Travel tips

Tips for sailing through airports. Any day or busy days.

It is a stay at home holiday for some people today. But a travel day for millions. At that means some people will end up stuck at the airport.

It can happen anytime, of course. But as the busy summer travel season kicks into gear, I’ve been asked to work up some airport travel tips for the Weather Chanel audience.

Here are my notes for my appearance, currently scheduled for early Tuesday. Please feel free to add your notes too

Practice. Seems silly, but often in the rush to get to the airport we forget that we’ll have to partially unpack at the security checkpoint.

Make sure you’re wearing socks without holes, shoes that are easy to take off and put back on. And have your potions and lotions and electronic gear easiy accessible in your carry-on bag. 

Leave your guns at home.

TSA finds about 100 guns – most loaded – at checkpoints each week. I’ve given up wondering why people need so many guns. But if you carry a gun around town, check to see that you’ve taken it out of your purse or briefcase before you head to the airport.

Don’t miss the fun.

Look at the “passenger amenities” or “services” section of the airport website. (And subscribe to StuckatTheAirport.com).

Many airports have art or history exhibits, a unique shop or restuarant, even a special observation deck you may miss if you just get to the airport and stick by your gate.

Bring a wide mouth refillable water bottle. You don’t have to buy an overpriced bottle of water. More and more airports have bottle refill stations. Spend your money on something else.

Charge your phones and gadgets before you leave home.

Yes – there are more outlets in more places in airports. But someone else always seems to be using them when you’ need them.

And often they don’t even work. (Expert tip: check to see if that bank of chairs with outlets is plugged in before you use a chair outlet.)

To be a hero bring along a power cord with extra plugs so others can share.

Check to see if there are mobile apps – such as GRAB – you can use to order food ahead that you can just pick put at airport restaurant instead of waiting in line. 

An increasing number of airports have At Your Gate and Airport Sherpa – which allow you to order food (and even neck pillows) and have the order delivered to you anywhere in the airport. 

Bring snacks. You never know when you’re going to be delayed at the airport. Having something in your bag will keep you from getting cranky and from overspending at the airport and on the airplane, where free snacks can be limited or non-existent.  

Shortcut the customs and immigration line.

If you’re traveling out of the country and don’t have Global Entry (a paid program) download the free Mobile Passport app for when you’re coming back through customs.

Either program allows you to shortcut your way through that often very long customs line. Look for the signs or ask the folks stationed along the lines for where to go as the Mobile Passport sign is often not easy to spot.

The Mobile Passport app lets you answer the customs questions on your phone before you even leave the plane and sometimes you can breeze right by the folks who have to wait on a line to fill out those questions at the Global Entry kiosk. Hah!

Bring mad money.

I carry a $10 bill – sometimes $20 – to use as mad money in case I end up stuck somewhere mad and frustrated. I buy myself a treat; a cocktail, some candy, an overpriced coffee drink, a silly souvenir. I deserve it.  

Have a tip to add to this list? Please include it in the comments sections below.

Fancy a fast trip to London & Paris?

Tower Bridge at night

A few month’s back I was invited – actually, challenged – to visit Paris and London in just four or five days.

“Not possible,” I insisted. But I was willing to give it a try.

Here’s a slightly edited version of the story I wrote for Travel + Leisure with some ideas for how to do it.

Getting there and back

To make this fast trip work, fly into one city and out of the other, and book a seat on the high speed Eurostar train to travel between the two.

Plenty of airlines fly between the US and both London and Paris and it is possible to find deals on a one-way or open-jaw ticket using tools on airline comparison sites or a knowledgeable travel advisor.

British Airways currently offers up to 50 flights from the U.S. to London each day, depending on the season, from 26 U.S. gateways and will be adding flights from both Pittsburgh and Charleston to London in April 2019. The airline allows passengers to cut the cost of flights by using Avios points towards payment.

Air France currently offers more than 150 flights a week to Paris from 12 U.S. cities and is adding Dallas/Fort Worth as its 11th U.S. gateway on March 31, 2019. The French flag carrier offers flash fares to Paris (and other destinations) about once a month, so sign up to follow the carrier’s Facebook and Twitter accounts.

Eurostar trains make the trip from city center to city center, between London’s St. Pancras International Station to Gare du Nord in Paris, in just over 2 hours for a little as $60 each way. Eurostar ticket pricing fluctuates like airline tickets, with the lowest prices usually offered for midweek travel. Be sure to hold onto your boarding pass: it offers 2-for-1 entry to many museums and exhibitions in both cities.

Where to stay; what to do

Coal Drops Yard

In London, there are lots of hotel to choose from right near St. Pancras International railway station, which is steps from the British Library and its many free events and exhibitions. Nearby is the Wellcome Collection, a hip and free science and health-themed museum that markets itself to the “incurably curious.”

