In a previous article, we discussed the creation of a “vacation dream calendar”. If you missed part one of this series, you can read it here.
I thought now would a good time to discuss MAJOR holiday travel planning. If this applies to you, then you’re in luck! If not, go ahead and pass it along to that friend who every October bemoans the “airline tickets for Christmas are so expensive”.
Scheduling for holidays such as Thanksgiving, Christmas or New Years can be tricky, because it oftentimes involves extended family members who aren’t as prepared as you are! Be that as it may, do your best to book these travel plans as early as possible to potentially save yourself a lot of money and headache at a very stressful time of year.
If you know your travel dates and they include an airline ticket purchase, then begin looking at those rates now. If you’re not positive about travel dates, then have a look at the general time of year you’ll be traveling. Set up price alerts on platforms such as Kayak.com so you get a notification when those prices fall throughout the year. In addition, look at alternate airports to your holiday destination.
Once your air is booked, then check hotel options and book as soon as your wallet permits. The same is true for your car rental.
If you are driving to your holiday get together, then now is the time to review the specific dates for 2020 (or the year you are traveling). Try NOT to drive when everybody else is on the road - for one or BOTH of your travel days. By doing so, it will save you valuable time and help preserve your sanity.
Once your holiday season travel plans are confirmed, it will be a HUGE weight off your mind for the year. This may also affect your decision-making for the other parts of the year.
If you desire to take a major trip this year (a vacation longer than three nights), then I would begin researching pricing and timing for that trip. Once again, the sooner you book the greater the likelihood you’ll get a better deal. If you have children, consider Spring Break and the summer break travel times.
In an upcoming article, I’ll discuss Spring Break and Summer Travel. If you have any additional thoughts or questions, then please leave them in the comments below.
AirlineRatings.com just released its top 20 safest airlines in the world for 2020. I’ve decided to highlight the top ten because, let's face it...your time is valuable.
Incidentally, according to their site, Airlineratings.com delivers expert safety ratings for more than 435 airlines around the world. 230 of the airlines featured on their site carry 99 percent of the world’s passengers. And in case you were wondering, according to a quick google search, there are about 5,000–5,500 airlines in the world, as this is the number ICAO/IATA airline codes in current circulation. In terms of commercial airlines, there are between 770 and 800 commercial airlines globally operating scheduled flights (that are officially recognized). You can read more about how their scoring and rating criteria which generated this list with the link below.
But a quick note if you are a little anxious about flying. Over at MIT, Dr. Arnold Barnett, has been doing some extensive research on airline safety. He found that over the fifteen years (between 1975 and 1994) the death risk per flight was one in seven million. This statistic is the probability that someone who randomly selected one of the airline's flights over the 19-year study period would be killed en route. That means, that any time you board a flight on a major carrier in the United States, your chance of being in a fatal accident is one in seven million. It doesn't matter whether you fly once every three years or every day of the year. Based on this incredible safety record, if you did fly every day of your life, it would take you about nineteen thousand years before you would succumb to a fatal accident. Nineteen thousand years! You can read more about safe flying here with this fascinating article from anxieties.com. But I digress.
So here the top ten safest airlines for 2020:
10. Virgin Australia
9. Cathay Pacific Airways
8. Alaska Airlines
6. Singapore Airlines
5. Qatar Airways
3. EVA Air
2. Air New Zealand
It’s worth noting that Hawaiian Airlines (one of two that made the top 20) came in at number 11. No other US carriers made the top 20. That’s not to say those airlines aren’t safe. I fly domestically a lot on US carriers. I fly Delta, American and United the most (in that order) and low-cost airlines Allegiant and JetBlue. If you’d like more information on each airline, then please feel free to click on the links to the Travel University section of my site. Knowledge is power, people!
What airline do you (or do you not) fly and why? Please leave your thoughts in the comments below. And please share this article. Every click helps.
Benjamin Franklin once said, “By failing to plan, you’re planning to fail”; and I couldn’t agree more. It’s January, we’ve recovered from the holidays and it’s time to take a look at the calendar to decide what vacations you’re going to take this year. I am all for spontaneous getaways, but for most of us, the calendar is a factor in our trip planning. So I say, create a “Dream Vacation Calendar” for the year. Why do this? Because the sooner you book, the greater the likelihood you’ll get a better deal on price. For instance, “wave season” in the cruise industry starts January 1 and runs through the end of March. This is the period of time when A LOT of cabins get booked for the year. I suggest using a printed calendar so its a visual you can look at day-to-day for motivation! So let’s get planning!
