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The One Thing You Need to Add into Your Phone Before Traveling Abroad

Looking up your destination’s emergency phone number isn’t a standard vacation-planning step. But the old adage of “it’s better to be safe than sorry” rings true —no one who finds themselves in an emergency situation abroad expects it to happen to them. We’re all familiar with 911 in the U.S., but what number do you dial when you’re in a foreign country? Emergency numbers around the world aren’t something you want to be trying to figure out in the midst of extreme danger.

It only takes a few minutes to find the number that may save your or someone else’s life, thus making it the one thing you should be adding to your phone before a trip abroad. Consider it part of your itinerary research process.

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Emergency Numbers Around the World

Here are some popular English-speaking destinations’ emergency numbers around the world, and how to find any other ones you need.

  • Australia uses 000, and New Zealand uses 111.
  • Canada and Mexico use the North American standard of 911, as do all American territories (Puerto Rico, American Samoa, U.S. Virgin Islands) and much of the Caribbean including Antigua & Barbuda, Aruba, the Bahamas, Bermuda, Bonaire, Belize, the Cayman Islands, the Dominican Republic, Grenada, Montserrat, St. Kitts, St. Lucia, St. Vincent, and Turks and Caicos.
  • The European Union has created a universal number of 112. Several non-E.U. countries in Europe, including Russia and Switzerland, have also adopted the 112 standard. Outside of the E.U., India also uses 112, as well as South Korea. However, in South Korea, use 1339 for medical emergencies; this number is specifically for foreigners in Seoul.
  • Jamaica uses 110 and 119.
  • The Philippines uses 166 and 177.
  • Japan uses two numbers: 119 (ambulance and fire) and 110 (police).
  • South Africa seems to be the only English-speaking country to use more than three digits: 10177 and 10111.
  • The United Kingdom uses both 999 and the 112 E.U. standard.
  • In Hong Kong, the emergency number is 999.
  • Brazil uses 190 for police, 192 for ambulance, and 193 for fire.
  • China uses 110 for police, 120 for ambulance, and 119 for fire.

In non-English-speaking countries, there’s no guarantee the operator will speak English. However, the Department of State provides a list of emergency numbers around the world (organized alphabetically)—and it’s a good idea to have your destination’s number saved regardless.

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Once you have the number for the country you’re visiting, take the time to store it in a place that’s easily accessible (such as your mobile device), but you should also remember it in case your phone isn’t readily available in an emergency. Even if you do have your phone handy, you’ll be able to dial the number faster if you know it by heart rather than fumbling through your contacts and wasting precious time. It only takes a minute, and it really is better to be safe than sorry.

As a back-up to the 911 equivalent, consider saving the nearest U.S. Embassy’s direct and/or emergency line into your contacts. This could be helpful in less urgent emergencies, like a lost passport or an evacuation situation—each of which could require official assistance.

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Editor Shannon McMahon is a former news reporter who writes about all things travel. Follow her on Instagram @shanmcmahon.

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2008. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

Categories
Road Trip Travel Technology

JumpSmart Review: Don’t Drive Without This Gadget

Things you should always keep in your car: a flashlight, a jump-starter, and a power bank. The JumpSmart combines these three things into one handy tool.

JumpSmart Review:

Price and Where to Buy: The JumpSmart is available on The Grommet or Limitless Innovations’ website for about $120.

[st_content_ad]How the JumpSmart Rates:

  • Usefulness: 10/10. This gadget can jump-start your car, give you light, and power up your phone.
  • Value: 7/10. The price is comparable to other jump-starters, and the JumpSmart can be used in three different ways.
  • Durability: 10/10. The JumpSmart can be recharged up to 1,000 times.
  • Portability: 10/10. You can leave the JumpSmart in your glove box and forget about it until you need it.

Final Verdict: Be prepared for anything on the road with the JumpSmart.

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Caroline Morse Teel is always on the hunt for the newest and best travel gear. Follow her on Instagram @TravelWithCaroline.

Editor’s Note: Reviews are based on usefulness, portability, durability, value, and “cool factor.” Some review products are sent to us free of charge and with no incentive to offer a favorable review. We offer our unbiased opinions, positive and negative, and will never accept compensation to review a product. If you have any questions or comments concerning our reviews or would like to suggest a product for review, please email us at editor@smartertravel.com.

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Adventure Travel Outdoors Road Trip

How to Score a Free Rental Car in New Zealand

“A free rental car in New Zealand?” I asked the Irish construction worker sitting across the room from me at my Queenstown hostel. “That doesn’t sound like a real thing.”

