- There are not enough Dunkin' Donuts in New England. Wait, I mistyped that. There are more Dunkin' Donuts than people in New England.
- Almost every single New Englander I met was outgoing, friendly, confident, and chatty. Even the surly ones were hugely entertaining. e.g. When I enquired as to how a supermarket worker's day was going, she replied "It's Saturday, I'm stuck inside, it's busy as hell...so pretty lousy. But the Sox clinched last night so I can't complain. That'll be 23 bucks, hun."
- A lot of people still smoke there. California and London have skewed my sense of "normal" on this one.
- It's one of the most beautiful parts of America I've ever seen. Water everywhere, tree-lined boulevards, quaint towns, pristine beaches.
- Hot sauce is quite hard to come by. My brother's explanation is that while west coast food has heavy latin american influence, east coast food is mainly influenced by European cuisine and therefore not as hot-sauceable. (It is so a word, shut up.)
- You haven't had clam chowder until you've had it in New England.
- Boston Logan International takes the crown for the worst airport in the developed world. Try parking there, I dare you.
- Tom Brady is 16ft tall and once threw over 400 touchdown passes in a single season.
- Clam bakes are delicious, entertaining, and scaleable. Everything good food should be.
- I could listen to a Boston accent forever.
- "Wicked pisser" means really great. And a "shit buddy" is a great friend. Not a shit friend. Counter-intuitive, I know.
A few weeks ago I posted on Twitter about the shittiness of the Saturday-night stay rule that airlines use to fleece business travellers. If you're not familiar with the rule, many airlines require passengers to spend a Saturday night in their destination city to get a half-decent fare. Wikipedia explains it further:
The rule is based on the airlines' assumption that business travellers are more likely than leisure travellers to spend Saturday night at home. For example, a business traveler may depart on a Sunday or Monday and then return home that Friday or Saturday.
Business travellers' demand for travel is less elastic and airlines attempt to increase their profits by price discriminating business travellers and leisure travellers. Business travels are also more loyal to a particular airline, and therefore are more likely to accept higher price.
Today, I came across a perfect example:
London to New York, roundtrip.
Leave on Wednesday, fly back at 10:25pm on Saturday night = £1521.45
Leave on Wednesday, fly back at 7:20am on Sunday morning = £480.45
Less than 9 hours difference in departure time but a cost increase of over £1000.
Dick move, right? The rule assumes that all businesses are big businesses and have huge travel budgets. What about the hundreds of thousands of small businesses that DON'T have big travel budgets. Or the leisure traveler who gets caught up in a rule that is purposely designed to screw the consumer?
Oh and here's the hilarious "WTF?" cherry on this horse poo cake. The base fare on the Sunday flight is only £124. The rest is taxes and fees. And yes, the taxes and fees are exactly the same on the Saturday flight. So the airline jacked up the base fare by 850%. So there you have it, a £1000 "convenience" fee for business travellers to make it home in time to spend the weekend with their families.
During a recent workshop I gave at FOWA Miami, I made an off the cuff comment about my obsession with the travel industry and the pleasure I get from "hacking" airfares and hotel rates. There was a stunned silence and a voice from the back said "Oh dude, you can't just say something like that and not share that shit!" Consequently we spent a good chunk of time after the workshop officially finished talking about travel, airfares, loyalty programs and the tactics I've used to get cheap flights and hotels. At the request of some of the attendees I started jotting down a few nuggets of experience. After I finished the 4th page of scrawled notes, it seemed to make sense to turn it into a series of blog posts because so much of the travel "advice" I've read over the years was clearly written by people who have never left their house, let alone the country. And that's how I arrived at this, the first of what I hope will be many travel related posts. I plan to cover the basics, "hacking" airfares, airline and hotel loyalty programs, and the fear of flying, amongst other things. I hope you dig! So without further ado, here's some basic travel tips that so many of us seem to overlook.
- Don't buy flashy/expensive luggage. It's a good tip to thieves that the contents will also be flashy/expensive. Your criteria should be; durable, expandable, wheelable. That's it.
