Save Money And (Maybe) Time With The Right Luggage, Packed Efficiently

luggage

I am one of the lucky ones: a traveler who has never experienced the inconvenience of lost or damaged luggage. I like knowing that but have never dared talk about it out loud, for fear of jinxing the luck or angering the luggage gods. Instead, when others tell their tale of woe concerning luggage mishaps or go on about inadequate reimbursement from airlines, I politely nod in sympathy. Still, I know that luck does not hold out forever. Wanting to go out on top, combined with a need for speed and a love for saving money, I tried a different approach on a trip to Amsterdam recently; I checked nothing and carried on all of my luggage.

“Back in the day, checking your bag on a trip only cost you 20 minutes of your time after a flight. Now you’re lucky if it only costs you $20,” says Adam Dachis from Lifehacker, a website with tips, tricks and downloads for getting things done.

My thoughts exactly – but as more air travelers try to beat the system by carrying on more, less space is available, making packing efficiently a must. Picking the right bag, rolling clothes and taking only what we actually need make for a good start. But getting your head in the game can score some of the best results.”Problems occur when you start thinking of everything you pack as “single use” items,” says Dachis in “How to Fit Two Weeks Worth of Luggage Under the Airplane Seat in Front of You,” urging us to realize that most clothing can easily be worn more than once, some many times.

Dachis recommends a flexible duffel-style bag that gives up little space to padding, protection or aesthetics. Been there, done that, not for me. Spending a lot of time in airports I had seen businessmen with stackable luggage. A medium sized bag that fits overhead and a smaller one that fits under the seat. These were the road warriors I needed to pay attention to. Many had rollerboard-style luggage with four wheels too. I liked that idea as well. These were my personal luggage idols. They had crossed the finish line with a huge luggage win.

In my case, the search was long and tedious to find the right luggage. After years of searching, trying and eventually adding failed bags to a spare bedroom we call “the luggage room,” I may have found a good fit.

TravelPro’s 21-inch Spinner Suiter combined from their Crew collection can easily go in overhead storage and holds plenty of clothes for a week. What Travelpro calls a “business brief,” from the same collection, has extra room for more clothing too and fits easily under an airline seat. On my trip to Amsterdam, home for a day then off to Venice, I don’t want to unpack and pack again. This looks to be the right tool for the job – for me. Everyone has different needs.

“You can’t have a perfect packing system,” admits Dachis, placing his greatest emphasis on efficiency. “Good preparation makes for better travel.”

I couldn’t agree more. The down side? I still have to wait for those I travel with to collect their checked luggage. So much for saving time.

Looking for more reasons to change your thinking about the luggage game? Watch this video:


[Photo credit – Canadian Pacific]

Stick to a budget – Dinging out tip

Stick to a budget.

It’s easy to overspend on food on vacation, because you get excited about trying new dishes or regional specialties. Try setting yourself a budget for each meal ahead of time, and go into the restaurant mindful of your goal.

We’ve found it helpful to set budgets before we even leave on a trip, because once you’re in the moment, it’s easy to spend more than you planned.

Note that budgeting doesn’t have to mean eating boring or familiar dishes; choose restaurants that don’t cater to tourists, and you’ll find lower menu prices in many places.

10 tips for traveling as a couple – and not breaking up

Traveling together for the first time as a couple can be a make-or-break experience. You can learn more about a person on a two-day trip than you can in a few weeks of dating.

When you travel with someone, you quickly figure out how he interacts with other cultures, how she manages money, how she handles stress, or how he deals with conflict when the two of you cannot escape each other. Not to mention, you’ll be privy to all those things the other person may have tried (maybe successfully) to hide from you before: she doesn’t look quite the same without her makeup on, and you do not want to go in the bathroom after he uses it first thing in the morning.

Travel can be a more intense experience than life at home, and that holds true for couples traveling together too. But, traveling with your mate can also be an enriching experience that brings the two of you closer. Here are some tips for traveling with your significant other, whether you’re planning your first trip together or have been exploring the world as a couple for some time.Start small
The length of time you spend on your trip should be directly proportionate to the amount of time you have been dating. Couples who have been together for years have a better chance of surviving long-term travel, while those who have been together for less than 12 months should stick to trips of a week to 10 days.

If you’ve only been dating a month or two, do not attempt more than a weekend jaunt for your first effort, and never plan a trip more days in advance than the amount of time you have been together. Known each other one month? I don’t care if you are in love. I still wouldn’t recommend you buy tickets for a two-week long trip for three months from now.

