Most people love to travel but sometimes knowing something BEFORE you go will help make your vacation much more pleasant.  We will keep posting tips that may be of interest to you.  If you have any questions or suggestions for a tip, just let us know by calling our office 254-776-2560 or commenting on our Facebook page.

Printable Packing List

If you need to print a list of the most used items on short trips or longer vacations you will find one here. Packing list

Important Tips to Protect Your Privacy During Travel

By Kathy Steinemann

While you travel, it is crucial to protect your privacy and thwart identity theft. Thieves often employ very sophisticated methods to attain their ends. Here are some tips that will help discourage both high-tech and low-tech crooks.Burglaries and identity theft are two increasingly common problems that today’s traveler must take into consideration when planning a holiday. Here are some tips that will help protect your privacy and identity while you are away.• Never post public announcements on social media indicating that you plan to be away from home. Instead, share information with close friends via personal messages.• Do not place vacation photos online until you arrive home. If you are enthusiastic and can’t resist the urge, make sure that your default photo setting is for viewing by friends only. And here is a thought: Do you trust every single one of your online friends?• Password protect all electronics you plan to take with you, including cellphone, tablet, laptop computer, etc. Not only will you protect yourself, but you will also shield any information you have saved for family and friends.• Use a good pass code for your voice mail or answering machine. Never choose something like 1234 or 7890.• Safeguard your camera or camcorder. It could contain photos that might compromise your hotel room, home, or family.• Strictly monitor important documents like your passport, credit cards, and bank cards. Use the room or hotel safe to lock away anything you do not need to take with you on tours and outings. Use secure next-to-body travel pouches to carry necessary documents when you leave your accommodations.• Try not to access the Internet unless you can use password-protected networks. When in public areas, be sure that prying eyes cannot monitor you while you sign in to online sites.• If you need to use a public computer, and the browser has an InPrivate Browsing mode, activate it before surfing.• On login screens, do not tick any boxes that ask to save your username and password.

• Avoid accessing online banking unless necessary, and be sure that the banking sites you use are secure (i.e., start with https – s meaning secure).

• Log out from all sites (rather than just close the browser window) and clear the browser cache before you leave.

• Monitor your bank and credit card accounts. If you notice any suspicious activity, alert the appropriate financial institutions.

• When you leave the hotel, store your laptop computer in the room safe or main hotel safe. At the very least, attach it securely to something in the room with an appropriate locking device plugged into your laptop’s lock port.

• And you will remember to password protect your computer, right?

Pay attention to these tips, and the chances of burglary or identity theft while you travel will be greatly reduced.

 

10 Winter and Holiday Tips

It’s no secret that winter and holiday travel can be the most stressful occasion. Especially when the hustle and bustle of holiday travel starts, people become more distressed with long waits and unexpected challenges. If you travel by air or car during the cold season, you can count on more delays than you’d experience in the summer. Once bad weather appears during the peak times for air travel, we end up with the lengthiest flight delays, cancellations and missed connections of the year. On the other hand, road travel has its share of annoyances and risks. There may be road closings, slower speeds due to snow or sleet, traffic accidents and other obstacles to throw you off track. However, don’t let the winter and holiday travel season make you blue. Become a smarter and happier traveler for your next winter vacations — use TravelSense’s winter travel tips to make life easier as you journey to and from your destination.

Airline Travel Tips: Flying Doesn’t Always Lead to Disaster Can you feel your teeth grinding as you imagine flying to your destination? If you’re traveling a great distance over the holidays, the last thing you need is a stressful airport experience to start your vacation on the wrong foot. Consider some of the simplest airline travel tips that can alleviate your worries.

Plan ahead for your own sanity. Waiting to the last minute always leaves a great deal of your trip up to happenstance. Of all of the top winter travel tips you may find, this is the one piece of advice that will be well worth spending the extra time and effort. Contact your travel agent to book your vacation in advance as soon as you can manage. Then, you’ll be able to avoid peak travel dates, get lower airfare, fly direct (or minimize your connections) and fly early or late in the day to avoid the bigger crowds.

Leave at least an extra hour earlier. As you prepare for your winter vacation, give yourself more time than usual in order to anticipate the peripheral delays that could occur. Remember to bring some reading material while you wait in the security line or at your departure gate. In cities with snow or ice, arrival delays can exceed two to three hours and de-icing procedures can take an hour before takeoff.

