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On the Road

KN, p. 226 “On the Road: Myths about Traveling Abroad”

 

Portal Tomb, Ireland

Travel abroad is more affordable during September and October. The airlines drop their high season prices, and package deals abound. Everybody loves a bargain and if you have a sense of adventure, travel to a foreign country might just fit into your budget at this time of year.

 

However, traveler beware: you might get less than you paid for and be faced with more challenges than you ever expected. Or, you might have great fun exploring new worlds.

 

Here are some truths about travel myths that might put that foreign trip into perspective:

 

Myth: everybody all over the world speaks English.

Reality: That’s not even remotely true. It is likely that more English speaking people can be found in major cities in Europe (some servers in restaurants, some taxi drivers at the airports, some bank managers, some bookstore cashiers, some grocery cashiers) but be ready to do a lot of pointing to your chosen purchase when outside the tourist areas.

 

Kelvingrove Art Gallery, Glasgow, Scotland

 

Myth: language apps will get you through the communication gaps

Reality: Your cellphone plan may not cover other countries, in which case you will pay roaming charges as soon as you turn on the phone in any foreign country. 24 hours a day of roaming charges. Call your phone company before you travel to see what plans are available. They are not one-size-fits-all.
PLUS, even if you have an in-country plan, there are dead zones everywhere, just like in the States. So, when you have to translate what you need for the train station ticket guy, the app may not work. Or, the guy in front of you in line may not have the app at all. During our latest trip, we missed our train connection (true story) because a guy in front of us in line could not make himself understood. The line grew longer and longer behind us.

 

BUT, you sputter, the ticket guys are supposed to speak English! Nope, there might be one person per shift and you might not be in the right line. Allow LOTS of extra time, because most of the countries we have visited have excellent, exactly on-time, public transportation. The train leaves the station on time, whether you are on the train or not, even if you have paid for the ticket. No refunds.

 

AND, the Post Office – for mailing great finds back – might not have any English-speaking employees. There are forms to fill out, so communicating about that is important. If you’re nervous about sending items back, see if your hotel (or the business itself) will handle it for you.

 

Of course, you can take English-only tours, or hire a translator, and these should be booked well in advance.

 

Myth: There are taxis everywhere

Reality: Not when the taxi drivers are on strike. Yup. Happened to us on our recent trip. The news showed pix of tourists walking with luggage long distances (a mile or more) to get from the airports to their hotels or to other transport. TAKE UBER? Not when Uber is barred from the airports and is the target of the taxi strikers. Be flexible in your travel arrangements.

 

Sidewalk, Ponta Delgado, Sao Miguel, Azores

 

Myth: You are gonna love the food!

Reality: Years ago, a stumbling block for our possible trip to Greece was whether or not we would like Greek food. We attended a local Greek festival, loved the food, and booked the trip the next day. The country’s food might be new to you, but go ahead, order menu items even if you don’t know what they are. No dead bodies lying on the ground around the tables means it’s probably safe to eat at that location.

 

I ordered codfish, salad, egg, and fried potatoes in Europe. I envisioned a piece of cod, a tossed green salad, a fried egg, and French fries. What I got was a famous local dish: mashed cod mixed in with straw potatoes and the egg. The salad was on the side. The straw potatoes are crunchy fries the size of those skinny, crunchy, chow mein noodles. The mashed cod was seasoned with a mustard flavored sauce. The straw potatoes were fried in olive oil. The plate had about two cups of the cod/potato/egg mixture piled in the middle. It was not at all what I had pictured in my mind and I questioned the waiter as to whether he had delivered somebody else’s order. We figured out with my limited Portuguese and his limited English that it was the correct dish. It was delicious. Truly. I would eat it again, but other travelers seated near us were horrified and left 90% of the food on the plate.

 

Vegetarian dishes are tough to find on the menus. Gluten-free is a challenge in most places. Be creative in your dining choices and be willing to experiment.

 

Metal Sculpture, Braga, Portugal

 

Myth: A resort hotel is the only way to go

Reality: If you want to travel less expensively, remember that ‘all-inclusive’ does not mean the same thing everywhere. In fact, the hotel may supply cheap liquor, badly prepared food, and no off-site excursions in the ‘all-inclusive’ price. Ask the travel agent lots of questions.

 

Renting an apartment or staying at a B&B are other options, especially if you have dietary restrictions and need to have some control over your food. We’ve done all three, and had wonderful in experiences in each, without tripping over any bodies anywhere. Promise.

 

Myth: You can travel with your prescription medication as long as you keep the meds in the original container and have a paper copy of the prescription with you.

