Travel Information in Italia

Posts: 49
Joined: Wed Apr 12, 2006 3:57 pm

Post by nnamo » Sat Aug 12, 2006 12:02 am

Per quelli di voi che vorrete fare un viaggio degli B & B in italia, vi presento questo sito:

Ho usato quel sito per fare un viaggio in italia nel '04, ed e' stato moltissimo utile. Per esempio, invece di restarci proprio a Venezia, con tutto il costo incluso, ci siamo fermati a Mira, che si trova solo 5km fuori la citta' ad un costo molto molto di meno.


Posts: 3850
Joined: Mon Nov 22, 2004 2:06 pm

Roby's travel tips

Post by Roby » Tue Aug 29, 2006 8:29 pm

Roby's Travel Tips

> >
> > ETC.
> > ONE
> TO
> > AT
> always carry my itinerary with me and leave a copy
> with my family and my in-laws(just in case they
> should
> need to reach us). It has names of cities, dates,
> and
> places where we'll be staying with phone numbers,
> fax
> numbers and or e-mail addresses. On my copy I also
> include prices, directions to hotel if I have them
> and
> any other useful info either about the hotel or
> about
> the city (things like "Internet available at hotel"
> or
> names of cybercafes in town -- anything that'll be
> useful. If the itinerary changes, I write it down as
> things unfold and I call someone in the family (or
> email ) to let them know. It's very useful if you do
> change your itinerary because you've got all of the
> information you need to call ahead and cancel a
> reservation if you should need to. I find this list
> useful when I'm putting together photo albums later
> on. I also find it useful after the trip when others
> want to know my itinerary and where I stayed.
> I also write down on another sheet all phone numbers I might need, such as my bank, my dentist, doctor (> credit card numbers and phone numbers of companies, names of airlines and flight numbers and phone
> number for airlines, travel insurance -- name of company, phone number and policy number...anything at all that you might need.

> > WASH
> >
> > ONES
> > WILL
> >
> AT
> >
> >
> >
> MORE....
> > TIME.)
> >
> >
> >
> > ITALY)
> >
> > (TOM
> >
> >
> A
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >
> > .
> >
> >
> >
> > FRONT)
> >
> >
> > Italian Government Tourist Board
> >
> > For any information you might want.
> >
> > Universal Currency Converter
> >
> >
> > U.S. Embassies
> > In Rome:
> > American Embassy
> > Via Veneto, 119
> > Rome
> > 06/46741
> > In Milan
> > U.S. Consulate
> > Via Principe Amedeo, 2
> > Milan
> > 02/290-351
> >
> >
> > 112 or 113 is like our 911
> > Ambulance 118
> > Telephone help in English free assistance 170 or
> > 176
> >
> > Calling from Italy to the U.S. dail: 001
> > zip
> > code and then the number
> >
> >
21. Call your medical insurance company and make
> sure that your policy covers you overseas.
> 22.Call your credit card company to tell them you
> will be in that part of the world and give them the dates.
> (This may prevent headaches if while you are over
> there, Visa or MC will not accept your transaction
> because they feel that your card/cc number has been
> stolen.)
> 23.If you use American Express Travelers checks, you
> can get them in Euros.
> 24. Make sure that the airlines has your home phone number and a number they can reach you while you are abroad in case there are changes to your flight even if you booked through a travel site or agency. You will receive the information much quicker.

25. Be sure to always confirm your flight several days in advance in case of changes on both ends of the trip before you leave each country
26. Travel with an open mind

**** I would advise everyone to write down the name and address of the hotel ; the train plans: Rome to Venice to go and return; never take a taxi except at a taxi stand: eg: When you get off the train in Rome. Outside the station, there is a taxi stand ..a line under an awning. Stand there until it is your turn, When you are buying tickets for the train; eg: From Roma at 14:00 Arriving im Milano at 22:00. Write down everything.
This will be helpful when you are tired or do not know what to say or ask.

Remember that with the new travel rules things may have changed a bit regarding my tips. However, it is the same. Now, these are just my tips. You can use them as a guide.

Remember to pack light. If you are traveling by train a lot , I would advise you to take a small carry-on so that you do not have trouble carrying everything... My friends always take just a carry-on size suitcase. They have traveled that way for 3- 4 weeks at a time.

Last edited by Roby on Wed Apr 16, 2008 4:50 pm, edited 1 time in total.

Posts: 49
Joined: Wed Apr 12, 2006 3:57 pm

Post by nnamo » Tue Aug 29, 2006 8:37 pm

We typically take 2 - 3 week vacations each year. As such, I always create a word document which contains a day by day listing of :

- contact phone numbers and addresses
- places we plan to visit

The data is usually easy to add because it is often just a series of cut and pastes into word. I then give myself a hard and soft copy (mem stick), and give one to a member of my family and one to a member of my wifes family.

Might seem like over-kill, but I feel better knowing that folks can reach me in cases of emergency.


Posts: 3850
Joined: Mon Nov 22, 2004 2:06 pm

Packing for Heighten Airport Security

Post by Roby » Tue Aug 29, 2006 10:16 pm


Packing for Heightened Airport Security
Last Updated August 25, 2006
Airline carry-on restrictions tightened significantly on August 10th, when a bomb plot was uncovered in the UK. Since then, these restrictions have undergone changes, and we expect they will continue to evolve in the coming weeks. Here are links to the most complete, up-to-date sources we've found — please be sure to check them before your next flight.

No matter where you plan to fly, the biggest change you'll see is a ban on bringing liquids into the cabin.

If you are flying to, from, or through an airport in the UK (such as Heathrow) you'll have no choice but to check your main luggage (liquids within checked luggage are okay), and carry a small bag on board with you (currently our Velocé and Civita Shoulder Bags fit within the UK's carry-on limits). Visit British Airway's website for up-to-date hand baggage restrictions and general information (including a list of informative FAQs).

If you are flying anywhere else in the US or Europe you are allowed to carry on the same size of bags as before. This means that if you pack light — and are willing to put up with the inconvenience of purchasing items such as shampoo, cologne, make-up, sunscreen, and toothpaste upon arrival — you'll avoid a crowded mess at the baggage pick-up carousel (caused by a huge increase in the number of bags being checked). If you are particular about the liquids you use, we recommend you check as small a bag as possible with your liquids inside, and still carry most of your stuff on board. This way if your checked bag is delayed or lost, you'll still have most of what really matters with you at all times. If you plan to lock your checked bag, remember that only TSA-approved locks are allowed on flights to and from American airports. Visit the TSA's website for more information on prohibited items and other air security measures.

Please take these new policies seriously — you don't want to have items confiscated or be forced to re-pack your luggage in a last-minute panic at the airport.

Hopefully things will return to normal soon. In the meantime, be patient and enjoy your trip. The security and airline staffs are doing their best to keep things running as smoothly and safely as possible.


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Joined: Mon Nov 22, 2004 2:06 pm

Packing tips for women

Post by Roby » Tue Aug 29, 2006 10:25 pm

Packing Tips for Women

After three Rick Steves tours, this woman knows the beauties of packing light. And after so much travel fun with just the right bag, a traveler becomes pretty attached.
Check out our Women's Packing List
Thanks to ETBD tour guides Joan Robinson, Ann Neel, Margaret Cassady, and Kendra Roth for the following tips.

If you're not going to wear it more than three times, don't pack it! Every piece of clothing you bring should complement every other item or have at least two uses (e.g., sandals double as slippers, a scarf as a shoulder wrap).

Shop selectively: It's worth splurging a little to get just the right clothes for your trip. For durable, lightweight travel clothes, consider Ex Officio (, tel. 800-644-7303), TravelSmith (, tel. 800-950-1600), Tilley's (, tel. 800-363-8737), and REI ( In general, the color black dresses up easily and can be extremely versatile.

Tops: Bring two or three T-shirts (or buy overseas), one or two short-sleeved blouses, and one or two long-sleeved shirts. Long-sleeved shirts with sleeves that roll up can double as short-sleeved shirts. Look for a wrinkle-camouflaging pattern or blended fabrics that show a minimum of wrinkles. Cotton/poly T-shirt fabric (such as CoolMax) will often dry overnight. Silk also dries quickly and is lightweight.

Pants and shorts: Dark-colored pants don't show dirt or wrinkles. Get a pair with a loose-fitting waistband that accommodates a money belt (and big Italian meals). Try the pants with the zip-off legs that convert to shorts. These are especially functional in Italy, allowing you to cover up inside churches and beat the heat outside.

If you bring shorts, one pair is probably enough, ideal for staying cool in a resort town or your hotel room. Few European women wear shorts. To avoid stares, consider bringing a pair of Capri pants instead.

