Travel Hacking

Travel Hacking

(frankieleon)   When you hear the phrase “travel hacking,” you may imagine a darkened room where nefarious spies try to infiltrate airline databases to get tickets. In reality, travel hacking means using hotel, airline, credit card, and loyalty program rules that are already in place to travel for free or at a significant discount. Anyone can be a travel hacker if willing to invest some time and effort—no specialized computer skills required. Here are some tips to help you get started: Sign up for the loyalty programs of any hotels you stay in or airlines you fly with. These programs are almost always free, and you can gain loyalty points only by signing up. Why not use the money you’re already spending on travel to earn points toward future trips? According to an October 2017 study, Wyndham Rewards, Marriott Rewards, and Hilton Honors are the hotel loyalty programs that offer the greatest return on investment. Wyndham Rewards returns about $16.70 in rewards for every $100 spent, while the study’s lowest-ranked rewards program, Starwood SPG, returns only about $5.40 for every $100 spent. US News Travel ranked the Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan, Delta SkyMiles, and JetBlue TrueBlue as the top three airline rewards programs based on each program’s benefits, availability of award flights, and other features. Maximize the benefits of loyalty programs by being a repeat customer when it makes sense. Generally, you’ll earn more rewards by staying with one hotel chain 10 times than you will by staying twice each with five hotel chains. The more you stay with one hotel chain or fly on one airline, the more...
Don’t Be Shark Bait

Don’t Be Shark Bait

So this is how it ends. As the motorboat sped away from the lush shore, the beautiful blue waters of Oahu started to look less like paradise and more like a watery grave. Swimming with sharks—without a cage—had seemed like an adventure when I signed up, but now, as the green island grew smaller, even the dolphins jumping alongside the boat couldn’t ease my nerves. Our diving guide, Cody, had seen this squeamish reaction from his passengers many times before. In an effort to calm us down, he shared with us some of the shark wisdom he had accumulated over many years of experience: True: No one has ever been injured by a shark during a guided shark tour. There have been some rare occasions where a shark has jumped into a shark cage, but these accidents are usually due to the tour guides ignoring certain baiting rules. In every case, the shark did not attack the divers and no one was injured. False: Sharks consider humans to be prey. The majority of shark attacks are “hit and runs,” meaning the shark takes a taste test, realizes you are not a seal, and leaves. I was amazed at how the sharks treated us while we swam with them; they seemed to view us with the same gentle curiosity with which we viewed them. This is not to say that they are harmless, though. Touching any kind of wildlife is always risky, and no guest in unfamiliar waters should do it. True: Eye contact matters. Sharks are like cats: they will sometimes try to sneak up behind you when you’re...
When It Rains on Your Parade

When It Rains on Your Parade

“Rain, rain, go away. Come again another day.” Staring out your hotel window at a day marred by precipitation, you might find yourself humming this nursery rhyme. You’ve traveled far and spent a lot of money to come on this vacation, and now your sightseeing plans are halted by an unexpected storm. What can you do to make the most out of a trip when the weather gets bad? I asked myself this question when on a study abroad in England. And although many days were wet, those days turned out to be some of my favorite. One of these I spent in the village of Tudeley at All Saints’ Church. The church is the home of twelve stained glass windows by Marc Chagall, a Belorussian-born Jewish painter. The day I visited, the dreariness outside magnified the peace inside the church and the quiet beauty of Chagall’s artwork. Stained glass is often more brilliant when the sun shines through the colors, but the lack of bright sunlight that day softened the tone of the art and contributed to the serene atmosphere. After carefully examining each window, I walked outside and admired the charming homes and fields surrounding the small chapel. The rain only added to the tranquil experience, and I didn’t mind getting wet for the picturesque views. I even walked through the mud to stand out in the open field and imagine living like a local. I don’t regret the stains on my walking shoes. You might not enjoy standing in the rain or getting mud on your shoes to see a scenic view, but you too can...
Remedy for Wanderlust

