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Lost Luggage: What You Need to Know

By Maya Stanton
May 2, 2019
back alone at airport plane in background
Kiattisak Lamchan/Dreamstime
Plagued by pre-trip nightmares of landing at your destination sans luggage? The odds of it happening to you are lower than you think.

Is the threat of lost luggage putting a damper on your vacation plans?

Given the extra fees and the uncertainty surrounding checking a bag, it's no surprise that many travelers prefer to go carry-on only whenever possible. But according to a new report on lost and missing baggage from LuggageHero, a network of luggage-storage sites around the world, there might not be as much cause for concern as we think. The company took a deep dive into seven years’ worth of mishandled baggage reports from the U.S. Department of Transportation and determined that on average, airlines are receiving 30 percent fewer lost-luggage complaints than they were in 2012, and 12 percent fewer than they were just last year.

The Odds of Losing Your Bags

Of course, the problem hasn't been completely eradicated. Though the report estimates that, statistically, just two or three out of every 1,000 travelers' bags will be lost or damaged throughout the year, LuggageHero predicts that some 676,000 suitcases will go missing or suffer damage during the busy summer travel season.

Some Airlines Love Your Luggage More Than Others

Historically speaking, regional carriers SkyWest, ExpressJet, and Envoy Air are the worst offenders. Among the bigger players, Delta has mishandled the least amount of luggage since 2012, followed closely by Frontier, Spirit, Hawaiian, and JetBlue. United, Alaska, and Southwest are running in the middle of the pack, but if you’re flying American, resist that gate-check tag—of the major airlines analyzed, this one gets the lowest marks.

The Social Media Effect

New for 2019, LuggageHero is now looking at social media—and Twitter, in particular—to examine how the general public interacts with these airlines online. Tweets are categorized by tone (positive, negative, and neutral) and ranked accordingly; to date, Delta has the most positive audience engagement, with American and United not far behind. Meanwhile, JetBlue receives the most disgruntled feedback, with a ratio of negative to positive tweets that's more than double what Delta records.

The Best Time to Fly

If you know you have to check a bag, try to avoid traveling during the peak summer months and around the holidays, when luggage is most often misplaced. But we know that's easier said than done, so if that doesn’t work with your plans, you'll need to brace for the worst-case scenario.

Preparing for the Worst

Before you go, check your travel insurance policy to see if lost or damaged luggage is covered. If your stuff is MIA when you land, be sure to file a report with the airline immediately, while you’re still at the airport. Don’t leave the premises until you have a copy for your personal records, and document, document, document—you’ll have to show proof of loss to get reimbursement from the DOT, so take pictures and save your correspondence with the airline. It's also never a bad idea to document everything you pack before you head to the airport.

Be Your Own Advocate

Obviously, you should get your money back for any fees paid to check a bag that goes missing, but you’ll probably have to advocate for a refund, as well as reimbursement for the costs of any essentials that were lost in the process.

Luck, it's been said, favors the prepared.