When my friend and I told him about our plans to bus from Queenstown to Picton, he suggested we drive. We told him we couldn’t afford a car, but he countered we could get one for free. Naturally, we were skeptical. Usually when the words “free” and “car” are together in one sentence, you’re either looking at a one-in-a-million shot or a total scam.

We hesitated to believe him, but it was worth looking into. On break from our semester abroad, we would spend the next week traveling through New Zealand’s South Island. This meant lots of bus tickets and one long ferry ride. As students, neither of us had the budget to pay for a rental car—but we could afford “free”.

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How I Got a Free Rental Car in New Zealand

Per that stranger’s advice, we typed Transfercar into the search engine and there it was—a website offering up free rental cars. Transfercar is a relocation service for rental car companies that need their vehicles to be sent elsewhere. Instead of paying for the cars to be towed where they’re needed, Transfercar finds travelers willing to take the car from one city to another.

Sound too good to be true? Here’s the catch: Drivers have to pick up the car and drop it off at its next destination by a designated day. For example, if you pick up a van in Queenstown on January 15, you have until January 19 to drop it off in Auckland—giving you just four days to drive all the way across New Zealand. The timeline given differs depending on each listing, and you can pay an extra $80 per day if you’d like a little more time to explore. You can also purchase insurance, which is well worth it when you consider how much you’re saving.

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In the Transfercar listings, each car offers different combinations of sizes, origins, and final destinations, which means you can’t be picky and will have to choose from what’s available. Some might say “two free days” or “four free days,” which simply denotes how much time the rental car gives you to deliver the car. Drivers must be over 18 and have a valid driver’s license, whether it’s for New Zealand or overseas. Gas is on your own dime, but most rental car companies don’t require that you return the car with a full tank—just in case you didn’t think you were saving enough money already.

When my friend and I arrived in Christchurch to pick up our car, we were surprised by how easy it was. After a bit of paperwork (which took no longer than that of a normal car rental) they gave us the keys. We had three days to deliver a black SUV from Christchurch to Nelson, which left plenty of time to drive through and explore parts of the South Island we never would have reached by bus.

With its sprawling mountains, breathtaking fjords, and rolling hills dotted with sleepy sheep, New Zealand was already a place too good to be true. Throw in a free rental car to explore it all? At this point, we were just being spoiled.

If you can be flexible, Transfercar is too good a deal to pass up. You can also look for other Transfercar options in Australia, Canada, and the U.S.

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Jamie Ditaranto is a writer and photographer who is always looking for her next adventure. Follow her on Twitter @jamieditaranto.

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Adventure Travel Road Trip

10 Great Motorcycle Routes, World Edition

While admittedly not for everybody, a motorcycle is a fine way to see the world. Traveling by motorcycle gives you the freedom to set your own pace in new territory and follow your whim when it takes you off the beaten path. Here are 10 of the world’s most legendary rides, ranging from open highways to rocky trails at the ends of the earth. Whether you do it on a Honda, a Royal Enfield, or a GS Boxer, one thing’s for sure: You’re not getting any younger. Get to it.

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Matt Jenkins is a former editor at Nature Conservancy magazine and the High Country News. He has written for The New York Times, Smithsonian magazine, Men’s Journal, and Saveur.

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Adventure Travel Cities Outdoors Road Trip

10 Europe Road Trips That Should Be on Your Bucket List

The next time you head to Europe, consider applying the classic American road trip formula to your vacation abroad. Hitting the road in Europe is a great way to get off the beaten tourist path and spontaneously discover small villages, regional cuisine, and friendly locals. And you’ll surely find plenty of roadside attractions (just maybe not a giant ball of twine). Here are 10 of the best road trip routes to try in Europe.

Romantic Road, Germany

[st_content_ad]The Romantic Road, or Romantische Strasse in German, is one of Germany’s most popular tourist routes. That’s because it gives visitors a taste of everything that makes the country idyllic: vineyards and the palace in Wurzburg, medieval towns like Rothenburg ob der Tauber, and the soaring Alps and fairytale-like Neuschwanstein Castle near Fussen. No matter what you like to do when you travel, there’s something for you along or just off the Romantic Road–from spa towns to fortified villages.

Length: About 240 miles.

Best Detour: From the southern-most point of the Romantic Road in Fussen, Germany’s highest peak, Zugspitze, is about an hour away.

Don’t Forget: Rothenburg ob der Tauber is home to the Kathe Wohlfahrt headquarters. Save room in your luggage for typical German holiday decor, like wooden incense smokers and handmade ornaments.

