Category: travel

Ask the Internet: Best Place to Search for Lodging in Europe

Okay folks. My European plans are progressing. I’ve actually gotten tickets now. Flying in and out of Budapest this time, since we have yet to see that one. It’s through Zurich, but we won’t be doing a stopover, choosing to spend our time seeing Budapest, Vienna, Salzburg, Prague, Krakow, and Košice, instead. (In addition to Slovakia, of course.) It should be a blast.

But it looks like our travel dates are overlapping with European holidays, so a lot of hotel rooms are already booked. As I’ve been doing searches, I wondered what sites other people use to find lodging, particularly in Europe. Here are some of the sites I’m already aware of:

  • is a favorite. They have a wide variety of hotels, their prices are decent, and I like their interface. I also appreciate how well integrated they are with tripadvisor, as I rely on reviews heavily when I’m selecting a place to stay. I need to make sure it will be decent for my family. That said, sometimes they omit places, and I’m not sure how exhaustive their results are. I can’t help wondering if I couldn’t get a better deal somewhere else. (That’s where you all come in.)
  • VRBO is one I’ve used for North American trips, but it seems less robust in Europe. Particularly in Slovakia and the Czech Republic. (Sorry. I just can’t bring myself to call it Czechia.) Also, I sometimes worry about how reliable the places will be. Our stay in Paris was lovely, but it’s an added concern not typically there when I’m just going to check into a chain hotel. (Though the accommodations are so much nicer.)
  • Airbnb is another site, and it seems more popular in the places I’m specifically checking so far. (Budapest, Vienna, Salzburg, and Prague) Same issues as VRBO, but definitely easy to use and worth looking into.
  • is one that was new to me, and I haven’t really liked it yet. I used it a bit, but the prices seem inflated from what I can find on other sites. I wonder if I’m using it wrong, or if I don’t understand the results properly.
  • Individual hotel sites are also always worth a shot. Marriott sometimes has the best deals directly from their site, for example.

And that’s the extent of what I’ve used. Anyone out there use anything else they’re really fond of? Please share. I’m all about learning new things.



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How to Decide How Long to Visit a City

In conjunction with my European travel post yesterday, I was wondering if I might ask the hivemind a question. I’m looking at going to some new cities on this trip, but it’s always a balancing act, trying to decide how much time to spend in one city vs. trying to see multiple cities. What is your general approach?

I think it boils down to two different mindsets. On the one, it’s fun to go see new places, check out the “best of” and then move on to the next. With this route, you don’t get to really *experience* any of the cities. It’s more like you consume them, like when you go to a restaurant buffet and try a little bit of everything. After the meal, someone might ask you what you liked, but you can only give a cursory summary of what you tried, and how they compared. You didn’t commit to a single dish, and so you don’t know any one dish very well. But you know a little bit about all of them.

On the other hand, you can spend multiple days in a city and really get to know it. (Well, as much as just a few days in a city will let you. In my experience, if you really want to get to know a place well, you need to live there at least a year or two. But since we can’t all go around moving to a place for a year or two . . . ) This route, you get to see the city at different times. Eat at several restaurants. Check out different areas. You don’t just see the “best of” sites. You get to hopefully go to lesser-visited places.

I see the advantages of both. If you’re never going to go back to an area again, it sometimes makes sense to rush through as much of that area as you can. But on the other hand, some of my favorite stories come from telling people about places I’ve seen and things I’ve done that most people never will be able to. It’s all fine and good to visit Vienna and see the Hapsburg palaces. But my favorite Hapsburg estate was the one at Svaty Anton. It’s a place hardly anyone has been, and I remember it really well. It’s different than any of the other palaces I’ve been to.

Then again, if you’ve never seen a Hapsburg palace at all, maybe Svaty Anton wouldn’t be as interesting.

Perhaps in the end it depends on what you want to get out of your trip. Do you want to be able to watch movies and remember the time you were at that location? Tell other people about the cool cities you visited? Or would you rather talk about the interesting, novel things you did? Or remember the unique experiences you had that perhaps no one else (or very few) have?

I might be going to Poland or Eastern Slovakia. What do I want to see there? How long do I want to stay? So what would you plan to do if you were going to a country for the first time? What’s your approach been? Please share.


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European Planning

This summer will have been three years since our last trip to Europe, which means it’s high time we get over there again. If you’re new to the blog, Denisa and I try to get to Slovakia once every three years, so she can see her family and friends, and so the kids can be immersed in that side of their heritage. It’s not as often as we’d like, but it’s about as often as we can afford, realistically.

