Cute Animals Alert
In a ridiculously adorable new feature, we're spotlighting babies born recently at top U.S. zoos. Speedy red river hog triplets, a 95-pound baby rhino, and an Asian elephant named Mac, who loves splashing in his pool, are a few of the newcomers. Want to know where to spot an okapi? Or how to bypass long lines for a glimpse of panda cub Mei Lan? We've got fun facts, tips for planning a zoo visit, and plenty of photos--just try making it through this slide show without cracking a smile!
7 Most Outrageous Travel Fees—and How to Prepare for Them!
Some travel surprises are good: discovering a hidden gem of a trattoria in Florence where you are greeted with hugs and an open bottle of Chianti. Or finding out that the Louvre is free the one day you are in Paris. But then there are the bad surprises: getting the final bill on your cruise and seeing hundreds of dollars tacked on for gratuities. Or showing up at the airport at the end of a blissful week in the Caribbean and being informed you must pay a departure tax, or you can't leave the island (on second thought, being stuck in paradise doesn't sound that terrible). Here are seven fees you should factor into the budget—including a few you can avoid altogether if you're smart. VISA FEES Visas are required for U.S. citizens traveling to some major countries, and the fees can really escalate. Planning on taking that once-in-a-lifetime trip to China? Budget another $140 per person for a visa. A visa to visit India costs $76 (including a service fee), while a visa for Russia costs $170. Countries like Brazil charge American citizens the same amount that our government charges their citizens to visit the U.S.—a hefty $160. Go to the consulate's website to find out how much you are going to have to shell out. It can take a couple weeks to process visas, so be sure to plan ahead or you'll end up paying even more to expedite. DEPARTURE TAXES Have you ever looked at the breakdown of the cost of an airline ticket? Mixed in with the Passenger Facility Charge and the Segment Tax is usually a departure tax for international flights. Many countries charge one, though its not always included in your airfare. If that is the case, you'll be hit up with an exit fee at the airport on your way back to the U.S. This is especially common in the Caribbean and Central and South America. The departure tax for St. Kitts is $37 per person, while the departure tax from St. Maarten is $30 per person. To leave Costa Rica you will owe $28. The fee is usually payable in cash or by credit card and must be paid before proceeding through immigration for your exit stamp. Airport websites often have information about exit fees and you can always call your airline to inquire about the departure tax, too. In case you were wondering, these fees are sometimes levied to cover things like airport construction, road work, and water and sewage system maintenance. RESORT FEES This fee is probably the most hated among travelers, especially since it covers things you probably assumed were free—pool towels, daily newspaper, and even in-room coffee. Hawaiian resorts are notorious for charging extra fees (though there are a few that do not, including the Kona Beach Hotel). The Hyatt Regency Maui Resort & Spa charges $25 per room, per night to cover wireless Internet access, daily local newspaper, and an hour on the tennis courts. The fee can also show up as a percentage added to your room rate, not a flat fee. This is typical in Puerto Rico, where resorts like the Conrad San Juan Condado Plaza add 16 percent to the bill to cover WiFi, local calls, and access to the resort's casino. It's not just beach resorts that tack on the fee: the Bellagio on the Las Vegas strip adds $22.40 to the room rate per night for internet, gym access, and local calls. And these charges are non-negotiable, even if you aren't planning on logging on or working out. Be sure to read the fine print, where resort fees are often tucked away, especially when using a third-party booking site. If you're still not clear on the matter, a simple call to the hotel can determine whether it's a good deal or if considering a resort that's a few dollars more (but with no resort fees) is a better option. CRUISE GRATUITIES Those amazing cruise deals are so tempting, especially for all-inclusive boats where your meals are included in the price. Even if you have prepaid, you will still get a bill before you reach the final port detailing the incidental charges you racked up while you were gliding through the Caribbean. You might be surprised to see just how many piña coladas you ordered by the pool—and that you owe more than $150 for gratuities. Most major cruise lines automatically bill cruisers between $10 