Daily Post Photo Challenge — Half-Light

This HALF-LIGHT picture was taken from the top of the Montparnasse Tower June, 2015.

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Tip #3 – Planning for Finances

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Planning for Finances

Planning for your financial transactions while on vacation can be extremely simple if you know what to expect from your bank and the banks where you will travel.

In the “olden days,” we all bought travelers checks as a way to protect our money when we traveled. However, today, people deal in either PLASTIC or CASH.  It is not advisable to have a lot of cash on your person when traveling for obvious reasons. You could lose it or could become the victim of a pickpocket.

When traveling within the Unites States, I rely almost completely on PLASTIC. That said, the kind of PLASTIC you use could make a big difference.

If you charge items on a credit (only) card, you could build up a big bill that you would have to deal with after returning home. Also, if you are traveling for a long time, part of that charge could come due before you get home to receive the bill to pay it. If you are going to use a credit only card, think about if you want to have all the money charged on one card, when the bill will be due, if you will be able to pay it all at once, and what the interest rates are if you don’t pay it off completely when the bill comes.

Debit cards, on the other hand, are easier for those who don’t want to deal with credit card bills and the possible addition of interest rates. If you are in a financial situation that will allow you to use a credit/debit card that will take money directly out of your bank account, you will arrive home owing no money.
IMG_6683It is always good to keep a little bit of cash on hand when traveling. You never know when you will find yourself in a place that doesn’t take credit or debit cards. Those places really do still exist. It will be important for you to be able to use an ATM with your card to be able to keep some cash with you. Be sure you know what your bank charges, if anything, for ATM use. There are many kinds of accounts now that will allow you to use an ATM for no charge at all. It is usually refunded to your account once it gets processed.

If you have not traveled a lot, it will be important to inform your bank or card company of where you will be traveling. Most of these companies do a really good job watching for fraudulent purchases and they might hold up a charge if they don’t expect you to be in that particular place. If you have a habit of visiting certain places throughout several years, the computers will recognize this as a regular purchasing style for you.

If you are going out of the country, it is absolutely imperative that you notify your bank and card companies of where you are going. Be sure to tell them when you will be leaving and when you will arrive back home. It is good to add a couple of days to the ending date of the trip, especially if it is on a weekend. It sometimes takes a few days to process purchases. If you have told them that all purchases after a certain date (your arrival back home) are fraudulent, it may be difficult for your hotel or other merchants to get their money for what you charged the morning you left for home.

I have made charges overseas from my home computer and had no problem. When reserving hotel rooms in Paris or train tickets on Eurostar of Thalys, I have had no problems because the purchase was being made from within the United States.

 

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Grand Place, Brussels

When planning travel to Europe, be sure you know what kind of money is used in the various countries you are visiting. You will find that many countries will use the Euro. However, the United Kingdom, for instance, does not use the Euro, but the British Pound. It will be important if you are traveling between countries to be prepared to make your first stop in the “new” country an ATM to obtain the new kind of cash.

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London Eye

I have used ATM machines in France, the UK, and India. Remarkably, they all seem to work basically the same.  The machines I use in the US always seem to give me 20 dollar bills, no matter how much money I remove from my account. However, some machines in other countries might give you larger bills. If this is the case, you might want to think about an amount you can request that will assure you of having some smaller bills.

In Paris, most of the ATMs I have used have asked me to select the combination of bills I would like to receive for that amount of money. This really helps. It is not just every vender or store that is ready to accept a large bill for a small purchase. If you get lots of large bills, use them for larger purchases such as restaurants or places like museums where they do a lot of tourist business each day. Keep using the large bills at places like this until you have all smaller bills like 20s.

Remember if you are dealing in foreign currency, the equivalency rate varies each day. If your bank allows you to take $300 out of an ATM with each transaction, you can NOT take out 300 Euros. You will need to figure out how many Euros come closest to $300 without going over it. This information is easily found by accessing a currency convertor online. These sites are updated regularly with the current rates of all the currencies in the world.

Many people make a visit to their local bank before going to another country to get some of the foreign currency before they leave home. Be aware that most banks charge a fee for this money exchange. If you wait till you arrive in the country, you can access an ATM with no extra fee. Be careful to NOT go to a Currency Exchange desk at an airport or train station. These folks, too, will charge you a hefty fee to do exactly what you can do at the ATM down the hall.

When I go to Europe, I stop at an ATM at the airport and get just enough cash for the ride to the hotel and supper that night. Exchange rates are sometimes a little higher at ATMs in airports and train stations. After I arrive in my vacation neighborhood, I go to a local ATM and remove the closest amount to $300.

It is usually easy to charge meals at nice restaurants and tickets for museums. However, I basically use nearly all cash while I am away, visiting the ATM before I run out of money each time. Many banks in foreign countries have ATM windows outside on the sidewalk and also inside the doors of the bank. Most people feel more comfortable and safe using the machines inside the building.

If you have more than one credit/debit card, it is advisable to take more than one with you on your trip. Should something happen to one of them (loss, theft, magnetic strip problems, breakage) you still have access to funds for your vacation.


