We have now been traveling for eight months straight, so we’ve tried quite a few airlines, train and bus companies, hotels, apartment rental sites, and everything in between. Here are our honest, un-sponsored loves and hates:
- Airlines: Turkish Airlines, Vietnam Airlines, China Southern – All three served us meals and allowed us to check baggage, two of the only things we care about on a flight. I thought they were pretty spacious, and they even offered pillows and blankets, relics of a bygone era of US airplane travel.
- Buses: Polski Bus (Poland), Samoborcek (Croatia), Giant Ibis (Cambodia) – All three had clean buses, free water, relative comfort, and multiple schedule options. Giant Ibis had particularly good customer service, and both it and Polski Bus had wifi on-board!
- Trains: TrenItalia (Italy), SJ (Sweden) – Both inter-city train systems were usually on time, clean, and easy-to-use. Overall, they bear little resemblance to US trains and are an especially great way to get around Europe.
- Apartment Rentals: AirBnB – This is the primary way we’ve found places to stay. The experience has been great: good customer service, nice hosts, good locations, much cheaper prices! The only two watch-outs are: (1) there is no non-smoking filter, so you have to check manually, and (2) don’t book apartments with a ‘Strict’ cancellation policy unless you’re 100% sure of everything.
- Hotels: Priceline, Agoda – We’ve used Priceline in Europe, and Agoda in Asia (because Priceline just outsources to them in Asia anyway). Both have been easy-to-use and affordable. I don’t love their filter options, but you can’t have it all.
- Merchants: Amazon – I bought almost all of our Christmas gifts using their free two-day shipping (I have Prime), which made life a lot easier. You can’t watch shows (even ones you buy!) on Prime Video from abroad because of DRM issues, but that’s a different matter.
- Debit Cards: Charles Schwab – Hands down, the best financial decision we made for this trip. They refund our ATM fees around the world and give us good rates of withdrawal. (That was $50 in refunds each of the last two months!) If you’re traveling, get this card.
- Credit Cards: Capital One – Though their ‘vacation notification’ has to be re-filed every eight weeks, I still like them. They monitor well for fraud and honor the travel notifications, once you file them, so you don’t have to worry about your card being frozen while abroad.
- Phone Carriers: T-Mobile – We get phone reception in countryside caves in Cambodia! And we have completely free texting and internet almost everywhere (Croatia and Vietnam are exceptions), which is amazing.
- Gear: As described elsewhere, we love Uniqlo and Ex-Officio boxers, Gap jeans and underwear, North Face convertible pants, SmartWool socks, etc. All of them have held up nicely under heavy use.
- Airlines: JetStar – They never processed the credit card information I entered, so our flight was never booked. But, they didn’t tell us this, so we ended up scrambling to book a flight the night before we needed to leave a country. They wouldn’t honor the price we had initially booked at (I had a screenshot), and they told us that we should have called to confirm that the booking completely successfully, even though the very first thing their customer phone line recording says is that you don’t have to confirm your flight with them. Moreover, when we tried to book the same exact flight on the night before (still available), their site crashed twice. We never plan to fly this airline.
- Merchants: Sears – I bought a gift card here for my in-laws’ for Christmas. Their system flagged our transaction, because it came from an IP address outside the US. So, they called to verify the transaction… at 10 pm on a Saturday night our time. (This was 8 am Saturday morning in the time zone of our billing address, so not any more appropriate of a time to call.) The confirmation call was sketchy: they wanted to confirm personal information about me, but I’m pretty sure it was an outsourced vendor, not even Sears itself. After I confirmed (despite reservations), the woman said that my order was now complete and the gift card would now ship. Two days later (Christmas Eve!), Sears sent me an email that my order had been cancelled! When I contacted Customer Service that morning, they wanted to fix the issue by selling me an e-gift card. I said I didn’t think my in-laws had a printer, and they offered that my in-laws’ parents or other nearby relatives print it for them. Yes, I’m going to force people in their 70s to figure out email and printing and then drive over a gift that you guys messed up. Not shopping with them again either. (For comparison, I had no problems buying gift cards at PetSmart, Chili’s, or Zara in that same time period. Even small non-profits with more stringent regulations found a way to allow me to donate from abroad.)
- Mail: USPS – I’m not really sure what’s happening with our mail: some of it is forwarded (to my parents), but some is not. For example, the original car registration renewal never came in the mail, but the late charge version made it just fine. (Perhaps that should be blamed on the DMV though.)