Time and time again, I have said I love to travel and I am on a mission to get you traveling more often, staying longer and experiencing the potentially life-changing positive power of travel. And if you heed my inspirational words or videos, then you too will find yourself (most likely) in need of an answer to the following question: Where are we going to stay? According to the American Lodging Association there are 5,000,000 hotel and motel rooms to choose from in the United States alone. You read it right; six zeros; five million. That’s a lot! You may also be wondering if a vacation rental, B&B or Air B&B could be the right option. I wouldn’t dare speculate on which option is best for YOU; that’s up to you. But I would like to offer my advice.
If I have a choice, I stay in a hotel or motel. Tried and true brands who have stood the test of time usually have been able to do so for a reason. Meaning, they have earned a right to still be offering rooms at a fair price. The reasons I prefer hotels/motels over vacation rentals or Air B&Bs are pretty basic. Reliability, safety, cleanliness and amenities.
First, I travel a lot so I like earning points with brands I stay at most frequently. This may not apply to you, so let’s leave that off the table for now. By staying at a known brand, I am hedging my bets that I will ACTUALLY be getting what I paid for when I arrive. Brand standards are pretty stringent, so even if you are a franchised property, being a part of that brand (think Marriott, Hilton or IHG) comes with rigorous inspections and compliance. Granted, not all franchise-owned properties are created equal, but in my opinion, it’s a step in the right direction.
Safety is also a big concern of mine when I’m traveling. Security systems, working fire alarms and tourist-friendly neighborhoods are all factors to consider. Hotel brands are in the business of making their guests happy and keeping them safe. This means they have skin in the game and if, in the unlikely event, something goes wrong, they have more to lose than the causal lodging enthusiast.
Cleanliness is a huge one for me. Bed Bugs, stained sheets, rings around the toilet or showers, dirty carpets, insects or rodents and other disgusting details lurking in the shadows (most of which are invisible to the naked eye) can ruin a good night’s sleep and/or your entire vacation. Hotel brands have strict cleanliness standards. Of course, they don’t always abide by them, but at least they are in place. They also have practices and procedures in place to address the occasional cleanliness issue.
Amenities and services are also a factor in my lodging decision. I like knowing what is available to me when I check in. Minibar, snacks, laundry, dry cleaning, concierge, ironing board, hair dryer, cocktail lounge, reliable internet, safe parking and valet are all services/amenities I may require for a comfortable stay. When you stay OUTSIDE of a known brand, these items/services are sometimes hard to come by, not available or simply inconsistently offered across the board. Of course, you may not care about any of these items, but when I’m traveling with my family, something is bound to come up and I want to solve the issue efficiently and cost-effectively.
Traditional B&Bs are another matter to consider altogether. These business owners DO have skin in the game but we’ll save that discussion for another post.
I’m not against Air B&Bs. There are plenty of Air B&B owners who DO treat their home as a business and I applaud them for doing so. I am simply offering my cautionary tale as I want YOU to have an amazing trip and mitigate as many risk factors as I can think of before you step foot outside your house.
Greetings my fellow travel buddies...this week we’re discussing cheap flights. Two ultra low-cost carriers Southwest vs. Jet Blue Airways are the subject de jour.
Southwest Airlines is a much larger airline than Jet Blue. But they do compete for the same dollar, so that is why we are comparing the two. Let's start with the basic facts:
Size of the Fleet
Before we go any further, deciding HOW you are going to get somewhere via flight can be a seemingly daunting task when it comes to price. But let’s demystify that for you. Let’s look at this idea from an airline’s perspective and then we will get to you.
Revenue management is a big deal for airlines. What is the highest price an airline can charge for a seat?
Let's use a quick analogy to answer. When you look at the produce section of a supermarket, an orange has a fast expiration date. It was picked off the tree, and now it’s ready for you to purchase. The grocer wants to charge as much as he or she can for that orange before throwing it away. Unless the commercial aviation industry radically changes they way they charge for seats, then think of every seat on every flight as a piece of rotting fruit. That seat on that day on that flight (or segment) is only going to exist once. If the flight takes off and a seat is empty, then it becomes a piece of fruit the airline makes no money on.