and $12 in gratuities for each day of the cruise. Carnival charges $11.50 per day, per person (over the age of 2) for tips to be distributed to the ship's staff. Disney Cruise Lines adds $12 per person, per night for the stateroom host and the dining room wait staff. And these set fees do not include the 15 percent automatically added to your bar tab. Though the charge seems mandatory, if you feel the tip doesn't reflect the service you've received, you can adjust the rate up or down by making a trip to the purser's office to discuss the matter in person. BAGGAGE FEES There is a dizzying amount of variation when it comes to which airlines charge what for checked bags, excess luggage, and even carry-on bags. Spirit Airlines famously charges $30 per carryon bag (it's $45 if you wait until you reach the gate to pay the fee, and is said to be going up to a staggering $100 in November 2012), while your first checked bag is free on Jet Blue and each passenger gets to check two bags free with Southwest. Delta doesn't charge for the first checked bag to most international destinations, but that exact same bag will cost you another $25 if your flight is staying within the U.S. or Canada. The rules are always changing, and it's hard to keep up (Airfarewatchdog.com has a comprehensive and continuously updated chart). It's well worth researching airline baggage policies before you even book. That $50 difference between fares can disappear quickly if you have to pay $70 to check two bags. MONEY EXCHANGE Setting off to explore an off-the-beaten-path beach or a tiny village that's large on charm is all part of the adventure. The mom-and-pop restaurants and shops that line main street are a nice change from the chain stores that every city seems to have, but don't count on them taking credit cards-or the presence of an ATM. It's worth those few minutes on your way out of town to stop at a major ATM (which offer the best exchange rate) before you head out for the day. If you don't, you'll be hit with much higher fees at a foreign exchange bureau—or let the shopkeeper determine how many USD that souvenir is worth. FOREIGN TRANSACTION FEES FOR AIRLINE TICKETS Finding a great price on a flight directly from, say, British Airways or Air France is fantastic. But be aware that just because the price is in USD doesn't mean you won't be charged a foreign transaction fee by your credit card company. The airline is still an overseas business. There are ways around the fee, though. One is to use a credit card that doesn't charge for international transactions (Capital One is one). Or find a U.S. airline partner of the airline you want to book with. For example, if you're looking into flights to Germany and find a deal with Lufthansa, book through their partner United's website instead to avoid foreign transaction fees showing up as part of your charge. Not sure if the airline has a U.S. connection? Airline partners are listed on the company's website, or check to see if they are part of the larger networks (such as the Star Alliance, which includes Lufthansa and United as well as South African Airways and Air New Zealand).
11 Surprisingly Lovable Airlines
When it comes to choosing what airline to fly, the bottom line is often, well, the bottom line: how much it costs to get where you need to go. But with all that laser-sharp focus on saving money, it's easy to lose sight of the little things that can make a trip feel like a journey, rather than an endurance test. To remind you of the ways some companies strive to make life at 30,000 feet a treat—or introduce you to new ones you've never heard about—we present to you our unranked, incomplete, utterly biased list of airlines that haven't forgotten how to delight passengers—with memorable perks like cuddle-class couches, hilarious in-flight announcements, and even in-flight showers. How many have you flown? 1. CUDDLIEST AIRLINE: AIR NEW ZEALAND While Richard Branson gets a lot of attention for his Virgin Galactic enterprise, Air New Zealand's been making great strides in a different kind of space exploration—one that even those of us without a spare $200,000 can enjoy. In late 2010, the Auckland-based airline unveiled the Economy Skycouch, a padded, fold-out seat extension that allows a pair (or trio) of passengers to stretch out side by side for those longest of long-haul flights—say, between Los Angeles and Auckland. The feature, unsurprisingly, was an instant hit. To get the "cuddle class" experience, travelers need to buy a third seat at half off, typically an extra $500 to $800 for an overnight flight—almost certainly less than the cost of upgrading two coach seats to first class. And while about half the buyers so far have been couples, families