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Newbie How-to’s

Newbie How-to's, Travel Advice

The Newbie’s Guide to using Google Flights to search for the best fares

October 26, 2015 • By

Planning trips can be confusing to the inexperienced.  But if there is only one thing that you take from this post let it be this: “Booking your flight is the absolute first thing that you must do when planning your vacation.”  Why?  Because airfare will arguably be the most volatile expense that you will incur.  The cost of gas (as of this writing) is steadily declining, so airlines are offering fantastic bargains as a result.  However, these great fares aren’t available for all destinations.

That makes it all the more critical to plan ahead, monitor flight prices, be flexible with your departure dates and destinations as much as possible because some times are better than others.

Once you’ve decided where you want to go, my suggestion is that you start with “Google Flights“.  Much like its search engine counterpart, it allows you to search for the best flight deals to any destination.

Here’s how it works:

Once you have reached the Google Flights home page, you will see a search box.  The first screen will give you the option of selecting a round trip (where you travel to one destination and take a return trip back to where you started), a one way (is just as it sounds, you go to a destination with no plans to return or if you’re not exactly sure when you will, you can purchase a return one way ticket at a later date) or you can choose the multi-city option if you are planning on visiting several locations during the course of your vacation.

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Newbie How-to's, Travel Advice

The Newbie’s Guide to Cruising, Part 3

April 13, 2015 • By

Now that you’ve actually booked your cruise, it’s important to make sure that you take care of a few things before leaving.  Here’s a handy checklist to assure that you will be ready before the ship leaves:


  • Check with your medical and renter’s/homeowners insurance to see if you and your belongings are covered by your current policies when traveling abroad.
  • Check with your cell phone carrier for international rates; beware of exorbitant roaming charges.
  • Notify your credit card company and your bank of your travel plans.  They will usually deny suspicious transactions from foreign locales if they weren’t forewarned about your plans.
  • Make from 2-3 copies of your passport, birth certificate and identification. Have one copy of the documents on your person separate from the actual documents when in port cities, place a copy in your luggage and if you opt to utilize a stateroom safe, place a copy within it as well.
  • Make sure your passports are 6 months or more before expiration when traveling.  Most countries will not allow you entry otherwise.
  • Be sure to purchase travel insurance.  It truly buys peace of mind in the event that you find yourself unable to travel after booking airfare, car rental, hotel stays, cruise fare, etc.  If you do not have it, if you have to cancel, you will lose any monies that you’ve spent.
  • Your Cruise Line will probably send you self adhesive luggage tags that will have your stateroom number printed on them.  Be sure to affix them to your luggage as instructed before leaving home.  


Newbie How-to's, Travel Advice

The Newbie’s Guide to Cruising, Part 2

February 20, 2015 • By

Alright.  You’ve decided that you want to give this cruising thing a go.  You’ve determined where you’d like to go and have already booked your cruise  with your preferred cruise line.  What should you expect the day of the cruise?

How do I check in?

Each Cruise Line is different but Celebrity allows you to check in well before your sail date.  If it’s possible,  I would recommend that you do that.  If you are familiar with flight check- ins at the airport, this works the same way.  You will go to the cruise line’s website, create an account and put in your information.  This in effect, pre-registers you for the cruise.  You will be able to print out your guest ticket which will give you pages of info on what to expect during your cruise, your cruise itinerary, etc.

We received luggage tags via regular mail with our stateroom number stamped on it and were advised to affix them to our luggage before leaving home.  One can only imagine the logistics involved in keeping up with the luggage of thousands of passengers, so we made sure that we followed their instructions to the letter.

I’ve heard that it’s best to arrive one day before your scheduled cruise departure.  Why?

Most cruises, particularly, Caribbean cruises depart in the late afternoon.  That might lead most people to think that it’s a safe bet to fly in on the day of the cruise.  My advice is to plan on flying in the day before, this will allow you breathing room to be prepared for embarkation the next day. Can you imagine booking a flight on cruise day and something happens to delay the flight?  Trust me, the cruise lines will not wait for you, so save yourself the stress and fly in the day before.


