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Sunday, October 02, 2011

Trep's Travel Tips (Part 2)

[A while back I posted a bunch of travel tips that I'd been collecting over the years.  To keep things organized I'll post them again at the end of this new list.]

1.  The hotel concierge is your friend.  The concierge maintains lists containing a jaw dropping assortment of goods and services a traveler might want/need.  It might be something as simple as a good optometrist for getting new eyeglasses made up.  It can also be as complex as finding all the necessary people to arrange all the details (from invitations to seating arrangements) for a hasty reception to celebrate a newly signed contract.  Hankering to cross 'ride an elephant' off your life list?  Ask the Concierge to find you the closest place to do it.

2.  The Hotel doctor is your friend.  Most good hotels have a doctor on staff (or at least on call).  As a seasoned traveler, you should have brought all your prescription meds with you, along with copies of the prescriptions themselves in case you run out or lose your supply.  However, most foreign pharmacies want a prescription from a local doctor before they'll start passing out pills; especially stuff that can potentially be abused or cause harm if taken incorrectly.  A quick phone conversation with the hotel doctor will usually get you a local prescription for anything for which you have a foreign prescription.  The front desk will usually send someone up to get a copy of your paperwork in order to fax it to the doctor if he/she isn't on-site.  If you have a new problem, or didn't bring your prescription with you, the hotel doc will usually take your word for what you need, provided it sounds reasonable and isn't something open to abuse (i.e. don't count on a hotel doc giving you a scrip for 100 Oxycontin tablets).  Lastly, if you succumb to 'Delhi Belly' or some other typical travel ailment, the hotel doc will be able to assess whether some Imodium will sort you out, or if you need to be hospitalized to keep you from passing away from dysentery.

3.   Airline sickness bags are your friend (but not for the reason you think).  You are probably vaguely aware that on every flight you take there is an airline sickness bag in the seatback in front of you.  Unless you're a queasy flyer, you've probably never given it any further thought.  However, as a kosher traveler, you need to think about the fact that these airline sickness bags are uniquely constructed to help you out during your travels.  In most places, the only hotel meal where a kosher traveler will be able to find a wide assortment of permissible food is breakfast.  The typical breakfast buffet contains yogurts, fruits, hard boiled eggs, breads, butters, individual servings of jams and honeys, etc..  So while I have my breakfast, I generally prepare a bag lunch (or late afternoon snack) for myself.  And what better bag to keep it from soiling the inside of your briefcase?  Why yes, that wax-lined air sickness bag you swiped from you last flight.  BTW, lest you worry that they won't be there for the next traveler who sits in your seat on the plane… I spoke with a flight attendant about this and she assured me that part of the pre-flight routine is making sure the seatbacks contain the requisite headphones, magazines and yes, air sickness bags.  If one is missing, they have plenty to replace them with.

4.  Charging electronics in flight.  There are a lot of outlets on most commercial aircraft.  Forget about the one in the bathroom.  Unless you are planning on spending the flight in there to babysit your laptop or phone, you need to look elsewhere.  Luckily there are some excellent sources of information.  The following is an excellent website that is organized and helpful:  http://www.seatguru.com/articles/in-seat_laptop_power.php.  Here's another recent discussion of the subject:  http://www.usatoday.com/travel/flights/2010-05-18-businesstravel18_ST_N.htm.  If you really want to ensure you have an outlet, when booking your ticket, tell them that you are traveling with a CPAP breathing machine and will require an outlet to run it near your seat.  This is becoming an increasingly common request, and will get you near the desired outlet.

5. Charging electronics in airports.  Airports used to go out of their way to hide the electrical outlets from travelers.  But in today's wired world, they have come to realize that a traveler who is working quietly on his/her laptop or talking on their cell phone is a traveler who won't be complaining to airport staff or making demands on their time.  A common sight in airport waiting areas these days are cell phone charging stations (with multiple adaptors) and even instructions on how to access the free WiFi.

