Archive for the ‘Luggage’ Category

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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The Russians have a term — avoska — for a small tote bag carried “just in case.” Theirs were used for the random times where lines spontaneously formed for things like bananas. When lines appeared, people would join even if they weren’t certain what was on offer (on the grounds that, if people were lining up, something good must be for sale)!

In the same “Be Prepared” spirit, such a reusable tote bag is one of the smartest things a no-budget traveler can stash in the outer pockets of their luggage or in their handbag.

The nice folks at Wellcare want you to have this tote for free. It appears to have nice long straps for shoulder carrying. If you don’t like the design, I recommend you simply turn it inside out!

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This week a freebie for our littlest travelers: have the coolest mini suitcase (or diaper bag) on the block with this Elmo luggage tag from Nursery Water! Of course, grown-ups and Sesame Street fans can request one too — no questions asked . . .

Find previous luggage tag freebie offers here.

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If you’re new to Less Than a Shoestring, please take some time and have a poke around! I welcome your questions and comments on the site. This blog shows that travel can indeed be both pleasurable and frugal. Because I live in Europe, you’ll find loads of information on European no-budget travel — but in keeping with This Just In’s post and for your ease, I’ve put together below a collection of my U.S. tips and bargains.

Once a month, the Travel on a Shoestring Carnival turns its focus to the Americas. You’ll find lots of great tips from around the blogosphere collected in the following posts:

Every Friday, the blog features a travel freebie. Some timeless classics for U.S. staycationers and backyard travelers:

Not free, but cheap activities include:

For those traveling a bit further afield, take a look at the posts:

If you’ll be driving to your destination, you’ll want to read:

Before flying, from the wild and wooly world of U.S. airline travel:

Changes U.S. travelers and visitors should know about:

See the no-budget traveler take on the New York Times’ “Frugal Traveler” in the posts:

If you like what you see, subscribe to the RSS feed and have the latest no-budget travel tips delivered to you! It takes just a second to set up, ensuring you never miss a single post.

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RyanAir just finished another €1 for select routes in September and October. It is still possible to book some of these tickets for €5-10/leg, so have a look at the site if you’re thinking of traveling during that timeframe.

However, when estimating the price, don’t overlook their recent increase in debit card and EC-card fees — now up from €1.50 to €5 per leg! Whereas the booking fee was once included in their “no taxes, no fees” sales, it is now always an additional charge. The only way to avoid booking charges is to use a Visa Electron card (not available in the U.S., Canada or Australia, according to Wikipedia).

Also, RyanAir recently released a statement reiterating its one bag carry-on policy. Not mincing words, they write,

We will not allow anybody to exceed these permitted allowances, and will be rigidly enforcing our one bag rule this summer. Passengers presenting themselves at a boarding gate should be warned, they will not be permitted to travel if they do not comply with this one bag rule.

Deutsche Bahn is offering any and all comers a 30-day DeutschlandPass for a flat €299 (under 26? a bargain €249). The pass is valid in the 2nd class of all trains, including IC/EC and ICE trains; part of your journey, however, must take place on a long-distance (i.e. not regional or S-Bahn) train [though I’m not exactly sure HOW they expect to police that]. This offer ends August 31, so to get your money’s worth, purchase soon! Tickets are available online (German only).

Finally, EuroCheapo has had a series of guest posts recently from the folks behind Hidden Europe, who shared the following transportation gems:

Tomorrow we’ve got a guest post from Dana on the ins and outs of Japanese rail passes for visitors, so stay tuned!

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The travel season is in full swing, as you can tell by the questions rolling into my e-mailbox.

  • First up is Patricia from Norman (welcome back!), who wanted to know how to treat her luggage if she feared it had been exposed to bedbugs.

This is a serious (if icky!) question, as no one wants a bedbug infestation at home. Bedbugs retreat into crevices, making them extremely difficult to eliminate once they have been introduced. If you have followed the news, you will know that due to a ban on the toxic chemical once used to kill bedbugs, they have begun infesting even 5-star hotels in major cities. Once more, ick!

One of the best resources I found online addressing this came from the University of Minnesota Extension office. Most essential information is the following:

How can I assure that my items are not carrying bed bugs without throwing them away?

Many people may want to discard all luggage and clothing after discovering an infestation, but this is unnecessary. The key is to contain all items suspected of carrying bed bugs in plastic bags until the items can be laundered, washed by hand, heated, or frozen.

