November 2016 Travel Column

Don’t Let Thanksgiving Parades Pass You By

If you love a parade, then Thanksgiving is a prime time to travel and see some of America’s premier cities all decked out for the holiday season. With celebrations taking place from New York to Seattle, there are plenty of choices.

For a taste of history with your turkey, head to Plymouth, Massachusetts, about 40 miles south of Boston. It’s the spot where the Mayflower landed in 1620 and, a year later, the Pilgrims held the first Thanksgiving with their Wampanoag Indian neighbors. The town’s Thanksgiving parade takes place Nov. 19, and begins with a ceremony on the historic waterfront. For a look at how the Pilgrims lived, visit nearby Plimoth Plantation, with re-creations of a Wampanoag homesite and 17th-century English village.

Travelers to New York and Philadelphia will be able to watch two of the nation’s oldest and most iconic parades. This year marks the 90th Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City, as well as the 96th Philadelphia parade. Both step off on the morning of Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 24, with floats and marching bands on the ground, while giant balloons float overhead. This year, the Macy’s parade will unveil a brand new Charlie Brown balloon to celebrate the upcoming 50th anniversary of the Peanuts’ musical “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.”

In the Midwest, Chicago, Detroit and St. Louis all have long traditions of Thanksgiving Day parades. In addition to balloons and floats, the St. Louis parade features restored antique cars and fire trucks. This year, Detroit’s parade, which takes place along historic Woodward Avenue, will feature a Rosie the Riveter drill team, honoring women who worked in factories and shipyards during World War II. Chicago’s parade, created in 1934 to help lift the spirits of the city’s residents during the Great Depression, features more than a hundred units, including marching bands from across the country, floats, dance companies and equestrian teams.

For travelers who want to celebrate the holiday in a warmer climate, Charlotte, North Carolina, and Houston both have parades on Thanksgiving Day. Charlotte’s, which kicks off the city’s holiday season, includes dance and choral performances as well as more than a dozen marching bands. The Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden, about 30 minutes away, will be decorated for the holidays with thousands of lights and illuminated displays from Nov. 18 to New Year’s Day. In addition to balloons, floats and bands, Houston’s H-E-B Thanksgiving Day Parade is expected to have two Olympic medal winners as grand marshals – swimmer Simone Manuel and gymnast Simone Biles.

Seattle’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is part of a weekend of festivities. The Macy’s Holiday Parade takes place Nov. 25, the day after Thanksgiving. While the parade is in the morning, the evening offers up the lighting of the Macy’s Star along with a fireworks display. The day after Thanksgiving also marks the opening of Winterfest at the Seattle Center, with food, ice sculpting, family activities, concerts and seasonal décor. For some additional Christmas spirit, stop by Seattle’s Fairmont Olympic Hotel to see the Festival of Trees.

For help planning a Thanksgiving getaway, contact your travel agent.

Holiday Travel Planning for Procrastinators

Millions of Americans will be on the move between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, making it one of the busiest travel times of the year. That means most of those millions have already begun their travel planning, if not already booked their getaways. So if you’ve been thinking about a getaway before the end of 2016, you’ll want to act quickly or face either sold out flights or pay a premium.

To begin, you’ll want to explore where you’d like to go.

Perhaps you’d like to visit someplace you’ve never been, or maybe there’s an old favorite that you’ve been longing to revisit. This is the time to give free rein to your imagination and look at all the possibilities. Of course, you have a budget. But don’t rule anything out, even a trip abroad. A strong U.S. dollar may put that dream international destination within reach – and it could actually be less expensive to travel outside the United States than it might be to popular domestic destinations.

Think about your travel profile.

Are you the type of traveler whose ideal vacation is relaxing in one place ­— on a cruise ship or at a resort — or do you want something more active, a trip that includes recreational activities like hiking, biking, or boating? Are you in the mood for something secluded, or would you rather be amid the crowds. Shopping, museums, great food and culture, breathtaking scenery – the options are limitless. Maybe you’d like to mix it up this time, try the type of trip that you’ve never taken before.

Consider your companions.

