Best Tips For Women Traveling Alone

Now more than ever, women are traveling by themselves for business or pleasure. And although their reasons for traveling are similar to their male counterparts, women traveling alone have very different concerns. From safety issues to cultural variations, women travelers encounter a variety of difficulties that can be avoided if the necessary precautions are taken.

woman with computer at airport gateTo learn how you can travel safer, read these tips from ASTA (American Society of Travel Agents). Some of the most travel-wise people in the world, ASTA members understand that while it pays for both men and women to be educated travelers, it is imperative for women to plan every step of their trip – from packing a suitcase to choosing a hotel room – to ensure a safe return.

Know Before You Go – Learn as much about the destination as possible, especially when traveling to a foreign country. An area’s religious or cultural beliefs can directly impact you, compelling you to adapt your dress and demeanor to comply with local customs. Also, what is regarded as sexual harassment in one country is part of the social fabric of another, so avoid form-fitting or revealing clothing to prevent unwanted attention.

Welcome to Hotel Safety – Get to know the staff, who will be familiar with guests and are able to more effectively monitor who enters and exits the building. Ask beforehand if a member of the staff will be available to escort you to your room if you arrive late at night. Ask for a room on a higher floor near the elevator but away from emergency exits, stairwells, and any renovation work. Never accept a room if the clerk loudly calls out your name and room number.

While at the front desk, grab a card from the counter with the hotel’s name, address and phone number on it, and keep this card on you at all times. Once inside your room, make sure the door has a peephole and a deadbolt. If it doesn’t, make sure you don’t open the door to someone you don’t know.

Travel Documents – Make two copies of important travel documents – one set for the trip, and one for friends or family to keep at home.

Packing Smart – Pack light so you won’t be weighed down and look weighed down, both of which would make you an ideal target for pickpockets. Avoid expensive looking baggage and clothing, lock all suitcases and only use covered luggage woman writing in journaltags with your office address written on it rather than your home. Carry only one credit card, and don’t keep all your money in one place.

Transportation – Explore transportation options available at your destination ahead of time, especially if you will be arriving late in the evening. Travel agents can help determine the safest choice and make the necessary arrangements. If renting a car, carefully examine maps, write out directions in advance and bring along a cellular phone.

Know Your Surroundings – Study a map of the area you will be visiting. Learn as much as possible about getting around the streets to avoid looking like a lost tourist. Ask the concierge about where – and, more importantly, where not – to go.

The Best Vacation Memories are Good Vacation Memories – There may be safety in numbers, but there is also safety in knowledge. With some advance planning and the advice of a professional travel agent, your vacation or business trip can be safe, hassle free and memorable.

Best Tips For Your First Transatlantic Cruise

“It’s not exactly in the middle of nowhere.” That’s what I find myself saying whenever someone says to me,

“I’d never go on a transatlantic cruise.”

I have to admit, while not exactly in the middle of nowhere, there isn’t a whole lot of activity going on around you, except maybe for an occasional whale or dolphin sighting. You do feel like you are out there all alone.

Kind of.

Never mind my very first transoceanic trip in 1961 aboard the petite Matsonia, from Los Angeles to Honolulu. Fast forward to my first “grown-up” transatlantic crossing in 2005. This would be a litmus test for latent agoraphobia. When you think about it, visualize a tiny cork gently bobbing or violently tossing around in an Olympic-sized swimming pool, with no swimmers in sight. Yes, I was a bit nervous.
When my first transatlantic ship, the Celebrity Century, quietly slipped through the channel in Ft. Lauderdale and out to sea, I drew a deep breath and said to myself, “you can do this.”

And “do this” I did.

Since then, I’ve done a total of eight transatlantic “voyages,” as Cunard prefers to call them. What’s it like and do you really feel totally stranded out there? Here are some of my thoughts and advice to help you with your first trip across an ocean.

transatlantic cruiseBe prepared. Channel your inner Boy or Girl Scout and be prepared. Not only in your mind, but with lazy day diversions. With a minimum of six consecutive sea days, even the most entertaining of the mega ships will have a lull in the activities. All of the ships have some sort of library. For the best selection, get there when it first opens. By the second or third day, the choice for best sellers has dwindled.

Not a reader? Bring your home craft project (providing it fits into your suitcase.) You’ll find knitters, needle-pointers, scrapbookers meeting each day in some public space, as unhosted activities.
Wine tasting has expanded into single-malt scotch, craft beer and tequila tastings. There is a fee but what else do you have to do?
Smell the roses. If you find yourself on the verge of activity-overload, scout out a quiet spot to watch the sea. I usually search for both an indoor viewing area as well as an outdoor, wind-blocked vantage point. Sunny days with flat seas warrant an outdoor vantage point. On foggy or rough seas days, you’ll want to curl up in a comfy chair near a picture window. Yes, you will want to look out and see what’s going on. Mid-ship on a low deck and you’ll hardly feel those thirty-foot seas and gale force winds!
Keep moving. On some ships, you can almost walk your way across the Atlantic. On Cunard’s wraparound outdoor walking track/promenade, a mere three times around is 1.1 miles. On other ships, you can walk in circles ten or eleven times to finish one mile.

transatlantic cruiseIf a good fitness center is important, head on over to the cruise line’s website for photos of their workout facility; the bigger the better. A tiny gym means to use one of only five treadmills for 1,000 passengers on a transatlantic crossing is going to take some planning.

The legendary weight gain. With a stretch of six to possibly ten sea days, one of the biggest concerns is weight gain. I’ve come to realize over time that it isn’t the actual over-eating that is the cause but the amount of salt in the food that is the culprit. Also, I hear a lot of people complaining about swollen feet and ankles. Again, it’s the sodium in the food.

Solution? Tell your dining room waiter that you would like to be on a sodium-free diet for the cruise. Here’s how it works: every night at the end of your dinner, the waiter (or head waiter) will present to you the menu for the next evening. You choose your entire dinner and the order is brought to the kitchen where there are other special diets orders (gluten-free, allergy requests etc.).

By eliminating the “built-in” salt, you will avoid retaining water and thus not blow up like a puffer fish. But be forewarned: if you order salt-free, your dinner will be salt-free. This means that the gorgeous bowl of steamy French onion soup will arrive sans toasted French bread and cheese. You can always do a modified salt-free when something sounds too good to pass up.

A transatlantic is a great time to do nothing. This isn’t a “If It’s Tuesday, It Must Be Belgium” experience. Transatlantic cruises are generally not “port intensive.” But if there is a port you would like to visit, chances are you can find a cruise that stops there en route to where you will disembark.
With careful planning, you can find an itinerary which will visit two to five ports along the way once you’ve crossed the ocean. Some cruise lines are eliminating the “cruise” portion and are almost mainlining straight across with only one port visit before debarkation in Europe.
Hop on the bus, Gus. Important to note, Cunard’s Queen Mary 2 is the ONLY cruise line offering regularly scheduled non-stop transatlantic crossings nearly year round. The Queen Mary 2 is also the ONLY purpose-built actual ocean liner, not cruise ship, in service today. She’s built for transatlantic voyages and sails them beautifully.
Make a new plan, Stan. My suggestion is that once you’ve decided on which transatlantic voyage to take, book yourself into back-to-back cruises so that you stay onboard for either the first cruise once you arrive in Europe or the last cruise before the westbound crossing. That way, you not only feel “special” in saying that you are “continuing on…”, but you get to spend time in many wonderful ports throughout Europe.
What time is it, anyway? One of the best advantages of a transatlantic crossing is the elimination of jet lag. Yes, you arrive at your destination either in Europe or the U.S. without needing two or three days to catch up to the local time zone.
Which direction is better? Personally, l prefer a westbound crossing because it results in 25-hour days. Here’s how it works. Say, for example, you are booked on a crossing with seven sea days before you get to Florida. Starting on the first or second night after departure from Europe, clocks are set back one hour at bedtime. You continue to do this for maybe two consecutive days, take a break to adjust and set the clocks back again until you reach your debarkation port. I find that I do wake up a bit earlier than usual towards the end of the voyage, but I’m well-rested and ready to go.

