Travel Tales

Travel Tips

Travel Tale No. 1 - Vol. 4

Alinka

Despite rising airfares, higher luggage prices, and more inconvenience to the traveler, some of us still travel constantly for business. I am a believer in gadgets or anything that will make your traveling more comfortable to avoid stress. Here are some travel tips I learned the hard way.

Whether you are flying to Europe, or going on a cruise, it is a good idea to scan your documents, airline tickets, cruise tickets, insurance forms, credit cards, medical information, etc., and mail all this to yourself. If you lose your luggage, or if your bag is stolen or misplaced, you can go to an internet cafe, or the ship's library and log on to your email account and print copies for emergency use, as you will have allthe identification numbers. In some foreign countries English is not spoken, so it is easier to just hand the officials the necessary papers. (I had an unpleasant experience in Greece when the porter grabbed my bags, including my handbag, and whisked them off to the wrong ship sailing to France. I was going to Greece, and I had no documentation to prove who I was!)

When making your hotel accommodations, prior to the actual booking, ask the reservationist what the cancellation policy is. Some hotels charge you one night's stay if you cancel, but others will surprise you and charge your credit card without notification. Foreign hotels will put a guarantee on your card for the amount of your entire stay. They cannot process this charge until you sign out, but pre-authorization will apply against your credit limit. (This happened to me in Paris, when the rental car company blocked my card for $5,000, mostly for insurance, and failed to tell me. The same was done with our hotel charges, so when I tried to buy a fifty euro item, it was denied when I thought I had a sizeable balance, but it had been consumed the first day! These charges were not removed for 30 days; luckily, I had other cards with me.)

Also, you will be charged a 1% or higher foreign transaction fee on your credit card for ATM withdrawals. Call your bank before you leave the USA and ask if they charge more. You will get a shock when you receive your bill as these charges really amount up; they can be as high as several hundred dollars. To save money, obtain traveler's checks and change your money to foreign currency at the airport before you leave the States. Remember, that a 15% of higher, gratuity will be included in your restaurant bill, so it is not necessary to leave a tip. One of the least expensive ways to vacation is to go on a cruise where food is included. This is one way to get the best value for your money.

While shorts and tee-shirts may be acceptable at home, the same is not true for your overseas destination. Never wear shorts after 4:00 PM. They are not permitted in the ship's dining rooms and most foreign hotels. Ladies, it is best to wear a skirt or slacks while visiting museums and especially churches and mosques. (I was horrified to see the way tourists dressed to visit The Vatican.) You will need a scarf to cover your head while visiting mosques.

Be aware that touring companies now may impose stricter baggage limitations than the airlines. Wear your bulky clothes and coats on board a plane to maximize luggage space and minimize the weight, as you will be charged excess baggage to fly to Europe. Take a collapsible tote bag that packs flat in your handbag so you can stick in snacks and books, etc. while en route. When it is time to return, you can use it for carrying on board your souvenirs. You can buy a new chip for your cell phone in Europe and also purchase a telephone card to "top-up" extra minutes.

The worst thing to pack are running shoes as they take up so much room. (I have seen people tie them on to the outside of their carry-ons, but I think that is tacky, so I pack mine in a soft plastic bag at the bottom of my suitcase and fill them with socks and small items.) Travel with an extra toothbrush covered in toothpaste and place a cap on it and stick it in a baggie. If you are going to an area where water is a problem, and forget and run your brush under the faucet, toss it, and use this spare. I always keep a small bottle of hand sanitizer to kill the germs and wash my hands frequently. Better yet, wear gloves.

Always have a small flashlight with you in your carry-on. (I nearly broke my neck in parsimonious Oban, Scotland while trying to find the light switch in the hallway of a dark hotel. I had to use Braille to touch the numbers on the doors to find my room number.) "We have to save on electricity, you see!" Was their response to my American complaint.

Make sure you put labels inside your luggage as well as outside with colored ribbons on the handle to easily identify your bag amongst the sea of black suitcases. (I just bought a luggage locator which ties to the handle and lights up and makes a noise when I press the other gadget on my key chain.) Mix and match your clothing to save space. Choose a neutral color such as black slacks and add colorful tops. Shoes are also a pain to pack. Fill them with belts, handkerchiefs, etc. You can now buy a reversible black/brown belt with a plastic buckle you can wear through security.

