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Planning Your Trip: Some Tips

1. Planning the Trip
2. Travel Agents
3. Planning Your Hotels
4. Getting Around: Renting Cars or Taking the Train
5. The Internet
6. Airlines
7. Small Things
8. Shopping and Bargaining
9. Factory Outlets
10. Local Currency and Credit Cards
11. Tipping
12. Eating and Drinking
13. Speaking the Local Language
14. Safety
15. Dealing with People
16. Doing Something Different
17. Toilets
18. Cameras

We are firm believers that only you can plan your trip to maximize your enjoyment of that trip. It is our view that letting a travel agent plan your vacation is like giving a decorator free reign to decorate your house or letting a car salesman tell you what car you should buy. You cannot expect them to know what things you will like to see, how you will make tradeoffs between hotels, how many days you want to spend in a particular spot, and so on. You must take the initiative in defining what it is you want to do, where you want to go, where you want to stay and for how long. We're not saying that you should not use a travel agent, but rather you should have a good idea of what you want to do before contacting a travel agent.

To that end, offered below are some tips that we have discovered have helped us plan our trips and enjoy our travels. In all cases, these represent our own personal opinions. Our notes are also somewhat Asia-centric because that is where we did a lot of travel when we lived in Tokyo.

We also do not purport to offer you expert advice about specifics, e.g. which airline to fly or which hotel to stay in. There are just too many alternatives for part-time travelers like us to know. We will, of course, always tell you about experiences with hotels, restaurants and airlines that we did or did not like.

You will also likely take a lot of pictures. However, you should also be aware of the fact that it is unlikely that any of your friends will be impressed with, or even interested in seeing all of your pictures. And, likely as not, they will be equally uninterested in hearing about your travels. Of course, you can create a website like we did. We, on the other hand, always like to hear about people's travels. Unfortunately, we have had amazing difficulty finding people who have done interesting travel. Back to the top

1. Planning the Trip

We believe that your first stop for up-to-date information should always be the Internet. Along this line, there is no better place to start planning your trip than tripadvisor:    Simply start a search using general information about where you think you want to go. Then, once you begin to focus on a specific place, get some travel books that discuss where you are going. They are a relatively cheap investment and provide a lot of independent discussion of your destinations and evaluations of tour planners, hotels, etc.  Another alternative is always

Katherine's favorite travel book, by far, are those put out by Eyewitness Travel. These books provide the best overall insight about the place combined with tips on where to go and where to stay and what to do. Fodor's is also one of our favorites with Lonely Planet a choice for the more "exotic" places. The more you read the more knowledgeable you become. We get a lot of our books from because they have a large selection of titles and offer reviews of the books.

While booking ahead is certainly desirable, we often plan trips on the spur of the moment. For example, when it turned out we couldn't visit her relatives in Virginia over Thanksgiving in 1992, she booked a trip to Spain for the holiday the weekend before the trip. Then, when Katherine was unable to book a flight into Sicily over the Christmas holidays in 1995, while on the phone to the airline, she decided to go to Argentina instead because flights were available. And, we started the booking for a week long stay in Orpheus Island, in Australia, on a Wednesday and arrived there on a Friday using the Internet and faxes in 1998. Mike has learned to live with such impetuousness.

We have been adamant about not going on organized tours. However, for travel to more exotic places, like Asia, we have always selected a tour operator in the local country to handle all the local details. And we are always looking for a private tour guide.  Check tripadvisor and see who their reviewers recommend to help plan your trip. Using Google or tripadvisor, search for websites that seem to offer you what you are looking for.  And then gradually work from there.   I craft a note explaining everything we want to do, like take pictures, visit markets, see the local people, and give them some idea of any limitations on our travel.  Then I send the note to the websites that seem the most interesting. 

You should feel comfortable with their website and in the promptness, patience and thoroughness of their replies to your e-mails.  Invariably, I get some reply that seems to be in tune with my expectations.  And, then, the final check is to go back to tripadvisor and check on the tour operators.  Another approach, particularly when you know the hotel where you'll be staying like at a conference, is to contact the hotel and ask their concierge for a recommendation for a tour guide, restaurants and places to see. You can do this by fax or e-mails while still in the planning stage.

For most people, vacations mean travel in the summer months of July and August. And, in the northern hemisphere, these are without a doubt the worst possible months to travel. In Europe, for example, all of the shop owners take off on their own vacations during the summer months. So, if the shops aren't closed, they are being run by a manager who isn't as knowledgeable about the products and generally won't bargain as much. And everywhere is jammed and there are long lines to go into anywhere. So all you will be seeing in Europe are tourists.

In Asia, these are the hottest months and that means really hot and humid. The best months to travel in Europe are generally May and early June and September and October, not coincidentally, when schools are in session. The best time to travel in Asia is almost totally related to weather generally and the monsoon season specifically. Weather is also of critical importance in Africa and, indeed, to many other parts of the world. So checking out the local weather before planning trips is essential. But, of course, there are the kids and their summer vacations to plan around. So you can travel at the worst possible time because it is convenient for the kids or travel during the off-season but have to resolve school issues. This is a dilemma you will have to resolve yourselves. On the other hand, traveling to the southern hemisphere during our summer is during their winter and often the best time to travel. Back to the top

2. Travel Agents

If we do use a travel agent, it is to book hotels that we have discovered ourselves. And, of course, they generally have no problem with this because they usually get a commission doing this. The one I used on our last RTW trip did a great job and it was all done using e-mail with me in Tokyo and her in NY. I used her primarily because she was able to get me a much better rate at the Mauna Kea Hotel in Hawaii than I could find. But she also took care of our hotel in Lake Maggiori, Italy and followed up on every detail of the trip that she had planned.

For any of the more exotic places, and particularly places where weather is a major factor, it is imperative that your travel consultant has been to visit the places they are recommending and/or has people there providing very current information. For example, in the trip to Africa in 2003, it turns out that they were having major problems with water in the Selinda area of Botswana; the lagoon was drying up because of a stoppage in the river supplying water to the lagoon. If the lagoon dries up, the animals will move. People coming two to three weeks after we were there could be in for a major disappointment.

