Travel tips for Spain

October 27, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

This guest post was written by our favorite French expatriate, Julie Duran-Gelleri. Julie has lived in several different countries around Western Europe, so we asked her for some travel tips in some of her previous homes.

Whether you’re walking in the footsteps of Hemingway or looking forward to the sandy beaches of the Costa del Sol, there are many reasons to visit Spain.

Spain square

You might already be salivating in anticipation of some scrumptious paella: Spain is famous for its food. Be aware, though, that meal times are much later than in the US and can be quite rigid. Lunch is after 1 pm (more like 2 pm) and 8.30 pm is the earliest for dinner.

Tapas bars charge by the item: if the tapas you requested have piquelillos in them (wooden toothpicks, used as a “handle” to grab your tapas), don’t play with them or throw them away: leave them to rest on your plate, as the waiter will know from the number of toothpicks how many tapas you’ve had, and will charge you accordingly.

Spanish people have a more relaxed approach to nudity and sunbathing: it is quite common for women to sunbathe topless on the seafront. Be aware, though, that there is a clear divide between what is acceptable on the beach and in town. Always wear a top, shirt or t-shirt over your swimsuit when walking back into the city; this applies to men as well as women.

You might hear horror stories about pickpockets. Unfortunately Spain can’t seem to shake the stereotype. Crime levels in big cities, though, are no higher than those in the US. Usual safety guidelines apply: don’t store all your cash in one place, don’t EVER try to resist or fight back, carry a copy of your ID, rather than the original. Ask yourself : “If I was the victim of a pickpocket today, what would they take from me?” and accordingly leave in your room everything you can’t afford to lose.

The usual tricks – carrying your wallet in the front pocket of your pants, carrying a money belt – are not very effective when faced with surprisingly skilled pickpockets. Spanish police are very aware of the problem, quite efficient, and sympathetic with hapless tourists.

Siesta is still widespread and it’s not uncommon, especially in the countryside, for life to slow down quite a bit in the hot hours between 2 pm and 5 pm. This makes sense in a country where, until a few decades or even a few years ago, very few shops had air-conditioning. So don’t think you’ll be running errands in your lunch break.

Bull fights are fewer, as some cities have forbidden them thanks to campaigning by animal rights activists (and budgetary concerns as well). Expect the same level of seriousness and quasi-mysticism among aficionados as you would find among baseball fans.

And forget the flimsy battery-operated travel fan you bought at the airport. Get a real folding fan instead, one you can stylishly snap open and shut, just like the Spanish.

A good book can double up as a fan, too, so here are two that will immerse you in different, lesser-known aspects of Spanish history:

The Yellow RainM/a>, by Julio Llamazares, is a poignant novel about the last inhabitants of the famous “abandoned villages” in the mountains of Aragon. The story is set in the (real) village of Ainielle.

The Frozen Heart, by Almudena Grandes, explores the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War, and the weight that this murky past still has on present-day Spain. Delve with delight into this thousand-page family saga.

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Ways To Reduce Stress When You Travel

October 25, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

After months of stress, strain and endless work days, your vacation has finally arrived! It’s time to say good bye to worry and responsibility, and hello to self indulgence and unaccountability.

Or is it? If you don’t look after those pesky travel details, you could be asking for trouble.

It’s a classic dilemma faced by everyone who plans a trip. You’re taking a vacation to escape scheduling and structure. But “winging it” in an unfamiliar area can be costly, dangerous and – dare we say it – stressful.

Jet Lagged London 09

Image by Gary Hayes via Flickr

It’s best to combine the two approaches. Determine in advance what you want to see and do, but don’t schedule yourself so fully that you’re exhausted by the end of the trip, or so rigidly that you’re unable to take advantage of the spontaneous opportunities every vacation brings.

When planning your itinerary, focus on the “pace” of your vacation. Create a list of the things you want to do, but don’t assign a specific time and date to each activity. Flexibility is the key to an enjoyable vacation, as is ample time devoted to pure relaxation. In short, plan your trip, but don’t over-plan it.