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Travel Tips

24 Best-Ever Budget Travel Reader Tips

One of the things I love about working at Budget Travel is that nobody—and I mean nobody—has a more engaged, travel-savvy audience than BT. Our mission is to dispense the smartest travel advice around, and our readers often feel compelled to return the favor. Here, some of their best tips for saving money, time, and hassle on your next vacation. 1. Sip Affordable Airport Joe Coffee chains in airports sometimes charge twice what they do at home. And in-flight coffee is a dicey choice. So, I join the chains' rewards programs and save my free drink redemptions for my overpriced java at the airport. —Byron Flitsch, Los Angeles 2. Get Mexico's Best Exchange Rate When traveling in Mexico, I get the best exchange rates at the supermarket. All you have to do is buy a few groceries, pay in American dollars, and you will receive your change in pesos. On a recent trip I got more pesos for a dollar while most other places gave much less. —Sophie Pascard, Burlingame, Calif. 3. Save on a Cruise Spa (Ml12nan/Dreamstime) I've been on many cruises with various lines, and I've learned that the spas usually offer discounts on days when the ship is docked. So while one parent takes the kids on an excursion, the other can sign up for a massage! —Rhonda Grabov, Philadelphia, Pa. 4. Pssst! Learn a Family Stateroom Secret Families have trouble finding affordable staterooms that sleep more than four, and connecting rooms usually require you to book two rooms of the same category. Well, here's what we do: My husband and I stay in an ocean-view cabin, and our three kids are in a cabin across the hall. I bring a baby monitor that I bought at a garage sale and use it to listen to my kids' room. I can sleep knowing I'll be in their room the minute I hear a "Mom, I need you!" Plus, we get two bathrooms, extra closet space, and plenty of room to road. —Penny Laschanzky, Lincoln, Neb. 5. Get free Admission to Some of London's Historic Sites If you're heading to London and plan to spend time touring castles, it pays to become a member of the not-for-profit Historic Royal Palaces (hrp.org.uk). You'll get in free to five of the city's most impressive landmarks, including the Tower of London, Kensington Palace, and Kew Palace. Flash your card to bypass long lines and visit unlimited times within a year. —Tarryn Rivkin, San Jose, Calif. 6. Get free admission to 70 of Ireland's historic sites (Martin Mullen/Dreamstime) Admission to many of Ireland's historic sites can really add up. Buy the Heritage Card, good for unlimited admission for one year to more than 70 heritage sites across the country (including Dublin and Kilkenny castles). Buy them in advance at heritageireland.ie. —Nuala Banner, Westwood, Mass. 7. Eat Cheap in Italy If you're looking for a place to eat in Italy, check to see if the restaurant has a coperto, or cover charge. If you want only a light breakfast or lunch, skip the sit-down places, buy a pastry or a panini from a bakery, and picnic by a fountain or sightsee while you eat. —Blair Sechrest, Cary, N.C. 8. Save Euros and Skip the Lines at Florence's Top Museums Buy a Friends of the Uffizi Gallery pass before you go to Florence (florenceforfun.org). Membership is good for a year and covers the entry fee to the Uffizi and several other attractions, including the state museums of Florence, the Pitti Palace, the Medici Chapels, and more. The best part is that you get to skip ticket lines. —Mary Davis, New Port Richey, Fla. 9. Learn a Smart ATM Technique In France, ATMs sometimes distribute €50 notes, but many shopkeepers won't break them—especially when you're buying a €2 pastry. However, if you make sure your ATM withdrawals aren't divisible by 50, you'll get €20 notes. Fees add up, so you don't want to take out just €40 each time. Instead, request €130. Save the €50s for museum shops, which have no problem breaking large bills. —Shelby Foster, Fremont, Calif. 10. Avoid Airline Baggage Fees by Mailing Your Stuff Ahead of Time Now that most airlines charge a fee to check even one bag, we pack a box with our bulkiest items and send it to our destination a week before our trip. If the box is going to a hotel or a time-share, we attach a note asking the front desk to hold it for us until we arrive. —Jane Scott, Beverly, Mass. 11. Find Theme Park Discounts at Costco If you're a member, check Costco's website for discount tickets to theme parks. You'll find more park options on the Web than in your local store. Have the tickets mailed to your house—just be sure to allow at least a week for them to arrive. —Kati Knudsen, Lake Oswego, Ore. 12. Get Free D.C. Tours If you're planning