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Best Reader Comments of 2009

by , SmarterTravel Staff
Couple at computer (Photo: IndexOpen)
Editor's Note: This story was originally published on December 16, 2009. To see the most recent SmarterTravel articles on related topics, please click on any of the following links: airfare, baggage, booking strategy, credit card, flight delay, free travel, frequent flyer, health and safety, hotel, Jaclyn Liechti, mileage earning, packing, security, technology and gadget, tsa, upgrade.

As the SmarterTravel comments moderator, I see hundreds of comments with helpful hints and thoughtful observations about traveling each month. In fact, choosing the best reader comments for this article was only difficult because there were so many options to choose from. Our community members (that's you!) have useful tips on everything from avoiding fees to packing efficiently, and these are the cream of the crop.

Packing

I've always considered myself a good packer, but after reading these comments, I know there's a lot to learn from our community of expert travelers.

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  • MsDawntreader offers a tip to avoid baggage fees by packing lighter: "My secret weapon for winter is silk long underwear. It takes up virtually no room at all, works underneath all kinds of clothing to keep you warm, doubles as pajamas, washes in the sink, and dries overnight, if not faster."

  • The 3-1-1 liquid ban doesn't stop MarbellaSD from flying: "For short trips, old contact lens cases are perfect for one to two days' worth of face and hair products, etc. They take up much less room and are easier to fill than small bottles. I use a permanent marker to identify contents. Another benefit: no more half empty small bottles with unknown contents!"

  • Sherry Baby knows how to pack everything in a carry-on: "Regarding medicines: I use mini Ziploc bags (from Kmart pharmacy or the like) and repackage pills from large bulky bottles. Your pharmacist can make mini labels for these bags; TSA has no problem with this. You can package only what you need for this trip. It saves a ton of space."

  • And traveling maniac also shares a packing tip, no doubt perfected after many trips: "I literally weigh what I am going to take with an old food scale. Given choices between tops, bottoms, shoes, etc., I always take the lighter ones. I have also, over the years, purchased a variety of lightweight clothes that I keep just for traveling, storing them in a plastic bin under a bed."

Health and Safety

Nobody wants to return from a vacation with an illness or a bad experience. Thankfully, those who have lived and learned are gracious enough to share their tips with other SmarterTravel readers.

  • Jeanne's tips for staying safe in Mexico apply anywhere: "In most urbanized areas you can eat the street food. Just look for the more popular places and places that look clean and cook the food in front of you. Don't walk around with your map hanging out, unless you would like to become a target. Go into a store, bathroom, museum, [or] whatever, and take a look at where you're going."

  • Swine flu is no match against Rosemary, who contributes this advice: "My doctor has always recommended I use a saline nasal spray when flying because dry membranes help viruses travel the nasal canal."

  • Walking through security may seem simple, but floating_island knows better: "Wear or take a pair of socks to wear through security. I would never walk through security in my bare feet! (I take the hospital-type socks with rubber anti-skid stripes on the bottom.) When you can put your shoes back on, take them off and turn them inside out together, and put them in the 'dirty' section of your carry-on. If you take your shoes off on the airplane, you might want to put those socks back on instead of putting your bare feet under the seat in front of you, or to walk to the restroom. If you DO take your shoes off on the plane, make sure that you have some wiggle room in the shoes. After a flight of several hours, your feet may have swollen and you want to make sure you can get those shoes back on."

  • And Lareefun is always ready to make an effective complaint if necessary: "I carry two digital cameras with me when I travel. One is a small point-and-shoot digital that I use to document problems, emergencies, or accidents. I may never use the pictures, but I have the pictures just in case. That small camera has saved me a lot of money over the years. A picture is much clearer than a person's memory in a stressful situation."

Saving Money

SmarterTravel is all about finding the right trip at the right price. With airlines, hotels, and car rental agencies adding on fees, our readers know how to save money with these smart and simple tactics.

  • RH reveals his secret for getting hotel upgrades: "This tip is obvious, but works surprisingly well for me: Ask! When I check in, I am always courteous to the staff and engage in light conversation. I will then be very upfront and ask if an upgrade is available, telling them that I always ask every time I check in. More than 60 percent of the time, I have been upgraded. My best upgrades have included to the concierge floor at the Seelbach Hotel in Louisville, Kentucky, which meant a two-room suite, robes, and custom-made desserts and breakfasts. In Pacifica, California, the question resulted in an apology that ocean-view rooms were not available, but they could offer a family suite with a fireplace and a Jacuzzi."

  • For a free airline seat upgrade, Fritz offers this tip: "I've found that if I volunteer for a bump, in addition to the travel vouchers, I often can convince the agent to put us up front. On our best 'bump day,' our family of four got $3,000 in vouchers, meals, hotel room, and first class seats, all for getting to our destination three hours later than planned. Seems everyone else on the plane was going for the Daytona 500, and that three hours would have meant missing the start of the race. We weren't going to the race, so the incentives meant our next three trips were paid for!"

