63 posts categorized "Travel Tips"

06/23/2014

More Changes In Airline Carry-on Baggage Regulations

Hope you didn’t get too comfortable with airline carry-on baggage regulations, because it looks like they’ve changed once again. It seems that not only do all airlines not have the same size limits for carry-on bags, it can be difficult to near impossible to find a bag that meets the size requirements. Get all the details by clicking over to this informative article that was recently posted on Yahoo news.

06/09/2014

Nashville For Newbies

This past summer, I took my first trip to Nashville with my wife and some friends. It was more out of curiosity than anything. We’d heard good things about the city’s tourist appeal, so I wanted to check it out for myself. After spending a week there, I’m really glad I did! Here are some tips we accumulated from our own experiences as well as a few based on research of how other recent visitors spent their vacation time.

If you’re thinking about visiting Nashville for the first time, the best time to visit is from April through October, when the warm weather brings the city to life and you can experience peak enjoyment. Start your day in Nashville by heading downtown and just taking in the vibe. The Music City Trolley Hop On/Hop Off Tour allows you to hop on (or off, obviously) at your leisure. You’ll get a chance to visit historic spots such as the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, which features more than 40,000 square feet of country music history and artifacts.

Another must-see is the Grand Ole’ Opry’s Ryman Auditorium, which is affectionately known as the Mother Church of Country Music. See for yourself where hundreds of famous artists, from country crooners like Dolly Parton and Taylor Swift to rockers like Bruce Springsteen and Mumford & Sons, have performed. It’s also home to the world's longest running live radio program.

For family attractions, check out the Nashville Zoo and spend an afternoon with the animals, or the Adventure Science Center, where you can interactively explore their Adventure Tower. There’s also the Sudekum Planetarium, where astronomers will show you how to identify the various constellations, bright stars, and planets viewable in the sky every night.  

At night, you will want to stop by one of Nashville’s world-famous honky-tonks on lower Broadway. There’s nothing that will give you the authentic Nashville experience more than spending some time in one of these dusty venues where artists spend their nights (and their proverbial blood, sweat, and tears) in pursuit of their musical dreams.

Twang Not Your Thang?

Not in the mood for country music? You can explore Nashville’s thriving arts scene by checking out of the Frist Center for the Visual Arts’ many temporary exhibits, or popping in on any of the downtown art galleries, most of which are on the “Fifth Avenue of the Arts”. Or you can see something really unique—the Parthenon in Centennial Park, which is the world’s only full-size reproduction of the Greek Parthenon and home to Athena, the tallest indoor structure in the Western world. Additionally, consider the First Saturday Art Crawl throughout downtown Nashville. As the name suggests, it takes place on the first Saturday evening of every month, and visitors can view many great galleries in the downtown area.

You can spend the afternoon at Belle Meade Plantation, Nashville’s largest and wealthiest private estate, once a renowned thoroughbred horse farm. You could also experience some presidential history by paying a visit to The Hermitage, home to President Andrew Jackson and his wife, Rachel. Check out the mansion and tombs of Andrew and Rachel, as well as Rachel’s beloved garden. Another must-see is Cheekwood Botanical Garden and Museum of Art, which features a rotating exhibition schedule, events, and breathtaking gardens to explore.  

Finally, if you’re a real fan of modern country music, be sure to take in a show at the popular Bluebird Café, made famous in the TV show, “Nashville”, where patrons can enjoy songwriters performing in an intimate “in the round setting”. But fair warning—it can get quite crowded, especially during open mic nights. 

Connecting To The Music

There’s a free Nashville Live Music Guide app available for iPhone and Android users that locates live music venues throughout the city and tells you who’s on stage at a given date/time. You can search by area of town or venue name, and a handy map function will display your location and the live music venue options nearby. The app’s calendar will search live music events up to 14 days in advance. Don’t have an iPhone or Android? No problem. Throughout Nashville, there are a series of quirky guitar pick-shaped signs that indicate if a location is a music venue. If that particular venue features four or more live shows a week, a pick-shaped sign is placed outside so visitors know where they can go for music.  

Your visit to Nashville will most certainly leave you with memories that will last a lifetime. But between the history, the music, and the people, you’ll never be able to see it all in one vacation!

05/29/2014

Surprise—Cleveland DOES Rock (And Much More!)

Recently, a group of travel editors gave their impressions of Cleveland—both before and after their visits. What they’re saying may surprise you. From a vibrant arts scene to stunning architecture and oh-so-good delicacies, you might want to consider making Cleveland a vacation destination rather than a city to avoid.

Despite sometimes chilly temperatures (and that 65+ year World Series drought), things have gotten noticeably better in Cleveland—and it shows! Take a look at the following article and see for yourself.