Going eastbound with 23 hour days, you might find yourself at the buffet at 2am because your body is telling you it’s only 9PM! If you are sensitive to time changes, be sure to check that the ship you are on will have a 24 hour food option, even if it’s only room service. Otherwise, you might find yourself, like I have many times, 2AM at the 24 hour coffee and tea location, getting a flavored tea to bring back to my room to have with cookies that were saved from the afternoon.
Is anyone out there? For a little piece of mind along your journey, remember that the ship travels in shipping lanes. You are never too far from another ship, even though it may not be visible.
However, there is a portion on the north Atlantic where you may find yourself in “no-man’s-land” for a day or so depending upon the route that your captain decides to follow. Be prepared for a brief blip in satellite communications which affects the internet and television.

On my recent Cunard voyage, we never lost a second of communication via wifi or TV. Ships’ satellite technology (meaning the company that they contract with for access) vastly improves every year.
Roundtripping. Finally, if you have the time, why not do like I do and make the transatlantic crossing in both directions? This does take a bit of skillful planning and occasional maneuvering but it is quite frankly, the best way to visit Europe.

transatlantic cruiseFor example, cruise from Ft. Lauderdale to Barcelona. Continue onboard for a Mediterranean cruise, which returns to Barcelona. Spend a couple of days in Barcelona and then make your way via train from Barcelona to Paris. Depending upon your schedule, spend a night or two in the City of Lights. In 9:00AM, take a taxi to the Gare du Nord Eurostar train station. In two and one-half hours, with twenty-one minutes of that spent zooming under the English Channel, you arrive rested and relaxed at St. Pancras train station in London. Walk a few yards from your train to the departure hall, find the Cunard representative and board their motor coach to Southampton. In another two hours you’ll board the Queen Mary 2 for your voyage home.

With the mystery of a transatlantic crossing hopefully solved, why not start planning your trip today? If you would like the convenience of staying in the same cabin for back-to-back cruises, book early. Otherwise, your room attendant can help you change cabins on turnaround day. But if you can remain in the same cabin, it’s so much easier and less stressful.

Once you’ve experienced the exhilaration and excitement of crossing an ocean, you will be hooked. For a very memorable experience, sail into New York City. Cruise ships arrive into New York harbor at dawn, pass under the colorfully lit Verrazano Bridge and quietly sail past the illuminated Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.

Everyone is out on deck at 5:30am to view this amazing sight. I’m sure many passengers reflect on how their ancestors might have felt hundreds of years ago. I’ve seen grown men cry and overheard people speaking in hushed voices with thick Irish brogues. Others blankly stare at Ellis Island. It’s a very moving moment, indeed.

Best Tips For Your First Or Next River Cruise

River cruising is hot. From A to Z (Amazon to Zambezi), there’s a river cruise for every taste, style and budget. With nearly a dozen new river boats being built by 2012, it’s no doubt that river cruising is the latest trend.

Amsterdam CitySo far, I’ve spent over two months on the great rivers of Europe in the last two years. I’ve also cruised 2,000 miles on the Amazon River and parts of our own Mississippi. I have to admit, however, I’m in love with cruising the European waterways. While I’m not a bona fide expert, I do have some advice that I’d like to share. First, though, who goes on river cruises?

Statistics indicate that most river cruise passengers have already taken an ocean cruise and they are ready to move inland. With an average age of sixty-one and a median income of $80,000/year, these folks have both time and money to view Europe up-close and personal. However, as river cruise lines want to lure a younger demographic, look for shorter seven-night cruises and more active shore excursions. How about a fifteen-mile bike ride? AMAWaterways is one of the few river cruise companies that still offer complimentary bicycles and bike tours. Some river cruise lines charge a fee to use their bikes. Others have eliminated all onboard bikes and work with a bike rental company in various cities, for a fee of course.

What are the advantages of a European river cruise? While cruise ships only touch the edges of continents, river boats take you to the very heart of magnificent cities and ancient towns. Quietly glide past hillside vineyards, medieval castles and historic monuments. Disembark and walk right into town for a cafe lunch. Stroll along the pier or borrow one of the river boat’s bicycles to explore further.

With so much to do and from three to twenty-five days to experience a river cruise, here are my Top Ten suggestions for getting the most enjoyment.

Bohol PhilippinesPack light. Not just for the airline requirements but for convenience. There are no formal nights. Men need only a collared shirt and sport coat. Women can leave their long dresses and high heels at home. Attire is country club casual even at dinner. Best of all, there are do-it-yourself launderettes on many of the river boats. Complimentary laundry service is included with many suite-level accommodations.
Acknowledge your physical limitations. Cobblestone streets, walkways and stairs can be a bit tricky to navigate if you are unsteady on your feet. Europe doesn’t subscribe to the Americans with Disabilities Act. If you are out of shape or have a heart condition, you might want to reconsider that 200-step climb to the top of the castle. Pace yourself accordingly. Some of the river boats do not have elevators, so make sure the boat you choose has one if you need one. Alternatively, once ashore, many river cruises lines including AMAWaterways, offer an easy-paced walking tour option.
Wine and dine. Unlike cruise ships, river boats have “open seating.”Stroll into the dining room (7am-9am) for a leisurely buffet breakfast. Lunch is fairly relaxed, too, as it is mainly buffet-style dining. Dinner however, doesn’t operate the same. To facilitate good service and freshly prepared entrees, you are expected to arrive fairly close to when the dining room opens. Dinner times can vary based on the timing of the shore excursions, so check your daily planner.
On some river cruise lines, the complimentary wine with dinner tends to abruptly stop when your entrée plate is removed. So if you like to sip wine after dinner be sure to flag down your waiter for a refill before your plate is cleared.

Alsaka River CruiseWhen in “Rome…” Nothing garners a warm welcome quicker than saying hello in the local language. Learn to say “hello,” “thank you”and “excuse me”in as many of the countries’ languages as possible. Write it on a cheat sheet and put it in your pocket. Chances are that the local shopkeeper, upon hearing your broken German or Romanian will immediately speak to you in English. But you’ve made the effort and it won’t go unrewarded.
Cash is king. Make a list of the countries you will visit and find a local bank that will order your foreign currency. Mainly, you’ll need Euros. But if you can get any of the other currencies (and there are quite a few on the lower Danube river) you can avoid the high commission exchange fees. Of course, the boat’s front desk will also exchange currency, but there are some limitations. Tipping at the end of your cruise is expected to be in Euros.
Weather reports. If you travel on the rivers in the spring or fall, there will certainly be a variance in temperatures and precipitation. Bring that nerdy plastic pancho and a folding umbrella. And leave that backpack at home. Nothing says “American Tourist”more than an Eddie Bauer backpack. If you must carry belongings, a tote bag is much more European. Also, when taking a motor coach tour, the bus is locked and you can leave that extra sweater or bag on your seat.
Remember to bring your electric current converter. While the front desk on some of the river boats may be able to lend out a few converters, it’s always a good decision to bring your own. I always bring two.
If you are after the perfect photograph while cruising the river, remember the Golden Hour Rule and adjust your dining accordingly. The Golden Hour is that perfect moment near sunset and sunrise. Since you’ll most likely be in the dining room at or near sunset, bring your camera with you to dinner and keep a watchful eye on the passing scenery. When you think the moment is right, quickly walk outside and snap those gorgeous sunset photos. It’s not like being on a huge ocean vessel. On a river boat, it’s only a two minute walk from the dining room to an outdoor viewing area.
Confluence of Rio Negro and Amazon RiverStop and smell the roses. At least once on your river cruise, get up and outside just before sunrise. A fog-like mist rises from the river, birds slowly begin to chirp and the river looks like liquid silver. It’s a not-to-be-missed experience.
Arrive early or stay late. You’ve come so far for this river cruise, it seems like a waste if you don’t spend at least two full days in either your arrival or departure city. Taking a Danube cruise from Vienna to Budapest? You should definitely spend two or three days in both cities! Sometimes the river cruise companies offer a pre or post cruise extension. These are good too as they also include your transportation to/from the ship to the hotel. Investigate your options and try to include a few extra days on land to fully appreciate the cities along the paths of the great rivers of Europe.

