October 18, 2013

October 18, 2013
12 Travel Mistakes You're Making

Welcome to another day in my life. Today is Friday and we have almost made it through another work week. I hope you are having a beary safe and great week so far.

One of the savviest travelers Iíve ever met is my friend Mead Metcalf of Aspen, Colorado. He knows to pack valuables in his carry-on rather than risk entrusting them to checked luggage or shipping them from abroad. So last year in Hong Kong, he put $4,500 worth of souvenirs ó jewelry, silks, and a new Nikon D3100 ó in his hand luggage for the flight home. In San Francisco, boarding his connection to Denver, the overhead bins were full and he was forced to check the carry on to Aspen. That was the last time he ever saw it. Metcalf had taken every precaution but one. Read on for how to avoid such a trap, as well as other common mistakes that I watch even the smartest travelers make time and time again.

Handing your most indispensable possessions to a stranger. You never know when you might be forced to gate-check your hand luggage. Place your jewelry, iPad, camera, house and car keys, medication, and anything else you canít live without in a thin pack or pouch inside your carry-on so that, if you must surrender your carry-on to a flight attendant at the last minute because the overhead bins are full, you can remove the smaller bag and keep an eye on it beneath the seat in front of you.

Missing out on the royal hotel treatment. Next time you book a luxe getaway celebrating a milestone occasion such as a big birthday or wedding anniversary, let the hotel know the reason for your visit. Inform the front desk at check-in or, better yet, the general manager by e-mail before you arrive. Hotels often provide a free upgrade or do something extra to make your stay memorable so that youíll take photos, tell friends, and return for future celebrations.

Getting ripped off by your credit card. Not long ago the only way to escape a three percent foreign transaction fee was a Capital One card, but Chase now has ten travel rewards credit cards that waive the surcharge on overseas transactions; many offer great additional travel perks (such as double points for dining or free checked baggage) and are free for the first year, so you can try them and, if youíre not pleased, dump them before paying an annual fee. The American Express Platinum Card, too, now waives foreign-transaction charges.

Being scared away from a fascinating destination. Donít rule out a trip based solely on a U.S. State Department Travel Alert or Travel Warning. They are often influenced by politics and are written not just for travelers but for diplomatic officers and dual nationals who end up in places and situations that everyday tourists do not. Many security experts say that State Department Travel Warnings should be taken with a grain of salt, and sure enough, over the years Iíve visited destinations for which Travel Warnings were in place (Colombia, Egypt, Fiji, Lebanon, Mexico, and Turkey) only to enjoy some of the most rewarding travel moments of my life. Typically, sights are delightfully uncrowded, prices are low, security is high, and the locals are thrilled to have you. Sure, sometimes a place really is too risky to visit, which is why in addition to checking the State Departmentís advice, I always get a second opinion from the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia.

Wasting precious hours at your destination fumbling with local logistics. There are times when you need a stellar concierge but youíre not staying at a stellar hotel. Donít let that stop you. Find the nearest five star hotel and march right up to the concierge desk. Good concierges can provide an English speaking driver or guide, a reliable doctor, hard to get tickets, a walking route, or instructions for cab drivers written in the local language. They are usually happy to help even if youíre not staying at their hotel as long as youíre not pushing in front of guests. Just be sure to tip.

Paying airline ticket change fees. Donít forget that there are ways around the painfully punitive $200 change fees levied by American, Delta, and United. JetBlue and Virgin America charge only $100, and Southwest charges no change fees at all. American now offers a Choice Essential Fare option: For an extra $68, you avoid any change fee and you also get one checked bag and Group 1 Boarding.

Failing to visit the one place on your cruise itinerary that was your top priority. Many people choose a cruise for that one port of call theyíve always dreamed of seeing. Then, thanks to bad weather, rough seas, a labor strike, a safety threat, or some other unforeseen reason, the cruise line cancels the port call with no possibility of a rain check (and no compensation, either). If your lifeís dream is to see the Colosseum or the Acropolis, book a cruise that starts or ends in Rome or Athens, rather than stopping there mid-cruise.

Losing out on V.I.P. hotel perks and free nights. Too few travelers ó even those who are mileage- and points-obsessed ó are aware that hotel credit cards can save you hundreds of dollars, yielding benefits worth far more than the cardís fee. The Fairmont Visa, for instance, provides two free nights plus breakfast, elite status that means free in-room Internet, and $50 in savings on meals or spa services ó ≠and the $95 annual fee is waived for the first year. The Hyatt Visa provides two free nights at any Hyatt worldwide (including $700 a night Park Hyatts in Paris and Tokyo) ó as well as elite status, which in turn yields free Internet and upgrades based on availability for $75 a year.

Getting stuck paying for rental-car damages you didnít cause. Itís just not enough to have a credit card that provides collision-damage coverage and to check your car at pickup for scratches or dents. Be sure to photograph any preexisting damage (outside and inside the car), with a time/date stamp, and get a written record of the state of the car at pickup. Only return the car when the office is open, and request a written record that you returned a damage free car.

Lacking enough miles for the airline tickets or upgrades you want. Even mileage junkies who sign up for all the right points-earning credit cards forget that they can amass thousands of miles when shopping for their favorite brands online: Log on to your account on your preferred airlineís Web site and click to its retail shopping portal, which links to hundreds of brand-name retailers, and rack up two to ten more miles per dollar spent.

Assuming your passport is valid until it expires. You checked the expiration date on your passport to make sure it precedes the date of your flight home, but you forgot that certain countries ó China, Russia, and the U.A.E., among others ó≠ require that passports be valid for six months past the date of your flight home, and 26 European nations require that passports be valid for three months past. Check the State Departmentís Web site for entry and exit requirements for the destination youíre headed to next (travel.state.gov).

Making sure everyone knows youíre a tourist. Nothing marks you as an American more than your brand-new white sneakers. Comfy footwear is a must, but the goal is to blend in, so pack beloved broken-in shoes and buy new ones upon your return (to break in for the next trip). Similarly, pack old clothes that youíre ready to throw out; leave them behind at your destination to make room in your bag for clothing you buy locally which helps you blend in and makes for good souvenirs. 

Hope these tips help you on your next adventure and that you have a beary safe and great Friday!

Until we meet again; here's wishing you health, hope, happiness and just enough.

big bear hug,

Daddy Dab