Saturday, March 19, 2016
Foreign Travel Tips
I am comfortable getting outside of my comfort zone. I look forward to exploring beyond the dollar, beyond the English speaking world, even beyond food and drink that I am familiar with. Here are a few tips.
A few words in the local language will help drop barriers. Being able to say Hi, please, thank you, I'd like, where is - will get you a long way. Always carry a pen and small note pad, ask for directions, prices and such to written down. Hand someone a pen and paper and they usually know what you want.
The dollar, is not readily accepted outside of the USA (or the Pound outside of Great Britain or the Euro outside of the Euro-zone - Switzerland for example as hubby discovered last summer - it was just across the lake and they didn't take euros for a bottle of water.) It helps to leave home with enough currency for your destination to get from the airport to the hotel and have lunch. Nearly every bank can order foreign currency for you. Even paying the fee at your local bank, it is likely cheaper than exchanging at the airport or train station. Don't forget local currency issues for any countries you are passing through - though credit cards will easily get you through a connection in Reykjavik or Moscow. The best way to get local currency in most places is an ATM card. Call your card issuer before you leave home and ask them to put a travel alert on your account. Sometimes there is a fixed fee for an out of network withdrawal of $2-$3. Because this is a flat fee you will save on fees if withdraw larger amounts few times. Your bank can raise you daily withdrawal limit so you can draw the equivalent of $400 or $500 at a time. I usually only need to draw cash from an ATM about once per week when traveling. The cheapest way to buy foreign currency, is to buy it from a friend who has returned with currency for a country they don't expect to go back to anytime soon.
Avoid the street side currency exchange shops if at all possible, you will be overcharged no matter how many signs they have claiming the best rates or no commission. No one uses traveler's checks anymore. No one.
Be careful about saying things in English, under the assumption that the local that just told you they don't speak English won't understand. If you think the locals are rude, insult them and their national pride and you will learn a new level of rude. There is a difference between understanding a language and feeling comfortable speaking it. When I was Athens I went into a small religious article shop and asked to see something. The lady replied that she didn't speak English, and she suggested German, Italian, Spanish, or French. I switched to my terrible French, to which she replied, "oh crap, my English is better than you French", and we proceeded to work in English from there on. Looking back, she was not comfortable with her English, but when she realized I wanted to communicate, even in an imperfect use of a language, she would try and we did well. I still treasure an Icon I bought from her. In most of western Europe, it is safe to assume that anyone under the age of 40, studied English in school, they may not speak it, but they will understand at least a little of it.
Try the local food and drink. I have had snails in France, and whale in Iceland, Ouzo in Greece (don't like it,) and Grappa in Italy (good for the digestion - oh my the next morning I learned what the Italians mean by that.) I discovered Bretton Whiskey in France (and usually have a bottle on hand.) It is okay to pop into McDonald's once during the trip, but for the most part look for something good and local. In major cities go 2-3 blocks off the beaten path to the places the locals go - the prices will be cheaper and often the food even better. Splurge once in a while on something really special - I will never forget Christmas Dinner on the Eiffel Tower.