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TravelPerch Is Hotelling It

North Dakota got me hooked on hotels. Seriously.

When my 7-year old peepers caught sight of the magnificent lobby of the hotel my family and I were checking in to one chilly Dakotan night, I was smitten. Since then, I’ve had a fascination with hotels, experiencing hundreds of them on six continents through the eyes of a hotel inspector, business and leisure guest, resort employee, as well as event planner.

Over a fifteen-year period, I was a flight attendant and then a cruise line employee, which enabled me to stay at a variety of hotels dotting the globe. As an accommodation inspector, I rated over 250 hotels, motels and bed & breakfasts, and as an event planner, I worked closely with dozens of hotels. As well, the positions I held at resort hotels helped me to gain a unique insider’s view of hotels. Whenever I travel for business or pleasure, the accommodation is one of the many highlights of the trip for me.

All this because of North Dakota.

So, why am I sharing with you my background about hotels? Well, I’d like to take this blog into a different direction and focus on hotels. Since a “perch” is a resting place and this blog is called “TravelPerch, it’s a perfect fit. My hope is that, through TravelPerch, I can assist travellers with their accommodation choices. I would also like to be of service to those operating the hotels I review because, as a business owner, I have found that the positive and constructive feedback our customers have taken the time to provide us with has helped us to grow. If you have any feedback, I encourage you to email me at info@travelsmarts.ca.

Staff Picks for Europe-Bound Travellers

Many of our customers are heading to Europe this summer and maybe you are too (lucky you!). I asked our fabulous, well-travelled staff what their top picks are for what to pack for a trip to Europe and here’s what they recommend:1)  PacSafe’s anti-theft bags are a must. VentureSafe 150 is one of our staff’s faves.PacSafe™ VentureSafe 150 - Cross Body Pack

2)  On the topic of anti-theft items to pack, money belts are highly recommended such as this one.

humangear™ GoToob Large - 3 Pack

3) GoToobs are sturdy yet squeezable bottles for lotion, soap, sunscreen…And, they don’t leak, they’re BPA-free and have wide openings so it’s easy to decant.

4) The quick-drying McNett Microfibre Towel has a multitude of purposes for it can be used as not only a towel but a blanket, beach towel, pillow and cover up.

5)  Travel lightly with the durable plastic zip-top ETA Compression Bags which help to squeeze out air thus giving you more room in your luggage.

6)  If you’re an avid tea or coffee drinker like one of our staff is, you’ll want to pack a beverage heater it heats up Go Travel™ Super Snoozerwater and takes up practically no space.

 7) The inflatable GoTravel Super Snoozer pillow is super compact and has a dip where you lean your head – unique for horse-shoe shaped pillows.

8)   Keep your luggage light by packing the convenient Flexoline laundry line. It stretches up to 7 feet and doesn’t require any clothespins.

Happy Travels!

Key Ways for Saving on Accommodation

Accommodation can eat up a big part of your travel budget so here are some ways to keep lodging costs down:

Vacation Rentals

In travel tips classes I’ve taught, there are always a few attendees that mentioned how they had saved big by staying at a vacation rental.  These rentals can be apartments or houses or rooms in houses that owners rent out. The best known website is Vacation Rental By Owner. The advantage is that you often have more space (a bonus when travelling with a family or group), can cook your own meals, can have access to pools or other amenities, not have to pay extra taxes and tips, and you can feel what it’s like to live as a local. The main disadvantage is that the owner may be located off-site and can’t quickly manage problems that arise such as noisy neighbors or dealing with an electric fireplace that won’t shut off (a problem we had with one rental – we left voicemails for the owner and she never called but we were eventually able to resolve the problem.) Parking and arranging a time to meet with the owner to get the key can also be inconvenient. Two people who attended my classes mentioned problems they had but both situations were quickly dealt with once they asked VRBO to get involved. Do a Google search of the owner to see if guests posted any negative experiences.