05/22/2014

An Enjoyable Ballpark Experience For The Family

After one of the worst winters on record, we’re finally enjoying some nicer weather! With baseball season now in full swing (pardon the pun), you might be thinking about taking the family to a baseball game. Ah—the joys of sharing a hot dog with your kids, cheering on the home team in the beautiful outdoors as you put thoughts of winter behind you and rediscover America’s national pastime. Major League Baseball (MLB) games can offer your family a memorable experience, but you can also enjoy the same family fun at a bargain price by attending one of many minor league baseball games across the country.

One of the great joys of being a parent is sharing the things that you love with your kids. If you’re a baseball fan, attending a game should certainly be one of those things. My dad and my stepfather were both huge Phillies fans, as am I. I remember growing up listening to games on the radio, as well as stretching out on the couch with my family to catch a game on TV on a lazy summer Sunday afternoon. But there was (and still is) nothing quite like actually being there at the stadium to experience all those sights, sounds, and smells in person. Everything there seems larger than life, especially to children.

The Big Leagues—MLB Games

I’ve been to many professional baseball games and stadiums, so I’ve come to know that the newer stadiums provide entertainment with a modern flair, even if they’re missing the historic presence of an older ballpark. Kids will have fun watching the game, eating hot dogs and popcorn, and taking in the crowd experience. They’ll get to see their favorite hometown baseball heroes and maybe even a few great players from the other team. Younger kids may not quite understand the concept of fan loyalty as they may have more than one favorite team (based on such important factors as team colors, logo, or whether their favorite animal is represented). Nevertheless, you’ll have a fun day with the family watching a live sporting event together and making memories.

If you happen to be spending a summer weekend with your family in any of 30 different cities that host an MLB team, consider bringing the family to an away game, even if your favorite team isn’t playing. Attending a live sports event is exciting and different—a break from the ordinary summer theme parks and beach experience. Even younger kids who don’t follow the game will no doubt enjoy the junk food, cheering (or booing, if you’re from Philly like I am), and doing the “wave”. Game tickets are usually available online or at the box office on the day of the game, but I recommend purchasing in advance to avoid being disappointed if, for some reason, tickets are not available due to an important series or a hot giveaway item.

Keeping It Local—The Minors

After factoring in tickets, parking, souvenirs, and refreshments, one of the negatives to attending MLB games, especially for an entire family, is cost. As such, there are probably limits to how often your family can make this happen. Thankfully, a more economical alternative to consider (and one that’s a lot closer to home for most people) is attending a Minor League Baseball game with your family. Across the United States, there are at least 28 professional and amateur baseball leagues with nearly 300 teams, so there’s almost certainly a minor league baseball team playing in or around your home town.

Baseball at minor league parks is an ideal way to spend a fun-filled and sunny afternoon or an exciting evening with your family. Though these games don’t usually feature well-known players, the baseball is fast and well-played (often only a few feet from your seat). Who knows, some of those players may end up becoming big league superstars—you never know! And getting their autograph now is a whole lot easier to do than after they sign that $100 million contract. Also, because you’re a lot closer to the action, you can actually smell the grass and can sometimes even feel the dust from a player sliding into home plate. Finally, minor league games offer promotional giveaways of items like caps, shirts, tote bags, baseball cards, and many other baseball collectibles all the time. And concessions? They’re also very plentiful and usually a lot cheaper. One local minor league team even has “Gluttony Night”, where you can pay one price and eat from the concession stands until your heart’s content. It may not be the most healthy thing you’ll do this summer…but hey, it’s baseball. Batter up!

05/15/2014

Alternative Products To Help You Get Around Carry-On Liquid Restrictions

Although some air travel restrictions are being eased, it’s still frustrating to not be able to carry on some of the products you need for basic hygiene in the quantities you’d like to bring. Rather than risk trying to sneak your oversized toiletries on board, your solution could be to try non-liquid alternative versions of these products.

It’s possible to bring all the travel-sized toiletries and cosmetics your trip requires if you simply swap out some or all of them for non-liquid versions. Check out this article which discusses alternative products that you may want to try. If they’re not available at your favorite drugstore, you should be able to order any of them on Amazon or other online retailers.

05/08/2014

Hate Crowds? When To Travel To (And When To Avoid) Disney World

When planning a Walt Disney World vacation, one of your primary considerations may be whether or not the resort will be crowded. As someone who’s visited during both the very heavy and very light tourist seasons, I can tell you that being at Disney World isn’t nearly as fun when you're standing in line most of the day. And I have no doubt your children would agree with me.

Another consideration is pricing—but at Disney, when the crowds are low, the prices are usually low as well. It’s basic supply and demand. There’s also the weather. Since most people prefer comfortable temperatures over the sizzling heat of the Florida summer, that’s also an important consideration.