Another mistake many vacationers make is abandoning any semblance of a healthy lifestyle, which inevitably leads to illness, exhaustion and, yes, stress. When traveling – especially to distant destinations – be sure to:

  • Get plenty of exercise and rest prior to your flight, while maintaining a nutritious diet. Plus, make sure you’re well hydrated.
  • During travel:
    • Drink plenty of water, while avoiding large meals, alcohol and caffeine
    • Move around the cabin regularly to promote circulation in both the body and brain
    • Wear comfortable clothing
    • Sleep, if possible (especially on long international flights where jet lag is a concern)
  • Upon arrival:
    • Avoid critical decision-making in the first day
    • Adapt to the local schedule immediately, eating meals and going to bed at the appropriate times
    • Get as much sunlight as you can
  • During your stay:
  • Eat nutritiously, avoiding unsafe local foods and impure water
  • Exercise regularly, and get plenty of rest
  • Drink alcohol in moderation

With a little planning and a lot of common sense, a stress-free vacation is yours to enjoy.

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Travel tips for France

October 20, 2011 by · 1 Comment 

This guest post was written by our favorite French expatriate, Julie Duran-Gelleri. Julie has lived in several different countries around Western Europe, so we asked her for some travel tips in some of her previous homes. This one is especially special for her and for us because she’s writing about home.

Ah, France, the mythical country of romance and smelly cheeses…Leave your baseball cap and your sneakers at home, pack your most stylish clothes and a silk scarf, and “à vous la belle vie!”

France

Image by enggul via Flickr

A little bit of French will go a very long way. French people can be a bit abrupt with Americans, because they resent what they perceive as rudeness and a refusal to adapt to local customs. If you make no effort at all to learn even the word for “Hello”, be prepared to meet with offended stares. On the other hand, try a few words, however mangled, and even Parisians will welcome your efforts with a smile.

In several French cities you will find a bike rental scheme in place, like Vélib’ in Paris or Vélô in Toulouse: bikes are parked at designated spots along the streets. Walk up to the machine that should be situated right in the middle of the bike racks and follow the instructions in English.

Food in restaurants might seem more expensive than in the US. This is because taxes and the service charge are included in the price, so what you end up paying is actually what is written on the menu. Leave a tip, around 10%, when you want to thank staff for thoughtful service — tipping is not compulsory though.

Do you find service in restaurants slow compared to the US? This is because people eat more slowly and do not want to be rushed. If, on the other hand, you are in a bit of a hurry, make sure to let the waiter know when you sit down and ask what items on the menu can be served quickly.

You can order a free jug of water (“une carafe d’eau”) with your meal. The waiter will bring a jug of tap water, usually with ice or a slice of lemon in it. Tap water in France is perfectly ok to drink, although it might taste of chlorine in certain areas. Mineral water can be quite expensive in restaurants.

When walking into a shop in France, unless it’s very busy, you are expected to answer the greeting of the shop assistant and make eye contact; same when leaving.

Generally taxis are expensive in France, while public transport is good and reliable, especially in big cities. Unless you’re rushing to get to a business meeting and need a cab, find out which bus or local train can take you where you want to go.

Looking for good quality French wine at a bargain? Head for the nearest “Nicolas” shop. Nicolas is a chain of wine stores all over France, with friendly and knowledgeable staff that will be happy to recommend little-known chateaux to suit your budget.

And while you enjoy that Bordeaux, read more about my beret-wearing countrymen.

A Piano in the Pyrenees, by Tony Hawks, is the hilarious account of how the author moved to the mountains in the south of the country – with his piano, yes. Less romantic but more accurate than many Provence-inspired memoirs out there.

Sixty Million Frenchmen Can’t Be Wrong : Why We Love France but Not the French, by Jean-Benoît Nadeau and Julie Barlow. Still trying to make sense of France ? This serious – but far from dry – study will show you how it all works. You might even come to appreciate the French!

