Generic Travel Tips
Location-Specific Travel Tips
Use a travel search engine like Sidestep.com.
Airfares are constantly changing,
and searching often is the best way to find low fares. Sidestep.com works very
well for searching most airlines, all at once. You won’t get Jetblue or
Southwest prices, but you will get the pricing for the majors, such as United, US Airways, Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta, Frontier, Hawaiian Airlines,
and a few others.
Watch trends for drops in airfare.
For example, if you are trying to
find the best airfare deals for economy airfare to the Lihue airport on Kauai,
Hawaii, try checking airfare 3 weeks out, then again five or six weeks out,
from today’s date. Compare the close-in cost of airfare to the fare you see
for your trip. If you do this often, you will know the right time to book.
Most Hawaii airfares tend to drop closer to the travel date, unless you are
traveling in prime time, like holidays and school breaks. Booking early is
probably smarter for those times, but you can still watch for lower fares for a
sure to add the cost of checking a bag into your total cost of your airfare,
then compare prices with airlines that don’t charge, like Southwest.
up for e-mail alerts from airline sites and travel search engines. Some of the
best airfare deals are not advertised and last only one day.
willing to fly into or out of an alternate airport.
Tampa and Daytona Beach airports
are not far from Orlando and are often cheaper. There is an option on
Sidestep.com to search alternate airports. LAX has several airports nearby: Ontario, Santa Ana, San Diego and Burbank, so searching nearby airports is always a good
Weekday travel is often much cheaper.
Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday are
lighter travel days for airlines, and this is an ideal opportunity for bargain
airfare. The savings may justify an extra few days of vacation.
Use a credit card that provides the maximum number of frequent flyer miles.
- The best cards are not associated with a specific airline.
Try Discover Escape or Capital One Venture cards for the best value for your spending
dollar. These two cards provide double miles. The companies reimburse you for the
tickets, so you can get the best deals with any airline. If you spend $10,000 per
year on your credit card, you will get reimbursed up to $200. You will still get
your frequent flyer miles for your actual travel miles, too. It takes 25,000 miles,
or $25,000 in purchases to get a round trip ticket in the continental U.S., for
most airline credit cards, but that same amount will get a ticket reimbursement
of up to five-hundred dollars with the Escape or Venture card. It isn’t difficult
to find airfare for two for that $500 reimbursement. (You can also use your miles
for other travel expenses, such as rental cars.)
- Take your time in choosing an airline credit card – think about
where you will travel most often and which card you’ll get the most use of. Here
are some examples of more “location-specific” benefits that airline cards offer
that may be of interest to travelers:
Alaska Airlines has a $99 companion fare (plus the additional taxes
and fees) with a regular paid fare. This offer is valid for Hawaii. The best
value for the Alaska card is their First Class airfare to Hawaii. Seattle and Portland
customers of Alaska Airlines enjoy great regular prices, even in First Class.
US Airways has the same $99 companion fare as Alaska Airlines, but
it’s not valid on Hawaii travel; US Airways’ offer is only to the contiguous United
If you travel internationally, British Airways has a great Visa card
with a FREE companion ticket each year that you spend $30,000 and 1.25 miles for
every dollar spent.
Side note about mileage cards: make sure you regularly make purchases
using the credit card to not only build miles, but to keep from losing the miles
Check rates early and often. This is very important as rates can drop and
rise suddenly. Because of this, don’t book the lowest price you find after your
Check multiple sites to get the best deals:
- Sam’s Club (under Services > Travel)
- Hotwire - You might be tempted to book your car with Hotwire right away,
because the prices are sometimes lower than any other source to start. But usually
the prices drop to a similar level, and you can keep watching for something cheaper,
then cancel the existing reservation and book the lesser-priced vehicle. Hotwire
requires payment upfront, and you cannot cancel for any reason.
- Priceline – bid just before your trip. Use Priceline only after you find
your best deal, then try to beat your price by 20% through a bid. It doesn’t always
work, especially if you have a really good rate, but it’s worth a try. Once you
win your Priceline bid, you will not be able to cancel, so only do this at the last
Be open to “off-brand” companies, just do your due diligence by checking
reviews of them on sites like yellowpages.com, Tripadvisor.com, and travel sites.
(You can also check their rating and number of complaints with the Better Business
“Stack” discounts. For example, use the “corporate ID” together with a coupon
code. We have found Alamo to be the best price fairly consistently, especially when
we use the Costco codes.
