tips

Cruising for the Clueless

After five years of working on-board a cruise ship, and another five months of working logistics for multiple cruise lines, I think I can finally pin point some of the most common mistakes or oversights people make when travelling by cruise ship.

Planning A Cruise

Why Cruise? – There are three reasons I can justify travel by cruise: 1) It’s a place that is only or more easily accessible by sea, 2) the ship is your destination (a city in its own right), or 3) it’s a place that you would be extremely nervous to travel alone, and you want to sample it before travelling there for real.  The latter reason could be interchanged with guided land tours as well though.

Where to cruise? – Using the above reasons, I recommend places that are groups of islands (such as the South Pacific, Japan or the Caribbean – though try to avoid the tourist trap islands and head a bit more south), remote areas like the Arctic and Antarctic, crossings of oceans or canals (like Panama and Suez), Mediterranean (which you could also drive, but cruising is pretty nice as well), Norway or Bermuda (a cruise is cheaper than a hotel there), or somewhere you’ve always wanted to go but are a bit scared to – I felt this way before I cruised to South East Asia.  If you only want to go once particular place, I recommend just flying there – there is always the chance that a ship will miss a port due to weather or other uncontrollable factors – don’t let it be yours!

Which cruise? – This is especially important if the ship is your destination.  Do you like big cities, medium suburbs, or tiny villages.  Do you want adventure sports, parties every night, or a relaxing spa-like atmosphere?  So many people book a cruise full of “old people” and are disappointed.  Do your research on various lines and ships for the amenities you desire.  CruiseCritic.com is a great resource for this.  For a bit more adventure, consider an expedition style cruise or cruising on a line where the main language is not your own!

Common Mistakes to Avoid When Going on A Cruise

Packing – The beauty of a cruise is you only have to unpack once!  Go crazy, pack that overweight suitcase.  But, please please please, pack a few items in your carry on.  With a cruise, you risk the chance of both the airline and  the cruise line misplacing your luggage.  At the very least, pack a change of underwear, you’ll thank me.  A few extra items that can be dressed up/down aren’t a bad idea either though.  Also remember, if you are going to a cold region, the ship will likely be warm and heated and if you are going to a warm region, the ship will likely be airconditioned to the max – bring layers either way!  Don’t assume the ship has everything – if you need a specific medication, or piece of equipment, bring it with you or at least write to the cruise line in advance and inquire about it.

Communication – It’s best to assume you will have none most of the time.  WiFi on ships is slow and expensive, and spotty at best depending where you sail and how satellites align (there are no cell towers in the middle of the Pacific Ocean or in Antarctica!) Before you leave, notify friends and family that you will be out of touch.  It’s also never a bad idea to print hard copies of your itinerary just in case you can’t get internet or lose your device entirely (trust me, I’m an expert in that).  Keep your cell phone in airplane mode while sailing.  Cell phone’s run on the ship’s satellite once you are 12 nautical miles from shore – when docked, you are using whatever local cellular network might be available.

Health – Book travel insurance!!!!  Even if you are going to somewhere mostly in America (i.e. Alaska) it can be VERY expensive to medivac you from the ship.  An ambulance costs around $600-900, an AIR ambulance costs thousands.  Book travel insurance.  If you have recurring health issues, consider booking an insurance plan that allows you to cancel if you become ill before the trip.  If you fall ill with the flu or a virus, please follow the instructions of the ship’s medical staff and isolate yourself.  You might not want to miss your vacation, but if you infect the rest of the ship, they can actually be denied docking in a port – meaning you’d ruin it for everyone.  My best preventative tips?  I use Emergen-C packets, one every morning, and hot beverages.  Drink lots of water as the ship air while dry you out, and WASH YOUR HANDS.  This Public Service Announcement is brought to you by the people who can’t believe how gross some people are.

So if I haven’t scared you entirely, and you’ve done your research on your destination and your cruise line, happy sailing!

 

 

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TRAVEL TIPS #2: Pack a Travel Mug

It sounds silly, but how many of you paid $3 for a water/soda bottle only to have to throw half of it away when going through airport security and buy another one 10 minutes later on the other side?  What about going to a theme park and having to buy  3 water bottles in a day because it’s 100 degrees outside? Or tired of paying $5 a pop at the nearest coffee shop when you want a coffee/tea?