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Smartphones Can Save You Money When You Travel

October 18, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

iPhone vs. iPhone 3G

Image by Ricky Romero via Flickr

Mobile phones are becoming an invaluable tool for saving money while traveling.

A number of airports, including Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW) and Atlanta, are recognizing this fact and offering special promotions via smart phones. As Harriet Baskas said on StuckAtTheAirport.com:

DFW introduced a program that links the Foursquare and Facebook Places location-based mobile applications to 85 (so far) of the airport’s concessions. Now if you check in when you’re at the airport you’ll see deals and discounts offered at food outlets and shops right around you.

Back in April, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport introduced discount offers available via quick response (QR) codes printed signs around the airport.

The QR codes direct passengers to the airport’s mobile website — www.iflyatl.com — where there are downloadable discount coupons.

Other money and time-saving travel “apps” include:

Yelp: In addition to maps and directions, this free app provides user reviews, recommendations, ratings and photos of the places you plan to visit. It’s like having a trusted friend to guide you in each destination, and helps you avoid bad dining experiences and other costly travel errors while you’re on the road.

AroundMe: This free app can locate what you’re looking for (nearest gas station, grocery store, ATM, etc.) by keyword and provides you with maps and directions.

Trip Advisor: A mobile version of the trusted site that enables users to browse millions of real travelers’ reviews and opinions of hotels, restaurants and attractions.

Travel Channel GO: This free app provides a rich multimedia experience before you leave home, enabling you to virtually experience your destination’s culture and attractions through the eyes of trusted Travel Channel hosts. It’s an invaluable tool for trip planning.

TripIt: This free app helps you effortlessly manage your trip by providing instant access to maps and directions, and links to airlines, hotels and restaurants, directly from your itinerary.

So, even if you’re traveling solely to escape the Information Age’s never ending intrusions, you shouldn’t swear off your mobile phone completely. Not when there are so many apps that can not only aid you in planning your trip but in reducing its cost, as well.

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Travel tips for Cyprus

October 13, 2011 by · 1 Comment 

This guest post was written by our favorite French expatriate, Julie Duran-Gelleri. Julie has lived in several different countries around Western Europe, so we asked her for some travel tips in some of her previous homes.

Cyprus is the perfect place to get a taste of the Orient while still remaining in Europe… The island is a modern country and a member of the European Union, while very close to the Middle East.

Cyprus has always been a very diverse, multicultural place, throughout its troubled history. The northern half of the island, the Republic of Northern Cyprus, is occupied by Turkey, which claims it as its own because of the presence of Turkish Cypriots. Greek Cypriots are extremely resentful of what they see as an illegal invasion. Turkish Cypriots are in a difficult situation and resent the presence of Turkish settlers. This is a very complex, tangled matter and emotions run high, so be careful not to hurt feelings.

Polis Cyprus 2

Image via Wikipedia

That said, Cypriot people are very welcoming and will do their utmost to make you feel at ease.

You will have to try the “mezze,” a copious meal consisting of an uninterrupted flow of savoury dishes that seem to materialize on your table, from Greek salad, hummus (chickpea dip) and tahini (sesame seed paste), to sheftalia (sausages) and souvlakia (meat skewers). Go easy on the pitta and dips, lest you should be too full to enjoy the other dishes later on!

Women can get away with wearing short shorts and tops in the street, but some places will not accept men wearing sleeveless t-shirts. Make sure to pack a sarong or large scarf to cover your shoulders and legs when visiting a place of worship. It would be a pity to miss the awe-inspiring mosques and Byzantine churches just because you’re too scantily clad.

Cyprus is generally a safe place. Pickpockets are less of an issue than in other touristy countries, but even so, don’t tempt them. Hygiene standards in restaurants are perfectly satisfactory and tap water is totally safe to drink.

Remember that the Mediterranean sun is merciless, especially in the summer. Although most shops will be open throughout the day (no siesta closing time), you might want to take a break from 2pm to 4pm and stay in the shade. Otherwise, pack a long-sleeved, light shirt to protect your skin against sun damage.

