Monday, February 26, 2018

All About Luggage Tags

According to the Travel Consumer Reports issued by the U.S. Department of Transportation, most folks face less than a one percent chance that a major airline will misplace your luggage. But it does happen.

Courtesy of Kate Aspen® Lucky Elephant Luggage Tag

When planning a trip, don't overlook the importance of luggage tags.  Today with the ease of Etickets, many people tend to overlook the importance of luggage tags and end up scribbling their names on a paper tag at the airport.  It is best to fill out your luggage tags before leaving home because the information included on these tags can sometimes make or break the most carefully planned out trip and can literally be a lifesaver for your belongings.

Information to Include:


Make sure you write your name in a clear legible fashion.  If you are traveling with more than one bag, make sure your name is on each bag.  If you are flying, the name on the luggage tag should be the same name as on your boarding pass.

Hotel or Destination Phone Number

Many travelers include the hotel phone number on luggage tags especially if they don't travel with a cell phone or are in an area where there is limited cell phone access.  Don't forget to include the country code if you are traveling out of the country. This website will give you an up to date listing of all country codes.

Courtesy Zazzle Luggage Tag

Cell Phone Number

If you carry a cell phone and can be contacted on it in the area to which you are traveling, this is often the best way for the airlines to reach you. If you are traveling out of the country, be sure to include the country code in addition to the area code and phone number.

Email Address

If you have access to your email this can be helpful.  Emails also provide a paper trail of confirmation and reference information regarding your lost luggage. If you are nervous about giving out your everyday email address, create a special account.


Luggage Tag No-Nos 

So many people at the airport see your luggage tag so it is important to limit the amount of personal information you put on it.

Home Contact Information

Most travel experts will tell you that it is not a good idea to put your home contact information on luggage tags such as your home address while you are away in order to avoid a home robbery. Try a work address if you feel you need an address or a PO box.

Home Phone 

Seasoned travelers recommend not using a home phone number since a potential thief could use a reverse lookup website to find the corresponding address. Instead, use a cell phone number which will be more advantageous if the airline is contacting you for the return of lost luggage. 

Courtesy of Highwind Cruise Luggage Tags

Type of Tag

Another piece of advice is to purchase a luggage tag that has a flap that covers your contact information. This will make your information more difficult to glean when you are traveling.

Inside the Suitcase

As an extra precaution, it is always a good idea to tape your contact information including your name as it appears on your boarding pass, your cell phone number and email on the inside top of the suitcase.  This "inside" information will certainly come in handy if your luggage tag is lost. 

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Cruising the Legendary Loire Valley By Barge

Taking a leisurely cruise on a hidden canal in France has caught the imagination of many travelers, even the most jaded.   It's no surprise given that passengers experience an intimate view of the charming French countryside, spend elegant evenings dining on gourmet meals, are pampered with excellent service and are offered interesting things to do ashore. This June, Tours of Distinction is offering a very special cruise of the hidden canals of the Loire Valley from June 26- July 4 on a twenty passenger canal barge.

About Barge Cruising in the Loire Valley

Navigating through centuries-old waterways in the heart of the Loire Valley on a slow-moving barge with no more than twenty guests is a completely different experience from other river cruises where passengers share space with more than 100 people and sail on crowded rivers through several countries.  Barge cruising in France with Tours of Distinction is intimate, slower, and smaller giving passengers the time to experience this network of waterways that crisscross the Loire Valley.

The scenery is diverse and has been cherished by residents and visitors alike.  As the barge plies its way down this network of waterways you will see bucolic villages, chateaus, a fortress or monastery, charming towns, and a lush landscape of vineyards, forests, and orchards. Many artists and poets, such as Jean de la Fontaine, Baudelaire, and Victor Hugo have been inspired by the natural beauty of this region that was once the residence of French royalty during the Renaissance.

 Waterways in the Loire Valley

Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2002,  and referred to as "the Garden of France" the  Loire is also known as "the last wild river" because it is the only river in Western Europe that has not been canalized.  It is famous for its unspoiled scenery -- quaint medieval villages, fairytale castles, fabulous vineyards, amazing asparagus fields and fruit orchards.

At one time,  this river was a lifeline of communication, trade, and transportation.  It is the longest river in France flowing 634 miles from the Cevennes region to the Atlantic Ocean at St. Nazaire. For more than 2000 years this river was the main transportation route linking the provinces with the major trade centers.

Up until the 19th century, the Loire was the most important waterway bringing merchandise from the middle of the country to the port in Nantes. In its heyday, barges steamed up these canals transporting everything from grain, fruit, cheese, and wine to timber and even pig iron.  The opening of the  Canal de Briare in 1642 further expanded trade by linking it to the Seine.

Aristocrats and well to do people took to the water in the 1800s by using stylish water taxis as a means of transportation in order to avoid the discomfort of traveling on primitive roads. Things changed in the 1800s when the railroad was built reducing the need for the river as a means of transportation.  The unique steamships that once plied the river disappeared by the beginning of the 20th century and only sailors on traditional flat-bottomed vessels sailed the river.

Today, nearly one hundred years later, like the passengers on those fashionable water taxi's  a new sleek vessel has emerged as a way to enjoy the scenic essence of this historic and stunningly beautiful waterway.  On this cruise, with Tours of Distinction,  passengers will visit the timeless towns of Nevers, Marseilles Les Aubigny, Chapelle Montlinard, Menetreol Sous Sancerre, Lere, and Briare.

