1 . Read Traveler Reviews
User review sites have changed the way most people plan their travel, giving us an enormously useful tool for evaluating hotels, restaurants, tourist attractions and the like. TripAdvisor.com is the big kahuna, with more than 20 million reviews, mostly of hotels but also less traditional lodging like B&Bs, villas and private homes as well as restaurants and attractions. TravelPost.com is another, owned by Kayak.com and recently relaunched; like its airfare aggregating parent, TravelPost.com collects reviews from various websites, such as Citysearch.com, Yahoo Travel and IgoUgo.com. Check out Yelp.com for locals takes on restaurants, shops and other businesses, or OpenTable.com, which guarantees that reviewers have actually eaten at the restaurants they rate.User reviews are helpful but not foolproof, so keep in mind the following tips
Read between the lines, asking yourself if the writer shares your mind set, or if a negative review is the result of a persnickety traveler or a singular bad experience. As a rule of thumb, the more people have contributed, the more valuable overall ratings become.
Always see how recent the post was. Establishments are quick to change, move or close.
Always look at photos posted by users; you may find them more telling than words could ever hope to be.
2 . Join Travel Forums
Years ago, travel forums in which users answer other users questions were hit or miss, with too many crackpots dominating the conversation. Certain forums, however, have matured to the point that youd be unwise to ignore them. Forums like those on TripAdvisor.com, Fodors.com, Frommers.com and LonelyPlanet.com all handle destination advice well. But bear in mind that sites attract different kinds of travelers Fodors users can skew older and wealthier, for example, while the Lonely Planet fan is typically younger and more likely to rough it.Also check out CruiseCritic.com for a cruise lowdown, FlyerTalk.com for air travel, Chowhound.com and Roadfood.com for dining and Superfuture.com for a little bit of everything, especially cutting edge design and shopping.
3 . Suck Up to a Blogger
Every major city has bloggers who are obsessed with whats new and great in their backyard, particularly in regard to restaurants. You can use Google Blog Search to find bloggers in whatever city youre visiting. Theyre a phenomenal resource, but dont just read what theyre writing Contact them for personal recommendations. The more specific your request and the more you flatter them for their insight and wit the more likely youll be to pique their interest and get a response. (Whats your favorite vegetarian friendly restaurant within walking distance of the InterContinental Hotel on Howard Street? Were looking for a place with a romantic vibe, ideally, because its our anniversary. Wed be so grateful for your help, because you obviously know whats going on in San Francisco)
4 . Update Your Status
Dont forget social networks like Facebook and Twitter, which are useful not only for planning before you go, but also for once youre on the road, since you can continue to access them through your mobile device. Ask in your status update Does anyone know a good value hotel in Rome Coolest spots for dessert and coffee in New York? The best place to get cowboy boots in San Antonio? Youll be surprised at the number and variety of suggestions youll get.
5 . Dont Snub the Bus
Traveling by bus is not as uncivil as it used to be. So before you rush to book a flight or train for short hops, check out MegaBus and BoltBus. The buses are new and clean, with unexpected perks free wi fi and outlet access, for starters and no funky bus smell. BoltBus, which is part of ?Greyhound, connects major Northeast U.S. cities (New York, Boston, Philadelphia and Washington), while MegaBus has a larger route map, traveling throughout the ?Midwest and Northeast as well as ?Eastern Canada and the U.K. Tickets rarely cost more than $30 each way, and sometimes cost as little as $1.
6 . Use Your Miles
Theres no advantage in holding on to frequent flyer miles, as theres no way of knowing whether theyll be worth anything down the road. Miles typically expire within 18 months (though that deadline may be deferred if you keep your account active, either by flying or using an airline reward credit card that is linked to your account), so get a free flight or golf clubs, electronics, magazines or anything else the airline lets you trade miles for while you can.If youre still not sure whether to buy a ticket with miles or cash, heres a quick equation to help the value of a frequent flyer mile is about 1.2 cents, according to an analysis by Consumer Reports, and most airlines charge at least 25,000 miles for a round trip flight within the U.S. That adds up to $300 at the 1.2 cent rate, so figure that you should pay with cash if your flight costs less than $300 and with miles if it costs more.
7 . Spend Credit Earn Miles
If youre the type of person who actually pays off his credit card bill on time and in full, get a card thats affiliated with an airline or hotel you like. The first purchase bonuses alone usually translate into a free domestic flight or a nights hotel stay. After you get your freebie, you can continue generating loyalty points by spending with the card but take a moment to evaluate whether the payoffs are worth the high APRs and annual fee.
8 . Buy Insurance
Travel insurance is worth purchasing for big ticket trips that are largely non refundable. The typical plan will cover emergency medical expenses and baggage loss and delay, and recover at least some of the cost of your trip if your vacation has to be canceled or cut short (the amount is partially determined by which state you live in), including if the travel operator goes belly up. Note Most insurers consider a layoff to be a valid reason to cancel a trip.
Always buy from a third party insurer, not the company selling your cruise or tour. And considering the fragile state of the insurance industry these days, youd be wise to choose a large, established company thats less likely to go under, such as ?American Express, instead of one youve never heard of. Other reputable travel insurers include Travel Guard, Medex and Travelex.
9 . Pack Light
The goal is to pack with one bag. As much as possible, pre plan your itinerary, figure out the specific items youll need for your trip and stick to that list if you start contemplating what to bring the night before you take off, youre doomed. But packing light doesnt have to mean going without. Just be strategic about what you bring. Mix and match everything, so you can coordinate more outfits with fewer clothes. If you pack all neutral pants or skirts, for example, you can use your patterned tops with any and all bottoms. Remember also that layering for colder weather is always better than bringing big, bulky pieces; on hot weather trips, include a light sweater or jacket. Shoes are the big space hog, so limit yourself to two pairs (and dont forget that you can pack socks or other small goods inside your shoes). Ditch your toiletry bag, since youll have to put all your stuff in a Ziploc bag to get through security anyway. And finally, remember the frequent flyers best friend wrinkle free everything.
10 . Five Must Haves
Five things every traveler should have ready to go for a trip
1. A durable, lightweight, smooth rolling wheelie bag that holds a lot and doesnt tip over easily, like the REI Stratocruiser 25, which comes with handy backpack straps and a detachable day pack. Four wheeled bags are even less likely to tip over, but theyre slower to walk with and prone to rolling away when youre standing in line somewhere.
2. A slim digital camera that turns on and focuses quickly; Canons PowerShot series does both jobs well.
3. Duct tape because youll inevitably wish you had some. Packing a whole roll is annoying, so take a 2 ft. strip and wrap it around a pencil or marker.
4. A copy of your passport youll probably never need it, but if you lose your passport, having a copy greatly expedites the process of getting a new one. A scanned copy that you e mail to yourself works fine.
5. One quart Ziploc bags for getting liquids, gels and toiletries through airport security pack a few extra ones in case one rips or someone youre traveling with forgets to bring one.