Easy peasy, stress free travel planning – part 2 (how to get around)

train travel

So I’m sitting at my favorite coffee shop ready to write.  Sort of.

The professional cycling season is gearing up in Europe.

And ya’ll know how I LOVE my men in spandex!

For those of you new to AGMA, I have this strange, inexplicable obsession with men’s professional cycling.  Tour de France type stuff.

Right now two stage races (meaning they last more than 1 day) are being contested in Europe.  Paris-Nice in France (duh…) and Tirreno-Adriatico in Italy.  And at this moment, AGMA is streaming Paris-Nice on her phone.  Sitting in the coffee shop.

I’m a woman of divided loyalties.

But I promised a part 2.  And AGMA always keeps her promises.  And there are only 19km left in today’s stage…

I need to preface the rest of this post and the next by saying that most of my travel advice is specific to Europe, Australia and New Zealand.  I’ve not traveled to South American or Asia, but AGMA feels certain there are lots of resources on “The Google” you can use if you’re planning travel there.

How’s that for a cop out?

So, you’re feeling pretty good about yourself because you snagged a super inexpensive airline ticket to Paris (or wherever) for a 10 day trip.

Now what?

I highly recommend you order several good guidebooks (or down load them onto your Kindle), and get onto travel bulletin boards specific to where you will be traveling.  Fodors, Frommers, & Rick Steves are all good sites you can check out.

When you’ve figured out where you want to go and what you want to see, NOW you need to decide if you need to rent a car or take trains and/or busses.

Taking trains and/or busses can be a great alternative to renting a car.  It’s generally cheaper and less stressful.  And many tour operators offer day trips to see interesting areas outside of where you might be staying.   For example, just Google “day trips from Rome” and you can see the incredible number of places you can visit for the day while you’re staying in Rome.

Keep in mind that many of those places are also easily accessible by train if you want to self-tour.

Remember, if you want to book a day tour from a tour operator, read the reviews on them and understand their cancellation policy in case your plans change.

More often than not, because of Hubs mobility issue, we rent a car if we are going to cover a lot of ground.  For us, train travel with a scooter/wheelchair and luggage tends to be a bit of a challenge.

If you’re planning to rent a car, AGMA has 3 words for. you – research, research, research!

Rental car costs can vary wildly based on the time of year, the rental car company and the website giving rental car cost estimates.

Lots of US membership organizations will offer discounts via a coupon code for US rental car companies overseas.   Check out any organization you belong to to see if they offer discounts.  AAA, my professional massage organization (AMBP), Costco are just an example of some organizations that offer discounts.

If you book a rental car using the Costco discount code, there is no charge for a 2nd driver (which can save you 100’s depending on the car rental duration and if you need  2 drivers.)

But keep in mind, booking through a travel site like rentalcars.com can often be cheaper than using a discount code on Hertz or Alamo.

Also, be aware that, unlike the US, most cars for rent in other countries are manual transmissions.  If you want an automatic, you need to change your car search criteria.  And automatics are always more expensive.

Priceline and Hotwire often have lower prices for rental cars, but you must pay in advance and you won’t know the company you’re renting from until you’ve paid.

Most of the time, no matter whether you book directly with the car rental company or through a travel site representing many companies, the least expensive option will always be a pay in advance option.  If you choose that, check carefully to see if you will get a refund if you cancel prior to pick-up.

AGMA has been known to book a car then cancel it two months later because I found a cheaper deal.

Finally, understand that there are places on this good green earth that you would NEVER want to drive.  Not sure you could master driving on the left side of the road (for North Americans)?  Don’t rent a car in the UK, Ireland, Australia or New Zealand.

As much as AGMA loves Italy (Hubs and I were there a few weeks ago), I would NEVER drive there.  We just don’t have the nerve!

The rental car companies recognize that there’s a higher damage risk to their cars in certain countries.  Specifically Ireland and Italy (see….).

In most countries, you can decline Collision Damage Waiver insurance.  If I use my United Chase Visa to rent a car, it actually covers CDW for rental cars in most countries.  EXCEPT Ireland and Italy…  Hubs has a deal with AmEx that also covers CDW for a charge of $19.99 no matter how long the rental period.  EXCEPT in Ireland and Italy…

Are you sensing a theme?

If you do rent a car in Ireland or Italy, you either must buy the CDW insurance (at a pretty penny) or they put a 700 Euro hold on your credit card to insure against any damage to the car.

Trust me when I say that you will have waaaayyyy more peace of mind buying the CDW insurance.  You can return the car with two missing bumpers, a missing mirrors and huge dents in the rear.  And just walk away.

