Dear Travel Truth Seeker:
The three largest categories of web site visits account for almost 80% of all of the hours spent by Americans on the internet: They are Gambling – Pornography – and Travel. We can’t do anything about the first two, but we can do our best to offer one travel site, perhaps the only one in existence, that does not insult your intelligence.
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In our current environment, the travel consumer is bombarded by misinformation and outright lies on a daily basis. Bait-and-switch “from $499” ads are the rule – not the exception. A half-inch is defined as “extra legroom” and a moldy hot tub may be a “luxurious spa”. Google virtually any travel-related topic, from hotel properties to destinations and you are smothered in a sea of tens of thousands, perhaps millions of ads disguised as information. No one seems willing to help. Everyone wants your credit card number. We hope that traveltruth.com is just the first step toward changing that perception.
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Q – We are seriously considering taking a ten-day drive somewhere in Sweden, perhaps renting a car in Stockholm. Our idea is to get out and try to find the most beautiful examples of quaint, lovely small towns, the best Swedish cuisine, including a variety of seafood, and a sense of beautiful scenery in a rural setting. I guess we want it all – no tourists, rural, with great restaurants, lots of interesting and diverse stops. We will likely plan this ourselves unless you recommend using an agent. We don;t expect your team to plan the itinerary. Instead, what we are requesting is just a direction to head that might give us the best chance of finding our Swedish nirvana. Thanks for all the excellent information.
A – We don’t think you need an agent for this trip. You will likely enjoy planning it yourself and, since you will be hopeful of getting lost, there isn’t much you can screw up in terms of itinerary planning.
We think you should do the west coast of Sweden, beginning your drive in Gothenburg and heading due north. This route will take you to the part of the country we think you are seeking. And our congratulations for a really good idea. We like your focus. By the way, don’t miss Grebbestad. Our Swedish friends say it is the oyster capital of Scandinavia.
Q – My husband and I have been frustrated by the planning for a trip to Poland. We don’t know exactly how to plan such a trip and we don’t know how to design a trip in terms of number of nights in Warsaw versus Krakow. Your advice would be greatly appreciated. We will want to visit Auschwitz outside the city, Figuring just six nights, how should we plans this between the two cities. Thanks so much. We’re in our early seventies and of Polish descent. This is a trip we have to take.
A – Warsaw was destroyed during the war so most of what you see is rebuilt. True, the old town is rather charming but you are going to discover that Warsaw is really a busy business and shopping center for the country. We would suggest that you arrive in Warsaw, spend two nights and then move on to Krakow for four nights. Krakow is the only major Polish city not destroyed during the War. You will see beautiful original architecture and village life out int he direction of the Tatra Mountains. Auschwitz is best seen as a day trip from Krakow. This trip should be planned by a professional travel consultant, someone you can talk to about your goals for the trip and your personal preferences. Poland is a relatively good value so we would suggest privately-planned touring. Look for a travel firm that is associated with one of the top three consortium groups and ask if they have representative offices within the country. Let us know if you have problems finding the right person and we will refer you to someone in your city.
Q – We are Platinum Amex travelers who have been on more than twenty overseas trips. Now, recently retired, we are trying to work through our list of places we would like to visit off most of the major tourist routes. Right now we are thinking about the Baltics or the former Russian Republics. We’re wondering if there is one destination we should be concentrating on in view of our appreciation for authentic villages, customs, and very, very good food. Sorry to use the term but, like apparently 90% of your followers, we are foodies. Oh, we share your high regard for Bourdain.
A – The really cool travelers are heading off to Georgia. It has everything you are seeking and lays claim to being the birthplace of wine – worth a pilgrimage just for that. The scenery is drop dead gorgeous, the locals are thrilled when Americans show up, and prices are embarrassingly low. Spend at least three nights in Tbilisi and then head out to the country. Be sure to save time for the mountains with cunningly crafted villages perched atop them with sweeping vistas. One of our staff refers to it as “Switzerland at a third of the cost and a quarter of the tourists.”