Some Tips For Road Trips

Are you saddened when your commute home ends? Do you go weeks without shifting into fifth gear? Is there an inch of dust on your RV? Regardless of the ailment, the only medicine you need is the open road. With hundreds of scenic highways throughout the United States, a much-needed road trip is just around the next curve.

To unlock the secrets of road tripping without running out of gas, take the next exit and read through these tips from ASTA (American Society of Travel Agents). Some of the most travel-wise people in the world, ASTA members know what it takes for you to experience the soothing gray asphalt, the quirky small towns, the crazy roadside curiosities and, most importantly, the heart of America.

Gator Crossing signRoad Tripping without Tripping Out – The Basic Philosophy of the Road
Road tripping is a state of mind. To truly enjoy it, you must embrace the philosophy of the road, much like European backpackers must bring a mindset of art and culture and beachcombers must be prepared for umbrellas in their drinks and sand in their shorts.

First, there are no boring places on the open road – just places that require a little bit of searching to uncover the remarkable. Be open to the possibilities and reach out for new experiences, like trying the “Roadkill Burger” at the diner or taking an unmarked hiking trail only to stumble onto a Civil War battle site.

Like a hiking trail, every road trip has a beginning and an end, but only the journey counts. The middle, the asphalt glide, the motorized mantra, getting from Point A to Point B, is the purpose of the road trip, realizing that you’re supposed to be wherever you are. Enjoy being there.

Also enjoy the fact that your vehicle is in your control, so take it wherever your heart desires. While your road trip will most likely involve an itinerary with reservations, do not tie your bumper to a schedule. A good travel agent will help you set up a loose itinerary with guaranteed reservations, so rushing is never an option when faced with the choice of hurrying to your hotel or diverting 50 miles east to see Albert, the World’s Largest Bull, in Audubon, Iowa.

The Master Plan – Plotting Your Course
Your journey begins the first day you start planning your road trip, with anticipation as your gas pedal, floored and revving. So break out the map, grab a box of pushpins to highlight the highlights and let a little planning take you a long way.

Before the first pushpin digs into the wall, talk to a travel agent to identify the purpose of your trip. If your goal is four days of backcountry wandering, then all you need is a full tank of gas and sharp eyes. If you plan include a final destination, like your cousin Irene’s wedding in Albuquerque in one week, then advance planning is crucial.

Once your purpose is set, consider your level of comfort. Are you the type who needs to know a reservedturn sign hotel room waits in the next city or will any roadside inn suit your needs? Do you like your roads highlighted in yellow on your map, or do you keep your map in the glove box for emergencies only, allowing the winds of spontaneity to determine your course? Whatever your comfort level, be sure to ask your traveling companions for their opinions.

Once the bases are covered, talk to your travel agent and begin researching all the possible routes. Travel agents know if certain mountain passes are blocked during the winter, or if a festival or event in a city you plan to drive through will cause major delays. Also, spend time on the Internet getting to know the smaller towns on your route. Treasures are often found in the most unlikely of places.

Before the Odometer Reaches 1
With your plan set and the trip already rambling in your mind, now is the time to make sure reality is on the same page.

The first and most vital step is to get your vehicle in top form. Whether you’re traveling by car, RV, truck, motorcycle or lawnmower, your road trip will be smoother if your vehicle is ship-shape, or road-shape in this instance. Before you leave, have a qualified mechanic check all the car’s vitals: brakes, battery, fluid levels, tire pressure, light bulbs and any parts that need regular maintenance.

As with all long-distance road trips, it’s wise to bring emergency equipment such as a first-aid kit, flashlight, blankets, drinking water and snacks, along with flares and jumper cables. Check the weather for your route and be prepared for snow and ice with an ice scraper and chains for the tires.

With the mechanics secure, be sure to create the right ambience inside your vehicle. Take along a wide selection of your favorite cds and a few audio books. If you and your traveling companions don’t agree on music, then the driver chooses and the passengers get two vetoes per three hours or 90 miles. That’s the rule.

Safety – Don’t Wreck Your TripCarriage road sign
Nearly 50,000 people die each year in collisions on the roadways of the United States, with another 22 million injured. Safety is simply the number one concern for you, your traveling companions and everyone on or near a road, so always have the following safety tips on the tip of your mind while driving.

Pay attention. Practically all collisions involve inattention on the part of one or both drivers. Distraction comes in many guises: daydreaming, fidgeting with the radio, sleepiness, fatigue and cell phones. Paying attention makes it possible for you to see, recognize and avoid the hazards lurking on the road; these are the three basic elements of defensive driving.

You are not psychic. You can never rely on what the other driver will do. While driving, always keep a wary eye on other drivers and leave yourself plenty of room. Anticipate the mistakes they might make and be ready. Stay alert and in control.

Yield anyway. If you are in doubt about who has the right of way, give it away. Right of way rules are often misunderstood, and there are situations where the rules may not be clear to everyone. If there is uncertainty about which vehicle should have the right of way, give the other driver the road. When it comes to driving safely, it’s not the principle, but the outcome, that counts.

Don’t speed. Speed limits are posted for a reason. Driving at a higher rate cuts your reaction time and results in more stored energy that must be dissipated in any collision. A safe driver should choose a speed matching traffic as closely as possible without exceeding speed limits. If traffic is moving at higher speed than you should go, keep to the right and out of the way.

Don’t drive impaired. Drivers can become impaired through not only drugs and alcohol, but also fatigue or as a result of injury or illness. Alcohol is a depressant that will diminish your ability with the first sip, acting on the very skills you need most as a driver – judgment, vision and the ability to perceive several things at once. We all have the obligation to make sure we are able to drive safely every time we drive.

Wear your seat belt. Seat belts are the most significant safety device ever invented. They provide impact protection, absorb crash forces and keep you from being thrown out of the vehicle. Modern vehicles are built with “crumple zones,” and seat belts are an integral part of the system. Belts help keep you in your place, in control and better able to avoid a crash. red traffic light

Don’t run red lights. Whether you coast through a red light daydreaming or step on the accelerator when the light turns yellow, running red lights kills hundreds every year. If you get a yellow light, stop. You can anticipate when the light is about to change, so it is no excuse to say it was too late. If you have the green light, watch for the red-light runner. Patience at an intersection is one virtue we can live with.

Drive precisely. Most everyone knows the basic traffic laws, yet drivers impatiently ignore them for the sake of expediency every day. Traffic rules are in place to create the consistency and uniformity that allow us to predict with some degree of confidence what other drivers will do, thereby avoiding conflicts and collisions. Ignoring the rules of the road helps create the chaos you see every day.

Hotels, Motels and No Telling What You’ll Find
Many road-trippers dismiss the necessity of reservations, letting the road, the weather and their moods guide them to a neon “Vacancy” sign in the night. Travel agents suggest that, while this approach to nightly lodging is right for some, most should reconsider the value of a reservation.

Having a guaranteed reservation is ideal for those who want to save time, instead of pulling in and out of countless hotels looking for the last vacant room in the area due to an unexpected music festival; for those with health issues, preferring a clean and comfortable bed; for those with recreational preferences, wanting to stay at a campground with swimming facilities after a hot, summer drive; for those with limited funds, not desiring to be stuck shelling out a generous sum of cash for the last room; for those with particular taste in lodging, who sometimes find it difficult to sleep on a lumpy mattress; and for those traveling with pets, who want to know that their hotel will accept precious Fido.

