2011 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,800 times in 2011. If it were a cable car, it would take about 30 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.


Ediburgh to London on Train

Taking the train from Edinburgh to London isn’t necessary the cheapest option but when you factor in transport to and from the airport plus the cost of checking a bag if you need and you might be better. Keep in mind as well that booking ahead of time on long trips in the UK can save you quite a bit. The real piece of advice I want to give (and this works on other long rail trips in Britain as well) is to check you bags. If you’ve got a lot stuff as I did on my last journey you won’t need to pay as you would if you fly and you can check it with a train conductor when you get on. The luggage is stored up until the end of the trip in London meaning you won’t need to worry if you’re not sitting near a luggage rack.

For cheap deals on train tickets in the UK check thetrainline.com but remember to go the individual rail operator site to book your ticket so as not to incur the 1 pound booking charge.

UK Visa check

The London Eye

If you’ve ever had a long-term visa to stay in a country, then you’ll know that it can be heavily scrutinized when you come in and out of that country. Whether you are a student or living abroad for work getting the visa was probably a pain and so you don’t want any more problems with it. In that case if you’ve just procured a UK visa DONT do what I did!

In my infinite and cheap wisdom I booked a flight from New York to London via Dublin adding a few extra hours to trip but saving a couple hundred pounds. Here is the problem. When I arrived in Dublin no one checked my passport because I had a connecting flight. When I arrived finally in London no one checked my passport because of agreements between the UK and Ireland.

Warnings everywhere

Now this may make you worry about security or think what a great way to get in the country without the hassle of a visa. I though crap! I’ve got a visa and now if I have any problems the governments going to say you came in the country illegally!

My university assures me this is not the case. In fact they are quite relaxed about the whole thing. The reason your visa is checked so thoroughly when you first enter the country is so it can be stamped with the date you arrived giving the UK government a record of your stay in Britain. I was told simply to bring proof of when I first entered next time I leave the country and ask them to back stamp it (I guess they knew I traveled a lot). But the added hassle is not really worth it and I’m still a little concerned it’s a bigger deal than make out.

All in all its best, if you can to arrive direct into a country when you have a long-term residence visa. Or a least for the UK don’t stop in Dublin

Before airport security

Terminal 4 in New York’s JFK airport stands out from the others for an important reason, there are things to do before security. Having often travelled through JFK but never through this terminal it was a big surprise to me when the man checking me reminded me to be sure to go through security at least an hour before take off. My first thought was “well what would i do be between now and then?” I saw a lot of families saying drawn out goodbyes so I expected that was the reason.

As headed toward the gate though I realized hidden behind the check out counters were tons of shops, restaurants even an arcade. I felt cheated since the security restrictions had become so strict I rarely saw an airport where you could sit and have a coffee with someone before saying goodbye and I often felt I could only say a perfunctory “see you later” to friends and family before several layers of lines, x-rays, and metal detectors separated us.

It makes sense though to have shops, restaurants and bars before security as well as after. For many international flights check-in starts 3 hours in advance and your often left with far to much time at the gate, time you spend having a last cup of coffee with the person nice enough to take you to the airport. Now in no way suggesting they grid of shops and food courts after security. All those who have spent nights in terminals after everything closes or where there weren’t any to begin with can vouch for how bad it is. But why not raise a last pre security glass to city that has judged hosted you and who knows it might make standing in the security a little easier to deal with.

Natural Disaters

In Brooklyn After Hurrican Irrene

I know its been a little while, but in honor of all the disasters that have taken place in my home city of New York I thought I’d put up a few tips in case your ever caught in an earthquake, hurricane, or government overthrow while you’re traveling.

First things first… determine if it is really a disaster. A few days of rain or the closing of public transit may be an unfortunate twist to your plans, you may even be delayed getting to your next location or home, but it isn’t then end of the world. Determine what the damage will be; is it one day of rain, changing your travel or do you need to evacuate. One of best way to find out is to look at the local news, asks at your hotel and find out what other travelers might be doing.

Next let be people know. If it a real emergency your first call should be to the embassy. If for example a war breaks countries will do their best to evacuate their citizens. If you’re not sure if this is one of those times call your better safe than sorry. The next people to call are friends and family. One of the main reasons to call is to assure them you are alright and them know what your plans are and if the situation is really serious. Sometimes the news abroad can seem worse or better than the situation on the ground. The last thing you want is a distressed mother calling Interpol over a little rain.

Make travel arrangements in groups. If you do need to change your plans don’t go off alone. If it’s a real emergency the likelihood is other travels will be in the same situation. Sticking with others can often mean you’re more likely to get information and stay connected to the outside world, and of course safety in numbers.

When you do get home figure out your monetary damage and check if it is covered under insurance if you have. Some disasters may not be included voiding your claim. But if you needed to by a new ticket home or lost money for nights in hotels its worth knowing if you can get some back.

