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December 2013
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February 2014

The Tri-Color flag of Ireland flies proudly over the Kilmainham Jail museum. It's actually quite a fascinating story of how it became one of the national symbols of Ireland - if you're into Vexillology.It’s disappointing, really. #EuroTour14 has officially come to an end, with my return to the United States on Tuesday. And already, I miss the wonders and people of Europe. From watching the Changing of the Guard in Buckingham, to singing bad karaoke with my new friend Tony in a pub in Dublin, this trip to Europe was exactly what I needed to get myself re-centered, and re-focused on why travel means so much to me in this world. I can’t wait to go back to Europe again – if nothing else, at least once more in September to Munich.

Dublin, as I’ve explained to so many I’ve come back to since, fascinates me as a city – as Ireland fascinates me as a country. For an island nation so proud of their place in history, they also view themselves as a very young country. In truth, Ireland is much younger than many of their European counterparts – only having claimed their independence from the Crown in the gap between the two world wars.

None the less, my trip to Ireland was nothing short of lovely. Between the history lessons learned at the Kilmainham Gaol and the National Museum of Modern Art (formerly the Military Hospital), to the liveliness and night life of Temple Bar, my trip across the pond will be one that I will long remember. I certainly hope that, as a result of all this travel, I’ll get to head back to the Emerald Isle sooner rather than later.

But as with anywhere I go, I learned valuable lessons from this trip that I plan on taking with me as I move further down the road. And unlike other trips, I picked up a unique set of tips that I don’t think I would have learned anywhere else. Here’s what I learned while I traveled to and far across the green hills of Dublin:

1: Know the road that leads home
Something that struck me about Dublin was, unlike London, the city was not as friendly to pedestrians as many parts of Europe are. This caused me to hop a lot more buses than I intended to while I was in the city. And in some cases, it caused me to get lost in places that were well off the beaten path. My first travel tip seems like it should come out of Travelers’ 101, but it’s a good reminder: always know which bus takes you to your destination, and which takes you home. Just because a bus has a number on it, doesn’t mean it’s the one going in your direction. If you’re unsure, pop into a shop that has WiFi, and do a Google search on where you’re going, and the bus number and line that should take you there. Another great travel tip: if you’re unsure, ask your bus driver, or use the free WiFi provided on the Dub lin Bus!

2: Pay in the local currency
I found it particularly entertaining that everywhere I went in Dublin, I had the opportunity to pay in either American Dollars or Euros. What they didn’t tell me was that the bank was trading 1 Euro for $1.30, while the shops were usually trading 1 Euro for $1.40. While a dime doesn’t sound like much, that’s $10 off of every $100 I spent. One of the most important travel tips that I’ve talked about before is to always pay in the local currency. This way, you know you’re getting (within reason) the same rate you would get at the bank – and save yourself some money as well!

3: Pre-Clearance is your friend
My final tip for visiting the Emerald Isle is to take advantage of the Customs Pre-Clearance at Ireland’s airports in Dublin and Cork.
The nice thing about flying through these airports is that you’ll ultimately clear Customs before you arrive home, thanks to the great facilities at their airports. This saves you some time, prevents you from going back through TSA once you land, and gives you more freedom in what you bring back from the Duty-Free store! Enjoy being able to pre-clear and be on your way back home!

I can’t wait to go back to Ireland, and have a much better time armed with these great travel tips! Where do you have planned to visit this year? What tips do you have for those going abroad in 2014? Let me know your ideas in the comments below!

IMG_1088Fresh off my trip to London, and I already can’t wait to go back! Despite only being there for two days, and a 40-hour trip delay caused by weather, I can’t wait to get back to Britannia sooner rather than later. What struck me the most was the eloquent approach to the history of London and the ceremony of the city – demonstrated by the memorial walkways, and the preservation of history, and the great care in the monuments of Parliament Square. Additionally, I was very impressed by the gardens of the city – each one having its own personality and artwork that seemed to complete the community.

While it was a quick trip, I was surprised by how much of London I was able to see on foot. More importantly was what I was able to catch in just walking – including the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, high noon striking at Big Ben, and the bustle of Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery. While I didn’t stop down for tea time on Sunday, I did end up in a pub for a pint and a plate of bangers and mash! Despite what people say, authentic English food was delicious!

