Category Archives: Suggestions for the Travel Industry

Money Mondays: How Not to Pay for Bathrooms

Money Mondays is a weekly post about how to save money for the things that really matter in life and travel. Enjoy!

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Would you cross this glass bridge above ancient ruins to use a free bathroom?

I was told that I should set aside part of my daily travel budget for toilet money. In mist areas of Europe, “public” restrooms are privately owned, so if course the pass on the cleaning, maintenance, and utlities expenses to its users. On my last day in Paris, I was waiting for my bus to Madrid and wasn’t sure when I’d see a toilet again, so I paid to use a public restroom. But I’ve since widened up and found more ways to find free bathrooms throughout Europe. I haven’t paid to use a bathroom since!

– Years ago, when on a class trip to the East Coast, a local was taking us on a tour through Central Park. When we came across a restroom, he gave us all a brilliant piece of travel advice that I believe still holds true today: “Go when you can, not when you must.” This is helpful when travelling anywhere, even if it’s just across town, but especially true in countries with bathrooms are sparse and costly. When I see any of the following opportunities, I usually take advantage!

– Know what you’re looking for. Across Europe, bathrooms are marked “WC”, even though nobody actually uses the term “water closet”. If you want to ask someone where the bathroom is, ask “Where are the toilets?” The word toilet is more universal, and someone trying to translate the word bathroom may assume you’re looking for a place to take a bath.

– Unless it’s a historic site where adding a bathroom would cause a compromise in historic integrity, you can expect any place that charges an entrance fee to have free bathrooms inside.

-Restaurants always have bathrooms, except for places that are take-out only. If you’re going to eat out, the restroom is included in your cover charge.

– If you want to use the bathroom at a restaurant or bar but not order food, you can try, but it has risks. Most bathrooms are hidden so that you have to ask staff. If you’re caught, you may be asked to buy something. European McDonalds are particularly clever. Their restrooms can only be opened with a code that’s printed on receipts.

– Take a group tour. I don’t recommend an entire guided vacation, but I like to take walking tours on my first day in a city. Your guide will probably know of places, whether it’s an innovative street toilet or a super touristy restaurant where they let anyone use the facilities.

– Train stations typically charge a hefty toilet fee. Wait until you get on the train, where the toilets are free.

– While many historic churches lack public restrooms, some do have them available. Attending a service in a more modern church building basically guarantees a free commode. (And sometimes even free cookies!) At a small church I visited in Florence, Italy, they announced their weekly office hours just so travelers would know when they could access free bathrooms, air conditioning, and WiFi. Great ministry idea!

– If all else fails, you can always run back to your hostel, provided you’re staying somewhere centrally located!

Hopefully all this toilet talk didn’t gross you out too much, but it can make a big impact on a European travel budget. I’ve seen the charge for toilets range from 50¢ to 2€. If I paid for a toilet just once or twice per day, over my three month trip I would spend about €200 just to use the bathroom! Think of all the great European adventures that can be done for €200 when you think outside the stall!

Money Monday: How to Book Your Hostel

Money Monday is a weekly post about ways you can save during your travels. Enjoy!
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It should be a given that hostels will save individual travelers more money than a hotel would. (Of course there are exceptions. Last spring, I stayed at a hotel in Reno. Out of curiousity I looked up a bed in a Reno hostel, and it was twice the price!) For those of you unfamiliar with hostels, let me give you a brief description: you rent a bed in a dorm room, so you typically end up with roommates from around the world. Hostels are a much more social way to travel, which is especially great for the solo traveler. Plus, since you only book a bed and not an entire room, the hostel charges you less. Huge savings! In fact, my European trip would not have been affordable except for the abundance of great hostels.

So hostels in and of themselves save money, but there are ways to save even more on your hostel. When booking, of course consider whether or not breakfast is included, if you will need to bring your own towel, and little factors like that which could affect the cost. Also consider where you book your hostel. I use a mix of websites to book depending on what is the most advantageous for my bank account. Here are the perks of each:image

Hostelworld This is the most popular hostel booking site. The concept is pretty simple, you find a hostel in their database, pay 10% of the total to hold your place, and pay the other 90% when you arrive at the hostel. It is easy to get acquainted with this, but it is actually one of my least favorite booking sites. Sure, I may go there when they are running a contest or something like that, but Hostelworld does not really have any rewards system for people who book with them. This is why I prefer some of the lesser known booking sites.