Skirts: Some women bring one or two skirts because they're as cool and breathable as shorts, but dressier. And skirts make life easier than pants when you're faced with a squat toilet! A lightweight skirt made with a blended fabric will pack compactly. Make sure it has a comfy elastic waistband or drawstring. Joan has designed a smart reversible travel skirt that suits most travelers' needs. Tilley's (listed above) makes expensive but great skirts (and other items) from blended fabric that feels like cotton. Skirts go with everything, and can easily be dressed up or down.

Shoes: Bring one pair of comfortable walking shoes. Mephisto, Ecco, and Rieker look dressier and more European than sneakers but are still comfortable. For a second pair, consider sandals or Tevas in summer, or dark leather flats in winter (can be worn with opaque hose and a skirt to dress up). Before you leave home, walk several miles in any footwear you'll be taking to be sure they're broken in.

Socks, underwear, pajamas, and swimsuit: Cotton/nylon-blend socks dry faster than 100-percent cotton, which loses its softness when air-dried. Sport socks nicely cushion your feet. It's impossible to look stylish when wearing walking shoes and these little white socks, but comfort's more important. Try silk, microfiber, or stretch lace underwear, which dry faster than all-cotton, but breathe more than nylon. Bring at least two bras (what if you leave one hanging over your shower rail by accident?). A sports bra can double as a hiking/sunning top. Shorts or lightweight pajama bottoms with a T-shirt will get you modestly to the bathroom down the hall. You don't need a bikini to try sunbathing topless on European beaches — local women with one-piece bathing suits just roll down the top.

Jacket: Neutral colors (black, beige, navy) look more European than bright colors. If your waterproof jacket doesn't have a hood, take a mini-umbrella or buy one in Europe. These are easy to find — vendors often appear with the rain.

Shoulder- and off-season variations: Silk long johns are great for layering, weigh next to nothing, and dry quickly. Bring gloves and some kind of warm hat for winter. If you're fair-skinned or prone to sunburn, bring a light, crushable, wide-brimmed hat for sunny days. Wear shoes that are water-resistant or waterproof.

Toiletries: All feminine products (even many of the same brands) are sold throughout Europe, but it's easier to figure out how many tampons, pads, or panty shields you'll need and bring them with you rather than having to buy a too-small or too-large box in Europe. If you bring birth control pills (or any timed-dosage prescription), take the time difference into account. If you usually take a pill with breakfast, take it with lunch or dinner in Europe. Remember to carry the pills onto the plane each way to take at your home-dosage time, too.

Accessorize, accessorize: Scarves give your limited wardrobe just the color it needs. They dress up your outfit, are lightweight and easy to pack, and, if purchased in Europe, make a great souvenir. Some women bring a towel-size scarf (called a pashmina) to function as a sweater substitute, scarf, head wrap, or even a blanket on a train. Sleeveless vests and button-up cardigans can be worn alone or mixed-and-matched with other clothes to give you several different looks as well as layers for cold weather. Most women feel safe wearing engagement/wedding rings while traveling, but leave other valuable or flashy jewelry at home. A few pairs of inexpensive earrings are fun to bring. Remember that your most important accessory is your hidden money belt.

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Joined: Mon Nov 22, 2004 2:06 pm

Packing list for Women

Post by Roby » Tue Aug 29, 2006 10:28 pm

Packing list for Women

1 pair of walking/comfortable shoes

1 pair of sandals (weather permitting)

1 rainproof jacket

2-4 pairs of shorts/capris/skorts

2 pairs of pants (one dressy, one casual), 1 belt

1 swimsuit (packed in a plastic bag)

5 pairs of socks (cotton blend)

5 pairs of underwear (silk, lace, or micro-fiber dries quickest)

1 extra bra

4-6 shirts (long/short-sleeved, various colors)

1-2 light cardigans for layering

1-2 skirts (wrinkle-resistant)

2 dresses (optional)

1 hat

scarves (to wear with clothing or hat)

2 vests (optional)

1 pair of pajamas (or long shirt to get you to the bathroom down the hall if necessary)

Body soap/puff (washcloth); most European hotels do not supply washcloths





Vaseline (for feet)

Razor (non-electric)/shaving cream or soap

Sunscreen, insect repellent

Prescription drugs (in original container with your name and your doctor's name, write down generic name)

First aid kit/moleskin/blister kit

Feminine hygiene products


Nail clippers/file/tweezers

Spare glasses and/or prescription, mini-eyeglass repair kit, or contact lenses and supplies

Hand sanitizer


OTC remedies (whatever works for you): Pepto, decongestants, etc.

Clothesline, sink stopper, soap

Baby powder (dry shampoo for hair)

Money and Security
Moneybelt: Passport, plane ticket, debit card, credit cards, traveler's checks, railpass, driver's license (if you're renting a car)

Security: Bury copies of your passport, plane ticket, and prescriptions in the bottom of your luggage

Necessities for Hosteling
Pack towel

Sleep sheet

Packing Essentials
• Pack light, wash frequently, buy it if you need it.

• Your pack should weigh about 20% of your body weight, preferably no more than 20 pounds.

• Limit yourself to one carry-on size bag: 9" x 21" x 13".

• A week before your trip, pack your bag with everything you think you want to take, and carry it around for a day. Is it comfortable? Too heavy? Better to know now than later!

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Joined: Mon Nov 22, 2004 2:06 pm

Packing for Men and Women

Post by Roby » Tue Aug 29, 2006 10:32 pm

For men and women.... Compare to the women's list

Rick's list.

What to Pack
Shirts. Bring up to five short-sleeved or long-sleeved shirts in a cotton/polyester blend. Arrange mix according to season.

Sweater. Warm and dark is best — for layering and dressing up. It never looks wrinkled and is always dark, no matter how dirty it is.

Pants. Bring two pairs: one lightweight cotton and another super-lightweight for hot and muggy big cities and churches with modest dress codes. Jeans can be too hot for summer travel. Linen is great. Many like lightweight pants/shorts with zip-off legs. Button-down wallet pockets are safest.

Shorts. Take a pair with pockets — doubles as a swimsuit for men.

Swimsuit. Especially for women.

Underwear and socks. Bring five sets (lighter dries quicker).

One pair of shoes. Take a well-used, light, and cool pair, with Vibram-type soles and good traction. My wife and I like shoes by Ecco. Sturdy, low-profile tennis shoes with a good tread are fine, too. (Some people bring along an extra pair of sandals in case the shoes get wet.) For winter travel, bring heavy shoes (for warmth and to stay dry).

Jacket. Bring a light and water-resistant windbreaker with a hood. Gore-Tex is good if you expect rain. For summer travel, I wing it without rain gear — but always pack for rain in Britain.

Tie or scarf. For instant respectability, bring anything lightweight that can break the monotony and make you look snazzy.

*Money belt. It's essential for the peace of mind it brings. You could lose everything except your money belt, and the trip could still go on. Lightweight and low-profile beige is best.

Money. Bring your preferred mix of a credit card, debit card, an emergency stash of hard cash, and a couple of personal checks. I rely on a debit card for ATM withdrawals, a credit card, and $400 in cash as a backup.

Documents and photocopies. Bring your passport, airline ticket, railpass or car-rental voucher, driver's license, student ID, hostel card, and so on. Photocopies and a couple of passport-type photos can help you get replacements more quickly if the originals are lost or stolen. Carry photocopies separately in your luggage and keep the originals in your money belt. In your luggage, you'll also want to pack a careful record of all reservations (bring the hotels' written confirmations), along with a trip calendar page to keep things up-to-date as your trip evolves.

*Small daypack. This is great for carrying your sweater, camera, literature, and picnic goodies while you leave your large bag at the hotel or train station. Fanny packs (small bags with thief-friendly zippers on a belt) are a popular alternative, but are magnets for pickpockets and should never be used as money belts.

Camera. A digital camera and one high-capacity memory card means no more bulky bags of film. A mini-tripod allows you to take crisp shots in low light with no flash.

Sealable plastic baggies. Get a variety of sizes. They're ideal for packing leftover picnic food, containing wetness, and bagging potential leaks before they happen. The two-gallon jumbo size is handy for packing clothing.

Water bottle. The plastic half-liter mineral water bottles sold throughout Europe are reusable and work great.

Wristwatch. A built-in alarm is handy. Otherwise, pack a small *travel alarm clock. Cheap-hotel wake-up calls are particularly unreliable.

Earplugs. If night noises bother you, you'll love a good set of expandable foam plugs.

First-aid kit.

Medicine and vitamins. Keep medicine in original containers, if possible, with legible prescriptions.

Extra eyeglasses, contact lenses, and prescriptions. Contact solutions are widely available in Europe. Because of dust and smog, many travelers find their contacts aren't as comfortable in Europe. Bring your glasses just in case.