Q – A little help would be appreciated. We’re New Yorkers in our 30’s and we want to head for Mexico for a week of sun and seafood – though maybe not in that order. We’re probably a bit more price conscious than some of your followers so any information about current food pricing would be appreciated. We like four-star hotels but we always have dinner at five-star restaurants. But seriously – just seafood. neither one of us eats meat.
A – OK – but let’s start with a definition: A Foodie is someone who can appreciate dining on meat that is unusually rare. If you don’t eat meat we’re not sure you can qualify as a foodie. That’s like saying you’re a jockey who won;t go near a horse – oh by the way, foodies sometimes eat horse. So where to go? Mazatlan is a tremendous bargain these days and is also considered the seafood capital of Mexico. It is located in Sinaloa, the region of Mexico that raises the majority of Mexico’s best produce and some of its very best drug cartels. The shrimp in Mazatlan are huge – so there’s that for a start. Dining at a five-star restaurant these days will cost at least 50% less than a similar meal at home.
Q – I am enjoying what you have to say here. Fun reading on a Kindle at the beach house. Next month, it looks like my finance and I can get away for a few days in Paris. I am in fashion merchandising and always scouting out new trends, places to stay, and eat in Paris and elsewhere. Is there a hotel you can recommend that is small, hip, and somewhat eclectic. Keep it up guys -nice stuff.
A – Does that mean that you will not be using Marriott points? We think you might like Les Bains in the now rising Les Halles District where the new Forum de Halles is slowly approaching completion. It will replace the famed former food market. Des Bains was the place where market workers at the original Les Halles would clean up a bit and down drinks before heading home. The decor includes outdoor showers and an indoor pool from the building’s days as a bathhouse. The first place we would had to eat, and of course there are dozens in the area, is the new Chapeaux, a casual and classic French brasserie as interpreted by three-starred chef Alain Ducasse.
Q – We have friends who want us to join them on a tour to Japan with Tauck Tours. Part of the trip involves a cruise on a ship called the Austral, which I’ve never heard of. The whole thing lasts two weeks and it cost about $12,000 per person which is almost $1,000 per day. We’re thinking of going this fall and wonder if you think we should pull the trigger?
A – Tauck’s 14-Day “Land of the Rising Sun” land and tour program is brilliantly conceived and a creative way to gain immersion in the Japanese culture and way of life. In fact, this program is in contention for our “Trip of The Year” Award. The mix of seven days aboard the the spectacular French-crewed L’Austral yacht is icing on the Japanese cake. But here’s the bad news – this program is so unique that it has quickly become one of the toughest to book tours in existence. We recommend you forget about 2017 and concentrate, instead, on getting on one of the two departures of this tour in 2018. As to the pricing, quality sightseeing, and top-drawer hotels with all meals at $2,000 per couple per day is really not expensive when compared to land-only costs in Japan. Sorry for our enthusiasm – this is an extraordinary program with availability far below demand.
Q – I am extremely interesting in flying United to London in the new Polaris Business Class Seats. Believe it or not, the reservations person I spoke to couldn’t tell me which of the flights this May will have the new seats. Are the new seats worth it – I seem to hear they are wonderful.
A – The Polaris seats have some improved posture and support features but it is less the seat than the concept that every Business Class passenger gets an aisle seat and a lie-flat bed with the new seats. There is also a rather nice soft goods product that United has designed using bedding and duvets designed by Saks Fifth Avenue. But we seriously doubt the seats will be installed this May on your intended flights. This is a process that will be worked on one plane at a time and the complete rehab of United’s Business Class will likely span two years. You will, however, get to sit in United’s old-fashioned angle-bed seat while hugging a few pillows from Saks. As the bible says, “hard goods take much longer than soft goods to install.”
Q – Wonder if traveltruth can help us – we’re leaving to see our son at his school in Valencia, Spain in four weeks. We don’t know a word of Spanish – well, maybe just a word. Is there any place you can recommend that offers useful Spanish for travelers at little or no cost?
A – We like duolingo.com for quick learning language instruction online. There is no charge. You set your own pace. Hope this is helpful.