Sasquatch Crossing signMaking a lodging or camping reservations at the wrong intervals, in the wrong cities can be catastrophic to a road trip. Seek counsel from a trusted travel agent to perfectly space your reservations. The peace of mind will be a welcomed companion on your journey.

Endless Highways
Exploring small towns, interacting with strangers and eating at roadside stands that sell odd fare like fried pie (Independence, La.) and broken chicken (Pike County, Ky.) all require a sense of adventure and a suspension of disbelief. You never know what lies around the next bend, because the moment you take that curve or crest over a sun-blazed hilltop is moment like no other.

Road trips are truly American adventures that everyone can enjoy. Talk to a trusted travel agent to outline your next grand adventure on the road. Travel agents can advise you on the most scenic byways in the land, set up hotel or camping reservations along the way and even help you rent a convertible sports car to road trip in style.

Some Tips About Car Rental

Renting a car can enhance the flexibility of any trip – be it business or leisure. This information explains the process of renting a car and provides some car rental tips and car rental advice.

Ask your ASTA travel agent to help you find the right car rental firm for each trip. Different firms serve different cities throughout the world. A travel agent can save you the time and effort of calling several different companies to find the best rate and car for you. Also, a travel agent may be aware of promotional rates and special programs that may not be advertised to the general public.

Car rental companies generally charge four types of basic rates: a daily rate with a mileage charge; a daily rate with a limited number of free miles per day; a daily rate with unlimited mileage; and a rate that has free mileage over an extended period. Rates vary according to the size and style of vehicle but most firms rent economy, compact, intermediate and deluxe cars. Special promotional rates are often available, especially over weekends, but these should be specifically requested in advance.

Other charges may also be added to the rental price, including:

Car Rental Taxes
In addition to the daily rental rate and the charges mentioned above, taxes (which vary by state) are also charged. For international car rentals, taxes often add up to 10 to 30 percent in addition to the rate quoted. International rentals are also subject to a possible Value Added Tax (VAT). At a few airport rental locations, some car rental firms may also charge an “airport surcharge” fee of about 10% of the rental rate in addition to normal taxes.

Be sure to read the rental agreement carefully to see what the rental rate covers, possible restrictions, and the liability for the renter. If a car rental firm is offering a low rate, make sure that the agreement’s restrictions do not outweigh the cost savings.

Car Rental Drop-off Charges
An extra fee is usually charged if a car is returned to a different city or location than where it was picked up. Be sure to advise the agent when making your reservation if you wish to drop off the car at a different location. The drop-off charge may already be included in the car rental rate.

Familiarize yourself with the car rental company’s policy on gasoline when you check in. Some companies charge you a flat rate for gas upon renting the car and expect you to return with the gas tank empty. Most, however, will assess a charge based on the firm’s gas rates for filling the gas tank when the car is returned, if it is not already full. Since gas prices are usually less expensive at gas stations, it is advisable to fill the tank before returning the car if you are expected to return it with a full tank of gas.

Collision Damage Waiver (CDW) or Loss Damage Waiver (LDW)
If a rental car is damaged, the renter may be responsible for the first several hundred dollars of damage (the deductible) up to the full price of the car. By purchasing CDW (also known as Loss Damage Waiver or LDW), the renter is released from responsibility of any loss or damage to a vehicle up to the full value of the car. However, if the renter is in violation of the rental agreement, the waiver is void. Your personal auto insurance may already provide coverage for damage to rental cars and the purchase of CDW or LDW may not be necessary. Regulations for selling CDW/LDW vary from state to state.

CDW/LDW is usually an optional feature, however, a few companies require renters to purchase this waiver. Determine whether or not you need CDW/LDW before you arrive at the rental counter (check your own automobile insurance policy) and consider how much this CDW/LDW may increase the daily rental rate (CDW/LDW costs range from $8 – $12 per day). In some cases, you may find a special rate for a larger car which already includes CDW/LDW. In the long run, the larger car may be less expensive than the economy car with additional CDW/LDW costs.

Also, some credit card companies offer CDW/LDW insurance as a card holder benefit. Be sure to read the fine print on these agreements (as well as on car rental agreements!) Usually the protection afforded by credit card companies could be supplemental to your own insurance. Therefore, if you get in an accident, your own insurance will cover the repair costs up to its maximum and then the credit card company will cover the difference. As a result, your own car insurance rates may be affected.

Personal Accident Insurance (PAI)
Personal Accident Insurance provides accidental death and medical coverage for the renter and additional passengers during the time they are riding or driving with you. Check your personal car insurance policy to see if it covers car rentals. If your policy covers car rentals, you may not need PAI. This insurance is usually optional.

Personal Effects Coverage (PEC)
This coverage provides protection against loss or theft of personal belongings from the rental car. Once again, check your own auto insurance policy to determine whether your coverage includes rental cars.

Additional Liability Insurance (ALI)
ALI is an optional insurance that protects the renter and other authorized operators against claims made by third parties for bodily injury/death and property damage caused by the use or operation of the rental vehicle. Check with your own auto insurance policy to determine whether additional excess coverage is already provided.

All car rental companies require a valid drivers license. Some car rental companies check the driver’s history and will deny a car to a customer with a poor driving record. In some foreign countries, an international drivers license may be required.

In addition, many car rental companies require a major credit card to guarantee payment even if there is a prepaid voucher or direct billing to the client or corporation. If a credit card is being used for payment, be aware of your credit card limit; many car rental companies require immediate credit approval before renting the car which can substantially reduce your remaining balance of credit.

Alternatives to Credit Card Payment
If you do not have a credit card, most car rental locations will accept their own pre-paid vouchers issued by an appointed travel agent. Some car rental companies require that you fill out a cash qualification questionnaire at the rental location during normal business hours so that it may be verified.

Most companies will require a large cash deposit or a cash advance that can even exceed the estimated charges of the rental if a credit card is not presented for payment. They may also require the renter to be over a certain age. The final acceptance of a non-credit card rental, however, is the decision of each individual rental location.

Driver’s Age
Usually, car rental companies require renters to be at least 18 years old, but some firms now require a minimum age of 25 years. For consumers under 25, a credit card is usually required for payment and the rental rate may be slightly higher.

Similarly, senior citizens over a certain age may not be allowed to rent cars in some cities. Verify the age restrictions when making your reservation.

Number of Drivers
Although policies vary, many car rental firms allow an immediate relative who is of age to drive the rental car. Some firms also permit a direct business associate to drive. Read the rental contract carefully; it will specify who can drive the car. Signatures of all drivers and their drivers licenses may be required by the rental firm. There may be a charge for any additional drivers added to the rental agreement.

Travelers should always receive a voucher or confirmation from their travel agent before departing. This document should have a confirmation number, the car rental company name, type of car requested, flight information and date. If the car rental firm is located outside the airport, a telephone number for the courtesy car pick-up should be provided.

Confirmations also often help the car rental firms locate customers who have not picked up their reserved car. As a result of industry automation, the car rental firm can sometimes inquire to see if a renter’s flight is delayed. Usually, a car rental firm will hold a reserved car for several hours before cancelling.

If you are considering two different flights, be sure to advise the car rental firm. Also, the company should be notified of any cancellations so that they can rent that car to another customer.

Upon arriving at the car rental counter, present your confirmation number, voucher and credit card, if necessary. The customer service agent will then complete the process and direct you to where you can pick up your car. READ YOUR CAR RENTAL AGREEMENT before you sign it to familiarize yourself with your liability and to ensure that you know exactly what you will be paying for when you return the car.

Before leaving the rental lot, inspect the car for the correct mileage information and any visible damage to the car. If damaged, a notation should be made on the contract before leaving.