Sunscreen and sunglasses. Depending on the season and your destination.

*Toiletries kit. Sinks in cheap hotels come with meager countertop space and anonymous hairs. If you have a nylon toiletries kit that can hang on a hook or a towel bar, this is no problem. Put all squeeze bottles in sealable plastic baggies, since pressure changes in flight can cause even good bottles to leak. Consider a vacation from cosmetics. Bring a little toilet paper or tissue packets (sold at all newsstands in Europe). Fingernail clippers and tweezers (for retrieving lost bank cards) are also handy. My Sonicare electric toothbrush holds a charge from home for 30 one-minute brushes.

*Soap. Not all hotels provide soap. A plastic squeeze bottle of concentrated, multipurpose, biodegradable liquid soap is handy for laundry and more. In the interest of traveling friendlier to our environment, I never use the hotel bathroom "itsy-bitsies," preferring my own bar of soap or bottle of shampoo.

*Clothesline. Hang it up in your hotel room to dry your clothes. The handy twisted-rubber type needs no clothespins.

*Small towel. You'll find bath towels at all fancy and moderately priced hotels, and most cheap ones. Although $50-a-day travelers will often need to bring their own towel, $100-a-day folks won't. I bring a thin hand towel for the occasional need. Washcloths are rare in Europe. While I don't use them, many travelers recommend *quick-drying synthetic towels.

Sewing kit. Clothes age rapidly while traveling. Take along a few safety pins and buttons.

*Travel information. Rip out appropriate chapters from guidebooks, staple them together, and store in a sealable plastic baggie. When you're done, give them away.

*Map. Get a map best suited to your trip's overall needs and pick up maps for specific local areas as you go.

Address list. A list of e-mail and mailing addresses will help you keep in touch. You can send mass e-mails as you go (bring a shrunk-down print-out of your e-mail address book in case you can't access it online). Or if you prefer to send postcards, consider printing your mail list onto a sheet of adhesive address labels before you leave. You'll know exactly who you've written to, and the labels will be perfectly legible.

Postcards from home and photos of your family. A sealable plastic baggie of show-and-tell pictures is always a great conversation piece with Europeans you meet.

Small notepad and pen. A tiny notepad in your back pocket is a great organizer, reminder, and communication aid (for sale in European stationery stores).

*Journal. An empty book to be filled with the experiences of your trip will be your most treasured souvenir. Attach a photocopied calendar page of your itinerary. Use a hardbound type designed to last a lifetime, rather than a spiral notebook. The rugged, black, and simple Moleskine notebooks have a cult following among travel writers (

Optional Bring-Alongs
Picnic supplies. Bring or buy a small tablecloth to give your meal some extra class (and to wipe the knife on), salt and pepper, a cup, a spoon, a washcloth (to dampen and store in a baggie for cleaning up), and a Swiss Army-type knife with a corkscrew and can opener (or buy the knife in Europe if you want to carry your luggage on the plane). A plastic plate is handy for picnic dinners in your hotel room.

*Packing cubes. These see-through, zip-up mesh containers keep your clothes tightly packed and well organized.

*Clothes compressor. This handy invention — I like the one by Pack-Mate — allows you to pack bulky clothes (like sweaters and jackets) without taking up too much space or creating wrinkles. Simply put the item in the bag, roll it up to force the air out through the one-way nozzles, and pack it away.

Nightshirt. Especially for women.

Light warm-up suit. Use for pajamas, evening lounge outfit, instant modest street wear, smuggling things, and "going" down the hall.

Spot remover. Bring Shout wipes or a dab of Goop grease remover in a film canister.

Sandals or flip-flops.

Slippers. I bring comfy slippers with leather bottoms on winter trips — great for the flight and for getting cozy in my hotel room.

*Inflatable pillow (or "neck nest"). For snoozing on the plane.

Pillowcase. It's cleaner and possibly more comfortable to stuff your own.

Hair drier. People with long or thick hair appreciate a travel hair drier in the off-season, when hair takes a long time to dry and it's cold outside. These are generally provided in $100-plus hotel rooms.

*Hostel sheet. Hostels require one. Bring your own (sewn up like a sleeping bag), buy one, or rent a sheet at hostels (about $4 per stay). It doubles as a beach or picnic blanket, comes in handy on overnight train rides, shields you from dirty blankets in mountain huts, and will save you money in other dorm-type accommodations, which often charge extra for linen or don't provide it at all.

*Tiny lock. Use it to lock your backpack zippers shut. Note that if you check your bag on a flight, the lock may be broken to allow the bag to be inspected. You can improve the odds of your lock's survival by buying one approved by the TSA (Transportation Security Administration, the agency responsible for airport security). While you'll unlock the TSA-approved lock with a combination, security agents will be able to open the lock without damaging it by using a special master key.

*Small flashlight. Handy for reading under the sheets after "lights out" in the hostel, late-night trips down the hall, exploring castle dungeons, and hypnotizing street thieves. Tiny-but-powerful LED flashlights — about the size of your thumb — are extremely bright, compact, and lightweight.

Radio, Walkman, MP3 player, or recorder. Partners can bring a Y-jack for two sets of earphones. Some travelers use micro-cassette or digital recorders to capture pipe organs, tours, or journal entries. Some recorders have radios, adding a new dimension to your experience.

*Adapters. Electrical plugs.

Stronger light bulbs. You can buy these in Europe to give your cheap hotel room more brightness than the 40-watt norm.

Office supplies. Bring paper, an envelope of envelopes, and some sticky notes (such as Post-Its) to keep your place in your guidebook.

Small roll of duct tape.

Mailing tube. Great for art lovers, this protects the posters and prints you buy along your trip. You can trim it to fit inside your backpack (though this obviously limits the dimensions of the posters you can carry).

A good paperback. There's plenty of empty time on a trip to either be bored or enjoy some good reading. If you're desperate, popular American paperbacks are available in European airports and major train stations (usually for more than double their American price).

Insect repellent. Especially for France and Italy.

*Collapsible umbrella. I like one that's small and compact, but still sturdy and well-constructed enough to withstand strong winds.

Poncho. Hard-core vagabonds use a poncho — more versatile than a tarp — as protection in a rainstorm, a ground cloth for sleeping, or a beach or picnic blanket.

Gifts. Local hosts appreciate small souvenirs from your hometown (gourmet food, candy, or crafts). Local kids love T-shirts and small toys.

Last edited by Roby on Wed Aug 30, 2006 8:51 am, edited 1 time in total.

Posts: 3850
Joined: Mon Nov 22, 2004 2:06 pm


Post by Roby » Tue Aug 29, 2006 10:38 pm

Your portable safe---MONEY BELT

By Rick Steves
European thieves target American tourists. Not because they're mean, but because they're smart. We're the ones with all the good stuff in our bags and wallets. While violent muggings are rare in Europe, you can safely assume you'll be gently, skillfully pickpocketed. The answer isn't fear, but a money belt. Every traveler needs one.

A money belt is a small, nylon-zippered pouch on an elastic belt. Wear it around your waist, completely hidden from sight, tucked into your pants or skirt like a shirttail. At a cost of less than $15, you can protect your travel fortune.

Operate with a day's spending money in your pocket. Consider your money belt as deep storage and dip into it only for select deposits and withdrawals.

Never leave your money belt "hidden" on the beach while you swim. It's safer left in your hotel room.

Packing light applies to your money belt as well as your luggage. Here's what to pack in your money belt:

Passport: You're legally supposed to have it with you at all times.

Plane ticket: Put essential pages in your money belt, nonessential pages (like the receipt) in your luggage.

Railpass: This is as valuable as cash.

Driver's license: This works just about anywhere in Europe and is necessary if you want to rent a car on the spur of the moment.

Credit card: It's required for car rental and handy to have if your cash runs low.

Debit card: A Visa debit card is the most versatile for ATM withdrawals. (I no longer use traveler's checks.)

Cash: Keep only major bills in your money belt.

Plastic sheath: Money belts easily get slimy and sweaty. Damp plane tickets and railpasses can be disgusting and sometimes worthless. Even a plain old baggie helps keep things dry.

Contact list: Print small, and include every phone number or email address of importance in your life.

Trip calendar page: Include your hotel list and all necessary details from your itinerary.

A money belt is your key to peace of mind. If you're pickpocketed, it won't matter. In fact, when you're wearing a moneybelt, having a thief's hand in your pocket becomes just one more interesting cultural experience.

Common Moneybelt Questions:
Are some countries safe? No. Even in the safest countries, thieves gather where tourists do.

What kind of moneybelt is best? Anything which ties your essentials to your body under your clothes is fine. We prefer a belt to the around-the-neck pouches.

