Vacation, Unplugged
By Carmen Shirkey (Collins)
Originally posted April 23, 2010

I am addicted to the Internet. I work on the Internet. I play on the Internet. If it weren’t for Twitter and Facebook I would probably have to *gasp* pick up the phone to talk to someone. I’m always on, I’m jacked in, and usually it’s good.

However, I have absolutely no problem – well, almost no problem – giving it all up for the sake of a vacation. No one needs to reach me that bad that I should have to pay for international cell phone minutes. There is no rational need that I can think of that would require anyone to have a laptop on the beach. And enough with the Facebook “place dropping.” We know you’re on vacation, stop spending time rubbing it in our faces on Facebook and get out there and enjoy yourself.

Have we become so reliant on constant connection that we can’t disconnect? Isn’t that what a vacation is supposed to be about?

Now, there’s a place for technology on a vacation. Downloading a map, for example, or checking to see if your flight is on time, read an e-book or maybe even get a guidebook application.

However, I get annoyed quickly when someone in my tour absolutely must take a call. Or check an email over dinner. Not only are they interrupting their own vacation, but mine as well.

I’ve got some sobering news for us, people. We are not as important as our technology makes it seem that we are.

There are numerous studies and statistics that espouse the benefits of letting the mind and body recharge, so I won’t bore you with them here. But what I am saying here is that we all need to let our technology recharge while we let our bodies recharge. Or our battery life is going to catch up to us before we’ve had a chance to do all that we wanted to do.

Life is short. Travel hard.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Paying for Travel

Paying for Travel
By Carmen Shirkey (Collins)
Verizon Central Newsroom Travel Editor
Originally published June 26, 2008

I often get asked how it is that I can afford to travel so frequently. In this day of a rough economy and gas prices through the roof, it’s not easy.

If travel is a priority for you, then you need to make an effort to save. Pass up that “designer” coffee and put that $3 in a coffee can instead. Get a change sorter and put all your lose change aside – quarters add up quickly! There are lots of little saving tips, and the money doesn’t sound like a lot at first, but in a year, you’ll have enough to really start planning a trip.

However, no matter how much money you save, you’ll want to make each dollar go further. I’m constantly on the search for a great deal, and I usually find them. Here’s how I do it.

I sign up for an email account that I designate as my “spam” account, because it’s the address I’m going to use for giving out to Web sites. Then, I go out and sign up for email newsletters and alerts.

Which airline do you fly most often, or which ones fly out of your local airport? Go to the Web sites for each one and sign up for their fare alerts. This will only get you so far, because often the fares are last-minute, but if you can literally fly by the seat of your pants, you’ll benefit here.

Then decide where you want to go.

The big travel consolidator Web sites, Orbitz, Expedia and Travelocity all have some kind of fare-watcher functionality. You enter your home airport, and the sites will send you alerts on fares from that airport to the destinations you designate. There are also options to get notified when fares reach a certain point (that you’ve indicated.) This is a great way to find out when that Vegas airfare goes on sale.

If you have a specific destination in mind, like the Caribbean or Europe, find Websites that specialize in that area. I think is fantastic for package deals – often you can find a package with hotel and airfare that’s less than airfare on its own. For Europe, I’ve signed up for’s newsletter, and I also like

Here’s where the smart travel brain cell kicks in. If you see a deal on one site, chances are, another site will have the same offer. One site may offer a shopping pass for local retailers, or a 2-for-1 dinner offer that another site might not have. Who is offering travel insurance for the least amount? Are the taxes and fees included in one and not another?

Part of the fun of planning a trip is just that, the planning. With a little know-how, you could be on your way to the trip of your dreams for less than you thought.

Best of Vegas

Best of Vegas
By Carmen Shirkey (Collins)
Verizon Central Newsroom Travel Editor
Originally published April 29, 2008

I just returned from my fifth cross-country pilgrimage to Las Vegas, so I’m here to offer you my own personal Best of Las Vegas list.