Now let’s talk about you. You expressed an interest that you want a cheap flight to wherever you are going. Many factors contribute to the cost of an airline seat. These include, the specific airline, the on-board experience, the class of seat, where you are flying from and where you are going and how long it takes to get there. And finally, in some instances how far in advance you book and pay for these seats.
For starters, in many cases getting the lowest or cheapest airfare has everything to do with where you live and what airport is your home airport. That’s where the word HUB comes into play or “cities of focus” or operating bases. To give you a clue, research online and check the number of gates an airline occupies at any given airport and then check to see how many flights depart from that airport or city per day. More gates and more flights equal more flexibility when things don’t go as planned.
The top five hubs for Southwest include Chicago Midway, Baltimore, MD, Las Vegas, Denver, Dallas Love Field. While Jet Blue’s top cities include JFK in New York, Fort Lauderdale, FL, Logan airport in Boston, Long Beach in California, San Juan Puerto Rico and Orlando, Florida.
Why is this important, because the more fights per day on the airline you choose from the place you’re flying from and to decreases the chances of issues on your air travel day. Issues such as missing your flight, weather delays, crew delays or airplane mechanical problems.
Now let’s look at the value of your time. The longer it takes to get somewhere...the less you might pay. Airlines know through years of industry research; the flying public wants direct flights. That’s point A (the place you are flying from) to point B (your ultimate destination) without having to stop, or change planes. Therefore, a direct flight might be slightly more expensive than an itinerary with stops or connections. Also, the time of day you depart often affects the ticket price. For instance, a 6:00 a.m. departure might be cheaper than the more desirable 9:00 a.m. departure.
Given all that, let’s get back to Southwest vs. Jet Blue. Southwest has one class of seating. Jet Blue was also built on this premise. However, on some longer Jet Blue flights you’ll find premium or business class seating. They call it Mint. On Southwest, they have an open seating policy. Each passenger is assigned a letter and you board by letter and take any seat you wish. Jet Blue has a more traditional seating arrangement whereby you select your seat, or one is assigned to you before you board.
Both airlines offer complimentary snacks and soft drinks. Both charge for alcoholic beverages and Jet Blue offers additional in-flight snacks for purchase on some flights. Both airlines have in-flight entertainment options. And both have frequent flyer programs.
Jet Blue has code share agreements with a long list of international carries while Southwest does not.
We announced last week that while the staff here at Erik The Travel Guy takes lots of trips, to help bring you the latest and greatest info, we want you to be a part of the selection process. You can vote at erikthetravelguy.com/vote or leave a comment on this video in the comments below.
Keep in mind, this information is for educational purposes only and contains editorial opinion by yours truly. Facts contained here may change without notice. We try to keep up with the changes, but I strongly encourage you to do your own research before making travel purchases.
Earlier this year, I wrote about TSA Pre Check which is essentially a faster way to get through airport security within the U.S.. Today, it’s time to discuss whether (or not) Global Entry is right for you.
For experienced flyers, getting back into the United States can be a long process when you arrive back at a U.S. airport. Personally, I think Customs and Border Patrol does an excellent job of making this process as pleasant as possible. Remember, every person (resident or visitor) must be screened and approved to gain entry into the United States. This is a good thing. But for those of us who fly internationally often, Global Entry is an excellent program to help speed up this process, especially after a long-haul flight.
Global Entry is a U.S. Customs and Border Protection program which allows expedited clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travelers upon arrival back in the United States. Global Entry members enter the United States through automatic kiosks at selected airports.
In my opinion, this program is essential for anyone traveling internationally five or more times in the next five years. Your one-time, $100 fee is due before you are approved, but once you are a member, your membership is good for five years.
The application process begins online, their is a cost to enroll in the program and you must provide valid photo identification. Currently the fee is $100.00 per person for five years. In addition to the application you must give your fingerprints, have a photo taken of you and you must be interviewed.
Expedited re-entry into the U.S. for air passengers at select airports in the US.
Global Entry includes TSA Pre Check.
Not all airports participate
Surrender personal information to a govt. agency
In short, I love Global Entry because I travel a lot both within the U.S. and internationally. The application process was easy. If you’re planning on taking two or more air trips outside the US, then I suggest becoming a member of the program.