Will a fanny pack suffice? No. Fanny packs are popular alternatives to day packs but should never (never, never) be used as a moneybelt. Thieves target fanny packs rightly assuming that many store their valuables inside (and no matter what you may think, you can't feel someone's hand in your fanny pack).

What do you do when you go swimming? Never hide your moneybelt at the beach. It's safer left out of sight in your hotel room.

What about women? Many women wear their moneybelt in the back under their skirt or pants. Remember, you keep a day's spending money in your pocket. Your moneybelt is your deep storage for select deposits and withdrawals.


Posts: 3850
Joined: Mon Nov 22, 2004 2:06 pm


Post by Roby » Tue Aug 29, 2006 10:45 pm

I changed my last traveler's check years ago. And I haven't stepped into a European bank in ages. Now, I get my cash from ATM machines.

Fifteen European countries — and about 300 million people — use the same currency. Using euros, tourists and locals can easily compare prices of goods between countries. And we no longer lose money or time changing money at borders.

Not all European countries have switched to euros. As of now, major holdouts include Britain, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and Switzerland. Each of these countries has its reasons for choosing not to use euros. Other countries, which have only recently joined the European Union — such as the Czech Republic, Poland, and Hungary — will adopt the euro in the next few years.

But even in some non-Euroland countries, the euro is commonly used. For example, some Swiss ATMs give euros, most prices are listed in both Swiss francs and euros, and travelers can get by in that country with euro cash.

The Sleaze of Fees
Recently, travelers returning from Europe have opened their mail to discover they paid more for their trip than they thought they had. Over the last couple years, banks have dramatically increased the fees they charge for overseas transactions using credit and debit cards. While these fees are legal, they're basically a slimy way for credit-card companies to wring a few more dollars out of their customers.

There are different types of fees. For years, Visa and MasterCard have levied a 1 percent fee on international transactions. Recently, banks that issue those cards are tacking on an additional 1-2 percent. These are often called "currency-conversion fees" or "foreign transaction fees." For details on fees associated with using your card for ATM withdrawals, see "Cash Machines (ATMs)" below.

So, how can a smart traveler avoid (or at least reduce) these fees? Here are a few suggestions:

Ask about fees. While fees can sometimes be built into the price on your statement, it's increasingly more common that they're broken out as line items to help the consumer know what they're paying. Even so, it's smart to make a call before your trip to get the whole story: Carefully quiz your bank or credit-card company about what fees come with using their card overseas. Even if your card charged no fees the last time you went to Europe, there's a good chance it does now. Call and ask.

If you're getting a bad deal, get a new credit card. Some companies offer far lower international fees than others — and a handful don't charge any fees at all. Capital One has a particularly good reputation for international transactions ( If you're going on a long trip, do some research and consider taking out a card just for international purchases.

Avoid "dynamic currency conversion." Some merchants — capitalizing on the fact that many Americans are intimidated by unusual currencies — cheerfully list their prices in dollars. This seems like a nice service, but you'll actually end up paying more. Usually the dollar price is based on a lousy exchange rate (which can be set wherever the merchant likes — generally about 3 percent worse than the prevailing inter-bank rate). To make matters worse, even though you're paying in "dollars," your credit-card company may still levy its 2-3 percent "foreign transaction fee." According to Visa, you have the right to decline this service at the store and have your transaction go through using local currency. Your transaction will then be converted by Visa or MasterCard at or near the more favorable inter-bank rate.

Online purchases can be subject to fees. If you're buying from an international Web site, you can still get hit with currency conversion fees — even if you make the transaction while in the US. You might be able to bypass fee if the vendor has a US office (in which case, call the US phone number rather than booking online).

The bottom line. Here's the best formula for saving money as you travel: Pay for as much as possible with cash (use a bank that charges low rates for international ATM transactions, and withdraw large amounts at each transaction — keeping the cash safe in your money belt). When using a credit card, try to use a card with the lowest possible international fees, and insist that your transactions be charged in the local currency — not dollars. Then smile and enjoy your trip, feeling very clever for avoiding so much unnecessary expense.

Cash Machines (ATMs)
Types of Cards
You can withdraw money from an ATM with different types of cards.

An ATM card is issued by your bank and draws money directly out of your bank account. It does not have a credit-card company logo (such as Visa or MasterCard), which makes it less widely accepted. Most ATM cards have a logo on the back for either Plus (affiliated with Visa) or Cirrus (affiliated with MasterCard). You'll have to look for an ATM with a corresponding logo to be sure it'll work.

A debit card (sometimes called a "check card") works the same way (it's issued by your bank, and draws cash from your bank account). However, it's more versatile because it has a credit-card logo (such as Visa or MasterCard), which means it can also be used for making purchases. This is the best option for getting cash in Europe. In a pinch, debit cards with a Visa or MasterCard logo can be used for over-the-counter cash advances (with a fee) at banks that accept those credit cards. Note that you can also buy prepaid debit cards.

A credit card does not draw money from an account; rather, you are billed at the end of each month for any purchases or withdrawals you've made with it. Most credit cards work in ATMs (provided you know the PIN code) — but you're technically getting a cash advance, which is expensive. The second you pull your cash out of the ATM, you're immediately into the high-interest category with your new credit-card debt. If you want to use your credit card for ATM transactions without incurring this interest expense, you can pre-pay the account.

Some European countries are beginning to introduce credit and debit cards with embedded "smart chips." You may see signs or keypads referring to this new technology. For example, British cardholders must enter a PIN in order to use new chip-embedded credit cards in retail stores. But non-chip cards, such as those used by most tourists, will still spit out a receipt for you to sign.
Throughout Europe, cash machines (ATMs) are the standard way for travelers to get local currency. European ATMs work like your hometown machine and always have English-language instructions. Using your debit card with an ATM takes dollars directly from your bank account at home and gives you that country's cash. You'll pay fees, but you'll still get a better rate than you would for traveler's checks.

Ideally, use your debit card to take money out of ATMs. You can use a credit card, but you'll pay more.

ATM transactions using bank-issued debit cards come with various fees. Your bank may levy a flat $1.50-5 transaction fee each time you use an ATM, and may also charge a percentage for the conversion (1-3 percent); the ATM you use might charge its own fee, too. If your bank charges a flat fee, make fewer visits to the ATM and withdraw larger amounts. (Some major US banks partner with "corresponding" European bank chains, meaning that you can use those ATMs with no fees at all — ask your bank.) Other fees may apply. These additional expenses can pile up. Quiz your bank to figure out exactly what you're paying for each withdrawal.

Note that if you use a credit card for ATM transactions, it's technically a "cash advance" rather than a "withdrawal" — and subject to an additional cash-advance fee. If you plan to use a credit card rather than a debit card for ATM transactions, ask your bank about all the associated charges.

Confirm with your bank that your card will work in Europe and alert them that you'll be making withdrawals while traveling — otherwise, the bank might freeze your card if it detects unusual spending patterns. (Some credit-card companies do the same; it can be smart to inform them of your plans as well.) You don't have to give them specific dates you'll be away. Just saying you'll be in France in July is sufficient.

Since European keypads have only numbers, you will need to know your personal identification number (PIN) by number rather than by letter; derive the numbers from your hometown bank's keypad. Plan on being able to withdraw money only from your checking account. You might be able to dip into your savings account or transfer funds between accounts, but don't count on it.

Bringing two different cards provides a backup if one is demagnetized or eaten by a machine. Make sure the validity period of your card won't expire before your trip ends.

Ask your bank how much you can withdraw per 24 hours. Note that foreign ATMs may not let you withdraw your daily limit. Many machines have a small maximum, forcing you to make several withdrawals and incur several fees to get the amount you want. When choosing how much to withdraw from a cash machine, request a big amount on the small chance you'll get it. If you're lucky and the machine complies, you'll save on fees. If you're denied, don't take it personally. Try again, requesting a smaller amount. Few ATM receipts list the exchange rate, and some machines don't dispense receipts at all.

In some less expensive countries (especially in Eastern Europe), an ATM may give you high-denomination bills, which can be difficult to break. My strategy: Request an odd amount of money from the ATM (such as 2,800 Kč instead of 3,000 Kč). If the machine gives you big bills anyway, go immediately to a bank to break them.

If you're looking for an ATM, ask for a distributeur automatique in France, a cashpoint in the U.K., and a Bankomat just about everywhere else. Many European banks have their ATMs in a small entry lobby, which protects users from snoopers and bad weather. When the bank is closed, the door to this lobby may be locked. In this case, look for a credit-card-size slot next to the door. Simply insert or swipe your debit or credit card in this slot, and the door should automatically open.