The holidays are a time for families to get together, so this may be the year to think about a multigenerational trip. Travel Leaders Group surveys have noted an increased interest in parents, children and grandparents vacationing together. It’s a great way to celebrate, without the stress, and create some wonderful family memories. Or perhaps it’s just you and a significant other, and you’re dreaming about a romantic vacation, escaping to a tropical resort or historic European capital. Maybe you’re an intrepid solo traveler, looking for adventure and new experiences. Surveys show that more Americans are traveling alone, and there are many land tours and cruises that are ideal for single travelers.

Set a reasonable goal.

When exploring options for a trip, think about what you can reasonably see and do in the time you have available. It’s natural to want to spend as much time as possible at your destination. But if you’re taking vacation time, remember that you’ll want a day or two to recover when you get back before you have to return to work. Recovery time is especially important if your destination requires a long plane flight. So keep that in mind when planning your trip.

Of course, there are many other considerations to take into account when planning a trip even after you’ve picked a destination ­– from when to go, which flights to take, where to stay and what to do once you get there.

Thinking about all of the possible destinations, and the details that go into planning a trip, can be a bit overwhelming. For help with your plans, contact your travel agent. This travel expert can assist every step of the way, putting together a vacation that fits your budget and your dreams. 

Holiday Travel Checklist (Part 1): What to Do Before Getting to the Airport

That long-anticipated vacation over the holidays is almost here. While you’re getting ready for the big trip, keep these tips in mind.

Take care of the house.

Make arrangements to stop mail and newspaper delivery so that they don’t pile up in the mailbox or outside the front door. Contact your bank and credit card companies to let them know where you’ll be traveling so they don’t put a stop on your account if they see your card being used in an unfamiliar location.

Do a home inspection to make sure that all windows, doors and gates are securely locked and appliances are unplugged. Make sure anything you have out in the yard is secured or put away. Check the settings on heating systems to ensure that pipes don’t freeze if there’s a cold snap. Remember to put a lamp on a timer so that there’s a light on in the house at night.

Don’t forget to check-in for your flights 24 ahead of your scheduled departure. At this time, you can find out if better seats are available. Be sure to either print out your boarding passes or use the airline app to pull them up on your SmartPhone.

Finally, make sure that a neighbor or family member has your contact information in the event of an emergency.

Packing for the trip.

Packing light and layering should be the order of the day. Look at the weather forecast for your destination ­– daytime and nighttime. Lay everything out on the bed, think about how long you’ll be gone and what you really need, and put back one or two items. You can take that bulky jacket on the plane so it doesn’t take up space in your luggage. Wear shoes that you can remove easily at the security checkpoint. If you’ll be doing shopping or sightseeing, have a plan for bringing back souvenirs, whether it’s an extra bag or room in your luggage.

If you have gifts, think about sending them ahead. That’ll give you one less thing to carry through the airport. If you do bring gifts, try to keep them unwrapped until after you go through security because if further inspection is required, they’ll be opened by airport screeners.

Getting to the airport.

The big travel day has finally arrived! The night before, make a list of everything that needs to be checked before you leave for the airport. Make sure you haven’t forgotten medications or chargers for electronics.

If you’re traveling abroad, double check that you have your passport.

Do a last walk around the house to make sure everything is in order.

Finally, give yourself some breathing room. You’ll be among millionsof Americans traveling between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. That means there’ll be more traffic than usual on the route to the airport and once you get there, parking lots are more likely to be filled to capacity and security lines will almost certainly be longer. So allow yourself plenty of time to get to the airport – more than you think you’ll need. You’re so close to your vacation or time with your family that you don’t want to have any worries about getting to the plane on time.

For help planning a trip over the holidays – or any other time of year – contact your travel agent.

Holiday Travel Checklist (Part 2): What to Do After Arriving at the Airport

You made it to the airport with plenty of time to spare. Now there’s just one more hurdle before boarding the flight to your holiday getaway – getting you to the gate on time.

Last year, the industry group Airlines for America predicted that 38 million people would fly on U.S. carriers from the week before Christmas through New Year’s Day, and the figure has been climbing each year. That means a lot of travelers will be in the same position as you this holiday season – looking anxiously at the long lines for security screening.

Here are some tips for getting through security quickly. By doing your part to keep things moving, you’ll be a hero to everyone in line behind you.