Q – My friends are booking a nice cruise that includes a stop in Cuba. But they tell me I will have to complete a personal affidavit to get approved by the Cuban government to go on this trip.
A – The Cuban government is in a state of confusion in terms of handling the large numbers of Americans who wish to visit their country as it opens up. The required affidavit is a simple one page document. We would certainly advise you to fill it out – although we are not really enouraging travel to Cuba as a cruise day-tripper. The Cuban culture, food, and nightlife is worth at least a week of your time. We are recommending touring Cuba – not stopping by via cruise ship for a few hours.
Q – My family is extremely well-traveled. Due to work requirements, my husband has to take a few weeks off in November each year. But after lousy weather in Europe, some really bad trips in the USA, and the hurricane season in the Caribbean, I feel we need some new ideas about destinations. We are looking for stimulating places where there really are things to see – we love history and we appreciate great scenery. We don;t need to go to really famous places. But we absolutely only want to go to those places where November is the perfect month to visit. If it makes any difference, I am from the Philippines and my husband is from Germany. One suggestion – you should do more Q and A – every day. Very helpful and honest.
A – November is a rather tricky month but as long as you have the time for a longer overseas flight there are some superb destinations where the weather in November is as good as it gets. Let us start you off with three specific recommendations:
01 – This is a perfect time to visit Tokyo and then, perhaps, Hakone and Kyoto in Japan. The trees are changing colors. Do visit Hoinshu, Japan’s largest island.
02 – Try visiting South America’s smallest country, Uruguay. They have beautiful beaches, you get a great deal for your dollar, and the food rivals what you would find in Argentina. Start in Montevideo but then explore the so-called “golden coast” and the countryside where gauchos ride the range. Then head to Buenos Aires for the culture fix you are seeking.
03 – Finally, for the ultimate in sensory impressions, sight, smell, colors, and some fantastic tastes, head to Rajasthan in India visiting the cities of Jaipur, Agra, Udaipur and Jodhpur. If you time this trip correctly, you can get to Diwali and the famed Pushkar Camel Fair.You will never forget it and the average temperature in the region is just around 85 degrees.
Q – I tend to fly a great deal in my job as a quality inspector for a manufacturing company. Lately, I’ve started getting to the gate early and asking for the Exit Row window seat. Each time I do I get asked if I would be able and willing to assist in case of an emergency. But the thought occurred to me yesterday – what if there really was an emergency. Do I do my Mariah Carey impression? Can I get sued if I don’t do certain things? If someone can’t make it through the door to the slide because they are too hefty am I required to rub them down with olive oil and try again? I really am concerned about this.
A – This is a rather grey area. No need to apply olive oil – just ask the heavyweights to stay with the plane and explain that someone will be back to get them. But your serious responsibilities generally include helping to open the door, helping people through it, and then, at the bottom of the exit slide, telling people to move away from the aircraft. The good news is that this is as unlikely a scenario as Trump’s induction into Mensa.
Q – Can you give me some advice about what to do if I get bumped from another flight. It just happened to us in Cincinnati. While they got us on a flight two hours later and everything worked out, the gate agent was not that helpful and I still think I should have gotten something for our trouble. I tried contacting United three days later and got nowhere.
A – This is why we always advise that you use a professional flight monitoring service. If you are bumped again, speak to a service supervisor at the airport, someone with authority to grant you compensation. Also try to get a supervisor on the line at the airline. The two hour delay rule allows for some nice compensation. If, for instance, you are delayed by four or more hours on an international; flight you are entitled to quadruple the one-way fare in the form of a refund or a future flight certificate. The rules change often so it is best to immediately get on the phone with your airline to establish your claim and get their best offer. Remember, however, they are not required to give you anything if the delay was due to reasons beyond their control. Chatting with the gate agent about this is the last thing you should do.
Q – Off in three months to take my girlfriend to Paris. Per your suggestion we are dividing our stay between the banks but we really are serious walkers and explorers and we want to get into the neighborhoods that are both interesting and away from selfie-seeking lemmings. We’re in our early forties and we’re getting serious even though we’ve both been married previously. I love that I finally found a woman who enjoys exploring cities as much as I do. Really cool site. Congratulations.
