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Today:

*** How to Overnight In Style Without Breaking the Bank
*** Practical Writing Prompt of the Week: Punkin Chunkin and Other Festivals, Holidays, and Rituals
*** Reader Feedback: Create Your Own Business Cards

Dear Reader,

I’m often asked for my secrets to getting the best hotel room. People assume that since I do so much traveling, I must have learned by now how to avoid the hotel from h*ll and spend my nights, instead, in 5-star luxury.

But the truth is, I’m not always so lucky. Sure, I enjoy luxury digs as much as the next person. But because I don’t always plan every step of my trip, I can’t always be guaranteed a fabulous room.

Part of the charm and pleasure of traveling, I think, lies in finding a local hot-spot that hasn’t yet hit the mainstream press — or stumbling on a place that’s several bills cheaper than one of equal caliber just next door.  So sometimes I show up without reservations.

Often, I’m lucky enough to find a gem of a hotel (or, if not a special place, one that’s at least satisfactory).  But this method can also spell disaster. (We had no hot water in our hotel room in Rio… a creaky mattress in Rome… and a hole in the wall in Arizona… literally, you could see the parking lot through it.)

So if you’re not the type to simply “wing it” on a trip, I understand.

Here are four things you can do to uncover new gems with less risk…

** 1. Find brand-new hotels.

Friend and colleague, Michael Masterson, recommends trying brand-new hotels before they become popular.

He says that new hotels are likely to have room, cost less, and be less “touristy” than their more established cousins. Plus, you can enjoy the thrill of feeling like you’ve “discovered” a hip place before everyone else.

Michael and his wife found and enjoyed (at bargain rates), the Hotel de Russie and the Hotel Art in Rome, the Charlotte Street and Soho hotels in London, and the Rivington and Hudson hotels in New York — all before they raised their prices and travel guides beat a path to their doors.

To get these places on your radar, Michael recommends browsing through your favorite travel-related publications (he likes The New York Times, Travel & Leisure, Andrew Harper’s Hideaway Report, and Departures) and making a clip file of those that are newly released.  Some publications, like Gourmet, also have special “Hotel” issues.  

Then, go online, research further, and see what other travelers have to say about the hotel at sites like Tripadvisor.com.  While you’re online, you can also try Google searches, like “New hotels in Buenos Aires,” “New bargain spots in Bermuda,” etc., and see what comes up.

** 2. Ask a travel agent.

Agents who specialize in personal tours are in the business of keeping up with the latest trends, deals, and hot spots.

People tend to forget about travel agents because Internet websites can be so efficient these days. But travel agents have access to trade publications not available to the general public and they often monitor press releases for new hotels and good values.

** 3. If you’re already at your destination city, rely on shoe leather — and take an old-fashioned walking tour.

When you see a cute or charming hotel, stop in. Ask for a brochure and a rate card. Look around. Notice the condition of the lobby. If you’re still interested, ask to see a room.  While you’re there, ask the clerk which are the best rooms, and why.  Write those down. Those are the ones you’ll want to request in the future.

** 4. Check with the local Convention & Visitors Bureau. For instance, the one in Greater Fort Lauderdale has an innovative guide called Superior Small Lodging, a compilation of hotels with fewer than 50 rooms that offer good value and personalized service.

Make use of those four tips, and you’ll be well on your way to insuring a great stay at a great price.

PRACTICAL WRITING PROMPT OF THE WEEK

‘Tis the season for holiday festivals, rituals, traditions, and customs — which means it’s time to talk about them as a perennial source of material for articles, front-of-the-book pieces, and round-ups.

Every state — and many cities and small towns — have their own quirky celebrations, which give a destination character.  Editors (and readers) love learning about these.

Foreign or unfamiliar events and celebrations always make fascinating reading, whether they’re based around religion, an annual harvest, superstition, a rivalry between sport teams, local history, or oddball events (like Millsboro, Delaware’s Punkin Chunkin or Nederland, Colorado’s Frozen Dead Guy Days).

This week, write 300 words about an annual public event, custom, or tradition that you’re familiar with: the less familiar to the average reader, the better.

Check with your local Chamber of Commerce if you’re short of ideas.

By the way, a GREAT source for events, holidays, festivals, etc. around the world is Chase’s Calendar of Events, which includes a searchable CD-Rom, available at bookstores or at amazon.com.

There are literally THOUSANDS of story ideas in there for you.

READER FEEDBACK: Create Your Own Business Cards

Even if you’re just starting out, you should carry business cards.  They not only give you credibility, they actually make you feel more professional.

Fortunately, making up your own card today is both easy and affordable. Friend and fellow reader of The Right Way to Travel, Will Newman, recommends the following for designing and printing them yourself…

** 48 Hour Print (48hourprint.com) offers 14 templates you can choose from and a 48-hour turn around (hence their name). For 2-sided, 4-color glossy, heavy stock, the cost is $55 plus shipping for 500 cards. For 1,000 cards it’s only $75 plus shipping. (Or check out Vista Print (VistaPrint.com), where you’ll find competitive prices and even more templates — though it may take a few more days for the cards to get to you.)

** FedEx/Kinkos (fedex.com) is another option if you want more hands-on assistance. Simply go to your local store and ask about business cards.

** And, if you think your contact info will be changing soon, you might opt to design and print your own cards, using your word processor template to design the card.

Print on the heaviest business card stock you can find, such as Avery photo paper, or that found at paperdirect.com.

[Editor’s Note: Learn more about opportunities to profit from your travels (and even from your own home) in our free online newsletter The Right Way to Travel.]

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