Whatever you do, don't exchange money in an airport or train station. They'll rape you with a huge % for an exchange fee.
I'm taking my first international trip (I know, 28 and never left the US beyond visiting Niagara Falls) in August and I have some questions for the RR crew.
What's the best way to handle currency? Unfortunately, I'll be in three different countries where each accepts different currency (pounds, euros, swiss francs). Are there credit card benefits? Should I just convert a shitload of cash at once?
What's the best method for phone use? I probably won't be using the phone much, but Google Maps will be a must. I have Verizon. They have an international travel deal but I heard it sucks?
Anyone have jet lag remedies or ways to avoid it? I'm gonna try to sleep on the flight since flights knock me out anyway, but sleeping a full seven hours or so on a plane sounds tough.
Anything else I should be thinking about?
Thanks in advance.
Whatever you do, don't exchange money in an airport or train station. They'll rape you with a huge % for an exchange fee.
Currency: First thing to do is make sure that your bank(s) know that you'll be overseas so that your cards wont be rejected. You'll want your credit cards for hotels, car rentals and larger purchases (train tickets and shit like that). The best exchange rate is going to be at ATM's. What I've always done is pull out my max allowance for a day as often as I need to. Keep in mind that unless you have a credit card with a chip in it, you wont be able to use it at most places in Europe (hotels seem fine, but restaurants aren't likely). If possible, get an ATM card from your bank for European travel. If you can't find an ATM that will take your card, you might have to go to a bank. Bank exchange rates are ok, but not ideal.
Edit: Since you're in San Francisco you shouldn't have a problem finding a bank to exchange money with. I'd exchange enough cash for the first couple of days just in case you run into issues. Like Xarpolis said, don't do it at airports or train stations. Pull out a few hundred in pounds, Euros and Francs before you leave, and use ATM's once you get there.
Phone: AT&T's international rates are good, and that's all I've ever used. Can't tell you how it'll work with Verizon, so give them a call and try to figure something out. I've heard of people having good success with burner phones purchased at the airport, but that was in Japan and not in Europe.
Jet Lag: Don't be a pussy and stay awake until a reasonable time when you first get to Europe. No matter what you do, don't check into the hotel and go straight to sleep unless it's like a 10pm or something like that. Landing in the morning is always easier. It'll still take a few days, but it's really not that bad. It's worse coming back to the US. Basically you're just going to have to deal with it. Your body will adjust.
Other things to think about:
If you're going to be taking trains make sure you find out whether or not you need to have your tickets validated (usually using a machine in the terminal) before you get on. France doesn't care so much, but Italy does. I'm not sure about the UK or Switzerland.
You don't need a neck wallet or a hidden pouch or anything like that, just keep your wallet in your front pocket and be aware of what's going on around you. Keep your passport on you (I wouldn't trust hotels) at all times and make sure you don't lose it. Don't fuck around or present yourself as a target.
Last edited by Adam12; 07-03-2014 at 05:52 PM.
Personally I just use local ATM's. You'll get about 2-3% worse of an exchange rate as compared to the going rate on foreign exchange markets, but it's pretty tough to do any better than that. Currency exchange places will absolutely fuck you. They'll say "no fees!" and shit like that, but the exchange rate they give you will be like 10% less than what it should be.
However from what I understand, US debit cards are still in the dark ages and may or may not work outside of the US. I'm not really sure if that's still the case or not. Credit cards will be about the same as debit, exchange rate wise. Visa is pretty much the only way to go, MasterCard is okay but not as prevalent, and American Express is pretty much useless.
Be careful of pick pockets in Europe. Haven't had it happen to me personally, but I know a few friends who lost wallets and passports in busy train stations.
Phone wise, I can't help too much, but just try to use WiFi as much as you can. It's getting so ubiquitous now. Any plan you get from an American carrier is probably still going to be fucking insanely expensive for any significant data usage.