My solution?  I always travel with a travel mug.  This way I can use it for water from a drinking fountain in the airport, tea bags I carry with me and a little hot water, or coffee from the cafeteria at work.

My mug is just a plastic, reusable travel cup, super light and simple – screw off the top, fill, screw the top back on, enjoy.  If you plan to carry your cup inside a bag, insure that it has some kind of sealable lid and even then I recommend keeping it in an outside water bottle pocket if possible.

I bought mine in Peru, but I use something similar to this one on Amazon.

Set of 6 Large Sized BPA-Free Double-Wall Travel To-go Mugs with Comfort Grip by Luzy's Storage Place
Large Sized BPA-Free Double-Wall Travel To-go Mugs
by Luzy’s Storage Place
Link: https://amzn.com/B0168MZ0WG

If you are a big coffee and/or tea lover like me, however, you might also be interested in something like the one below from Bodum, which has a built in French press.  Don’t underestimate the power of fillable tea bags/filters and cafe mocha sachets either though!

Bodum Insulated Plastic Travel Mug by Bodum

Bodum Insulated Plastic Travel Mug
by Bodum
Link: https://amzn.com/B0093EPL8A

TRAVEL TIPS #1: Always Carry Your Student ID

Here’s a quick tip for travel – always carry your student ID with you*. Even if you are no longer in school, that ID can still save you a few bucks on many attractions and even transportation. I am fortunate that mine does not have an expiration date, and university students can be any age! Especially in foreign countries, it is very unlikely anyone will have even heard of your school.  Most of the time they don’t even look at it. And the worst that can happen is they question you and charge you full price anyways. Never hurts to ask! You’d be surprised what you can get just by asking.

I don’t necessarily condone lying or cheating, but the way I see it, all travelers are students of the best school there is – the world. So keep on learning!

*Note: This obviously only applies if you have a student ID.  However, sometimes you can also get discounts for residency, auto clubs, military, age, or even working in the same industry.  It’s always worth a quick internet search!

Finding Frugal Flight Fares

My company pays for my flights when I travel for work, so it wasn’t until I started travelling in between my contracts that I realized how expensive those flights can be, especially when you have to be there on a specific day.  So I started shopping around for the cheapest flights I could find, and I was pleasantly surprised.

The two best things I did when trying to find my flights, were to (1) search around online for tips and tricks such as these (congratulations, you’ve already completed this step!) and (2) visit flight search sites like kayak.com and my new favorite – skyscanner.net.

Flight search engines will be your best friend when comparing rates.  Most people are aware of Expedia.com and Kayak.com.  My preferred site though is Skyscanner.net, they don’t advertise (just like kayak.com didn’t in the past) and therefore have even lower fares.  They also search even some of the budget airlines’ sites (read about those in my Budget Air Travel post).  I recommend checking all of these sites in your search.  It takes only a few minutes and can save you loads!

In addition to using these sites, here are some other best tips I’ve collected over the past year for finding the best possible deals on airfare.

Search and book your flights about six weeks out.

Many people think you need to book your flights months in advance for the best rates, this is not the case.  I don’t believe there is a magic number, but experts say that booking your travel six weeks before your departure is the ideal time (even my company books our flights 45 days in advance).  I would start looking 8-10 weeks in advance, this way you can have some time to shop around for a week or two without being under the wire.

Book on a Tuesday around 3:00pm EST.

Again, this is a tip I read that I’m not sure is entirely accurate.  The theory behind it is that jetBlue releases its reduced fares at this time, so the other airlines reduce their fares briefly to compete (what is known in the industry as the “jetBlue effect”).  I’m not sure this really matters if you are flying overseas, but booking on a Tuesday or Wednesday might still be ideal as most people are not worrying about their vacation plans in the middle of the work week so prices go up over the weekend when most people have time to sit and plan their holiday.

Sign up for free frequent-flyer programmes.

Sign up for frequent-flyer programmes from your favorite carrier (or better yet, the main carrier for where you want to go) – they send special rates to their members in their newsletters!  Plus, if you do book from them, you can collect miles to use towards free flights, upgrades, or in-flight services.  And it’s all free!  Additionally, you can sign-up for fare alerts from sites like Expedia or Tripadvisor.  Do this a few months before your travel and you can monitor the fare trends for yourself.