Prepaid Debit Cards
Prepaid debit cards are another option for getting funds during your trip. Before you go, load up your card with the money you'll need, then withdrawal it as you travel. These cards work in ATMs just like a bank-issued debit card, but provide more security because they aren't connected to your checking account. Let's say you plan instead to finance your trip with a Visa debit card linked to your checking account. If the card is stolen, the thief can use it like a credit card — potentially draining your entire account. But some prepaid cards work only in ATMs, so the thief must also know your PIN to get at the money (unlikely, unless you foolishly write your PIN on your card or keep it in your wallet).

Prepaid cards are convenient for parents, who can send one along with their kids and reload it for them as needed. But the cards also have disadvantages. As with any other card, fees and service charges can add up — for buying the card ($5-15), reloading the card ($5), international transactions ($2-3), overdrawing your account, "cashing out" and canceling the card at the end of your trip, and others. And if the card is lost, it's virtually impossible to get a new one on the road in Europe, so bringing some form of backup is wise.

Many credit-card companies sell prepaid cards (there are links to several at, but the best deals are offered by AAA (versatile, with a Visa logo; and American Express (can only be used at ATMs and merchants that accept AmEx,

If you like the peace of mind that prepaid debit cards offer, go for it. But to me, they seem needlessly complicated — I just take my bank-issued debit card and keep it safe in my money belt.

Cash-to-Cash Machines
There are 24-hour money munchers in big cities all over Europe. These machines look like ATMs, but you feed in cash instead of a card. At midnight in Florence, you can push in a $20 bill (or any major European currency) and, assuming the president (or royalty) is on the right side, the correct value of local currency will tumble out. They are handy, open all the time, and usually offer bad rates. These are a novelty, useful only if you want a new experience or if you're too tired to find a regular cash machine.

Buying on Plastic
Credit cards work fine throughout Europe (at hotels, shops, travel agencies, and so on), although more and more merchants are establishing a $30 minimum. Visa and MasterCard are the most widely accepted. American Express is less commonly accepted (because it costs merchants more) but is popular with some travelers for its extra services. The Discover card is completely unknown in Europe.

Plastic fans gloat that you get a better exchange rate by using your card. This may be true, if you have the right kind of card. But there are plenty of fees involved. Also, realize that you're buying from businesses that have enough slack in their prices to absorb the fees the credit-card company charges the merchant (2–5 percent). In other words, those who travel on their plastic may be getting a better rate, but on a worse price.

As more and more consumers believe they are getting "free use of the bank's money," we're all absorbing the percentage the credit-card companies are making in higher purchase prices. Fully aware of the percentage they lose, merchants and hoteliers — particularly in southern Europe — sometimes give you a better deal if you offer to pay with cash instead of a credit card (cash payments also allow them to avoid reporting — and being taxed on — all their income).

I use my credit card for booking hotel reservations by phone, making major purchases (such as car rentals and plane tickets), and paying for things near the end of my trip to avoid another visit to the ATM. But a dependence on plastic reshapes the Europe you experience. Pedro's Pension, the friendly guide at the cathedral, and most merchants in the market don't take credit cards. Going through the Back Door requires hard local cash.


Posts: 3850
Joined: Mon Nov 22, 2004 2:06 pm

Rick's Cheap Travel Tips

Post by Roby » Tue Aug 29, 2006 10:53 pm

Stretch Your Dollar

And Mrs. Farrell reminds you, "with that Yankee dollar where it is, you'll need Rick's cheap travel tips. Your Irish Euros will go farther in a B&B like mine."
By Rick Steves
Our dollar is at a low against the euro. A €100 hotel now costs $130. I wish it cost $110 but political and complicated economic forces are driving the purchasing power of our money down. Do we stop traveling? Of course not. We just sharpen our budget skills and spend our hard-earned vacation dollar more carefully. Rather than take the taxi in from the airport for $70 we take the shuttle in for $15. Rather than order a $30 bottle of fine wine, we order a $15 carafe of good house wine. Rather than stay in a $200 three star hotel, we stay in a $100 one star hotel or an $80 bed & breakfast. Rather than pay $50 for a concert in Vienna, we pay $15 for one in Prague. Until our dollar bounces back, these fifty dollar-stretching tips excerpted from my Europe Through the Back Door guidebook will come in handy. Happy travels.

A B&B offers double the warmth and cultural intimacy for half the price of a hotel. You'll find them in most countries if you know the local word: Husrom is Norwegian for sobe which is Slovenian for Zimmer which is German for bed and breakfast.

Avoid touristy restaurants with "We speak English signs" and multilingual menus. Those that are filled with locals serve better food for less money. I look for a short, handwritten menu in the local language only. Go with the daily specials.

Fly open-jaws — that's into one city and out of another. Save time and money by avoiding a needless costly return to your starting point. When considering the beginning and end points of a long trip, try to start in mild countries (such as England) and work into the places with greater culture shock (such as Turkey). This way you'll minimize stress, and save countries offering the cheapest shopping — and greatest health risks — for the end of your trip.

Travel off-season — generally October through April in Europe. You'll get cheaper airfare, find more budget rooms, spend less time in lines, and meet more Europeans than tourists. Big cities such as London, Paris, and Rome are interesting any time of year.

Family-run businesses offer the best values because they employ family members to get around Europe's costly labor regulations. In mom-and-pop shops you're more likely to be served by people who care about their reputation and their customers.

Guidebooks are $20 tools for $3,000 experiences.
Picnics save money: Ten dollars buy a fine picnic lunch for two anywhere in Europe. Stock your hotel room with drinks and munchies upon arrival. You can pass train rides enjoyably over a picnic meal. Many grocery stores have elegant deli sections. Know the metric system for buying produce. In Italy 100 grams (about a quarter pound) is a unit in itself called an etto.

Eat with the season. Germans go crazy for the white asparagus. Italians lap up the porcini mushrooms. And Spaniards gobble their snails (caracoles) — but only when waiters announce that they're fresh today. You'll get more taste for less money throughout Europe by ordering what's in season.

Use a guidebook. Guidebooks are $20 tools for $3,000 experiences. Saving money by not buying one is penny-wise and pound-foolish. An up-to-date guidebook pays for itself on your first day in Europe.

Use ATMs rather than travelers checks. You'll get your cash cheaper and faster. While ATMs give the best possible rates, they do come with transaction fees. Minimize these fees by making fewer and larger withdrawals. Store the cash safely in your moneybelt.

Stay in touch cheaply by dialing direct. International phone cards with PIN numbers are sold at newsstands throughout Europe. They offer calls to the USA for ten cents a minute — a huge savings over the $3 a minute rates offered by the big American services.

Cars are worthless and costly headaches in big cities. Pick up your rental car after the first big city and drop it off before the final big city of your trip. Paying $20 a day to store a $40 a day car while touring a city is an expensive mistake.

Do your shopping mostly in the cheaper countries where gifts are more interesting and your shopping dollar stretches the farthest. The difference is huge: for the cost of a pewter Viking ship in Oslo, you can buy an actual boat in Turkey.

Look up friends, relatives, and contacts. Assume you are interesting and charming and enjoy local hospitality with gusto. This works best if you actually are interesting and charming. Bring a show-and-tell Ziploc baggie filled with photos of your family, house, and hometown.

Look up that homely little Norwegian cousin you remember from the sixth grade.
Adapt to European tastes. Cultural chameleons drink tea in England, beer in Prague, red wine in France, and white wine on the Rhine. They eat fish in Portugal and reindeer in Norway. Going with the local specialties gets you the best quality and service for the best price.

Find a good travel agent who knows Europe and sells consolidator tickets. Consolidator or "discount" air tickets are perfectly legitimate. By putting up with a few minor drawbacks (no changes allowed and no frequent flier miles given) you can save hundreds of dollars. Student agencies are not limited to students and offer some great airfares.

Don't let frequent flier miles cloud your judgment. Choose a plane ticket, car rental, hotel or tour according to the best value for your trip, not in hopes of scoring a few extra miles.

Know your rail options: Eurailpasses can offer big savings — if you're traveling a lot. For short trips, point-to-point tickets are cheaper. Throughout Europe first-class tickets cost 50 percent more than second-class. If you're on a budget, go second-class. Nearly every train has both first — and second-class cars...each going precisely the same speed.

Before buying a Eurailpass, know the options sold in Europe. For instance, Germany's "Beautiful Weekend" ticket lets groups of up to five travel anywhere in the country all day Saturday or Sunday on non-express trains for about $33.

Park carefully, or take this broken wing and learn to cry.
Buses, while often slower, are cheaper than trains — especially in Britain, home of Europe's most expensive train system. For instance, traveling from London to Edinburgh could cost $145 by train or only $45 by bus.

Groups save by driving. Four people sharing a car generally travel much cheaper than four individuals buying four railpasses. And don't worry about gas costs. Even at $5 a gallon, you'll find cars get great mileage and distances between sights are short. A single two-hour train ticket can cost you the price of a full tank of gas.

