Travel tips and secrets

Trip Start Jan 30, 2007
Trip End Dec 31, 2011

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Flag of France  , Île-de-France,
Monday, March 2, 2009

Over the past year, Travel + Leisure magazine's editors and correspondents have scoured the globe to unearth the best undiscovered tips and tools for travelling smarter, faster, safer and more affordably. Whether you're trying to identify the perfect seat on a plane or snare a top table at a restaurant, you'll find all the right solutions in our guide.

1. Request extras with your room

If you're booking several nights at a quiet time of year - or if you regularly visit one particular property - a hotel will often be willing to include some extra services (spa treatments, meals, transportation from the airport and other perks) in the price of your room. The Hotel Hana-Maui (+1 808 248 8211;; doubles from $495), a Travel + Leisure World's Best Award winner, has recently informally offered guests planning to stay five nights or more in a standard room a dinner for two at Kauiki, its seafood restaurant, plus a massage (a $400 value). Emmalani Park, the hotel's head of reservations, says the best approach is to speak to a manager or a sales or marketing agent before you arrive: "Both can be more flexible than reservation agents."

2. Pack these security-friendly hotel amenities

Fiddling around, decanting your favourite hair and body products into security approved mini containers is a thing of the past with some of our favourite hotels around the world stocking high-quality products in containers which meet the new Department of Transport regulations (100ml/grams or under). Typically, in a standard room, bathroom products are 35ml and 75ml in suites. Sydney's Observatory stocks L'Occitane while the Hilton Hotels, domestically and internationally, have a range of especially created Crabtree and Evelyn products which are part of their La Source range. At Christchurch's Spire all rooms have 75ml New Zealand-made Evolu products which include a moisturiser with sunblock. In London the Connaught, Claridges and Berkeley all stock Asprey, while in the US all Ritz-Carlton properties have Bulgari bathroom treats.

3. Test the waters with a one-way cruise

"Repositioning cruises" used to be the only way to find a deal on a luxury cruise. When the weather changes seasonally the cruise ships move their ships from the Mediterranean in summer to warmer Caribbean waters in the winter and similarly from Alaska to the Caribbean. Rather than sail with an empty ship the cruises are discounted to encourage passengers to join these "repositioning" journeys. But as companies expand their itineraries across the globe one-way cruises have become a new way for passengers to experience life on the high seas for less. Holland America and Carnival Cruises are both lines that offer one-way routes from Vancouver to Alaska in seven days. Meanwhile Majestic America has a one-way cruise from Juneau, in Alaska, to Seattle. Holland America also offers travellers the option of taking one leg of their Grand World Voyage cruise, which lasts 117 nights and includes 39 ports on five continents. Depending on where you join the cruise you can buy a single leg ranging from 22 to 69 nights. In 2009 and 2010 the cruises depart in January and through Travel the World (1300 857437; legs start from $5428 while the full cruise starts from $26,229.

4. City secret: London

Spend the $4 deposit on a visitor's Oyster card at any tube or bus station and save up to 50 per cent on your daily fares. There is a built-in capping system so the most you can ever spend in a day on Central London public transport is $13. Children under 16 travel free on trams and buses.

5. Seek out the best seats on board

The distance between rows of seats (known as pitch and still calculated in inches in the airline industry) varies from plane to plane and even between rows. In general domestic carriers, the pitch for seats is between 30-33 inches while exit rows range from 37-39 inches. But how much of a difference does a few inches make? With 31 inches, a 183cm tall person's knee would touch the seat in front of him; with 34 inches he could put a hard cover book in his seat pocket without his knees touching; and with 36 inches he could get up from a window seat and walk to the aisle without disturbing the person next to him. Exit rows can vary within the same aircraft. When they are aligned one right after another the front exit-row seats will not recline. For more information on seat pitches and configurations for most carriers visit or check out the airline websites.

6. How to snag a prized table

T+L US contributing editor and restaurant guru Anya von Bremzen has two time-honoured tips: 1) Show up a half-hour prior to your desired seating to catch any cancellations; and 2) send a fax or email, a strategy known to work at even the most popular spots such as El Bulli, in Spain (+34 97 215 0457; fax: +34 97 215 0717; Here are suggestions from reservationists at three other hard-to-book restaurants: L'ASTRANCE, PARIS "Two months before the date you desire, call at precisely 10am. Try to get on the waiting list, as we limit it to three parties; so if you make it onto the list, there's a realistic chance of getting a table." 4 Rue Beethoven, 16th Arr.; +33 1 40 50 84 40; dinner for two $581.

