Archives for October 2007

NYC breakfast diner reviews

Traveling to New York City is always an investment whether it’s for business or pleasure but there is one thing worth every penny and that’s the food. I’m not talking about the likes of Le Cirque or Nobu, fine dining journeys for the palette; I’m talking about the joy of a classic NYC breakfast diner.

During the couple of years I lived in NYC, I stopped at a deli or diner for breakfast every morning. It was part of being a New Yorker. From freshly baked bagels smothered in cream cheese and lox to wonderfully greasy bacon, egg and cheese sandwiches, you never run out of options.

Here are a few of the best:

Katz’s Delicatessen
205 East Houston Street
Totally authentic and delicious – order in Yiddish if you want.
What to eat? Corn Beef Sandwich

Carnegie Deli
854 Seventh Avenue
I used to work very close to this place and while it’s a bit of a tourist trap, it’s still awesome.
What to eat? The Bacon Whopee!

Ess-a Bagel
359 1st Ave and 831 3rd Avenue
Popular with locals – fresh, fast and filling.
What to eat? Bagel with cream cheese and loads of lox

Here are some lists that have been put together by various resources: recommends
Diner City recommends
New York Mag recommends these bagel shops
New York Mag recommends these for brunch

Best shopping airports

When I was a kid my father traveled a lot and somehow managed to bring something back for my brother and me each time. How could I forget my collection of plastic airplanes, snow globes and key chains? Twenty years later the days of kitschy souvenirs are pretty much over. With Coach, Body Shop, GAP, Bvlgari, Sunglass Hut, Emporio Armani, Mont Blanc, Nike, Herralds etc scattered across the world’s airport terminals why would anyone buy a key chain again?

London Heathrow

The most impressive shopping I have seen in my travels is London Heathrow. Heathrow is a terrible airport to visit with its delayed flights, long security lines and flooding hallways however they have one of the best food courts and shopping arcades in the world.
Check out the shopping arcade.

Singapore Changi Airport

Unlike Heathrow, Changi Airport is actually a lovely place to layover and waste time. The “Shopping City” offers over 160 eclectic shops and 80 restaurants. Traveling to Singapore is amazing in the first place, being pampered at the airport – now we’re really talking.
See what’s in the Changi Shopping City.

Amsterdam Schiphol Airport

I must admit I have never been to Amsterdam but I have heard lots of great things about Schiphol Plaza. Apparently not only does it have great shopping but also a casino!
Check out Schiphol Airport.

Credit Card and Travel

There are many things you plan ahead of time before taking a trip and your credit card should be no exception. Most likely you depend on your credit card for many things while traveling and it’s a HUGE hassle if you are suddenly unable to use it. Here are some credit card scenarios you can avoid ahead of time with a little planning:

Credit card phone number

Typically when you need to call your credit card company you either pull an old statement out of the drawer or look on the back of your card. What if you are traveling and your card is stolen? Sound silly but you have no idea how often this happens! Add to your long list of contact names and numbers the number of your credit card company and your card number. Tip: Make sure it’s not a 1800 number that only works in North America.

Call ahead of time

If you travel a lot this probably has never happened to you. However, if you are traveling overseas for the first time in say a year, your credit card company may notice. They keep tabs on your activity and if all of a sudden you are charging hundreds of dollars at a hotel in Bangkok, they will put a hold on your card and try to contact you. If you are in Bangkok, they may not find you and your card will cease to work until you get back to them. It may seem annoying but they are looking out for your best interest – what if you card is in Thailand and you aren’t? Your credit card company encourages you to call ahead of time and tell them when your travel patterns change. If for some reason you forget and your card stops working – read above – credit card phone number!

You don’t take Discover?

Some countries don’t use smaller credit card companies. Find out where you card is accepted before you’re stuck.

Currency conversion fees

Your credit card company will charge currency conversion fees! If you happen to have more than one card, look to see which company offers the best conversion rates for where you are traveling, it could make a big difference in the long run. If you only have one card, take the time to check the rates, it might make more sense to use cash for small purchases.

Travel with your pets

There are lots of reasons why you may need to bring an animal with you while traveling, from relocating the whole family to a new country, or taking a weekend road trip. Whether you are traveling across town or across the globe, there are many things you need to pack and prepare.

