We Had So Much Fun at Our Reception

My husband and I both grew up in a wealthy family. Our siblings went the traditional route of having the big fancy weddings that are very elegant, glamorous and boring. Neither my husband or me are really impressed by that. We are just casual people who like to have fun. So, when we got married, we decided to do things in a much more casual way, including renting a party bus in Ottawa for the festivities after the wedding ceremony.

We decided to get married next to a lake. My sister spent a lot of money to get married in a really fancy hotel. It cost her and her husband thousands of dollars. (more…)

International Car Rental Tips

International Car Rental Tips

car dolomites italyNeed wheels for your next trip abroad? There’s more to consider than driving on the “other” side of the road. From international driving permits to liability insurance, renting a car in a foreign country can be a bit more complicated than renting one at home. Here are some tips for getting a great deal, making sure you have the right documentation and driving safely while abroad.

Booking Your Car
Book in advance. Rental rates are almost always higher at the counter than they will be over the phone or online, even just 24 hours before pickup. If you have time, comparison shop. Visit the websites of several rental agencies and search for identical cars on your travel dates.

Whenever possible, make all car rental arrangements, from booking to payment, before you leave your home country. Doing it this way generally makes the process cheaper, easier, safer and less likely to include hidden clauses. Once you are overseas, shifting exchange rates, unfamiliar rental specs, language barriers and other cultural differences can cause unexpected problems.

Ask about weekend specials, late penalties and gas charges. Many unadvertised discounts and hidden costs will not be explained at the time of rental, and it may be too late by the time you’ve discovered them.

Ask what time a car is expected for drop-off. Many rental agencies begin charging for each 24-hour-period from the time of rental, and will bill a full day for cars returned after another 24-hour period begins.

Be aware that many countries have a minimum and maximum age for renters. Drivers under the age of 25 or over the age of 70 may face surcharges or not be permitted to rent at all.

Whenever possible, if you see an ad for a rental car special rate, clip the ad or write down the promotional code. Many of the best rates do not show up on agents’ computer screens without a little prompting.

Always ask about senior citizen, AAA, credit card and frequent flier program discounts or add-on offers.

When making reservations for car rental pickups at an airport, choose a smaller car than you would typically desire. Airport fleets are often stocked with larger cars, as they are primarily used by business travelers, and you will often receive a free upgrade from a subcompact booking. Be aware, however, that European cars tend to be smaller than their American counterparts; while this might be useful if you’re planning on driving on narrow country roads, it’s not so great for those who are extra tall, carrying a lot of luggage, or traveling with a family or large group. In these cases, don’t take a risk — be sure to order the size you need just in case you don’t get an upgrade.

In many countries, manual transmissions are the norm and you’ll have to pay a premium for an automatic. If you can drive a stick shift, it could save you money and hassles. Driving overseas can often be more strenuous than what you’re used to at home; roads may be poorly paved, winding, or precariously placed on a mountainside or ocean cliff. For this reason, it’s often a good idea to divide up the driving — so if not everyone can drive a manual transmission, consider looking for an automatic. Also, if you’re going to a country like England or Australia, be sure everyone’s comfortable with driving on the left side of the road — it can be challenging!

International Driving Permits
If you’re traveling to an English-speaking country, chances are you’ll be able to get by with an American driver’s license. However, many other countries will ask that you also obtain an International Driving Permit (IDP), which is basically just a piece of paper that translates your information into 10 different languages and is recognized by over 150 countries. If you are planning to rent a car abroad, you may be asked to present one along with your regular state license. You must be at least 18 years old to get an IDP.

There are only two agencies in the U.S. authorized to issue IDP’s: the American Automobile Association (AAA) and the National Automobile Club. Be warned that many other websites sell fakes — don’t be fooled.

toy car on a map of europeBe sure to get your IDP before leaving home, as it must be issued in your home country. An IDP is not a license itself, merely a translation of the license issued in your country of residence. If you are stopped by law enforcement officials abroad, you must present both your IDP and your home country’s license. The only driving record you have, therefore, is within your home country, so obey the local driving rules! Any infraction or citation issued abroad will be waiting for you when you return home.

Check with the consulate or embassy of the country you’re visiting to find out their policies on international drivers.

Know Before You Go
Make sure you have a realistic idea of how much you’ll pay to fuel your car in the country you’re visiting. Generally, drivers in the U.S. pay less at the pump than drivers in most other nations. Leave plenty of room in your budget for gas expenses.