Bordeaux, France to Bilbao, Spain

For anyone who appreciates food, the drive between France and Spain from Biarritz to Bilbao is packed with Michelin-starred restaurants (several of which appear on the 2016 World’s 50 Best Restaurants list) and enough food variety to keep even the pickiest traveler satisfied.

Start in Bordeaux vineyards with a wine tasting course at Maison du Vin de Bordeaux before exploring the UNESCO World Heritage-listed city center. In Biarritz, it’s all about the beaches like Cote des Basques with Villa Belza, a 19th-century chateau as your backdrop. Dine at acclaimed Elkano in Getaria, near San Sebastian. Finish the trip in Bilbao with pintxos at Irrintzi.

Length: About 208 miles.

Best Detour: Axpe, Spain, is only about 20 minutes south from Durango off the main road between San Sebastian and Bilbao, but it’s worth it for a stop at Asador Etxebarri, where Basque barbeque meets ingredients from the sea in an unassuming village.

Don’t Forget: Make reservations in advance for restaurant heavy-hitters like Mugaritz in San Sebastian (Spain), or L’Impertinent in Biarritz (France).

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Normandy, France

The Normandy coast, best known for its role in the D-Day landings, is a must visit for history buffs. Begin the trip in Etretat for a walk along the white chalky cliffs with views of Natural sea arches. Seaside towns, in particular Honfleur and Trouville-sur-Mer, are worth a stop.

From this direction, Juno Beach is the first of the Operation Overlord beaches you’ll hit. About 50 miles of coastline separate it from Utah Beach. Other sobering points of interest include the artificial quays seen at low tide in Arromanches, the American Cemetery at Omaha Beach, and enormous shell craters at Pointe du Hoc.

Continue the trip on a more light-hearted note to Mont St. Michel (beware: tourist crowds are no joke) before heading inland to the tiny town of Camembert to sample lits the famed cheese of the same name. Finish the trip in Monet’s Giverny.

Length: About 430 miles.

Best Detour: Cross into Brittany from Normandy for a visit to St. Malo, about an hour from Mont St. Michel. The walled-in town was once a port for privateers and is now a short ferry ride from the Channel Islands.

Don’t Forget: In addition to cheese, the region is known for its cider and calvados, or apple brandy. If you don’t drive by a roadside stand or two, you may be in the wrong place.

Trollstigen National Tourist Route, Norway

Also known as the Troll’s Route, this mountain road, designated as one of Norway’s national tourist routes, affords drivers with views of mountains, waterfalls like the Seven Sisters, and the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Geirangerfjord.

Like any road trip, this one is best when you get out and explore the areas of the drive between Valldalen and Andalsnes. Get up close to the area’s waterfalls by kayaking Geirangerfjord. There are also several historic fjord farms, including Skagefla and Knivsfla.

Length: About 65 miles.

Best Detour: Dovrefjell-Sundalsfjella National Park, a protected alpine area, is home to reindeer, musk ox, and wolverines. Hiking and fishing, particularly for trout, are good reasons to stop.

Don’t Forget: Consider traveling in summer as you’ll have more daylight, which means more time to explore.

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High Alpine Road, Austria

The Grossglockner Hochalpenstrasse, or High Alpine Road, takes drivers through Hohe Tauren National Park in the eastern Alps with views of Austria’s highest mountain, Grossglockner, as well as Pasterze, the longest glacier in the country at about five miles.

Beyond the 36 hairpin turns, you’ll want to get out of the car for a hike to any of the alpine huts dotting the landscape, or go further into the national park for hikes like the easy five-mile round-trip trail to Stappitzer Lake.

Length: About 30 miles, or about 185 miles from Salzburg to Carinthia via Grossglockner.

Best Detour: From Grossglockner, it’s only about 2.5 hours onward to picturesque towns in the Dolomites, like Cortina d’ Ampezzo, or Bled, Slovenia, bordering Triglav National Park.

Don’t Forget: The road closes in early November and reopens in early May, with gates closing at nighttime during the season. Tickets cost 35 euro for a day pass or 41 euro round-trip per car. Electric vehicles and motorcycles receive a discount.

Athens to Olympia, Greece

While Greece’s islands usually hog the vacation spotlight, the mainland is the perfect place for countryside cruising. Start in Athens to explore the ruins (Acropolis, Parthenon, the Temple of Hephaestus, etc.) before hitting the road to the Laconia countryside.

Visit Sparta, the modern city believed to be the site of ancient Sparta, if only to pass through on your way to Mystras. The archeological site of medieval ruins sits among a breathtaking landscape and has the distinction of being on the UNESCO World Heritage list. Finish the trip in Olympia to take in the ruins of temples and the ancient Olympic Games before heading back to Athens.