More detailed information can be found here on Global Entry from the official Department of Homeland Security website.
The price of a cocktail, ice-cold beer or delicate glass wine can be on the spendy side when you’re on your next vacation. Understandably so, any alcohol provider whose lot in life it is to charge tourists for booze, in my opinion, should make as much money as possible. Supply and demand, you know? But you fastidious novice vacation thrill-seekers may be tempted to bring your own sweet spirits with you on your next adventure. My advice? Don’t.
Granted, if you are road-tripping, then sure, it is perfectly acceptable to bring your favorite spirit for when you get settled in to your hotel/resort or camping area. But even then, some hotels frown on this practice for a couple of reasons. First, they want to sell you their booze with their mark up, of course. But they also are particularly interested in your safety and the safety of their other guests. Unless they search everyone’s luggage upon check-in, hotels have no way of knowing what each guest is bringing onto the property and into their rooms. Remember, not every hotel guest practices common sense like you and me. Therefore, check with your hotel in advance and at the very least know their BYOB policy. Then you can decide if you want to bend or break the rules a bit on your trip.
Airlines are another story. While you are free to bring alcohol in your carry-on, it is usually against the Airlines’ policy to consume it during flight. In addition, TSA has strict liquid rules and bringing a bottle of wine (or any other type of liquid over 3 ounces) is strictly prohibited and enforced. Learn more about TSA’s liquids rules here. I suppose you could pop a bottle of your liquor of choice into your checked luggage. Airlines do permit this but why are you taking an unnecessary risk? That bottle would need to be bubble wrapped and heavily padded to prevent breakage. And at that point, wouldn’t it just be easier to pop into the liquor store upon your arrival?
Cruise ships are also not big fans of you bringing your own alcohol on board. For a lot of the same reasons hotels frown on this practice, cruise ships are very serious about the safety of all the passengers and crew. Again, I would check with your cruise line for their liquor policy. Or better yet, leave your booze at home.
In general, I love a good cocktail when I’m on vacation. But it’s also worth noting that excessive drinking can be problematic for a myriad of reasons. So, I tend to be a little more strategic, take a few extra precautionary steps and limit my alcohol consumption on vacations. It’s better for my health, safer, cheaper and a lot less hassle.
The bottom line here: While carting around your personal supply of Ketel One on your vacation to save a few dollars may seem like a good idea, upon further research, it simply isn’t. So in my opinion, resolve to paying a little more for each cocktail wherever you’re headed for your next trip. Of course, you could always skip the alcohol all together when you travel. What? I think I was tipsy when I wrote that last sentence. But in all seriousness, always remember to consume responsibly at home or on your next great adventure.
Whether I’m packing for a business or leisure trip, my soft-sided briefcase is always close by. Different from my carry-on (roller) and my checked luggage, my briefcase is essentially my man-purse and an extension of what I keep literally on my person (in my pockets). I’m not the most organized person in the world, but I have learned (over time and through trial and error), these are the items most-needed on my travels.
The bag itself. My briefcase is black, soft faux leather. I travel a lot so my luggage gets used and I usually go through about one briefcase every two to three years. I do not use expensive luggage when I travel (or in my personal life for that matter). My briefcase has a strap on the exterior so it can slip over the handle of my carry-on roller. Attached to the handle is an “Erik The Travel Guy” luggage tag.
Regardless of where I’m going, these are essentially what you will find in my briefcase:
Relevant file folders from my office
Laptop with my travel power supply and a wireless mouse (I’m a little old school)
iPhone (when going through airport security)
iPad (long haul flights) with downloaded books and movies
Sunglasses in case with alcohol wipes
Wallet (when going through security)
Passport (international travel and some domestic)
Boarding pass (if applicable...I usually use an airline app)
iPhone charging cable
Portable power supply (emergencies)
Pens, sharpie and business cards
Pad of paper
Two organic tea bags
Hand Sanitizer and travel antibacterial wipes
Travel-size Advil, Rolaids & Cough drops
So there you have it. The idea here is to spark thought on what works for you, but that’s what I’m working with…
Happy New Year! Hopefully you’ve made a commitment to include MORE travel in 2018. And in doing so, perhaps you’ve noticed people breezing through airport security in a TSA PreCheck line and wondered if that’s the right option for you. I will do my best to define this program and share my thoughts to help in your personal evaluation. More than five million people are already enrolled in this program.
