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Abe F. March
Five Star Member
Five Star Member
Abe F. March

Number of posts : 10720
Registration date : 2008-01-26
Age : 80
Location : Germany

Travel Empty
PostSubject: Travel   Travel EmptyThu May 08, 2014 6:47 am

It is vacation time and many will be taking trips.  Should that include Europe, I've jotted down some traveling tips.


Tips for traveling/driving in Germany.
 
Although this information applies to Germany, the information is applicable to most European countries.  Keep in mind that in the UK you drive on the wrong (right) side of the road.
 
If you are planning a trip to Europe, public transportation is very good and the least expensive method of travel.  If you prefer to drive, and there are advantages to that, you will need to rent a car.  Make your car reservations from the States as it is less expensive – in some cases, it can be almost half the rental fee you will pay if you rent your car when you arrive. I believe that has something to do with encouraging tourist travel.  If you want a car with automatic transmission, please specify that, otherwise you will get a stick shift.  You will also want insurance on the car.  Before buying the insurance, check with your own auto insurance to see if you are covered traveling in a foreign country.  Most major Credit Cards cover your auto rental insurance.  Check with your Credit Card Company before you travel.  When you fill out the car rental papers, decline the insurance they offer as it is very expensive (provided that you are covered with your own auto insurance or the Credit Card). 
Reserve a small car – not medium or large.  Keep in mind that the roads are narrow in rural areas then there is the problem of parking.  A large car may often take up two parking spaces, if you are lucky enough to find two together.  With a small car you save on the cost of gasoline which is much higher than in the US as well as the amount of fuel required.  If the car rental agency doesn’t have the type of car you order, they will often give you an upgrade at the price of the small car you ordered.  Check the car over for scratches before driving away.  Have someone make note of any dents/scratches and that should be recorded on the rental documents.  Check also to see if the car is clean.  If the car is dirty, that may be a reason in getting a better car or an upgrade.  
 
In each auto rental packet, there is a sheet (or card) that lists driving regulations as well as road signs.  Before driving away, take the time to review this list and become familiar with the signs.  Road signs in Europe are fairly standard; however the standardization may not always apply to rules of driving.
 
If you are driving in Germany on the Autobahn, stay out of the left lane.  That is a high-speed lane.  Stay to your right where possible.  Trucks use the extreme right lane and there are areas where they are not permitted to pass.  The middle lane is a safe bet.  If you find the car behind you blinking their lights, it is a signal for you to move over.  The Autobahn has no speed limit except where posted.   When there is a speed sign, observe it as it is there for a good reason.  On rural roads, the speed is 100 km/hr.  In villages and towns, the speed is 50 km/hr unless otherwise posted.  When driving in town and at intersections where there is no traffic light, cars coming from the right have the right of way.  I find it stupid and still have trouble understanding this rule, however that is the rule.  Pay particular attention to pedestrian crossings.  There are white lines at intersections for pedestrian crossing.  Be alert and stop if/when you see someone about to cross.  The pedestrian has the right of way at these crossings.  
 
A navigation system in the car is a big help.  Request one with English capability.  The navigation system will alert you to traffic jams (called a Stau) and suggest alternate routes.  You often know in advance if there is an accident on the highway and the delay time you can expect – unless you take an alternate route.
 
At one time, an International Driver’s License was required and one could get it at their local auto club.  That is no longer required.  Your American Driver’s License is sufficient.
 
Have your ID (Passport) with you at all times.  In Germany, not everyone speaks English and that is why many stay at 5-Star Hotels (very expensive).  You can get by with some simple phrases.  Carry an English/German dictionary with you.  People are helpful and will try to understand what you want.  Traveling off the main thorough fares gives you the opportunity to see more and get a feel for the culture.  You can also find many Pensions (Bed & Breakfast) to stay overnight.  Cash is still preferred and even today, some restaurants only accept cash.  Before ordering, it is good to ask if they accept credit cards.  More and more do. 
Don’t feel the need to tip at a restaurant as a 15% gratuity is automatically included in the price of the food and that is normally noted on the menu.  In stores, tax is not extra.  The price stated includes the tax.  
 
France is a lovely country to visit, however be sure to learn some French before you travel there unless you are with a tour and are staying at a 5-Star hotel.  Even if they understand English, most will refuse to speak it.  Their attitude is much like in America.  A tourist is expected to speak the language of the country.  If you ever visited Montreal, you may have found the same thing.  If you don’t speak French, you will have difficulties.
 