traveling with small children have happily been opting for the upgrade, too. Did we say great strides? More like a giant leap—for nap time. 2. FUNNIEST AIRLINE: KULULA AIRLINES In addition to being South Africa's pioneering low-cost airline—it was the first of its kind to launch there, in 2001—Kulula Airlines, based in Johannesburg, aspires to be the world's funniest airline. Before you even board, there's a sight gag: The bright-green planes are painted with "This Way Up" signs or instructional diagrams pointing out the location of the landing gear, the loo, and the co-captain (labeled, "the other pilot on the PA system"). Then there's the in-flight banter, with gems like, "If you don't like our service, we have six emergency exits," and "Cabin crew is coming down the aisle to make sure that your seat belts are on and your shoes match your outfit." The animated airline's most recent prank? Issuing a press release on April 1 touting their new fleet of Boeing 737-800 seaplanes, which would make water landings near Cape Town, Durban, and Gauteng to reduce congestion on South Africa's runways. In their words, "Kulula has never been scared of navigating unchartered waters, and once launched, we're sure it will go swimmingly." Fortunately, there's no two-drink minimum for this airborne comedy show—and even if there were, it wouldn't cost much. "Drinks with zing," as alcoholic beverages are labeled on the in-flight menu, start under $2 each. 3. MOST IRRESISTIBLE BUDGET-CONSCIOUS AIRLINE: RYANAIR No one pinches every possible penny as assiduously as Ryanair, the ultra-low-cost Irish carrier. Some of its shameless antics are mythical, though: The airline has never charged for the use of toilets, introduced standing-room-only sections, or sold passengers porn via handheld devices—despite rumors to the contrary. But Ryanair does commit enough acts of random irritation to upset even a Zen Buddhist. The skinflint airline charges a fee of about $10 to charge tickets to an American credit card, a fee to check in either online or at the airport, and a fee of about $16 to sit in an exit row seat. Once onboard, the hassles continue. The seatbacks don't have pockets; the airline instead prints the emergency instructions on the backs of the seats themselves. During a flight, Ryanair crew members constantly hawk snacks, lottery tickets, and smokeless cigarettes. (For a full list of the airline's sins, see ihateryanair.org.) Yet despite it all, Ryanair remains one of Europe's most-flown carriers. Sure, people may love to hate it, but few budget-conscious travelers seem able to resist its siren song of low fares. 4. BEST MAJOR U.S. AIRLINE FOR BAGGAGE HANDLING: DELTA If you've ever thought you were singularly cursed with bad luggage luck, think again: A whopping 42 million bags (on average) are misplaced by airlines worldwide each year. Then, book your next flight on Delta, which had the best baggage-handling record among its peers (that is, the half-dozen largest US airlines) for 2011. Delta had 2.66 reports of mishandled baggage per 1,000 passengers flown last year—an impressive feat, given the airline's complex itineraries. (Budget airline AirTran had a slightly better record, but its simpler route map and lighter schedule give it an unfair advantage; American Eagle, by contrast, doubled Delta's lost-bag reports with 7.32 per 1,000 passengers.) Delta also raised the bar by adding a baggage-tracking tool to its free app for iPhone and Android (as well as to its website, delta.com, for those without smartphones). The app is the first from any airline to allow passengers to enter the number on a bag tag receipt—iPhone users can scan the barcode by snapping a photo of the tag—and watch a bag's journey from departure to arrival, all the way down to its exact claim carousel. If a bag is delayed, the owner can even check the bag's status using a reference number. It's no replacement for a waylaid vacation wardrobe, but it's certainly better than just wondering. 5. BEST (SPLURGE) AIRLINE FOR A MID-FLIGHT SCRUB: EMIRATES The advent of the superjumbo jet changed the game for aircraft-interior designers, and no one pushed the new boundaries—both in literal and figurative terms—quite like Emirates airlines. Not content to add cushier beds and more elaborate entertainment systems, the Dubai-based carrier was the first in the world to use that additional room on its A380s to install full-height shower stalls for its first-class passengers to freshen up mid-flight. On its Dubai-London route, for instance, Emirates has two snazzy walnut-and-marble "shower spas" to serve its 14 first-class passengers (one person at a time, please). Flight attendants explain the ins and outs in detail before sending folks inside for a scrub—including where to find the oxygen mask, should a change in cabin pressure occur. You'll be happy for the tutorial: When the stall's door is closed, the water turns on automatically—and so does a five-minute timer, complete with a yellow warning light to signal when it's time to rinse off any suds. Even if your financial forecast doesn't call for a "chance of showers," flying coach on Emirates has its own perks: Each seat reclines up to 120 degrees, comes with a power outlet, and has a 10-inch seatback TV screen with 1,200 channels of entertainment. 