The Corliss Group Review: Don’t let a scammer ruin your vacation

It’s no fun getting scammed on vacation. Here’s how to reduce your risk.

Remove everything from your wallet that you won’t need on your travels. Only take the ID, credit cards and debit cards you’ll need.

The fraud fighters at the Federal Trade Commission advise leaving your Social Security card at home. If you have a Medicare card, make a copy and carry that and blot out all but the last four digits on it.

When you’re on the go, you’ll probably use public Wi-Fi. That can be risky.

“It may be free, but it may not be secure,” warns Adam Levin, chairman of IDentity Theft 911.  “You run the risk that something is sitting somewhere near you and intercepting what you’re sending.”

It’s important to make sure you’re on the authorized network before you connect. Scammers love to bait their victims with free connections.

“Hackers and thieves will set up hot-spots to look exactly like the one you think you’re at, but they’ll be spelled slightly differently or they’ll be an additional word in the name,” Levin explained.

By the way, if you travel with a laptop, keep a close eye on it. That’s especially important as you make your way through airport security.

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The Corliss Group review: Travel money tips

Packing for holidays. money Pic Robert Duncan 05 August  2014 Farfax online out

Credit and debit cards

Using your credit or debit card overseas is one of the most convenient options for accessing money on the go and you can feel secure knowing that your card provider is keeping an eye out for suspicious, potentially fraudulent activity, and that you’ll be reimbursed if the worst does happen and your card is stolen (so long as you’ve abided by your card provider’s conditions of use; for example, kept your PIN secret and reported the theft of your card immediately).

The major downside of using credit and debit cards overseas is fees. Most credit and debit cards will charge foreign-transaction fees (generally a percentage of the total) when you make purchases overseas, although some card providers waive these on certain card types (Bankwest’s platinum- level cards, for example). Debit cards are generally subject to a foreign ATM fee when you withdraw cash overseas – this is often a flat figure, so taking out larger amounts less frequently can be a good idea. And, just as at home, withdrawing cash from a credit card will attract a hefty cash-advance fee so avoid this unless it’s an emergency.

If you’re a frequent traveler, you may want to seek out credit and debit cards designed for travellers. GE Money’s 28 Degrees MasterCard, for example, has no international transaction fees on purchases, no currency conversion fees and no annual fee (as of the beginning of this year, it does attract a fee of 3 per cent or $4 – whichever is greater – for cash advances). In terms of debit cards, the Citibank Plus transaction account, which comes with a Visa debit card, is popular with travellers. Billed as Australia’s only fee-free bank account, cardholders can make free withdrawals at all of Citibank’s more than 20,000 ATMs in about 40 countries worldwide and the account does not attract foreign- transaction fees.

Regardless of which card you take, check its expiry date well in advance of setting off. If you’re taking a credit card, consider whether your current credit limit is sufficient. Going over your limit can attract fees and it’s no good planning to pay for accommodation at a cost of $3000 if your card limit is only $2000. Also check the daily limit on your debit card – often you’re not allowed to withdraw more than $1000 per day.

Notify your card provider that you’re heading overseas to avoid inadvertently raising a red flag with their fraud detection department and having your card frozen, and ensure they have a phone number to contact you on in case they want to query any transactions while you’re away. You should also make note of your card provider’s overseas contact number – if your card is stolen or compromised, you should let them know as soon as possible.

For more advice on using credit and debit cards overseas, consult your financial institution – many offer brochures and information online about accessing your money while you’re away.

Travel cards

If you want to lock in an attractive exchange rate ahead of time, pre-loading foreign currency on to a travel card may be the way to go. Travel cards work in a similar way to debit cards in that you’re spending your own money, which you’ve pre-loaded, eliminating the risk of an unexpectedly large credit card bill when you arrive home. Generally you’ll benefit from no transaction fees on purchases and some cards do not charge fees for using international ATMs. Some cards also come with a free backup card in case yours is lost and you may feel more secure knowing your card isn’t linked to your bank account, unlike a credit or debit card.

