Aren’t those cute little shampoo bottles that you find in hotel rooms cute? They’re also handy. You can use them for future trips because they’re very packable. You can also stock your own guest bathroom at home with them. Also, depending on the hotel, the toiletries themselves can be quite luscious and you just might want to continue using it at home.
Whatever your motivation, lots of those little bottles go home with hotel guests in their suitcases.
Is that okay? Is it okay to take home certain items from hotel rooms?
I recently posed that question on our Facebook page. The general consensus was that it is okay to take anything that isn’t reusable. Toiletries, for instance were generally mentioned as acceptable to take.
To make things interesting I also posed the same question to our hotelier partners. Every single one of them also said it was okay to take the branded toiletries.
Then there are also things that is it generally agreed that it is NOT okay to take. Towels, robes, pillows would all be included in the “hands off” list. Beach towels are commonly taken from resorts. I believe the people who take them know that they are stealing though, right?
So there are things that are clearly okay to take, and things that aren’t. Not everything, though, is as clear cut.
Take for instance a bottle of wine or champagne left for you in your room. Should you take that? What about the stuff in the (free if you’re at an all inclusive) mini bar?
Or what about what happened to me on a recent trip? The hotel was really going above and beyond for us. They had embroidered washcloths with our names on them. Clearly we were supposed to take those.
The last morning we were there I went running, then took a quick shower and put on the robe in the closet to go to a sky massage on the beach. When I got back to the room I threw the robe on the floor as I rushed around to get dressed and pack so we could leave.
I noticed my name on the floor. I assumed it was the embroidered washcloth so I went to pick it up. Turns out, they had also embroidered our names on the wonderful robes.
I was very puzzled. A robe is a big expensive thing. You just don’t take a robe from a hotel room. But, they had our names on them. So, I asked our butler what I was supposed to do. He assured me that I was to take them home, which is wear they are hanging today.
So, I would say the general rules are:
- It’s okay to take the toiletries.
- It’s okay to take things that are clearly given to you as a gift.
- Leave everything else there.
What are your thoughts?
I love technology. I know that, like anything else, there can be a dark side to it especially if you allow yourself to be used by it instead of using it as a tool. I absolutely love my iPhone and can’t imagine functioning without it at home, much less traveling the world. I took a look at the apps on my phone to identify which ones make traveling easier. Here they are:
First of all, just having the phone makes my life easier. Being able to be reached no matter where I am is a tremendous comfort to me. I still have kids at home. I also have a business where people who are very precious to me work really hard and sometimes need me. I want to be available. You may not want to be available. To each his / her own.
Having Internet access on my phone is very helpful to me on a trip. I even stay up on my email as much as possible. Again, your mileage my vary on this. I’d rather not be under a mountain of emails from people who are now mad because they’ve been waiting for me. I’m always very careful, if I’m traveling out of the country, to make sure that I’ll have easy Internet access. I call A T & T and add international data to my account. I’m no idiot. I don’t turn on data roaming unless I’ve pre-purchased the international data.
Memo: You know, just the normal memo app that comes on your phone. I don’t know about you, but I have some great ideas when I’m traveling. Maybe it’s because I’m in the travel business but I suspect that everyone has better ideas when out of a normal routine. Be sure to record them because I promise you won’t remember them when you get back and have 5000 emails.
Skype: My office operates on Skype. I also have friends with whom that is our primary form of communication. I enjoy having access to Skype wherever I am.
Google Maps: I don’t process verbal directions. I have to see it. How great to be able to navigate anywhere via this piece of technology in my pocket.
Bible App: There are several out there, pick your favorite. Mine is “YouVersion”. I love having Holy Scripture on my smart phone because it’s lighter and smaller than a printed Bible. Especially 20 different translations of a printed Bible.
Kindle: See above with regard to weight and space of printed books. Also, when I’ve read all of the “books” I have with me, I can easily get more. (I read alot on vacation.)
Yelp / Urbanspoon: If I’m traveling somewhere where the subject of “Where should we go to eat” comes up, these apps can save the day.
AA (or the app of your chosen airline): Checking in online, checking flight status, setting a parking reminder, all very useful.