6. BEST AIRLINE FOR SAFETY DEMONSTRATION VIDEOS [CURRENTLY IN USE]: VIRGIN AMERICA A nun, a matador, and a bull walk onto on airplane—no, this is not the setup for a joke; it's a list of the characters starring in Virgin America's lighthearted, animated safety-demonstration video. Don't get us wrong—we know that air-travel safety is no laughing matter—but there's a lot to be said for a video that's engaging enough to actually get people to pay attention. (Other airlines have experimented with comic versions of safety videos over the years, but only Virgin America has made it a standard feature.) The video's narrator deadpans all the essential information, inserting an offhand joke here and there ("For the point-zero-zero-zero-one percent of you who have never operated a seat belt before..."), while the animated illustrations showing how, for example, to find and open the compartments where the life vests are stored (in two different spots, depending on your seat) actually do a better job than most. It's the kind of stuff that could save precious seconds in the event of an emergency landing like 2009's Hudson River "miracle"—particularly if everyone on the flight has actually watched the demo. With their eyes open. 7. MOST PUNCTUAL AIRLINE: ALL NIPPON AIRWAYS Forget the stereotype about German punctuality—Japanese carrier All Nippon Airways (ANA) has set the standard for getting planes to their destinations on schedule. According to a report from FlightStats, the airline landed nine out of 10 flights on time in 2011—the best performance of any international carrier last year—just edging out Japan Airlines International (JAL), the winner for the two previous years. (The industry average was a full 10 percent below ANA's performance, with only about eight out of ten flights hitting their scheduled marks.) ANA operates about 1,000 flights a day, primarily out of its hubs in Tokyo and Osaka, and while the bulk of its routes run within Japan, the airline also flies non-stop daily to Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Washington D.C., and Honolulu. Seattle and San Jose will be added later this year as the 7th and 8th gateways in the U.S. 8. AIRLINES WITH THE BEST IN-FLIGHT ECONOMY-CLASS MEALS: THAI AIRWAYS AND VIRGIN AMERICA The ultimate proof that an airline's in-flight food soars above the competition? When people choose to eat it outside the confines of the airplane. That's what has happened with Bangkok-based Thai Airways, whose bakery items (curry puffs, fruit tarts, coffee rolls), ready-made sauces, and salad dressings do brisk sales on the ground in its Puff & Pie takeout shops in Bangkok, Phuket and Chiang Mai. Airline passengers have picked it as a winner, too. Last year, the 18 million people who voted in Skytrax's "World Airline Awards" in the economy-class food faceoff overwhelmingly opted for Thai Airways' cuisine, with its focus on local flavors in dishes like massaman curry, stir-fried chicken, and green curry, all served with white rice. (The airline does offer alternatives for fliers with dietary restrictions or less-adventurous palates.)Stateside, our in-flight food is often lacking—not just in style (or appeal), but also in substance. High-fat, low-nutrient snacks have become the order of the day. That's why Dr. Charles Stuart Platkin, a nutrition expert known as the "Diet Detective," set out last year to determine which major North American airlines serve food that's actually worth its weight in calories. His findings showed that Virgin America offers (for purchase) the most nutritionally balanced meals and snacks—like the 370-calorie egg-and-vegetable salad wrap that's packed with hunger-sating protein—of all the U.S.-based airlines he studied. Given that today's fliers are grateful for any food being available at all on planes, we're pleased to see two airlines willing to better their catering games. 