Length: About 420 miles.

Best Detour: To add more seaside to your trip, head south to Cape Matapan (also known as Cape Tainaron), the southernmost point of mainland Greece. The drive is just over 60 miles from either Mystras or Sparta

Don’t Forget: The Museum of the Olive and Greek Olive Oil in Sparta is worth a stop for lovers of the Mediterranean fruit.

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Tuscany, Italy

Begin with a visit to Florence before packing up the wheels and taking off into the Tuscan countryside. The first stop is Orvieto, a hilltop town known for its Gothic cathedral, network of caves, and Classico wine. Leave your car at the bottom of the hill for free and head up tot he medieval town.

Make the trip a loop by taking in some of Italy’s less-visited coastal areas, starting with Talamone, a small fishing village with an ancient castle towering over it. From there, the beaches of Marina di Grosseto and the Riserva Naturale Scarlino in Follonica are worth stops. The area is known for its agriturismo, so look for farmhouse accommodations. Head back toward Florence with stops in Siena and Castellina in Chianti.

Length: About 340 miles.

Best Detour: Rome is less than 80 miles from Orvieto. As they say, when in (almost) Rome…

Don’t Forget: The unleaded gasoline in Italy is benzina verde. Don’t use gasolio or diesel unless you have a diesel rental car.

Ring of Kerry, Ireland

The Irish countryside is the ideal setting for a road trip any time of the year. The Ring of Kerry, a route circling the Iveragh Peninsula, gives you a variety with mountains and medieval villages, beaches and lakes. The chiseled coastline offers dramatic views, while cozy pubs along the way provide the perfect spot to pop in for a pint and wait out any inclement weather. (But don’t drink and drive, obviously.)

Get out for a walk along a stretch of the Kerry Way, a nearly 125-mile walking trail, and pay visit to Ross Castle and Rossbeigh Beach. Make your trip more relaxing by adding in extra overnight stops at the area’s bed and breakfasts, renowned for their hospitality.

Length: About 110 miles (add 80 miles for the drive from Shannon Airport to Killarney).

Best Detour: The Cliffs of Moher are about 115 miles north of Killarney. The cliffs stretch five miles and tower more than 700 feet above the Atlantic Ocean. From here, you can drive more of the Wild Atlantic Way to extend your trip.

Don’t Forget: Ireland is known for its unpredictable weather. Pack a raincoat and know that while the drive will inevitably be beautiful, you may not get crystal clear views for miles out to sea.

Transfagarasan Mountain Road/Highway, Romania

Made famous by Top Gear, Romania’s national road 7C or Transfagarasan Mountain Road takes you through the Fagaras Mountains, part of the Carpathian range. The maximum speed is 25 miles per hour to account for the hairpin turns and steep climbs.

Crossing viaducts and driving through tunnels, you’ll pass through the Arges River gorge and by Poenari Castle, infamous for its connection to Vlad the Impaler (the supposed inspiration for Count Dracula). Stick to 7C around Vidraru Lake, as it’s better maintained than the road going along the other side. Check road conditions before you plan your trip, as the road is usually closed from October to June.

Length: About 56 miles.

Best Detour: Bran Castle, commonly called Dracula’s Castle, is just over 60 miles from Cartisoara, at the northern point of the Transfagarasan Mountain Road. Add 10 extra miles if you head to Bran from the southern point of the road in Bascov.

Don’t Forget: Splurge on a rental car upgrade. Why not?

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Ring Road, Iceland

Route 1 circles the entire country of Iceland, thus its nickname–the Ring Road. Starting and ending in Reykjavik makes sense for most travelers flying into the country. Give yourself plenty of time for stopping and exploring the varying otherworldly landscape and dramatic fjords, like Eyjafjordur.

Volcanically active areas with lava fields, geysers, mud pools, and other geothermal features near Lake Myvatn in the north, contrast dramatically with the Vatnajokull ice cap in the southeast, making the case for Iceland’s name. In the west, just off Route 1, Thingvellir National Park (also a UNESCO World Heritage Site) shows another side of the islands with rocky outcrops and greenery surrounding traces of Vikings remains.

Length: About 830 miles.

Best Detour: The so-called Diamond Circle is about a 160-mile loop in the northern part of the country. Some of that overlaps Route 1, but get off it to see the coastal town of Husavik, canyon of Asbyrgi, and Dettifoss waterfall.

Don’t Forget: Rent a four-wheel drive vehicle so you can tackle any spontaneous trips off the main road.

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2016. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

Categories
Cities Road Trip

Europe Road Trip: 11 Things You Must Do Before Hitting the Road

Driving is driving no matter where you are, but you’ll want to make sure you take into consideration these 11 things before you get behind the wheel on your European road trip.

