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The Travelers Tongue Philosophy

Posted by on Nov 25, 2017 in Travelers' Blog | Comments Off on The Travelers Tongue Philosophy

Why Traveler’s Tongue should be your first step to enjoying a foreign language and connecting with the locals. If you wait for language fluency prior to visiting a foreign country, you may never get there! On your first few visits to a non-English speaking country, all you really need is a few basic words and phrases, which can be found on our Traveler’s Tongue card. Use them often and with enthusiasm. These words and phrases, especially the polite essentials, will help make your stay more fun and rewarding. When we travel to a foreign country we are demonstrating an interest in that culture. Our goal should be to experience and enjoy that culture in as many ways as possible: seeing the historical landmarks and natural wonders, relishing the foods & drinks, shopping for unique goods, mingling with the natives, and speaking a little of their language. Ideally, the first few words out of your mouth when addressing a local should be in their language. In nearly every case they will appreciate your efforts and be very helpful, often answering in English. Begin by learning how to say hello, thank you, and please. Additional words and phrases from the Traveler’s Tongue language card will be very useful during your visit. Most of them can be learned on the flight to your destination. Our goal was to make Traveler’s Tongue an interesting and practical First Step to speaking, and enjoying, a new language. Later, depending on your time and motivation to learn more, you can selectively advance through a myriad of word and phrase books, auditory CD’s, computer-based programs, traditional coursework, immersion courses, private tutoring, and living for a period of time in a country where your new language is spoken. International travel can be an enriching experience, and it provides a remarkable opportunity to show that we value other people and cultures. We hope that Traveler’s Tongue is one small aid toward enhancing your travels abroad and promoting understanding between people and nations. Sincerely, Ron Ohlhausen President, RAO...

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How do I know when to travel?

Posted by on Jul 24, 2014 in Travel Tips, Travelers' Blog | Comments Off on How do I know when to travel?

How do I know when to travel?

Determining the best time to visit a specific part of the world can involve numerous factors that interact with each other, most notably what the weather is like and when the high tourist season occurs. If you plan carefully before you buy your plane ticket or start making your plans, you can make certain to get the most out of your vacation.

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Malaysia: A tropical state of mind

Posted by on Jun 21, 2014 in Malaysia Articles, Travelers' Blog | Comments Off on Malaysia: A tropical state of mind

Malaysia: A tropical state of mind

Malaysia shares a peninsula with Thailand and part of the island of Borneo with Indonesia and Brunei. In between the large island and the peninsula are numerous islands that are also part of Malaysia and round out this tropical paradise.   Getting in, out, and about   If you’re a traveler with a valid US passport, you can get into Malaysia without the need for a special visa, provided you’re traveling for tourism or business and staying for no more than 90 days. Your passport must remain valid for up to six months beyond your scheduled date of departure.   While you can officially stay for up to 90 days within Malaysia, in practice, your passport will be stamped with an official number of days that you are allowed to stay in the country. This may be for less than the total 90 days allowed. It is possible, however, to extend your visa for up to two additional months.   US travelers with dual citizenship in Israel should use their US passport for entry into Malaysia. In the past, dual citizens presenting an Israeli passport have been denied entry. The presence of Israeli entry or exit stamps on a US passport will most likely not be a reason for Malaysian officials to bar you from the country.   The US Centers for Disease Control recommend travelers be up to date on the common vaccinations when traveling to Malaysia. Additional vaccinations against typhoid and Hepatitis A are also recommended. The tap water in Malaysia is generally not safe to drink. Travelers should drink only from sealed bottled water and avoid using ice cubes made from tap water.   In addition to the recommended vaccines, some travelers may find it advantageous to take additional vaccinations and treatments, although this largely depends on the extent of your vacation plans. Such vaccinations include those against Hepatitis B, Japanese encephalitis, and rabies.   There is no risk of yellow fever in Malaysia, but if you are traveling from a country that is a designated yellow fever country, even if you’re only passing through that country’s airport, you should consider getting a yellow fever vaccination. Failure to provide proof of a yellow fever vaccination when arriving from a yellow fever country may keep you barred from entering Malaysia.   While the risk for contracting malaria in peninsular Malaysia is relatively low, if you travel to the island of Borneo, you will likely be more at risk. Malaria is transferred through mosquito bites, and the only absolutely surefire way to avoid contracting malaria is to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes altogether. You can take medicine to make you more resistant to malaria, but if you choose to do so, make sure you discuss your intentions with your local doctor well in advance of your trip. The anti-malaria medication involves treatments before, during, and after your trip, so you would have to plan accordingly. Getting around the mainland area of Malaysia is not particularly difficult by automobile. You have numerous options for car rentals in the country and the road system is well developed throughout this part of the country. US drivers are able to drive legally with only a valid, state-issued driver’s license, although the US State Department recommends that you get an International Driver’s Permit...

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Iceland: bubbling with brilliance

Posted by on Jun 20, 2014 in Iceland Articles, Travelers' Blog | Comments Off on Iceland: bubbling with brilliance

Iceland: bubbling with brilliance

The old adage I learned in grade school is that Greenland is actually composed of ice, while Iceland is actually green. While this is not completely accurate since there is ice in Iceland, the notion of Iceland being a cold and inhospitable place is equally inaccurate. The warm Atlantic Gulf Stream and countless hot springs and other geothermic activity actually provide Iceland with a much more moderate climate than you would typically find in a country located in the extreme north. During the winter time in the capital of Reykjavik, for instance, while it does get below freezing, it’s typically only a few degrees below, which is not what you’d expect from a country called Iceland.   These are all good reasons why avoiding Iceland would be hasty, but they do not address why Iceland is a great vacation destination in the first place. In short, the countryside is rugged and stunning in its beauty, a giant, rocky and volcanic hot tub that’s like nowhere else. Iceland is world renowned for ice trekking activities, and a host of other adventure activities as well. In short, Iceland has been up and coming on the world’s vacation radar because it offers an array of unique vacation experiences which travelers will find nowhere else.   Getting in, out, and about   Despite its distance from the rest of the European mainland, Iceland is considered a part of Europe, and the country is a member of the Schengen Agreement. For US travelers with a passport that has at least three months remaining validity, this means you can enter Iceland without the need for a special visa if your purpose in traveling is for tourism. Once in the Schengen Area, you can stay for up to 90 days within a 6 month period. Icelandic officials will require you to have a return plane ticket and demonstration that you have enough money to fund your stay while you are there.   Iceland’s health care system is excellent, and the country sees very little in the way of diseases that travelers should prepare for. The US Center for Disease Control recommends that all travelers are at least up to date on common vaccinations, such as those against measles, polio, and small pox. Depending on your vacation plans, you may opt to get additional vaccinations against Hepatitis A & B, and rabies. Before you finalize your travel plans, consult with your local doctor to see if any vaccinations would be appropriate for you. One important thing to note is that the tap water in Iceland is not only safe to drink, but it’s delicious as well.   In order to get around from town to town or site to site in Iceland, you have limited options. Bus travel is one such option, but keep in mind that it tends to be expensive. Nevertheless, you can minimize that expense by purchasing passes in some circumstances that give you unlimited travel on the bus system. Comparably priced, local air travel is the preferred method for Icelandic residents to get from city to city in Iceland. Since Iceland has an extremely low crime rate, hitchhiking is another option, but with this you have to be prepared for sudden and extreme weather changes that can put the unprepared in mortal danger....

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Romania: the heart of mystery

Posted by on Jun 19, 2014 in Romania Articles, Travelers' Blog | Comments Off on Romania: the heart of mystery

Romania: the heart of mystery

Created from the merging of the kingdoms of Wallachia, Moldavia, and later Transylvania, Romania has spent much of its life under other civilizations’ control from the Romans to the Ottoman Turks to the Soviet era communists. Its centralized location on the Balkan Peninsula and comprising some of the west coast of the Black Sea has made it a way point for all of Europe. In the past couple of decades the Romanian people have enjoyed independence, and as a fledgling member of the European Union, this country has begun to thrive. This places Romania in a unique point in its history: an inexpensive country with a rich cultural heritage that is just beginning to rebound from centuries of oppression. Whether you hunt for the historical Dracula in the mountainous forests of Transylvania or you look for relaxation on the shores of the Black Sea, a vacation to Romania will have something for everyone.   Getting in, out, and about   Romania is one of the newest parties to the Schengen Agreement. Although the country has not fully implemented the agreement, for the most part US travelers can treat Romania as a Schengen country. You only need a valid US passport to enter Romania, although it must remain valid for at least 90 days beyond your scheduled departure from the Schengen area. You can stay in Romania for up to 90 days within a 6 month period, much as it is with other Schengen countries. Unlike many countries in the Schengen area, however, US travelers can work in Romania during their 90 day stay.   Romania recognizes dual citizenship, so if you are a US citizen originally from Romania, you may be subject to additional Romanian laws and requirements that can make it difficult to leave the country once you have finished your vacation. Before you travel, consult with the nearest Romanian embassy or consulate for more information if this applies to you.   Romania’s health care system is underdeveloped according to US standards. Consequently, travelers should take precautions by not drinking the tap water or using ice cubes made from the tap water. The US Center for Disease Control also recommends that most travelers take a vaccination against Hepatitis A in addition to the common vaccinations, because it can be spread through contaminated food and water. Some travelers may want to consider taking additional vaccinations against Hepatitis B or rabies, but whether you need these or not will largely depend on what your vacation plans consist of. Consulting with your local physician to determine which, if any, vaccinations are best for you is advisable.   Romania is a rather large country geographically, the second largest in central Europe behind Poland. Consequently many of the sights and activities you can do in Romania will be spread out. It’s a gorgeous mountainous and heavily forested country, so taking slow trains or driving through the countryside can be quite rewarding. However, both the road and railway systems, while extensive, are not in the best shape. Taking trains throughout Romania can work well because nearly everywhere you want to go, there’s a train that can take you there. However, they are often slow and inconsistent in maintaining their schedules.   Travel through Romania via car can be a viable option, but there are...

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Denmark: land of Vikings

Posted by on Jun 19, 2014 in Denmark Articles, Travelers' Blog | Comments Off on Denmark: land of Vikings

Denmark: land of Vikings

The Danes have given the world many great gifts. From innovations in physics from the likes of Tycho Brahe and Niels Bohr to the often terrifying but always excellent fairy tales of Hans Christian Andersen, or the equally terrifying but excellent philosophical musings of Søren Kierkegaard, Denmark has supplied much for which the rest of the world can be grateful. Nor are Denmark’s accomplishments limited solely to the realm of the mind, as the fabulous cheese pastry named after this culture will remind you. The Danes have a masterstroke, too, since they were the ones who invented Legos.   Getting in, out, and about   Denmark is a party to the Schengen Agreement in Europe, which allows for near-borderless travel throughout much of Europe. For US travelers, you do not need to apply for a special visa to enter any one of the Schengen countries, and once in one of them, you can travel to others without needing to get an additional visa. Most Schengen countries will want you to get your passport stamped when you enter, however. Your US passport should have two blank pages and remain valid for up to 90 days beyond your intended departure date from the Schengen area, including Denmark. Once you enter the Schengen area, you can stay for up to 90 days within a six month period. Denmark does require you to report entering or leaving with more than €10,000 in cash, or the equivalent.   Denmark has some of the best health care in the world, and its food and water standards are at the very least the equal of that in the US. You can drink the tap water safely. Nevertheless, the US Center for Disease Control recommends that all travelers should be up to date on the common vaccinations when traveling to another country. In some cases, travelers may want to consider getting additional vaccinations against Hepatitis A & B, and rabies. Whether these are necessary for you depends in large part on what your vacation plans entail. Your best practice is to consult with your local doctor well in advance of your vacation to determine if any additional vaccinations would be appropriate for you.   The landscape in Denmark is relatively flat or rolling, with forests and rivers. Renting a car is one way to get around outside of Danish cities. Keep in mind that gasoline is heavily taxed in Denmark and can be double what you’re used to in the US, and sometimes even more expensive than that. In order to drive legally in Denmark, you must be 18 years old and have a valid driver’s license from your home state. This state driver’s license is valid in Denmark for up to 90 days. If you stay longer than that, you need to get a Danish driver’s license.   The highway system in Denmark is well-maintained and extensive. Drivers tend to be more conservative than you’ll find in other parts of Europe. By law, you must keep your headlights on at all times, and all passengers must wear seatbelts. The legal blood alcohol limit in Denmark is much stricter than in the US at .05%.   Renting a car in Denmark is not a necessity. The country is rather compact, consisting of islands that are connected via...