Familiarize yourself with the local rules of the road well before you actually get into the car. Study up on such details as which side of the road to drive on, who has the right of way in a traffic circle and whether you’re permitted to turn right on a red light. The best sources for this type of information are the country’s consulate or embassy, or an up-to-date guidebook.

Check with your auto insurance company to see whether a rental car abroad would be covered under your current policy. Unless you’re a U.S. citizen renting in Canada or Mexico, you probably won’t be covered under your existing policy, so you’ll need to purchase insurance from your rental car company at the time of booking. Be sure that your coverage, whatever the source, meets the foreign country’s minimum coverage requirements.

Don’t forget your map! Particularly if you’re planning on driving extensively, the security of having a detailed road map or atlas is more than worth the price you’ll pay for it. If you own a GPS, you can usually download international maps (for a fee) on your GPS provider website. But remember GPS devices aren’t always accurate; an up-to-date map offers you the greatest protection against getting lost.

Most car rental companies offer GPS rentals; check the GPS rental rates for your rental car before you purchase an international map from your GPS provider. Rates to rent a GPS are charged per day or per week; for a two-day car rental, you will be better off renting a GPS and paying, say, $12 per day than paying upwards of $100 for an international map download for the GPS you already own.

Fear of Flying

Fear of Flying

scared man airplane plane nervousWe all love traveling and seeing new places, but there’s one part of travel that many of us don’t love: flying. For some, flying is simply a hassle, thanks to high fares, airport delays and lost luggage. But for other travelers, flying is more than inconvenient; it’s terrifying.

Fear of flying can be caused by a number of factors, including claustrophobia or a fear of heights. Many fearful fliers feel an irrational anxiety that their plane will malfunction and crash, no matter how many times they hear the statistics about how safe flying is compared to driving. Other travelers worry about terrorist hijackings or panic at the idea that they’re not in control of the aircraft that’s carrying them.

No matter why you’re afraid of flying, there are certain steps you can take to help alleviate your fears. Whether or not to fly is a personal decision, and one that we can’t make for you. But for those of you who are determined not to let this change your way of life, we offer a few tips on how to overcome fear of flying.

Before Your Trip

1. Know what to expect. For many fearful fliers, learning the basics of how airplanes work can go a long way toward alleviating their anxiety. For instance, understanding how a plane can continue to fly even if an engine fails can help you feel less concerned about your aircraft malfunctioning. GuidetoPsychology.com offers an easy-to-understand explanation of how planes stay in the air, what causes turbulence, and what’s behind those scary sounds during takeoff and landing.

2. Familiarize yourself with your plane. Getting to know what your plane looks like can make it seem a little less scary. We once knew a fearful flier who actually put a picture of the plane’s cabin on her computer’s desktop; by the time her flight rolled around, the image was familiar, not scary.

3. Choose an aisle seat. Most airlines and booking engines allow you to request a seat assignment when you book your flight. Request an aisle seat, particularly if you’re prone to claustrophobia; you’ll feel less hemmed in by other people, and you’ll be able to get up and move around the cabin more easily. This also makes it easier to avoid looking out the window if those sky-high views make you nervous. (For more information on nabbing the seat you want, see Get the Best Airplane Seat.)

4. Monitor your media intake. This may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s worth mentioning: Avoid airplane disaster movies, news coverage of plane crashes or other scary media images. Remember that the vast majority of flights arrive safely, but only the problem flights make the news. Don’t let that skew your impressions of flying.

5. Think positive. In the days leading up to your flight, it’s easy to let the anxiety build. Instead, try to focus on more positive things — like all the fun things you’ll do once you reach your destination.

At the Airport

1. Don’t rush. Allow yourself plenty of time to get to the airport before your flight is scheduled to depart. Racing to the gate and worrying about missing your plane will only add to your anxiety.

2. Wait for your flight in an airline lounge. Most airlines have private airport lounges that are quiet, luxurious oases away from the hustle and bustle of the rest of the airport. While they’re usually reserved for club members or elite fliers, you can often purchase a day pass for about $50 — which may be a small price to pay for a soothing place to relax and prepare for your flight.

On the Plane

flight attendants plane1. Meet the crew. If there’s time before your flight, ask to meet the pilot of your plane. Alternatively, spend some time chatting with a flight attendant. Often, meeting the folks who hold your safety in their hands can make the plane seem like a friendlier environment and reassure you that that crew is knowledgeable and competent.

2. Tune in. Bring an MP3 player, phone or tablet stocked with soothing music to help get you into a peaceful frame of mind.

3. Remind yourself who’s in charge. Many fearful fliers are bothered by their perceived lack of control since they have no influence over the safety or performance of the aircraft. Try to regain a little control by reminding yourself that you made the decision to fly, and that you can decide how you respond to the experience.