Buy pill cases at the drug store to put your earrings and chains in the tiny compartments. Also, keep your medicines in their original bottles for easy identification, or you can spend hours at a foreign airport trying to explain to somebody who speaks no English what they are. (I was once detained at the airport by security for three hours trying to explain why I had not worn any of my clothes on my trip to Turkey; this delay caused me to miss my connecting flight to Miami.) My luggage was sent on the wrong ship, luckily, I had purchased travel insurance and bought new clothes, when my suitcase finally caught up with me, the agents would not believe that I had traveled for two weeks without using any of my clothes in the suitcase. I could not prove it had been lost!)

Get used to the idea that not everybody likes Americans, so don't make a target of yourself with your tee-shirts. For safety reasons, try to blend in with the locals. Do not carry money in your wallet in your back pocket unless you want to lose it. Instead, wear a pouch with your passport, etc., around your neck under your shirt/jacket. Some hotels require you to leave your passport with them as a means of securing you will pay your bill. I hand them a photocopy of my passport so they can give that information to their local police. Certain stores will ask for your passport when paying with a credit card. (We were asked for our passports at the Baden-Baden Casino in Germany, but we had left them in the hotel's safe. Since it was a long walk back, we opted out, which probably saved us a great deal of money.) Be vigilant, do not let your identification out of your sight for a split second. Tell the concierge that you are not moving until they give your passports back safely into your hands.

Don't forget to take some Band-Aids with you. Your poor feet will need them for the blisters from walking on cobble stone streets. If you travel by train, pack a light carry-on with wheels only. The trains leave on time, sometimes without warning, and you can't struggle down the tiny steps while people are pushing to get on.

When traveling with a companion, pack a change of clothing in each other's suitcase, so if yours is lost, you will have a change of underwear. Once, when I was on a cruise ship sailing around the Caribbean with my husband, what he thought was his suitcase (since nowadays you are not permitted to lock them) he found a soldier's uniform; and the other poor guy ended up with his tuxedo. The name on the black suitcase was coincidentally the same. Same name, wrong itinerary.

I never travel without large zip lock bags and rubber bands. I find them useful for storing makeup,(which always spills all over your clothes,) damp or soiled clothing, washcloths, wet shoes, receipts, etc. Slippers with rubber soles or shower shoes are convenient for walking around your room or the beach. Pack a compact umbrella as the weather in Europe is changeable, especially in the UK, and it also serves as a weapon. (Once I used it to push into the ribs of a man standing way too close to me in a very crowded elevator (lift.) Take an extra pair of reading glasses with you in case you break yours. You will need to be able to read all the receipts you sign.

Whenever possible, store your valuables in the hotel safe, instead of the room safe, as some insurance companies will not cover you if the items are stored in the room's safe. As far as travel insurance is concerned, I once bought it and it paid off, but it will add an extra $50 or more to your ticket; and they do have many exclusions.

Don't assume clothes will dry overnight should you hang them up over the bathtub. (I found myself having to wear damp slacks on a cold day.) Some hotel keys activate the lights when you unlock your room, but a credit card magnetic strip might also work.

Travel with earplugs to keep your sanity and block out a constant conversationalist telling you about every medical problem she has ever had; or the unwanted noise of a banging door on a cruise ship, or air conditioner.

Especially these days, find out where the nearest American Embassy is located and keep the address with you. In case of trouble, just show it to the taxi driver. Most of you will probably take tours, but some of you are more independent minded, and like to travel solo; however, it is better to stick together for safety reasons.

I find that proper planning weeks in advance makes for a more enjoyable trip. Prepare a check list, weeks ahead, and keep a small notebook with you, because you always forget the obvious, such as sunglasses. Carry aspirin in your pocket. There is nothing worse than being in a foreign country with a splitting headache. You paid a fortune to be there and you can't really enjoy it. Remember, everyone smokes!

If you have any travel tips, feel free to email me and I will share them with my readers.

Bon voyage!
Alinka

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