Hotels don't often tell you a major refurbishment is underway, or that the golf course you are going to play on has top dressed all the greens, or that the countryside is experiencing a major drought and everything has died. This is why you need a travel consultant to take care of the details. These are things that you should be informed of.

We have also had some very bad experiences with travel agents. The men's club I belonged to in London used a travel agent to schedule a golf trip every year. After going on one trip there were a lot of difficulties. First, once we committed to the trip and paid our money, there were no refunds. It rained one day but we couldn't get refunds from the golf course. We found that people at one of the courses were paying far less to play than we had paid. Before the next trip, I and another member independently went out on the internet and priced the trip that was being offered. We could do it for 20% less and more importantly, we could get refunds on short notice if we canceled.

Many travel agents are simply too lazy or busy to take the time to look into all the options available to you. There are many alternatives to fly from one place to another. It is easy for you to go out on the internet and find the right airline sequencing. Go to the hotel websites and see what deals they have. You should have collected a lot of information before you ever talk to a travel agent.

Travel insurance is very important under certain situations but be very careful of its limitations. It becomes important when you have committed a lot of money up front that won't be refunded. However, the reasons for canceling the trip are very limited and formal. For example, it is not enough that it becomes dangerous to travel to a country; it has to be forbidden by the state department. Read the fine print. Our general suggestion is to buy the insurance separately from the trip; it is too easy for the group setting up your trip to overcharge you for insurance because you are a captive audience. There are a lot of places that offer travel insurance; just search the internet.

One of the things that we have had happen a couple of times when using a packaged trip is that the agents in the local city are attempting to cut their costs by not getting you reserved seats or rooms ahead of time. What they do is this. They assure you that you have reservations at some hotel or on some connecting flight. Then when you show up they go up to the desk and try to get a discount on your room by bargaining with the manager right then. Same for the airline. Rather than book you a seat on a flight ahead of time, they wait for the last minute and try to get some discount on your seat at the last minute. This last trip to Egypt our flight to the south ended up being at 4 am in the morning, despite the fact that there were flights all day long. This basically ruined that day for us. This exact same scenario happened on our trip to India. Verify the reservations for flights and hotels before accepting the trip. Back to the top

3. Hotels

Once you begin to focus on hotels, use Michelin or Fodors; if you're on a budget try Lonely Planet. And cross-check everything. You can be fairly confident that if something is listed favorably in Fodor's and Michelin it will be good. Katherine also loves to find hotels listed in some form of Bed & Breakfast guide or in one of the many guides to small hotels like the Charming Small Hotel series for travel in Europe.

We should also point out that finding a charming, small hotel does not necessarily mean it will be an expensive hotel. The charming-hotels guides, and even the Michelin guides, often recommend modestly priced hotels if they offer unusual features, like a great view, proximity to the center of the city or quaint decor.

Our general preference in travel, particularly in Europe, is to avoid big cites and large hotels. We really prefer the intimacy of a small hotel or a B & B. However, in Asia, we have opted for the prestigious five star hotels because these are wonderful places to stay, usually have the best restaurants, are reasonably priced when compared to the rest of the world and are usually in magnificent locations. In Europe, we like mid-level hotels, like Michelin three stars, although Mike has lately been opting more for the 4 star hotels after being spoiled in Asia. So, while Mike now prefers the comforts of four star hotels he will settle for less in especially nice small hotels Katherine finds in these guides, particularly in small cities.

Nonetheless, once we decide on staying in a particular city, we now give a major priority to staying within that city, as close as possible to the center of the city. The ability to walk back to your hotel to use the facilities or take a nap or drop off packages in a matter of minutes is very desirable and well worth the extra expense. When we were on a budget we were forced to stay well outside of cities like Florence and Venice , Italy, because the downtown hotels were so expensive. On our last trip to Venice we stayed in a hotel right on the Grand Canal. The difference in ambiance is enormous. We've had the same experience in Florence and other cities. To stay outside the city is to seriously compromise the experience. There is a reason that the downtown hotels cost so much more. I would even go so far as to say that if you can't afford to stay in or near the center of the city, wait until you can afford it.

Booking ahead, when traveling in Europe, is anathema to Katherine. She just loves to drive into some city and, using her books, pick out the place to stay right then and there. This always gave us the freedom to alter our trip as we went. And, this used to work well. However, once she started looking for the "perfect" small hotel, these were invariably booked. It seems that everybody is reading the same guides and wants to go to the same perfect hotel. So, we are now being forced to book ahead a little more than usual. In some cases, we are booking hotels no more than one or two days ahead of time as we go, and this seems to work pretty well and still gives us the flexibility we want during the trip. However, this is totally unacceptable in any large city. To stay in Paris or Venice or Florence, book ahead.

One of the great mysteries of the world is the rating system. As long as you're using Michelin or Fodors you're fairly safe. But if you're searching on the internet and use their rating, be careful. There is a lot of difference between three and four and five star hotels and bigger differences within each category. And the differences around the world are staggering. In other words, a five star hotel in Bangkok will be world class. We just stayed in a five star hotel in Cairo that was little more than a good four star hotel. And it was recommended by a travel agent.

Don't hesitate to complain if the room you are offered is not up to your expectations. In Vienna, Katherine had booked the trip through her company which offered great rates. However, when we got to the room it was small and dismal. I went back to the desk and asked how much it would cost to upgrade. He then gave us another key and asked us to check it out. It was much nicer and when I went back to the desk he said it was at the same rate. Make sure you ask for the room with the view you want or a quiet room or whatever. The greatest phrase we have learned is "Don't ask, don't get."
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4. Getting Around: Renting a Car or Taking the Train

We have always rented a car and driven ourselves around Europe and even had a rental car in Turkey. We have never had any major difficulties and are completely convinced that this is the best way to go and is really easy to do. However, for travel to places outside of Europe, we have relied on private guides and a driver to get around. This is largely due to problems with language, particularly when you can't read the alphabet.

