Do You Really Need to Get a Travel Vaccine?
You've just told a friend about your upcoming trip to a once-in-a-lifetime locale like Machu Picchu or an African game park and he turns your wanderlust to whomp-whomp with a simple question: "Have you gotten your shots?"
The question is not as bratty as it sounds. There are a handful of places on earth you literally can't visit without getting vaccinated, and a wide array of countries where a few recommended shots could be the difference between a dream vacay and a medevac.
Get the essential shots
"No matter where you're traveling, you should make sure you're up-to-date on routine vaccinations like T-dap (diptheria/tetanus/whopping cough), measles/mumps/rubella, and annual flu shots," recommends David Freeman, M.D., professor of medicine and epidemiology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and treasurer/secretary of the International Society of Travel Medicine. Yawn? Think again: Measles is on the rise in Europe, where an anti-vaccine movement has discouraged many parents from having their kids inoculated against this potentially deadly disease. And nothing says "There's no place like home" like a bout of flu on the road.
Find out if your destination poses health risks
Visit a user-friendly web resource, such as the Centers for Disease Control (cdc.gov), to find a country-by-country index that explains what vaccinations are recommended. Headed for a South Africa game park? You should consider, with a doctor's advice, shots for typhoid, rabies, and hepatitis A. But if your game park is in Kenya, you may be advised to add a yellow fever vaccine to the list. In fact, many less-developed countries in sub-Saharan Africa and the Amazon River basin actually require visitors to show proof of yellow fever inoculation before they enter the country. And, though there's no vaccine against malaria, it is rampant in lower Africa and you should ask your doctor for an antimalarial prescription before you leave the U.S.
Weigh the costs of vaccinations
Freeman recommends that before traveling to a developing region, you visit a travel clinic—where the doctors' major focus is on helping you stay healthy on the road—at least four weeks before your trip. But there's a catch: Although routine shots are covered by most health insurance plans, a trip to a travel clinic and vaccines that are recommended or required for travel are usually not. That means that, on top of airfare and lodging, you may have to add $50-$100 for your exam/consult, $250-$300 for typhoid and hepatitis A shots, $150-$200 for yellow fever, and up to $1,000 for a rabies series. We're not suggesting you miss the chance to see the Big Five or explore the rain forest—just arm yourself with information and, if you must, roll up your sleeve!
7 Great Tips for Visiting Paris in Springtime
The famous song "April in Paris," written by the Tin Pan Alley composer Vernon Duke and recorded by Frank Sinatra, Billie Holiday, and a host of other jazz singers, would have you believe that the city's prime visiting time has passed this year. Not true. April in Paris is, in reality, rainy. You'll find better weather—without the summer crowds and high prices—in June. Here, Budget Travel's best tips for enjoying the world's most gorgeous city during the most gorgeous time of year. TAKE A TOUR OF PARIS! HAVE A PLAN, BUT BE FLEXIBLE John Baxter, author of The Most Beautiful Walk in the World: A Pedestrian in Paris, recommends that you pick one must-see for each day in Paris, but improvise the rest of the day. This combination of planning and spontaneity is ideal for Paris, a city that offers not only super-famous sights like the Louvre, Notre Dame, and the Arc de Triomphe, but also super-secret spots that are all the more special for being off the beaten path. "Paris can't be done with just a map or a guidebook. You have to get lost, frustrated, overwhelmed. Only then will you find that perfect café, that market that seems like a local secret, or that hidden garden. You have to discover Paris for yourself and then it will be yours," says