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Road Trip

The One Word You Must Know When Driving Abroad

In the mid-spring, I took a solo trip to the Alto Adige region of Italy, staying in a small town near Merano. The plan was to write, walk, drink wine, and spend the weekend in Cinque Terre. The plan went off without a hitch. Until my drive home.

Fueling up …

I had half a tank as I left Italy and headed back to Frankfurt on a beautiful Sunday morning. As I got closer to the Swiss border I considered my gas gauge. I had enough fuel to reach Switzerland, but I’d forgotten Swiss Francs and was worried I wouldn’t be able to pay with a credit card at a Swiss gas station.

So, still in Italy, I stopped at the next gas station. Unlike anywhere else I’ve driven in Europe, the Italian station had a pump labeled diesel, another called gasolio, and a third option that I immediately dismissed since it had no semblance to the Super and Super Plus, or 95 and 98 labels I was used to seeing. I picked up the gasolio nozzle, filled my car, and paid the attendant watching me pump.

… and breaking down

I was back on the road, about five kilometers from the station, when I stopped to pay a toll. As the gate lifted, I heard my car sputter. “No,” I whispered to myself. “No, no, no.”

I turned the key over again and again but the engine didn’t start. Drivers lined up behind me—in a panic, I managed to coax the car through the toll gate. Maybe I can make it to the side of the road, I thought hopefully. But I’d picked the toll gate farthest from the shoulder. The car sputtered again. “Nope, we’re stopping here,” I said to the car.

The power of charades

Heart racing, sweat coating my palms (and the steering wheel), I took a deep breath and planned my sprint across the toll plaza. Feeling like Frogger, I dodged between cars and trucks and managed to make it to the official-looking building perched alongside the toll plaza. But it was Sunday, and the doors were locked. I was close to despair when I noticed that one of the toll booths held an actual person. I ran up to it and knocked on the window, asking “Parla inglese?” “Do you speak English?” This was not an interaction I was going to be able to muddle through in poor Italian.

The man shook his head no, so I started gesturing toward my car. He picked up a phone and handed it to me. The voice on the other end shouted, in enthusiastic English, “10 minutes!” and then hung up.

I trotted back across the toll plaza, weaving between cars, put on a reflective safety vest, and stood beside my sad, broken Honda. After a few minutes a giant truck rumbled up, flashing a large arrow on its back to direct other cars around me. In broken English, the driver assured me that they were calling a tow truck while the passenger nodded along.

As I was trying to explain to them in hand signals that I probably just needed an oil change, the truth struck me. “Oh no. Gasolio isn’t gasoline,” I said. They looked at me blankly.

“Tomorrow is holiday. Nothing open. You will have to stay. And probably tomorrow, too,” the driver said.

“Don’t stay in Como,” the passenger added, making the money sign with his hands, referring to the Italian Lakes District town made famous to Americans by George Clooney.

Along for the ride

Before I could start planning an accidental-on-purpose run-in with Clooney, the tow truck showed up. Gesturing at my German license plate, the driver seemed to suggest that the garage owner spoke a bit of German. I felt a moment of relief; my German was better than my Italian.

After a short trip down the road, we reached the garage. The owner, clearly off duty in fitted jeans and leather moccasins, arrived with his wife. He took a look and in a mix of German and English explained, “It’s a holiday tomorrow.” I nodded, despair creeping into my expression. “Fünf Minuten, wait,” he said, and then drove off.

I looked around. The garage was surrounded by (closed) shops, forest, etc. “Where else am I going to go?” I laughed.

A family affair

The owner arrived back with reinforcements—his daughter, who spoke some English, and his mother, who seemed to be along for the ride. Soon after, his son—one of the garage’s mechanics—appeared seemingly out of nowhere. The son got straight to work, sniffing the gas cap and nodding, murmuring words. I caught “gasolio” and “benzina verde.”

I quickly Googled the term benzina verde—that mysterious third pump I’d dismissed as not-for-my-car was, in fact, unleaded gas. I smacked my forehead.

The owner and his son started ripping apart my car and draining my tank. I shook my head, mumbling to myself, “So stupid.”

“No, no,” said the daughter, overhearing me. “It happens.” But I had to wonder how often.

After draining the tank, they poured in some benzina verde and waited, as the engine smoked. Finally, we heard a sputter.

Hugs all around

After I paid and thanked everyone profusely, the emotional goodbyes commenced. I got a hug from the daughter and a kiss on both cheeks from the grandmother. Intoxicated by relief and the unexpected warmth of the family, I went to hug the shop owner … and was met with confusion until his daughter laughed and explained my intent. We settled for an awkward pat on the back.