I agree with everything Adam wrote except this. I'd definitely recommend getting a money belt, especially if you're going to be visiting big touristy areas (places that pick pockets love). It's only like 15 - 20 dollars for a simple money belt that can keep your passport, credit cards, and extra cash almost completely secure. Even if you don't ever really need it, I found that the piece of mind was worth the low cost.You don't need a neck wallet or a hidden pouch or anything like that, just keep your wallet in your front pocket and be aware of what's going on around you. Keep your passport on you (I wouldn't trust hotels) at all times and make sure you don't lose it. Don't fuck around or present yourself as a target.
*edit* Just don't be one of those doofuses that wears the money belt like a fannie pack, thus defeating the purpose of it.
Dont take any Dollars to Europe, noone will accept them there anyway, money exchange rates are best at atms, make sure you bring a credit card with chip for them, since magnet strips would prolly work for up to hundred bucks places (hotels, gas stations, etc.).
Jet lag: sleep as much as you can during flight, and should you arrive in the early morning you could also take a power nap for an hour tops at your hotel, whatever happens, stay up till nighttime and if you need, just get hammered with european beer for a good night sleep.
Also keep your passport with you at all times, you will need it for most check ins at hotels anyway.
re: Money. When be sure to take a ton of cash in the local currency. If you can use atm/credit cards use them, but always have enough cash to pay for a long cab ride, a train raid, a few meals and a couple nights at a hotel. You never know when you'll be stranded in the middle of Bombay at midnight and need enough cash to get a cab to get three hours away for a business meeting in seven hours...
You didn't ask, but don't drink anything but bottled water.
My wife went to a restaurant and didn't know the water they gave her was tap in Spain. Had to stay in bed in the hotel for 4 days shitting her brains out and getting a shot in the ass.
Depending on where you're going that's almost inevitable =\
Not much to add to what has been said so far, besides get up early in the morning to get the early sun rays, helps a lot to fix your biological clock.
For phone calls, Skype is tough to beat. Obviously need the wifi.
Look for apps that allow you to download maps ahead of time. Being able to use you phone as a GPS without roaming data is pretty handy.
It has been 15 years since I traveled to Europe so I don't know how true this still is, but when I went I was warned to always tell people asking me where I was from to respond with Canada. I really don't think there are gangs of Europeans looking to beat the shit out of Americans, but if you find yourself in a shady situation might be worth remembering. I have a buddy who lives in Sweden now who travels Europe a lot who when asked still tells people that he used to live "just south of Vancouver" but doesn't elaborate that it is across the border unless pressed.
Also when I went I seem to remember getting great exchange rates via AmEx travelers checks, but again, it was 15 years ago.
If you're drinking anything other than alcohol on vacation, you're vacationing wrong.
Being afraid and paranoid about silly shit is counterproductive and completely against what travelling is all about. Seriously, if you're actually trying to meet people and get the most out of your experience then a little honesty will go a long way. If someone is going to hate you for being an American then that person is worth your time anyway.
It depends on where you go. I imagine if you're a first time traveler you're going to somewhere where they love American money.
Also just be open about where you are from, when you are acting mature, polite and open minded you might surprise the locals about being american.
On the other hand when you end up being a loudmouthed blubbering bigotous homeschooled jerk they will just assume you are american anyway.
Edit: What Dyvim said.
I have always chosen a small international travel plan for my phone when I am out of country, and basically stuck to using it for texting or quick calls if the people I traveled with separate. I don't know if the international data plans are any better for the American carriers, but they are brutal here for data.
You might be better off buying a GPS for $120 bucks and just using that to get around.
Since Obama got elected it's cool again to be american. Just say you voted for him!
Also, while food poisoning is certainly avoidable, any radical change in diet will have your digestive system not too happy (nothing bad though). That said, the average north american diet is not that different from a european diet. Breakfast are pretty different from place to place, but hotels tend to accommodate for all tastes (bacon and scrambled eggs might be tough to get, but germans and englishmen eat sausages and other meat products for breakfast).
About breakfast, apparently nothing sets the biological clock better than a good breakfast at the right time.
Tap water is ok everywhere in Switzerland (except in trains). Water from public fountains is drinkable more often than not.