9. ECO-FRIENDLIEST AIRLINE: NATURE AIR You're going to love the windows on Nature Air's planes—and not just because the super-sized panels are roughly four times as large as the ones on the last jet you flew. No, the best part is what you see out of them: the astonishing views of the Costa Rican rainforest, which serve as a constant, vivid-green reminder of just what this regional airline is trying to protect. Of course, flying is never going to be a no-impact form of travel—at least not as we know it now—but Nature Air is wholly committed to reducing its harmful effects. The decade-old airline, the world's first (self-proclaimed) carbon-neutral carrier, invests in carbon offsets for 100% of its emissions via reforestation projects on Costa Rica's Osa Peninsula, and is constantly working toward greater fuel efficiency through better route planning and weight reduction. Over the last three years, they've increased efficiency by seven percent, and their fleet has some of the most fuel-efficient engines flying today. Sounds like as good of a reason as any to plan a spring fling in Central America. 10. TECH-SAVVIEST AIRLINE: SCANDINAVIAN AIRLINES Imagine checking in for your flight without needing a boarding pass or a barcode, in either print or electronic form. SAS (Scandinavian Airlines) allows just that. Its system at Copenhagen, Oslo, and Stockholm airports, debuting last fall, uses near-field communication (NFC) chips (placed inside stickers affixed to passengers' smartphones) to recognize passengers and their itineraries. Want to check in at an airport kiosk? Simply tap your smartphone, and the kiosk pulls up all relevant information. What about printing luggage tags, passing through security, or boarding the gate ramp to your plane? At each point, just tap your phone, and your info will be zapped to the machines (even if your phone is turned off). As of now, only 50,000 gold-level members of SAS's frequent flier program EuroBonus can use the tap-and-go system when traveling around Scandinavia. This summer, though, manufacturers of Samsung's Android devices—and, possibly, Apple's iPhones—are expected to release new models with NFC chips as a standard perk; here's hoping it's only a matter of time before SAS offers tap-and-go services to all its tech-forward fans. 11. MOST EXPERIENCED AIRLINE: QANTAS In the movie Rain Man, Tom Cruise says, "All airlines have crashed at one time or another. That doesn't mean that they are not safe." Dustin Hoffman responds: "Qantas. Qantas never crashed." We're happy to report that the claim still holds up—almost. The Australian national airline holds an admirable safety record, having avoided any fatal crashes for more than 60 years. Granted, Qantas has had some lesser accidents in the last few decades, including a crash of a jumbo jet in Bangkok in 1999 that caused injuries (but not deaths), and an emergency landing of a plane in Manila in 2008 after an oxygen bottle exploded. Yet with its very long track record—it's one of the world's oldest continuously operating airlines, founded in 1920—and heavy flight schedule (4,900 flights each week), the "Flying Kangaroo" still deserves kudos for consistency.
World's Most BIZARRE Food Etiquette Rules
You have good manners, right? After all, you (usually) keep your elbows off the table and say "Please pass the salt," right? But when you head abroad, things get a little more complicated. Case in point: Rest your chopsticks the wrong way, and you might remind a Japanese friend of their grandmother's funeral (Rule 2). But knowing what the etiquette rules are won't just save you from some awkward situations, says Dean Allen Foster, author of the Global Etiquette Guide series. It can also help you make friends. "It's really a statement of your openness and awareness of the fact that the people you're with... may in fact see the world differently," he says. "It's simply going to get you out of the tourist bubble." Sound good? Then here are 15 rules to keep in mind. 1. IN THAILAND, DON'T PUT FOOD IN YOUR MOUTH WITH A FORK. Instead, when eating a dish with cooked rice, use your fork only to push food onto your spoon. A few exceptions: Some northern and northeastern Thai dishes are typically eaten with the hands—you'll know you've encountered such a dish if the rice used is glutinous or "sticky." Also, stand-alone items that are not part of a rice-based meal may be eaten with a fork. But, says Leela Punyaratabandhu, a food writer who blogs at SheSimmers.com, the worst thing to do at a traditional, rice-based meal would be to use chopsticks. "That is awkward and inconvenient at best and tacky at worst," she says. 2. IN JAPAN, NEVER STICK YOUR CHOPSTICKS UPRIGHT IN YOUR RICE. Between bites, your chopsticks should be placed together right in front of you, parallel to the edge of the table—and nowhere else, says Mineko Takane Moreno, Japanese cooking instructor and co-author of Sushi for Dummies. (If there is a chopsticks rest, you use it, putting the tips you've been eating with on the rest.) But