6.  "Can I help you with anything else?"  This is a simple question that nearly every single hotel employee is instructed to ask you before they take their leave.  It could be the chamber maid, room service waiter or laundry delivery guy.  For the first few years I heard this question, I tuned it out as a formulaic closing and didn't give it much thought.  But during the last few trips I've taken I've started assuming that they mean it… with wonderful results.  A recent example:  In a hotel in Visakhapatnam, my room had a beautiful fruit basket containing grapes and bananas (two of my favorite snacks).  The grapes were deep purple concord style that reminded me of the delicious grapes I'd had as a child in New England.  Sadly, by the time the chamber maid came to do turn-down service that evening, I'd polished off all the grapes and all but one of the bananas.  When the inevitable leave-taking question came, I answered, "Would it possible to have more of those delicious grapes?"  Within minutes I had two overflowing bowls of them on my night table.  Not only that, but when I checked out the following day, the desk clerk mentioned that they'd added my preference for those grapes to my profile and would ensure my room was well stocked with them on all future visits. 

7.  In-room movies.  It is pretty standard for hotels to have hi-end televisions with cable access.  This is fine for getting the news, HBO, basic cable fare and maybe even some local color.  But more and more I have been seeing DVD players in the rooms as well.  At first I thought it was assumed people would be traveling with their favorite DVDs (I even bought a few movies at the airport for this very reason).  But on a hunch I asked the duty manager if the hotel had a library of DVD's to lend, and was delighted to receive a multi-page list delivered to my room.  I picked three I'd never seen before and within minutes they were sent up for my enjoyment.  Not only that, there was no fee for using the DVDs!  Also, as more and more of us travel with our laptops, iPods and iPads, it might be worth adding A / V cables to our travel kit so we can hook up to the big flat screen TV in the room to play the movies and other media we brought with us on our devices.

8.  Coming home with clean laundry.  Hotel laundry service is no bargain (compared with doing it at home).  But if you check, it isn't that much different from what your local dry-cleaner charges.  Unless I have a meeting immediately upon landing, I usually bring a dirty suit and a few dirty shirts.  Immediately upon checking in, I call the hotel laundry to come pick them up.  That way I don't have to worry about travel wrinkled clothing.  Many hotels are also starting to realize that one of the real bummers of traveling is having to do a few loads of laundry immediately upon walking through your door (not to mention sending out your suits for dry cleaning).  Many of them are starting to run specials where they will do all of your laundry before you check-out so that you arrive home with a suitcase full of cleaned, pressed and folded clothing.  If it isn't advertised, ask if they can give you a good rate.

9.  The hotel phone is for internal (i.e. inside the hotel) calls only!  Use it for ordering room service, wake up calls and for other similar interactions with the hotel staff.  But don't ever use it to call outside the hotel!  They will charge you enough for each local call that you could have purchased a prepaid cell phone at the airport.  And for international calls… you might as well have flown the person you called to where you are to hold the conversation.  Seriously, think of it as an intercom, not a telephone.

10.  Happy Hour is your friend.  Many high-end hotels have what is called 'happy hours' where you can get free or deeply discounted drinks and snacks.  They generally schedule this brief window of hospitality either just before or just after dinner in the evening.  For many years I didn't avail myself of this offering because I've never been the sort to frequent bars.  However, hotel bars/lounges are not the smoky honkytonks I'd hoped to avoid.  They are usually well-appointed places with free WiFi, comfortable overstuffed chairs and couches, billiard tables etc.  Being able to find a comfortable corner and swill cheap/free beer/cocktails while checking emails is a heck of a lot more pleasant than looking at the four walls of your room.  When you check in, ask if they offer a happy hour.  Quite often it is available only to the upper tiers of the hotel chain's 'membership club'.  But in my experience the front desk staff usually has a lot of latitude about handing out this particular perk.

Here's the list I posted back in November of 2008 (i.e. Trep's Travel Tips -  Part 1):

1.  Use a full-service travel agent wherever possible (the kind with a 24 hour emergency number).  You may save a couple of bucks using the on-line deals and airline portals, but when flights are canceled or rescheduled... or you need to make a change to your itinerary mid-trip... it's sure nice to have someone who can do the grunt work for you.

2.  Get your immunizations!  If you are going to the third world (or any developing country, for that matter), go to your doctor and get whatever immunizations are recommended for your destination(s).  Make sure you go well in advance of your trip as some shots need to be given multiple times.  Also, if you are going to a country where Malaria is prevalent, make sure to get a prescription for malaria pills (and take them!).  If you haven't had a Tetanus shot in the last 5 years, have your doc throw one in for good measure.