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On Learning a New Language

Posted by on Jun 17, 2014 in Travel Tips, Travelers' Blog | Comments Off on On Learning a New Language

On Learning a New Language

In this era of globalization, knowing another language (that is, a foreign language or second language, as contrasted to our native or first language) can be both practical and rewarding. Whether for business, travel, or personal growth, learning another language widens our horizons and increases our options. It also provides a remarkable opportunity to show that we value other people and cultures.

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Should I Buy Travel Insurance?

Posted by on Jun 17, 2014 in Travel Tips, Travelers' Blog | Comments Off on Should I Buy Travel Insurance?

Should I Buy Travel Insurance?

One of the major decisions to be made when traveling abroad is whether or not to purchase travel insurance. Travel insurance might cover any of the following: trip cancellation (usually due to accident, illness or death in the family); interruption or delay; missed connections; lost baggage or delays; accident and sickness expenses; emergency evacuation; and possibly, car rental and AD&D.

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Ecuador: paradise on the cheap

Posted by on Jun 12, 2014 in Ecuador Articles, Travelers' Blog | Comments Off on Ecuador: paradise on the cheap

Ecuador: paradise on the cheap

The South American country of Ecuador, which includes the famed Galapagos Islands, which inspired Darwin’s evolutionary theory, features a rich diversity of plant and animal life that puts most other countries in the world to shame. Located along the Equator, hence the country’s name, Ecuador also provides different climatic regions ranging from tropical to cool temperatures in the higher elevated regions, and these climates stay the same year-round, which makes any time a good time to travel there and enjoy one of the best kept secrets of international tourism. Even though it uses the US dollar as its main unit of currency, prices are inexpensive allowing any traveler, regardless of budget, to have a whopping good time there.   Getting in, out, and about   In order to boost its tourism trade, Ecuador has made it possible to travel inside its borders without a visa no matter what country you hail from. All you need is your passport, which gives you access for up to 90 days. While it is possible to apply for an additional 90 days from inside Ecuador, if your travel plans involve a vacation longer than three months, your best bet is to apply for a visa from the US before you go. Your passport should have up to six months validity from the point at which you plan to leave the country because you have to show it both upon entry and upon exit.   International flights come into airports in both the capital city of Quito and the southern port city of Guayaquil, but if you can swing it, you can save some money on your entry fee by flying into the latter city rather than the capital. This entry fee is typically charged as part of your air fare, but in Quito the amount is around $40, whereas in Guayaquil it is less than $30. While a $10 difference may not seem like much, it goes a long way in Ecuador, so that savings can mean more to see and do and eat.   Most of Ecuador is covered by the Amazon rainforest. As such, in addition to being up to date on your standard vaccinations, it is a good idea to get additional vaccinations as well to protect you against some of the transmittable diseases found in this region. These include yellow fever, malaria, and typhoid, which can be vaccinated or treated to prevent, as well as dengue fever, which cannot be. Avoiding mosquito bites is the best way to avoid the untreatable dengue fever. For that, you should wear long sleeves and pants or regularly and liberally apply mosquito repellant and sleep with mosquito netting hung around your bed. Be sure and purchase the mosquito repellant in the US for best results and pack it in your checked luggage to avoid problems with boarding your plane.   Like many countries in South and Central America, the water from the tap is not safe to drink. This is as much true for Ecuadorans as it is for vacationers. Bottled water is often provided in hotel rooms for use in brushing your teeth. In addition, buying bottled water for drinking is easily affordable, ranging from 25-50 cents a bottle.   Health care in Ecuador is adequate in Quito and the larger cities,...

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Colombia le encantará

Posted by on Jun 12, 2014 in Colombia Articles, Travelers' Blog | Comments Off on Colombia le encantará

Colombia le encantará

Colombia’s bloody history has long been in the forefront of people’s minds, and has acted as a deterrent against travel there. Stories of kidnappings, rebel guerilla activity, and warring cartels have painted Colombia as a country to steer clear of when planning a vacation. Times have changed in Colombia, however. In fact it’s one of the best kept secrets that Colombia is a vacation hotspot with something for just about everyone to enjoy. The best part is that even for those looking to travel in luxury, Colombia is a relatively inexpensive destination.   Colombia is the king of salsa dancing throughout the world. If you like to dance, you’ll find a soul mate in the Colombian people. But salsa is not the only attraction in this country. A wide array of architecture styles permeates throughout the big cities such as á, making every view a breathtaking one. Ruins from ancient pre-Columbian cultures sit deep in the tropical jungles, and Colombia is one of the few places in the world where you can see snow-capped mountains from your vantage point, relaxing on a sandy beach. For a country that lies almost entirely in the tropics, Colombia has diverse climates throughout. Pack for both cold and warm weather and everything in between.   Getting in, out, and about   In order to enter Colombia, you will need a US passport that will remain valid for the duration of your stay, a return ticket home or a ticket to another country, and a clear idea of your planned length of stay. Passport stamps include a date of return, usually after 30-90 days. If you stay over the allotted time, you may be required to stay in the country until you have paid a fine. However, Colombia, unlike other South American countries, allows you to apply to extend your stay for an additional 90 days provided you do so before your initial stay is up.   If you have ever had Colombian citizenship or are traveling with minors who have or have had Colombian citizenship, please see the travel website at the US Department of State for additional information before making your travel plans: http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/english/country/colombia.html   In addition to the standard vaccinations, which should be up to date, most travelers should also consider getting vaccinated for Hepatitis A and typhoid. If your plans take you into the jungle areas, you may also consider vaccines for malaria, yellow fever, and rabies. In addition to these precautions, also apply liberal amounts of insect repellant to avoid mosquito bites. Mosquitos carry another communicable disease called dengue fever, for which there is no vaccination. Before taking any vaccines, always consult your local doctor regarding your vacation plans and activities to determine which vaccines you should get.   Although there is no tax that you have to pay upon your arrival to Colombia, the country does charge an exit tax, usually when you are departing via air travel. Usually, this fee is included in the purchase of your plane ticket, but double check with the airline company and consult the website listed above for specifics.   Although crime and violence have declined substantially in the past decade, the US State Department maintains a travel warning for those coming to Colombia. US diplomats and their families are limited to...

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Chile: the lone star country

Posted by on Jun 12, 2014 in Chile Articles, Travelers' Blog | Comments Off on Chile: the lone star country

Chile: the lone star country

Back during the crisis in 2010 when Chilean miners got stuck underground, many Texans were confused by that country’s flag, which looks almost identical to the Texas flag. The big difference is that the blue field on the Chilean flag doesn’t extend down the left-side length of the flag as it does on the Texas flag. Also the star is smaller, which is appropriate since Chile is significantly smaller than Texas, but Chile, like Texas, features a wide range of landscapes and climates despite its size.   Chile is a sliver of a country, being only 270 miles across at its widest point, but that doesn’t stop it from being chock full of fun sights and activities to pack into a vacation that’s certain to satisfy. Even when enjoying the Pacific coastal beaches that run throughout the length of the country, you’re still a hop, skip, and a jump away from mountains, deserts, glaciers, volcanoes, and rivers in Chile’s southward transition of landscapes. This makes it an ideal country for hikers, and, awakening to this need in 2010, the Chilean government established the Sendero de Chile (the Chilean Trail), a network of hiking trails that run throughout the country.   Getting in, out, and about   For US citizens, a valid passport and the payment of $160 as a reciprocity fee, since the US charges Chilean vacationers to get in here, is all you need for a stay of up to 90 days. At the end of 90 days, or rather before the end, if you wish to stay longer, you would have to cough up another reciprocity fee, which can extend your stay another 90 days. If you stay longer than the time allowed, you won’t be allowed to leave the Chile without paying a fine.   Chile does have strict customs policies regarding the transportation of agricultural products into the country. Even if you carry something as innocuous as a bag of fruit for snacking while on the plane (or later), you must declare it, or you could face a steep fine and possible detainment.   If you have dual citizenship or were once a Chilean citizen who emigrated to the US, you should contact the Chilean Embassy before you leave for there for additional entry and exit requirements. Chile also has strict entry and exit requirements for minors under the age of eighteen. Even if you are the legal guardian traveling with a minor, you will need to provide documentation that shows you are related. A copy of the minor’s birth certificate should suffice in many cases, but you should consult with the Chilean Embassy for exact requirements, and do so well in advance of your vacation.   Aside from being up to date on the standard vaccinations, you should probably consult with your doctor about getting Hepatitis A and Typhoid vaccines, which are recommended by the US Center for Disease Control. Other optional vaccines include against Hepatitis B and against rabies, but these will depend on your activities while there. Rabies is not generally present in the dog population in Chile, but it is carried by bats. If you are planning on engaging in outdoor activities in remote areas, where the risk for bat bites is high, then that vaccination may be for you.  ...

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Portugal: a high value vacation for the budget traveler

Posted by on Jun 12, 2014 in Portugal Articles, Travelers' Blog | Comments Off on Portugal: a high value vacation for the budget traveler

Portugal: a high value vacation for the budget traveler

Portugal once was a great naval power and later one of the poorest countries in Europe. Joining the European Union has brought the country great prosperity, but it still is one of the least expensive countries in Europe for a vacation. Its mountainous countryside has helped to isolate it from its neighbor to the east, Spain, and this has given rise to a unique culture with fantastic architecture and numerous sites and activities for travelers.   Getting in, out, and about Portugal   A US traveler only needs a passport that will remain valid for at least three months beyond the planned duration of your stay. As a party to the Schengen Agreement, Portugal allows visa-free entry for up to 90 days within any country in the Schengen area for any period within six months. This also allows you to travel across borders into any other Schengen country with only your passport.   If you enter Portugal through another European country, you may have to register your presence with the local officials within 72 hours of your entry. This law is spotty and not enforced for everyone. If your travel plans include travel to Portugal from another European country, consult with a local Portuguese consulate or the US State Department travel website for additional information: http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/english/country/Portugal.html.   For LGBT travelers, Portugal has a progressive attitude and has recently legalized same-sex marriage. However, outside of the larger cities, you may encounter intolerance. The Portuguese tend to be extremely welcoming to travelers, and outside of the typical instances of petty theft and pickpocketing, Portugal has a low instance of crime. Since austerity measures were introduced in 2012, there are instances of public protests. These tend to be non-violent, but travelers should steer clear just in case. Terrorist activity is uncommon, but the open borders provided by the Schengen Agreement make it possible for terrorists to get in easily. Always remain aware of your surroundings and exercise a modicum of common sense and your vacation should remain safe.   In the event of an emergency, Portugal uses the 112 phone code as their equivalent to the US 911. The health care inside of urban areas is generally excellent, although this may not be the case in more rural locations. Stay up to date on your routine vaccinations. Although there are no required vaccinations for entry into Portugal, some travelers find it expedient to get additional vaccinations against Hepatitis A and B and rabies. In the case of the latter, dogs and other pets are rarely carriers, and the danger of infection tends to come more from bats. If you plan on engaging in adventure activities such as cave exploration, this might be an appropriate vaccination. Always consult with your local physician about your travel plans to determine if any vaccinations are appropriate for you.   The traveler’s tongue   The official language in Portugal is Portuguese. While many words and phrases are similar to Spanish, and Portuguese speakers can generally understand Spanish, it is considered an insult to speak Spanish to the Portuguese if you are not a native Spanish speaker. You’re better off speaking English. That said, the Portuguese are not as persnickety about their language as you’ll find in some European countries. Any attempt to speak basic Portuguese will put...