I love the initial planning stages of a trip to Europe. There are just so many possibilities. What if we fly through Madrid and do a stopover there? Or we could see Iceland, or Denmark, or Sweden. What if we do another big road trip, hitting some Eastern European countries this time? It can all get rather overwhelming, of course, as there are so many decisions to make, and so many unknowns to wade through. Will we be taking a car or the train? If we’re staying in new cities, where should we stay? How long? Who do we want to see when we’re over there?

Decisions, decisions.

So what I try to do is start nailing down a few specifics first. Exact travel dates for flying to Europe and coming home. Last time when we had my brother in law fly out to us, his airline (Air Berlin) went insolvent for the return trip, forcing us to buy a new ticket. Having been burned like that once, I’m now becoming more cautious with my flights. This time, I’m going to put them on my Chase Ink Preferred Card, which comes with $5,000 of free travel insurance. If something crazy happens, we can get that money back, so that’s a perk. We’re also looking at Denisa going with the kids earlier, and me following a week or two later. That gives them more time to just enjoy Slovakia without me having to take extra vacation days, which come at a premium.

Getting the specifics in place make other things easier to plan. For example, it’s looking (at the moment) like we’ll fly in and out of Budapest this time. If that’s the case, then I think we might do a road trip of Eastern Europe. We could show the kids Budapest, Vienna, Bratislava, Prague, Krakow, and Kosice, with maybe a quick jaunt up to Dresden, because it’s really hard to convince myself it isn’t worth going back to Germany, even for a day.

Of course, that leads to other questions. Hotels. Rental cars. How many days to give to each city. You’d figure with all those different variables, I’d get overwhelmed. But this is where the advice I give my freshman classes each year comes in handy: when you’re doing research, give yourself plenty of time. If you’re trying to wait until the last minute, it all gets to be too much. I have eight months to plan this thing now. Plane tickets first, since it pays to be on the lookout for them early on. Hotels and rental cars can come later. They aren’t as hard to get. Places to see can be filled in as we go. Passports, cannot. Denisa and I both need new ones, and I’ll be putting in those applications soon. (Really want to avoid the mess that happened three years ago.)

With enough time, any research project can be fun. But then again, I’m a librarian. It’s kind of my thing.

Anyway . . . anyone want to get a tour of Slovakia? August is looking lovely.


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Moving Time!

Sorry for the absence Friday. I was off on a moving adventure over the weekend. I just got back yesterday, and my back and forearms are kind of on the painful side, but nothing was broken (on me, at least. A few pieces of furniture can’t quite say the same . . .), so all is well. I learned a few valuable lessons over the course of the move:

  • A 26 foot truck is very big. As in, very big. But at the same time, it’s kind of like a reverse TARDIS. Once you start filling the thing, it begins to feel smaller on the inside than it is on the outside. The more things you put into it, the smaller it feels. Ultimately, you wish it were bigger so it would be easier to fit all the stuff.
  • But then you drive the 26 foot truck (or act as navigator) and you wish it were smaller again. This is also true when you have to fill up the tank, which costs enough money that you have to put your credit card in twice, because it stops at $100 per gas transaction.
  • Back braces are a wonderful thing. I bought one just for this experience, and I’m very glad I did. My lower back doesn’t hurt at all, and my upper back mainly just creaks and groans like the rest of my muscles. For the record, I bought this one, and I really liked it.
  • Driver side seats in a truck are much nicer than passenger side seats. Though you have to drive the truck to be able to sit there, so I think it’s kind of a wash.
  • Moving things into a truck takes forever. Moving stuff out of the truck is much easier. Finding a place to put all the stuff when you move it out is a whole different story.
  • Moving trucks are very tall. Tall enough that you have to watch out for branches that you never would think about twice in a normal situation.
  • People in small cars don’t really care about how long it might take you to stop when you’re in a big truck. They zoom around you without a care in the world. I don’t think we ran over any of the small cars, but a few of those roads were pretty bumpy, so we might have clunked over one or two and just thought it was a pot hole. (Seriously. I’m going to be much more careful around big trucks from now on, until I forget this lesson a few months from now at least.)
  • Three people to load a 26 foot truck is not enough. Even when you have a fourth person for a couple of hours.
  • After moving for three straight days and traveling through 10 states to do it, you’re going to be very tired. But you’re not going to be able to sleep well.
  • Moving doesn’t burn as many calories as you’d think, so justifying that chocolate bar? Probably not a great idea.
  • You will be very, very glad to be home and done with it.