As I began to drive away, the shop owner yelled after me directions to the next gas station, “links, zwei kilometer.” Left, two kilometers!

Fueling up in Switzerland after all

I crossed the Swiss border and there was the gas station. It, of course, had the familiar Super and Super Plus pumps. And it accepted euros.

All I could do was laugh. Alone in an isolated stretch of an unfamiliar country with a broken car—it was one of my worst travel nightmares. But I’d gotten through it. “What new nightmare will replace this?” I wondered. As I thought about it, I realized as long as I’m still able to walk on my own two feet, there’s no travel nightmare I can’t conquer.

I’m just better off Googling “gasoline” in the local language before getting to the pump.

Categories
Booking Strategy Budget Travel Family Travel Group Travel Money Road Trip Theme Park Weekend Getaways

Do AAA Travel Discounts Really Save You Money?

Most of us think of AAA for roadside service and perhaps for insurance. But AAA offers valuable travel discounts as well. Here’s how to take advantage of them for real savings.

AAA: The Beginning

The American Automobile Association was established in 1902 as a federation of motor clubs in North America. Automobile travel was just emerging in this country, and the goal of AAA was the promotion of a safe, efficient infrastructure to support it.

The organization became involved in almost every facet of automobile transportation, including road building and improvement, automotive education, safety, and–you guessed it–travel.  The “road trip” is a core part of the American experience thanks in part to the efforts of AAA.  Today, AAA is almost as much a part of life in North America as the road trip itself, with almost 56 million active members.

Joining AAA

It’s a little more difficult to join AAA than you might think because you aren’t joining AAA itself, but rather a regional club.  There are more than 50 of them, and each has its own structure and pricing. In general, membership fees range from $48 to $96.

Go with the lowest membership tier if you’re primarily interested in travel discounts. As an example, the “AAA Classic” tier is $56 in Northern California. To get started, go to the AAA website, and you’ll be automatically redirected to your local club.

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AAA Hotel Discounts

AAA hotel discounts can be very valuable, but you have to know where to look.

At goSeek.com, we hunts down AAA discounts for every hotel search. There are AAA rates available for a whopping 83 percent of hotels in North America. That’s impressive. But AAA only beats all other discounts 13 percent of the time. Not quite as impressive. Nonrefundable rates, coupon rates, and smartphone-specific rates often deliver better prices.

So where can you find those winning AAA rates? Specific hotel brands, to start. AAA discounts are almost always the best you’ll find for Choice Hotels. Same story with MarriottBest Western also has a competitive AAA discount.

In big cities, you may also find one or two independent hotels that will offer particularly good AAA discounts to attract guests.  You’ll also find your AAA card more useful in small towns than in big cities.  Small towns simply have fewer hotel choices and are more likely to have the brands listed above. In big cities, there are hotels everywhere competing to get you to stay with them, and that means more discounts of different types.

The good news is that when you do find that great AAA discount that beats all the others, it will save you on average 20 percent off the published rate for the hotel. That’s a hefty discount, and the dollar savings often pays for the price of membership if you don’t happen to be one.

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AAA Rental Car Discounts

AAA car rental discounts are valuable as well, but there’s a trick to finding the very lowest rates.

Hertz offers AAA exclusive discounts. If you’re a fan of Hertz, it almost always makes sense to check AAA rates as part of your booking process.  There are discounts of up to 20 percent off the published rate, plus a free rental day, as well as free car seats, GPS, and additional drivers.  The benefits are impressive.  That said, Hertz prices are generally above those of other car rental brands even after a 20 percent discount.

If you’re looking for the lowest per day price for your car rental, you’ll have to learn a special trick. First, go to the AAA car rental search page and run a search. You’ll see results from Hertz. Now scroll down until you see a blue button in the bottom right that says, “See More Cars.”  Click that. Suddenly, you’ll see prices from Dollar, Thrifty, and Alamo.  You want to pay attention to Dollar and Thrifty. They are owned by Hertz, but aren’t “premium” car rental brands. They have lower prices. Even better, AAA knocks 10 percent off their published rates. You’ll find that their prices–after the AAA discount–will be some of the lowest on the market.

Who Most Benefits from AAA?

If you’re a frequent traveler, it makes sense to have a AAA membership.  The savings on your hotel and car rental can more than pay for the price of your membership.  You’ll not only get the travel discounts but free roadside assistance as well, along with all the other AAA benefits.