While my trip was a lot of fun, it reinforced a lot of travel lessons that I learned from my years as a student traveler. There’s plenty of adventure and excitement to be had in Europe, but knowing these great travel tips ahead of your trip can save you a lot of time – and hassle – when you get there:

1: Carry a credit card with an EMV chip embedded
This travel tip is one that I often read about, but didn’t realize how important it was until I stepped up to a ticket kiosk at the Underground.
None of my cards would be accepted, nor would they fit in – the machines were configured to accept EMV chips only, and not magnetic stripes. Lucky for me, I just happened to have an EMV enabled card, and was able to buy my tube ticket with ease! While traditional cards are accepted in many places, automated machines (like the ticket machines and ATMs) only operate on EMV chips. Carrying one of these cards can be a huge asset, are available from several banks, and may offer consumer protections when traveling abroad (such as zero-liability protection if your card gets stolen). Every time I cross the pond, I have at least one EMV card with me.

2: Keep a schedule for your travels
I thoroughly enjoyed walking everywhere in London – and with the old downtown of the city so accessible, it makes sense to do just that! However, there was no way I would be able to walk from my hotel to the downtown , as my hotel was out by Heathrow Airport. For this, I utilized many different phone and tablet apps to keep my schedule running with the busses and the underground. This travel tidp helped me make sure that I could get wherever I needed to go – be it to my hotel, to one of the historic sites, and anywhere in-between!

3: Map out your journeys with a start and finish point
Let’s face it – London is an extremely large city, and it can be very easy to get lost on maze of one-way streets and back alleys. This is why having a map turned out to be one of the best travel tips I utilized on this trip. My map allowed me to easily navigate my starting points, my stops along the way, and how to get back to my hotel from the Tube. And while I kept a paper map in my backpack just in case, using my tablet allowed me to navigate in real time – plus, I didn’t obviously look like I was a tourist.

With one more leg of #EuroTour14 coming this weekend in Dublin, Ireland, I can’t wait to get back across the pond! Be sure to follow us on Twitter as I document my adventures (as WiFi allows). What travel tips would you give someone going to London for the first time? Leave me a comment with your ideas below!

Shutterstock_107597459This weekend, I finally get to complete a trip that’s been 13 years in the making. Thanks to a strategically-placed airfare in the ecosystem, I’ll finally be able to get back to London. Not a bad way to start off the New Year, right? This weekend starts one of two consecutive weekends of travel – first to London, followed by another weekend jaunt to Ireland.

This one isn’t just about taking a trip overseas because I can – personally, this gives me a chance to reconnect to my student traveler roots. And while I will enjoy the 14,000 miles that will come from this run (putting me two Columbus-Los Angeles runs away from making silver status), I’m more excited about getting back to Europe – a place I discovered many years ago and gave me my love of travel.

As much as I’m excited jumping on an airplane again, this trip is going to come with just a little bit more preparation than usual for me. I realize that I’m going to a country much more geographically north of me during the lowest point of winter. This creates an environment ripe for trip cancellation, trip delay, and a whole mess of other problems that I just don’t want to deal with. So for this trip, I’ve already primed and prepared for the worst case scenarios that can take place. Here’s how I prepared to make the best of my European Tour this winter:

  • Packing warm for one extra day – just in case
    I’ll only be in London two nights – which means I can easily get away with packing light for the weekend. So why am I packing an extra day’s worth of thin layers to stay warm? With the cold temperatures comes the possibility of trip delay and trip cancellation. And if I’m forced to stay in London an extra day (which, in of itself, wouldn’t be the worst fate in the world), I want to make sure that I stay warm with clean clothes. Packing an extra set gives me a little extra assurance in the event things get pear-shaped.
  • Adding Global Entry status
    Remember about how I wrote about getting my NEXUS card last year, so I can get in and out of Canada a lot easier?
    One of the best things about NEXUS is that it comes with Global Entry, at half the price of just Global Entry alone. This allows me to use one of the kiosks when I re-enter the United States by air. This will make my run through Customs a whole lot easier at the end of the day.
  • Adding travel insurance to my adventures
    I know that talking about travel insurance on a travel insurance company’s blog might be a little redundant, but this time travel insurance is a very important part of my planning.
    Traveling alone as a tourist to a foreign country makes me a target for a lot of bad things which could happen to me. Additionally, as I outlined above, winter is not known as the most contusive season to go traveling. Travel insurance gives me some flexibility when it comes to trip delay, and trip interruption in the worst of scenarios. For the next two trips, travel insurance is going to be imperative to my adventures.