Whatsapp: This is an app that allows you to text message other users without using the cellular network. It works via Internet access. So, when I was on the river cruise (with wifi) in France last fall I was able to text message with my husband when life hit the fan as it always does when I leave. I also have friends and business contacts all over the world on my whatsapp so I can text them in my daily life without incurring international texting charges for either them or myself.
What about you? How do you use your smartphone when you travel?
I do all of the welcome home calls as well as handle all of the after travel issues.
What that means is that I’m the one who finds out first if you had a problem on your vacation. That also means that I’ll be the one to report back to the tour company and the resort and whoever else needs to be involved in order to get some sort of resolution for you.
In fact, I just handled a bunch of complaints from a group we had about how they were handled at check in at the resort. They also had complaints about their wedding coordinator, as well as service at the restaurants. As you can imagine, I was quite upset that the weekend hadn’t been what we’d all hoped.
So, I sent emails to my contacts at the hotel and the investigation was underway.
Today I got an email back from the hotel. It reads as follows:
“I looked deep into this and we didn’t have registered 1 complaint in our system from any of these guests throughout their stay. I even spoke to their wedding coordinator and she said everything sailed smoothly and she would have known if something was wrong. Overall, they were very happy with the staff, service and food. I also looked into the comments they filled out at check out and was able to find 10 comment cards. (10 suites). I have attached them for you to read,
We sincerely apologize for any inconveniences they may have experienced you know the first and most important thing for us is to try and make our guests happy and have an unforgettable vacation. It`s disappointing to hear that there was unsatisfied guests staying with us, knowing this, we would have done everything in our power to turn the situation around. ”
So, to the hotel it seems like one of two things is happening. Either they think that I’m overstating the situation and the client isn’t unhappy, or that the client is trying to take advantage of the hotel for some sort of future consideration. Either way, it doesn’t help us get any satisfaction for our clients after the fact.
Additionally, as the hotel said in their reply, if the hotel had known about the problem they could have taken steps to fix it while the group was still in destination.
So, the bottom line is this: If you’re having a problem on vacation, don’t wait until you get home to say something about it. Make sure the hotel knows. If all else fails, call us from the destination and let us try to intervene. Don’t wait until you get home.
Every day we encounter annoying people. Even though vacation isn’t supposed to have any of the annoyances of every day life, annoying people take vacations too. Here are three guys you don’t want to be on vacation.
Guy Carrying All of His Earthly Belongings Onto the Airplane: This guy avoids paying luggage fee like my husband avoids chick flicks. He and each of his children bring overstuffed duffel bags onto the airplane. It takes them several extra minutes to sit down because they have to find overhead space to fit their voluminous carry-ons. All of his fellow passengers are inconvenienced because he slows boarding down, not to mention that he takes up more than his fair share of overhead space.
Chair / Beach Bed Saver Guy: This guy wakes up at the crack of dawn and spreads all of his earthly belongings (the same belongings he stuffed into the overhead bins the day before) across chairs at the pool as well as a set at the beach. He doesn’t spend much time in either set, but he wants his options open. Other resorts guests have a hard time finding a place to enjoy the day because this guy is hogging all the lounge chairs and beach beds.
Rude Guy: This guy’s mom apparently never told him about catching more flies with honey than with vinegar. He drips vinegar. From check in until check out, he is cross with everyone from front desk personnel, to wait staff in the restaurants, to the sweet housekeeper who cleans his rooms. Somewhere along the line he got the impression that if he did that, people would scurry to fulfill his wishes. He should try being nice and see how that works out for him.
What other guys should you avoid being on vacation?
How was your last trip? Was it perfect? Could it have been better? Was it a disaster? Are you wondering if another travel agent might have made it better?
It might sound counter intuitive, but if you had a problem on your last trip it may be exactly the wrong time to change agents.
Unless your agent was very inexperienced, or unless he or she clearly placed her own priorities above yours, the difficulty was probably the result of a lack of clear understanding of what you wanted.
For instance, last year we did an incentive trip for a company. The group leader indicated that they needed the resort to have wifi. The resort we sent them to has wifi.