Never pay for the extras at the car rental counter:
- Gas - Prepaying for a full tank of gas is never going to pay for itself.
You aren’t going to take that car back without gas.
- GPS - units are reasonably priced, most people own them, so pack your own
and never rent.
- Insurance/Damages - Every car rental company tries to up-sell the customer
and will even use scare tactics about loss of their use not being covered, etc.
Be a wise consumer and don’t fall for the sales pitch for extra insurance.
Check with your own insurance carrier/ agent before your trip. Most
insurance policies cover rental cars.
Check your credit card for travel benefits, which often include rental
car insurance for FREE. (Obviously you must use that credit card when reserving
a car.) American Express has a great program that covers rental car damages, and
the cost is only $25.00 per rental, up to 30 days, and it’s automatically added
to every car rental. This is the best option because this takes the place of your
regular car insurance and will cover 100% of damages and loss of use. Other credit
card companies may have similar programs. It’s worth the extra cost for peace of
Make sure previous damage is noted by doing one of the following (BEFORE
you leave the lot):
Insist on getting a diagram of the car to mark every scratch, dent and blemish
you see on the car, and then have an employee sign the diagram. This was once a
routine procedure, but now damages are entered into computers by the employees and
the renter doesn’t get to see what damages are already or are not entered into the
Insist on getting a print-out of all previous damage that’s been entered
into their computer. If there is any damage not noted, have the employee enter the
damage and get a new print-out. (DO NOT just trust the employees……verify everything
Why do we stress this? We learned our lesson the hard way back in June 2010. Here’s
We rented from Alamo in Austin, TX, for a brief weekend trip to visit friends. We
saw some damage to the driver’s side, but were told that everything was computerized
and that the damage was noted in the computer. Because we travel often and have
never had any issues previously, we accepted this and drove out of the lot. Four
days later we returned the car and were held “hostage” at the Austin airport because
of a 1” scratch on the driver’s door that was “not noted in their computer.” The
employee would not provide us with a return receipt until we called their customer
service line to “report” the damage. After about 45 minutes of arguing, we called
only to say there was a scratch on the door that was there prior to rental (that
we did not cause), and it was not noted in the computer.
We didn’t hear from Alamo for over TWO months regarding the damage. Had we known
they were going to pursue a claim, we would have just turned it over to our credit
card company, who covered us with free rental car insurance. However, they will
only process claims for up to 60 days after the incident, which had passed in our
case. Alamo supposedly mailed the claim documents but they were mailed to an incorrect
address and not by certified mail.
Long story short, we battled with Alamo for several weeks, wasting a lot of time
and feeling a lot of stress. In the end we won the fight, probably for many reasons.
First, they couldn’t prove the damage was new, as we hadn’t signed anything that
showed what damage was their prior to rental. Second, they sent all documentation
to the wrong address and didn’t give us the opportunity to file a claim with our
credit card insurance. Third, because I still submitted the claim with our credit
card company documenting all correspondence and records of events, which probably
“scared” Alamo and made them realize we were fighting to the death.
Save yourself the time, frustration and hassle – take 5 minutes and get a print-out
of the damage or fill out a diagram yourself.
- Keep a packing list on your computer. You can modify/customize it to each
- Pack travel items and keep them in the suitcase, rather than un-pack each
time. Some items to keep packed are a collapsible hamper, sun shade for the rental
car, travel-sized bottles of shampoo and conditioner, rain ponchos, laundry soap
and dryer sheets, etc.
- Down-size everything, so you can fit more into your carry-on, if your desire
is to not check bags. We have Rick Steves’ packing cubes for categorizing clothing
and compacting everything into a small area. You can buy those on Amazon.com.
- Military Discounts: If you’re a military family, be sure to check
with the ticket office (ITT) on base/post for discount passes, tickets, packages,
etc. Even if the ITT doesn’t have discount tickets, you may still be eligible for
discounted or free tickets. It doesn’t hurt to ask! We offer a 5% military discount
on our timeshare rentals. Disney and Anheuser-Busch parks (SeaWorld, Busch Gardens,
etc.) often offer free tickets and discounted family tickets, and these prices can’t
be beaten by anybody! My (Laura’s) husband is an Iraqi War Veteran, and, although
we don’t expect them, we always appreciate military discounts.