Rebecca Geoffroy-Schwinden, a Ph.D. candidate in musicology recently returned from a year in Paris. GET THE PERFECT VIEW Dubbed "this useless and monstrous Eiffel Tower" by the city's most prominent artists when it was proposed by engineer Gustave Eiffel, Paris's ultra-iconic observation tower debuted as the entrance to the 1889 World's Fair and quickly became so popular that it was never taken down. These days, the only "monstrous" thing about the tower is the line to buy tickets—the Eiffel Tower attracts more than 7 million visitors each year. It may no longer be the tallest man-made structure in the world (it held that title until the 1930 completion of New York City's Chrysler Building), but the view of the City of Light from the top—including the Arc de Triomphe, Sacre Coeur, the Seine and its many bridges, and the surrounding countryside up to 40+ miles—has no earthly match. The elevator to the top: 14.50 euros (buy tickets online to sidestep the line). You can toast the view with a glass of Champagne (from 10 euros), and beat the crowds by visiting later in the evening—the floodlit tower is open until 11 p.m. through mid-June, then to midnight in summer. Insiders suggest that you take the No. 6 Metro line to the Bir-Hakeim station—you'll get an unforgettable view of the tower as your above-ground train approaches the station. Looking for a less-crowded view? The top of Notre Dame cathedral can't be beat, and the view from the Arc De Triomphe is spectacular as well. Or try this insider tip: "Head to the top of Tour Montparnasse around 4:30 p.m. for a Champagne overlooking the Champs de Mars and the Eiffel Tower," suggests Geoffroy-Schwinden. SEE THE GARDENS Sure, museums like the Louvre and D'Orsay insist on keeping world-famous paintings like the Mona Lisa indoors and that's where you've got to go to see them. But if you visit Paris in springtime, don't stay cooped up inside. The Louvre's collection includes not only paintings, drawings, and sculptures, but also the Carrousel gardens and Tuileries, which offer explosions of spring color, fragrant paths, and inviting landscaping. And for a real dose of spring flowers, don't miss the Luxembourg Gardens and a day trip to Versailles! DO LUNCH A lot of sit-down restaurants in Paris will set you back hundreds of bucks at dinner time. Save them for a (really) special occasion. But Baxter reminds us that prices at some of the top joints can be 50 percent lower at lunch time. He also suggests you can't go wrong at lunch time picking up a spot where the diners stuff napkins into their collars and mop up their plates with pieces of baguette—if picky Parisians are happy with the place, you'll likely find a $40 lunch that includes a good wine. Don't be a wine snob: House wines in Paris are among the best in the world. And don't forget that tips are always included in the bill, so don't tack on an extra 20 percent. KEEP IT SIMPLE As great as Paris's restaurants and museums are, Baxter insists that the city's vibrant street culture and grab-and-go options may be its most alluring. Munching on a fresh baguette with world-class French cheese and jambon (ham) while strolling along the boulevard or sharing a park bench costs just a fraction of the price of a sit-down lunch, and may very well end up being the meal you never forget. EMBRACE PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION The Paris Metro trains and buses are clean, safe, reliable, and affordable. In fact, some visitors insist that booking a hotel near a Metro station is the most convenient way to see the city. Opt for a carte orange, a weekly pass. DON'T GET LOST IN THE STARS Paris hotels are rated by the French government with a star system. Some one-star hotels are charming and reliable while others are not well kept and have rooms without private bathrooms. Baxter suggests staying in a three-star hotel. They are typically under $200 per night, including a private bath and complimentary coffee and croissant each morning. Budget Travel can help you select a hotel with our recent Secret Hotels of Paris.
