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Trip Doctor: Madrid's Best Walking Tours

Madrid Walking Tours

Wellington Society of Madrid: Join one of the dozen walks offered by Stephen Drake-Jones, a history professor and longtime resident. You’ll get his lively perspective on topics including Hemingway’s Madrid (past clients include the writer’s niece, Hilary), the Hapsburgs, the Prado and Modern Arts museums, and the curiosities and anecdotes of old Madrid, with stops at historic taverns. From $76.

Amy Send your dilemmas to news editor Amy Farley at tripdoctor@aexp.com. Follow @afarles on Twitter.


Photo by David Nicholas

New Website Saves on Airfare By Choosing Your Destination For You

Getgoing.com

Getgoing.com, a new website that officially launches on March 6, promises to save leisure travelers up to 40 percent on airfare. How do they know you're really a leisure traveler? Simple. You choose two different destinations in the same region of the world (for example, Vienna and Geneva, or Costa Rica and Panama) and enter your travel dates. Then provide your billing information to complete your reservation. The Get Going team randomly chooses one of your two options. The "surprise" is supposed to be part of the website's charm. The savings is the other part.

The website covers hundreds of cities in more than 50 countries. Here are some airfares from New York I found on getgoing.com and the lowest comparable fares on Kayak: Milan, $568 ($635 on Kayak); Istanbul, $577 ($705 on Kayak); Las Vegas, $247 ($338 on Kayak); Beijing, $815 ($1,020 on Kayak). I didn't find any 40% discounts, and the flights on getgoing.com may be different from those on Kayak, but in every example I tried, getgoing.com had the lowest fare.

And now for the drawbacks: Getgoing.com is the wrong choice if you are a business traveler who needs to be in Los Angeles on Monday morning or you're traveling to a family reunion in Glasgow, because you may not get your preferred destination. You won't know which airline you'll be flying or the location of your stop-over airports (if any) until you complete your purchase. Even more important: your tickets are completely nonrefundable and changes are not allowed, even if you're willing to pay a penalty fee. You can, however, buy cancel-for-any-reason trip insurance at a cost roughly equal to 10% of the airfare.

For free-and-easy travelers who choose their destinations using a blindfold, a dart, and a map taped to the wall, getgoing.com could be a useful booking tool. But for the rest of us, maybe not.

2012-hs-mark-orwolljpgMark Orwoll is the International Editor of Travel + Leisure. Follow him on Twitter.


Image courtesy of Getgoing.com

The Doctor Recommends: Stories and Articles From All Over

Here are a few recent travel stories that piqued the interest of T+L's news team.

Be careful where you shake, folks. USA Today reports that the FAA is looking into possible safety violations after a group Colorado College students lead a Harlem Shake on a recent Frontier Airlines flight. (Amy Farley)

United has launched an official investigation of the crew that threw Live and Let's Fly blogger Matthew Klint off the plane for snapping photos of his business class cabin. Klint's takeaway? The seven words you shouldn't use on an airplane. (Nikki Ekstein)

Farecompare founder Rick Seaney has great advice for people traveling in a group (including families): save money by searching for airfare one person at a time. We’d explain here, but best to just go straight to his brilliant USA Today column. (AF)

Oh, the people you'll meet. Novelist Nathaniel Rich finds himself sharing intimacies, aspirations, and a little bit of heartbreak with his fellow passengers on a two-day journey from New Orleans to Los Angeles on the Sunset Limited train in this weekend's New York Times Magazine. (AF)

What's more lonely than being in a strange hotel in a strange city all by yourself? Being without your beloved $8 M&Ms. In an essay in The Atlantic, journalist David Samuels laments the demise of the hotel mini bar. (AF)

Best Golf Shoes for Travel

golf shoes

Q: I am hoping to play golf on an upcoming business trip, but hate packing my bulky golf shoes. Any tips? —Joe English, via e-mail

A: You could stash them with your clubs, but I’ve got a better idea: Ecco just released a new water-resistant golf shoe (pictured; $190) that can be worn with jeans for a casual dinner as well as on the green (don’t just take our word for it—Fred Couples wore them throughout the 2012 PGA tour). If you’re headed to a rainy locale, also consider the three-layer nylon golf jacket by RLX Golf. It folds into a tiny, easy-to-stow bundle.

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

Photo by John Lawton

Packing Tips for a South Africa Vacation

Packing Tips for South Africa Vacation: Solumbra safari shirt

Q: I’m going to South Africa next month. I’ll need safari gear for a week at Sabi Sand Reserve and clothes for several days in Cape Town. What will work in each location? —Mary Catherine Blake, Sandy Springs, Ga.