Familiar things

Animals like routine. They are more comfortable with their surroundings if they have familiar items. I’m not suggesting you pack the couch but anything that makes them feel more at home is important. When my dog comes along on road trips, we always ensure to pack his favourite toy, as soon as he sees it in the suitcase, he will jump on top and wait there – he knows that if that toy comes, so does he. Last time we moved, my turtles spend a week in individual plastic bins. They wouldn’t eat for days. The minute I put them back in their tank together, the world was right again and they ate like mad! Pets get very emotional, so anything you can do to surround them in familiar things will make their trip better.

Road trip packing check list

You have a mental checklist of all the things you typically travel with but it’s a good idea to have a written one of things you need to bring when you include the family pet. Chances are you will forget something if you don’t write it down ahead of time. I forgot the leash once when I went camping but luckily rope worked just fine.

Some great road trip gear:

Everyone needs a seatbelt
For a home away from home, the Canine Camper
For on the road, Traveling Water Bowl
For the small pet who goes everywhere
For the adventure dog

Pet Friendly Hotels

If you know exactly where you want to stay, give the hotel a call. Some places are willing to make exceptions for certain pets. However, there are many chains who always allow pets such a Sheraton Hotels . Visit the following websites to find a hotel where you are traveling:

North America: Pets can stay

Canada: Pet Friendly
Worldwide: Dog friendly

Airline travel

Flying can be really hard on your pets. It’s imperative that you check with your vet before you fly with your animal to ensure that they are healthy and prepared for flying. Visit Pet Travel’s Airline Pet Rules for valuable information on flying with your pet including immigration, quarantine and drugs. Also, remember to check directly with the airline you are flying to find out more on kennel and paper requirements. They will scream at you when you pick them up in the fragile cargo area and will likely stink but the reward is one happy pet who wasn’t left behind.

European railway links

Many of us have backpacked through Europe and depended on trains to find our way but locals know it’s also an excellent mode of transportation for the business traveler looking to get from point A to point B with least resistance. Have you driven a car in Italy? You know what I’m talking about. Here are some of the most valuable European rail websites to help you with your next trip.

Rail Pass and Rail Europe
With both of these companies you can buy a pass in your home country and have it ready for arrival in Europe. These US based companies offer train passes of almost any kind including a Global Pass that covers 18 countries (in case you need to be all over Europe). The advantage of purchasing ahead of time is that you don’t have to worry about language barriers or finding the ticket booth.

Railroad Timetables
What if you have already arrived and are looking for a way to the next city, here are direct links to some of the official websites for country railways.

Subway Systems
Many European cities are also renowned for their convenient and extensive subway systems. Check out Subway Navigator to find links to subway maps for Europe’s cities.

Currency conversions

I spent a weekend in Paris and thought I managed to spend $500 little did I know I spend closer to $2000 because I completely miscalculated the exchange rate. I should have known a steal of a deal in Paris was a pipe dream. Mistaking exchange rates is common, especially for people like me with little to no luck with quick calculations. Even more difficult is finding a decent rate on currency conversations. Here are some quick tips on ensuring you have your nickels in line before you overspend.

True Exchange Rates

I always visit for up to date and accurate exchange rates. You can sign up for their daily email to receive an email everyday on updated rates. This is great for those who travel with a PDA or BlackBerry because you can check your email each day to know what to expect.

XE also has a very handy Travel Expenses Calculator where you can input your travel expenses in the currency you used (such as Euros), the date of purchase and method of payment (such as a credit card). It will tally everything and tell you how much you should expense in your own currency.
There are also several downloads you can add to your cell phone and to your BlackBerry phone for quick exchange calculations on the spot.

Purchasing Currency

It is always easier to have some local cash with you when you arrive in a foreign country regardless of how much the extra fees are to purchase it. Look into the exchange rates at your bank, local tourist information centre and at the airport. See which one offers the best rate. Don’t wait until you arrive at your destination and go to the hotel concierge, they will charge you the highest surcharge of all – plus you may need cash to get to the hotel in the first place.

Credit Card or cash

Using you credit card overseas is by far the most convenient way to purchase. However, the currency conversion rates are unforgiving. Some credit card companies will charge you 2- 3% every time you use your credit card overseas and that’s on top of the additional percentage they have already added onto the exchange rate. If you travel overseas a lot, contact your credit card company and see what the best card is for you – some offer cards with less foreign exchange fees.