- You can leave the kitchen sink. When you're packing, get everything together you think you need, lay it out on your bed……now put half of it back. You don't need it, you really don't, and there's nothing worse than having to lug around a heavy bag that's full of crap you're not going to wear or use. You can easily pick up extra clothes and necessities if you need them, hand-wash small items, or run them through the hotel laundry. Incidentally, my ebook reader was one of the best travel investments I've ever made - I have a library of books with me without the need for chiropractic spinal care when I get home from lugging my holiday reading around.
- Hoard travel-size toiletries. I have a whole basket of them at home and I always stock up at Boots, Target, etc…..or in hotel rooms. This makes packing for a quick trip so much easier and you don't have to deal with buying full size toothpaste, shaving cream, etc at each destination or packing them in your checked-in luggage.
- Prep for security. I know this sounds obvious but prep for airport security BEFORE you get to the conveyor belt. So many times people with a jacket, laptop, liquids, 2 pieces of carry on, a scarf, thigh- high boots, a hat and a water bottle screw it up for the rest of us by spending 15 minutes disrobing while the conveyor belt drags their bag away from them, flustering them even more. Loosen/remove your belt, take your jacket off, untie your shoe laces (or even better, wear slip ons), unzip the pouch on your bag where your laptop is stored, put your sunglasses, wallet, keys, phone etc in your carry on while you're in line - the people in line behind you will thank you.
- Don't go nuts with the booze on a flight. Not only do the physiological effects of alcohol increase at altitude but it dehydrates you, can make jetlag worse, and you really don't want to be "that guy" on the flight. This especially goes for those who aren't comfortable with flying - more on that in a later post.
- Ease through immigration. If you travel even moderately frequently, the government sanctioned immigration, customs, and security "fast pass" programs can be a huge timesaver. The UK's IRIS system is one of the best.
- Tip the right people at the right time. Tip hotel housekeeping staff a lot at the BEGINNING of your stay, like on the first day. They work hard and it will ensure a pleasant stay. It irks me that we tip people for opening doors, showing us to our table, bringing us a soda but not for cleaning up our hotel bathrooms and beds each day. I'm completely with Chuck Thompson on this one. Oh and to my British friends traveling in America, the easiest way to (roughly) calculate the baseline tip on a restaurant bill is to double the tax - that usually gives you between 15-20%.
- Buy the local transport system's commuter card. If you're in a city for more than a day, pick up their transport system's stored value card (like London's Oyster and Hong Kong's Octopus) and put a few bucks on it. Not only is it much easier than buying a ticket for each journey, in many cases (e.g. London) it's substantially cheaper than a normal ticket and will allow you to travel on undergrounds, buses, trains, trams, etc. Also, the lines for ticket machines at busy stations can be unbelievably long, especially during tourist seasons.
- Don't eat in hotel restaurants. They are expensive and almost always uninteresting and sterile. Unless your hotel is in the middle of nowhere, there's going to be interesting local food just around the corner which will almost always be cheaper, tastier and a far better reflection of local culture and cuisine. Don't be afraid of "street" food either, I've had some of my favourite meals from hawkers, dai pai dongs, taco trucks, etc.
- Let your bank know you're going to be out of town. If your bank is anywhere near as "proactive" as mine, as soon as you use your ATM or credit card overseas you'll trigger red flags in their system. Enough "suspicious" activity and they'll disable or even deactivate your card. There's not a whole lot worse than your ATM card not working when you're 4500 miles from home.
- Bonus Tip for people visiting the US. GET TRAVEL INSURANCE. If you go to the US and get hit by a car or something (heaven forbid) and you don't have insurance, be prepared for a logistical, legal, and financial nightmare. So get travel insurance, it's not expensive and can save you from disaster. Check with your bank or credit card provider as many of them have insurance services built into their account/card products.
- Bonus tip for people visiting London. The Heathrow Express and Gatwick Express are a rip off. The tube will get you to central London quickly and easily from Heathrow, and the scheduled national rail services from both Gatwick and Heathrow are a quarter of the price and not much slower than their overpriced "Express" cousins. Actually, I think there's a whole blog post on visiting London.....expect that soon.
Finally, if you have any basic travel tips, leave them in the comments, I'd love to hear!
Inspired by my buddy Josh Spear I decided to compile a list of cities I went to in 2009. My travel 2009 wasn't as epic as 2008 but I still count myself very lucky that I'm able to travel so much.