A: It’s best to limit your color palette to neutrals (an especially good idea on game drives, where bright reds and jarring prints can provoke wildlife). Solumbra’s safari shirt (pictured; $80) has sun-protective qualities and wicks moisture away from your skin. For Cape Town, where daytime highs hover around 80 degrees in January, try this lightweight top from Lemlem ($200). It’s made of handwoven (and tissue-thin) Ethiopian cotton, with a pattern derived from local textiles. For a night out, A.L.C.’s peach-colored silk georgette dress ($645) is easy and chic. Lastly, Coolibar’s wide-brimmed crushable canvas hat ($45), rated UPF 50+, will keep you cool in both the city and the countryside.

Mimi LombardoPacking is rarely easy—we’re here to help. Send your question to tripdoctor@aexp.com.

 

Photo by John Lawton

How to Cope With an Overzealous Tour Member

tour group

Do...

Book trips where multiple guides are present at all times. One is there to handle special situations just like this.

Talk to your guide, not to the traveler in question. Guides are trained to handle a variety of personalities.

Don’t...

Isolate the individual. That will only make him more likely to further monopolize your guide’s attention.

Be too quick to judge. As the group dynamic shakes out, needy travelers tend to settle down.

Amy Send your dilemmas to news editor Amy Farley at tripdoctor@aexp.com. Follow @afarles on Twitter.

Illustration by Larry Jost

Do I Really Need to Arrive Two Hours Early for an International Flight?

international flight

Trip Doctor’s Answer

Here’s the official rule: you and your luggage must be checked in at least an hour before departure, and you’ve got to be at the gate 30 to 45 minutes early. (There are a handful of exceptions; check with your carrier.) If you check in online and only have a carry-on, you’re free to play it closer—just don’t forget about the security lines.

Amy Send your dilemmas to news editor Amy Farley at tripdoctor@aexp.com. Follow @afarles on Twitter.

 

Photo by Don Wilson/Courtesy of Port of Seattle

Is It Better to Book Flights with a Cruise or Separately?

cruise

Trip Doctor’s Answer

Cruise lines negotiate set fares based on volume, so their flights are often more affordable than what you’ll find on your own—especially for business-class tickets. Perhaps more important, cruise fares protect you if you literally miss the boat because of flight delays; you’ll be flown to the next port of call without any change fees, says Dwain Wall, senior vice president of CruiseOne & Cruises, a network of 1,400 cruise agents.

Still, while you’ve got that cruise airfare on hold (you often have a full 10 days to cancel without penalty), you’ll want to shop around. Sale fares and tickets on low-cost carriers are sometimes a better deal than the cruise rates, which are restricted to specific airlines. And because the number of cruise-fare seats is limited on each flight, your itinerary might include an inconvenient overnight stay. If you do book on your own, be sure to purchase travel insurance in case your flight is delayed.

Amy Send your dilemmas to news editor Amy Farley at tripdoctor@aexp.com. Follow @afarles on Twitter.


Photo courtesy of Oceania Cruises

Tech Thursday: TripAdvisor Takes a Stance Against Blackmail

201302-b-tripadvisor-hotel-check-injpg

Long gone are the days of the anonymous critic. Nowadays, anyone with a Yelp account can wield enough power to make a business owner quiver. But you already knew that much. A surprising new development? The rising trend of blatant blackmail—guests demanding freebies and service perks to prevent a zero-star takedown. And it's gotten so out of control that one entrepreneur has even introduced Reviewer Card, where for $100, members get a black card embossed with the words "I Write Reviews," a not so subtle way of saying, "Upgrade me—or else."

The Internet has already lashed out against the ridiculous concept of the Reviewer Card, but at this point, hoteliers and restaurateurs need practical support, not a flurry of blog-based comments. Enter TripAdvisor, which recognizes that extortion—even if just on digital review sites—is more than just a nuisance. In fact, it's illegal in many places. Their new blackmail reporting tool allows hoteliers to report any threats or suspicious behavior before a poor review is posted, creating a flag for similar-sounding, low-scoring posts coming onto the system. If a match is detected, the review will never make it online, whereas before, business owners would have to monitor their published reviews to find questionable content. It's a big move that benefits both businesses and consumers—and the latest weapon in TripAdvisor's strong fraud detection arsenal. For the sake of restaurants, which are just as affected by the blackmail trend (if not more so), we only hope that Yelp follows suit.

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

 

© Adrian Weinbrecht/cultura/Corbis

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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