Because of Katherine's business ties, we have always used Hertz and could not recommend them more highly. We have rarely had any difficultly with them and on those few occasions when things haven't been quite right they have always adequately compensated us. The cars are always clean, the tank full and the people courteous. On the rare occasion that we have used another carrier neither the car nor the service has been as good. Hertz's rates are very competitive, particularly if you can get a business discount. But for consistently, we would stay with Hertz in any case.

You should also be aware of the fact that most of Europe rents cars with manual transmissions. If you can't drive a manual, or just want an automatic, then be prepared to pay a lot more money. Automatic transmissions are typically available only on upscale rental cars.

One of the other quirks about driving in Europe is that the fast lane is only for people willing to drive very fast. In places like Germany and Italy drivers doing well in excess of 100 mph are not uncommon. Now if you are in a hurry to go somewhere, then getting there at 100 mph is great. However, other drivers get very upset when you get in their way. I have seen, many times, some big Mercedes or BMW tailgating a driver in that lane who wouldn't get out of their way; nearly bumper to bumper at 70, 80 or 90 mph. If you pull into the fast lane, first check to see that nobody is coming up on you in the fast lane. Then be prepared to get into the lane, pass the cars and get back out of that lane as soon as possible. It's amazing how fast a car doing in excess of 100 mph will catch you.

This last trip to Europe we decided to take trains from Italy to Salzburg, Vienna and then to Budapest. First, taking a train is pretty easy. Just get into the train station, find the ticket counter and tell the man where you want to go. And tell them if you want first class or second class. Find the track and head for that tract. When the train comes in, look for the car with the appropriate class; the cars will have a "1" or a "2" on them to denote class.

First class is a lot more comfortable and we think it's worth the extra fair. But be aware that on some trains people reserve specific seats in first class. We didn't realize this and were nicely ensconced in a nice compartment when, several stops later, a family of four came in claiming, in German, that we were in their seats. Our tickets said open seating but theirs said they had our seats. We tried to appeal this to the conductor who spoke only Italian; and while he generally agreed that we were both right, we had to move. Also be aware that some of the compartments are for smokers and some for non-smoking; the smoking compartments really had that old cigarette smell.

The other thing to note is that you want to travel light. We had only two large rollies and our backpacks so felt quite mobile. But you will have to quickly schlep the bags on the train when it arrives, while others are getting on and off. And the car floor is several feet above where you are standing so you must physically lift your bags up and toss them on the car. And then you have to get your bags down the relatively narrow passageways and stow the luggage once you find a seat. They have storage above the seats but you had better be able to lift the bags up to the storage racks. And one of our big bags would not really fit into the storage so we had to just sit with it in front of us.

One of the strange things that happened in going from Salzburg to Vienna is that this particular train apparently had a "super" first class; what they called business class. We got on and found a nice compartment and were settling in when the conductor came by and, very nicely, said we were in the wrong class and must move. He indicated that we had first class tickets but were in some kind of business class seats. He was both very pleasant and very insistent that we move. Fortunately, we found another compartment in the first class section. We asked everybody after that about this other class and nobody had a clue. Go figure.

If you are going to cover large distances, then we would strongly favor using a train. Still and all, if you don't mind driving, this gives you a lot more flexibility; and for a large family, trains can get expensive. What we would really recommend is taking a car and getting off the autobahn and taking the slower, but far more interesting, secondary roads. Stop every couple of hours at interesting little cities to check out the shops and get some coffee or a beer. And, of course, stop at every market you come across-weekly, city markets, that is. Back to the top

5. The Internet

We have been using the Internet to plan travel since the late 90's. And back then it was pretty limited. Nonetheless, the basic idea is the same. Use a search engine, like and start searching for whatever you are looking for. For example, if you were going to plan a trip to Budapest, or at least thought that might be a good idea, you might try a search for "Budapest tours sightseeing attractions"; you'll be amazed and how much stuff comes up.  If you want luxury travel, put that in.  If you are a trekker, put that in.  Narrow your search parameters as much as possible.

As you start reading the descriptions of what's being offered by professional tour planners and travel agents and destination websites, you will begin to develop a picture of what is right for you and how to put the trip together. And you will also probably find a lot of anecdotal information from amateur website designers talking about their vacation to this place, and about good and bad experiences they had, which, when taken in total, will give you an idea of what you do and don't want to do.   Then formulate your note to the agents about what you do and don't want to do.

Today, many places not only have online reservation services they do realtime booking. And there is a real difference between the two. Online reservations means you fill out a form on a webpage and submit it to some kind of booking agency; many, if not most hotels use services to help them book rooms. But it takes time to send a request and get a reply-often at least two to three days-and if the hotel should be unavailable, a lot of time could go by before being able to try the next hotel. And, you can't really do anything until you get a reply. If you have the time, these can work just fine.

A real-time booking service means that they can commit to the room right there and send you a confirmation. Airlines can do this right now with flight bookings. Of course, if you want real control over what is happening, then just pick up the phone and call the hotel or the airline or whatever. Virtually every major hotel, and particularly one that is listed on the internet, has no trouble speaking English and you will know immediately what you are getting. Back to the top

6. Airlines

Business class travel is a world better than coach class travel for a myriad of well known reasons but much more expensive. But, of course, the food and wine are better, you have more room, and it is quieter. However, probably the best reason to go to a better class is to be able to sleep. If you're flying for eight or ten or twelve hours, the ability to sleep for at least a few hours will make a world of difference in your attitude when you arrive. And first class is wonderful, primarily because you can stretch out in what is almost a bed. For us, at least, the ability to lie horizontally is critical to our being able to sleep. This is an ever changing situation on the various airlines so be sure to check out the seating before committing to an airline.