Finally, let’s keep in mind any events that are going on at the parks that may enhance your vacation experience. There are some really great festivities at Walt Disney World during the year, and you can score big by combining low crowds with bonus fun events.

All things considered, here are my top recommendations for scheduling a week at the Mouse House:

Week after Thanksgiving—This is arguably the best week to visit Disney World. Crowds are small, prices are low, and the weather is usually very nice.

First full week in November—This week, and actually most of the month of November (except for Thanksgiving week!) usually sees really light crowds. Plus, the weather is usually gorgeous and you may get to experience a little bit of both Christmas and Halloween at the parks.

Most of February
—Except for Presidents Day week, February is a really great time to visit. You’re likely to enjoy smaller crowds, the lowest prices of the year, and sweet weather.

First two weeks in June – If you want to try something a little out of the ordinary, go during the first two weeks of June when Disney hosts Gay Days, since fewer families seem to schedule their Disney vacations for this part of June. If you want to travel to Disney close to summer and still not have the crowds, this is a good time to do it. And it's actually pretty easy to avoid the Gay Days festivities if they’re not your thing—there’s usually a designated park for Gay Days each day.

Anytime in September after Labor Day week—Much like February, September is much less crowded at Disney World with pricing that’s usually pretty good. It can still be pretty hot and there aren't any special events, but I bet you’ll still have a great time.

First week in May – Epcot’s Flower and Garden Festival finishes its run the first week of May, so you’ll probably see some really cool Disney character topiaries, enjoy good food, and even some great music. Crowds are generally pretty low and prices are typically good as well.

If Crowds Are Not Your Thing, Avoid Traveling During Certain Weeks.

Some weeks at Walt Disney World always draw huge crowds and there will be wall-to-wall people…everywhere. If waiting an hour just to get a drink or a hot dog is no problem for you, then by all means, go. But many people, including myself, have little tolerance for monster lines, so you should avoid the following weeks like the plague:

Week between Christmas and New Years—Christmas Day marks the busiest week of the year at Disney World. Trust me when I tell you that the seven days between Christmas and New Years will bring the largest crowds of the entire year. Probably larger crowds than you can imagine. In fact, the Magic Kingdom will actually close to new guests during the day because the crowds are so enormous.

4th of July week—Almost as many people come to see the fireworks at the Magic Kingdom on the 4th of July as they do on Christmas Day. This is a very crowded week.

President's Day Weekend—Avoid the Friday before Presidents Day through the Tuesday of President’s Day week. Since schools are typically closed for at least part of this time, many parents use this extended weekend as a quick family getaway from winter weather and it tends to get very crowded.

Of course, there are several weeks in the summer where the temperatures are hot, the crowds are large, and the prices are high. That’s why I personally would recommend avoiding travel to Disney in the summer if possible. But really, other than the 4th of July week, there typically aren't any flat-out outrageous summer travel times. If summer is definitely your vacation time, I would just recommend going as early or late in the season as possible.

02/14/2014

Sochi Problems: A Lesson in Murphy’s Law and the Olympics

Not even the Olympic Athletes are immune from the Sochi Problems. Just ask those who have been skiing or snowboarding on Krasnaya Polyana this week. Though I doubt that travel insurance would cover gold medal expectations...We’re now a week into the XXIII Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia. But overshadowing the events  are the stories surrounding the Olympic Village. Social media has helped us get in touch with the Olympic Games more and more every year. However, this year it has taken that access to a whole new level.

It all began when international journalists started arriving in Sochi ahead of the opening ceremonies. Unlike what the world was told leading up to the games, these correspondents shared a completely different look across their Twitter accounts. Everything from incomplete hotels to broken restrooms was put on display for the world to see. This was followed by the trials of bobsleder Johnny Quinn, who seems to have a penchant for getting stuck in the most random places. Next, a Canadian journalist got left a note informing him of the charges that come with placing personal effects on the second bed in his room. And this week, veteran NBC host Bob Costas was sidelined for the first time since 1998 as a result of a particularly bad eye infection. All of these combined make the non-expanding snowflake look like a minor hiccup.

So far, it’s been a tumultuous Olympic season. With only a week’s worth of competition under our belt, I’m a little hesitant to ask “what’s coming up next?”

While these games may be remembered for the rather humorous, behind-the-scenes look that we’ve been given through the lens of social media, more important is the lesson that every traveler can learn as a result of these games:

1. Research your accommodations before you book
Just because a hotel is marketed as a “five star resort” — that doesn’t necessarily mean it is. Before you make that non-refundable, pre-paid booking, make sure you do your research. There are many peer-review websites where guests post reviews after their stay, giving you a more objective idea of where and how accommodations rank. If you’re staying in an area with less established hotels or where reviews may not be as available, then your best bet may be sticking with the big name brand hotel chains, as opposed to the lower-priced accommodations that you know little about.