tp spend time in Washington, D.C., always write in advance to your state's congressional representatives, requesting passes to attend sessions of Congress, and even discounted tour tickets. —J. Morrill, Alexandria, Va. 13. Find Out Where the Dollar Is Worth the Most If you want to find out where the U.S. dollar goes the furthest, go to the Office of Allowances page of the U.S. Department of State website (aoprals.state.gov). Click on the Foreign Per Diem Rates link. The site lists the daily travel expenses allowed for U.S. government civilians who travel overseas. The expenses are in dollars (they represent the maximum amount government civilians will be reimbursed per day), are updated monthly, and include hotels, meals, and incidentals in more than 1,000 locations around the world. —Barbara Zalot, Rocky Hill, Conn. 14. Enroll Your Kids in a Frequent Flier Program You're never too young to be a frequent flier. Register your kids with the airline's loyalty program when you pay for their first airfare. But not that many mileage programs will erase your miles if the account is inactive for 18 months; before that happens, donate the miles to a charity at miledonor.com —Laura Hunt, Chicago, Ill. 15. Save on Rental Cars If you Google "rental-car discount codes," you'll find a number of websites offering consolidated lists of these codes. You just may discover you're eligible for a load of reductions. —Lawrence Spinetta, Poquoson, Va. 16. Beat the High Cost of Highway Food When you're exploring the United States, you can avoid busting your road trip budget! Deli counters in grocery stores are great mealtime alternatives to restaurants and fast-food fare. The food is fresh, there's a good variety (hot and cold), and economically it's a great break. I've bought a complete hot meal, including beverage, for a few dollars from a local deli. —Teresa G. Barcus, St. Paul, Minn. 17. Keep Restaurant Coupons in Your Car I clip restaurant-chain coupons and store them in the glove compartment. On car trips, when my family and I eat most of our meals on the road, we enjoy the discounts. —Rebecca Ayala, Houston, Tex. 18. Rent From an Off-Airport Car Company When you rent a car at an airport, you often have to pay extra taxes and fees. Instead, rent from a location away from the airport and have the rental company pick you up (many offer this service for free). We once saved more than $50. —Diane Ketcham, Naples, Fla. 19. Get a Gas Station Charge Card Get a credit card from a company with gas stations nationwide. Many offer a percentage rebate, a gift card, or a certain percent off for an introductory period. —Amy Sutton, Farmdale, Ohio 20. Rent a House Instead of a Hotel Room For us, the ideal way to take a family vacation is to rent a house or condo. We've done it several times in Maine as well as in England. Cost-wise it works out to be less than a hotel, and you get space to run around, plus a kitchen, so you can have breakfast in your pajamas and actually relax. —Sara A. Ward, Fairfax, Va. 21. Get the Most Out of Resort Day Passes Even if you're staying at a standard resort hotel, take advantage of the day passes sold by many all-inclusive resorts. The passes—which give visitors access to the facilities, such as restaurants, swimming pools, and beach chairs—are primarily designed for cruise passengers on day trips, but anyone can obtain them. —Mandy Vieregg, Waco, Tex. 22. Get a Last-Minute Deal on a Condo Booking condos last minute can yield incredible bargains. ("Last minute" generally means a month or less before your stay.) Here's the best strategy: Buy your plane ticket and book a refundable hotel room you can use in case you can't find that bargain condo. Then, a month or so before your trip, start looking for a last-minute condo rental. If you find a deal, simply get a refund on the hotel room and pay the cancellation fee, if there is one. Using this technique, I found a great beachfront one-bedroom condo on Maui for hundreds less than my first booking. —Joan Chyun, Irvine, Calif. 23. Get a Multi-City Museum Membership If your travels take you to American cities large enough to have museums, zoos, or botanical gardens, consider buying a membership in your home city's counterpart. Many have reciprocal privileges with institutions elsewhere. A membership at Chicago's Lincoln Park Zoo, for example gains entry to zoos in Los Angeles, Des Moines, and Jackson, Miss., all at no charge. —Alice M. Solovy, Skokie, Ill. 24. Give Your kids a Travel Allowance To avoid the "Can I have…?" questions, set a trip allowance and stick to it. Upon arriving, we give our kids their souvenir money for the whole trip, and it's up to them to spend it wisely. —Nadine MacLane, Seattle, Wash.

