8 Holiday Gift Ideas for Female Travelers

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Flickr Creative Commons photo / nathanmac87

Have a gal pal or relative who loves to travel on your holiday shopping list? Get her a gift that helps her along her journey.

While gift guides might feature items that seem out of your price range or too high tech or fancy, there are tried and true gifts that can suit any female traveler. They’re even safe bets if you don’t know where she’s heading next. As a help, I put together a number of gift ideas involving general products that can be bought through multiple vendors and easy to find in-store or online. Here are eight recommendations to get you started.

Portable battery chargers
A traveler’s phone is her personal assistant, her Gal Friday. It’s her go-to for getting directions, picture taking, private messaging, calendar scheduling, or acting an overall point of contact. And the more she uses her phone, the more the battery decreases. Plus, finding an accessible plug can sometimes be a journey in itself. So, it’s a godsend to have a readily charger on hand to plug in your phone and keep on going.

File hosting services/external hard drives
Back again to our phones, travelers often like to take photos, but eventually they run out of space. Or even the memory card on our digital camera has its limits. Thanks to online storage sites like Dropbox, users can file their pictures away and avoid having to delete them. Basic level accounts are free (I know so for Dropbox) but if you need more space, you have to pay. So having a paid subscription can be a load off your traveler’s mind. If your gift recipient is a bit tech savvy, an external hard drive is also a good way to have your friend’s back when she’s backing up her photos (forgive the bad humor).

Outlet adapters
Outside of the United States, electrical outlets take on a different meaning. Particularly in how they’re fitted. If you don’t know already, voltage overseas can vary. So, unless you/your traveling friend already knows this, plugs that can be easily fit into a wall socket here might not do so in Europe, Asia, or the South Pacific. The solution: outlet adapters. A decade ago, I bought a multi-pack of adapters from TravelSmart that still works well. I just take out which one(s) I would need for my destination.

Gift cards at major retailers
Yes, gift cards can seem kind of lame, but they are a big help in providing funds for  what a traveler needs or wants. And you’ll know it’s one gift that’s not going to waste. Outdoorsy girls might shop at REI or Patagonia, so perhaps she can get some new gear. If she’s always picking up a guidebook or loves reading travel memoirs, Barnes & Noble or Amazon is a sure thing. And if beauty buys are essential, Sephora has a nice selection of travel-sized products.

Magazine/newspaper subscriptions
Travelers like to keep up with what’s going on the world. So buy them a yearlong subscription to their favorite publication or perhaps one they might enjoy reading. While print has gotten some hard knocks, a number of travel magazines – AFAR, Lonely Planet, Conde Nast, Travel & Leisure, and Food & Wine – are still rolling off the presses. Publications are also building up their online presence, so a web subscription (think The New York Times or Boston Globe) could come in handy. Even periodicals like Food & Wine and Bon Appetit are delving more into travel-related topics.

Anti-theft devices
Of course, a traveler’s parents will worry about her safety. So give her a token that will give you – and her – piece of mind. In terms of availability and selection, the market in anti-theft products is definitely on the rise. For starters, you can find pickpocket proof clothing, security padlocks and bags that can be worn across your front. Ask her what might like most (you might find a money belt to be helpful; she may not) and then go with her decision. Try PacSafe for bags and Clothing Arts or The Clever Travel Companion for garments.

Her favorite (and TSA friendly) snacks
Buying food at the airport is expensive (we’re talking $4 for a yogurt). And now, we’re feeling additional wallet pain on board our flights, as included meals are changing over to ones we have to pay for! However, we can still bring a few pre-packaged snacks — even through airport security — to tie us over. If your friend is a fan of nutrition bars, perhaps get her a box or two of her faves to munch on. Candy is cool too. And a bag of specialty pretzels or chips will go quickly.

Girlie products
We ladies know that during certain times of month we have to prepare for a special visitor. Our choice of products in this area has become quite “advanced,” so to speak. They’re definitely beyond what you’ll find in the drugstore aisle. Aside from traditional pads and tampon packs, what’s trending (and working) are menstrual cups and period-centered undergarments like THINK and PantyProp. Though I have to admit that this kind of gift is probably best exchanged between serious BFs.

Let us know what you’re giving to the travelers in your life.

2016 Black Friday and Cyber Monday Travel Deals

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Photo courtesy of Friendly Planet Travel

Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales are not just about TV sets, clothes, toys and home appliances. Travel deals are also up for grabs, and all that’s needed is a solid Internet connection (and maybe an alarm setting).

I did some Google searching and found some great Black Friday/Cyber Monday travel deals that might be too good to pass up. I’ll add any new announcements as they come up. So go ahead and take a look.