TSA PreCheck is an expedited screening program in the United States created by the Transportation Security Administration (a department under the Department of Homeland Security).
In general, TSA PreCheck is appropriate for passengers who intend to take more than two trips annually within the US. Currently 200 airports and 42 US airlines in the program. Here is a map of airports and airlines.
The application process begins online, their is a cost to enroll in the program and you must provide valid photo identification. Currently the fee is $85.00 per person for five years. You must include your Known traveler number when making your airline reservation.
All of the carriers I fly in the U.S. participate and I am a member of their frequent flier programs. Therefore, I entered my Known Traveler Number in my airline profile and the information is automatically included on every reservation. No fuss, no muss.
In short, I love TSA PreCheck because I travel a lot within the U.S. (as you can imagine). I especially love the faster (shorter) lines at airports with my children. The application process was easy. If you’re planning on taking two or more air trips within the US, then I suggest becoming a member of the program.
More detailed information can be found here on TSA PreCheck from the official TSA website.
Greetings from 31,000 feet. As 2018 begins, I am reminded of how excited I am for the next 12 months. More on that in a moment. But as I sit in 22D on another American Airlines flight, I am pausing for a moment of reflection and the words that first come to mind are: thank you. 2017 has been a phenomenal year for “Erik The Travel Guy”. We exceeded our revenue goals, we transitioned the company with some serious forward momentum and in the end, we helped our sponsors tell their story and helped consumers travel smarter, better and more often. I couldn’t be happier. The team that is in place is amazing. I truly am so grateful to work with such talented individuals. My long time friend Harry is inspirational and most-assuredly my solid right hand. Jacob has proven time and time again he is passionate about results, passionate about the esprit de core and has more good ideas in a single day than most have in a year. Kevin brought a wealth of experience and grown into a business development powerhouse. He has taken the time to understand our sponsors and their challenges and our brand. He’s honest and an absolute joy to work with everyday. Rachel just turns it out. She has more energy than all of us combined and her love of travel is evident in everything she does. And then there’s Cathy. Sometimes there are no words to describe how truly awesome an individual can be. Sal, Chris, Sarah, Drew, Gary, Philippe and Jeff, you guys help make this crazy travel world go round and round and I am so happy you are excited about our success.
I am so grateful and humbled by the dedicated individuals I get to work with everyday on this travel mission. Together, we have created and will continue to create something unique and frankly, magical.
2018 will be a break out year for us. I am exceedingly excited about new sponsors coming on board, for the launch of our PBS TV series “Beyond Your Backyard” and for the continued success of the radio show at our new home 92.3.
However, none of our recent successes would have been possible without you. Thank you for reading the blogs and Facebook posts, for watching our videos and listening to the radio show and podcast. Your continued support is the fuel that revs our engines everyday. Seriously, thank you and have a happy, prosperous and marvelous New Year!
You want to go on a cruise, but with so many options, how do you know which one is best for you? Today we compare two of the best on the ocean: Carnival Vista vs. Royal Caribbean’s Ovation of the Seas.
First a couple of quick facts. In 2015, 23 million people from around the world sailed on a cruise ship. More than 11 million of those were from the US. The top cruise destination was the Caribbean. According to industry experts, that number is expected to by 4% next year.
Both “floating hotels” were launched into service in 2016. Both ships are considered mass market cruise ships, and both are owned and operated by two of the largest cruise companies in the world, Carnival Corporation and Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd.
Size may matter to you so here are the stats.
For more videos and information on these two companies you can check the Travel Company Video Index on my site.
Carnival Vista was introduced into the Carnival fleet in May of 2016. After a series of repositioning cruises, this ship arrived at its home port of Miami, Florida. It currently sails on six and eight-day Caribbean itineraries out of Miami. This ship is the first ship in the Vista Class ship with others already on order.
