Monthly Archives: July 2016

Avoid Restaurant Scams

How can travelers make sure they pay for just their meal, without getting skimmed on the side? There are many ways travelers can avoid unscrupulous restaurant scams as they travel around the world. Here are three easy things to look for when avoiding restaurant scams.

Restaurant Scam: Ordering Without A Menu

Every restaurant owner is always happy to see guests arrive. Once situated, those same restaurant owners may be even more pleased to recommend the house special before a guest has the opportunity to open menu. What may be omitted is the final cost of that same special.

Before accepting the hospitality of the restaurant server or owner, make sure to request the full menu.

 In many countries, restaurants are required to post their full service outside of their restaurant, including the prices, for public inspection.

Although travelers may feel pressured to order the house special, this may be just one of many restaurant scams a guest may face. If the server or owner won’t show you the menu, or doesn’t want to wait for your order, then simply walk away: having a good meal shouldn’t come at the cost of a restaurant scam.

Restaurant Scam: Paying Without A Bill

Once satiated with both food and drink, the time comes to pay for the meal. Every culture has different ways of requesting the tab, but the result is always the same: a server brings an itemized bill to your table. So what happens if a server does not bring your tab over, and instead orally recites the amount due? This may be another tell-tale sign of a restaurant scam.

Travelers who feel their bill is high or unreasonable for the meal ordered reserve the right to inspect a written copy of their bill. In some parts of the world, travelers are responsible for retaining their dining receipt. As a result, those who request their written tab can avoid a restaurant scam entirely.

How can travelers make sure they don’t fall for this? Depending on the destination, a traveler’s means of recourse may change. In many cases, having a discussion with the manager may resolve the situation. In other locations, special duty officers are usually available to resolve disputes.

Restaurant Scam: Paying Extra for Service

In North America, it is common to not include a service charge in the price of a meal. Such is why gratuities are a common and accepted practice. However, this long-standing tradition does not always translate abroad, or offers an ample opportunity for a crafty server to get extra money through a common restaurant scam.

In many parts of the world, a gratuity is acceptable and appreciated. At special events, like festivals, tipping for service is a reward for expedient service. However, in many other situations around the world, tipping is not an acceptable practice because service is in the price of the food.

So how can you tell if you need to be tipping or not? Before you arrive in your destination, do your due research on the local customs for tipping. A quick search of the internet can reveal whether or not tipping is required. Another quick way is to pick up the menu and read the information within. If your menu says “service is not included,” or “service is extra,” then expect to add a gratuity at the end of your meal.

What happens if the server demands a tip for their service? Then it may be a common restaurant scam targeting western travelers. A simple conversation with the management may be able to clarify any questions a travelers has, and keep them from parting with their money.

When a traveler understands the customs and norms when eating abroad, they can make sure to stay award and vigilant of whatever scam may come. Research and preparation ahead of a trip are the best ways travelers can avoid restaurant scams around the world

Your Passport Color Really Means

Travelers don’t have a lot of say in how their passports look. It’s hard to take a flattering picture (unless you’re Prince), you can’t choose which inspiration quotes frame your stamped pages, and you can’t choose the color of your passport cover.

“Most passports in the world are based on blue and red primary colors,” said Passport Index Vice President of Marketing Hrant Boghossian, though there’s an enormous degree of variation in hues. And while geography, politics, and even religion come into play when a country selects its passport cover, there are no guidelines or regulations dictating the color of these national documents.

“There’s nothing [that] stipulates the cover colour,” confirmed Anthony Philbin of the International Civil Aviation Organization, which issues passport standards on cover size, format, and technology.

So what can we infer about passport color? Boghossian says it’s a matter of national identity.

Red Passports

Burgundy passports are used by members of the European Union (sans Croatia), and countries interested in joining (think: Turkey) have changed their passport colors to match. The Economist called this a “branding exercise.” The Andean Community (also known for past EU-ambitions) of Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru also has burgundy passports. The Swiss passport, in effortless and famously Swiss-fashion, matches their flag,

Blue Passports

Boghossian told Business Insider that Caribbean, or Caricom states, typically use blue, though it’s common in the “New World,” as well. Vox pointed out the customs union of Brazil, Argentina, Paraguya, Uruguay, and Venezuela, known as Mercosur, all boast blue passports (except Venezuela, which still sports a red passport from its time in the Andean Community).

The United States’ passport, however, only became navy blue in 1976—to match the shade found in the American Flag. Before that?

