Thursday, December 29, 2011

Visit The CDC Site For Health Warnings

The Center for Disease Control has a great site for travelers: CDC's Travelers' Health. Take a look at the list under Travel Notices to see if there is something about a country you will be visiting. New alerts show up there. Also click on Destinations to read medication and vaccination recommendations for the area you'll be in.

The CDC also publishes The Yellow Book every two years. A reference book with advice for international travelers about possible health risks, it meant for professionals but can be a great resource for anyone. It can be purchased at online stores like Amazon. A Kindle version is even available.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Saving On Car Insurance

You may wonder why a post on saving on car insurance is in a travel blog. Well, recently, I was speaking with friends about whether or not to spend a significant amount of money on a home project. The choice was do the home project or book another trip. For me, that was an easy decision ... the trip, of course.

So that got me thinking about ways to save money, enough dollars that would add up quickly. And that got me thinking about expenses like car insurance. As for most things today, the Internet is a great place to look for a company that offers motor vehicle liability insurance at competitive rates by searching, and providing quotes, from the sites of some of the major car insurers such as GEICO and Progressive.

This is just one area where it might be possible to save a few hundred dollars a year and before you know it, you could have enough to book that next trip.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP)

If you are traveling overseas, be sure to sign up at the STEP program offered by the Department of State.

The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) is free for U.S. citizens who are traveling to a foreign country. You enter information about your trip so you can be assisted in case there is an emergency in the country you are visiting.

We don’t like to think about the problems than can occur but earthquakes and riots don’t usually happen with warnings. Play it safe and register before your overseas trip.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

New Capacity Controls On Washington State Ferries

You might want to plan ahead if you'll be using a Washington state ferry during a busy time of the day or the year. While typically they don't fill up, the allowed capacities of the ferries have been lowered. Why?

The expanding waistline of the American public is the reason for this change. Previously, capacity was figured with an average weight per person of 160 lbs. That number has just been raised to 185 lbs per person. To maintain the stability of the ferries, the state ferry system lowered the capacity of each ferry. Ferries that previous could carry 2000 people can now only carry 1750 people.

You can read the whole story here: Obesity rise prompts Wash. ferries capacity change

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Let's Go To Peru

Actually, I've been to Peru once already. We took a Peru vacation tour and visited the standard sites of Lima, Cusco and Machu Picchu. Our tour even included two nights at an Amazon lodge.

Well, those two nights on the Amazon were not enough for me. I want to go and stay longer. I would think a minimum of 3 nights would be necessary. There was so much to absorb between the birds and the butterflies and the flowers. I felt our trip was a bit rushed, what with getting there WAY after dark the first day, hiking the second day, and then leaving very early on the third day. It would have been wonderful to have a day just to relax around the lodge and to absorb the surroundings.

I would also go back to Cusco and do another Machu Picchu Peru tour. I loved Cusco. The city is beautiful and quaint. It has lots of great little alleys to wander through. I bought my favorite Peru souvenir in Cusco, a double headed llama out of pottery. As for Machu Picchu, the experience is indescribable. I would like to go back, just sit on one of the terraces and see if I could feel the ancients around me.

Some people do independent travel to Peru. In my opinion a Peru vacation package is the best way to go. No need to worry about stuff like accommodations and transportation ... just enjoy the beauty and history of the country.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Getting a Ticket With Delta SkyMiles

According to the Delta SkyMiles Award Chart, a ticket within the continental U.S. should 'cost' (one way) 12,500, 20,000, or 30,000 miles. In the past, different mileage levels (on other airlines I have flown) typically referred to flying at peak or off peak times so I wasn't surprised to see the different mileage levels.

What did surprise me was that with Delta different mileage levels could apply on the same day. Or that the mileage level for a flight would change from day to day (for economy seats). I picked arbitrary dates for flights to and from Florida, traveling in the month of January. There were flights, for the same day, with 'costs' from 12,500 to 20,000. An example is the return from Florida. For an early morning flight I could fly at 12,500. If I wanted to leave around noon, it would cost me 20,000.

I was informed via a phone call to Delta that the cost of each flight was based upon seat availability and the actual dollar cost of a seat. As that changed day to day, so did the mileage requirements.

I know for a fact American does not do this. Anyone know anything about other airlines?

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Solid Advice

If you'll be flying with liquids or gels in containers over 3 oz. and checking your luggage, you won't have a problem. Simply put those containers into your checked luggage.

However, if you like to travel with only a carry-on, the TSA 3-1-1 rule can be a real challenge. So when I hear about items that I can buy as a solid, I'm all ears.

Cutter Outdoorsman makes an insect repellent solid that is 30% DEET. It can be purchased in drug stores and in outdoor equipment stores. Sunblock can also be purchased as a solid. Neutrogena makes an Oil-Free Sunblock Stick. It has been seen at CVS but if available in your local store, it can be bought online.

