Thursday, December 4, 2008

More about Luggage

When you are planning a trip, it is very important to think about the luggage that you will carry. After all, it is thrown around by airport luggage carriers, poked into by TSA, and pushed into overhead bins much too small for its bulk. You also need to think of your destination, the weather, clothing that is acceptable for your destination, and how you will deal with it once it is in your two hands.

My husband is always telling me that we take too much on our trips; that we have only two hands and don't need any more pieces than that. This is very true when you get to a luggage carousel and you find that your luggage has been unloaded and is somewhere in a pile with other people's belongings. We always make the mistake of having so much that we have to get a cart to haul it through customs and security and then end up leaving a coat or sweater behind. A word of warning - a cart is a big hindrance especially when everyone else in line has a full cart as well.

I do not buy expensive luggage. Why spend a fortune for designer luggage when it is going to get scratched, mauled, torn, rained on, and bent. And what should you do to identify your black luggage from everyone else's black luggage. We finally learned to tie a ribbon or a luggage strap around the bags we take to identify them from others' black suitcases. This doesn't always work because everyone else has the same idea that we have.

The airlines say that I can carry on a bag of a certain size as well as a personal item. Most of the time, my 21-inch bag has to be squeezed in the overhead bin, especially if I put something in the outside pockets. I learned that a large healthy back bag will give me enough space for necessities that I just must have on the plane. If I take my laptop, I can also put personal items inside its case and still have two good-sized places to have my necessities with me. The only problem is that if we're in an airport trying to eat or shop, we always have to be sure to keep our eyes on our belongings.

One of the problems about traveling in a car is that you are not limited to what you can take. This is great, except when we travel by car, we are usually staying in a different hotel every night which means that we make multiple trips to the car, sometimes up the one slow elevator that the hotel operates, to get all of our stuff. And of course, everything has to come inside since the hotels say they are not responsible for items left in the car.

Wheeled luggage is the best invention ever unless you happen to pull it over someone's feet. It is a lot easier to roll a suitcase down a concourse than to try to carry it. But it is very hard to close the door on a restroom stall if you are dragging a 21-inch bag behind you - there just isn't space for a person and a bag to move out of the way so the door will shut freely. And it is almost impossible to try to roll two bags at the same time. I have never been able to master using the luggage strap on the largest piece to securely hold the smaller piece without both of them tipping over. And wheeled luggage is not too great when you have to use a crowded elevator, an escalator, or stairs, because it is always in the way.

Wouldn't it be great if we didn't need so many necessities when we travel? Our son can go over two weeks with a daypack and large backpack. We need to take his advice - pack what you think you need and take half of it out.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Problems with Rental Cars

We don't always take cruises or trips abroad when we travel. There are times when we want to see new parts of the U.S.A. When we do this, we usually fly to a destination and rent a car to go to the mountains, beaches, Disney World, or any other overcrowded tourist area that everyone else wants to go to as well.

We used to rent the smallest, cheapest car available with automatic transmission and air conditioning. This was before we made a round-trip drive from Las Vegas to the Grand Canyon and back in one day in a Mitsubishi Mirage with no cruise control. Now we rent a compact car and let AAA upgrade us to a larger car so we can be comfortable while riding along seeing our beautiful country.Rental cars are not without problems. We try to request a non-smoking car because who wants to drive for miles in a car that stinks inside. One time we rented an SUV at home to drive to Branson, Missouri, and had to vacuum dog hair off the seats before we could even sit down.

On our last trip to Yellowstone, we had two car problems. The first was that after we waited in line for a while to check in and even upgraded, we were told that there were no cars cleaned up and we would have to wait for one to be cleaned, probably about 20 minutes (which stretched into over a hour). The second problem was that when the tires got hot, a Check Tire Monitor light came on with an accompanying beep. We went to the closest Walmart and got the tires checked, but had to listen to the annoying warning sound every time the tires got hot. Fortunately we could turn it off.

Cars are supposed to be checked thoroughly and cleaned before they are rented out again. Then why was the windshield washer fluid container completely empty on one car that I rented? Why did I have to put air in the tires? And isn't a gas tank supposed to be full, not 3/4 full when you rent it?Unless I know that I am going to use a full tank of gas, I never let the rental company charge me for a full tank up front. It is hard to really empty a gasoline tank and I usually end up giving quite a bit to the rental company when I turn in the car. I can usually find a service station close to the airport to fill up myself and I usually try to put a little more in after the pump clicks off so the gauge reads full when I return it.

I don't like General Motors cars, which most of the rental companies use for their lowest rental rates. They have a huge steering wheel, are full of blind spots, and the back window is so slanted that all I have is a slit to look through when I want to see behind me. Why did Hertz get rid of the Taurus? I liked driving that model. And I must say that Hertz was very nice when I had steering problems with an sub-compact and was 70 miles away from the airport - they brought me a Taurus that distance and did not charge me. They also let me keep a Taurus an extra day at weekend rates when I had to stay in Louisiana an extra day because of a hurricane.

Although we have been told we don't have to do so, we do take the collision insurance, even though it is expensive. Who wants a vacation ruined if you have an accident and have problems with your own insurance company who may be over 1000 miles away. We had a windshield cracked one time before we even left the airport property and when we returned the car, they said that we had no obligation since we had taken their insurance. When you compare the cost of the insurance with your own deductible, there isn't much difference and you do have peace of mind when driving in a strange area. Some car rental companies go over the car with a fine-tooth comb to find all of the scratches and dents on it so they can charge you for new dings and scratches when you return it. I don't want to worry so much about the car that I don't enjoy my vacation.

And why do car rental companies lock both keys to the car on the same key ring? My husband and I would each like to carry a key for safety reasons. At one time, the customer was given one key and the office kept the other. That made more sense.Turning in a car is much easier than getting one. A staff member has a hand-held computer which computes everything that you agreed upon when you rented the car (and maybe some items that you didn't agree upon). Be sure to check your statement before leaving the area.

And don't let a kea in New Zealand destroy the rubber around the door. This is what happened to one of my Australian friends who opened his door while waiting to enter a one-way tunnel.