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Greece: island hopping at the birthplace of democracy

Posted by on Jun 12, 2014 in Greece Articles, Travelers' Blog | Comments Off on Greece: island hopping at the birthplace of democracy

Greece: island hopping at the birthplace of democracy

When you speak of the West or Western culture, keep in mind that Greece was where that culture was born. While archaeological ruins permeate this nation on the southern tip of the Balkan Peninsula and encompassing islands throughout the surrounding seas, the evidence of antiquity isn’t the only reason why Greece is one of the most favored travel destinations throughout the world. Sandy beaches interspersed with rocky coasts, a mountainous inland, the quintessential Mediterranean climate (think southern California, if you’ve never been abroad), and a laid back, friendly population make Greece a fabulous locale for adventure, relaxation, or a contemplation of a glorious past.   Getting in, out, and about Greece   Like most of the rest of Europe, Greece is a member of the Schengen Agreement. For US travelers, this means that with a mere passport that has at least three months continued validity on it, you can travel anywhere in the Schengen area, including Greece, for up to 90 days within a 180 day period.   If you are a US citizen who was born in Macedonia, however, you may face additional requirements for getting out, and you should consult the US State Department’s website for additional information: http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/english/country/greece.html. One possible consequence is that if you are male, you may be pressed into the country’s mandatory military service, so check with the State Department and plan accordingly.   Like most of the rest of Europe, you do not need any special vaccinations for your travel, although some travelers will get vaccinated for Hepatitis A and B, and for rabies. In the case of the latter, it is uncommon for dogs to be carriers, and this is largely a precaution against exposure to bats. Check with your local physician about your travel plans to see if any of these vaccinations would be appropriate for you.   While there are no currency requirements, you may be asked to furnish proof of a return ticket or an onward travel destination, as well as enough money to get by in the country. In addition to this, you should be aware that unlike in the US, it is illegal to carry mace or pepper spray. Drug laws are rigidly enforced in Greece, and the society is sufficiently anti-drug oriented that you may risk being reported to the police by an average citizen if caught. Penalties for possession of even the smallest amounts can lead to long term incarceration, so don’t take any chances.   Another practice that US travelers should remain wary of is the purchase of black market goods, which are illegal. Even though in some places in the larger cities, knockoffs and pirated goods are sold along the street, possession of these is against both Greek and US laws and potentially subject to prosecution.   Greece is a relatively safe country with very few instances of violent crime. However, since it is one of the southernmost entries into Europe, it has been prone to occasional terroristic attacks. What is more common are public demonstrations and marches, which happen frequently, particularly around the universities. While these are mostly peaceful, they can sometimes get out of hand, and you are advised to steer clear of them.   Another possible circumstance of violent crime perpetrated towards tourists stems from concerns over illegal immigration....

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Brazil: the biggest party in the world

Posted by on Jun 12, 2014 in Brazil Articles, Travelers' Blog | Comments Off on Brazil: the biggest party in the world

Brazil: the biggest party in the world

Blame it on the bossa nova or the cultural concept of jeitinho (Portuguese for knack), but the Brazilian people just like to have fun. And that devil may care attitude can be contagious for vacationers who venture to this country, one of the largest and most diverse countries in the world. The upside of this attitude is the warmth and friendliness with which Brazilians greet strangers. As symbolized by the famous statue of Cristo Ridentor, the redeeming Christ with arms stretched wide who welcomes all at the entrance to the port of Rio de Janeiro, when interacting with Brazilians, you don’t remain a stranger for very long.   The downside of attitudeis one of the highest crime rates in the world. Come see Brazil with both your arms and your eyes wide open.   Getting in, out, and about Brazil   Brazil practices a border policy based on reciprocity. Whatever requirements a country has for entry by Brazilians is the official policy for those citizens to enter Brazil. For US travelers, you have to apply for a travel visa in addition to having your passport up to date and valid for six months beyond the duration of you stay, as supplied by your entry visa. In addition, US travelers must pay an entry fee of at least $160 USD. The amount of the fee is tied to how long your visa runs, with it being possible to be granted a visa for up to 10 years.   In addition to being up to date on the common vaccinations in the US, the CDC recommends that travelers going to Brazil also get vaccinated for Hepatitis A and for typhoid. Depending upon what parts of Brazil you go to, particularly if you enter the Amazon rain forest which covers much of the country, other suggested vaccines include those against Hepatitis B, rabies (if your activities will expose you to potential bat bites), yellow fever, and malaria, which requires treatments before, during, and after your trip. To also avoid contracting other diseases through insect bites, wear long sleeves and pants, and sleep with netting around your bed unless you have a well-sealed room with net screens around the windows. Also, use insect repellant, particularly the kind with high concentrations of DEET (about 24-35% for adults over aged 12) and reapply every five to six hours you spend in an area where you are likely to come into contact with mosquitoes.   Brazil does have a lot of crime. Some of it is also directed primarily at tourists, can be violent, and involve sexual assault. Along the border with Colombia, kidnappings of US citizens have occurred, usually leading to payment of a ransom by either friends and family or the abducted themselves in order to obtain freedom. The areas around Brazil’s other borders are also high in crime.   Most petty thefts rely upon distraction, so remain vigilant when strange things occur or people crowd or bump into you. Large groups of children in many of the cities of Brazil can often turn out to be street gangs and the meanest of the bunch, so don’t let the appearance of youth fool you. Travel in groups yourself, avoid wearing expensive clothing or bandying about expensive cell phones, cameras, or other electronics, and don’t...

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Costa Rica: the crossroads of the Americas

Posted by on Jun 12, 2014 in Costa Rica Articles, Travelers' Blog | Comments Off on Costa Rica: the crossroads of the Americas

Costa Rica: the crossroads of the Americas

Sandwiched between Nicaragua and Panama, Costa Rica boasts a wealth of diversity for such a small country. Over 800 species of birds find their homes in these parts, dotting the jungles with bright colors and filling the air with their cries. In fact an area that consists of only .03% of the planet’s available land mass has somehow packed into it 6% of the world’s animal, plant, and insect species, making Costa Rica a bizarre wonderland of rare sights and sounds.   Since Costa Rica straddles the mid-section of Central America, it supplies world class beaches that look out towards both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. With mountains, jungle, and active volcanoes in the interior, Costa Rica provides the perfect tropical vacation.   Getting in, out, and about   Costa Rica does not charge a fee to enter the country, but upon leaving, you will have to pay an exit fee of around $29 USD. In order to get in, you need a valid passport. A passport stamp can permit you to stay anywhere from 30 days to 90 days. You also have the option of applying for an extended stay while you are there, in case the idea of leaving paradise is too painful for you. Stays beyond the allotted time that have not been officially extended can land you in a lot of trouble, however, including fines, deportation, and the possibility of being barred from entering the country again. It would be a shame to have paradise lost to you just when you found it, so make certain you adhere to the time allotted to you.   Aside from the common vaccinations, there are no required vaccinations, with one caveat. If you have travelled to a country in South or Central America or Sub-Saharan Africa, you will need to show proof that you received a vaccination against yellow fever at least 10 days prior to entering that country. Yellow fever is not found in Costa Rica, and the locals aim to keep it that way. Some travelers might wish to vaccinate against rabies, Hepatitis B, or malaria, and many travelers go ahead and vaccinate against Hepatitis A and typhoid. Check with your local doctor to see if any of these are appropriate for you.   One all too common disease found in Costa Rica is dengue fever. There are no ways to vaccinate against it or to treat it at present. Your best course is to prevent exposure to it through mosquito bites. Even though you’re in the jungle, you should consider wearing long sleeves and pants and applying liberal amounts of insect repellant. Also avoid splashing in puddles of standing water because that’s where mosquitos like to breed.   Even though Costa Rica has one of the oldest and most stable democracies in the Americas, the high degree of tourism has promoted an equally high incidence of crime. Usually this is on the level of petty theft, but there have also been violent crimes such as sexual assault reported. Always be aware of your surroundings and avoid making yourself a target by carrying large amounts of cash, expensive jewelry or electronic equipment including cameras.   Thieves often work in groups and have developed sophisticated scams to take you by surprise. For example, one method...

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Enjoy the high life in alpine Liechtenstein

Posted by on Jun 12, 2014 in Liechtenstein Articles, Travelers' Blog | Comments Off on Enjoy the high life in alpine Liechtenstein

Enjoy the high life in alpine Liechtenstein

The Principality of Liechtenstein, one of the smallest countries in the world, can complete your journey, along with Austria, Switzerland, and Luxembourg, through a part of the world that seems as if it stepped right out of a Grimm’s fairytale. Although one of the smallest in terms of both land mass and population, with only around 35,000 residents, Liechtenstein is also one of the wealthiest in the world per capita.   With its low taxes and concentration of banks, Liechtenstein is one of Europe’s financial capitals, which it makes a vacation there rather expensive, but the upshot of this is that your meals and lodgings are first rate when it comes to being pampered. This country is also one of the few constitutional monarchies still in existence, but since it is so small, the royal family tends to rub elbows with everyone else. Expect the royal treatment when you get here.   Nestled in the Upper Rhine valley of the Swiss Alps, Liechtenstein is also a great place to enjoy all manner of winter sports. This geographic location at first glance might seem to doom the country to harsh winters but southerly winds prevail, giving Liechtenstein a mild climate year-round.   Liechtenstein is also one of two countries in the world that are doubly landlocked. This means that the countries surrounding it, Austria and Switzerland, also have no oceans or seas bordering them. Uzbekistan is the only other country in the world that shares this feature, so now you can win a trivia contest when this question comes up.   Getting in, out, and about   While not a member of the European Union, so it doesn’t use the euro as currency, Liechtenstein is one of the signatories of the Schengen Agreement. For US travelers, this means that your passport allows you entry and the ability to move freely in any of the countries that are party to the agreement. For those travelers on a budget, this is particularly helpful. You won’t have to shell out massive sums to spend the night in one of Liechtenstein’s high end hotels. Making your excursion into the country as a day trip from either Switzerland or Austria can save you some money. Since there are no airports in Liechtenstein, even if you have the funds to enjoy the full scope of this vacation, you will need to fly into either Vienna or Zurich and take a train or bus into the country.   Your passport allows you entry into any Schengen Area country for up to 90 days within a 180 day period. After that, you must leave the Schengen Area or risk detention, fines, or deportation, with potential prohibitions on traveling there in the future.   If you plan on staying in the Schengen Area longer than the 90 days, you will need to apply for an additional visa. Another way to do this is to travel to a non-Schengen country, such as Ireland or Romania, where you don’t need a visa, and wait out the 180 day period before re-entry. However, the US State Department doesn’t recommend this option because many countries may deny you re-entry, so make your plans accordingly.   There are no restrictions on travel for those with HIV/AIDS. Whenever you travel to any other country, it...

