Saturday, August 30, 2014

Travelers: Tourist Scams

Ever been involved in one of these tourist scams while on vacation?

Plain old everyday pickpockets: On a crowded bus, train, or street experienced pickpockets can get close to you and remove your wallet.

Fake gift: Someone on the street hands you a book or a map or someone greets you with a handshake and then ties a cloth bracelet around your wrist as you hold it out. These are not free gifts and payment will be expected. You won't be able to return it either. Their demands for payment get quite vocal.

Distraction: Someone distracts you while their accomplice picks your pocket or purse. Sometimes kids will swarm around you, distracting you while someone else grabs your baggage.

Fake merchandise: On a street corner or on the sidewalk are purses, watches, or artwork...all with designer labels and all at deeply discounted prices. These aren't real and you could be at risk for purchasing any of them in some cities.

What do you do? Pay attention, don't leave valuables unattended, protect your wallet and your purse, keep your luggage close at hand, remove yourself from any scenes that seem like they could go in the wrong direction.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Travelers: Hotel Tips

If you travel very much, you probably appreciate a nice hotel that is well thought out, comfortable, unquestionably clean, and with amenities that make your stay a pleasure.

But, what happens if you discover annoying features? How do you deal with them?

In the past, bedspreads may have been ugly, sad, unwashed items placed on top of the bed. Now, it seems the duvet covers that are washable are the norm. But, what do you do if you open the door and see one of the bedspreads that should have been retired long ago? You could throw it in the corner...probably the best bet. Then, when you get back home, write a review of that hotel. If everything else was okay, you don't need to trash the hotel in the review. But, do mention the outdated bedspreads. It might be important to the next guest.

How about those water bottles sitting on a tray by the television greeting you as you walk in? Nice touch, huh? Maybe. Maybe not. Be sure to look for a tiny sign that tells you the price of those bottles. They could be free. But, many times are not.

Flimsy curtains? Pack an eye mask so you can sleep as long as you like.

Outlets that require you to stand on your head to find them? Pack your own small extension cord.

Many times reading reviews ahead of time will give you some idea of issues or inconvenient things about a hotel and its rooms. And, if you like the place...write a review. Or if there is something you wish you would have known before booking...write a review.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Travelers: Customs Info

For those of you that travel through US Customs regularly, you probably already know these. If not, check them out before your next trip.

Did you know that if you're traveling with an animal, they are subject to inspection on arrival in the US? Make sure the vaccinations and shots are up to date.

You probably know you cannot bring fruit into the US. But, think about this. Customs dogs can sniff out lingering if you carried oranges or whatever in your bag while on vacation, those smells probably still remain. You won't get in trouble but you could be delayed.

Hiking boots may be a risk...especially if you're wearing them. They could be contaminated with dirt, seeds, or other things. For instance, if you're traveling to Australia or New Zealand you will need to declare your hiking boots. You may have to wait while they are cleaned or in some cases, throw them away.

Toss your food you forgot to eat on the plane, especially if it's considered fresh food. Be sure to declare any wrapped food on your form so customs officials know what you have.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Travelers: Don't Get Stopped at Customs

You may have seen the signs when going through US Customs: No Cell Phones or Cameras May Be Used.

They mean it. No matter how much you want to talk to your mother or husband or home-alone cat...don't do it. Customs does have the right to confiscate your phone and not return it. Seriously.

Same goes for cameras. I know you're tempted to take an Instagram of the long lines. Don't do that either. All cameras are forbidden.

They mean it.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Travelers: Foreign Fees, Cash, etc.

Do you check the exchange rate before you travel to another country? Even though your plans might not change based on the rate, you will at least know an approximate cost of items and rates you can expect.

Do you get any currency before you leave? Or, do you wait to exchange money at the airport, at a bank, or from an ATM? Keep in mind exchange agency rates won't be as good as your bank and you'll be charged a commission. Also, if a place is listed as commission free...they often have lower exchange rates. So, if you've checked the exchange rate before you go, you'll know what the approximate rate should be and how much you will get for your dollar.