What they really wanted, though, was FREE wifi. This resort did not have free wifi.
We did some fast work and arranged for the wifi cost to be comped for them, but it made for a tense morning with calls from out of the country.
Fortunately for us, this year they booked with us again. This time we had a clear understanding about exactly what they needed. And they got it.
I love working with clients I’ve worked with for many years. I know exactly the things that make them crazy and tell them with great authority if they’re going to like a certain resort or vacation experience. I know them and they trust me.
So, in most cases, it’s a good idea to stick with your agent. Let them get to know you. You’ll be glad you did.
Getting through airport security is not the best part of any trip. (If it is the best part of your trip, you need a new travel agent.) With some pre-planning and a few tips, it can, however, be a lot less of a hassle.
To start with, plan for security before you leave home. For instance, dress in shoes that will be easy to remove and replace. My daughter wore a pair of knee high converse. This meant that she had to completely unlace and relace them to get through security. It is easy to see that slip ons would have been a better choice. Just from a hygienic perspective, be sure to wear socks. As you’re considering those flip flops, imagine the fungus on thousands of bare feet walking that same path every day.
Checking a bag rather than carrying everything will also speed your way through security. The less you have with you, the quicker it will be. Although my husband usually refuses to check a bag, he has his own way of getting through security quicker. He takes everything out of his pockets and puts it in the outside pocket of his suitcase. This way he isn’t messing with emptying his pockets while in line.
Plan your arrival at the airport such that you have plenty of time to get through security without stress. If you’re concerned about missing your flight, you’re likely to have a stressed attitude in security and that is something that can get you tagged for secondary screening. Secondary screening is no fun.
As you approach security, have your ID and boarding pass already out. Don’t stand at the podium and dig through your purse or pockets and hold the line up. When the first TSA officer hands you back your ID and boarding pass, put it somewhere very accessible. For one thing, you need to put it somewhere quick, and for another thing you want to be very sure not to lose it. If you lose your picture ID, you won’t be able to fly home. One handy accessory is a pouch to wear around your neck to put your ID in. It’s very easy to keep your ID and boarding pass and it’s very easy to get to. Yes, you may look like an unaccompanied minor, but you’ll be one that gets through security faster.
Think of what is coming ahead. Just like you need to pre-plan the shoes you’ll wear and you’ll need to have your ID out and ready, pay attention to what’s ahead of you in line. Read the signs around you. Listen to what the TSA people are saying over, and over, and over. I flew to Chicago last week and they kept saying over and over as people would enter the full body scanner, “Take everything out of your pockets”. The gentleman ahead of me in line either wasn’t listening or didn’t think that applied to him. He had to be rescanned because he left a piece of paper in his pocket. According to TSA they have to “resolve any anomaly”. This means is something looks funny, they have to figure out what it is. This holds up the line. Don’t be that guy. Go ahead and get those shoes off and take that computer out of its bag. Don’t wait until the line is waiting on you to put stuff on the belt before you wise up and do what you need to do.
Finally, recombobulate elsewhere. (You know, “discombobulate”, recombobulate is the opposite of that.) Don’t stand at the other side of the xray machine conveyor belt and put your shoes back on and generally put yourself back together. Grab everything that’s yours and walk to a bench or chair somewhere out of the way of the whole security operation. Do grab EVERYTHING.
So there you go. Those are my suggestions. What are your best suggestions for getting through security easier and faster?
Make travel a priority in 2012. Stop waiting until you feel like you can afford it. Stop waiting until you lose that last 10 (20..30…) pounds. There isn’t a better time in your life to travel than right now. You’re not getting any younger and your kids aren’t either.
2) Don’t Cut Corners
Don’t pick a hotel or resort because it’s the cheapest. Work with an agent who really knows the ends and outs of where you want to go. Tell them what is actually important to you along with the budget you’d really like to stay within. Get the travel insurance. Consider nonstop transfers if they’re available in your destination.
3) Use an agent
An agent can make the difference between an uninformed choice and a perfect match.
