Thursday, September 30, 2010

My Computer: Take or Leave Home

I have a laptop. It is my regular computer that I use every day. The only time I have taken it on a trip (except one) is when I travel domestically. It went with me when I visited my Dad in Florida. It goes with me when I visit my son and grandchildren. It went with me on our Northwest trip. And it will go with us if we ever get around to taking our Southwest trip.

I've taken it only once on a cruise. My husband loved having it as he was able to work on his pictures during sea days. We've got a couple of cruises coming up. And I've been trying to decide whether or not to take it with me.

Why not? Well, for one, it really isn't the lightest laptop. I have a small rolling suitcase with a laptop section and could use that. But trust me when I tell you it can be an effort getting it into the overhead bin. Plus both pre and post cruise we are thinking of staying at a local hotel, spending some more time in cities new to us. Do I trust leaving my laptop in my hotel room?

On the other hand, my husband would get a lot of use out of it on the sea days. Plus, instead of keeping a handwritten diary to write posts from when I get home, I could write the posts as we sail along.

An option is to get one of the inexpensive new little netbooks. That would certainly work for my needs. But I'm not sure about my husband since he has special software he used for his photos and 1) there might not be enough hard drive space for the software and his 18 mega pixels photos and 2) the new netbooks come with Windows 7 and his software probably won't even work on it.

I could be selfish and just get it for my use. But somehow I'm not sure I can justify the expense just for my use.

So do I take my laptop or leave it home??????????????

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

U.S. Domestic Airlines and Their FEES!!!!!

Still reading USA Today and its Travel section.

This article is about airline fees...like for making a reservation over the telephone and checking luggage.

And did I have a surprise! I had been under the impression that my husband and I could check one bag each, for free, on an upcoming international flight. Not so! According to this chart, whether we fly domestically or internationally, the airline we will be flying on charges $25 per bag.

I recently checked the carry on policies of the airlines we will be flying. One has an 8" depth limit for a carry on. So there goes my packing plan as the rolling bag I was going to use is small but way deeper than 8". Going to have to re-evaluate what luggage will be coming with us.

Wonder what other surprises are in store for us...........

Monday, September 27, 2010

Southwest Airlines Buys AirTran

Just reading the USA Today article. I am SO excited about this.

I am currently in a city NOT served by Southwest but served by AirTran. I can only hope that Southwest decides to continue the service to this city. Living in upstate NY I have lots of options for flying south. But if I want to fly west, I often have to fly south or east first. Very annoying and time consuming. It would be great having another option.

Not to mention Southwest's prices, service and policies, like not charging for luggage. I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Check on Your Airline Reservations

Taking a trip soon? Will you be flying? If yes, don't just sit back and do nothing while your date of departure approaches.

Check your flight arrangements on a regular basis. This is easy to do if you have the PNR, the six character code assigned to each reservation. Based upon my experience with U.S. airlines, each of their websites has a place to enter the PNR to review the reservation.

If you don't have the PNR or have trouble finding out how to do it on the website, simply call the airline.

Why do I bring this up now? Because a friend is departing on a trip in about a month, went to check their air arrangements, and found out that their returning flight had been canceled. A bit disconcerting but of course the airline will make other arrangements for you. But better to find out ahead of time......instead of showing up at the airport for a non-existent flight.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Independent International Travel Destinations

I was reading an article about how many Americans are hesitant to travel internationally by themselves, without joining a group tour. There are concerns about the language and the different customs. The fact is there are many great destinations where this does not have to be a concern. For instance, consider something like New Zealand holidays, or Australia or Great Britain.

The official language is, of course, English, although I'll admit it is not American English. (Think things like 'lift' versus 'elevator' and 'flat' versus 'apartment'). But all travel information is printed in English including subway and bus maps and road signs.

We were fortunate to visit New Zealand several years ago and did it independently by car and also on a cruise. We were cruising from Aukland to Sydney and flew into Christchurch 12 days pre-cruise, rented a car and spent a wonderful week driving around the South Island. A quick flight to Aukland where we rented another car and then had 4 days to spend on our own before boarding our ship. A fantastic, friendly country with lots of unique wildlife and beautiful scenery.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Cruise West Shuts Down

First I wrote a review of Cruise West's Sea of Cortez itinerary. Then I read about how they are in financial difficulty. And now I read that they are closing down.

I am truly disappointed. I have sailed small ships, both Cruise West and American Canadian Caribbean Line, now Blount Small Ship Adventures. Yes, compared to main stream cruises like Princess and Carnival they are more expensive per day. But we love the small ship experience. Dressing for dinner means a shower and clean t-shirt. It is an experience unlike anything you would have on a cruise ship with 800+ passengers.