You could use credit cards for most purchases. Be sure to know if your credit card company charges any foreign transaction fees.

ATMs are another good way to get cash when you're abroad. Once again, check what fees will be charged. You may want to make larger withdrawals so you aren't charged as many fees.

Be sure to call your bank before you go as well.

Have you ever been asked if you would like to be charged in dollars or euros? Opt for local currency to avoid a currency conversion fee.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Travelers: Travel Apps

Staying safe while traveling sometimes depends on the weather, an accident, or some other unforeseen issue.

The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program, using a mobile app from the US Department of State, allows you to reach your traveling family in case of an emergency due to civil unrest in a foreign country. Available for fee on Android and Apple devices at

BSafe is a personal safety app packed with features to keep you secure on the road or at home. You can set up a network of friends and family and send notifications of your location using live GPS. There are alarms and other features. Available for free on Android and Apple at

Get the American Red Cross's Hurricane app to track and monitor hurricane conditions for your destination. You'll also receive NOAA weather alerts when location services are enabled. Available for free on Android and Apple at

Another app from the Red Cross is a first aid app containing all sorts of emergency medical intervention information from bites to bruises. It also allows you to make emergency calls directly within the app at any time.

What do you do if you want to call 911...but you're not in the US? Do you know the emergency numbers in other countries? If you have the Travel Safe app it will give you a list of emergency numbers in your location with one touch dialing. Available for $.99 on Android and $1.29 on Apple devices at

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Travelers: Vacaville Event...Don't Miss It

From:  Bob Vollmer, Executive Director         Phone:  (707) 451-2100
Date:   August 19, 2014                                      Email:           
Downtown Vacaville’s Art, Wine & Brew Festival Returns!

Vacaville, California – It’s almost time once again for the annual “Art, Wine & Brew Festival” that’s hosted by the Downtown Vacaville Business Improvement District. This group of Downtown merchants is going all out again this year to bring fantastic entertainment, great wines, sudsy brews and a variety of artisans for everyone’s’ enjoyment. It’s all happening August 22nd to August 24th

Things kick off Friday evening, August 22nd with Roy Rogers and the Delta Rhythm Kings, at 6 pm.  Roy Rogers is considered one of the world’s premier slide guitarists performing today. With 8 Grammy nominations as producer and performer, he is also an internationally acclaimed producer, having produced recordings for John Lee Hooker and Ramblin’ Jack Elliott. He has received numerous accolades for his songwriting, as well as his work on movie soundtracks and television.

On Saturday morning, things get started with Michelle Lewis at 10 am and Hayley and Rudy at 11 am. Westbound 80 performs at 12 pm and then C&W favorites Whiskey and Honey at 2 pm.  J.T. & The Cheaters hit the stage at 4 pm with the Matty T band heating things up at 5 pm and the evening wraps up with Laurie Morvan performing at 7 pm. Laurie ignites audiences at her shows with her incendiary blues rockin’ guitar playing. You won’t be sitting still for this performance!  guitarist Laurie Morvan ignites audiences and reviews.

On Sunday morning join everyone Downtown for brunch and enjoy the music of The Beer Brothers at 11 am. Total Recall takes the stage at 12:30 pm with Val Starr at 2:30 pm. Val Starr will be rockin’ Town Square until 4 pm when we wrap things up.

There will also be artists from the Vacaville Art League present throughout the day along with food, vendors, wine tastings and brew tastings too! (The wine & brew tastings only take place on Saturday afternoon, but there are food and drinks available for sale both days).
It’s all happening at this year’s Art, Wine & Brew Festival in The Heart Of The City. Be sure to visit the downtown web site at  or you can call the office at 707-451-2100 for further information on this event or any of the upcoming festivals, concerts, farmers’ markets and other special events.


Monday, August 18, 2014

Travelers: Travel Games

Recently I read about some travel games to see if you can find out how travel savvy you are.

I've not tried them...let me know what you think.