2: Always have a backup plan for your travels
Even Olympians experience problems along the way. When making your plans for your travels, always have a backup plan in place for what you’ll do if “Plan A” doesn’t work out. Something I always do before I book my hotel is search the location I’m going to, and the area I’ll be surrounded by. This way, I can make better decisions on what I should see and do when I get to where I’m going, and have alternate plans available to me should I need them.

3: Travel insurance gets packed when traveling abroad
If you happen to get an eye infection while traveling in your native country, you would know what to do:
go to a doctor, get a prescription and rest until everything’s cleared up. But what would you do in a foreign country? Not all health insurance plans cover you while you’re outside your home country. Additionally, finding proper medical care may not be as easy as following road signs. By packing a travel medical plan in your suitcase, you may be able to detour around some of these problems if you get ill or injured during your travels.

What are the biggest lessons you’ve learned as a result of these Olympic Games? How will the lessons of these games affect how you prepare for travel? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

02/05/2014

Let the Games Begin: Travel Tips for the Winter Olympics 2014 in Sochi

The slalom will be just one of the events that athletes from around the world will be competing in at the 23rd Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russa, starting this week. It's not my favorite sport, but I'll watch it none the less, and root for our American competitors none the less. I wonder if athletes purchase travel insurance as part of their equipment list...Citius. Altius. Fortius. Faster. Higher. Stronger.

Three words that I believe capture the true spirit of the Olympics. It is with that same spirit that millions will descend upon the resort town of Sochi, Russia this week. This Friday, February 7th , the torch will be lit in Fisht Olympic Stadium, signifying the beginning of the XXII Olympic Winter Games. 88 nations will be represented in competition spanning 90 events, with competition taking place throughout the month of February.

With such an undertaking, the world will be watching everything that happens in Sochi. From the first drop of the puck, to the last curling stone thrown. From the first triple axel attempted, to the running of the final bobsled. Athletes, fans, and tourists alike will bear witness to history at this year's Olympiad.

With the start of the Olympic season comes much preparation and precaution from the Russian government, as well as their international partners. Considering that this is the first set of Olympic Games that is taking place in Russia in over 30 years, there’s a lot of reason for caution when it comes to an event of this size.

If you plan on being one of the many that don’t want to wait for the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, to be a part of history, be sure you’re prepared to root on your country before you board a plane, train, or automobile. Here are my best tips for making the most of your Olympic experience in Sochi:

1: Don’t leave home without your Visa
Russian regulations require that many international travelers (including American travelers) have their Visa ahead of time, before their travels begin. In many cases, this requires having a sponsor – such as a tour operator or hotel – to endorse their Visa application. However, during the Olympic Games, the Russian Embassy website states that visitors to Russia can be issued one-month tourist visas based on copies of confirmation letters and tickets for Olympic events. In some cases, you can get your Visa in hand same-day, with proof of ticket. Before you buy your ticket for Sochi, make sure you have your Visa in hand. Otherwise, you could be denied entry to the country - and out a lot of money trying to find your way home.

2: Know the rules and regulations – and what to do in an emergency
Should you end up traveling to Sochi for the Olympic Games
, it would behoove one to take a moment to revisit the rules that travelers are subject to while in Russia. All travelers to Russia are required to carry their travel documents with them at all times, and are subject to inspection upon demand. Additionally, throughout the Olympic Games, the Olympic Village will be subject to “controlled” and “forbidden” zones. Should you find yourself inadvertently in trouble, make sure that you are registered with your home nation’s Consulate upon your arrival. The Consulate office may be able to help you in certain situations.

3: Add travel insurance to your equipment list
The U.S. Embassy in Moscow website says it best:

“The Olympics are the first large-scale event to be held in Sochi and medical capacity and infrastructure in Sochi are untested for handling the volume of visitors expected for the Olympics.”

With the major crowds expected and the unpredictable environment that comes with the Olympic Games every season, travel insurance can be your best bet if something were to happen. Make sure your plan covers emergency evacuation and repatriation as well, in the event that you need to be returned to your home country. Our Travel Insurance Select can provide these benefits and more, including emergency assistance while abroad.

May your Olympic experience be one that will bring you joy for years to come, and allow you many great memories. If you’re going to the games, be sure to share your memories with us on our Facebook page! What competitions are you looking forward to the most? Olympic travelers: what advice would you add to this list? Let me know in the comments below!

01/31/2014

#EuroTour14: Travel Tips from the Emerald Isle

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!

01/23/2014

#EuroTour14: Mind The Gap - Travel Tips Learned from London

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!