What if I choose to drive directly to the port from my home?

This has become such a “thing” that you will find that hotels located close to ports will offer “Park, Sleep and Cruise” specials.  If you pay for one night’s stay, they will allow you to park your car on site for free and reclaim it at the end of the cruise.  They will usually provide a complimentary shuttle from the hotel to the cruise port.

This might be the most desirable option should you choose to drive in because port parking fees are high (approximately $20.00 per day).  I rented a car during my last cruise and after dropping it off at the rental agency, I was shuttled to the port by the agency for free.

What can I expect when I arrive at the port?

We flew into Fort Lauderdale (FLL) because the flights were cheaper but our port was in Miami.  We hired a shuttle service to drive us to our Miami hotel and the next day we took the hotel’s shuttle to the port.  It cost $10.00 pp but it was worth it to assure that we’d get to where we needed to be on time.  As soon as you reach your particular cruise line, the driver will remove your luggage and you will then turn it over to the porter who works for the cruise line.


Newbie How-to's, Travel Advice

The Newbie’s Guide to Cruising, Part 1

January 26, 2015 • By



When you consider how busy people are these days, it’s no surprise that Cruising is one of the most popular modes of traveling.  Think about it.   Literally, you will have 3+ days of pure bliss on a floating resort, practically any type of food you’d like, be treated like royalty by staff, participate in daily activities like Zumba, volleyball tournaments, trivia games, try your luck in the casino, enjoy nightly entertainment from singers, ventriloquists, dancers and musicians, be pampered in the on-site Spa, eat till your heart’s content or burn those same calories at the full service gym. What’s not to like?


Add on the fact that cruise ships visit different ports and it’s easy to see why this would be a very cost effective way to get away from it all. I will admit that previously, I’d decided that my first cruise would be my last and only  recently realized that perhaps, I’d been too hasty.

If you prefer a relaxing, care-free vacation where you only need to show up and have the time of your life or just opt to relax, lounge around the pool and do nothing, cruising may be the ideal solution for you.

That sounds lovely, but everyone knows that there are a billion cruise lines.  How do I go about choosing the right one for me?  

If you asked three people that same question, you would get three different answers.  The answer is highly subjective and truly depends on the type of cruise you are looking for.   Take Carnival Cruises, for example.  They have a reputation for being a ‘party’ cruiser, however, when I was aboard the Carnival Liberty, there were 4,000 kids there.  The lovely thing is that I saw maybe two of them.  Carnival has a very good program for the youngsters that keeps them well occupied for the length of the cruise.  Therefore, families should not be wary of booking with them and singles should know that they will feel that they are almost on an adults only cruise.READ MORE

Newbie How-to's, Travel Advice

The Newbie’s Guide to booking accommodations – part 1

September 16, 2013 • By

Today marks the beginning of a three part series that breaks down the choices one has in selecting accommodations for vacations or holidays. We will begin with our most economical offerings and work our way to the more expensive options.



When it comes to finding accommodations while traveling, I’m somewhat of a pragmatist.  I don’t require 5* stays mostly because I see it as a colossal waste of money.  When I travel, I see my hotel room as somewhere to lay my head at night.  I didn’t travel so that I could stay in a room, I plan to spend as little time there as possible!  But this is just my budget conscious opinion and when it comes to securing accommodations, preferences are never one size fits all.

Still, half the fun of searching for somewhere to stay is in realizing how many strange and unusual places to choose from that will make your visit more enjoyable.  Hotels are the default accommodations of choice, but how interesting would it be to stay in a monastery, an igloo or even a log cabin?

How do you find not only standard hotel rooms but find unique places to stay while you are on vacation?

