Category: Tips for Travelers

5 Streaming Travel TV Shows Every Traveler Should Watch

5 Streaming Travel TV Shows Every Traveler Should Watch

Travel TV Shows You Can’t Afford to Miss

When I’m not traveling, I spend a lot of time thinking about traveling, reading about it, researching destinations, planning itineraries for my next trip, and – thanks to Netflix – watching TV shows about travel. Five TV shows in particular have had an enormous impact on how I travel, why I travel, and where I travel.  The fact that they managed to do so while being very entertaining is a bonus.

1. Scam City

Scam City is my current favorite travel TV show.  It is hosted by easy-on-the-eyes Irishman Conor Woodman, who travels all over the world to learn how tourists are preyed upon in different countries. He sets himself up to be the victim of a scam, then  befriends the scammer(s) and talks to them, learning how they operate. As you might expect, there are pickpockets and prostitutes, but some of the scams are downright ingenious.

travel tv shows scam city conor woodman

One scam that struck me as being particularly hard to detect was counterfeit currency in Buenos Aires. Cabbies pick up tourists, drive them to their destination, and then provide them with counterfeit change when they pay for their fare.  Alternatively, they take the tourist’s money, pocket it, and show the customer a counterfeit bill, claiming that the counterfeit is the one they were given. Do you know foreign currency well enough to be able to spot a fake? I don’t think I could.

Scam City has 20 episodes that take place in 17 countries.  You can watch Scam City on Netflix streaming.

2. An Idiot Abroad

Wikipedia categorizes An Idiot Abroad as a “travel documentary/road trip comedy” series.  While that may sound odd, it’s actually very accurate.

The “idiot” in the title is Karl Pilkington, a man who has no interest in travel and a tendency to speak aloud whatever thought enters his mind. Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant send Karl off to exotic locations that he would never choose to visit on his own, and force him to take part in activities he would never consider.

Karl is not really an idiot so much as a person who speaks without thinking. For instance, when he went to Point Barrow, Alaska, the northernmost point in the US, he mused aloud, “I dunno why we’re bothering to film this in color.  There’s nothing to see here but snow.” Of the Great Wall of China, Karl said, “It’s not a great wall.  It’s an alright wall. It’s the Alright Wall of China.”

travel tv shows an idiot abroad netflix karl pilkington

I love this show for a couple of reasons.  First, it’s absolutely hilarious.  Second, it does something that other travel shows don’t do – it gives viewers a brutally honest look into how traveling is not just the picture perfect moments you see on Instagram and Pinterest.  Karl Pilkington does not sugar coat anything. Rio is incredibly noisy, climbing Mt Fuji is difficult, whale watching can make you seasick. These are things that travelers need to know. It’s better to go in with realistic expectations and be delightfully surprised than to go in with high expectations and emerge disappointed.

There are 16 episodes of An Idiot Abroad, in which Karl visits at least 14 different countries.  Each adventure is funnier than the last, so be sure to check it out, even if you aren’t the traveling type.

3. Bad Trips Abroad

Bad Trips Abroad sounds like something most people would rather not watch. But by listening to (and, hopefully, learning from) other people’s horror stories, we can avoid having the same misfortune befall us when we travel. These experiences include getting arrested, being in an accident, being robbed, and so on. These are the sorts of thing that we don’t really think about when we are planning our trips, but should.

There are 20 episodes of Bad Trips Abroad.

4. Anthony Bourdain: A Cook’s Tour or Parts Unknown

Pretty much all of Anthony Bourdain’s shows are must see television for foodies who love to travel. One of the current Netflix offerings, A Cook’s Tour, is his first shows, produced in 2002.  The premise of the show is a simple one – travel the world and eat what the locals eat. In just one episode, I saw him eat fish eyes, tripe, and other exotic foods that I wouldn’t dare put in my mouth for fear of gagging.  But he eats it all, declares it delicious, and moves on to the next destination to do it again. There are 35 episodes in A Cook’s Tour, highlighting the culinary delicacies of 17 countries.

travel tv shows anthony bourdain parts unknown cooks tour foodie

By contrast, Parts Unknown is his most recent television show, and it has aired for nine seasons on CNN. Season 10 will premiere next month. The first nine seasons consist of 80 episodes that feature Bourdain traveling to 45 different countries… and even Antarctica. As its name implies, the show takes a look at lesser known destinations that typical tourists might not see when visiting a foreign country.

5. Planet Earth

Okay, technically, this isn’t a travel TV show.  But it does such a beautiful job of showcasing the beauty of the world we live in that I felt it needed to be included as a show to watch for inspiration.  There are so many wonderful, exotic destinations in the world… places we haven’t heard of before and couldn’t possibly imagine.  Or, as David Attenborough says in the introduction, “A hundred years ago, there were one and a half billion people on Earth. Now, over six billion crowd our fragile planet. But even so, there are still places barely touched by humanity. This series will take you to the last wildernesses and show you the planet and its wildlife as you have never seen them before.”

One of my favorite scenes in the series centers around the mating habits of New Guinea’s birds of paradise.  The birds are just fascinating, they way they strut and preen and try to attract a mate. But my favorite is the bird who tidies up his area before the lady-bird arrives.  He picks up any stray debris with his beak and tosses it to the side.  Amazing.

The segment on the endangered snow leopard – the world’s first ever video footage of the animal – was equally fascinating.

travel tv shows planet earth snow leopard

There are 11 episodes in Planet Earth Series 1, and six more in Series 2.  All of them are nothing short of stunning. And be sure you watch the Planet Earth Diaries segment at the end of each episode, which shows how each episode was filmed.  In most cases, it was a very ambitious undertaking!

Honorable Mentions

Some other travel TV shows that are currently available on Netflix:

Departures – I only watched one episode of this.  It’s about two young men, friends since high school, who decide to travel the world. In the episode I watched, they drove from one side of Canada to the other in an RV.  It seemed to be more about their drunken exploits than about the places they were seeing.  As such, it didn’t appeal to me very much.  However, it ran for three seasons and won several Gemini awards (Canada’s version of the Emmy) , so maybe it’s worth watching.