Pack as light as possible for your holiday travel. Since more airlines are getting stricter on baggage limits and weight allowances, packing less and lighter suitcases could save you money and time. If you’re planning holiday travel to be with your family and friends, consider shopping online and having your gifts shipped to your destination. This strategy will help cut down on luggage and minimize the risk of losing any special gifts. Steer clear of influenza. Winter travel can be a frequent contributor to the cold and flu time of year, adding a miserable element to your winter or holiday travel stress. Before you leave, visit your doctor’s office to get the flu shot or nasal spray flu vaccine, which is only available for ages 5-49. Most germs will spread by contact, so wash your hands or use a hand sanitizer constantly.

Stretch your legs often. If you find yourself in cramped quarters or passing time on long flights, there’s the possibility you could develop Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT), leading to blood clotting in your legs. So, remember this essential airline travel tip on your next flight — take some time to walk around and stretch your arms and legs once every hour.

Winter Driving Tips: Easier and Safer Winter Road Trips

For road travelers, winter can also be the most dangerous time of year. Motor vehicle accidents involving bad weather, mostly ice and snow, claim the lives of 6,000 Americans and injure 500,000 more every year (National Center for Atmospheric Research, 2005). The following winter driving tips will help you stay safe and a little less anxious on your next trip.

Have your car examined before you leave. This is one of the most crucial winter driving tips.It’s the climatic scene of many movies, where someone’s car breaks down in a strange town. The last thing you want to worry about is your car falling apart, leaving you stranded far away from home. Take it to your local auto shop for a quick once over, and make sure your tires are winter ready and properly inflated. Be prepared for a change in course. Before you depart, become confident in knowing your route. It’s very important that you’re ready for anything on the road that could slightly change your plans, including construction, road closings and traffic hurdles. Remember to keep the directions as well as appropriate state map(s) handy, in case you need to reroute your trip.

Stay hydrated for the journey. It probably seems like dehydration isn’t very likely, but a recent Mayo Clinic study shows that a mere one- to two-percent loss of body weight can quickly lead to fatigue and decreased alertness, which could be deadly in icy winter driving. Also, your body requires more fuel in the cold — so rely on high-energy food including sandwiches, a thermos filled with soup and fruit.

Pack a winter safety kit for the car. Don’t leave without the essentials for a safe road trip — a cell phone (don’t forget the car charger); ice scraper; tow rope and jumper cables; sand or cat litter to aid with traction; blankets; flashlights, matches and emergency candles; first aid kit; portable radio; and a good book, in case you do get stuck.

Make frequent rest stops. Winter driving is much more fatiguing than in the summer, so you’ll want to make time to stop and stretch your legs. Just a few minutes off the road will make all the difference in improving your alertness when you’re back behind the wheel.

 

How a Little-Known Passport Rule Could Ruin Your Vacation

Some countries require U.S. travelers to have at least six months validity on their passports before they can enter.

It would be very sad and unfortunate to be very excited excited about your two-week vacation to Israel next  month, but it never getting off the ground. Unlike many others whose travel to the region has been delayed because of rising tensions, your  family trip might be thwarted by the upcoming expiration of someone’s passport, two months after the start of the trip, meaning that it had less than six months of remaining validity.

Most people are stunned as they have never come across this issue in over 40 years of international flying.

You may be one of a growing number of Americans who make travel plans not knowing that passports effectively expire for travel to certain countries months before the listed expiration date.

The policy is technically a matter of reciprocity: the United States requires foreign visitors to have six months validity on their passports when they travel to America, and now many of those countries have returned the favor to American travelers. Recent changes to requirements for countries in the European’s Union, Schengen area, which includes tourist-heavy countries like France, Italy, and Spain have caused some travel heartache.

 

“In the last few months, we have heard of many U.S. citizens having their travel plans disrupted due to some European countries, particularly those in the Schengen area, strictly enforcing passport validity requirements,” Elizabeth Finan, a spokeswoman for United States Consular Affairs, told ABC.

“Additionally, some E.U. countries are requiring passports to have six months’ validity because they assume travelers will stay the full three months allowed for visa-free visitors.”