Coal Drops Yard, built in 1850 to handle the eight million tons of coal delivered to London each year, has been transformed into the city’s newest trendy destination. Located in King’s Cross, just a few minutes’ walk from St. Pancras, the shopping and dining center boasts more than 50 stores, restaurants and cafés, including the flagship store of Wolf & Badger, which gathers cool offerings from independent brands, and Casa Pastor, serving Mexican-inspired tacos, alongside mezcals, Mexican beers and imaginative margaritas.

For convenience and a hefty dose of the historic, splurge on a two-night stay at the St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel, inside St. Pancras station. The “Seat to Suite” package includes lounge access as well as a concierge escort between your room and your seat on the Eurostar train, which departs from St. Pancras station.

If you’ll be heading back to the states from Paris, choose a hotel in the city center that offers easy access to museums, café and other top attractions.

The newly renovated 97-room Renaissance Paris Vendome Hotel, near the Tuileries Garden and the Louvre in the city’s historic 1st arrondissement is a good option. Book a breakfast-included package (croissants galore!); seek out nearby “hidden gems” suggested by the hotel’s “Navigator”; and let the front desk book you a seat (preferably at the chef’s counter) in the hotel’s popular-with-locals Balagan Restaurant, which serves an ever-changing menu of Israeli-inspired Middle Eastern meals.

You can save time by combining touring and fine dining by having lunch or dinner at (or on) Ducasse sur Seine, chef Alain Ducasse’s new restaurant on an electric boat offering diners a 90-minute cruise on the Seine. Or board the Bustronome, a restaurant inside a double-decker bus that drives by many of the city’s top sights during a three-hour tour. (There’s a London version of this as well.)

You may not get your fill of croissants, baguettes, macarons or other French pastries during a quick two-day visit, but you’ll learn some professional French bakers’ tricks to take home during a gourmet walking tour or a French breach-making class organized by a local tour group such as Meeting the French.

Where to fly in 2018

My year-end story for CNBC was a look forward at places to go in 2018. Here’s a slightly different version of that story.

A great year-end tradition is sitting down with a map and a glass of wine and reviewing the places you have been in the past year and setting out a wish list for where to go when the calendar resets.

The possibilities of where to go next can seem endless – and expensive – but travel experts have loads of suggested destinations and plenty of tips to get you started on next year’s journeys.

  Winning historic US Main Streets

 Eleven cities and towns around the United States are sharing more than $1.5 million in preservation grant funds recently awarded by American Express and the National Trust for Historic Preservation to preserve unique features of downtown districts large and small.

Head to Casa Grande, AZ to see how the vintage neon sign park is coming along; how renovation is progressing on the historic Formosa Cafe (once a haunt of Hollywood celebrities and organized crime figures) along Route 66 in West Hollywood, CA; and if the recently reopened 1913 Woodward Theater in Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine neighborhood has reconstructed the building’s historic marquee. See the full list of Main Street winners here.

Party in Paris

 During 2018, Paris will host the 10th edition of the Gay Games in August and the iconic Ryder Cup gold tournament in September. March brings the opening of Lafayette Anticipations, a public gathering place in the heart of the Marais that will present a wide variety of events and works of contemporary art, design and fashion. And L’Atelier des Lumières, an immersive digital museum of fine art located in a former iron foundry, is set to open in April with work by major artists projected on the facility’s 26-foot-high walls.

(Takashi Murakami, Kelin’s Pot A, courtesy The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth)

Frolic in Fort Worth

Visitors to Fort Worth get an authentic taste of the Old West twice daily, when Texas cowhands drive a herd of Texas longhorns down Exchange Avenue in in the Stockyards National Historic District. For a taste of Texas-made whiskey and bourbon, visitors can now head to southeast Fort Worth, which is home to Firestone & Robertson Distilling Co.’s new Whiskey Ranch complex. The 112-acre “whiskey wonderland,” thought to be the largest whiskey distillery west of the Mississippi, also has a tavern and a historic 18-hole golf course on site.

In the city’s cultural district, the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth will host a Takashi Murakami retrospective titled “The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg,” from June 10 through September 16. The exhibition will feature 50 works by Murakami, who is known for his collaborations with pop icon Kanye West and fashion house Louis Vuitton.

Celebrate the Erie Canal

In New York State, a multi-year celebration marking the bicentennial of the construction of the Erie Canal is underway in cities, towns and villages throughout the Canal corridor, which includes major cities such as Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and Albany.

To celebrate the bicentennial of the completion of the Erie Canal, as well as the 150th anniversary of glassmaking coming to the city of Corning, in May 2018 the Corning Museum of Glass will launch GlassBarge, a canal barge outfitted with glassmaking equipment. The floating glass studio will make a four-month journey from Brooklyn to Buffalo, traveling north on the Hudson River and then westward on the Erie Canal from Albany to Buffalo, making stops in towns and cities along the way to offer free glassblowing demonstrations.

New York’s Finger Lakes region, which reaches from Rochester to Syracuse, has also expanded its Craft Your Adventure Beverage Trail  to include 29 different stops for craft beer, hard ciders and spirits throughout the region.

Be wowed in World Record spots

World’s Tallest Outdoor Rock Climbing Wall_ courtesy Whitney Peak Hotel

 A 19 percent year-over-year increase in domestic bookings suggests to American Express Travel that in 2018 many Americans will be seeking adventures and unique experiences close to home.

