Here's our comprehensive look at the best ways to travel: how to find a deal, avoid lines, pack, fly, tip, and more.
PART NINE: ON THE GROUND
Take a photo of everything
Buy a digital camera (it'll change your life) and a big memory card (minimum one gig). Snap pictures of where you parked your rental car, the ferry schedule, how full the gas tank was when you returned the car to the lot, and so on. You can always delete the photos later.
ATM? Credit cards? Traveler's checks?
All of the above. To get cash, use an ATM. Your bank may have agreements with foreign banks; Bank of America, for one, belongs to the Global ATM Alliance, which means its customers can make free withdrawals from over 30,000 ATMs in eight countries. Use credit cards to make purchases (if you have more than one, figure out which has the lowest conversion fee). In some countries, they'll print your account number on the receipt, so don't blithely toss it in the trash. For emergencies, it helps to bring a few hundred dollars in traveler's checks.
Don't call home
There are ways to place calls cheaply from abroad, both with a cell phone and without (such as Skype). But unless you're traveling around the world for months on end, you don't really need to call. Create a Web-based e-mail account--such as the ones from Yahoo and Google--and keep in touch that way. You can go online at an Internet café for about $3 an hour. In the U.S., also look for libraries, which tend to have free access.
Almost every city has a transit pass
And it's always a better deal than buying á la carte.
Know your rights
If you're bumped from a domestic flight and you get onto another flight within one to two hours, the airline pays you the equivalent of a one-way fare ($200 max); more than two hours and you get up to $400. Vouchers are an option, too. If your checked bag is delayed, the airline covers expenses for toiletries and clothing until it delivers the bag to you. For a lost bag, the carrier must reimburse you, up to $3,000. If your hotel is overbooked, the hotel must find you a room at a comparable or better property nearby, at no extra charge.
The new 411
Send a text message to 466453 ("Google") from your cell phone and you can get all kinds of info. You just need to know the shorthand; there's more at sms.google.com, but here's a quick tutorial:
- For flight arrival/departure info, type in your flight number
- Send a text message of "w [city name]" to get a four-day weather forecast
- Get translations of foreign words by sending "t [word or phrase] in [language]"
- For local listings, text "[what you're looking for] [place name or zip code]"--such as "bbq denver co"
- Text "[amount and currency] in [new currency]"--such as "2000 mxn in usd"--to do a currency conversion
- For basic driving directions, text "[place or zip] to [place or zip]"--for example, "phoenix az to 86336"
Don't save the best for the last day
What if the weather turns crappy? What if you get sick? What if a giant meteor falls from the sky and lands right on your room? You'll wish that you had gone snorkeling earlier in your trip.
Nothing kills the fun like a long wait
For most major attractions, you can buy tickets online in advance. Also, in many cities there are passes that can be a great deal, especially because they let you skip to the head of the line. The big U.S. pass companies are CityPass and Go Card. The New York CityPass, for instance, costs $53 for adults--a smart value even if you're only going to three of the five attractions offered: the regular price for the Guggenheim Museum is $18; Circle Line Sightseeing Cruise, $24; American Museum of Natural History & Rose Center, $14; Empire State Building, $18; and Museum of Modern Art, $20.
Jet lag is inevitable
Human beings were not designed to fly halfway around the world. All you can really do is not drink alcohol on the plane, keep hydrated, get in synch with the new time zone as soon as you can, and exercise after landing (the last one is crucial).
"See you inside!"
Some popular museums--such as the Louvre in Paris--have more than one entrance; the lesser-known ones often have shorter lines. And for some attractions, you can buy tickets at places other than the end of a long line at the front door. Tickets for Versailles are available in advance at Fnac record stores in France and at fnac.com; in Rome, tickets purchased at the Palatine museum also let you walk right into the Colosseum.
A tax loophole for hunter-gatherers
When returning to the U.S., Americans may bring $800 of goods for personal use without having to pay duties or taxes. If you buy more than that, ship it home: You can send $200 of goods per day to yourself at a U.S. address. You can also send duty-free gifts worth up to $100 per person per day to people in the U.S. Bear in mind that shipping companies charge based on bulk or weight, whichever costs more, so pack efficiently.
If the airport you're flying into is served by a train, take it if you're heading anywhere near the city center. Unless, of course, you're traveling in a group of three or more people, when a taxi is probably more cost-effective.
If you're going to complain, do it right
1. Speak up as soon as you have a problem. The longer you wait, the more the company will assume it wasn't that big of a deal.
2. Unsatisfied with the response? Politely ask for a supervisor. Never take no from someone who isn't empowered to say yes. The corollary is: Don't bitch to anyone who can't help you. All that you're doing is ruining their day.
3. Even--or especially--if someone promises you the world, get it in writing.
4. Build a case! Take notes, keep receipts, get names. Your goal is to show that you really mean business.
5. When corresponding, do it by letter or e-mail. It beats calling, getting passed around, and telling your story over and over. But make copies before you send any originals.