Travel Tips and Advice

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Are you not glad I have suffered misfortunes, bad service, insects and other hazards? Now I know what to do and what not to do, how to do it and where to do it, and on this page I want to tell you all about it.


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Yay Travel

Go Local for Foreign Exchange

If you are planning to travel to a country with a different currency from yours, try to purchase their currency before you leave. You will inevitably pay more for that currency when you get to your destination.


To get an idea, you might get 60 Euro cents for one US dollar in some places in Madrid whereas the actual exchange rate at the time of writing is closer to 74 Euro cents to one US dollar. If, however, you go to Lisbon, you could get a more reasonable rate of about 70 Euro cents to the US dollar. The point is there are a number of places in the Eurozone that will rip you off if you try to change any currency. That such extreme ripoffs are allowed by an EU that often sets out to protect consumers is astounding.


These excessive fees, however, are not only charged in parts of the EU and not only for changing US dollars. As I said before, if you can, buy the local currency in your home country if you can. You will usually get a much better deal. You will also not be hit twice with charges, which happens if, for example, you buy US dollars and then have to use these to buy a different currency, which is what most travellers usually do.

Category: Money Saving Tips

14 Jan 2013 | 10:15 AM | Posted by: Yay Travel

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Yay Travel

Travellers' Cheques Update

Some time ago, I recommended that some, not all, of the funds one takes abroad be in the form of travellers cheques. The main reason for this is that if they are lost or stolen, they can be replaced free of charge. It is not like losing cash.


Since writing that, the world has become even smaller than it was before for travellers cheques and, if you are lucky, you will find an agency close to where you are staying and that does not charge much commission.


Two years ago, the AECT locator website referred me to offices that cashed travellers’ cheques inSantiago,Chile. Not one of those places cashed them. I wrote to American Express to explain the situation and they were so unhelpful, they asked me to make all sorts of phone calls to tell them what I had told them in my e-mail. I did not bother.


In my most recent trip, I did not touch travellers’ cheques and took cash and a credit card with me. My companion, against my advice, took travellers cheques. Well, inParisshe was charged $45 commission by a company called Change Group. Talk about a rip off. She waited until we were inBrusselsbefore changing some more – at least there they were more reasonable. She changed her last travellers’ cheques inMadrid. We ended up travelling from the centre ofMadridall the way to the airport to change the travellers’ cheques. The twisted joke is that we changed these at an American Express office that proceeded to charge commission on the very cheques it had issued.


I came to the conclusion a while ago that American Express does not really care about customer service to buyers of travellers cheques. I could probably have lived with that to a point but it seems that there are now almost no offices in most places accepting these and, if they do, you often need to travel a long way to cash the cheques or you need to pay hefty commissions.


My revised advice is, therefore, to take cash, credit cards and debit cards, and no travellers cheques. Make sure, however, you keep all these items safe, and check with your bank if they will reverse fraudulent charges to a credit card or ATM card. My bank does that for me and that is one of the reasons I still have my credit card with them.

Category: Money Issues

14 Jan 2013 | 10:04 AM | Posted by: Yay Travel

Posted by:
Yay Travel

Flea Market Tips

It's fun to go to flea markets and bazaars when you travel. What flea market tips can we offer when you're in some exotic country? Everyone thinks they know the best way to approach the vendors and haggle. You can probably just go with what you think is best on that score, but there are some practical tips we can offer.

The most important flea market tip is to watch for pickpockets and practice all your travel safety skills. Flea markets all over the world attract large crowds of locals and tourists alike. Everyone is bumping and jostling, and you're probably distracted by just looking at everything. Can you think of a better place for pickpockets?

Then we get into the practical tips. Wear comfortable shoes. You're apt to be walking miles, literally. Bring umbrellas and rain gear. Some markets are under large rooves, some are outdoors. Those outdoor ones won't usually be cancelled for rain; the vendors are often under tents and awnings, so they're dry. You might as well try to stay dry as well.

Check opening hours. Some flea markets open at dawn. Serious collectors and buyers get there early for the "real finds". You don't have to shake yourself out of your hotel bed that early if all you want to do is browse. Remember though that some markets close by early afternoon, so don't laze in bed for too long.

Bring along cash. Some flea markets have gone a bit upscale, and you may be able to use credit cards, but don't count on it. If it's really a flea market, the vendors will want cash. Bring small bills that are easy to get change for. You don't want to be haggling over that last dollar then hand them the equivalent of a hundred dollar bill. (A note for responsible travel: Haggle, but don't go for the last dime. Remember that in poor countries they need the money more than you do.)

Take along a pen and paper. If you don't speak the local language, and the vendor doesn't know any English, you can bargain with them by writing the numbers on the paper instead of scratching them on the palm of your hand. Also, if you think you might want to go back for an item, write down the stall number or location so you can find it again but don’t count on that great find being there when you return. If it really is a find it may well have been snapped up by someone else. If you see something you just can't live without, buy it right then and there. Just remember that, in most cases, these are the types of places where you won't be able to return it if you change your mind. Decisions, decisions.

Here's a flea market tip that could save you money: don't get caught up in the excitement of the moment. It's easy to get into looking and haggling for something you don't really need or want. Remember this especially if you're looking at a large item. If it doesn't fit "under the seat in front of you or in the overhead rack" of your plane, you're going to have to check it or ship it or trust the vendor to ship it. You may not save any money at all if you have to ship it. (We've had no problems when we had merchants send us rugs, but we've heard horror stories about goods not being sent, broken in shipping or even switched from what you bought, so beware.)