1. Best Vegas Hotel: I’m partial to Mandalay Bay, and I’ll tell you why. I really enjoy the “beach” complex, with the wave pool and the lazy river. It makes the hot Vegas days a bit more fun. The rooms are big and well-kept. The casino is ventilated and not as smoky as some others. The end-of-the-Strip location means that I’m close to the action, but not in the middle of it and hearing pirate ships fire and volcanoes erupt and drunk people party.

Runner-Up: The Venetian – though its suites are pricey, it’s the best luxury hotel, beating the Bellagio hands-down. *Hint: Ask for a personal refrigerator. They’re free if they’re available, and you can use it to store water, drinks, cheesecake, etc.

2. Best Breakfast: If you’re staying at the Paris Hotel, you’ll have less distance to walk to the best breakfast buffet on the Strip, because that’s where Le Buffet is located. The $14.95 per person breakfast buffet is trés magnifique, serving standard fare (eggs, bacon, etc.) along with fill-your-own crepes. I like mine with raspberry filling topped with chocolate sauce, powdered sugar and almond slices.

3. Best Gambling: Everything on the Strip is about the casino, but the lowest minimum bets and the more generous slot odds can be found downtown on Freemont Street. Admittedly, the hotels here are a bit older and less well-ventilated (smoking is banned everywhere but the casinos) but your chances of winning, or just having a better time losing, are here.

4. Best Free Attraction: The Bellagio fountains cost you nothing, and are the most fabulous freebie on the Strip. Starting at around 3 p.m. and getting more frequent (every 15 minutes) as night falls, the dancing fountains are a delight. Afterwards, make sure to go inside the Bellagio to see the décor and the also-free Bellagio gardens, which change themes with the seasons. *Hint: For a not-so-free, but a birds-eye view of the fountains, head up into the faux Eiffel Tower across the street.

Runner-Up: The Freemont Street Experience. Not only can you gamble for less, but the free light-show above the street runs every half hour at dusk (so times change from season to season, with start times later in summer.)

5. Best Steak: While you can still find prime rib dinners for $7, I can’t vouch for their quality. Be prepared to pay quite a bit more for a good piece of red meat at my favorite – Prime, located in the Bellagio – but every trip to Vegas demands a little splurge. The décor here is masculine brown and blue, but the steak is melt-in-your-mouth, and served with your choice of four tongue-tingling sauces. Plus, if you’re lucky, you’ll get a table with a view of the Bellagio fountains.

Runner-Up: Emeril Lagasse’s Delmonico, located in the Venetian. Emeril knows how to put the BAM! in his food, and this celebrity-chef eatery is no exception. Make reservations before your trip, otherwise, you’ll risk getting turned away.

First-Time Cruisers: Planning Your Cruise

First-Time Cruisers: Planning Your Cruise
By Carmen Shirkey (Collins)
Verizon Central Newsroom Travel Editor
Originally published March 11, 2009

I love to travel, and I love to help others plan travel. I’ve recently had the opportunity to participate in some training classes on cruising. I’m learning a lot, and I thought I could share what I’ve discovered to help you decide if cruising is right for you.

If you’ve never cruised before, the idea of a cruise can be a bit daunting. The cruise business is like everything else in travel these days – it’s hurting, so you can find some good deals if you can find a good agent and do your research.

Cruising can often be a fantastic deal, if you look at the cost per day of a cruise verses seeing a destination the traditional way – by booking airfare and hotel. Let’s say you book a great airfare and hotel deal for 7 days to a Caribbean island. In my research a good deal is going to be around $1000. A 7-day cruise to the Caribbean is running around $799 for an ocean-view room these days (out of Miami) and meals are included in that price. So you can do your own quick, unscientific comparison and see that when you look at a per-day cost, a cruise can give you great value for the money.