Great World Hotels – That’s great as in expensive. I don’t really find the excesses of the rich and/or famous very entertaining. And I don’t like to make the place I sleep the most expensive part of a vacation. If you do, you might enjoy this one.

Luxury Travel Show – Highlighting exotic locations and sumptuous hotels, this show is somewhat less “in your face” extravagant than Great World Hotels.

Stephen Fry in America – British comedian Stephen Fry travels through all 50 states.  It’s a great show because it gives a non-American’s view of America in a way that is amusing and fun to watch. Amazingly, he fits the entire USA into just six episodes. Which means that you don’t get an in-depth look at any one area.  But it’s still an entertaining show, so worth a look.

Born to Explore – This is a very interesting show, as the host travels to destinations and really gets a good look at the local customs and people.  For instance, in one episode, he goes to Morocco and learns the local trade of leather tanning.  Each episode is about 20 minutes long, and there are 26 episodes total.

Wild China – This is a nature documentary consisting of six episodes. It features beautiful and expertly done cinematography.  If you have an interest in travel to China and/or you enjoy the great outdoors,you would probably enjoy watching Wild China.

Rock the Park – This show highlights the beauty of the United States’ National Parks. Each episode is just 20 minutes, but gives you a glimpse of what each park offers visitors.  There are 26 episodes in all.

Tales by Light – A travel TV show for photographers, each episode features an exotic location with a photographer who is attempting to capture it through a camera lens.  It’s a very visually appealing show, and may also give you a few photography tips.

Travel Photography Hacks for Awesome Pictures

Travel Photography Hacks for Awesome Pictures

When traveling, it can sometimes be difficult to capture the essence of a place. Witness my 300+ photos of the Grand Canyon, none of which accurately portray just how vast and colorful a place it is. That experience led me to take my photos to the next level by using simple travel photography hacks. Here are the best travel photography hacks I’ve found. The first seven of them can be used regarless of what tyoe of camera you have –  they will work just as well with a phone camera as they will with a high-end DSLR.

Travel Photography Hack #1

The Rule of Thirds

This one is the easiest to use, provided you can remember to do it. Imagine that your photo will be divided into three rows and three columns. The subject of your photo – the thing that you want to capture – should be along one of those lines rather than dead center. Like the example below:

travel photography hacks rule of thirds
(source)

This image of a solitary tree in a field would have been uninteresting if it was the only thing in the photo. By placing it along the right vertical line, we get an infinitely more intriguing image of the tree in its environment.  We see that the landscape is mountainous, that the air is foggy, and that there are no other trees in the immediate vicinity.  This photo invites us to step in and look around for more details. Without the rule of thirds, we would just say, “Oh, look.  A tree.”

Travel Photography Hack #2

Use a Different Approach

I would guess that 90% of photos are taken from eye level.  It’s natural to shoot from that angle because that is the angle from which we see our subjects. By shooting from above or below, or even from the side, we can get much more dramatic photos.  Some examples:

Travel photography hacks photograph from below
The Gateway Arch in St. Louis, MO, photographed from below

 

Travel Photography Hacks Photgraphing from Above
A plate of food is almost always better photographed from above to show off its colors and textures.

As you can see above, using a different angle can make the subject of your photo look very different than it would if photographed at eye level!

Travel Photography Hack #3

Zoom!

Play with the perspective of your photo. Zoom in or zoom out. To zoom in, if you are photographing something that is close to you, you can utilize a macro feature for an up close and personal look.  (The macro lens is particularly good for photos of flowers, insects, etc.)  Or just zoom in. Either way, you can make things look closer than they actually are, and capture details that in many cases are not seen by the eye alone. In this photo, I zoomed in for a closer look at the water droplets:

Travel Photography Hacks Macro Lens
A recently watered autumn crocus in Alnwick Garden‘s Poison Garden. 

And in this one, I zoomed in for a closer look at a lion at the National Zoo:

Travel Photography Hacks zoom in macro telephoto
Lion at the National Zoo in Washington DC

It looks like I was only a few feet away from him, doesn’t it?

 

Travel Photography Hack #4

Check the Background

The background of your photo may seem inconsequential, but it can ruin an otherwise perfect shot. Before pressing the button, make sure your background is free from any distracting elements such as photo bombers (intentional or accidental) and clutter.  Here are some examples of photos that were taken while the photographer was too focused on the subject to notice what was in the background.

 

Travel Photography Hacks - Clean Up the Background
How many parents DON’T have a photo like this?

 

Travel Photography Hacks - Check the Background
Animals can be the worst photobombers.

Travel Photography Hack #5

Look for Symmetry and Patterns

Some of the most striking travel photos are those that feature symmetry and repeated patterns.  A reflection on still water is a wonderful way to acquire symmetry in your photo, and it adds more depth to the subject.

Travel Photography Hacks - Symmetry
The sunset’s reflection on the water at the Crusty Crab in Greenbackville, Virginia.

Patterns are all around us.  The weathered wood siding of an old barn, a series of arches/doorways, masonry in walls and pavements. etc.

Travel Photography Hacks framing your subject
A series of arched doorways in the Morocco pavilion at Disney World’s Epcot Center.

Travel Photography Hack #6

Pay Attention to Your Lighting

For the best travel photos, don’t be so quick to turn on your flash.  Use natural light whenever possible, and if you’re using a DSLR camera, try increasing your ISO instead. On an iPhone, you can touch one of the darker areas of your picture to adjust the brightness before taking the photo. I could have taken a flash picture of this stained glass window, but the results would have been much less dramatic than using the natural light outside to capture its beauty:

Travel Photography Hacks Using Natural Light
Light coming through a stained glass window at the chapel of St Micheal’s Mount in Cornwall, England.

While a flash will illuminate the subjects of a photograph, it’s important to remember that it is still providing artificial light.  Colors may be slightly off, and there may be shadows in the photo that you aren’t seeing with your eyes.  Natural light can add mood and texture that might not be conveyed in a flash photo.

