Before You Travel Checklist
• Credit Card Information
Forget travelers cheques. You are better off using major credit card. I have been using my Genie Card from Fifth Third Bank, which functions as a debit card and is connected to my checking account. If I need some additional foreign currency, such as Euros, I use an ATM machine which has the same symbol that Fifth Third uses; using my PIN, I can withdraw a set amount every 24 hours with minimum charge. I recommend that you withdraw less frequently because of the additional charge with every withdrawal.
I also call my credit card companies in advance to let them know that there will be unusual charges from parts of the world I don’t normally visit (although the card companies have become quite accustomed to my travels the past 19 years).
Another thing to do prior to a trip is to make a list of your destinations and get the local (non-800) numbers for corresponding credit card offices. If you lose a card or it is stolen, it is easier to report a loss.
Carry several different cards using different companies and keep them separate. If a card is refused or becomes demagnetized, you have a backup. Remember that as a consumer, you won’t get the same rates as the “big boys.” Each credit card company charges a conversion fee. Check the details from your particular card company. If the fees seem high, shop around for another credit card, although some do NOT charge an international transaction fee while others do. Now that the credit card companies are attempting to reign in expenses, you might be unpleasantly surprised that the company which you have dealt with for a long time has now added charges. You must keep in mind that not all ATMs charge the same rate so those at hotels and airports might be more expensive as they add a premium for your convenience.
As you use an ATM, go with someone from the group so that as one is “working” the machine, the other can block the view and keep an eye on others loitering in the area. Hide your password and PIN from preying eyes. This even includes criminally hidden cameras above the keypad so shield the keypad from above. Make sure you remember your password’s numbers and don’t use words because some ATM machines in foreign countries only have numbers. Oh, and don’t forget to take your ATM card out of the machine when you have completed your transaction. Can you read “From checking or savings?” in French?
- Passport InformationOf course, you have to ensure that your passport is not just up-to-date, but is valid for up to six months after your scheduled return from a foreign country. Check it right now to make sure. Then make two copies of the inside front cover of the passport (or the page with your picture). Put one in your suitcase away from your passport. The other should be given to someone who is not coming on the trip. If you should happen to lose your passport (which in many countries is worth more than its weight in gold on the black market), it can be replaced more easily with that information. Make sure that you keep your passport on you and not in your checked luggage.
- Itinerary InformationGive your itinerary including flight numbers to a family member or two, recognizing that there may be changes in either flight numbers or times of departure. I will keep you apprised of these changes as I get them. The group will be identified through the airline by a Record Locator which is an Alfanumeric designator which does not change even if specific flight numbers and times change. I will pass this Record Locator to all my clients. Also include hotel information. I will, prior to our departure, provide both a local (Grand Rapids) emergency number as well as one in the foreign country should something unforeseen occur.
- Packing SuggestionsPack as lightly as you can. No one cares if you are seen in the same outfit more than once. Your clothing selection should be easily cared for and you might want to schedule some “down” time in your hotel room rinsing out a few items, but preferably not the night before we leave for the next city because your clothes pack better when they are dry. Comfortable walking shoes are an absolute requirement. Those who have traveled with me in the past can attest that there is a fair amount of walking almost every day. But you know that shoes take a lot of room and add weight. So stuff your packed footwear with socks and underwear. Consider packing in the order you will be using the articles.
Although current (2017) airline regulations allow around 50 pounds per checked bag, on occasion we may fly a local domestic airline with more severe weight restrictions (we had that shocking experience flying from Chang Mai to Bangkok in Thailand a few years ago). We might have to shlep our checked bags up a long flight of stairs (I don’t want to learn a bunch of new words at that time!) When I led a trip to Ecuador in 1995, my wife and I had three small suitcases: one with clothes for the Amazon Basin, one for Quito and the mountains, and one for the Galapagos Islands. That way, we knew which one we would be accessing at a particular time of the trip. Leave room in your suitcase for “treasures” that you find along the way and purchase.
One trick is to stow a foldable bag when you leave home and then that fills up with items that you have purchased and are willing to carry on the plane with you as a carry-on bag. This is also smart if you are asked by U. S. Customs to show your purchases because they are all together.
When I was in Navy boot camp, I was taught how to roll everything and use twine to hold the individual rolls together. Believe it or not, most clothes remain unwrinkled longer and definitely take less room. Have you seen the olive drab green seabags that Sailors sling over their shoulders? They contain many weeks of clothing!
