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Tom's Ambassador Travel Tips

We've traveled to six of the seven continents now and have learned some useful tips for travelers.  They may be especially helpful for first-timers so herewith we assemble a few.


The Point: You don't need as many clothes as you think you do.
We spent six weeks gadding about Europe and did it with one roll-aboard and a carry-on each.  Other than for stays in a single location e.g., cruises, if you fly with one of those big-hunker check-on suitcases you'll use it once and never again for international travel.
Old Europe and Asia were not designed for easy access.  Cobblestones and stairs and gravel and curbs are the way they were and are.  Don't get a roll-aboard with small wheels.  Those 4-wheelers are not fit for other than airports and smooth sidewalks.  If you have folks carrying your suitcases they work well.  If you or your significant-other need to move them, get the biggest wheels to pull along.
Get TSA approved locks.
If you plan to get many souvenirs you may want to consider making room in your suitcase by tossing inexpensive clothes OR mailing stuff back home.  To get a cost perspective on replacement clothes check the additional suitcase fees on your airline to see how much those large or multiple souvenirs may really, really cost you.  Pack fragile or costly items in your carry-on if possible or wrap them in used clothes.

Clothes to pack:

The Point: Everyone is casual
What do folks wear most everywhere? Jeans.  You can usually get by with two or three pants and three shirts/tops plus underwear and socks for the duration of a short trip.  I just returned from 8 days in Europe and brought that many changes.  If you stay longer you'll need to either wash in hotel sinks or use their laundry service. (Pricey but you only need it once on most trips.) What we call Laundromats are hard to find.  You gotta ask and finding the right words is hard if you only know English and charades.
If you have a dress-up event guys, bring your khakis and blue blazer (suits are only for really special wing-dings) or ladies can bring one black dress.  I sometimes wear my blazer aboard over my light jacket,  bring my roll-aboard plus a computer bag and promptly put the jackets overhead.
Wear a pair of comfy walking shoes and pack another set of casual+types that will double for dress-up if needed.
For spring or fall travel most places will not require a thick jacket.  I bring a light jacket with a hood and a small umbrella.  Pack according to weather forecasts.


AdaptersThe Point: You gotta recharge and upload and watch your costs.
Bring along the conversion plugs for the countries you are visiting.  The web will tell you what kind of plugs they use.  Few use the plugs we do in the U.S. of A.  In Europe I bring two of those double round-prong thingys that I can plug my All American plugs into.  Most shavers, hair dryers, curlers and computer stuff have 220 capacity.
Cool Hint 1: I bring a Cooper Triple Tap with me so I use one adapter and yet recharge three electronic doo-dads at the same time, e.g., phone, computer and camera battery.

Remember to bring the special plugs and the cords for each item that needs recharging.
I have a blue tooth keyboard so I also pack one set of AA batteries.
Cool Hint 2: Put the computer and camera recharge stuff in a small zip-lock bag in your carry-on.  You'll need them to recharge in airports during layovers.
If you take lots of photos you'll fill-up your memory card quickly.  Either pack another high-capacity memory card or bring a card reader that will allow you to upload to your iPad or laptop.  I like to review my photos on my iPad and delete the cruddy ones. I also know which scenes I may be short on and need to take more of.
WiFi is popular but typically costly at hotels.  Ask for local food or coffee houses that have it.  Set your mapping destinations there, turn off data roaming and use your gps to get from Hither to Yon.
Your mobile phone can put you in the poor house if you use data roaming abroad.  Talk to your service provider before you go and get a clue.  Unlocked phones are needed to buy a chip abroad. 


The Point:  You can buy more if you need it.
We all have favorite shampoos and toothpaste.  I bought small liquid and tablet containers at REI so I can pack just what I need for two weeks.  Don't fill-up your bag with a month's supply.  You need the space for stuff.  Hotels have soap, shampoo and conditioner.  Most will also give you toothbrushes, toothpaste and sundries if you ask.
Pack your liquids in a quart zip-lock bag and put it in easy access of your roll-aboard.  Some airports ask you to remove it.


The Point: Be prepared for loss.
I bring tablets for the days I am traveling plus two (dropping and plane delays).  If you have prescriptions bring them with you.  Put one copy in your roll-aboard and a duplicate in your carry-on.  It is prudent to split your meds between them too.


The Point:  Be prepared for loss.
This could be paper loss or no internet access to retrieve them.  I print two scan copies of my itinerary, passport, credit cards and other items in my wallet and put one set in my carry-on and the other in my roll-aboard.  Upload to a cloud server too.  Can you imagine the caca you'd be in if you lost any of this stuff and had no backup?

Rental Cars:

The Point: You can do it!
Let's quickly put aside the "Wrong side of the road" thing those Brits concocted.  I am somewhat dyslexic and easily confused to boot.  I've driven in England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, Australia and Japan.  Other than occasional embarrassment and apologies I've pulled it off with no harm ... as far as I know.  Don't do those countries alone, you need a passenger to scream at you as needed.  Other countries are easy.
If you rent a car bring along an adapter to recharge your phone as your GPS.  There is no need for an "international driver's license".  I've never been asked for one.
Signage is somewhat universal outside of our fair country.  You'll quickly get the hang of it if you pay attention to the locals and learn from your mistakes.
Rent a tiny car. It saves you money and you can drive between posts.


