What are the most pressing travel questions of 2015?
I asked trends researchers at Google to divulge the top travel queries that Internet users have been Googling since the New Year. Many of the most-searched questions were about what to do on vacation in cities including San Francisco, San Diego, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Miami, Las Vegas, Orlando, Florida, Dallas, Nashville, Tennessee, and Phoenix.
To help you kick off another year of adventures, I’ve answered the top travel questions — from how to pack a suitcase to what you’re allowed to toss in your carry-on.
▪ How to pack a suitcase: There are those who fold. There are those who roll. There are those who stick their clothes in vacuum storage bags and press out the air. You can go online and watch suitcases being stuffed by Martha Stewart, or members of the military.
Here’s how I do it: Lightly. Pack a bag to the gills and it’s unwieldy, incapable of accommodating gifts, and bothersome to repack. More significantly, it guarantees that your attention will be on schlepping rather than on soaking up new surroundings. I travel with a sleek Bric’s X-Bag 22-inch folding duffel ($120). It weighs little more than a pillowcase, fits into tight spaces and enables me to move effortlessly through crowds.
You can line the bottom with shoes as travelers typically do, but I stack them on one side so it’s easy to find a pair to change into once my plane lands. I fold or roll clothes Army-style into stacks adjacent to the shoes; no elaborate techniques like bundle wrapping (layering clothes as if making a sushi roll). Lingerie is in a zippered bag and tucked between the piles. Skirts and dresses are slipped into plastic dry-cleaning bags to prevent wrinkles (works wonders), folded over once, and laid across the stacks.
▪ How to get cheap flights: One of the simplest yet most effective strategies is to visit Google Flight Search, a free online tool that allows you to compare fares across multiple airlines and see how much you’ll save if, say, you depart a day earlier or later.
An important exception is Southwest Airlines. (The carrier has its own low-fare planning calendar at Southwest.com/flight/shortcut/low-fare-search.html). For international flights and unusual combinations of flights, try Momondo.com.
In general, you can also save money by flying on holidays, early in the morning, in and out of places where there’s airline competition and by opting for a smaller airport in a metro area. Sites such as Airfarewatchdog.com allow you to set alerts for low prices on routes you frequently fly. And tools including Yapta.com and TripIt Pro (www.tripit.com) will notify you if the ticket price drops enough to save you, say, $100 after paying a change fee. (Yes, this really works.)
▪ What to pack for a cruise: Cruise lines, like summer camps, typically offer packing lists on their websites. Royal Caribbean International, for instance, has a long list that also reminds passengers about formal nights. There’s even a list of items not to pack. The popular reviews and information website CruiseCritic.com offers a packing list as well.
▪ What is a hostel? What is a pension? A hostel is “an inexpensive place for usually young travelers to stay overnight,” according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary. A pension is described as “accommodations especially at a continental European hotel or boardinghouse.” In short: The former is for the young and frugal. The latter is akin to an affordable bed-and-breakfast; bathrooms may be shared, and meals may be included — but neither youth nor backpacks are required.
▪ How old must you be to rent a car? For most United States brands you must be at least 21 to rent, though in certain pickup locations the minimum age is 18. (Some brands, including National, have a minimum age of 25 for the primary renter.)
But you’ll need to crack your wallet. It’s common for agencies — including Hertz, Avis, Thrifty and Budget — to impose additional restrictions and/or fees for renters between 21 and 24. Typically there is an “underage” surcharge, which can be anywhere from about $17 to $66 a day in addition to the rental fee.
▪ What are the best resorts in Jamaica? “Best” is personal. For some it means attentive staff; for others, it means a private villa. That said, some luxury resorts to check out include GoldenEye Hotel & Resort, Half Moon, Jamaica Inn, Round Hill Hotels and Villas and Sandals Royal Plantation.
▪ What are the cheapest days to fly? There’s no hard and fast rule that one day of the week is better than another; however, airfares tend to be cheaper during the week than on weekends.
▪ How safe is flying? Despite some high-profile crashes, last year was the safest ever in the history of commercial aviation by number of fatal accidents, according to Aviation Safety Network, an independent organization that provides information on airliner accidents and safety issues. The worldwide accident rate, according to the Network, is one fatal passenger flight accident for every 4,125,000 flights.
▪ How to book transfers from airports: There are a number of ways to book transportation between an airport and your hotel, including through a resort, a tour operator or a travel agent. In major cities it’s often easier to hop on the airport cab line or take mass transit. If you prefer to be picked up, begin by calling your hotel or resort. Some include transfers in the cost of your stay or for a reasonable fee, so be sure to ask. If not, they can usually provide you with the name of a reputable company.
▪ How many ounces can you carry on a plane? Travelers are allowed to carry on one quart-size plastic bag with liquids in containers of 3.4 ounces or less. To learn more about what you can or cannot take, check out the Transportation Security Administration’s app, which includes a “Can I bring …” tool.