At least we didn’t have to go over any covered bridges.

“That’s not a bridge. It’s termites holding hands!”

What to Do When You’re Involuntarily Bumped from a Flight

When it comes to travel, things often go wrong for me. Whether it’s flights getting entirely canceled, or Colombian soccer teams making planes have to go back to the gate right before takeoff, I’ve seen my fair share of flying fiascos. So when the video surfaced of the United passenger getting dragged off the plane after being involuntarily bumped from the flight (after he was already seated!), I looked at it and thought, “That could be me someday.”

And as a librarian, I’m a firm believer in the importance of having knowledge. The right knowledge. The knowledge you need for the situation at hand.

It turns out there’s this thing called the “US Department of Transportation” that governs how air travel works in this country. (Well, there is as of today. Who knows what will get cut next under the Trump administration?) They have laws that dictate what companies have to do for passengers in a variety of situations, and that includes laws governing people who get bumped when they don’t want to get bumped.

They have a handy web page that goes over your rights as a passenger, and I encourage you all to read it, or at least to be aware that it exists, so you can consult it if you ever are in a travel bind. But since I also know from experience that my blog readers don’t like clicking through to articles, I’m going to summarize the steps to take for involuntary bumping here.

First, airlines are required by law to look for people willing to be bumped in exchange for compensation. What form that compensation takes is up to the airline. They can offer travel vouchers of varying denominations. They might offer hotel rooms and meals as well. There are no laws saying what they have to offer, only that they have to offer something. Often that offer will go up if no one takes them up on it. For the United flight that received all the news coverage, they were supposedly offering $1000 for people willing to be bumped. No one took them up on it.

Be aware that it’s totally in your rights to be fully informed about what exactly the airline is offering if you choose to be bumped. Will there be blackout travel dates for those vouchers? What flight will they put you on instead, and when will you arrive? How long is the voucher good for? Can you use it for international travel? Of course, if someone else chooses to be bumped and doesn’t care about the restrictions, the airline is welcome to deal with them instead of you. It’s a negotiation to find the person or persons willing to be bumped for the best deal for the airline.

But sometimes (as the United case shows) that deal isn’t reached, and the airline has to bump somebody. They overbooked in an effort to make sure the plane was full. (Statistically, it was likely some people would cancel or not show up for the flight, so the airline overbooks to the point where they think that will balance out. Sometimes they’re wrong.) If you are bumped involuntarily, you have some very good rights, but they depend mainly on the delay to your travel:

  • If your new flight gets you to your final destination within an hour of your original schedule, you get nothing. Good day sir.
  • If your new flight gets you there between one and two hours late (one and four hours, for international flights), you’re entitled to 200% of your one way ticket fare, up to a maximum of $675.
  • If your new flight gets you there later than that (or they don’t rebook you at all for some strange reason), you’re entitled to 400% of your one way ticket fare, with a maximum of $1,350.
  • If your ticket didn’t show a fare (you were using frequent flyer miles, for example), they’ll base the one way fare on the lowest price someone paid for travel in the same class you were booked in.
  • You always get to keep your original ticket and use it on another flight. You can also make your own arrangements and request an “involuntary refund” for that ticket. This is above and beyond the compensation listed above.
  • If you paid for any extras on the flight (baggage fees, etc.), the airline is required to refund those payments.

There are some exceptions to these rules that you should be aware of:

  • It assumes you had an actual written reservation on the flight, and that you arrived within the check-in deadline the airline posts. If you got there late, tough luck.
  • If you got bumped because they switched sizes of planes for whatever reason, you’re out of luck. You’re not entitled to anything.
  • If you got bumped due to safety regulations (weight of the plane or balance constraints) and your flight had 30-60 people on it, you’re also out of luck. Go figure.

And here’s one thing to be very aware of: if you’re involuntarily bumped, the airline will likely try to pay you what it owes in the form of ticket vouchers. You are entitled to ask to be paid in a check, instead. Once you cash the check or accept the free flight, you lose the ability to get more money from the airline. You’ve accepted the deal. If being bumped involuntarily ends up costing more than the airline is willing to pay, you can contact their complaints department and ultimately taken them to court. But not if you already accepted the deal.

Now you know, and knowing is half the battle.

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