- Annual passes can be a great value, especially if you enjoy an annual trip
to the same location and can make your two annual trips [barely] within the same
use-year. For example, Disneyworld’s annual pass isn’t much more cost than a 7-day
non-expiring pass and includes parking and no blackout dates. Take a trip in late
June, then another next year in early June, and you can save a bundle on entertainment
for your family. Disney’s annual passes include free parking, a great savings of
$14 every day in parking fees. If you visit Disney ten days each trip, that is a
- Check the internet for any discounts you can find. Google the area or attraction
you are interested in seeing, then add “+ discounts.” Try several different searches.
- If you are planning a trip near a big city, like Philadelphia, San Francisco,
Hollywood, or New York, check www.citypass.com
for substantial savings on attractions and transportation.
- Visit the library or bookstore to research your trip. There are dozens of
books that will inspire your trip.
- Take your own portable GPS with you and set it ahead of time to avoid toll
roads. There are many toll roads and all can be avoided, even the toll roads that
are going in and out of the airport. There is a route in and out of the airport
that runs parallel to the toll roads, so why pay?
- Wherever you go on vacation, timeshare is big business, and it’s sold to
vacationers who are enticed by a cash incentive or attraction/ show tickets. Timeshare
tours require 90 minutes of your time and include a free breakfast or lunch. Ninety
minutes is just the starting point. They generally last more like 2-3 hours with
no end in sight. If you question the time the tour is taking from your vacation,
the salesperson will say, "We don’t start counting until you are finished with your
breakfast and coffee."
- You need to decide for yourself if it’s worth $100 or so for the loss of
vacation time. Some salespeople are pushy and won’t accept no for an answer, and
there will be follow up “sales’ managers” who will take over for your first salesperson.
They hope you are blown away by the model unit and are ripe for the sale. Just remember
that buying timeshare at the full price developers charge is a waste of money. If
you do buy in a weak moment, there are rescission laws of at least five days in
every state, and this guarantees a way out of the purchase. For more information
on rescinding your timeshare purchase, go to www.tug2.net
(Timeshare Users’ Group) and post your question(s) to the knowledgeable people
there. There is absolutely no reason to pay tens of thousands of dollars for a product
that sells for pennies on the dollar through the resale market.
Anaheim and San Diego (California)
Wild Animal Park
San Diego Zoo
San Diego Harbor Excursion
Disneyland is just 2 hours north of San Diego using I-5, and even
less time in lighter traffic.
Knotts Berry Farm is close to Disneyland, and is geared more for thrill-ride
Universal Studios is always adding new attractions and shows, and
it’s in North Hollywood.
Rodeo Drive is worth a visit, and maybe you will spot a star or two
Check Costco’s website and the actual stores for substantial discounts
on Universal and Disney tickets. These deals vary by area, but most can be found
on the Costco website. Some packages include Disney, SeaWorld and the zoo for one
very low price. Disneyland is much less expensive than Orlando but has less to do.
CityPASS.com also offers an unbeatable deal for the Southern California
area. You get a 3 day pass to Disneyland and Disney’s California Adventure; 1 day
to Universal Studios Hollywood; 1 day to SeaWorld, 1 day to the San Diego Zoo. The
pass expires 14 days after its first day of use. The savings are about $115 over
paying for the attractions separately.
If you’re military, check with the base/post ITT (ticket office).
San Francisco (California)
- Recommended Activities:
- Fisherman’s Wharf: get the freshest fish, visit Chinatown and
Little Italy (near Pier 39, within walking distance), and go to nearby Ghirardelli
Square. Also, stop at Boudin’s and buy fresh-baked sourdough bread.
- Golden Gate Bridge
- Cable Car Museum is free and you can catch a cable car that leads
right to it.
- Don’t forget to walk down Lombard Street, the most crooked street
in the world. It might even be the most beautifully landscaped. It’s always colorful,
but it’s even prettier during the warmer months, with an array of beautiful flowers
lining the way. Continue your walk to Coit Tower and see San Francisco from Telegraph
- You cannot visit San Francisco and skip Alcatraz Island.
- If you tire of the city scene, rent a car and drive scenic highway
101 to Napa Valley and visit some wineries.
- Discounts: Check Costco for City Pass, a great value for seeing
San Francisco. It includes all cable car and bus transportation for a full week’s
use, and there are several museums included in the booklet.