We wish we could find you a free plane ticket to New York City—and a complimentary hotel room when you get here—but once you're in town, NYC rolls out a never-ending supply of amazing activities that most travelers would be more than happy to pay for, but don't have to. Whether it's world-class Shakespeare, a refreshing boat ride, an unforgettable evening at a museum, or just stretching out on the lawn at a relaxing Midtown oasis, summer in the city has never been more affordable. 1. Shakespeare in the Park The Bard's Coriolanus (July 16 through August 11) will give audiences the opportunity to hear Elizabethan drama presented in the open air, as it was in Shakespeare's day, at the outdoor Delacorte Theatre in Central Park. All tickets to the play, a harrowing tale of democracy under siege by a despotic leader, are free and are distributed in a number of ways, including a line at the theater and online ticketing. To find out how to nab your tickets, visit shakespeareinthepark.org. 2. Staten Island Ferry Did you know that you can get a boat tour of New York Bay, complete with views of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, and cool off in the salty breezes? Stop—there's no need to reach for your wallet. New York's iconic Staten Island Ferry makes regular trips between lower Manhattan and the borough of Staten Island free of charge. For schedules, visit siferry.com. 3. The High Line (Francoisroux/Dreamstime) Psst! In recent years, when you mention how much you love, say, Central Park or Bryant Park to a New Yorker, they may reply, with just a touch of smug, "Well, have you been to the High Line?" This former elevated freight rail line has been converted into a unique public park that runs down the West Side of Manhattan from 30th Street to the West Village, with multiple access points, including wheelchair accessibility, along the way. Although you may not find free Shakespeare or a carousel up there, the chance to see the city from a different angle—included guided walking tours and Tuesday-night stargazing—is priceless. And free. Visit thehighline.org to learn more. 4. New York Botanical Garden All day each Wednesday, and from 9 to 10 a.m. each Saturday, the New York Botanical Garden, in the Bronx, opens its grounds to visitors free of charge. You can hop a subway train or Metro North's Harlem line from Grand Central Terminal to get there, and walk the winding paths among the trees and flowering plants. You'll have to pay to get into the greenhouses or special events—but on a lovely summer's day, the grounds will likely offer more than enough flora to keep you satisfied. Learn more about the botanical garden's summer programs at nybg.org. 5. Central Park Every single day of the summer, Central Park's calendar is packed with activities like catch-and-release fishing, guided tours of gardens and wild spaces, concerts, theater, and more—not to mention the fact that the park also hosts the charmingly manageable Central Park Zoo, a carousel, puppet theater, and, oh yeah, a museum you may have heard of... the Metropolitan Museum of Art (not free, but residents of the Tri-State area can pay what they wish, and the museum is always free to students with ID). But, honestly, the best way to enjoy Central Park is to wander its paths with someone you love, discovering its ponds (including the one where Stuart Little competed in a miniature-boat race), bridges, and public sculptures (such as the breathtaking Bethesda Fountain, where the closing scene of Angels in America takes place) as you go. If you're the type who must plan ahead, you'll find maps and a somewhat overwhelming schedule of events on the park's official site at centralparknyc.org. 6. Summerstage Got a little time on your hands? How about a free concert? Or dance recital? Or how about dozens of free performances in public parks across all five of New York City's boroughs (The Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, and Staten Island)? Summerstage arranges an incredible array of free entertainment each year, including music, dance, and comedy. Find a few—or a few dozen—that sound good to you at cityparksfoundation.org/summerstage. 7. Grand Central Terminal At the corner of 42nd Strett and Vanderbilt Avenue in Midtown, you'll find an architectural treasure that's worth a visit even if you're not planning on hopping on a train. Grand Central Terminal's main hall has the open, uplifting feeling of a cathedral interior, and if you're lucky enough to visit on a sunny, day, you'll see the classic image of sunlight pouring in the building's iconic windows, illuminating the bustle below. For a schedule of the building's award-winning, absolutely free walking tours, visit grandcentralpartnership.org. 8. New York Public Library Not just a collection of books—though it is quite a collection of books—the New York Public Library's main building at the corner of 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue also hosts numerous free art and history exhibits with materials from its extensive collection of drawings, paintings, maps, manuscripts, and bound books. If you're a fan of the film Ghostbusters, the building will feel eerily, and comically, familiar. And don't forget to pay the sculpted lions outside a visit. Visit nypl.org for a schedule of exhibits and special events. 9. Bryant Park (Stuart Monk/Dreamstime) Right behind the main library, Bryant Park is an oasis of green—and blood-pressure-lowering serenity—in the midst of Midtown. A children's carousel imported from France plays Edith Piaf recordings as the kids whirl around on beautifully carved and painted horses, bunnies, and cats, and there are a few spots to buy lunch or dinner in the park. But a seat by the fountain on a hot summer day is just about all it takes to relax and recharge—as many New Yorkers do on their lunch hours. The park's summer film festival presents a free movie every Monday night—bring a blanket and a picnic dinner, and get there early to nab a spot on the lawn where you can enjoy a classic like Coming to America, Goodfellas, and Anchorman. To find out what's going on at the park, visit bryantpark.org. 10. St. Patrick's Cathedral As long as you remember that you're stepping into a house of worship (hats off, voices low), a stop at St. Patrick's is a lovely way to escape the summer heat and hoards of shoppers on Fifth Avenue. Religious sculptures, stained glass windows, and soaring architecture can almost convince you that you've stepped into a time machine—or been transported to a European capital. Visit saintpatrickscathedral.org for a schedule of events, including masses and concerts. 11. National Museum of the American Indian New Yorkers who envy Washingtonians for their free access to the Smithsonian museums are forgetting that Manhattan has a Smithsonian museum of its own: the National Museum of the American Indian. Located downtown at the Alexander Hamilton Custom House, the museum is devoted to the history and culture of America's native peoples and in addition to permanent exhibits also offers regular music and dance presentations. Visit nmai.si.edu/visit/newyork to learn more.
