Archive for the ‘Information’ Category

A new “express” bus service now links Südkreuz train station in Berlin with Schönefeld Airport.  Price:  6 euros, 4 euros with any BVG ticket, 3 euros with a weekly or monthly ticket.  For those flying into Berlin, the ticket remains valid for further transit on public transportation in Berlin ABC.

This bus represents no monetary savings to Shoestring travelers.

  • Berliners with a regular AB ticket need only purchase an “Anschlussticket” for 1.40 euros to take the RE train, the S-Bahn or a BVG bus to the airport.
  • Visitors coming into town for a few days will most certainly be better off purchasing a 2-, 3- or 5-day tourist card or a weekly ticket and traveling by one of the aforementioned methods.
  • If you’re still weighing your options, a single Berlin ABC ticket will get you into town and beyond for just 2.80 euros!

I’m posting about the service nevertheless, as you may find that it will save you transit time, depending on where you are staying/living.  For less than 2 euros more (with my monthly ticket), I may cut up to 30 minutes off my route to the airport — and that’s something worth writing about!

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Some friends of mine made an unhappy discovery when departing the Czech Republic with a long-sought bottle of wine (or two):  their duty-free purchase was confiscated when making a connection in another EU airport.

As much as I complain about the security theater Americans abbreviate TSA, there is one upside to the system:  once you’re in (and don’t connect in a stupid airport [ahem, JFK] where you have to exit and reenter secured areas when changing flights), you and your liquids are in.  Put that chapstick back in your pocket, enjoy a long swig from your refilled water bottle — no one will bug you about those items again.

Unfortunately, if you are connecting onward through a European airport, you will be subject to repeated searches — necessitating the return of your chapstick to your 1L ziploc, the dumping of your secure-area beverages and, for the unlucky, the confisciation of your duty-free liquids, creams and gels.

How do you avoid this expensive dilemma?  Find out after the jump.


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With the focus on staycations and naycations, there’s little reporting on important nuts-and-bolts issues affecting thousands still on the road.  Expect to hear about these only when they start causing major snarls for casual tourists unaware of the changes.

  • Flying to the United States this year?  As of January 12, 2009, all travelers to the U.S. from Visa Waiver countries (that’s Andorra, Austria, Australia, Belgium, Brunei, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Monaco, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom [and in the near future, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece, Malta, Poland  and Romania too]) will be required to submit their travel plans online 72 hours prior to travel.  Failure to complete ESTA authorization before travel may result in denial of boarding or entry.  Read the details about this change in the post U.S. to Require Online Registration for Visa-Free Travelers.
  • After January 16, 2009, you’ve got to use Euros when traveling in Slovakia.  They’re the 16th EU country to switch to the currency since its introduction a decade ago.  Later this year, expect the Czech Republic to finalize a date for their switch (expected early 2010).
  • Travelers transiting or changing planes within Mexico will now be subject to customs inspection before continuing to their next flight.  International travelers to the United States will be familiar with the drill:  claim checked baggage and proceed through customs, then drop off baggage again before heading to the connecting gate.  Flights from the Caribbean, Central and South America have already begun the procedure; February 1 is the date for flights from Canada, Asia and Europe; flights from the U.S. have until September 1 to comply.  Be aware and avoid tight connections.  And don’t forget to lock that luggage!
  • Starting June 1, 2009, it will no longer be possible to travel by air, land or sea without a passport to destinations in the Western Hemisphere, such as Mexico, Canada and the Caribbean.  Children under 16 may use a birth certificate in lieu of passport.  This requirement also applies to Americans attempting to reenter the United States.  Details here.

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Holiday flights on the mind?  Upgrade: Travel Better has a great post with five tips for well-prepared fliersif your flights are delayed or cancelled, following Mark’s advice will reduce your chances of being stranded.

Since I’ve already got my airline’s customer service number memorized (in case of emergency), I took action on Mark’s #2 tip:

2) Know your alternatives.
Carry the airline’s timetable, or a list of alternate flights to your destination, which can be downloaded or printed from any airline’s website. This is useful when you try for a rebooking or want to go standby. Let’s say flights are delayed two hours across the board. The previous flight might still be waiting to push back from the gate. Check the timetable you brought with you and make a beeline for that earlier flight. Try to stand by and get out early, instead of waiting for hours for your scheduled itinerary.

BONUS: Don’t forget alternate routings if trying to rebook. Just because you’re scheduled to fly from Raleigh to Los Angeles via Chicago doesn’t mean that’s the only route you can take. (E.g., maybe you can fly via Dallas instead.) Having an electronic timetable is great for this. Ask airline agents about specific route alternatives — they may not look them up if you don’t ask for them by name.

I downloaded the airline schedules for my alliance of choice and charted every possible alternative for each leg.  Even if I don’t need it for this trip (knock on wood), I’ve got a better sense of my options next time I’m booking tickets. 

Find links to the downloadable schedules of the world’s major airlines after the jump.

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We are 24 hours away from this election being over — but we still have not won this thing yet! 

If you are an overseas American who cast your vote weeks ago, you may feel somewhat disconnected from what is going on tomorrow in the U.S.  There are nevertheless a number of ways we can still be involved. 

Here’s a list of 5 easy ideas for readers anywhere on the globe:

If you live in the U.S. or overseas:

1) Have your overseas American friends sent in their ballots?

  • Call up, email or otherwise check up with 5 American friends living overseas and make sure they have received and returned their absentee ballots. If they have not, use the information below to help them cast a vote if there’s still time!