- Prepare Home for AbsencePrepare your home by having someone take care of watering and cutting grass and flowers. Some home water systems have a means of shutting off interior water but do not disturb outside water. Don’t leave your garbage can out. Have a trusted neighbor or friend “police” your yard periodically and pick up any errant papers which have blown there as well as “deadhead” flowers which are past their prime. Cancel newspapers by calling the circulation office. In addition, cancel home delivery of mail. To do this, go to http://www.usps.com . Click on “Track & Manage” Tab at the top. Then scroll down to “Hold Mail” and follow the instructions. When finished, note your confirmation number. That way, if there is a change of plans, you can shorten or extend your “hold mail” request via the same online system. On your return, mail can be retrieved (remember your photo ID) from your nearest post office or delivered to your home starting on a specific date. Unplug any appliances which generate heat such as toasters or coffee makers. The possibility of a short are quite small, but still possible.
- Money ExchangeI keep a running record of exchange rates for the next group trip. Because the dollar is worth less than either the Euro € or the Pound Sterling £, don’t be surprised by the exchange ratios when we return home and get your credit card statement. For example, the € rate on 16 June 2009 was $1.37, but on 18 July 2017 it was $1.1559. It has been as low at $0.86 and as high as $1.72. Money can be exchanged in all major cities that we are visiting at regular exchange centers (Cambio), at banks (if you are willing to stand in line and fill out many forms and show your passport), and at ATMs. Contact your bank provider of your credit or debit card and see what the charges will be for each exchange. Because you may well use your credit or debit card to purchase some of the things that you have seen and must have, you should also let your card company know that you will be spending money in whatever country we will be visiting. Give the company the dates that you will be gone so that the company can clear your purchases. It will also work for ATMs, but you will need to ensure that you have a valid PIN to make those exchanges.
- Tips for Using the EuroOn January 1, 2002, the eight coins and seven paper notes of the euro(€), the currency of the European Union (EU), were introduced into circulation, instantly becoming the official currency for more than 300 million Europeans. Currently, nineteen members of the European Union – Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain – have adopted the euro as their currency. The euro is also used in colonies, territories, and other entities that are part of these countries: Andorra, the Azores, the Canary Islands, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Madeira, Martinique, Monaco, Mayotte, Miquelon, Reunion, Saint Pierre, San Marino, and Vatican City. The colorful euro bills, which include holograms and shades of green, yellow, blue, mauve, and orange, are identical across the euro area. Coins have one common and one national side, but they can be used in any of the 12 countries regardless of the country of issue. The euro is not the official currency of all EU member countries. Some nations have chosen not to adopt the euro, and others realize that their economies do not qualify them. Three eligible members: Denmark, Sweden, and the United Kingdom, continue to use their own currencies. Some Eastern European countries – the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland – did not adopt the euro upon joining the EU in May 2004. According to Europa, the EU’s official Web site for the euro, they will not do so until “they have achieved the high degree of sustainable economic convergence with the euro area required for membership of the single currency.” None of these countries is likely to adopt the euro for a couple of years.
- Airline Rules[These points are if you are on your own: if you book through Travel With Chardoul, I have already done the legwork for you.] To think of guidelines for airline travel, the first rule is to plan ahead. Check various airlines for the best pricing. If you have a preference because of Frequent Flyer miles, you might miss out on a better opportunity. If you get e ticket, it is generally cheaper by $20-25. You can get a printout on your computer. Consider small airlines like Southwest and JetBlue. They don’t have all the restrictions and charge less, but also charge for a lot of things that are part of the “package” of the legacy airlines. Pack smart: instead of packing all in one big bag, use two smaller ones. Remember that airfares are moving targets and can change several times a day without notice. Each airline has different baggage limitations and restrictions and like air fares, can change with little notice. As more and more airlines are limiting the size and weight of both checked and carry-on luggage (and most are imposing fees for checked baggage for domestic travel), it behooves you to check the website of the carrier we are using. I will send the website for the current carrier prior to each group trip so that you can plan ahead. I will also send the website of Transportation Security Administration (TSA) for their regulations. http://www.tsa.gov/
Liquids and Gels If you are traveling with any liquid, gel or aerosol items, here are a few things you should remember: * Travelers departing the U.S. may bring carry-on bags through security and aboard the aircraft with trial-size toiletries (3.4 ounces or less) which can be purchased at any drug store. * Toiletries must fit comfortably in one, quart-size (7.5″ x 8″), clear plastic zip-top bag. Zip-top bags will be provided if needed. * The zip-top bag may need to be presented separately at airport security so make sure it is easily accessible when you approach the screening area. Additionally, beverages or toiletries purchased inside the airport beyond the security checkpoints will be allowed onboard the aircraft. Items greater than 3.4 ounces and/or not contained in a zip-top bag may be allowed on board but must be declared to the TSA at the security checkpoint for screening. These items include baby formula, milk (to include breast milk), baby food, juice, medications and liquids/gels that are needed for diabetic or other medical conditions. The rules change frequently. Although we don’t always travel on the same airline, frequently, we use Delta Air (from Grand Rapids), and I am including the following website: https://www.delta.com/content/www/en_US/traveling-with-us/check…/security.html
