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The website My Little Nomads has an interesting write-up of “Thrilling and Amazing Travel Tips“. I agree with most but really should highlight a few.

13. Buy your own fruit. It sounds simple. It is simple. Just do it. You’ll love it. And I don’t mean, if there happens to be a fruit stand outside your hotel door you should buy some, because you need to have 9 servings a day. What I mean is, find fruit and buy it. Make it a daily task that you’re going to track down a fruit stand, a farmers’ market (they’re not just in San Francisco) and get some good fresh fruit. The entire process will expose you to elements of daily life you would have otherwise ignored. Trust me: You’ll have memories from your trips to buy fresh fruit.

It’s not just about buying fruit. You can learn a lot about a city and its neighborhoods by visiting a local market. In Paris, a visit to a neighborhood market had us stumble into one of the neatest little lunch places around. We found a line of ten people waiting for crepes at one particular stand. Where there’s a line, there’s something good. And oh, how right that was. Take some time, find a market or two and explore.

11. Do what you want to do. Don’t let someone else — or a guide book — decide. If you don’t want to see the Louvre then don’t see it. Do Paris or London or Rome the way you want to do it. I went through Cairo and didn’t see the pyramids. And while this isn’t a great example, seeing as I’ve regretted that egg-headed decision every day since it occurred — I can live with it. It makes it my trip and my memories and my damn stupid decision.

I think this one bears repeating. Do what you want to do. Not interested in spending sixteen hours in the Louvre? Don’t. Want to spend half a day at outdoor cafes enjoying the weather? Do it. I think people get way too caught up going through a guide book and trying to shove tons of things into everyday rather than focusing on what they want to do and see. Vacation should not be as stressful as work and part of that requires you taking the work mentality out of planning it.

Of all of the tips, the one I did not particularly agree with was:

7. Err on the side of inexpensive hotels. This goes against most travelers’ natural inclinations. We talk a good game above traveling frugally, but once we get on the road we tend to spend up a bit, and treat ourselves. And that’s fine. This rule isn’t about saving money. It’s about having an interesting trip and the more expensive a place is, the more likely it will have package tourists and people traveling on 7 or 14 day tickets. Nothing against these people but if you want to swap stories about taking a boat through the backwaters of Kerala, go with the cheap place. If you want to talk about who’s going to win the Superbowl this year then go with the package tourists.

I know plenty of people who stay at hostels and cheap hotels. That’s their prerogative. Just because I stay at a place that’s a little more expensive does not mean I want to talk about the Superbowl, it means I could possibly want a bigger bed or some amenity that that particular hotel has available. For me, hotels are about sleeping and being refreshed after a day exploring a city. I have found some cheaper hotels to be popular with college aged tourists who have no problem staying out until 3 or 4 in the morning and then bringing the party back to their room. I prefer to avoid that.

A few tips that I would add:

  1. Walk – Taxis, buses, and trains are necessary wherever you go, but when you can, try walking as many places as possible. You will be surprised what you come across that you would have otherwise missed in a cab.
  2. Travel Light – Carrying tons of stuff around a city is no fun for anyone. Manageable pieces of luggage for each traveler is a must. If you cannot pick up your luggage and carry it down a flight of stairs, you may want to reconsider what you are bringing on the trip.
  3. Keep Your Important Items Safe – You do not need your passport as you walk the streets of London. If the hotel has an in-room safe, use it. The goal is that if someone steals your purse or bag, you still have a way of getting home or getting cash. I lock up my laptop, my passport, and my debit card.

Those are my quick tips. Have any of your own? Feel free to leave them in the comments.

There are times I really doubt that businesses care about my concerns or praises. I am of the mindset that they are there to provide a service for a cost and as long as I receive that service, they have done their job. Sure, there are times that receiving a service is delayed or the result is not the one desired, but for the most part, things work out in the end. If I am not satisfied with a service provider, I will move to another one. A few recent events have me convinced that companies that focus on service quality along with final result quality deserve to be the winners and should be what all companies strive for.

One of our vehicles needed an oil change and I took it to our usual place. A few minutes after I walked in one of the attendants saw my vehicle, approached me, and very apologetically explained that the type of oil needed for the car was out of stock due to heavy demand over the weekend. He could have left it at that and I probably would have come back another day. Instead, he said, “we have another location, it’s a few miles away, but I can call them and make sure they have the oil in stock if you need it done today”. A phone call later and I was on my way to the other location. It took the attendant a total of five minutes to make my day a little easier. Some people may not want to drive further, but I needed the oil change before going out of town, so it was a welcome extra bit of service.