BBC Geoguessr is a game that virtually plops you down somewhere in the world and tells you to figure out where you are. You can swivel around 360 degrees to see the landscape and roads. Set a time limit for more of a challenge.

Smartypins is a Google one similar to the BBC one. However, this gives clues and not images. Trivia will pop up with questions.

Cruise IQ lets you navigate the ocean like you were born on it. Different levels or play ask you to find cruise ports in the US and around the world.

Traveler IQ Game, by TripAdvisor, is similar to the Cruise IQ.

All are a fun way to test your knowledge. Happy traveling...

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Travelers: Healthy Tips

We've read about the Ebola outbreak in Africa. While you might not be planning a trip to Africa, you still want to stay healthy when you travel. Here are some things to think about.

Prior to planning your trip, check the CDC website for information on vaccines and health alerts at your destination. You would need to visit your physician at least four to six weeks prior to leaving for some vaccines and medicine.

Give you immune system a boost with exercising, plenty of rest, and vitamins before you leave. No sense in starting out tired and run down. Try to get enough or more than enough sleep the night before your flight.

If you're taking snacks, take healthy ones.

Stay hydrated. Airplane air is dry...drink lots of water. Try to avoid caffeine and alcohol...try!

Wash your hands frequently.

If you're not feeling well when you return home, see your physician immediately. Be sure to tall them where you have been on your travels. It may be nothing more than jet lag...but don't leave that to chance.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Travelers: Read Reviews

When you're looking for a hotel, boutique inn, B & B, or resort, do you read the reviews other travelers have posted? If so, how much value do you place on them?

Here are some suggestions.

Look at more than just a couple of reviews. That way you will have a better idea of what the place may be like in reality.If all 25 reviews are negative with similar complaints or issues, it's probably a good bet there are things wrong. Move on.

By the same token, if all 25 are glowing with praises about customer service and's probably a good bet that this is really a good place.

Usually, however, you will find some good and some not so good. Pay attention to both ends. Check to see if the bad issues keep coming up in reviews. You might want to try another place.

If most reviews are fantastic, with a few bad ones thrown in, check out what they had to say. Perhaps the not so good reviews were written by someone who just didn't have a good time at the pool that day. Take those with a grain of salt.

Bottom and then decide.

Travelers: Customs Info

According to a post I just read on SmarterTravel

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is rolling out a new app called Mobile Passport Control App (MPC), with which flyers can fill out those customs declaration forms necessary for re-entry into the U.S. Insert the usual "There's an app for that!" one-liner here.
This is the first app authorized by CBP, and it launches today, August 13. CBP is hoping the app, developed in partnership with Airside Mobile and Airports Council International-North America, will speed up the customs process, reduce wait times, and cut operating costs.
The app doesn’t allow anyone to skip any lines, but it looks like it will help processing go a little faster. According to CBP, “Since the administrative tasks are performed by the traveler prior to the passport control inspection, MPC reduces passport control inspection time and overall wait times.” Basically, it allows US and Canadian citizens to electronically submit customs forms prior to arrival at customs. Here’s how it works: After creating a profile and entering some information about your trip, you’ll receive an electronic receipt with a QR code. Present the code to the customs officer, and he or she will scan the code and send you through.
In an increasingly automated world, it's not unusual that CBP is trading its old-fashioned paper customs forms for a digital version. Along with CBP's new customs kiosks, the app heralds a more seamless experience for travelers entering the United States. But it might be a while before you can take advantage of the new technology. The free app is still in an initial testing phase. It's available for iPhone and iPad only, and CBP says it will introduce a Droid-friendly version soon. (There's been no word on when.) The app works only for arrivals at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. More airports should be added in the next few months.
CBP says the app works for "eligible" travelers only; the agency doesn't give any details on who's eligible and who's not. Yet it doesn't appear that travelers need any kind of pre-approval for the app to work. My guess is CBP throws "eligible" into the language to cover their bases: If you're on some kind of watch list, perhaps you won't receive a QR code.
Search for "Airside Mobile" to find the program in the App Store. You have to be connected to Wi-Fi or a cell network for the app to work.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Travelers: Security

On July 2 the Department of Homeland Security released a statement about electronic devises on planes. Flyers may have to turn on their electronic devices and show security screening staff.