Tour Companies

G Adventures is offering number of deals on their sailing, active, rail and wildlife adventures, and more, with their cyber sale starting from 12:00 a.m. EST Friday, November 25 through 11:59 p.m. EST Monday, November 28.

From now through December 2, 2016, Contiki is taking 30 percent off of trips to destinations in Europe, Asia, U.S./Canada, Latin America, Australia and New Zealand for travel now through December 31, 2017. Also during November, Millennial travelers can save 15 percent on select trips with promo code, BLACKNOVEMBER.

Gate 1 Travel is having its annual Black Friday sale November 23-25. All Gate 1 Travel, Discovery Tours and Signature Collection packages will be discounted at that time. Customers can book online using the promo code on new bookings only all three days or by calling 1-800-682-3333 on November 23 and November 25. Limit one promo code per reservation.

Here is a list of Gate 1 Travel’s Black Friday deals:

  • Spend $500 or more and receive $50 off with the promo code BKFY50
  • Spend $1,000 or more and receive $100 off with the promo code BKFY100
  • Spend $2,000 or more and receive $250 off with the promo code BKFY250
  • Spend $4,000 or more and receive $500 off with the promo code BKFY500
  • Spend $10,000 or more and receive $1,000 off with the promo code BKFY1000
  • Spend $20,000 or more and receive $2,500 off with the promo code BKFY2500

Friendly Planet Travel is having a Cyber Monday sale with savings up to $1,110 per person (or $1,400 per couple) on 60-plus international tours and packages. Destinations include Cuba, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Ecuador, Dubai, South Africa, Iceland, Prague, Myanmar, Cambodia, and New Zealand. The sale starts at 12 a.m. ET on Monday, November 28 and lasts 48 hours.

Go Ahead Tours is having Black Friday savings of up to $600 per person on all their tours, with this promotion valid from Friday, November 25 through Sunday, November 27. Only on Black Friday, from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m., “morning doorbuster” specials will let travelers customize their experience with either getting $75 off an excursion or $125 off a tour excursion. As for Cyber Monday, travelers can still save up to 25 percent off all tours when they book online at Go Ahead Tours’ website.

Intrepid Tours is having a Cyber Monday sale from now until Monday, November 28. Get 15 percent off an adventure departing between January 15 – June 30, 2017.

Hotels

Marriott is having a four-day cyber sale from Friday, November 25 through Monday, November 28 and is said to offer savings on staying in various destinations within the U.S. and other countries.

IHG is putting on a cyber week sale from Monday, November 28, starting at 8 a.m. through Friday, December 2, at 8 p.m. ET, featuring discounts on hotel stays and special IHG Rewards Club point offers.

NYAH, Key West is having a Cyber Monday special offer of $129/night. Valid travel dates run from May 1 through September 30, 2017; Minimum two-night stay required. The special is for the NYAH 4-single bedroom type only; blackout dates apply. Use promo code CYBER upon booking.

Lark Hotels  is having Cyber Monday specials for 25 percent off stays at their Stowe, Vermont property, Field Guide, from March 1 through July 31, 2017. The deal includes plus one beer per guest and an appetizer to share at onsite restaurant, Picnic Social. Visit www.fieldguidestowe.com and add the code CYBER upon booking.

Search Engines

Travelocity is having a Cyber Monday sale on Monday, November 28, with up to 75 percent off savings on select hotels.

Orbitz is holding a Cyber Week with travel deals between Black Friday and Cyber Monday, with discounts on hotels and specials on flights and hotel/flight packages.

Airlines

American Airlines is having a Black Friday sale with a variety of vacation destinations to choose from. Book now through November 28, 2016, and enter promo code BLACKFRIDAY for travel now through September 30, 2017. A minimum spend of $1,300 is required.

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What I’m Thankful For as A Traveler

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Creative Commons photo / credit cea+

Recently, for an assignment, I compiled a list on what travelers should be thankful for, and it got me thinking more about the subject. And with Thanksgiving right around the corner, I wanted to take some time to reflect on what as a traveler I feel most grateful about.

Here are my five examples.