The State Department lists the passport requirements on each country’s travel advisory website, though few travelers seek the information out unless they have concerns about the safety of a region or possible visa requirements.

For their part, online travel sites make mention of passport expiration restrictions on their sites, but there is no notification or alert that warns passengers of possible problems before they arrive at the airport.  If we book your trip, we will gather all that information for you, meaning one less headache and no spoiled vacation plans.  Let the experts handle the details.

Best way to Pay for Expenses while you Travel.

Are you planning a business trip or holiday? How will you pay for your expenses: cash, credit card, debit card, or travelers check? Here are a few facts that could help you decide.

Cash

You do need to take some money with you, but limit what you have in your possession and keep it in a safe place. Cash is convenient and your purchases will not involve extra charges. As long as you have cash, you don’t have to search for an ATM, although you will need to locate a bank to convert your cash to local currency.

Do not travel with large bills. They attract would-be muggers and pickpockets. Put small amounts of cash in an easily-accessible place and store the rest next to your body in a secure travel pouch or an inside pocket that seals closed with Velcro or a zipper. Never access your hidden bills in public. Find a bathroom or similar private area to transfer money from your secret reserve.

• Extra quantities of cash, personal documents, and items such as a laptop computer should be stored in the hotel safe whenever you leave your room.

Credit Cards

VISA and MasterCard are accepted in more countries around the world than any other card. Most credit card companies charge an extra fee for every foreign transaction. However, you can get a no-international-fee card instead and avoid this surcharge. Talk to your company. It might be possible to upgrade to a different plan.

Check to see if your card will work in your destination country (as well as any countries along the route). If you pay off your balance monthly, think about getting some kind of a rewards card. Not only will you save the extra international fees, but you will also work towards gaining extra perks such as merchandise, air miles, or cash rebates on all purchases.

No matter what type of card you have, be sure to notify your credit card company before you travel; otherwise, any charges you make could be flagged as fraudulent and your account could be suspended until you straighten out the misunderstanding.

• Always carry more than one card. If the strip or chip fails, you will have a backup.

International Debit Cards

International debit cards are similar to international credit cards, in that you will incur extra fees for foreign transactions. On top of what the foreign bank charges, you might also be charged by your local bank for every transaction – in addition to a extra foreign transaction fee. Avoid surprises by discussing this with your bank before you leave.

Notify your bank before you travel that you will be using your card abroad.

• Your card might not work in a foreign ATM. Take a second card along with you just in case.

Which is Better, a Debit Card or a Credit Card?

Both types of cards will provide coverage for fraud. In most cases, there will be zero liability to you. However, it is easier to deal with fraudulent purchases made using credit cards.

• It is probably better to use a credit card for purchases and a debit card for cash withdrawals.

How about Travelers Checks?

Travelers checks are not used as much nowadays. They are cumbersome to work with, may be expensive to buy, and are not accepted as readily as credit or debit cards.

• Some merchants will charge an extra fee for processing travelers checks.

The Bottom Line

Do not wait until a couple of days before your trip to make a decision. Research your options well in advance to pick the payment methods that will work best for you.

 

What Do I Need to Rent a Car?

What Do I Need to Rent a Car?

Leah Waldron-Gross, Demand Media

 

Renting a car for the first time can seem like a daunting experience. The combination of hidden surcharges, mileage policies and insurance options can drive you to air or train travel, instead. The car “sign-and-drive” process can be simplified if you know what to bring to the agency desk.

Driver’s License

A state-issued driver’s license is required to rent a car in the United States. Not only does a license ensure that you are a legal driver, but it doubles as proof of age. It is commonly assumed that you have to be at least 25 years old to rent a car, but this is not the case. In the U.S., the minimum car rental age is 21. Drivers aged 21 to 24 will incur a rental agency fee. Some car rental agencies will require a driver’s license from the same state as the rental location.

Active Credit Card

Even if you have a car reservation and driver’s license in hand, you may be turned away for not having an active credit card that matches the name on your driver’s license. Most car rental agencies will not accept debit cards, even with a credit card logo such as Visa or Mastercard. Active credit cards in the driver’s name are essential because the agency puts the card on hold for insurance purposes. If your secondary driver has a credit card that matches his driver’s license, consider adding him as the primary driver to solve this problem.