1. First, add the list of the federal holidays this year for 2020.
2. Next, add your blackout dates.
These are the days by which you CANNOT travel due to your personal circumstances. Big work functions, school commitments like parent/teacher conferences, etc.
3. Next, add any special event confirmed dates or “holds”.
A “hold” is not a confirmed event, but your hedging your bets contingent on other factors. With all this data, you are better equipped and light years ahead of most people, to take your desire to travel and make it a reality by adding it to your calendar as a “hold”.
Now, I understand everybody’s individual situation is different, but my suggestions (forthcoming) are just that. Perhaps you can shoot for one “big vacation” this year and one or two smaller “extended weekends” strategically placed for when you believe they will be most beneficial to you. It’s also worth deciding whether or not you’re are bringing the kids.
Are you planning to take a “big vacation” in 2020? If so, then can you afford it? If you can’t, then when/how will you save for it and how is that relative to the scheduling. By the way, I characterize a “big vacation” as any trip longer than three overnights usually traveled to by airplane. Any vacation three nights or less, I categorize as an “extended weekend” even if it’s taken in the middle of the week. While we’re on the subject of duration, remember to respect the travel day. A three-night “extended weekend” includes two travel days. That’s why I reserve those trips for ones I can travel to with ease by car or train.
It’s also worth remembering peak season, value, and shoulder seasons. Every place in the world typically has weeks or months which fall into one of those three basic categories. When you begin to hone in on a place or experience, find out when their peak season is by reaching out to your travel agent or by calling the place directly.
In the coming weeks, I’ll share parts 2-4 on creating your dream vacation calendar. If you have any additional thoughts or questions, then please leave them in the comments below.
2019 was a banner year for us here at Erik the Travel Guy and Beyond Your Backyard and 2020 is going to be even better. I can share a few details about the next 12 months, but before I do, I’d like to share a quick thought about 2019.
First and foremost, our success from the last year would not have been possible without the talent and dedication of a really dedicated team. Harry, Kevin, Sal, Erin, Randy, Neil, Rob, Jacob, Brad, Sarah, Drew, Addison, Delaney, Jeff and Philippe, Jeff are a few of the folks who share their love of travel and the art of creating meaningful and honest content with you. The amazing team at Blue Ridge PBS (Will and Sherry among others), NETA, The Create channel, TVI and Amazon Prime have done their part to help make our travel dreams into reality and I am eternally grateful for their participation.
Last year, we released a new season of Beyond Your Backyard, produced hundreds of short form videos and travel tips; a monumental achievement considering we are working with pretty insignificant funding. We picked up two Emmys for our first season of episodes and made our first appearance on the nationally syndicated television series Dr. Oz.
In 2020, we will officially launch our monthly newsletter. You can become an “Erik Insider” by subscribing here. We will launch a new season of beyond Your backyard on public broadcasting stations (PBS), The Create channel and our other online distribution platforms. We have also begun production on a second series for distribution (more on that later) and we’ll release a new podcast this year.
Our broadcast underwriters and our online sponsors have been and will continue to be a vital piece of our success. And that’s where you can help. Please watch our videos on EriktheTravelGuy.com and be sure to “like” them, share them and subscribe to our YouTube Channel. Please click on the banner ads of our sponsors, every click helps directly support our activities. And of course, book those vacations with our partners (Priceline.com, Hotels.com and others) to also support our efforts.
2020 will be what you make it. We are committed to helping demonstrate that their is so much more that brings us together than divides us. We’ll share with you the art of sharing through experiences and on behalf of all of us, we thank you for your support!
The only wrong way to book a hotel room is to be uninformed.
When it comes to lodging options on your vacation, you have choices galore. Booking the best cheap hotel room? That depends on your definition of cheap. I am a big fan of using the word “value” for your vacation dollar spend. In other words, are you GETTING what you’re paying for? Which brings me to a few ideas/questions to consider before you book any hotel room for your next vacation.
My only assumption is you (the person/people) can’t afford to get it wrong. In my opinion, lodging should enhance or be commensurate with the rest of your other vacation elements. The same can be said for your car rental, airline trip and itinerary, etc.
When you begin your hotel search, I am assuming you already know what state, city or region you’re visiting. The first question is to consider, Vacation rental, Hotel, Motel, Campground, Air B&B or home swap. VRBO or HomeAway house thousands of vacation renal options throughout the world. Air B&B.com showcases their options. But if you’re leaning towards a hotel or motel, then check the travel aggregators such as Kayak.com or OTA’s such as Hotels.com, Priceline.com or Expedia.com.
