Great travel gift

The holidays are almost here.  Are you stumped for what to give your favorite traveler?  I know the dearth of techno toys, luggage and accessories can be overwhelming.  I found the perfect gift for an itinerant traveler.  A personally curated destination kit from Idlewild Books.  Just e-mail them the country your traveler plans to visit and a short paragraph on their interests and in 24 hours they’ll be back to you with suggestions.  Brilliant!

Packing

It’s one of the most stressful parts of taking a trip. I know that I am constantly reading packing advice from experts around the world looking for insights on how to fit it all in and still look good.  I queried on of my favorite bloggers, Anne at Pret a Voyager, about her packing tips.  She was kind enough to share her wisdom in the post Packing 101.  I absolutely agree with her advice to start packing a couple of days early.  It allows you strategize what you’ll need and removed anything you’re bringing along “just in case”.

Couchsurfing 101

Couchsurfing is a great way to travel if you’re budget conscious.  For years I had almost everyone I know crash at my home, and now it’s time for some pay back.  Since I never recommend anything on this site I wouldn’t try myself I’m here to download the results of my latest couchsurfing experience.

The Travel Muse’s rules on couch surfing

– Don’t overstay your welcome. Three days is good, seven may be too many.  When in doubt ask your host what’s “too long”.

– Do little things around the house to help out. Don’t reorg the pantry, but do unload the dishwasher once in a while.

– Don’t expect to be entertained.  Plan some activities for yourself.  In my case, friends work from home and need some privacy during the day.  Be respectful of your hosts’ schedule and give them some space.

– Replace the things you consume, like soap, wine or coffee. It will save your host from running out and all of these make excellent hostess gifts.

– Pick up a tab while you’re there. The average couch stay will save you several hundred bucks.  You can afford to buy your hosts dinner.

– Be prepared to “sing for your supper”. As Carrie once said on Sex and the City it’s expected in a house guest. Have a few stories prepared to entertain friends over dinner.

Remember, great house guests get invited back!

Beware the 3% credit card fee

Planning to buy tickets online from a foreign airline? Well watch out. My husband sent me a link this week to an article on the Consumerist.com. In it a person who purchased airline tickets online from Aer Lingus, in dollars, is assessed the 3% foreign transaction fee. Further investigation showed that the website he used is actually located in Dublin.  However, I don’t believe a transaction conducted in dollars should be assessed this fee.

Time to check your credit card’s fine print to see if this could happen to you.

A valuable lesson

“Experiences are more valuable than possessions”. Simple premise, right? But I had to learn this one the hard way. Like most of you I spend my 20’s working on my education and finding a career. My 30’s were devoted to moving up the corporate ladder and supplying myself with nice things. I had beautiful clothes, shoes, and handbags. I was the consummate shopaholic. The thing is having all those things didn’t make me happy. I felt an emptiness like a deep hole in my life. My solution at the time was to stop accumulating things and concentrate on accumulating experiences. When I traveled, something I’ve always loved, I didn’t shop, I did things. I went to museums, saw performances, hiked or simply wandered on a beach. I hoarded those experiences like candy and used them whenever I was having a bad day to relieve my stress and remind me how good life could be. Travel, even if it’s only to the local zoo can be a real bonding experience.

Last minute deals

The travel industry is hurting. You’ve heard it everywhere and unfortunately it’s true. There is a bright side though. In order to keep those airplane seats, hotels and cruise ships full, companies have been offering some amazing deals. Most of these are for last minute travel, and they all share a few basic characteristics.  They all seem to come in via e-mail; they need to be purchased within a number of days, so no dawdling; and all are for a set period of time like Jan. 1 – Feb. 28, 2008. Taking all those things into account, there are still some great deals to be had. Just a handful of what I’ve seen lately:

  • $149 per night at Fontainbleu Hotel in Miami (recently reopened)
  • $199 per night at a luxury hotel off New York’s Central Park – includes New Year’s Eve!
  • $499 cruise to Mexico
  • Galapagos Islands cruise “make us an offer”
  • Disney resort – book 7 nights, and 3 nights are free

I know they sound too good to be true. I often think that myself, but with the economy in peril there are deals out there that are not to be missed. On my radar — Hawaii. Occupancy has hit a 7 year low this past October, so keep your eyes pealed for deals galore in the New Year.

Should I stay or should I go now?

I’ve been running my own little impromptu poll recently to see what people’s travel plans are for this year’s holiday season. They seem to be split right down the middle between those who are hunkering down at home and those that are going away. The interesting thing I’ve noticed is that those who are traveling are casting much further afield than I would have expected. I’ve heard Europe, Australia even South America bandied about as their destinations.

The big question on everyone’s mind right now is should I travel or should I wait? I’m going to weigh in and advise you to travel. The U.S. economy is in turmoil which means (1) your dollar is gaining strength against many currencies worldwide and your buying power is coming back baby; and (2) American businesses need your help. The best thing you can do this holiday season is book tickets on an American carrier, stay in a U.S. hotel, and eat locally at mom and pop restaurants. I know I’ve given this advice before, but it bears repeating. If we’re going to get out of the mess we’re in we need to support one another.

Vote!

Today’s the day we’ve all been waiting for. Election Day. I strongly encourage you to get out and cast your vote. Still feeling empowered by our democratic process? Well you can wield that power in your travel plans. A lot has happened in the industry this year. Fees have arrived (and show no sign of departing), services have declined, and the entire process is a dizzying array of new rules and regulations. You can affect the process  by voting with your wallet. Don’t like that oil surcharge? Choose a smaller competitor carrier like Southwest or Virgin American. Don’t want to pay for that extra bag? Same advice. I flew Virgin American myself recently on the West Coast and I have to say I’m never going back to United. The service was friendlier, the flights were cheaper, and the overall experience so much more civilized. You’re the boss America, time to show those airlines how you really feel.

Are you putting off a vacation?

I know a lot of people are worried. The economy is in turmoil, gas prices are still high, and airlines have continued to raise airfares and tack on extra fees when you travel. You might think twice before booking a vacation this Fall. However, I’d caution you not to do that. Vacations are essential to our well being. Time off allows us to slow down, relax and recharge our batteries. Scientists have found that people who don’t vacation are more succeptible to heart attacks, depression and anger. So reconsider putting off that next vacation. You don’t have to go far to get away from it all.

36 hours in the Big Apple – Last 12

Downtown (by Jen Laceda – Folie a Deux)

The clock is ticking away – a sign that there is just too little time to cover such a diverse area. Downtown is where you find an ever changing history of immigration and settlement. From the fur traders of the 1600’s to the millionaire hedge fund traders dominating the Financial District today; from the Five Points Gangs of the mid 1800’s to the Little Italy and Chinatown community currently occupying the area; and from the Irish and Jewish-Russian immigrants of the late 1800’s to the punk crowd settling in Lower East Side nowadays. They all stand as a testament to the city’s international roots. But perhaps the most poignant event in recent American history, the 9/11 attacks, still holds stirring memories for many who visit Ground Zero, where a memorial has been placed where once the World Trade Towers stood. Rambling around historical Downtown and remembering the ghosts of the past will surely take one on a journey that is as moving as any trip to Ellis Island.

As a farewell to all the good things crammed in this tiny 22-square mile island, an obligatory New York hot dog is in order. Nothing tastes better than a New Yawk dawg eaten by the pier.