I’m on a strict budget.  What is the best type of accommodation for me? READ MORE

Newbie How-to's, Travel Advice

The Newbie’s Guide to using the TripIt! Application

July 8, 2013 • By

Screen shot 2013-07-07 at 1.35.36 PMI’m a planner. I’m not the type A, OCD type of planner, but I like to keep things organized and in its place. Never is this more apparent than when I am planning the details of my vacation.

I like to have all of my flight, hotel and activity confirmations in one place where I can access them at any time.

I started out using the calendar feature of Microsoft Outlook. I could easily record all of my confirmations by keying them in on the appropriate dates; then the day before departure, I would print out each day’s activities and have them ready to go.

I really didn’t have an issue with preparing my itinerary this way. That is, until I found a quicker and easier way to do it. Enter the app, TripIt.   I found it while searching through apps on Linked-In, of all places.

It allows your linkedin connections to see where you are headed to next. This can be a bad and a good thing, I chose to disable this feature since I didn’t necessarily want everyone of my connections to know my complete schedule in real time.

However, you can input all of your information via their website by opening an account at TripIt . You can even give TripIt permission to auto import travel plans from your email inbox (this can be rescinded at any time). When you receive confirmations of your airline, hotel and tour bookings via email, TripIt will automatically scan your inbox and capture those bookings into your TripIt account. Each screen shot that you see below was automatically scanned into my account when TripIt discovered it in my gmail account.READ MORE

Newbie How-to's, Travel Advice

The Newbie’s Guide to the U.S. Global Entry Program

January 24, 2013 • By

global entry machine


Nothing makes the heart sink faster than seeing long lines at airports, especially when those long lines resemble a cesspool of copper headed snakes and are just as pleasant.  You know the drill….whether it’s waiting to go through the tiring TSA lines or through passport control/immigration, we have been conditioned to the art of the wait.

In a rare show of common sense, the government has developed a program to alleviate this inhuman form of torture.  Originally created to target frequent international travelers, the U.S. Global Entry program has been a virtual god-send for travelers who want a fast and secure way of skipping the lines altogether when re-entering the United States.

What is it exactly?

When coming back to the USA after visiting a foreign country, you will have to go through Customs.   Usually the lines are long because at any given time there are many flights re-entering the USA at the same time that your flight arrives.  This compounds the number of people who have to go through customs and usually end up creating interminable lines as a result.  The Global Entry program is a Trusted Traveler pre-screening program that allows you to go to a computer kiosk instead of a Customs officer when you are returning home.  This will significantly expedite your re-entry into the country because there will be virtually no wait since you can just walk up to the kiosk, scan your passport, let the camera scan your face and then your fingers to identify you biometrically.

ge fingerprint

A screenshot of your flight details will pop up and you will need to verify whether or not you have something to declare.  If you are cleared through, a piece of paper will print out that you will need to hand over to the customs officer on your way out to baggage claim or ground transportation.  Time elapse?  Less than three minutes.READ MORE

Newbie How-to's, Travel Advice

The Newbie’s Guide to what seasoned travelers have learned about…… traveling

November 15, 2012 • By

Hindsight is always 20/20. What is it about traveling for the first time that causes Newbies to hesitate taking the plunge? We’ve all been there; wanting to see the world, but for whatever reason, we talk ourselves out of it.  Some reasons were internal….some external.  At the end of the day, only Only the individual can ascertain what is keeping them from following those long held dreams.

I wanted to get to the bottom of this and perhaps help others who may be stuck to see themselves in the comments that I solicited from several of my travel blogger friends and people who simply love to travel and have been doing it for years.