On board Vista, some of the most notable additions include the “Skyride”, which is essentially a self-propelled pod that you can peddle around an 800-foot track, suspended 150 feet about the deck. Seafood Shack is a new dining option and is only available on this ship. Look for lobster rolls, crab legs and other treasures from the ocean all available for an additional charge. If the weather isn’t cooperating, then you can relax and take in a movie at the only IMAX theatre at sea. Deck 2 is officially the family deck, with family-themed and sized staterooms, family common space and even a family concierge to completely satisfy the ever-changing needs of the modern-day sea-faring family.
MS Ovation of the Seas
April 14, 2016 was the maiden voyage for MS Ovation of the Seas. This ship is the first ship built for Royal Caribbean specifically for the Chinese market. It embarked on mini-itineraries for invited guests and members of the press and then began a 52-night odyssey cruise before making its way to its home port of Tianjin, China. This is the third vessel in the Quantum class...and if you know all about classes of ships on these lines, then you really are a cruise nerd...and I love that about you!
If you are a die-hard Royal Caribbean fan, then being on board Ovation of the Seas isn’t necessarily a must because it is virtually identical to the two other sister ships in the Quantum Class: Quantum of the Seas and Anthem of the Seas. All three are some of the most technologically stunning vessels at sea. Transformative spaces use using lighting, staging and special effects to dazzle guests. The cruise offers sky diving with iFly, a trapeze school, the North Star, and bumper cars among many other attractions.
Similarities between Carnival Vista vs. Royal Caribbean’s Ovation of the Seas
Both ships share some common ground in just about every area of interest. Both ships
Carnival and Royal Caribbean are two companies who understand their passenger’s needs. They have been getting better at it every year since cruising for the masses began being a “thing” back in the 1980’s. These ships are fine examples of cruise innovation and state of the art sailing.
You can book itineraries on both ships directly with the cruise line or with the help of a travel agent. Whichever you choose, I suggest you become a member of their loyalty program. The more you cruise the more perks you get and over time loyalty does have its privileges and rewards.
Will I get Sick on a Cruise?
Before we wrap up, let’s talk illness. Am I going to get sick on a cruise ship? First, I might ask, what type of sick are you asking about? Are you going to get motion sickness? That’s a tough one. That depends on your own tolerance for slight variations in your equilibrium. The rocking motion of ships is caused by the fluctuations on the water in which these ships are sailing. Cruise ships sail in calm waters for the most part. The have state of the art weather forecasting to avoid rough seas. They also are equipped with powerful stabilizers so even in rougher waters, the ship stays level and comfortable.
The other illness you may be asking about is some sort of GI outbreak or Norovirus. The media loves this one. But the short answer is...statistically speaking...no. Health officials including the CDC track these outbreaks, cruise lines are required to report outbreaks and the numbers speak from themselves. 23 million people sailed in 2015 and in 2015 there were 12 outbreaks affecting roughly 2500 people. Total. Drawing your own conclusion is simple.
Why I Love Cruising
I love it to explore new ports of call. I like the notion of letting someone else handle the logistics of travel, and I like knowing where I am going to sleep at the end of each day while I am on vacation. I’ve sailed with both lines numerous times and I have yet to be disappointed. For work, I have stayed in several different cabin types, but for pleasure I always book a suite or at the very least a balcony stateroom. In addition, I always arrive in the embarkation city the night before my sailing (just to be on the safe side) and I usually book a lot of my dining reservations and some shore excursions in advance.
This blog post is designed to help equip you with knowledge...because knowledge is power. This blog post also contains some editorial opinion by yours truly. Facts contained here may change without notice. We try to keep up with the changes, but I strongly encourage you to do your own research perhaps consult with a real live travel agent before making travel purchases.
