Recomendo
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Travel

Travel tips

 

Board Southwest sooner

If you book a one-day round trip on Southwest, you won’t be allowed to check in for the return flight until after you complete the first flight. This means you’ll end up with the dreaded C boarding pass (which means a middle seat). I’ve learned from experience to book two one-way trips instead of a round trip (it costs the same). This allows me to check into each flight exactly 24 hours before take-off. That way, I get an A or B boarding pass. (Extra tip: set your alarm 23 hours and 58 minutes before each flight so you can check as soon as Southwest allows it. The A and B passes go fast!) — MF

Airfare price drop alerts

Hopper is a smartphone app that predicts when airfare to a desired destination will be the cheapest. I’ve set up an alert for Chiang Mai, Thailand. About once a month Hopper sends me a message with the best price it can find, telling me to “wait” or “buy.” The price recently dropped from the $900s to the $500s and Hopper said “buy.” — MF

Explore cities by bike

I used the Red Bike service when I was in Cincinnati last month. A 24-hour pass costs a measly $8. You just grab a bike at any of the dozens of stations (an app shows you how many bikes are available on a map) and start pedaling. The bikes have baskets and locks. It’s a lot more fun than Uber! — MF

Surf the web in China

While traveling in China, the government will prevent you from accessing Google, Gmail, Google maps, Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, The New York Times, and many other news sites. If any of these services are important to you, you need to use a very good VPN to circumvent the censoring. (China is able to block some VPNs that work elsewhere). The best VPN for China is the ExpressVPN app, which you can load on your phone and laptop. Once loaded it’s pretty seamless and unnoticeable. You can reach any site with fine speed. There’s a monthly subscription of $8.32, but it’s worth it compared to cheaper and free VPNs. It’s useful anywhere in the world sites are blocked. Even in the West, if I am accessing a public wifi spot for my mail I’ll turn it as an added layer of privacy. — KK

Offline travel guides

Guides by Lonely Planet was so helpful on my recent trip through Central Europe. I had no cell service, but through the app I was able to download offline maps and navigate to points of interests (bars, shops, sights) while learning more about the cities I visited. Also invaluable, was the currency converter, tipping etiquette and local phrasebook. I plan on using the San Francisco guide, even though I live in the city, to keep my vacation spirit alive. — CD

Learn celsius

Part 1: Here’s an easy way to approximately convert Centigrade to Fahrenheit: “double the Centigrade temp, subtract the first digit of the result from the result and add 32.” Example: 16 C = (32-3)+32 = 61 F. (This tip appeared on Fodor’s Travel website.) — MF

Part 2: Recomendo reader Don wrote to tell us, “Your Centigrade to Fahrenheit conversion [from Recomendo #20] works ‘sorta’ as long as the result of doubling the C number is a two-digit number. I’ve always doubled the C number and subtracted 10%, then added 32. Most folks can figure out 10% and subtract it. Also, this doesn’t result in an approximation, but the correct result.” — MF

Part 3: The US is basically the only country in the world not using metric. It’s not that hard to learn a rough sense of how many kilometers in a mile, or pounds in a kilo. But it is very hard to convert temperatures between Centigrade and Fahrenheit. The solution is to convert all your thermometers to Centigrade: on your phone, in or outside of your house, on websites. Have any digital device display only Celsius, so you can’t cheat. In about a year, you’ll have a reliable and native sense of what’s cool and warm in degrees C. This is supremely handy if you travel anywhere outside of the US. — KK

Avoid luggage fees

Certain airlines offer very low prices on flights, and then charge for things most airlines include. On Frontier, a carry-on bag is $35-$60. I avoided the fee by using luggage that was small enough to be considered a “personal item” (It has to be under 14" high, 18" wide, 8" deep). A lot of backpacks will meet the size requirements. I have a Swissgear rolling bag, similar to this one. It held enough summer clothes for a 4-night trip, plus a gadget case, a toiletries bag, and my 13-inch laptop with charger. — MF

Automate travel itineraries

Google Trips is a brand new app (for iOS and Android) that scans my Gmail for travel and dining reservations to build an itinerary and offer things to do at your destination. It’s worked like a charm so far, identifying every upcoming trip I have planned. It even created summaries for past trips. — MF

Find street food tours

Before I travel to a new city X, I search for “street food tour for city X.” Almost every interesting city these days has someone offering this inside look. I find it a quick, fun, inexpensive, exhilarating way to get to know a place. — KK

Rental car special

Hertz rental cars have an option called Manager’s Special. You agree to take whatever car they give you at below Economy car rates. You’ll get at least an economy car, but usually a bigger car, maybe even a nice car. — KK

Collapsible water bottle

You aren’t allowed to bring a bottle of water past airport security, and the bottled water sold at airport convenience stores are expensive. But many airports now have filtered water dispensers. I keep a collapsible water bottle in my travel bag. It rolls up to a tiny size and weighs nothing. Free water, what a concept! — MF