Having said all of this, there is room to reflect on this decision. If you don't drink and particularly don't drink wine and think that the big buffet at KFC on a Saturday night is your idea of dining out, why bother with upper class? You are missing one of the big perks for flying upper class. You're paying for much better food and much better wines and plenty of both of them. If these don't appeal to you, skip it. Same holds true if you can sleep in coach or can never sleep in business class. Furthermore, if your flight has several legs that are not themselves very long, you will be unable to get a good sleep. It is near impossible to sleep during the take off and landing intervals and by the time things quiet down in the cabin after takeoff, you may only be able to get a couple of hours of sleep.

If you have reason to make a long flight, from the USA to Asia, say, there is good reason to consider an around-the-world (RTW) trip. Basically, if you meet some minimum criteria, like making at least three stops of at least 24 hours each, you can get some very good airfares. Indeed, you will find that you can go RTW for about the same fare as a direct round-trip flight to your original destination. The deals apply to all three classes.

We flew our last RTW trip in first class and for one basic reason it was something of a disappointment. That being that we were flying during the day. I simply couldn't go to sleep during much of the flight legs because it was time during which I would normally be awake. I believe that this particular trip could have been done business class with little loss in enjoyment.

The other caveat is that if you are going to fly first class, seriously try to find a well known, non-US carrier. You're simply going to get better service, and better food and drink. The only drawback in using a particular carrier is that you inevitably have to go through that carrier's home city. So, if I wanted to fly Lufthansa from London to SF, I'd have to fly to Frankfurt or somewhere in Germany first. And this may take you seriously out of your way.

For airline deals, use your favorite travel agent or, better yet, get on the Internet and start searching for prices. On this last Round the World trip, I had spent a lot of time on the internet trying to get the Star Alliance airline hookups that made the trip work. It was complicated by trying to leave at reasonable hours in the morning and not arrive too late at places we wanted to travel through. Then, after I had the basic planning done, I called the Star Alliance representative on the phone to set the trip up. I was then informed that one connection was unacceptable. It looked ok on the Internet but the airline would not accept it for the RTW trip. But, because I was online while talking to her, I re-planned the trip in real time checking with her as to what was acceptable.

There is also something else to watch out for. First, we travel on frequent flyer miles a lot. And, of course, these are subject to a lot of restrictions. So on June of 2003 I was planning to use mileage to fly from London to our house in Lake Tahoe, Nevada. However, on both American Airlines and United Airlines the business class "plan ahead" airfares were unavailable. That would have allowed me to make the trip for 90,000 miles. Alternatively, I could use the "anytime" airfares and avoid blackout periods; however this was going to cost 150,000 miles on United and 180,000 miles on American. In a stroke of brilliance, I decided to check on "plan ahead" airfares in first class on American and, lo and behold, for 125,000 miles I could fly first class. Such a deal. There are many, many ways to get from point A to point B so be flexible.

One of the neatest things you can do these days is to check-in online. Each airline has different rules for this service but generally some number of hours before your flight you can login, check your seat assignment, and check-in. Then when you show up at the airport you merely check your luggage at special check-in counters, bypassing the long regular check-in lines. The mechanics of doing this is constantly evolving so check this out before you head for the plane.  And, certainly for returning from international travel, there is the Global Online Enrollment system. Once you sign up, it allows you to bypass the immigration lines which can be formidable.  There are also other services through airlines which allow you faster passage through security.  Look into these.
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7. Small Things

For me, at least, there is nothing I like less than having to get up in the middle of the night to make an early flight somewhere. It simply ruins my whole day unless you're able to sleep the entire flight. And, if you have rented a car, returning the car can compound the difficulty of getting to the airport. There's nothing so exciting as trying to find the airport in some foreign city and then the car rental place in the dark of morning. So we spend a considerable amount of time planning flight schedules. Get on the Internet and check all possible ways to get to where you are going. Lacking that, stay in the airport hotel and turn the car in a day earlier; this will save you an amazing amount of anxiety.

You should also assume that a travel day is a lost day. In other words, if you have a four-day trip planned to some city, you can expect to loose one day flying into the location and another flying out. Sure, you may be scheduled to arrive at 1:00 but by the time you get through customs, get to the hotel and get checked in, clean up or change clothes, get the local maps and figure what you want to do, you've lost most of the day. This is the time to plan the obligatory tour of the city with a guide. You can be numb and still make use of the time. But thinking of this as a two-day stay in the city will allow you to plan a lot better.

In Europe, shops may not open until maybe 10 am and many will close around 2 pm, not to open again until 4 or so. It is assumed that everyone is having lunch or taking a nap until late afternoon. So, if you have lunch at 12:00, you may find yourselves with nothing to do until 4. If you have a hotel in the downtown, this is a great opportunity to get a nap.

Everybody likes to get postcards from someone traveling. And it always gives us something to do when sitting in local cafes. However, addressing these postcards is a pain in the ass. So, I print out a sheet of self-stick labels with the addresses of everyone to whom I'm likely to send a postcard. And print enough of each person's address to allow for several postcards. Then you simply peel off the labels as you go. This is an amazing time saver.

Doing laundry, and particularly washing underwear as you travel, can be a major convenience. And, indeed, many hotels have a line to hang clothes on over the bathtub. But be aware that it will take at least a day to dry cotton underwear; they dry incredibly slowly. Manmade fabrics dry real fast but Mike doesn't wear them. The best natural fabric for traveling is silk. It feels great and dries fast.

Even if relatively expensive, it is easier to use the hotel laundry service than to take a lot of extra clothes. One of our dear friends took 12 suitcases for a two week stay in New Zealand for herself, her husband and two children. She took every possible combination of shirts and pants and enough for the entire trip without using laundry. We've done two week trips out of one relatively small rollie suitcase. Look, nobody is really going to notice that you wore the same outfit two days earlier. On the other hand, when you look at pictures you have the waiters take at various restaurants it is dismaying to find yourselves wearing the same clothes along the trip.