sticking them upright in a bowl of rice is even worse: During funerals in Japan, the rice bowl of the deceased is placed before their coffin... with their chopsticks upright in the rice. So what would she rather see: Someone doing that at a meal, or asking for a fork? Mineko doesn't hesitate. "Asking for a fork," she says. 3. IN THE MIDDLE EAST, INDIA AND PARTS OF AFRICA, DON'T EAT WITH YOUR LEFT HAND. In South India, you shouldn't even touch the plate with your left hand while eating. That's largely because the left hand is associated with, um, bodily functions, so it's considered to be dirty. In fact, says Foster, don't even pass important documents with your left hand. A lefty? Then it's okay to use your left hand—as long as you take your right hand out of the game. 4. IN GEORGIA, IT'S RUDE TO SIP YOUR WINE AT SUPRA. At what Georgians call a supra (traditional feast), wine is drunk only at toasts. So wait for those... and then down the whole glass at once. On the upside, says Georgia-based photographer and videographer Paul Stephens, the glasses tend to be on the small side. 5. IN MEXICO, NEVER EAT TACOS WITH A FORK AND KNIFE. Worried about spilling refried beans and salsa all over your front? Tough. Mexicans think that eating tacos with a fork and knife looks silly and, worse, snobby—kind of like eating a burger with silverware. So be polite: Eat with your hands. 6. IN ITALY, DRINK A CAPPUCCINO ONLY BEFORE NOON. Some Italians say that a late-day cappuccino upsets your stomach, others that it's a replacement for a meal (it's common to have just a cappuccino, or a cappuccino and a croissant, for breakfast). Either way, you won't see Italians ordering one in a café at 3 p.m.—and certainly not after a big dinner. Do so, and you'll be instantly branded a tourist. If you need that coffee fix, though, an espresso is fine. 7. IN BRITAIN, ALWAYS PASS THE PORT TO THE LEFT — AND REMEMBER THE BISHOP OF NORWICH. It's unclear why passing port on the left is so important; some say it has to do with naval tradition (the port side of a boat is on your left if you're facing the helm). Regardless, passing the decanter to the right is a big gaffe. So is not passing it at all. If you're at a meal and the decanter stalls, then ask the person with it, "Do you know the Bishop of Norwich?" If they say they don't know him, reply, "He's a very good chap, but he always forgets to pass the port." It sounds weird, but it's true. This is such a nationwide tradition, the Telegraph wrote an article on it. 8. IN FRANCE, DON'T EAT YOUR BREAD AS AN APPETIZER. Instead, eat it as an accompaniment to your food or, especially, to the cheese course at the end of the meal. That said, one thing that would be a faux pas anywhere else—placing bread directly on the table and not on a plate—is perfectly acceptable in France—in fact, it's preferred. 9. IN CHINA, DON'T FLIP THE FISH. Although you might be used to flipping over a whole fish once you've finished one side, don't—at least not when you're in China, especially southern China and Hong Kong. That's because flipping the fish is dao yue in Chinese, a phrase similar to "bad luck." Plus, says Foster, "to flip the fish over is like saying that the fisherman's boat is going to capsize." The most superstitious will leave the bottom part untouched, while others will pull off the bone itself to get to the bottom. 10. IN ITALY, DON'T ASK FOR PARMESAN. Putting parmigiano on pizza is seen as a sin, like putting Jell-O on a fine chocolate mousse. And many pasta dishes in Italy aren't meant for parmesan: In Rome, for example, the traditional cheese is pecorino, and that's what goes on many classic pastas like bucatini all'amatriciana, not parmesan. A rule of thumb: If they don't offer it to you, don't ask for it. 11. IN CHILE, DON'T EAT WITH YOUR HANDS. Manners here are a little more formal than many other South American countries. So while it might be the most practical to just pick up those fries with your fingers, don't do it. "The greater need is to identify with European culture, so food is [eaten] with a knife and a fork," Foster says. 12. IN KOREA, IF AN OLDER PERSON OFFERS YOU A DRINK, LIFT YOUR GLASS TO RECEIVE IT WITH BOTH HANDS. Doing so is a sign of respect for elders, an important tenet of Korean culture. After receiving the pour with both hands, you should turn your head away and take a discreet sip, says Stephen Cha-Kim, a Korean-born worker's rights advocate who regularly visits family in Korea. "To this day, if anybody hands me anything, both hands shoot out instinctively," Cha-Kim says. Similarly, don't start eating until the eldest male has done so (and don't leave the table until that person is finished). 