That includes visits to World Record hot spots in the U.S. such as the World’s Tallest Outdoor Rock-Climbing Wall in Reno, NV; Bowling Green, KY’s Mammoth Cave National Park, which is home to the world’s longest known cave system; the World’s Largest Living Tree – a giant sequoia named General Sherman – in California’s Sequoia National Park; and the volcanic-formed Crater Lake, OR which, at 1,943 feet, is America’s deepest lake.

Lots more options – and lots more lists

Overview of Paine River and snow-capped Paine Massif in Chile. Photo by Matt Munro.

The editors at a variety of travel sites and publications share extensive lists of hot destinations and editors’ top picks each year. National Geographic offers lots of “Why Go Now” reasons to visit far-flung cities ranging from Harar, Ethiopia and Tbilisi, Georgia to Oaxaca, Mexico and Sydney, Australia in 2018.

And for their Best in Travel 2018 suggestions, the editors at Lonely Planet have put together multiple lists, including the Top 10 Countries, with Chile, South Korea and Portugal at the top the list, and their Top 10 Cities, topped by Seville, Spain and Detroit, Michigan, which is bouncing back after years of decline.

 

Updated list: Travel Deals for Black Friday/Cyber Monday

Updated Monday at 9:11 a.m. West Coast Time

Looking for Black Friday/Cyber Monday travel deals? Of course you are!

Check here for what I’ve found so far for airlines deals and here for deals on hotels, rail, travel books and other travel-related options.

I’ll keep updating through Monday – so send me notes about anything that looks really great to you.

 

Thanksgiving travel forecast: challenging for fliers

[My story about Thanksgiving travel first appeared on Today.com]

Whether your family will make its way over rivers and through woods or race across town to catch a plane, traveling during the Thanksgiving holiday can be hectic and stressful.

That will certainly be the case this year, as a record 28.5 million holiday travelers are expected to fly on U.S. airlines, an increase of 3 percent over Thanksgiving 2016, according to airline trade group Airlines for America.

A4A pegs the increase to a strong economy and low airfares. But while airlines are adding seats to accommodate the spike in demand, crowded airports, full airplanes and bad weather can easily turn the holiday weekend into a travel turkey.

The data teams at Google Flights and Reward Expert confirm that the busiest days to fly over this holiday will be (no surprise) Friday, November 17 and Wednesday, November 22 – before the official holiday – and Sunday, November 26, when everyone tries to make their way home.

Google Flights expects airports in 10 cities – New York City, Boston, Chicago, Orlando, Fort Lauderdale, Miami, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Honolulu – to be the busiest this holiday, while Reward Expert crunched Department of Transportation data from the past five years to predict which airports might give Thanksgiving travelers the most problems this  year.

While the Honolulu, Atlanta, Charlotte Douglas, Southwest Florida and Salt Lake City airports had the best on-time performance during Thanksgiving over the past five years, if you’re traveling through Sacramento, Houston Hobby, Oakland, Newark Liberty or San Francisco airports this year, the statistics says you’re likely to encounter delays.

Here are some tips that might make traveling during this holiday a bit smoother.

  1. Breeze through airport security

Some airport websites now have tools that report wait times at their security checkpoints, but assume lines will be longer than usual. Your best defense: get a good night’s rest and head for the airport extra early.

And keep in mind: If you haven’t yet signed up for TSA PreCheck you may still have access to some form of expedited lanes screening if you are 75 or older, 12 years or younger, in the military or a disability or medical condition.

  1. Pack for success

Thanksgiving is more about family (and eating) than showing off the latest fashions, so lighten up what you bring along and try traveling with just a carry-on.

Flying with food? Turkey (cooked or frozen) is permitted in carry-on and checked bags but check with your airline if brining a live turkey. Cakes, pies, bread, fruits and vegetables are also permitted in carry-ons, but gravy (a liquid) is not. TSA’s “Can I bring..?” tool can offer advice on other items you may want to bring along.

  1. Bring an emergency kit

Flares aren’t necessary (or allowed) in your carry-on bag, but a kit with some emergency supplies in case of a delay are advised.

Bring snacks (good options include fresh or dried fruit, nuts, energy bars and sandwiches), a refillable water bottle, charged gadgets and rechargers, books and magazines, toys for your kids and a print-out of the reservation information and phone numbers for your airline, car rental company, hotel and the friends or family members who have volunteered to pick you up.

Stash some “mad money.” If a delay gets especially infuriating you can use that cash to buy you and your traveling companions a massage, a fancy cocktail, chocolate or some other frivolous, stress-busting treat.

  1. Delights in the delays

Most people would rather get to their holiday destinations as soon as possible. But those who end up spending extra time waiting for their flights will find many airports offering holiday entertainment and many airport restaurants serving special Thanksgiving-themed dishes and full meals. And in dozens of airports there will be teams of therapy dogs and their trainers on duty to help calm jittery nerves.