Speaking of laundry, the most bizarre experience occurred at the Baan Boran Hotel in Chang Mai, Thailand, a quite lovely hotel. We had left laundry to be done before our tour that morning. On returning that afternoon, there was a bag with our completed laundry on the bed with a pair of my underwear next to it. On the underwear was a little paper arrow pointing to a big hole in the underwear. Needless to say, Katherine was mortified and made me throw them away. And, don't assume that the laundry service at a hotel will wash your brand new, bright red t-shirt separately from the rest of your clothes. You can also expect that any t-shirt you buy from a street vendor will shrink at least two sizes on being washed despite assurances by the merchant to the contrary. View t-shirts you buy from local vendors to be a novelty item, not clothes. Back to the top

8. Shopping and Bargaining

Planning ahead for a trip is critical if you have a shopping agenda, and we always seem to have a shopping agenda. Actually, particularly in Europe, market day is one of our favorite attractions. On our very first trip to Europe in 1985, we were staying in Garda, on Lake Garda, Italy, at a lovely hotel on the lake. Saturday morning Mike gets up and looks out the window and what does he see but a market stretching through the city as far as he could see. Indeed, it turned out that it was considered to be one of the biggest markets in Italy. It had been set up that morning to our complete surprise and was a delight to tour. After that, we have made it a point to find out when the local market day is in a particular city and to visit as many as we can.

We've had many reasons to travel to Bangkok, Thailand, while living in Tokyo, and it is definitely a place to go for jewelry, especially for sapphires, rubies and emeralds. But we sadly discovered on our first trip there that many art galleries were closed on the weekends and jewelry stores closed on Sunday. Indeed, it is quite likely that most shops are closed on Sundays wherever you go. And if you should arrive on some national holiday, you may find virtually everything closed. And, God forbid, you arrive in a city in Italy on a day like Easter Monday, as we did in Sicily. There was nothing open, not even a restaurant. Fortunately, we had planned on doing the tour of the ruins and eating at the hotel. In any case, check out such things when you decide when to arrive in a city. Actually, Sunday is one of the best days to arrive and then take the city tour.

Bangkok is noted for tailors. Now we don't make a lot of recommendations about such things but we had found a great tailor in World Group Company Ltd., on 1302-4 New Road, Bangrak, just off of the entrance road to the Oriental Hotel; their phone number was 66-2-234-4799. If you should get there, ask for Mrs. Keng and tell her that Katherine, from Tokyo, sent you. You can get world class clothes made in a couple of days at prices you wouldn't believe but you just need to plan your time to allow for the fittings.

Anyway, on trips there, we would get a taxi at the hotel and tell the driver where to go. But he would immediately start a conversation about where we were going and were we looking for a tailor. And the next thing you know he has stopped at his brother-in-law's tailor shop. So here we are yelling at this man because he has taken us way out of our way. Be aware that this will happen. Make sure you get to the right place. Call first for directions before getting into the taxi. And don't tell them you are going shopping.

Also become aware of what the specialties are in the places to where you are traveling. Italy is noted for gold jewelry and leathers. Korea for Celedon and leathers. Vietnam is a great place to look for art and Japan for pearls. In India and Turkey be prepared to look for rugs. And, if you want handmade clothing from beautiful silk or wool fabrics, go to Thailand, Korea or Vietnam; other places, like Hong Kong, are considerably more expensive. The local tailors can make virtually anything but bring pictures of the styles you want; saves a lot of time looking through magazines.

All of this shopping, of course, presents a problem for carrying things. First, in Europe, we have always had a car so totting things was quite easy. We also travel with a minimum of luggage and then bring along a couple of duffle bags that we can use to haul stuff back. Hotels are also very flexible about storing things until you return from side trips to other cities. And, of course, you can have bigger or more expensive items shipped directly back home. You should feel comfortable about shipping arrangements when buying from any reputable dealer. Which brings up another interesting point.

Mike loves to negotiate and really tries to get the best deal. And you can tell when they are starting to squirm. However, if you are going to expect the shop owner to ship things to you or box them for delivery to your hotel or do some other favors for you, leave some of the profit in the deal. You'll get much better service from him. On the other hand, Michael sometimes goes overboard on this bargaining. In Istanbul, he was arguing with an umbrella salesman over the price of an umbrella while it was raining. Katherine had to point out that he was arguing over 50 cents. And in the market in Livingstone, Zambia, Katherine felt obligated to go back the next day to buy some additional baskets at the asking price from a guy that she felt had given Michael too good a deal. In fact, everybody will deal. But you have to give them a good reason to deal. In Japan, for example, they won't negotiate unless they like you. And they really don't negotiate much at all. But a friend of ours who could sell ice to an Eskimo, always got good deals. After we negotiated a deal for a rug in Egypt they accused Mike of being Egyptian; it was a good deal.

Bargaining is definitely an art in Egypt and in the middle east in general. They will come down 10% for just about anybody. If they are serious, they will come down 20%. But, particularly for expensive items with a lot of markup, you should be able to negotiate 30-50% discounts. When they say, "How much to buy right now?" you have to really lowball them and be prepared to leave. But you have to give them a reason to give you a good price so don't make the negotiations personal. Back to the top

9. Factory Outlets

The factory stores or "schools" as they were referred to in Egypt are not the factory outlets you're used to seeing in the states. If you are in a tour group traveling anywhere in the world, there is a virtual certainty that you will be taken to a "factory store." Even a personal tour guide will want to take you to some outlet and they will be very upset if you don't want to go. The reality is that the guides get a big commission when you buy something there. How can you tell you have been taken to one of the "factories?" First, there are spaces for busses in the parking lot and usually a number of busses already there. Second, when you walk in you will pick up a "guide." This person will walk you around the store and is basically in charge of you. Also, in many of them, you get to tour the "factory." There you will learn how some kind of jewelry or whatever is made.

We now avoid these places like the plague. The prices are invariably much higher than you could find in smaller, reputable stores after negotiating a "best" price. It has also been our experience that these outlets do not want to negotiate much, if at all. The problem is that nearly all tourists will make one stop in their factory and they know it. Someone on a tour does not have the luxury of doing price comparisons and being able to return to the store they like; people who arrive on a bus are on a schedule. Now as long as you're not spending much, why bother. But if you're buying art or jewelry or rugs, you could be talking some serious money to be saved by negotiating.

