20 Tips

0907_20tipsIn mothers we trust

Your wisdom from the field. This month: why to ask a mom to take your photo, which soap product can be used four ways, how to preorder subway passes, and more.

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1. Instant trail map I'm an avid hiker but don't always have the time to pick up a map of every trail. So before I set off, I take a digital photo of the map that's posted at the trailhead. Zoom­ing in for more detail has saved me from getting lost on several occasions. Steve Bailey, Pennington, N.J.

2. Blend in To avoid looking like a foreigner, buy a local sports team's jersey. On a recent trip to South Africa, I bought a shirt with the logo of the national rugby team. Each time I wore my Springbok jersey, everyone greeted me like an old friend or teammate. Dave Johnson, University Place, Wash.

3. Passport decoder Juggling five passports on family vacations can be a pain. To keep things simple when we go through security, customs, and immigration, I put labels on the back covers with each name in a different color. Officials haven't yet objected to the extra decoration. Catherine Lee, Thornhill, Ont.

4. Airplane boredom beater After leafing through the airline's in-flight magazine three times during a recent flight over the California desert, I pulled out my binoculars to peer at the landscape below. My seatmates ended up begging to borrow them. Now I always make it a point to reserve a window seat and pack my binoculars. Doug Temkin, San Jose, Calif.

5. Postcard gift tags When buying gifts in faraway places, I also pick up postcards. Back home, I write a note on a card, put the recipient's name on the address line, punch a hole in the corner, and tie it to their gift with ribbon. My friends and family enjoy their presents all the more because they get to see where I went. Jean Sokolinski, Sequim, Wash.

6. Easy security measures To streamline the airport security process, I put my change, watch, and wallet in my jacket pocket. I then fold my jacket in half with the collar on top, so nothing falls out. John L. Kizer, San Marcos, Calif.

7. In mothers we trust I often travel by myself, and when I want to get my photo taken, I always look for a mom. Not only do I feel much safer handing over my camera, but I find that they usually have lots of experience snapping great shots. Abigail Widynski, Madison, Ohio

8. Best baby seat The greatest invention in the history of family travel? The bulkhead bassinet, an amenity some European and Asian airlines offer free of charge on a first-come, first-served basis. We discovered this on an Air France flight from San Francisco to Paris with our 14-month-old daughter when a flight attendant snapped a canvas cot onto the wall in front of us. Not only could our baby sit up and happily gaze out, she also snoozed while my husband and I ate dinner uninterrupted for the first time in 14 months! Andrea Gemmet, Menlo Park, Calif.

9. E-mail for cruisers Checking your e-mail on a cruise line's computer can get very expensive. To limit my costs on board, I always bring my laptop and type out e-mails to friends and family in a Word document first. When I'm ready to send the e-mails, I log on to my e-mail service and then cut and paste the text. This way, I get to write my e-mails without feeling rushed by the mounting fees, and I spend less time on my vacation going online. Jon Faulkner, Chula Vista, Calif.

10. Beach towel benefits For family vacations, we pack matching beach towels, which serve as pillows, blankets, or seat cushions on the plane. If we arrive before our hotel room is ready, we can also dive right into the pool or ocean. And since the bright towels match, it's easy to spot each other in a crowd. Calli Berg, Coloma, Mich.

11. Save paper plane tickets If you redeem frequent-flier miles and the airline issues you a paper ticket, make sure to keep the stub until after the trip. I learned this the hard way when my wife used our American Airlines miles for a trip that she later canceled. I assumed that the miles would be restored automatically, so I tossed the paper—big mistake. I had to pay the $100 lost-ticket fee before we got back the miles. Marvin Engel, Piedmont, Calif.

12. Self-laminated bag tags Some tour companies may require you to use their paper tags to identify your bags, but the flimsy labels can rip. Make sure they last by covering both sides with clear packing tape and punching new holes. Pat Blizzard, Waterford, Conn.

13. Turn off your toothbrush Always unscrew your electric toothbrush before packing it. I've forgotten to do this, and my toothbrush turned on while I was at an airport security checkpoint. A vibrating bag is not something you want around TSA agents these days! Diana Eden, North Las Vegas, Nev.

14. Secure data storage My wife and I create a private Web page on Google Sites for each trip we take. We post everything we need: confirmation numbers, scanned copies of passports and drivers' licenses, phone numbers, and maps. It's comforting to know that in case we lose our wallets, all of our info is just a Google password away. Girard R. Schultz, Sheboygan, Wis.

15. Wi-Fi fix It's easy to forget that you're not tied to paying for a hotel's Wi-Fi. Before you accept the daily rate, remember to run a search from your laptop for a cheaper, or free, network. In San Francisco, I connected to a free one. It wasn't secure, but I was happy to avoid paying $16 per day. Steve Austin, Bakersfield, Calif.

16. Miracle suds Four little words: Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps. It's laundry detergent, liquid soap, shampoo, and toothpaste, all in one—and it's actually biodegradable. I can't get enough of the refreshing peppermint flavor. Tara Tiedemann, Park City, Utah

17. A hidden camera As an amateur photographer who doesn't want to be labeled as a tourist, I carry my digital SLR camera and extra lens in an Igloo soft-sided lunch box. The insulation provides great padding, and there's also a zippered pouch for storing memory cards and cleaning cloths. Plus, potential thieves think you're just carrying your lunch! Nicole Noe, Knoxville, Tenn.

18. Preorder subway passes Before visiting Chicago, make sure you go to transitchicago.com and order a one-, three-, or seven-day CTA visitor's pass, which gets sent to you for free. After you use the "L" pass the first time, a date stamp on the back of the card reminds you how many days are left. Kathy Ellis, Manhattan, Kans.

19. Form your own group tour Waiting in the long lines at places like New York City's MoMA and Amsterdam's Van Gogh Museum can be such a hassle. I usually travel alone, and to save time I call the group reservations office in advance and request a time slot. I then arrive early and ask people in line to join me. Not only do I make new friends, but sometimes the admission price goes down. Ramon Mella, Los Angeles, Calif.

20. Let books inspire you Since looking at old ruins, churches, and other landmarks sometimes makes my eyes glaze over, I do some literary sleuthing beforehand to make those visits more interesting. When I get to each site, I pull out the related passages. For example, a snippet from Victor Hugo's The Hunchback of Notre-Dame helped me imagine the cathedral's bell tower through the eyes of Quasimodo. Emma Finley, Davis, Calif.

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