Traveling hints from Heloise

Take a clothespin, drop the room key, and more from the queen of advice


January 26, 2003|By Larry Bleiberg | By Larry Bleiberg,Knight Ridder / Tribune; Los Angeles Times

Here's a hint: Don't forget your bed bag on your next trip.

That's what Heloise always has tucked into her suitcase.

"You know -- your bed bag," she says. "The bag you always keep by your bed with flashlight, alarm clock, ear plugs, eye mask and clothespin."

If you don't travel with such accessories, heed the words of one of America's most popular advice-givers: Heloise Cruse. Yes, that Heloise, the newspaper columnist and author of books such as her recent volume, Heloise Conquers Stinks and Stains.

Heloise is a frequent traveler, but you won't find her packing the standard laptop, cell phone and black roll-aboard suitcase -- she just bought a purple bag to stand out from the luggage carousel crowd. (Other tips: Write your name on the handle with red nail polish, or tie something very distinctive to it.)

Travel is an area given to hints, and Heloise dishes. She recently shared some travel tips with members of the Society of American Travel Writers.

Take her hotel room. The first thing she does after locking and bolting the entrance (Remember: "You're not the only one with a key") is drop her key on the floor in front of the door.

That way you avoid the annoying search for the key in an unfamiliar room. Plus it's right there if you have to leave in an emergency.

"Mother taught me that," she says. "Mother," of course, is the original Heloise, a Fort Worth, Texas, native who began her column of household hints in Honolulu in 1959. Her daughter, also known as Ponce Cruse Evans, joined the enterprise and took over the column after her mother's death in 1977. She has legally adopted the name Heloise.

Heloise's father, Mike Cruse, was an Air Force pilot. He showed his family how to travel, Heloise says.

"Daddy taught my mother to have a checklist. Pilots have a checklist -- in writing."

Travelers should have one, too.

"I can see my mother standing in the doorway before one of her trips, saying out loud: 'Shoes, stockings, girdle.' I can see her going over her list."

Heloise says travel doesn't have to be complicated.

She suggests packing everything in clear bags. If you're searched at the airport, people won't paw through your clothes. Plus, it's easy to see that you have everything when packing to leave. She also marks possessions with return-address labels. It works. She once left an electronic charger in a hotel, and the charger was returned.

But even Heloise can learn a new tip. She was surprised when one travel writer suggested taking transparent tape to India. It's necessary to repair money: Torn bills are often given in change in that country, but merchants do not accept them.

Heloise added that tape also is great for emergency hems and for closing that annoying gap in hotel curtains. In fact, that's why she packs a clothespin in her bed bag. She has also used the clip on hotel pens to shut the curtains, and once in an exasperated bid for sleep, the hotel sewing kit.

But Heloise's best travel tip doesn't involve the stain removal properties of baking soda or the utility of hotel shower caps -- "They make good shoe covers" -- it's bringing the proper attitude.

When something goes wrong at the airport, she says, don't blame the gate agent. If there's a problem with her flight, Heloise says, she'll approach the airline representative directly.

"I say, 'I know you're doing your job and I know this is not your fault, but I hope you can help me." It's polite, respectful -- and effective, Heloise says.

"And guess who gets on the plane?"

Online or offline?

More people are grabbing their computer mice instead of the phone to buy travel these days as Web sites roll out products aimed at simulating the personal touch of traditional agents.

The number of Americans who researched trips on the Internet grew only slightly last year, to about 64 million, reflecting a leveling off of wired households, according to the Travel Industry Association of America. But more than 39 million did more than look. They booked. That figure was up 25 percent from 2001, the association says.

The leap was remarkable in a year when so much of the travel industry, battered by post-Sept. 11 shock and a rocky economy, lost ground.

The reasons for the growth include soaring service fees by offline agents trying to make up for lost airline commissions; cost-conscious leisure travelers looking for a bargain; the migration of strapped business fliers to the Web; growing comfort with buying products online; bonuses offered by airlines for online booking; and the recent tendency to book at the last minute, when the nimbleness of the Internet can be an advantage.

In the last year, about two-thirds of U.S. adults planned at least one of their vacations within two weeks of departing on it, the TIA reported. As for economic worries, Americans are more negative than ever about being able to afford a pleasure trip, another TIA survey showed.

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