Sunday, September 20, 2015

Travel Tips by Margot Justes

Travel can be exhausting, and I hear from many people how tired they are of packing and planning, and then there is the actual travel itself. I try to simplify my travel as much as I can.

I love the planning part, that is not a problem for me. There is a tremendous amount of information available on the internet. Yes, it does take time, but for me that is part of the fun of travel. The only part I dislike is the going to the airport and getting on the plane. It is no longer enjoyable. Oiled sardines have more freedom in the can than passengers in the plane.

I already booked back to back cruises that will take me to Rome in October, 2016. It is easier to budget, if you can plan in stages, and I can always cancel until the end of August and get a full refund. I check the prices weekly, and if there is a lower rate for my cabin category, I call the cruise line and ask for the lower price; it depends on availability and if indeed the price is lower for the cabin category.

An upgrade can be requested up until departure, however there are no guarantees. I’ve had reductions in price, but have yet to receive a ‘free’ upgrade. So far I have only cruised Royal Caribbean and Celebrity, they are sister companies. These are Celebrity cruises, and I’ve accumulated enough points to receive a few perks, every little bit helps.

If travelling to Europe, I always spend at least two days in the port city. I look for hotels, and check to see if description meets my criteria-central in town, and easy walking distance to a few sites. I love to walk, and European cities tend to be walking cities.

Generally I book through the hotel, there is a better chance of an upgrade. If there is a membership involved, I join. I’m registered with Marriott, SPG, IHG, Hilton and Hyatt. Sometimes boutique hotel have terrific deals. I never rule anything out.

In some cases, places like Expedia might have a special price; it is best to check a few sites on line. Do your research.  One thing I found out, you will not get the nicest room if you book through a second party, but sometimes the price is considerably lower and well worth it. Best to check all possible sources.

I always request breakfast with room. This way I don’t spend time looking for a place to eat in the morning. It is easier and more expedient for me, and they tend to be a delight. A leisurely breakfast, usually accompanied by a terrific coffee is a wonderful beginning to a full day.

The next thing I do is book the flight, usually a month before the trip, but I start watching the prices two months before departure. I’ve read that Tuesdays are a good day to book the flight, but that has not been my experience.

There is not much wiggle room. I watch the prices on a couple of airlines, and when they seem low enough I book them. I don’t gamble, but when booking a flight I consider it a crap shoot. They go up and down minute by minute.

There are a few ways to save, your earned miles, or points through a credit card.
I have a credit card that gives me travel points.  I don’t track my miles at all, because it is a huge hassle to book a flight using miles; I feel as if I’m at the mercy of the airlines. It doesn’t work for me. Usually the most direct route is best if at all possible; the fewer transfers the better, the less chance your luggage will ultimately wind up in a different city, or sometimes a different continent.

I always check the various sites advertising lower rates, but they all quote similar prices to the actual airlines. Most airlines won’t give you miles if you book through a second party. The same applies to hotels.

Whenever possible, I like to arrange my airport transfer ahead of time. Rome is the perfect example. I’ve used RomeCab before. I just send an e-mail with the flight information, hotel information, and pick up time from hotel to port. They’re reliable, and I know they’ll show up at the airport with my name on a placard. It’s easy, and I don’t have to wait in a long line for a taxi. The price is about the same as a cab ride. There is no pre-payment involved, just a cash payment upon arrival in hotel, and I know up front what the price will be.

The back to back cruises are booked, the InterContinental Hotel in Rome is one of my favorites, good location, right above the Spanish Steps, walking distance to a few sites, and I have SPG points I’ll be using. The breakfast buffet is delicious, and the coffee superb. A couple-usually more-cappuccinos in the morning is a delight, and start the day beautifully.I already have the hotel and the cruises booked. 

Two weeks before the trip, I make a list of things I’ll need. I’ve always had this dream that  my passport is lounging at home, while I’m the airport.  I pack light, and set everything I think I’ll need on my dresser. By the time I’m ready for a suitcase, the pile is considerably smaller, and ready to go in.