Holland is another great place to visit.  Most everyone speaks English. 
 
If you’re traveling by train in Germany, the Main Station (Hauptbahnhof) has people who speak English.  Just ask, “Do you speak English?”  Trains are most always on time.  The exceptions are not worthy of mention. 
 
Avoid using first names unless invited to do so. 
 
Be courteous.  Remember, even as a tourist, you are an Ambassador of your country. 
 
 
If you are planning on visiting the UK, perhaps Shelagh can provide information about what to expect while visiting England.
 
Clearing Customs
Presenting your American Passport means you won’t be asked a lot of questions.  You will be asked. “What is the purpose of your visit?”  Best answer is “A pleasure trip” If you were to answer “Business”, you will be asked what kind of business and the name of the company you are visiting and/or representing.  You will be asked where you will be staying.  Usually your first overnight location, the name of the hotel.  If you are visiting friends, the name and address of the friends.  They also want to know how long you will be staying.  General estimate is okay.  Two weeks.  A month – whatever.  If you plan to stay longer as with wanting to remain, don’t tell them that.  For that purpose, contact me privately for how to handle that situation.
When you pick up your luggage, there are two locations.  “Goods to Declare” and Nothing to Declare”.  There is seldom any reason to declare what you are bringing if you have an American Passport.  They know that you have been scrutinized before you left the States. 
If in doubt, check the list of things that one should declare that may require a duty.
 
Returning to the States
While on the plane, you will fill out a Customs declaration form.  The information and requirements are listed.  You will not be allowed to bring anything that is from a farm.  Even fruit will be confiscated.  You will be asked what countries you visited.  If you say Holland, your bags may be opened and checked for possible drugs.  What you purchased and are bringing into the country should already be listed on the customs declaration form.  Alcohol is restricted; however a bottle of wine will pass without any duty requirement.  It is the quantity that you are bringing into the country that questioned. 
Even though you went through security at your departure point, you will once again be required to pass through security in the US.  I don’t understand this rule, but it exists.
 
Currency
If you travel within the EU, the common currency for most countries is the Euro.  In the UK, you will need to convert to British pounds.  Traveling has been made easier without the need to change currency when going from one country to another.
 
Things to do before you travel
 
Health Insurance.  Check with your insurance carrier to see if you are covered while traveling outside the USA.  Should you become sick and require the services of a doctor, what do they require and in what form? 
Most medical facilities and doctors are not accustomed to customers paying cash for services and therefore must be advised upfront that you do not have European insurance.  Some will require payment while others may send a bill to you or your insurance carrier.  Easiest is for you to pay and then get reimbursed upon your return to the States when you present them with a bill.  Be prepared to convert from Euros to dollars.
 
You don’t need to carry Travelers checks.  If you need cash, you can go to a bank and use the cash vending machine as in the USA. 
 
Packing
Over packing for a trip is a common mistake.  Many unseasoned travelers take more than they need and especially the “just in case” items.  Traveling light is the best way to travel, especially when using public transportation.  Schlepping suitcases around is not only a nuisance, but very tiresome.  One can find whatever one needs locally.  It is not a fashion show/trip and therefore wearing the same clothes should not be a problem.
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Abe F. March
Five Star Member
Five Star Member
Abe F. March

Number of posts : 10720
Registration date : 2008-01-26
Age : 80
Location : Germany

Travel Empty
PostSubject: Re: Travel   Travel EmptyThu May 08, 2014 8:04 am

I forgot to include:
Emergency telephone numbers.
 
One should have on their person Emergency Telephone Numbers.  More than one is suggested indicating your relationship to the person listed.


If anyone can add to travel tips, please do so.
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dkchristi
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dkchristi

Number of posts : 8594
Registration date : 2008-12-29
Location : Florida

Travel Empty
PostSubject: Re: Travel   Travel EmptyThu May 08, 2014 8:35 am

I think packing is critical.  My son talked me into buying a backpack on wheels.  It has several pouches that zip and the zipper goes all around the case.  The case is the maximum for the little wire basket that measures what will go in an overhead bin.  I never check my bag. Never.  Sometimes they take it from me for a small plane, but I see it go in the hold and know we are traveling together.  I have put it on my back but mostly use the pull feature with wheels.  It does fit well as a backpack however.

