Stay connected while abroad

If you want to have a phone with you on our trip so that folks at home can call you EF sells a cell phone you can purchase cheaply. The phone uses a ‘sim’ card that can be easily recharged. There is no commitment to any kind of a contract, no credit check, etc. It is a ‘pay as you go’ sort of phone which you can use anytime you travel in Europe – so save it.

What you want is the $29.00 GLOBAL PREMIUM MOBILE.It will be loaded with a sim card that has a $10.00 credit on it. There will be sales tax on the purchase and there will be a delivery charge.

I believe the $10.00 credit gets you 30 minutes of use. After that you recharge the card (easy to do) and have a per minute charge.

If you get this phone make sure you read the fine print so there are no surprises later on. Personally, I think it is a good deal and I will get one for myself to use on this trip and on future trips.

So, if you are interested visit: or call customer service at: 1-888-513-8804.


60 days until we leave!

More on money and departure

First about changing dollars for euros at home. This is from Sharon Nold:

Regarding the bank and money exchange. I checked at my bank and they didn’t exchange currency, but while I was at my credit union I asked and they had a good deal. I could exchange any amount of US currency to Euros for $7.50 for the going exchange rate. They took my money, and I will get the Euros in the mail. It does take from 10 days to 2 weeks.

Those of us leaving from Los Angeles will be taking United flight #934 which departs LAX June 12, 2010 at 12:45 pm.

I will send your itinerary to you individually. If you have special dietary or seating needs you will have to contact the individual airlines. I tried to arrange seating via the internet on United and it looks as though it may be too early to do so. If you have a frequent flier number you may find it easier. I will probably attempt to call them directly in the near future.

The Language

According to just about everybody who travels for a living, and those who just travel a lot, it is important to know a few words in the language of the country you are visiting. It just makes things easier and you feel less like an infant who can’t do for yourself.

You can invest in a phrase book I suppose, but personally, I get so lost in those that they just become dead weight in my bag. It works better for me to just learn some words and do a lot of pointing.

No Money is No Excuse:

If you don’t want to shell out the big bucks for a whole language program try one of these options for FREE.

  • You can learn some Italian for free by borrowing good traveler’s Italian cds from the library. The Beale Library will let you borrow for 3 weeks.
  • You can sign up for one week of free Italian lessons at Italian pod uses text and audio. The lesson sets and learning resources are geared to your current language level. After your week you can sign up for as little as $9.00/month all the way up to $39.00/month. Of course you can cancel your subscription at any time.
  • The FSI program was used by the US Foreign Service Institute to train diplomats. It is old – from the mid-1980s but still useful. The course is so old it has entered the common domain and is free to anyone who wants to use it.

Gotta have these Words and Phrases:

‘Go Away’ is a very important phrase you will want to use when you encounter Gypsies. A few years ago, leaving the Bologna train station loaded down with luggage and an excruciating headache I was accosted by a Gypsie couple. They kept shoving a newspaper in my face and calling me kind lady. I think they said something about needing rent money. Anyway, I kept saying ‘Andiamo!!!!!” Andiamo!!!!’ and wondering why they didn’t leave. Later, in my hotel  room, I realised I had been saying ‘Lets go!!!!” not ‘Go away!!!’  I am still not sure what ‘Go away’ is in Italian but I will know by June 10. Here are some other phrases you will want to be able to use.

According to Rob Sangster, author of Traveler’s Tool Kit (pages 337,338), there are certain words and phrases that should be written down or memorized:
“hello, good day, goodbye, please, thank you, pardon me, my name is…, what is your name?
“yes and no.
“where is…,
“toilet.     (so very important!)
“Food related words (including ‘may I have the bill please?’)
“lodging related words
“transport words: airport, bus station, train station, subway station, gasoline, taxi, bus
“phrases for bargaining in the market place (‘How much is…?’, ‘That’s too much’)
“personal pronouns
“time of day
“verbs to be, to have, to go
“pleas for help such as ‘I don’t understand’, ‘Please speak more slowly’, ‘Stop!’ ‘help!’ ‘go away!’ and ‘I need a doctor’

“money, money, money, money…” (from Cabaret)

What with the less than optimal exchange rate between the dollar and the euro we are already at a disadvantage when it comes to getting the ‘most bang for your buck’ while in Europe.

Traveler’s Checks

AmEx Traveler’s Checks are not used much anymore. You have to find some place to cash them (not all places take them) and that place will charge a fee unless it is and American Express office.

Cards -Credit or Debit?

What most people do these days is use an atm machine and their debit card or a credit card. So, lets look at the fees involved in using ‘cards’.
PLEASE note that many banks in Europe, just as in the US, will charge you a fee if you are not a customer of theirs.

AND According to Money Central at MSN. Visa and Mastercard corporation are going to add 1% onto whatever amount you withdraw as a currency conversion fee. Then the bank may charge as much as 2% more on top of that for doing absolutely nothing for a whopping 3% total. Here is the article:

Credit Union credit card, Commercial Bank debit, Credit Union debit

I looked into the charges associated with three 3 cards: my Kern Schools Federal Credit Union (KSFCU) Visa credit card, my Union Bank debit card, and my KSFCU Visa debit card.

Credit Card
I called my KSFCU Visa provider to see what they charge. The woman I spoke with said that they charge what every other company charges: 3%! And on top of that the interest rate for a cash withdraw on the credit card is 24.24%!!! So, you do not want to use any credit card to get cash. Save the credit card only for making purchases.

Commercial Bank Debit Card
Next I called a commercial bank. I have an account at Union Bank and was thinking of using the debit card linked to that account. They charge a $5.00 fee every time you use the atm in a foreign country whether it is to transfer funds, check your balance, or withdraw cash. So if you are going to withdraw funds from an atm take out as much as you possibly can at a time to minimize the amount you pay for it. If I were to make a purchase using the debit card my account would be charged a 2% foreign purchase fee.

Credit Union debit card
Finally, I called KSFCU to find out the fees associated with using my debit card. They charge 1%. So this is probably a good way to go.
This is very cool:
According to Independent Traveler:
“… if you have a Capital One card, you won’t pay any fees at all — Capital One is the only major U.S. issuer that doesn’t charge its own currency conversion fee or pass the one from Visa and MasterCard on to the consumer.”
“We recommend calling before each trip, as these policies may change without notice.”

Another option

If you don’t want to get another credit card there is another option. EF has a Travel Prepaid Visa Card. This is a debit card. You have already deposited funds to your account and can use it until the funds are gone. It looks to me like the Visa company does charge a percentage for currency conversion and it looks like another 1% is also added to that.

Important date coming up

Hello, Fellow Travelers (thanks, Sonja),

An important date related to our trip is coming up: February 20, 2010. BY THEN:

+All participants must be signed up.

+VERY IMPORTANT: They must have your name as it appears on your passport ASAP. The name on your tickets must match the name on your passport.(Name changes after that will incur a $100.00 fee)

+EF must be informed of any special travel plans  such as -go ahead and -stay behind plans.

+If you have any special dietary needs (I am vegetarian so I need to let them know about that)

+If you are not on the automatic payment plan you must be all paid up by February 20.

If you are staying behind DO NOT make any flight or train reservations yet. Our dates have not been finalized yet. We should have that taken care of by the 3rd week of March.

Have a good weekend!