My husband fondly remembers the time the first mate was fishing off the back and hooked a mackerel. The mate radioed the captain who slowed the boat down. After landing the fish, the cook took it and used it to prepare an afternoon snack for everyone.

My husband and I were talking about taking a Panama Canal cruise. I was seriously looking at booking CW's Pacific Explorer. The ship has been sailing the Pacific coastline of Costa Rica and Panama for, literally, decades. And for just as long I've wanted to sail her. I am truly sorry to see the line have to shut down.

Heading Back to Costa Rica?

Several years ago I went to Costa Rica with a friend of mine. Neither my husband nor hers were interested in the trip so we decided to head off on our own. We had a wonderful time. The trip was great. The country was great. We loved the scenery and the wildlife. She was fascinated by the sloths in Manual Antonio National Park. I thought the beach there was one of the best I’ve ever been to and I’ve been to plenty.

The boat trip to Tortuguero was fascinating. We saw loads of wildlife along the river. The town itself was so tiny but we still managed to find places to shop. I loved the hot springs near Arenal although I admit that wasn’t my friend’s favorite stop. But the next day she had her chance to climb though bat caves (not exactly my thing) so she was happy with our stay in La Fortuna. And speaking of shopping, we though La Fortuna was the best place with loads of shops and great prices.

So why am I reminiscing about that trip? Because I really think my husband made a mistake not coming with us. He is very much into nature photography, both wildlife and scenery, and the opportunities in Costa Rica proved endless. From the beautiful birds in the Monteverde cloud forest to the slow moving sloths at Manual Antonio, from the Atlantic coast over beautiful mountains to the Pacific, Costa Rica is a nature photographer’s dream.

So I’m thinking about looking at what Costa Rica vacations might be available for just the two of us. While group tours can be great and certainly worked for my friend and I, at this point in our lives my husband and I love traveling at our own pace. Plus, I have to admit that while the trip was fantastic and we’ve used that tour company again, I think I’m ready to travel using luxury hotels and being pampered just a bit. We are getting older and sleeping in bunk beds in rooms without air conditioning just doesn’t quite work for us anymore.

USAirways Companion Coupons

I have a USAirways affinity card. Once a year I get two coupons. One is for a free day at their Club. The other is a $99 companion coupon .... buy any domestic ticket for $250 or more and buy up to two companion tickets for $99 each. Sounds like a great deal, right? Well, after some research, I'm not so sure.

We've got an upcoming trip where we want to fly into Ft. Myers, FL and out of Los Angeles, CA. I've used a few airline fare sites to check airline ticket prices.

Without flying a red-eye home, the best fare is $254 and it is NOT USAirways. If I want to fly similar hours, the USAirways fare is $484! So let's see...$254 times 2 is $508. $484 + $125 ($99 + est. taxes) is $609! I guess that $99 coupon is not such a big deal after all.

I think I'll check some travel blogs and forums to see if I can get some suggestions on other affinity cards.

Lake Iliamna Fishing

Guest post by: Timothy Malone

Lake Iliamna is a great place to go fishing in Alaska, although it can be expensive to get there. This massive lake located in Alaska must be reached by plane if you do not live in the area. The fact that seaplanes can go out on this massive lake is another benefit for those who don't want to spend money on renting an entire fishing boat, or paying someone to take them out. This lake also runs into the ocean so there are heaps more fish to be had.

Fishing is something that I do almost every week, even during the winter time. I love ice fishing because nobody else is there and I can actually walk out to the deeper areas of the lake and fish, knowing that the best fish reside in those areas. I have enjoyed this for decades and still do to this day, and always will.

Prior to leaving my home I always remember to set the security system that I got from my local ADT dealer. Instead of worrying about my home and possessions while I am hundreds of miles from home, I worry about the weather of the fishing place I go to, or if I have enough bait to last me the entire trip. It has made my life extremely easier in so many ways, and I am better for it.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Orlando Accomodations

I've got a big birthday coming up next year. I've been trying to decide if I want to do a "family" thing which would include my son and grandchildren, my daughter, my sister and, of course, my husband. And if I do decide to do the family thing, where and what do we do.

Several people have recommended Orlando to me. There is lots to do there that would keep both the adults and children happy. With needing, at minimum, 3 hotel rooms, I've been taking a look at discount hotels in the area.

I was surprised to learn that there is a wide selection of cheap hotels in Orlando. And what really surprised me is that a lot of these places are hotel and motel chains that any traveler would recognize. I was amazed to see how inexpensive it could be to stay at some of these places.

I'll have to investigate further and check out locations and what each one has to offer. It would be great if breakfast was included and/or refrigerators and microwaves were in the rooms. With a bunch of us traveling together it could get very expensive eating out all the time.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Cruise West in Financial Difficulties?