As a last tip, do make sure to always carry your AAA card. Hotels and car rental agencies will ask to see it in order to apply your discount. And it’s a good idea in general to carry it with you.  You never know if a local attraction, restaurant, or shop might offer a AAA discount as well.

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Airport Booking Strategy Holiday Travel

Independence Day Travel Forecast: Crowds, Crowds, and More Crowds

Looking to avoid the holiday crowds? Then plan on staying close to home this Independence Day weekend, because record numbers of Americans will be clogging the nation’s highways and airport security checkpoints.

According to AAA’s just-released forecast, 42.9 million Americans will travel at least 50 miles from home over the extended July 4th weekend, between June 30 and July 4. That’s an increase of 1.9 percent over last year’s numbers, and the most since AAA began tracking holiday travel.

Of those traveling, 85 percent will be road-tripping, and 8 percent will be flying.

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In addition to a moderately healthy economy, AAA credits the low cost of gas for the expected 1.2 percent increase in car trips. The average price for a gallon of gas now sits at $2.31, 47 cents less than last year.

Airfares are also down year-over-year, with the average roundtrip ticket priced at $207, a 9 percent decrease. Hotel rates are down as well, but only slightly, and rental-car rates are up 9 percent, to $75 a day.

And because the report is sponsored by AAA, there’s even a prediction for roadside-assistance requests: 370,000, mostly for dead batteries, lockouts, and flat tires.

Just in case you needed a few more reasons to celebrate Independence Day by chilling and grilling at home…

Reader Reality Check

What’s your plan for the July 4th weekend?

More from SmarterTravel:

After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

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Categories
Booking Strategy Budget Travel Miscellany Passenger Rights Road Trip Travel Scams

7 Worst Car Rental Rip-Offs and How to Beat Them

Just about every segment of the travel industry is rife with rip-offs, but the folks who rent cars have risen gouging to an art form. The worst rip-offs are the extras that you often need for your trip and can’t obtain through alternative sources. Other bad ones include unconscionably high prices for options that you can avoid and various fees that are added onto base rates rather than included as they should be.

Fortunately, there are work-arounds that will allow you to bypass most of these rip-offs. But you have to be careful—car-rental providers want to overcharge you whenever they can. Here are seven ways to beat them at their own game.

Categories
Frequent Flyer Money

10 Hidden Car Rental Fees (and How to Avoid Them)

Unlike airfares, for which airlines now have to disclose taxes and fees up front, car-rental companies can still bury extra costs in the fine print, leaving you with serious sticker shock at the checkout desk. Read on for the scoop about 10 such hidden fees—and how to avoid the worst of them.

Airport Fee: The most convenient place to pick up a rental car is oftentimes at the airport—but it will cost you. Car-rental companies have to pay a “concession fee” to the airport in order to operate near it, and they pass those fees on to the consumer. Avoid the charge by picking up your car at a location a bit farther out, but make sure you either find one with a free shuttle or price how much it will cost you to take public transportation or a taxi to a different location—the price difference might not be worth it.

Under 25 Penalty: If you’re a quarter of a century old or less, you’ll have to pay big to rent a car. In the past, most car-rental companies wouldn’t even lease to drivers under 25. Most places have relaxed the restrictions and now rent to anyone 21 or older—but then slap young drivers with a big surcharge. So if you’re under 25, be prepared to pay a daily fee of around $25 (or more) per day. Some individual car-rental offices will waive the surcharge, so your best bet is to call around and compare prices before booking. (Read more about renting a car under age 25 here.)

Fuel Charge: Better top off the tank before you return that rental car—otherwise you’ll get hit with a “refueling fee,” which includes the cost of gasoline and a hefty “convenience” charge. According to The Consumerist, some rental companies are charging over $9 per gallon in fees! Make sure you note how much gasoline was in the tank when you picked up the car, and then swing by a gas station on your way to return the vehicle.

Collision Damage Waiver: If you get in an accident with your rental car, you can be liable for an extremely high insurance deductible—sometimes thousands of dollars. So, rental car companies try to sell you the Collision Damage Waiver (CDW) for an extra fee (usually around $20 per day). However, most credit-card companies already offer automatic zero-deductible collision coverage, so check your policy before shelling out for the rental car’s extra coverage.

Extra Driver: Planning on splitting the driving? Be prepared to pay more, as many rental companies charge a fee for an extra driver—and that doesn’t even include adding the second person to the insurance waiver, which can be another fee. You’ll have to bite the bullet on this one, however, because if you get into an accident when a nonauthorized driver is driving, you might not be covered under insurance. You can also shop around for rental companies that don’t charge extra for a second driver, as not all companies do. (Many major companies also waive the fee if the extra driver is the primary driver’s spouse or partner.)