4) Book Early
Waiting to book your trip is unlikely to make it better or more affordable. If you wait until the last minute it’s like trying to find your wedding dress on a clearance rack. You just have other people’s leftovers to choose from. Also, with travel, the best deals are usually had by booking early. Once in a blue moon there is a great last minute deal. It happens just often enough to keep the urban legend alive. Don’t count on it.
5) Pack Mindfully
Think about what you really need to bring and what you don’t. Find out what is available at your resort so that you don’t duplicate. Think about each item you bring rather than just throwing a few things in a suitcase.
6) Pick Travel Dates Mindfully
People are always asking how to get a good deal with travel. We always tell them, “It’s simple. Just do what others don’t do.” That’s the truth. Travel when others don’t want to (or be prepared to pay the cost and give up the convenience of traveling during peak time).
7) Get to the airport early
Getting to the airport at the last minute, being stressed in the check-in line and the security line and running to the gate are all horrible ways to start your vacation. Get to the airport early and give yourself the gift of a relaxing start to your trip.
What else? Let us know in the comments.
Recently I wrote a handout to give to people for whom we arrange trips to Europe. I thought I’d share it with you here!
As you prepare for your trip to Europe, please allow us to share with you some tips that we’ve learned from prior trips. These are all just suggestions. You might not find each of these items or suggestions useful, and there may be something else that you find to be vital. We’d love to hear your feedback.
Basic medicines – In a foreign country your familiar brand of cold medicine won’t be available. Even if something similar is available, you may not know it because the label may not be in English.
Travel Insurance - Your health insurance may or may not cover you overseas. Even if it does, you will have to pay out of pocket for anything that happens and hope to be reimbursed (at the out of network rate) upon your return.
Safety / Security:
Make color copies of your passport prior to your departure. Put a set in your suitcase and leave another set with a trusted friend at home. (Having these copies will speed the process of replacing your passport in the event you lose yours.)
European touring doesn’t lend itself to carrying a purse. Instead, bring a daypack or travel bag of some kind. When choosing this bag, keep in mind body mechanics and security. You can find bags that are reinforced with metal cables so that they can’t be quickly cut from your body by a thief on the move. I’ve never had anyone even try to cut a purse off my body..but you never know.
Consider a money belt. Wearing your extra credit card, your big money and your passport in a money belt under your clothes. It will be with you at all times and protected from pick pocketers.
You may save some dollars if you bring a water bottle with you and refill it along the way.
Beware when you rent a car. Only take additional coverages if you actually intend to. Car rental counter people tend to rush through the rental process and have been known to trick you into buying coverages that you don’t need. Find out what your own car insurance covers before you leave and make yourself familiar with the laws of the country to which you are traveling.
Get your cash from ATMs rather than “Cambio” booths. (Talk to your bank to find out what they charge for international transactions. Also, warn them and your credit card companies that you’re going to be out of town so they don’t fraud alert your card.
We’ve tried to arrange for perfect weather during your trip, but you might want to pack an umbrella or a rain poncho.
Depending on the type of place you’re staying, don’t count on the little travel sized toiletries that you find at the hotels here. Take a small bottle of shampoo, lotion, etc to make sure you’re covered.
Wash cloths are primarily an American phenomenon. You won’t find them even at very nice hotels in Europe.
Remember sunscreen and sunglasses.
In cool weather, dress in layers. Layers are easier to pack, and easier to take off and put on as your comfort requires.
Pack Ziploc bags of varying sizes. You will find them handy for all sorts of things.
Be sure the shoes you take to wear while touring are nice and broken in. New shoes may cause blisters.
Speaking of blisters, pack a supply of band-aids. We especially like the band-aid brand blister bandages. They are magical when you have a fresh blister and are looking at getting up and doing it all over again tomorrow.
Call your cell provider before you go. Find out what your particular situation is with regard to voice calls and data. Add an international data plan if you need / want to. Turn off data roaming if you don’t want to use it.
If you don’t want to use your cell phone at all, http://www.lonelyplanet.ekit.com/ekit/home is a good way to keep in touch with home.