Travel Photography Hacks - Natural Light
Details like the fuzziness of the stem would likely be lost in a flash photo.

Also, flashes can highlight the negative aspects of an object just as much as the positive ones. Imagine my surprise when I took this picture of a pretty chest in the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC:

Travel Photography Hacks - Don't Use Flash Every Time
Look at all that dust under the chest!

Somebody needs to get a Swiffer under there!

Additionally, there are two ways to alter your photographs by the way you position and use your lighting. The first is to use a low light behind your subject to create a silhouette.

Travel Photography Hacks - Silhouettes and Lighting
The setting sun transforms these two dogs into silhouettes.

The second is to take advantage of the golden tone that the sun casts on objects as it sets in the evening. This effect was really beautiful at the Grand Canyon, where they even run special sunset tours. The colors of the canyon became brighter and more vibrant as the sun dipped lower in the sky.

Travel Photography Hacks - Sunset

Travel Photography Hack #7

Frame the Subject

When you frame a subject, you use natural lines within the photo to draw attention to it.  The best examples of items that frame a subject are doorways and windows. Those lines also serve to add depth to your photo, making it seem more three dimensional and real. Here are two of my favorites:

Travel Photography Hacks Framing Your Subject
A glimpse of the water through an open doorway at Ft Mackinac on Mackinac Island, Michigan.

 

Travel Photoraphy Hacks Framing Your Subject
Two gorillas at the Columbus Zoo & Aquarium in Ohio.

Travel Photography Hack #8

DIY Equipment for DSLR Cameras

There are gadgets for almost every photography effect and purpose.  But before you rush out and buy that gizmo, consider whether you will use it enough to justify the expense.  There is no need to drop your hard-earned cash on an item that will have very limited use. here are some DIY alternatives.  Try them first and if you like the effect, then consider buying the real thing.

  • Macro Lens – an old binocular lens held up to the camera will magnify the subject in much the same way as a macro setting would.
  • Bokeh Filter – to get the sort of fuzzy light effect in the background known as bokeh, you can cut a small shape in a piece of cardboard and then attache it to your camera lens as shown below.
Travel Photography Hacks - DIY Equipment
You can experiment with all different shapes of bokeh
  • Soft Focus Filter – stretch some pantyhose over the camera lens and hold it in place with a rubber band
  • Fisheye Lens – the lens from an apartment door’s peephole will provide the same effect as a fisheye lens (You can buy a peephole kit at a home improvement store for much less than a DSLR fisheye lens would cost)
  • Tripod – many times we can use stationary objects to stabilize our camera without a tripod.  For instance, if you are standing near a pole, lean your camera against it. You can further stabilize it by wrapping your camera strap around the pole and gripping it tightly.
  • Glare Reduction – use a cardboard coffee sleeve around the camera lens to reduce glare
  • Blurry Edges – some say smearing Vaseline on the lens will create this effect.  I prefer to wrap a plastic bag around lens (just the outer perimeter, not completely covering the whole lens)

I hope you have enjoyed these tips and that you will be able to use them when you travel.  Do you have any to add?

 

 

Why Traveling is Good for You

Why Traveling is Good for You

Why Traveling is Good for You

Disclaimer:  I am completely biased on this subject. I think that traveling is the most exciting, rewarding, and fun adventure one can have. When I hear people say that they don’t like to travel, it blows my mind. I just can’t wrap my mind around the concept of not enjoying travel. Here’s why.

Traveling is Good Because It Lets You Live Like the Rich

why traveling is good for you - live like the rich

When we travel, we are saying goodbye to our homes for a short period of time. Usually, that means we are also saying goodbye to doing our laundry, cooking, cleaning, going through the mail, and other tedious (but necessary) chores. For one week we live like the rich, having someone else make our beds, provide us with fresh towels, prepare our meals, and so on. It’s awesome!

Traveling is Good Because it Enables You to Learn New Things

why traveling is good for you knowledge gained

If I stayed in my little corner of the world and never ventured out into what lies beyond, I would have stopped learning a long time ago. But because I travel, I have learned some fascinating things. For instance:

Traveling is Good Because It Helps You Find Common Ground

why traveling is good for you diversity

No matter what language, no matter what color the skin, people have more in common with each other than they differ. Traveling gives you a glimpse into other cultures and lets you see how alike we are. All over the world, harried mothers struggle with headstrong toddlers, young couples hold hands, babies smile at strangers, and people make mmmmm sounds when they eat something delicious. All over the world, people get annoyed in traffic, appreciate of beauty, and come home tired after a long day at work. Realizing our similarities is the foundation for goodwill and peace, which makes us better people and makes the world a better place in which to live.

Traveling is Good Because It’s Cheaper Than Therapy*

why traveling is good for you therapy

Traveling gives us a way to take a step back from things that are weighing heavily on our minds. Removed from the situation that is troubling us, we are able to consider it with almost complete objectivity. Separated from the constant distraction of our everyday routines, we find ourselves engaging in introspection. When we travel, we are more likely to examine ourselves, our relationships, and our goals.

*It may not be cheaper than therapy in some cases. But it’s definitely more fun.  🙂

Traveling is Good Because It Turns You Into a Kid Again

Why traveling is good for you sense of wonder

How often do you walk down a street in your home town and marvel at the architecture of the buildings there? How much time do you spend at your local park, watching birds and squirrels and people? Do you ever look up at the sky, take a deep breath, and smile?

There is something about traveling that turns us all into young children, full of wide-eyed wonder and enthusiastic appreciation for everything around us. Everything we see and do when we travel is new and exciting and amazing! What’s not to love about that?

Traveling is Good Because It Takes Us Outside Our Comfort Zone

why traveling is good for you outside comfort zone

I have done things while traveling that I would never have the courage to do at home. I ziplined for the first time while we were traveling in Michigan, climbed up 199 steps to reach the top of a lighthouse in New Jersey, went on a hot air balloon ride in Arizona, and hand-fed a zebra in Texas.