I posed this question: “If you could go back in time, what mistakes did you make as a newbie traveler that you wish you could change? Of if you were to give a new traveler advice, what would it be?” Here are their responses:

Pack light

“On our first ever ‘real’ trip to Asia, we have four suitcases and a camera bag with a rolling, fold out rack to carry them all–not to mention the zippered case for the rack.” – Greg Gross

“Become an efficient and light packer.” – Shelia Scarborough

Pack right

“Consider where you are traveling and pack appropriately. I remember my first trip to Alaska. A 1-month car and camping journey. I was 25 – with a girlfriend at the time. EVERY…. EVERY single thing we had (clothing, gear, etc) was W-R-O-N-G for Alaska. My sleeping bag rolled to the size of a trash can and was probablly rated to 70-degrees. I remember cooking out campground while wearing my checkered ‘muscle pants’ and my big warmth layer was my classic jeans jacket with fur collar….. OH YEAH !!! If I could go back in time I’d bring my nice 0-degree sleeping bag… but you know what…. I think I’d still rock the muscle-pant / denim-coat-with collar look!!! “ – Joe Staiano

paris2 080READ MORE

Newbie How-to's, Travel Advice

12 Travel Packing tips that will make your trip less hectic!

November 19, 2011 • By

There is nothing worse than having to haul over-sized luggage along with you as you travel the globe. Some people are learning that you don’t have to trudge along a pair of shoes for every outfit that you plan to wear. Most of us realize that lots of heavy luggage is the equivalent of a millstone around one’s neck. It’s not the best use of time when you are trying to get away from it all. So, how do you change your habits mid-stream and learn to love traveling light? It’s not as hard as you think.

1. Try to take clothing that is on its last leg. Finally, the clothing that was totally five seasons ago can earn its keep. Whether it’s well -worn shirts, tops, jeans, skirts or underwear, you can wear it and discard or donate it before coming back home. It’s a great way to clear out the closet and finally put your neglected clothing to good use plus you will have more room for souvenirs!

2. If you are taking a short trip, try to edit your contents down enough to where it will fit into a carry-on. You know the old rule, lay out everything that you think you will need for the trip and then remove half of that. You will experience euphoric joy when you realize that you do not have to grow old standing at baggage claim when you can leave the plane with the bag you brought on.

3. If you are traveling with a lot of electronics, take a small power strip with you so that you will be able to charge them all at once without having to hunt for more outlets in your room. If you are traveling internationally, make sure that the voltage is correct for the country you are visiting. The USA uses 110 volts while Europe uses 220 volts so bring a universal adapter along with you. A simple Google search will let you know the voltage capacity in any given country.

4. Always carry anything of value in your carry-on, never, ever check it if you want to see it again. This means cameras or anything that set you back a few hundred dollars, not family heirlooms that should be left behind anyway.

5. Remember to follow the TSA’s rules and regulations by not bringing any sharp objects, your granny’s shotgun, lighters, liquids or gels over 3 ounces because they will be confiscated and you may find yourself on the business side of a jail cell in some instances.

6. Make a copy of your passport, flight itinerary, hotel confirmation and any reservations that you may have made and place them in your luggage (preferably checked luggage). Should you ever become separated, it will be easier to track you down, if not…well.…….. But if luck is on your side, you will at least have backups of your important paperwork once you arrive.

7. Carry a complete change of clothes in your carry-on. In the event your luggage is delayed or lost, you will have something to fall back on. Otherwise wearing the same duds over and over again will become so repulsive, it will self destruct as a matter of honor.

8. Ziplock bags, you can never have too many (different sizes) and there is always a way to put them to good use. TSA actually encourages you to use them for any liquids that you may be carrying. You may want to uncap your bottles of liquid and cover the opening with plastic then recap it. This will provide a second barrier for you.

9. Take the guesswork out of what clothes you should pack by checking out one of the trusted weather websites like You can get weather forecasts 10 days into the future so you will be able to better plan your trip and hopefully it will prevent you from bringing unnecessary baggage.

10. I find that I can get so much more ‘stuff’ into my luggage by rolling my clothes up. For example, I will take a pair of pants and fold it in half lengthwise. Starting at the belt loops, I roll it over and over until I get down to the hem.

