Thursday, January 29, 2009

We Travel Like Rolf Potts

What's your traveling style?

I travel like Rolf Potts !
Rolf Potts

You are a travel legend in the making, with a sense of adventure that will lead to hundreds of fascinating stories. Locals all over the world will give you special nicknames, and almost all of them will be complimentary.

What type of traveler are you?

Take BootsnAll's Travel Quiz to find out.

Happy Trippin'!

The Trip Chicks

Monday, January 26, 2009

Why Can't We All Just Get Along?

Of the many consumer watchdogs out there, at the top of the list is one of our favorite travel gurus, Christopher Elliott ( If you don't subscribe to his feed or newsletter, you're missing key insider tips on the tools you need to make your travels hassle-free.

Today he passed on the results of a survey by Kevin Stirtz (a.k.a. "Amazing Service Guy") with some disheartening news to us as veteran travel professionals: that the travel industry is guilty of the "fourth worst customer service." Check out the findings at:

To the conscientious travel/airline industry people who consistently try their best each day and remain dedicated to providing superior service, we say "hats off" and "keep up the great work." To those who allow stresses at home or work interfere with their on-the-job attitude or performance, we think it's time for a major reality check. Without loyal clients, your employer could suffer even more losses in this tough economy and you yourself might end up in the growing ranks of the unemployed. Sometimes it pays to remember the old saying "If you don't like the fire, then get out of the kitchen."

On the other side of the coin, however, we recognize it takes two to tango. Granted, there are plenty of legitimate customer service complaints in our industry and others. But to any travelers who think that badgering a flight attendant or gate agent with inflated or bogus gripes will get you a free ticket or an upgrade, they're on to you. In the end, patience and truthfulness go a long way in both camps. When push comes to show, we are in this together. With our planet in crisis and many people burdened by worry, why can't we all just try to get along?

Ann Lombardi & Wendy Swartzell
"The Trip Chicks"

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Unsung Heroes of Flight 1549

The world stands in awe and admiration of the cool-headed US Air pilot "Sully" Sullenberger III, who two days ago deftly guided his crippled Airbus A320 with 155 on board to an amazing death-defying ditch into the Hudson River. That no one was severely injured is truly miraculous, and the New York ferry boats, US Coast Guard, police, firefighters, and other emergency personnel who assisted in the dramatic rescue certainly deserve accolades for their quick response and calm under pressure.

But missing from most media coverage is the core of the airline crew. What about those brave flight attendants, whose steady guidance and precision teamwork were instrumental in the passengers' safe, swift evacuation from the disabled aircraft? Although we have yet to see or hear much about the FA's of US Flight 1549, it is those courageous people, shining examples of stellar airline professionals in action, who merit our highest praise!

Next time we fly, we too will be just alittle more grateful for the dedication and training of these oft taken-for-granted airline employees and much more mindful of their main responsibility: to help ensure the utmost safety of all on board. We hope you'll take time to read the Seattle Times article below, which echoes some of our own thoughts on these unsung heroes of Flight 1549.

Ann Lombardi & Wendy Swartzell

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Sleeping Pretty on a Beer Budget

In spite of the gloom and doom naysayers who insist this tough economy means far fewer North Americans will travel overseas in 2009, "The Trip Chicks" are determined to prove their predictions otherwise. Forge ahead in planning that vacation of yours. It's way overdue and well-deserved! Here are but five of our favorite alternative accommodations at rates that just might put a smile on your face. You'll not only keep more money in your pocket but will make a few great globally-minded friends to boot.

1. FARMSTAYS - Be a paying guest or lend a helping hand and stay free.


In exchange for pitching in on an international farm in one of 20+ countries, receive room, board, and the chance to experience real organic farm life up close.

B. (Australia)

C. (Austria)

D. (Bavaria - Germany)

E. (Italy)

F. (Netherlands)

G. (New Zealand)

H. (Switzerland)

2. HOSTELS - From castles and former convents to more rustic digs, many of these budget accommodations are no longer just for the under 25 set.

A. (Go Nomad's list of worldwide hostels)



D. (Hostelling International's membership-only club)

E. (Almost 27,000 listings and no booking fee)


3. APARTMENT RENTALS - Just last month we stayed in a fully-furnished two-bedroom Black Forest apartment overlooking a medieval square in Germany. The price? A mere 34 Euros a night for two of us!

