The title of this column comes from a British ex pat we know who has lived in Venice for 30 years. She visited the city as an 18 year old, fell in love with both the city and a charming Venetian, married and settled in. She uses the expression, “odds and bobs”, which is a British version of “odds and ends” or miscellaneous and today I’ll share assorted travel tips.
We all know the drill when it comes to passing through airport security lines…..containers with no more than 3.4 oz. of liquids, and they must be in a quart size zip lock bag. Shoes, jackets, and belts with metal buckles off. Empty pockets of cell phones and anything metal; take off any heavy metal jewelry. Don’t wrap gifts. If you don’t use a TSA approved lap top bag, take out your computer; iPads do not have to be removed. But, what are some things that can trigger the dreaded luggage search? Opaque, dense items such as soap pose a problem for scanners, as is anything packed in aluminum foil. I once left an individually packaged anti bacterial hand wipe in my pocket; it set off the alarm because the interior of the packet contained foil. Remember the liquid rule applies to anything that conforms to the shape of the container. Therefore, wax candles are OK, a gel candle (or peanut butter!) is not.
People often ask me the best way to exchange money or pay for items overseas. There are a variety of methods, some more costly than others. For local currency,using an ATM can be the most economical method; it depends on your ATM card. Many banks add on additional conversion or service fees that can be as high as 8%. Be aware that some banks offer fee free ATM cards, but that “free” only applies to transactions in the United States. Some large banks do have international partners and you can use your card without additional costs. Schwab and Capital One offer checking/money market accounts for which there are no extra charges. The foreign exchange kiosks at airports usually impose hefty commissions. Foreign currency can be purchased in the states at many banks. Check the price, though, as there can be high charges attached to the exchange; the fees are often waived for premium customers. There are websites from which foreign currency can be ordered, but, again, there typically are costly surcharges added.
With the advent of ATMs, traveler’s checks are no longer as convenient as they once were. In most cities, American Express offices have closed. Not all banks welcome cashing traveler’s checks and fees apply. I still always bring some with me in case of emergency.
Although the exchange rate in using a credit card to pay for a purchase is good, most credit cards levy a 2-3% conversion fee. Capital One does not add any charges and, recently, some premium cards have also eliminated this fee. Avoid using a credit card for a cash advance; in addition to high fees, interest is charged from the date of withdrawal. Many restaurants and shops in smaller towns outside of the United Statesdo not accept credit cards. A small number of international travelers have reported difficulty using their US credit cards in automated kiosks such as those in train stations or at self service gas stations. European credit cards use embedded chips that require a pin number versus US cards with magnetic strips.
The purchase of trip cancellation and travel medical insurance is another decision travelers must make. There are various insurers and many options available. Websites such as www.insuremytrip.com , www.squaremouth.com, and tripinsurancestore.com provide quotes from assorted companies and for differing levels of protection. Some companies offer annual policies for frequent travelers. Investigate the insurance company to make sure it is licensed. Find out who the underwriter is and check them out at ambest.com. Before purchasing insurance, make a list of questions you have regarding the coverage and make sure all of them are answered in writing. Beware trip insurance sold by tour operators and cruise lines. Often they will offer insurance coverage pro forma when booking the trip; too late you discover that some events aren’t covered or that cancellation means the issuance of a travel voucher rather than money back.
Travel medical insurance can be important as many medical plans will not provide coverage outside of the United States. There is a difference between primary and secondary travel medical insurance. Primary plans are just that, they pay first and then your personal medical plan is billed. With secondary plans, your personal insurance is billed first; this can mean a lot more paperwork and time delay. Again, beware of plans sold by tour operators;often all they offer is secondary coverage. FInd out if pre existing conditions are covered, as well as medical evacuation.
Many frequent travelers subscribe to services such as Medjet Assist. For an annual fee, these services will provide non emergency medical evacuation to the hospital of your choice. Emergency evacuation coverage for divers and non divers is a benefit for members of the Divers Alert Network.
To buy or not buy an international driver’s permit? An international driver’s permit (IDP) is an official translation of the information on your driver’s license into 10 languages. It can be purchased at an office of the American Automobile Association or National Automobile Club or online at their websites. You must also carry your US drivers license with the international one. Although not all countries require it, it is a good idea to carry one. We were stopped in Spain at a routine traffic check. When my husband handed the officer his Florida license, the officer said, “Florida – bonita (pretty)”. My husband then handed him the IDP, to which the officer smiled, said “international….muy bien…venga” and waived us on.
A little bit of knowledge and preplanning can save money, time, and inconvenience when traveling.
Vickie is a former member of the Marco Island City Council and Artistic Director of the Marco Island Film Festival, and has been a volunteer for many island organizations. She is presently on the board of the Naples Mac Users Group. Prior to relocating to Marco, Vickie served as a school psychologist, Director of Special Services, and college instructor and also was a consultant to the New Jersey Department of Education.