Hostelz This has been a longtime favorite of mine. It is not exactly a booking site itself, but it uses several other popular booking sites to find you the cheapest rates. Because it is a culmination of booking sites, it is the biggest hostel database I have found to date. The only downside to this is that it is a little harder to organize the plethora of hostels in big cities and weed it down to the one where you should stay. Some listed hostels are not on any booking sites, which is cool because you can still contact them directly for a bed, but sometimes this means they closed years ago and did not inform Hostelz. The best part of Hostelz is that I write for them! Browse around their website to find my city descriptions and hostel reviews.

HostelsClub This is a hostel that I found out about just before leaving for Europe, and it has been well used over the past several weeks! They are currently running a promotion where if you book so much, you can get free nights at a hotel in Venice. I was able to get two free nights at a centrally located hotel while in Venice thanks to this. The only problem with HostelsClub is that they do charge a service fee for every booking, but that can be avoided by getting a HostelsClub membership. With the membership, you qualify for discounts at some hostels. So my membership paid for itself after just a few nights of booking! Best of all, every time you submit a review after a stay, HostelsClub gives members a 2 euro credit to use when booking future stays. It is almost like getting paid to stay at hostels!

Booking Directly with the Hostel While hostel booking sites are ideal for the long term traveler, any booking deposit you pay online does not actually go to the hostel itself. If you want to support the local economy where you visit, the best thing to do is book directly with the hostel so they can get the most money. This can be done by phone calls, emails, or booking on the website. Sometimes it is difficult to communicate with the staff, or their booking program does not really work. But sometimes, you can get a better deal because of this. While booking the Pisa Hostel, I saved 5% by booking with them as opposed to a booking site. They made a little more, and I saved a little more, so everyone won!image

There is no one best way to make a booking to save money. The important thing to do is compare the above (and any other sites you have found useful) to maximize your travel money!

What I’ve Learned in Reviewing European Hostels

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As I’ve been traveling about Europe, I’ve learned so many things! Since I’ve stayed in four different hostels so far, this type of accommodation is one of the things I’ve been educated on! I stay in North American hostels when I can, but since hostels are much more common in Europe, especially in big tourist cities, they compete by having a particular “edge”. For some, their edge is a rock-bottom rate. For others, it’s being in a great location. Still others boast a social environment, high standards of cleanliness, or comfort. While the hostels often master several of these traits, I don’t think it’s possible to master them all. There have to be trade offs. Having a party atmosphere sacrifices offering a quiet place to relax. Being up-to-date means losing the building’s historical value. When traveling in Europe, it’s important to know what aspects you’re looking for in a hostel and what offers don’t really matter. For me, I find it necessary to be a good price, walking distance to most attractions, WiFi connected, and female-only dorm options. Room security, regular cleaning, and breakfast are somewhat important, but I can make due if they’re not up to snuff. Social atmosphere and handicap accessibility are not taken into consideration at all when I select a

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Of course, your priorities are probably different than mine. If you are a man in a wheelchair, you probably don’t care about female-only dorms, but handicap accessibility is a must! Because we all differ in what matters most, my goal in reviewing European hostels is to pinpoint what each hostel is best at, while also bringing to light the things that aren’t exactly their “edge”. My first review about BVJ Champs-Elysees Monceau in Paris has been published. You’ll see that they rock when it comes to breakfast and location, but you’ll also notice some sacrifices they had to make.
Click here to read my review of my Parisian hostel on Hostelz.

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com!

Tales of a Tall Traveler

I’m six foot one. And I’m a traveler. These two things don’t typically work hand-in-hand.

Towering over the children and staff at the Posada de Amor orphanage in Peru so much that not even my entire face fits into the picture!
Towering over the children and staff at the Posada de Amor orphanage in Peru so much that not even my entire face fits into the picture! (And I was only sixteen here!)

Wouldn’t it be great if tall people could travel without running into any height-related problems. Wouldn’t it be great if travel-related companies could expand their reach by better catering to the tall population? If so, take note! Here are six things I can’t stand as a tall traveler, as well as ways I try to deal and simple ways the travel industry could help.