The downside of travel cards is the fees, some of which can catch unwary travellers off guard. Some cards will have fees for issuing the card, for loading or re-loading money, or if your account is inactive for a certain amount of time. Some will charge fees to transfer unspent cash off the card after your holiday ends, or for converting money on your card to a different currency.

There are many options on the market, so it’s worth shopping around – Choice magazine has warned that, if you’re not careful, the fees on a travel card can potentially outweigh the costs you might have incurred using your regular debit or credit card.

Most travel cards now allow you to load multiple currencies on to the one card – this can be as many as 13, as for the Commonwealth Bank Travel Money Card. However, the selection of currencies available on most cards is relatively restrictive, so if you’re travelling to South America or Africa, for example, they may not be suitable for you.

Indeed, travel money cards can vary considerably, not only in terms of available currencies and fees but also the limits for individual loads, the card balance and daily ATM withdrawals, and the methods available to you in terms of buying, loading and accessing your card, and for accessing customer service. Different cards may suit different needs: many banks offer travel money cards, along with Australia Post and foreign exchange companies including Travelex and OzForex.

Some airline frequent-flyer programs now offer membership cards which can function in the same way as a pre-paid travel card while allowing you to earn points on purchases. Qantas’ Frequent Flyer membership card and Virgin Australia’s Velocity frequent flyer card have both been favourably reviewed.

Cash

For obvious reasons, it’s unlikely you’ll want to take your entire holiday spending money with you in cash but, regardless of your other arrangements, it’s worth having some hard currency to use at your destination before you depart. You can hunt around for the best rate and buy this from a bureau de change or bank before you leave (many banks also allow you to pre-order foreign currency online). Buying it at the airport before departure is convenient but the exchange rate can be considerably less than favourable.

Some travellers find that using cash helps them to keep track of their spending – handing over notes and coins feels more “real” than swiping a card – and if you’re mainly using a debit or credit card which is subject to foreign transaction fees, this can help to minimise such charges. And if you’re going somewhere where tipping is customary, you’ll need some small notes on hand.

Try to avoid taking out more foreign currency than you’re likely to spend and being stuck with it at the end. You’ll have to pay fees to convert it back to Australian dollars and may struggle to convert some currencies once you arrive home – I have a stash of leftover Zambian kwacha from a trip eight years ago to prove it.

General tips

Avoid accessing internet banking from public computers (e.g. internet cafes) and be cautious when banking over unsecured wi-fi connections.

Be aware that even if your card offers free ATM withdrawals overseas, individual ATM service operators may charge a fee.

Many larger overseas retailers may offer you the chance to pay in Australian dollars when using your credit or debit card – this is known as “dynamic currency conversion”. It’s usually best to pay in local currency: paying in Australian dollars will not necessary help you avoid foreign transaction fees and will generally mean accepting a less-favourable conversion rate.

Ensure you’ve more than one way of accessing your money – having a minimum of three, such as a credit card, travel or debit card and cash, seems sensible. Keep them in different places so that if your wallet is stolen, for example, you won’t be left high and dry.

Read it here

The Corliss Group Review on 10 Hotel Booking Mistakes

Booking a hotel seems pretty straightforward, right? And most times it is: Pick a destination, choose your dates, enter payment info and voila, happy travels!

However, there are some big blunders you could be making when it comes to hotel reservations. From booking on the wrong sites to forgetting to check some vital information, these mistakes could easily make or break your trip. Read on to find out what you must avoid when booking that hotel room.

Always expecting the best room

I was recently chatting with a front-desk agent about how her hotel chain distributes rooms at check-in. Curious, I asked what method her staff uses to determine who gets the best-located rooms. She revealed this surprising tidbit: Those who book through the hotel website or are hotel loyalty members usually get first dibs on room assignments, with the better views and quieter locations. Travelers who book through online travel agencies (OTAs), like Priceline, often receive “run of the house” rooms (what she called “ice-machine rooms,” or basically whatever is left). The agent couldn’t tell me just how many hotel chains do this, but she said it was a “fairly common practice” and that it sweetens the deal for travelers who book at regular rates.