The problem is that if you are in an organized tour group, you may have little choice about going to one of these places or how much time you will have to shop on your own. The commissions being paid to your tour guide or tour operator will cost you dearly. The fact of the matter is that these factories have little to do with seeing the city you are visiting and you may spend many hours there because you can't leave until that last person has finished purchasing whatever it is they have bought. We would suggest that when the tour has scheduled a stop at one of these places, find out where you can meet the tour later.

Of course, you may indeed be interested in seeing what these factory stores have to offer. However, as we discovered the hard way in both India and Thailand, once you visit a place your guide, and driver, will expect a percentage cut from the owners on anything you may buy later. In New Delhi, we let our guide take us to a rug factory and we did a lot of negotiation for a beautiful silk rug. However, failing to get the price we wanted, we returned to the hotel. That night, the rug dealer called us and offered us the price we wanted. They then brought a 9x12 foot silk rug to the hotel, we paid for it by credit card, and they wrapped it up in a package the size of a large suitcase which we could check as luggage at the airport. Then, we left for four days of travel around India leaving the rug at the hotel to be picked up when we returned.

The morning after our return to the hotel, our driver picked us up to take us to the airport and immediately started asking us about the rug. "Is that the rug we were negotiating for when we were with him four days earlier?" he wanted to know. Before we realized what he was getting at, we had admitted it was. He was furious. He hadn't gotten his cut. "How much was the rug?" He made us write down the price on his card and sign it. All this negotiating was taking place as we drove to the airport at 6 am. The same basic thing happened in Thailand. The day after our guide had taken us out looking for tables we went out on our own. Then, the following day when we saw him again we made the mistake of mentioning that we had bought a table, even though he had not taken us to the place where we bought the table. He was very upset. We have had similar stories related to us by other people.

It is one thing for the guide to expect a reward for bringing you in. It is something else to expect the reward for shopping you did on your own. Also, their cut is significant and negotiating without the guide's cut could save you a lot of money. Back to the top

10. Local Currency and credit cards

In general, you should pick up the local currency as soon as you arrive. This will take care of taxis and tips. This should always be done using a cash card at a cash machine. And these are usually available close to where you exit customs at the airport.

We actually found cash machines in a Thailand city on the Burmese border out in nowhere back in 1996, with a line in front of it. I think that the only places we couldn't use our cash cards have been in India and in Bhutan, and that is likely to change. Still and all, most people will accept dollars. Indeed, some of the local merchants will give you a very favorable conversion rate if you pay in dollars. But always check their calculations. You can get exchange rates in virtually every newspaper and you should be aware of these.

The funniest thing related to using a cash machine was in Bali. At the time we visited there the rupiah had fallen to something around 8,000 per dollar. And when we went to take out $100 at a cash machine that worked out to 800,000 rupiahs. But the machine would only give us 100,000 rupiahs at a time. So we had to use our card eight times. The real problem was that we had an inch of currency to put in our wallets because the largest denomination was 2,000 rupiahs.

You should avoid converting currency at the credit exchanges you see everywhere or at banks or at your hotel. First, they generally charge a fee and often both a fee and a percentage to convert currency. At the very least, the exchange rates will be very poor. We have also never had any reason to carry travelers' checks. Unless you can get them free at your bank, they are expensive to get, a nuisance to carry, and credit cards are almost universally accepted.

Credit cards or debit cards give you the best exchange rates you can get. It is also always advisable to inform your credit card companies, and your bank, that you will be traveling to some foreign countries and to expect charges to be made during the time you are there. This can prevent a lot of embarrassment when your credit card is suddenly refused. So, simply call your credit card company before you leave a tell them where you will be going and for how long. However, we have become aware of a serious drawback to using credit cards.

Currently, on any international purchase denominated in a currency other than dollars, the international arm of Visa and Mastercharge will add 1% for currency conversion. And then, to top it off, your local card issuer will add up to another 2% for no good reason at all. In any case, this will add a huge surcharge for any large items you may purchase. Our experience in Africa had taught us that while US$ were widely accepted, we should not expect the locals to be able to break larger bills. So now when we travel to more exotic places we carry a lot of $1 and $5 bills. And as soon as we get to the hotel we have the cashier give us small bills in the local currency in exchange for the larger bills from the cash machines.

The one really interesting exception to this was in Burma.  Using credit cards was not advised.  Rather, we were taken to an "unofficial" exchange group.  And the only thing they would accept were brand new $100 bills.  Fortunately, we had some.

Back to the top

11. Tipping

For goodness sake, find out about local tipping. The average American arrives somewhere and just starts tipping everybody 15% to 20% as if they were back home. This totally screws up the local economy and makes it difficult on everybody else. In most of Europe the tip is included in the bill and the most you would leave is small change. In London, at pubs, you order your food and drink at the bar. And nobody leaves any change.

All too often in our travels, particularly in Europe, as soon as waiters find out we are American they start hovering about making small talk. They are expecting a big tip and we can't get rid of them. The fact of the matter is that few places in the world tip much at all and never for anything less than superior service. Indeed, in Japan if you leave a tip they are likely to follow you out to give it back to you. When we first arrived at the ANA Hotel in Tokyo, we were toting a lot of heavy luggage. And I tried to tip the bellboy after he had unloaded it all in the room. He seemed surprised by the offer and wouldn't even consider it.

In another variation of this dilemma in Bali, we had a big problem with tipping the caddies. We, and others, had no basis to figure a tip. We gave caddies at Bali Handara 30,000 rupiahs at the suggestion of the caddie master and they were clearly disappointed. The fact was Americans would come along and give them a $10 or $20 tip. So they expected a tip in dollars. That would have put a $10 tip at 80,000 rupiahs. That tip would have been equivalent to $40 in local buying power which seemed a little excessive to me.