13. IN RUSSIA, NEVER MIX — OR TURN DOWN — VODKA. The beverage is always drunk neat—and no, not even with ice. Adding anything is seen as polluting the drink's purity (unless the mixer is beer, which produces a formidable beverage known as yorsh). But there's another faux pas that's even worse, says Foster: when you're offered the drink and you turn it down. Since offering someone a drink is a sign of trust and friendship, it's a good idea to take it. Even if it is 9 a.m. 14. IN THE MIDDLE EAST, SHAKE THE CUP AFTER DRINKING COFFEE. Typically, anyone Bedouin—or Bedouin-related—will continue to pour you more coffee once you've finished unless you shake the cup, meaning tilting the cup two or three times, when you hand it back. It's such an important tip, says Middle East-based freelance correspondent Haley Sweetland Edwards, that last year, Bedouins she was eating with in Qatar made her practice it until she got it right. 15. IN BRAZIL, PLAY YOUR TOKENS WISELY. At a churrascaria, or a Brazilian steakhouse, servers circle with cuts of meat and diners use tokens to place an order. If a server comes out with something you want, make sure your token, which you'll have at your table, has the green side up. If you don't want any more, flip it with the red side up. Since the meat can be never-ending, it's important to strategize—if you leave that token green side up you could end up ordering a lot more than you intended.
10 Most Useful Travel Websites
The Web should make things easier for travelers, but the sheer volume of services out there is often more overwhelming than useful. Unfortunately, you don't always know which outfits pay off until you've already invested your time. The Budget Travel team puts websites—new and established—to the test every day. So when it came time to line up our favorites, the task was easy—we just turned to the sites we keep revisiting because they're so darn helpful. Our top picks can help you avoid overpaying for airfare (Bing Travel), bag the primo room at a hotel (Hipmunk), and never miss a deal on a rental-car reservation again (AutoSlash). Some of our favorites are as useful as a mind-reading tour guide (Plnnr); others are as handy as having a personal secretary track your frequent-flier balances (Award Wallet). Put them all together, and they become Budget Travel's picks for the best the Web has to offer. FOR PLANNING 1. BING TRAVEL Buy plane tickets at the best possible time.Like other booking sites, Bing lets you comparison-shop for tickets across more than a hundred sources. Yet unlike most other sites, it also analyzes historical data to predict whether the price you see on the screen today is likely to rise (or drop) in the coming week, clearly marking the bargains with a big, green Buy Now icon. What's more, Bing is the only airfare search site to have its predictions independently audited. With an accuracy rate of 75 percent, it's not perfect—but those are better odds than blind guessing gets you. bing.com/travel. 2. AUTOSLASH Lock in the lowest rate on rental cars.Here's how it works: Reserve a vehicle from a favorite agency through the AutoSlash site, and the site will instantly begin tracking rate changes for your reservation. If a sale pops up later—snap!—it automatically locks in the lower price on your behalf. You can even use AutoSlash if you've booked independently. Just enter your confirmation number, and the site will notify you when it's found a lower rate (which you'll have to rebook on your own). Neither AutoSlash nor the company you first booked with charges a fee for the service. autoslash.com. 3. FLY OR DRIVE CALCULATOR Determine the cheapest way to reach your destination.Coupon site befrugal.com crunches data from sources such as AAA and Google Maps to power its Fly or Drive estimator (found in the site's Tools & Calculators tab). The more details you supply—the make and model of your car, the number of travelers in your group, whether you'd be springing for a taxi to the airport—the more accurate the estimates. For the eco-minded, it even includes a carbon-footprint estimate for each mode of travel. (Note: The calculator only works for trips within the continental U.S.) befrugal.com/tools/fly-or-drive-calculator/. 