Screening staff may ask flyers to turn on laptops, tablets, and phones. This could result in longer wait times through security.

If you have those devices, it may be a good idea to keep your electronics charged and ready to go. You can always power them off once you make it through security. Also not a good idea to let your batteries die before you go through security.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Travelers: Venice

You're in Venice, in Piazza San Marco and the Piazzetta di San Marco. Look at the two columns topped by stature of the city's patron saints that guard the water's edge. If you believe the local superstitions, you won't walk between those two columns. This used to be a spot where public executions were held. It's still considered bad luck to walk between them.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Travelers: More Packing Tips

You can find packing tips on just about every travel site. Some of these you may have heard about. Others may be new to you.

Ever had your luggage lost for more than just a day? If you're traveling with someone else, it might be a good idea to divide your clothes between the two suitcases. If one gets lost, the other may make it. It's also a good idea to have some underclothes and anything you can't do without in your carry on bag. If all your checked luggage is're still prepared for the next day.

Speaking of lost luggage...I make a packing list. Then I add a copy to my carry on bag. If I need to list what is in my lost bag, I can pull out that list and am good to go.

If you don't have a small pill case that fits in your luggage, use small resealable bags. Label each one and put all the small ones in a larger bag. They stay together and you know what is in each small bag.

Save the small sheets of bubble wrap and lay one or two in the bottom of your luggage. Use it to wrap valuables you purchase or anything you don't want damaged. If you don't need it, it doesn't take up much room at all.

When putting anything in your luggage that you don't want to leak all over, put it in a resealable bag before packing it. If it doesn't leak, you have an extra bag.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Travelers: Airlines to Check Out

Think all airlines are created equal? You might be surprised by some of these offerings.

Ever heard of Porter Airlines? These planes have 32 inch economy class seat pitch and no middle seats. All passengers also get lounge access with free Wi-Fi and complimentary beer and wine. They also offer discounts. Could be why Conde Nast Traveler picked Porter as the world's best small airline in 2013.

Emirates is close to being the world's largest airline we've seen lately. If you're flying on their double decker A380 planes you might see lounges, shower spas, and more. They're making quite the effort to attract all flyers by giving backpacks to young flyers and even offering special frequent flyer programs for kids.

OpenSkies Airline was once an all business class airline that has now begun to offer economy class as well. It's a British Airways subsidiary. The best get to skip the long security lines with a special shorter TSA screening process.

Virgin America offers mood lighting and comprehensive onboard entertainment with Wi-Fi, plugs, touch screens to order drinks and food, and a redesigned boarding pass.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Travelers: Want to Dine with Cinderella?

Your suitcase is packed and the kitty is staying home. But, your kids want to dine with Cinderella when you get to Disney World in Orlando. What do you do?

Probably the most popular meal featuring a Disney character is Cinderella and her Royal Table. Did you know the reservation slots open up exactly 180 days in advance 7 am Orlando time? They get snapped up in just a few minutes so be on the ball if you want to grab one.

Same goes for reservations if you have certain restaurants where you want to dine. Check those early and make your reservation. If you can, think about eating at off peak times as well.

Did you also know your kids can meet their favorite Disney characters and have lunch outside the gates? Chef Mickey's is located under the monorail at the Contemporary Resort. You may find meals at other hotels not connected by the monorail. Check them out.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Travelers: Premium Economy

Is Premium Economy worth the extra money?

If you are on a domestic flight that isn't cross country, it may not be. You need to check the seat arrangements and leg room before you upgrade. Go to to check.

If your flight is a long one or is an international one it may be worth investing in the extra room and amenities. Check the carrier to see what the cost is and weigh that against your comfort, seat size, and duration.