Spring Travel: The Curse of the Caterpillar

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It’s spring. There is pollen everywhere and if you are lucky, some sun. You are suffering miserably. You are also looking forward to traveling on your spring or summer vacation. The dilemma of packing for travel. To bring toiletries or not bring toiletries, that is the question? And what it really means to deal with customs and travel with a portable medicine cabinet, because if you have allergies you are probably carrying creams and any other magical thing to ward off the sneeze or itch. But really, you should have they very basics that you need purchased when you get there, and a small first aid kit. Think of it as warding off all evil. It’s not worth being held up in customs over the littlest thing.

The fashion statement of small cosmetics bags should just be for cosmetics, and that’s it. Even these should travel in a clear bag. Even if you are a seasoned traveler, the ports of call can be a challenge with the toiletry and meds dilema. You will be stopped and asked questions, just accept that you will. So make it easier to deal with. If you are on medications, you need these to be clearly labelled and kept with you at all times. You may wish to keep a copy of the full description your pharmacist prints for you. For the most part, prescription meds make it through okay, but packs of allergy meds that can be used to make recreational drugs are very regulated. Don’t bring large blister packs of allergy meds through customs. Packing liquids and lotions still requires that you store them in small, less than 3 oz. bottle and it’s best to just use a clear zip bag. Have these out and ready for declaration. All airports require a clear bag of some kind and people have been forced to repack and use airport provided bags in some cases.

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Apothecary

Which comes to the next part. Plan to get to the pharmacy or apothecary upon arrival, and stock up on travel sizes there. The £/€ 20 is worth not being hassled at the airports. I discovered over the years that stuffing little bottle full of products that you will have to have tested by customs officials, and told you cannot take it, and toss is more expensive in the long run. Now this may be difficult if you are going to Asia or a country where you may not speak or read the language printed on containers. Let’s face it, personal grooming products are recognizable for the most part, but it may not be made or have the ingredients you approve of or can tolerate if you have sensitivity issues. If you are the average Joe or Jane, you can get by with the minimal and maybe share with travel companions on shampoos and such. Washing powder for laundry is another issue for sensitive skin and nose people.

Health and Wholefoods Markets are Your Friends

They can be your saviour if they are open when you arrive. One of the first things I did when I hit Glasgow or Dublin again was find the whole food mart. Unscented soaps and laundry detergents and toiletries can be found here,  not to mention organic foods and veg you can get up to your room. Many Gluten Free options as well. You will benefit from keeping fresh fruit around if you are in a place for a few days, it helps your immune system and is cheaper than always eating out. Grab a tube of Aloe Gel to help with sunburn and other scrapes. Natural sunscreen can be grabbed. Yes, I got sunburned in both Dublin and Glasgow last year, go figure.

Flora

If you know you have severe allergies, skin and pollen related, you will need to plan to bring what you can. However, in many English speaking countries, the U.K. and Ireland, you can find the allergy over the counter meds you are used to in the US and Canada. Keep in mind that there are different flora and fauna in these countries than you are used to. I found that because I was also going between islands, I had to plan to have to dump things for all airports if I had over 3 oz in any container.In the U.K. and Ireland, brands like Zyrtec and Benadryl and other allergy medications are known or have equivalents, so if these work for you you can get them there.

You will always find a Boots, or other apothecary. But if you are into whole foods and the whole body approach, you may want to research this a bit for each large city you may visit. I found this really helpful when I was choosing a place to stay as often I would have to rely on the whole market for meals because kitchens had closed at restaurants early or I needed things with ingredients I could decipher.

And Now for the Creepy Crawlies

March of the caterpillars may make your spring really unpleasant. A particularly pesky crawling teen, the larva of the Processionary Moth, can be seen in lines, end to end roaming London. Eradication crews are on the loose throughout the city, and it is thought that this creature came from Southern Europe to invade the shores. Why the fuss? Because the tiny hairs that are shed by this inching creature can cause severe rashes and bronchial problems in unsuspecting humans. 