When ordering a coffee, remember that “Turkish” coffee is called “Greek” or “Cypriot” coffee in the South, as a protest against the Turkish occupation of the North… Don’t stir it, but wait for the dregs to settle at the bottom of the cup.

While waiting for your searing hot coffee to cool, you could enjoy a few pages from:

Bitter Lemons of Cyprus, by Lawrence Durrell. The famous writer lived in Cyprus for a few years, but left when the “Liberation Struggle” against British rule broke out in the 1950s. Irritatingly condescending at times, it’s still a fascinating account of life in Cyprus before mass tourism.

Journey into Cyprus, by Colin Thubron, is the lyrical account of a four-month journey through the island. The author undertook to walk from the south to the north of the country in 1972, a short time before war with Turkey broke out.

  • Cyprus ripe for cultural exploration and more | British Airways – Travel Industry News (travelnews.britishairways.com)
  • Cyprus (igaluxy.wordpress.com)
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Baggage Check: A Look at the Latest and Greatest Luggage Innovations

October 11, 2011 by · 4 Comments 

It’s been 24 years since Robert Plath, a Northwest Airlines 747 pilot and founder of Travelpro, slapped a set of wheels and an extension handle on a suitcase and changed travel forever. Rolling luggage satisfied a need travelers didn’t know they had. Few inventions have changed the travel landscape like Plath’s Original Rollaboard®. However, today’s manufacturers continue to turn the heads of luggage shoppers with smart and useful innovations.

Checkpoint friendly luggage from Travelpro

Checkpoint-friendly briefcase

Checkpoint-Friendly Designs

In the wake of post-9/11 security, checkpoint-friendly luggage designs allow travelers to keep their laptops (and tablets, like the iPad) in their bags while going through security checkpoints. These checkpoint-friendly bags have either a separate fold-down section or a standalone protective sleeve that is easily inspected. With all of these designs, moving through security is now a breeze. Checkpoint-friendly designs can be found in business cases and backpacks.

Lighter Everything without Sacrificing Durability

Figuring out how to lighten lightweight bags and maintain durability is what keeps luggage engineers very busy today. With airlines lowering weight allowances, super lightweight bags allow travelers to pack more without incurring penalties. So lighter bags can save you money, but they most hold up over the long run. The key components that’ll lighten the load in your bag: honeycomb framing, durable EVA foam for stiffness and sleek contours, telescoping aluminum handles and nylon fabric.

Business Organizers

Easy access to business stuff inside the bag has become an essential feature for business travelers on the go. Pens, business cards, keys, CDs, computer accessories, folder and books pouches, a laptop and iPad can be stashed for easy storage and retrieval in today’s typical business organizer. Interior accessory pockets can be used for bulky electronic gear and assorted cables as well. The most popular bags featuring business organizers are backpacks, smaller uprights or carry-ons, business cases and totes.

Duffels with Drop-Bottoms and Zippered End-Compartments

Drop-bottom designs have added a whole new dimension to packing a duffel. Using a zippered divider, this innovative feature allows you to pack in smaller compartments, thus preventing clothes from bunching and wrinkling. Many duffels also add small zipped compartments at the ends of the bag for shoes, cables and last-minute items. Again, this feature prevents your things from moving around in a big duffel.

Widebody 20-inch Carry-On

Shorter and wider than traditional carry-ons, the 20-inch Widebody bag is roomy yet still fits easily into overhead bins. They give you the added capacity of a 22-inch bag while still falling into the carry-on category. Because of its slim width, the 4-wheeled Widebody Spinner bag can be easily pushed forward up an aisle, without catching on seats or passenger elbows.
Lightweight, durable and innovative luggage is the hallmark of Travelpro, founded by pilot Robert Plath. Today flight crews and pilots of over 80 airlines use Travelpro products. Visit www.travelpro.com to view Travelpro’s many collections.

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Travel Tips For London

October 6, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

If you enjoy traveling abroad, you owe it to yourself to visit scenic and historic England, and especially its greatest city, London.