Take a few minutes to become familiar with the car. Adjust your seat and mirrors. Locate the controls for the turn signals, windshield wipers, lights (high and low beams) and cruise control (if applicable). Notice the placement of the horn and control panel for defroster, air conditioning, etc.

Rates are usually based on a 24-hour period, with a one-hour grace period allowed to return the car. If you keep the car for more than four hours after it was due back at the rental company, it is usually worth extending the contract for another day since overtime charges average $12 to $15 per hour. Hourly car rental rates are usually higher.

Some rates, like weekend specials, are only available during certain time periods. Keeping the car beyond that time may change the rate you pay for the entire transaction.

If you are renting a car abroad, reserve it here through your ASTA travel agent. At your destination, ask the rental agent to explain the car’s features, which may be different from cars at home. Know the international traffic signs and rules of the road. Ask your travel agent whether you need an International Driver’s Permit. Also, ask about insurance coverage in each country; U.S. insurance may not be valid in all countries.

The renter of any car is liable for all parking and traffic violations both domestically and internationally.

Most contracts and insurance policies are void if you have an accident while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Be sure to lock the car and trunk and do not leave valuables in the car.

Seat belts should be worn at all times – it’s the law in most states.

Most states require car seats for children under four years old. Advance notice is usually required to reserve a car seat and a small fee may be charged for the rental of these seats.

Many car rental firms have cars or vans that are accessible for customers with physical disabilities. Be sure to make arrangements in advance to ensure that an accessible vehicle is available.

Most major car rental companies offer free local maps. Plan your route before leaving the car rental lot to minimize the need to ask for directions.

How to Dealing With Jet Lag

Over the past few years, charter rules have been relaxed to make lower cost air transportation available to more people. “Public Charters” can be purchased from a tour operator, a travel agent, or sometimes directly from the airline. If your flight has been arranged by a club or other organization for its members, it may be what is called an “affinity” charter flight. These charters generally do not carry the consumer protection provisions of Public Charters. Be sure you know what kind of charter flight you are purchasing. A Public Charter may include only the flights, or it may be sold as a complete package, including hotels, guided tours, and ground transportation. Either way, your rights are spelled out in a contract you have with the tour operator. The operator or your travel agent should give you a contract to sign at the time you purchase your trip. Read it before you pay any money.

The Department of Transportation requires tour operators to disclose certain information in your contract about the restrictions that they impose and also rights that you have under DOT rules:

You usually pay penalties if you cancel. The closer to departure you cancel, the bigger the penalty. On some charters, if a substitute can go in your place you only lose a $25 fee. You can buy trip cancellation insurance. These policies usually provide a refund in case you must cancel due to illness or death in the family. Your travel agent or tour operator can tell you how to buy the insurance and what health conditions it does or doesn’t cover. Charter cancellation insurance often won’t pay you if you must cancel because of a preexisting condition.

The tour operator or airline can cancel a Public Charter for any reason up until 10 days before departure. Your flight might be canceled if it doesn’t sell well or for some other reason. This is a risk you take in return for a low fare. (During the last 10 days before departure, a Public Charter can be canceled only if it is physically impossible to operate it.)

All charter flights and ground arrangements are subject to changes. Signing a contract does not guarantee that prices won’t go up or that itineraries won’t change. But, if there is a “major change” in your flight or tour, you have the right to cancel and get a penalty-free refund. Major changes include:

A change in departure or return city (not including a simple change in the order in which cities are visited).

A change in departure or return date, unless the date change results from a flight delay. (However, a flight delay of more than 48 hours is a major change.)

A substitution of a hotel that was not named as an alternate hotel in your contract.

An increase in price, if the total of all increases billed to you is more than 10% of what you originally paid. (No increases are allowed during the last 10 days before departure.)

If your tour operator notifies you of a major change before departure, you get a full refund if you decide to cancel. If you choose not to cancel, the operator is not required to make partial refunds. However, if you don’t find out about a change until after your trip has begun, you can reject the changed flight or hotel, make and pay for your own alternative plans, and insist on a refund for the changed component when you get home.

No “open returns” are allowed on round-trip public charters. Be sure you have a specific return date, city, and flight, so you won’t be stranded.

The tour operator has to take specific steps to protect your money. The tour operator must have a surety agreement, such as a bond, and must usually have an escrow account at a bank that holds your money until your flight operates. If your money is going into a charter escrow account, the bank will be named in your contract, and the check that is sent to the charter operator should be made payable to that bank. (If you are using a travel agent, it’s OK for you to make your check out to that agent; he or she will cut a check payable to the escrow account.)

Identify the departure date and destination on the face of the check. If a tour operator goes out of business you should contact the surety company or bank identified in your contract for a refund.

You alone are responsible for knowing if you need a visa and passport for your trip. You can be certain of the visa and passport rules of the countries you plan to visit by calling or writing their embassies in Washington, D.C. or their consulates in some major U.S. cities.

If your luggage gets lost during your tour, there may be a dispute over who is liable. The charter airlines process claims for bags that were lost or damaged while in their possession. If it is not clear where the problem occurred (e.g. between the airport and a hotel), the operator and the airline may both decline liability.

To cover yourself, find out if your renter’s or homeowner’s insurance policy covers losses that happen when you’re away from home. You might also ask your travel agent if there’s a one-shot baggage insurance policy available to cover baggage problems while you are on your charter trip.

Your charter may be delayed. Last-minute schedule changes and departure delays of several hours are not uncommon on charters. A flight can be delayed up to 48 hours before the charter operator must offer you the option to cancel with a full refund.

Charters and scheduled flights operate independently of each other. If there’s a delay on the scheduled flight connecting you to the city where your charter departs, causing you to miss your charter, you lose your flight and money. Charter reservations are only good for one flight. If you miss it for any reason, you’re probably out of luck. Check with the tour operator to see if he has another charter flying to your destination.

If your charter is late returning and causes you to miss a scheduled connecting flight back to your home, you have to pay your own expenses while you wait for the next connection. If you have a discount fare on a scheduled connecting flight you could lose it if the returning charter is delayed. Then you, not the airlines or tour operator, have to pay more for a regular non-discount fare.

Your baggage can’t be checked through from a scheduled flight to a charter, and vice-versa. You have to claim your baggage and re-check it yourself. When planning a charter, allow plenty of time to check in at the airport from which your charter leaves, or from which you have a connecting flight. On international trips, remember that you may encounter delays in Customs.

You might find seating space for your charter plane to be more crowded than you’re used to. The low charter rate depends in part on spreading costs over a large number of people with virtually all of the seats being filled.

If a charter flight hasn’t sold out shortly before departure, the operator can sell seats at bargain basement prices to latecomers. Some who have paid the regular price well in advance may object, but should realize that the operator’s alternative may be to cancel the flight altogether for economic reasons.

Charter rates are relatively low, but might not be the cheapest fare to your destination. Ask your travel agent to compare fares on scheduled and charter flights for you.

Charters offer nonstop flights for an affordable price. They can be a wise travel investment if you can be flexible in your travel plans. Just be sure you know the conditions for the trip you’re buying before you pay for it.

Information About Airport Security Regulations

To insure passenger safety, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) maintains strict security procedures at our nation’s airport. Here are some tips to help travelers navigate TSA regulations and make your air travel experience as smooth as possible.

Before arriving:

Review TSA’s Security Procedures for “Getting through the Line Faster”
Prepare your 1 quart-sized, clear, plastic, zip-top bag of liquids before arriving at the airport
Monitor local broadcasts for announcements of security checkpoint delays at local airports
Pack all your coats and jackets in your checked baggage when possible
Do not wrap gifts
Check-in online
Check your flight status online
Wear easy to remove and replace shoes
Check airline arrival time recommendations and plan to leave adequate time to check baggage and move through security.
Airport Arrival:

Approach the initial security check-point with your government issued identification and paper or electronic boarding pass in hand.
While waiting for the next available security screener or screening device, remove and place in bins:
all metal (i.e. belt buckle, coins, eye glasses, etc.)
plastic, zip-top bag of liquid containers
items from your pockets, including mobile phone
laptops from bag and place in separate bin
shoes (usually required to be placed directly on conveyor belt)
Do not engage in trash talk about security or do anything else to call attention to yourself – this will only cause delays.
Remember, if you are selected for an enhanced pat-down, you have the right to request it be done in private

Plan for potentially long lines at check-in counters and airport screening stations.