But my bravest act of travel so far was just this past May, when my family and I went to Peru. It was just the three of us. No guides, no translators, no tour groups. My daughter had almost completed her first year of high school Spanish and my husband didn’t know any Spanish at all. That meant that I had to do most of the communicating. It was nerve-wracking because, to be honest, I didn’t have much faith in my command of the Spanish language. At one time I was nearly fluent, but I hadn’t really used any Spanish since I left college, many years ago. To say that I was rusty was an understatement. Thankfully, my Spanish was passable enough to get us through most situations. Google Translate filled in the gaps whenever we needed it.

Eleanor Roosevelt once said “You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” Why?  Well, there are some very good reasons: it gives us confidence in our abilities, it helps us realize that we often worry unnecessarily, and it gives us a sense of accomplishment when we overcome our doubts and fears. Most importantly, though, it opens up new experiences for us that we might not otherwise have explored.

Traveling is Good Because It Allows Us to Have Unforgettable Experiences

why traveling is good for you unforgettable experiences

In the course of my travels, I have had experiences and seen things that I will never be able to forget. Here are just a few:

The Ceremony of the Keys at the Tower of London – we emerged from the London Underground station and immediately saw the Tower of London before us.  I froze in my tracks. This fortress, built over 900 years ago, was the place where Anne Boleyn lost her life.  Where Elizabeth I was held prisoner by her sister.  Where the Crown Jewels are kept. I could not take my eyes off it. (I know, I’m a hopeless history geek!) That night, we got to witness the Ceremony of the Keys, a tradition that has taken place every night for the last 700 years or so.  Our next visit to the Tower was a daytime visit, and we got to see the Doomsday Book. Like the building, it was over 900 years old, and it contained the names of everyone who lived in England and paid taxes at the time (including some of my ancestors). Also at the Tower, we saw the crown jewels and the throne chair of Henry VI. It was amazing.

On a trip to Paris, I saw the Venus de Milo in the Louvre. (I did not, however, see the Mona Lisa, even though we stood in the gallery where it was displayed.  Unfortunately, our guide thought it was more important for us to see the painting of Napoleon’s Coronation. At the time, I couldn’t figure out why so many people were on the other side of the room, murmuring excitedly. I stood on tiptoe and was able to see enough to recognize the famous painting – essentially just part of her forehead.)

In our travels, we’ve fed zebras, a baby bear, giraffes, and a tiger.

So What Are You Waiting For?

why traveling is good for you

Even if you disagree with everything I’ve written above, then I have one undeniable reason why traveling is good for you: it breaks up your routine and gets you out of a rut. So, if for no other reason than that, plan a little trip for yourself. You’ll be glad you did.

why traveling is good for you
Ten Things You Need to Know Before Going to Peru

Ten Things You Need to Know Before Going to Peru

Peru Travel Tips

Even though I had been to Peru before and was comfortable with the idea of traveling there, I was still a little surprised (or at least reminded) about the quirkier aspects of traveling in this South American country.  Here are some important Peru travel tips.

1. You will need your passport, even when you think you don’t.

peru travel tips machu picchu passport
US Passport

I knew I would need my passport to leave the US and enter Peru (and vice versa) but what I didn’t know was that we would also need our passports to travel within Peru. When we flew from Lima to Cusco, we needed to show our passports. We also needed them when we bought tickets for the bus that ferries tourists up to Machu Picchu from Aguas Calientes. And when we entered Machu Picchu, we needed to show our passports. I learned to just keep my passport with me at all times in a zippered pouch that hung around my neck. I always had it with me, but didn’t need to worry about losing them.

2. Before leaving the airport is the best time to change money, buy SIM card, get information.

peru travel tips airport baggage claim currency exchange sim card

When you arrive in the luggage claim section of the Lima Airport, you will see some kiosks set up in between the baggage carousels.  There are three that are particularly helpful.  First is an information desk, which is a great place to get recommendations, directions, etc.  Second is a cellular phone provider. Buy yourself a local prepaid SIM card and forgo paying for international roaming charges. Third is a currency exchange kiosk. Some may disagree, but I found that the rates at the airport kiosk were comparable to those elsewhere in the city, and the convenience factor was a big plus.

3. You don’t have to know Spanish, but it sure does help.

peru travel tips spanish

Nearly everywhere we went in Peru, we found individuals who spoke English.  However, we did notice that when I spoke Spanish with people, they were more receptive, helpful and friendly. While they might view my tendency to only speak in the present tense as quirky or improper, they appreciated the fact that I was at least making an effort to speak in their language rather than expecting them to speak in mine.

4. You can bring luggage on the train to Machu Picchu

peru travel tips luggage on train t o aguas calientes machu picchu

Everything I read when I was planning our trip said that no luggage was allowed on the trains to Aguas Calientes.  As far as I could tell, that left me with three options: (1) find out if we could leave our luggage at the place we were staying after checking out, (2) pay for an extra night at the apartment, and leave the majority of our things there, or (3) be a rule-breaker and bring the luggage, pretending I didn’t know about that rule.  I went with option 2. We put toiletries and a change of clothes in a backpack and left everything else in the apartment we were renting.  Imagine my surprise when I boarded and saw a sturdy luggage rack right by the door.  So yes, you can take luggage with you.

5. Learn to say “no, gracias.” A lot.

peru travel tips no gracias street vendors

We could not walk, stand, or sit anywhere in Cusco without being approached by someone who wanted to sell us something.  Sunglasses, tours, bags, hats, jewelry, decorative gourds, shoe shines, and so on.  It only took one afternoon to see that this would be an ongoing issue.  At first we listened politely and declined politely, but we soon learned that these vendors would not take no for an answer.  After that first afternoon, we learned to keep our eyes down, our pace brisk, and a “no, gracias, ” on the tip of the tongue, ready to turn the street vendor away.

6. Don’t wait for the waiters to bring your check.

peru travel tips dining out restaurants

If you finish your meal and sit around the table waiting for your waiter to bring the check, you will be there a long time.  Americans tend to get in, eat, and get out, but we are in the minority when in comes to dining out.  You will find neither hovering nor impatient waitstaff in Peruvian restaurants. When you are ready to leave, simply motion to your server and ask for the bill (cuenta in Spanish).

