Category Archives: tips

Big Tipper? Maybe Not So Much

It has taken a while for me to realize that my usual 20 percent tip no longer elicits the warm thanks it used to prompt from wait staff at restaurants. At least not in these United States.

And let me explain that my standard 20 percent tip, provided for anything but the most unacceptable service, is always a bit more than 20 percent. I tip on the total, including tax, and I round up. At inexpensive restaurants, I round up considerably. I also add on for truly exceptional service.

This has been a point of pride with me, regardless of my wildly fluctuating income over the years. If I can’t afford to tip well, then I can’t afford to eat out. And it was my understanding that 20 percent was tipping well, 15 percent was standard and 10 percent was pretty damned cheap or a sign of serious dissatisfaction.

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Most Useful Things I Brought On My Cruise: No. 2

My laundry line can class up any setting.

My laundry line can class up any setting.

I can feel the excitement building as we count down to No. 2 in my list of the most useful things I brought on my recent extended cruise: my flexible laundry line.

In the ordinary course of leisure travel, the laundry line allows me to limit my packed wardrobe to two or three outfits for a week or two of travel, squeezing the whole deal into a single carry-on bag with the electronics and toiletries. In the course of a three-week trip, including 16 days on a cruise ship with frequent wardrobe changes, it allowed me to sneak my checked bag just under the 50-pound limit. (“One more pair of shoes and she’d be in trouble,” the Southwest skycap remarked to my husband, not knowing that the real problem was three pounds of maple syrup. But that’s another story.)

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Most Useful Things I Brought On My Cruise: No. 3

Here’s number 3 in my countdown of the five most useful things I packed for a recent 16-day cruise: a collapsible day pack.

The backpack folds up into a compact pouch.

The backpack folds up into a compact pouch.

This nylon Baggallini pack is pretty simple — just one medium-sized bag with an outer pocket and webbing straps. It’s not the most comfortable or best-looking pack, but then I’ve never been all that stylish a traveler. The pack is wonderfully practical, though, because it zips compactly into its own pocket so that you can throw it in your luggage and pull it out when you need it. A snap-down flap over the drawstring closure adds security.

We didn’t use this on the ship, we used it in port. In Bermuda and Valencia, we took it on rented bikes. In the Bahamas we took it to the beach. In Punta Delgada and Malaga, we carried it when we went out on foot.

The bad news is that I can’t find this expandable pack for sale anywhere. There are some reasonable-looking alternatives out there, including the Trek Light Bindle Pack for $27. If you prefer a tote bag, Baggallini still sells expandable totes that zip into their own pockets. You can get them on eBags for $45.  I own a couple and have given them as gifts.

Here’s a tip: Never put your wallet in a backpack or day pack. Or if you must put the wallet in the pack, don’t put it in the outer pocket and carry the pack in front, no matter how nerdy it makes you look. We use hidden wallets for cash and credit cards and keep bulkier items in the pack. The operating principle is that we should be able to continue our vacation without substantial disruption if it the pack were to disappear. The most valuable things we could lose would be our point-and-shoot cameras — a disappointment but not a disaster.

Here’s a trick: If you keep an expandable pack or tote in your suitcase at all times, you’ll always have a handy extra bag for gifts and souvenirs on the way home.

Travel Gear Comes In Handy At Home

There will be coffee.

I was struck, as I was preparing for the arrival of Hurricane Irene. by how useful some of my travel gear (especially the camping gear) turns out to be in the face of a potential natural disaster at home.

Said gear includes:

– The battery-powered travel alarm clock, because I still need to get up and check the roof for leaks (don’t ask) if the power goes out.

– The rubber sink stopper from my travel laundry kit, which helps keep the tub full of water. (We’re on well water here. So if there’s no power, there’s no well pump and therefore no water.)

– The travel flashlight — best size for the bedside.

– The propane camp stove. Because I don’t get up if there’s no coffee. (But windows must be open for ventilation.)

– The candle lantern, for when the batteries run out.

– The suitcase. Packed for a quick departure, should that become necessary.

– The rechargeable DVD player, for a little entertainment if power failures drag on — as they tend to do around here.

Save On Travel Expenses With Groupon

I occasionally buy discount coupons from Groupon, mostly for eating out, but it only recently occurred to me that I could use the site for travel.

In advance of an upcoming trip to New Mexico, I started to look not only at the Hartford area deals but also those for Albuquerque, which includes some offers for Santa Fe. (Groupon says a separate site for Santa Fe is in the works.)

I found not only restaurant bargains but deeply discounted tickets for the Road Runner Express, the light rail system between the two cities.

Groupon has also announced a Groupon Getaways travel site in partnership with Expedia, but that doesn’t seem to be up and running quite yet.