4. PLNNR Get instant itineraries tailored to your tastes.Whether you have a full week or a few hours, Plnnr can craft a (free!) customized point-to-point trip guide for 20 popular urban destinations across North America and Europe. You supply the length of your stay, desired activity level, and interests (such as outdoors, kids' activities, and culture), and the site spits out a fully formed itinerary, factoring in each attraction's opening and closing hours and travel times between spots by taxi or on foot. You can further fine-tune the results by adjusting the priority level for even more specific subcategories—architecture, breweries, and even cemeteries—or reject individual suggestions outright. (Plnnr won't get its feelings hurt.) plnnr.com. 5. HIPMUNK Find a hotel you'll fall in love with.The folks behind Hipmunk's airfare and hotel searches know that good trips are about more than mere numbers. That's why they've incorporated an "agony" scale for flights with multiple legs and long layovers, and an "ecstasy" rating for hotels based on a combination of a property's amenities, rates, and user reviews on TripAdvisor. Even better, Hipmunk's hotel search tool has built-in color-coded heat maps to display a given destination's best spots for dining, shopping, nightlife, landmarks, and—ahem—"vice." So you'll always end up in a neighborhood that fits your specific needs (or noise tolerance). The site displays real-time prices available on Orbitz, Getaroom, Hotels.com, HotelsCombined, or Airbnb and links out to the appropriate site to close the deal. hipmunk.com. ON THE ROAD 6. TRIPIT Keep every last confirmation number, arrival time, and prepaid reservation fee straight.Don't have an über-organized type among your travel crew? Don't worry. TripIt consolidates every important detail of your vacation into a single handy document, which you can access on the go via laptop, tablet, or smartphone. Just forward each email receipt from booking a flight, hotel, rental car, or cruise to your TripIt account, and the site will cull and compile the flight numbers, gate information, and other relevant items so you never show up in the wrong place at the wrong time—or with the wrong confirmation code in hand. Not satisfied? The site also supplies seat-selection advice for flights, links to check in online, flight status updates, weather forecasts, and driving directions. tripit.com. 7. TRIPPING Connect with the locals—through a trustworthy community.While any old travel site can add some social-networking features and call itself "the Facebook of travel," Tripping paves the way for true face-to-face interactions in about 130 countries across the globe. Primarily a homestay network—but just as effective for setting up a casual coffee meeting or a video chat with a looped-in local—Tripping manages the risk factor with its stringent membership policies and strong user-reference system. (To join, users must display a passport via Skype and prove a home address.) When you're not traveling yourself, you can earn some good travel karma by playing tour guide for visitors to your own hometown. tripping.com. 8. GOOGLE MAPS Expertly navigate unfamiliar territory.Thanks to constant refining by its mapmakers and graphic designers, Google's gold-standard mapping tool just keeps getting better. Live traffic information was recently added for 13 European countries; the site's maps for New York City, London, and other major cities now have public transit options; markings for tunnels and highway signs become easier to read every year; and you can plot your route by car, bicycle, or foot—although the latter two options are still in beta. There's simply no more comprehensive and user-friendly way to explore. maps.google.com. ONCE YOU'RE BACK 9. AWARD WALLET Never let another frequent-flier mile expire.Consider it the loyalty-program counterpart to TripIt's travel-info collector. Award Wallet streamlines your family's assortment of frequent-flier and loyalty programs, compiling them in a single, simple, point-tracking package. The setup takes minutes. For each account, just enter your log-in information; Award Wallet automatically pulls your points balances and expiration dates—so you know to take action if you're on the verge of losing them. And because the site saves your log-in information, you only need one password to access all your accounts. awardwallet.com. 10. BLURB Preserve your photographs in a format that people can't keep their hands off of.Custom book publisher Blurb lets you design and print a soft-cover or hardcover travel photo album using impressive design tools and high-quality inks, paper, and binding. Most important, it also leaves you broad creative control. (No floral borders or faux photo-corners necessary.) Price is based on size, paper stock, cover material, and shipping fees, but single copies start at $11 for a 20-page book. Think your book has potential beyond your own coffee table? Blurb can also share your images as a free online slide show or sell copies of the book through its online shop. blurb.com. SEE MORE POPULAR CONTENT: 4 Most Common Reasons Airlines Lose Luggage 10 Coolest Small Towns in America A Neat Freak's Guide to a Clean Suitcase 10 Gorgeous Pools You Won't Believe Are Public 12 Restaurants With Spectacular Views