When you arrive at the airport, check the departure screens to make sure that your flight is on time, and double check the gate from which you’ll be leaving. Things could have changed since you checked in for your flight the day before.

Don’t be surprised if you’re asked to do tasks yourself that used to be done by airline customer service representatives. For example, some carriers have passengers go to a kiosk to check – and possibly pay – for their checked bags and print out their own luggage tag before bringing it to the airline ticket counter to be loaded onto the plane.

If the security line to your gate looks long, ask a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) representative about alternate screening locations. Those locations may involve a longer walk to the gate but could be significantly less crowded. Weigh the pros and cons and decide which works best for you.

Remember that unless you have been pre-approved by TSA for expedited screening via TSA Precheck – those with TSA Precheck do not need to remove shoes or take laptop computers and liquids and gels out of their hand luggage – the standard screening requires passengers to remove coats, belts, shoes and metal objects, along with laptops and the 1-quart bag of 3.4-ounce liquids that’s allowed in carry-ons.

To save time and to be courteous to other travelers, be sure to take everything out of your pockets – coins, keys and phone – and place them in your carry-on before you even reach the screening line. The same goes for your belt. And don’t forget to empty beverages that you’ve left in your carry-on. (You can’t bring a bottle of water through the checkpoint but you can bring an empty bottle and fill it up once you’re through security.)

When you enter the security line, have your boarding pass and identification out and ready for inspection. Groups or family members traveling together should make sure that each individual is holding his or her ID and boarding pass. It slows down the process if the TSA official has to match each traveler with the right documents. If you’re traveling with small children, present your ID and boarding pass first, then the boarding pass for each child.

Finally, speaking of phones, it’s easy to get distracted by them when you’re waiting in a long line. When you get close to the front of the line, remember to look up and pay close attention to the instructions from TSA officials. That’ll help move everything along quickly and efficiently.

For help planning a trip over the holidays, or at any time of year, contact your travel agent.

Business Travel: Choosing the Right Credit Cards

If you’re a business traveler, you know that your credit card comes out of your wallet a lot ­­while you’re on the road – for transportation, hotels, meals and other incidental expenses.

And there’s a lot to think about when deciding which credit card is most appropriate for your own personal business travel. In addition to taking into account your own needs as a traveler, you also have to consider the travel suppliers such as airlines and hoteliers that your employer uses.

If you tend to fly to the same places on business, using the same airline and hotel for your trips, it may be worthwhile to select a card branded to a carrier or hotel chain, so that you can get the most out of those accumulated miles and points.

Remember that even if you’ve decided on a card tied to a specific brand, you’ll still find much to choose from. Delta, for example, has a number of credit-card options tied to airline miles.

Also, the cards from airlines and hotels come with other perks besides free flights and hotel stays.

Delta has credit cards that allow discounted or complimentary access to its airport Sky Clubs and partner lounges, as well as savings on in-flight purchases and free baggage check for the first bag. Depending on the card, Hilton Honors offers free high-speed Wi-Fi and room upgrades when available. Cardholders who charge a certain amount in a calendar year are eligible for a free weekend night at select hotels and resorts.

Some travelers tend to go to many different destinations on business trips, flying on different carriers and staying in a variety of hotels. They may find it difficult to get the full benefit from credit cards tied to a brand.

If this fits your business travel profile, you may want to choose a credit card that offers a wide variety of ways you can redeem points, such as transferring them to partner airlines and hotels. Cards that offer multiple points for money spent on travel and dining can be a great deal for business travelers, too. Some non-branded cards offer perks like an annual credit that can be applied to baggage fees or in-flight food purchases or partial reimbursement for in-flight Wi-Fi.

Other considerations include whether or not the card has an annual fee, and if you’ll be able to “make up” the fee in rewards during the year. Business travelers who take trips outside the United States may want to look for a card that doesn’t charge a transaction fee on foreign purchases.

It’s important to take a careful look at what each card offers ­– including reading the fine print – and think about what you’ll be really getting. How much do you have to charge in order to accumulate enough points for a reward that you can use? Credit cards usually include a sign-up bonus for charging a certain amount of money within the first 90 days. Make sure it’s a bonus that works for you.

For help planning your next business trip, contact your travel agent.

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