I lay out all my clothes in sets on the dining table and roll them tightly.  Folded clothes have fold lines when unpacked and take more room.  Rolled clothes drop out the wrinkles quickly.  I don't do this but a friend suggested saving up all the old underwear so that you can change often and throw it away, not having to worry about packing clothes needing laundering.  I pack with two colors - black and white.  I throw in a colorful scarf.  That way everything mixes and matches without worry. 

By the way, take some antiseptic wipes.  Planes and public transportation are very dirty and I like to wipe the head rest and the arm rests at least, unobtrusively if possible.  They are also handly for restrooms.  The baby wipes or makeup wipes can serve a dual purpose there - but not the antiseptic ones.

Also, I find packing as though going camping is a good guide.  I take slacks that look nice but are that sort of parachute material - light - with zippers to turn them into shorts and ties to make them crop pants.  I take one simple a-line black dress and one pair dressier, lighter weight walking shoes.  I also take a roll-up pair of shoes (bought at the drug store) that will do in a pinch or as slippers.

For makeup, I only take the minimum.  For hair style, my hair is long and I simply wear it up the whole time. I also take hand wipes in little foil packets and stick them everywhere always handy.  If you take the type to rinse off makeup, you can bathe with them if you need to.

I also take a parachute cloth backpack that I use for my wallet.  My wallet has my passport, my driver's license, a little cash, a credit card, emergency numbers, a tiny flashlight and my smart phone all in a small package with zippers (they have them at AAA though I bought mine at the flea market).  I wear it under my sweater or jacket and it can also hold a bottle of water if needed.

I have a very small umbrella that opens sufficiently to stay dry but is lightweight.  I also take a visor that is on a little stretch cable and rolls up nicely.  I also have a roll up sun hat but I take it and never use it, the visor is so handy.

Of course, wear a sturdy pair of comfortable walking shoes broken in long before the travel.  I like the tennis shoe variety as they are lighter in weight. 

Did I leave out anything?  Feel free to add.  I like this thread.
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dkchristi
Five Star Member
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dkchristi

Number of posts : 8594
Registration date : 2008-12-29
Location : Florida

Travel Empty
PostSubject: Re: Travel   Travel EmptyThu May 08, 2014 8:40 am

I forgot to add to label everything with a return address label inside and out that might be misplaced.  You might be lucky and get it back.  Particularly, put labels inside the suitcase and wallets, etc.  For safety, use luggage tags that don't reveal anything unless the little flap is laid back.  That way casual lookers aren't jotting down your info.

I also forgot a good pair of comfortable jeans and a nylon jacket (waterproof) were my mainstay in Panama and in Italy.  Everyone else is wearing jeans so you don't look so much like a tourist. Look at maps on the smart phone also to not give away your tourist status.  Nothing like shouting you're a tourist with a sheave of maps open on a street corner. Leave valuable jewelry and watches at home in the safe deposit box.  Get a good Timex for the trip.  Saves a lot of potential loss and grief.
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LC
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LC

Number of posts : 5044
Registration date : 2009-03-28

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PostSubject: Re: Travel   Travel EmptyTue May 20, 2014 10:37 am

Bring three times as much money as you think you need.
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Abe F. March
Five Star Member
Five Star Member
Abe F. March

Number of posts : 10720
Registration date : 2008-01-26
Age : 80
Location : Germany

Travel Empty
PostSubject: Re: Travel   Travel EmptyTue May 20, 2014 11:01 am

LC, you got that right!  There are always unexpected expenses, however carrying too much cash is not a good idea.  Travelers checks are a thing of the past.  One can always use the money machines at banks.  Major credit cards or bank cards are accepted worldwide with these machines.  There may be a limit on how much you can withdraw on a daily basis, but the machine will tell you that when you make a withdrawal.
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LC
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LC

Number of posts : 5044
Registration date : 2009-03-28

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PostSubject: Re: Travel   Travel EmptyTue May 20, 2014 2:12 pm

Abe, yes, credit cards are best, and there are two that absorb overseas fees. One is Schwab's Visa, the other is Cap One's.
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dkchristi
Five Star Member
Five Star Member
dkchristi

Number of posts : 8594
Registration date : 2008-12-29
Location : Florida

Travel Empty
PostSubject: Re: Travel   Travel EmptyTue May 20, 2014 4:50 pm

I learned the hard way about overseas fees.  Didn't have the cards above.  Spent a fortune on fees - a fortune!
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