3.  Don't be shy about demanding the good seats on the plane.  Someone is going to be enjoying the extra legroom in the emergency exits and bulkhead seats... it might as well be you.  Your travel agent might be able to help you with this, but more often it is up to you to check in as early as possible (many airlines allow you to do this on-line up to 24 hours in advance) and try to get your seat assignment locked up.

4.  Eye shades and ear plugs.  I can't place enough emphasis on the importance of these two things in your travel kit.  If you have the bucks (which I clearly don't) spring for the Bose noise canceling headphones which can double as a portable concert hall for your iPod.  You will sleep on the flight like never before.

5.  Tank up on water for a day or so before the flight and take a half an aspirin (or a whole baby aspirin) before you board.  Make sure you also drink during the flight and get up to stretch at least a few times on long flights.

6.  Dress in loose clothing for the flight and wear slip on shoes.  Not only will the shoes make security go easier, but the combination of kick-off-able shoes and loose breathable clothes will make your flight much more enjoyable.  I actually bring a pair of pajama bottoms (Old Navy) and an old tee-shirt in my carry-on bag and change once the lights go out.

7.  If the flight is not full (a rarity these days) try to scope out an empty row while people are still boarding.  ten minutes before they close the door you can jump over there without attracting too much attention.  Stretch out and enjoy!

8.  If you are the kind of traveler who has trouble falling asleep, don't bother with Ambian and other prescription sleep aids.  I have it on good authority from an anesthesiologist that Benadryl is just as effective at inducing sleep (if not more so), and it is not habit forming or an overdose risk.

9.  Get on the good side of your flight attendants.  Compliment them on a pretty pair of earrings of a handsome watch... and ALWAYS thank them for the littlest thing they do for you.  They have a thankless, mind-numbing job.  Anyone who takes the time to treat them with respect will be singled out for extra-nice treatment.

10.  When you land make sure to go to the bathroom while you have only your carry-on to worry about.  Once you get your luggage you are helpless (unless you are traveling with someone who can watch it for you).

11.  Hopefully you booked your hotel in advance of your flight.  Most good hotels have a hotel courtesy shuttle.  The day before your flight fax them your flight info and ask them to send a car or van.  Having that guy standing there with the little card with your name on it is a welcome sight after a long flight.

12.  OK, you didn't arrange the courtesy pick-up.  Your bad... do it next time.  Meanwhile, NEVER take a ride with one of the parasites that stand around the arrivals gate saying "Taxi... you need a ride... touring... hotel... really cheap...".  Sure most of them are just trying to make a living, but some of them are going to take you to a dark alley and take everything you own.  Do you really want to play those odds.

13.  While we're on about security, I never take the first taxi offered to me... even if I have been standing in a long line.  Call me paranoid, but I like being able to choose my own cab.

14.  When you get to your hotel, be nice to the people checking you in.  They often have the ability to upgrade you to nicer rooms if the place is not full.  give them a reason to do so.  Also, ask what services are included in your stay.  Free breakfast, bottled water and laundry services are often there for the asking if you know to ask.

15.  On the subject of laundry... hotel laundry is your friend.  Whether it is free or not, your really only need three or four changes of clothes (at the most!) and I have often gotten away with two on shorter trips.  Having freshly washed, pressed and folded clothing is a huge morale boost when you are away from home... and nobody cares that you wore that outfit the day before yesterday. 

16.  Bathroom swag.  I can't help it... I'm addicted to bathroom swag.  Especially in the really good hotels.  Not only do the soaps and shampoos come in handy for those tiyulim and camping trips... but sometimes you can sample moisturizers and lip balms that you would never have bought on your own.  Oh, and those little shoe buffer things are priceless for a last minute touch-up before an important meeting.

17. If you aren't a member of the members club at the hotel where you are staying, ask to join when you check in.  It is free and will usually get you a free paper on your door in the morning and maybe a happy hour pass for drinks in the afternoon.

18.  Don't be a tip victim.  In many places in the world there will be hordes people who will try to get a tip for simply standing near you during some part of your transit or for simply touching your bag as you get out of a cab.  Tip generously when someone is a genuine help but handing out tips to everyone within arms reach is going to attract more vultures... not less.

