Don't Get Ripped Off! 5 Helpful Travel Tips From Our Recent Trip to Tahoe

During Spring Break we decided to take a 3 day excursion to Lake Tahoe to play and ski in the snow.  We stayed and played at Northstar in North Lake Tahoe and had a blast!

There were four of us; 2 adults, 2 kids. We decided to fly from LAX to Reno as a test to see how our 4 year old would behave on his first flight.  Overall, it went o.k. (though don't ask the guy who sat in front of him). We learned a lot on this very first trip involving more than just driving our car somewhere.  Let me summarize what we learned:

Don't Stuff Too Much Into a Big Suitcase

We have two BIG suitcases and the rest are small enough to be carry-ons. My wife refused to use the 2nd big suitcase because it was "dirty." I said no problem, I'll take MY stuff out of the big suitcase and repack it into the allegedly dirty bag. She refused and instead made me stuff everyone's ski clothes into the one big bag...I had sit on the suitcase to zip it up.

Sure enough...the bag weighed 56 lbs and Southwest charged us an extra $50 EACH WAY for the bag because it weighed more than 50 lbs. It made no difference that the 4 other bags weighed 10 to 20 lbs.  They don't take an average as I so begged them to do. I was pissed. But...cha ching...had no choice but to fork over the $$.

Don't Buy Auto Rental Insurance if You Don't Need It

I did not make the mistake of purchasing the $10/day Loss Damage Waiver from Hertz as I'm covered by my own personal auto insurance AND my American Express card offers this coverage for free. So don't waste money on this insurance if you don't need it.  Do your homework and don't throw away $$.

Don't Wait to Fill Up the Gas Tank on Your Rental Car

So we checked out of our hotel and drove back to Reno. I thought it would be fun to stop by the Circus Circus so the kids could play some games in the midway area.  One hour, $50 and 2 dozen stuffed animals later, we piled into the rental car for the airport.

We were kind of in a rush and I knew needed to top off the gas tank, but I figured we'd just hop on the freeway and find a gas station near the airport. Duh, I should have remembered the rule of thumb...that there are NO gas stations within reasonable range of the airport.

So we make it to the airport and can't find a gas station. We're now in the terminal and wife says, we have plenty of time, let's go find a gas station. This time I was the stubborn one. "Nah, let's just return the car. I'll pay for the gas."

ECccccchhhh! Big mistake! As we were unloading the car, I sheepishly asked the Hertz guy, "I'm curious to hear how much the gas costs." He showed me the receipt and I blurted out, "What the %^&*!?" but then laughed it off. Yes sir, I just paid $29.22 for 3.25 gallons of gas. That's just $8.99 per gallon. Lovely, just lovely.

Champagne Taste, Beer Budget

We stayed at the Ritz first time ever. I'm a Marriott kinda guy but found this special 3 nights for the price of 2 deal and figured, why not splurge, it's only 3 nights.

The hotel was absolutely beautiful and the service and location was impeccable. And the ski access was amazing. But would I stay there again?  Probably not, at least not until I win the California Lottery.

Prices were supersized at every step and we had few alternatives. It was snowing, there wasn't an IHOP next door, so we had to eat in the hotel for most of our meals. We're talking triple digits for dinner, $7 for cereal/milk, $21 for 3 room service orders of ice cream. The food was DELICIOUS and I'd highly recommend the Tahoe Ritz Carlton for those who either a) are not cheapskates like me or b) have more disposable income than me or c) don't mind being broke or d) all of the above.

Do Some Planning and Organizing

We arrived at LAX, got our bags from the carousel and hustled out to catch the shuttle to our car.  It was crazy/busy at LAX at rush hour on a Wednesday, but we got outta there like clockwork. Here's some of the thing we remembered to do upon return as well as during the course of the trip:

  • Packed our tickets, keys and parking passes in a place we wouldn't forget.  It is extremely easy to misplace things while traveling, the source of constant frustration.
  • We remembered to go to the "Hotel and Courtesy Shuttle" under the red sign. We noticed a number of people quite confused about this. LAX can be crazy and confusing.
  • We wore easy-to-take-off and put-back-on shoes for the dreaded airport security line...makes it a lot easier when traveling with kids.
  • Made sure to pack a lot of $1 and $5 bills for tips to the hard-working folks who helped us get to/from our destinations.
  • Packed a variety of fun stuff for the electronic item, a game, one coloring/word search type book, cars, crayons, reading book, annd of course, SNACKS!
  • As a backup to GPS devices, etc., I made sure to print out detailed driving instructions and maps for each segment of the trip. Also kept handy the phone number of the hotel.
  • We did not label each bag until we arrived at the check in counter.  I'd advise you to do this in advance.
  • Try not to have an extraordinarily large and/or heavy carry-on bag. You'll hate having to carry it around the airport, lug it into the plane, into/out of the overhead bin, etc.

So that's it for now. Hope this helps you in your own pursuit of a great vacation!