Who Should You Tip? And How Much?
Tipping really shouldn't be so hard. The service was good, you leave a token of your appreciation, and everyone is happy. Not so fast. This is one of the most difficult aspects of travel to navigate, since you have to take into consideration everything from how employees are paid to cultural traditions that could have you embarrassing yourself and your waiter just by leaving that 15 percent (apps like GlobeTipping—which gives advice for tipping in restaurants, hotels, and more in 200 countries—can help you along). We consulted experts and avid travelers for their thoughts on the scenarios that trip up travelers most and got their advice on how to avoid awkward situations. CRUISE STAFF In the old days, cruise lines provided an envelope and suggestions for how much to tip the crew members with whom you had direct contact during a sailing. Now it's the norm for major cruise lines to automatically add the tips to your bill (which could take you by surprise), especially in the U.S. and the Caribbean. "In the last 10 years or so there's been a trend toward automating [tips] where the cruise line said 'we'll take care of that for you if you just mark this off on the bill,'" says Spud Hilton, editor of the San Francisco Chronicle's travel section and Bad Latitude blog. While some cruise lines make it possible to adjust the included tips if you wish, on others those included tips have become mandatory and cannot be adjusted. In this case, says Hilton, "the tipping is no longer about you and the person giving you good service—it's about service in general on the ship." And that service, he says, can even extend to things the cruise lines shouldn't expect passenger tips to cover—including employee education. Always check with your cruise line to find out if tips are included (and whether or not they can be adjusted) before setting sail. WAIT STAFF We've got tipping in the U.S. down when it comes to restaurants—leave 15 to 20 percent unless there's some outstanding circumstance. It's not so cut-and-dried abroad. A general rule for tipping in European restaurants is to leave a couple of euros if you're happy with the service, rounding a 47 euro bill up to 50 euros, for example. But in Denmark and New Zealand, no tip is expected at all. And be on the lookout for service charges that are included in the bill. In Norway, a 10 percent service charge is typically included (though you should leave 10 percent if it is not). But be aware that in some places, that service charge doesn't always cover the full tip. In Aruba, for instance, 15 percent is automatically added to the bill (this is distributed to everyone, including the kitchen staff). If you were happy with the service, leave an additional 5 to 10 percent and give it directly to your waiter. When in doubt, ask the hotel staff what the local customs are for tipping at restaurants. It's confusing when Europeans travel here as well. A couple years ago, the bar at a trendy New York restaurant started automatically adding 20 percent tips to bar tabs, since waiters were sick of being stiffed by European visitors who may not have been aware of customs on our shores. BELL MAN The tipping conundrum gets all the more confusing when you arrive at a big hotel with a flotilla of staff members on hand to assist you. One person grabs your bag from the car, another wheels it to reception, and yet another delivers the luggage to your room. You could get dizzy tossing around dollar bills. It's better to give one handout when you've reached your room. "The person who usually takes your bag from the car to check-in doesn't really expect to be tipped," says Peter Shankman, an entrepreneur who spends 85 percent of his time traveling, "They usually rotate their shifts (with the other porters delivering bags to rooms). The person who brings the bag to my room is the one I tip." STAFF IN CHINA AND JAPAN Believe it or not, tipping is considered rude in China and Japan, and is just not done. That goes for cab drivers, restaurant wait staff, and workers in hotels. But there is a big exception to this rule that could take even the savviest traveler by surprise. Keep reading to find out! SHUTTLE VAN DRIVERS Those courtesy shuttles you take from the airport to the car rental parking lot and from your hotel into town shouldn't be viewed as a completely free ride. Whether there's a jar for tips or not, you should hand off a dollar or two to the driver as you're getting dropped off. "If I have really heavy bags, I usually give the driver a few bucks," says John DiScala of Johnny Jet. HOTEL HOUSEKEEPING "Housekeeping is probably the most controversial—and misunderstood—tipping subject in hotels," says Charlyn Keating Chisholm, editor