HI-Chicago dorms featured the best of both worlds: partial walls around the beds for more privacy, but tall bunks, high ceilings, and an extra foot of room between the bed and wall to accommodate tall people.
HI-Chicago dorms featured the best of both worlds: partial walls around the beds for more privacy, but tall bunks, high ceilings, and an extra foot of room between the bed and wall to accommodate tall people.

I Can’t Fit in Twin Bunks! Actually, the only beds that are truly long enough for me are XL twins and California kings. Since I have never owned either of these types of mattresses, I have gotten used to curling up in order to sleep. But there are definitely times when I toss and turn and just want to stretch out in bed. There are two things that REALLY help in this case. One, having plenty of space above me. It seems like when I’m on a bottom bunk, the top bunk is only two feet above my head. If I’m put in a top bunk, the ceiling is only two feet above my head. I really appreciate dorm rooms that take things like sitting up in bed into account by ensuring that the ceiling is high enough and using beds with ample headroom. The other thing that really helps is not having any sort of blockade at the end of the bed. If I need to stretch out my legs, I’m okay with my feet hanging off the edge. What I’m NOT okay with is if there is a wall on both sides of the bed. I slept in an RV for a month where the length of my bedroom was exactly one inch shorter than I was. Even though I still had a twin bed when moving into my next place, the freedom to hang my ankles over the end of the bed made all the difference. If hostels offered XL twin mattresses, I would be willing to pay a little extra for that luxury.

Having to share your bus seat with your carry-on items can make a cramped ride feel even more squished.
Having to share your bus seat with your carry-on items can make a cramped ride feel even more squished.

I Can’t Fit in Coach Seats! I’m not sure how I’ve made it through every flight I’ve ever been on. I guess that’s why I only fly when it’s the only reasonable option. I got a tip from another tall person before to request an aisle seat so that you can stretch out your legs in the center aisle of the plane. I do this whenever I’m going somewhere without a view (otherwise being cramped in a window seat might be worth it), but there is the drawback of people walking down the aisle who step on your feet and flight attendants ramming into your legs with the beverage cart. When boarding buses, I hope and pray that it will be empty enough that I can get two seats to myself, and therefore sit kind of sideways. I’ve never had a plane ticket where I was able to choose the economy plus seats with extra leg room (or even an emergency exit row), but if buses offered the option of paying extra for more leg room, I would definitely take that into account. Trains of course are a problem as well, but on one leg of an Amtrak ride, the woman sitting next to me got us switched from seats in the middle of the car to seats in the front of the car. Not having a seat in front of me did provide a little extra leg room, and there was even a bar sticking out of the ground so we could still put our feet up. However, the train probably bothers me the least since you can always go to the observation or dining cars.

Gorge View Hostel made an excellent use of space in a small bathroom. The shower had a tub basin and a curtain instead of a door for ample movement, there was nothing in the way of the toilet's leg room,  the towel rack is placed in reach but not in the way, and as for the sink- just look at that wonderful mirror!
Gorge View Hostel made an excellent use of space in a small bathroom. The shower had a tub basin and a curtain instead of a door for ample movement, there was nothing in the way of the toilet’s leg room, the towel rack is placed in reach but not in the way, and as for the sink- just look at that wonderful mirror!

I Can’t Wash My Hair! I can only think of one time in my travels that I thought the shower heads were at the perfect height so I would have no problem washing my hair. Oddly enough, that was in Peru, when I was at least a foot taller than most of the locals. Most of the time, the stream from the shower head doesn’t even get on my face. In the tub showers, I can usually back up and then bow my head so my hair will get wet. But this seems to be more of a luxury, as many showers in hostels and camps are boxed stalls where there’s hardly enough room to turn around, let alone squat low enough to get water on my head. This isn’t as big of an issue in my own home if my shower head is too low since I install one of those shower heads on a hose. That usually adds enough height, and if for some reason it doesn’t, I can take the shower head off the wall and adjust it to where it needs to be. I’m guessing accommodations wouldn’t want me to do even basic plumbing on their bathrooms though, but if lodging owners added these shower heads themselves, it would be a small one-time expense to pay for years of happiness from their tall customers. When designing or renovating accommodations, staff should also keep in mind that no one, regardless of height, wants to feel crammed in a bathroom. Allowing more room to move in the shower, by the sink (make sure the mirrors are set high enough!), and around the toilet (so legs don’t run into the wall or toilet paper holder) is a subtle yet effective way to make guests’ stays much more comfortable.