- Discounts: Check Liftopia.com for discount lift tickets and summer
passes. They have an especially good deal on Winter Park’s summer “Adventure Pass”
(Alpine Slide, mini golf, Zephyr Express scenic chairlift, and human maze). The
price is $49 for a full day pass on winterparkresort.com, but only $40.99 at liftopia.com.
- Mousesavers.com: great discounts on Orlando car rentals and small
discounts for Disney tickets.
- Allearsnet.com: planning guide with tips/discounts.
- Disboards.com: a discussion board for all things Disney and you
can often find discounts there.
- Car rentals: check Dollar’s rates both with and without discount
codes for the best values in Orlando. Costco has discount codes for four different
car rental companies, and the best by far is Alamo. The Costco code usually beats
Dollar, but between the two, those are the best values from the Orlando airport.
- Disney tickets: not discounted much by anyone. You might want
to try Mapleleaftickets.com for a small discount that is offered to our Canadian
neighbors and available to everyone. Undercover Tourist sometimes has great discounts,
as well as reserveorlando.com. Again, check with Disney directly or with your base/post
ticket office if you’re military. (In 2009 they gave 5-day park hoppers to military
service for FREE, and up to 5 additional tickets for only $129 each!)
- There are timeshare salespeople all over Orlando, offering “free”
and highly discounted attraction tickets. Timeshare is a wonderful product that
you can buy on the resale market for much less, and if you are interested in buying
a timeshare, you can contact us for advice. (We do not sell timeshares, but are
happy to offer advice to anyone interested in purchasing.) We don’t recommend buying
a timeshare for tens of thousands of dollars, when you can buy the same thing for
pennies on the dollar. You have to decide if the $100 in free tickets (or similar
items) is worth 90 minutes of your time. The presentation will likely last much
longer than the promised time, and they know the longer they keep you, the easier
it is to wear you down.
- Tips for Disneyworld:
- Touringplans.com: valuable information for even the most experienced
Orlando traveler. The cost is $8.95 per year and includes touring plans you can
print and use in the parks to get the most value out of your vacation dollar. The
owner of the site is the same gentleman who writes “The Unofficial Guide to Disneyworld.”
Included on the site is a crowd calendar, which is priceless for avoiding crowds.
He tells you which parks to avoid and which are best for each day of the year.
- Annual passes: an excellent value if you go to Orlando every year.
The idea is to buy the passes and visit Disney with the first purchase, then go
nearly a year later and use the same passes. The parking fees alone will
save enough money to make the passes worthwhile. The Premium passes include all
of the parks, but if you don’t do water parks and Disney Quest, the best value is
the regular passes, which offer free regular admission, park hopping privileges,
free parking (which is $14 per day at the four major parks), and even a few discounts,
including half-price mini-golf at the two Disney courses.
- Disboards.com: a discussion board for all things Disney.
- Allearsnet.com: extremely helpful information and planning guide.
- Dining in Disneyworld: not just for Disney guests. Anyone can
dine at the parks, resorts and in Downtown Disney, but you must have park admission
to dine at the parks. You can make dining reservations, even if you are staying
at Bonnet Creek, Star Island or Cypress Palms. Make your reservations six months
in advance, and make them easier than ever by visiting
- Tips for Universal Studios:
- Annual passes: Universal Studios has an excellent price for annual passes
on their site and is just a little more than a 7-day pass. . There are three pass
types: basic, premium and premiere. The basic pass does not include free parking
and has blackout dates. The other two have no blackout dates, include basic parking
and discounted valet parking. (Valet parking doesn’t get you that much closer!)
The higher-priced passes also include additional discounts on food and merchandise.
Without a premium pass, parking is $14/day. (It only takes one premium pass
to give you the free parking.)
- Parking: Universal has a large parking garage and requires much walking to enter
the park. You should allow a full half-hour or more to get to the main gate. It’s
better to arrive even earlier, because they aren’t as efficient as Disney, and their
ticket machines are slow. The employees will require that you show ID upon entering,
almost every time you go.
Oahu has a combination of the big city and the laid-back “old Hawaii” experiences.
Honolulu and Waikiki Beach are so near one another, there is no way to tell where
one ends and the other begins. A short drive away from the downtown area will take
you to scenic mountains, beaches and landscapes. Pick up a copy of “Oahu Revealed,”
a wonderful book by Andrew Doughty, native of the Hawaiian Islands, to read before
you go. The book is available at Amazon.com and at Costco on Oahu.