4. Breathe. As anxiety increases, your breathing may get shallow — but deep breathing is an instant stress reliever. Breathe slowly and deeply for a count of 5 or 10.

5. Read or watch something fun. Pack a magazine or a good book to take your mind off what’s happening. Order up a comedy on your plane’s in-flight entertainment system, or pre-load a few of your favorite flicks onto your laptop.

6. Have a drink. Many frightened fliers turn to alcohol to calm their nerves. While this is fine in moderation, keep in mind that alcohol should not be combined with anti-anxiety medications. Also, alcohol can contribute to dehydration, particularly in the arid environment of an airplane; if you do treat yourself to a cocktail, be sure to follow it up with plenty of water.

7. Avoid caffeine. This and other stimulants can make you even more jittery.

8. Go with the flow. Turn on the air vents above your head as soon as you board; the flow of air will help you feel less claustrophobic.

Cruising for Car Rental Deals

Cruising for Car Rental Deals
 car view travel photo coastOn a recent four-day trip to a small regional airport in New England, I had two choices for my car rental: Avis and Hertz. But knowing my options didn’t help me find a good price — at least not right away. One major booking site quoted me $75 and $55 per day respectively, while a name-your-price site couldn’t get me under $35 a day.

My situation isn’t an unusual one; car rental deals can be notoriously hard to find, especially if you’re only searching in a few places. However, doing some more intensive comparison shopping can offer some of the greatest and most sensible savings available to the average traveler. Because brand and name recognition don’t matter too much when you’re renting a car — a Hyundai two-door is a Hyundai two-door, whether you rent it from Avis, Orbitz or Enterprise — it’s easy to keep your options open and increase your chances of getting a good deal.

If you’re willing to put in the time and research, it turns out that there are more hidden deals on rental cars than any other part of the travel experience. Take my New England rental: After my first unsuccessful searches, I kept at it, using some of the tactics below — and the effort paid off when I booked a reservation for $54 total. That’s about $13 a day, and cheaper for the whole trip than it looked like I might pay for the first day!

Clearly, there are some great deals out there. But how can you find them?

Major Booking Sites
While many of the options I will outline below have the potential to trump the big sites, the major booking sites — Expedia, Travelocity, Orbitz — are still a good place to start your search. When appropriate, searching on “Flight and Car” together, or better yet “Flight and Hotel and Car,” will help you tap into the universe of vacation package and bundled discounts. These can be both compelling and competitively priced, especially with the added attraction of one-stop, time-efficient shopping.

Read on, however, and you’ll see that the big booking sites are probably best used to get a sense of the lay of the land. In my research for this article, I would estimate that nine times out of 10 I could find a slightly better deal on a rental car elsewhere. In some cases the savings were along the lines of about five bucks a day, which is not necessarily a deal breaker for the convenience of booking a car and being done with it — but if you’re seeing very high daily rates, as I did in several searches, it’s time to look elsewhere.

Aggregators
In past years, aggregator sites such as Kayak.com were mostly good for airline flights, and few travelers used them for much more than that. Times are changing. Aggregators like Kayak and CarRentals.com are probably the best place to figure out the range and location of the best car rental deals; the snapshot you can get of car rental rates is quite impressive.

A search on Kayak displays prices not only by rental company and airport, but by car class as well. And where you can toggle airlines and nearby airports and on and off when doing flight searches, you can do the same for car classes and rental companies for car rental searches. Kayak also lets you filter results by price range and options like automatic transmission and unlimited miles, and permits you to open up your search to include off-airport rental companies, where savings can be significant.

Discount Codes and Coupons
keyboard air hotel car book travelYou may have noticed that most rental car reservation sites ask if you have a special discount code, but how many times have you used one? Where does one get these codes anyway? For starters, you can find some in our discount car rental deals, where we post new car rental deals every week. Additionally, Web sites with “secret discount codes” and online coupons have cropped up all over the place. Here are a few:

  • DealLocker.com
  • DealTaker.com
  • KeyCode.com
  • RetailMeNot.com

A simple Google search for “Avis promo code” or “Hertz discount code” can also yield productive results.

Buy Direct
In my experience, ultimately you will most often get the best rate when booking directly from the car rental company Web site. Armed with price ranges and discount codes after checking the aggregators and coupon sites, a visit to the car rental’s own reservations Web site is well worth your time, as very few of your alternatives will consistently produce a lower price.