Last edited by Szlia; 07-03-2014 at 10:58 PM.
No-one over here hates the US, many people i know started rooting for the USA football team in the world cup after England where knocked out. We just hate the same as everyone else on this planet that being people who are loud, rude and obnoxious. If you are getting these views from the media, then just stop listening to them - if you are happy to drink a few pints, not take yourself too seriously then no-one will give a shit on where you are from.
I was partying with three American guys in Prague one time, and they were telling me and my bud that they were visiting with their dads, who were in Europe on business or some shit. Things just weren't adding up, so we called them on it. They admitted that they were American soldiers on leave from Afghanistan. I totally understood why they were bullshitting us initially, some people would be dicks about that. My bud and I didn't give a shit, and proceeded to party them in to the ground at the Five Level Club, or whatever the fuck it's called.
But yeah, 10 years ago it was common to hear about Americans claiming to be Canadians. Lots of Canadians were sewing Maple Leafs on their backpacks while travelling and apparently a lot of Americans were copying it. I can't really speak for how it is these days.
Probably all credit card machines in the UK uses Chip and Pin now but I think magnetic swipe still works at most places. Just remember to bring ID (like your passport) to back up your signature on the card.
Regarding cellphone: Is your phone unlocked and accepts other sim cards? If it does then it might be best just to go into a convenience shop at Heathrow (there are plenty around in the terminal and I am assuming you are arriving from there) and buy a pay-as-you-go sim card (I recommend the company 'EE' - best 4G coverage) that gives you data and calls and allows you to top up with your credit card through their helpline when you run low).
Regarding currency: Local banks and the Post Office are your best bet to exchange dollars - GBP. There are plenty around (HSBC, Barclays, Natwest, TSB, Lloyds) so you don't need to worry about running out of cash. Not too sure with the exchange rate though but they are competitive since they are competing with each other. I wouldn't advise you to exchange your money at the airport as they will rape you on awful exchange rates and wait till you get to the city which offers much better rates from the aforementioned banks and Post Office.
London attracts many tourists so pickpockets do operate around there especially the touristy places but other cities the worry is much less and pretty safe (just don't deliberately act like 'I AM A TOURIST AND I GOT TONS OF MONEY ON ME' and you will be fine).
Oh and people in the UK are generally very friendly towards Americans so no worries there (All that stand shoulder-to-shoulder and best-allies4ever stuff)
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They reimburse your atm fees, even in other countries (i've been using them for years).
When you arrive at the airport just withdraw whatever amount you think you're going to need on the local currency.
Some higher end hotels offer currency exchange at very competitive rates as services to the guests, so you could check with them if you are staying at one. Some banks also offer competitive exchange services, but it may depend on your relationship. HSBC premier global account, and stanchart priority account both offer very nice exchange services to members for many popular currencies. Other than that, ATMs are the next best thing.
Sapphire Preferred Card - No Foreign Transaction Fee Travel Credit Cards | Chase.com is what I use for a CC. No fees and chip enabled. Don't sleep with super blinds that block all the light. Let at least some light come in the morning to help get yourself adjusted. It depends on when you arrive, but arriving in the evening after staying up the whole time and just crashing when I get to my hotel is my ideal setup. Otherwise sticking to your normal routine. If you aren't a breakfast person and you eat some super breakfast your body will think that was a great dinner and out you go. With AT&T I just switch plans for the trip and then switch back later. Otherwise at least understand your plan so when you get a bill for $1000s you aren't surprised.
I've never lied about being from America... I've had some good laughs making fun of the president though. Understanding the culture and not being ignorant is more important
I like noise canceling (not isolating) headphones for the long flights.
Last edited by Chris; 07-04-2014 at 06:58 AM.
Jet lag: much worse for me when flying from the US to Europe. 2 short days with a short night (usually on the plan) inbetween is harder to adjust to than 1 very long day.
Money: credit cards are as widely accepted as in the US, so pay with those if you can. Else you can pay with a debit card, or withdraw cash from an ATM.