Margot  Justes
Blood Art
A Fire Within
A Hotel in Paris
A Hotel in Bath
A Hotel in Venice

Monday, September 7, 2015

Travel by Margot Justes

This year,  along with a move from an apartment to a condo, I’ve gone back several times to Illinois for special occasions, and to visit friends. Along with those hops, I’m also going to the Georgia Romance Writers conference in Atlanta this coming October. On the way back I plan to stop in Asheville, and visit the many art galleries that have found a home there. Then it will be time for the beginning of the holiday season and family. This year time seemed to disappear.

I did book back-to-back cruises from Rome in 2016 that will take me to Portugal, Spain Turkey, a few Greek Islands, and Israel-with a stop in Haifa. I plan to visit Mt. Carmel and a certain boarding school where I spent 2 years in my youth. Amazingly enough, it is still there.

I tend to travel light, I’m not as young as I used to be, and lugging heavy suitcases is a pain, literally and figuratively. I have an expanding suitcase, that for some strange reason is fully expanded on the way back.

I have two grandchildren, and I bring back a few souvenirs, but am careful what I buy. Books tend to make the top of the list, paperback edition of the history of the area, local architecture, and of course there are many artists that display their works around popular tourist areas, and I tend to gravitate to that, of course t-shirts and hats, all that takes space. Thankfully I no longer hunt for espresso cups-I collect them-but with condo living, space is limited and I had to stop. That is why the suitcases expand on the way home.

I also have a gigantic purse that could pass for a suitcase, and put all my essential information there, passport, travel information, and anything I can’t do without should my luggage get lost. I’m allowed a carry on, and that is packed with my small and light lap top, camera, Kindle, a spare change of clothes, travel book, and the allowed make-up accoutrements, along with anything else I’ll need. I also have a copy of my passport page-just in case, which I keep with me but not in the same place as my passport.

I never, never put anything valuable in my suitcase. I don’t travel with a lot of cash, and many credits cards. I take two credit cards, only because should something happen, I have another options I keep the telephone numbers of the cards, and use the hotel or cabin safe, if on board ship. It is not full proof, and I’m sure if anyone wanted to break in-they would simply destroy the safe-but as the saying goes-it keeps the honest people out.

I have a daily budget, the rest stays in safe, and I only take one credit card with me when touring, the other one remains in the safe. Money belts work well, and I have a small comfortable purse that goes over my shoulder, the purse is in front, so I can see it at all times, and I hang on to the straps. Best advice, is pure common sense, be aware of your surroundings.

Over the years, I have bought clothes that I can roll easily, and of course there are shoes. I love shoes, but have learned to pack them sparingly; one good and comfortable pair of walking shoes. I don’t worry if the shoes will match whatever I’m going to wear-never did-and won’t start now. I want to be comfortable and avoid blisters if at all possible. I do pack a box of band-aids, those things are expensive, especially on board ship.

I used to pack my gym shoes, because I love to walk on the jogging deck while on the ship, but now use the walking shoes for that as well-they have rubber soles and offer excellent support, and they are not as bulky as gym shoes. Notice I said walk-I do not run or jog-I walk. One pair of dress shoes, along with a couple pair of sandals that will do for short walks, or simply while on board ship, FitFlops work well.  A pair of dressy black pants, and a couple of sparkly tops for the formal nights on board ship, and by the way I roll them up too.

I don’t pack an outfit or two for each day, I pack mix and match outfits, and always remember there are laundry facilities in hotels and cruises-should the need arise. The laundry prices in hotels tend to be expensive, but in an emergency, it’s there. I also remind myself how much airlines charge for overweight luggage-that cures me of even thinking of over packing.

If you cruise enough, and join their frequent cruising club, eventually you’ll get a laundry allowance or discounted prices on board ship.

I have seen people bring a few suitcases per person when boarding a ship, and always wonder where they are going to put all that stuff-the cabins are small, and storage space is limited.

Margot  Justes
A Hotel in Paris
A Hotel in Bath
A Hotel in Venice
Blood Art
A Fire Within