A – There are several off-the-beaten path ways to explore Paris. We would suggest you begin with the still secret 13th arrondissment and the neighborhood of Butte-aux-Cailles. It is rather up-and-coming and it is set against a hilltop. The whole neighborhood is changing but it still feels a lot like a walk through an eighteenth century village. We also love Belleville, a former working class district that straddles the 19th and 20th arrondissments. This area is filled with ethnic restaurants because it has become both an artists colony and home to a number of recent settlers in France. We would visit Belleville solely for the quality of its Chinatown – incredible Cambodian, Malaysian, Thai, and Chinese food from all of the major regions. Portions of the neighborhood may seem dicey but, on the whole, it is safer than attending a Manchester United match.
Q – My wife and I are just starting to enjoy traveling and we’d love to form a relationship with your company. It is clear that you value honesty over profits, although I am sure there is a huge market for honesty in your profession. For our first big trip, we’re thinking about traveling to Mongolia for their big annual festival called the Naadam Festival which takes place in the summer. I guess our question is, OK, we think we want to go, we are asking your opinion, but then, how do we do the rather complicated logistics? We are in good health and obviously rather new at this.
A – Fair question. You want to work with a travel consultant with worldwide connections established over many years. We highly recommend a trip to Mongolia. If you are a photographer the Naadam Festival is a must. But if you want to get a real sense of life in the country, this is a high-tourist time you might want to avoid. Accommodations need to be booked far in advance. There is only one company we would work with in Mongolia – Nomadic Expeditions. Their owner has been an advisor to the last seven Prime Ministers and he can open doors that remain closed for others. The process is to coordinate the trip through a US-based travel consultant who will work directly with Nomadic on your behalf. There should be no stress at your end at all.
Q – OK, I’ve become a traveltruth addict, I just can’t handle the news sites these days. But I read something last night that kind of upset me as much on this site last night – you are saying flyers should not consume coffee in flight. Please explain as my life pretty much consists of morning UA flights out of O’Hare on business and I need coffee before landing in Omaha or Detroit to do biz. So why are you so against drinking coffee on an aircraft?
A – Here is the problem: Airplanes have water storage tanks. This water is rarely tested and when it is samples have indicated extremely high bacteria counts. Tank water is potentially toxic. When you are served coffee in flight, the coffee-makers used do not boil the water. Flight attendants do not use bottled water to make the coffee – that would cost a great deal of money over the course of a year. So flyers are, without their knowledge, being served heated but not boiled, water from the aircraft’s tank reserve. We suspect that some of the stomach maladies that affect flyers are caused by parasitic tank water. This happens in the front of the plane as well as in back. Bottled water is rarely used to make coffee and it is almost never properly boiled. That would cause burns and lawsuits.
Q – My bucket list includes a simple five-day trip with my girlfriend. I want to rent a new Ferrari (must be red) and drive it down route # 1 to LA from San Francisco stopping for three or four nights at some neat hotels along the way. But how do I get the car? Should I do it through my LA hotel? Can you give me a ballpark price? Is it possible I can have a factory technician show me how to drive the car? I know this is going to be a small fortune but I would like to know how to do this the best possible way.
A – This is something a good travel consultant can arrange through one of two companies in Los Angeles that specialize in new, high-end automobile rentals. We recommend a company called Black & White Car Rentals. You won’t need a factory technician to show you how to use the car – a trained mechanic from the company in LA can personally deliver the car and offer the overview you need. You will likely come out somewhere between $10,000-$15,000 for the four or five day rental. Your advisor should coordinate the car delivery with the hotel reservation. As you are responsible for scratches/damage, you will need special parking arrangements along your route. Don’t be surprised if you see a slew of Ferrari’s heading in the same direction out of Apple’s Cupertino parking lot.
Q – Wondering if I should be tipping in local currency or US dollars during a planned ten-day stay in Brazil? May I assume they all want US dollars?