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Enjoy a grand vacation in old Luxembourg

Posted by on Jun 12, 2014 in Luxembourg Articles, Travelers' Blog | Comments Off on Enjoy a grand vacation in old Luxembourg

Enjoy a grand vacation in old Luxembourg

Nestled between the countries of France, Belgium, and Germany, the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg has a surprising wealth of sights and activities for a country that rates as one of the smallest in Europe. This founding member of the European Union has produced four Tour de France champions, which shows the central role that the sport of cycling plays in Luxembourg’s culture. Bicycles and bicycle rentals are ubiquitous, as are the myriad and winding bicycle trails that course throughout the diverse countryside of thick forests, gently rolling hills, and modest mountains.   Getting in, out, and about   Luxembourg is both a part of the European Union and the Schengen Agreement, which means US travelers only need a valid passport for entry into the country or to cross over the borders of the surrounding countries. Once entering into the Schengen Area, your passport stamp allows you to stay in any country within the area for up to 90 days within a 180 day period.   Aside from having the common vaccinations up to date, you need not get any additional shots. However, some travelers may find it prudent to get a rabies vaccination, especially if you are planning on exploring the caves that dot the region of Müllerthal. Rabies is not generally found in the dogs local to the area, but traveling through the caves can expose you to bats who carry the disease. Other optional vaccines are against Hepatitis A and B. You should consult with your local physician regarding your travel plans to determine what, if any, vaccines are right for you.   Although Luxembourg is rather expensive, particularly in terms of meals and lodging, since it is a well-known capital for banking and finance, you cannot carry more than €10,000 in or out of the country.   If you experience any health issues or other emergencies in the country, remember the emergency phone numbers of 112 for a medical emergency or 113 for the police. If you need to access a pharmacy late in the evening, call 112 for information, since pharmacies in Luxembourg rotate 24 hour access among them.     The traveler’s tongue   Luxembourg has its own official language, Luxembourgish. However, French is the unofficial national language, and most of the street signs and other signs are in French. German is also spoken quite extensively, with most citizens being trilingual. However, don’t misconstrue Luxembourgish as a dialect of German, despite its similarities. Most of the locals would find that insulting to their culture. English is commonly spoken in some areas, but it is hit or miss. When in doubt, address people in French and ask if they speak English. Most will be glad to help you. If you really want to score points with people, try a few phrases of Luxembourgish, since so few people know the language outside of the country. Here’s your first word to try: Moien, (pronounced moy-en). It means hello, and if you say it with a smile, you’ll be surprised how many doors it will open for you.   Money matters in Luxembourg   Luxembourg is one of the wealthiest nations in the world. Consequently, finding cheap accommodations is a next to impossible task, with even the cheapest of rooms costing no less than €100 a night per...

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Time for a Swiss family vacation

Posted by on Jun 12, 2014 in Switzerland Articles, Travelers' Blog | Comments Off on Time for a Swiss family vacation

Time for a Swiss family vacation

A vacation to Switzerland is not cheap, but the beautiful and rugged alpine land of Heidi, the Matterhorn, and yodeling is well worth the expense. Historically neutral despite its centralized location in Europe, Switzerland is home to numerous international organizations such as the Red Cross, as well as a multicultural population that is one of the few to engage in a direct democracy to some extent. Life expectancy is one of the highest in the world, and the largest cities, Zurich and Geneva, number among the top cities in the world with the highest quality of life. A vacation to Switzerland is just the thing to learn their secret (hint – it’s chocolate).   An outdoorsman’s paradise   Its high location among the Alps as a site of glacial activity has positioned Switzerland to witness first-hand the effects of climate change. Consequently, environmentalism plays a big part in the Swiss national consciousness. Energy comes mostly from hydroelectric sources, since Switzerland houses the headwaters of four major European rivers: the Inn, Rhine, Ticino, and Rhône. Carbon dioxide emissions are some of the lowest in the world. And Switzerland has an environment that is worth preserving, a paradise for those who enjoy outdoor activities.   Switzerland features some of the best skiing in the world, with its second largest peak, the Matterhorn, being the highlight. If you enjoy other adrenaline inducing activities, the city of Interlaken offers a variety of thrills from skydiving to canyoning to white water rafting.   Switzerland is ideal for mountain climbers and hikers. The numerous hiking trails are well-developed and feature small villages and other places to shelter or resupply along the way so that it’s possible to hike over 200 miles in relative comfort and safety. Mountain biking is another way to survey the Swiss countryside and there are even some designated routes for inline skating. One unique mode of seeing Switzerland is by riding the cable cars and wind around the high mountain passes and peaks, although these can get pricey.   Getting into Switzerland   Although it’s not part of the European Union, Switzerland is part of the Schengen Agreement, which allows unfettered travel from other countries into Switzerland with only a valid passport. For residents of the US, a valid passport will allow you entry for up to 90 days within a 180 day period that also applies to other countries in the Schengen Area, so if you have stayed for more than 90 days inside the six month period in any of the Schengen countries, you may not be allowed entry into Switzerland. If you stay in Switzerland illegally you can face deportation and future restrictions on entry if you are caught. If you plan to stay in Switzerland for longer than 90 days, you will need to apply for a visa.   Switzerland does not require any specific vaccinations aside from the most common ones, and there is no minimum amount of currency you have to declare. Nor are there any restrictions for those with AIDS or HIV.   The traveler’s tongue   Switzerland is actually a confederacy of smaller states called cantons, and each canton has a slightly different culture including the language they speak. There are actually four national languages that are widely spoken in Switzerland, depending on...

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Quebec: European style living in North America

Posted by on Jun 12, 2014 in Quebec Articles, Travelers' Blog | Comments Off on Quebec: European style living in North America

Quebec: European style living in North America

From the quaint cobbled streets of Quebec City to the architecture of historic buildings such as the Chateau Frontenac, drawn from Medieval and Renaissance European architecture, to the European style highway system and French national language, Quebec offers striking similarities in feel to Old Europe. Nicknamed “La Belle Province,” Quebec supplies a vacation experience unique in North America.   Getting in, out, and about   In order to get into Quebec, you need to provide proof of citizenship and proof of identity. Your valid passport or passport card is sufficient for these requirements. There are no entry fees or limitations on how much cash you have on hand. For an expedited entry process, consider joining the NEXUS trusted traveler program. A NEXUS card also satisfies entry requirements, but it has the added benefit of putting you in a much faster moving line at a customs or border checkpoints.   If you are a minor or you are traveling with a minor and you’re not their legal guardian, you may have to supply a notarized affidavit of consent from the minor’s legal guardians. If you are coming into Quebec via a private boat, you must present yourself to the Canadian Border Services Agency. If you drive into Quebec, you will need to have a valid driver’s license and proof of insurance. You should check with your auto insurance company about getting a Canadian insurance card before you come to Quebec.   Although Canada has an excellent national health care system, and that includes Quebec, it is for Canadians. Even if you’re traveling to Quebec for a short visit, you should purchase traveler’s medical insurance. If you do have to see a doctor, be prepared to pay cash and pay in full otherwise. The Canadian health care system does not accept Medicare, Medicaid, or most US health insurance.   In addition to the common vaccinations against measles, tetanus, and whatnot, you might want to vaccinate against Hepatitis A and B and rabies, although this depends on your planned activities. Always consult with your local doctor to determine which additional vaccines are appropriate for your needs.   The traveler’s tongue   The official language of Quebec is French, although the pronunciations are much different than French as spoken in France, resembling French as spoken in the 16th and 17th Centuries more so than its European counterpart. Over 90% of the population speaks French either as a first or second language. Much of the population speaks a survival level of English at the very least. You will find the highest concentration of English speakers in the larger cities, Montreal and Quebec City. Outside of these locales, it is hit or miss. Even if your French uses more of the European style pronunciation, most Quebecers will understand you.   Quebecers are very proud of their unique culture, which is as different culturally from the French as Americans are from the Britts. They think of themselves as Quebecers first and Canadians second if they do so at all. Even though ballot measures to separate from Canada have twice failed in the past four decades, many Quebecers still hold to a dream of sovereignty. You may notice more Fleur de Lis symbols than maple leafs, and the Quebec flag is frequently flown higher than the Canadian...

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Mexico: an exotic vacation close to home

Posted by on Jun 12, 2014 in Mexico Articles, Travelers' Blog | Comments Off on Mexico: an exotic vacation close to home

Mexico: an exotic vacation close to home

Not only does Mexico feature some of the best white sand beaches with clear blue waters where you can see straight to the bottom, but a cornucopia of sights and experiences from the high mountains and deep canyons to Aztec and Mayan ruins and a spicy, delicious, and varied cuisine. It’s tourist and resort towns bring travelers from the world over, but fortunately for US vacationers, it’s in our back yard and exceedingly affordable. As one Mexican beer boasts, Mexico is miles from ordinary and a place to enjoy a thrilling adventure in Copper Canyon or relax and recharge over a pina colada or margarita.   Getting in, out, and about   Considering its proximity to the US, entry into Mexico can be complicated. A valid US passport is all that’s necessary for a trip across the border if you stay within 20 miles of the border and for no more than 72 hours. For longer stays or to venture outside of the border zone, you also need to purchase an entry permit called a Forma Migratoria Multiple (FMM). Minors traveling unaccompanied by a legal guardian need to have a notarized letter of parental consent from all legal guardians with them as well.   Once you have an FMM, you can stay in Mexico for up to six months. This makes an extended stay quite possible, but be advised that there are numerous parts of Mexico that are dangerous for travelers (See Below).   If you drive a vehicle into Mexico you need to get a temporary import permit. You can obtain one either at one of the Mexican consulates in the US or at a Banjercito branch at a Mexican Customs office. You will need to present proof of citizenship, the vehicle title and a registration certificate, and a valid driver’s license, as well as payment for the fee. This permit is then good for up to 180 days. Keep in mind that you won’t be able to get this permit in Mexico’s interior, so don’t venture past the 20 mile border zone if you don’t have it.   You can carry up to $10,000 cash into Mexico without having to declare it. However if you carry any goods with you, they are subject to Mexico’s numerous customs laws. This includes gifts, perishable food, and even such things as donations of used clothing (which is actually restricted). Consult the US State Department’s travel website for additional information: http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/english/country/mexico.html.   While there are no required vaccinations for entry into Mexico, the Center for Disease Control recommends vaccinations for Hepatitis A and Typhoid in addition to being up to date on your standard vaccinations. Depending on your travel plans and activities, you might also want to get vaccinated for malaria, rabies, and Hepatitis B. Well before you plan to leave, consult your local physician to determine which ones are right for you.   Staying safe in Mexico   For years now, the Mexican government has been at war with various drug cartels who are trying to protect their traditional drug distribution routes. Consequently, there has been a spike in violent crime, which makes some areas of Mexico dangerous to travel. The US State Department has issued travel advisories for many of the states of Mexico, mostly border areas and in...

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Don’t cry for Argentina; take pictures instead

Posted by on Jun 12, 2014 in Argentina Articles, Travelers' Blog | Comments Off on Don’t cry for Argentina; take pictures instead

Don’t cry for Argentina; take pictures instead

Argentina, the eighth largest country in the world by land mass, has a bit of everything: thick jungles, deserts, mountains, vast plains, and glaciers. Its capital Buenos Aires has been called the “Paris of South America” with good reason since it boasts a broad array of cultural activities and European style architecture. Fine wines, gorgeous waterfalls, and a train trip into the clouds await you on this fine vacation. Getting in and out of Argentina As far as visa and passport requirements go, entry into Argentina is fairly simple. You do not need a visa for stays of up to 90 days; a valid passport that remains valid for the duration of your stay is all that’s necessary. You will have to pay a fee of $160 for entry into Argentina, however. This is called a reciprocity fee since the US charges a similar fee for Argentinian travelers to come to the US. It’s best to pay for this fee before you travel there and make copies of your receipt, which you will need to show upon arrival in Argentina. The good news is this reciprocity fee is good for ten years and covers multiple entries into the country. Popular cross border excursions into Brazil and Paraguay at favorite tourist spots such as Iguazu Falls require that you get an entry visa into Brazil or Paraguay in advance. With this in mind, plan accordingly if you wish to take trips across Argentina’s borders. There are no currency restrictions for entry or exit, and while there are no required vaccinations, you should consult with your doctor about any vaccinations that would be appropriate for your plans. Some of the more common vaccinations that Center for Disease Control recommends are the Hepatitis A and Typhoid vaccines. It might be advisable to take vaccinations for Hepatitis B, Malaria, Yellow Fever, and Rabies. The need for these is based upon what parts of the country you plan on visiting and what activities you plan on doing. Electrical outlets in Argentina differ from what you will find in the US. Like European countries, Argentinian outlets use 220 volts instead of the 110 V standard for US outlets. While some electronic equipment is capable of using both, you should make sure yours are compatible. A mistake can result in shorting out your electronics or, even worse, it can start a fire. You can find transformers available at most Argentinian electronics stores for relatively low prices. You will also most likely need a plug adapter as well. The traveler’s tongue Spanish is the official language in Argentina, although the local dialect, known as Castellano Rioplatense, differs in pronunciation from the Spanish spoken throughout the rest of South and Central America. For example, the double ‘L’ sound, pronounced elsewhere with a soft ‘y’ sound, is pronounced with a hard ‘sh’ sound, such as a ‘zha.’ The word for chicken, pollo, is pronounced PO-ZhO instead of PO-YO, as it is heard throughout the rest of the continent. Italian has had a huge influence on Rioplatense Spanish, having lent words to many colloquial phrases. It’s not uncommon for younger Argentineans to ask for birra instead of cervesa, for example. In addition to Spanish, many locals, particularly in the tourist areas, speak a small degree of English. Other languages you’ll...