Just when I wrote that lovely post about Cruise West, I am now reading that it has been sold to a new owner. Not only that, but passengers on its around the world cruise have been put off in St. Johns, Newfoundland, with no idea about what will happen to them or what their compensation will be.

You can read more about it here.

So my thoughts of taking a Cruise West ship through the Panama Canal just got put on the back burner. The Princess itinerary I was looking at is beginning to look a lot better.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Review: Cruise West Sea of Cortez

I opted into Cruise West's email newsletter. It keeps me up to date on their specials. One of their current specials is what they call a Stowaway rate, from $2545 per person, on their Sea of Cortez cruise.

They call it the Best of the Sea of Cortez. We took a cruise with CW when they first started sailing into the Sea of Cortez. Actually, I think we did their first season. And the itinerary is bit different now than when we did it.

Even so, this is a GREAT sailing for someone who loves to cruise and wants to try something different. The CW ship holds only 102 guests. Every cabin is "outside." Dressing for dinner means taking a shower and putting on a clean t-shirt. Among the itinerary stops are the small Mexican towns of Loreto and La Paz which we loved.

If you are a water person and enjoy viewing wildlife, this is a great sailing opportunity. Time for swimming and snorkeling and beach combing is actually built into their schedule. If I didn't already have a "To-See For the First Time" list, I wouldn't hesitate to contact my TA, Ellen, and take the trip a second time.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Review: Copenhagen, Denmark

Had dinner last week with a very good friend. She took a cruise that started and ended in Copenhagen, Denmark. She arrived two days early and stayed two days after the cruise, planning on seeing the sights of Copenhagen. I have traveled with her in the past so I value her opinion.

And her opinion on Copenhagen is that it is a very dirty city. Actually, the word she used was "filthy." She told me how she went into a McDonald's to use the facilities, opened the bathroom door and turned around and left. This McDonald's had a second floor and homeless were camped out up there.

She felt that the extra time she had to tour the city was worthless as there really wasn't that much to see. I admit I didn't ask her too much about what had been on her agenda; I was just so amazed and couldn't get past her extremely negative description of the city.

If anyone has been to Copenhagen recently, please Comment and share your experience whether negative or positive.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Check your credit card expiration dates before traveling

I have to admit we never thought much about this when traveling in the U.S. Until we were away over the month of July with a credit card expiring in August.

We had arranged for our mail to be forwarded since we were going to be away over 30 days. In July, our bank mailed us the replacement cards in envelopes that say Do Not Forward.

When our bank got the cards back, they shut down the account, which we learned when we tried to get some gas. Fortunately we have more than one credit card so we didn't have a problem. But it certainly could have been.

So if you will be away, even domestically, the month before your card expiration date, be sure to contact your bank and make arrangements.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Be prepared for car repairs when traveling

I’ve got an itinerary all worked out for a 5 to 6 week trip to the Southwest. When we’ll take it, I don’t know. I had hoped to take it last spring but other things got in the way. Maybe it will happen next spring or next fall or the year after. I’m sure we’ll get to it sooner or later.

In the meantime though, part of my research includes possible places for car maintenance or repair. For instance, looking at what will be the halfway point of our trip, I’ve research Phoenix auto repair for what would probably be, at minimum, an oil change and tire rotation.

But whatever might happen along the way, whether it is as simple as an oil change or a more major repair like timing belt or water pump replacement, be sure to look at your route and do some research ahead of time. Just in case.

More Travelers' Tips

Booking a swimming vacation? Just because the hotel or condo is beachfront, doesn't mean swimming is allowed. For example, there could be dangerous currents in front of the resort. So contact the hotel or resort and make sure the beach in front is a swimming beach.

Booking a hotel as a single? Don't assume the room rate is less than for a double. Be sure to check the rate on the double and, if the same, book the double for a larger room. Especially if booking in Europe where the rooms tend to be much smaller than in the U.S.

Going to the United Kingdom? Most British post offices will change foreign currency without any commission charge.

Check out the expiration dates of your credit and/or debit cards before going away. You don't want them to expire while you are away from home.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Destination Wedding: Breckenridge

I will be getting up at 4:30 a.m. in about a week to take very good friends to the airport. They are going to a wedding at a Breckenridge lodging.

What makes this destination wedding interesting is what is being expected of the guests. The bride and groom worked with Breckenridge Property Management and apartments are reserved for the guests.

Of course the guests are not required to stay on the property. But it is a gated community and all of the events, including special dinners are being held on the property. For convenience, it makes sense to use one of the apartments although for some people I suspect a full apartment for a short weekend is really more than needed.

However, if one was to look for vacation rentals Breckenridge for a week or longer stay, I suppose it would be nice to have the space of an apartment to spread out into. Especially if it is going to be used by a family with children.