IMG_6682CARRY A MONEY BELT
. When you are traveling, your mind will be on many new sites and people. Do NOT carry all your cash in your wallet or purse. I carry only a little cash in my purse. The rest of the cash I take with me for the day’s activities is in my money belt around my tummy. I also carry my passport and credit card in there. Having the card with me will assure me that I will have access to as much money as I might need. However, no one else has access to my money except for a few dollars in the purse. (Another thing to keep in your money belt is the name, address, and phone number of your hotel. You can always get a cab back there or call them for assistance if you have this information with you.)

I don’t know about other cities, but merchants in Paris seem to be very possessive about their coins. They are nice about it, but would really prefer that you have exact change for every purchase. If you give them as close as you can to exact change, you will both be very happy. Otherwise, you will be weighted down the whole trip with coins. The Euro system has coins for one cent, two cents, five cents, ten cents, twenty cents, fifty cents, one Euro, and two Euros. That can get pretty heavy. One man posted a question on a travel forum I follow asking how he could get rid of all those heavy coins. He was tired of carrying them around. The advice was unanimous –spend them!

Some smaller merchants actually have a difficult time keeping enough change to do business. I went to a grocery  one time the night before my flight out the next morning to purchase a small (single serve) size bag of pretzels. The cost was less than a Euro. I had used up most of my coins, but still had a one Euro coin. That created havoc in the supermarket. They had no change to give me. None of the cash registers had change and they checked in the back. It was close to closing time and they were out of the correct change. Fortunately, one of the clerks was able to come up with the correct amount and they planned to settle up with him later. I was willing to just let them keep the whole Euro, but they insisted on making my purchase correct.

One more hint on finances – you can use Google maps to locate all the ATM machines in the area where you will be staying. This will help assure you that you will be able to get the cash you need. Remember, once you are on Google maps, you can always use that little yellow man to help you see exactly what each bank (or other interesting place) looks like.

 

 

 

 

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Tip #2 Packing Lightly – Luxury Items

Now for some of the luxury items I allow myself on a flight:

IMG_4955I love to have fresh flowers in my hotel room if I will be staying for a while. It makes the room seem like mine and like home. I recently found some disposable flower vases at the local Dollar Tree. These are as flat as a baggie, but open up to be firm and stand up very well to a fairly large bouquet of flowers. When I left the hotel the last time I used these, some of the flowers were still fresh so I just left them for the hotel staff.

I like to make coffee or tea in my room at night. In Paris in 2013, it finally hit me that I could have “good ol’ American coffee” if I didn’t mind instant. I went to the grocery and bought a small jar of Nescafé. I mixed it in a hotel plastic cup with hot tap water. That sufficed.
IMG_5748However, by 2015, I was prepared. I bought a cheap glass cup, a travel water heater for the cup, a box of Foldgers one cup packets of instant coffee, and a very small can of powdered creamer. I left the cup and the powdered creamer behind when I came home. They cost me a total of $2 and I had well used my money’s worth.

I like to have small hand wipe packs in my purse. I take enough of the kind I like to last my whole trip. Each day, I put what I will need in my purse. When the trip is over, I leave the leftovers behind for someone else.

I take a very small, light umbrella. I want one that will fit in my purse. I found a really good but inexpensive one for travel at IKEA. Depending on space, I know this is something else I can leave behind when I head home.

I take a cloth tote bag. Shoulder length straps are a plus. This can roll up small in the suitcase. Once at my destination, I carry it in my purse daily. I can pull it out for items I purchase or to carry a wet umbrella or my jacket that has turned out to be unnecessary. I also use it to carry laundry to the laundromat.

I always remember to take empty baggies of several sizes to use for food I purchase or leftovers for the hotel fridge. I love to picnic on vacation and having baggies for a single serving of the food I purchase at the grocery helps a lot.

When traveling in Europe, don’t expect wash cloths to be provided. I take a few with me and wash them with my other laundry. I leave them behind in the trash when I check out of the hotel. This also helps  clean out those wash clothes at home that are getting too thin.

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My advice  is to pack as little as you can of things you intend to bring back home. Snacks and all the luxury items I listed here can be used up or pitched before your return trip. This makes room in your bags for all the new things you purchase on your trip.

I start gathering items I might want to take on my trip a few weeks before my scheduled departure. I designate an empty clothes basket or an unused bed to start accumulating things as I think of them. I go in once a week and look over my collection. This inspection spurs me to think of items I have forgotten and, usually each time, to pull something out saying, “I can do without this.”

For a long trip, at least a week before I leave, I do a practice run with the luggage I plan to take and the exact clothes that are involved. I pack like I am leaving tomorrow. Then I evaluate how much space I have. I usually still need to pull items.

After I see that it all fits, it is time for the weigh in. Believe it or not, I can get enough stuff in a 21” bag and a briefcase that the total weight is over the allotted poundage to carry on. Having started early on this packing project, I have time to evaluate my situation. If I feel I really must have everything in the bags, it is time to plan on checking the larger one.
IMG_5747You really need to weigh your bags before leaving home if you are flying. You can usually find luggage scales similar to the one in this picture at places like Walmart or Target. You don’t want to get to the airport and be surprised when the clerk tells you that you have to check a bag and you know you have some important items in both bags. I have seen many people trying to trade out items from one bag to another in order to work things out. You don’t need this kind of stress at the airport.

Planning ahead can really make your life easier and your trip more enjoyable.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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