All in all, double check your exchange calculations before you purchase and think twice before you use your credit card to buy absolutely everything – it might be worth your while to buy lunch in cash.

Things your travel agent knows about flying

To be honest, I have never used a travel agent to book a flight. However, I have heard hundreds of nightmare travel stories about cancellation fees, failed promises, bumped flights, mysterious taxes – the list goes on and on. There are hundreds of little things that a travel agent will do for you that people typically forget to do for themselves. Here are just a few of the things you take for granted when you use a travel agent that you need to ensure you look into yourself.

Travel insurance: You wouldn’t forsake car insurance or home insurance to save a buck – you shouldn’t’ forget travel insurance either especially when you travel overseas. Flights get cancelled. Airlines go out of business. Luggage is lost. It doesn’t matter if you purchase the insurance through your credit card company, your existing insurance company or through the place that you are booking your flight – opt for it – it will save you when things don’t go as planned.

Read this article from Travel Wise on Searching for Travel Insurance

Proper time between flights: Don’t assume it will only take 30 – 60 minutes to transfer at any airport. Some terminals are 30 minutes apart. Some airports require you to pick up your bags and drop them off somewhere else. If you are traveling internationally, you might have to go through customs first. If you are traveling through Heathrow, it will take you twice as long as you think. Look at the airport website you are connecting through – find out how to get from one gate to the other. Take weather into account especially if you are flying the winter – deicing takes ages.

Read this article from CBC on Tips for making airline connections

The fine print on your ticket purchase and fees associated: I know it’s painful, the fine print is boring but once again, you wouldn’t buy a house without a house inspection, don’t buy a ticket without checking to see what’s required of you. Can you cancel? Can you amend? Do you need to show up early? Your travel agent knows all of these little things – you won’t unless you read the fine print.

Transportation between airport and hotel: Do you land at an airport on the opposite side of town? The major city airport isn’t always the closet to the hotel! Anyone who has done business in Los Angeles and surrounding areas know that. There are often smaller airports much closer to your final destination; likewise, there are often several ways to get there – train, bus, taxi, rental car. Your travel agent knows the best route but you can figure it out too if you contact the hotel and ask!

Airport taxes: Airport improvement fees, airport taxes, service fees, they come with many names but you can’t avoid them. Check to see if the airport you are departing from and/or the airport you are connecting through have airport fees. Make sure you have the necessary cash to pay for it.

Sharing photos while on the move

Some business trips last just a little too long and you want to send photos home of the awesome places you’ve been or perhaps access photos of something great you missed back at the house. There are many ways to share photos online, through email or your cell phone while on the road.

My husband likes to send me photos by the poolside or at the beach when he travels on business to California. He simply snaps a photo with his camera-enabled BlackBerry and emails it directly to me. I have mixed feelings when I open the email to see an ocean vista – on one hand I’m a little bitter as I sit in snowy Toronto but on the other hand, he wanted me to see the view. There is something amazing about sharing a moment instantly. Camera phones have enabled us to do that no matter where we travel.

Another way to share a series of digital photos from your trip is to create an online photo album. There are hundreds of options on the web:

Flickr: Well known, easy to use and once you have an account set up, you can easily upload new photos and send an email to all your friends and family to come see your latest album. This tool is great for the 2.0 enthused who like to add comments and find related photos.

Shutterbug: This service is geared towards the family looking to share photos on holiday or for the less computer literate. It’s easy to use and prompts you through the process of uploading photos and sending the link to your loved ones.

Wherever they hang out: Seriously, if your kids are always on Facebook then upload the photos to a Facebook account. If your friends use MySpace, then upload the photos to your MySpace page. And if your family prefer to check their email and not go onto social networking sites to share family photos, then upload the photos to your laptop, resize them to a smaller size and email them directly to their inbox. No sense uploading photos somewhere nobody is going to see them.

How to unlock your GSM phone

In order to take advantage of great savings by switching your SIM card when you travel overseas, you will need to have an unlocked GSM phone. This means your phone is GSM (Global System for Mobile communications) compatible and is “unlocked” meaning it doesn’t have any service provider, carrier or operator customization. This enables you to switch the SIM card without any worries of losing service or data. There are a couple of great resources online that take you through the process of unlocking your phone. See the links below.