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Belgium: A European Crossroads

Posted by on Jun 12, 2014 in Belgium Articles, Travelers' Blog | Comments Off on Belgium: A European Crossroads

Belgium: A European Crossroads

Bordered by France, Germany, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg, with the British Isles a short jaunt by ferry across the English Channel, and with the current headquarters of the European Union inside its borders, the small country of Belgium serves as a hub for much of Europe. Rail lines from France, Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and even the United Kingdom cross through the Belgium capital of Brussels, which also serves as a major center for air travel for people flying into and throughout Europe. But even in the midst of this metropolitan knot, Belgium has its own distinct flavor, known for its chocolate, beer, and the woefully misnamed French fries, a Belgian invention.   Getting into Belgium   Belgium is a member of the European Union and part of the Schengen Agreement, which allows member nations to travel across borders without the need for a visa. For Americans coming to vacation in Belgium, you only need a passport that’s valid for three months beyond your stay. This allows you to stay in Belgium for up to 90 days.   Additional entry requirements include a plane ticket for your return destination and enough money to enjoy your stay, although minimum cash on hand requirements are not explicitly stated. You can enter Belgium with up to €10,000 without having to declare it.   Belgium does not have any required vaccinations, but you should be up to date on the standard vaccinations, which include the diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis, MMR (measles, mumps, rubella), chicken pox, and polio vaccines. Optional vaccines include ones for Hepatitis A and B, and a rabies vaccination, which is only necessary if you plan on enjoying the underground delights in the Wallonia region, where you may be exposed to bats. Before you travel, check with your local physician to see which, if any, vaccines are right for you.   If you bring electric or electronic devices, keep in mind that the voltage requirements are different in Belgium than they are in the US, as are the plugs. You will need a plug adapter as well as a transformer if your devices are not compatible with 220 – 230V 50Hz requirements.   Travel expenses in Belgium   When you travel to Belgium you will want to have plenty of money on hand to sample all the gastronomical delights, shop for the latest high end fashions, and excellent hotels. You can get by in Belgium on a budget. There are numerous activities that you can do without denting your wallet, such as camping, hiking, and bicycling. If you stay in hostels, eat at sandwich, kebab, and frites (French fries) shops, use public transportation or hitchhike, and spend modestly on sightseeing, you can enjoy a Belgian vacation for as little as $60 a day.   If you want to enjoy more midrange hotels and eat out at restaurants, which is highly recommended since Belgian food is much like French food in its richness and variety of flavors, and much like German food in the size of the helpings, you should budget to spend around $150-$200 a day. Even with these choices, you can stretch your money and still experience a fun and comfortable vacation. Belgian restaurants in general are excellent, but you can save a little money by eating out in smaller towns and villages...

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Vacation in Japan: where the sun always rises

Posted by on Jun 12, 2014 in Japan Articles, Travelers' Blog | Comments Off on Vacation in Japan: where the sun always rises

Vacation in Japan: where the sun always rises

For a singularly great vacation, plan a trip to the Land of the Rising Sun. This island nation of bullet trains and towering pagodas showcases the best of the ultra-modern and a wide ranging past. Snow-capped mountains, Zen gardens, cherry blossoms, and haunting forests all frame this beautiful country.   Getting into Japan   You do not need a visa to enter Japan for any vacation that will last less than 90 days. A passport that will remain valid for the duration of your stay is all that is needed. Unless you are a millionaire, bringing cash into Japan isn’t a problem. If you bring in more than 1 million dollars, however, you will have to declare it.   Expect to have your fingerprints and a photograph to be taken upon entry. Except with certain exceptions, if you’re traveling with a diplomatic visa or transiting to another country through Japan, you will have to submit to these requirements.   If you have plans to work in Japan during your stay, you will need to apply for an appropriate visa. Traveling visa-free with only a passport makes you ineligible to work while you are in Japan. Like many other countries, changing your visa status while in Japan is impossible, so if your journey includes plans other than vacationing, you should prepare accordingly before you land.   While there are no required vaccinations for entry into this country, you should make sure you are up to date on all the common vaccinations, such as the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella), chicken pox, polio, and the diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccines. Optional vaccines include Hepatitis A and B, Japanese Encephalitis, and the rabies vaccine. You should consult your doctor before a trip to determine which vaccines, if any, would be appropriate for you based upon your travel plans and activities.   The traveler’s tongue   Even though many young Japanese learn English in school, the education system emphasizes written English. Consequently, fluent English speakers are few, especially outside of areas heavily frequented by tourists. If you find yourself in a situation where you need to be understood in English, you may have better success writing down what you want to communicate, given the Japanese educational emphasis on the written form of English.   The national language in Japan is Japanese, even though there is no official language of the country. While there are numerous dialects throughout the country, almost everyone will understand the Tokyo style of Japanese that most travelers learn. As a good rule of thumb, you should carry your hotel’s business card with you. In case you get lost or need to clarify your destination for a taxi, this business card can come in handy.   Written Japanese uses a mix of the Chinese derived kanji mixed with other more local systems such as hiragana and katakana. The latter can be particularly helpful because it is the syllable system used to incorporate foreign words. Since it consists of 50 symbols it is much easier to learn than kanji, which can take a lifetime. Complicating matters is the fact that the same words written in kanji in China and Japan have different meanings. Knowing Mandarin Chinese can give you the jump on learning Japanese, but be prepared to run into unexpected differences.   Naming conventions...

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What you need to know for a vacation to China

Posted by on Jun 12, 2014 in China Articles, Travelers' Blog | Comments Off on What you need to know for a vacation to China

What you need to know for a vacation to China

China is the world’s most populous country and one of the largest as well. Consequently it features a wide variety of cultures and geography, allowing for a wide range of vacation activities. Since the country is ruled by a single party system, many aspects of daily living that Westerners take for granted are simply not available in China. Despite its authoritarian nature, China is hospitable to visitors, but you should plan your trip well before coming to China so you don’t run into any surprises. For example, travel to certain areas in China, such as Tibet, are prohibited without gaining special permission first. Nevertheless, with a near infinite variety of sights and activities, China provides an excellent opportunity for international travelers to immerse themselves in a culture that stretches back millennia.   Getting in and out   In addition to a passport which will remain valid for at least six months, in order to gain entry into China, you need to apply for a visa that is specific to your travel intentions. The general tourist visa is known as an L visa. With it, you are allowed entry into China for the duration stated on the visa, for the maximum amount of up to a year.   Visas are single entry visas meaning that once you leave China, that visa is voided and you cannot re-enter China without applying for a new visa. This is particularly important if you plan to travel to Hong Kong or Macau. For purposes of visa travel, these are considered international entities. If you do want to travel to Hong Kong from mainland China and be able to get back into China, you will need a multiple entry visa. You can request this when you apply for your visa; however, double check your visa because Chinese embassies and consulates do not always follow through on requests for maximum time or multiple entry. The current fee for a tourist visa for Americans is $140.   In addition to your valid passport and visa, you will need to register your presence with local authorities. If you are staying in a hotel that caters to foreign travelers, you can request the appropriate paperwork to accomplish this through the hotel. They will often do the legwork of registering you with the local authorities for you. If you stay at a private residence, you will have to register your presence with the local authorities yourself within a 24 hour period if you are staying in a city and within up to 72 hours if you are staying outside of a major metropolitan area.   Some areas in China require special permits for you to travel there. Tibet is one of these locations. If you do gain a permit, you will have to pay a processing fee for this as well, which is approximately $35. If you are not sure whether you are permitted to travel to a certain region, it’s best to inquire from your local Chinese consulate prior to making your vacation plans.   China does have some prohibitions on what you can take with you. Many of these are common sense, such as firearms and explosive material, or animal products from endangered species such as rhinoceros horn. Other items might not be so obvious. For example, Chinese...

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Want to take a vacation in Taiwan?

Posted by on Jun 12, 2014 in Taiwan Articles, Travelers' Blog | Comments Off on Want to take a vacation in Taiwan?

Want to take a vacation in Taiwan?

Often thought of as the world’s hub for the manufacture of electronics, Taiwan has much more to offer. It boasts sweeping, mountainous forests, wide beaches that border pristine waters, tiny island getaways, and a marine subtropical climate perfect for water sports. These factors, along with a unique and vibrant culture make Taiwan an up and coming destination for vacationers throughout the world.   Getting in, out, and around   For US residents, an up to date passport is required and good for up to 90 days. If your passport is less than six months old, you may have to present a current passport photo and pay an entry fee of $184 USD. You are not required to get any vaccinations, however if you travel into the more rural regions or plan to stay for a lengthy period of time, it is a good idea to make sure you are vaccinated against Hepatitis B and Japanese Encephalitis.   The main airport, Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport, is located outside of Taipei and provides buses directly to nearby cities. Other options include ferry services to and from Fuzhou, China to the city of Matsu. Star cruises offers travel by boat to mainland China, Hong Kong, and Japan.   Transportation from city to city on the island is readily available via two train systems or by bus. In addition, Taipei boasts an extravagant metro system that makes it easy to get around within the city. In addition, there are numerous taxis available in all the major cities.   In order to rent a car and drive around yourself, you will need an international driver’s license, which is valid for 30 days in the country. Be aware that driving in Taiwan can be somewhat harrowing, since lanes are optional, and drivers make sudden turns and lane changes. Another popular option is motorized scooters, but be aware of your surroundings when you drive.   How much will this cost?   Taiwanese money comes in the form of the New Taiwanese Dollar. Depending on variations in the exchange rate, one US dollar translates to approximately NT$30. The New Taiwanese Dollar is commonly referred to as the yuán.   Goods and services in Taiwan are typically cheaper than their counterparts in mainland China, and make for an inexpensive vacation experience for Westerners. If you want to experience luxury in Taiwan, with all the amenities, expect to spend $100 to $250 USD per day. Budget travelers will find Taiwan to be an inexpensive paradise, where $20 USD a day will allow you to get by comfortably by making use of midweek prices at resorts and staying at dorms, hostels, and campsites on the weekends. Travelers with moderate tastes can expect to spend approximately $65 to $70 USD a day.   Since Taiwan is known for its manufacture of electronics, you can take advantage of local prices at the Information Technology Market in Taipei, but be sure to shop around for English language keyboards and adaptors suited for US electrical requirements. Where prices are not displayed, haggling is not only acceptable, but encouraged. Jade products are also popular in Taiwan, but beware of fakes when prices are not displayed and fixed.   For most services in Taiwan, tipping is unnecessary, although small tips are appreciated. Two exceptions to this...

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Want to spend some time in Mother Russia?

Posted by on Jun 12, 2014 in Russia Articles, Travelers' Blog | Comments Off on Want to spend some time in Mother Russia?

Want to spend some time in Mother Russia?

