20 Tips

0903_20tipsOut of the hot seat

Tips you send in. This month: How to pick plane seats strategically, a fun way to identify your luggage, a resource for calculating where the U.S. dollar goes furthest, and more.

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Best Tips Ever The cleverest tips we've ever run are in The Smart Traveler's Passport, a handy book available at Amazon.com and select bookstores. Send us a tip: If yours is one that we illustrate, we'll send you a free book (and a year's subscription to the magazine).

1. Tales to go At Cracker Barrel restaurants, you can rent and return audiobooks at any location. This is great for road trips because if you finish a book during your journey, you can stop at another location and pick up a new one. You pay for the first book (from $10), and when you return it, you can check out any other book for $3.50. Harriet Diamond, Boynton Beach, Fla.

2. Park booty Nearly every national park and historic place in the U.S. has a badge or patch that kids can earn through the nationwide Junior Ranger Program. And if your child is a Cub or Boy Scout, he might be able to earn a patch through the Scout Ranger program by volunteering at a historic trail or park. On a recent trip to Boston, our Cub Scout earned three Scout Ranger badges and seven Junior Ranger badges. R. Ted Jeo, Maplewood, Minn.

3. Bargain of the minute If you want to find out where the U.S. dollar goes the furthest, open aoprals.state.gov and click on the Foreign Per Diem Rates link. The site lists the average cost of lodging, meals, and incidentals in more than 1,000 locations around the world. Barbara Zalot, Rocky Hill, Conn.

4. The traveling poster Before I go on a trip, I pick up a few of the free plastic umbrella covers you get in stores and museum lobbies. If I buy a poster that doesn't come with a protective tube, I have a ready-made carrier. Joan McKniff, Sarasota, Fla.

5. The key to tracking keys When my family goes on a cruise or stays in a hotel, we book several rooms, with multiple keys for each. I bring stick-on dots (the ones from office-supply stores) and establish a different color for each room. I put a colored dot on the door lock and dots of the same color on the key cards for that room. The dots peel right off when we leave. Lila Held, Garden Grove, Calif.

6. Keep thieves guessing To make yourself a less enticing target for camera snatchers, remove the strap that came with your equipment—the one that screams NIKON or CANON EOS—and replace it with a generic black nylon one. That way, you won't advertise your valuables. Elizabeth Roberts, Colorado Springs, Colo.

7. The better-priced Vegas If you plan to see a show in Las Vegas, start by checking the box-office prices at the hotel where it's playing. My husband and I bought tickets for Cirque du Soleil's Love at the Mirage for $69 each. The couple next to us bought their seats through a ticket broker and shelled out $129 each. Rochelle McBride, Cincinnati, Ohio

8. ID your PC We tag our bags, but our laptops all look pretty much the same when we take them out to go through the security scanner. To make sure I recognize mine—and to prevent others from mistakenly grabbing it—I tape my business card to the top of the computer. Mary Nevins, Oak Lawn, Ill.

9. Drink in the view If you plan to visit the sky deck of a tall building, such as Chicago's John Hancock Center or Seattle's Space Needle, find out if there's a restaurant at or near the top. Customers usually don't have to pay to get into the building and can enjoy a nice dinner or cocktails with a view. Joyce Porter, Oak Park, Ill.

10. All hands down I found a fun way to identify our luggage at baggage claim. I bought red, blue, and yellow fabric paint from a crafts store and had my kids cover each bag with handprints. Kim Pilsbury, Woodstock, Ga.

11. Send lint packing Instead of traveling with a bulky lint brush or a roll of tape, take the clear adhesive sleeves that you slip UPS and FedEx labels into. They're easy to use—just put your hand in the sleeve as if it were a glove. Jessica Rhodes, Destin, Fla.

12. Spread the words After you're done with your magazines and newspapers on a plane, offer them to your flight attendant. I've done this on a few of my recent trips, and not only were the attendants happy to have reading material, I got a few extra beverages as a thank-you! Alyson Heller, Fairfield, Conn.

13. Photo feast Whenever my partner and I have a great meal during our travels, we take a picture of the restaurant and keep the receipt. That way, we remember what the place looks like, what we ate, and how much the meal cost. This is particularly helpful on trips when we eat every meal at a restaurant and they all start to blur together. Rick Tello, Castaic, Calif.

14. Out of the hot seat My wife and I fly to the Caribbean at least three times a year, and we're always careful to choose seats that don't take a direct hit from the sun. For example, our flights from New York leave in the morning, when the sunlight is coming from the east, so we make sure to sit on the side of the plane that faces west. Randy Benway, Queensbury, N.Y.

15. O key-chain tree Our kids like to bring home Christmas-tree decorations as souvenirs, but if it's not the right season, we can't always find what we want. We now steer the kids to key-chain racks. When we get home, we remove the key rings, tie on a pretty piece of ribbon, and voilà, an ornament! Laura and Ron Barak, Deerfield Beach, Fla.

16. Solos sometimes save When booking flights online for more than one person, compare the cost of group tickets with individual fares. If there aren't enough seats in one fare base, the group price sometimes defaults to the next-highest-priced ticket. When I searched for four tickets from Tulsa to Miami, each one was $309. Then I looked for individual tickets and found three for $279 and a fourth for $309. I saved $90! David Bykowski, Broken Arrow, Okla.

17. A dirty trick When we go on family trips, we each bring our own roller suitcase, and we pack a pop-up laundry basket for everyone to use. During the vacation, all the dirty clothes go into the basket. When it's time to head home, we put all the dirties in one suitcase. We never have to collect the laundry at home. Eileen Lyon, Encino, Calif.

18. Large-print passports I'm of a certain age and find it difficult to read the information in my passport, especially when I have to fill out customs forms on the airplane. To make the task easier, I wrote my passport number and dates of issuance and expiration in large print on pieces of masking tape and put them on the cover of my passport. Carole Sondike, Deerfield Beach, Fla.

19. Better than gum! Now that airlines charge for everything, it's not a bad idea to save headphones you buy and use them on future flights. When my daughter flew across the U.S., I gave my headphones to her 3- and 5-year-old children. They loved punching the buttons and listening to the music. Anne Zumstein, Marblehead, Mass.

20. Back-scratching at sea Before my girlfriend and I go on a cruise, we visit our local souvenir shop and put together a small gift bag. We include postcards and magnets, and also regional specialties, such as cactus candy. When we get to our cabin, we give the present to our attendant, who's usually delighted—and rewards us with great service. Nyal R. Cammack, Las Cruces, N.M.

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