Monday, February 13, 2012

Knowledge is...

This year a lot of my acquaintances will be traveling internationally for the first time. Be it the UK, Italy (for many of us!), Greece, or parts unknown, there are some tips that can save you money and/or time and frustration.
                Money Exchange: Don’t bother will traveler’s cheques. Most places do not take them, and if you have to go to a local bank to exchange it for local currency, you will surely have to pay a fee. I have also stopped paying the money exchange at the airport. Why, when I can just withdraw money at the ATM at my destination?  Check your bank, you may be charged a fee for any international transaction, whether an ATM withdrawal or a purchase. I recently opened an account through another credit union that doesn’t charge those fees, as I happily discovered while I was on holiday in Greece. And last but not least, don’t forget to tell your bank and credit card companies you’ll be going abroad. Nothing is more embarrassing than being out of town and having your purchase denied. Yes, this has happened to me, and I discovered my bank is sort of like my mom and I have to tell them where I’m going and for long.
                Check your ingress and egress: Ok, I ‘ll freely admit to being a control freak when it comes to be vacation planning but certain things like not knowing how to get to my hotel bother me. I like to get that out of the way before I even get there. Do I take the subway? The bus? Taxi? For this I turn to my trusty old friend: the TripAdvisor traveler forums.  It’s as simple as typing in your question, and you will get a knowledgeable answer pretty quickly by location experts and other travelers. If I had not asked, I would not have known which bus to take from Dublin airport into Temple Bar to my hotel. Or where the bus to Hersonissos/Malia was at the airport in Heraklion, Crete. I would rather pay the 3 euro bus fare than 40 euro for a taxi! This also applies to getting to the airport when you leave. Make sure you know how to get to the airport and how long it will take. International airports are all over the place when it comes to efficiency, and you don’t want to be stuck in the security line and miss your flight. Perfect example: Heathrow vs. Athens. The English are masters of the queue, and they’re pretty quick. The Greeks are never on time for anything. You do the math.
                Transportation: You don’t always have to rent a car in a foreign country. Think about where you’re going. If you’re staying in a more urban area, then public transportation would probably work much better for you than a car. Staying on the outskirts of town or out in the boonies might work better with a car but not always. Look at train maps, bus routes, and when in doubt ask the traveler forums. If you must rent a car, make sure you read all the requirements. Many vendors require and international driver’s license (in the US, we can get those through AAA), and when in doubt ALWAYS buy the vehicle insurance. You can look at road maps internationally on the Michelin site, and AutoEurope for the cars. Many highways in Europe require tolls, but the Michelin site will tell you how much you’ll have to pay on the route they give you. Maybe a car isn’t for you and you’d rather rent a scooter. The Vespa is the transpo of choice for many crowded European cities and islands, so hop on!

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