M/S Deborah

Passengers will cruise like royalty on the specially chartered M/S Deborah with only clients from Tours of Distinction aboard.  Large windows capture scenic views on the contemporary inspired main deck.  The tastefully appointed lounge and dining room also feature windows with views and the expansive sundeck affords panoramic views of the magnificent countryside.

On the Hidden Canals of France, just twenty passengers will spend six nights on the M/S Deborah that includes five lunches, six dinners, and six breakfasts.  The M/S Deborah built in 2016 has 11 spacious cabins, all have a view and include a private bath with a shower, TV, radio, cabin to cabin telephone, safe and air-conditioning.

This luxurious barge also has a spacious lounge with a bar, a restaurant and of course a sun deck with chaise lounges and umbrellas.  If that is not enough, this floating palace also has a Jacuzzi near the bow of the ship, bikes and free wi-fi.

Tour Highlights

This tour, the Hidden Canals of France, Loire Valley is more than just luxuriating on a magnificent vessel, it is also about fine dining, excellent wine, visiting historic sites and attractions, vineyards,  farms, and castles.

  • Highlight - Take a walking tour by lantern light on the winding streets of Nevers with houses that date to the 14th century.  The next morning the tour will begin with a  visit to the Espace Bernadette Soubirous, the final resting place of the country girl from Lourdes that claimed to have seen the Virgin 18 times.  Later tour the famous Ducal Palace built in the 15th  and 16th centuries and one of the principal feudal edifices in central France, go shopping in the Old Town, or relax in Republic Square.  

  • Highlight - Tour the privately owned Fontmorigny Abbey established in 1149 under Saint Bernard's authority.  This former Cistercian Monastery is so serene. Here you will admire the Abbey Church, ruins of the Cloisters and wander in the abbot's garden.   Afterward, continue on to one of the most beautiful villages in France,  Apremont-sur-Allier.  The heart of this amazing village is the Chateau and its Parc Floral.  Take a fairytale walk through the garden that is punctuated with waterfalls, buildings and of course a lavish array of flowers.  This Park has been awarded the "Jardin Remarquable" by the French Ministry of Culture and Communication.

  • Highlight - Founded in 1059, the medieval town of La Charite-sur-Loire is famous for its Clunisian priory that is a remarkable example of Burgundian Romanesque art.  Surrounded by soaring ramparts, this site along with its church, Way of St. James is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Many buildings including the Priory Church of Notre-Dame from the 11th and 12th centuries, the Sainte -Croix bell tower, 18th-century cloisters, monks' cellar and Benedictine garden make this site ideal for exploring.  Don't miss a stroll down picturesque side streets and into a labyrinth of bookshops, calligraphers, illuminators, and binders making this a perfect town for book lovers and shoppers. 

  • Highlight -  With vineyards overlooking the river, wine enthusiasts will enjoy a visit to the town of  Pouilly-sur-Loire, that is noted for the white wine known as Pouilly-Fumé.  Some of the vines go back to the 8th century!  Tours and tastings are included!

  • Highlight - Seemingly lost in time, the enchanting village of Sancerre is sure to charm you.  There are many artisanal producers here to tempt you as well - winemakers, cheese makers, bakeries and outdoor cafes.  For the strong of wind, climb Fief Tower, the only remaining tower of a 14th-century castle.  The climb rewards with  panoramic views of the gorgeous Loire Valley. 

  • Highlight - Cruise through the Briare Aqueduct whose 14 masonry supports were built by the Eiffel Company. This masonry and steel bridge was the longest navigable aqueduct in the world up to 2003. 

Additional Tour Highlights

This tour includes one-night accommodation in Paris at Mercure Paris La Sorbonne, six nights on the M/S Deborah, a twenty passenger canal barge, motor coach and airplane transportation and bicycles. In addition, the tour includes six breakfasts and dinners and five lunches as well as seven shore excursions as highlighted. There will be a Paris city tour, a full-time tour director from Tours of Distinction as well as local guides. There will be one evening of local entertainment and one pre-dinner wine and cheese pairing. Contact Tours of Distinction to book this trip from June 26, 2018 - July 4, 2018. 

Friday, February 2, 2018

Travel Tip -Homeland Security Real ID Program Update

Starting in 2018 the rules change for what airline passengers can use as acceptable forms of identification. Fortunately non-compliant states have received an extension through October 10, 2018 which means travelers from those states can still use driver's licenses for identification, at least for now.

Once the program is in full effect travelers will need to show a passport, a state-issued Enhanced Driver’s License (EDL) or another TSA approved form of ID to board a domestic aircraft. If you do not comply you will not be permitted through security.  Connecticut is compliant with the REAL ID Act.    The Department of Homeland Security Real ID Act sets minimum security standards and prohibits Federal agencies from accepting driver’s licenses and ID cards from states that do not currently meet those standards.

The roll-out of the program has taken place over the past several years. The reason some states are still not compliant is that while the law is mandated and governs what Federal agencies can accept as identification, participation by states is voluntary.

There is no doubt that this can be confusing for travelers. To see how the most current changes, extensions, and rules apply to you, check the Department of  Homeland Security website for the status of your state regarding the Real ID program. To be on the safe side, be sure you travel with a passport or another acceptable form of ID at all times.  To review the Frequently Asked Questions about the Real ID program click here