19.  I always read up on the local culture where I'm going and try to learn a few basic phrases of the local language.  But once you are settled in your hotel, ask a clerk or waiter for an explanation of any local customs or costumes you find interesting.  If you ask with respect you will get an education that can't be found anywhere else.  If you are lucky, they will offer to give you the name and location of the best places to shop for local gifts and handicrafts (i.e. not the usual tourist crap).

20.  Sleep on the side of the bed away from the phone.  I can't remember who gave me this bit of advice, but pound for pound, it is the best travel advice I have ever received.  Sure you have to skootch over to answer your wake up call in the morning... but that also helps make sure you don't roll over and go back to sleep.  But everyone sleeps on the side of the bed by the phone so that part of the bed is more likely to be lumpy and saggy.

21.  Stay away from the 'courtesy bar' at all costs.   Why pay 6 bucks for a candy bar (or 12 for a can of nuts) when you can buy them for real world prices within a block of the hotel.  Better yet, make a note of all the stuff that always tempts you in the courtesy bar and buy a bunch of it before your tip.  I usually bring a bottle of wine to enjoy at some point during long trips.  I put it in a tube sock in the checked baggage  to keep it safe.

22.  Sign up for a service like iPass before you go abroad.  They have WiFi hotspots all over the world (including the Chennai departure lounge) and it will let you surf the web for free in airports, cafes and hotels nearly anywhere you go.  Yes, there's a fee... but nothing like the fee most places charge for an hour's worth of service.

Posted by David Bogner on October 2, 2011 | Permalink

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uh...great list if you are a HIGH END business traveler staying at HIGH END hotels. I can assure you that I used to travel corporate all the time (in some pretty out there countries). I was not in high-end hotels and I'm pretty sure nobody refilled grapes for me or would have added it to my prferences. :). (my boss was another story as he stayed at the high-end places) Just sayin.......

However, I absolutely do not bedgrudge you your experiences, b/c yeah...all that travel is hard and it's nice to be able find some comforts!

Posted by: LG | Oct 2, 2011 5:59:00 PM

uh...great list if you are a HIGH END business traveler staying at HIGH END hotels. I can assure you that I used to travel corporate all the time (in some pretty out there countries). I was not in high-end hotels and I'm pretty sure nobody refilled grapes for me or would have added it to my prferences. :). (my boss was another story as he stayed at the high-end places) Just sayin.......

However, I absolutely do not bedgrudge you your experiences, b/c yeah...all that travel is hard and it's nice to be able find some comforts!

Posted by: LG | Oct 2, 2011 5:59:00 PM

uh...great list if you are a HIGH END business traveler staying at HIGH END hotels. I can assure you that I used to travel corporate all the time (in some pretty out there countries). I was not in high-end hotels and I'm pretty sure nobody refilled grapes for me or would have added it to my prferences. :). (my boss was another story as he stayed at the high-end places) Just sayin.......

However, I absolutely do not bedgrudge you your experiences, b/c yeah...all that travel is hard and it's nice to be able find some comforts!

Posted by: LG | Oct 2, 2011 5:59:00 PM

Even if you don't normally stay in high-end hotels, you might be in one at a convention or other event. Good to know just in case.

The airsickness-bag = lunchbag? Genius! And nobody steals your lunch, ever! :)

Posted by: Maureen | Oct 3, 2011 12:20:28 AM

Excellent points. My big thing is avoiding getting sick — E. coli, Candida albicans, rhinovirus, etc., are common on hotel room door handles, telephones, remote controls, clock radios, light switches, toilet seats, flush handles, sink faucets, cups, shower floors, tourist guide books, etc. Carry disinfecting wipes! Oh, remove that chintz bedspread and keep it off the bed ... it hasn't been washed in years!

Posted by: Yaron | Oct 3, 2011 5:37:29 PM

Very informative..thanks. A favourite airborne pastime - spot the air-marshal.

Posted by: Rami | Oct 3, 2011 6:43:36 PM

Very informative..thanks. A favourite airborne pastime - spot the air-marshal.

Posted by: Rami | Oct 3, 2011 6:43:37 PM

Very informative..thanks. A favourite airborne pastime - spot the air-marshal.

Posted by: Rami | Oct 3, 2011 6:43:37 PM

Benadryl can give some people a distinct hangover in the morning. One should try it beforehand to check the effect.

Posted by: Dave | Oct 4, 2011 12:18:17 AM

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