Priceline

If a vacation rental doesn’t suit you, one of the best ways to lower accommodation costs is through the website Priceline.com. Naturally, hotels aren’t eager to let it out of the bag that they need rooms filled so this website fills a great need for hotels to discount their rooms while giving travellers a price cut. In a nutshell, you submit a bid for a hotel room of your selected star rating, area of a city and dates along with your credit card details and Priceline lets you know if your bid was accepted or not. If it is accepted, Priceline then  charges your credit card and tells you what hotel you’re staying at.  It’s a bit complicated, can be time-consuming but is kinda exciting! Go to the “Need Help?” section of their home page and then, head to the “Name your own price” section of the home page. Check out BetterBidding.com or BiddingforTravel.com to assist you in figuring out how much to bid. It’s widely believed that hotels give the poorer quality rooms to guests who have booked through Priceline and other third party websites. At one hotel I stayed at, I found that this was the case but not at another one.  Keep in mind that there are service fees and once your bid is accepted, you can’t get a refund.

Hotwire

Hotwire.com is easier to navigate than Priceline as it basically tells you, “We have a 4* hotel in the downtown area of Vancouver and the rate is $99 for the dates you’ve selected.” Then, all you need to do is decide if you want it or not. I’ve read that Hotwire’s prices are usually about 15% higher than Priceline’s.  Again, there are service fees and once you book it, you can’t get a refund. BetterBidding.com and BiddingforTravel.com provide excellent tips.

Other Helpful Websites

The go-to website for many frequent fliers is Kayak.com which tells where the best on-line deals are for your preferred hotel. One hotel I was at mentioned that TravelZoo.ca (TravelZoo.com in the US) offers great bargains. Expedia.ca (Expedia.com in the U.S.) can sometimes offer great deals. Visiting a hotel’s website can often net you big savings because they may have special promotions tucked away somewhere.

Give Them a Ring

Calling a hotel directly, rather than their 1-800 number (if it’s a hotel chain) is another wise option because the hotel itself knows better if they need to fill rooms and therefore are more open to discounting the rate. Inquire about any special rates if you’re a CAA (AAA) member, attending a convention, are/were a member of the military, etc.

 

Celebrating a Special Event? Why Not Have a Travel Theme?

I love it when celebrations are based around a theme. I once attended a wedding that had a baseball theme so instead of signing a guest book, we signed baseballs! The tables at the dinner were named after famous baseball stadiums and the gifts given to each guest were old-fashioned Coca-Cola glasses. Another wedding I attended had a golf theme and yet another had a “Fruits of the Spirit” theme.

Are you celebrating a special occasion? Why not make it a travel themed one? Here are some ideas:

- If you’re having a luncheon or dinner with numerous guests invited, name each table after a country.Black

- If it’s a wedding, give Travelon luggage scales or Heys’ luggage scales to members of the wedding party. One customer of ours bought 60 luggage scales to give to each of the guests attending her father’s 60th birthday.

- Wrap gifts using maps.

- If there are children in the wedding party, help them catch the travel bug by giving them a cute travel pillow or fun travel game.

Rick Steves™ Packing Cube Set-  Have appys from around the world for a bridal shower or birthday bash.

-  Packing organizers such as Rick Steves’ packing cubes and jewelry rolls make popular gifts.

-  Decorate tables and halls with maps, globes or palm trees.Light My Fire™ Spork

-  Small gifts for guests could include the luggage locks, Swedish-designed fork/knife/spoon combo Spork or a rechargeable mini flashlight.

-  I heard about one bride-to-be who sent out with her wedding invitations, luggage tags that had a picture and the name of the city where the wedding was taking place.

Travel is such a fun theme to work with. Enjoy the party!

 

We’re One!

It was one year ago this past weekend that TravelSmarts Luggage & Accessories opened its doors in Canada’s 2nd largest shopping centre, Metropolis at Metrotown in Burnaby, British Columbia (on the outskirts of Vancouver). And we’re celebrating!

We’re so grateful for our staff and the thousands of customers who have bought from us both in our store and on-line. We’re thrilled to have the opportunity to serve customers living here in the Vancouver area as well as visitors and on-line customers from all over the world.

