Travel Column

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How to Protect Your Money While Traveling

When I was 18, I traveled to Europe as an exchange student. I really didn’t know how to protect my money while traveling, and kept all most all of it in pocketbook, in a single form. I was lucky: The only danger my money faced was being spent. If I had been robbed, I would have been hard-pressed to get my money back (although, as part of a student exchange, I would have had help dealing with the aftermath).

True, I was at a disadvantage: I didn’t have a credit card, and I didn’t have a debit card. (This was a looong time ago.) Traveler’s cheques were the way to go when traveling overseas. However, some of the basics of protecting your money never change. It is especially important to be careful of your money if you know you will be traveling to a place in upheaval. Plus, you never know if the country you are in might suddenly become unpredictable, as what happened in Egypt recently.

Before you head out of the country, consider these tips for protecting your money:
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7 Reasons to Skip Hotels & Rent Vacation Homes

Vacation homes rock!Bankrate had an article recently in which they recommended renting a home or condo to trim vacation costs. While I very much value the opinion of the fine folks at Bankrate, that’s good advice that’s about decades overdue.

At the very least, it’s five years overdue, because my friends and I have been doing this for at least that long. In fact, it was the topic of discussion one day at Meals on Wheels and when one of the other volunteers remarked that they had been renting vacation homes for decades.

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Six Reasons Why Disney Resorts Rock

Port Orleans Riverside - Water WheelMy wife and I always have a great time whenever we go to Disney, partly because we’re both kids at heart and partly because Disney makes the whole experience very enjoyable. On our recent trip, we stayed at the Port Orleans Riverside resort, a moderate Disney resort, for the second time and loved it. Disney is very good at “keeping you in Disney” if you let them, which is not necessarily a bad thing, and when we went, we were on Disney property (not counting roads) 24/7 for our entire stay in Florida. From getting off the plane and hopping on the Disney Magical Express Transportation until the same bus took us back five days later, they had us. But when they had us, they treated us very well and we didn’t have a single complaint!

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Our Disney Dining Plan Experience

Winnie the Pooh joins Family for LunchLast week my wife and I went to Disney World in Orlando Florida to celebrate our one year anniversary and, for the first time, opted for the Disney Dining Plan. You can only include the Disney Dining Plan if you are booking a vacation package with Disney, in our case I booked a five-day Magic Your Way Package, with lodging at the Port Orleans Riverside resort, and included the standard Dining package.

Overall, we were pleased with the Dining Plan and felt that it was a great deal. There was only one downside, it was too much food!

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Quick Travel Tip: Subscribe to Travelzoo’s Top 20 Deals List

Travelzoo LogoIf you’re one of the fortunate few who haven’t been severely affected by the economic downturn these last few months and are looking to take advantage of some vacation and travel deals, you need to subscribe to Travelzoo’s Top 20 travel deal email list. It’s absolutely free and you get one weekly text-only email that lists the twenty hottest deals through the site. I use my main email address and have not receive a single spam email in the time I’ve been subscribed. A lot of the deals are last minute or short time-frame deals but by getting them piped into your email every week, you can quickly scan through the list to see if any apply to you or someone you know.

Here are some hot deals from weeks past:

  • Rome: 6 Night s& Air for $599 through Sceptre Tours
  • Bahamas Beachfront Getaway incl. Air for $259 through Bookit
  • Las Vegas 4-Diamond Hotel on The Strip for $79.99 through Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino

A few weeks ago there was some $300 deal for an all inclusive four-night, three day trip to Dublin, Ireland (airfare included). We definitely thought about that one but opted instead to use the vacation days for a trip to Disney. :)


Low Cost Weekend Ideas: Visit National Landmarks

Mt. RushmoreMy wife and I, along with everyone living within a stone’s throw of Washington D.C., benefit from an abundance of national landmarks. Within Washington D.C. there are over eighty national landmarks, many of which are clustered around the Mall. In one trip, you could see dozens of our nation’s great treasures absolutely free (and if you do come to the Mall, practically every museum in the area is free too).

If you live elsewhere, don’t fret. There are over 2,460 landmarks in the United States. New York takes top honors with a 256 according to Wikipedia, with Delaware bringing up the rear with five. In Maryland, there are 71 and we’ve only gone to one of them – the Bollman Truss Railroad Bridge (by accident too). You could go to one landmark each weekend and be busy until the end of next year!

Check out your state and find a piece of America’s history to explore this weekend!

(Photo by Dean.Franklin)


Last Minute Vacations: Risk With Rewards

Nearly four years ago my fiancee and I went on our first cruise ever, a four night trip to the Western Caribbean in December that cost us approximately $300 per person (not including airfare). The cruise’s port of call was Miami and we were able to score cheap $70 tickets from BWI to Orlando, both were burgeoning Southwest hubs at the time. We were able to find such a screaming hot deal (a cruise for under a hundred bucks a day is pretty sweet) because we signed up for the cruise about a month before it set sail. It was one of those “Last Minute” deals on Travelocity (or Expedia or whoever, I forget which) and it was possibly only because we were keeping our eyes out for a last minute type vacation. However, with the great reward of a good deal comes a bit of risk.

Last minute deals are so great because they represent revenue that would otherwise be lost to the company offering it. The cruise ship will set sail with a full complement of crew and supplies regardless of the actual passenger count and an empty cabin represents a lot of lost revenue so selling it at a discount to the rack price is something they’re very much willing to do. It’s why hotels and airlines sometimes have last minute fares and discounts, an empty room or seat is lost revenue.

The flip side is the risk involved in waiting. If you really want to go on a cruise, say for your honeymoon, then you probably don’t want to risk waiting for a last minute deal because a last minute deal may never come. For example, we booked our honeymoon flights for Hawaii several months in advance when the deal looked good to us (it’ll run a little under $700 a piece from Baltimore to Honolulu, which seemed like a good price for the time we’re going); we weren’t willing to see if there was going to be a fare sale a month beforehand.

So, if you have a little flexibility, consider waiting until the “last minute,” roll the dice, and maybe you’ll go on a vacation you never expected – say to Iceland to ride some tiny horses and fight in the snow (I had a few friends do that, they have a blast). Many of the travel sites have “last minute” sections or you can always scour deal sites like Travelzoo for great last minute bargains (I’m a fan of their Top 20 deals too).


Save $5 On Airline Tickets on Travel Search Engines

I love travel accommodation search engines like Kayak because they allow you to search almost the entire pantheon of travel providers to bring you the best deals. Kayak is doubly good for places like hotels because they have integration with Google Maps to give you an idea of where all the places actually are, crucial for hotels and rental cars. If you use them as much as I have, you’ll probably being to notice one important detail – the prices listed on Kayak (and other sites like Expedia, Travelocity, etc.) are $5 higher than on the airline site itself. That $5 is Kayak’s cut for sending them your business and you can save that by simply going to the site itself and booking the ticket.

One word of warning, sometimes the airline’s site won’t have the same price. It might be that the search engine has a special deal of some sort with the travel provider (or it could be something else, who knows) but this trick doesn’t always work. I’ve also found that this trick doesn’t work as often with hotels and car rentals, there doesn’t seem to be as clean of a $5 markup.

Lastly, all those search engines won’t have two important budget carriers in their results – Southwest and AirTran (and maybe a few other smaller outfits). To get those flights you’ll have to go through the site’s own website (though some of their partners will appear in the results, such as ATA, a partner of Southwest’s).

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