In addition to our list of the rental apartment finder services below, be sure to google "____________ tourism" (fill in the blank with the town or region you'd like to visit). On the official tourist office sites under the "accommodations" or "lodging" sections, you can find some amazing deals. To broaden your internet search, trying using the words for "tourism" in other languages too. (i.e. "Tourismus" in German; "tourisme" in French, etc.) Go to to translate from English to the target language.



C. (likes working with your local travel agent)

D. (Vacation Rentals By Owner)

E. (Formerly EVRentals)

4. PAID MEMBERSHIP HOSPITALITY CLUBS - Fill out an application, pay a fee to join, and receive a directory of "open door" hosts all over the world.

A. ("5 W" was founded by Brits to promote international friendship among women, but some hosts open up their homes to the husbands and children of members too)

B. (Since 1949, the mission of Servas has been to foster world peace through people-to-people homestays among its pre-screened members.)

5. TRAVELER WELCOME NETWORKS FOR FREE - The first two online travel hospitality resources attract more of the younger crowd; however, if you are open-minded and adventuresome, any one of them could be the key to your successful globetrotting on the cheap worldwide.




That'll do it for today. We'll be back soon with more money-saving travel tips and tricks for your next getaway. Until next time, happy travels!

Ann Lombardi & Wendy Swartzell
The Trip Chicks
Passport to Adventure, Inc.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Ten Tips on Nailing That Frequent Flyer Ticket

by Ann Lombardi & Wendy Swartzell
The Trip Chicks™

1. Start your hunt early.

Especially when you’re dreaming about a faraway and popular destination like Hawaii, Alaska, Europe, or the Orient, the earlier the better. Some airlines let you request award travel as early as 331+ days in advance! Phone just after midnight on the first day you are allowed to call for a ticket. Calculate the earliest date you can phone by going to

2. Don't limit your search to just nonstop flights.

It’s always a plus to get Delta nonstop from Atlanta, United nonstop from Washington Dulles, or American from Chicago, but be willing to change planes en route to your destination. Consider your airline’s partner carriers for award travel. (i.e. Air France, KLM, etc. instead of just Delta Airlines non-stop). Visit for a summary of major airline award programs.

3. Call the frequent flyer partner desk of the airlines with which you have the most points.

Availability of "partner airline" award tickets sometimes can not be checked online so be sure to telephone. Partner desk frequent flyer agents not only can check possible flights with your main airline but often can find creative partner airline routes which other agents might not be willing to research for you.

4. Don't phone during the peak weekend times or on weekdays in the early evening.

The best, most experienced U.S.-based agents often work during the off hours or later at night. If you suspect you have reached an agent who’s rushed, inexperienced, or an outsourced newbie, politely say something's come up and you will call back.

5. Be more flexible with your travel dates and destination.

During high season to Europe for example, if your preferred city or dates are sold-out, ask the agent to check an alternate destination. Budget airlines like Snowflake, Germania, Central Wings, Easy Jet, BMI, and others connect many cities from hubs such as London and Amsterdam. Before calling about a frequent flyer ticket, know your options from other cities, in case your first choice destination is not open. Go to or for details on low-cost connecting carriers worldwide.

6. Sincerely thank the agent for helping you with your hunt.

Remember that the airline agent is trying to reserve “non-revenue” flights, and that award tickets are a bit hard to come by. For a job especially well-done, ask to be transferred to the agent’s supervisor to leave a compliment for the agent who assisted you. Reward great customer service!

7. Be patient at all times.

Travelers hoping to redeem points for a ticket should be prepared to stay on hold a long time with the airlines. In some instances, you too may have had to stay on the phone almost two hours! Multi-task while waiting and don’t hang up if in the queue. Don’t ever lose your cool or be rude. It's common sense but bears repeating here: "the squeaky wheel rarely gets the grease." You certainly don’t want any airline agent to write something negative in your reservation.