Once you have your list of potential hotel/motel options, then consider the following:
Of course, price is a major factor for most of us. Price is pretty good barometer for the type of hotel/motel you’ll be staying in.
Is the hotel/motel close to the activities you’re interested in? Is the neighborhood safe? Is the city centre with a reasonable walking distance? Is it on the beach or across the street (or in some cases across a busy highway)? Whats the view like?
Amenities, Services & Facilities
How much time will you be sending on the property should be relative to the amenities and services you’ll require. Is the property under construction? Is it new? Has it been recently renovated? All good questions to consider?
As you continue to refine your target list, it’s time to get an opinion or two. Fist, check with your friends and family network. This is something you may have already done, if not, then now's the time. Second, check a few hotel review sites such as TripAdvisor. And when you do, look for trends in the reviews and eliminate the “glowing” reviews and a-typical negative ones. Look for the median from reviewers who have actually stayed there.
Once you refine you list even further, check with a qualified, independent travel agent, call the official tourism bureau, check with the chamber of commerce and/or the better business bureau.
When I get particularly excited about my options, I call the property directly and ask a few questions. I always inquire about the cancellation options and refund policy.
So there you go! As always, if you have tips or suggestions, please leave them in the comments below.
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2020 is upon us and once again, I’m writing with a nod to caution in my relentless pursuit to inspire you to travel.
Did you read the story about the screen actress and her family in Lake Tahoe and their Air B&B (or AirBnB)? She and her extended family were literally sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner at their Air B&B house rental when members of her family (including children) started to feel ill. They assumed it was standard travel malaise when the symptoms worsened. It turns out it was Carbon Monoxide. That’s right...their rental was quickly filling with deadly fumes with no warning from Carbon Monoxide detectors installed in the home. It was later learned that all of these detectors were not functioning. Because of the fast-acting group and first responders, nobody was seriously injured. But certainly a close call.
This is yet another reason why I am not a huge fan of any lodging accommodation other than reliable, hotel/motel brands. Of course, this is an isolated incident and it could have happened anywhere in any lodging option. And for experienced Air B&Ber’s, you most likely already have your “pre-check-in” list of items to attend to. But for me, I honestly do not want to have to wonder whether or not the homeowner checked the smoke detectors.
While I completely understand Air B&B’s (and others) value proposition to consumers, this is yet another reason why I do not feel confident supporting the idea of staying or sharing someone else’s home on your vacation. Again, I’m not a gloom and doom guy but please consider the following before booking outside of a trusted accommodation option:
Read Anna’s full story here
Read Air B&B’s latest safety article here
Happy (and safe) Travels in 2020!
It's time to take a look at your driver's license and see if it is compliant for travel within the United States.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced on December 20, 2013 a phased enforcement plan for the REAL ID Act (the Act), as passed by Congress back in 2005. This means, if you are a US citizen over the age of 18 and are flying domestically (within the US) then you will need to present a compliant, valid ID. If that is your driver's license, then it must comply. You'll know because it, generally speaking, will have a star at the top of the license.
You can read the official release from the Department of Homeland Security here.
The deadline to comply is October 1, 2020 so check with your state's DMV to acquire a new ID. You will not be able to pass through security checkpoints at airports without this enhanced driver's license or other acceptable forms of ID.
The TSA has a little helpful "Real ID" information which can be found here.
You can use a valid US passport for domestic travel but why risk losing it for quick trip to Chicago? I say, do a little home-state sleuthing and get yourself down to the DMV.
So, you have the travel bug and your significant other doesn’t? Or, maybe it’s you that simply just doesn’t see the value? In either case, I can help. Travel is aspirational, it’s a “want” and not a “need” in the eyes of most. It’s often hard to clearly define the benefits of travel because, well, travel is personal. And what I mean is, travel means different things to different people, therefore the pros and cons are all over the map, so to speak. Nevertheless, I will do my best to shed a little light on the subject.
Let’s start with the facts. According to Forbes, the travel industry worldwide is a $7.6 trillion industry. It directly and indirectly employs millions of people. It’s a true economic force not to be reckoned with. Think about, the airlines, travel agents, hotels, car rental agencies, cruise lines, local shops, restaurants, bars, theme parks, and national parks- they are just a cross section of industries whom all rely on a financial transaction that has something to do with travel. Let’s not forget about the auto industry, apparel, luggage, and tech companies- if you look around, you’ll start to see, travel isn’t a BIG it’s a HUGE business. So, by participating, you are fueling economies, paying for goods and services, or maybe helping to make someone else’s life just a little bit easier. Think of the housekeeper you tipped $5 for taking care of your room for two nights, or the server who went out of their way to serve you an excellent meal- so you throw them $20 as opposed to the standard 20 percent.