A – The answer is a bit nuanced. If you are dealing with hotel staff or those working with upscale travelers, tipping in US dollars is fine. Hotel staff can generally exchange their US tips at the hotel with fees waived. If, on the other hand, you are dealing with locals such as waiters, taxi drivers etc., you will want to tip in local currency. In some cases they are not comfortable changing money and when they do, they are often charged exorbitant exchange fees. Another option is to simply hand out old photos of our new First Lady.
Q – I travel frequently on business, often staying at top-tier properties in major cities, particularly in western Europe, Korea, and Japan. I am an independent consultant in the chemical industry and I don’t work with a corporate travel agency – my secretary handles all of my travel and she’s really sharp. So my question is “Am I missing out on Complimentary Upgrades?” I’ve become a fan and would love to “like” you on Facebook but I have not been able to find you. I’ve turned lots of friends on tot his site and want you to know how much I appreciate the no BS approach and the obvious expertise.
A – You are definitely missing out. Keep your secretary focused on non-travel matters and leave your arrangements to a professional. Unlike most things it life – it will likely cost you nothing. Absolutely nothing. Upgrades each and every time are never automatic. No hotel can upgrade you if the category above the one you have paid for is fully booked. So this is a matter of can it be achieved “often” or most of the time. And the answer is yes.
The secret is to be part of something huge, an entity representing one of the hotels top producing alliances. You might have a black on black stone tablet credit card that has to be transferred from place to place via truck. But a more reliable way is to work with a member of one of the top four or five luxury-oriented travel consortiums representing millions, and in certain cases, billions of dollars. To be specific, seek an agency that belongs to one of the following groups: (This is not an exhaustive list)
Signature – Virtuoso – American Express – Ensemble
Each of these associations of member agencies represents top production status for virtually all of the world’s top hotels and resorts. Automatic upgrade programs and other important amenities are negotiated each year on behalf of travel agency members. So it will make sense for you to have your secretary work with an agency that is a high-powered member of one of these groups. Then, all you have to do is relax and watch the magic happen. People who book hotels online are referred to in the industry as “one-offs”. They are usually considered to be price shoppers seeking the best deal with little or no brand loyalty. They are assigned the worst rooms in inventory as a matter of course. You need to be booking with a respected agent who will make your personal reservations through contacts in hotel management rather than by booking through a faceless 800 number.
Yes, hotels make more money when you use their 800 number. Yes, booking with a mega online agency is fairly easy. Yes, the industry will do all possible to keep the information above from the consumer.
You cannot “Like Us” in the superficial, Facebook sense. We don’t participate in silly social media self-promotion. If you want to like us – just try to do it in the human sense. We like you as well.
Q – Our mother has never really been anywhere and she seems to have no interest in going to Europe or South America. For her birthday, we would love to send her somewhere for a great experience. Her passion in life is her love of dogs. Four of us would go with her on a special trip for no longer than a week. We’ve thought about going up to New York for the Westminster Dog Show but show dogs are really not her thing. Any suggestions would be really appreciated.
A – There is only one suggestion: By all means get her up to the start of the Iditarod Race in Anchorage next March. Try to book the Captain Cook. Arrive a few days early for the Musher Banquet where starting position drawings take place and each entrant must make a short speech. You should also go to the Fur Randy Carnival – otherwise you might miss the “Outhouse Races” or the “Running of the Reindeer”. Accommodations will be difficult to secure so try to make your reservations immediately. Contact an Anchorage-based travel agency to handle the trip or find out more about new pet friendly rentals . Hope Mom loves this experience.
Q – My wife and I are in our mid-sixties and we want to start doing some longer trips that might include cruise or train components. I think you would define us as really good travelers and we’ve enjoyed a wide range of terrains and accommodations during our travels. Now, we are planning a four month odyssey that will take in portions of Africa, Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. Before even talking to a travel agent, I’m trying to figure out a starting point and how to begin this project. For instance, at what stage do I deal with the airlines? My real question has to do with Around-The-World fares. Do they still exist and what are the restrictions? We are also wondering if cabin classes can be mixed or must all segments be in Business? Thanks for any advice you can provide. Much of our destination planning is based on your Q&A insights.