7. A double room might not be what you think it is.

I booked a double room at a hotel in Aguas Calientes for the three of us.  I assumed that it would be like a hotel room in the States – two double beds, bathroom, TV, and some furniture in which to place clothing. Imagine my surprise when we arrived and discovered that a double room was two twin size beds.  Fortunately, they had a room available that could accommodate three people without one having to sleep on the floor.  Be sure to ask when booking what size bed(s) you will have in your room.

8. Lima’s rush hour can mess up your plans.

peru travel tips rush hour traffic

I heard from more than one taxi driver in Lima that their evening rush hour lasts from 5:00 until 9:00 PM every weekday.  What I didn’t hear was how that could adversely affect our plans.  It became glaringly obvious on our last day in the City of Kings when we found ourselves near the Plaza de Armas around 5:00 PM, needing to get a cab back to Miraflores where a driver would be picking us up at 8:00 PM to take us to the airport. Nearly every cab that passed us already had a passenger.  One cab stopped but when we told him we wanted to go to Miraflores, he drove off, unwilling to drive that far in rush hour traffic.  We walked for a while, stopped and ate dinner at a KFC, and walked some more.  We called for an Uber car twice; they never showed up.  Finally someone stopped and asked if we needed a taxi. We reached the apartment at 8:10 PM.  Fortunately, our driver was waiting for us and we made it to the airport on time.

9. The Toilets.

peru travel tips rest room toilet

I will try not to be too indelicate, but the toilets in Peru are different from what we are used to here. While some are exactly the same, others are noticeably different.  The first glaringly obvious difference is that many do not have seats. The second big difference is that in most places, you are not supposed to flush your toilet paper.  The infrastructure is not equipped to handle it.  So regardless of what you do in the toilet, you are supposed to fold up your used toilet paper and place it in a nearby trash can. Not so bad when you are sharing a bathroom with your family, but when you’re out and about and using a public restroom, the ick factor increases exponentially.

10. It’s worth it to pay for a guided tour.

peru travel tips tour guide

We paid a nice young man to give us a tour at the Cusco Cathedral.  It cost just $10 and lasted about an hour.  That was probably the best $10 I’ve ever spent.  He gave us so much more information than we could have possibly picked up or learned on our own.  Definitely money well spent.  We did the same at Machu Picchu and also at the Archbishop’s Palace in Lima.  Each time we felt like we got a lot more from our sightseeing because we learned the history and significance in a way that only a local could explain.  Paying for a guide is a great way to add depth to your travel experience and is well worth the small fee.

I hope these tips help you prepare for your journey to Peru!  Are there any you would add?

Five Things You Need to Consider When Booking with Spirit Airlines

Five Things You Need to Consider When Booking with Spirit Airlines

spirit airlines review

Is Flying with a Budget Airline a Good Idea?

I am always on the lookout for an air travel bargain, and since virtually EVERYWHERE is on my bucket list, I tend to not hesitate when a great fare pops up.

So in late February when I learned that Spirit was having an huge sale for May travel, provided that you traveled on Tuesday or Wednesday, I decided to check it out. Then I found out that Spirit flies to Lima, Peru. With the discount, the fare was right around $200 per person, which is a steal. And Machu Picchu was on my bucket list.  I booked that flight without a moment’s hesitation, not even bothering to look for Spirit Airlines reviews online.

Spirit Airlines Review

If I had Googled “Spirit Airlines review,” I might not have gone through with the booking.  Spirit is not well liked by former passengers. But as they say, ignorance is bliss.  Following is my Spirit Airlines review, and what I learned about the airline.  There are four warnings to consider if you’re thinking of traveling with Spirit, and one recommendation that I would give to a traveler on any airline, not just Spirit.

Caveat #1

When you book with Spirit, you are only paying for your seat. They call it a “bare fare” because it includes nothing else. Put another way: Everything other than that seat comes with a fee.  Want a snack or beverage? Fee. Want to check a bag? Fee. Want to pick out your seats? Fee. Want to have a carry on bag? Fee.

Taking that into consideration, your bargain airfare might end up not being such a bargain after all. For all three of us, seat selection and checked baggage fees added a little over $300 to the total. If those fees had added $300 to the total of a shorter, cheaper flight, I might have reconsidered. But for Lima, the airfare + fees worked out to be about $315 per person, which is still far cheaper than average. (It usually runs $500-$700.)

Caveat #2

Spirit does not have reclining seats on their planes. They say it’s because it adds a lot of weight (something like 70 pounds per row, if I recall correctly), and the heavier the plane, the more fuel it uses, the more expensive it is to fly, etc.

spirit airlines review

Normally, I don’t recline my seat because I find it really irritating when people in front of me do it. So I didn’t miss this feature at all.

Until.

Our return flight from Lima had a departure time of 11:00 PM.  We had been sightseeing in Lima all day and we were tired.  We wanted to sleep.  Seats that don’t recline don’t make for comfortable sleeping arrangements, so it was a long and restless flight back to the US.

Caveat #3

There is no on-board entertainment on Spirit Airlines.  There is no selection of movies or music provided for you to while away the time. I got around this by downloading some shows and movies on Netflix, which I watched offline on my iPad during the flight.  It was great!

Caveat #4

As mentioned above, Spirit does not offer complimentary snacks or beverages. However, unlike your local movie theater, they don’t prohibit you from bringing your own with you. So buy a bottle of water from the airport newsstand (after you’ve gone through security, of course), or fill your own reusable bottle at a water fountain. Pack a few granola bars, a piece of fruit, a bag of chips, or whatever you like to nibble on, and you’ll be good to go.

And One Recommendation

Because I knew all of this prior to booking, I did not have any expectations of our flight that did not match with reality. And I found it all to be perfectly fine because I took the time to become informed and prepared.

However, I also went a step further and made sure that our flight would be a good one by spending $4. The “personal item” I had (which is free, but also smaller than a carry-on) was a student size backpack. The day before we left I put two things in there for the flight crew.  One was a small bag of Dove chocolates.  The other was a card thanking them for ensuring our safety and letting them know that we respected them and their work.