- Shopping: There are two Costco stores and several other types
of discount stores, including Wal-Mart and K-Mart. Foodland and Safeway are also
on all of the islands and have great weekly sales.
- Restaurants: Wyndham’s Waikiki Beach Walk is ideally located near
an abundance of restaurants on Waikiki Beach, including Ruth’s Chris and Duke’s,
which are right across from the resort.
- Downtown Honolulu has museums and a beautiful courthouse with
a rich history. There is a huge statue of King Kamehameha near the courthouse that
- Dole pineapple plantation is in Wahiawa, a short drive from Waikiki
Beach. You can tour the plantation and see the process of growing a pineapple from
beginning to end. Check the website for more details at
- The Banzai Pipeline on the North Shore is famous for its gigantic
waves and experienced surfers. This is not for beginners, and it is incredible to
watch these masters of the sport, and it’s free entertainment.
There are many sights on Kauai that are just drive-to, and free. It takes days to
see all of the waterfalls, Waimea Canyon and visit the towns. You don’t have to
spend anything to enjoy Kauai’s beauty. All beaches are public on Kauai.
- Princeville: built on a cliff, on the north shore of Kauai.
- Princeville is very near the newly remodeled St. Regis hotel. An elevator from the
lobby of the hotel will take you to the beach, which is many stories down from the
hotel’s entrance. There is a wonderful restaurant at the hotel with spectacular
views of Hanalei Bay. You can enjoy the view right in front of the hotel, and can
even order a mai tai from one of the St. Regis staff, who serve drinks right at
- Queen’s Bath: a hike to a pool formed by lava. The water is rough sometimes, but
most days you can hike to the swimming hole and enjoy a fairly calm pool of water.
- Hanalei town: a robust area with lots of restaurants and shops. The town will give
you a sense of old Hawaii.
- Snorkeling is great at Hanalei Bay and Tunnels beaches. Anini Beach is a short drive
away, just slightly south of Princeville and is a very calm snorkeling area. You
can rent snorkel gear at several different Snorkel Bob’s locations on the islands.
- Hanapepe: a 40 minute drive south from Hanalei, your best bet for looking backwards
into Hawaii’s past. The charm of the town and the people will not be lost on anyone
who falls in love with Kauai.
- Kauai Kookie Company: visit for bargain prices on their boxed shortbread cookies
with macadamia nuts. They sell their product cheaper at the warehouse store, and
you are guaranteed the absolute freshest product. Kauai Cookie Company is near Lihue,
where the airport is located. Their website is
- Kauai Coffee Company: worth a stop because you get free coffee samples, including
many different flavored coffees, and it’s also educational. A video presentation
describes the coffee growing and roasting process. The gift shop sells Kauai Coffee
for the best price on the islands.
- Luaus are a must-do for many visitors to the islands, but they can be expensive.
Smith’s Luau is one of the most beautiful shows and has decent food, and the price
varies, with coupons available via a quick Google search. Check their website for
their luau and Fern Grotto excursions:
- Language: the Hawaiian language is spoken throughout the islands,
and the charm of the Kauai natives is that they always greet you with an “aloha”
and it is truly heartfelt. The natives depend on tourism and will welcome you very
graciously into their restaurants and establishments. “Mahalo” means thank you.
Shaka is a symbol and word for “hang loose.” The signal is a simple one with middle
three fingers down in a fist, with thumb and pinky finger extended. Natives will
let you pass or will pass you on the highway to Kapa’a town and signal with the
“shaka.” It’s important to know the meaning for those Kauai drives to the south
of the island.
- Discounts: pick up the magazine, “101 Things to Do on Kauai,”
which contains many free activities and drives, and look for discount coupons there.
The magazine is available at the airport and near the shopping areas.
- Shopping: There is a Wal-Mart and a Costco on Kauai in Lihue.
Costco sells gas cheaper than any other station on the island, and the bargains
at Costco are very similar to the mainland. There is no cheaper place to buy rum
for those mai tais, and Costco always has their $1.50 lunch special of a hot dog
or polish with a drink, and it will be your cheapest “dinner out” on the island.
- Discount tickets/attraction passes: Wyndham sells a 7-day pass
that covers Busch Gardens, Water Country, Colonial Williamsburg, etc. The price
is $123.50 for adults, $102.50 for youth. We’ve found cheaper prices at:
- Discount tickets: check discount codes for Opryland tickets at
retailmenot.com. There are other discounts available via the internet with a simple