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Travel tips from Condé Nast Traveler magazine's Wendy Perrin.
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March 10, 2009

Free Wi-Fi in Your Car

by Wendy Perrin

Remember my trick for getting free Wi-Fi in airports by sitting right outside an airline lounge club? Well, a couple of days ago my husband figured out how to get free Wi-Fi in a car during a road trip: Drive behind a Wi-Fi-equipped bus.

On his way from San Francisco's airport to Santa Rosa, California, Tim found himself trailing an Airport Express bus that advertised "free Wi-Fi." While stopped at the many stoplights on 19th Avenue, he was able to switch his iPhone over to Wi-Fi and check his e-mail. Had I been sitting in the car next to him, I could have blogged on my laptop the entire time from SFO to Santa Rosa. Which is why I may be stalking Wi-Fi-equipped buses on future road trips. (Kidding!)

February 20, 2009

The Westin Sint Maarten Kisses and Makes Up

Westin_st_maarten_2
I did finally manage to carve out an hour for the pool at the Westin Dawn Beach Resort, Feb. 18, 2009.

by Wendy Perrin

Remember Tuesday's post about my Wi-Fi problems at the Westin Sint Maarten? I don't know whether it's the power of blogging or Westin's customer service ethic but, whatever the reason, when I went to check out of the hotel yesterday morning, I learned it had removed all Internet-access charges from my bill. (The agent at the front desk also removed a $75 room-service charge that wasn't mine.)

The front office manager--who, if he's even aware that I write a blog, certainly never mentioned it--apologized for the trouble I'd had, acknowledged that the Wi-Fi situation at the hotel is a big problem, and assured me that a team of Westin people will be tackling it shortly. The hotel needs to have great Internet access if it wants to host corporate meetings, he said. True.

He also said he'd like to restore 16,000 points--the equivalent of one free night at the resort--to my Starwood account, as compensation for the day I'd lost. (I had paid for my stay with 64,000 points.)  "No, please don't do that" was my automatic response.  That's because I'm so accustomed to rejecting anything resembling free travel, in accordance with Conde Nast Traveler's policy of no freebies. On the other hand, if I were Joe Businessman with a Starwood account, I would consider a compensatory offer of 16,000 points to be a very fair resolution to this situation.

So what should I do, folks?  Reject the 16,000 points because I can't accept anything free from a travel company? Or accept the points because it's reasonable compensation and what a normal traveler would do?

I wrestle (alone) with ethical issues like this all the time, so would love to hear other people's opinions.

February 17, 2009

Tech Snafus on Sint Maarten/St. Martin

Tech_problems_3Where I spent today (yes, virtually the entire day): Room 2166 at the Westin St. Maarten. That's me with one of the hotel tech guys who tried to fix my room's wireless and cable connectivity problems, Feb. 17, 2009. 

by Wendy Perrin

If you're wondering what I've been doing since you last heard from me, the answer is: battling one tech breakdown after another. It all started with my Palm Treo 750 dying, the apparent victim of Dutch-French network confusion. First it worked on the French side of the island but not the Dutch side, then on the Dutch side but not the French side, and then last Friday it stopped working everywhere. Hours spent on the phone with the AT&T International Help Desk and Conde Nast Tech Support couldn't revive it. I've been without mobile Web or e-mail access for five days now. 

Then on Saturday I checked into the Westin and promptly lost that critical hotel accoutrement--in-room Wi-Fi--that had made life so easy at the property I'd stayed in the previous six nights. (I can't tell you more about that first property because it's part of an article I'm writing for Conde Nast Traveler's upcoming June issue. What I can tell you is that, in a crazed moment of optimism about a month ago, I redeemed Starwood points for five nights at the Westin because I thought it might be nice to tack some vacation days onto my work assignment down here. The plan backfired: Between writing my article, blogging, and losing 20-or-so precious hours to tech problems, there's been zero time for any vacation.)

So when I arrived at the Westin on Saturday and was told the only place you can get a Wi-Fi signal is the lobby, I freaked.  I can't leave my kids alone in a hotel room while I spend hours in the lobby, after all. Then this morning even the lobby Wi-Fi was on the blink. The front desk promised to call my room when the lobby Wi-Fi was restored, so I stayed put in room 2166 waiting for a call that never came.  When I marched back down to the front desk, I was told that the problem had been fixed and, actually, there should indeed be Wi-Fi in my room, as well as at the pool. Of course I checked both the room and the pool and couldn't connect at either place. Back at the front desk for the fifth or sixth time, the Westin finally started taking my complaint seriously, sending a parade of tech guys to my room. The third one finally offered some decent help:

Pool2
That's Kerry, who calls himself the hotel's "clean-up guy."

