Last Minute Holiday Gift Ideas for Travelers

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Creative Commons Photo / Phil Roeder

Are you doing some last-minute Christmas shopping? If you have a traveler or two or more on your list, there’s still time to find a present for them at the store or online. Here are some general gift ideas of items that are available through multiple vendors and can range from fun ideas to practical usage.

Scratch Off Map (or Just a Regular Wall Map and a Container of Pins)

Know someone who travels a lot? A map is a great way for them to remember and mark off where they been, and see where else they have to check off their list. Scratch off maps can be fun in coming across a different color when rubbing off the top foil layer to show their progress. Or go another way with a standard full-sized wall map with a pack of pins that get a bit extra work involved in marking their destinations.

Portable Battery Chargers

Cellphones are more for talking; who really uses it for conversation anymore. Our Android or iPhone acts as a messaging device, a directional guide, a camera, an app service and a portable office. And all of this can get up a lot of your battery, leaving someone you know in a search for an outlet. A portable battery charger can save them in a pinch; all they have to do is fully charge it ahead of time and they’re good to go.

Pickpocket Proof Clothing

Travelers always have to keep their valuables in check; there’s clothing that can help with that. For men and women, there are scarves and pants with hidden compartments that can help hide extra cash or passports. Granted, it’s best to know what your traveler’s sizes are. Not sure? These companies offer the option of a gift card; suggested vendors include Clothing Arts, which centers on pants, or Clever Travel Companion, which extends to tops and bottoms.

Personal Safety Devices

As another concern about personal safety, there are various pocket alarms and devices that travelers can take with them. There are wearable alarms that produce a noticeable sound when activated through the pull of a pin or pressing of a button. One that I suggest is Robocopp, which works by having its pin get pulled out and then letting off a bird chirping sound. Another is Revolar, which is described as being activated with a click. Or consider GE’s Personal Security Window or Door Alarm Kit, which encompasses a key chain, door stopper and window/door alarm.

Wall Plug Adapters

Outlets in hotel rooms or just about every public building outside of the U.S. incorporates the local wattage, wall plug adapters, or also known as convertors, are a good idea. I’ve had a set by Travel Smart for a few years now, where I take the one(s) I need for my destination; the only downside is that I can only plug in one item at a time per adapter I’ve got. There are also all-in-one adapters that can be adjusted to plug in more than one device at one (usually up to three).

Luggage Tags

Even the littlest thing can mean a big deal as a present. And one of them can be a secured bag tag. You can have some fun with selecting one for someone that can be monogramed or engraved, or have a fun pattern. I would say to look for one that has a good strap that can be firmly secured onto the bag’s handle. I bought a faulty one that fell off somewhere in my checked in bag’s journey.

Packing Cubes

As another item that is best for a suitcase, these cubes make packing much stuff in a small bag easier. They’re designed to compartmentalize items or compress clothing for better optimum usage of space. They’re a self-storage necessity and work great for carry-ons. Try brands like Eagle Creek or Flight 001, known for their packing cube sets.

Subscription Box Services

These themed monthly services can bring the world to your doorstep through foods or other items sourced from all over the globe. Each month, Try the World boxes up a culinary journey tied to a specific country with two different subscriptions involving snacks or food staples. For interior design fans, GlobeIn searches for and sources from artisan craftspeople.

What would you buy a traveler as a holiday gift? Let me know in the comments section.

Black Friday Cyber Monday Sales

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Creative Commons Photo / James Evans

For travelers, it’s that most wonderful time of the year for deals. For the 2018 holiday season, here’s a roundup of Black Friday and/or Cyber Monday sales and promotions.

G Adventures’ Cyber Week Sale begins after midnight on Tuesday, Nov. 20, and runs until the following Monday, Nov. 26. It involves savings trips on that depart between December 1, 2018 and July 31, 2019. More than 500 different small-group tours on six different continents will be marked down.