We carefully select each product and it’s not uncommon for us to spend several hours searching for one item – that’s how important our customers are to us. One thing we hear almost daily from our customers is what unique products we carry. And we always love when customers come by and tell us how useful the products they bought from us were during a recent trip – whether it’s the Rick Steves Civita DayPack or humangear GoToobs, or the TravelRest pillow, among others. We’re continuing to scour the globe for great products and we’re looking forward to serving customers in the coming year!

A Few of My Favorite Travel Things

A friend of mine who seems to be on a different continent every other month mentioned to me recently that one of his favorite travel items is his slippers. It got me thinking about what a few of my favorite things are to travel with. Here they are…

ETA Compression Bags - Space is at such a premium when you’re packing these days so these gems help me to maximize the space in my luggage by compressing my clothes. The down side is that depending on the material, some of my clothes come out wrinkled.  I don’t mind, though, because there’s usually an iron available where I’m going.

Lewis N Clark Comfort Eye Mask - I’ve tried out a wide variety of eye masks over the years and this is the winner! I use this at home and on the road. While some people prefer not to have an eye mask rub against their eyelids as this one does, I’m OK with that. It’s super soft, has an adjustable strap and a clip which isn’t bulky…no Velcro closure that can get tangled in your hair.

TravelRest Pillow – I can count on sleeping well on flights with this pillow because it provides the right amount of TravelRest™ - The Ultimate Travel Pillowsupport and comfort. Despite the size it becomes, when deflated, it doesn’t take up much space. I definitely recommend the micro fleece cover as it adds a layer of luxury and is washable.

Travelon Bag Bungee - I usually travel with just a carry-on and on top of my  carry-on I have a tote bag that holds my purse, water bottle, snacks, reading material, travel comfort items, etc. I absolutely love this Bag Bungee because it keeps the tote bag firmly in place so I don’t have to deal with a purse that flops around or falls off.

Vapur™ Anti Bottle, Original 0.5 LitreVapur Water Bottle - This is a must-have for a day of sightseeing, cruises, trade shows, camping, the gym and so on. It takes up practically no space and once you pass through Security at the airport, just unroll it and fill it up. You can freeze it, put it in the dishwasher and it’s BPA-free. The carabiner clip is a real help too!

Howard Leight Earplugs – A writer for a motorcycle magazine called these “comfortabulous” and I can’t agree more. Howard Leight is considered a leader in hearing protection and is used by the miliatry and construction workers. One of our customers told us how helpful they were while her condo building was under construction. I’ve tried cheaper versions which feel scratchy and don’t block sound well but these ones are so soft and drown out the noise on the airplane or at the hotel.

Ask frequent travellers you know what a few of their favorite things are to travel with – there are so many great items out there that’ll make your travels more enjoyable.

Featured Traveller: Beth Whitman

Beth Whitman is the founder and editor of  Wanderlust and Lipstick, a terrific website for women travellers. For over 22 years, she has been globetrotting and combining her love for travel with volunteer work, adventure trips, travel writing and business. She has backpacked through Nepal and hiked the Himalayan foothills in Bhutan; ridden a motorcycle solo from Seattle to Panama; worked with orphans in Vietnam, driven the AlCan Highway to Alaska, among many other adventures. Beth leads women-only and co-ed trips to India, Bhutan, Vietnam & Cambodia and this year, she’ll start leading tours to Papua New Guinea.

I heard Beth speak  a few years ago when she was promoting her invaluable book, Wanderlust and Lipstick: The Essential Guide for Women Traveling Solo (now in its second edition). Her warmth and enthusiasm for travel and life makes her a popular go-to person for women’s travel. Despite her busy travel and speaking schedule, she was kind enough to take some time to provide tips for TravelPerch.

1) What advice do you give to people who would like to travel but are nervous about doing so?
Fear generally comes from a feeling of not knowing what you’re getting yourself into. So, I recommend doing as much research as possible about the destination(s) you’re going to and speaking with others who’ve been there. This usually helps people feel more relaxed about their upcoming travels. And with the internet, we now have access to a tremendous amount of information and are able to connect with people who have likely done a similar journey.