Car Insurance

Car rental companies will offer you auto insurance, which is optional, but strongly encouraged if your personal auto or homeowner’s insurance policy does not cover rental cars. If you are renting a car for business purposes, check with your employer before buying the optional coverage. If you opt out of insurance and you are not covered on your personal or employer’s policy, you will be financially responsible for any damage to the rental car.

International Cell Phone Guide

International cell phone options are as varied as travel styles. The always-on-the-go globetrotter who spends her morning in Europe and goes to sleep in North Africa probably carries her own high-tech international calling device. The college student studying in Italy may have a local cell phone that only works in his overseas home. The leisure traveler who wants a cell phone in case of emergency on her yearly vacation may rent a phone and drop it in the mail when she returns home.

Given the ubiquity of cell phone usage in the United States, it’s not surprising that many travelers feel naked without a cell phone tucked in their pockets. If you’re longing to flip open a personal phone on a cruise or text your friends from the Eiffel Tower, read on. We’ve outlined the pros and cons of each cell phone option abroad so you can figure out which one is right for you — and your budget.

Traveling with a Smartphone: Cut Costs Overseas

Using Your Own Cell Phone with an International Calling Plan
Most major U.S. phone companies give you the option of choosing a plan that allows you to make international calls. These plans may be offered on an ongoing basis or as a temporary service that you can set up for a single month when you know you’ll be leaving the country. Each company offers different plans for various prices that work for a number of phone models and in designated countries. Major cell phone providers have coverage maps that show in which countries your network works. Per-minute calling rates vary for different countries.

Some cell phone companies have calling plans for specific regions, such as Canada or Mexico. Other providers let you specify the nations where you need your phone to work (the more countries you choose, the higher the monthly rate). Although you can probably find a broad international phone plan from your current cell phone service provider, you will not be able to make calls from every country on earth; be sure to check that your plan covers the destination in which you plan to travel.

To make an international call from a cell phone, your carrier network must be compatible with the country you’re visiting. If you are traveling to Europe, you will most likely find a suitable calling plan. In Africa, the Caribbean or South America, plans may vary. In addition, your phone must be technologically capable of making international calls — many of the cheaper phones offered by popular cell phone stores can only be used domestically.

Fortunately, many major provider Web sites offer detailed roaming maps and prices so customers can sort out the complexities of international cell phone service. To see if your current phone has what it takes to work overseas (or to find out more about roaming prices and plans), check out the following links:

  • AT&T International Roaming
  • Sprint International Services
  • T-Mobile International Services
  • Verizon International ServicesAnother option besides making a traditional cell phone call is using a Voice Over IP (VoIP) service such as Skype, which connects calls via an Internet connection. Skype is often used on laptops, but it is now available on cell phones as well. (There’s even a Skype mobile app.) Skype users can talk to each other for free, and can make calls to landlines and cell phones at affordable rates. However, remember that even if you’re not making international calls over your phone’s cellular network, you’ll still need to have an international plan in place to avoid exorbitant data charges. Essential Smartphone Travel AppsTravelers who spend a lot of time overseas and don’t want to deal with the inconvenience of renting or purchasing a new cell phone should consider using their own cell phone abroad. If you are looking for the most convenient way to make a call regardless of cost, using your own phone is your best bet.Pros:
  • There’s no need to switch plans or purchase a new phone if your current phone is capable of making international calls.
  • Your cell phone number will stay the same.
  • The names and numbers that are currently programmed into your phone will still be available to you overseas without your having to transfer them to another device.
  • Calling the States will be less expensive than if you get a local phone plan in your destination.
  • If you’re using Skype, you can call other Skype users for free (not counting any data charges).Cons:
  • cell phone mobile key padInternational calls can get pricey! Major phone companies’ calling rates in countries such as Argentina, Tanzania or Turkmenistan can be as high as $5.99 per minute.
  • Expensive cell phones can easily get lost or stolen in another country, and an American chatting on a pricey mobile phone can be a target for thieves. Just as you wouldn’t wear your best watch when traveling, perhaps you should opt for a less flashy phone than your $500 device that can connect to the Internet, play MP3’s, provide GPS service and predict the future.
  • Not all U.S. cell phones can be used globally.Purchasing an International Cell Phone
    Depending on your destination country, you may be able to purchase a local phone with a domestic calling plan. Local plans are often similar to the one you have on your current cell phone; domestic rates are cheap, and the most basic cell phone models are quite affordable.Research cell phone companies in the country you will visit or look for a local cell phone store. Just make sure that the cell phone company you choose is popular and well known. Do not buy a cell phone from someone on the street just because you think you’re getting a “deal.”Frequent travelers who spend a lot of time in one international location will be best served by purchasing a phone in their destination. Students studying abroad and travelers with international vacation homes or family in another country should also consider purchasing an international cell phone.Pros:
  • You’ll enjoy low rates for calling within a foreign country.Cons:
  • Fees may be quite high for calling the United States.
  • You may run into a language barrier when trying to buy a phone. If you don’t fully understand the contract you are signing, do not sign your name!