If you put the deposit down, you will NOT like what you will be charged for any damage repair.  Ouch!

Part 3…wait for it….

P.S.   The race just ended and a rider on my fantasy team won the stage!!  And another rider on my team took over as the overall race leader!!  It’s been a good morning…

 

 

 

 

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The miracle of Rick Steves

luggage

“I don’t understand how you can possibly take just a carry-on sized bag for two weeks in Europe.” my sister said to me on Monday.  “I just need too much stuff!”

“Too much stuff” is an understatement.  I’ve seen the luggage they use. The entire von Trapp family could have escaped Austria in it.  No mountain climbing; just smooth, 4-wheel, 360 degree swivel action all the way to Italy.

I told her to pack less clothes.  Wash things out in the sink.  Or the bidet.  She said she packs very few clothes.  But she admits her husband needs a new outfit every day along with matching shoes.  Seriously?

I’m a minimalist traveler and my packing hero is Rick Steves. My younger son told me never to trust anybody with two first names…

For those who don’t know, Rick Steves is a US travel guru/television host who has specialized in European travel for the past 35 years.  He has hundreds of guidebooks/DVD’s not only about individual European countries but many specific European cities.  Lots of American Baby Boomers are fans of Rick.

Or is it Steve?

But the true miracle that elevates him to near-travel god-like status is that he can go to Europe for an entire summer with only a back pack and a carry-on.  Let that sink in.  One back pack.  One tiny, fits-in-the-overhead-bin carry-on.  Mind blowing.

It’s like Jesus feeding the 5000 with one loaf of bread and one fish.  Rick/Steve miraculously just keeps on pulling out clothes for a whole summer from that little carry-on!

I’m a Rick Steves packing disciple.  I try to emulate him.  And I’m getting pretty darned good at it.

So for those of you who travel who might want to get on the bandwagon (NOT my sister) here are AGMA’s top 10 reasons for minimalist packing for an overseas trip:

10.  Speed.  You can get though customs faster because you don’t have to wait for your bags.  Okay, maybe only 5 minutes faster.  But it feels like a win.

9.  No worries about lost luggage.  When your carry-on is in the bin above your head, you know you’ll be able to change your nasty, been-wearing-them-for 36-hours-straight travel clothes that have almost welded themselves to your body as soon as you get to your hotel room.

8.  Accessibility.  When your carry-on is in the bin above your head, you know you’ll be able to change your nasty, been-wearing-them-for 36-hours-straight travel clothes that have almost welded themselves to your body in the airport bathroom as soon as you get off the plane.  Or in the airplane restroom.  Or at your seat.

7.  Saves money.  Totally limits souvenir buying!  There’s no room for that bulky Aran sweater or the three Belgian lace tablecloths or that impressive Australian didgeridoo. And buying another suitcase on your trip is cheating…  Although my MIL did that once. No surprise there.

6.  Simplifies wardrobe choices.  People honestly don’t care if you wear the same outfit in Paris that you wore in Rome that you wore in London. Or if you wear the same outfit twice in the same city.  Think about it.  Nobody.  Cares.

5.  Mingle with the locals.  Most cities and towns in the industrialized world have stores with the same stuff that you can buy at home.  You don’t have to pack for Armageddon. It’s fun to meet new people while you shop for your Imodium or Pepto-Bismol!

4.  Nimbleness.  It’s much easier and quicker to get on and off trains, busses, ferries, etc. Or to carry your bag up to your 4th floor hotel room because the 3 ft X 3 ft lift is broken.  It’s sad to see people struggling trying to get their three 70 pound bags up the steps onto a train or into their hotel.  And kind of funny in a twisted way.

3.  Avoid personal injury. See #4.

2.  Avoid pity/ridicule.  Especially the withering, smug, superior glances of AGMA and husband as they deftly and every so delicately whisk their light carry-ons onto the train or up the hotel stairs while you struggle with the von Trapp family luggage. See #4. Yeah – everybody is looking at you.  And feeling sorry for you.  Or snickering.

And the #1 reason for minimalist packing…

1.  It’s cool. You’re friends will be awed and amazed that you only took a carry-on and a backpack for two weeks in Croatia. They now think that YOU are the packing travel god.  Don’t tell them about Rick/Steve.

So that was all to say it’s time for this AGMA travel goddess to pack her minimalist bag and hit the road again.  Back to the land of Guinness and Leprechauns.  I’ve never actually seen a Leprechaun. Maybe I’ve never had enough Guinness…

I’ll really miss AGMA and writing and my WordPress family.  But I’ll be sure to lift up a pint in your honor!  Be back in mid-April.

Slainte!