Travel Tips

7 Foolproof Tips to Beat Jet Lag

Our story about how to sleep well on a plane, featuring advice from Roy Raymann, PhD, resident sleep expert at SleepScore Labs (SleepScore.com) and the former “Sleep Czar” of Apple, got a very enthusiastic response. We were inspired to get back in touch with Raymann to cover even more sleep-related travel topics. Here, how to beat jet lag, adjust to time zones both near and far, learn to relax and rest in a new environment, and the latest on the role smartphone and tablet screens can play in sleep. 1. IT TAKES ONE DAY TO ADJUST TO ONE HOUR OF A TIME ZONE SHIFT Raymann offers one basic rule of thumb that will serve you no matter how far you’re traveling and for how long. “It will take you one day to adjust to one hour of a time zone shift.” That adjustment can occur before you take off, or you can make it part of your visit to your destination. 2. HOW TO ADJUST TO A NEW TIME ZONE BEFORE YOU FLY If you are flying a relatively short distance and your destination is, say, a three-hour time difference from where you live or work, Raymann suggests that you start adapting to the new time zone a few days before you fly. “For a destination with a difference of three hours, just start three days before, and adjust your daily activities (go to bed, wake up, workout, meals, etc.) to link up to the new time zone by one hour every single day,” Rayman says. “Note that for long time zone leaps you might partially adjust prior to the trip, so you actually shorten the jet lag at the place of destination.” 3. FOR SHORT TRIPS, CONSIDER STAYING ON YOUR HOME SCHEDULE If your trip is just for two or three days and for rest and relaxation (as opposed to a business trip), and in a relatively nearby time zone, Raymann suggests, “You might actually not want to adjust at all, and stay on the ‘departure city’ clock for your daily activities.” 4. FLYING EAST IS HARDER THAN FLYING WEST “Not all types of jet lag are equal,” notes Raymann. “Eastward (such as flying from California to Florida) is harder to adjust to than a flight in the opposite direction. The body finds its easier to adapt to longer day as compared to short days, and when flying eastwards you cut your day short.” Sure, there’s not much you can do about which direction you have to fly, but knowing that flying east will be more challenging than flying west can help you prepare and recover. 5. SMARTPHONE AND TABLETS CAN INTERFERE WITH SLEEP What parents like me refer to as “screen time” can have a serious effect on your ability to sleep. First of all, they may prevent you from the necessary winding down required before sleep. “Certain emails, games, and online video content might cause stress, worries, and tension,” says. Raymann. In addition, notifications in the middle of the night can wake you up just as you’re learning to adjust to a new time zone. “Use the ‘Do Not Disturb’ setting on your device to make sure you get undisturbed hours of sleep,” advises Raymann. Finally, the light emitted by smartphones and tablets can affect your biological clock. “Screens contain a lot of blue light,” notes Raymann, “which directly affects your biological clock. Minimize your screen’s brightness, and use a night mode such as iOS Night Shift [which Raymann helped to develop when he was Apple’s ‘Sleep Czar’] to filter out blue light wavelengths.” 6. SET UP YOUR HOTEL ROOM TO MAXIMIZE SLEEP Adjusting to a new sleeping environment is a real thing: New city, maybe a new country, different pillow, room temperature, all of these factors can challenge your ability to get some shuteye in a hotel. “Try to mimic your own bedroom as much as possible,” suggests Raymann. “Some people even travel with their personal pillow. The rule of thumb is that a bedroom should be quiet, dark and cool, and your bed should be supportive and comfortable.” When you wake up in your new location, open the windows or step outside for a morning walk. “Getting some daylight A.S.A.P. tells your biological clock that the new day has started.” 7. HERE’S WHAT TO DO IF YOU HAVE TO SLEEP AT THE AIRPORT It’s not high on any traveler’s bucket list, but sometimes catching some zzz’s at the airport during a long layover or unexpected delay is a necessity. Raymann has the solution. “Use earplugs or noise cancellation headphones, a sleep mask to ensure it is dark, and, if possible, a thin blanket or a wrap. And since you don’t want to worry about your belongings, store them in baggage lockers while you try to get some sleep.”