Pick the right location
I often hear people ask what is a good “romantic destination.” That’s the wrong question. Any destination can be romantic. Romance is more about who you are with, what you do, and your state of mind than where you are on the map. Sure, some locations are more picturesque or have more “romantic” lodging options, but that doesn’t mean they are the perfect place for you and your sweetie.

Focus more on what you want to see and do and go from there. If you get bored lying on the beach all day, you aren’t going to have a great trip, no matter how “romantic” the resort claims to be. Talk to your significant other and discuss what you each want to do and what your travel style is, and select a location based on those considerations.

Plan together
In many relationships, it seems like one person always takes the reins of planning while the other is content to be led. This can work out fine for decisions such as where to go to dinner, but when you are talking about spending several days, and possibly several hundred dollars, on a trip, both people need to contribute to the decision making. Once you’ve settled on a location, you can divvy up the planning responsibilities in one of several ways.

If one person is more of a foodie, he or she can select restaurants, while the person who is more passionate about history or art chooses which museums to visit. Another option is to alternate days when each person plans the itinerary. You’ll decided what to do on Monday; he’ll make Tuesday’s plan. The third option, and the one that works best for my husband and I, is to each make a plan based on what we want to do. Then we compare (usually finding that most of our “must-do” activities are the same) and craft a final itinerary from there.



Compromise

In the travel planning and on the trip, you have to realize that you can’t get your way all the time. When creating an itinerary that includes both what you want to do and what your significant other wants to do, you often will each have to give up a few things in order to make it work. One way my husband and I do this is to figure out how many activities, cities, or restaurants we can fit in on the trip. Then we each make a list of our top choices, filling in one from each person until we have maxed out our time. This way we each get to do the things that are most important to us.

Take time apart
For your sanity, and in order to do some things you may want to do that your mate does not, it’s important to take time apart on your trip. Whether it’s 20-30 minutes to clear your head with an early morning run on a short weekend trip, or taking off an entire afternoon of a week-long trip to visit a museum that your significant other has no interest in, spending some time apart is vital. It can help prevent you from getting frustrated with each other and having petty arguments, and it can allow you the time to do things that matter most to you. Plus, a little time apart can make you appreciate the time you spend together even more.

Talk budget before you go
Money is one of the main sources of disagreement for all couples, whether they be traveling or not. It’s easy to say, “I’m on vacation, I’ll deal with it later,” and then cry when you get your credit card bill. One member of the couple may also feel pressured to keep up with the other, which can then lead to resentment.

Before you begin booking your trip, talk openly and honestly about what you can afford and how you plan to divide the costs. Unless your finances are already shared, the best system is to set a budget and go dutch on all costs. This doesn’t have to mean splitting the check at every restaurant though. Just figure out how much you plan to spend on each expense and assign each cost to one person.

For instance, if your hotel will be $500 for five nights and the plane tickets were $250, you can pay for the flights while you mate pays for the hotel. If you’ve budgeted $100 per night for dinner, just switch off picking up the tab.

Be flexible
While I’m a firm believer in making an itinerary and planning a budget for every trip, I think it’s equally important to remain flexible. Things change. Sometimes after a long day of sightseeing, you just don’t want to go to that fancy restaurant you had selected for dinner. The day you wanted to climb the Duomo for the perfect view dawns cloudy and grey. Make a plan but plan for it to change. Always have a Plan B and Plan C and don’t let the little hiccups frustrate you. Sometimes the best things can happen when your plans fall through.

Keep a sense of humor
With precious little vacation time, sometimes we put too much pressure on ourselves to have the perfect trip, to enjoy every single second of it to the fullest. When that doesn’t happen, we’re crushed. But things go wrong on the road. Planes are delayed, luggage gets lost, hotels lose reservations and sometimes even the most highly recommended restaurant turns out to be a disappointment.

When bad things happen, try to keep an open mind. So a crazy Italian chef screamed at you for suggesting that the swordfish wasn’t all that fresh(as happend to me on my honeymoon), don’t let it ruin your trip. Find a way to laugh about it and you’ll end up with a better experience, and a better story to tell when you come home. So you’re hopelessly lost, it’s raining and your train leaves in an hour. The worst that happens could be that you are out a bit of money and spend an extra night in the city. Try to keep things in perspective. Remember, in most cases, the troubles you have are minor and temporary.

Make time for romance
Any trip, any restaurant, any hotel, is as romantic as you make it. When we’re running around sightseeing, trying to pack a lot into a short trip, it’s easy to forget to slow down and appreciate the time we have with the one we love. Sometimes we need to schedule romance. On even the most budget trip, find a way to do something special for your partner. Whether it be a picnic with a view, an order of breakfast in bed, a splurge meal, or just a long moonlit stroll under the lights of the city, be sure to plan at least one thoughtful surprise for your significant other.