Using incorrect arrival and departure dates

Of this travel sin, I am guilty as charged. On an overseas trip several years ago, I noted that my flight left on May 14th, so I booked my destination hotel starting the night of May 14th. Rookie mistake. I completely neglected to check that my flight was a red-eye that landed early in the morning of the 15th. This means I paid for an expensive (and nonrefundable) room that I didn’t need.

Not using a credit card

When booking a hotel, credit cards are king. Not only do credit cards offer rewards like airline miles, free night stays or cash-back bonuses, but they also offer certain guarantees that debit cards and cash do not (such as fraud protection or immediate refunds for mischarges).

Making reservations for the wrong hotel

Travelers, beware: A misleading hotel name or location description could lead you to book an airport hotel when you think you’re getting centrally located accommodations. You would be surprised how often travelers see the name of the hotel and reserve it quickly without checking to see if it’s located in the right place. After all, some hotels may call themselves “located near the heart of downtown,” but a quick search could reveal that it’s located at the airport … two hours away.

Not accounting for taxes and resort fees

Back in March, contributing editor Ed Perkins reported one of the most outrageous resort fees we’d seen yet. At a hotel in Colorado, the decent $170 room rate was artificially inflated with a $35 cleaning fee, a $40 resort fee, a $10 pool-and-spa fee, and a $5.10 processing fee. Ouch.

Not checking reviews

If you’ve ever taken a spin on Oyster’s Photo Fakeout feature, you know that hotels go to great lengths to make their properties seem perfect. But upon arrival, that infinity pool could really be the size of a postage stamp, and those sumptuous linens could feel like sandpaper. Take anything a hotel says about itself with a grain of salt (or sand).

Booking at the wrong time

As most procrastinators will readily admit, waiting until the last minute to make travel plans can have dire consequences for your credit card balance. Hotel rates can soar in the days leading up to a particular date, and you could be left without a room if everything books up (or if nothing left is within your budget). On the other hand, being an advanced planner can have its own disadvantages: Sure, you may want to have all of your travel ducks in a row as soon as possible, but it can actually cost you money to book your hotel room too early.

Not comparing prices

Saw a hotel you loved advertised at a “great price!” and immediately plunked down a credit card number and booked? Wrong: Without doing proper research, you could be missing out on big savings.

Booking nonrefundable rates

Every wondered why nonrefundable rates are cheaper than the regular rack rates, even if the room is the same? It’s because the hotelier benefits from the lower price, too. Locking you in at that low rate guarantees she or he won’t have an empty room, which would cost the hotelier money. Of course, trying to pinch a few pennies will end up costing you if you need to cancel.

READ THE ORIGINAL ARTICLE: 10 hotel booking mistakes you don’t know you’re making

The Corliss Group Review on Travel Facts and Tips in Norway

In fact, many of the roads in Norway are closed or otherwise inaccessible the rest of the year. The weather can be beautiful in the southern and urban areas.

In the northern parts of the country however, it can be very cold.

If you’re planning on traveling much farther north than Oslo, you will need a warm jacket, hat, gloves, etc.

Good to know before you travel

Passport and visa requirements On arrival in Norway, you must show a valid passport or other official document that satisfactorily establishes your identity and nationality.

Travelling with pets. Norway is one of few European countries where rabies is not found, and every precaution is being taken to maintain this status.

Dogs, cats and ferrets from all EU countries must have pet passports, ID marking and valid rabies vaccination. Dogs must also be given approved tapeworm treatment, minimum 24 and maximum 120 hours before arrival.

Small rodents, cage birds and rabbits must have valid import permits issued by the Norwegian Food Safety Authority.

What clothes should I pack? Whatever the season, the Norwegian weather is liable to change from day to day. So it is a good idea to bring a selection of items.

Your luggage should include some light clothes, items you can layer (that way you can add or remove layers depending on temperature), at least one warm jumper, waterproof coat and/or umbrella and comfortable walking shoes/boots/trainers.

If you go during the winter, you will need an overcoat, scarf, gloves and warm shoes/boots.

In autumn and spring, you may want to bring waterproof trousers and boots.

For the summer, lighten up, but remember that even summer evenings and nights can be chilly, particularly in the mountains.