Remedy for Wanderlust

You could go to Paris, pose in front of the Eiffel Tower, and add to the collection of the world’s most popular selfie spot. You could order overpriced Mickey Mouse ears in preparation for a day of nostalgic childhood flashbacks at Disney World. You could travel to see—with your bare eyes—that Great Wall that is visible to the bare eye from outer space. Or you could travel off the beaten path. The world is waking up from its social media craze and realizing that the attitude of “pics or it didn’t happen” can distract from the experience itself. I know it because I am guilty of spending more time posing for a picture of a well-known destination than enjoying the experience. If all I wanted was the likes, retweets, and follows, I could spend an afternoon and combine images of myself in front of dozens of locations Amelia Liana style. But what if traveling isn’t about going exactly where everyone else has gone? When did the generic itinerary replace the explorer’s empty map? What if traveling is more than a bucket list? Enter Atlas Obscura. Since 2009, travelers have uploaded unique destinations to the website in 1,243 cities as of 2017. Atlas Obscura has received funding from angel investors and the New York Times for its efforts to look at the world and at travel from a new perspective. Part of the joy of this source for travel ideas is that, while these destinations are (by virtue of their publication on the website) not unexplored, they are discussed through a lens of their history, local legends, or role in...
Have Dog, Will Travel

Have Dog, Will Travel

Every time my family travels, we’re faced with the impossible task of leaving our dog behind. It’s terrible; I don’t know if he can tell we’re leaving by all our rushing around or if he’s just learned what a suitcase means, but he spends the entire time we’re getting ready moping around and sighing. It’s a conundrum all traveling dog owners must face, though: do you leave your canine companion behind with a surrogate caregiver, or do you brave a vacation with your furriest family member? While you may not want to take Rover on every trip, it’s not as difficult as it may seem to include him on some of your adventures. Planning Unfortunately, the world isn’t a utopia where dogs are welcomed everywhere. Even places you might think your dog would love, like national parks or beaches, may be off-limits to her. Do your research before you depart on your adventure to avoid any disappointments. If you want to find a national park that won’t turn your pup away, you can search www.nationalparkpaws.com. The site lists information on where dogs are and aren’t allowed in each national park, as well as tips and warnings for visiting each one. Www.bringfido.com is also a great resource; it allows you to find dog-friendly hotels, restaurants, activities, and more in just about any city. Lodging Dog-friendly hotels (especially ones that don’t charge Great Dane–sized fees) are hard to find in some cities, so it’s a good idea to book lodging ahead of time so you don’t end up sleeping in your car. And if you plan to do any activities your furry...
Tap, Tap, Book!

Tap, Tap, Book!

Expedia. Trivago. Kayak. Hotwire. Travelocity. Priceline. The list of highly-praised booking websites goes on and on, but at the end of the day, what matters is whether you have a place to stay. There are few places less comfortable to spend the night than in your car. So what happens when you forget to book a hotel? What happens when you get snowed in for the night? Surely, staying the night in your car isn’t an option, and we all know how hard it is to navigate websites on our smartphones. What are we weary travelers to do? The Hotel Tonight app is currently the hottest hotel app and a go-to for anyone about to leave for vacation. Because the app focuses primarily on day-of listings, it’s perfect for unexpected overnighters, and because of the reduced nightly rates, it’s perfect for the frugal traveler. It works like this: every day at noon, the app updates with information about available hotel rooms in any city. The rooms are organized into seven tiers: luxe, hip, solid, basic, charming, crashpad, and high roller. Each tier represents a different type of hotel. For example, a basic hotel is “a modest hotel with limited extras, perfect for when you need a place to lay your head” while a luxe hotel is a higher-rated hotel with more luxuries such as valet parking, a pool, laundry service, and more. Along with the tier, each hotel room is assigned a user rating and the distance from your location to the hotel. Booking is only a few easy taps away. The app’s sleek design and user-friendly features have...