Podcast #128 — Hunt for Experiences; Pop-Up Entertainment

One of the Four Major Food Groups

It’s a very Paris-centric episode; I’m still trying to drop the weight I picked up on our 10-day stay. I talk about hunts for beer and pastry took us out of the usual Notre Dame-to-Eiffel Tower-to-Louvre tourist triangle, some of the interesting buskers we saw along the way, and my surprise at Munich Airport receiving an airport award. I also continue our on-going discussions about buying international SIM cards and ride-sharing. All this and more at the direct link to the podcast file or listening to it right here by clicking on the arrow below.
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[Finished] NordVPN 1-Year Subscription Giveaway

Thanks to the folks at NordVPN, we’re giving away a 1-year VPN subscription so that one lucky TravelCommons listener can work/play safer on the Internet.

We’re using Rafflecopter to run the giveaway:

  • You only have do one of the types of entry listed below, not all of them.
  • Each entry type (follows, blog posts, etc) counts as 1 additional “ticket” except for an iTunes review which counts for 2 “tickets”
  • I verify every winner, so if you don’t follow instructions (e.g., when you post a comment you don’t answer the question, you didn’t actually leave an iTunes review) you will be disqualified.
  • Due to the volume of entries I get, I am unable to verify that entries worked or “went through” properly ahead of time.

And now for the Terms & Conditions:

Terms & Conditions: The prizes for this giveaway was provided free of charge by NordVPN. Giveaway ends March 2, 2017 at 11:59 PM Central Time. Winners will be selected at random by Rafflecopter.com and verified by TravelCommons. Winner will have 72 hours to respond before prize is forfeited and a new winner is selected. TravelCommons will not be responsible for a winner’s inability to activate the prize. No purchase necessary to enter. 

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Podcast #127 — Critiquing My Top 10 Travel Tips; Reviewing VPNs

Last generation digital security

In this episode, I talk again about digital security on the road, especially the use of a VPN. I review three VPN products, including NordVPN which is giving away a year’s subscription to a TravelCommons listener. I dig into the process of generating the Top 10 Holiday Travel Tips listicle I do every couple of year, and follow up on stories from Uber and Lyft drivers. All this and more at the direct link to the podcast file or listening to it right here by clicking on the arrow below.
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Podcast #126 — Beating the Traffic; Rethinking Carry-On Luggage

Car trunks need carry-on luggage limits too

Seems like I’ve been doing as much driving as flying since the last episode, so I’ve switched from apps that track flight delays to those that help me dodge traffic backups. I talk, yet again, about buying pay-as-you-go SIMs while traveling, but the need to do that may be ending. And I’ve reshuffled my carry-on luggage as the airlines have changed their rules. All this and more at the direct link to the podcast file or listening to it right here by clicking on the arrow below.
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Top 10 Holiday Travel Tips

Green Bay Looks So Pretty This Time of Year

As the economy recovers, so does travel volume. As you gird yourself to wade into the crowds, here are 10 tips to keep you moving over the river and through the woods…