8. Consider booking dates later than your first choice and ask the airlines about the official standby policy.

You can try to fly standby a few days earlier than the outbound date on your ticket. Phone the carrier 48 to 72 hours in advance and ask "how open the flights from ________to _________ are" for that day. Don’t attempt standby award travel on an overbooked flight. Ideally, a “wide open” flight is the best bet. Your success will depend on the mood of the gate agent, but we have been able to successfully board flights as standbys not only on the return portion of our ticket but first leg too for a flight a few days earlier than our reservation. Recommended only for open-minded travelers who don't mind the suspense, the wait, or the risk. In other words, if you are a nervous traveler, this strategy may not be for you.

9. Request that the airline put you on a priority waitlist for award travel flights which were showing not available when you made your frequent flyer ticket reservation.

Then call the airlines back every few days during off-peak hours to see if "anything has cleared" for your frequent flyer award ticket. Be sure to give your work/ home numbers and email address to the frequent flyer reservation agent. It's important that even if you have bought your award ticket for less than desirable dates, immediately after completing the purchase you ask the res agent to put you on a priority wait list for your preferred travel days. If you forget this important step, you will have to pay a big change fee if the flights open up after you have ticketed. And remember, after ticketing you can change dates but not departure or arrival cities.

10. Write down your record locator number and the ticketing deadline.

Airlines won't hold a frequent flyer reservation for more than a few days and you certainly don't want to miss a deadline or lose the space. Mark your calendar and call before midnight in the time zone of the airline's main hub. P.S. If your miles are about to expire, several airlines (i.e. Delta for one) allow you to purchase 2,000 points for about $50 so your account shows yearly activity, and your miles are safe twelve more months. Now go out there and nab an award ticket!

Happy hunting!

Ann & Wendy

The Trip Chicks™

Black Forest's Gengenbach: Jewel of A Hideaway

""All those cookie cutter Europe Christmas Market tours go to crowded big cities," grumbled our client. "Why don't The Trip Chicks come up with an 'under the North American tourist radar' place to stay?" And so we did. For eight enjoyable days this past December, the welcoming 13th century half-timbered village of Gengenbach was our Europe group's holiday "homebase."

Boasting the world's largest Advent calendar (the 24 windows of the classical town hall Rathaus facade), the ideally-situated Black Forest town offered us easy train access to a host of neat places. We visited Strasbourg (enchanting Alsatian French town with the best of French and Germanic cultures and a striking, giant gothic cathedral begun in the year 1015), Triberg (home of the standout Black Forest folk traditions museum and the stunning Wallfahrtskirche Maria in der Tannen pilgrimage church), friendly Black Forest capital university town Freiburg im Breisgau, "upper-crusty" Baden Baden, famous spa town, and other appealing destinations only a stone's throw away.

One of the best travel bargains of the Black Forest region is the Konus card, a complimentary transportation card which comes with a two-night minimum hotel or bed and breakfast stay in the area and entitles the card holder to free bus and second class train regional transportation (except for the fast ICE or Intercity trains.) As a matter of fact, the KONUS pass is good all the way down to Basel Bad, the German border town one stop before Switzerland's Basel SBB station. For a map of where the Konus card is valid, go to: Then click on "In welchem Gebiet ist KONUS gültig?" link. (German for "in which area is Konus valid?") For train travel on longer rail routes outside the Schwarzwald region (i.e. from Gengenbach to Heidelberg), we recommend consulting a travel agent who is a Europe rail expert to determine the rail pass that'll give you the best bang for your out-of-pocket buck.

Jawohl and bien sûr ! We could have easily spent two weeks in the colorful area and never run out of sights to see. If you go, don't miss sampling the delicious thin-crusted tarte flambées of Alsace (called Flammkuchen in the Black Forest region of Germany), addictive thinly-rolled rectangles of bread dough topped with cream, onions, bacon, and ham or veggies and cheese. The dessert version is a chocolate lover's delight with scrumptiously gooey bittersweet chips. More of our happy trip memories include getting the skinny on a 350-year-old Black Forest tradition during our Triberg cuckoo clock factory tour (bet you don't know what makes that cuckoo sound!), rolling in the white stuff to make our year's only snow angels in winter wonderland Titisee, sharing Baden Baden's steamy outdoor thermal spa pools with a mini UN of visitors, and enjoying the unique camaraderie of our small tour group, congenial travelers from 17 to 84. Our newly-created Christmas Market itinerary is definitely a keeper for The Trip Chicks, and we plan to repeat it in 2009. Happy travels und bis zum nächsten Mal!

Ann Lombardi

The Trip Chicks