A – Those fares definitely still exist. Many of the rules have been thrown out so all options have to be examined carefully. Your agent should refer you to one of the nation’s better RTW specialists. The growth of airline alliance partnerships has actually made finding applicable fares easier – as has technology. For instance, if you belong to Virgin’s Velocity Program, you can fly on Etihad, Air New Zealand, Delta, Singapore and Air Berlin. That gives you a nice range of flights globally. We want you to be very cautious about change policies. $100 to change a ticket is reasonable. But Around-The-World travelers almost always have to make ticket changes so you need to have clarity going in as to what kind of changes are permitted. You can definitely mix and match classes of service. Many RTW travelers use Business Class on any segment over three hours.
The first step would be to do a list of “Must-Be’s” based on special events like festivals, concerts, or sports events. You would then block out an ideal itinerary and get in touch with your air ticketing specialist. Once you lock in the flight segments, your agent will begin finalizing your itinerary with the assistance of their preferred partners abroad. Allow 3-6 months for the total planning time.
Q – Easter Island is near the top of our current Bucket List. We are planning to go to Chile and then spend some time on the island but no sure how much time it deserves. What do you recommend. We are adventurous and we would want to use private guides throughout with great accommodations. We’re active and in our mid-fifties. My wife does suffer from claustrophobia.
A – This is a trip that requires counseling. You’ve raised two reddish flags – you want “great” accommodations and claustrophobia is an issue. Normally, we would suggest two nights in Santiago before flying to Easter and then four or five nights on the island. There are no top-tier hotels but there are abundant outdoor activities. Watch out for thieves ans scam artists. This is prime territory for photo shots that will help you stand out from the other three billion pictures posted on Instagram and its ilk. But discuss this trip carefully with a consultant you trust. This one could be a disappointment. Read all possible about the amazing rock formations before you depart.
Q – My two boys, 16 and 14, will be joining my brother, my wife and I on a two-week jaunt that I want to be memorable in every way. I have budgeted about $20,000 USD per person for top everything. Is that reasonable?
I would like to consider working with you and, yes, we all, well except for my sod of a brother, have a passing grade sense of humor. So, assuming my budget is manageable, what is the first step? My real question, which you may want to tell me privately, is, after all the tourist board blarney, what exactly is the best month to travel privately in Ireland? By the way, for what I will be spending, I could care less about the boys missing ten days of school.
A – You have already taken the first step. No worries. It will be a privilege to assist you. Your budget seems a bit high. You can have a true five-star experience utilizing upper echelon guides and the best accommodations while returning home with enough change for another vacation.
No secrets. The best month to visit Ireland is October. May would be a close second. Start by developing a taste for Guinness now.
Q – We have friends who just had their rental car broken into in Switzerland. A bag was taken including their passports, wallet, cell phone etc. We have an upcoming trip planned to Greece and Italy and we will be renting a car for a portion of this trip. What do we do if we are robbed, as in first steps. Also wondering if you can provide any tips others might find useful in terms of a really awful “what if” robbery scenario.
A – Never, ever, leave your things in a car anywhere in the world. If you are robbed or if you lose your passport/money/ID the first thing to do is contact your travel consultant and keep them engaged in your efforts. Contact the nearest American Consulate or Embassy after first contacting the local police and filing a claim.
Take a picture of the picture page of your passport and store it on your phone. Also store the photo on your home computer so you can access it from anywhere. You should also store photos of your luggage on your phone.
Make certain that your travel agency provides or recommends a Flight Monitoring service. They can be extremely helpful in a situation like this. If you lose all of your money, ask your travel agent to wire you funds at your hotel.
Q – I have gotten my golfing, Bloody Mary drinking, lazy retiree of a husband to agree to take me on a cruise in the Galapagos islands in January or February of 2018. I am wondering when I should make these arrangements? How far in advance should I start locking this in?
A – The so-called warm water season runs from late November through the beginning of June. The rule of thumb is to reserve your passage one year in advance.