You must have a picture I.D. such as a driver’s license, passport, or other government-issued identification. Insure that you make your reservation in the exact name that appears on the identification you plan on presenting at the airport. If your name has recently changed and the name on your ticket and your I.D. are different, bring documentation of the change (e.g., a marriage certificate or court order).

The FAA also requires all non-U.S. citizens boarding international flights in the United States to show evidence of admission into the United States. Evidence of admission can consist of visas, I-94, parole letter, admission stamp, alien resident card, etc.

Passengers who do not have baggage to check and already have a boarding pass may proceed directly to the security checkpoint.

To enter the secured area beyond the security screening checkpoint, you must show a valid government-issued picture I.D. and an airline boarding pass. For more information on acceptable identification at TSA checkpoints, see: TSA ID Requirements for Airport Checkpoints.

Provisions will be made for parents who need to meet unaccompanied minors, for disabled persons and persons with special needs who need to be accompanied by healthcare assistants or guardians and for medical personnel who need to respond to a medial emergency beyond the check point.

All passengers should check with their airline or airport, or visit the airline or airport web site for additional information. More information can also be found on the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) Web site

Keep your luggage and carry-on bags with you at all times prior to arriving at the airport and while in the terminal. Unattended bags will likely be confiscated and possibly destroyed by airport security.

Best Essential Items For Your Next Cruise

Most of us learn the hard way…and still forget to pack that elusive item for our next trip.
After all of my travels, mostly cruises and a smattering of hotels, I’ve learned to keep these ten essential items pre-packed, ready to toss into whatever suitcase I plan to take.

A flashlight. Seems kind of obvious…for when the lights go out. But what about if there’s a fire (not raging out of control of course but escapable)? When keeping low and crawling to the nearest door, it would be nice to have a flashlight. Power failure. Looking behind furniture for that earring that fell. I never travel without one.
Cute little foam ear plugs. Yes, they work. Whether your roommate is a snorer or your neighbors are tossing about all night or even a drippy shower, these things really muffle the sounds.
Zip-lock bags. A zillion uses are possible; for packing a piece of fruit for your day trip/shore excursion, safe storage for that gorgeous new silk scarf, accumulation of bar coasters (so you can remember what beer you tried) and business cards, those pesky little amenity bottles, shells collected at that remote beach. You just never know.
Thermos bottle. Don’t go on a trip without one. But you’re going on a cruise, you say. OK…I don’t know about you, however after a few days at sea, I easily tire of having room service deliver my coffee and Danish. I don’t put out the hang-tag on the doorknob because it never fails that if I request an early coffee, I will have had trouble falling asleep and would rather sleep late. Or vice versa; I wake up early and have to wait till it arrives.

With my own thermos, here’s what I do: making sure it’s clean of course, I fill it up at the 24/hour coffee stand just before I retire. In consideration of others, I use one of the ship’s coffee cups to fill my thermos with the near-boiling hot water or coffee. Quickly, I put on the cap and head back to my room. Oh…I bring back a cookie, too. In the morning, at my leisure, I uncap my thermos and pour the still-hot coffee or water into a coffee cup. Starbuck’s Via is perfect for adding to the hot water. I keep a carton of milk in the refrigerator and have sugar packets and stirrers. This way, I can enjoy a steamy cup of coffee when I want it, usually within seconds of when my feet touch the ground. Also, bring a nice covered coffee mug, too. But remember…don’t fill any containers directly from the public spouts. It’s just not sanitary. It’s so nice to walk around the deck, not spill your coffee and have those “ahhhh” moments to savor.
Electric power strip. First, make sure that the ship allows this in your cabin. If they do, never leave it unattended and unplug it when not in use. Make sure it has an automatic reset switch. Fire is the worst hazard aboard a ship.

That said, if you have a lot of equipment that you absolutely must lug around with you, you know it’s impossible to recharge everything at the same time with one, maybe two outlets. The power strip is great because you can recharge your laptop, iPhone, camera battery and Bluetooth earpiece all at once. Start charging when you return to your room and by the time you’ve unpacked your souvenirs, relaxed for a half hour, showered and dressed for dinner, everything will be ready to go.
Conversely, if the idea of a power strip is either too cumbersome to pack or just in case it’s not allowed, bring a couple of European converters, instead. Much lighter and compact, you might be able to plug in three or four electronic pieces, especially if you are on a cruise ship from North America. European river ships only have 220 voltage outlets. And usually only two of them.
Bubble wrap. Huh? OK…so tell me how you manage to bring home those ultra breakables? Or what if you must mail some of your things home along the way? You can layer the bubble wrap in between your clothes (helps prevent wrinkles, too) and then use as needed. When I’m on a river cruise in Europe, I always end up shipping clothes and souvenirs home. And without bubble wrap, I used to worry about something breaking in transit.
If you need to know the ins and outs of shipping from Europe, let me know. I’ve done that in a half-dozen cities, both river and ocean cruises.
Suction hooks. Goofy little gizmos that are so incredibly handy. Just stick them on the bathroom walls and voila! Instant storage hooks. Depending upon the interior of your room, you can use these for caps, scarves, light jackets,wo etc. Most ships only have two or three hooks, usually on the inside of the bathroom door. Hotels never seem to have any hooks at all.
EXTRA AA / AAA batteries. This is so obvious, but so easy to overlook. Not everything is rechargeable. I also suggest bringing a spare camera battery, too.
Portable battery charger for your iPhone. There are several of these on the market…and I never travel without one. The two that I am familiar with are Mophie and Beam Box Power Pack. Both will allow you to get an addition 5-7 hours of use (depending on what your are doing – video burns up juice like crazy.) Just charge it up, snap it onto your iPhone like a protective case. When you get the dreaded “10% power remaining” message, simply flick the switch and it will recharge your phone.
Extra SD cards and at least an 8 GB flash drive. I could write a book about this idea. In many countries, it’s nearly impossible to find a brand name SD card. I once bought an unpronounceable named SD card solely out of desperation. The next day it “blew up’ in my camera and I lost four days worth of photos, including an entire ship tour.

Cruising Tips About Steps To Book And Board

Every year more and more people discover why cruises are the ideal vacation. A cruise ship is basically your giant buffet of wonderful experiences, with a wide selection of cuisines and cultures, activities in the sun and spas to pamper your every indulgence, destinations to exotic locales and a million ways to relax. You can do it all or do absolutely nothing – the choice is yours!
To book the perfect cruise for you and your family, simply follow these helpful guidelines compiled by the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA). Some of the most travel-wise people in the world, ASTA members know that booking your next vacation should be as relaxing as the vacation itself.

Chart Your Course! Pick the Cruise That’s Right for You
Your first choice is the most enjoyable, for it allows your mind to wander around the globe and back again, revisiting every destination your dreams have ever taken you to. Where in the world do you want to go and for how long?

The length of your trip largely depends on how much you can afford. Cruises offer everything from one or two-night excursions out to sea and back to journeys that take you around the world in 100 days. Three-day weekend, four-day midweek, week and two-week cruises are the most popular.

With 70 percent of the planet covered in water, the next question should not be where to go to but where to go to first. Cruise ships visit more than 1,800 ports around the world, providing you with rare glimpses into many cultures all in one eye-popping vacation.

Many first-time cruisers choose the Caribbean or Mexican Riviera, where you pleasantly float from one island paradise to the next. Soak up the sun, learn a water sport or discover a new flavor of margarita-the tropics never disappoint.