Before leaving the infested site, anything that can be laundered should be sorted and placed in plastic bags. Separate the laundry as you would if you were normally laundering items, specifically: light colored clothes from dark items; delicate items from items that can be laundered on wash / dry regular cycles; and finally, dry cleanable items. Separating the clothing permits easy loading of the washing machine and you can avoid escaping bed bugs as you try to sort the laundry at home.

When washing, set the washer and dryer for the hottest setting that the fabric can withstand. If you need to use a dry cleaning service, mention to them that the items may have bed bugs and they can keep the articles in the plastic bags until just before loading into the machines.

Suitcases and other items that cannot be placed into a washing machine should be carefully inspected, and if bed bugs are found (or you are not sure) place them into plastic bags, as well. Suitcases may be hand-washed. If hand-washing any items, use soapy water and make sure that the hottest water possible is used. Test the item to make sure it will not be affected by the hot water. A target temperature of 100°Fto 120°F should be sufficient. Use a scrub brush along the seams and folds.

Items that cannot be washed may be heated or frozen. Currently, research is being conducted to determine the most effective thermal conditions for killing bed bugs, while not damaging materials. However, based on related research, a two-hour core exposure at 120°F (45°C) should be considered a minimum target temperature for heat treatments. For freezing, a minimum of 23°F (-5°C) must be maintained for at least 5 days. As the temperature is decreased, the time of exposure is shortened. For instance, the articles could be “flash frozen,” resulting in a very short time of exposure, but the target temperature should be -15°F (-26°C), the conditions required to instantly freeze the eggs. Keep in mind that most household freezers will have varying temperatures between 30°F and 20°F, and a 2-week freeze time is recommended if you are uncertain of the freezer temperatures.

Remember, if heating or freezing conditions are used, remember that these adverse conditions must reach the core of the articles being treated.

Patricia chose to “treat” her suitcase by placing it in the hot Oklahoma sun for a few hours. You may have to adjust your method based on location and season.

At the time that Patricia wrote me about bedbugs, a friend of mine was dealing with a lice outbreak in the family. Here is an article with links to lice-control resources. If you are not the parent of a school-aged child, you might be surprised to learn that lice are gaining resistance to the chemical most commonly used in shampoo treatments (which you might remember from your own childhood), making nit-picking combs the most reliable method for eliminating eggs and nits. Hopefully you will never deal with a bedbug or lice infestation on vacation, but it never hurts to be prepared for these ugly sides of travel as well.

  • Next we have Mark in Orlando who wanted to know the best time to buy his train tickets for a Munich-Paris trip in September.

Any time you’re considering travel across Germany, you’ll want to brush up on how to do it cheaply by reading the following two posts: Getting Across Germany Cheaply, Part One and Getting Across Germany Cheaply, Part Two. If you’re set on the train, the first one’s for you.

Mark wrote in his email that online forums suggested it would be cheaper to wait until arriving in Germany to purchase his ticket. This is simply false. It is possible to purchase tickets from any computer in the world up to 90 days before your travels using Deutsche Bahn’s online search function, and it pays to buy as close to the 90-day border as possible. The cheapest tickets — inside of Germany called “Dauer Spezial,” across Europe called “Europa Spezial” — have limited numbers and will be snapped up quickly. Here is a page describing how to book your tickets online (or by phone, if you prefer), along with the delivery options (printing vs. mailing vs. picking up).

In Mark’s case, there is a special sale between Munich and Paris called Europa Spezial Frankreich, with tickets available for as little as 39 euros! Unfortunately for him, on the date he wishes to travel, all of the 39-euro tickets have already sold. There are, however, three trains with 59-euro fares and one with a 69-euro fare, so it still pays to book in advance.

What follows is a quick tutorial in searching for scheduled trains and their prices for your trip:
+ Enter your information here: Munich, Paris, date and approximate preferred time. No need to change anything else. Click enter.
+ Because it’s an international connection, it will ask you to enter your age, in case you are eligible for a further discount. Put in your age and hit enter.
+ On the next page, it will bring up three trains around the time you entered. If you want to see earlier or later trains as well, click on the Earlier and Later arrows in the “Time” column. You will see it also shows you the standard fare as well as the savings fares. In order to see which prices are actually available, click on “show availability for all.” When you find the time/price combo you like and want to book online, select purchase. On the next page, locate the proper fare and select purchase again. You will then be taken to the booking engine, which will make you register before allowing the transaction.

  • We close today with Margaret in Italy, who is wondering how to deal with a serious case of homesickness while spending the summer alone abroad.

First stop for anyone feeling homesick (or irritable, sad, or otherwise emotionally unstable abroad) is this article on culture shock. It is important to remember that what you’re feeling is absolutely normal and you are by no means alone.