Renting a Cell Phone
airport mall shop shopping travelLast-minute travel purchases often take place in airport malls. If you’ve forgotten a book, a snack or a pair of pants, you’re likely to find a replacement at any large airport. The same goes for international cell phones — the forgetful caller can rent a phone at airports around the world from companies like TripTel.

Cell phones can also be rented online at sites such CellularAbroad.com or TravelCell.com. The company mails you a phone, and your rental includes a return shipping label so you can return the phone after your trip.

The phone you’ll receive will be a local phone, good for making calls in the country in which you are traveling. However, if you are spending more than a week or two in one destination overseas, you may save money by purchasing a local phone and subscribing to a local phone plan, as rates for renting a phone can quickly surpass the cost of a cheap cell phone in a few weeks. Also, domestic calling rates for rental phones are significantly higher than rates offered by local cell phone service providers.

Rates for rental phones are typically twofold; renters pay a daily, weekly or monthly fee for the cell phone rental and an additional fee for calling minutes. This means that even if you’re not using your phone, you can still be charged the minimum fee for the rental unit. Some rental phone plans have higher rates for calls outside the country, and some don’t — compare plans to see which is best for you. Incoming calls on rental phones are your cheapest option, as rates tend to be lower than for outgoing calls; if you are using your rental phone to call home, have your friends and family call you at a designated time and you will save some cash.

Renting a cell phone is best if you’re making a lot of calls but not going on a lot of trips. On a single trip where you make just one or two calls, you may end up paying more for the actual cell phone rental than for the calling minutes; in this case, skip the cell phone altogether and use an international phone card.

Poll: How Do You Stay Connected?

Pros:

  • If you’ve made no other arrangements for your international calls, grab a phone rental at an airport and you’ll avoid the high costs of calling from a hotel room.
  • If your usual cell phone won’t work overseas and you’re an infrequent traveler, you save money by renting a phone instead of buying one.Cons:
  • Beware of hidden charges. Minimum minute stipulations, charges for incoming calls or steep roaming rates may apply to your rental. Always make sure you read and understand the fine print.
  • To avoid steep charges if you lose a rental phone, you may want to purchase rental insurance at an additional cost.Using Your Own Phone with an International SIM Card
    A similar option to purchasing a phone abroad is to purchase a Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) card to use in your own cell phone while you’re traveling internationally. A SIM card is the part of a cell phone that holds the identity information and other personal data; if you switch your own SIM card for one that you purchase in another country, you can have all the benefits of a local phone (such as low in-country calling rates and a local phone number) without having to buy a whole new phone.cell phone woman girl coffee table sidewalk cafe cityYou can also purchase an international SIM card that can be used in many different countries. This is a good bet for multi-country trips or for travelers who travel regularly to many different regions around the world. However, the option of replacing the SIM card is only available on unlocked GSM phones. Ask your phone company if your phone’s SIM card can be unlocked.You can purchase prepaid international and country-specific SIM cards from Web sites such as Telestial or MAXROAM. As always, you’ll want to do some comparison shopping before you purchase to find the best rates for the country or countries you’ll be visiting.Pros:
  • Rather than buying a whole new phone, you can simply buy a SIM card for your existing phone — which is cheaper and takes up less space in your luggage.
  • You’ll enjoy low local rates for calls within whatever country you’re visiting.Cons:
  • It may be very expensive to call the United States.
  • This option isn’t available to travelers with phones that are locked or don’t operate on the GSM network.

 

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