How about time off? According to the U.S. Travel Association’s Project: Time Off initiative, the average American leaves eight paid vacation days on the tabe each year. Unacceptable. Really? It’s a benefit of your employment. Because employers figured out long ago they want happy, motivated workers. They are literally paying you to be away from the office and, for the most part, were opting to stay at our desks working ourselves to death.
Speaking of health, more and more research emerges consistently about the health benefits of travel. Sure it might be a little counterintuitive because travel can be stressful, but the the big picture is, travel is usually good for the mind, body and dare I say soul. Have a look at the latest research conducted by Timo Strandberg of University of Helsinki, and learn all about lowering your blood pressure while away. More benefits include getting a little more Vitamin D from the sun, getting a little more exercise by exploring or swimming in the ocean, or even having better sex! It’s not my opinion, it’s science, folks.
Not getting along with your mate as well as you’d like to? Well, travel is an excellent way to share an experience with the one you love. Laughing a lot, trying new thing, and falling asleep in each other's arms again can all be part of the travel fun!
The New Year celebrations have long since ended and perhaps you made a resolution to learn something new. Or learn a new language or become more culturally well-rounded? Hello? TRAVEL!
Okay, now comes the uncomfortable part. How do you pay for this life-changing vacation? That’s up to you. But the word TRAVEL begs a little personal definition. I used to define “vacation” as a far off place, that's expensive, and that requires a tremendous amount of planning and financial resources. Those trips do exist. But after traveling for a living for more than a decade, I now completely understand the true meaning of the word. Travel is defined by YOU! An extended weekend away without the kids? Travel. A short cruise to the Caribbean? Travel. Getting in the car and rediscovering your neighboring town? Travel. Camping by the river or in your own backyard? Travel. Forget about keeping up with others. Don’t just do what everybody else does, do what YOU want to do. Go where you want to go and be with the people you want to be with. Nobody really cares and if you have people in your life that you feel are judging you based on your travel plans….get rid of them! You see, you DEFINE what travel travel means to you and yours. Travel doesn't have to be expensive. How about missionary work? Voluntouring? The possibilities are seemingly endless because travel’s such a huge business.
Hopefully, I’ve peeled back the onion layers here to help you get a clearer picture of the big world out there just waiting for you to explore. Now, all you have to do is... do it. Good luck and keep me posted on your plans- before, during, or after you return from your next great adventure.
Two of the giants in the air American Airlines and Delta Airlines have plenty to offer travelers, but have you stopped to think and compare them? There are more factors to consider than flight prices and the convenience of direct flights (nonstops) offered. Let’s put the numbers, flight amenities, alliances, sheer number of destinations and actual number of planes side by side for a closer analysis of two of the most dominant airlines.
American Airlines is the world’s largest airline with headquarters in Fort Worth, Texas and boasts flights to 350 destinations. This doesn’t include their regional airline American Eagle and its seven individual airlines, with flights to 242 destinations. Compare that to Delta Airlines, headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia and flights to 241 destinations, 328 if you include their regional carrier Delta Connection.
Both airlines have loyalty programs that offer frequent passengers a number of perks. Not only can American Airlines’ AAdvantage members earn miles, they can also take advantage of upgrades, no blackout dates, the ability to buy gifts or share miles, and have access to the Oneworld Alliance (American has alliances with 23 airlines). On the contrary, over at Delta, their SkyMiles loyalty program offers miles that never expire, rewards at every level, no cap on miles earned, and the ability to earn miles with their 20-plus partner airlines.
American leads when it comes to the number of aircrafts with 965 while Delta has 764. With regards to baggage fees, both offer the first carry on for free. The second bag will cost you $30 domestically and $60 internationally with American, while Delta charges $30 for the second bag under 50 pounds.
Here’s the lowdown on onboard experiences, meaning entertainment, food, and classes of service:
American has seven classes of service and they include...
Delta has seven classes of service and they include...
That’s a rundown of comparisons between the two giants to help you make an informed decision according to your travel plans and needs. Next time you book a flight, know what’s available then take off on your next adventure. Bon Voyage!
P.S. Explore how to pick the best airline mile programs with yours truly!
