This is one of my favorite columns of the year because it is about one of my favorite times of the year - How to Spend Your Summer Vacation. As many of you know, I do a lot of traveling, and I am always looking for new and interesting items to help me select and plan for my travels. In fact, I spend all year saving tips and tidbits for this column, so I am now going to share them with you.
1. When we were in Barcelona in 2006, I needed to go to an emergency room because I had an infection. It was nothing serious and I knew exactly what it was, but I needed an antibiotic. I made myself even more sick by imagining a poor health care system. I was completely wrong and actually impressed with the system and the way I was treated, even though I did not speak the language and would have to pay up front and worry about getting reimbursed when I returned home.
Although I do not recommend getting sick in Europe, the care was outstanding and considerate. During the flight home, I read some information about preparing for health emergencies in Europe which I will follow when we go in 2008.
- If you have any health problems, you might want to register with the consulate for the country you are visiting (https://travelregistration. state.gov/ibrs/)
- The Department of State has excellent information (http://travel.state.gov/travel/tips/health/health_1185.html)
- The State Department and consulates also keep lists of English-speaking doctors who will see tourists in emergencies.
- Learn about the health care rules of the country or city you are visiting. Had I read the information in one of my four guidebooks, I would have learned that in Barcelona pharmacists are allowed to prescribe medication. Since I knew exactly what I had, I could have skipped the emergency clinic and gone right to the pharmacy. In Barcelona, they are on every corner.
- Remember that thermometers in Europe are in centigrade and not Fahrenheit. (Hence, a normal temperature is 37 degrees.)
- Check your own health insurance to see what might be reimbursed. (Fortunately, the cost was much lower than it would have been in the United States. Since I was not part of the European health system, they said it would be expensive and apologized. It cost 40 euros, or about $50.)
- If you take medication, make certain that you take your prescription with you. I was given an antibiotic which I did not know, but I could not read the warnings because it was in Spanish, so I went to the website of the drug-maker, which featured information in English. There were no serious problems, but it is good to check.
My little adventure was not at all that bad. I was more worried than was necessary. Although I would have preferred not to have this little adventure, I will take my husband’s advice and make my appointment before I leave.
2. Heed warnings without being dissuaded from various activities or locations. Last year, when we were planning our Barcelona trip, we read in many books and lists about the problem with pickpockets and purse-snatchings. We had absolutely no problem, but we did take a few more precautions than usual. We were almost fell victim to the “bird pooping” scam, but thanks to knowing about it in advance, we were okay.
Every city and location has its own “incidents.” Simply be aware of them and act accordingly. We were stunned when we would watch people go to ATM machines and put huge sums of money in their back pockets or in their backpacks that were not secure.
This year, for our trip to Alaska, we will be hiking and so we are learning about bears and wild life. We will make sure that we follow all the recommendations to make certain that we stay safe.
Flyers are always trying to get the best deals on airfare, and if you read the paper or the Internet, there are many great prices on airfares – that is, until you actually try to find these prices.
Based upon my experience, there is not much difference in price among the major search engines. I used Expedia, Travelocity and Orbitz when booking our Alaska vacation, and there was not much difference in their prices. I also used Priceline, and still there was little difference in price.
However, hope always springs eternal on the Internet. There are some sites out there which will give you information about the best time to buy a ticket, the past trends in prices for a particular destination and comparison of prices by month for the next year. It may not get you the best price immediately, but it can help you decide when to buy if you are planning your trip a few months ahead.
Farecast (www.farecast.com) will tell you if the price you are getting for your trip is the best available or if you should wait to purchase it later. It gives trends and forecasts about fares to 75 destinations based on past history. It also searches for the lowest fare between two cities within the next 90 days.
Farecompare (www.farecom pare.com) shows the lowest prices by month for the next year between US and international cities. They also have a tool that will show you the best time to purchase your ticket for your trip based upon trends and history. There is a good article on the site about the best time to purchase a ticket. It also has a helpful “How to Get the Most from This Site” link.
Finally, what makes www.airfare watchdog.com different from many of the other sites is that it includes and compares Southwest Airlines flights. This is helpful if you use Southwest, which I do for short flights. None of the other search engines include Southwest, so you need to check both.
1. I use Southwest Airlines for many short trips. I know many people do not like the “cattle call” feel of the seating, but they have made improvements. You can now print your coveted “A” boarding pass 24 hours in advance of your flight instead of waiting until midnight the day before your flight. In addition, almost all hotels let you logon to print your boarding pass. The more expensive the hotel, the better you chance of getting this service for free or a nominal charge. At most, it will cost a few dollars.
2. In the past, I have mentioned that I have used a forum site called Trip Advisor (www.tripadvisor.com) as well as the Fodor’s Forums (www.fodors.com) to get reviews of various locations, hotels, attractions, etc. I have found them to be helpful However, I could not help but notice how incredibly divergent the opinions were, especially when reviewing accommodations. Well, it turns out that some of these reviews are being done by the hotels – praising their own and trashing the competition.
I still use them, but I take many of them with a grain of salt. I tend to be a little leery of those whose reviews are “the best place on earth” or the “worst place I have ever stayed.”
3. Share your experiences with family as you travel by creating your own travel blog. It is very easy to create a blog and upload pictures and text as you travel, even if you do not take your laptop with you. There are Internet cafes everywhere, where you can post to your blog. Some good places to start are Real Travel (http://realtravel.com/travel_blog) and Travel Blog (www.travelblog.org).
4. There are also good blogs that are more than just travelers’ personal journals and pictures. Many have great information about specific locations or attractions. My favorite is one on National Parks (http://www.nationalparkstraveler.com/). I am a great fan of the National Parks, so this is great fun.
5. Got lots of stuff but are tired of taking it all with you? Then you want to check out OneBag (www.onebag.com), which is about the “art and science of traveling light.” Every year, I say, I am not going to take all this stuff.
6. Frommer’s is one of the books/sites that I have been using for years. They have a list of their favorite travel blogs (which is where I found the two that I listed). They did all the searching for you (http://tinyurl.com/b54dt).
Hopefully you have your travel plans set for this year. If not, then I hope some of these tips and sites make the process easier.
Have a good trip!