National ParksTravel Tips

11 Safety Essentials for a National Park Trip

When it comes to America’s national parks, we wear our heart on our sleeve: For natural beauty, wildlife appreciation, and value, there may be no better vacation choice than, say, the Great Smoky Mountains, the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Yellowstone, or the dozens of other national parks that stretch from the Caribbean to the South Pacific and from Maine to Alaska. But there’s something else we wear, not just on our sleeve: Climate-appropriate clothing, which usually means layering and sun-protection. The right apparel is just one of the must-packs for a safe and comfortable visit to a wild and sometimes unpredictable environment. As the summer travel season approaches, we want to share the number-one NPS safety tip all travelers must know, plus 10 essentials to pack to ensure health, safety, comfort, and fun. 1. Follow Park Rules & Ranger Instructions This should go without saying, but the number-one item to pack for a successful national park visit is your common sense. When you visit a national park, it’s vital that you follow all posted rules and directions, and follow any verbal instructions given by park rangers. Often, the rules boil down to staying on the park paths and keeping a safe distance from all wildlife. No problem, right? But, unfortunately, each year park visitors are injured or killed because they wander where they don’t belong or get too close to wild animals. 2. Prepare to Navigate Pack a paper map and compass in addition to your GPS device—not coincidentally, some of the most beautiful places in America are far from Wi-Fi hubs. Review driving and hiking directions in advance, from the comfort of a Wi-Fi-enabled hotel room or rental property, and be prepared to navigate the old-fashioned way when you hit the trails. 3. Protect Yourself From the Sun The sun’s heat and damaging UV rays pose both short- and long-term risks. UV-protective sunglasses, sunscreen, a wide-brimmed hat, and sun-protective shirts and pants will keep you cool and energized on your day hikes, and protect your skin from premature aging and skin cancer. 4. Insulate Even in summer, some national parks become chilly in the evenings and sometimes dangerously cold at elevation. Insulate yourself by packing a jacket, hat, gloves, rain shell, and thermal underwear. 5. Get Illuminated Packing a flashlight, lantern, and headlamp may feel like a throwback, but illumination that doesn’t require an electrical outlet can come in handy for campers, cabin renters, cavern explorers, and just about everybody else from time to time. 6. Bring a First-Aid Kit Sure, you are trying to limit what you have to stuff into your car’s hatch or your checked bag. But a small first-aid kit that can supply antibiotic and bandages while you’re out hiking, padding, or engaging in other summer activities can help keep cuts and scratches from turning into a much bigger deal. 7. Be Ready to Build a Fire This tip applies mostly to campers and those who plan on exploring park backcountry, where waterproof matches, a lighter, and kindling can help with cooking and, in a pinch, staying warm. (If you pack matches and lighters, keep them locked away where kids can't get to them.) 8. Bring a Repair Kit Duct tape, knife, screwdriver, scissors. No, you’re not preparing to appear in an episode of MacGyver. But outdoor activities from camping to kayaking to hiking can sometimes require last-minute repairs to equipment, and most travelers just don’t think of packing these handy tools. 9. Pack Nutritious Snacks The NPS suggests having at least one day’s food on hand in the event of an unforeseen change of plans, which can happen in the blink of an eye thanks to changing weather, wildfires, and flooding. Packing nonperishable foods can be easiest, but do strive for high fiber carbs such as woven wheat crackers, lean proteins such as jerky or cheese sticks, and easy healthy snacks such as trail mix, nuts, and granola bars. 10. Stay Hydrated Water can sometimes seem like an afterthought to travelers who are lucky enough to take access to abundant drinking water for granted at home. But staying hydrated in the wild requires some planning and is crucial to health and safety. In the hot summer sun, you should sip water regularly, not waiting until you feel thirsty. Park rangers suggest a gallon of water per person per day. That’s a lot of water. Campers and backcountry hikers will do well to pack water-treatment supplies and to research nearby bodies of water. (Never drink untreated water in a national park—as clean as the water looks and feels, it may carry bird-borne microbes that can upset your digestive system.) 11. Carry Your Own Emergency Shelter This may not be necessary if you’re planning to hit the park highlights via car or park shuttle, but those going farther afield should carry portable shelter such as a tent, space blanket, tarp, or bivy in the event that they get stuck out in the great outdoors longer than they expected.