Some other items available as a solid are:

Shampoo: J.R. Ligett's solid shampoo

Toothpaste: Daily Care Toothpowder

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Can You Trust TripAdvisor Reviews?


On the one hand, I have posted reviews to TripAdvisor. I have also used TripAdvisor reviews to help me pick out a hotel.

On the other hand, I belong to a freelance writing site and recently saw this ad:

We need an experienced Writer to write reviews for hotels on tripadvisor and other booking sites (like booking(dot)com, hotels(dot)com) and others. We need 10-30 reviews per week.

I have also personally received an email asking me to write positive hotel reviews ... for properties I never heard of, let alone visited.

So how to you separate the wheat from the chaff?

I found an excellent article dealing with this subject at USAToday travel.

Some hints:
Beware of a reviewer that has only one review.

Beware of a ton of reviews for a small hotel with just a couple of rooms.

Beware of the glowing review and the absolutely horrible review. Either way, is the reviewer specific? If no, the reviewer probably never visited the property. If yes, then this might be an accurate review.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Saving Money on Ski Lift Tickets

If you are waiting until the last minute to buy your lift tickets, you could be missing a good chance to save some money.

Ski hotels and resorts are now selling tickets during times that are historically slow. Typically, skiers bought their lift tickets when they arrived at their destination. Now, it is possible to save money by buying tickets ahead of time.

There are websites like and that can provide significant savings. Recently it was possible to buy a ticket for January 12, 2012 at Mont Tremblant Ski Resort in Quebec for $58.99 on Liftopia. If you bought the same ticket at the resort website, you would pay $75 Canadian. The negative side is that the tickets cannot be transferred and must be paid for in full at time of purchase, so if it rains instead of snows you could be out of luck.

Call the ski resort and ask for their best price or if they offer any type of promotion. Park City Utah has a Quick Start program lets travelers trade their airline boarding pass for same day lift passes, allowing them to ski for free the day they arrive.

Buying tickets early is another way to save. At, more than 14 days out offers possible discounts of 33 percent compared to 27 percent when buying within the 14 day window.

Check out websites like and for their package deals. They negotiate room, food and lift tickets with resorts and put them together in money saving packages, compared to booking each item independently through the resort itself.

Season or multiday passes, are another way to save on ski lift tickets. Check your local ski resort. Ask about Monday to Friday passes if you ski only midweek, another way to save big.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Long Term Stay in Calgary

I recently wrote in this blog about Calgary Hockey and the Teddy Bear Toss. After writing the post, I started to think about Calgary as a vacation destination and Calgary apartments to rent. As I get older, I find that staying one or two nights at a hotel as I move from place to place isn’t really for me anymore. I recently did a bunch of those on a trip to the Southwest and it is exhausting. So I started to think about long term stays and a totally different environment from the Southwest and that got me thinking about Calgary.

Of course there are plenty of first class hotels in Calgary but if I’m going to visit an area for any length of time, I’d like to make myself really comfortable in my own space. I did some research and renting looks like a great option.

Besides exploring the city, Calgary is just a short drive from the magnificent Canadian Rocky Mountains. With loads of vacation opportunities for both summer and winter, renting an apartment in Calgary makes sense for a long term visit for any time of the year.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Save Money on Airport Parking

Airport parking can be very expensive. If you live between two airports, when checking airfares from both of them, also check the cost of parking. You might find the cheaper airfare will end up costing you more because of the cost of parking at that airport.

Most airports have someone offering off-site parking. Shuttle service is provided between your car and the terminal. Be sure to check this out if you'll be driving your car to the airport because off-site parking can be a lot less expensive then on-site parking.

Need to spend the night before at an airport motel? Another great way to save on the cost of airport parking is to leave your car in the motel parking lot and use their shuttle to the terminal. Ask, when you make your reservation, if the motel offers park and fly.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Weird Hotels

Accommodations at some hotels can really be strange. Trying to attract clients by offering a very different experience, hoteliers are getting more and more creative.

You can sleep in a yurt at Treebones Resort in Big Sur, California or a jumbo jet in Stockholm. The jet, parked at Stockholm's Arlanda Airport never flies but the cockpit has a luxury suite.

You can try out Kokopelli's Cave Bed & Breakfast in Farmington, New Mexico or the Hotel De Glace in Quebec, Canada.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Dead Zones - Great Time To Fly

What’s a dead zone? It’s a timeframe when no one else wants to fly, such as before and after holidays and after spring break. To keep planes full, airlines sometimes drastically lower their fares.

Typical dead zones are the first two weeks of November and December and the entire month of January, after the New Year weekend. (This is also a perfect time to get a great fare on a cruise.) February can also be good as long as you don’t want to fly to Florida, around Valentine’s Day or to the Super Bowl city.