Reality: We followed all the rules and an over-the-counter cold medicine (sold in their country) packed in the suitcase, was confiscated by the foreign country officials. No idea why.

 

Travel outside the country is an adventure. You learn astonishing things about the rest of the planet – culture, language, religion, incredible food, politics – and can witness some of the most majestic sights on Earth.

Notre Dame Basilica, Montreal, Canada

 

Book that trip! Be surprised. Be flexible. Fall in love with the world.  🙂

 

 

 

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KN, p. 143 “On the Road – Hotel Safety”

 

Hotel1IMG_3872

 

Dead tired at the end of a long day on the road?

Can’t wait to fall into bed after a completely exhausting day in the sun or at the ball park or the festival?

Before your head hits the pillow in that hotel, remember to check a few things:

 

Room Security

Before going to sleep or leaving the room, make sure:

  • The hallway door is locked, bolted, and chained when staying in.
  • The door actually latches and the locks click into place every time you close the door.
  • The privacy card has been placed outside the door on the handle or inserted into the key card slot whether staying in or leaving to go to breakfast, etc.

 

Before opening the hallway door to anyone:

  • Check the peep hole in the door to see who is there – the staff is trained to stand back from the door so that you can see them.
  • Check ID of the person at the door while the door is still closed.
  • If unsure or suspicious of the person’s ID, call the front desk.
  • Don’t let the children answer the door. Chances are, they aren’t tall enough to see out the peep hole.

 

Keep your room key in your pocket/pocketbook while out of the room.

  • Don’t flash the key around or leave it on the restaurant table.
  • Thieves look for careless tourists at the resorts that still use actual keys.
  • Don’t tell strangers your room number or the name of your hotel.

 

FYI:

If you are concerned about leaving personal property/electronics/cameras in the room while you are out having fun, remember…

You don’t have to let the housekeeping staff do your room every day. You can place full trash cans in the hallway next to the door, get more towels from the housekeeping staff, and leave the privacy tag on the corridor door. If you don’t need more towels or coffee kits or need the sheets to be changed, then housekeeping will stay out of your room, and lessen the likelihood of strangers having access to your things. Am I paranoid? No, just the victim of theft by the housekeeping staff at two different major resorts. Using the room safe would not have been possible – not big enough.

 

Fire exits and safety tips

Major hotels display small floor maps on the back of the entrance door to your room. Check out the emergency exit route before you need it.

HotelFirePlanIMG_3811

These days, all hotels (even the local Bed & Breakfasts) should have fire sprinkler systems in place throughout the building in order to receive their permits to operate. Most also have smoke detectors in every room.

 

But, what do you do if you suspect a fire and no alarm has sounded?

  • Touch the hallway door to see if it is hot.
  • If it is cool, open the door carefully and look in the corridor.
  • If it’s clear, take your room key with you, close the door and get down on the hallway floor, making your way to the exit stairs, not the elevator.
  • If it gets smoky in the staircase, turn around and head up to another floor, then cross to a different staircase to head down and out.

 

What if you think the fire is right outside your door – raging between you and the exit route?

  • Touch the hallway door and if it is hot, stay put and call the operator.
  • If the hotel phone is not working, use your cell phone and call 911 and give the name of your hotel, and your room number.
  • Then fill the bathtub with water, wet the sheets and stuff them into the hallway door gaps and all the vents in the room that are sending out smoke.
  • Cover your mouth with a wet hand towel.
  • Try to stay calm and wait for help to come to you.

 

Be smart about your own security and you’ll have more fun on vacation!

 

*Photos by Patti Phillips

 

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KN, p. 140 “On the Road – Avoiding Accidents”

 

Hi from middle America!  Sheila and I are on our way to Texas to visit Bridget on an extended Spring Break. The weather has been great – mostly sunny and dry all the way and even a bit warmer than we’ve been used to lately. Not a snow drift in sight, although we’ve seen many bent and broken evergreens along the highways. There were so many fallen trees in one section of Tennessee that the tops of the trees that interfered with traffic had been sawed off, leaving the rest for later haul away.

 

The road crews are busy fixing the potholes created by all the snow and ice freezing and thawing the roadbeds. We’ve had a few delays in Tennessee and Arkansas, but the Highway Patrols are doing a great job of letting us know when to merge into one lane. They use some overhead signs and those portable digital signs. Big flashing letters, nice and easy to read from a distance.

 

It’s about a 1400 mile trip this time, and while most drivers are doing a good job of sharing the road, I think a few of them need to have their licenses revoked. I had a few choice words to say this afternoon while watching some of the idiots, so I thought I’d share a tip or two on how to make the roads safer for the rest of us.