11. There were three great ideas that I got while on my first and last cruise. First, take a toiletry organizer that has a hook on the end. Since space is really a premium in those small staterooms, you will be able to have all of your makeup and toiletries in one small confined space that you can hang on the back of the bathroom door. Second, use a bungee cord to keep your door open if you have an outside cabin with a balcony.

It allows the room to breathe by letting the sea breeze in. Also, some of the doors will lock behind you, so keeping them open will allow you not to be trapped outside. Lastly, bring a bunch of multi colored ribbons to affix to your stateroom door. It will differentiate your room from the other passengers. I can’t tell you how many times I got confused….they all begin to look alike after awhile.

12. Before stepping into the security line at the airport, make sure that any electronics and liquids are stowed in the front pockets of your carry-on luggage. It will enable you to quickly transition through the line without delay. Also, wear shoes that are easy to remove in order to save you time and aggravation.

How have you saved yourself from packing nightmares? Feel free to add your ideas in the comment section. Looking forward to learning new tips myself!

Newbie How-to's, Travel Advice

The Newbie’s Guide to renting a car at the airport

November 7, 2011 • By

Under what circumstances should I rent a car while on vacation?

When I travel a great distance from my house (meaning more than a 4 hour drive) chances are I will be traveling by plane. I will rent a car when I’ve found that the city I’m visiting lacks a sufficient public transportation system. If it seems that it would make sense logistically to have a car as opposed to not having one, I will rent. If it takes three buses and one train ride to get to destination B, it makes sense to spring for a car.

Or if I want to take a day-trip to another nearby city, it makes sense to rent. Some cities like New York City, Chicago and San Francisco lend themselves to being very pedestrian friendly so it would be counter intuitive to rent a car under those circumstances.

If someone in your party has a physical impairment or if you have a large number of people in your travel party and public transportation would be difficult to navigate as well as being cost prohibitive, then you can’t go wrong renting a car.

How do I go about renting a car?

You can rent a car by simply calling one of the many rental companies in your destination city. But that’s no fun! I have employed several methods for renting cars. I happen to have a favorite rental company, Enterprise, mostly because they will pick you up and bring you to the rental office to transact the deal.


That was particularly useful when my car was once stolen and there was no one available to take me there. But that’s when unusual circumstances exist because I’m still all about saving the mighty dollar.

To that end, I have used the name your own price feature of Priceline. I always begin with a $10.00 a day bid and work my way up via $2.50 increments, but I will usually stop at $17.50. You should always know your limit and be ready, willing and able to walk away. Otherwise, just go directly to the rental site and pay full price.

Twice, I have gotten $15.00 per day winning bids for an economy sized car, expect to bid more for larger sized vehicle. Another big player in the car rental market is Hotwire. Be advised that each option, Hotwire and Priceline will charge you in full and the purchase is non-refundable.

So be sure that your dates, pick up location and price are correct. If not, don’t bother trying to get assistance from the rental car company either, they will only refer you back to Priceline or Hotwire.

Can I earn perks with my car rental?

Absolutely! Each major car rental company has a free program that rewards frequent users of their service. I am a member of National Car Rental’s Emerald Club and some of their benefits include being charged the mid-size rate regardless of what car you choose, earning free rental days with every seven paid days and the freedom to bypass the rental counter and go straight out to select your car.


Alamo Rental’s Insiders program offers a discount off weekly rentals, 10% off their published prices as well as upgrades for their members. Enterprise’s “E-Plus” Program offers email only deals, faster reservations and rentals, members only line in major airport counters. Whatever your car rental preference, there is an associated rewards program that you should check into.

I think my favorite perk is earning airline miles whenever I rent a car. Most airlines will have a portal on their website where you can rent a car. They offer percentage discounts on rentals and typically an opportunity to earn a certain number of miles for each day that you rent a car. Delta Airlines currently has a promotion with their partner Hertz where you will earn 100 miles per day and receive 40% off of the entire rental.