I finally decided that in the future I was going to use the local beer as the currency denominator. We first find out what a local beer sells for in the states and then find it's currency equivalent wherever we go. In other words, if a 12 oz bottle of Millers sells for $1 in the U.S. then 10 local beers would be equivalent to a $10 tip. So, if a beer was selling for 1,000 rupiahs in Bali, then a tip of 10,000 rupiahs would be equivalent to a $10 tip. This is the best I could come up with. Katherine was glad to see that all Mike's graduate work was not wasted. In places where we were using a tour guide, our tour guides told us how much to tip the various people we came in contact with which was a big help.

A big subterfuge we have found is in the tipping of your bus driver and/or tour guide on an organized tour. Regardless of the level of service, you are expected to kick in a $10 to $15 per day per person tip on top of what your paying for the tour. It's a ripoff to supplement the wages of the driver/guide because it is not really discretionary. We have no problem with tipping for service, but I will tip based upon the service we get. Back to the top

12. Eating and Drinking

Common tourist advice is to avoid drinking water when you travel internationally. And, fortunately, there's bottled water available everywhere. Of course, you have to believe that it's really bottled water and not just refilled bottles of water. The profit margin on doing that is phenomenal. Make sure the seal has not been broken and that the cap cannot be easily removed. But the fact of the matter is it is very easy to rebottle a bottle of water. And it is extremely unlikely the bottle has been sterilized in the process.

Mike only likes sparkling water which is also nearly impossible to rebottle. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to find sparkling water at small shops while you are traveling. The best alternative is to drink beer or sodas. Unfortunately for many Americans, finding diet sodas is often next to impossible.

Well, I can see brushing my teeth using bottled water. However, I defy you to wash your hair in a shower or rinse your face after shaving without getting some water on your lips. It's going to happen. Our advice is that you obviously don't want to drink the water right out of the tap. But, after that, eat the food. Wash fresh fruit with some of your bottled water. Enjoy. You can get paranoid worrying about this. Also, use the hot water side if possible because the heating may help sterilize the water; e.g. when you rinse your face in the morning. But don't get burned trying this. However, given the average wait we have for hot water at so many hotels, this is not a problem.

In fact, knock on wood, we have had no major gastrointestinal problems in nearly 20 years of travels. Keep in mind that we always try to eat the local food. And the last two incidences were with travel in Europe; one on a trip to Switzerland and the other on a trip to Sicily. It may be that in Asia we were very cautious about drinking the water whereas in Europe we take clean water for granted. We will not make this mistake again. And all of the incidences were handled with Pepto Bismol and Immodium. Pack accordingly. One of the most useful things to carry along with you are the little pre-moistened towelettes; the hand cleaners in little bags. Baby-wipes work well too. All too often you will find yourself in a place where you wish you could wash your hands. These work great.  But make sure they use alcohol as the sterilant. Back to the top

13. Speaking the Local Language

When we travel in Europe we have made it a point to learn as much of the language as we can in the time before and during the trip. It really becomes the focal point of the trip for Mike and he reads the language books to pass time rather than a novel. And Katherine knows a lot about the foods served in any of the countries. Making some attempt to speak their language, however feeble the attempt, will endear you to the local people. To simply expect them to speak English is the height of arrogance and contributes in no small part to the vision of the Ugly American. On the other hand, we have made little effort to learn the languages outside of Europe mainly because we can't read the alphabets. Still, we do try to remember to say things like good morning and thank you in their language.

I distinctly remember getting into a taxi in Istanbul and telling him we wanted to go to the Blue Mosque. Now the Blue Mosque is one of the major tourist attractions in Istanbul. But he stared at us blankly and told us to get out of the cab. At that point I got the guide from Katherine and found the words in Turkish for the Blue Mosque. The next cab driver took us there directly. Remember that you are not in Kansas anymore. Back to the top

14. Safety

Safety has clearly become a paramount issue in traveling to foreign countries. However, outside of terrorist activity, you're not in a lot of physical danger anywhere in the world. Living in Japan we did appreciate just how safe it is. You can literally go anywhere at anytime and feel safe. Still and all we have walked around a lot of big cities in other countries at night, including Istanbul, Bangkok and cities in India, and never felt threatened. We've been more concerned about walking around the wrong places in Philadelphia. Of course, we tend to avoid all of the normal tourist places. We also go to great pains not to stand out and not to look like tourists, particularly American tourists. Of course, traveling outside of Europe, trying to blend in is a little difficult. Particularly with Katherine's light blond hair.

The one thing you will run into pretty much anywhere in the world is pickpockets. Be diligent when you are in obvious tourist places. Be particularly wary of children crowding close to you. We had been warned about this in the flea markets in Rome and watched it happen. First, a gypsy woman openly nursing a child would get the attention of an American male. Then, suddenly, while his attention was distracted, a number of young children would crowd around him begging. Lifting valuables was simple. Americans seem to have taken such cautions to a level of paranoia; you can see American women with their purses slung across their chests and one hand always on the purse. It should also be noted that belly packs look pretty stupid and are apparently not all that secure. We travel with backpacks which are pretty difficult to get into without being very obvious. They will carry a lot of stuff and they leave your hands free.

The only time that we have ever been really intimidated was in New Delhi, India. We had come from Thailand, where nobody touches you, to New Delhi on our first RTW trip. There, simply walking from the hotel to the downtown area we had to pass a gauntlet of salesmen, all tugging at you to see their wares. We had never seen such aggressiveness before and it was intimidating.

The worst part came when one of a group of shoe shiners pointed out the obvious glob of "dirt" that had magically appeared on my shoes. Certainly I would want him to clean it. The next thing we knew we were surrounded by a dozen men trying to clean the shoes, fix a suddenly broken stitch, and sell us other stuff. When I asked how much they wanted, he quoted a price more than the original price of the shoes. Never, ever agree to anything from work to be done, to a taxi ride, to whatever without first agreeing on the price. I finally threw some money in the air to let them fight over it and headed for a policeman. Back to the top

15. Dealing with People

We have been told, and have come to believe in it totally, that outright rudeness is the only way to avoid the onslaught of salesmen. We have always believed in being courteous to anybody. But the minute you even acknowledge these people or what they are selling you are the target for their advances. You simply cannot be too rude. Don't even make eye contact and don't even acknowledge that you speak English. And, no, they do not really care where you are from. This advice applies to the merchants in just about any market anywhere in the world. But it applies in particular to rug salesmen anywhere in the world.