Arriving in New York

I often take arriving in New York for granted since I grew up here but coming into one of the worlds greatest cities for the first time can be quite an experience. While most people wont sailing by the statue of liberty when they arrive the trip can still be quite impressive. One reason for this is that it can be quite complicated.

If you fly in you’ll likely arrive Newark, LaGuardia or John F Kennedy airports. Each has different ground transportation. From all of them you can get a cab, but beware it can be expensive depending on where you are staying. If you book ahead options like super shuttle which allow you to share a cab can help cut the price.  If Manhattan is your destination then taking a cab from Newark will probably be most expensive. However if you land at JFK then there is a flat fee to Manhattan for just 45USD (31 Euros).

The cheapest option from all of them is to take public transportation, but again the price will vary based on what airport you land at. The Air Train from Newark Airport is probably the easiest to use and take you right from the airport to Penn Station in the center of Manhattan in about half an hour. From Penn Station you’ll have access to subway or buses to get to your destination. The trip costs about 12USD (8Euro) which is far less than a cab and at rush hour the train is also much faster.

From LaGuardia airport you will need to take a bus. The bus runs into Manhattan but it also has stops that connect you to a subway and bus lines  so check to find out if it wouldn’t be better for you to get off at one of the earlier stops and switch to either the E,F,G,R or 7 or one of the buses. Since LaGuardia is in New York City unlike Newark which is New Jersey you might think your tip to Manhattan should be faster or cheaper. In fact the bus is around the same price and takes about the same time, although delays at rush-hour may make it longer.

JFK is the easiest airport in New York to get to. Not only are there fixed rate cabs but you have the more options for catching the subway or a bus. The Air train from the airport can take you to the A,E,J subway lines and the Long Island Rail Road. The trip on the subway can be longer but it is certainly the cheapest and once you’re on one subway line it can be simple to switch and go exactly where you need rather than simply to the center of Manhattan.

One thing to keep in mind with all of the them: you have to carry your bags. Not all subway stations have elevators and public buses often don’t have room for large bags. If you are carrying a lot of stuff it might be worth it to pay for a cab.


My Top Travel Search Engines… And Why

I’ve listed my top six, in no particular order. The important thing is to know what you’re looking for. Some of the more well-known or better advertised sites like travelocity or expedia are good if you’re looking for package deals and name brand places. But, if you’re looking for good deals and exotic place try these sites.

Skyscanner ( Skyscanner.com)

This is my go to site. It is really easy to use and checks discount airlines (like ryanair) which other site often don’t. It also make flexible suggestions, for instance if you can leave from a different airport or on a different day there may be a discount. It also offers standard features like searching by time or airline. Most importantly its easy to read so you wont be confused by ads or the wrong information. Something to keep in mind, skyscanner like many sites, doesn’t book the trip for but redirects you to another site where the deal is listed but, it doesn’t charge a fee to do this.

Momondo (Momondo.com)

This site is really easy to use and has a great lay out! The flights you’ve searched for appear  on top. Scroll down and the first thing it displays is a calendar of the cheapest days to travel, ideal for flexible travellers looking for the best deal. Under that it will show the flight options you searched for which can be sorted by website, where you can buy the best ticket details which will show you all options for buying that ticket at a certain price and not website they come from and timetable which can allow you be more specific about when you want to leave. Detail and website can also be sorted by price, departure or return time allowing you to look at the most precise search results

Rail Europe (raileurop.com)

An essential site for those inter-railing around Europe. There are so many national railway companies it can be difficult to plan trips between countries and especially when you need to cross a country. This site looks at all the different rail companies and gives you the option to look at prices and times

Bravo fly (bravofly.com)

With simple colour coding Bravo fly tells you which days are cheapest to fly on. The website also offers convenient filters of the side of the page, for the amount up to which you wish to pay, the amount of flights you will be taking (one or return), flight time and airline. Another useful feature of this website is that when you can connect one outgoing flight to a different return flight. The website will suggest a cheapest option but unlike other websites which allow you only to book flights in the pairs they suggest Bravo Fly allows you to mix and match outgoing and incoming flights to find the ones which best suit your trip.

Yapta (yapta.com)

If you’re determined to find the best deal than website is a great go to. It is not a booking agent but Yapta allows you track flight prices. If you know well before hand when and where you want to travel to you can follow ticket prices sent to your email. After you’ve booked a flight Yapta allows you to track that flight to find out if the prices drop and then helps you to claim a refund if it is available.

Make my trip (makemytrip.com)

Best if you’re in India. What is really great about this site is you can search more the just flights, also trains and buses and book them directly from the site. It also has a reasonable hotel search which many airline search engines lack. If you’re in the US when you use the site stick to using it to find flights to India. But I certainly hope more travel search engines become more multi-faceted so all your travel requirements can be found in one place.