> Contact with home is important, but it only helps to a certain degree — it can feed the homesickness if you dwell on it too much. That said, we all need somewhere to vent, and that generally means calling your nearest and dearest. If a phone is not available, a Skype account allows you to call people using the internet and it’s pretty darn cheap.

> Is your suitcase fully unpacked and stored away somewhere, or have you been living out of it? Put your things on shelves and give yourself a mental cue of permanence.

> Make new habits and rituals. Always buy your bananas from the same guy, always get the same pastry at the same shop. As people begin to recognize you, are friendly, and can anticipate your needs, you have the feeling you belong.

> It might help to reflect on your experiences, to distance yourself somewhat from your feelings. Journaling or blogging and photography are a good way to get a new perspective: think about how you would distill this experience for others and simply document it.

> Try to cherish the opportunity everyday by doing something Italian that you *can’t* do at home — hang out on a piazza, surrounded by ancient buildings, drinking coffee or just listening, watching people parade by with their baby strollers and high heels; try a new gelato flavor (or three); visit a museum and admire the marble sculptures; go to the market and buy fresh ingredients for a bufalo mozzarella and tomato salad dinner; wander town without a map and discover new things; get on the train and take a weekend trip to Rome, Pisa, Cinque Terre, Venice, Bergamo!

> I know the saying is “Feed a fever,” but a taste of home can be a quick fix. For Americans, try to:
+ bake something, anything — banana bread’s a good one, your favorite cookies or brownies are another
+ whip up something typically American: hamburger and fries or potato salad, taco salad or fajitas, BBQ chicken

> Laughter and distraction are also good cures. It can’t hurt to:
+ see a movie or watch a DVD in English; serve with buttery popcorn
+ watch The Daily Show, The Colbert Report or some other (keyword: ) funny show you like [I have heard but am not condoning that a computer with internet access can find most any programs from abroad using a proxy and Hulu or Surf the Channel]

> If doing things by yourself makes you feel lonely (and thereby homesick), then take someone with you or pick up someone along the way. Read the post Meet People While Traveling for more ideas.

Thanks to these readers for writing in. If you’ve got a question, feel free to shoot me an email via the contact form.

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Yesterday’s post on Berlin main train station layovers described a lovely picnic location in a nearby park. If you can’t forgo sightseeing for two hours, however, there are two options within short distance of the station:

  • Chancellory / Reichstag / Brandenburg Gate / Holocaust Monument

Check your luggage at the train station and head out from the Washingtonplatz entrance. You should already see the Chancellory waiting across the Spree. Cross the bridge over the river and head towards it. You’ll pass between the Chancellory and the Paul Löbe Haus (Bundestag offices) — from here, looking both left and right, you can see the architect’s intentional symbolism of transparency in government.

Around the corner, the Reichstag comes into view. In winter, or between 6 and 10 p.m. year-round, you may have a good chance of ascending to the top in 30 minutes or less — expect to spend at least 30 minutes inside the dome as well. At other times and on weekends, waits alone may exceed 2 hours. If you must get to the top on a limited schedule, the only other way in is to make (and keep!) reservations at Käfer, the restaurant atop the building. You can find an online reservation request form here. It offers spectacular views and reasonable value for the price — try to hit lunch (soups ~ 9 euros, salads ~ 14 euros) or Kaffee und Kuchen (coffee and cake ~ 7 euros) time instead of the pricier dinner hour.

With half a day, you could request a guided tour of the building, which all end at the viewing dome. It is best to send your requests in advance, but it is possible to pop over even at the last minute at the scheduled tour times to see if space is available (enjoy the sights, but don’t expect English explanations in such a case, however). Amazingly, all visits to and tours of the Reichstag are FREE!

From the rear of the building, follow the masses across the street and down the block to the Brandenburg Gate. If you have extra time, the Holocaust Memorial is just a bit further up the street. If instead you find yourself short on time, hop on the M85 bus (ask for the cheaper “Kurzstrecke” ticket) from either the Memorial or the Reichstag which will take you right back to the main train station.

Exiting the main station on Europaplatz, head towards the right, walking along Lehrter Str.; the museum is located about a 7-minute walk from the station, on the opposite side of the street. Closed Mondays; open Tuesday-Friday 10-18; Saturday 11-20; Sunday 11-18. Admission price: 8 euros for adults, 4 euros for students with valid ID. Admission free Thursdays after 2 p.m.

If this all still seems confusing, why don’t you try following my Google map?

Wondering about the stuffed rabbit featured in the photo? Check out the post ITB Impressions: Send Your Teddy Bear on Vacation.
Find other posts from the Two Hours in . . . series here.

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