The Point: Those foreigners have creative designs.
Except for higher-end hotels, space is conserved.  By this I mean tiny showers, compact bathrooms and sometimes fold-down desks or tables.

Travel Pic2

Shower has room for one medium size guy.  Toilet with a bidet hose and towel warmer.
Cooties are rare unless you go really cheap.  Cleanliness is apparent.  Germs are not.  Remember that any hotel maid does multiple rooms each day.  Her sponges and brushes touch all those toilets and sinks.  And TV remotes are picked-up after doing what needs to be done and are never cleaned.

So, did I gross you out?  Not to worry.  Just put your toothbrush in a glass and no vitamins on counters.  I don’t watch TV abroad but I’d recommend wiping remotes well.  I wash my hands a lot and have yet to get sick when abroad.  Speaking of toilets you will find that they usually have two areas to push to flush; low water and lots of water. 

Room key cards abroad frequently need to be put in holders near the door when entering a room or your lights won’t go on.
Safes:  I’ve never had anything stolen from our rooms in Europe or Asia so am not worried.  However I am prudent and lock our passports and money and electronics in the room safes at night and when out of the room.  If no safe, I lock stuff in my suitcase.  Hint: Crooks know that many folks only change one number on their padlocks.  Give them a good spin when locking your suitcase.

Travel Pic3
Beds vary from spacious to just-enough and no more. 


Breakfast buffet bar Breakfasts are fun!  You get to see what local travelers expect.  European staples include hard boiled eggs, cereals, ethnic meats, local fruits & vegetables and croissants. They are arrayed on a sidebar and each layout is unique.  Pause, observe, get, sit, eat!


Travel Pic5


The Point: Cobblestones are legendary and loose.
Look where you walk.  Old Europe is rife with cool cobble stone sidewalks and streets.  And they get loose on an hourly basis.  You can step in holes vacated by a stone or step upon several that were over there somewhere not too long ago.  Look!
Signage is iffy.  Don’t expect to be able to find street names posted on each corner.  Locals know and that’s fine, thank you.


The Point: They are all different and entrance/egress can be confusing.
Ask.  Before finding your rental car or bus or underground location determine where you need to return to when departing the airport.  Take note. 
If using that GPS set it for that location as a Favorite so you can easily return to the right place well before panic time.
Before you leave your hotel ask where you should enter the airport and how long you should plan to be there ahead of time.  Usually we hear that you should be there two hours early for international flights.  I just entered Prague's airport on my hotel's recommendation to be one hour early and had time to spare.  Again, ask!
Getting to the correct terminal is the first thing.  Most have departures in a different building from arrivals.  Ask!
Getting your boarding pass on your phone or on paper the day before is nice but not essential.  When you get to the terminal look for a uniformed airlines agent.  Ask where you should line-up!
Getting through security varies so be prepared to meet the U.S. of A. standard.  Getting to your gate is usually clear enough if you look at signage.  But do go there first so you know where it is and then shop or get food for the flight or do Internet stuff.

Aboard the Aircraft:

The Point: Be bold.
I like a window seat.  This is because I can rest my head against the window to nap and I don’t need to get-up much because I have a strong bladder. 
However for transoceanic flights it is nice to have a row of seats upon which to recline.  As the door closes see if there is an empty row and plop yourself in the middle seat.  If a late arrival claims one of the row's seats you can always return to the seat you reserved.
On long flights remember that it's important to walk about even though you have to sidestep elbows and nodding heads.
I like noise-cancellation headphones.  You can more clearly hear the movie or your music.

Booking the trip:

The Point:  Early birds get most itinerary options yet may pay more.

As of this writing airlines are charging for seat selection, food, beverages (including water on one I flew!) but not yet light or breathing their air.  be oh so attentive to their websites when booking your flight. I have shopped several months and up to six weeks in advance.  Unless a really popular route it doesn’t make much difference when you buy.  On some I save a few dollars by departing on Saturdays or midweek.  Google Flights shows the rates per day of the week and month.  Select the best day and then buy the ticket on the airline’s website.  Most guarantee that their site is cheapest and you don't have additional complications if ticket changes are needed.  By looking several times a week I have suddenly came upon super-discount deals that last a short time.  
Be flexible if you want to save both time and money.  I fly into major airline hubs abroad and then book regional airlines to go to other cities when there.  Much, much less expensive than flying directly into a popular tourist destination directly.  Compare the cost of two such tickets instead of a single -one-way. 
Car rentals and sometimes trains or, yes, buses are inexpensive and spiffy means to your final destination.

Travel insurance:

  Just do it. We had a friend who broke her leg and had to be airlifted from one country to another, get an operation and be sent home home from a country she was not going to visit.  Credit card limits must be ample.  They demand payment from us foreigners before we can leave.  You can file claims afterwards but need to be sufficiently liquid (cost her over $22K!) at the time of incident.  Insurance can be shopped on line.  There are comparison sites.  Be sure it has trip interruption coverage for medical and family emergencies.

Bon voyage!  "In the end, it's not going to matter how many breaths you took, but how many moments took your breath away".

Questions, comments? Write me at