It might have sounded kiss-uppy, but it was true. Airline employees – particularly the flight attendants – were getting maligned in the media almost daily. The Dr. Dao/United Airlines episode had been all over the news a few weeks earlier, followed by the story about girls not being allowed to use their free tickets because they violated the dress code (leggings), followed by a flight being canceled because someone got up and used the rest room when the plane was waiting to take off, followed by a couple of other news items I had seen. Feel free to disagree with me if you want, but it in each of those cases I believe that the passenger was at fault for disregarding the instructions of the flight crew.

The crew was so thankful to hear from a passenger that their work was appreciated (as opposed to being completely disrespected) that they could not thank me enough. And although it was not my motivation, we were treated exceptionally well as a result of that gesture of goodwill. We were given complimentary beverages and the captain even thanked us over the loudspeaker.

Would I fly with Spirit again? Absolutely! But I would probably think twice before booking an overnight flight.

Spirit Airlines has a special page they refer to as Spirit Airlines 101 in which they give you a run-down on how they do things.  It’s full of helpful tips and information to avoid disappointing surprises at the airport. Because no one wants to start their vacation off with unanticipated expenses.

spirit airlines review

Where to Find the Best Airfare Rates

Where to Find the Best Airfare Rates

Everyone has their favorite web site to search for the best airfare rates. Mine was Google Flights, which I could not say enough good things about in June of last year. Since then, I’ve had other experiences with booking airfare, and seen recommendations from others, which left me wondering if Google Flights really was the best.

So I decided to conduct an experiment.  I chose ten popular airfare sites/apps, and came up with seven planned trips.  I searched for round trip airfare departing on June 23 and returning on July 2.  Economy class, 2 adult passengers, and no more than one stop/layover. These were the only criteria.

The trips were:

  1. New York to Rome
  2. San Francisco to Sydney
  3. Chicago to Toronto
  4. Dallas to Buenos Aires
  5. Los Angeles to Atlanta
  6. Boston to Cairo
  7. Seattle to Beijing

The airfare search companies I used were:

  1. Kayak
  2. Hopper (app only, no website)
  3. Google Flights
  4. Priceline
  5. Hotwire
  6. Expedia
  7. Travelocity
  8. CheapOair
  9. Momondo
  10. Sky Scanner

So let’s review the results:

New York to Rome:

Ranged from $842 on Momondo to $1125 on Travelocity
($283 difference)

San Francisco to Sydney:

Ranged from $943 on Momondo to $1134 on Hopper
($191 difference)

Chicago to Toronto:

Ranged from $215 on Sky Scanner and Kayak to $247 on Hotwire
($32 difference)

Dallas to Buenos Aires:

Ranged from $1162 on CheapOair to $1772 on Travelocity
($610 difference)

Los Angeles to Atlanta:

Ranged from $321 on CheapOair to $352 on Hopper
($31 difference)

Boston to Cairo:

Ranged from $1156 on Momondo to $1242 on Hopper
($86 difference)

Seattle to Beijing:

Ranged from $667 on Google Flights (I checked that three times to make sure it was correct!) to $1057 on Hopper
($390 difference)

The overall winner for getting the best airfare rates?  Momondo, which had the best airfare on three of the seven trips.

momondo best airfare rates

Further, Momondo had the second best airfare on three of the remaining four trips, meaning there was only one trip in seven where it did not have the best or second best airfare rates.

The biggest loser, which had the highest airfare on four of the seven trips, was Hopper.

best airfare rates

An adjusted ranking of the ten sites from best airfare rates to worst, based solely on my search results, is as follows:

  1. Momondo (3 best, 4 second best)
  2. CheapOair (2 best, 1 second best)
  3. Sky Scanner (1 best, 2 second best)
  4. Google Flights and Kayak – tie (1 best)
  5. Priceline and Expedia – tie (1 second best)
  6. Hotwire (1 worst)
  7. Travelocity (2 worst)
  8. Hopper (4 worst)

Does this change my feelings about Google Flights?  Yeah, a little.  I will probably check Momondo in addition to Google Flights from now on.  (And, if I’m being honest, I’ll probably check Momondo first.)

What about you? Do you have a favorite airfare site?  Have these results changed your mind about where to look for the best airfare rates?

Airline Passenger Rights – What You Need to Know

Airline Passenger Rights – What You Need to Know

Everyone is talking about the viral news story on the 70-year-old doctor who was forcibly removed from a United Airlines flight. The story raises several questions. Did United act illegally? Did the passenger have a choice? Can the airlines really ask people to leave the plane?

Let’s break it down.

First, when you purchase an airline ticket, you are entering into a “contract of carriage” with the airline. That contract covers everything from smoking policy to service animals to surcharges to – you guessed it – involuntarily denial of boarding (bumping).

Passenger Rights #1 – Upon request, the airline must provide you with their contract of carriage.

By law, they have to provide you with this contract if you want it. That said, unless you have a penchant for reading page after page of legalese, you might not really want it. Just be aware that it spells out their policies in detail and you can ask them for a copy if need be.  You may be able to access the contracts of carriage online, too.  United Airlines’ contract of carriage makes for great bedtime reading. (Yawn.)

So, did the airline have the right to ask passengers to voluntarily give up their seats?  Yes, because the passengers agreed to that possibility when they purchased their tickets.

Initially, the crew offered $400 compensation for those who would be willing to leave the plane.  No one took the bait.  Then they doubled the offer to $800.  Still no one took the bait.  No other planes were departing until the next day, so getting off the plane would mean a significant delay and an overnight stay. I’d do it for $800.  Or I would have, before I researched what the law requires.  Which leads me to…

Passenger Rights #2 – If overbooking causes a delay of an hour or more, you can receive financial compensation, up to $1350.

overbooked flight passenger rights

For compensation rates, the base figure is the cost of the one-way flight to the first stop (or to the destination if it’s a direct flight).