- Airline ComfortSooner or later, we all must make that long air trip. Whether for business or pleasure, you may be subjected to being shoehorned into a space, which on a one-hour trip seems a bit cramped, but when expanded into a multi-hour trip, becomes almost unbearable. So what can you do to make it both more comfortable and also safer for you? With increased security on aircraft (for your own protection and that of your fellow passengers), you are restricted as to where you can move on the plane. The seats not only become uncomfortable, but extended period of sitting in one position can also lead to leg cramps and even blood clots (This has been identified as Deep-vein thrombosis or DVT). This is not really a danger if you take some precautions: Because body inactivity can slow blood flow, it is obvious that you must move. This includes just wiggling your toes and stretching as much as you can and as often as you can even while seated. You can also attempt to walk in the aisle while the aircraft is aloft. Keep in mind that there are several hundred others of your near and dear friends who are thinking of doing the same thing, and probably at the same time. In addition, passengers are attempting to get objects out of the overhead stowage containers and flight attendants are serving food and beverages, all this within the confines of relatively narrow aisles. You must be conscious of these other impediments. If all passengers are reasonable, everyone can be accommodated. Here is a check-list of things to do: • If you have had surgery within six weeks of your long air voyage, ask your physician if you should take an aspirin or a prescription blood thinner. • Wear loose-fitting clothing. You might consider compression stockings to improve circulation. • If your seat is confined, take hourly walking breaks. • While seated, stretch your legs as much as you can. You can also rotate your ankles and flex your feet. • Wiggle your toes. That means taking off your shoes so that you can maximize the movement. Don’t cross your legs, either at your ankles or knees. • Drink plenty of fluid (reduce alcohol and coffee intake) to help thin your blood. • Most airlines have some video exercises to do (including neck, arm, lower body, and legs). Take the time to do them. What to look for: persistent cramping, swelling, redness and pain in the legs, chest pain, and shortness of breath. If you experience any of these symptoms, seek prompt treatment. For additional information, check MedlinePlus www.medlineplus.gov which is sponsored by the National Institutes of Health and the National Library of Medicine. Also check the American Heart Association www.americanheart.org to get more information on DVT. If you follow the directions above, you can make your air trip very safe, it will pass more quickly, and you will arrive more refreshed.
- Suitcase StuffersHere are some additional things to pack, what are referred to as “suitcase stuffers.” Duct tape — you can use this to patch ripped clothes and repair luggage. Just wrap five yards worth around your shampoo to save space. Pocket knife — do NOT carry this with you but in your checked baggage. I always carry a decent wine opener because you never know when you will find a great bottle and you want to share it with others (without having to break it open on the edge of the sink). Electrical adapter — this, in addition to proper outlet plug (check with electronics store to get the proper plug) is absolutely essential. (My digital camera, my electric shaver, and my chargers for iPad and iPhone all work with most world voltages.) Liquid bandage — although I have not tried this, I have been told that it works great, particularly for shoe blisters. Energy bars — I have decreased the number of pre-paid meals because my clients were concerned that they were gaining too much weight. You will be fed on the plane crossing the ocean several times, but there will be times that you just don’t want to bother with a full meal…
- Avoiding Jet LagOn our trip to Sicily and the Amalfi Coast and return this fall one thing we must think about is the familiar “jet lag” which affects different people in different ways. As we cross 6 or 7 time zones, there is a definite reaction in our bodies because of the shift in circadian rhythm. On past trips to China, our group was a bunch of zombies and I planned nothing really critical the first day, other than a visit to the Beijing Opera. We were not alone in making that schedule and as I looked around the theater when the lights came on, many of the theater patrons were either sound asleep or getting there. What can you do to get on Italy time? (Until the shift away from Daylight Savings Time, Italy is six hours ahead of Eastern Daylight Time which is UTC+2) The most important thing is to get a good night’s sleep the night before we leave. I know that you will have some last minute packing to do but get the longest sleep you can and even attempt to go to bed an hour or two earlier. There is some indication that for many people, it takes a day to acclimate for each hour shift in time zone as you go east. We have to reset our internal clocks. It also helps to be in good physical shape as fitter people generally make time zone shifts quicker than those who are less fit. Mental fitness is also important and try to eliminate last-minute stresses before this trip—or any trip for that matter. While on the plane (and it will be an overnight flight from either O’Hare or Detroit for most of us), drink as much water as you can and reduce the consumption of alcohol. Some passengers rely on melatonin or other over-the-counter remedies, but they have different effects on different people and I cannot recommend any of those, particularly if a particular medicine makes you groggy. Learn to relax on the flight, stretch out, kick off your shoes, wiggle your toes, meditate, take a catnap, and walk a few times around the plane.