At a recent speaking engagement, I was asked "do you really spend 30 weeks traveling per year?" My answer was "yes." As you may know I love to travel, both to host "Beyond Your Backyard," make short form travel videos and for personal vacations. The weeks add up per year and I love it. I stay in a variety of accommodations but, primarily I stay in large chain hotels or resorts. I believe Airbnb has made staying in someone else's home "cool" and convenient for both the visitor and the owner. I also believe it is an excellent option for some travelers, especially seasoned globetrotters. But as you know, this is not a unique concept. Sometimes staying in a vacation rental is just more economical especially when vacationing with larger groups of people in your party.
But for the most part, I prefer staying in large properties for a myriad of key reasons. I do stay at other types of properties such as cute, little cozy inns, vacation rentals, and bed-and-breakfasts. But, a larger property (preferably part of a chain) is my preference. Here are a few other reasons why:
I like earning points with hotel loyalty programs or earning extra miles (or points) when booking with a hotel or airline credit card. The three programs I use the most are Marriott, Hilton and IHG (InterContinental Hotels Group). While I do use online travel companies (Expedia, Priceline, or Hotels.com) where I can read hotel reviews, I actually prefer to book directly with the property or chain. Sometimes by booking directly with larger properties, I can get a better deal booking unsold inventory. This is a major hotel tip: Hotels like to be full and fill every vacant room. A larger property is likely to sell that inventory at a discounted rate, rather than let the rooms go empty.
With larger properties, I have options when booking a room type that best suites my specific needs. King bed, two queens, a one bedroom suite, balcony, square footage bathtub, a gorgeous view, location relative to the elevators, stairs, and/or parking are also considerations.
Websites like Airbnb and HomeAway have really made it easy to communicate with the property owner or manager, but not all owners are as responsive as I might like. Keep in mind that each booking is a little different based on factors like key location, security codes, front gate codes, parking passes, parking locations, and local laws.
Transportation and Favorable Location
Larger properties are easy to get to (and return to) with different transportation options. They may have an airport shuttle for instance. Taxi drivers and Uber drivers don't always have to rely on GPS because they are aware of a larger property's location. And in some cases a larger property is located in a locations city-center.
I also prefer staying in commercial neighborhoods rather than a residential neighborhood. More restaurants, convenience stores and other businesses are more-likely to be closer when a hotel is situated in a commercial neighborhood (think downtown or a busy suburb).
Service and Amenities
Honestly, I'm pretty low maintenance when I'm traveling, but I like knowing (and sometimes) utilize the services and amenities of a lager property like a fitness center, swimming pool, sun deck, business center, lounge, bar, meeting rooms etc. Room service is sometimes helpful when I want a quick bite or breakfast in my room before I start my day. Valet parking is also sometimes a welcome addition to my hotel bill.
The check-in process is seamless with the use of a larger property's app. In some cases I can open my guest room door with my phone. I also can communicate (via the app) with my property in advance of my arrival with last-minute changes and/or requests. This way, the property is ready for my arrival, therefore making the process as smooth as possible.
And when something's just not right, larger properties are sometimes able to make a change quickly without hassle.
The Room Itself
One of the biggest reasons I stay in larger properties is the ability to control the temperature in my hotel room. A larger property is more-likely to have an HVAC system in good working order.
Cleanliness standards are also a big consideration for me. Large properties have cleaning protocols in place with oversight standards. They aren't always perfect, but at least they are in place.
I also think a little less about whether or some creepy homeowner's son has placed a hidden camera in the smoke detector in the bedroom. of course, this is an extreme circumstance, but it does happen.
Security of the grounds and physical structure(s) of major properties provides a little more peace of mind as well.
Again, these are just a few of the considerations I think about when I travel. I can't stress enough that i stay in all types of accommodation options, but hopefully this gives a little insight as to why I tend to gravitate towards large properties in just about every location I visit.
If you have hotel tips or thoughts to help other vacation thrill seekers, then please feel free to comment below.
Erik the Travel Guy is a respected travel industry expert and host of the Emmy-nominated, nationally syndicated PBS travel television series “Beyond Your Backyard.” He spends, on average, 25 weeks traveling around the world, hosting his show(s), making short-form travel videos and speaking at events and conferences. He lives in New York City and most enjoys spending time with his two daughters.
P.S. For more accommodation tips and stories explore:
Air B&Bs - A Cautionary Tale
Travelocity - A Quick Read
Discover the Basics of OTAs (Online Travel Landscapes)
I am on a mission to get you traveling more often. As the host of the Emmy award- winning, nationally syndicated television television for PBS and the Create channel, "Beyond Your Backyard," I travel (on average) 25 weeks per year. I am very grateful for the opportunity to meet cool people, experience new places, eat delicious food and work with the best production crew in the world. Hopefully, through this blog, you will join me on my travels and be reminded just how exciting it is to be alive!