Originally our travels were documented in our travelogues - a rather comprehensive photo album of each trip. However, the travel hints were buried in the individual travelogues, and the travelogues were too long for many people.
We are now trying to convert our travel web site to a travel blog. What's the difference? On the web site, I write long pages, you read. On the blog, I start with shorter stories, and you respond - hopefully creating a dialogue. Many things are still here on the web site, but you can explore the blog as you wish, and will hopefully start a dialogue with us.
This picture is Jenny and Charlie Plesums, the people traveling and creating the travelogues and suggestions. They are overlooking the sacred valley outside Cusco, Peru.
With one exception (Santiago), we would love to do any of our trips again - see our travelogues.
If you are just starting to venture internationally on your own, we suggest these destinations
So how do we answer "where to next" for us? We don't. For the security of our home, we do not say when we are going, or for how long, or where we will be (except to close family and folks watching our house) until we are back home. We do NOT post on Facebook while we travel: "See how we are enjoying Tokyo ... (this would be a good time to burglarize our home.)"
The United States is a huge diverse country. There is no way a visitor can appreciate it in only a few weeks. People who select a few ares to visit are likely to have a more enjoyable trip.
Sales Tax: If you are visiting the USA for the first time, beware of sales tax. The sales tax, similar to the VAT, and by law is NOT included in the posted price of the item, except from vending machines - it is added at the cash register, so your bill may be 2-10% higher than expected. The amount of tax is different in each government jurisdiction, and sometimes even changes from town to town. The rules are different in each state, and are silly complex... for example there is often no sales tax on groceries, but there probably is tax on soap or candy bought at the grocery store. There may be a tax on restaurant food eaten in the restaurant, but no sales tax on restaurant food "take out" (guess it becomes like a grocery store).
Taxes on hotel rooms and rental cars are far higher than the normal sales tax, but are usually disclosed when you make the reservation.
Gratuity/Tips are rarely added to a restaurant bill except for parties larger than 6-8 people. A tip of 15-20% or more is common, and can normally be added to the credit card (restaurants pay the servers a very low wage, expecting that most of their income is from their tips). Taxis normally are given a 10-20% tip; more if they provide special service such as help with bags.
Luggage carts for domestic flights are often rented from a vending machine, not available free like many/most countries. They are normally free in US customs/immigration halls.
No tip is given if you check your bag at the airport counter, but you should tip at least $1 per bag for curbside check-in.
Soda Pop: The flavored carbonated drinks often bought as single servings (cans, cups, or bottles) are called "Pop" in parts of the country, and "Soda" in other parts. In transition areas you may hear "Soda Pop"
Cell Phones: In some countries the person who places a call to a cell phone pays for the cell service for the recipient of the call - thus calls to a cell phone in those countries can be expensive. In the United States, the owner of the cell phone pays for all calls both made and received; it is inexpensive enough that many people use a cell phone as their only telephone. Cell phones appear to have a "home location" like a conventional telephone - the number is indistinguishable from a land-line phone. Charges for phone calls placed to a cell phone are the same as if the cell phone were at that location, no matter where it actually is located. Calls between cell phones are not usually an issue since many cell phone plans allow free calling to anywhere in the country.
Placing domestic phone calls in the United States: US Phone numbers are always 7 digits, written as 3 digits followed by 4 digits. They are preceded by a 3 digit area code. The original intent was that you only had to dial the area code if it was different than your own, but as they ran out of numbers, some cities had to use area codes as part of the local number, forcing local calls to use all 10 digits. This is sometimes referred to as "10 digit dialing." Your host will tell you whether you need to dial 7 or 10 digits locally, or if you can't ask, try dialing 7 and if nothing happens, try again with 10 digits. If you have to dial a leading 1, the call is "long distance" or a toll call. The universal emergency number is 911.
The floors of a building are numbered starting with 1 at the ground level, so you have to go up one flight, not 2, to get to the second floor. An underground basement may be labeled B, but if there are multiple levels underground, may be labeled -1, -2, etc. In some hotels there is a Mezanine level, M, above the ground floor and below the second floor.