- In Your Wallet Although you don’t want to advertise to the world that you have a fat wallet, consider the following additions which you might have need for during the trip: List of Phone Numbers: credit card companies, insurance agencies, doctor. Phone card: you can call home from just about anywhere in the world, but you might consider purchasing a local phone card. Eyeglass and medication prescriptions: make sure that you know the generic names of drugs. Imodium: it could happen while your bags are in the back of the bus or in the baggage compartment of the train. Just two pills will be enough. Better safe than sorry! List of inoculations: I carry an International Shot Card. Check with your local Public Health facility for the card and have your physician update it. Email addresses: we will be close to cybercafés and some of our hotels will have internet connections.
- Pre-Trip ChecklistMake sure that you can check your email from outside your home or office, if that is important to you. Email yourself important data: this might include passport number and credit card info.
- Travel InsuranceBecause of so many variables in our schedules and the vagaries of international travel, I have instituted the policy of incorporating trip insurance in the group travel packages that I am creating. I have done a lot of research and have selected an insurance carrier which is very reliable and has a great track record. I am not alone. More and more agents and a large number of travelers are opting for travel insurance. The segments of the policy include a lot of things that the average traveler would not think about, including trip interruption/cancellation, medical evacuation, baggage loss or damage, and emergency assistance by phone. The premium for the insurance is determined by the base cost of the trip (what you as traveler pay prior to the start of the trip). Lynne Erikson and I do a lot of research prior to each trip to get the best value and that insurance company is the one we recommend.
- Photographic Hints for Travel Kodak developed (pun intended) some interesting hints to improve our photographs for trips. Keep in mind that when we travel, we are far from our friendly photo store and the excellent advice that we receive from them. Photography for most of us is not an end in itself (we are generally not professional photographers) but want to have some good memory aides. And then Connie and I have, for the past many years, selected at least one picture for our Christmas card; and you people are really great pointing out the ideal place to take that picture of us. Here is what Kodak came up with (and of course, I had to add my two cents worth):1. Do your homework. I am providing you with a fair amount of detail of each place we are visiting, but I hope that you do further research to find the ideal place to take that memorable shot. The example that Kodak used was the neon sign advertising a market (I think that it was the Pikes Market in Seattle). Look at travel guides and postcards to see what professionals think would be that ideal picture. Make sure that you know how your camera works, so take a bunch of pictures before we go and figure out the complexities of your particular camera as you analyze what worked and what didn’t. Every camera has limitations and if you know what your camera is capable of, you won’t be disappointed when that great interior picture turns out very dark or very red. Make sure that you bring your instruction book with you on the trip, as well as extra batteries and memory cards (if you are digital) or lots of film if you still use an analog (film) camera.
2. Tell a story. Think that you are writing a travelogue or putting together an album or storybook. So begin shooting at your starting airport, getting pictures of your fellow travelers, ticket stubs, menus, maps. Write down what you have taken in each picture. I carry a small notebook to remind me. Once I load the pictures in my computer, I label each picture. As I provide you all with a detailed itinerary of what we do each day, you can merge that into your story. I will also do further research on each site we visit and that goes into my journal (which I update each evening while on the trip).
3. Capture the local flavor. I like to incorporate things other than just the “touristy” places on our itinerary. This is why I incorporate such things as wineries, breweries, and distilleries, as well as farms (so it doesn’t look like everything we do is connected to alcohol consumption) and small towns — some on beaches, others in mountains. The hoped-for result is that you will not be in a shockproof and sterile bubble. Some “canned” tours are equivalent to sitting through a travelogue. Take the time to stop at a local bistro and talk to people who frequent it every day. Learn a few phrases of whatever language is common for the country we are visiting. I will include some Italian words and phrases in my website before we leave. Ask permission to take pictures of the locals. They are NOT animals in a zoo but humans and some might feel offended if you capture their images (this is particularly relevant in some Muslim countries and in some animist societies where they feel that you are capturing their souls along with their images). Markets are a great place to interact.
