedia, we’ve become our own travel agents, and will book where the lowest fare is. Since we’re more likely to give business to several airlines, and not be loyal to one particular company, you may not have taken the time to register a mileage account. It’s worth it to try to stay loyal with an airline and build up miles (more on that in a second); however, if you have some miles here and some miles there, you can check out Points.com, which may allow you to exchange points between airlines (some major companies included in their program: Delta, US Air, American Airlines). Most of these mileage accounts are free to open, but you do have to make sure to register your trip either with an agent or online, as they sometimes don’t do this automatically.
Another pitfall: If you don’t use your miles after a certain point, you may either have to pay a fee or book more travel to keep them. What if you’ve never signed up for a frequent flier program because you think you don’t fly enough to benefit from it? We’ll whisper in your ear that there are credit cards out there that will earn you mileage points with regular purchases, but we’ll also assume you know the dangers and traps of credit cards. Otherwise, know this: you can use miles to upgrade to first class. This can sometimes incur a fee, which might not make it worth the effort to you, but generally, upgrades require far fewer miles than you’d need for a free trip.
- Youth Is On Your Side: If you’re 25, 26, or younger, you’ll be eligible for lots of discounts, especially in Europe. If you’re traveling by rail, be sure to look into youth fares (which may require purchasing a special card, but this is often worth it). Many museums offer reduced rates for youngsters (or free). If you have a school ID, bring that. You never know how that will help you out.
- Don’t Exchange: In our experience, exchanging money before your trip/after arrival results in a loss. Definitely arrive with some cash you can exchange in case of emergency, or have a credit card handy, but otherwise, withdraw money from an ATM once you get there. Check with your home bank to see which banks abroad it has partnerships with—this way, you may withdraw with no ATM fee, and have the amount debited from your account according to the day’s exchange rate.
- Trust The Tourism Board: Visit state or government-sponsored tourism websites. They may not be as classy or fancy as your luxe travel guide, but you’d be surprised how well organized and with-it some countries and cities can be on the web. These are especially great resources for finding free concerts, outdoor movies, festivals, etc.
- Go Online: If you’re in search of local culture, do some pre-trip blog digging online. Some of the best ways to find what’s new or casual can be from expats with personal blogs. In warm weather, find out which parks, bridges, or public spaces the locals chill in. For a cheap evening, bring your wine and cheese, enjoy the atmosphere and weather, and maybe meet some folks.
- Skip The Hostels: You know the deal with hostels and budget hotels. Since we’re done with the days of roughing it (more power to you if you can do the backpacker thing), we’re much more inclined to make the hotel an enjoyable part of our visit. Thanks to sites like Tablet Hotels and Splendia, you can find affordable rates on cute, boutique hotels. (Seriously, some of these rates may only be 30-40 dollars higher per night than some massively depressing, bare-bones lodgings.) If you’re really on a budget, stay one or two nights in a cheap-o hotel, and then indulge one night ($150-$200 will get you something rad).
- Pack Your Passport: Always keep photocopies of your passport. Take two copies and keep them both in separate places.
- Know How To Get Home:The two most common party pitfalls are these—either you assume you can get home the way you came (which isn’t the case in a lot of European cities where the subway system shuts down after a certain hour) or you’re visiting a friend and she’s been the one planning and ushering you around while you’re going along for the ride (which becomes a problem when you can’t keep up with your group and just want to go home, but you realize you have no idea where in the hell you are). Just figure out the basics before the alcohol hits your system. Do people take taxis home at night? If so, where can you get them and do you need a phone number to call one? What public transportation is available to you late at night? What are the major landmarks near your party venue and accommodations?