Favorite hotel booking website

I travel in other countries a lot, often in remote places, and when I do I prefer smaller hotels, hostels, guesthouses, homestays, inns and Airbnb. Over the past decade I’ve used many apps and sites for booking smaller places in Asia, Latin America and Europe, but in the last 3 years I’ve settled on Booking.com as my go-to. It has a unified interface to 1.1 million hotels and guesthouses worldwide, with the widest coverage and selection, accurate prices and info, high reliability (if they say you have a reservation, you do), and they make it very easy to change or cancel. If I can, I will always book through Booking.com rather than the hotel direct. — KK

Flat toiletry bag

This eBags toiletry bag is the perfect size to fit all essential travel toiletries plus a lot of my makeup. It has four compartments and stays pretty flat, so I can slip it into my large tote if I need to. My favorite feature is the hook for hanging which is great for hotels with little counter space. — CD 

My primary travel luggage

I travel a lot, mostly overseas, often for many weeks at a time, and sometimes in very remote parts of the world. I pack everything I need for 3 weeks or more of adventuring and business speeches into one carry-on size luggage. My bag of choice is the Travel Pro Crew, also highly recommended by the intense researchers at the Wirecutter. At 20-inches in length it fits easily overhead, has plenty of storage, pockets and recessed wheelies. Fully packed it won’t tip over. This is slightly lighter, cheaper (and shorter) than Travel Pro’s Magna 22-inch model, but since I carry on rather than check it, it’s held up fine. — KK

Wi-Fi cheatsheet

Not every airport has free wifi, but they really should. I use this cheat sheet of passwords for wifi leaking from First Class lounges around the world to get access in those airports without free wifi. You need to sit near the lounge to get it, but that’s okay. This also comes as a phone app with global map. — KK

Qualify for TSA Pre-check

A Global Entry pass is a true bargain if you do any international travel. You don’t need to wait in line for immigration at reentry to the US. But it also serves as validation for the TSA Pre-check short-cut for security screening at most major US airports. Much shorter lines. To get in the program requires an appointment to get fingerprinted and $100 every five years. Well worth it. — KK

DIY guidebook

The cheapest bargain of any overseas vacation is the $25 for the travel guidebook, so I always get the latest version. And I have no qualms about cutting it up. I get the large country-scale guide, and then with a razor blade knife I excise only the portions I could possibly use. Then I staple and bind with clear packing tape for very durable, and lightweight, thin booklets. — KK

All the travel info you need

The Basetrip provides essential information you need when traveling internationally. Just enter your country of origin and your destination and the site will tell you the currency exchange rate, mobile phone service options, the crime rate, electrical outlets, drug and prostitution laws, and more. For an extra $5 per trip, you’ll get passport & visa information, travel advisories, and language phrases with audio pronunciation. — MF

How to pick your seat

Would you like to improve your chance of having an empty middle seat when you fly on Southwest? Here’s a trick I’ve started to use that works. When I board, I look for a 3-seat row of chairs where a very large person is sitting in the window or aisle set. I will sit in that row, either in the aisle seat or window seat. As the plane starts to get full, passengers will be reluctant to sit in the middle seat because the big person is encroaching on the space. One time when I did this, the guy sitting in the seat (he was probably 6’5” and weighed 300 pounds) leaned over and said conspiratorially, “No one will sit here. It’s always the last seat they take.“ — MF

Real reason planes are late

Airlines are reluctant to tell passengers the real reason a plane is late, or how long a delay will actually last. But if you go to your airline’s special cargo website, you’re more likely to get the real story. I’ve also found FlightAware to be an accurate source of information about delays. — MF

Forgot your charger?

If you lose or forget to bring a cable, adapter or charger check with your hotel. Most hotels now have a drawer full of cables, adapters and chargers others have left behind, and probably have the one you are missing. You can often claim it after borrowing it. — KK

Best travel day pack

On a recent trip to Tokyo, I brought along the Sea to Summit TravellingLight Day Pack ($33). It weighs 2.4 oz (my iPhone 6 Plus weighs 6.2 ounces) and zips up into a bundle smaller than my fist. But it holds 20 liters of stuff, and I used it every day to carry water, snacks, sweaters, an iPhone charger, a portable wi-fi, groceries, and things my wife and I bought while walking around. The material feels indestructible. — MF

Cheap flights

Scott’s Cheap Flights is a free newsletter that finds amazingly inexpensive flights all over the world. The newsletter includes Google Flights and Momondo links, so you can book the flight yourself. The latest newsletter has a roundtrip flight from Los Angeles to Stockholm for $343. — MF

Comfortable driving pillow

This car pillow makes long drives, slow traffic and neck pain more tolerable. The material is so soft and it’s so nice to lean my head back on this after work. When my husband drives he can easily adjust it to his height. — CD

Google map tips

Here are 12 really great tips for using Google Maps on your phone. How to share your current location, or share your trip progress, remember a parking space, invoking street view, estimate trip duration by departure time, or send a map search from your computer to your phone. I had no idea I had these powers. — KK

TravelClaudia Dawson