Straddling both the geographical and cultural divide between Europe and Asia is a country seemingly bleak in outlook and cold in climate, but Russia is so much more, including one of the greatest contributors to classical music and literature and a smorgasbord of different cultures.   Travel to Russia used to be rare and only available by special invitation, but with the fall of the Soviet Union and the growth of Democratic practices, the country has grown far more hospitable to travelers from the West.   Getting into Russia   Visiting Russia, even as a tourist on vacation, is a bit of a complex procedure. Fortunately, though, it has become easier recently. Before an agreement between the US and the Russian Federation in 2012, you had to have an invitation from a Russian citizen before your entry in the country could even be considered.   Since the agreement, you don’t need this if you are traveling as a tourist, but you still have to apply for a visa with a stated purpose for your visit. If you apply for a tourist visa, you will need to include your reservations for lodging, so it’s best to plan your trip in advance before applying for the visa.   The biggest thing to remember about traveling to Russia is that you cannot stay past the allotted time listed for your tourist visa without big problems. Even if you stay a minute past this time, you may have to stay in the country for up to twenty additional days while an exit visa is processed. Furthermore, staying in Russia with an expired visa makes it tough to find lodging.   In addition to your tourist visa, you will also need a passport that will remain valid for the duration of your entry visa. You will also need a letter of sponsorship, which you can get from the place where you will be lodging, which is another reason why planning your accommodations in advance is necessary.   Two important things to consider when reviewing your tourist visa are the Russian use of the Cyrillic alphabet and their use of the European convention of dating rather than the US convention. The Cyrillic alphabet is the alphabet of Russian and will be primarily the only text you see when you are in Russia. Since some of the letters in Cyrillic look exactly like they do in the English alphabet but have different sounds, it can be a little confusing. It will help immensely to memorize it as best you can, however. It will also aid you immensely in learning to speak Russian.   In the US we primarily order our date when we write in month, day, year. Thus we would write a date out as July 4, 1776 or 7/4/1776. The European and Russian way of writing out a date puts the day first, followed by the month, followed by the year, so that our Independence Day written out the way they do it in Russia and Europe would be 4/7/1776. This is especially important to remember when determining the dates for your tourist visa, and could be disastrous if misunderstood.   Is traveling in Russia dangerous?   While the relative level of danger in Russia largely depends on the region, the one area where...

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How do I manage jet lag?

Posted by on Jun 12, 2014 in Travel Tips, Travelers' Blog | Comments Off on How do I manage jet lag?

How do I manage jet lag?

Jet lag is an experience common to travelers who cross more than one time zone, usually a requirement when travelling internationally. Unfortunately, it can put a serious damper on your ability to enjoy your travels. The good news is that there are steps you can take to manage jet lag.

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How can I make my travel experience more of an adventure?

Posted by on Jun 12, 2014 in Travel Tips, Travelers' Blog | Comments Off on How can I make my travel experience more of an adventure?

How can I make my travel experience more of an adventure?

You can take a couple of different approaches towards international travel, one more conventional and well planned, and the other more spontaneous. Deciding which is largely a matter of where you are going, what kind of traveling experience you already have, and what kind of experience you’re looking for.

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Do you want to be a world traveler?

Posted by on Jun 12, 2014 in Travel Tips, Travelers' Blog | Comments Off on Do you want to be a world traveler?

Do you want to be a world traveler?

One of the simultaneously most challenging and rewarding activities you can engage in is to leave the comfort of the familiar and get out and see the rest of the world. Enjoying exotic cuisine and stumbling through bilingual conversations are just a small part of an experience that can build memories to last the rest of your life, experiences that can range from pure fun to life altering.

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Norway: Your Fjord Escort to the North

Posted by on Jun 12, 2014 in Norway Articles, Travelers' Blog | Comments Off on Norway: Your Fjord Escort to the North

Norway: Your Fjord Escort to the North

Norway is a sprawling winter wonderland, home to numerous cliff-lined narrow inlets called fjords all along its coasts. These alone are worth the price of admission, which is unfortunately as steep as the gorgeous cliffs. Because of its proximity to the North Pole, travelers to Norway have the opportunity to experience a sunny day at midnight, or, conversely, depending on the time of the year, darkness at noon. Despite Norway’s high prices, budget travelers can still enjoy a vacation here because so many of the activities are free, and if your budget can handle the high expenses for food, lodging, and transportation, you’ll find your Norwegian vacation captures the spirit of country that consistently ranks at the top of worldwide happiness indexes.   Getting in, out, and about Norway   Norway is a participant of the Schengen Agreement even though the country is not a part of the European Union. For travelers with a US passport that has at least 90 days validity beyond your departure from the Schengen area, you can travel freely across the borders of member countries and stay in the Schengen area for up to 90 days within a six month period. However, since Norway is not a member of the EU, you still have to pass through customs controls. This can pose an additional step for travelers first entering Norway via air travel when that’s not your final destination. You have to pass customs first and re-check your luggage before traveling on to your final destination.   One unique aspect of Norway is that US travelers are eligible to work in Norway during their 90 day stay without having to apply for a work visa, but in order to stay and work beyond the 90 day allotment, you would have to get approval from the Norwegian government.   Norway does not require any vaccinations in order to enter the country; however, the US Center for Disease Control does recommend that travelers remain up to date on the common standard vaccinations against such things as small pox, tetanus, and measles. Depending upon what activities you engage in, you may find it advisable to get additional vaccinations. Consult with your local physician about which, if any, vaccinations would be appropriate for you. The water and food quality in Norway is commensurate with US standards, so it is safe to drink the tap water.   Because of its rocky and mountainous terrain and extreme cold in places during certain times of the year, getting around Norway, particularly to some of the northernmost places, can be tricky. Domestic flights to different cities are popular. The train system is not particularly extensive, with Oslo operating as a hub connecting to all other major cities. While cycling has grown more popular in Norway recently, extensive bike trails tend to be limited to within and around the major cities.   Norway is a wonderful place to see via automobile travel, even when you consider that some mountain roads are closed during the country’s long winters. From the months of November through April, you must have winter tires on your car regardless of where you are traveling. Keeping your headlights on is mandatory when you drive, whether it is day or night, as is wearing a seatbelt for drivers and all passengers....

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London Calling: You Need a Visit to the Mother Country

Posted by on Jun 11, 2014 in London Articles, Travelers' Blog | Comments Off on London Calling: You Need a Visit to the Mother Country

London Calling: You Need a Visit to the Mother Country

If you stop and think about it, it’s absolutely mind staggering that a country so small once ruled an empire so vast (including the original US colonies) that it was said the sun never set upon it. To be accurate, the United Kingdom isn’t exactly one country but four – England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland – that have united into one single sovereign entity. Also mind staggering is the fact that packed into this tiny island (and part of another) is enough sites and activities to fill a hundred vacations. London’s calling you to come and see the mother country from which the US was born. If you answer, you’re in for an astounding vacation.   Getting in, out, and about   Although a member of the European Union, the United Kingdom is not a participant in the Schengen Agreement, which allows borderless travel across much of Europe. Nevertheless, for US travelers, getting into the UK for tourist purposes is fairly easy. You do not need a visa for purposes of tourism, which includes visiting relatives and friends. A valid passport is all that’s necessary. If you travel into the UK from anywhere but the border crossing between Ireland and Northern Ireland, you can stay in the UK for up to six months on just a passport stamp. If you enter the UK from the Republic of Ireland, however, your stay will be limited to no more than three months.   The UK does not require any additional vaccinations. The US Center for Disease Control does recommend that you are up to date on the common vaccinations whenever you travel, but does not advise for any additional vaccinations. Depending upon what activities you may be engaged in while you’re in the UK, other vaccinations might be appropriate, such as those against Hepatitis A & B and against rabies, but consult with your local physician before you leave to determine if any of these are right for your needs.   While London itself has so much to offer for a rich vacation itself, if you never leave the city, you’ll be missing out on so much of the UK’s charm. Since the UK is fairly small, taking domestic flights to get from place to place is not only expensive, but impractical. Fortunately, the United Kingdom has an extensive train network that can get you to most places throughout. However, if you are traveling around Europe using a Eurail pass, this won’t be valid for the use of the UK rail system. Instead, you can purchase a Britrail pass for your travel needs in the UK.   Another option for getting around the UK is to rent a car, but you should keep a number of things in mind. Most car rentals will be for cars with standard transmissions. If you don’t drive a stick, you can either try to learn and practice before you head to the UK, or pay significantly more for an automatic transmission once you’re there. Another factor to consider is the high price of gasoline (referred to in the UK and throughout Europe as petrol) which can get above $7 USD a gallon. While driving throughout most of the UK does not involve your having to pay a toll, in London and other big cities,...

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Hungary: The Land of Spas, Magyars, and Goulash

Posted by on Jun 11, 2014 in Hungary Articles, Travelers' Blog | Comments Off on Hungary: The Land of Spas, Magyars, and Goulash

Hungary: The Land of Spas, Magyars, and Goulash

While Hungary may be small and landlocked, within its borders you’ll find one of the largest lakes, the largest grassland, and the largest cave in Europe, not to mention countless UNESCO World Heritage sites, thermal springs and baths, and fantastic Budapest, a city that’s actually two cities, Buda and Pest, linked together by a bridge across the gorgeous Danube River (the Duna in Hungarian, pronounced Doo-nuh). With numerous activities from horseback riding to caving to relaxing at a spa, a vacation in Hungary offers a bit of everything for travelers of every stripe.   Getting in, out, and about Hungary   Hungary is part of the Schengen Agreement with much of the rest of Europe. This allows US tourists to travel into and throughout the Schengen area for up to 90 days within a 180 day period without an additional visa. You need a passport that will remain valid for at least 90 days beyond your departure and should carry this with you at all times while in Hungary.   The Hungarian government does not require you to have any specific vaccinations in order to enter the country; however, the US Center for Disease Control recommends you are up to date on the standard vaccinations such as those against tetanus, measles, and small pox. A number of travelers also get a vaccination against Hepatitis A because of the possibility of contaminated food and water in Hungary. Other vaccines may be advisable depending on your activities in Hungary. For instance, Hungary has some most extensive cave networks in the world, making caving a popular tourist activity. Since bats carry rabies, if you’re going to be doing a lot of cave exploration, an anti-rabies vaccine might be worthwhile. Consult with your local doctor about you travel plans to determine if any vaccinations might be necessary for you.   US travelers can get around Hungary fairly easily by making use of an extensive train network, as well as cruises through the lakes and rivers. You can find many extensive hiking and cycling trails in specific areas, and horseback riding around the Great Hungarian Plain is a popular activity. If you have a US driver’s license, it is valid for up to a year in Hungary provided that you have a certified Hungarian translation attached. The Hungarian government also recognizes the International Driver Permit which the American Automobile Association issues, which can substitute for the certified translation. Many major highways charge a toll and the country has a zero tolerance policy towards driving while intoxicated (no blood alcohol amount is legal), but driving throughout Hungary can be a rich experience full of enchanting views from its vantage at the foot of the Carpathian Mountains through its rolling hills and riverbanks.   The traveler’s tongue   The Hungarian language is not a part of the Indo-European language family, unlike most of the languages in Europe. A common mistake is to think of Hungarians as an ethnically Slavic people like many of their neighbors (Slovakia, Slovenia, Ukraine, Croatia, etc.). Even though Finnish and Estonian are the closest related languages to Hungarian linguistically in Europe, they are not as close as other languages spoken in parts of Western Siberia. The Hungarian language is officially called Magyar, after the name of the tribe of horsemen that settled...