Protect your investment
Of course you and your love are never, ever going to break up. And certainly not before your week-long trip through Napa Valley or your two-week jaunt through his ancestral land of Ireland. But…..these things do happen. I know several people who’ve lost hundreds of dollars worth of plane tickets because they were dumped right before the trip, or who suffered through an uncomfortable vacation (rather than lose the money) and broke up as soon as they got home.

Don’t let this happen to you. Make sure that your ticket cost can be refunded or that the tickets can be changed. If you need to put down a deposit, find out when the last day to get a refund is. For a trip of significant cost, look into travel insurance, which often contains a “cancel for any reason” provision that would cover heartbreak and allow you to recoup all funds if the relationship goes sour.

South by Southeast: How to budget for long-term travel

Welcome back to Gadling’s new series about Southeast Asia, South by Southeast. Starting in October, I’ll be spending the next four months traveling through this much-discussed destination. But as exciting as it is to travel for several months, you can’t just get up and leave overnight. Medical arrangements must be made, backpacks selected and most importantly, you’ll need to do some budgeting.

Perhaps the most daunting obstacle for anyone considering this type of long-term trip is deciding how much money to bring. It’s not an easy question to answer – search around online and you’re likely to find all kinds of responses, ranging from the extravagant to the frugal. So how does one create a budget for long-term travel? And how in the world do you save up the money to make it work? Let’s take a closer look at how to do it, in five steps.

1: Decide Where You’re Going
The most important factor in your budget is the decision of where to go. Although you don’t have to pick a destination when you’re planning a trip, it helps to choose regions you want to visit and consider general costs. As a rule of thumb, travel in North America and Western Europe is most expensive, whereas South America, Southeast Asia or Africa are far cheaper. For my trip to Southeast Asia, I took the region’s cheaper cost of living into account, deciding I could afford to stay longer and stretch my dollars farther.

It’s also worth considering how much you plan to move around. Will you be visiting multiple regions of the world? Or will your trip cover just a few neighboring countries? If you only have a week to see all of Southeast Asia, the flights are going to get expensive quick. But if you’re able to take your time, you might be able to save lots of money on cheaper bus, boat and train rides.

2: Get Some Inspiration
Lots of numbers get thrown out when it comes to travel budgets. According to general wisdom, $20-30 per day is enough for Southeast Asia. This includes a basic, clean guesthouse, three meals and a few activities. If you want high-end hotels, it can cost much more. Regardless of how you travel, wouldn’t it be great to have real-world examples? Thankfully, there’s plenty of resources online to help answer this question.

For general budget queries, head to the message boards at Bootsnall or Lonely Planet, where questions such as “How long will my money last in XXX?” and “Is $XXXX enough for XX months?” are frequent topics for debate. Even more helpful are the budgets of long-term traveler Megan and backpacker David, who posted detailed spreadsheets of their expenses online. With these figures it’s much easier to know what’s realistic and what’s not.

3. Don’t Forget the Extras
The general assumption of long-term travel is you’re on a tight budget. But keep in mind there’s a difference between “tight” and “idiotic.” For every expense you planned in your head, consider there are 10 others you haven’t. There are visa fees to enter some countries, immunizations, and of course, the occasional splurge on a nice hotel. Consider these “other” costs as part of initial budget. You’ll thank yourself later when you have the money to cover them.

Although it’s been suggested $20-30 per day is enough for my trip to Southeast Asia ($900/month), I’ve left myself a bit more to handle unexpected incidentals. That’s not to mention several hundred dollars I spent pre-trip on immunizations and anti-malarial drugs. Take these costs into account.

4. Get Creative About Earning
By now you’ve figured out where you want to go and settled on an estimated budget. Hopefully you’ve also left padding for those extra expenses. But a good question remains – how on earth do you earn this money? You do have a life after all, and putting it on hold to plan a long-term trip doesn’t mean you have to become a hermit. Instead, you need to get creative about ways to save up. Here’s a few ideas:

  • Bring lunch to work. Those meals out add up quick.
  • Coffee drinker? Brew it at home.
  • Have a mortgage to pay? Can you rent your home while you’re gone?
  • Sell stuff you don’t need. It’s amazing what people bought from me on Craigslist.
  • If you have a car, could you sell it and take mass transit instead? Or a bike?
  • Have friends over to your house instead of going out to eat or to the bar.
  • Take on a second job. There’s plenty of freelancing and web-based jobs like blogging you can do from home.