 

 

Caterpillars in London

Midges are the scourge of the Highlands, and yes, right in Glasgow off the Kelvin. If you are near any waterway in the spring and summer months, these flying fiends bite and some people are very allergic to them. You can get repellents, but the clouds of them are so big, you can just find another way around them. Long sleeves are good for the river hiking and running you may do.

Ticks are a danger in the isles and Europe as they are in the US and Canada and some carry Lyme disease. As you would in any wooded area, check your clothing for the tiny, expanding arachnids. Clean wounds well and monitor. Again, when you are at the chemist, you may want to pick up anti itch and antiseptic creme to be on the safe side.

Health Food Stores

Glasgow https://www.organicfacts.net/organic-products/organic-stores/glasgow.html

Dublin https://www.organicsupermarket.ie/

Edinburgh https://www.realfoods.co.uk/

London https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2007/nov/03/ethicalfood.fooddirectory2

The Best Laid Schemes: Money Matters While Traveling

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Update March 10, 2018

It is with chagrin that I write this. It has been a few months since my Ireland and Scotland trip. And what I came back to certainly wasn’t fun. Last year I wrote about being careful while traveling, especially where money and safety is concerned. I had two incidents happen to me while traveling, even though I was vigilant and had planned well in advance, was always on guard. One of the big drawbacks of traveling alone, you don’t have a mate to watch your back. You spend a great deal of time watching every corner, when really you want to be watching the sights. How do you tour and enjoy sights while not being targeted is the big question. And even when you plan, you can still get swiped.

In my last article I wrote about how to carry your money, do money belts really work, how hard was it to travel with cash or money. This most recent trip I had gathered up and taken some cash from the UK and Ireland, Pounds and Euros. I kept a certain amount for both on or locked in safes in places I stayed. I only carried small amounts of cash and guarded my concealed chip card fiercely. I still had incidents. I didn’t want to have to access ATMS or anything that would be compromised unless I needed to. Best laid schemes and all.

Cash

Cash is always good to have, especially when you have a desire to not collect chip card fees. It is also a bit of a burden while traveling. You can keep large amounts of cash, but it’s not usually a good idea. Even with a lockable case, or if you are lucky, a hotel room with a safe, you shouldn’t have large amounts on your person as you are making yourself a target. So, I had to decide what the cash budget for a day would be, try to keep that very low, conceal it, stuff a fiver or a tenner in the key pocket of the Levis for cash items, the rest was prepaid travel card. I didn’t want to have to access foreign exchanges too often, there were always fees involved. Card use depended on using for food at restaurants mainly, and I tried to keep that down because fees may be charged again. They may seem minimal, but usage fees can total over £ 50.00 by the end of your trip, and if you are limited to currency because your card company won’t do two or more currencies to your card, you will get exchange fees. So budget £ 5-8.00 for a day if using one for the extra fees.

For the most part, money belts do work, especially if you get a low profile one that you can sling low and hide in jeans it’s not quite as obvious. Cloth money belt may be more desirable due to heat and moisture, but one with internal pockets.

I carried my cash from town to town and through airports using a money belt. Problem was they made me take it off and put in the bins during boarding. This was extremely nerve wracking as it was out of sight and I had to keep chasing down the bin and keep track of everything else as well. The money belt worked otherwise for the most part, I found it was better while traveling on trains. So, even though the belt was made to not trigger alarms at the airport, they still found it. Concealed card holders usually make it through if there is not a metal snap. Better to wait and get the cash there after you arrive.

Backpacks

Most of the cities you will tour are filled with students, and backpacks are the norm. You also want to be able to meet and greet locals and get a feel for a place. You should be able to just talk to anyone, right? But you always have to think the most affable could be sizing you up. Pickpockets have been in the trade for over a thousand years. And they have gotten more sophisticated than you think, think super spy.

If you are touring and doing serious backpacking with a kit and this is your mode for travel as well, you will probably want to take a smaller low profile version along for town day excursions. Back packs are magnets for a lift or slash. If you are touring and need to do several hours away from hotel or other lodging, purses and such are not a good thing. Too easy to slash and grab. You can buy modified purse/backpacks with reinforced straps, but the best thing to do is buy very small back packs with low profile or lockable zippers. While some thieves will still slash a bag, many are subtle and will unzip while standing next to you and you are distracted by the sights or your companions. Be wary of who is next to or near you.