  1. Expand Your Fly-vs.-Drive Tipping Point — My normal tipping point is 350 miles; anything less and I drive it. However, the holiday traffic changes the calculus a bit. If you fly, figure the airport logistics will add 3 hours to your in-flight time. Airlines are recommending passengers arrive 2 hours before their holiday flights, and when you arrive, all the additional people means it’ll take you at least an hour to de-plane, collect your luggage, and get off the airport property. And that’s if there are no delays. This increases the holiday fly-vs.-drive tipping point to at least 500 miles.
  2. Use Multiple Navigation Apps — If you decide to drive, use more than one maps app to help you route around traffic jams from rush hour, construction, and accidents. I personally use both Waze and Google Maps because, even though they’re both owned by Google, they often give you different directions. I find Waze is better at redirecting you around accidents and traffic jams, but can be a bit twitchy — sending you wandering through sub-divisions to save a minute of drive time. I tend to follow Waze but periodically check it against Google Maps.
  3. Sign Up for TSA PreCheck — Gift yourself and spend the $85 on some time and hassle reduction. You won’t get it in time for this Christmas, but it’s good for 5 years, so you’ll have it next Christmas.
  4. Apply for an Airline Credit Card — If your credit is good enough for instant approval, getting your airline’s credit card will get you entry level frequent flier status. This allows you to use the status security lines (handy if you don’t have PreCheck) and the second boarding group which is usually good enough to let you find some overhead bin space. This typically will work for you and your family. If the lead adult’s boarding pass shows priority/premiere access, the overworked minimum-wage airport staffers guarding the status security lanes will let the family tag along. And at the gate, I’ve never seen a family split across boarding groups.
  5. Fly Non-Stop — Holiday travel stacks up problems —  high passenger load factors combined with winter weather disruptions almost guarantees late arrivals and missed connections. Even if you’re connecting through Houston, an intermediate stop adds one more point of failure, one more opportunity for the airlines to screw up. Pay the extra $100 for a non-stop flight.
  6. Skip the Tight Connection —  If you can’t fly direct, step away from any connection that’s less than 60 minutes.  Yes, we usually want to get to our destination in the shortest possible time, but accepting a connection of 1 hour or less…. Think about it – a 15-minute delay on your flight into a big hub like Chicago or Denver or Detroit (as good as on-time in the winter for most airlines) and you’re sprinting across terminals and concourses just to beat the closing door.  A 1-hr connection is just asking for a stress attack and/or an overnight stay at the airport branch of the Bates Motel.
  7. Research Before You Leave — You don’t have time to be clueless. Hit the TSA website or the @AskTSA gang on Twitter so you know what’s allowed in your carry-on. Research the airports you’ll be using so you know how to your gates, where the good restaurants are, or better yet, if there’s a brewpub. Also, figure out the geography. Knowing alternatives to your destination airport gives you more flexibility dealing with cancelled flights or missed connections. In New York, the LaGuardia-to-Newark pivot is easy, but others aren’t so obvious.  Everyone knows that Chicago has two airports – O’Hare and Midway.  But what about Milwaukee’s Mitchell Field 80 miles north?  If Philadelphia is in trouble, how many folks think about Harrisburg or BWI?  Or Sacramento as an alternative to SFO?
  8. Catch the Early Flight — Delays stack up as the day wears on.  As your airplane goes from airport to airport, the probability of it getting stuck increases.  Overnight, airlines have a chance to recover – late planes finally get their destinations and operations groups can reassign planes.  So while the last flight out can be a crap shoot, I rarely hit a delay on the first flight out.
  9. Use Multiple Flight Tracking Apps — Use your smartphone to keep track of gate changes and flight delays. Sign up for text notifications from your airline when you book your ticket. However,  I’ve often experienced long delays with the airlines’ services or notices that were never sent out. So I also use TripIt, FlightAware, and FlightStats. It means multiple notices, but it also means I don’t miss anything.
  10. Use Twitter as a Concierge Service — Most airlines have social media teams monitoring Twitter. Before you leave, find and follow your airline’s Twitter customer service account. “At naming” them in a Tweet (e.g., “@united what’s happening with UA 4286 MSY-ORD that it’s 1:45 hr delayed?”) usually gets a response in a couple of minutes. Following them allows you to exchange personal information such as record locator numbers via direct message (DM). It’s usually faster than queuing up for a frazzled gate agent and the results can be better.

But above all, be realistic. It’s gonna be a zoo. Steel yourself; get your inner karma tuned for it. Pack a snack and a book, and practice deep cleansing breaths.

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Podcast #125 — Uber Driver Stories; Overseas for the Election

An aggressive Uber Pool driver

An aggressive Uber Pool driver

Back from 10 days in Tuscany where, among other things, we thought we’d avoid all the noise of the US presidential election. We succeeded… almost. One of my latest travel hobbies has been to quiz Uber drivers for their life stories. It makes for interesting rides to and from the airport. We also continue the ongoing thread about travel safety. This time, we talk about using Bluetooth in rental cars. All this and more at the direct link to the podcast file or listening to it right here by clicking on the arrow below.
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Podcast #124 — Craft Beer Hunting; I Hate Rick Steves

Empty Beer Glasses

I Think We’ve Bagged Our Limit

My son joins the podcast to talk about hunting down craft beers. I then talk about a few “a-ha” moments from my recent trip to Scotland, my on-going struggles with bitch tweeting, a VPN hardware product that could come in handy, and why I’ve come to hate the Rick Steves travel juggernaut. All this and more at the direct link to the podcast file or you can listen to it right here by clicking on the arrow below.
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Podcast #123 — How to Avoid Travel Delays

Earning Status at Camp O'Hare

Earning Status at Camp O’Hare

It’s been a tough travel month for a large portion of the traveling public. Between Delta and Southwest system outages and two straight Thursdays of thunderstorms in the east half of the US, dealing with travel delays has been a part of this month’s travel experience. In this episode, we think about ways to avoid delays, or at least minimize their impact. All this and more at the direct link to the podcast file or listening to it right here by clicking on the arrow below.

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Podcast #122 — Data-Hungry Phones; Dramatic Iceland

Spring Break in Iceland

Spring Break in Iceland

Watching Iceland makes its Cinderella run in the Euro 2016 soccer tourney got me thinking back to my March trip there. It is one of the hot travel destinations — maybe too hot? Could be, but the descriptor I keep coming back to is “dramatic.” And it seems that on every trip I make out of the country, I get surprised by the amount of data my iPhone consumes — in spite of flipping every Settings switch I can find. All this and more at the direct link to the podcast file or listening to it right here by clicking on the arrow below.

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Podcast #121 — TSA Lines, My Luggage is Where?

This should be interesting...

This should be interesting…

After two vacations to Europe and some full-contact business travel in-between, I found my way back into the TravelCommons studios. I talk about these recent trips — the awful timeliness of an American Airlines‘ regional jet partner, an incredible string of lost luggage, a meaningless baggage strip tease with Wow Air, and being surprised to still find some quirks when using ATMs and credit cards in Europe. And it wouldn’t be a travel podcast if I didn’t weigh in on the TSA’s “line-mageddon” — their meltdown at O’Hare. All this and more at the direct link to the podcast file or listening to it right here by clicking on the arrow below.

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