And when you do receive a rate quote, make sure you are not missing some of the hidden costs of car rentals, such as airport concession fees, sales tax, automatically applied insurance, and more; a recent study by Travelocity found that major U.S. airports tacked on an average of 25.8 percent of your total bill in local and state taxes.

So while a Hyundai may always be a Hyundai, no matter where you rent it, there is money to be saved by expanding your horizons when making car rental reservations — if you know where to look.

Mexico’s Top Ten Adults-Only Resorts

Whether you’re planning a honeymoon or looking to clock some time with your partner without the kids in tow, we’ve found ten of Mexico’s best adults-only resorts, from hyper-luxurious retreats where everyone dresses up for dinner, to fun-packed mega-resorts where no one dresses at all!

  1. El Dorado Casitas Royale, Riviera Maya
    This high-end resort group pioneered a concept called “Gourmet All Inclusive,” designed as an alternative for couples wanting the carefree, everything-included experience in an upscale, romantic setting. The Casitas Royale is situated in a secluded corner of sister resort El Dorado Royale’s property on the Riviera Maya, and offers a private setting and spacious thatched-roof casitas overlooking infinity pools. Guests enjoy all the main resort’s amenities – seven restaurants, a full-service spa, tennis and watersports – while retreating at the end of the day to a romantic casita.
  1. Iberostar Grand Hotel Paraiso, Playa del Carmen
    This grand-scale all-inclusive is situated on the beachfront five minutes from Playa del Carmen. The resort features 310 rooms, a cigar bar, Thalassotherapy spa, and fun activities like cooking classes. Rooms are fairly basic Caribbean décor, but large layouts and terraces on the oceanview suites go a long way to creating a sense of laid-back luxury. Butlers patrol the beach and poolside to ensure guests have everything they need to achieve full relaxation. Website
  2. Royal Hideaway Playacar, Playa del Carmen 
    This luxurious 200-room retreat just minutes from Playa del Carmen is reminiscent of an elegant European resort, complete with grand staircase, meticulously landscaped gardens and tranquil waterways winding throughout the grounds. The restaurants, including the fine dining Las Ventanas and the inventive Japanese-inspired Azia, are a far cry from the buffet scene at many all-inclusives. The resort is a hit with couples, especially honeymooners. Read a review of Royal Hideaway Playacar.
  1. Secrets Maroma Beach, Riviera Maya
    The tireless crusade of hoteliers in Mexico to glamorize the all-inclusive experience continues apace at Secrets, which touts their patented “Unlimited Luxury” concept. Here, grown up guests can look forward to 24-hour butler service, 12 swimming pools, 7 restaurants and eight bars, along with a 13,000 sq.ft. Pevonia spa. You won’t exactly feel alone – the resort has over 400 rooms – but you will feel pampered thanks to friendly, attentive service, spacious, elegantly outfitted suites (the lowest category is a junior suite) and a lovely white-sand beach just steps away. Read a review of Secrets Maroma Beach
  2. Tides Riviera Maya, Playa del Carmen
    This luxury resort, formerly Ikal Del Mar, offers the best of both worlds: set in lush tropical jungle, yet a stroll away from a 7-mile long stretch of pristine beachfront. With just 30 villas, this is the most intimate of the adults-only resorts, perfect for couples who value privacy and seclusion over cheap drinks and partying. The 1000 sq.ft. suites reveal plenty of romantic surprises, like canopied beds, hand-crocheted hammocks and  outdoor showers. Couples can choose to dine anywhere in the resort: beachside, poolside, in their villa, or at the romantico restaurant La Marea, on a terrace overlooking the ocean. Read a review of the Tides Riviera Maya.
  3. Aura Cozumel Grand Resort, Cozumel
    The island of Cozumel, south of Cancun, has been a romantic destination since Jacques Cousteau discovered its spectacular reefs in the 1960s. This dazzlingly white, modern adults-only luxury resort continues the tradition with all-suite, oceanview accommodation, river-like pools and added extras like sunset dinners for two on the private dock. Website
  4. Golden Crown Paradise, Puerto Vallarta
    The rooms may not be as luxurious here as at some of the other properties on this list, but every one of the 214 suites has an ocean view and there are plenty of outdoors diversions on offer, like tennis, golf and spa. The hotel also offers great deals as part of the all-inclusive package, like free golf, 24-hour room service and unlimited drinks at the nightclub until 2am. Website
  5. Hotel Casa Velas, Puerto Vallarta
    This award-winning boutique property brings all-inclusive adults-only luxury to Mexico’s burgeoning Riviera Nayarit. Pitched at honeymooners and couples looking for a romantic escape sans children, the resort is set on lovely Banderas Bay and offers just 80 suites (some with private plunge pools and jacuzzis), so you’ll never feel lost in a crowd. Website
  6. Temptation Resort Spa, Los Cabos
    Ideal for younger couples or singles looking for a lively scene, this over-21 all-inclusive offers diversions like a “jacuzzi lounge bar” overlooking the Sea of Cortez, swim up bars (tops are optional in the pool area) and a spa. The décor in the 133 rooms is hip and minimalist, and the nightlife can be wild, with popular theme nights in the disco. Website
  7. Hidden Beach Resort, Cancun
    While “adults only” to some travelers says simply a resort without children, to others it’s all about shedding clothes…and inhibitions. One of the most popular of Mexico’s clothing optional resorts, Hidden Beach Resort near Cancun consists of 42 beachfront suites, 24-hour room service, swim up bars and lots of au naturel action. Read more about the Hidden Beach Resort.