  1. Ride sharing services. I was skeptical of using Uber for a long while, and didn’t sign up for it until this summer. Mainly it was because while I’m in New York City, my transportation options are plenty. In other places, it’s a different story. Two assignments this year took me to cities where spotting a cab was a challenge or not even possible. Plus what I like about Uber is that I can see who’s coming to pick me up (I’ve had drivers pulling over, claiming to be my ride, when they weren’t) and get an estimated rate.
  2. Free or discounted museum admission. I love visiting museums – even planning time for them in my trips – but after a while their price of admission can eat through my budget. So I appreciate museums and other public attractions that don’t cost a thing to see, or even have pay as you wish options. There are also ones that offer free days or evenings to state residents (like ones in Chicago such as the Field Museum) or extend these offerings to everyone (my favorite is NYC’s Museum of Modern Art’s free Friday nights.)
  3. Third-party search engines. Flying can get expensive, but we’re got some outside options. Thanks to sites like Google Flights, Travelocity, Orbitz, and Expedia, we can search for rates on flights and most likely get a price break on costs. For example, this summer, I used one site for booking my return flight from Stockholm back to New York and got a good deal ($598). At the airport, I discovered that I was able to check in my two bags at no additional charge. (I didn’t know they were included in the fare). What a good surprise. Also consider sites like Secret Flying, which publish flight deals and error fares (computer glitches resulting in our price favor).
  4. Hospitality workers. Flight attendants, housekeeping, and front desk clerks have probably encountered just about every type of traveler out there – good and bad. But they keep us going. I’ve made it a habit to not just say thanks but to show it. I always acknowledge good customer service, via Twitter or in person. At hotels, I always make sure to tip too, leaving a few bills on my nightstand. People I know who work in hospitality tell me that this simple gesture can make a staffer’s day, so let’s show all these hardworking people some love.
  5. More voices in travel communities. As a travel writer, nothing makes me happier to see more content being published by experts in various niches. From women travelers, to accessible travelers and budget travelers, to even baby boomers and LGBT, these sources are showing that travel is not restrictive. Our styles vary, and these writers, bloggers and vloggers get it and are giving solid advice on making our dreams of seeing the world happen.

Let me know what you would give thanks for.

JetBlue Goes Retro With Palm Springs Service

Here’s another e-mail bag item. Off and on, I get news about airlines opening pop-up shops to celebrate new routes or developments. The latest one to do so, I hear, is JetBlue.

Today and tomorrow, November 11 and 12, JetBlue will celebrate the revival of its seasonal service to Palm Springs by going all out retro. The carrier has opened up a temporary Time Travel Agency in New York City’s SoHo district that transports visitors back in time with a Mod Mid-century feel. Find decor and service reflecting this Golden Age of Flight (probably sadly missed) and get the chance to win some swell prizes too.

The address for this Time Travel Agency is at 138 Wooster Street. It’s open Friday, November 11 and Saturday, November 12, from noon to 8 p.m. Sounds groovy.

New American Express Travel Benefits for Platinum and Business Card Members

Out of my e-mail bag: here’s some news for American Express Platinum and Business Platinum card members.

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Last night, at a media event at Four Seasons Hotel New York Downtown, American Express announced their expansion of travel benefits for their Platinum Card members.

For starters, consumers with a Platinum Card will receive 5X Membership Rewards points on airfare booked directly with airlines or through American Express Travel. For Business Platinum Card members, it’s reported that they can now earn 50 percent points back when using Membership Rewards Pay with Points through American Express Travel to book a flight with their selected airline. This perk is also valid when booking a first or business class ticket with any airline.

Then there’s one more bonus: card members can earn 1.5X Membership Rewards points per dollar spent on any purchase of $5,000 or more.

American Express also unveiled that both these groups of card members will be eligible for an additional benefit: access to American Express’ Global Lounge Collection. This offering provides entry accessibility most airport lounges worldwide (American Express’ announcement lists more than 1,000 across 120 countries so far and includes brands like Delta Sky Clubs, International American Express lounges, Priority Pass Select, and Airspace lounges).

I’m not an AmEx card member, but I’m curious to hear the opinions of those who are — particularly about this news. The timing is nice for planning holiday travel, and I wonder if it’s becoming more of a travel trend in airlines and even hotels looking to provide a counter-offer to third-party booking sites. Let me know what you think.

When Is It the Best Time to Book Holiday Travel?

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With holiday travel plans, I tend to jump on booking flights and hotels quickly (such as with a planned post-Christmas trip to Atlanta this year). Yet my method is probably not full proof. In dipping into my e-mail bag, last week I got this press release from Skyscanner about the debate over best time to book predictions for this year.

Apparently, being last minute pays off.

Based on data compiled from more than 50 million users’ booking habits during the 2015 holiday season, Skyscanner’s findings apparently show that the highest savings are available no more than four weeks prior to Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s, with potential savings even available to those booking flights the very same week.    

 In breaking down the results, Skyscanner listed the best time to book travel for possible savings, around each of the major holidays coming up this year.