4. Create a photo menu. This is used to jog your memory after the trip. This is the prime reason I use a video camera. Few see the footage of the camera but I talk into the camera’s microphone and sometimes am able to get the “process” of whatever demonstration we are seeing. The video camera is also good to get local accents which are hard to describe verbally. I often take pictures of my plate of a particularly well-presented meal before I devour the food.
5. Look for themes. I tend to develop the itinerary around several main concepts and although I will vary from that because I want you to see something that is “off-theme” it doesn’t take long for you to see the pattern. That does not mean that you cannot develop your own concepts. Again, if you take lots of pictures (digital pictures are essentially free), you can cull out the ones that fit the theme that you want to show to make a particular digital or analog photo album. Another nice thing about digital images is that you can customize any number of albums, depending on your audience. Some might have music or voice-over narrative and go at a pre-determined pace, while others will move at the speed that your viewers want them to.
6. Always carry your camera. Connie and I carry a pocket point-and-shoot as well as my larger digital Nikon (still point-and-shoot but more involved). You never know when that great opportunity presents itself. With the miniaturization of fairly sophisticated cameras, they easily fit in a pocket or purse and are available. You might not get a second chance to get that perfect shot. In addition, in case of weather changes, the camera will be better protected. I was amazed when we were in Washington, D.C. in July 2009 and entered many of the Smithsonian galleries and I was allowed to take flash pictures (supposedly the new flashes do not adversely affect the priceless paintings, but I still refused to do so. That is why I have purchased art books. Besides, the person next to me blithely flashing every painting takes my concentration away from appreciating the work or art; I will not take flash pictures in such a setting. I have an exposure setting on my Nikon called “Museum” that opens up and slows down the shutter and shuts off the flash.)
7. Have fun. Take candid pictures and don’t always pose your subjects to keep them more natural. Remember also that there are going to be others on the trip who are more experienced than you who can offer some good advice on picture-taking. Also, we can share images easily.
8. Take lots of pictures. In particular lighting conditions or with a lot of motion, you will be happy that you have taken multiple images at different exposure settings (called “bracketing”) so that you can sort them out when you get home. With the wonderful and not too expensive computer software available, you can do some serious editing, not only to eliminate those “bad” shots that are beyond salvation, but to do some imaginative cropping to get a particular expression from the image. Professional photographers (even in days of using film) would take multiple shots of a particular event and only use one. Using digital cameras, you are limited only by the time we are at a specific place and the memory remaining on your card. Again, buy more memory (and make sure that it is compatible with your particular camera — when Connie and I were in Andalusía in 2006 after we dropped off the group in Madrid for their flight home, I needed more memory and bought three 1GB Olympus cards in Córdoba but my digital camera’s firmware would not recognize them. Then, a 1GB card was fairly expensive, while now you can buy 32GB cards for less than $55 apiece.) More and more digital cameras give you the capability of taking “RAW” images which are easier to edit, but eat up a lot of space on memory cards. I prefer several 8 or 16GB cards versus one larger one – just in case there is a malfunction in the one larger card.
9. Accessorize. Some point-and-shoot cameras allow you to insert a wide-angle or telephoto connection to your camera. Remember, however, that some camera firmware or software will not recognize the addition and your pictures might be altered negatively. My camera is fairly wide-angle and has a 40x zoom which gives me the best of both worlds. When you purchase your new camera or jazz up your current one, seek the expert advice of your reliable camera store (the clerk at the big box store needs to make a sale and might not be employed when you return from your trip with bad results). Another nice accessory is a UV filter which not only functions as a filter but also protects the front of the lens from scratching. Make sure that you unscrew it periodically and clean both sides of the filter as well as the front of the lens, using the proper lens cleaning techniques (another nice thing to have in your camera.
10. Protect your gear. We all know about the danger of getting your camera wet. Even changes in humidity from a relatively cool and dry air-conditioned hotel or restaurant to a humid outdoors can fog up the lens. It takes several minutes to equalize the humidity levels. If it is raining hard, you might want to forego using an expensive camera and rely on a “throwaway” version or your “smart” phone. I haven’t seen any disposable digital cameras yet, but I would not be surprised if they are in some developer’s mind. A camera bag not only protects your camera from rain, sleet, snow, sand and the extremes of heat and cold, but is a great place to put all of your other supplies (extra batteries, memory cards, lens-cleaning equipment, and filters). Too often the bags are too small to carry anything other than the camera, so they become extraneous and we then tend to just leave them in the hotel room. If the bag is too large, it becomes cumbersome, so think carefully before you purchase one to make sure that it is “just right.”