Careful trip planning isn't only about saving money. It's also about saving yourself aggravation and stress. And who would be more perfectly positioned to do so than tour directors, who again and again see the mistakes travelers make and know a few ways to save time and effort. Grand European Tours, which specializes in escorted tours overseas, recently polled some of its 110 directors for tips. Among the suggestions:
Stick to the basics. Keep only the essentials on your person, like pocket money and a camera. Never take valuables, including your passport, driver's license, Social Security card, and transportation tickets. Those are better off in your hotel, in a safe.
Bring a cash card or credit card. True, travelers checks are safe, but nothing beats the convenience of a cash card or credit card. They are accepted almost everywhere, and you can withdraw just what you need at the time. But keep a photocopy of your card at the hotel, and perhaps take a back up card, too.
The lighter the better. Many people bring far more clothes -- especially dressy ones -- than they will need. Some also bring hair dryers and irons, which can be easily obtained at most hotels. Extra supplies can always be bought during your trip. But if you are leaving the country, do bring a power-plug adapter, if needed, because they can be hard to find. Also, be sure to pack all your medical prescriptions. I often forget one or two myself, and regret it.
Shape up. Traveling absorbs energy. A few weeks before your trip, take daily strolls so that you can easily walk up to two miles in a stretch. You may be glad you did.
Obvious but significant. If you think of a vacation as a relaxing experience, avoid booking a multidestination trip. But if you want discoveries, choose a tour with daily excursions. Either way, try to mingle with the locals and learn a few key words in their language. Before leaving, read or do research online about your destination. Bring a digital camera. Stay in touch with people you meet.
The most important advice. Be open to new experiences and don't sweat changes from your planned itinerary. Realize that things won't be the same as at home -- if they were, why would you bother to travel? Accept cultural differences. It is a wide world out there, and to me one of travel's most enriching benefits is the realization that while the world's people may have diverse ways, their yearnings are universal.
And since Grand European Tours was nice enough to share this advice, we will be nice enough to mention the company's contact information: getours.com or 888-522-3950.
Oh, to be in Washington when the cherry blossoms are out. The Fairmont Washington is offering a Cherry Blossom Package, available March 16-April 29, that features overnight accommodations for two, complimentary valet parking, and a box of note cards with scenes of the capital's monuments and, not surprisingly, its cherry blossoms. Rates start at $299. The annual National Cherry Blossom Festival takes place March 31-April 15.
Call 800-441-1414 , or, for hotel information, visit fairmont.com/washington .
Santa Fe guide
A free 2007 guide to Santa Fe, a city definitely worth visiting, lists lodging places, of course, but it also provides a guide to restaurants in a place where the quality of the chili is often as important as the fine-dining cuisine. The 98-page guide also has maps, photos, a listing of events, and information about what's to come in the Santa Fe Railyard, which will soon be a 50-acre attraction.
Call 800-777-2489 or visit santafe.org .
Olympic Peninsula lodges in Washington State have joined the trend in offering discounts when booking online. Guests staying at least two nights at Kalaloch Lodge or Lake Quinault Lodge , both within Olympic National Park, will get 15 percent off new reservations when booking at visitkalaloch.com
SeaWorld Orlando has a similar online offer for $85 for all ages, which features unlimited admission for up to seven consecutive days to SeaWorld and Busch Gardens Tampa Bay , along with free round-trip transportation from Orlando to Busch Gardens.
Visit seaworld.com/swf and click on Tickets & Shopping.
If you have ever stayed at the Mirror Lake Inn Resort and Spa in Lake Placid, N.Y., you have a chance to share your memories with the world and maybe win a return stay. Go to mirrorlakeinnmemories.com
through April 15 to submit your story. Each submission will be reviewed and posted to the website for others to view. On April 16, the inn staff will pick the three best stories and a week later post them again online for the public to vote. The winner will get a weekend for two, including dinner, spa treatments, and breakfast each morning. Second- and third-place winners receive Mirror Lake Inn gift certificates.
$119 Bermuda flights
Bermuda is increasing in popularity, with a 23 percent increase in 2006 tourism over 2005. Accordingly, Boston-based TNT Vacations will begin nonstop charter flights starting at $119 round trip, beginning tomorrow. The flights are available through April 27, leaving Logan Airport Mondays and Fridays at 8 a.m., and can be combined with three- or four-night hotel stays for packages beginning at $299 per person. That includes hotel, air, airport and hotel transfers, and hotel tax and service charges. Seven-night stays are also available.
Visit tntvacations.com or call 888-468-6846 .
Big Band weekend
The Sagamore resort in New York's Adirondack Mountains wants you to get into the swing of things with a Dancing at the Lake Big Band Weekend, Feb. 23-25. The two-night package showcases the bygone era, with dinner and dancing to the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra conducted by Buddy Morrow . Big Band ballads and lessons in swing and fox-trot are designed to take you back to the 1940s, even if you weren't around at the time. The price starts at $360 per person and includes accommodations for two nights in either a hotel room or suite, a welcome reception, breakfast each day plus the dinner dance, dance lessons, a culinary demonstration, and use of the fitness center and indoor pool.
Call 800-358-3585 or visit thesagamore.com .
Orbitz has launched a hotel notification service for customers who book a flight-and-hotel package through the website. If a flight is delayed, Orbitz will call the customers, and with their permission, also call the customer's hotel to let the front desk know they will be arriving late. This will help ensure that travelers do not lose their reservations after midnight, when hotels typically release rooms. For more information on this and other included services, visit orbitzandgo.com/tlc
Free for the military
Anheuser-Busch has extended its "Here's to the Heroes" free admission policy throughout 2007. The policy provides a single day's free admission to any one SeaWorld or Busch Gardens park, Sesame Place, Adventure Island, or Water Country USA for the service member and as many as three direct dependents. Any active duty, active reserve, ready reserve service member or National Guardsman is entitled to free admission but must register at herosalute.com
or in the entrance plaza of a participating park, and show a Department of Defense photo ID. Also eligible are members of foreign military forces serving in Iraq or Afghanistan or attached to US units in this country for training.
When not included, hotel taxes, airport fees, and port charges can add significantly to the price of a trip. Most prices quoted are for double occupancy; solo travelers will usually pay more. Offers are subject to availability and there may be blackout dates. Check Boston.com Monday-Friday for a web-only New England Real Deal. Richard P. Carpenter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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