Culture: nobody will resent you being American. After all it's not your fault you were born that way. Most people will be able to respond in English (a bit less so the more south you go in Europe).
Happy 4th of July! The university library here is flying the Stars and Stripes today (it was rebuild with American money after WWI).
Just to echo a lot of what has already been said:
- Don't be a dick
- Call your bank/credit card companies and let them know where you will be. Also try to get a chip & pin card with no foreign fees
- Get local currency out of local ATMs
- Learn a bit of the local language
- I usually buy a prepaid sim card wherever I travel for emergency use...wifi calling/google voice for talking to people back home
- Don't be a dick
I disagree with this. If you're going to look like a tourist, you're going to get pickpocketed like a tourist. Take a jacket or something that has a zipper (front left/right pocket) where you can put your wallet. Unless you are absolutely retarded in your surroundings, you will have no problem.
BTW Adam's original post is 100% right on.
My husband and I got back from Paris for our honeymoon and it was absolutely foreign. I would say about 95-98% of the residents in Paris did NOT want to speak in English. When I went to Florence, EVERYONE spoke English.
KNOW SOMEONE WHO SPEAKS FRENCH IF YOU'RE GOING TO PARIS! If not, you are gonna have a bad time. ;p
Last edited by Kuriin; 07-04-2014 at 03:03 PM.
I wandered around Istanbul in 100+ degree temperatures with a little money belt tucked under my t-shirt/shorts. It was a fantastic feeling knowing my credit cards and passport were secure while still wearing light, comfortable clothes.
*Edit* And ANY exposed pocket, zipper or no, is a possible target for pick pockets. I know tons of travelers and some of the stories I've heard are insane; stuff like having pick pockets cut through your clothes or get your wallet out of the bottom of a full backpack.
Last edited by McCheese; 07-04-2014 at 03:43 PM.
You can have a hidden pouch and not look like a tourist. I use one of these when traveling oversea. I keep my passport in it plus the extra cards I don't use on the regular. Cash for a day or two plus a CC in my wallet is all I need.
As an american living in the UK I can say that your biggest concern is that the US is backwards as fuck and dont issue chip and pin cards which is annoying because more and more places only accept that or if their swipe machines work no one really knows how to use them anymore. Getting robbed, drinking water, worrying about where you are from cause US=bad, is all masturbatory imo. Crime is the same or less as the US, water is fine, and no one gives a fuck where you are from unless you are a total dick about it and are the type of person prone to getting in bar fights already. If you are part of the America fuck ya crowd then maybe don't open your mouth.
For cell phones, if you are starting in the UK you can get a pay as you go sim card that will work in the UK for next to nothing, and if you go with Three as your provider I think that card will work in france for sure and maybe switzerland at no extra charge from UK rates. Check it out but it should be way cheaper than paying verizon whatever retarded rate they want, smart phone plans in the UK/EU are way more reasonable than the US.
^ This. Just keep a small wallet with what you need for the day in your front pocket and you will be fine. It is easy as balls to get around if you have a little patience, Paris included. Me (sounding American) and my GF (German) had no problem in Paris. They were dicks, but what are you going to do? Just roll with it and enjoy it for what it is. Nobody could care less where you are from, especially if you are in a major tourist destination.
As a little side story, we were taking a tour once in the tower of London, and they asked everyone in the group where they were from. Everyone listed a country until it came to the American couple, who just said their 500 population middle of fucking no where town as though everyone knew where it was. It was awesome.
Late reply but here goes :
Money : as said by pretty much everyone else : withdraw cash from ATMs. Call your bank and verify with them what the daily/weekly limits are for ATM cash withdrawal are on your card when you use it outside of the US.
Don't look like a tourist. Don't keep all your money in one place. I usualy keep small bills and a few larger ones in my front pocket (not in wallet) and pay all small transactions with that. Depending on the area, I will keep my wallet either in the oposite front pocket, or in a rear pocket, with larger bills, and some more in my camera backpack if I have it with me. I also keep just a bit of emergency cash at the house/appartement/hotel I am staying at.