Kerry strengthened the room's Wi-Fi signal to the point where my husband's laptop can now access the Internet wirelessly. I still can't connect wirelessly in the room (even though I'm able to in the hotel's lobby), but Kerry was able to get me connected by cable and figured out why the cable hadn't worked earlier: the person who'd installed it had plugged it in wrong in some back room of the Westin.

So now my husband's connected via in-room wireless, I'm connected via in-room cable but using my husband's computer because it's providing a much quicker connection ... and we're each paying $14.95 per day (yes, $30 per day total) for the privilege.

And that is the story of how I spent pretty much the entire day in my hotel room.

Westin_st_maarten_pool Now, here's where I should have spent today: The Westin's pool. I haven't actually been in it yet, but I have walked the entire area holding an open laptop, searching in vain for a Wi-Fi signal.

By the way, if I were here at the Westin on assignment for Conde Nast Traveler, I wouldn't dare name the hotel while still staying in it (for fear that, if the hotel knew I was there, it might give me preferential treatment). The only reason I felt it was okay to name the hotel this once is that I'm here purely for "vacation," I'm not reviewing it for the magazine or this blog, and I'm clearly not getting any discount or freebie, as I paid for the room fair and square with 64,000 hard-won Starwood points.

Before I sign off, my husband wants me to add that this is the second time I've had a "blogging breakdown" (his words) on the island of Sint Maarten. The first time was two years ago, when we were on a cruise that stopped here for a day.  Because the ship's Internet access was kaput, I had to spend most of my one day on Sint Maarten in an Internet cafe!

April 23, 2008

Wi-Fi Woes Worldwide . . . and the Fixes I've Found

Laptop_on_roof
That's my laptop, with wireless USB modem attached, on the roof of the house I rented in Andalusia, Spain, in February. The roof was the only place where I could get a signal and thus get online. Too bad it was always raining.

by Wendy Perrin

If you've read my Perrin Report column in Conde Nast Traveler's May issue, you're well aware of the migraines I've had on the road trying to access the Internet from my laptop so that I can blog at you everywhere from China to Algeria to Russia to Jost Van Dyke to the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. You also know that I've found zero relation between a hotel room's rate and the presence of user-friendly wireless. You also know that some of the tech solutions I've discovered came from readers of this blog: Tim Ferriss of The 4-Hour Workweek fame, for instance, suggested JiWire's Wi-Fi Hotspot Finder (for scoping out hotspots at your destination before leaving home) and the GoldLantern WiFinder (for locating wireless signals within 300 feet of wherever you are). You also know that my life improved big-time after I got a Sierra Wireless AirCard 875U USB Modem (thanks for the tip, Gizmodo) that is compatible with my Apple MacBook (thank you, David Pogue).   

What you may not know--because I didn't know it myself until I read it on Chris Elliott's blog--is that now, instead of buying a wireless aircard, you can RENT one by the day from a company called RovAir (apparently for as little as $5.95/day). I was thrilled to learn about this . . . until I found out that the cards don't work overseas. And now, it turns out, the 875U is being discontinued. Which brings me to my question: Does anyone know of a way to rent aircards for international use???

As for my article about renting a house in Andalusia, it'll be in Conde Nast Traveler's June issue.

December 31, 2007

Bests And Worsts Of 2007

Greatwolf1
Hard to believe, I know, but my favorite hotel night this year was at The Great Wolf Lodge in Scotrun, PA. Hey, when the kids are happy, I'm happy.

by Wendy Perrin

It's time to wrap up 2007 by sharing my best and worst travel experiences of the year. Perhaps you can benefit by learning from both my good fortune and my worst mistakes.

BEST HOTEL NIGHT:
The Great Wolf Lodge, Pocono Mountains, PA.
Before kids, I wouldn't have come within ten feet of an indoor waterpark resort. For an exhausted mother of two inexhaustible young boys, however, it's what the doctor ordered. (That's Doug in the pic below.)  Greatwolf3_4 There are ten Great Wolf Lodges around the country; we chose the one closest. I could list the many child friendly touches such as the abundance of conscientious lifeguards, the bedtime stories in the lobby, the kids' buffet, and the childproof room design, but here's what really made it parent friendly: By day's end the boys were so worn out that they were asleep in bed by 8:00.  Now that's what I call vacation.

