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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

TRAVEL TIP: Making Sure You Get Your Money's Worth Out of Your "Budget" Hotel


A few years ago, my mom asked me to arrange a trip to New York for her (note: I am not a travel agent, I was just doing a favor for my mom...please don't ask me to book a trip for you).

"I want a cheap hotel," was the request she gave me.

I told her that "cheap" in New York...especially Manhattan...would be well north of $100 per night if she wanted her own bathroom.  She let me know that would be too much and to find something cheaper.

*sigh...*


An extensive search throughout the island of Manhattan revealed little. The best I could find was the Hotel Penn on sale at $109 per night.  Too much, find something cheaper came the command.

After much bickering and back-and-forth, I found a Howard Johnson's in East Orange, New Jersey for $49 per night (after a senior discount because $52 was too much).

The first night there, "How could you put me in this neighborhood? This is awful!"

She checked out and found better, more expensive, hotel that was more to her liking.

The problem here is that my mom was concerned about one thing, and one thing only - the price.  The money you spend on a hotel is one thing but you need to take in the whole picture to make sure you're getting the best value for your lodging.

What was wrong for my mom? The hotel was in a bad neighborhood and she didn't feel safe. It was cheap, but not a bargain by any stretch of the imagination.

So don't go on price alone to see if your hotel is a bargain.  Here are some things to consider...

As in my mom's case, check to see if the hotel you're interested in is in a good area. If you don't know what the good and bad areas are ahead of time, check review sites such as Tripadvisor.com and Yelp.com to help you out.


Are the rooms nice and big enough for you? The hotel website or travel sites like Expedia.com and Hotels.com can help you here. Pay attention to the description. Do you sleep on a king size bed at home? My wife and I do and a full size or double bed is just not going to cut it for us, we need at least a queen size to feel comfortable on.  Are you traveling with kids? Check to make sure there will be enough bedding for them too.  Many rooms now include sofabeds that can come in handy for kids to sleep on as well.


Will there be food included? A lot of hotels will throw a few snacks on the table in the lobby and call it breakfast...usually a "continental" breakfast. Some will include a full breakfast with cooked eggs, meat, fruit, breads, and more. In Bakersfield, I can pay $60 a night for a small room with little to no amenities at the Motel 6 or I can pay $80 a night for a suite at Springhill Suites that includes a full breakfast, among other goodies...which one is the better bargain?


Do you want to swim? It's pretty easy to find a pool in the United States, other countries might be a bit more of a challenge but think twice...is the weather going to be nice enough to pay a premium for it? Is it an indoor pool that might be filled with noisy kids, echoing off of the walls? Can you get a nice hotel without a pool for less?

Another consideration is how noisy a hotel is. This may be hard to ascertain before you get there but review sites can help out here. Also, pay attention to the description...exterior hallways are usually noisier than interior halls. A hotel I stayed at recently boasted about its hardwood floors which, we found out, amplified and echoed noise...carpet eats a lot of sound.

Beware of hotels that also "boost" the room to more than it is. A junior suite is usually just a room. We stayed in one that the only thing that made it a suite was a small, 3 foot tall wall between the bed and couch.'

Lastly, look for extras included in the room that will make it cheaper or easier to go on vacation. A kitchenette with a stove and refrigerator will allow you to cook some of your meals, saving money on restaurants. A hair dryer means you can leave yours home...ditto with an ironing board and iron. One of the Holy Grails of hotel amenities is a washer and dryer in your room.

These are just a few things to consider when deciding what a bargain is in a hotel. Would a $60 room at the local Super 8 or TraveLodge be as good as paying $80 - 90 for a room that has some or all of the amenities listed above?

Keep that in mind when booking your next room.


-Darryl
Copyright 2012 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

TRAVEL TIPS: Packing for Travel

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Rick Steves likes to say pack as little as you think you’ll need, then take less than that.
Packing for a trip is always a challenge, you don’t want to forget that one item that you’ll end up needing but you also are trying to limit how much you’ll have to carry, especially if you’re flying.
Many people try for that elusive “one carry on bag” so they can just hop off the plane and be on their way but for most wheelchair users, we need to carry too much and always end up checking something.