 2) What are some of your favorite travel gadgets?
I have 2 favorite travel gadgets. One is the xShot Monopod which allows me to mount my small digital camera on the end and then take pictures of myself with iconic backgrounds. I no longer have to try to extend my short arm out far enough to get my head and the background into the shot!

My other very favorite gadget is a SteriPEN. This water purifier uses UV light to kill 99.9% of germs in water. I’ve traveled through India on several occasions drinking tap water that’s been purified with a SteriPEN. It doesn’t make the water taste any better so I use Emergen-C vitamins to mask the taste.

3) What websites do find helpful for travelling?
I don’t generally go to specific sites for tips but will do a Google search if I’m looking for information about a particular destination to see what will pop up. As for forums, I use Lonely Planet’s Thorntree and Fodor’s Talk when I have specific questions about a destination (hotel recommendations, etc.). I’ve also taken to posting questions on Twitter and have received some great answers that way!

4) How do you stay healthy on the road?
Part of the trick is to be healthy in the first place. I do eat relatively well and am healthy in terms of getting plenty of exercise. I try to do the same while I’m traveling. It’s really important to keep your immune system boosted and if you’re in generally good health, you’ll be less prone to getting sick on the road.

5) How do you stay safe on the road?
Well I wrote a whole book about that! :-) Really, the key is to be confident. The moment you let down your guard and stop paying attention to your surroundings, you immediately make yourself vulnerable. I recommend that women take a self defense course if they feel a bit shy about traveling. It’s really important to walk with your head held high!

Packing Tips Video: Anne McAlpin

Check out this video by packing expert Anne McAlpin – lots of practical tips for your next trip.

Want to watch the entire video? Visit this link to purchase.

Featured Traveller: Anne McAlpin

Happy New Year!! WOW! Did time ever fly since my last post! In November, my husband and I opened up a luggage and travel accessories store, TravelSmarts Luggage & Travel Accessories, in Canada’s third largest shopping centre, Metropolis at Metrotown. It’s been a fun journey so far, but more about that in another post…

Today, I have the pleasure of  introducing you to Anne McAlpin…an incredibly knowledgeable packing light expert I learned of when I heard her give an excellent talk a few years ago at a travel show I attended in Seattle.  

Anne has been a featured guest on Oprah, The View, CNN and the Today Show sharing up-to-the-minute travel tips. She has flown more than 2 million miles, traveled in over 67 countries & cruised through the Panama Canal 98 times. Anne is the author of the informative book, Pack It Up, which  has a DVD companion. If you ever have a chance to attend one of her seminars, I highly recommend you go! Check out her website, packitup.com and her tips below.

1) How do you pack lightly for your trips?

I try to pack things I can use more than one way: 

  •  My “personal” bag for the plane is also my shopping tote, my beach bag & my computer bag. No need to pack three different totes. 
  • My blanket for the plane is actually a travel towel that I can use as a sarong & a beach towel.
  • My jacket is reversible so I can layer it for warmth but also reverse it from blue to black and wear with anything from jeans to dressy black skirt.
  • And…I use a checklist so I don’t pack things I don’t need. When I unpack, I cross off my list what I didn’t use and then I don’t pack that item on the next trip. Print out my free checklist at www.packitup.com

2) How do you stay healthy despite all of the travelling you do? 

  • I get as much sleep as I can before my trip.
  • Wash my hands as often as possible & pack travel size anti-bacterial hand sanitizer.
  • Pack healthy snacks for travel days, some of my favorites:  mixed nuts (so I can pretend I’m in first class!), chocolate covered fiber bars (Make a quick easy breakfast & for obvious reasons, good to have in your travel bag if needed), Jr. Mints (before landing & when I can’t brush my teeth- yummy)

3) What are some of your favorite travel gadgets/accessories to pack?