WORST HOTEL NIGHT:
The Pudi Boutique Hotel, Shanghai, China

At a brand-new five star property in a futuristic city where business is so booming it's practically on steroids, there is no excuse for rooms lacking WiFi.  Imagine my frustration when I arrived at 11:30 pm desperately needing to email a document from my laptop to my office, I plugged my universal plug adapter into the electrical outlet (the same adapter that worked in every other hotel room in China), and it blew out the power in my room, leaving me in total darkness with no electricity (meaning, no phone with which to call for help).  I walked down to the front desk, got the hotel engineer to come . . . and he managed to blow the fuse twice again. He eventually brought a different plug adapter, but that didn't solve the no-WiFi problem.  When I tried connecting by wire and still couldn't get on the Internet, the engineer wanted to go into my computer and change the IP address (if you're in Conde Nast's Tech Support Dept. you know what a disaster that would have been). I switched hotels the next morning ... to a little three-star inn nearby where my laptop connected just fine.

BEST DEVICE FOR STAYING CONNECTED:
Palm Treo with AT&T service

I could not have survived 2007 without wireless email in the palm of my hand.  I had it 24/7 -- whether I was on a train in China, at an ancient ruin in Algeria, on a ship hugging the coastline of Spain, or in the mountains of St. Lucia --  thanks to my Treo 650.  The 650 is a dinosaur, I know, but it fits like an old glove.  True, I could gripe about the phone sound -- which is often weak and unclear -- and the Internet access -- which is slow and incomplete. But that's why I also carry a SYNC by Samsung phone, also with AT&T service. I use it not for email but when I need strong, clear sound quality or need to get on the Web.  For some reason, even though the service provider for both is AT&T, there are a few spots around the world where the Treo works but the SYNC doesn't, or the SYNC works but the Treo doesn't. Between the two of them, though, I can always reach my kids to sing them their bedtime songs, no matter what time zone I'm in.

WORST TRAVEL SNAG:
When our Dream Trip winner's ship sank

Remember that ship that sank in Antarctica over Thanksgiving? That's the ship that Gene Pembroke, the winner of Conde Nast Traveler's Dream Trip Contest, was supposed to board this coming Friday for his Antarctic cruise. Since it's my job to make sure his $20,000 dream trip does indeed turn out to be a dream and not a nightmare, I had to scramble to get Gene and his girlfriend Arlene booked onto another ship sailing out of the same port around the same time -- no easy feat, considering that Antarctic cruises sell out a year in advance and that everyone else who was booked on the sunken ship was also looking for a replacement. Well, I got Gene and Arlene onto a great ship that sails out of Ushaia, Argentina, on Wednesday (yes, the day after tomorrow). Then the latest potential snag hit:  Argentina decided, at the last minute, to introduce daylight savings time starting yesterday. There have been a slew of international flight changes with little advance notice, including Gene's flight tomorrow from Rio to Buenos Aires. It's now leaving an hour early.  If he misses it, he'll miss the cruise!  So at this moment he's in Rio, celebrating New Year's Eve on Copacabana Beach, while I'm home spending New Year's Eve trying to reach him on his cell phone. Correction: MY cell phone. I leant him my SYNC for his trip, in case of emergencies like this one. God, I hope he gets my messages.
Update on Jan 1 at 12:30 pm: The SYNC saved the day!  Gene got my messages, and he and Arlene are happily en route from Rio to Buenos Aires on Aerolineas Argentinas. What a relief!  Starting next week, Gene will be guest blogging here, by the way, as he continues his dream trip traveling the length of South America from tip to toe.

More bests and worsts, after the jump.



Continue reading "Bests And Worsts Of 2007" »

January 27, 2007

Free WiFi, Part 2

Img_2371
My $448-per-night room at Raffles' L'Ermitage, Beverly Hills, Jan. 25, 2007

By Wendy Perrin

If, like me and the rest of Conde Nast Traveler's staff, you're always on the look-out for free WiFi, and you liked yesterday's tip about snagging free hot spots in airports by parking yourself outside an airline's club lounge, this might interest you too: JetBlue's terminal at J.F.K. provides FREE WIRELESS, not to mention a DAY SPA . . . . 

Continue reading "Free WiFi, Part 2" »

January 25, 2007

How To Get Free WiFi at the Airport

Jfk
The Starbucks next to my gate in JFK's sparkling and efficient new Terminal 9.

By Wendy Perrin

A few minutes ago I was sitting in this Starbucks in American Airlines' Terminal 9 at JFK (another planet from AA's Terminal 8).  I wanted WiFi and would have had to pay JFK's wireless provider $7.95 for a one-day pass.  Instead, I got up and moved to the gate directly outside the AA Admirals Club lounge. I don't belong to the club anymore (I gave up my membership when I joined Delta's Crown Room Club), but here I get its wireless signals!  So now I'm at Gate 42, sipping my cinnamon dolce latte and blogging away for free. Next time you hear from me, I'll be coming at you from L.A.