With nary a stiff upper lip, the Brits seem to have gotten over the Revolutionary War quite nicely. And, their ancestors’ contributions to art, literature, culture, science, industry and law is endless, with much of it is on display in London.

DREAMY LONDON EYE

In short, it’s a wonderful place to visit and, when visiting, keep the following tips in mind:

  • Many historic sites should be experienced on the same day, and many travel packages are available to streamline such touring:
    • Tower of London/Tower Bridge
    • Houses of Parliament/Westminster Abbey
    • Buckingham Palace/The British Museum
    • St Paul’s Cathedral/Museum of London
    • Victoria and Albert Museum/Natural History Museum
    • Whitehall/Downing Street/Trafalgar Square
    • Piccadilly Circus /Leicester Square/Soho
  • The most efficient and inexpensive way to get around London is the London Underground, also known as “the tube.” Buses are also an option, but much more prone to getting stuck in traffic.
  • Remember that motorists drive on the other side of the road from the U.S. and, therefore, come at you from the left as you walk through intersections. Fortunately, there are warning signs printed on the streets warning pedestrians where to look for oncoming traffic.
  • Though not as renowned as the fare available in France and Italy, London cuisine is hearty and enjoyable, especially Bangers & Mash, Shepherd’s pie and Fish & Chips. Be advised that tipping is done more modestly (usually rounding up to the next pound and leaving the change), and you often order at the counter and pay prior to receiving your food, more like a cafeteria.
  • Neighborhood pubs (short for Public Houses) are local gathering places, and should be experienced. Be sure to sample the wide variety of full flavored beers, but remember that the ales are served warm.
  • As always, when traveling abroad, review the Transportation Security Administration’s website for a current list the goods allowed and not allowed in checked and carry-on luggage, and pack accordingly.
  • Also be sure to store an extra copy of your passport in your Travelpro® Rollaboard®, separate from the original. You should also register your credit cards or have a trusted friend or family member maintain a list of both your cards and company contact information.

Remember, the sun now sets daily on the British Empire, so you need to visit London soon.

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Staying Hydrated At The Airport

October 4, 2011 by · 1 Comment 

Experts agree that one of the best ways to avoid fatigue and even jetlag when traveling is to stay well hydrated. But recent TSA regulations prohibit passengers from bringing containers full of water through security checkpoints.

What’s a regular hydrator to do? Especially one who’s concerned about landfills burgeoning with discarded water bottles, or hesitant about using public water fountains?

Water bottle

Image via Wikipedia

Yet another inconvenience in the wonderful world of air travel.

Fortunately, some airports have recognized this problem, and are taking steps to make it easier for passengers to bring their own water bottles which they can fill after passing through security. As reported by Harriet Baskas writing on MSNBC’s Overhead Bin overheadbin.msnbc.msn.com:

Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport and a growing number of other airports around the country are installing beverage collection stations at the checkpoints to try to cut down on what gets carted off to landfills. “Travelers can pour beverages into the drains and keep the bottles,” said Steve Johnson of Oregon’s Portland International Airport.

For travelers who want to make sure they can find a place to fill a water bottle post-security, airports such as San Francisco International Airport and Chicago’s Midway and O’Hare airports are also installing special water bottle refill stations.

SFO has four “hydration stations,” and Chicago’s Midway and O’Hare airports each have two. The hands-free, sensor-activated stations at O’Hare also have counters that have been tallying the number of 16-ounce bottles diverted from landfills.

According to the Chicago Department of Aviation, O’Hare’s two stations have saved nearly 221,000 bottles of water since they were installed in June and July 2010.

As always, Travelpro is in the forefront of travel problem solving through intelligent luggage design. Multiple carry-on sized models in our Crew 8, T-Pro® Bold and Executive Pro collections feature zippered outer pockets specifically designed for storing water bottles.

For air travelers thirsting for both water and convenience, Travelpro has the solution. You just need to provide the water.

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