BABBO, NEW YORK "Call at 10 am one month ahead of the date you want. And for a last-minute booking, try 9pm the night before, or after 3pm the day of." 110 Waverly Place; +1 212 777 0303; dinner for two $120. FRENCH LAUNDRY, NAPA VALLEY "We're open seven days, so call on the weekend, not during the week. Also, try - we usually release two tables (one seats two, the other four) on a daily basis to the website." 6640 Washington St., Yountville; +1 707 944 2380; dinner for two $480.

7. How to dial emergency abroad

Emergencies can happen any time, any place. Be prepared when travelling by knowing the right number to call for help.

All EU countries 112

Australia 000

Canada US 911

Hong Kong 999

Japan 119

Thailand 191

Argentina 911

Mexico 060

Israel 100

New Zealand 111

Switzerland 144

Vanuatu 112

8. Late-closing Museums

Increasingly museums in Australasia, adopting a successful overseas trend, are opening their doors outside their normal hours allowing visitors to beat the crowds and visit popular exhibitions when most people have gone home. Melbourne's NGV Australia (03 8620 222; is open on Thursdays until 9pm while Sydney's Art Gallery of NSW (02 9225 1740; has "Art After Hours" on Wednesday evenings. Visitors can enjoy talks and films about current exhibitions and the galleries remain open until 9pm. At the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra (02 6240 6411; it is worth ringing in advance to check if they have any late-night viewings as they change depending on the exhibitions on show. At Wellington's National Museum of New Zealand Te Papa (+64 4 381 7000; there is late opening until 9pm every Thursday. It is also open every day of the year including Christmas Day with public holidays often a time when you can have the galleries to yourself.

9. Kiwi hotel ratings

New Zealand does not use a star rating system for its hotels but rather uses Qualmark ( which is an independently assessed agency backed by Tourism New Zealand. It rates all types of accommodation from backpacker lodges to the most exclusive properties. Qualmark's user-friendly website allows you to pick locations and specify the standard and type of accommodation you want.

10. Watch out for the water

Flight attendants begin most flights serving bottled water, but if they turn to the plane's onboard tanks, there may be cause for concern. According to the most recent available US study, one out of every six planes had coliform bacteria in its water tanks. Since 2004, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has ordered 46 domestic airlines in the US to regularly flush, disinfect and test their water systems. Richard Naylor, the EPA's aircraft drinking water rule manager, suggests that concerned passengers avoid drinking coffee or tea on board (water may not reach a cleansing boil). T+L tip: Also avoid using bathroom tap water (use wipes or mouthwash). Opting for canned drinks or stocking up on water after clearing security may be the answer.

11. Country secret: Japan

Sick of lugging heavy bags, along with weighty, shopping purchases, as you get off innumerable trains in the land of the rising sun? Help is at hand. Japan's network of eminently reliable courier van services, such as Nippon Express and Black Cat, can relieve you of your burden for as little as $20. Most hotel staff can easily organise a courier for you, with your items, including pieces of luggage or cartons, waiting for you at your desired Japanese destination within a day or two.

12. How flat is flat

Many airlines have introduced "lie-flat" or "flat-bed" seats in their business and first class cabins, but don't assume that "flat" translates to horizontal. For in-depth analysis of airline seats on a range of carriers, turn to, an industry watchdog site that ranks seats on factors such as configuration, width, cushion comfort, privacy, massage options and more. FlatSeats' data comes from Skytrax, a UK-based airline consultancy whose employees spend an average of 65 hours in the air per week. (Their top flat-seat picks? British Airways, South African Airways and Virgin Atlantic.)

163 degrees - Aer Lingus

169 degrees - El Al

170 degrees - Continental, Japan Airlines

171 degrees - American, Lufthansa

175 degrees - Air France, Qantas

180 degrees - Air Canada, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Delta, Emirates, Jet Airways, Qatar, Singapore, South African, United, Virgin.
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