The key is to find a combination that works for you. Not everyone can give up their car, or stop paying their mortgage. Perhaps you even have children to care for. Whatever your circumstances, patience and commitment to a plan make all the difference. If you want to travel bad enough, you can find a way to make it work.

5. Remember You’re Coming Back (eventually)
It’s a great feeling to be able to spend the money you’ve been saving during your travels. But don’t forget that at some point, even if you extend your trip, you’ll probably want to come home. Remember not to spend your travel fund down to the very last dime – you might need a few bucks when you get back to rent an apartment and cover basic expenses during the transition.

Gadling writer Jeremy Kressmann is spending the next few months in Southeast Asia. You can read other posts on his adventures “South by Southeast” HERE.

Budget Travel: Chicago

Summary: Chicago could be a budget traveler’s dream come true. The city is conveniently located in the middle of the country, it is surrounded by several major airports, has decent rail and road links, and has tons of free and affordable things to do.

Getting in: Getting to Chicago is going to be one of the easier parts of your trip. The city is served by almost every airline in the country (except Virgin America), and flights arrive at O’Hare or Midway airports. Adventurous (and creative) fliers can also fly into Rockford or Milwaukee airports, but the ride to the city may add too much to the cost of your trip.

Chicago may not be the massive rail hub it used to be, but Amtrak still offers rail service from many US cities. A round trip from Denver to Chicago costs about $190 and takes 18 hours. A train ride from San Francisco to Chicago takes 53 hours and costs $290 round trip. These fares may be substantially lower than air travel, but you’ll lose a day (or two) just getting there.

Of course, if you are feeling like a challenge, you could go all Clark Griswald on us, and drive.


Getting around – Making your way around Chicago is pretty simple, the downtown area can be reached from O’Hare with the Blue Line CTA trains, and once you get downtown, you’ll be close to a subway or bus stop almost everywhere you go. A great place to start is the site of the Chicago Transit Authority. Fares are $2.25 each, but unlimited ride passes start at just $5.75 a day.

Where to stay : Expedia has 562 hotels listed for the greater Chicagoland area, but like many big US cities, the closer you stay to the “action”, the more you will pay.

For example; one of the cheapest hotels listed for “Chicago” is a $42/night Days Inn, located in Gurnee, IL. You’ll be quite disappointed when you arrive at this hotel and realize it’s a good 40 miles from downtown Chicago.

Downtown hotels will cost you around $90 a night, just don’t expect too much luxury at that price range.

The cheapest way to stay downtown in Chicago is usually through Priceline. Downtown hotels usually go for about $50 when you use the Priceline “name your price” feature.

A great place to check recent winning bids is betterbidding.com. If you don’t feel comfortable with making a bid for a cheap room, then I can only suggest checking the rates on your favorite hotel booking site, because cheap stays is not something Chicago is known for.

What to see: When it comes to things to do in Chicago, the question is not what to do, but how much time you actually have to see the things you are most interested in. A typical downtown Chicago tourist will usually spend their first day strolling up and down Michigan Avenue. Between all the stores are a couple of impressive landmarks.

The Chicago Water Tower was one of just a handful of buildings that survived the great Chicago fire of 1871. The Water Tower is also home to the Chicago visitors center, where you’ll be able to snag some discount coupons for local attractions. Other “must see” attractions on the budget traveler’s list are:

  • Navy Pier – the pier is the most popular tourist destination in the Midwest. This structure extends about 3,000 feet into Lake Michigan and offers everything from a (boring) food court to a massive outdoor Ferris wheel. Navy Pier is also home to an Imax theater, the Chicago Children’s Museum and a large indoor garden. Access to Navy Pier itself is free, and during the winter quite a nice place to hang out. During the summer months you’ll find plenty of outdoor seating as well as weekly outdoor events. The Children’s museum at Navy Pier offers free admission every Thursday evening from 5-8pm, and free kids (<15) admission every first Monday of the month.
  • Field Museum – The Field Museum of Natural History is a must see for anyone wanting to get up close and personal with Sue, the worlds largest and most complete Tyrannosaurus Rex. She’s setup right in the middle of the main hall. Admission to the museum itself is sadly not very budget friendly and starts at $15 per person, up to $29 for their “platinum pass”. There are however 52 days a year when you can get free general admission.
  • Shedd Aquarium – This aquarium is one of the most impressive in the world, at one point it was the largest, and most visited aquarium in the country. A total of over 32,000 different animals are on display, from over 2,000 different species. The aquarium admission is a fairly steep $17.95 for adults, so keep an eye on their discount schedule for 2009.
  • Hancock Center / Sears Tower – Either one of these Chicago skyscrapers is a great place to relax for a bit. You’ll grab the elevator to 1,030 feet (Hancock Center) or 1,353 feet (Sears Tower). Once you are up there, there is no rush to leave, and you’ll be able to spend some time looking down at all the other fun things you can do. Admission is pretty high ($15 for the Hancock and $12.95 for the Sears Tower).
  • Millennium Park – If you are planning to visit the Windy City during the not-so-cold months, then a trip to Millennium Park is a great way to spend some time. The park has evolved into the heart of the downtown cultural area. During the summer, there is always something going on in one of the various pavilions. One of the best ways to get around the park (and the rest of the downtown area), is with a bike rental at the McDonalds cycle center. Rentals start at $8/hour. The cycle center is also where you’ll be able to participate in a guided bike tour of the lakefront.
  • Goose Island Brewery – Thirsty and in need of something to do? Check out the Goose Island Clybourn brew pub and tour. You can get a guided tour of the facility every Sunday at 3pm and 4:30pm. The $5 tour fee includes a tasting of their fantastic Chicago-born ales and lagers.
  • Lincoln Park Zoo – The Lincoln Park Zoo is located just off Lake Shore Drive, and is open 365 days a year. The best part about this zoo is that admission is free. You’ll find lions, polar bears and a fantastic kid-friendly zoo pavilion on the campus, as well as a large bird house. Because of the weather in Chicago, many of the exhibits are indoors.
  • Chicago Water Taxi – The water taxi runs from Michigan Avenue to Chinatown (and back), and rides are just $2 each. The first ride starts at 6:30am (9:45am on weekends) and the last ride is around 6pm. Their $4 “all day” pass is the best way to ride up and down the river and get some fantastic chances for some photos. Due to ice in the river, the service won’t start till March.

You’ll have noticed that most attractions in Chicago are not always very budget friendly. If you plan to visit as many things as you can, you’ll often be better off with a Chicago Citypass. $59 gets you free access to the Shedd Aquarium, Field Museum, Museum of Science and Industry, Adler Planetarium and either the Hancock Center or Sears Tower observatory decks. The admissions usually include at least one premium exhibit and is valid for 9 days from the day of first use.

Places to eat: Chicago natives, look away. My recommendations for places to eat are mostly touristy places, but unlike some other major cities, the tourist eateries in Chicago are by no means a tourist trap.

  • Billy Goat Tavern – This legend of a restaurant has always been famous in Chicago, but it became famous worldwide thanks to a skit on SNL. Remember Cheezborger, no Pepsi, Coke! and no fries, Cheeps? Head to their original location at lower Michigan Avenue for the authentic experience.
  • The Vienna Beef factory store – No visit to Chicago is complete without at least 2 or 3 Chicago-style hot dogs…and where better to eat a dog, than the restaurant attached to the place where they are made? Vienna Beef dogs are the quintessential Chicago food. Order your dog the way it was meant to be – with neon relish, mustard, onions, slices of tomato, a pickle, sport peppers and a light sprinkle of celery salt. Make sure you pay attention to the warning on the wall – ketchup is “illegal” on hot dogs in Chicago for anyone over the age of 12.
  • The Wiener’s Circle – This eatery is a “must visit” in Chicago. Think “Soup Nazi”, but with hot dogs. Avoid going here during the day, it’s much more fun late at night on a weekend. The restaurant is currently closed due to some “minor” health code violations, but do not let that scare you away from going there once it opens again. Remember to order a chocolate milkshake!
  • Pizza – Make sure to grab a slice of authentic Chicago pizza. There are several decent restaurants serving the real thing, my personal favorites would be Lou Malnati’s (order your pizza with buttercrust) or Giordano’s. These restaurants will serve individual deep dish pizza for about $6. Make sure to put aside up to 45 minutes for your pizza to be baked.
  • Heaven on Seven – Authentic Louisiana food in downtown Chicago? You bet. Chef Jimmy Bannos makes a killer gumbo, even better jalapeno cheddar corn muffins and a Cajun ice tea that is so potent, they limit you to one. I’ll admit that the place is not the most budget friendly joint in town, but $12 will get you a cup of gumbo and a huge chicken Po’ Boy sandwich. Trust me on the gumbo though – don’t leave without ordering it. Real fans will be happy to know that will gladly sell you the stuff by the gallon.