  • TSA luggage lock – if only to keep my large zippered compartment from accidently opening. [Andrea's note: Every lock we sell on-line and  in our store is TSA-approved.]
  • The new triple security lock that also attaches to your bag I think is a great idea (so it doesn’t get lost). I can also use it to attach bags to the overhead rack in a train, bus, etc. and use a bike lock! [Andrea's note: We carry this lock.]
  • Silk Money Belt – I prefer silk as it’s a natural fabric, breathes well in hot humid weather and much more comfortable than other fabrics. [Andrea's note: The Rick Steves' Silk Money Belt is one I highly recommend.]
  • Hanging Toiletry Bag – Because there’s never enough counter space in small hotel rooms, cruise ship cabins, etc. I hang mine on the back of the door or shower curtain and I don’t have to unpack it at my destination. Tip: Always keep one packed so you’re ready to go at a moments notice! [Andrea's note:  We carry a variety of hanging toiletry bags.]

4) What are some of your favorite travel-related websites?

Packing Light Tips from “The 4 Hour Work Week” Author Tim Ferriss

This week, I’m giving a presentation, along with TravelCuts travel agency, at University of British Columbia on how to pack light. I came across this packing tips video by Tim Ferriss, author of the New York Times & Wall Street Journal #1 bestseller, The Four Hour Work Week. With all of the time he has off, Ferriss criss-crosses the globe and in this video, he recommends several travel essentials including these which you can purchase here:

Japan Travel Tip: Skip Rush Hour in Downtown Tokyo or You May Experience This…
First time to TravelPerch? Welcome!
I invite you to check out my website, TravelSmarts and visit  TravelSmarts Products where you’ll find a selection of value-priced, quality travel accessories.  Happy travels!

A month before I was to head home after attending a year of high school as an exchange student in Japan, I asked a local what “Japanesey” things she recommeded I must do before leaving. Without skipping a beat she replied, “Go to Shinjuku station (which, at the time, was the busiest train station in the world) in Tokyo during the morning rush hour and see the train ‘pushers’.”

Although I was on the train daily and visited my sister and brother who worked in Tokyo, I’d never seen the ‘pushers’ I’d heard so much about. Who are they? These are men with crisp uniforms and white-as-snow gloves employed by the railway company (not police as the video below suggests) who spend a few hours each morning and evening cramming people into trains. Yes, cramming people into trains.

So, early one morning, off I went from Yokohama, where I lived, to Shinjuku station and met up with two other foreign exchange students from Australia and Canada. Wearing our school uniforms with cameras primed, we watched the ‘pusher’ spectacle unfold. We were speechless. And then we burst out laughing because we couldn’t believe what we were seeing. Here’s a taste of what we saw:

Then the fun happens all over again five minutes later when another train arrives. Insane.

What Pickpockets & Scammers Don’t Want Tourists to Know

I’m giving a talk this week to a group about travel safety and in my research, I came across this fascinating video. It’s an investigative report done by ABC News with actual footage of tourists being pickpocketed or scammed – pretty disturbing. There’s an interview with a man named Bob Arno whose live show about pickpocketing I saw several times on board while I was working on a cruise ship in the Mediterranean one summer. If you ever get a chance to see his show, do go!!

10 Ways to Save on Airfare

This month, I’m teaching several workshops on travelling on a budget so I’ve got cheap airfare tips on the brain…With United Airlines and Continental Airlines merging, Mexicana Airlines going bankrupt, and more business and leisure travellers taking to the skies after staying close to home last year because of the recession, airfares are on the rise. Here are ten ways you can shave costs on flights:

1.  The cheapest days to fly are Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays. Wednesdays are usually the least expensive while Sundays are  often the most expensive.

2.  Early morning, just after lunch, just after dinner and the overnight flights are when you’ll often save.

3.  The cheapest time to buy airfare is usually from Tuesday afternoon to Wednesday morning because that is often when competition between airlines on airfares is particularly fierce.

4.  Check out Bing Travel as they have a free “Price Predictor” service which advises you whether to wait or buy airfare now on the more common routes.

5.  Track flight prices before you buy by going to Yapta which stands for “Your Amazing Personal Travel Assistant”. If you’ve already purchased tickets, this website may be able to help you get airline refunds.