of About.com's hotels and resorts site, who has written several blogs on the topic. "Many people don't, but you should definitely be tipping the maid at your hotel," adds DiScala. "And if you tip every day instead of at the end of your stay you'll get the best service." A couple of dollars per day is acceptable. And when there's no official envelope for tipping, it's best to leave the money under the pillow instead of on a dresser, DiScala advises—in the latter case, maids may think the cash is not for them, and leave it behind after they clean. Even better, he says, find your housekeeper in the hallway and pass her a few dollars while thanking her for work well done. One caveat for this is if you are staying at a small inn or B&B. It's usually the owners themselves taking care of the tidying up, so forgoing the housekeeping tip is perfectly acceptable. CONCIERGE You don't need to tip a hotel concierge for sketching the route to the best local sushi joint on your map or arranging an airport shuttle. But if a real effort has been made to get you tickets to a sold-out show or a table at an impossible-to-book restaurant, the concierge deserves a special thank-you for his or her efforts. Tip somewhere between $5 and $20, depending on what you've requested, says DiScala. Slide the cash to the concierge in person or have it delivered to them inside one of the hotel's envelopes with a brief message expressing your gratitude. TOUR GUIDES Tips for guides are rarely included in tour prices, and are expected whether you were shown around the Roman Colosseum for an hour or the Great Barrier Reef for an entire day. "Generally speaking, $3 to $4 per day (in local currency) is acceptable for guides of shorter tours and $7 to $10 per day for full-day tour guides," says Andrew Schrage, co-owner of Money Crashers Personal Finance. When in doubt, ask the tour operator what is considered an acceptable tip—the question comes up so often that many agencies even post the information on their websites, he says. When we say this is standard worldwide we mean it—yes, even traditionally non-tipping countries like China and Japan (see, we told you there was an exception). But making a big show of passing over a few yuan or yen is still frowned upon. "Ideally, you would not give the tip directly after someone has done a favor for you," says Greg Rodgers, who runs several Asia travel blogs, including one on About.com. "That is like paying for the service. Instead, giving the tip at a later, unexpected time would be better." Most tours in China will include transport back to your hotel or the airport, so wait until the final goodbyes, not right at the conclusion of the tour. According to Rodgers, just taking cash out of your pocket is the worst way to tip in Japan. Put the money in an envelope and seal it before passing it to your guide. Have you experienced a tipping scenario that confused you that wasn't covered here? Tell us below.
10 Biggest Travel Ripoffs
Getting fleeced anywhere, whether in the states or abroad, is never fun—especially when you're trying to travel conservatively. Different languages and customs, however, can send even the smartest traveler into a financial tailspin. "Being gloriously overwhelmed by novelty and excitement at every turn leads us to be less perceptive than perhaps we might be back at home," says travel psychologist Michael Brein, Ph.D. "After all, the money is Monopoly play money—it isn't that real—so it's no wonder that it goes relatively more quickly than we think or expect." Recognize the world's top 10 worst travel ripoffs and you can save your cash for meaningful experiences that are worth the coin. 1. EXCESS BAGGAGE CHARGES When you're at home riffling through your closet for the perfect attire for daytime, nighttime, and every time in between (you never know, you might be invited to the opera or a picnic, right?), toting along an extra piece of luggage can seem sane—if not downright practical. Not the case, says travel expert Terry Trippler, founder of the consumer website The Plane Rules. "Chances are you aren't going to wear all that stuff you packed and end up paying more in baggage charges," he says. "In a lot of hotels, you can have clothing laundered for less than taking more and paying excess baggage charges." 2. TRIP INSURANCE Travelers can occasionally get a deal by purchasing travel insurance, but only buy it if you read and completely understand the policy. Otherwise, it can be worthless. "Travel insurance used to be basically flight insurance, but with the advent of non-refundable tickets, et cetera, businesses saw a market to sell insurance to cover expenses associated with the traveler's entire trip," Trippler says. (Medical care is one example.) "Watch this one—closely." 