Take time to eat and drink. Many flea markets have food stalls, which are a good way to try some local fare and keep your strength and spirits up.

One last flea market tip: if you've haggled and found something that you really, really want, go for it. It'll make for a great travel story and a "priceless" souvenir.

Category: Shopping

28 Oct 2012 | 11:42 AM | Posted by: Yay Travel

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Yay Travel

Paris Passes

If you're going to Paris, you may have heard of the Paris Pass, the Paris Visite Pass and the Paris Museum Pass. These have the potential both to save you and to cost you money. Let me explain the concept.


Paris has lots of museums and other attractions. To get into each of these involves standing in long queues, sometimes for two hours. In addition, an entrance fee is paid for each attraction. How great would it be if you could get into many or most of the attractions for a reduced fee without even having to queue? Sounds great, right?


At first glance it is a really good idea, hence something like the Paris Museum Pass. That said, bear in mind the adage: “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is”. I am not saying you should not get a Paris Museum Pass or one of the other cards; I am, however, saying you should think about whether it is right for you.


Obviously, if one looks at it purely from the point of view of not standing in a queue for two hours, then, subject to pricing, it is well worth it. It is on the pricing side thought that the issues arise. First, while you could save money by visiting museums at reduced rates using the Paris Museum Pass, you would need to visit a lot, really a lot. You also have a limited time in which to visit these. So, for example, you might buy a pass for two days. You then have only two days to see several museums. You can buy a pass for up to six days but then the price also increases. After working out the logistics of getting to different museums, you will see that you will probably need to visit at least two museums a day for it Paris Museum Pass to be worth your while on the financial front. That might sound okay, one museum before lunch and one after, except that some museums are massive, such as the Louvre, which would require two days on its own. Also, museums usually only open at 10AM, leaving two to three hours to do a sprint through one. After lunch, you will be left with about four hours to do a sprint through a different museum if that museum is big. Do you really want to rush through some of these museums just so that you can say you saved a few Euros?


Bear in mind too that many museums are closed on a Monday and public holiday. This means, for example, that if you started using a six day Paris Museum Pass on a Sunday, then, at a minimum, you will forfeit any benefit on the Monday. In other words, you will have paid not to see any museums on the Monday because the pass is for six consecutive days, not six days of your choosing. If the Tuesday is a public holiday, which will be the case on25 December 2012, you will have paid for two days of not seeing any museums. As a general rule, therefore, you should only activate a Paris Museum pass on or after a Wednesday but before a Monday. You should also work out how many days holiday you will have in Paris. There is, for example, no sense in buying a four day pass if you will be in Paris on 24 and25 December 2012and if you leave on27 December 2012.


My advice regarding the Paris Museum Pass would therefore be to buy only if you are determined to spend several days doing nothing but visiting various museums, so that you can hopefully derive some kind of financial benefit. The main benefit for most of us would simply be not having to stand in long queues.


Then there is the Paris Visite Pass. This also sounds good in theory – you can go up and down with the Metro and other public transport, depending on the zones you paid for, as much as you want for a predetermined number of days. In many cities I might have thought that was a great deal but when it comes to Paris I have my doubts. Many attractions in Paris are within walking distance of one another, often anywhere from 500 metres to 3km apart. Even if the attraction is relatively far away, that is 3km away, you could meander through the streets, taking in the sights and sounds and stopping off here and there to enjoy coffee, baguette or shopping. Of course, the attractions will only be reasonably close if you stay closer to the centre of Paris. If you do think you will need to use the Metro a number of times during your trip, it is probably better value for money to buy a booklet of ten tickets from one of the Paris Metro stations.


That brings me to the Paris Pass. This consists of the Paris Museum Pass, the Paris Visite Pass for the Metro, a pass for a few additional attractions, a ride on the Paris Hop-On-Hop-Off Bus as well as a Paris guidebook. To me, this pass is not worth it. I would rather get just the Paris Museum Pass on its own for the required number of days. As for a guidebook, you can get those in the bookshops and online. Why should you be forced to buy a guidebook when all you really want is access to different attractions and maybe even the use of public transport?


Ultimately, the decision is yours but, based on the current pricing structure and terms of use as well as the benefits offered, I would buy only the Paris Museum Pass if I was willing to dedicate at least two entire days to visiting just some of the museums.

Category: Money Saving Tips

7 Oct 2012 | 06:53 AM | Posted by: Yay Travel

Posted by:
Yay Travel

Schengen Visas

If you're planning a visit to several European countries and if you're thinking about applying for a Schengen visa, my advice at the moment is not to do so but rather to apply to individual countries. I would also advise you to first look into all the individual user costs as this can have a huge negative impact on how many European countries you can afford to visit.


Part of the reason I am currently advising against applying for a Schengen visa is the lack of trust that sometimes exists between members of the Schengen zone. There is also the possibility that some of the countries in the zone might pull out, leaving you with a worthless visa and having to reapply anyway to specific countries for visas issued by them.


For more information regarding the challenges presented by Schengen visas, please see this article.

Category: Visas

30 Apr 2012 | 10:21 AM | Posted by: Yay Travel