For a local alternative try Alaska, where you’ll experience calving glaciers and curious whales while following either the Inside Passage or the Gulf of Alaska route. Or, take a fall cruise to New England and Canada, where you’ll be introduced to our neighbors of the north while watching the leaves turn on shore.

Aim for Europe with cross-Atlantic trips to Paris or Rome, Mediterranean cruises to the likes of Italy, Greece and the French Riviera, or tour the Scandinavian capitals from the sea, where historic cities like Copenhagen and Helsinki reign with centuries of heritage.

Finding a Good Rate and the Right Cabin
Paying the brochure rate for a cruise is like paying full sticker price for a car. To lessen the sticker shock, book early – generally 120 days prior to the sail date – and be flexible about your travel plans, for just like the rest of the travel industry, off-season cruises are typically cheaper.

A great tip: aim for a four-day cruise in the middle of the week instead of the popular three-day weekend cruise. You might get that extra day at a great rate!

The most significant factor in determining the price of your ticket will be the size and location of your cabin. Depending on the ship, cabins range from cozy closets to spacious suites with a hot tub. And they are priced accordingly.

If you plan to spend significant time in your cabin, choose the biggest room you can afford. Standard cabins have twin beds, which can usually be converted into a queen-sized bed, while bunk beds in other rooms cannot be converted.

The most-expensive and least-expensive cabins are likely to sell out first, so book early if you have set your sights on either. Cabins are listed as inside (no windows) or outside (with windows), with outside cabins naturally higher priced. If you are booking a cabin with windows, check with your travel agent to ensure that your view is not obstructed by equipment such as a lifeboat.

Cruise Specialists – Your New Best Friend
For the most thorough advice and the best deals, find a cruise specialist. Travel agents are often certified cruise specialists, and they know which low Internet offers to avoid and which ports of call can make a great cruise unforgettable.

A good cruise specialist may offer you group rates, free upgrades, shipboard credits and other amenities or discounts. They will clarify the need for passports and visas, explain your dining choices and advise the cruise line of any special dietary requests, check periodically to see if the price of the cruise has dropped, book your air and hotel, and review your documents and reservations to make sure that everything is in order.

One if by Air, Two if by Sea – Are Air/Sea Packages Worth It?
Offered by many airlines, air/sea packages include a flight from your home to the ship’s port and back again in the price of ticket. While this option does relieve the hassle of purchasing your own ticket, be aware of both the pros and the cons.

If you purchase the air/sea package, your transfers between the airport and the ship will be included in the price. The cruise line will claim your luggage for you and carry it to the ship, and all you’ll have to do is board the bus. If your flight is delayed, the cruise line will be aware of your delay and may be able to hold the ship for a few hours. If not, they will make every effort to get you to the first port to board the ship.

If you make your own flight arrangements, you might be able to find a better deal, flying nonstop with an airline you prefer while earning frequent flyer miles. You will have to find your own transportation to the cruise terminal from the airport and claim your luggage and carry it with you, so plan to arrive a day early and purchase optional travel insurance that covers trip delays, missed cruise connections and lost or delayed baggage.

Hurricanes – Will They Blow Your Vacation Off Course?
Hurricane season lasts from June through November throughout the Caribbean. Prices tend to drop during this time, attracting new and seasoned cruisers with great deals, especially in late August to mid December. And while the chances are very slim that a hurricane will affect your plans, the best advice is to step on board with the right attitude.

Cruise ships are exceptionally safe, they possess sophisticated weather-tracking systems to steer clear of danger and stay in calm waters. If you plan a cruise during hurricane season, keep track of the weather in the area you are planning to sail. If it begins to turn nasty, keep in touch with your travel agent for updates and advice.

If a strong weather pattern does wander into your vicinity, your ship will simply change course. If your itinerary is set for the eastern Caribbean, then your captain will switch over to the western Caribbean port schedule, remain a few days longer at sea enjoying the calm waters or simply change the order in which the ports are visited. You will not get a refund for missed ports, but you may find a new adventure waiting for you wherever you dock.

Travel Insurance – Better Safe Than Sorry
Travel insurance is a small price to pay for peace of mind. A policy is not only for trip cancellations but also can cover missed connections, lost or delayed baggage, emergency medical and dental expenses and emergency legal assistance.

Some cruise lines offer cancellation waiver insurance, which is different than trip cancellation or interruption insurance. Waivers apply to cancellations made several days prior to the scheduled start of the trip. Trip cancellation and interruption insurance will cover you from the time that you purchase your cruise until you return from the trip.

A travel agent provides you with information to help you select the right travel insurance provider to meet your needs.

Passports and Documents
Your ticket packet information will give you specific instructions regarding the necessary forms of identification or other travel documents for your voyage. Most cruise lines require at least a state-issued picture I.D., even if your cruise will stay in U.S. territorial waters.

If your cruise itinerary involves ports in foreign lands, bring a passport or a birth certificate with a raised seal and a government issued I.D. such as a driver’s license.

What’s Free and What Costs Money?
The price of your ticket will include your cabin, on-board entertainment and food. Other items to consider when budgeting your trip include:

Taxes, surcharges, and fees, including airport fees, handling fees, departure taxes and port charges. You should verify which fees and port taxes are included in your cruise rate.
Alcoholic beverages, bottled water and occasionally soft drinks. Some ships offer “soda packages” that feature unlimited sodas during the cruise for about $15-$20.
Cost of reaching the ship, airline tickets not booked as part of the package, shuttle service or in-port parking fees, if not included.
Cost of staying at port before or after the cruise, such as hotel, transportation and meals.
Shopping purchases made both on and off the ship.
On board extras, such as gambling, spas, massages and ship-to-shore calls.
Most cruise lines use a billing system for your convenience. They will take an imprint of your credit card and set up a tab for the cruise, presenting you with the total bill at the end. Keep all the little receipts you sign to verify the tab’s total.

No Belly-flops Into the Jacuzzi – Proper Cruising Etiquette
Even though your cruise ship may be bigger than your hometown, it’s still one place where many people must coexist harmoniously. Be courteous and respectful of others by following these guidelines.

Dress Properly -Even if you’re allergic to dress codes, do not show up to a formal dinner in jeans and flip-flops. The ship will have a code for each day, so learn it.

Keep Your Children Close – Kids, we all love them, except when they’re someone else’s. If you travel with your little ones please keep them under control, especially around pools and while passing through more adult-centered areas such as the casino.

Learn the Ship’s Language – Your vessel is a ship and never a boat, and the ship is always a she or her. Left is port, right is starboard. Aft means rear or stern, while the bow is the front of the ship. The bridge is where the Captain and his crew control the ship, and only some ships have open bridge policies.

Save One Seat, Not All – While it’s okay to save a seat for your companion, it’s poor form to save a row of seats for your entire table. The same goes for deck chairs.

Follow Jogging Rules – Most ships post hours when running is allowed because passenger cabins are often located under the jogging deck and some people prefer to sleep at 6 a.m. than listen to your footfalls.

Land, Ho! Discovering New Worlds During Shore Excursions
Whenever your ship stops at an exciting port of call, you have three options: stay on board, explore by yourself or take a ship excursion. But once you glimpse out your porthole and see the tropical island, feel the vibrations of the bustling cities and sense the intoxication of the exotic countries, staying on board will quickly dissolve as an option.

Ship-sponsored shore excursions are valuable if you want to visit the attractions far from the pier, have easy access to historic monuments, forts, and castles and simply learn about the country. They also provide the best ways to experience a metropolitan city port like Barcelona or Rome, and the safest way to visit a third-world country where language and customs may prove too daunting a barrier.

However, if all you want to do is walk around a city or town, shop or go to a beach, then grab a map, secure your money and hike it on your own. Wandering a port on your own can be a great way to get away from the crowd and immerse yourself in a new culture, but it can also be challenging.