I purchased a very low profile, small backpack that really sat against my body. It had hidden, recessed zippers and a compartment for my iPad. However, with careful planning I still was almost a victim. While in Dublin in large crowds, apparently someone went for my iPad. The recessed zippers hadn’t mattered. I had barely noticed the jostle and almost forgot it all together until two young girls came up and said that my pack was open and looked like a grab had happened. I checked everything and luckily the would be thief had not made off with the iPad, or any other valuable item like the passport. The girls said it happened a lot in the area. So, whenever possible, practice looking tragically hip while guarding your backpack, especially in the Temple Bar area.

Cash Card

I went with a cash card again on this trip. However, I did bring my ATM card as a backup if it got stolen. Big mistake. I had been really vigilant about getting cash. I was trying not to use the chip travel card to get cash, wasn’t sure how safe it would be. If I needed cash I went directly to accredited money exchangers after checking Yelp for reviews, and in some UK Post Offices you can use their exchange. I figured if you got a receipt and if they are a chain, you have some recompense if there is a problem. However, depending on remote locations, sometimes the card wouldn’t work for buying meals and such, being WiFi processing dependent. I was doing really well with managing the money, and really thought I had done okay until I got back to the US and found my checking account had been cleared out. The bank got me the records and after contacting Scotland Police by email, I began looking at a trail of how my account was cleared out. It appears the one time I got desperate for cash on a tour, I used a small stand alone ATM at a petrol station. Bad idea. A card skimmer had been attached and as I looked at records, I followed a parallel track to my travels, going through the Highlands and into Edinburgh, the same days I was there for Fringe Festival. Lesson learned, don’t bring anything attached to your bank account and use it to access funds.

Credit Cards

When traveling we often use our credit cards, they usually can be replaced when lost or stolen while traveling if your card is supported internationally. Just be prepared for the the foreign transaction fees. Check with your bank about their rates of exchange before you go. Always plan in your budget for the fees that will hit you when you return. Depending on your countries of travel, you may want to have a card that is with one of the major card companies, Visa or Master Card. Virgin Money is still only available in UK, Europe and Australia.However, the interest rates are terrible. Use credit card sparingly and use the prepaid card for food and expenses.

Large card companies will have the best infrastructure to wire money or replace card overnight in some countries. Travel cards that you preload can be advantageous, but will also accrue per use fees, and if you return and still have money on them, you may get charged monthly fees as well. Close out your cards when you return unless you plan to travel within a year. Contact your card holder for details. I went with Travelex again and for the most part they worked, but the cards were not the latest processing cards and some of the newer chip readers had trouble with them. If you bring your card, make sure you know about any emergency limits. If you have a medical issue in another country, your personal insurance will not cover most expenses. You should buy travel insurance for your trip, make sure that there are allowances for transport fees (ambulance) included. Your credit card will help get you in the door of a medical facility, and you will have to work with the travel insurance later. Pay as you go cards may not be accepted at Casualty rooms.

Travel Cards

I had a Travelex card which is a UK card. Coming from the US, I was told I could only purchase one currency. While in the UK and EU countries, there are cards that allow you multiple currencies on the card. Research this before you go as new card services are popping up, exchange rates will always accrue.

American Express is not accepted by most merchants, if any in the UK and Ireland.

Piece of Mind

There are no guarantees in travel. For the most part, if you have companions you can look out for one another. If you are the single traveler, you have to be even more prepared to be a target. Think about what you really need to do, and do you really need more money in cash. I didn’t want all my eggs in one basket. Even though the travel card was supposed to be the best option, I was concerned about if it got stolen, and considerations about tracking and stopping the old card going to get me refunded funds or were they truly lost. The company claimed it would refund me, but I had my doubts. So, when shopping for your travel cards, research well in advance and talk to them about all their policies. Look at their online interface and see if you think you will be able to access while abroad, or if they have an app for your smart phone. Research through articles and see which cards are performing the best, and in which countries. I found the online web interface really difficult to get to with Travelex. Their app was easy for daily monitoring and topping up.