But we always find some new twist on negotiations. On our trip to Egypt, at a little market along the river, a boy selling shawls approached Katherine and offered her one for 100 pounds. We assumed that he meant Egyptian pounds. We kept turning him down but he kept following us offering better and better prices. And he eventually came down to 20 pounds. That would be about $4. Seemed like a good price. We offered him 20 Egyptian pounds and he rejected it saying he wanted UK pounds. That would have been six times more money.

The latest trick we found in the markets in Livingstone, Zambia, was to hand you things. As soon as you would start to browse their wares they would pick up something you were looking at and hand it to you. They would then make it difficult to hand it back to them, forcing you to stay a lot longer. Don't accept the merchandise you are offered unless you are really interested in buying something and don't hesitate to just put it down. Also, if they offer to hold something for you, be sure you tell them you are not going to buy that item; otherwise, when you return, they will act as though they have held the item for you or will maintain that you are backing out of a deal. We also endured the plea that if we don't buy something they won't be able to eat. Back to the top

16. Doing Something Different

As intimidating as the shopping in New Delhi was, we had an unforgettable ride on a horse-drawn carriage in Jaipur, India. We had told our guide that we would like a nice, slow tour of the city and so he arranged it. And, then, the next morning we plowed through the onslaught of wannabe guides waiting outside the hotel to meet with this guide and take the tour. For the next two hours we rode in his carriage all around the city with Mike in the back photographing everything. School children would wave, people on bikes would ask where we were from and it was delightful, if amazing. A great way to see a city. Don't hesitate to do something different.

We did the same thing on our last trip to Luxor, Egypt. We had our guide set up a horse-drawn carriage and we took an hour and a half just riding around. It turns out it wasn't cheap, but it was a great way to just tour around. Back to the top

17. Toilets

The byline on your travel should be to never pass up a chance to pee. We call it always using the toilet of opportunity. If you come across a toilet, make sure you don't need to go and aren't likely to in the next hour or two. More to the point, finding an American style toilet anywhere in the world is problematic, even in Europe. During our early years of travel in Europe, outside of a restaurant, they were virtually non-existent. This was not an issue for men but women's toilets anywhere in the world, outside of hotels and restaurants, are generally little more than a hole in the floor with foot pads. In many places we have stopped in for a beer or coffee just to use the restaurant's toilets, which more often than not are American style. Of course, you can just use their facilities without buying any food.  This is the routine of the backpackers traveling on the cheap but we don't consider that kosher.

We have also run into just about every imaginable flushing mechanism on a toilet. Some were quite daunting. There are knobs you pull up, levers you push down, chains you pull, buttons you push, some that you simply turned on/off and others where there was a bucket of water sitting nearby. Probably the most interesting one I can remember was one in Japan? When you flushed the toilet the refill water came in at the top so you could wash your hands.

You also get used to shared wash basins where men and women share the sink. In Tokyo, restrooms along streets have urinals that were quite open. The good news was that there were a lot of facilities available. On the other hand, your activities were quite open to a passerby with at most some small plants between you and the street. Of course, the Japanese are not opposed to just peeing at a building along the street. Unnecessary modesty goes quickly when you do much international travel.

On many of our travels public toilets have been few and far between. For example, on the trip to Egypt, there was only one public toilet facility in Abu Simbel for the hundreds of tourists there at any one time and most were spending a couple of hours there. The women's line was so long that they were using the men's toilet; Mike found the fact that women were walking around behind him while he used the urinals really entertaining. Back to the top

18. Cameras

Take a lot of pictures. You will surely have spent a lot of money on your trip. The cost of film, for example, is trivial compared to the total cost of the trip; take a lot of pictures to make sure you get the ones you want. Also, if you want to take pictures of people, particularly of people at markets or in villages in exotic locations, the use of a digital camera makes this a lot easier. When I used film cameras it was often hard to get people to pose for a picture. On our visit to Bhutan, our first trip with my digital camera, I would first persuade a child to pose for some picture. Then I would show them their picture in the camera display. They were delighted and soon had all of the adults posing for pictures. And when I'd show them their picture, they would laugh and grab a friend to have me take their picture. It was magic. And, in fact, at the village in Zambia and the market in Aswan, Egypt, that is exactly what I did and got some very candid shots. I also always have our guide point out that I would send prints back to them after we got home; and I did. If you're going to some exotic place, bring along some kind of digital camera.

Today, with the general use of digital pictures, the cost of taking a picture is basically irrelevant. The advice to take a lot of pictures is still a good idea. However, uploading your pictures can be a problem. That is, what do you do when your flash card fills up? First, I always advise people to take pictures at the highest quality to allow for printing high quality images. However, this creates files that are very large. Assuming that you have large flash cards you can store a lot of pictures. Nonetheless, you can still fill these up fairly quickly; particularly on a long trip so make sure you have a lot of storage.  On a typical week long trip to a photogenic place, I can easly take 500 pictures.

Learn to use your camera and associated equipment before you leave on the trip. We saw any number of people on the Africa trip reading the manual on the flight down or around the breakfast tables. Obviously, they realized that they were going to a place where they would want a lot of pictures and so had bought new equipment. But, trying to figure out your camera as your bouncing down the roads on a drive or as you come upon some really great picture is not particularly efficient. And, there is a good chance that you will screw up a lot of pictures. For many people, these are once in a lifetime pictures; it's unlikely you will ever be back and the scenes will never be the same. Plan ahead.

If you are using a digital camera, you can at least see what the picture will look like. But, if you are using a film camera, you may be unknowingly blowing a lot of pictures. Back to the top