Your camera and cell phone will continue to need power (probably more than usual!) while you’re on the road. Look at the power supply and see if it will accept European voltage. If you’re unsure, ask the manufacturer. If it will accept European voltage, you’ll only need an adapter to physically make the cord fit into the power outlet. If it does not, you’ll also need a converter to convert European voltage to US voltage.
Be especially careful with hair appliances. More than one client has burned hair from an overheated hair appliance, even one plugged into a converter. I’m not saying that every hotel room will have a hair dryer, but every hotel room in Europe I’ve ever been with has had a hair dryer. If you absolutely must use a straightener, I would recommend investing in one with dual voltage.
Bring a journal. You’d be amazed out how quickly you can forget the details! Writing down the name of the hotels where you stayed, the restaurants you enjoyed or the name of your gondolier, as well as other details, can help you recollect your trip more completely later. It also helps when you’re documenting your pictures later.
A laminated foldable city map is great to have. Most of them have a map of the subway system as well.
Finally, a small compass (even a small cheap one) can be a lifesaver when navigating around a city where you’re not sure which way is north.
Some issues are unique. For instance today I talked to the mother of a bride where her only complaint about the resort where her daughter’s destination wedding was held that they couldn’t smoke the cigars that the cigar roller rolled because the tobacco leaves weren’t dry. I’ve never heard that before. I’ll probably never hear it again.
Most complaints, though, fit into one of several categories. Here are the most common after travel complaints I deal with.
Didn’t Receive Added Values: A popular sort of promotion is where you get something additional thrown in when you book a room. Maybe a resort credit, maybe a tour, maybe an upgrade to nonstoptransfers. A very regular complaint is that those added values weren’t received. Just today I am working on a $250 resort credit that didn’t materialize.
Didn’t Receive Room as Booked: Another common complaint is that the resort didn’t give them the room that they paid for. For instance, if you paid for a water view and didn’t get it. Or, for instance, that you wanted a king bed and got two doubles. Or vice versa.
Another common complaint that has to do with room assignment has to do with the difference between Oceanview vs Oceanfront rooms. You can read about that here.
Maybe the biggest complaint having to do with rooms concerns upgrades. A very common feature of promotions is a “upgrade – based on availability”. People don’t tend to hear the “based on availability” part. They only hear that they’re getting an upgrade.
Transfer Issues: On packages where transfers are included, sometimes the transfers are the issue. Sometimes customers don’t catch their transfers. Sometimes the transfer operator doesn’t have the passenger on the manifest. Many times, customers don’t appear in the lobby for their return transfer until after the appointed time and the drive has to leave them.
How can you avoid having an after travel issue?
If you’re expecting an added value of any kind, be sure you have documentation reflecting that added value. Be sure to clarify the conditions surrounding any upgrades you’re expecting. Be very clear about the procedure surrounding catching your transfer. (It is probably outlined in your documents. Ask your agent about anything that isn’t clear.)
If you’re on vacation and start to face something unexpected, there are things you can do to make sure you have the best outcome possible.
1) Be nice. Your mother was right. You do catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. I like to visualize “velvet over steel”. I want to be very nice, yet very strong.
2) Utilize your resources. If you bought a package from us, you probably have a representative at the hotel. Contact them and ask for help resolving whatever the issue is. Also, many times we are able to resolve issues from here if you call us and tell us what’s going on. It’s much easier to fix something while it’s happening than when it’s ancient history.
3) Keep records. As you’re going through the situation, keep track of the names of who you talk to and any money you spent to rectify the situation. This will also help with resolution.
We’re back from France. It was an amazing trip, and I’m sure I’ll write about it more in another blog post.. What I want to write about today are the lessons we learned along the way. Before the trip I wrote about the process of packing, and I’ll also write about how that all worked out. Today, though, it’s all about lessons. Maybe some of them can translate to every day life lessons too.
Here they are, in no particular order.
1) Learn the basics of the native language. We didn’t do this. I wish we had. If you learn the niceties of the language as well as a few useful things (perhaps having to do with food and things like the bathroom) people will perceive you less as an intruder and more as a guest. Go ahead, make some flash cards. You can do it.