For delays of more than one hour but less than two hours, the compensation rate is 200% of the base figure, up to $675. Say you’re flying from Boston to Los Angeles with a stop in Chicago and you get bumped from the first leg of your trip. You’re able to get a reservation on a different flight to Chicago, but you’ll be arriving 90 minutes later than you would have on the initial flight. Your maximum compensation would be double the cost of the Boston to Chicago leg. (Note: these figures apply to domestic flights. For international flights the range is more than one but less than four hours.)

For more significant delays of two hours or more, you can receive four times the cost of that leg of the trip, up to a maximum of $1350. Yes, you’re reading that correctly: $1350. If your direct flight from New York to San Francisco cost $338 or more, you can receive a reimbursement of $1350 by getting off the plane. If it was a $100 flight, you would get $400.  (Note: these figures apply to domestic flights. For international flights the criterion is four hours or more.)

As you can see from the news story above, the airline isn’t going to ask you to get off the plane and then make it rain $100 bills down on your head as you leave. You need to ask for full compensation, and be clear that you know what the magic formula is.

Passenger Rights #3 – The airline must issue the compensation check within 24 hours.

Compensation will be in the form of a check. It is your right to receive that check right there in the airport. However, if you’re booked on an alternate flight that departs before you can get the check, the airline must send it to you within 24 hours.

Passenger Rights #4 – You do not have to take an airfare voucher in lieu of payment.

The airline may offer a voucher for free airfare instead of a check payment. In this instance you need to know two things:  first, the value of the transportation credit must be equal to or greater than the monetary compensation you would have received. Second, you don’t have to accept. You are within your rights to decline the airfare voucher and request monetary compensation instead.

Passenger Rights #5 – If your flight is canceled, you are entitled to a refund.

passenger rights flight cancellation

In the event of a flight cancellation, you will not receive compensation as such. However, you can receive a full refund (even if it’s a non-refundable ticket) or book a new ticket at no additional cost to you.

Passenger Rights #6 – You do not have to stay on the plane indefinitely if it’s sitting on the tarmac.

During a lengthy tarmac delay in the U.S. (upon either arrival or departure), airlines may not keep you on a plane for more than three hours (domestic flight) or four hours (international flight) without allowing you to get off if you wish, subject to security and safety considerations. Each airline must provide food and water after two hours of delay.  They must also provide updates to passengers every 30 minutes, and assure that airplane lavatories are operable. It’s important to note that when an airline violates the tarmac rules, you receive no compensation. Instead, the DOT fines the airline. (Small comfort, I know.)

Passenger Rights #7 – If you cancel within 24 hours of booking, you can receive a full refund.

The airline cannot assess charges, fees or penalties for canceling an airline reservation if your departure is at least seven days away and you are canceling within 24 hours of making the reservation. After 24 hours have passed, you can expect some fees. This is great news for comparison shoppers who book a flight on Tuesday evening and awake Wednesday morning to find a much cheaper fare.

Passenger Rights #8 – You can receive compensation if the airline loses your luggage, even temporarily.

If you arrive at your destination but your luggage doesn’t, notify a baggage representative right away. Then ask about the airline’s reimbursement guidelines. Typically, reimbursements only cover basic toiletries and essential items.  Make sure you keep all receipts for your purchases, so that you can submit them for reimbursement.

passenger rights lost luggage baggage

If, on the other hand, your luggage has gone to the land of single socks (i.e., disappeared and never to be seen again), and you traveled within the US, the airline is required to reimburse you for your belongings, up to $3300. However, the airline may request receipts or proof of purchase for the claimed items. Even then, they will only reimburse the depreciated value of your suitcase and its contents. It really helps to have a list of everything you packed (if not receipts) for this purpose.

The Flip Side of the Coin

And that covers most of your rights as a passenger. However, the airlines have rights too, and passengers have some responsibilities. They are:

  1. Airlines reserve the right to change routes and/or schedules at any time and for any reason.  Yes, I agree, it sucks.  American Airlines did that to us on our trip to England last fall. I not only ended up spending way too much time in the Philadelphia airport, I also lost about five hours of planned sightseeing in London.  The only recourse you have if this happens to you is to cancel and re-book at your expense.  The only good news is that, in this situation, they can’t charge you any fees for canceling.
  2. Airlines reserve the right to choose which passengers to bump from a flight if no one volunteers to give up their seat. This is what happened with the United Airlines flight.  No one volunteered to leave the plane, so they chose who would.  The process for choosing varies by airline.  Some operate on a first come, first served basis.  Others give priority to first class ticket holders, people with disabilities, and families with children.  Yet others go by how much the passenger paid for their ticket.
  3. As passengers, we are responsible for complying with any instructions that the flight crew gives us. The ugly situation with the United flight could have been avoided if the passenger left the plane when asked.  Sure, he thought he needed to be on that flight because he had important things to do the next day.  I’m willing to bet the other people on that plane thought the exact same thing about themselves. Otherwise, they would have volunteered to get off the plane and taken the $800 they were offered.
  4. There are extenuating circumstances in which you can be kept waiting on the tarmac in excess of what is allowed. You may be kept waiting on the tarmac longer than is allowed in either of two possible scenarios. First, if the pilot determines there is a safety or security-related reason why the aircraft cannot leave its position on the tarmac.  And second, if air traffic control advises the pilot that returning to the gate would significantly disrupt airport operations.

Air travel can put people’s nerves on edge like few other things – that goes for crew and passengers.  For a smooth experience, it’s important to remember that everyone wants to have the safest, smoothest trip possible, and to work toward that end.  Knowing your rights and responsibilities will help make a less-than-ideal travel experience more tolerable.

Five Reasons to Try Solo Travel

Five Reasons to Try Solo Travel

Hey, guess what?  According to my “Every Day is a Holiday” calendar, today is Plan a Solo Vacation Day.

Plan a Solo Vacation Day

Taking a vacation by yourself might seem like a strange thing to do. But here are a few reasons why it just might be your best vacation ever.

