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How many times have you sighed, “If only I could travel with just a carry-on bag I’d save two hours at the airport!” Well, I recently did just that and shipped my bag ahead. I had it waiting for me at the hotel when I arrived before the baggage carousel started to turn. It was so heavenly that I then shipped it home at the end of the trip. At least six companies now specialize in shipping luggage door to door. But since luggage heaven comes at a price, the three main overnight shipping companies ship luggage too, at a much lower price than the luggage shipping specialists. Ship a day early, so you can make sure your bag arrived before you leave.

Who can take care of refunds and changes when you’ve booked your trip online? Don’t be surprised when the answer is no one. All that time spent online is doubled when you have to get on the phone and make a change. Forget the refund, as online specials are usually non-refundable. Need help overseas? I cringe for you. Internet specials are great until you have a problem or need to make changes. That’s where travel agents are lifesavers, especially if you’re out of the country. Definitely go online to do research. Compare prices and look at hotel photos & airline seating charts. But for an expensive or complicated itinerary, use a travel agent. And pack their cell phone number.

You’re having dinner at the Eiffel Tower when your credit card is refused. Furious, you spend an hour calling home to discover your card was shut down due to suspicious activity- someone has been using it in France! Since no one called the credit card company back when they left you a message at your home, the account was frozen “for your protection.” Let’s get one thing straight- it wasn’t for your protection. You have limited liability. It was the credit card company covering their rear and they do it all the time. To avoid this, call your credit card companies and inform them of your travel dates & destinations, take travelers checks and travel with more than one card.

Now that you have your passport for travel to the Caribbean and Mexico you need to take steps to avoid it being lost or stolen. Immediately make several copies. Leave one copy at home, put two copies in your carry on bag, and leave one copy with someone who could fax it to you if yours is lost or stolen. In case yours disappears, a copy of your passport will significantly speed up the time it takes to get a replacement, especially overseas. I prefer hard copies but some people scan their passports to file on their laptop. In your hotel, put your passport in the hotel safe with the majority of your credit cards and carry one of the copies with you for shopping and money changing.

Skycaps used to comment on my bag. “Whaddya got in there, bricks?” Even today, I still pack my “essentials.” Aside from a few extra shoes, that includes all those liquids and gels. Where else do you put them? Add up the toiletries, instant coffee, immersion heater, protein bars, white noise/alarm clock, extension cord, makeup mirror, curling iron, small flashlight, adaptors, converters and chargers, and it’s a heavy bag. “Yeah, bricks,” I used to answer. But today, I take two half empty bags, splitting the weight. You pay steep excess fees for one bag a few pounds heavy, and nothing for two bags, each under the limit. Hey, it works for me-there’s room to shop.

The Transportation Security Administration (a division of US Department of Homeland Security) has recently revised its restrictions on items in carry-on luggage for flights originating in the US. Due to enhanced security measures liquids, gels, lotions and other items of similar consistency will not be permitted in carry-on baggage. These types of items must be packed in your checked baggage.

These are some tips to avoid spills inside your suitcase:

– Liquids and gels should be in plastic containers, stowed inside clear zippered plastic bags for ease of inspection by TSA officials.
– Squeeze all the air out of any liquid or gel containers to avoid leaks, as products expand in flight.
– Pack liquids and gels near the hinge of a suitcase to minimize movement.

These are some notable exceptions:

– Baby formula and breast milk are allowed in your carry-on baggage or personal items. You can take these through the security checkpoints and aboard your plane. However, you must be traveling with a baby or toddler. All items including formula or breast milk will be inspected.
– Liquid prescription medicine with a name that matches the passenger’s ticket, up to 5 oz. of liquid or gel low blood sugar treatment, including juice; and up to 4 oz. of non-prescription liquid medications including saline solution, eye care products and KY jelly are permitted.
– Gel-filled bras and similar prosthetics
– Gel-filled wheelchair cushions
– Life support and life sustaining liquids such as bone marrow, blood products, and transplant organs carried for medical reasons

More details are published on the Transportation Security Administration web site. Make sure to visit for the latest restrictions before packing your carry-on luggage and reaching an airport security check point.