Top 10 Survival Tips for Holiday Travel

Wherever you’re heading, if you’re traveling during the holiday season, you need to realize that everyone else in the world is, too. But don’t let invasive security scanners, terrible drivers and long lines at airports get you down. We’re giving you tips to survive the holiday travel season without a Frosty the Snowman-size meltdown.

1. Do your research.

Plan alternative trips if traffic makes your way home too overwhelming. Is there a scenic drive that might be longer but have less traffic? Break up a long drive by finding a few places to stop that will get the kids more excited than a truck rest stop. When flying, make sure you check the airline’s restrictions ahead of time on carry-on luggage and fees for checked bags.

2. Stay connected.

Stock up on the latest travel apps before you leave home. Flight Status gives you real-time updates on delays, baggage numbers and more, and GateGuru gives you approximate times you’ll spend in security. Heading out on the road? Find the cheapest gas and cleanest bathrooms on the road with GasBuddy and SitOrSquat.

3. Pack light.

Avoid checking bags altogether if you can. You won’t have to wait for your luggage on the conveyor belt, and you won’t have to worry about your mom’s Christmas present getting lost in Logan Airport. If you do check luggage, make sure you have all your medications and important documents and a change of clothes in your carry-on in case your luggage gets lost. Here’s a family packing list for more tips.

4. Pack earplugs.

Short of doing yoga in the airport, the best way to mentally escape your stressful surroundings is to turn the volume down. And the easiest way to do that is with earplugs. Crying baby next seat over on the plane? Earplugs. Sister’s music in the car driving you mad? Earplugs. And if you really want to check out for a bit? Bring an eye mask (as long as you aren’t driving).

5. Don’t get hangry.

When your tummy growls, your mind can’t think straight, and you could unknowingly get in the wrong line, take the wrong turn, or worse, upset an innocent flight attendant. Pack snacks and drinks, so you and your family will be fueled up for a road trip. If you’re flying, definitely get some grub before you board the plane (check our GateGuru’s Best Airport Restaurants), so you won’t have to rely on airline food if you’re sitting on the tarmac for hours.

6. Ship gifts or give gift cards.

TSA suggests to ship wrapped gifts or wait until you reach your destination to wrap them, as they might have to unwrap a present to inspect it. Ship gifts ahead of time or bring the gift that can’t go wrong: gift cards to their favorite store or an Amazon card.

7. Travel on off-peak days.

The Wednesday before Thanksgiving is the biggest travel day of the year and can also cause you the biggest meltdown of the year. A better option is to leave early on Thanksgiving Day and avoid the record traffic the night before. Same goes with flying: if you fly on the actual holiday itself you’ll be avoiding the long lines and hoards of travelers.

8. Travel early or late in the day.

Flight statistics show that planes traveling earlier in the day have a better on-time performance. And if your flight is cancelled, you will have the option of taking a flight later in the day. Also, there will be fewer lines at security. Best time to hit the road? When every one else is asleep — early morning or late at night. You can always take a nap when you arrive at your destination or on the ride there (if you aren’t the driver, of course).

9. Plan for the unexpected.

Have only a half hour before connecting to another flight? Traveling to Rochester, NY, during snow season? Think ahead and plan accordingly. Leave extra time before flights to deal with security, extra time between connections and, for road trips, pack tire chains for snowy conditions, flashlights, and of course, a few band-aids never hurt either.

10. Inhale. Exhale.

The overly friendly person next to you on the plane, the cancelled flights, the luggage that fell off in the middle of the highway? All of it will make for great stories over dinner when you finally make it to your destination. After all, holiday travel stress is just as much of a tradition as pumpkin pie and regifting.

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