There is, however, a caveat that some cruise-newbies often miss. There are things that are not included in your cruise package, and they can add up. The biggest expenditure that gets most people is the buying and indulging in alcoholic beverages. That wine with dinner can add up in costs. Don’t forget tipping, excursion costs, Internet fees, spa charges – these can dent your wallet as well. Of course, you’d spend money on these things if you bought a traditional air/hotel package as well, but it’s always good to budget in advance so you don’t go overboard – pardon the pun.

The room you chose on the ship is also going to affect the price. An inside stateroom is usually the smallest, with no windows – so therefore it’s going to be the cheapest option. I look at it this way: are you going to be doing much more than sleeping in your room? If not, the cheapest option might be the way to go. Now, if you’re like me and worry about motion sickness (which is less common on cruise ships than you might think) you may want to consider an ocean-view or a balcony room. These are a little bigger, and come with a view, so you’re going to pay more for these options.

It’s also important for first-time cruisers to know that if they’re leaving the U.S. – even to just go to the Caribbean – they’re going to need their passports. This is a new development in the government’s battle to better control the borders. And you’re looking at least at a two-month turnaround without paying express fees. Be sure your current passport doesn’t expire within six months of your travel.

This is all just planning stuff. Next week, we’ll look at what to expect when you get onboard!

When Things Go Wrong

When Things Go Wrong
By Carmen Shirkey (Collins)
Verizon Central Newsroom Travel Editor
Originally published March 27, 2008

When you’ve traveled as much as I have, you’re bound to run into some sticky situations. It’s the law of averages. However, it can happen to anyone at anytime. So what do you do?


I have now been on two trips where my luggage didn’t arrive with me. The first time, I was traveling to Italy, yet my bag was still sitting on the runway in DC. It took two full days for my bag to join me on vacation. The second time, I was in Egypt, my bag was somewhere in the Midwest (I flew out of DC.) The benefit of the Italy bag debacle was that I was more prepared for the Egypt mishap.

Try to Carry On
1. Try, if you can, to pack just a carry-on bag. This is hard for most, so. . .
2. Take two or three extra outfits in your carry-on bag. If you’re going to a beach, pack your swimsuit in the carry-on. Space bags are your friends.
3. If you’re traveling with someone, pack one of your outfits in their bag and vice versa. That way, if one of you loses your bag, the other one can save you.
4. Shoes are good hiding places for essentials like underwear and socks. Pack as many as you can in your carry-on.
5. If you need medicine, make sure it’s in the one personal item you’re allowed with you on the plane in addition to your carry-on bag.
6. If your bags are lost, after you go into the bathroom to scream (because you don’t want to take it out on them), report it at the lost baggage counter. They’ll get started to get it back to you.
7. Pester the lost baggage counter. Call them every so often (but let’s remember that you get more flies with honey, so be nice.) Or, ask the front desk or the concierge at the hotel to keep checking on your behalf, so you can try and go enjoy your trip.


The best offense is a good defense. It pays to pay attention. Last year, I was traveling to Hawaii, with a stop in Dallas. The day before departure, the weather in Dallas changed from a forecast of rain to heavy ice. As soon as I heard, I called the airline to get on a different flight that went through another city. Airlines have inclement weather policies, and once they’ve declared a weather issue they will reroute passengers at no charge. Obviously, that means that there will be a lot of people trying to get on a new flight, so the sooner you take action, the better.

The same applies when you’re already at your destination. When I was in Aruba, we saw on the news that there was a hurricane approaching the Gulf of Mexico, and would hit Florida around the time we were supposed to fly home – through Miami. While there was no affect on our location, I went to the front desk a few days in advance to see if they could help me change flights. The woman at the front desk was surprised that I was trying to change flights several days in advance, but she told me later that I was lucky I did, because she had several families now in jeopardy of not getting home.

Have you been in a sticky travel situation? How’d you get out of it? Talk about travel mishaps in the Verizon message boards.