If you’re planning on vacationing in another country, you’re going to need a valid passport. If this is your first passport, you’ll need to apply in person at least 5 weeks before your planned departure. You can go to your local county courthouse, a U.S. Passport Agency, a probate court, or certain post offices. For more information, click on: Be sure to make two photocopies of your passport before you go on your trip. Bring one with you and leave the other with a friend.

Try to avoid carrying large sums of cash when you are traveling. Bring only the credit cards you plan on using and pick up some traveler’s checks before you go. If you need to cash a traveler’s check while you’re on vacation, be careful! Banks have been known to charge up to 20 percent of the travelers check’s face value. Try to find a bank that sells the same brand. Your fees will be lower and you can save that extra money for souvenirs.

If you are traveling with children, it’s always good to be prepared for anything. Portable video games and CD players, healthy snacks like granola or raisins, wet wipes-these are things you should always have on hand. Also, if you’re traveling by car, paper towels and small trash bags are a must.

If you’re going to be walking a lot, bring along a pair of shoes that is a half-size too big. This allows for swelling. Don’t underestimate those gel inserts that you can pick up at any drugstore. Your feet will thank you.

The airport is where 85 percent of crimes take place during trips. Be aware of what’s going on around you. Never leave your bags unattended. If you’re traveling with someone, one person should not only keep an eye on your luggage, but also a hand.

When traveling overseas, check your health insurance. Many policies won’t cover you once you leave the U.S. If you need insurance, there are a number of companies that offer travel coverage plans including American Express, International SOS Assistance, Medex, and Health Care Abroad.

When it comes to buying new luggage, there’s always the question of whether it should be soft or hard-sided. Although soft-sided luggage has to be fully packed to gain some degree of sturdiness, it is lighter, flexible for packing, and stores easier. Hard case luggage on the other hand doesn’t need to be filled to be durable. The hard case protects the contents better, and often comes with built-in locks. Surprisingly, soft luggage tends to last longer, especially if it’s made from canvas or high-tech nylon. Hard cases that take a beating often get their hinges and frames bent, while soft cases tend to roll with the punches. Whatever you decide to buy, save the pricey designer bags for your carry-on. Expensive suitcases just beg to be stolen.

If you prefer to eat out for breakfast, ask the concierge or front desk for the nearest bakery or sidewalk coffee shop. Avoid ordering expensive room service. Another idea is to pack a small toaster or have cereal in the room. Bring an immersion heater for coffee and hot chocolate (don’t forget the voltage adapter) and why not keep a cooler full of soft drinks or snacks? If the weather is nice, you might want to enjoy it with a picnic.

Prepare a medical kit to take along. Be sure to include any prescription medications you are taking and bring medications for stomachache, earache, pain, and diarrhea. You should also carry a copy of your eyeglass or contact lens prescription, and an extra pair of both.

If you’re traveling by car, it’s a good idea to prepare for emergencies. Aside from taking enough maps, these items can help: car rental and insurance information, identification and medical information for everyone traveling, a first aid kit, a blanket and sheet, a flashlight or lantern, a small tool kit that includes two screwdrivers-regular and Phillips, a jug of water, a battery jumper cables, a heavy duty jack, and a lug wrench.

If you accidentally leave something behind on a plane, immediately call the airline’s 800 number and give them your flight number and a detailed description of the item. Airlines typically hold an item for five days and then forward the item to the airline’s central baggage office, where it’s typically held for 90 days.

When you pick up your ticket, check to see that all the information is correct. Be sure your name is spelled correctly and that you have a coupon for each flight. Your ticket must match the name on your passport.

If you have the time, check to see if your ticket price drops after you buy it. Many airlines will reimburse you for the difference, but only if you ask.

The first thing you should do when you check into your hotel is to find out what amenities the suites offer that the standard rooms do not (usually a bathrobe, slippers, upgraded toiletries, etc.). When you get to your standard size room, if it doesn’t have a bathrobe, call housekeeping and ask to “borrow” one. They’ll send one up right away. Other items that are available from housekeeping include an iron and ironing board, hypo-allergenic or down pillows, extra towels, soap and shampoo, hair dryers, shoe polish, extra blankets, sewing kits, and sometimes even a toothbrush and toothpaste. If your room has twin beds, you can usually have them pushed together and re-made into a king.