Gate 1 Travel will hold its annual Black Friday sale November 21-23. During the three-day sale, customers can save up to $2,500 on all Gate 1 Travel, Discovery Tours and Signature Collection packages. Select promo codes include:

  • Spend $500 or more and receive $50 off with promo code BKFR50
  • Spend $1,000 or more and receive $100 off with promo code BKFR100
  • Spend $2,000 or more and receive $250 off with promo code BKFR250
  • Spend $4,000 or more and receive $500 off with promo code BKFR500
  • Spend $10,000 or more and receive $1,000 off with promo code BKFR1000
  • Spend $20,000 or more and receive $2,500 off with promo code BKFR2500

Customers can book online using the codes on November 22 or by calling 1-800-682-3333 between 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. EST on November 21 and November 23.

Between November 23 and 26, visit Expedia’s Black Friday & Cyber Monday page and get a coupon worth an extra 75 percent off of selected hotels. Deals are available for a limited time only.

Visit Hotels.com between November 23 and 26 and you’ll get a mystery coupon worth anywhere from 7 to 99 percent off your hotel.

Save up to $1,900 per person on air-inclusive packages with Friendly Planet Travel’s Cyber Monday sale. Book travel between midnight ET on Monday, November 26, and 11:59 p.m. Tuesday, November 27.

Intrepid Travel will begin its Cyber Sale on November 20.

On Black Friday only, Perillo Tours is offering $500 off per couple ($250 per person) on all 2019 Italy and Hawaii escorted tours.  The offer is valid on new bookings only for travel January 1 – December 31, 2019.  The 24-hour Black Friday sale is bookable online, via phone or email from 12:01am to 11:59pm on November 23, 2018.  Must use booking code BlackFri18.

Delta is offering Black Friday deals through its website, mentioning savings on “flights to Asia, Europe, South America, the Caribbean and more.”

Visit Hotels.com between November 23 and 26 to get a mystery coupon worth anywhere from 7 to 99 percent off your hotel.

Ryanair has a Cyber Week Sale happening now through November 26.

Qatar Airways A350-1000 Arrives at JFK

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Photo courtesy of Qatar Airways

Qatar Airways welcomed in its new A350-1000 from Doha, Qatar Sunday afternoon, Oct. 25, to JFK airport on the first U.S. route for this high-tech commercial flight.

I got an inside peek at this aircraft, in particular its Qsuite business cabin,  and here is what I saw.

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The airbus will be known by the flight number QR702 and will run as the evening flight of the two daily Qatar Airways flights on a Doha-NYC route.

Along with having its inaugural flight to JFK, the A350-1000 is touting the airline’s QSuite, a business class cabin with a first-class appearance. Upon boarding the aircraft, I walked directly into the business class cabin and my eyes popped.

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The Qsuite in the A350-1000 has double beds, being able to fully lie flat for sleeping and enabling passengers in adjoining seats to create their own personal space. In this position, they literally look like a bed.

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The side entertainment console is complete with a said 4,000 entertainment options and a 21.5-inch movable widescreen. Buttons handling everything from setting massage vibrations to putting on a do-not disturb light (which gives a red background shade to your posted seat number). The units also have privacy panels for stowing away belongings, plus sliding doors for privacy.

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Toiletry kits are nice as well – BRIC’S travel cases containing products by Castello Monte Vibrano. I’m sold. Now, I just have to book a ticket.

 

Take Time Off in Tahiti Travel Contest

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Credit: Tahiti Tourisme

From the e-mail bag: United Airlines is holding a “Time Off in Tahiti” contest to recognize “the hardest working person in the U.S. with the trip of their dreams.” And that trip will be to Tahiti.

Apparently, the contest is inspired by data released by Project: Time Off, which finds that American workers are more likely to “lose” their vacation days that to use them. (That’s not good, people.)

According to Project: Time Off, 700-plus million vacation days go unused annually in the United States, with 52 percent of employees reporting unused vacation time at year’s end.  All told, nearly one-quarter of American workers say they used none of their time off to travel – and that’s a whole lot of happiness waiting in the wings.

So United’s “Time Off in Tahiti” contest probably is helping to fix that problem, at least for one lucky individual. The selected winner will be flown from San Francisco direct to Papeete, Tahiti (PPT), along United’s new route beginning October 30, 2018, to bask in the island’s timeless beauty.