Phone : buy local simcards, or just use roaming if it's cheap with your carrier/provider (depends on the country).
Jet Lag : Force yourself into the timezone. It starts during the flight already. If you are going from the US to Europe on vacation, it's very easy : you will be sleeping late in the morning, and wide awake very late at night. The hard part will be when you have to get back to work back home When you do, if you have 1 or 2 "buffer" days, don't sleep if you are tired during the day. Wait as much as you can till it's getting close to your usual sleeping time.
Don't be afraid to ask stuff to locals, most of the time people are very happy to help or give tips about areas they know well.
Younger people tend to speak better english than older ones. Pretty much every person in Europe in their 20s to late 30s will know how to speak english. Most 50+ won't, because back when they were at school, it was not being taught to them.
like others, i'll swear by the money belt
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the reason why this one is good is because it loops around your belt and you tuck it in your front pocket. towards the end of my italy trip, i would loop it near my back pocket, but since i kept both mine and wifes passports in there, it kinda crunched them everytime i sat down. (you can do the hip) it was fine for the summerheat, again this is NOT your everyday money use, it defeats the purpose when you're buying a souvenir and you say "hold on, let me whip out my hidden money belt", no this is so you carry important shit and the only way you'll loose it, is if a gang decides to take your pants. keep a regular wallet around with 1 credit/debit card and cash for everyday purchases.
the loops are strong, and the zipper is the thin strong kind and kinda breathable, i wore this for 21 days easy.
download your airline app for your phone, it'll tell you times and even do the phone ticket scanning.
if your sighting seeing europe, download "rick steves" apps and shit, he has a bunch of tours on tape (app now) download it b4 you leave so you don't have to d/l it later w/o wifi.
the same thing for trip advisor, you can d/l their app and pre-download all the maps you'll need
Last edited by lanx; 07-05-2014 at 05:38 AM.
This thread really got me thinking about my trip to Vancouver next month.
I'm assuming most places will take US credit cards there, correct? I just need to check to see if my cards have any foreign transaction fees (edit: Our normal daily use one does not).
I mostly need to know if I should exchange some cash for CDN dollars, or if I'll be fine just using a credit card for everything. My main concerns would be taxis taking credit cards and restaurants (and possibly the hotel, although I'd assume since it's already paid for that that's less of a worry).
Last edited by Elurin; 07-07-2014 at 03:28 PM.
Just to hit on some comments about credit cards with chips. Europe have been using these for a long time, but the old magnetic swipe still works perfectly fine. Every machine I have ever run across has had both. (I have lived outside the US for the last 15 years)
Credit cards also have the best exchange rates. Though in some foreign countries, some businesses will dump the Credit Card fee on the customer and tell you it costs x% additional fee to use a credit card. (Businesses in the US mostly all pay this fee themselves) Also, as has been pointed out, American Express if fucking useless outside of the US for the most part. Save yourself a ton of headache and rely on a Visa or Master Card. Most banks do charge foreign transaction fees, so do not be surprised. It's usually around 1%.
Like others have said, just use an ATM for cash.
Just want to rant again about American Express.. the multi billion dollar company that I work for has some stupid agreement with AmEx and use it as their corporate card for the last couple years. I can not begin to tell you how god damn frustrating it is trying to use this piece of shit anywhere that is not the USA!! Talk about a stupid fucking corporate decision.
*had to get that out*
Last edited by Jysin; 07-07-2014 at 04:22 PM.
Also just an FYI, US is moving to chip-&-pin cards with the goal replacing all cards with c&p by the end of 2015.
In the future, chip cards should become standard issue in the US. Visa and MasterCard have asked US banks and merchants to use chip-based cards by late 2015; those who don't make the switch may have to assume the liability for fraud. There’s been lots of resistance, as the conversion may cost up to $8 billion. But businesses and consumers are feeling the pain as international criminals exploit our antiquated magnetic-stripe technology to hack into and compromise millions of US accounts every year. When your bank next renews your credit card, it’s likely there will be a chip in it.
Yeah, it's definitely already happening. My wife got a new Amex with a chip in it a couple months ago.
