Money Doesn’t Grow On Trees, So Plan In Advance!

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One of the most frequent questions received concerns money/foreign currency while traveling.  It used to be that you headed to the bank and purchased travelers checks, remember those?  These are now not recommended.  Merchants and banks in many countries do not want to accept them.  For a good portion of the world, particularly if part of your time will be in city, information in this article will pertain. Third world countries and remote areas may differ.   I recommend checking 6-8 weeks prior to departure for all destinations as situations can change.

For large sums, credit cards provide the best payment method.  In many countries, the card will never leave your sight, even in restaurants.  Even better, pay for higher priced arrangements, including hotel, rental car, rail, sightseeing and activities in advance so you have the peace of mind knowing that much of your trip is paid before you depart.  For small purchases, check to see if there is a difference in price or surcharge when using a credit card.  Remember, not all shops, restaurant, taxis, etc. will accept a credit card so always have currency on hand.

For local currency, I recommend obtaining approx. 1-2 days spending needs prior to your departure.  Most regional and nationwide banks can supply most currencies with notice of several days.  Some banks, like Bank of America, allow you to order foreign currencies thru your online account.  The currency is then sent to a local branch or directly to your home.  This can help you avoid high exchange fees found at airports in many countries and eliminate the need to stop to exchange money after a long flight.

ATMs are my recommended source for local currency during your trip.   Your ATM card will have symbols for their affiliated ATM networks on the card, including Cirrus, Maestro, Visa, Mastercard, Star and others.  As long as one of the symbols on your card is also on the ATM, your card will be accepted using your regular pin.

Know your daily withdrawal limit and plan accordingly, particularly if onward travel will take you to areas where ATMs may not be readily available. Keep in mind that if you have prepaid travel arrangements like hotel, rail, meals, etc., your spending will be much less.

Finally, become familiar with the exchange rate(s) for the destinations to which you will be traveling prior to your trip.  Devise ways that work for you to help you to be able to quickly convert from the local currency to dollars.  There is nothing worse than figuring out you paid too much for an item.

Having a strategy and plan before you depart is one more way to increase the enjoyment of your trip and may save you some money that you can use for one more little splurge before you return home.

My job is to ensure you have a wonderful trip. Call me so I can make your next trip easy and memorable!

Pat Ogle-CollinsMoney Doesn’t Grow On Trees, So Plan In Advance!
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The Alphabet Soup of Airport Programs: What’s the Best Program for Me?

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Over the last 12 years a proliferation of programs appeared to expedite processing thru US airports. With these programs comes a lot of confusion.  Global Entry, TSA Pre-check, Sentri, Clear and more – how do you know which is right for you?  Let’s put this alphabet soup thru a strainer and see what’s left.

First, this assumes a passenger primarily traveling for leisure.  Road warrior business travelers have different requirements.  Unless you are traveling for leisure the same amount as a frequent business traveler, the information following applies to you.

Since most Wizard of Odysseys clients live in the mid-Atlantic area or far from the Canadian or Mexico borders, Nexus and Sentri don’t make sense, because the intent of these programs is to get vehicular travelers quickly across the northern and southern borders.  With that focus, these programs have limited other benefits.  Strike these programs off your list.

Mobile Passport is a free app (some companies authorized for this program added paid features, but these are not necessary).  When loaded, you enter your passport information when establishing an account and when returning from a trip you enter your trip information.  Once completed, you receive an electronic receipt with a QR code that you take along with your passport to a Customs and Border Patrol officer for entry.  Personally, I don’t think this saves enough to use, but it is free.

CLEAR, created by a private company, uses biometrics to process you thru airport security screenings.  Once enrolled, you pass thru CLEAR and are then escorted to a security checkpoint.

There is an annual membership fee, but the plan is to expand usage to stadiums, arenas and even to payment processing.  Keep in mind that CLEAR is currently for security prior to boarding a plane at select US airports only and provides no facilitation thru immigration upon your return from an overseas trip.

This leaves TSA PreCheck and Global Entry.  TSA Precheck for a fee allows you to go thru security with simplified screening of you and your belongings.  Computers and liquids can stay in your hand luggage and shoes and belts do not need to be removed.  TSA PreCheck does not facilitate entry thru immigrations upon return from an overseas trip.

I recommend Global Entry to my clients.  For the difference in cost of TSA PreCheck, you get TSA PreCheck AND expedited processing thru immigrations on your return from an overseas trip.  How fast? The longest I have spent was 7 min when for some reason my fingerprints would not register.  This happened once.  With Global Entry you are at the baggage carousel before baggage arrives.

To enroll, an in-person appointment is required and the membership lasts for 5 years.  Adding your Global Entry number on a flight reservation within the US allows for simplified security screening as well.

So, if you fly a couple times a year within the US and if you think you will fly internationally at least once in the next five years, the additional cost of Global Entry over TSA PreCheck provides a savings of time that is worth it.  If you have ever returned to the US at popular landing times, you know that the wait times can be 30-45 min easily and much longer with any increased security concerns.  Breezing thru immigration after a long flight is a way to make return from a great trip easier!

Pat Ogle-CollinsThe Alphabet Soup of Airport Programs: What’s the Best Program for Me?
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How To Get Locals to Love You!

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When traveling, those that speak English are lucky, since English is so widely spoken around the world.  In hotels, restaurants, and at attractions in most major cities, you will find someone that speaks English.  In rural areas it may be harder, but even then, increasingly you will find people who speak at least some English.

Do we, as Americans and English speakers, take this for granted?  Do we expect others in destinations where we travel to speak English?  And do we also expect those that speak other languages to speak English when they visit the US?  Hmmm.

The adage “a little goes a long way” often applies to language when traveling.  Outside a train station in Lyon, I made the mistake of approaching a taxi driver and saying “Do you speak English?”  The response I got was a scowl as he turned away.

My first mistake was that I did not first greet him.  (Travel advisors commit cultural gaffes too. Being in a hurry is no excuse.)  Better would have been to say “Bonjour” followed by “Parlez vous Anglaise?”  More than likely he would have responded in English and offered to help me.  Addressing him first in his language would have shown I was trying.

I have found in my travels that speaking even simple phrases in the local language results in friendlier interactions and better service.  I also have found that locals will forgive my mistakes and will often respond in English (probably because they feel sorry for me).  Some will even try to help me improve my language skills.

A few basics that will help you win over those that assist you in everyday transactions include:

  • Hello and goodbye
  • Please, thank you and you’re welcome
  • Numbers 1-5, if possible and 1-3 at least
  • Do you speak English?
  • Excuse me
  • Where is the bathroom?
  • I would like…
  • Where is…
  • How much is…

For any language you can Google the name of the language and the words “travel phrases”.  There are travel phrase apps available, but I suggest using them to hear how to say the words/phrases, so you speak rather than letting the app speak for you.

Take 5-10 min every day for a week before you depart and then a couple of times on the plane and you’ll be set.  Just watch the locals smile and respond positively as you interact with them.

NOTE:  For those with food allergies, I recommend having a card with the foods to which you are allergic and the word allergy in the local language to show waiters in the event that you have a waiter whose English is limited.

Pat Ogle-CollinsHow To Get Locals to Love You!
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