vacationThis blog is all about how to avoid vacations-from-hell. For tips about how to vanquish hellish vacations, we turn to that reputable travel information source:  the New York Law Journal.   What?  Yeah, this blog may seem like a head-scratcher, but sure enough, here’s the link: Travel Law.    We also included some useful travel tips along with some of our favorite travel websites and tips for booking travel — especially airlines.

But just in case you don’t want to read a travel analysis in a Law Journal?  We understand.  Here’s a  summary of the authors’ key legal points:

  • Read the fine print of any travel contracts you sign.  (Generally, we disagree.    Fine print is designed to be unreadable.  I recommend that you use the web to ferret out any complaints about a vendor and make sure they are reputable). 
  • Avoid dangerous excursions  (or have REALLY good medical coverage if you do so indulge).
  • Cruises that include a U.S. port provider greater consumer protections than those governed by the Athens Convention.  (this one is a surprisingly good observation)
  • Don’t rely upon cruise-ship doctors  Instead, make sure you have evacuation insurance.
  • Don’t use foreign air carriers for intra-country trips and check the EU’s “Blacklist”before you book with intra-country airlines  (Intra-country = those airlines that don’t fly to the U.S.).
  • Behave when traveling elsewhere.   Be sensitive to other country’s values and customs.
  • Don’t sign contracts that have forum selection clauses or compel arbitration of disputes.

Yeah, this stuff is pretty legalistic but it is printed in a law journal, not Fodors.   Still, as veteran travelers, most all of these suggestions are good ones and it is useful to understand the law when dealing with some of these travel issues.  Check it out.   But some of the other travel-related sites that we rely upon heavily are:

Kayak Explore –  check out the “Explore” tool on the Kayak website before you even decide where to go. Enter the month or season when you want to travel, the airport you want to use and the amount your budget will allow for airline tickets. The Kayak Explore tool will show you everywhere in the world you can fly during the specified period for the dollar amount you’ve indicated or less.  Explore can be a very useful tool for consumers who have lots of places they’d like to visit

Trip Advisor –  one of the better Web-based evaluative tools.  The members’ feedback on locations is invaluable.  We rely upon it heavily.

Yelp –   especially useful when traveling within the U.S.   Again, very good feedback on hotels, restaurants and services.

YouTube –  for short videos on locations/hotels that may be of interest to you.

Joe Sent Me –  is a particularly good source of info for business travelers.

Elliot –  A consumer advocate’s blog that contains a large amount of information about travel.    Note: it is underwritten by a number of travel companies.

Trip It –  A very useful travel organizer which turns your unwieldy mess of flight, hotel and car-rental confirmation emails into a master itinerary—maps, directions and weather automatically included.

Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree Forum –  somewhat similar to Trip Advisor, although not as powerful a resource.

Airbnb –  A very good way of finding alternatives to hotels, such as condos, homes for rent and B&Bs.  (I rely heavily on these alternatives, as I like access to my own kitchen and greater interaction with locals).

VRBO –  Another very comprehensive hotel-alternative site.   Has extensive listing of apartments, condos and homes available at much better deals than offered by most hotels.

Oyster –   A hotel rating site

The Stay –  A free mobile app that serves as a guidebook for most major cities.   It contains lots of useful tips for each location and is, naturally, interactive.   Worth using if you are in an unfamiliar city.

The Travel Safe –  this app provides police,fire department and ambulance emergency contact numbers for more than 200 foreign countries so that you can get the help in foreign countries.   Worth the 99 cents if you will be heading off the beaten path.

Yapta – allows you to track airline prices and get an alert if the price drops.   For a small fee, some airlines let you lock in an airfare for a period before you have to buy the ticket.  Once you have locked in the fare, you can use this service to find a lower price.

Flyers Rights – An airline travelers’ advocacy group that, among other things, provides help for stranded passengers in the U.S.    However, the site has been relatively inactive since 2012.

Finally, a Google search will turn up various podcasts of walking or driving tours in various cities.    These are wonderful resources if you want to learn about a city without having to sign onto a half-day or full-day tour.    We generally use them for my morning runs in cities that we’ve visited.   Great way to get exercise and learn about the neighborhoods.

Airline Bookings

We jumped for joy when airline bookings went largely on-line about a decade ago.  we loved the control and extensive options that booking directly with airlines and through shoppingbot sites like Expedia and Travelocity.   Well, now we don’t jump for joy quite as much….if at all….as booking flights has gotten very complicated.   What with aggressive frequent flyer/points options, increasing unreliability of travel times and the plethora of new airlines (and the loss of many favorite ones),  booking airline travel is not easy.     In fact,  according to Bob Rankin, airlines are using cookies that are uploaded on your computer when you check out prices on a site and raising prices if they can tell you are a regular customer or an aggressive shopper.   He recommends using the Private Browsing or Incognito feature of your browser should have the same affect.  Yikes!

Our first go-to site is Kayak, which is one of the better travel search engines on line.  In addition to ticketing, It’ll send you fare alerts and track pricing. Other sites like AirfareWatchdog are the same.  You can put in your itinerary and then they will search multiple ticketing agency sites for you.  Hipmunk is a bit different — its results appear on a single-page timeline that makes it easy to understand the tradeoffs between various flight options.  Another cool feature of Hipmunk is that it will sort results by “Agony.” The agony factor is based on a combination of price, flight duration, and number of stopovers.  And if you are interested in trans-Atlantic flying then Norwegian Airlines is worth checking out, as it is seriously undercutting the majors while offering fairly new planes and frills-free service.

After you’ve booked at seat,  you may wish to use SeatGuru to find out which seats are the best seats on the plane, which are the ones to avoid, based on seat width, leg room, power outlets and other factors.   Safe travels!