Park carefully. Thieves recognize and target tourist cars. Judge the safety of a lot by how it twinkles. Broken glass means thieves like this spot. Paying to park in a garage with an attendant can be a good investment.

In many northern countries, train-ticket holders get discounts on bikes rented at the station. And in many cases you can rent a bike in one town and drop it at another for no extra charge.

Pay with local cash, not credit cards. While credit cards get you a good exchange rate, many places offering Europe's best deals — from craft shops to bed & breakfasts — accept only cash.

When changing cash, avoid exchange bureaus that don't show both the buying and selling rate. By seeing both rates you can derive the profit margin — which should be within 5 percent. Places showing only the selling rate are hiding something… an obscene profit margin.

Travelers in a rush often pay too much. Always take a moment to review the math in any transaction.
Wear a money belt. You'll save money by not losing it. Thieves target Americans not because they're mean but because they're smart. They know we're the ones with the good stuff in our purses and wallets. Assume beggars are pickpockets. Be wary of commotions in crowds and fake police who ask to see your wallet. When you know the scams, they're almost entertaining.

Students, families, and seniors should ask for discounts. But be warned: because the USA doesn't reciprocate, many countries don't give their standard senior citizen discounts to Americans.

In any transaction, understand all fees and expenses. Ask to have bills itemized. Assume you'll be short-changed. Always ask how much. Do your own arithmetic and don't let the cashier rush you. Smile but be savvy. You'll save lots of money.

Travel with a partner to share and save. A single hotel room often costs nearly the same as a double. And by splitting taxis, chores, guidebooks, and picnics couples save both time and money.

Buy your maps in Europe at half the price you'd pay in America. And you'll find a wider selection.

Communicate via email with a free Yahoo or Hotmail-type account rather than by mailing postcards. For the cost of a postcard and a stamp you can be online in a cybercafé for about 15 minutes. Many libraries, hotels and hostels offer free Internet access.

Europe's 2,000 hostels offer countless cheap dorm beds. A hostel membership pays for itself in four nights. And it's not limited to youths. In fact, those over 55 get a discount on a hostel card. Using the hostel's kitchen, you can cook for the price of groceries — a great savings for traveling families.

Take advantage of department stores anywhere in Europe for cheap folk art, souvenirs, and post cards. Local shoppers eat cheaply at department store cafeterias and restaurants. Savvy travelers can too.

Flea markets are cheap sources of funky, fun souvenirs.
While notorious for ripping off tourists, flea markets can offer some great deals. Prices are soft, so haggle.

Europe's highly competitive no-frills airlines — such as Ryanair and Virgin Air — can often get you from one city to another faster and cheaper than the train. You generally book the flights yourself by phone or on the Web. Beware though: cheap airlines often use small airports located far from town, which can cost a little extra time and money.

Hike in the Alps. Even if you pay for a lift ticket to get you quickly into the high country, the glories of the Alps are one of Europe's great values. The Alps are littered with helicopter-supplied mountain huts offering cheap beds and menu prices that don't go up with the altitude.

Know your hotel's cancellation policy and keep track of what you reserved. No shows are generally charged one night. If you won't make it, cancel long in advance. Reconfirm all hotel reservations two days in advance. Even a fine hotel can mess up a booking. Arriving and finding no room can become a huge and costly headache.

Avoid travel agent and tourist office room-finding services. They charge a fee and generally offer only the highest-priced rooms with no discounts. For the best accommodations values, use a guidebook, shop around, and go direct.

Brussels and the Scandinavian capitals, which cater to business travelers, offer deep discounts to travelers who arrive without reservations when business traffic is slow.

During summer and weekends year-round, you can get a fancy business hotel room at a cheap one-star hotel price. It's not unusual to score a $300 double for $100.

Throughout Europe, budget chain hotels rent rooms at B&B prices. Since these cookie-cutter rooms cost the same for singles, couples, or even a family of four, they offer the greatest savings for traveling families.

Be smart about hotel choices: A three-star place (with room service and a 24-hour reception desk) is a bad value for a budget traveler who's satisfied with one-star services. Lavish lobbies can hide crummy rooms. See, smell, and hear the room before accepting it. If you're interested in sleeping, choosing a view room overlooking a noisy square is a mistake. Opting for the shower and toilet down the hall can save you $30 a night.

Ask for a deal on your hotel room. You'll have the best chance of getting a discount if business is slow. Go direct (a room-finding service costs the hotel a booking fee), offer to pay in cash, or stay at least three nights.

Pack the room. The more people you put in a hotel room, the cheaper it gets per person. A quad is only a little more expensive than a double.

Avoid hotel breakfasts. While convenient, these are rarely a good value. If breakfast is optional, increase the character and lower the price by joining the local crowd at the corner café for your coffee and croissant.

Throughout southern Europe, drinks are cheaper at the bar than at a table. The table price can be a great value if you'll linger and enjoy the view. But those just tossing down a quick drink do it at the bar for about half price.

Every country has early bird and "Blue Plate" specials. Know the lingo, learn your options, and you can dine well with savvy locals anywhere in Europe for under $10.

Smart travelers never waste precious time in lines.
Don't overtip. Only Americans tip 15 to 20 percent in Europe. We even tip when it's already included or not expected. Ask locals (who are customers rather than employees of a restaurant) for advice.

To save money in restaurants, couples can order a side salad and split an entree. To save more, request tap water instead of mineral water, drink the house wine, and skip desserts.

Make the most of public transit. Many single tickets are actually good for round-trip, transfers, or an hour of travel. Three rides generally cost more than a day pass. Airports almost always have cheap and convenient public transit connections to the town center.

Museum passes save time and money. The Paris Museum pass, for example, pays for itself in three visits and saves you hours by letting you skip the long lines and scoot right into each sight. Also, with a pass, you'll pop painlessly into sights that might otherwise not be worth the expense.

If you get sick, see a doctor sooner rather than later. While it seems stressful to get medical help, visiting a clinic in Europe is actually an inexpensive and interesting experience. Any hotel or tourist office can point you in the right direction. You'll be diagnosed, have the proper medicine prescribed, and be on the mend in an hour.

Creative ways to fund your travels and enjoy the arts at the same time.
Walking tours are usually cheaper and better than big bus tours. In general, arrange tours through the tourist office and not your hotel.

Baggage insurance is statistically the worst value among the many bad values in travel insurance. Don't insure baggage.

Travel faster in the more expensive north and hang out in the cheaper southern and eastern countries.

See the modern art in Paris, London, Venice or Madrid, not in Bilbao. The great new Guggenheim Modern Art Museum in Bilbao is impressive for its architecture, but the art is no better than what you'll see in other art capitals.

Don't buy new clothes, an overly fancy camera, or pricey gear for your trip. Use your tried and tested favorites.

Consider hotel sales people who meet you at train stations and boat docks. They are generally simply working for decent places which have to hustle to get business. They may be new, not in the guidebooks, or even blacklisted by the tourist office because of their refusal to pay dues and a commission on business the TI sends their way.

Bring film and toiletries from home to save both time and money.

Know the bonuses that come with railpasses. For instance, Eurailpasses cover certain international boat crossings (e.g., Italy-Greece and Sweden-Finland) and cruises on Germany's Rhine River and Switzerland's lakes. Your railpass will get you significant discounts on the Eurostar Chunnel, the Ireland-France ferry, and Germany's Romantic Road bus.

Leave home healthy and rested. The flight and jetlag make you vulnerable to catching a cold — a nuisance which will take the luster out of your first week in Europe. Considering the expense of your trip, leaving exhausted and catching a cold is an expensive mistake.

Treat vacation time like money — don't waste it. Hop in taxis to get there quickly. Know the simple tricks of avoiding museum lines. You'll find two IQs among tourists: those waiting in lines and those walking right by them because they made an entry appointment or have a museum pass that lets them go right in.

Take an overnight train to avoid the cost of a hotel and save a day in your itinerary. You have three sleeping options: a free airplane-style seat; a couchette — a bed in a six-person compartment for $20; or a sleeper — a bed in a compartment with a double bunk for $80. Trade away the sleeper privacy for a couchette and save $60.

Play backgammon in Greece and Turkey. It's free for the price of a glass of tea and gets you piles of new friends and teahouse memories.

Lots of perfectly good food is available for free in Europe's many cafeterias.
Universities generally have a government-subsidized cafeteria (open to the public) serving the cheapest hot meals in town. Mensa is the universal word for government-subsidized cafeteria.

Tapas in Spain are ideal for a light, inexpensive meal served any time — handy for those wanting a meal in Spain before the standard 8 p.m. and later dinner hour.

In Portugal, restaurants decorate your table with hard to resist hors d'oeuvres. While these seem like friendly freebies, they're carefully tallied. If you eat one, you've purchased the lot. Ask to have these removed… or pay the price.