Early Return Fee: Everyone knows you can expect to be fined for returning a car late, but did you know you can also be charged for returning a car early? Some rental-car companies will charge you for “breaking your contract” by returning the car early or say that any discount you got for booking a car for multiple days was voided by returning the car early. DailyFinance.com has a clever solution to the problem, saying that you could park your car nearby and then later call for roadside assistance to tow the rental car back to the company.

Stadium Tax: Surprised to see a “downtown arena” or “stadium tax” charge on your bill when you’re not planning on going anywhere near a sports center? Many counties have laws that add taxes to fund stadiums to rental-car prices, forcing visitors to fund something they aren’t going to use. The car-rental companies just tack the required fee right onto the bill, and there’s no way to get out of it.

Frequent-Flyer Fee: Major car-rental agencies are now charging consumers who want to use the car to earn airline miles. (Many airlines give customers points for renting with partnered companies.) Find out how much the fee will be and then consider if the miles you’ll earn will be worth the cost—or if you’ll actually be losing money on the deal.

Online Travel Agent (OTA) Insurance: If you book a car through an OTA like Expedia, the website is going to try and sell you its own rental-car insurance. But odds are you don’t need it, and it’s usually pricier than regular insurance. Again, check your credit card as well as any existing auto insurance that you have to see if you’re covered before signing up for what the OTA is offering. Also, you should carefully read the terms of the policy offered by the OTA—SmartMoney reports on an incident where a consumer rented a car from Expedia and opted for the insurance through them, only to find out when she picked up the car that the type of car she was renting was not covered by the policy Expedia had sold her.

Vehicle Licensing Fee: Also known as a VLF or Road Tax, this is another unavoidable charge. If you’re renting a car in Europe, you’ll often see a fee of around $5 per day on your bill—it’s the rental-car company passing along the cost of vehicle permits and taxes to the consumer.

What’s the sneakiest rental car fee you’ve ever been charged? Tell us in the comments!

 

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Categories
Family Travel Road Trip

Tips for a Safe Holiday Road Trip

Before you go over the hills and into the woods, here are a few helpful tips to make your holiday drive a safe and enjoyable experience.

  • Getting caught in a storm is a nightmare, but you can feel safer by preparing a winter emergency kit for your car, which includes a sandbag, shovel, blanket, first-aid kit, flares, flashlight, waterproof matches, chains, food, and water.
  • On a similar note, be sure that your car is equipped with a spare tire and jumper cables.
  • It’s important that your vehicle is in tip-top shape before you hit the (possibly icy) roads. Make sure to get the oil changed, add snow tires, and have a complete run-through of brakes, ignition, and battery systems.
  • Check the interstate weather forecast on weather.com to avoid any possibly dangerous storms on your travel route.
  • Get roadside assistance such as AAA for emergencies, and program the number into your cell phone. This way if you do require towing or a jumpstart, you have somewhere to turn.
  • If you’re worried about the price of gas, you can calculate the cost online before you leave.
  • Slow down and be alert. Make sure that you are well rested and that you keep a steady pace, so you arrive at grandmother’s house in one piece.

Do you have more tips on how to prepare for a holiday road trip? Share your suggestions by submitting a comment below!

Categories
Senior Travel

What travel perks come with club memberships?

Everyone knows AAA provides roadside assistance, but that’s just scratching the surface of what your membership includes. Here’s a quick look at what travel benefits are available to you with AAA, as well as a few other popular associations.

AAA

Use your AAA card to get discounted hotel room rates (Best Western and Choice Hotels have plentiful discounts in this area), cruises, and car rentals; point-to-point driving directions and roadside maps; travel-planning assistance and recommendations; pet tips; and more. You can also get deals for national park tours, as well as savings at partner retailers around the country.

Diners Club

A Diners Club credit card has a smorgasbord of travel benefits, including points-earning and redemption for frequent flyer miles or merchandise, access to exclusive airport lounges, supplemental travel accident insurance, and roadside assistance. The company also provides emergency services including passport replacement, doctor and pharmacy referrals, and medical transportation assistance.

Military, academic, senior citizens

Certain demographics and professions get special treatment, such as active military members, veterans, teachers, students, and senior citizens. Hotels, bed and breakfasts, car rental companies, and other providers may offer a discount to these and other groups. In the past, I’ve seen 10 percent off deals at B&Bs for military members, 5 percent off Canadian car rentals for senior citizens, and the like. Check the travel company’s website for specific discount details, or call your preferred provider and inquire if such deals are currently available.

Have a great travel tip you’d like to share? Send your insider travel strategies to editor@smartertravel.com.