However, he or she has to get someone’s nomination. In 300 words or less, a colleague, good friend or even maybe relative can put in a good word for any hard working, deserving person known personally or admired from afar at united.com/timeofftahiti.

Submissions are due by September 25, 2018; the winner will be notified on or around October 11, 2018. Project: Time Off will aid in the judging of submissions.

Taking a Different Look at Travel

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I’ve gotten bad about posting on my blog. But here’s my reason, or excuse. I’ve been on the road from May through June nonstop. This summer, I’ve been resting.

When I told friends and colleagues that I wanted to stay around much of summer (except for maybe quick trips), I explained that I wished to make these months about catching up on life in general. My bedroom floor is littered with papers, tote bags and souvenirs. Along with much needed housekeeping, I haven’t seen the people I love or I’m close to in a while. I missed them; I hope they’ve missed me too. And there are work assignments.

I’ve also tried digging my toes back into dating. One nice man asked me to re-connect with him when I got home from a work trip to South Africa, but he chose not to respond to my texts and calls. Another guy caught my attention, but it didn’t work out either.

Now, after recharging, I’m getting ready to get back to traveling with a fresh perspective. Here’s what I’ve learned as a traveler while being home after being on the road for a while.

More Checking In with People

It’s funny; I was away for my May birthday and I didn’t get a call from family. The reason: They didn’t know where I was. When I was with them for Memorial Day Weekend, I was pretty much falling asleep around them. I wasn’t a good houseguest. Going forward, I’m going to be better about staying in touch via phone, Facebook, IM and Skype.

Taking Things Slower

Have you heard of the term “slow travel”? It hasn’t been used for a while but it usually means spending more time in a particular location than trying to rush to see everything. On my trips, I’m a go-go-go person. So much that I run here and here, eat this quick, drink that fast. For work, I try to get to as many places as I can but I’m going to take my time in doing so. And try to avoid bring over-scheduled.

But Still Taking More Chances

In May, I went on a work trip to South Africa that focused on the centenary of Nelson Mandela. It was not only my first time to South Africa, but also my first time on the continent itself. The experience made me want to pursue more “firsts” abroad or experiences I never thought about or wasn’t interested in before.

Bringing a Plus One

Now and then, I might have the chance to bring somebody along with me on a trip. I hope to do this more in the future. Although I have no qualms about exploring places on my own, I’m finding that I’d like to bring someone else along – a BFF, relative or anyone I know who’s up for going.

Have your views changed on travel overtime? Let me know.

Hangzhou MetroCard Contest

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Some lucky New York City commuters will soon have the chance to trade their city subway rides for free rides on the metro in Hangzhou, China!

Here’s a little something I’ve gotten from my email bag. To help promote this city to American visitors, Hangzhou Tourism Commission is holding a contest with the change to win round-trip flights for two between New York City and Hangzhou.

To further publicize this contest, the commission has branded 20,000 NYC MetroCards, which will be sold at 42nd Street–Grand Central Terminal and Fulton Street – World Trade Center subway stations.

To register for the contest, visit www.hzgoldenticket.com. The first 100 people to register will have the opportunity to receive a “golden ticket” by mail. The “golden ticket” provides them two free NYC subway rides but can also be exchanged for a Hangzhou MetroCard good for free rides on the subway in Hangzhou. The contest ends midnight May 31, 2018.

 

A Staycation at the Embassy Suites by Hilton New York – Midtown Manhattan

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Last month, I was invited as a media guest to have a staycation in Midtown Manhattan, at the recently opened Embassy Suites by Hilton New York – Midtown Manhattan. For about four days, I stayed at the property and joined their staff and other media pros for some sightseeing during the day and excursions at night.

Staying in Midtown Manhattan

Most visitors and locals to New York City probably think of Midtown Manhattan as mainly a district for getting to and from Grand Central Terminal or even Penn Station. Or that it is the area for reaching attractions such as the New York Public Library, Times Square, Bryant Park, Empire State Building, and Macy’s. However, take note: there are hotspots where commuters unwind after a hard day’s work or head for lunch or dinner that offer another taste of what’s around here.