6.  A search on ITA Software will pull up a list of numerous airlines which fly the route you’re wanting to go and there is the option to include nearby airports. You may find airlines on the list that surprise you and those flights could be less expensive because people wouldn’t think to fly with them. For example, Korean Airlines flies between Los Angeles and Sao Paulo, Brazil. And Cathay Pacific jets between Vancouver and New York.

7.  Check out these websites for budget airlines that aren’t always included in the more popular travel search engines:  Which Budget, SkycannerWeGoLo and DoHop.

8.  Become a fan of your favorite airlines’ Facebook pages as more and more airlines are posting sweet deals there.

9.  And while you’re social media-ing, drop by the tweets made on Twitter by airlines you fly often to find out about the latest bargains.

10.  Signing up for enewsletters sent out by airlines is a good idea so that you can be in the know about sales they’re offering.

Featured Traveller: Patricia Kuhling

There is a good reason Patricia Kuhling’s parents refer to her as a “gypsy”. Patricia notes that she struggles to stay put for any extended period of time and tends to be plotting her next adventure within days of returning home from a trip. She’s a seasonal crew member for Princess Cruises and Cunard Cruise Lines and has travelled to many a distant land. Patricia has also enjoyed travelling and camping extensively throughout the beautiful Canadian province of British Columbia, where she calls home. Here are Patricia’s tips:

1)  How do you travel lightly?

  • I always try to keep my personal products and daily essentials to a minimum. The large and bulky bottles take up a lot of space and weigh down my luggage.
  • I like to mix and match my outfits so that I can wear them repeatedly and still have variety.
  • If you are cruising, remember that there are laundry rooms onboard so pack your own detergent to save dollars.
  • Most shops on cruise ships offer a range of products. If you neglected to pack something, it can typically be purchased onboard.

2)  What are your favorite travel websites?

  • I always use www.tripadvisor.com before going on any vacation, whether it be a local adventure or traveling overseas.
  • I also like to visit www.lonelyplanet.com.
  • I often spend significant time surfing around on airline websites for good deals so as to compare their rates to package deals found through www.expedia.ca, www.travelzoo.ca, and so many other travel websites.
  • I also try to find a local website for the destination I am travelling to. Most cities have a great website with local information.

3)  What travel accessories/gadgets do you like to travel with?

  • I always take an all-in-one personal product bag. If it has a hanging feature, all the better for just hanging up in the bathroom for easy access, especially if there is little counter or cupboard space. [Andrea’s note:  We carry this kind of toiletry bag.]
  • Luggage tags are a must. I choose brightly coloured tags that are easily identifiable, keep your contact information current and also include it inside your bags. [Andrea’s note:  We carry colorful luggage tags.]
  • Avoid large purses or bags. I carry a small organizer bag with just enough space for money, credit cards, and copies of i.d. and emergency contacts. [Andrea’s note: We carry this bag.]
  • A portable battery operated alarm clock is a must. [Andrea's note: Coming soon!]

4)  What are your top tips for people going on a cruise?

  • Travel light and always pack an extra outfit and overnight essentials in your carry-on baggage. Your luggage is typically transferred from airline to the cruise ship so there is room for error!
  • Research any shore excursions prior to your cruise. I find www.tripadvisor.com to be a great site for feedback. Pre-book your excursions as any of the good ones fill up quickly. If you are planning to venture off on your own and purchase shore excursions through local tour operators, the ship will not wait very long if you return late.
  • Most cruise lines now have staff gratuities automatically added to your shipboard account. If this is not for you and you would rather tip only those crew members who serve you directly, go to the pursers’ desk upon boarding the ship and have it removed from your account. Make sure to carefully review your final bill for any double charges. Keep in mind that not all crew and services on the ship are included in the automatic gratuity.
  • Make photocopies of your passport, cruise ship itinerary and emergency contacts. Carry them with you on shore.

Are you a globetrotter who’d like to share your travel tips with our readers?
If so, I’d love to hear from you!
Please email me at info@travelsmarts.ca.