Saving time and money – We plan our own trips, so this means researching where we are going to stay, what the price is, and booking it in advance.
THE TOP TIP – Unlimited Text and Data Plan with T-Mobile
Save LOTS of money with T-Mobile’s Simple Choice Plan! – Unlimited international data and text. We have this plan – texting to notify your accomodations of your arrival and departure is easy and free. This is THE plan for international travel.
WIFI calling – FREE!
Turn your phone to WIFI only and if there’s WIFI where you are use WIFI calling – free and worked GREAT! If WIFI wasn’t available for calling, the T-Mobile Simple Choice international rates are only .20/minute.
Credit card without foreign transaction fee!
Who wants the hassle of carrying a lot of cash when you can use a credit card? Most credit cards charge a per-use foreign transaction fee from 2-3%, except our NEW favorite, Chase Sapphire Preferred Visa, and now the Chase United Mileage Plus Explorer Visa card. NOT paying a per-transaction fee will SAVE you LOTS of money! If Citibank offered a transaction fee free card for the American Airlines mileage program THAT would be our favorite card.
Tip: The mileage cards are the best bang for the buck, for 50,000 American Airlines reward miles you can get a business class Mile Saver ticket to Europe. That’s worth thousands! On Capital One, you BUY your ticket on any airline, then get cash back. That same 50,000 reward points on Capital One equates to $500. If you like to travel, use the mileage cards with no foreign transaction fees!
Airline Award Travel
United Airlines mileage program used to be great but since their changes in 2014 I’ve found it impossible to get a Business Class Saver award ticket to and from ANYWHERE in Europe all the way from San Diego – the flights in the US are all in coach on a Business Class award to Europe. The only Business class part of the flight is from the east coast to Europe. Forget that, we still have American Airlines miles to use and have switched back to AA for all our purchases to get more miles.
You have to be on top of it to get those few first class/business class award Saver travel seats!
331 days in advance
336 days in advance
How Do You Know When to Book Award Travel?
- Know the date range you want to travel almost a year in advance: 331 days in advance on AA, 336 days in advance on United.
- Go to this Days From Date Calendar to find when to start looking for your award travel: http://www.convertunits.com/dates/daysfromdate/
- Enter -331 or -336 in the Number of Days field
- Enter the date you want to travel in the Days From field (example May 1, 2016)
- Click Go
- Your starting date is May 1, 2016 so that means that 336 days before would be May 31, 2015.
- Put the date you need to start looking for award travel on your calendar!
resources on where to stay:
Tripadvisor.com: a great resource but you have to be smart about evaluating the reviews. Example: WIFI is important to us because we work when traveling, if reviewers consistently say WIFI was spotty, slow or down a lot you’ll probably have trouble too. I like reviews with pictures and post plenty of those myself.
Booking.com: Love the convenience of having all the reservations in one place. Always check the details on the cancellation policy, the fine print to see if any extra taxes and fees, and the fine print on when all or part of the cost will be charged.
Airbnb.com: Used Airbnb for the first time for 2 reservations in 2014. Everything worked out great. You prepay the entire fee in advance so it’s important to evaluate the accomodation cancellation policy.
HomeAway.com: Used HomeAway once for a cool modern house for a week in Palm Springs. Worked out great.
resources on safety:
Google the keywords travel safety for the city you are traveling to and make sure you are aware of the scams and traps that are consistently played on tourists, for example Barcelona. Reading other travelers’ experiences can be quite a deterent to traveling at all!
Tip: Always be alert, be aware that you ARE a target, and be aware of your surroundings.
Tips on Travel gear: I used the City Safe 100 handbag (by PacSafe). This is a great bag, just large enough to hold the essentials plus sunglasses, a small camera, and guidebook. I recommend adding a wide luggage shoulder pad onto the strap, it is only 1″ wide which can start digging into your shoulder while trekking around all day.
europe driving tips:
If you are renting a car you will want the peace of mind of having the right car insurance. Pay with a credit card that is Primary for CDW (Collision Damage Waiver) and make sure you waive the optional CDW/LDW from the rental co. BTW: This is a GREAT benefit Sapphire World MasterCard. Call the cards benefits number to make sure the country you want to rent in ins covered and for any other restrictions.
American Express Premium Car Rental Protection is another card for primary CDW/LDW, but you pay extra. The plan makes American Express the primary insurer and costs $17.95 per Rental for collision and theft, accidental death or dismemberment, medical, theft of personal property for up to 42 consecutive days anywhere in the world except Australia, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica or New Zealand. If you have an American Express card all you have to do is sign up for this coverage online. When you rent the car using American Express the $17.95 is charged to the card. $17.95 for California residents, otherwise $24.95.
Tip: Use Google Maps to get driving directions and time from destination to destination.
Tip: Plan how long it will take, and cost of tolls and fuel with Michelin Driving Directions and route planner
cell phones in europe
FORTUNATELY cell phone technology has made calling from your cell phone in Europe easy, you just have to pay attention to the international calling plan you are on or you’ll end up paying huge roaming amounts. See the Top Tip at the beginning of this article.
Charging your cell phone in Europe: In the US the voltage is 110v, in Europe it is 220v. If your charger says 100-240V on the plug, it should work with only a plug adapter for the country you visit.
Tip: Make sure your charger says 100-240v. Nothing else. We fried a 100-220v cord the first day. Which leads to the Tip: Always have a backup
Tip: Take a charged backup battery for your phone
Tip: If getting a rental car while traveling, take your car cell phone charger
Tip: Still unsure about charging? Take a voltage converter with you or buy a European cord for the cell phone when you are in the country
So, you have a phone that will work on the European frequencies (a quad-band phone). If you want to keep the same phone number and service that you use in the US, you will need an international plan to keep your calling rates in check. This is still going to be expensive unless you have the T-Mobile Simple Choice Mobile Internet Plan (Yep, the Top Tip above with .20 per minute calling!). If you don’t have a reasonable international plan from your supplier and want to save money, buy a SIM card (SIM=Subscriber Identity Module) that will work in the country or countries you are visiting.
Your cell phone will have to be unlocked to use a SIM card from another service provider.
Unlocked cell phones
Normally all the phones sold by the service providers are locked to be used with their service only. Unlocked phones are not locked to any specific provider and will work with any GSM service provider that is supported by the phone’s frequency band. You can usually get an unlock code from your service provider which you type into the phone using the dialing pad.
Tip: iPhones don’t have SIM cards
Keeping copies of your important documents
Scan your credit cards and the ID pages of your passport and save to a thumb drive and encrypt it. Like any backup, keep it separate from your originals. If anything happens you’ll have the info for replacing.