Use the airline’s official website.

Find the cheapest fares for your vacation on a search engine site, then search for those same flights on the airline’s official website.  Sometimes you can get a better deal if you know specifically which flight to look for! Better yet…

…Use Codeshare Partners.

Many airlines partner with other airlines.  For example: Delta / Air France / KLM or American Airlines / British Airways / Iberia Airlines.  You can sometimes book the exact same flight on he exact same plane for less through one of eh airline’s affiliates.  It’s worth a visit to their websites anyways.

Fly one-way.

Compare two one-way tickets versus the cost of a roundtrip (return) airfare.  Sometimes this is actually cheaper, especially if your travel involves multiple destinations.  Sometimes it might also be cheaper to fly to one airport in a city and from another.  For example: fly to New York JFK and home from Newark airport.  Or, fly to London Heathrow and from London-Gatwick.  It all depends on the airline.

Browse incognito.

Browse incognito when searching for airfare, or delete your web browser’s cookies before booking.  Some sites will up their prices each time you visit if they know you really want to go there (again, not sure if this is really true, but basic laws of supply and demand dictate that it is quite plausible).

BE FLEXIBLE!

Be flexible in your dates.

This is probably the biggest money-saver right here.

See when “shoulder season” is for your preferred destination.  This is usually a month in between peak travel seasons.  For example, to go to Iceland, it is recommended to travel in April or September, before the midnight-sun filled summer or the aurora-filled winter.  Many people like to visit Paris in the Spring-time (maybe because of the song?!)  Try going in the winter when it’s a little less crowded, you’ll find it easier to get into all of the major attractions too!  The same goes for Venice.  In the summer, the city fills with cruise ship tourists, causing it to be crowded and prices to go up.  If you’re looking for a romantic gondola ride for two – go in January.  The prices will be lower due to significantly less tourists, which means you will also have a bit more privacy and the canals won’t be heated to a rotten stench either!

If you have fixed dates you can travel, see which destinations are the cheapest to travel during those dates!  This way you can still take advantage of shoulder seasons.

Quite often the difference of a day or two can save you a couple hundred dollars.  Most sites now allow you to search flexible dates from anywhere between three-days around your ideal date to the entire month to finding the cheapest fare for the entire year!  If you have the flexibility in time, chances are you will be able to do a lot more with your money.

Avoid peak travel.

As you would expect, peak flights generally offer higher fares (again, basic supply-and-demand economics). Try and take flights at the quieter times such as mid-morning or early afternoon and avoid travelling on Monday mornings and Friday evenings (peak business travel) or Sunday afternoons and Bank Holidays (peak holiday travel) if you want the lowest fares.  I’ve found Thursdays to be a great time to fly, as well as Monday evenings, but it may depend on your itinerary.

Fly multiple airlines to/from a major hub city.

Not every airline can fly everywhere.  Most major airlines have a few major hub cities.  Pick a city in between your departure and destination city and look into flying different airlines direct routes between them.  Some of the easiest to fly to are Atlanta, Ft. Lauderdale, Orlando, New York, Los Angeles, and Houston in the United Sates and London, Paris, and Amsterdam in Europe.  Check out fares between some of these hubs and then add the price of a budget flight (i.e. jetBlue or easyJet) flight from your desired departure/destination city.  Check out my post on Budget Air Travel to learn about some lesser known budget airlines that may offer flights to your desired destination.  Or, if it’s close enough, you could even take a train or bus!

This might be especially useful if you are flying to some more off-the-beaten path destinations.  Be careful though, in doing this you may have to pay double baggage fees which could negate the money you saved on fares.

Go the “wrong way” around the world.

As I said before, my company usually books my flights.  And they book them through an automated system set to book the cheapest fare.  Therefore, I was not surprised when they had to fly me from Florida to Hong Kong that they flew me through Amsterdam.  Yep, rather than fly to Los Angeles and then to Hong Kong as most people travelling from the US to Asia would do, they flew me from Atlanta to Amsterdam to Hong Kong.  The best part?  It still took the same number of “days” to get there and I got a fee mini-vacation in Amsterdam during my layover.  This is a great way to visit multiple destinations for no extra money.  More of that in a later post.  If you have the time, look into flying through a hub city in the opposite direction you would normally travel, you might be pleasantly surprised.