For miles around, everyone just noticed the big white ship full of wealthy tourists coming in, so your chances of blending are nil.

Don’t draw attention to yourself with flashy jewelry and large amounts of cash. Don’t walk down narrow alleys or poorly lit streets, and avoid being surrounded by large crowds if possible. Carry a fake wallet and put your money in your front pocket, or place a rubber band around your wallet to make it more difficult to remove from your pocket without you feeling it.

Safety First
Overall, cruising is a very safe way to travel, as ships must follow an extraordinary number of rules and regulations and are subject to rigorous quarterly inspection. Ships operate under international rules known as Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS), requiring them to utilize smoke detectors, sprinklers and low-level emergency lighting for escape routes.

Safety drills are practiced within the first 24 hours of sailing, where you’ll learn how to put on your life jacket and locate your assigned lifeboat.

Seasickness is less common nowadays as the ship’s immense size and state-of-the-art motion stabilizers control gentle rocking. Once on board, spend some time on deck and focus on a fixed point of the horizon to help you adjust and get your sea legs quickly.

Be sure to pack a your complete health information with you on your trip, with your medical history, your insurance information, contact person in case of emergency, blood type and list of allergies, medications and immunizations.

Tipping – Know Which Price Is Right
Tipping is a traditional part of cruising and an important part of the income of those who help make your cruise enjoyable. Each cruise line will provide its own guide to tipping, with some even providing envelopes for you to pass them out in. Here are some general guidelines:

Airport skycaps generally – $1.00 for each bag.
Porters at the loading area of the ship – $1.00 for each bag.
Cabin Stewards and Waiters – $3.00/$3.50 each, per passenger per day.
Servers or Busboys – $1.50/$2.50 per passenger, per day.
Maitre d’- $2.00 to $10.00 per passenger for the entire cruise depending on how helpful they have been.
Many bar and lounge tips are included on your bill at a standard 15 percent which you can generally adjust for poor or excellent service. Check your individual bills to see if a tip has already been included.
Your Final Port of Call—Home
A cruise ship is a luxury hotel with a different view every day. There really are no limits to where you can cruise nowadays, as every ocean and river can be explored in style and luxury. And when compared with the cost of a land-based holiday, cruising offers excellent value with everything you need wrapped into one package.

Know More About Green Travel On Vacation

With a business volume surpassing those of oil exports, food products and automobiles, the travel industry sends more than one billion tourists around the world every year. The soaring growth of tourism also has brought the advancement of ecotourism, showing that consumers are becoming more concerned with the negative impact their travel choices have on the environment.

There are numerous destinations we’ve come to appreciate and love for their extraordinary natural and historical wonders, including the unspoiled, serene beaches of the Galapagos, Mayan ruins found on the Yucatan Peninsula and chronicles of Rome’s legendary Empire. By continuing to preserve such fragile places, we can offer future travelers the authentic experiences of the world’s most priceless treasures.

green travelThere are many ways you can become a green traveler – far beyond hiking into the depths of the rain forest or camping in the Himalayas. In fact, it’s gotten so much easier to travel on a clean conscience. You don’t need to give up the comforts and conveniences you relish during any other vacation. Think of a paradise with sandy white beaches and calm, turquoise waters. Visualize a vacation of self-indulgence in massages, savory culinary treats and boutique shopping.

Whether you desire a peaceful getaway in the countryside, seek an exotic paradise by ship or long for the big, bustling city, a green vacation can easily become your dream vacation. With so many options for every traveler, it’s not hard to find something that’s affordable and has everything you value in a vacation – plus a few added benefits that make the trip worth taking.

Traveling Green Can Enrich Your Enjoyment
There’s no need to trade off the exciting experiences that make a vacation in order to protect the destinations you value. You may find that you’ll be able to enjoy more of the beautiful sceneries, friendly faces and unique activities as a result.

Across all seven continents, from the dazzling city nightlife to secluded villages tucked away in quaint valleys and mountains, there are hundreds of ways you can spend your green vacation. See how changing the way you encounter new places can take your vacation memories beyond the ordinary.

Travel by train instead of plane. Not only will you gain more scenic views along the way, but you’ll also escape the headaches of long security lines and lost luggage. Destinations throughout Europe and Asia, for example, offer superior rail travel that allows you to save money and conveniently explore multiple countries and cities in one trip.

Opt for bus, rail and/or ferry transportation. Save money and gain convenience in getting from place to place. In your travels, you’ll find several city buses built for tourists, which make frequent stops at many popular shopping and dining districts, museums and theaters.

In the recent years, more transportation systems are actively pursuing alternative resources in an effort to preserve the earth. Numerous bus systems fueled by natural gas, hydrogen or biodiesel are rapidly becoming a part of everyday life. Europe recently revealed plans for the very first hybrid high-speed train, which was originally engineered in Japan and claimed to cut emission levels by 50 percent.

Discover new places by foot. Several of the world’s most enchanting sights are set off from main roads, hidden in remote valleys, at the base of a glorious waterfall or in other places only accessible by foot. Take advantage of many unforgettable ways you can capture amazing panoramic views and up-close experiences through hiking, biking or canoeing to unique attractions.

eco-friendly carConsider renting an eco-friendly car. If you need a vehicle for taking day excursions far from your hotel, think about using a car-sharing program like Flexcar or Zipcar, which offers eco-friendly cars with low fees and convenient pick-up and drop-off options. You can also reduce car emissions by renting a hybrid car or the smallest car that can comfortably accommodate you.

It Pays to Be an Educated Consumer
It goes without saying that the best kind of traveler is a prepared one. Just in the past decade, there have been many more travel options made available for responsible tourists, offering bigger ways for individuals to make an impact for the good for the environment.

Use environmentally responsible services. Hundreds of hotels have a linen reuse program, recycling bins for guest use, energy-efficient lighting, low-flow toilets and showers and alternative energy sources. Restaurants, tour operators, car rentals and other travel service providers are also finding new ways to keep up with travelers going green.

In addition to the U.S. Green Building Council, organizations like AAA, GreenSeal and Sustainable Travel International have launched green certification programs. States have followed suit in creating rating systems or minimum standards designed to help move businesses towards greener practices. Certified businesses frequently display their green stickers (the Green Building Council’s LEED certification is the most widely recognized), making it easy for responsible tourists to spot them.

Get the facts on reducing carbone missions.
Many major airlines are taking action to reduce their impact on the environment. You may notice that some have switched over to electronic ticketing, cutting down on paper consumption and waste. Now leisure and business travelers are investing in “carbon offsetting”programs. This option allows you to calculate how much CO2 your vacation will produce and purchase credits from emission reduction projects (such as solar and wind). Plan to research the airline or nonprofit organization and its alternate energy projects before you invest any money.

To learn more about purchasing carbon offsets, visit the followinglinks:
Eco-ConsciousTravel: How to Keep Flying and Stay Green (New York Times)
Offsetand Away: This Holiday Season, Fly and Breathe Free (San FranciscoGate)

Looking for a Green Travel Agent? With numerous opportunities for responsible travel, all it takes is one step: use an ASTA travel agent. In its continued commitment to responsible tourism, ASTA has implemented a Green Program that certifies worldwide travel agents and suppliers offering green services. In addition to efficiently managing all of your travel arrangements, ASTA agents are always up to date on the latest green trends and have an expansive network of environmentally responsible suppliers.

They can help you travel green without downsizing the quality of your vacation experience. They also provide you with vital information you need on the trip, such as your hotel’s environmental program, attractions you can discover by foot and convenient transportation choices. An ASTA travel agent will ensure that you won’t have to take risks in finding the green vacation that satisfies both your personal interests and desire to contribute to the welfare of the natural world. Be sure to look out for the ASTA Green Member logo, letting you know that the company is a qualified green business you can trust for your individual travel needs.