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Sweden: Where the Sun Barely Sets

Posted by on Jun 11, 2014 in Sweden Articles, Travelers' Blog | Comments Off on Sweden: Where the Sun Barely Sets

Sweden: Where the Sun Barely Sets

Sweden routinely sits at the top of worldwide “best of” lists: best health care, best standard of living, highest life expectancy, and so on. The country is clean and has an extremely low crime rate. In addition, Sweden has some of the most beautiful scenery you’ll ever see, and a hopping night life in the larger towns. For those who like winter sports, Sweden is the place to go with world class ski resorts and adventure excursions such as traveling through the arctic areas via dogsled. However, Sweden isn’t just about activities in the cold. The summer weather is fairly pleasant, and with some of the longest periods of sunlight, numerous museums and medieval sites, Sweden is a perfect destination for your next vacation. Getting in, out, and about Sweden Sweden is a participant in the Schengen Agreement. Countries within the Schengen area, which covers much of Europe, allow US citizens to travel the entire area for up to 90 days within a 180 day period. You only need a passport that will remain valid for at least three months beyond your planned departure from the Schengen area, and you can travel across borders in the area without needing to apply for any special visas. You will still need to have a return ticket and proof that you have enough funds for your time in Sweden. The Swedish health system is comparable, if not better, than what you will find in the US. It is a state run health care system, but non-Swedish citizens do have to pay for any health care services they receive. Sweden does not require any special vaccinations in order to enter the country. The US Center for Disease Control does recommend that you are up to date on the common vaccinations, those against measles, polio, smallpox, and the like. Some travelers may opt to get vaccinations against such things as rabies and Hepatitis A & B, but such a choice depends on your travel plans. Consult with your local doctor about your travel plans well in advance to see if any vaccinations would be appropriate for you. Although Sweden has a rather extensive train system, you may decide to travel through the country via an automobile. If you choose to do so there are some important things to consider. Since Sweden can get cold and icy in the southern part of the country for half the year, and for the full year in northern parts, you will need to have special winter tires on your vehicle. Swedish law also requires drivers to keep their headlights on during both day and night. Even if you only have a single alcoholic beverage, you should avoid driving since the blood alcohol limit is only one-fourth of what it is throughout most of the US, and the Swedish are particularly strict about intoxication while driving. Driving at night can be harrowing. In addition to potentially icy roads, wildlife crossing the roads is a significant cause of traffic accidents. Swedish drivers tend to be far less aggressive than you will find in other parts of Europe. This may be partly for the reason that Swedes do not drive much. In Sweden’s larger cities, most of the population uses public transportation. Many of the smaller Swedish towns don’t even allow...

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The Czech Republic: the Bohemian Heart of Europe

Posted by on Jun 11, 2014 in The Czech Republic Articles, Travelers' Blog | Comments Off on The Czech Republic: the Bohemian Heart of Europe

The Czech Republic: the Bohemian Heart of Europe

When you travel to the Czech Republic, the country’s vast and ancient history confronts you. Once a great kingdom and empire in its own right, the Great Moravian Empire and later the Kingdom of Bohemia, the country later became part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and after World War I, it combined with present day Slovakia to form Czechoslovakia. Within a short time, Germany invaded Czechoslovakia, setting the stage for World War II.   Czechoslovakia was fortunate. Despite being occupied for the entirety of the war, the country was not a prominent staging ground for any major battles. Consequently, the historic architecture of the region has been able to reach us today unscathed, making a vacationer’s experience much like stepping backwards in time. After weathering a communist takeover until the late 1980’s, Czechoslovakia removed its Russian overlords during the relatively peaceful Velvet Revolution. Shortly thereafter, the Czech Republic and Slovakia separated peacefully in what’s been referred to as the Velvet Divorce. In keeping with the popular notion of the Bohemian (named after Czech’s largest region) the republic’s first president Vaclav Havel requested the US to name legendary rock stars Lou Reed and Frank Zappa US ambassadors to the Czech Republic.   Since the 1990’s, the Czech Republic has resurged as one of Europe’s great vacation hotspots. If you travel to the Czech Republic, you’ll step into a fairy tale land that’s surprisingly affordable for even the most humble backpacker.   Getting in, out, and about the Czech Republic   The Czech Republic participates in the Schengen Agreement, which allows US travelers to enter and stay anywhere in the Schengen Area, which covers most of Europe, for up to 90 days within a six month period without having to apply for a special visa. All you need is a passport that will remain valid for at least 90 days after your departure from the Czech Republic.   Because of the relaxed nature of border controls in the country, it is relatively easy to cross into the Czech Republic without getting your passport stamped. However, the Czech Republic still requires foreign travelers to have an entry stamp on their passports while in the country or potentially pay a fine. To avoid any such difficulties, some travelers may find it necessary to request a passport stamp. US travelers, like many other non-EU travelers, must register their presence with the local authorities within three days after entry. Typically your hotel automatically registers you.   Mountains, hills, forests, and rivers make up the geography of the Czech Republic, making it great country to tour by car, bicycle, or on foot. Numerous train lines run from each town as well as bus services, so it’s easy to get around the Czech Republic. If you rent a car, be aware that some of the roads are not in the greatest shape. Be sure and purchase the insurance. A system of hiking trails and bicycle paths allow hikers and cyclists access to a wide range of the country’s interior.   While there are no specific vaccinations required for entry into the Czech Republic, some travelers opt to get vaccinations against Hepatitis A or B or against rabies. Taking these vaccinations depends on whether your travels take you to extreme impoverished areas or locations where bat bites are likely....

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Ireland: a pot of gold behind every rainbow.

Posted by on Jun 11, 2014 in Ireland Articles, Travelers' Blog | Comments Off on Ireland: a pot of gold behind every rainbow.

Ireland: a pot of gold behind every rainbow.

A country renowned for Guinness, St. Patrick’s Day, and producing exceptional artists, including some of the greatest writers who’ve ever lived, Ireland will inspire you. Although it rains frequently and so suddenly that you’re well advised to carry a raincoat at all times, this keeps the Emerald Isle emerald, and it has the added feature of bringing out the rainbows once the showers are over. Getting in, out, and about Ireland US travelers to Ireland can get their passport stamped for a stay for any reason of up to 90 days. Consequently their passport must remain valid for at least 90 days beyond entry. The duration of one’s stay varies according to the assessment at immigration controls, but the more your paperwork is in order, including intended accommodations and travel plans, the later the required exit date for your vacation. Keep in mind that although Ireland is part of the European Union, it is not part of the Schengen Agreement, so an entry stamp from one of the Schengen countries is not considered a valid entry into Ireland. If you travel across the border from Northern Ireland, politically a part of the United Kingdom, into the Republic of Ireland, or vice versa, make a point of stopping at an immigration center. The border between the two countries is largely unpatrolled but travelers caught without the proper travel permissions can face fines and deportation. Aside from the common vaccinations, travelers may opt to get additional vaccinations against Hepatitis A or B, or rabies, however these depend on your intended activities. Tap water quality and food preparation standards are comparable to those in the United States, so the water is safe to drink. Getting around Ireland by car is a fantastic way to enjoy the lush sights of the Emerald Isle. There are numerous car rental services, including camper rentals, and sites throughout the country for camper and RV travelers. Keep in mind that unlike most other places in the world, driving is on the left-hand side of the road. Most Irish car rentals do not allow you to purchase third party collision insurance, so be prepared to pay extra fees for a deposit or additional insurance through the rental agency. If you tour Ireland by car, remember that the legal blood alcohol limit is much lower than it is in the US, and the Irish strictly enforce their laws against impaired driving. You’re better off not driving at all if you have been drinking. Another issue that may come up for drivers in Ireland is finding parking, particularly in tourist areas. Some may even charge outrageous prices for parking. Do not leave valuables in your car, including your passport and travel documents. While Ireland is not exceptionally high in crime, tourist areas face the typical types of petty thefts associated with tourist areas throughout the world. One common method of theft is to attach an electronic device to ATMs in high tourist areas. The device records ATM transactional information including account numbers. Look around the ATM for such devices and always be aware of your surroundings. While driving throughout Ireland has its upside, it may be too expensive for budget travelers. Fortunately, numerous bus and train services abound. Your best bet is to book train services in advance through the...

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The Philippines: Tropical Island Dreams

Posted by on Jun 4, 2014 in Philippines Articles, Travelers' Blog | Comments Off on The Philippines: Tropical Island Dreams

The Philippines: Tropical Island Dreams

When you think tropical island paradise, the over 7000 islands of the Philippines should come to mind. Whether you’re ziplining through the jungle, relaxing on some of the greatest beaches in the world, partying in Manila, or swimming around the coral reefs, the Philippines offers fantastic adventures.   Getting in, out, and about   US travelers coming to the Philippines for the purposes of tourism can get into the country with a US passport that will remain valid for at least six months beyond your scheduled arrival in the Philippines. You will need to furnish proof of either a return ticket or a ticket to a destination beyond the Philippines. Your entry stamp will be good for up to thirty days.   If your travel plans involve a stay longer than 30 days, you can apply for a special 59 day visa through a Philippine embassy or consulate before you travel, or you can apply for a twenty-nine day extension to your entry visa once you are there. If your travel plans include purposes other than tourism, you will need to apply for a specialized visa through the country’s nearest embassy or consulate, or risk being fined or deported from the country.   The Philippines customs requires you to declare any currency that you bring into the country beyond $10,000 USD or its equivalent. In addition, if you bring in more than 10,000 Philippine pesos (PHP), approximately $230 USD’s worth, you need to declare that as well. If you are a traveler under the age of 15 and are traveling without a legal guardian, you will need to apply through the Philippine embassy or consulate for a special waiver called a “waiver of exclusion or you will be assessed a fine of more than $70 USD.   As of this writing (May 2014), the US State Department has issued a travel advisory warning for visits to the Philippines. It recommends that US travelers avoid going to the Sulu Archipelago and the island of Mindanao, where there have been high instances of terrorist activities, including targeting US travelers for kidnapping and ransom. While the Sulu islands are known for this kind of activity, kidnappings occur in Manila and other parts of the Philippines as well, but with not as great a frequency.   Travelers in Manila should be aware that the city has a high crime rate and tourists can be targeted for all manner of scams and petty theft, as well as possible “express kidnappings” where the victim is invited to go off the beaten path and gets drugged and robbed of all their belongings as well as having their bank accounts drained. Traveling by day in groups and remaining constantly aware of your surroundings are good tactics to minimize any problems with crime in Manila.   In addition to being up to date on the common vaccinations, the US Center for Disease Control advises that most travelers should get additional vaccinations against Hepatitis A and typhoid, although these are not required for entry into the country. You should also avoid drinking tap water or using ice cubes made from tap water in the Philippines.   Some travelers may find it advisable to get additional vaccinations against Hepatitis B, Japanese encephalitis, or rabies. This will largely depend on your...

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Morocco: Play it again, Sam!

Posted by on Jun 4, 2014 in Morocco Articles, Travelers' Blog | Comments Off on Morocco: Play it again, Sam!

Morocco: Play it again, Sam!

Hollywood has had a long love affair with Morocco as a country perfect for spies and lovers wandering through labyrinths of markets or along the country’s stately beaches, its mountain passes, its deserts, upon the back of a camel. With the country’s location on the tip of North Africa, at one point barely seven miles away from Spain, Morocco has been an international crossroads for millennia.   Getting in, out, and about   US travelers with a valid passport can gain entry into Morocco for up to 90 days. If you want to stay beyond that time, you would have to apply for an extension in as far advance as possible, which includes your purpose in staying in Morocco, as well as a residency permit. If someone is a child of a Moroccan father, they may run into obstacles when it comes time to leave Morocco because Moroccan citizenship derives from the father. If this situation applies to you, be sure and discuss any issues with a Moroccan embassy or consulate before making your trip.   Morocco does not require any specific vaccinations in order to enter the country. The US Center for Disease Control recommends that all travelers be up to date on the common vaccinations, and that most travelers should consider vaccinations against Hepatitis A and typhoid. Some travelers may also want to consider vaccinations against rabies or Hepatitis B depending on travel and activity plans. Consult with your local doctor before you travel to determine which, if any, vaccinations are appropriate for you. Do not drink tap water or use ice made from tap water in Morocco.   LGBT travelers should be forewarned that same sex activities are criminalized in Morocco. People who are traveling on religious missions should also beware of the prohibited status of public religious proselytizing. This can also include a restriction on the importation of religious materials.   If you want to rent a car and drive in Morocco, your valid foreign driver’s license is good for up to a year. However, be forewarned that traffic accidents are much more frequent in Morocco. Road conditions tend to be poorer than what you’ll find in the US. In addition, roads are often narrow, even into single lane roads where you have to pull onto a shoulder to let oncoming traffic pass. In the mountainous areas, you will find much steeper roads with sharper turns than is common in the US. Drivers tend to be far more aggressive in Morocco. If you are stopped by Moroccan police and assessed a traffic ticket, you must pay immediately or risk having your driver’s license confiscated until you make payment. During Morocco’s rainy season – November through March – extensive flooding of the roads in many rural areas is not uncommon.   Probably the most efficient and enjoyable way to travel throughout Morocco is by train. The network is not all encompassing however, so for some trips, you may have to take a bus. Keep in mind that many bus drivers tend to drive recklessly and the cheaper fared busses can be overcrowded and targets for robberies. Luxury busses, although more expensive, tend to be a safer option. Another option, depending on your destination, is to use a shared taxi. These allow you and up to five...