Standout examples of classic Miami Art Deco include the postcard-worthy neon-lit Breakwater Hotel and the McAlpin. Though a small building, the latter is arguably the purest form of Art Deco because of its perfectly symmetrical façade and candy-colored hues. The Breakwater Hotel, meanwhile, is one of the jewels of Ocean Drive. Built in 1936, this boutique hotel features clean, symmetrical lines that become a neon blue beacon come nighttime. The Raleigh Hotel, which is considered the grand dame of Art Deco buildings, is also worth a visit. Its pool with curved-edges was once voted as the most beautiful swimming pool in America.Miami has the largest concentration of Art Deco architecture in the world, housing over 800 of these structures. Most of them are found in Miami Beach, a city famous for its luxury beach resorts, restaurants, bars, and cruise lines. That being said, a tour of the most notable Art Deco buildings is another worthy addition to your itinerary.
The 20th century architectural trend was created as an avant-garde expression of wealth and sophistication. It’s characterized by symmetrical, streamlined designs. Although it was born in Paris via the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes, it was the United States that took the lead in developing Art Deco. Miami Beach invented its own variant through incorporating pastel colors, white stucco, neon lights, and decoration features like herons, sea shells, and palm trees.
At some point in the past, the Art Deco scene deteriorated and was eventually neglected by its residents. But thanks to the efforts of the non-profit organization Miami Design Preservation League, many of the Art Deco structures were restored to their original appearance. Many of these iconic structures are situated in South Beach, where the Art Deco Historic District is located. Ocean Drive and Collins Avenue, in particular, make for a fascinating spectacle of pastel three-storey hotels.
In line with the League’s preservation efforts, newer buildings were also constructed in the neoclassical style of Art Deco. The Betsy Hotel’s new wing on Collins Avenue is the perfect example. Reopened in 2009 after a multimillion-dollar restoration, the hotel marries Art Deco with modern interiors. The Tides South Beach is another building that has a vintage outer appearance and modern interiors.
Not all Art Deco structures are hotels though. You can also admire the classic beauty of Colony Theater, which lies on Lincoln Road. The theater was built in 1935 and last renovated in 2006. Today, it hosts events like music festivals, theater performances, and stand-up comedy specials, among others. There is also the Bass Museum on Collins Avenue, which houses the Miami Beach Public Library and Arts Center. Its aesthetic is a bit different from the rest of the Art Deco buildings in Miami due to its use of fossilized Paleolithic coral during construction. The distinctive façade features intricate carvings of a montage of scenes, including the Spanish conquest, a pelican eating a fish, cruise ships, and planes.
In celebration of the style and its cosmopolitan era, the League also holds an annual three-day community cultural festival. During this time, the neighborhood transforms into its former glory, giving attendees a blast from the past. Vintage cars line up the streets on Ocean Drive, jazz parties and retro fashion shows light up the night, and walking tours of the Art Deco Historic District take place. It’s an experience that could leave you mesmerized.
Yet another example of why I suggest you make your way to Miami for an ungforgettable vacation.
Am I the only person who sees some folks rely on electronic communication a wee bit more than ACTUAL human contact? Let’s discuss. As I continue my travels all over this world, I’m alarmed at how much “device staring” I see. I notice that friends and family members sitting RIGHT NEXT to each other can stare at their beloved screens for hours.
Don’t misunderstand: I am a big believer in modern communication technology. I love that we have the world at our fingertips and all we need is a cellular or WiFi connection. Yet when we’re out to dinner and the conversation dips into a lull, that is not the appropriate time to check Facebook or Instagram. I’m talking to you, my Millennial and Generation Z friends.
So, what to do? Sometimes a little forced human interaction is a good thing. Often, I write about where to go and what to do when you get there. Yet, I see people looking down at their phones when they’re standing on a beautiful beach. Seriously? Look up! Whatever it is (unless you’re taking an obligatory selfie or video), it can wait.
Let’s get back to forced human interaction...I recommend a deck of cards. That’s right, bring a deck of cards on your next vacation. Suggest to your travel mates that rather than staring at their phones, you all join in a spirited game of Poker, Black Jack, Crazy 8’s, etc. Forgot how to play? THAT, my friend is where technology should play a role in social interaction.
So go travel, and remember to always bring a deck of playing cards.
I am on a mission to get you traveling more often. This blog is a reflection of my mission. I travel (on average) 30 weeks per year hosting and producing a television series for PBS. In addition, I host a weekly radio show and produce original travel videos for online distribution. I am very fortunate for these opportunities and it is my hope you will join me on my travels!