January 13, 2007

Discovered Jamaica

Blog_rasta
Roadside "rasta mon" (Jamaican for male rastifarian) in the mountains near Montpelier, Jamaica, Jan. 11, 2007

By Wendy Perrin

Sorry you never heard from me last night. No, I did not get wasted away at the Margaritaville down the road. Nor did I smoke too much ganja with the rasta mon above. The reason is much more mundane: The Wi-Fi in my Jamaican rental villa went kaput.

Continue reading "Discovered Jamaica" »

September 19, 2006

Desperate To Connect (Part 4)

By Wendy Perrin

If you slogged through the saga of my fruitless efforts to get high-speed Internet access at a Boston-area Marriott last weekend, or if you've ever found yourself in the same boat, you'll want to know this: 

Just got an e-mail from tech guru David Rowell of The Travel Insider, who had the polar-opposite experience with in-room high-speed access at Marriott's Residence Inns.  "My guess is that there was a problem with the wiring in the walls up to where it terminated at the outlet in your room," he writes.  "The last time I was in a similar situation, I demanded and was given a second hotel room to save moving from the room I was all unpacked and settled in, and so I had an Internet room and a regular room."  What a great idea!  Wish I'd thought of that myself. "Not a perfect solution with kids," acknowledges David, "but I guess you could call from one room to the other and leave the phone off the hook as a sort of baby monitor."  Love it!


September 17, 2006

Desperate To Connect (Part 3)

060917_marriott
Photo: Marriott.com

By Wendy Perrin

Day Three at the Boston Marriott Peabody.

The bad news: We still have no high-speed Internet access in our room. 

Here's what's advertised on our electronic key card: "Wired-for-Business: Complete connectivity.  One smart price."  And here's what's printed on a placard on the desk in our room: "Work faster. Relax faster.  Up to 50 times faster than dial-up!  Simple to use."

But after five calls to the front desk, four conversations with the STSN (Marriott's high-speed access provider) help center, three visits from the hotel's engineer, replacing the STSN box, replacing the high-speed cable, and even replacing the phone, and testing all of this on two different laptops, we still can't get a flashing green light on the STSN box.  According to the friendly but helpless STSN help center in Salt Lake City, the room is offline and nothing can be done about it.  The call-center guy suggested we move from room 234 to 235 or 237, since those rooms are online (he can tell this from Salt Lake City!).  When we said we're traveling with our two-year-old and four-year-old and can't bear to move all their accoutrements, he totally sympathized.  He has three children himself.

That is why my laptop and I are back in the lobby (where there's wireless) in the wee hours (the only time I can sneak away from the kids is when they're snoozing), wondering when my "vacation" in New England will start to involve less work and more sleep.

Paul, the nighttime front-desk guy and my new buddy, just came over and told me that for some ludicrous reason my room has been charged for two days' worth of high-speed Internet access ($9.95/day).

The good news:  Paul says he's gonna wipe the fees off my room bill, and as compensation for my troubles he just handed me a certificate for a free breakfast for two in the hotel's restaurant.  Hopefully I'll go back to bed and sleep through it.

By the way, tech whiz David Rowell of The Travel Insider had a totally different experience with STSN high-speed Internet access when he tested it at Marriott's Residence Inns. He says it was "truly convenient" and "every bit as good as their claims."


September 16, 2006

Desperate To Connect (Part 2)

By Wendy Perrin

The bad news:  My laptop and I are back in the lobby of the Boston Marriott Peabody in the wee hours, using the WiFi, because even after I decided to bite the bullet and pay the $9.95 per day for in-room high-speed Internet access, it didn't work. I wrestled with the STSN (Marriott's service provider) equipment in my room for an hour and a half last night. Ultimately the STSN help center and the hotel's front desk determined that the STSN box in my room is broken and an engineer must come replace it.

The good news: An engineer is supposedly coming this morning.

Hotelchatter.com was right when it said about Marriott, "You need a PhD to comprehend the Internet policies at some of their flagship hotels."


September 15, 2006

Desperate To Connect (Part 1)

By Wendy Perrin

The bad news: My laptop and I have been hanging out in the lobby of the Boston Marriott Peabody since 5:30 this morning because high-speed Internet access up in the room costs a whopping $9.95 per day (plus tax).  The good news:  The lobby's wireless connection, which used to cost $9.99 per day, is now free.  Maybe this means Marriott can climb its way off Hotelchatter.com's 2006 list of the worst hotels for WiFi.

Why am I here?  When on the road with my family I usually stay at child-friendly motels with free in-room high-speed Internet access, such as Country Inns & Suites. I'm here instead because a friend is getting married nearby this weekend and this is the hotel where the wedding guests are staying. Since the kids were invited too, Tim and I decided to turn this trip into a fun-for-the-whole-family long-weekend getaway. Tune in later for photos of our adventures in New England.