2) Eat when you can. One day we were in a beautiful small town, but only for three hours. Because we wanted to digest all of our surroundings and record them in photographs, we elected to skip eating in the dining room on board and head straight for town. Our thought was that we would pick up one of the wonderful sandwiches that are at little shops everywhere and maybe a diet coke, and eat them while walking around. Sadly, the three hours we were there were the three hours in the middle of the day that everyone in small town France takes off in the middle of the day to go home and eat with their families. This means that every single thing is closed with the exception of the sit down cafes where you can expect it to take 90 minutes to eat.
Nice tradition, but it sure didn’t fit our schedule that day. We were starving. We did, however, find the worlds most legendary cream puff that day. There was one solitary bakery that was open straight through instead of closing. Probably not very popular with the locals to be open straight through, but were we ever thankful for those cream puffs.
3) Pee when you can. I always made sure I went right before leaving the ship. Even so, sometimes we were caught having to locate acceptable facilities. We usually found them, but even so, it took away from touring time and interuupted the enjoyment of the amazing beauty we were there to see. I will admit it was an interesting cultural experience to stand in line for the potty, pay a Euro and get a receipt indicating that we’d paid to go to the bathroom. It was also fun to put the Euro coin in the other bathroom later in the trip to gain access to the stall. Multicultural lessons abound.
This also leads to a related lesson which is, Have Change for the Bathroom.
4) Be aware of national holidays. The day we took the train from Paris to Arles (pronounced “Ar-La”) was All Saints Day. This meant that the tourist information desk at the train station was closed which meant we couldn’t ask about how to get from the train station to the ship. This also meant that everything was closed. When I say every thing I mean every.single.thing. Even the supermarkets and the pharmacies. Fortunately for us on this trip we overnighted in Arles so we got to fully enjoy the town the next day.
5) Be careful of standing in the street. We primarily visited small towns where the roads were so narrow that to most Americans it looks more like a pedestrian district than an actually street where automobiles would dare to roam. With fair regularity, cars would come by and the drivers would be quite frustrated that the tourists were standing in the street. This isn’t a problem in a major city. I don’t think anyone would make a mistake in thinking a Paris street was anything but a busy major metropolitan throughfare.
6) A photo will look better back at the hotel than it does while you’re standing in front of the actual object. My traveling companion and I both have intimidating cameras with which we digest our surroundings. (She is a much much more skilled photographer than I am. I just have the big camera and try hard.) One thing I noticed is that I would be standing in near this impossibly beautiful thing and would take the best picture I could frame up. I would look at the screen on the back of the camera at the picture I’d taken and see a poor represenation of the magnificience before which I was standing. Many times I hit the delete key on the camera. (Thank goodness for digital photography.)
Then I noticed that when I got back to the hotel and uploaded the pictures to my iPad with a bigger screen, and I was away from the actual object of the picture, I was much more impressed with the picture. So, save those pictures and delete them later while looking at a bigger screen. (Now this doesn’t apply if it’s clearly a picture of the back of the person who stepped into your shot, or if it’s blurry, or something obvious like that.)
7) Remember rush hour. Even though you are on vacation, there are many people around you who are simply moving through their normal lives. People around you are going to work, getting groceries for their familes and trying to survive.
At the end of our trip we had to get clear through Paris on the RER train and it happened to be at 5:30pm. We endured a crush of people surrounding us on the train for the two hour journey. Between really popular stops I had to close my eyes, breathe, and try not to have a panic attack. (I don’t have panic attacks, but I was seriously considering an exception.) If I’d been thinking, I would have stowed our luggage and had dinner in Paris and had a much more enjoyable trip later in the evening.
8) Remember electricity. I always travel with a power strip. This keeps me from having to crawl around a night stand to switch out my cell phone charger to my iPad charger, to my laptop cord. I have plenty of accessible places in which to plug things. My favorite purchase on this trip was a European power strip. I plugged it in and stuck my US adapters in the slots. This essentially gave me my normal power strip (at least for those things that didn’t need a converter – refer to my blog post about Electricity while traveling for more details.)
What lessons did you learn last time you took a trip? Share them in the comments.