One day I hope to be as attractive and well spoken as Tuco!
Also I haven't had any issues using my swipe cards in Canada and I go up to Sun Peaks twice a year to vacation. Although they always try to run it like it has a chip at first.
Check with your bank if they have any partners in Europe, most ATMs only allow you to withdraw €200-250/day for cards not issued by the bank operating the ATM. Definitely get a chip card, swipes are often not accepted anymore. VISA is best for acceptance rate, Amex will be okay for airlines and major hotels but restaurants less so. Supermarkets may not take credit cards at all.
How to get the French to not be assholes to you: ask them nicely (almost apologetically) if they speak English first, instead of just asking whatever you were going to ask in English right away. From their (admittedly chauvinistic) perspective they are doing you a favor by speaking English, go in with that in mind and you will have zero problems. If you can manage a "excusez-moi, parlez vous anglais?" they will bend over backwards for you.
Some smaller differences between the US and Europe:
-No need to tip waitresses at a US rate. Nobody here tips more than €5-10 in a restaurant even on a €100+ bill.
-All prices in shops will already have sales tax included in them
-No white socks outside of a tennis court.
I have a co-worker who just returned from Paris and he said that the economy must not be doing very well because it was the nicest Parisians had ever been.
I'm not going to France anyway. And I'll be in the UK, but not England. Visiting my sister in Northern Ireland, taking a weekend trip to Switzerland, and spending the rest of the time in Madrid and maybe some other parts of Spain.
I've been to Paris half a dozen times and all over the countryside / riviera. I can honestly think of only 1 time ever that I had the "stereotypical" French attitude from a waiter. Everyone else has been pretty damn friendly overall. Like Lambourne said, just dont go walking up blabbering in English. Most Americans would be offended if other nationalities did this on our own turf. Butcher out some French and they usually just smile at you and then converse in English.
Also, thanks for the oodles of advice everyone. I never thought to notify my bank of upcoming international travel. It would suck hard to get my funds frozen if they were suspicious of fraud!
If you are scared of being pickpocketed, then don't use a wallet and just drop your needed stuff (which shouldn't be much) into your pants' pockets. No need for a belt pouch, which looks silly.
You're going to get fucked trying to use a Verizon phone in Europe. Clark Howard always tells people to just buy an unlocked quad-band GSM dumbphone for $20 on ebay and then buy a sim card when you get over there. Use wifi for google maps and such.
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Last edited by BrutulTM; 07-10-2014 at 03:34 PM.
After reading up on it a bit, I think I can just use my Galaxy S3 over there. I can buy a SIM card with like 1GB of data and minutes/texting. I'm getting conflicting information on whether I need to call Verizon first or not, but I think it should work.
The question is will it work with their networks. Maybe things have changed with LTE, but it used to be that no Verizon or Sprint phone worked in Europe regardless of the SIM unless it was specifically designated a "world phone" because they don't have CDMA networks over there.
I'm back from my trip. Couple things from other's feedback:
Magnetic strip card wasn't a problem anywhere except for the UK. It worked fine in Ireland, Spain, and Switzerland.
As for the jet lag, it wasn't a problem. Airplanes put me to sleep immediately. I landed in Madrid at 10:30am and didn't go to bed until 1am or so.
I didn't have a money belt and didn't find it necessary. My friend who lives in Madrid said he had a friend who had a cellphone stolen once, but no other anecdotes beyond that.
If you're a single American dude you should go to Northern Ireland. The women are very interested in American guys.
I was just in Northern Ireland two weeks ago and it was amazing, I took some tours (not from tour companies) and the whole 'trouble years' history is awesome.
Also bumped with Jamie Lannister, Littlefinger and Brianne of Tarth (They were staying in my hotel)
That's awesome. Did you get pictures of them?
No, I didn't want to inconvenience them. It was really weird to see them in plain clothes.
I don't know if anyone said it yet but I use the Schwab high yield checking for ATM. Get a creditcard that won't rape you on foriegn transaction fees. If you are going to fuck around cash is king.
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