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September 17, 2007

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Save yourself a headache. Use the knapsack as your carry-on luggage. You need a carry-on for a couple of reasons. One is the standard advice to carry what you will need for your first night at your destination in case your luggage is lost or delayed. Most hotels supply soap and a single-use bottle of shampoo, so I don't bother with those. Likewise, I can buy a toothbrush and toothpaste at my destination. I pack a full change of clothes in my carry-on. Once, that saved my while I was still in the air because the passenger next to me spilled a drink in my lap.

The second use for a carry-on is when you are going through security checkpoints. You are going to have to empty keys, coins, PDAs, cellphones, etc. out of your pockets anyway. I have a pocket in my knapsack that I use for those at airport security. All of the metal that can set off the detectors is already in my carry-on before I get to the checkpoint. I don't have to spend time digging it all out of my pockets and putting it back later.

It's easy to be really overwhelmed by all of the travel info that is available today, both in print and online. For one-stop shopping, I've always been pleased with the TimeOut series of guidebooks and the Frommer's suggested itineraries (usually available online.)

With all of the mess that is air travel today, you need to do everything in your power to use a carry-on and not check luggage. It really saves a ton of headaches. One black and one khaki set of trousers, 3-4 tops, two pair of comfy shoes (try Rockport or Aerosoles) and you really are good to go.

Good point, Dale. In my zeal to get the knapsack stowed in the checked luggage, I forgot that I need something to carry around the gadgets I've listed in the "pack smart" point. I seriously would not consider traveling without my iPod now, but I need a place to stow it, don't I? Instead of stowing the knapsack, I'd say use it as your carry-on, but don't jam it full of stuff. Does that make sense?

The best thing to do is to only take as much stuff as if you were going to pack the knapsack in the suitcase, and then take it out and use it as carry on. I think its funny that your father-in-law brought six bags as Americans are legendary for taking too much luggage (no idea whether its really true or not, but he seems to fulfil the stereotype).

A few more things.

Research public transportation and getting to/from the airport. Taxis cost a lot of money, and in many places there is a very easy way to get from the airport to a hotel - London, for example, or Paris. In Eastern Europe, public transportation is really cheap. Even where it is expensive, it is still cheaper than taxis. You may need to learn to compare names of subway stations in countries like Russia, but you'll save money (and Moscow and St Petersburg "Metro" is worth a look).

Be careful with backpacks and handbags with shoulder straps. If you carry it with you, don't just let it hang behind your back. In some places this is an invitation to cut your bag and grab the contents. So, keep your handbag under your arm and keep an eye on it at all times. You probably don't want it cut even if it is empty.

expedia, orbitz, hotel.com and other similar websites have pretty good deals on hotels in all categories. Look at their "special deals". Now that I am a bit older and a bit more comfortable financially, I like nicer hotels (got "used" to them on business trips). I still don't want to waste money on a guy opening the door, but I like quiet, centrally located places with modern conveniences. A few years ago I got a very nice place in Covent Garden (theater district in London) for a third of its price.

Since many of my somewhat cheap habits persisted since my younger days, I still feel that once a day at most is enough for restaurants. In Europe, breakfast is usually included while for the third meal, I often get nuts - almonds, walnuts in grocery stores (or even take them with me in case I hate the airplane meal; I love nuts) and buy fruit from street vendors. Nuts are very filling. They have lots of calories but if you eat them as a meal and not as an addition to the meal, they are great. Good for you too.

About restaurants - look for busy places frequented by locals and avoid tourist traps. Cost isn't always the same as quality. Don't shun places that don't take credit cards - these are often cheaper and just as good. If a place looks busy it could be both good and inexpensive. Ask receptionist in a hotel for advice if you don't know where to eat. In some places eating the main meal mid-day saves money as well.

Read about local tipping habits as well as expressions you can see on a menu e.g. "cover charge", "service is included" (or not), etc. before your trip. In most Western European restaurants service is included and waiters get real salary; also Europeans tip to reward good service only. At the same time, don't think of service as bad if they don't bring you bill right away or if they don't stop by your table as often as in the US to ask if everything is OK. In some countries they consider it rude to bring you the bill before you asked for it - it is like telling you to leave. They also may not like to bother you during meal. Customs differ. Just ask for the bill or signal the waiter when you are ready to leave. Also, in some countries you don't need to wait to get seated: just find an empty table and sit.

Wonderful tips, thanks!

A great way to find super nice inexpensive hotel rooms is to rent a night at a timeshare property.

You can look at websites like rci.com or intervalworld.com to find properties at your travel destination. Then you can just call them up and ask if they have any special rental rates on your travel dates.

We've found 3 bedroom suites with a kitchen this way for about $125 a night.

Thanks,

Jason

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