Me with my now-retired carry-on. I'm slightly hunched-down in this picture, and it's not because my backpack's heavy.
Me with my now-retired carry-on. I’m slightly hunched-down in this picture, and it’s not because my backpack’s heavy.

I Can’t Reach All Rolling Suitcase Handles! For years, I used the same little black carry-on rolling suitcase. I usually didn’t have to walk it more than around an airport, so I barely noticed that the extent of the handle was just a bit too short for my arm’s reach. When I started doing more backpack-style trips, this became more noticeable. Last year when I arrived in Niagara Falls, I had to walk just a little over a mile to get from the bus’ drop-off point to my hostel. About halfway there, my back felt so out of whack that I decided it was easier to carry it by hand for the rest of the way. I decided there was no way I was walking it across the border to Canada (I crammed everything I would need for those days in my backpack and begged the hostel owner to store my suitcase until I came back to America). I also decided I should probably buy a new carry-on before going on any more backpacker trips. Last fall, as I was researching suitcases online, I noticed that almost none of them had the specifications for how long the handle extended. I even asked that question on a few of the Amazon purchasing pages. None of the manufacturing companies even bothered to answer that question, and the community answers just said things that were of no help. Seriously, I got a response to the degree of “It’s pretty long. I’m 5’7″ and don’t have to hunch over or anything.” Without exact measurements, it was impossible to tell if someone six inches taller would still consider it “pretty long”. Having important stats like this could really help online luggage sales.

That's three pieces of clothing- count them!- just to avoid baring it all. (And I still couldn't put my arms above my head without having a top malfunction.)
That’s three pieces of clothing- count them!- just to avoid baring it all. (And I still couldn’t put my arms above my head without having a top malfunction.)

I Can’t Fit Into Traveler Clothing! This might be more of a “I can’t fit into ANY clothing” complaint, but at least with my day-to-day street clothing, there are enough stores and brands so I can shop around until I find the right fit. With fewer companies specializing in women’s travel clothes, I haven’t found any article that fits and flatters me just right. Many outdoor stores only carry up to women’s size 10 (US) in shoes and sandals, leaving me with the option to either risk ordering online or instead going with the clunky men’s shoes. I’ve had to go to plenty of water-based events where one-piece swimsuits were required. Since I have never found a one-piece that would fit me, this means I bulk up my bag with at least three different pieces of swimwear so that I would be modest enough. (My tummy shows even with tankinis.) Pants are too short, long enough shirts are too baggy… you get the picture. It can take hours of determined shopping to find even one piece that will sort-of work. I know there are high-fashion clothing lines designed for tall women, and all styles of clothing for tall men. I wish someone in the clothing industry would figure out that tall women like to travel, too.

The good news is Voodoo Doughnuts has some pretty cool chandeliers to look at that are far enough out of reach to avoid damaging them (and people's heads)! The bad news: you'll have to look at them and the other tall-people-friendly decorations for a long time since the line is always long!
The good news is Voodoo Doughnuts has some pretty cool chandeliers to look at that are far enough out of reach to avoid damaging them (and people’s heads)! The bad news: you’ll have to look at them and the other tall-people-friendly decorations for a long time since the line is always long!

I Can’t Avoid Hitting My Head on Things Suspended from the Ceiling! Yes, the dining room looks beautifully decorated with a glass chandelier. But it’s bad room feng shui to place it high enough to be out of my line of vision, but not so high that I won’t run into it with my forehead. And the antique doorway that hasn’t changed in 200 years? You must realize that the average person was much, much shorter back then. I don’t even know where to start when it comes to those tiny prop planes. Decorators and designers need to keep in mind that they are probably not the tallest people that will be in that area. For things that can’t be moved or removed, a warning, both in the planning guide and in person, would be appropriate. Someone yelling “Be careful! Watch out!” right before the incident (or worse yet, right after) is not responsible. I’m actually surprised I have never heard about a lawsuit over something like this. For now, I guess the best solution is to make sure I get plenty of calcium so that my cranium is strong enough to protect my brain from all these impacts.

The travel industry has found ways to better serve overweight people, short people, and handicapped people. Isn’t it about time that travel becomes inclusive to tall people, too?