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Trip Doctor: Spring Packing for Paris and Barcelona

Paris street fashion

Q. I will be traveling to Europe this coming May and will only be able to bring one 22” carry-on and one overnight bag (that will fit under the seat). I'll be in Paris from May 5 – 11, and then in Barcelona from May 12 – 16.

The weather should be okay, but most likely there will be rain. I'm stumped as to how to best pack so I'm prepared for anything while packing as light as possible.

What shoes would you recommend for daytime walking (a lot of walking!)? Jacket or sweater? How many pairs of jeans? How many tops?

This is my first big trip to Europe so I'm trying to be proactive and figure out now what is needed. Since I will be responsible for lugging my own bags from Paris to Spain, I am truly limited for packing purposes. —Marianne VanAuken, Chandler, AZ

A. Since this is your first trip across the pond you should know Europeans' idea of casual is a bit more pulled together than Americans'. Parisian culture is steeped in fashion history and they take it seriously, so if you don't want to stick out like a sore thumb, bring your best casual looks and buy some new things too. I always think of myself as a representative of our country when abroad and step up the style quotient.

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Trip Doctor: The Rebirth of a Brand

Karl Lagerfeld

Jean Nouvel. Christian Lacroix. Kenzo Takada. And now, Karl Lagerfeld. Over the last half-decade, a star-studded cast of designers and architects has helped transform the half-century-old French Sofitel brand from a random collection of dusty hotels—some elegant, some forgettable—into a serious player among international luxury hotels.

This is all thanks to a new direction from CEO Robert Gaymer-Jones, who over the last six years whittled down 81 sub-par properties from a group of more than 200 into a collection of 120 hotels that have been upgraded and reflagged into distinct brands. They include the Sofitel flagship (the Nouvel-designed Sofitel Vienna Stephansdom, for one), Sofitel Legend for historic properties (the Sofitel Metropole in Hanoi and the soon-to-open Sofitel Montevideo among others), and So, a line of new style-conscious boutiques. (Recent openings include So Bangkok, where Lacroix did the lobby and staff uniforms, and So Mauritius, where Takada designed eight light-filled villas.)

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Trip Doctor: How to Find Affordable European Flights for Summer

Q: Is there such a thing as an affordable European flight this summer? If so, how can I find one? —Catherine Mills, Westport, Conn.

A: Remember when flying to Europe was, at most, a $600 commitment? These days, that’s often just the baseline cost of a transatlantic ticket. According to Rick Seaney, cofounder and CEO of Farecompare, the average airfare to Europe includes about $450 in surcharges (including fuel) and $160 in taxes and fees. Tack on what the carrier itself charges, and it’s no wonder you can find yourself paying more than $1,000 for an economy-class ticket. But you can still fly for less. You just need to know the tricks.

Pay attention to shoulder seasons. Summer flights, hands down, are the most expensive. But if you look around the edges of summer—early June; the last week of August—you’ll find better fares. They’re even more affordable in early May and mid-October. Of course, winter fares are still lowest, and they stay that way from mid-November until mid-March (excluding the winter holidays).

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Trip Doctor: Why Can’t My Family and I Find Airplane Seats Together?

airplane seats

Major domestic carriers have put premiums on an increasing number of main-cabin aisle and window seats, making them available only to high-ranking frequent fliers or people willing to add $20 to $60 per trip leg. Though these seats sometimes open up to regular travelers as the flight date approaches, this policy in effect forces families to pay up or risk sitting apart. New York Senator Charles Schumer and others have decried the practice, but their efforts will have little impact in the short term. If you can’t (or won’t) pay the premium, your best bet is to log on to your airline’s website 24 hours before your flight—when carriers begin releasing premium seats to the public.

Amy FarleyHave a travel dilemma? Need some tips and remedies? Send your questions to news editor Amy Farley at tripdoctor@aexp.com. Follow @tltripdoctor on Twitter.