3. SHADY TAXI DRIVERS The ways that unsanctioned cabs take more than their share of your money by unscrupulous means are many, including high unstated charges, less than efficient routes, and incorrect change returned, says Brein. Instead of hopping into the car of the first person who offers, he suggests asking yourself these questions: "Is the cab marked or not? Is there a license or permit visible? Is there a price chart available? Is the taxi parked with others or hidden away? Is the driver with the cab or hustling elsewhere?" 4. EATING LIKE A TOURIST It sounds simple, but try to eat like the locals eat whenever you can, and that means deliberately avoiding the tourist traps. Specifically, watch out for incongruous cuisines, like an Italian joint next to a Caribbean beach, or restaurants that brag about their exquisite panoramic vistas. "What you might lose in atmosphere or views, you will gain in price and authenticity," says Laura Siciliano-Rosen, founder of Eat Your World, a website dedicated to finding the best local eats around the globe. To avoid shelling out cash for sub-par food, she suggests chatting up the locals—and not necessarily the hotel concierge. "Ask regular people: your taxi driver, your waiter, the guy next to you on the bus, the woman in line with you at the supermarket," Siciliano-Rosen says. "Also, you can probably tell where locals are eating by the look of a place. Does the place seem like it's trying to attract tourist money? Who's at the tables? Do you see any guidebooks or cameras?" 5. MANHATTAN HOTELS A hotel room in the Big Apple can sound enticing no matter what neighborhood you're in, but for the amount of money you plunk down, you don't get much. What you do get is often an older hotel with tiny rooms. Trippler calls it "probably the worst 'value' in travel." Before you book, research exactly what you're getting, or branch out to reputable hotels in other boroughs. 6. AIRPORT AIRLINE CLUBS When you picture a members-only portion of an airport, replete with its own bar, your first instinct might be to expect smoking jackets and the tinkling of a grand piano in the background. Not so these days. The reality can be anything but a sophisticated zen environment, which is not worth spending your money on, especially if you're paying a pricey day rate. "More and more people are joining and too often you can find a club that is just as crowded and loud as the airport departure gates," Trippler says. "The 'value' of any airline club depends on how often you will use it and the cities you will generally visit." 7. UNIFORMED "GUIDES" AT AIRPORTS A fancy uniform does not a reputable guide make. After deplaning in your destination, you might be accosted by "guides" who look official in dress, but actually are paid to take you to high-priced, touristy locales. "They all lead you to think that they are who they say they are, but in reality they are not," Brein says. "More often than not, they lead you not to places to stay, markets and shops, and sights that have merit or good value, but rather to places that more often than not suit their own purposes." If you need help navigating a city, seek out guides from official bureaus, Brein says. 8. BLACK MARKET MONEY EXCHANGE Trying to beat the system—and more specifically, the exchange rates—by changing money with locals on the black market is only going to hurt your wallet in the end. "Often, a few good bills are mixed in with money padded with either folded smaller bills, older illegal money, newspaper, and whatnot, and the money changers are usually out of there so quickly that the duped tourist has little or no recourse," Brein says. Stay on the straight and narrow and, if it helps you to know before you go, research exchange rates before you leave the country to avoid sticker shock at the counter. 9. "MINIMUM" FEES AT RESTAURANTS OR CLUBS In some countries, "minimum" charges for entering a sought-after (or salacious) nightclub are commonplace—and some restaurants bill you for what seems to be free, like mineral water. The last thing you want to do is blow your budget without getting anything in return. "These tourist-only fees seem to exist in restaurants around the world, particularly in Europe," Siciliano-Rosen says. "The charge may or may not be listed on the menu. When in doubt, gently refuse the bread if you didn't ask for it." 10. INSANELY HIGH BOOZE TAXES When in a country like India, which imposes an exorbitant tax on alcohol, skip the cocktails at restaurants, which can easily cost upward of $15. Go for virgin refreshments instead, such as India's traditional yogurt drink: "Stick to a lassi and save the beer for the hotel fridge," Siciliano-Rosen says.