Head tokayak.com. Kayak is like the Google of travel deals, according to Dave Fox, a guide for the tour company Europe Through the Back Door. There’s no need for you to visit multiple sites―such as Expedia, Travelocity, and Orbitz―to check out airline and hotel prices: Kayak's search engine lets you compare those sites' options, then book flights and accommodations directly with whichever one has the best deal.
When You Get Out Your Suitcase
Remove your home address from your luggage tag and add your cell-phone number. Most of us dutifully write our full name, home phone, and address on our tags, but that reveals too much, says Anne McAlpin, a packing expert and the author of Pack It Up: The Essential Guide to Organized Travel. Instead, print your first initial and last name―a safety precaution for women, since it doesn't signal your sex or that you might have jewelry in your bag. Second, omit your address. It tells a potentially unscrupulous baggage handler, "No one's home." Third, skip your home phone (which isn't much use when you're not home) in favor of your e-mail address and cell-phone number. Other information to include on the airline's paper ID tags (which you can update for each trip): a phone number for (1) your first hotel and (2) a friend or a relative at home who can reach you.
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When Your Bag Goes Missing
File an in-person report at the baggage-claim office right away. If your trip has just begun, ask for a toiletries kit or a voucher for necessities. When you fill out claim paperwork, get a copy of it and write down the phone number for the baggage office; you don’t want to call the airline’s 800 number to follow up, says Marybeth Bond, the author of Best Girlfriends Getaways Worldwide (National Geographic, $16, amazon.com). Then carry on with your trip. “In most cases, it’s the airline’s responsibility to deliver your bag to you―even if you’re hundreds of miles away from the airport,” says Bond.
When You Arrive at a Historic Attraction
Ask the staff for advice about special exhibits, must-see artifacts, and unusual features. Staff―or, in a pinch, security guards―can often point out little-known gems. They might even suggest a way for you to tour the facility (“Go to the third floor and work your way back down”) without getting swept up in the crowds, says Fox. Another tip: Hit popular sites at lunchtime, rather than first thing in the morning, when tour buses arrive.
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When You’re Offered a Local Delicacy You Can’t Stomach
Suck it up: Try a small bite. Let go of preconceived notions and just try it, says Singerman. You might enjoy it. At worst, you can smile after tasting it and say, “My, that’s interesting.” The locals will probably appreciate your willingness to sample something new. The only exception is when you’re offered food that may not have been stored or cooked properly―a common concern in street markets. Don’t risk your health; simply smile and say, “No, thanks.”
When You Fall Sick in a Foreign Country
Enlist the help of your hotel concierge. Hotel staffers often deal with ill guests and can help you get care more quickly―the name of an English-speaking doctor who makes room calls, a cab to the emergency room, or a suggestion for an over-the-counter drug for a minor illness. Many health-insurance plans also have overseas phone numbers of representatives who can provide a list of nearby doctors or pharmacists.
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When Your Flight Gets Canceled
Avoid the long line at the airline counter. Instead, call your carrier's reservations number. You may get faster help by contacting the airline directly, says Peter Greenberg, NBC's travel editor and the author of TheComplete Travel Detective Bible (Rodale, $18, amazon.com). Politely ask to be rebooked on the next available flight. If it's going to be a long wait, ask the representative to transfer your ticket to another airline with a more immediate flight. Although not all carriers are required to do this, some agents can work it out. Stranded overnight? Ask about meal or hotel vouchers. (Every airline has a different policy.) By the way, the possibility of a delay is a good reason to avoid flights later in the day, since there will be fewer same-day rebooking options, says Greenberg.
When You Get Lost
Sit down or duck into a café so you can look at your map without looking like, well, a tourist. Sitting down gives you a few minutes to get calm and avoid becoming a target for pickpockets, says Desiree Reyes of Backroads, who led cycling and sports-travel tours for six years. “I always attach a little compass to my belt loop so I can figure out which way is which,” says Reyes. If you still can’t get your bearings, ask a local for help. In a foreign country, college-age folks can be your best bet, since they have probably studied English.
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When You Check In at a Hotel
Request a room below the eighth floor, far from any construction, and on a floor with a booster pump. Why below the eighth floor? It’s a scary thought, but in case of a fire, the fire department is equipped to reach you more quickly than folks on the upper floors, says Greenberg. As for booster pumps, “high-rise hotels have trouble maintaining consistently great water pressure on all their floors, so every few floors they install booster pumps,” explains Greenberg. “You want to be on one of those floors.”
When You Walk Into Your Hotel Room
Fully check it out (turn on the air conditioner, the shower, the TV) before you unpack. Better yet, ask to examine the room thoroughly before you register, in case something isn’t to your liking, says Jessica Singerman, a Trek Travel guide who leads group tours in Europe and Central America. This isn’t rude; it’s just savvy. Prefer a room that isn’t next to the elevator? Ask. Once you’re satisfied, Greenberg suggests a quick cleaning: Wipe the TV remote and the phone handset with disinfecting wipes. Finally, clean water glasses in hot water, in case the housekeeper forgot to replace them after the last guest checked out.