 

Photo by iStockphoto

Tech Thursday: Pintrips Offers A New Way to Compare Flights

Pintrips

There’s no shame in admitting this: I’m a compulsive bargain hunter—never satisfied with paying full price without doing some browsing for a good deal. But I suspect many of us fall under the same umbrella, especially when it comes to airfare. Enter Pintrips, a new tool that helps you look at flight options side-by-side, monitoring them in real time for fluctuations in price. Unlike online booking sites, which let you sort by cost, Pintrips aggregates data to show you when your favorite itineraries—those “pinned” to your dashboard—drop or increase in price, and by how much, offering insight on the right moment to book. Plus, the tool lets you share itineraries with anyone you’d like (my husband and I are simultaneously keeping an eye on flights to Cape Town), and you can manage multiple trips at once, each neatly packaged in its own folder and with its own sharing preferences. The best part: It's free to use. (Though you wouldn't expect otherwise from a site that's all about saving, would you?)

Nikki Ekstein is an Editorial Assistant at Travel + Leisure and part of the Trip Doctor news team. Find her at on Twitter at @nikkiekstein.

Image courtesy of Pintrips

Trip Doctor: What’s the Best Place to Exchange Currency?

currency

Find out if your bank has an affiliate abroad: it will offer the best exchange rates and may waive ATM fees for withdrawals. Stay away from airport and hotel exchange counters, which typically have poor rates and high commission fees. Keep tabs on the current exchange rate, so you’ll know whether you are getting your money’s worth.

Amy FarleyHave a travel dilemma? Need some tips and remedies? Send your questions to news editor Amy Farley at tripdoctor@aexp.com. Follow @tltripdoctor on Twitter.

 

Photo by iStockphoto

Trip Doctor: How to Deal with Hotel Bill Shock

Do...

Heed the warnings. If the hotel informed you of resort fees and the like, you share some of the blame.

Play up your loyalty. Point out that you are a member of the hotel’s program, or a repeat customer.

Don’t...

Accept responsibility for fees buried in fine print. They should be clearly presented to guests.

Be afraid to stand your ground. If the front desk can’t help, ask for the general manager or guest services director.

Amy FarleyHave a travel dilemma? Need some tips and remedies? Send your questions to news editor Amy Farley at tripdoctor@aexp.com. Follow @tltripdoctor on Twitter.

Trip Doctor: The Best and Worst International Airlines

FlightStats

(Click to view a larger version)

Comparing international airlines is much more apples and oranges than it seems: Without a central governing agency to collect the data, there’s hardly a way to put carriers head to head. Enter FlightStats, which crunches the numbers each year for their Airline and Airport On-Time Performance Service Awards, and whose 2012 winners were announced today.

Not only does FlightStats determine which airlines are most punctual (arriving to the gate within 15 minutes of scheduled times), but they also look at cancellation numbers, alliance-wide statistics, and more. Plus, they've sliced the data exclusively for us by stacking up all the international data in two handy graphics—a useful tool if you're considering loyalty with a new carier. Take a look at some of the winners here.

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Trip Doctor: Carry-On Luggage Recommendation

Victorinox carry-on luggage

Q: My carry-on is beat, and it’s time for a new one. What do you recommend? —Jonathan Curley, Seattle, Wash.

A: In the new world order of carry-ons, lightness is key. Victorinox’s 22-inch model ($299) is hard-sided yet weighs only six pounds. It also has maximum maneuverability thanks to its eight wheels. (If you are used to two, scooting around the airport with this many is truly life-changing.)

Packing is rarely easy—we’re here to help. Send your questions to tripdoctor@aexp.com.

Photo courtesy of Victorinox

Trip Doctor: U.S. Issues Warning for Travel to Peru

Machu Picchu

The U.S. Embassy in Lima has issued an official security message for American citizens warning about travel to the Cusco area of Peru, including Machu Picchu. The message, issued Thursday, says that the embassy received information that a criminal organization may be planning to kidnap American tourists in the Cusco and Machu Picchu area. The report adds, “possible targets and methods are not known and the threat is credible at least through the end of February 2013.”

The embassy is currently prohibiting personnel from visiting the area on personal travel, and is restricting official visits. Though the embassy urges non-consular U.S. citizens to “maintain a high level of vigilance and take appropriate steps to enhance your personal security” if traveling to the region, at this point the threat has not been elevated to an official Department of State travel alert or warning. (The embassy says it “remains confident of the Peruvian government’s efforts to ensure the safety of all tourists in the region.”) That, however, could change in the coming days.

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