In an opposite example, a recent experience with Continental Airlines had to be resolved by going through outside channels, rather than having an issue resolved by the agents who created it. I had made a number of bookings for our Christmas trip and since I was not able to find availability to Miami to start it, I decided to focus my energy on refining another booking I had made From Austin to Boston to Munich. I had found better availability through Seattle and onward to Frankfurt and called in to make the change. The agent was helpful but said that there was no availability from Seattle to Frankfurt, even though I could see it. I asked to be transferred to the electronic support desk to see what the issue was.

The agent I was connected to was very helpful and quickly had a Lufthansa representative on the phone, trying to sort out the problem. Eventually, I was told that the Lufthansa representative was going to do some work on the ticket and that the Continental agent would add my new segments into my reservation to hold them while leaving my original segments intact. The helpful Continental agent also took my phone number, telling me she would give me a call on Monday and if I didn’t hear from her, to call back as my record had notations added explaining the issue.

Monday rolled around and I had not heard anything, so that afternoon I called Continental. The agent saw the notations and called Lufthansa again. This time, she assured me that they were working it out and after I convinced her that I did not want to fly business class to Berlin-Tegel and take the train to Dresden, she started to confirm my existing reservation. A few minutes later and my old flights had been removed and replaced with my desired flights, minus the segment that Lufthansa was working on. Again, she assured me that that flight would pop in whenever Lufthansa fixed it and that I was good to go.

Fast forward to Tuesday evening. Nothing had posted from Lufthansa and when I called back to Continental and asked for a supervisor, I was put on hold, then told they were contacting Lufthansa, and eventually hung up on. I called again later and received the same result. The result of all of this was me having a ticket from Austin to Seattle, then from Frankfurt to Dresden and that was it. Panicked, I contacted a corporate representative I know and while driving to meet up with Family on Wednesday I received a call from a Continental agent that my ticket had been fixed.

Why did it have to happen this way? Why was I required to go to a corporate contact, who I know has more important things going on? Why did the agents fail to shoot straight with me and end up leaving me with what amounted to a worthless ticket?

Will I stop flying Continental because of this one incident? No, but the entire incident was unnecessary and could have been avoided, saving me time and Continental resource hours. It came down to agents not wanting to put in the work required to fix the ticket and instead, passing me off to other agents, hoping someone else would figure it out.

I’ll leave you with one more positive example. While in Chicago I have been jumping around to different hotels on each stay. One week, I stayed at the Hyatt Regency. The room was nice and quiet, the only downside was that for some reason, the internet was not working. I tweeted about it and within an hour I had a reply from the Hyatt’s Twitter account. I was at work but when I returned to my room there was a phone message from a hotel manager, asking about my issue and when a good time would be for them to check it out. Needless to say, I will be staying at the Hyatt more often.

Is all of this to say that I want businesses constantly following up with each Twitter complaint? I am not even sure that’s feasible. There is only so much a person with a Twitter account can do. Writing in 140 characters is not the most fun, so getting on the phone with the customer or sending an e-mail is definitely a way of escalating an issue. No, what I want is service industries to be more service oriented. Even if delivering bad news, I want businesses to think about how they deliver such news and what they can do to turn a negative into a positive.

Some of these things are training issues, others are tied to the types of personalities your business hires. If you are just trying to put a body in a chair then you may just be doing it wrong. I do not need or require “bow to me” service, I simply desire respect, honesty with candor, and a clearly defined method of escalating issues. If your business nails those things, even without social media, it will be worlds ahead of the competition.

For the last year or so I have been using a North Face backpack to carry my laptop, Canon T2i DSLR, and small accessories. This has been sufficient but I am finding that I like to keep my camera put away until I want to take a picture, then return it to the bag. This helps make me less of a target for petty thieves and less of a tourist.

I have not had a lot of luck finding a replacement so I thought I would reach out to others for suggestions. My criteria are fairly simple:

  • Ability to hold a Canon T2i DSLR
  • Ability to hold a 13-inch laptop
  • Ability to hold a few accessories (mostly chargers, a notebook, etc.)
  • Rain cover provided or at least rain cover ready
  • A small footprint – I would rather it be more compact if possible

A nice to have feature would be the backpack’s ability to hold a single change of clothing on top of the items listed above. It’s not a necessity but would definitely be nice.

Any ideas?