2) Will your American friends and relatives be headed to the polls today?

  • Call up, email or otherwise check in with 5 American friends or family members living in the U.S. and encourage them to head to the polls today. Take a couple minutes to tell them why you support Barack Obama and why we’re counting on their vote.

3) Will other Americans — those in key swing states — be headed to the polls today?

  • The campaign has set up an online tool called Neighbor to Neighbor, which allows you to make calls to registered voters in crucial areas, providing them with information about their polling locations and encouraging them to vote for Barack Obama. You can pick the state you’d like to call here. You can find answers to commonly-asked questions here. (Don’t forget to calculate the time difference.)
  • If you do not have a way to make cheap or free phone calls from your land line to the U.S., try using your computer to make calls. You can get 5 free hours of calling from Internet Calls; another inexpensive option is to create and use a Skype account — calls to the U.S. are just 2 cents/minute.
  • If you do have a telephone flatrate, consider inviting friends over today or tonight to make these calls from your home. Polls do not begin closing in the U.S. until midnight CET, so there is plenty of time to make calls after work!

For overseas voters:

4) Have you sent in your ballot?

  • If you have not, you may still FAX in your ballot before polls close on Nov 4th to the following states: AK, AZ, CA, CO, DC, FL, HI, ID (emergency only), IN, KS, LA, ME (emergency only), MO (Federal employees and military only), MT (by county!), NV, NJ, NM, NC, ND, OK (emergency only), RI, SC, TX (military only), UT, VT, VI, and WV.
  • You may FAX your ballot by Nov 3rd to MS.
  • You may EMAIL back your ballot to IN, NJ, NM, ND, SC, and WV (by county!).
  • You may POSTMARK your ballot by the 3rd to: AL (received by 4 Nov), IL (rec’d 18 Nov), IA (rec’d 10 Nov), NY (rec’d 11 Nov), ND, PA (rec’d 11 Nov), and UT (rec’d 18 Nov).
  • You may POSTMARK your ballot by the 4th to: AK (received by 19 Nov), AR (rec’d 14 Nov) DC (rec’d 14 Nov), GA (rec’d 7 Nov), IN (rec’d 14 Nov), MD (rec’d 14 Nov), MA (rec’d 14 Nov), OH (rec’d 14 Nov), TX (rec’d 10 Nov), VI (rec’d 14 Nov), WA (rec’d 25 Nov), and WV (rec’d 10 Nov).
  • If you live in one of the above states, never received your ballot and have not yet done so, please send in a Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot. You can download the forms and instructions for your state at FVAP.
  • If you have sent in your ballot, give your county elections office a call to make sure it’s arrived. You can look up the phone number of your county’s office here. If there are any issues, you may still have time to fax, email or post a replacement.

5) Are there other ways to assist Democrats and Obama supporters in your area?

  • If you live near a major city, it is likely that a Democrats Abroad chapter or Americans Abroad for Obama group will be sponsoring an Election Watch party. You can find a big list of events here. You can also track down events using myBO; search for your area on this page. Volunteers may still be needed for these events! Contact the event’s organizer and let them know you’re willing to help. (If you are turned away because they have plenty of volunteers, then they will have plenty of volunteers to feed! Show your support and bake or take snacks and other goodies for those staffing the event.)

Each and every one of us can still have an impact on this election — please take a couple hours over the next day to ensure that a brighter day in American politics dawns on Nov. 5th!

yes we can!

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We over on the right side of the Atlantic end daylight savings time (DST) on Sunday, meaning that the time difference between London and New York is currently only 4 hours, between London and Los Angeles 7 hours. The party ends Sunday, when American clocks fall back and the differences increase an hour to standard difference.

Who cares, you ask? My mother and I spent spring break 2000 in bonny Ireland. We went down one Sunday morning to breakfast and were greeted by surly staff. Minutes into our meal, we were told our taxi was already waiting. But it was only 9:15 a.m., we’d ordered it for 10. Aha, DST strikes again. We were an hour late to breakfast AND were making the driver wait. There were no signs in the hotel, no mention of it on the news or radio. I don’t know how we were supposed to know Europe moved to DST a week earlier than America did. That was a lapse with minor consequences, but since then I pay attention to such things.

Wouldn’t you hate to miss your flight because of DST? And don’t even get me started on Russian trains the night DST changes (many connections between Moscow and St. Petersburg leave after midnight — so does your train leave at the first 1 a.m., or the second 1 a.m.? Will trains arrive an hour earlier or will they sit on the tracks for an hour waiting? etc. etc.). Actually, trains or planes anywhere . . . it’s good to know the date so you can avoid traveling on it — or at least clarify departure times loooooooooooong in advance.

So Europeans headed to North America, take note: time will change again for you next week. Plan accordingly.

And if you regularly plan your trips abroad during shoulder season to save money, remember to check about the start/end of DST at your destination. You can always check the time difference between two locations at Time and Date, where they have two quite detailed articles about DST around the world: North America, everybody else.

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When you need to keep in touch with hosts or friends, verify plans or make reservations while traveling, cheap and accessible telephony is essential. Options for travelers have improved dramatically in the last few years, leaving you beholden neither to the kindness of strangers (or friends) nor to your home mobile carrier charging you through the nose nor to seedy callshops which have sprung up like mushrooms in large cities. Leave that expensive calling card at home — find everything you need to know about making inexpensive calls in Germany after the jump.


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