If you are driving, most areas allow "right turn on red." Legally the car must come to a full stop before proceeding in a right turn from the right-most lane into the right-most lane, but that full stop is rarely practiced and only occasionally enforced. You will occasionally see signs for "no right turn on red." If you are driving in New York City, know that there is a small sign on each road leading into New York City that announces "No Right turn on Red anywhere in the city."
If you are from a country that drives on the left you will probably walk on the left, expect the active escalator to be on the left, and expect the revolving doors to enter from the left and turn clockwise. Sorry, not here. People tend to walk on the right and the revolving doors turn counterclockwise.
ESTA, the Electronic System for Travel Authorization, is required for most people entering the United States, even from Visa Waiver Program countries. See the government web site for the details and to apply on-line. In most cases approval is in seconds after the application is completed, with the $14 one-time fee paid by credit card. Once you have entered the United States under ESTA, you do not have to apply again, and are eligible to use some of the express lines through US Immigration on subsequent trips.
Why does Uber get a prime listing in a travel site? Because they serve more than 400 cities in 72 countries. Unfortunately we cannot use them at home - the idiots on the Austin City Council figured they could run Uber better than the company, and kicked them out for not changing procedures to follow Austin City Council rules.
We had an uncomfortable taxi ride to a museum in Portugal. Not bad, but it sure could have been better. So decided to try Uber to the next museum. Great ride, nice car, good driver (he spoke some English but that didn't matter since we had already entered our destination in the Uber app.) No question on payment - it automatically went on our credit card. We have since used Uber in numerous cities and countries, with universally excellent service.
There is no charge to set up an Uber account, and once established it works all over the world. Whether you choose to use it or not, we suggest that you have it available before you travel.
Jenny has watched the kids in Rome and elsewhere, and made some important observations.
Guess we should conclude that, once they are out of a stroller, parents are bad for kids. I also like to rank museums by teenager acceptability. If the exhibits are bold and clear with brief descriptions, teenagers like them (and so do I). If the descriptions are long and detailed, great for the history buffs and academics, but I don't like them any more than the teenagers do. I want an overview of some portion of the exhibits, and the option to move on, without having to study each item in detail.
We patronize American Airlines extensively, and appreciate using the Admiral's Club and the other lounges we may access as very frequent flyers. American is quick to brag how wonderful the lounges are and how they are being upgraded, but they do not have a list of lounges and where they are located. If you are on the bus or train between terminals, there is no convenient way to find where to get off to go to the lounge nearest your gate.
Click for a complete list of Admiral's Club and other lounges American flyers might be able to access. Or click here to download a PDF version of the list, that you might save on your smart phone. The price for this service is for you to add to and correct the list... since American doesn't have a list they share, I have harvested data from multiple sources, so it may not be perfect, and I would appreciate your help.
is a Spanish chain of 400 reasonably priced 4-5 star city hotels in Europe, South America, and Africa. We discovered them in Buenos Aires, liked them even better in Berlin, and had a suite in a centrally located hotel in Santiago for about $150 per night. We stayed in one of their "upscale" Collection hotels in Amsterdam. Their reservation process is irritating, but that is overcome by good hotels at a reasonable price. Consider including their excellent breakfast option.
In the United States we like staying at Hampton Inns. They are 3 star hotels with excellent breakfast and WiFi, and far more than just adequate rooms. They claim you get the best deal by booking on their web site, but there are occasional bargains on Booking.com - we saved about $75 on a recent two day stay in New York City, but sacrificed our hotel points.
Not all of our hotel plans work out as well. We had a good time in Prague March 16-23, 2010 - but the hotel logistics arranged by American Airlines Vacations were terrible. We won't use AA Vacations again.
Join your local museum. We are members ("Partners", "Ambassadors") at the Dallas Museum of Art. Yes, it is a worthwhile charity, and also gives us free garage parking at the museum, discounts in the cafe and bookstore, and free admission to special exhibits (basic admission is free for everyone). But the key for travelers is "Reciprocal" membership in other museums. For example, it recently saved $50 at the Boston Museum of Art (and had no wait in an endless line), saved $30 at the Anchorage museum, and saved $30 at a museum in San Antonio. In New Orleans a museum did not offer reciprocal privileges, but gave us a $1 courtesy discount, but most of all, did not send us back to the endless line waiting to buy tickets.