  • Thanksgiving: Skyscanner found that October has the best opportunities for savings, with the week of October 17 offering savings of 5.10 percent and a mere four weeks out, the week of October 31, offering the highest potential savings of 7.7 percent. Last minute bookers will also be in luck and could find 1.98 percent in savings the week of Thanksgiving.
  • Christmas: Historical data indicates that Thanksgiving week (November 21) will be a prime time for the best deals, offerings possible savings of 6.41 percent, as well as the week of December 5 with savings of 4.93 percent. After Thanksgiving will also be a peak window for booking, with savings of 2.17 percent the week of November 28.
  • New Year’s: While travelers could score the highest savings of 10.57 percent the week of December 5, the holiday looks to favor last minute decision-makers with 6.72 percent of savings one week before and 6.67 percent of savings two weeks out.

 Skyscanner also did a Twitter survey, which found that 44 percent of respondents shared that their plans are made six months to one year in advance; 17 percent between three to five months out; and 39 percent said they prefer to book their travel four to six weeks ahead.

So tell me, when do you book holiday travel? Do you think Skyscanner’s study is right or not?

Why I (Might) Eat at McDonald’s When Traveling

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Due to broadening my palette and getting more food writing assignments, I’ve made a vow to try as many local dishes and dine at non-chain restaurants as I can while traveling.

However, it’s a promise that I can’t always keep.

Part of that reason is because I travel about once every two years with a relative of mine who is strictly a meat and potatoes person. When traveling, his go-to meal plans often involve heading to the famous Golden Arch. I follow along, but I cringe. I rarely, if any, eat at McDonald’s at home (okay, maybe Wendy’s or a good fried chicken joint instead). But I join him, and I place my order. And at times, under certain circumstances, I find myself doing the exact same thing.

Though I do make eating locally a priority in my travels, going to a fast food or chain restaurant is acceptable. Here’s why it’s okay to eat at McDonald’s (or insert your favorite place here) while traveling.

McDonalds

Menus can vary.
When glancing at the menu at a fast food chain location overseas, you might be surprised to see some items. Depending on tastes, diets, and even government regulations, menu offerings can look different. There are similarities – fries, sodas, ketchup – but you’ll probably find a few twists. With McDonald’s, I’ve seen fried shrimp in Amsterdam; jalapeno poppers in Stockholm; and a chicken sandwich with what I swear was oregano or some other kind of herb on the bun in Windsor, England. In Lucerne, Switzerland, I saw what was claimed to be an All-American burger, a Californian style (I’m not big on burgers, so I didn’t validate that claim.). In Prague, a small can of pilsner came with my combo meal, and I saw one guy there having what was called a McBox. Yes, in a box. Likewise with Starbucks, I tried smores-flavored lattes in Stockholm, matcha-flavored ones in Kyoto. Both were different.

It can save you money and/or time.
Fast food is, well, fast food. Maybe you’re arriving right before the doors close or have to grab and go to get to your next stop on time. Though the level of service can vary, one good thing about fast food chains like McDonald’s is that you have a sense of what you’re ordering, and what it costs. When I was Lucerne, a few days after my wallet was stolen in Cologne, I was forced to curve my spending. I had to stretch out my Swish francs, and food became one budget area that required some wiggle room. Plus, if you know Switzerland, you know it can be a pricey destination. So for my remaining two days in Lucerne, I was able to get a sandwich and a small drink from McDonald’s for breakfast and lunch or dinner.

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Getting help if you need it.
Like at home, fast food chains are where locals and even visitors go. So if you need directions or have a question that a native might know the answer to, these chains might be where to turn. Although it’s presumptuous to assume that workers behind the counter may be fluent or conversational in English or another language, chances are that they can understand and answer your questions. Or at least try to help. If not, there could be a customer who can assist you. One more thing: if you have food allergies, fast food is more than likely a safe bet. Also, based on my experience, these fast food chains might provide free Wi-Fi, which you can access while having your meal or drink. Log-in registration may be required.

Sometimes you want a taste of home.
From fries to ice cream sundaes, familiar food can be comforting. Like I wrote before, for the most part, you know what you’re ordering from a fast food restaurant. Menu boards are also pictorial, so you can have a better understanding of what’s available. Also, if you’re close to being “hangry,” you probably want to get something to eat. Or maybe it’s what you feel comfortable with eating at that moment. On the final morning I had in Tokyo, I couldn’t venture too far in search of breakfast. Luckily, there was a McDonald’s right around the corner from my hotel, where I was able to order a McGriddle Cake combo. I was able to sit and eat there with enough time left over to run back, shower, pack and check out. Plus, I had extra yen left over to get my final sushi meal at Narita Airport before heading back to the states.

So tell me: what’s the most interesting fast food meal you’ve had while traveling?