Your very accomplished ABA Judicial Record newsletter editor, Joel Medd, when checking about this article said, “Hope you can send me something. If not, TAKE A TRIP NOW, or tell us about planning for a successful trip.” What a coincidence, Mary Ann and I, did recently complete a trip to Belgium, enjoying a very nice visit to Brussels, Bruges, Ghent, and Waterloo. That story will wait for a future article as in this issue I want to give you a few tips about making your self-guided travels easy, safe, and with as little hassle as possible. These are personal (or stolen) ideas which we have tried and time tested. The list is:
Give up on the old fashioned use of travelers checks. We used to always use travelers checks, but these days they are hard to cash, and in many locations are not accepted at all. We have switched to using debit cards and credit cards. ATM machines are everywhere and so easy to use (even as a bank machine challenged old judge I have only screwed up the transaction a couple of times). Of course I am always frantic looking for that first ATM! You receive the best exchange rate and get the amount of cash you need quickly, safely, and easily without a lot of extra fees. We also used to carry a lot of U.S. currency, but no longer do that because the banks and currency exchange folks seem to charge an arm and a leg for the privilege of discounting your money and these are hard to find with the advent of the Euro!
Have you ever heard of Rick Steves? He is the guru of self guided travel. His videos are all over public television and he publishes a new book, map, and guide on most European countries every year. Mary Ann and I have not followed his format for train travel yet, but we swear by his very practical advice about visiting tourist sites, touring cities, and what to really see and what to eliminate. He can save you a lot of money and time. As an example he advised to buy a pass to all the museums in Paris at the Metro station. With such a pass you can enter the Louvre and all the major museums by using the group entrance, thus avoiding the 2 hour line at the main entrance. His books on various cities, countries, and Europe as a whole are found in any book store. Also you can get his advice free at www.ricksteves.com.
Mary Ann insists I tell you to always carry a fold up cloth bag in your luggage. Why for goodness sake? It is so you will have the extra suitcase to put all the “stuff” in, that your spouse has probably bought on the trip. You can then check it through on the return trip rather than look like a pack mule. I speak from experience! Just contemplate bringing back the 11 sweaters from Ireland, the pottery plates from both Italy and Portugal, the beach blankets from Mexico and the olive wood crèche from Israel. Oh, the list can go on and on! My poor back.
The conversion to the Euro all over Europe (with a couple of exceptions such as Great Britain) has been a real relief. You don’t have to figure out all the conversions to the lira, the franc, or the deutschmark and you don’t return with all that useless currency. The Euro is roughly the equivalent of the U.S. dollar, and the subparts of the Euro are on the decimal system like our cents. When you change countries you no longer have to change money. Hurray!
After that long overnight flight to Europe, don’t you dare take a nap when you arrive. Been there-done that-big mistake. Keep moving for that first day even though you are groggy and tired. This will get you on the time change schedule and get rid of the jet lag faster. Then try and just sleep the regular hours that night. You will be better for it.
Before departing on the trip slim down your billfold or purse. Get all those extra credit cards and other information out of there. Your debit card, one credit card, medical card and driver’s license should be plenty. If you lose a card or the billfold you will have fewer people to notify. If you and your spouse carry different credit cards, you will still have one to use if one of them can’t be used. Also make copy of both sides of the cards, and your passport, and put that copy in a separate place in your luggage. Follow Rick Steves’ first rule of travel, and use a waist or neck money belt when touring around in crowds, public transportation, or anytime when out and about.
Finally, I suggest that in the first day or two or your destination arrival that you get yourself acclimated with one of those two hour (half-day) city tours. The cost is rarely more than $25 and it will give you a really good perspective of the city you are in, and what you will want to return to see.
Happy travels! Go get started.
(Published in the Summer 2003
Judicial Record) ABA