  • And Smack, besides having an excellent user name, also knows how to make a budget stretch: "You can typically save money on accommodations by offering to pay in cash versus credit card. When you email each hotel/pension/B&B, just ask if they will offer a cheaper rate if you pay in cash. Most places, especially [in] the Czech Republic, will discount your room at this request. Also, some places also offer Rick Steves' travel book discounts of about 10 percent."

Technology

As travel technology grows and changes, our readers are always on the cutting edge, and provide helpful advice to make sure others are never stranded.

  • Using cell phones overseas requires some forethought, as Jerry Peek writes: "If you're traveling overseas, remember that: 1) Your cell phone may not work overseas. If it does (T-Mobile and AT&T probably will IF your phone works on the frequency bands used in the area you're visiting), remember that the fees can be high. Even leaving your cell phone turned on means you may be charged a fee for voicemail notification. 2) You probably need to program the U.S. country code into your phone directory—not just the U.S. area code. Also, learn how to dial calls from the country you'll be visiting—both within the country and back to the U.S. 3) U.S. toll-free numbers aren't always accessible from overseas (at least they weren't in the past). Program a non-toll-free number into your phone; ask the company's customer service before you leave the U.S."

  • As European credit cards change, SwissJavi offers a helpful hint: "I live in Europe and travel all over the world for work ... Asia, Africa, North and South America, and Europe. The best thing is to carry a combination of all ... some cash, credit, and debit cards. Furthermore, separate them; carrying a second and sometimes a third thin wallet (one can be a decoy and carry expired cards and little money) will avoid having any bad experiences with pickpockets or losing a wallet. Fortunately, the only incident I've had is buying train tickets in a small town in the Netherlands with nobody around, and despite having all the above mentioned tips, the machine would only take exact coins!!! Eventually someone came around and they used the correct change and I gave them the bills."

  • Sharon provides this useful information about traveling with debit cards: "You need to make sure that the PIN on your U.S. issues card only has four digits if you want to use it at a European ATM. Also, be sure that the PIN does not begin with [a zero]. (I've lived in Europe for many years.)"
    (Editor's Note: Some foreign ATMs may accept a PIN with more than four digits. Check with your bank before traveling, or switch to a four-digit PIN to be on the safe side.)

Frequent Flyers

Frequent flyer programs have lots of fine print, but SmarterTravel users offer great tips for getting the most out of them.

  • Tricky frequent flyer rules will never get the best of you again if you use this suggestion from Boraxo: "As noted above, many airlines have online shopping portals where a purchase will extend your miles. Buying a 99 cent song on iTunes will extend miles on US Airways. The real tough programs are Amtrak and Starwood, which require actual travel or use of their co-branded credit cards."

  • And Beader1 offers this helpful tip for earning miles: "There is a good thing of having the Citibank card. When you redeem, say, 25,000 for a United fare, they deduct 25,000 from your account, but then you call United to give them your frequent flyer number and you earn the miles you fly to build up your United account. If you have a United card, once those miles are redeemed, there are no other miles earned for that flight. The other thing is that by going through Citibank or other places like that other than airline cards is that you need more points to make the regular 25,000 flight sometimes."

Trip Planning

There are lots of things to keep in mind when planning your next vacation. Luckily, the SmarterTravel community has your back.

  • Vacation rentals can be a great way to save money, but Mherman offers this inside information: "Be sure to ask how security deposits are handled. There are typically several options: credit card number on file, credit card hold charge, or damage waiver. Having anywhere from several hundred to several thousand dollars worth of your money tied up in a credit card hold can limit your enjoyment while on your vacation and sometimes for several weeks afterward. Many professional vacation rental management companies offer a damage waiver for a small fee that insures both you and them against accidental damage while allowing your fun-money to remain accessible."

  • Judy makes this suggestion to prevent airline hassles: "I keep flight information on reservations booked several months in advance next to my computer so they can be checked almost daily. When changes in schedule, aircraft, etc. are made, you are in a much better position to deal with them immediately after the change. Sometimes—and this happened recently with Delta—a flight that was cancelled was later reinstated and we were able to go back to the original flight by calling Delta. It pays to check the airline's scheduled flights to your destination because they may not have put you on the best connection, but may do so if you call them."

  • Long layovers will never be the same with sccmstl's helpful pointer: "Buy a day pass for one of the airline clubs—most offer them for about $25, which usually gets you a more comfortable place to wait; clean toilets and even showers; free soft drinks; beer and spirits at reasonable prices; free (usually) Internet access; and better information about delays and departure times."

  • Traveling doesn't have to be stressful, and this advice from wjesse will make passengers much happier: "Book that layover hotel. Many hotels allow you to cancel up to 6:00 p.m. on the day of your stay. If your flight is canceled you'll avoid the scramble and have an alternative to the cheap, dingy hotels most airlines recommend. If you don't need it, when they announce your flight is boarding, call and cancel to avoid the charge."

  • And judithann60 knows how to make the best vacation possible come true: "If you are planning on going on your dream vacation to a location you have never gone, I believe the best advice is research, study, read, and read some more. Only then will you be able to see and enjoy the geography, history, [and] people because you have a backdrop prepared for the wonderful adventure that awaits you. Enjoy!"

I couldn't have said it any better myself. Do you have any helpful hints to add? Post your tips in the comments section below.

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