We found the Goethe House museum in Frankfurt Germany to be an extraordinary place. I am not into his literature, but the furniture in the Goethe Museum in his parent's home in Frankfurt is probably the best furniture exhibit I have seen anywhere.
As part of the Italy trip, we documented issues with money and museum tickets, and some notes on guide books.
Beware of renting a Mercedes Benz in England (and perhaps elsewhere in Europe). In 2015 we decided to go upscale since we would be doing a lot of driving for the week. "C class" should be fine - that is what our dealer loans us when our car is in for service. The driver seat did not go back as far as other cars. The steering wheel did not tilt (as a tall guy I had a terrible time getting in and out). There were no heated seats (it was very cold when we were there.) When we returned the car, the agent suggested getting a VW Passat or similar next time.
If you travel to Europe, you "must" know Rick Steves. He publishes a series of guide books for Europe, high quality but sometimes lost among the many competitors. On one trip our friends loaned us a variety of books, in addition to our own, and by comparing them, we have become Rick Steves fans. His recommendations were outstanding other than one restaurant in Rome, which strongly advertised his endorsement, and apparently was resting on their laurels.
This is a free iPhone app; once you have downloaded it from the iTunes store, select the sections (playlists) you would like to place on your iPhone. See his web site. The data files are large, so you may want to do the download at home. No communications are required while you are listening to the app, or looking at the associated maps. The playlists include general and cultural sightseeing information, historic walks, and tours of specific sights.
As we were wandering around in Venice, we bumped into a couple using the audio guide to St. Mark's. Each had their own copy, like renting two "recorded guides" from the museum.
We took his "Renaissance Walk" thru Florence - the first of many cities where we have used them. We found it a delightful walk, with interesting comments and pictures. We have a splitter to run two sets of earphones from one device, and a long "coil cord" extension for the second person. We enjoyed staying together and doing the tour simultaneously. Only once did someone try to cut between us, through our wire, and Jenny delighted in saying she finally was able to keep me on a leash.
This is a small guide to many less traveled cities in Northern and Eastern Europe. We stumbled on it in Riga, Latvia, and found it wonderfully helpful - it has become our favorite guide for the cities where it is available. Updated versions are published frequently - even every few weeks. Free copies are often available in airport arrival concourses or hotel lobbies (ask the concierge), or at newsstands for a fee. However, you can download PDF files from the In Your Pocket web site, with the complete contents before you leave - not as compact a size as the free booklet, but available for pre-trip study.
It is often a cheap ticket that triggers one of our trips. For example, $196.20 round trip for Austin to New York City. Or $985 to Vietnam, about 18,500 miles. How do we find the bargains? Google Flights.
There are many ways to approach the Google Flights site - it seems different each time I use it. So start this way...
Now get the focus off the map and onto the flights, by clicking on the menu at the top (just under the word Google). Click on the little calendar next to your departure date. Under each date is the fare if you departed that date for a trip the same length as your original departure and return dates. Pick a departure date, then click on the calendar near your return date... again the prices appear under the date in the calendar for your choice of return dates (with the same departure date... this changes the length of your trip.
Near the calendar is a "price graph" button. It will give you the prices for each departure date on the graph and your specified length of trip. Note there is also an option to change the length of the trip. Below the day-by-day graph is another graph that shows how the prices vary over a longer time (would it be better to go in the fall?).
Close the price graph and it will show you some suggested outbound flights for your selected dates and city. Would you pay a little more to not leave at 5:30 in the morning? To only have 2 stops instead of 3? Make a choice - you are still just playing.
Once you have chosen, it will show you the details - flight numbers, layover times, etc. If you don't like your choice click the "X" by the Outbound Flight title, to choose again.
When you are happy with your outbound flight(s), you can choose your return flight the same way.
When you have something interesting you can save or share (by email) the itinerary, or you can just try another trip. If you are really serious, you have the option to book the flight. If I click on "Book with American" it takes me to the American Airlines web site with all the flights and dates entered, ready to log in and enter the passenger names.
Don't wait too long - if you come back days or weeks later, the prices will probably have changed. The price can change until you buy your ticket.
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