[Wing to China]


The best tips for international vacations, flights, and hotels,
including Internet tricks and literary treks

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Top 10 Travel Tactics:

Tip #2 - Destination Inspiration

Walk the wall. Many fortresses and walled cities have crumbled to ruins. But several famous ancient walls still exist and offer interesting guidelines for an exercise+history vacation. The Great Wall of China is famous (a bus ride from Beijing). Hadrian's Wall separating England from Scotland offers 77 miles of paths punctuated by B&Bs and Roman forts. The Anastasian Wall runs 35-miles near Istanbul. The Walls of Benin (Nigeria) comprise the largest ancient man-made structure (lengthwise). Europe and Asia are peppered with ancient walled cities.

Recommended: These routes also offer a good walk: the Las Vegas Strip, the Champs-Élysées (2 miles in Paris), the ‘Great White Way’ (33 miles in New York City), the ‘Golden Mile’ in Kowloon (Hong Kong), 6 miles around Ayers Rock in Australia, the beach around Isla Espiritu Santo near La Paz (Baja), or along the banks of a river.

England: At Hadrian’s Wall in the spring — lambing season — I saw week-old lambs, pure white, wobbling on their new legs. Two of the cute little guys jumped at each other to playfully butt heads. That night at a pub in Haltwhistle, I felt a pang of remorse as I ate a succulent dinner of lamb shoulder.

Tip #14 - Planning Your Trip

Brave New Tool. To help with planning at the time-of-day and day-of-week level, do a Google search to lookup a business or tourist site, then page down to see the “Popular Times®” graph. It’s a time/day chart that appears near upper right when you do a precise Google search. It provides an activity measure that will help you avoid lines/delays and plan your day by revealing how busy a location usually is at different times and days of the week. How crowded is it? Google provides the answer by tracking GPS and Wi-Fi signals (sometimes live) to help you decide When today? – or click to see Which day of the week is best? The graph shows “average popularity over the last several weeks ... relative to the typical peak popularity for the business for the week.” (Also available in Google Maps, Google.com/maps — best for searching.)

The Acropolis - Afternoon is best: [Acropolis - afternoon best]

Greece: The afternoon we walked up to the Acropolis, we encountered dozens of cats. It was a bit of a mystery until we saw a local woman setting out fish heads. When she arrived, every cat in sight sped straight toward her, meowing loudly. Cat experts know, a meow means “Pay attention to me.”

Tip #25 - Look for Lodging

Hotel strategy. Travel agency websites say it pays to book your flight and hotel at the same time; why give two bites at the apple? This means be prepared with ideas about your budget and the hotels or neighborhoods you want to stay in when you book your flight + hotel — a difficult burden. Testing shows this to be a good tactic, but ...

Tech tip: The best deals are offered by the hotels directly (which saves them a commission). Do a Google search for almost any hotel in the civilized world and you’ll get a compact report at the top right of the search results showing the hotel phone # and a button for the Website. Use the Website button to visit the hotel website to find their email address ('Contacts'). Use phone or email to inquire about reservations and you can save 15 to 30% off the best online offers!

Google search result - shows hotel Website button:

[Google search results link to hotel website]

Using email in simply-worded English, I’ve gotten great deals from hotels in Mexico City, Rome, Florence, Vietnam ... Now, I routinely email or call to ask for a ‘promotional’ or ‘cash’ discount.

Tip #27 - Look for Lodging

What's nearby? Search for a hotel in Google.com/maps to see a “Nearby” button near the top center, which offers printable lists of restaurants, bars and hotels. Hotels.com offers a valuable "What's around" list, showing walk or drive time to landmarks and transit hubs.

Mexico: We rented a car in Cancun and drove to the fabulous Mayan ruins at nearby Chichen Itza. Driving back after dark, we squished dozens of tarantulas – they are drawn to the warm asphalt at night.