Still, we strive for that magic amount of clothes and accessories that leaves us with as little as possible to carry along with everything we’re going to need.  Here’s how we do it…
CLOTHES
Pack with the idea that you’ll wear some of your clothes more than one day. For pants, I take two pairs for a week…the one I wear on the plane and another pair in my luggage. Dark colors can help hide an accidental stain and if it gets too bad, you can always find a laundry or washing machine nearby if an emergency makes you wash your clothes.
We also try to take clothes that are easy to clean in our bathroom sink or tub. For instance, these cargo pants from Campmor wash very easily and air-dry within 30 minutes. They also feature zip-off legs to convert them into shorts. Very handy for traveling.
One pair of shorts will do, none if you’re going to somewhere cold, swap another pair of shorts for one pair of pants if you’re going somewhere hot.
One pair of what I call “house shorts,” a comfy pair of gym shorts that I can lounge around the hotel in that also doubles as swim trunks if I need them to.
Two nicer shirts, like a polo shirt, and 6 T-shirts. I’ll wear a different shirt every day, t-shirt if I can get away with it, and save the nicer shirts for going out.
Underwear for a week...a pair a day. Same for socks. They don’t take a lot of room.
One jacket that will be appropriate for the climate I’m visiting (this can range from a hoodie to a down jacket…depends. Check the weather before you pack) and a hat. Also, if the weather looks like it will be cold on arrival at your destination, take the jacket onboard so you can wear it when you get off…no need to freeze.
If I’m going to be gone for more than a week, I’ll plan on doing laundry at some point but will not take more that what I have above.
For shoes, I take one pair of “coaches” shoes…nicer looking athletic shoes that can be worn casually with shorts and white socks, or going out to dinner with pants and a polo shirt. I also take a pair of flip-flops that I can use for lounging around the hotel, going to the pool or the beach.

Since we have to check our bags when we travel anyway, we'll put the clothes for all three of us in one suitcase. If it's over the airline's weight limit, we'll split it into a smaller bag as well.


TOILETRIES
I don’t bother with shampoo or soap…the hotel will have that. I take my toothbrush, a disposable razor, shaving cream, deodorant, and toothpaste.  I’ll also take along some Rolaids, Ibuprofen, and Imodium for any maladies that may pop up, along with any prescription medication I need.  Anything else that I find I need, I’ll pick up at a local store at my destination.
OTHER ITEMS
Due to my being a travel writer, blogger, and video producer, I tend to take more camera equipment that most people. Still, when buying equipment, I try to get the smallest possible components that will still allow me to get quality shots.
Technology has come a long way, it is very possible to buy high definition video cameras that will fit in your pocket and do not use tape or discs to record. The excellent Flip camera and Kodak Zx1 are two examples. Many high quality cameras also come in little packages. Fuji, Canon, and Nikon all have great pocket size cameras with high resolution and powerful zooms.
One still camera can fill the need for most people. If you want a dedicated video camera, you can get one of each and put them in your pocket.
That’s it for me…although my wife will also want to pack her cosmetics and supplements though what she packs all fits in with my stuff in our overnight toiletries bag.


SPECIAL NEEDS ITEMS
With the wheelchair, we’ll first determine if we’ll take a power chair or a manual chair. Power chair is very nice at your destination, provided it is accessible enough for a power chair, since you have more independence. We make an effort to take it but leave it at home if we have any doubts and take the manual instead.
If you do take a power chair, the biggest hassle is getting it on the plane and off the plane at your destination but that’s another story…what we’re concerned with today is that you’ll also need to take a charger for the batteries.
Realize that medical equipment doesn’t count against your weight limit for luggage and doesn’t get charged a fee in the United States and EU countries.
Before you go, check to make sure your charger will work with the electric outlets at your destination. Voltages and outlet designs vary greatly across the globe…don’t assume that you can use a cheap voltage converter either. Call the manufacturer…I did and found out our charger wouldn’t work in Europe and  the cheap outlet/voltage converter we had might actually kill the charger.
Think of any bathrooming equipment you’ll need to take along. Are the smaller versions available…more portable versions? Are there other ways you can take care of those needs without bringing the equipment? Can the hotel provide some of this equipment (like a bath chair) or can you rent cheaply when you get there?
FORGOTTEN ITEMS
Don’t worry too much that you’ll forget something. You’ll find stores at your destination to fill those needs. Pharmacies for any medicines or sunscreen that you need; thrift stores or discount stores if you need a particular piece of clothing; electronics stores for batteries or converters…there’s not too much that you can’t find while on travel.

Finally, souvenirs...if we can't fit them in luggage we'll do one of two things. Rethink the purchase...do we really need it? Where will we put it? Is it worth the hassle? The other option is to ship it back home. Most places have businesses such as Kinko's or the UPS Store that will do this for you at a nominal fee.
So, as Mr. Steves would say…go over these items. Pack as little as possible…then go back and take out what you really don’t need.  No one ever says “gee, I wish I’d packed more.”

-Darryl
Copyright 2012 – Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

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