The best time to fly to Europe is during the dead of winter but fares can also be good in October and May.

Deal zone deals are usually available at least three weeks before you plan on traveling. Best time to get online and check ticket prices is Tuesday at 3 p.m. ET. Actually, this is the best time to buy any ticket because this is when airlines

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Free Tickets From Megabus

If you'll be traveling between cities anytime during the period January 4 to March 1, 2012, now's your chance to grab a free ticket. is making 200,000 tickets available for free. Service is offered between more than 70 cities in the U.S. and Toronto. When booking, use the promo code GOFREE. Because the offer has limitations, you will be more successful if you are flexible with your travel plans and can ride mid-week.

the offer is limited and subject to availability, you're more likely to snag a freebie if you're flexible and can travel midweek, particularly on such popular routes as Washington, D.C.- New York City., which started in 2006, is among the growing number of intercity bus services that offer cheap fares with frills such as free Wi-Fi and power outlets.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Russian Icebreaker Brings Fuel To Nome Alaska

I was just reading this article about plans for a Russian tanker, capable of plowing through 4 feet thick ice, to bring heating oil, gasoline and diesel to Nome. A huge storm kept the last fuel barge to Nome from making port. The way things stand now, fuel shortage could be a real problem within a couple of months. If things go as planned, the Russian tanker should be in Nome by the end of December.

This article made me think of a trip that is on my bucket list: the North Pole. Several companies offer this trip but the actual logistics is the same no matter what company you book with. The trip starts in Helsinki and then you take a charter flight to Murmansk, Russia. There you board the ship "50 Years of Victory" and set sail for the North Pole. On the way back, the ship passes the islands and archipelagos of the Russian Arctic, hoping to see polar bears, walruses and arctic birds.

A very expensive trip, with fares ranging from about $22,000 to over $30,000 per person, all shore excursions, by helicopter, are included.

However, as if this isn't expensive enough, there is plenty that is not included, such as the mandatory charter round trip flight between Helsinki and Murmansk, bar and beverage charges on board and (discretionary) tips.

Next time I have a spare $60,000, I'll think about booking this trip.

Purchasing a second home

Guest written by our friend Katie Callahan

My husband and I have been thinking about buying a second home. We have always wanted a get-a-way home. We want to be able to go somewhere and relax and not have to think about reality. We have been trying to decide between a mountain home and a beach home. After much debate, the mountain won. We both decided it was the more relaxing option. Once the decision was made, we started looking for places. We wanted to do all our research before making a commitment. We even calculated the approximate cost of Green Mountain current electric rates. We added that to other utilities to figure out the most we could spend on a house. Even though it is a second home, we still want it to be very nice. I am sure our friends think we are crazy or losing our minds. Our plan is to one day retire there. Of course that will be many years from now, but everyone needs to plan ahead. Maybe one day our friends will understand and wish they had planned too.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Saving on Camping Gear

A vacation for many people means camping in the wilderness. I have to admit the idea of getting back to nature, seeing wildlife, the quiet of a forest night, and a bright campfire can be very appealing.

But for a family just starting out, buying all the necessary camping gear can be an expensive proposition. Absolutely necessary is a tent for camping. Add to that the cost of sleeping bags, cooking equipment and lanterns, and the dollars can really mount up.

As with many types of purchases, buying camping equipment online can save a family significant money. Whether it is a camping tent or a propane stove, all are available at online discounters.

Like any online purchase, look for a company that has been around for a few years and has a clear and easy to understand web site that can answer most, if not all, of your questions. Check out the payment and return policies. Looks for association with organizations like the Better Business Bureau.

Then head out there and have fun getting back to nature.

Calgary Hockey and the Teddy Bear Toss

If I was going to visit Calgary at this time of the year, I would definitely get myself a ticket to the Hitmen hockey game that is going to have the teddy bear toss.

What a fantastic idea!

Ticket holders of the Hitmen hockey team come to the game prepared. After the first goal scored by a Hitmen player, thousands of teddy bears rain down on the ice. The bears are later donated to Alberta Children's Hospital. This year over 25,000 bears were collected.

Here is the link to this year's event ... and take the time to watch both videos. Listen for the sounds of the children laughing and feel the excitement of the fans.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Check The Fees When Buying From a Low Fare Airline

Spirit and Ryanair Airlines are known for their low fares. But the true cost in flying these airlines is in the fees.

Spirit's $9 fares are only available to members of their $9 Fare Club. Cost: $59.95 annually.

Spirit does not allow any free bags. They even charge for your carry on.

There is a $16.99 fee (each way) for booking your ticket online at Spirit's website.

As for Ryanair, don't forget that Ryanair is the airline whose owner wanted to install pay-per-use toilets.