Tip #33 - What to Bring

Hedge your bets. Anticipate likely risks. Photocopy the contents of your wallet. Take a picture with your cell phone or camera to carry images of your passport, drivers license, tickets, credit/ debit cards, hotel confirmation, itinerary, etc.; take pictures before you drive away a rental car of the windshield, front and back bumper. Always carry ID on your person when on foreign soil; lock your passport in your hotel safe and carry an image of it in your wallet or camera. Travel with passport photos, and with a variety of U.S. dollar bills — handy for tips, emergencies, and that unexpected exit tax.

Tech tip: Scan your passport (and key documents) and email to yourself.

China: In Macau, a gambling resort, I was briefly caught up in a wave of prostitutes! Apparently, as the beat cops make their rounds, the women race away from them – whistling to warn each other –  and at times this creates a dangerous ripple effect.

Tip #39 - Learn Some Lingo

Instant translation. Automated, 24-hour translation is only a click away. Do a Google search for “English to language translation” for a quick, easy, free translation function. Click the speaker icon to hear it!

Tech tip: On your mobile device, download Google Translate (translate.google.com), or install the app, and download to use offline, even without a wi-fi or network connection. Prepare sentences in advance, then pick from a list to play them as needed: “Excuse me, where is the bathroom?” and “Only peeled or cooked vegetables.” Mobile translation has arrived, a game-changer for the casual tourist!

China: Riding up the elevator in my hotel in Beijing, a staff member turned to me and said “Please wait a moment,” then exited. I waited ... but he never reappeared. I think he had just mixed up some phrases he had learned and probably meant to say “Have a nice day.”

Tip #42 - Money

“Charge It”after your closing date. Using a credit card earns points and allows you to dispute the charge if something goes wrong, so use one especially for your big expenses (flights and lodgings). Delay large purchases until the day after your billing period ends — for maximum float.

Tech tip: For greatest security, provide your credit card number by phone (landline) or encrypted email. Otherwise, divide the card number between two emails; after you send Email #1, wait a minute, then send Email #2:
- Email #1: 1234-5678-xxxx-xxxx
- Email #2: xxxx-xxxx-9012-3456 Exp xx/xx

Recommended: Ask in advance for the total cost by credit card.

Mexico: A travel agency in Mexico City tried to charge me a 5% fee to use my credit card to pay for a tour of Teotihuacan. I objected, and they relented.

Tip #44 - Money

Decoy wallet. While traveling, carry an expendable wallet containing:
  • cash for the day - small bills
  • credit card with the lowest foreign transaction fee
  • ATM/debit card
  • photocopy of your passport
  • Photo ID (drivers’ license)
  • hotel card
Carry some mad money in a different pocket or bag — a backup credit card and a few large bills (enough to fund an emergency taxi ride or snatch up that antique discovery).

Italy: In Naples, a waiter stalled giving me change in order to manipulate a larger tip!

Tip #73 - Tech Talk

Mobile Maps. Maps on mobile devices = a marriage made in heaven. Electronic maps offer much more detail than paper maps ever could — shops, restaurants, tourist sites, etc. And you can search for ‘ATM’, ‘metro’, ‘grocery’, ‘ice cream’ ...

Tech tip: Get Google Maps (Google.com/maps) from your app store — select maps to download for offline use. Enable GPS location and it will even pinpoint ‘You are here’!

Mexico: Before my trip, Google Maps provided a great tool to map key resources around my hotel — ATM, grocery, ice cream.

Tip #84 - Travel 'To Do'

Visit a vista. It seems human nature to look as far as the eye can see. Shanghai Tower offers the world's highest observation deck (as well as the world's fastest elevators). Survey the city lights from other famous high points, such as the Eiffel Tower (Paris), the Leaning Tower of Pisa (Italy), the Empire State Building (New York City), the Acropolis (Athens), the Millennium Wheel (the “London Eye”), the Petronas Twin Towers (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), the Torre Latinoamericana (Mexico City), the Travelator escalator system in the Hong Kong hills, and the Stratosphere roller-coaster (Las Vegas).

Bolivia: I love a ride in the sky and the Teleférico La Paz aerial cable car system offers an impressive moving panorama. Have a treat nearby: Try a dulce de leche salteño.

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