“We believe the first travel documents in the U.S. were red,” Boghossian told Travel + Leisure. Green passports were used in the 1930s, followed by burgundy ones, [and] black passports in the 1970s.”

Green Passports

“Most Islamic states use green passports because of the importance of the colour in their religion,” Boghossian shared with Business Insider. Variations of green are also used by members of ECOWAS—Economic Community of West African States—including Niger and Senegal.

Black Passports

Here’s another, far more practical, interpretation for selecting passport colors. Dark colors (even deep shades of blue and red) show less dirt and tend to look more official. Examples include the Republic of Botswana, Zambia, and New Zealand—though for the latter, black is also considered one of the country’s national colors.

Ultimately, you can infer about color as much as you want, but passports represent something much greater than geo-political and economic ties. “We forget that [passports] belong to people. For some, they are a barrier. To others, a right of passage,” Boghossian said to Travel + Leisure.

After all, both the U.S. and Syria issue blue passports—but Syria has one of the worst-ranking passports in the world. Having a Syrian passport allows you access to only 32 countries without a visa, due to diplomatic relations. Meanwhile, the U.S. has the third-best ranking passport.

“Governments around the world have the freedom to choose the color and design,” reiterated Boghossian. “Unfortunately, only few have understood the importance of this document on their country’s brand identity.”

Boghossian cited Norway, which recently unveiled its winning passport design from a nationwide competition, as an example of a country using its passports to define its distinct personality and characteristics. The colors? Vibrant and hip.

The U.S. passport is about to get a makeover: and while the design has yet to be released, we know for a fact the country has a history of changing its passport cover.

Book a Cruise Ship Balcony Room

Deciding whether a balcony fits in your budget depends on how you value your time on the ship.

It’s hard to imagine a hotel charging extra for a room with windows, but when it comes to cruising, fresh ocean air comes at a premium: Typically, the coveted outdoor balcony space on a cruise costs at least $100 per person, per voyage more than an interior or porthole stateroom. But with budget and savings in mind, are cruise balconies actually worth the extra fee? We explore.

Yes, the balcony is an essential aspect of cruising.

Best-in-class balconies at sea feature upscale amenities like whirlpools with a flat-screen television and panoramic views, though the most obvious benefits of nearly every stateroom balcony start with the floor-to-ceiling windows that provide plenty of sunlight. After all, think of waking up to a peaceful sunrise and closing out the day with serene sunset cocktails—not to mention the coveted access to fresh air. Verandas are also a prime spot to enjoy a meal al fresco, with a notable standout being Crystal Cruises, which features in-stateroom course-by-course dining during lunch and dinner. On some of the larger suite balconies, namely, the Royal Loft Suites found in Royal Caribbean’s Oasis and Quantum class (averaging a hefty $25,000 total for two people, with price varying by ship/itinerary/length of sailing), there are open-air dining areas that seat up to eight people.

Koreen McNutt, Senior Director of Global Cruise at Expedia, tapped into the aesthetic element of cruises, telling Condé Nast Traveler that balconies are worthwhile “if your cruise includes a lot of scenic views”—especially on more exotic routes like European cruises through the Greek Islands and Alaskan cruises where whale spotting is not uncommon. Another element? Cruises can be crowded, and more space is usually always welcome: think of balconies as “your own private piece of heaven onboard that you aren’t sharing with anyone else,” says McNutt.

No, skip the balcony—you’re going to want to spend the money elsewhere.

Total rates quoted per stateroom can be deceiving on the larger lines, and once you’re on board, unexpected costs can add up quickly. The upsell game is intense, as specialty dining options (Thomas Keller, anyone?) typically outshine the included meals, costly port excursions are heavily promoted, and deals can be found within the duty-free boutiques. First-time cruisers on a budget should anticipate the costs involved with ship life and plan ahead, beginning with foregoing a balcony.

Sailing sans balcony? Lorri Christou, a vice president at the Cruise Lines International Association, the world’s biggest cruise industry group, says not to worry, noting that ships themselves have “become the destination,” with a variety of common areas and new top-deck activities—e.g. Celebrity Cruises’ new “A Taste of Film” series that pairs popular movies with multi-coursed meals, and the physical challenges found on the ropes course on select Norwegian cruises. Featuring more to do onboard than ever, “people often spend very little time in their stateroom,” she adds.

Some cruise lines are making it so that passengers without a balcony or porthole won’t even notice. Royal Caribbean’s Quantum class has made huge strides in interior design, introducing high-definition TV walls with a live feed of the ocean and ship’s ports.