Travel Tips

9 Rules for Not Embarrassing Yourself in a Foreign Country

We want you to venture overseas feeling as relaxed and confident as possible. Before you head off to Europe and beyond, please look over our handy cheat-sheet for getting up to speed on local customs, attitudes, and expectations. By all means, meet the locals and have great conversations, bearing in mind these simple suggestions. 1. THE WRONG HAND GESTURE CAN GET YOU IN TROUBLE Here in the U.S., you'd never seriously consider flipping the bird to a total stranger, right? (Just roll with this and say "Who me? No, never!") But when traveling abroad it's entirely possible to throw an unintentionally rude gesture at a well-meaning waiter, hotel concierge, or friendly passer-by—if you're not familiar with local customs. Say your waiter in Rio just asked if you enjoyed your steak dinner. Flash him the OK sign (a circle with your thumb and index finger) and—congrats!—you've just insulted him really badly. In the U.K., making a peace sign (or V for victory) with your palm facing inward is the equivalent of the American bird. In Spain, extending your pinkie and index finger from your fist is an insult. 2. KNOW WHEN - AND WHEN NOT - TO TOUCH To touch or not to touch can be baffling overseas. Here in the U.S., we're relatively reserved compared with some European countries when it comes to the violation of personal space during a friendly conversation. But compared with much of Asia and Africa, we can come off as overly huggy. In Italy and France, maintaining eye contact and reaching out and touching the other person during a friendly conversation is considered more polite than standing there with your hands in your pockets staring over someone's shoulder. But in China or Germany, that level of touching will make the other person uncomfortable, and in some cultures, such as Nigeria, maintaining eye contact can be even be perceived as overly bold or threatening. As for public displays of affection, be prepared to reign them in if you're visiting most destinations in Asia and Africa, and keep a low profile wherever you are (perhaps with the exception of Paris) until you have evidence that, say, smooching on the sidewalk is commonplace. 3. MIND YOUR TABLE MANNERS Elbows off the table? Clean your plate like your mother taught you? Not so fast. Food etiquette varies widely from culture to culture and can sometimes appear to have no rhyme or reason. In the Middle East, India, and parts of Africa, keeping your elbows off the table isn't enough—you're not supposed to touch anything at the table with your left hand (it's considered dirty). In France, it's considered more polite to put your slice of bread on the table than to rest it on your plate. Slurp soup in Japan and no one will bat an eye. Slurp soup in China and you'll be the Ugly American. In China, eating rice with chopsticks is expected, but in Thailand it's considered inappropriate (there, you should use a spoon). In Brazil and Chile, don't eat anything with your hands (no, not even fries). In Italy or Cuba, putting your cutlery on the right side of your plate means you're done with the meal. But in Spain, you'd place it on your plate to indicate that you're finished. Clean your plate in Ecuador and you'll be given seconds, but in Peru cleaning your plate is just considered polite. And remember whenever you sit down to eat in a group outside the U.S., there's a good chance you should wait for either the host or the eldest person at the table to start eating before you tuck into what's on your plate. 4. DRINKING CUSTOMS CAN BE COMPLICATED If you ever thought that American rituals and customs surrounding alcohol were a bit arcane (what exactly does "Here's mud in your eye?" mean, anyway?), you'll be relieved to learn that the rest of the convivial world can be just as confusing. When a Russian offers you vodka, the polite thing to do is accept—and drink it down fast. Similarly, you should never refuse sake in Japan (though that hot beverage can be sipped, of course, instead of tossed back). In some countries, including Switzerland, it's rude to start drinking before a toast is offered. And the rituals surrounding which hand (or both) with which to accept a drink, which direction to pass, whose glass you should fill, and other surprisingly important items of cultural dogma should be mastered by consulting a reliable resource such as one of the great books in Dean Allen Foster's Global Etiquette Guide series. Be mindful that in some cultures, alcohol is forbidden—you won't find it served in Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates. 5. KNOW WHO YOU SHOULD - AND SHOULDN'T - TIP You'd never skip out of an American restaurant without leaving at least 15 percent on the table (well, unless the service was downright awful). But in many other parts of the world, tipping is either built into the bill, culturally frowned upon, or unnecessary because waitstaff are paid a much higher salary than here in the U.S. Don't tip in Japan, Australia, and Brazil. Leave 5 to 10 percent for exceptional service in Italy, France, and Germany. Leave 10 to 15 percent in Egypt, South Africa, Russia, and Hong Kong (but don't tip anywhere else in China). 6. NEVER UNDERESTIMATE THE POWER OF BODY LANGUAGE I haven't been to Switzerland yet, but there's one habit I'll have to break before I go: Turns out keeping your hands in your pockets during a conversation is considered rude there. Sound a bit uptight? Head to Turkey, where it's always been refreshingly acceptable for friends of the same sex to hold hands. In some countries, including Peru, it's a no-no to cross your legs at the ankle. In others, like Saudi Arabia, crossing legs at the knee is taboo. You already know that it's common to take off your shoes when entering homes in east Asia, but I'll bet you didn't know that in some cultures, including much of the Arab world, showing the bottoms of your feet or pointing with your feet is rude. 7. DRESS FOR SUCCESS Unless you're headed for Australia or Canada, it's a good idea to dress a bit conservatively whenever you leave the U.S. Cover your legs and arms, and avoid T-shirts with slogans or graphics that could offend strangers. (Traveling with a teen? You may have a difficult time getting him to leave his "Epic Fail" T-shirt at home, but it's worth a try!) 8. AVOID TALKING ABOUT POLITICS "Don't mention the war," may be the only wise words ever uttered by Basil Fawlty, the world's worst innkeeper, portrayed by John Cleese of Monty Python fame in the British sit-com Fawlty Towers: When tourists from the continent visit his inn, Fawlty implores his staff not to bring up WWII. Indeed, when representing the U.S. overseas, you can't go wrong by completely avoiding topics such as: wars, scandals, royals, politics, religion, and diplomatic relations with the U.S. Of course, once you've gotten to know a local or fellow traveler, there's nothing like a late-into-the-night, heart-to-heart cultural exchange—go for it! But among casual acquaintances and strangers, zip it! 9. LEARN BASIC FOREIGN PHRASES We've said it before and we'll say it again: Learning a foreign language's basic phrases such as "Hello," "Goodbye," "Please," "Thank you," "Excuse me," "Where is the bathroom?" and "Do you speak English?" will endear you to the residents of any locale you may visit. It takes only a few minutes to master the magic words that can turn strangers to friends anywhere on earth.

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