  1. You set the pace. Whether you are a non-stop vacationer who has to see everything or a laid back vacationer who wants to just relax with a good book, it doesn’t matter. Whether you want to sleep in until noon or get up early to see the sun rise, you can. You only have to please one person on a solo vacation, and that’s you.
  2. Sudden changes in itinerary are okay. Scrapping a museum visit to catch a concert in the park? Driving back home a day early because bad weather is in the forecast? Whatever the reason for the change, the decision is all yours, and no one will be disappointed or give you grief over it.
  3. No one will think you’re interests are boring, weird, or a waste of time. If you’re an avid stamp collector and want to spend two full days poring over the exhibits at the National Postal Museum, so what? You can! It doesn’t matter what anyone else wants to see because they are not there with you.
  4. You may discover things about yourself that you didn’t know before. Time alone makes for great opportunities of introspection. It also presents us with opportunities to be self-reliant. You may not only work through some problems that have been gnawing at you for a while, you might also end up more confident in your abilities.
  5. It’s cheaper. Obviously, it will cost less for one plane ticket, one museum admission, one whatever, than it would for two. But beyond that, you may find that you are able to secure a lower price and/or better seats when buying just one ticket instead of multiples.

But what about my safety?

Some people, women in particular, might shrink from the idea of traveling solo because of the old adage that there is safety in numbers. While being alone in unfamiliar territory might make one more likely to be targeted for a crime, I believe that forewarned is forearmed. With the right mixture of precaution and research, it isn’t hard to be as safe as someone traveling with a group of friends or relatives. Here are some tips to make yourself safe on a solo vacation. (Most of them would apply to travel under any circumstances, not just solo travelers.)

  • Take steps to make sure that you will not be a victim of pickpocketing.
  • Provide at least one person, either at home or in the location you are visiting, your whereabouts and your expected time of return.
  • Don’t use headphones while walking around. The key to safety is awareness of your surroundings, and that includes the sounds around you.
  • Make yourself look like a local. Do not stand out on the sidewalk and open a map, for instance. Do not wear shirts that advertise your identity as someone who is not from the area.
  • Ask the staff at hotels, restaurants, etc. what areas are considered unsafe in general, and do your best to avoid those places.

Don’t be afraid to step outside your comfort zone. Go ahead and embark on a solo adventure, whether for a weekend or an entire week. The experience might surprise you!

 

How to Maximize Your Savings on Rail Travel… and Possibly Even Travel for Free

How to Maximize Your Savings on Rail Travel… and Possibly Even Travel for Free

On our recent trip to the UK, we had a bit of a rail travel nightmare. We were leaving Northern England (Newcastle) to head back to London. The trip was to last about three hours, roughly 10:00 AM to 1:00 PM.

All went smoothly until we arrived at York, when the operator announced that the train line was closed due to a herd of cattle on the tracks near Peterborough. We were advised to disembark and catch a different train to Manchester, from whence we could take yet another train to London. Since the train to Manchester was essentially carrying two trains’ worth of passengers, many of us rode standing up, packed in the cars like sardines. It was not fun.

Further problems (and delays) ensued when the driver of the Manchester-to-London train fell ill. Long story short, we arrived in London around 5:00, a full four hours later than we planned.

During the Manchester-to-London ride, the operator made an announcement that because there was a significant (i.e., more than 30 minutes) delay, we would be eligible to receive a refund for our rail travel. I honestly didn’t think much about it because, ugh!, paperwork is not something I care to bother with when I’m on vacation. But once we got home, I looked into it.

Delay Repay in the UK

Sure enough, Virgin Trains (the company we booked with) has a “Delay Repay” policy. If your train runs 30-59 minutes late, you could receive a 50% refund. If your delay is 60 minutes or more, you can receive a full refund for your rail travel. And depending on how you booked, you might even get it automatically!

I was skeptical, though, because the train I ended up arriving in London on was a different carrier than the one I had originally booked. In fact, each of the three trains we took to get to London was with a different carrier. I wasn’t sure who to apply for the refund with, so I applied with Virgin Trains East Coast (our originating train in Newcastle) and Virgin Trains (the one that actually got us to London… finally).

Within a week Virgin Trains contacted me to say that they were denying my refund request because of inadequate documentation. Well, that’s it, I figured, no refund for me. Imagine my surprise when nearly two months later I found this in my mail from Virgin Trains East Coast:

img_2639

A refund check for the full amount we paid for that journey! Now, granted, it is going to take a small eternity for it to clear the bank due to currency conversion, but it’s still close to $70 that I wouldn’t have received if I hadn’t tried.

And it turns out Virgin is not alone.  Other rail travel operators have generous compensation policies for delayed passengers as well. I was lucky in that the train operator advised us we would be eligible for a delay, but if he had not, I would have had no clue. It pays to be aware of your rights as a passenger. Thus the purpose of this post. 🙂

In addition to Virgin Trains and Virgin Trains East Coast, other UK rail companies operating with a Delay Repay policy are

  • CrossCountry
  • East Midlands Trains
  • Greater Anglia
  • Great Northern
  • Southeastern
  • Southern
  • Thameslink, and
  • TransPennine Express

Elsewhere in Europe

Within the EU, there are refund policies in place for rail travel as well.  If your arrival at your destination is canceled or delayed by an hour or more, you are entitled to the following compensation:

  • full and immediate refund upon cancellation of the journey
  • return journey to your original departure point if the delay prevents you from completing the purpose of the trip
  • transportation to your destination, including alternative means of transportation if the rail line is closed
  • meals and refreshments proportionate to your waiting time
  • accommodations if you must stay overnight as a result of the delay

If you decide to continue your journey as planned or to accept alternative transport to your destination, you may receive compensation of:

  • 25% of the ticket fare, if the train is between 1 and 2 hours late.
  • 50% of the fare, if the train is more than 2 hours late.

And, finally, if your luggage is lost or damaged on a rail journey within the EU, you have a right to compensation, unless it was “inadequately packed, unfit for transport or had a special nature.”

  • Up to € 1300 per piece of registered luggage – if you can prove the value of its contents.
  • € 330 per piece if you can’t prove the value.

Remember, forewarned is forearmed. Knowing your rights as a rail travel passenger will prepare you for any scenario!