The Corliss Group Review about Travel Buddies iOS App

Whether we’re innocently stalking our crush on Facebook or tweeting our deepest feelings into the depths of cyberspace, our iDevices have become integral to our daily social networking needs. Knowing this, app creators work tirelessly to come up with new ways to integrate various aspects of life into a social framework – new reasons to connect people. In this regard, developer Toby Gunston has come across a rather unique proposition: we all love to travel, but who wants to travel alone? That’s where Travel Buddies comes in…

The Travel Buddies app is the the mobile component of an already successful online hub for world travellers, and brings with it a rather useful suite of social functions for holiday-makers, road trippers and weekend wanderers. Aimed at users with a penchant for meeting new people and discovering new places, Travel Buddies builds a social network around the concept of looking for travel partners.

It’s a simple yet well executed idea: once your profile is set up, you’re free to look for likeminded people planning trips in your area or travellers who will be following a similar route to yours. Perhaps you’re lining up a European boat tour but are looking to make a few friends along the way? Just load your travel plans on your Travel Buddies profile, and you can easily zone in on users who will be in the same area at the time. Whether its a continent-spanning road trip or a weekend getaway, there’s bound to be someone with the same idea in mind. Alternatively, search for tourists planning a trip to your area and arrange to hook up and show them a good time in your homeland. The search parameters and inputs could do with some refining – you’re limited in both your searches and your own trip details – but it’s enough info to get a conversation going.

 

The user interface is clean and straightforward, a breeze to use for anyone familiar with mainstream social media apps. It’s a matter of moments to familiarise yourself with the menus and various options to put together a list of potential travel partners. There are inherent risks involved with something like this though – you’re planning meet-ups with people you’ve never met, after all, so it’s important to exercise caution before heading off on a secret mountain camping trip with a bearded man with face tattoos.

 

The social infrastructure of Travel Buddies is built around a number of networking options. Users outline their plans on the public wall, or detail them within their own profiles, showing their scheduled stops and so on. Find someone you are interested in joining on their travels, and you can get in touch with them via direct chat or email to make that a reality. It would be good to see more detailed profile information on prospective travel partners though – perhaps something that could be addressed in future updates.

 

While we all love a holiday, that’s not to say that Travel Buddies will be useful for everyone. It’s aimed exclusively at those keen to explore the world with strangers. Whether it’s worth the asking price depends on your affinity for social travel, but at least it’s a once-off fee, so once you’ve bought the app you have access to every aspect of it. If you’re part of the target demographic though – those adventurers who like to try new things, maybe take a few risks, or simply hate the idea of a lonely holiday – Travel Buddies could be the networking tool you didn’t even know you were waiting for.

The Corliss Group Review about Travel in Edinburgh

Summer is festival time in Edinburgh, with thousands of visitors descending on the Scottish capital to see some of the best new talents in the arts and entertainment world.

From grandiose theatres to tiny, dark pub back rooms hewn from volcanic rock in the medieval Old Town around the Royal Mile, every nook and cranny becomes a stage.

Visit the top half of the Royal Mile, which links Edinburgh Castle to Holyrood Palace, and you will find it full of performers showing off and advertising shows they hope will make their careers.

And what of the shows themselves? Well, they could be almost anything, with genres spanning comedy, theatre, dance and cabaret.

There is no one single Edinburgh Festival; instead there are 12 festivals spread throughout the year, with a flurry of activity in July and August. Details of them all can be found at http://www.edinburghfestivals.co.uk

The largest and loudest is the Fringe (www.edfringe.com), in August. International talent rub shoulders with plucky newcomers hoping to make their name with a decent run.

The Fringe is based around a hub in George Square, which features seven theatres as well as bars and stalls serving street food. Many other venues can be found on the other side of the city close to the Royal Mile.

If you want to see big name stars, plan and buy tickets in advance, because they often go like hot cakes. Towards the end of August, many of the biggest names are either likely to be sold out or will have already finished their run.

But a lot of the smaller shows are cheaper – or even free – and tickets are easier to come by, giving you the potential opportunity to brag about seeing so-and-so before they were famous, in rehab, or appearing on I’m A Celebrity…

Be warned though, if you are bringing children, some of the shows feature adult content – including nudity and swearing – so it is worth doing some investigation beforehand.

