Joan Hill, host and Director of Artful Journeys LLC.

JOAN'S TRAVEL TIPS

My son Gordo, who has had some eye-opening experiences during some of his trips abroad, had a great idea—to post informational tips I've learned over the years during my travels.

Some I've learned through bad experiences; some are from good experiences; some are just commonsensical. I can't claim that these will be unique tips – most travelers will come up with the same advice.

Anyway, here goes! (Sections below are expandable.)

  • INSURANCE

    • Buy Travelers Insurance. Before you leave, if you have an ailing family member, if you yourself are over 50, or if you have a medical condition, it is advised.
  • MONEY

    • Don't buy many euros in US before going – unless you get a deal, fees are too expensive. Take 100 euros with you, max.
    • Use your ATM card to get cash in Europe, not Travellers checks. ATMS are ubiquitous in Europe. However, notify your bank that you'll be using your ATM in x, y, z countries during a certain period so they don't shut you off.
    • DON'T FLASH CASH
    • Most banks also charge a fee for ATM withdrawals. These fees can really add up.
    • When you use an ATM, have someone with you to monitor outside activity. Watch out for suspicious looking people before you begin. If you don't feel comfortable, go elsewhere. Don't leave the ATM until your money and card are safely tucked away.
    • Make sure to get your card!
    • Also take a credit card; notify the card company that you'll be going to x,y,z countries during a certain period, so they don't shut you off. It might be wise to have 2 credit cards, in case one gets compromised, which happens and is a pain, but the possibility exists. Carry the 2 cards and your ATM card in different places.
    • Check with your credit card company about fees on purchases abroad.  Some of them tack on a surprising 3%. I am not paid to say this, but Capital 1 has no fees...yet.
    • Make copies of your credit cards, front and back, ATM card, passport, driver's license and take 1 set with you in carry-on and leave one set with a trusted person at home.
    • If you carry a purse, use one that is difficult for street urchins to access. Lots of closed zippers, lots of pockets, lots of secret places are good. Remember: DIVIDE UP YOUR MONEY AND CREDIT CARDS so you don't lose everything in case of pickpocketing or misplacement of goods.
    • Remember that the Euro has been worth more than the US Dollar for many years now. That translates to a higher dollar outlay - unfortunately.
    • Some very good advice from AARP:
    • "In addition to your real wallet, carry a fake with a few dollars and some old hotel key cards that look like credit cards. Hand the fake wallet over to the accoster; keep the real one.
    • Use ATMs in bank lobbies. They have cameras.
    • Don't access financial info from hotel computers.
    • Beware of 'front desk' fraudsters, 'clerks' who call you in the middle of the night asking for credit card info. Call or go to the front desk."
  • PACKING

    Pack light, travel light
    • This will save on those pesky airline baggage fees and in today's do-it-yourself atmosphere (except in the swankiest places), it will save your back. Many hotels no longer have bellhops to help you lug in your stuff. My advice—pack your bag (not plural) and then take 1/3 out. You're also allowed about 45 pounds for a checked bag on an international flight. Can you carry it comfortably?
    • To help pack light, take clothes with similar palette so you can mix and match; 2 pairs of shoes, and scarves for accent.
    • Most important: WEAR COMFORTABLE SHOES. Cobblestones can be hard on your feet, especially in 4" high heels or something analogous. (I did read the other day that the way Italian women negotiate the cobblestones in their heels is to put their body weight on their toes. If you're adept at carrying yourself in that manner, go for the heels, if that's your style.)
    • This is a common-sense tip I'll pass on from something I read in Travel & Leisure yesterday: DON'T PUT CASH OR ANYTHING NEAR AND DEAR TO YOUR HEART IN YOUR CHECKED LUGGAGE. I guess there's a lot of pilfering going on at the airports. You can use a TSA-approved lock or have your bags shrink-wrapped (more common in European airports). Carry anything you really value in your carry-on. Also, it follows that taking expensive jewelry etc might not be worth the risk (consider hotels, pick-pockets, etc....)
  • MEDICAL

    • Make a list of all medications (and dosages) you take, your doctors' name and contact info. List any chronic conditions you might have. Keep this list with you at all times.
    • Take your medications in the containers they come in – with the Rx info. This can be a pain, but you'll get through customs faster, with fewer questions asked. Also NEVER pack meds in your checked luggage; always have them in your purse or carry-on.
    • Keep the name and phone number of an at-home contact person on your person at all times.
    • If you're with a group but can't physically do a planned activity, graciously offer to stay in town or read at the hotel or go to a café.
    • Judge your physical abilities as objectively as possible: sight matters for cobblestone streets; stamina and a fit body for hill towns; good hearing for busy cities. Best of all, good taste buds matter for the delicious food you'll partake in during your journey.
  • IN-COUNTRY

    • Learn a few words of the country's language. Of course, the most important words are "Thank You" and "You're Welcome."
    • Be polite and respectful.
    • Smile. (Such an ice-breaker!)
    • Expect that things will be somewhat different. Room size, bathrooms, food, language, food, the way people congregate, time will be different from that at home. That's OK. Again, that's the point of travel.
    • Most hotels and even bigger B&B's in Italy have hairdryers in the rooms. (One less thing to pack.)
    • Europe uses 220 voltage and plugs vary from country to country. There's not euro-plug yet. You can buy adapters at a place like Radio Shack or through travel-supply catalogs.
    • Most hotels and B&B's in Italy have WiFi – some have a stronger signal than others. However, in Italy the internet and telephones go out frequently, depending upon location, from bad weather or just because. It's an accepted fact of life.
    • If you're in Rome or Florence, and as the Knowing Rome blog suggests, get your TAXI from a taxi stand. Before you get in the licensed taxi, ask for the price to your destination. Ask about additional passengers and luggage. Your hotel concierge will also help. Be very careful at airport transportation booths. I once asked prices for a ride to a nearby hotel: the real price was 10 euro; I got quotes from 50 – 100.
    • This last time I was in Italy, I was told that it is almost rude to ask an Italian what he or she does for work; you should instead involve the person in a discussion of ideas to get an idea of his or her identity. It's a very different tack from what we Americans are used to. I appreciated the input.
    • Be adventurous: try some new food and wine. My cousin Inge once told me that she would be rich if she had a new thought every day. That's a tall order, but when you travel, try to learn something new each day. That's the point of travel!
  • OTHER FRIENDLY ADVICE

    • When you travel with a friend, be considerate and disclose any physical problems you have that might impede the pace of the trip. Make this disclosure during the trip planning; don't wait until you arrive and/or don't think you can hide your problem.

    Be aware of cultural differences:

    • Europeans have a different sense of privacy and space than Americans do. They usually don't strike up conversations with strangers.
    • On a similar note, Europeans don't open their homes to acquaintances and definitely not to strangers as some Americans might. Only good friends are invited home.
    • Try speaking in the local language!

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