If you are renting a car, definitely give your rental car a good once-over before you leave the lot. Check to see that the headlights, windshield wipers, and brakes are working correctly. The fuel tank should be full and if it isn’t, make a note on the rental contract and have the rental agent initial it before you leave.

If you use a credit card for a purchase or service overseas, keep your receipts and double check your bill. There are thousands of mistakes on international credit card purchases, but unfortunately, there’s very little recourse. One common problem is receiving defective merchandise that has been shipped. The law only protects you if it was shipped within your home state or if you lived within one hundred miles of the mailing address. Therefore, don’t ship without good insurance. And what about the merchant who adds extra zeroes or moves the decimal point to increase the charge? This happens all the time. You must notify your credit card company in writing within 60 days. You’ll also need to send a copy to the appropriate federal agencies as well, and believe it or not, the Director of Tourism of the offending country. Often the promise of bad publicity from an American tourist can nudge the merchant to withdraw.

You’re required by U.S. Law to declare all items acquired in other countries. That includes repairs to items you took with you and any gifts you may have received. You’ll fill out a customs declaration form when reentering the United States. Keep a record of what you acquire abroad and keep your receipts. Take the necessary time to register any foreign-made jewelry or electronic equipment at the customs office before you leave, to prove you didn’t buy them on the trip. Appraisals, receipts, insurance policies, and permanently affixed numbers are proof of prior ownership. If you fail to register these items, you may be required to pay a duty on them when you return home. The most important thing you can do is be informed. Believe me, this is the one situation where honesty is the best policy!

If your passport is lost or stolen while abroad, go immediately to the nearest American embassy or consulate where you can start the process of getting a new passport. This is when you will need a photocopy of your passport. You should also report it to the local police.

Popular hotels frequently overbook and plan on cancellations. Consequently, you may find yourself without a room upon your arrival. To avoid this, authorize the person taking your reservation to charge your room to your credit card. Be sure to first ask about the cancellation policy (usually 24 to 72 hours before arrival). Otherwise, you’ll be charged for one night.

When flying with a pet, find out the pet policies of the airline. Be sure to reserve a place-you want the cargo area to be pressurized, lighted, and temperature controlled. Allow your pet to become familiar with the flight-approved travel case. Most importantly, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian for a check-up and obtain sedatives if necessary.

When you put your valuables in a hotel safe, put your credit cards in a sealed and signed envelope so you know whether they’ve been used when you get them back.

Believe it or not, there is an unwritten code of polite behavior for sharing tight airplane space. We all know there are more elbows than arm rests, so whose space is it? The aisle seat gets the outer one, and the window seat gets the one under the window. That leaves the middle passenger, who gets his choice of one or both! Let him choose, then claim the leftovers. As far as storage space goes, you are entitled to the space under the seat in front of you, not under you. Storage bins above the seat are unofficially open storage for whoever gets there first.

Little announcement cards in hotels say they’re saving energy and going more “green” by not washing your towels and sheets every day unless you request it. “I’m all for that,” I tell them, “as long as my rate is adjusted accordingly for ‘dirty’ days!” I admit I’m a bit suspicious of hotels that use the “green” label just to cut operating expenses. Many of us are energy-conscious at home, but we can also carry it forward when traveling. Remember to turn the TV and lights off, close the blinds in summer and adjust the thermostat when you go out. Bring your own collapsible shopping bag and try to minimize waste by packing reusables instead
of disposables.

Your E-ticket is lost in cyberspace. Your baby’s “connecting” room is down the hall. It’s inevitable that something will go wrong on a trip, but you can win and not lose. First: Get it in writing. Second: Get a name to blame. Insist on e-mail confirmations for airline and hotel reservations so you can take the printout to the counter. If a room is dirty or an airline seat doesn’t recline, take a photograph, if possible. Then complain to someone who has the power to make it right. Follow up by mail or e-mail. Again, make a note of the person’s name, title, address and e-mail, plus the date and time of your call. Then be reasonable and rational. State your complaint and what you expect in return. Take notes and collect evidence. Remember that facts plus evidence equal the power to make it right.