Travel Insurance

This is a mixed bag, but  one you really should consider. While you travel within your state of residence, if you are an American, and don’t have single payer insurance like other countries (Canada, UK, EU Countries) just going out of state can be bad, you could possibly face huge expenses if while on that great trip to the Grand Canyon, you fall an break your arm, or worse, get in a car accident in the rental. Just image the expense overseas. While you can pick up insurance renting a car, it very rarely will cover whatever you manage to damage the car with, or yourself. If you are traveling abroad, when you leave domestic air or cross the border into Canada or Mexico, your insurance will not cover you. So, how do you find medical insurance that really travels with you? You will need to look at travel insurance before you go, and sometimes that is really not going to cover what you think it will cover. And read the fine print.

On this last trip I booked through JustFly.com and added on their comprehensive insurance. My main concerns were: Ambulance and Air Ambulance fees coverage, as flights like this start at $5k to get you to hospital and any other fees they will tack on. I was going through the highlands on tours and well, didn’t want to end up being pulled out of a ditch with no way to pay for it. What considerations must you make? How much to buy this type of insurance? My suggestion is, buy 2 insurance packages. Why? Well, just like your regular health insurance coverage, there are deductibles and such for your domestic regular coverage. You need to make sure that you are covered for something catastrophic. Most serious hospital stays and operations can add up to the price of a house, say up to $300k for hospital and and surgeries. Add on the fees for ambulance and any other transport or transfers fees, and you could become bankrupt.

It’s really frustrating to have to think of terrible things happening on vacation, but they do all of the time. It’s better to have the piece of mind. But what can you afford? The basic travel and flight insurance I got, covered flight cancellations, luggage loss, medical coverage, transport coverage. The cost was $60.00 for three weeks coverage. The amounts covered seemed to cover what fees might be for the services, and yes I had looked up random information on average out of pocket expenses in Europe for hospitals. In the EU there is some coverage for this, but their are always situations where if you are coming from Ireland and traveling to France, their are agreements for insurance coverage. And still there will be things not covered. But if you are not from the EU, it will all be out of pocket. Research what policies you should have to cover you if you are traveling to Australia, for example. I now believe I should have had two policies. I should have bought another policy as a back up for what was not covered in the one I got. Insurance companies will always try to not pay out on what it looks like they are covering, it’s part of the industry. Your situation is possibly going to be one they deny coverage on. So, having another plan from another carrier, and one that covers   accidental death is a must. You may have a life insurance policy, but that can even have snags that your loved ones don’t want to come up against. Bringing back a body from overseas is very expensive and customs makes it very difficult. You don’t need the huge fees on top of an already distressing situation for your family. Buying an additional policy may be another $60.00. It’s an expense that you will have to write off.

For more research and making this very important decision, check this review site out:

Travel https://www.reviews.com/travel-insurance/

Medical https://www.reviews.com/travel-insurance/medical/

Hotel Safes

You can shop for accommodations that have a room safe. While you are looking for accommodations on a travel website, contact the accommodation and see if they have room safes. These usually rely on a code that you set yourself, however there are a few locking types which means you have another key to keep track of. In days of old when you traveled, you could rely on a main hotel safe for passports, etc. Try to avoid them. You have no guarantee that the employees won’t skim your funds or access your passport.

UK and EU Travel Cards Information and Articles

https://www.moneysavingexpert.com/credit-cards/travel-credit-cards

https://www.moneyadviceservice.org.uk/en/articles/travel-money-options-cash-cards-and-travellers-cheques#using-pre-paid-cards-abroad

http://www.wisebread.com/travel-and-money-using-prepaid-travel-cards

UK Residents http://www.holidayextras.co.uk/travel-money-card.html

https://www.what-prepaid-card.co.uk

Cards

Travelex

Check if you can have multiple currencies https://www.travelex.com/travel-money-card

Visa Prepaids from Visa Partners https://usa.visa.com/pay-with-visa/cards/card-finder/prepaid-finder-page.html

Virgin https://uk.virginmoney.com/virgin/travel-prepaid-card/index.jsp