Learn key words and numbers in the local language. You'll get more respect, people will like you more, and you're less likely to be ripped off.

Big bus tours are sold at a nearly no-profit price. They make their money throughout the tour on commissions from your shopping and by selling you optional sightseeing. While on tour, save big money by skipping the optional sightseeing tours and relying on your guidebook for independent sightseeing.

If renting a car, use the cardboard parking clock you'll find in your glove compartment. In many countries, parking signs indicate how long it's free to park providing you place the cardboard clock on your dash set to the time you arrived.

To get a zero deductible on your rental car, Collision Damage Waiver supplements cost about $20 a day. Get CDW through Travel Guard or by using a gold credit card.

While wine, beer and coffee are wonderful parts of the European experience, drinks cost travelers about $15 a day. Know the local word for tap water. It's free and drinkable almost everywhere. Use a refillable water bottle for juice and water.

While you can always change paper currency, coins are generally worthless outside their domain. A €2 coin is worth nearly $2. Spend coins before crossing a currency border.

There are lousy hotels all over Europe where you'll get $15 beds... and a kitten tossed in for no extra.
Use email to save money on long distance phone calls to Europe when booking accommodations. Even budget hotels use email to advise travelers on room availability. If concerned about emailing your credit card number, confirm your reservation by faxing a printed copy of your email correspondence with the number.

Pack light. With a carry-on-the-plane size bag, you'll never struggle with porters or cabbies, you get more respect when shopping for a hotel room, and you can share train station lockers with your partner, cutting that expense in half.

Use the telephone to double-check guidebook information, availability of English-language tours, to make reservations and to comparison shop.

Locals wanting restaurant quality food at half the price get hot food to go at local delis. Enjoy good local cuisine at fast food prices with a carefully chosen picnic perch for dinner.

Eat near markets. Local shoppers and market workers alike know a good value and that's all that survives in the shadow of Europe's colorful marketplaces.

If you do a lot of shopping, you may be eligible to get a refund on the local Value Added Tax (up to 25%) at the airport when you leave. For major purchases this can be well worth the paperwork. Local merchants explain the process.

When mailing things home, book rate is much cheaper. You can often save money by sending two packages, with one being all the paper and printed stuff.

Wash laundry in the sink. Visits to the Laundromat cost needless time and money. Hotel laundry services can be expensive.


Posts: 3850
Joined: Mon Nov 22, 2004 2:06 pm

Exchange Rate website

Post by Roby » Tue Aug 29, 2006 10:57 pm

Exchange Rate Website


Posts: 3850
Joined: Mon Nov 22, 2004 2:06 pm

Tipping in Europe

Post by Roby » Tue Aug 29, 2006 11:01 pm

Tipping Tactics for Europe

No matter where you are, tip extra if the service has been especially good.
Tipping in Europe isn't as automatic and generous as it is in the United States, but in many countries, tips are appreciated, if not expected. As in the United States, the proper amount depends on your resources, tipping philosophy, and the circumstance. That said, there are big tippers and misers the world around.

Tipping varies widely by country, but some general guidelines apply:

At restaurants, check the menu to see if service is included; if it isn't, a tip of 5–10 percent is normal (see more details below). For taxis, round up the fare.

Tipping for special service is optional. It's thoughtful to tip a couple of euros to someone who shows you a special sight and who is paid in no other way (such as the man who shows you an Etruscan tomb in his backyard). Guides who give talks at public sites or on bus or boat tours often hold out their hands for tips after they give their spiel. If I've already paid for the tour, I don't tip extra (if you feel you must tip, a euro or two is enough for a job well done). I don't tip at hotels, but if you do, give the porter a euro for carrying bags and leave a couple of euros in your room at the end of your stay for the maid if the room was kept clean. In general, if someone in the service industry does a super job for you, a tip of a couple of euros is appropriate...but not required.

When in doubt, ask. The French and British generally tip hairdressers, the Dutch and Swedish usually don't. If you're not sure whether (or how much) to tip for a service, ask your hotelier or the TI; they'll fill you in on how it's done on their turf.

Tipping in Restaurants
Restaurant tips are more modest in Europe than in America. In Europe, 10 percent is a good tip. If your bucks talk at home, muzzle them on your travels. As a matter of principle, if not economy, the local price should prevail.

Tipping is an issue only at restaurants that have waiters and waitresses. If you order your food at a counter (in a pub, for example), don't tip.

Menus in any country will usually state — at the bottom of the menu — if service is included (e.g., in Italy: servizio incluso). In this case, a service charge of about 15 percent is included in the menu price or added automatically to your bill. When the service is included, you don't need to tip beyond that, but if you like to tip and you're pleased with the service, you can round up a few euros.

If the menu states that the service is not included (e.g., in France: service non compris or s.n.c.), tip 5–10 percent by rounding up or leaving the change from your bill. Typically, it's better to hand the tip to the waiter when you're paying your bill than to leave it on the table, particularly in busy places where the wrong party might pocket the change. In Germanic countries, rather than physically leaving a tip on the table, it's considered discreet and classy to say the total number of euros you'd like the waiter to keep (including his tip) when paying. So, if the bill is €78, hand him €100 while saying, "85." You'll get €15 back and feel pretty European. In some places, such as Italy, it's best to tip in cash even if you pay with your credit card. Otherwise the tip may never reach your waitress.

Tipping Tips from Europeans

Source: Matteo Pasini, Hotel Villa Steno, Monterosso

In Italy you tip if you really like the place, the food and the service; if the waiter was very friendly for example. In US a waiter has a small salary, but just because he will have a lot of tips: tipping is necessary; in Italy no, the salary is good and the tip is something exceptional, so a guest can tip or not and normally only the 10/20 per cent of guests tip. Giving a tip to the waiter or leaving it on the table it is up to you. Leaving it on the table is the standard. If you pay your bill by credit card remember to tip by cash, this will be very appreciated. A ten per cent tip in a restaurant is what you can consider a good tip.

To tip taxi drivers is very exceptional, in case they helped you a lot give €.1 or €.2.

Tip in a Hotel if someone is very helpful or friendly. If they are carrying luggage for you or helping you in resolving problems.

At the hair cut we never tip and we tip very few in a bar, but if the service was very good you can leave at the barber or at the bar waiter something. Normally at the hair cut for ladies it is nice to give a small tip to the young lady who washed your hair.

In many WC (specially if they're public) you have to leave a tip (50 cents to 1 euro), normally you have a table with a lady collecting coins.


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Successful Bargaining

Post by Roby » Tue Aug 29, 2006 11:05 pm

Successful Bargaining

By Rick Steves
In much of the Mediterranean world, the price tag is only an excuse to argue. Bargaining is the accepted and expected method of finding a compromise between the wishful thinking of the merchant and the tourist. In Europe, bargaining is common only in the south, but you can fight prices at flea markets and with street vendors anywhere.

While bargaining is good for your budget, it can also become an enjoyable game. Many travelers are addicted hagglers who would gladly skip a tour of a Portuguese palace to get the price down on the black-clad lady's handmade tablecloth.

The Ten Commandments of the Successful Haggler
1. Determine if bargaining is appropriate. It's bad shopping etiquette to "make an offer" for a tweed hat in a London department store. It's foolish not to at a Greek outdoor market. To learn if a price is fixed, show some interest in an item but say, "It's just too much money." You've put the merchant in a position to make the first offer. If he comes down even 2 percent, there's nothing sacred about the price tag. Haggle away.

2. Shop around and find out what locals pay. Prices can vary drastically among vendors at the same flea market, and even at the same stall. If prices aren't posted, assume there's a double price standard: One for locals and one for you. If only tourists buy the item you're pricing, see what an Arab, Spanish, or Italian tourist would be charged. I remember thinking I did well in Istanbul's Grand Bazaar, until I learned my Spanish friend bought the same shirt for 30 percent less. Merchants assume American tourists are rich. And they know what we pay for things at home.

3. Determine what the item is worth to you. Price tags can be meaningless and serve to distort your idea of an item's true worth. The merchant is playing a psychological game. Many tourists think that if they can cut the price by 50 percent they are doing great. So the merchant quadruples his prices and the tourist happily pays double the fair value. The best way to deal with crazy price tags is to ignore them. Before you even see the price tag, determine the item's value to you, considering the hassles involved in packing it or shipping it home.

4. Determine the merchant's lowest price. Many merchants will settle for a nickel profit rather than lose the sale entirely. Promise yourself that no matter how exciting the price becomes, you won't buy. Then work the cost down to rock bottom. When it seems to have fallen to a record low, walk away. That last price he hollers out as you turn the corner is often the best price you'll get. If the price is right, go back and buy. Prices often drop at the end of the day when merchants are considering packing up.