I can’t wait to get back to Europe this month – and share some of the adventures that I found while I was there! Be sure to follow along with my adventures on Twitter with the hashtag #EuroTour14! How do you prepare for a major international trip? Let me know what tips you would add in the comments below!

In 2014, let's hope we all get to see more of this - and less of the groud, held by trip delay or trip cancellation. How do you combat trip delay?Should old acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind? It all depends on which airline you flew the most in 2013.

At the beginning of 2013, on the conclusion of my first mileage run, I wrote about how 2013 might go down in history as the year of trip delay and trip cancellation. Come to find out, I wasn’t wrong – and the Wall Street Journal’s Middle Seat Blog agrees with me. At a whole, of the airlines tracked by the Wall Street Journal and FlightStats, only 78% of flights were on time in 2013 – down a total of 2% from the year before. At the high end of that statistic, the number of flights delayed in excess of 45+ minutes increased 13%, and cancelled flights jumped 15%. You can read the entire report, and find out which airlines performed the best, on The Middle Seat at the Wall Street Journal.

So what is to blame for 2013 being known as the year of trip delay? Many of the airlines blame 2013 returning to normal weather patterns as part of the problem for the increase in trip delay and cancellation. Additional problems include systematic problems within airlines (as a result of mergers and acquisitions), as well as problems in scheduling. After having a year of good weather in 2012 (save a couple of major incidents), 2013 was heavily affected by weather situations, resulting in trip delay & cancellations. Some good news did come out of this report, however: the Department of Transportation reports less passengers complained about service, and less passengers got involuntarily bumped from flights.

With this behind us, what do we have to look forward to in 2014? If last year was any indication, we’re going to see a lot more trip delay and trip cancellation in 2014 as well. The polar vortex didn’t help us get this year off the ground with any ease, and 2014 will also see the merger of American Airlines and US Airways. If we learned nothing else from the United-Continental merger, we’ve learned that mergers always result in pains felt by the end travelers.

So how can you keep your travels flowing smoothly in 2014? Here’s how I plan on managing my flying time, and doing my part to keep my personal trip delay statistics down in the New Year:

  • Pack Light and Often
    Last year, necessity forced me to pack my bags and occasionally check a bag on my adventures. Lucky for me, it was free as a result of having status across many different airlines. Unlucky for me, it cost me at least one suitcase. In 2014, I plan on carrying on luggage at every given opportunity. This allows me to be flexible with my plans, change flights as soon as there are delays or cancellations, and not worry about having to getting to my destination without my luggage. Plus, with PreCheck, I’m allowed to keep my laptop and liquids in my suitcase, making the security transition easier and faster.
  • Plug in my Trusted Traveler number at every opportunity
    Last year, the best thing I did for my travels was getting my NEXUS card.
    Not only does this give me Global Access status when traveling internationally, but it also gives me access to the TSA PreCheck program, allowing me to get through the security checkpoint quicker and easier. How does this help with trip delay? If I have to switch my flights and switch terminals, then I’ve got an easier transfer through terminals (if I need one). Plus, a quicker run through security reduces the chances of creating my own trip delay.
  • Go with the flow
    Sometimes, despite our best planning, we can’t get around trip delay. And it’s frustrating to not be able to get through a trip delay and get to our destination (or home) on time. This is why I always plug extra time into my trips, allowing plenty of time between connections, as well as extra days should anything get misconnected along the way. By allowing extra time on my connections, I can ensure on-time connections everywhere I go – even when that means having to suffer a trip delay or flight cancellation.

Hopefully, your travels will be a little more successful than mine in 2014! Is trip delay something you’re worried about in the New Year? Or are you going to travel despite the risks of getting stranded? Let me know in the comments below!