 

Kerrian’s Handy Driving Tips:

 

  • When you pull out to pass a truck, remember that he cannot see your much lower car unless you can see his head reflected in his side view mirror. He has no idea you are trying to pass him if he can’t see you.

 

  • And, it is not okay to cut off a 16 wheeler. Next time you get that close, he just might roll right over you. Your pretty Lexus might get squashed.

 

  • Tip to keep in mind before moving in front of the car you just passed: You should be able to see their entire car in your rear view mirror. The side view mirror is misleading in terms of distance and makes the car seem much further away than it actually is.

 

  • In most states, if there is an emergency/law enforcement vehicle with flashing lights stopped along the side of the road, you are required by law to move over a lane – away from the flashing lights. You will be ticketed if you violate this rule. In addition, in some states, you must also slow down while passing that vehicle. In Texas, you must drop your speed by 20 mph while passing that stopped vehicle. That means, if the speed limit is only 35, you must drop your speed to 15 mph while passing that stopped vehicle.

 

  • It is not okay to drive to within 5 feet of somebody’s rear bumper at speeds of 75 mph. We’re not playing bumper cars out here.

 

 

  • It is not okay to weave in and out of traffic, going from lane to lane, while trying to create a third lane out of two. We’re not playing the supporting roles in a James Bond/Jason Statham/Vin Diesel movie.

 

  • We saw three, count ‘em 3, tractor trailers jackknifed on the highway today. One was being hauled out of a ditch. It was still upright, but had tried to avoid a car that cut him off. The truck driver went off the road to avoid killing anyone. That’s what the cop said as we stopped, waiting for the tow truck to maneuver. The driver was fine, but the side of the truck was damaged and he was really annoyed. Further on down the road, the car involved had been caught and that driver was being ticketed.

 

  • Quit texting on your cell phone while you are driving. If the message is that important, pull off the road to text. Better yet, de-stress and turn the phone off.

 

  • Unless you have hands-free capability for your cell phone, if you’re driving, DO NOT ANSWER IT.  Some states are moving toward completely banning the use cell phones while driving. In most states, if you’re under the age of 18, it’s illegal to talk and drive.

 

  • Click on the link below to see which states prohibit cell phone use and under what circumstances.

 

http://www.ncsl.org/research/transportation/cellular-phone-use-and-texting-while-driving-laws.aspx

 

  • If you are hauling an open trailer, please tie down whatever you’ve got piled up. Great big bales of fabric/clothes that come flying off the truck and land on somebody’s windshield or on the roadway are not any fun at all to deal with. Flying missiles coming at you at more than 70 mph? Not to mention all the cars now trying to avoid the swerving traffic dodging said junk? Then we get into bumper car territory.  With real damage involved.

 

  • Lock up your car when you leave it to get a cup of coffee. Your vacation stuff can be seen thru the windows and while you are waiting in line, thieves can steal not only your iPad, etc. but the car itself. Expensive cup of coffee.  In case you thought your possessions in the car are covered by insurance, think again. Click on the link below to find out what may or may not be covered. Most of it isn’t. At all.

 

http://www.carsdirect.com/car-insurance/does-my-auto-insurance-cover-theft

 

 

Other Tips for a happier driving experience

 

Before you get on the road, check the tires for air pressure. Properly inflated tires can actually increase gas mileage.

 

Join AAA. No, I’m not a paid advertiser for them. But, as a part of their service, they provide free maps and route suggestions and hotel discounts. If your car breaks down along the way, they can usually provide help in under an hour.

 

If you have a long drive ahead of you like we did, stop every two or three hours. Plan the trip so that you split up the stops for food and gas and bathroom breaks, etc. We used to do all the necessary things at the same stop, but found that we were exhausted at the end of each day. The body needs to move to function at top form. That means getting out of the car to stretch periodically.

 

Legs cramping up while driving on a long trip? That probably means that you are dehydrated. Take along a case of bottled water for that long drive. An adult should drink about 4 of the 16 oz bottles of water during the day. Trust me, since we’ve changed our car travel routine, we feel pretty good at the end of our 7-9 hours on the road each day, rather than exhausted and cranky.

 

Take snacks. Exits with access to food can be few and far between in middle America. We drove through a section of mountains the other day that had almost no exits and therefore, limited food or coffee, for almost 100 miles.

 

Road trips can be great fun. Just use some common sense and think about that risk you take when trying to save a minute or two. Is it worth it? Or would you rather arrive at your destination in one piece?

 

Most of all, enjoy the ride.  🙂

 

*Photos by Patti Phillips

*Kerrian is a fictional character, but everything mentioned in this post actually happened during a three-day period of our road trip to Texas during March, 2015.

 

 

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