5. Look indifferent. As soon as the merchant perceives the "I gotta have that!" in you, you'll never get the best price. He assumes Americans have the money to buy what they really want.

6. Employ a third person. Use your friend who is worried about the ever-dwindling budget or who doesn't like the price or who is bored and wants to return to the hotel. This trick can work to bring the price down faster.

7. Impress the merchant with your knowledge — real or otherwise. He'll respect you, and you'll be more likely to get good quality. Istanbul has very good leather coats for a fraction of the US cost. Before my trip I talked to some leather-coat sellers and was much better prepared to confidently pick out a good coat in Istanbul for $100.

8. Obey the rules. Don't hurry. Bargaining is rarely rushed. Get to know the shopkeeper. Accept his offer for tea, talk with him. He'll know you are serious. Dealing with the owner (no salesman's commission) can lower the price. Bid carefully. If a merchant accepts your price (or vice versa), you must buy the item.

9. Show the merchant your money. Physically hold out your money and offer him "all you have" to pay for whatever you are bickering over. He'll be tempted to just grab your money and say, "Oh, OK."

10. If the price is too much, leave. Never worry about having taken too much of the merchant's time and tea. They are experts at making the tourist feel guilty for not buying. It's all part of the game. Most merchants, by local standards, are financially well-off.

Remember, you can generally find the same souvenirs in large department stores at fair and firm prices. Department-store shopping is quicker, easier, often cheaper — but not nearly as much fun.

Last edited by Roby on Wed Aug 30, 2006 8:53 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Riding the Rails in Europe

Post by Roby » Tue Aug 29, 2006 11:10 pm

Riding the Rails in Europe

By Rick Steves
Europe's great train system turns the Continent into your playground. You can figure it out as you travel. Or, to learn more quickly — from my mistakes — here are a few tips:

Get used to the 24-hour clock used in European timetables. After 12:00 noon, the Europeans keep going — 13:00, 14:00, and so on. To convert to the 12-hour clock, subtract 12 and add p.m. (16:00 is 4 p.m.).

To get information on schedules, visit the German website Deutsche Bahn and pick up freebie timetables at train stations as you go. The big departure schedules posted at stations often befuddle travelers who don't realize that all over the world, the same four columns are listed: destination, type of train, track number, and departure time. Without much effort you can accurately guess which column is what.

Confirm your plans with a clerk at the train station information window. Write out your itinerary on a piece of paper (e.g., Torino [draw an arrow] Milano 8:50-10:40) and ask, "OK?" Simple written communication eliminates the language barrier.

Choosing between first and second class? You'll meet more locals in second class, or find greater comfort — at a 50 percent higher price — in first class. Remember that both first- and second-class cars travel at precisely the same speed.

Make sure you know where to catch your train and where to get off. Many cities have more than one train station. Paris has six, Brussels has three, and even Switzerland's little Interlaken has two. A city's stations are generally connected by train, subway, or bus.

Never assume the whole train is going where you are. Each car is labeled separately, because cars are usually added and dropped here and there along the journey. Be sure that the city on your car's nameplate is your destination.

There is a thief on every train (union rules) planning to grab a bag. Clip your backpack to the overhead rack for safety.

On an overnight ride, get a couchette — a sleeping berth in a compartment. Reserve a couchette (pronounced coo-shet) at least a day in advance from a local travel agency, the train station, or, if there are any available, from the conductor on the train. For $20, you'll get sheets, pillow, blankets, a fold-out bunk bed in a compartment with three to five other people, and, hopefully, a good night's sleep.


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Leaping Over the Language Barrier

Post by Roby » Tue Aug 29, 2006 11:14 pm

Leaping Over the Language Barrier

English may be Europe's lingua franca, but communicating does require some skill. If you have a trip coming up and don't speak French yet, forget it. It's hopeless. Rather than learning a few more French verbs, the best way to increase your ability to communicate is to master what the Voice of America calls "simple English."

Speak slowly, clearly, and with carefully chosen words. Assume you're dealing with someone who learned English out of a book — reading British words, not hearing American ones. They are reading your lips, wishing it were written down, hoping to see every letter as it tumbles out of your mouth. Choose easy words and clearly pronounce each letter. (Crispy po-ta-to chips.) Use no contractions. When they aren't understood, many Americans speak louder and toss in a few extra words. Listen to other tourists, and you'll hear your own shortcomings. If you want to be understood, talk like a Dick and Jane primer. For several months out of every year, I speak with simple words, pronouncing every letter. When I return home, my friends say (very deliberately), "Rick, you can relax now, we speak English fluently."

Can the slang. Our American dialect has become a super-deluxe slang pizza not found on any European menu. The sentence "Can the slang," for example, would baffle the average European. If you learned English in school for two years, how would you respond to the American who exclaims, "What a day!" or asks, "Howzit goin'?"

Keep your messages grunt-simple. Make single nouns work as entire sentences. When asking for something, a one-word question ("Photo?") is more effective than an attempt at something more grammatically correct ("May I take your picture, sir?"). Be a Neanderthal. Strip your message naked and drag it by the hair into the other person's mind. But even Neandertourists will find things go easier if they begin each request with the local "please" (e.g., "Bitte, toilet?").

Use internationally understood words. Some spend an entire trip telling people they're on vacation, draw only blank stares, and slowly find themselves in a soundproof, culture-resistant cell. The sensitive communicator notices that Europeans understand the word holiday, probably because that's what the English say. Then she plugs that word into her simple English vocabulary, makes herself understood, and enjoys a much closer contact with Europe. If you say rest room or bathroom, you'll get no room. Toilet is direct, simple, and understood. If my car is broken in Portugal, I don't say, "Excuse me, my car is broken." I point to the vehicle and say, "Auto kaput."

Risk looking goofy. Even with no common language, rudimentary communication is easy. Butcher the language if you must, but communicate. I'll never forget the lady in the French post office who flapped her arms and asked, "Tweet, tweet, tweet?" I understood immediately, answered with a nod, and she gave me the airmail stamps I needed. At the risk of getting birdseed, I communicated successfully. If you're hungry, clutch your stomach and growl. If you want milk, "moo" and pull two imaginary udders. If the liquor was too strong, simulate an atomic explosion starting from your stomach and mushrooming to your head. If you're attracted to someone, pant.

Be melodramatic. Exaggerate the local accent. In France, you'll communicate more effectively (and have more fun) by sounding like Maurice Chevalier or Inspector Clouseau. The locals won't be insulted; they'll be impressed. Use whatever French you know. But even English spoken with a sexy French accent makes more sense to the French ear. In Italy, be melodic and exuberant, and wave those hands. Go ahead, try it: Mamma mia! No. Do it again. MAMMA MIA! You've got to be uninhibited. Self-consciousness kills communication.

Figure things out. Most major European languages are related, coming from (or at least being influenced by) Latin. Knowing that, words become meaningful. The French word for Monday (our "day of the moon") is lundi (lunar day). The Germans say the same thing — Montag. Sonne is sun, so Sonntag is Sunday. If buon giorno means good day, zuppa del giorno is soup of the day. If Tiergarten is zoo (literally "animal garden") in German, then Stinktier is skunk and Kindergarten is children's garden. Think of Vater, Mutter, trink, gross, gut, Nacht, rapide, grand, económico, delicioso, and you can comprender mucho.

Many letters travel predictable courses (determined by the physical way a sound is made) as related languages drift apart over the centuries. For instance, p often becomes v or b in the neighboring country's language. Italian menus always have a charge for coperto — a "cover" charge.

Practice your understanding. Read time schedules, posters, multilingual signs (and graffiti) in bathrooms, and newspaper headlines. Develop your ear for foreign languages by tuning in to the other languages on a multilingual tour. It's a puzzle. The more you play, the better you get.

A notepad can work wonders. Words and numbers are much easier understood when they're written rather than spoken — and mispronounced. (My back-pocket notepad is my constant travel buddy.) To repeatedly communicate something difficult and important (such as medical instructions, "I'm a strict vegetarian," "boiled water," "well-done meat," "your finest ice cream," or "I am rich and single"), have it written in the local language on your notepad.

Assume you understand and go with your educated guess. My master key to communication is to see most communication problems as multiple-choice questions, make an educated guess at the meaning of a message (verbal or written), and proceed confidently as if I understood it correctly. At the breakfast table the waitress asks me a question. I don't understand a word she says but I tell her my room number. Faking it like this applies to rudimentary things like instructions on customs forms, museum hours, and menus. With this approach I find that 80 percent of the time I'm correct. Half the time I'm wrong I never know it, so it doesn't really matter. So 10 percent of the time I really blow it. My trip becomes easier — and occasionally much more interesting.


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