However, Hertz’ Gold Plus Rewards program has an annual fee of $60.00 and for that reason, I would skip this program. Instead, check out the comparable Avis Preferred program which matches Hertz’s perks to the letter but does not charge a fee! Be sure to check out a car rental’s website for special offers and their partner offers before you make your reservation.

Remember to give your membership number when booking your reservation so that benefits can be correctly credited to your account. Always look for ways to stretch your dollar by searching for discounts which are usually available on a regular basis.

Where do I pick up my rental car?

Car rental agencies can be located in airports or off-site close to the airport. When reserving a car, you will be queried as to whether you want to pick up your car on the airport premises (assuming one exists) or somewhere close by. If you choose the airport, usually you only need ask an airport employee to direct you to it (usually in the same building).

Sometimes, it can be a little trickier. In Phoenix, AZ, for example, you will have to take a shuttle at Ground Transportation which will take you to another building on the airport campus where all car rental agencies are located.

At that point, you will be dropped off and you can proceed directly to the agency you have reserved a car from. The most common situation for off-site agencies is that you would catch their brand specific shuttle at Ground transportation outside of the airport terminal. The shuttle driver will take you to their offices and you can pick up your car there.

To complete the transaction, the counter attendant will ask for your driver’s license and the credit card that you used to book the reservation and after giving you your keys, you’ll be directed where to go to pick up your vehicle.

Some rental agencies will go even further. I rented a car in Fort Lauderdale, FL with the intention of driving into Miami to catch a Cruise ship. Therefore, it was a one way rental with a drop-off in Miami the next day. After dropping the car off, the agency provided a free shuttle that took us directly to the Miami docks to board our cruise ship.


Is there anything I should I do before leaving the rental car lot?

Typically, the agency will fill up the car before you leave and you will need to bring the car back with a full tank. In the event that you ‘forget’ to do so, they give you the option of pre-paying for gas at a premium price. Say no thanks because you plan to bring it back with a full tank. Just make sure that you check to see if the tank is full before you leave. If it isn’t make sure that the attendant knows it and indicates it on your rental receipt and s/he should initial it.

Do a thorough check of the interior and exterior of the car. Let the attendant know if you see any dents beyond the usual wear and tear that you would expect to see on a car. I prefer to err on the side of caution, I like to detail anything that I think may be blamed on me after I return it. So while the attendant may say a dent/ding is no big deal, I still like for them to take note of anything that bothers me.

In fact, you may want to pull out your cell and take pics of anything that may concern you before you drive off the lot. I would take a pic of the dent/ding with that day’s newspaper in the frame with the date prominently shown….or anything else that would prove that the damage existed before you left the lot.

Should I buy some type of insurance to cover me during the rental?

You can almost set your clock by how quickly the counter attendant will try to sell you their car rental insurance. Don’t be surprised if they stoop to the level of using extreme fear tactics to get you to sign on the dotted line.


Before you do, see if you may already be covered. Check with your own insurance company first to see if your current insurance will cover you in the event an accident occurs while you’re in your rental. It’s a rare occasion that you will have an accident during the span of your rental, but check to make sure that you have some type of coverage. If there is an accident, remember they have your credit card on file.

Your credit card issuer may cover you as well but they will clearly state that you should not purchase insurance from the rental company if you expect them to cover you. Exercise due diligence in these matters before committing to signing up for the rental car company coverage.

What happens when it’s time to return the car?

When returning your car, you would bring it back to where you picked it up. At the airport, there are usually pretty detailed signage directing people where to return their car rentals. If you picked it up off-site, you will be taken back to the airport via their branded shuttles. Try to return it in the same condition that you received it.  

Keep in mind that a rental usually has unlimited miles, but you may have to pay extra if you leave state lines. Check with the agency if that is your plan so that there will be no surprises. Also, refill the gas tank before returning the car. Otherwise, you will be looking at paying a ridiculous rate (double to triple the current price of gas). This is essentially what you can expect should you decide to rent a car, just follow these steps and you should have an uneventful and hopefully, very happy driving experience while on vacation.