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The view from my room at Embassy Suites by Hilton New York – Midtown Manhattan.

Now back to the hotel. Based at East 37th Street and Sixth Avenue (or the Avenue of the Americas),The Embassy Suites by Hilton New York – Midtown Manhattan is based in the Garment District, a section of Midtown. It’s within a hearty walking distance or a quick ride share to other venues.

This 39-story hotel has amenities for starting off your day and even for lingering around.

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Near reception, unwind with a cocktail at “The Heist.”

In total, it has 310 studio suites and king rooms; mine reminded of staying in a common NYC apartment. Beginning on the 22ndfloor, city view rooms face north and south; there are also Sky Studio suites with private terraces. My room had a nice window facing view of the Empire State building, with a nice king-sized bed and a divider between my bed and a couch. There was also a seated desk, a micro/fridge combo, coffee maker and a good size bathroom with shower. The room décor is a nod to the nearby Fashion District with a stylish wall print.

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Come warmer weather, The Skylawn Bar & Social Space will be buzzing.

Away from my room, the lobby has a centerpiece resembling a light cascading waterfall. To the side, there’s a private lounge space called “The Jewel Box” because of its velvety plush seating area. Near the reception desk, “The Heist” serves up cocktails inspired by famous jewelry heists within its lobby bar space; its restaurant serves Italian cuisine. The cocktail menu was handcrafted by Allen Katz, a leading distilled spirit expert.

While the lounge area is more of an intimate space, The Skylawn Bar & Social Space is the place to be during warm weather. It’s an outdoor deck oasis, neighboring brick buildings and being spacious with chairs and greenery. It’s connected to an interior walkthrough which makes you feel like you’ve set foot in a Brooklyn bar, with a selection of New York produced beers and spirits.

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Get your morning fuel from the Embassy Lounge, with a complimentary breakfast.

Embassy Suites by Hilton New York – Midtown Manhattan also holds a fitness center and fourth-floor lounge space with a daily reception for complimentary drinks and small bites. The Embassy Lounge serves complimentary breakfast with buffet setups and a made-to-order eggs station. It overall can get a bit crowded during busy times — it’s best to use the touch-screen to order and avoid long lines — but the spread is good.

As for what to do in Midtown Manhattan, here are some suggestions:

National Geographic Encounter: Ocean Odyssey

Within Times Square, this visually impressive exhibit immerses visitors into deep waters throughout the globe with amazing technology such as a friendly encounter with a virtual sea lion. See their website for tickets and schedules. (226 W 44th St.)

Keens Steakhouse

In business since 1885, this classic New York chophouse keeps this NYC culinary heritage alive and well. Note the wooden pipes atop the ceiling and see famous pipe holders in a display case at the front door. (72 W 36th St.)

THE RIDE NYC

Hop onboard a coach bus with a skylight ceiling to listen to two guides throw down some NYC trivia and witty banter while passing by the Chrysler Building, Times Square and other sights. (42nd Street and 8th Avenue)

Empellón

At this trendy Mexican restaurant, dine on fanciful yet filling dishes and creative margaritas; start off with the guacamole with seven salsas and begin spicy from the left or mild from the right. (510 Madison Ave.)

The Rag Trader and Bo Peep Cocktail & Highball Store

The street-level The Rag Trader is a restaurant/piano cocktail bar with various small and large plate servings, while the subterranean Bo Peep Cocktail & Highball Store is reminiscent of a 1920s cocktail lounge; its name comes from once being the location for a manufacturing company. (70 West 36th St.)

The Campbell

In Grand Central Terminal, this old-fashioned, ornate cocktail bar re-invigorates the longtime Campbell Apartment bar with a swank setting in honor this one-time apartment of financier John Campbell. (15 Vanderbilt Ave.)

Editor’s note: I was a guest of the Embassy Suites by Hilton New York – Midtown Manhattan, but this piece is solely based upon my opinion and experience.