A lot of the shows are quite short, meaning you can nip into plenty of pubs for a pint or a wee dram.

And it’s not just the punters who often stagger from one show to the next – many of the performers spend a month or more in Edinburgh seemingly surviving on a diet of whisky and haggis!

Of course, you can also have an amazing time without alcohol.

August sees the International Book Festival (www.edbookfest.co.uk) take place amongst the neo-classical magnificence of the Georgian New Town, with talks and signings by big-name authors.

Its purpose-built park setting gives the place an almost college campus atmosphere, and it’s a great place to while away an afternoon away from the hubbub of the city.

There is also the Edinburgh Art Festival (www.edinburghartfestival.com), held at venues across the city, with sculptures and other specially-commissioned works displayed on streets and in parks across the city between July 31 and August 31.

 

The Corliss Group Review: Evoc Bike Bag Review

Taking your bike overseas can feel like more hassle than it’s worth. Thankfully, the Evoc Travel Bike Bag is here to help, writes Jonny Cooper.

A confession: the first time I took my bike abroad, it took me two and a half hours to pack it adequately into my bike box. Like many modern cyclists, the value of my bike is (shamefully) disproportionate to my mechanical know-how; I hesitated over every dismantling step, fearful that I’d never be able to put the thing back together again. And then there was the tetris-like puzzle of working out how to squeeze the fractured mess into a box that felt like nothing more than an oversized Samsonite suitcase. Those two and a half hours were far from fun.

So, taking a bike abroad can be a stressful experience – and that’s long before you’ve even reached the airport and signed over your prized steed to the absentmindedly boisterous attentions of the baggage handlers. When it came out the other end, my rear derailler hanger was bent out of shape and I had to find a mechanic to come to my rescue.

In the context of such a fluffed transit, the Evoc Travel Bike Bag is a minor Godsend. This structurally strong canvas bag has been well designed to hold and protect a road or mountain bike with a minimum of fuss.

To get your bike into the bag, you take off both wheels and pedals, and unhinge the handlebars (they stay connected to the frame via the brake and gear cables). The frame and bars fit into the bag’s main cavity, where a succession of adjustable straps hold them securely in place, while the wheels slot into two pockets on the side. The bottom bracket is protected by a huge foam pad, and the pedals slip into a side pocket.

And that’s that. It took me 50 minutes to get my bike into the bag and zipped up the first time I tried – and that reduced to 20 minutes on the second attempt. It’s impressively straight forward.

Of course, bike bags have to be more than easy to use: their primary purpose is to protect your bike from the vicissitudes of transit. A cursory glance around bike forums reveals a number of sob stories on this front – and a healthy debate over whether soft shell (the Evoc) or hard shell (for example, the frequently recommended Bike Box Alan) is better. Hard shell cases are supposed to protect against external knocks better than their soft siblings – but then the bike can also move around and bang against the hard internal walls. Or so the arguments go.

All I know is that the one time I travelled with a hard case, my derailer got bent, whereas my bike has been fine in the Evoc. One thing that’s surely worth doing is padding the bag on the inside with enough bubble wrap and/or old sheets to ensure your bike is well cushioned from internal or external movements.

A definite benefit of the Evoc over hard cases is its foldaway nature. The bag is kept structurally strong by 8 removable rods; take them out and it collapses in on itself, allowing you to store it in a cupboard or under a bed. A major boon for cyclists already in trouble at home over their space-sapping hobby.

The only slight let down is that unlike other bike boxes, the Evoc has two rather than four wheels on its base, which means you have to pick up one end to wheel it along. You start to feel a bit jealous of those who gently push their four-wheeled boxes around when you’ve got one arm going dead thanks to the weight it’s lifting. A minor complaint, but two wheels good, four wheels better.

The Evoc Travel Bike Bag comes with two optional add ons. An aluminum bike stand fits into the bottom of the bag and screws onto your bike’s frame via the fork ends, lifting the bottom bracket off the foam pad and lending extra stability to the setup. The ease of mind it creates will cost you £89.95 – if you don’t fancy shelling that out, there’s a protective foam fork pad available for £19.95.