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India: The Land of the Sacred Cow

Posted by on Jun 3, 2014 in India Articles, Travelers' Blog | Comments Off on India: The Land of the Sacred Cow

India: The Land of the Sacred Cow

India is a fantastically varied land with jungles, deserts, and mountains, and a cultural history that spans millennia. Two of the world’s five major religions, Hinduism and Buddhism, first flourished here, as evidenced by the numerous shrines and temples, and other religions, such as Islam, have greatly influenced the country. One of the most populated countries in the world, India provides a unique vacation experience, that, while inexpensive, can completely transform your perspective on life. Getting in, out, and about In addition to having a valid passport with at least one blank page, US travelers to India must apply for a visa prior to traveling there. Anyone without a visa will be deported. When you apply for a visa, you should go through an Indian consulate or embassy and be sure to request the correct visa type. You should also keep in mind that visa regulations can often change abruptly with little notice. Tourist visas typically allow US travelers to stay in India for up to six months. It is good practice to have additional copies of your biometrics page and the page with your passport stamp, as well as a copy of your visa. In case you lose the original documents, copies of these can help US embassies to issue you a new passport. Being a highly populated and polluted country, India poses health care concerns that travelers should be aware of when planning a vacation. While travelers with HIV/AIDS do not officially have to disclose their condition, you will be deported if you are found to have this. Unless you are traveling en route from a country that has been designated a yellow fever country by the World Health Organization, you are not required to have a yellow fever vaccination. However, even if you have a layover in such a country where you don’t even leave the plane, you will still need a yellow fever vaccination in order to enter the country. US citizens should also be up to date on the common vaccinations. The US Center for Disease Control also recommends that most travelers take vaccinations against Hepatitis A and typhoid. Some travelers may also wish to consider vaccinations against Hepatitis B, rabies, or Japanese encephalitis. The necessity for these is largely based on what your specific vacation plans involve, so consult your local doctor before you travel to determine if any of these are necessary. India has two separate monsoon seasons that hit different parts of the country each year, although in northeastern India, both monsoon seasons hit the country, making it the rainiest region in the world. The southwest monsoon hits most of India between June and September. The northeast monsoon occurs between the months of October through February, but only hits the eastern coast of the country. Consequently, the low altitude areas of India, particularly during and just after these times of year, become massive breeding grounds for mosquitoes, including those which carry diseases such as dengue fever, malaria, and H5N1. Travelers should consider taking malaria medication which makes you more resistant to contracting malaria, even though it does not completely prevent it. Malaria treatments usually involve three treatments over a particular schedule. Consequently, you should discuss this possibility with your doctor well in advance of your departure date to India. While you...

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Poland: Celebration Atop the Ruins of Empire

Posted by on Jun 2, 2014 in Poland Articles, Travelers' Blog | Comments Off on Poland: Celebration Atop the Ruins of Empire

Poland: Celebration Atop the Ruins of Empire

During the high middle ages, Poland ruled an empire that stretched over most of eastern and central Europe. That was its heyday, perhaps. Since then, Poland has been conquered and partitioned, reborn into a modern republic, conquered a second time to set off World War II, controlled by Communists, and only recently reborn anew as a republic. Poland has been the site of great tragedies, such as the horror of Auschwitz and other Nazi concentration camps. Yet, its people still manage to celebrate the good in life. Traveling here for a vacation allows you to join in the party.   Getting in, out, and about   Poland is part of the Schengen agreement. For US traveler’s this means your valid passport is acceptable for entry into any part of that area. You do not need a special visa for a vacation stay in the Schengen area for up to 90 days within a six month period. However, EU regulations require that non-EU travelers get their passports stamped when entering any Schengen country. To be on the safe side, you should request a stamp at any official border entry. If you are stopped by a government official and your passport lacks such a stamp, you may have to pay a fine before you’re allowed to leave the country.   The CDC recommends that traveler’s be up to date on their routine vaccinations. The tap water in Poland is comparable to that found in the US; thus, it is safe to drink. Nevertheless, the CDC also recommends that most travelers get an additional vaccine against Hepatitis A, which is transmitted through contaminated water and food. Some travelers might find it beneficial to also get vaccinations against Hepatitis B or rabies, but this largely depends on what your travel plans consist of. Consult with your local doctor while planning your trip to determine if any vaccinations are appropriate for your needs.   If you want to drive in Poland, be forewarned that you’ll be dealing with some of the worst road conditions in Europe. Since the train system is better, you may want to go this route when traveling from city to city. If you do decide to drive, keep the following in mind. You will need a valid driver’s license from the US as well as an International Driver’s Permit. The permit is only good for up to six months in Poland. After that, you will need a Polish driver’s license.   Additionally, you must drive with your headlights on at all times, and cell phone use while driving is prohibited. Poland is quite strict when it comes to drinking and driving. The legal limit on blood alcohol is .02%, which is significantly lower than anywhere in the US. Right turns on red lights are prohibited, and a red light with a right turn green arrow means you must stop first and make sure there is no oncoming traffic, since you do not have the right of way.   Be wary of other drivers trying to signal to you that something is wrong with your car. This may be legitimate, but if so, don’t stop until you have reached a well-lit service station or other public area. Despite having a relatively low rate of violent crime, this can often be an...

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Israel: Crossroads of the Holy

Posted by on Jun 2, 2014 in Israel Articles, Travelers' Blog | Comments Off on Israel: Crossroads of the Holy

Israel: Crossroads of the Holy

The birthplace of two of the world’s great religions and housing major sites of a third, much traversed by many cultures, the conquerors and conquered alike, Israel has a deep and rich history that stretches back millennia.   Getting in, out, and about   To get into Israel for tourist purposes, you need a US passport with validity for up to six months after your planned departure. You will need to provide proof of a return trip as well as sufficient funds during your stay. In addition to this, you have to declare any electronic equipment, which may be subject to being searched. In fact, expect an extensive security screening. Israel can deny entry for any reason, even when there is no explicit law against a planned activity. For instance, if someone is entering Israel to do missionary work, they may be denied entry despite the fact that there is no explicit law against religious proselytizing. US citizens of Palestinian or Israeli descent should contact an Israeli consulate or embassy for additional requirements and procedures. Because it can lead to problems for travelers traveling beyond Israel into other Middle Eastern countries, Israel no longer stamps passports. Instead, you will be issued a card which represents your travel visa. Be sure to hold onto it until after you have left Israel because a lack of it can cause delays in your departure.   Once you get into Israel, keep in mind that not all areas are available for you to travel to. Most travelers will not be allowed entry into the Gaza strip whatsoever, while the US State Department advises you to exercise extreme caution when traveling in the West Bank area. In addition, if you travel in Jerusalem, make sure you dress respectfully and modestly. Travelers have been assaulted in ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem for not dressing modestly.   The US State Department recommends that you have a polio vaccination that’s been in effect for at least one year prior to your travel to Israel. If you haven’t had a complete polio vaccination, you may be denied entry into Israel. In addition, the CDC recommends that all travelers be up to date on the most common vaccinations. While the tap water is safe to drink in Israel, the CDC also recommends that most travelers vaccinate against Hepatitis A, which is passed through contaminated food and drink. Some travelers may find it advisable to get additional vaccinations against rabies, Hepatitis B, or typhoid, the latter particularly if you plan on going into Gaza or the West Bank, though the choice largely depends upon what travel activities you plan to engage in. Consult with your local physician before you travel to determine if any vaccinations are right for you.   Israel is a relatively small and compact country with a now revived train and bus system that makes getting around the country fairly easy and inexpensive, with one small important caveat. During the Sabbath, Israel’s public transportation system shuts down completely. The Sabbath begins at sundown on Fridays and continues until sundown on Saturday. If you rely on public transportation, make sure you plan for this eventuality. Another thing to consider is that travel on Thursday nights, Friday mornings, and Sunday mornings tends to be a lot busier as a...

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South Korea: Hanguk East of the Sea

Posted by on Jun 2, 2014 in South Korea Articles, Travelers' Blog | Comments Off on South Korea: Hanguk East of the Sea

South Korea: Hanguk East of the Sea

South Korea is a great place to travel with so many things to do and see that you may have to take numerous trips just to scratch the surface. If you are traveling on a budget, South Korea is particularly appealing since it is an inexpensive country to travel around in. From skiing to relaxing on a beach, the range of activities to enjoy in South Korea will astound you.   Getting in, out, and about South Korea   US travelers entering South Korea for the purpose of a vacation do not need to apply for an entry visa. Your passport will allow entry for up to 90 days, although this does not mean you will receive a passport stamp for the entire 90 day duration. Furthermore, it’s vitally important that you leave the country by the date stamped on your passport. Otherwise, you won’t be allowed to leave until you have paid a steep fine.   It is possible to apply for an extended stay while you’re in South Korea, but it is not possible to apply for a different type of visa while you are in the country. Consequently, if you travel there for tourist purposes, but you find a job while you are there, for instance, you would have to leave the country while your work visa is processed. Conversely, if you traveled to South Korea for a vacation but you needed to stay longer than the exit date stamped on your passport, you could apply to extend that stay while you are in the country if your purpose for being there remained for tourism purposes.   Although the US Center for Disease Control recommends that all travelers to South Korea should be current on their standard vaccinations, the country does not require you have any particular vaccination in order to enter. Most travelers will find it advisable to get additional vaccinations against Hepatitis A and Typhoid, particularly if you are an adventurous eater or plan to stay in more rural areas in South Korea. Depending upon your vacation itinerary, you might also consider taking vaccinations against rabies, Hepatitis B, malaria, or Japanese encephalitis. Make sure you consult with your local doctor to determine which vaccinations would be appropriate for you. Also, be sure to do so well in advance of your travel plans. Some vaccinations such as the one against malaria involve a schedule of treatments over the course of months.   Travel within the major cities of Korea is best done via their extensive public subway systems. It’s a cheaper option than renting a car or taking taxis. Traffic in the larger cities tends to be highly congested and driving habits are extremely aggressive, so that traffic accidents and fatalities are far more common than in the US. Even pedestrians should use extreme caution when crossing the street and try to use overpasses and underpasses whenever possible because drivers often tear through intersections after the light has changed. In order to drive in South Korea, you must have a valid International Driver’s Permit.   Outside of the major cities, you have several options to get from place to place. Recently, South Korea has updated its rail system and even offers a rail cruise pass, which is a ticket that enables you to visit most...

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South Africa: Gold and Wine

Posted by on Jun 2, 2014 in South Africa Articles, Travelers' Blog | Comments Off on South Africa: Gold and Wine

South Africa: Gold and Wine

South Africa has wines that are world famous and sought after as well as being the largest producer of gold in the world, but these are not its true treasure, which is the multitude of different peoples and fantastically varied wildlife.   Getting in, out, and about   US travelers to South Africa do not need to apply for a special visa if traveling for tourist purposes and staying for 90 days or less. You will need a passport that’s valid for at least another six months and has two unstamped visa pages in it.   The World Health Organization designates some countries as yellow fever countries. South Africa is not one of these, but it will deny entry to anyone who has been in one of these countries without having had a yellow fever vaccination and a certification of this, called a yellow card. Make sure it’s the original. South Africa is quite strict about this. Even if you have touched down in a designated country and never left the plane, if you don’t have a valid, original yellow card, immigration officials will deny you entry.   There is no risk of yellow fever in South Africa, so you only need the vaccine if your travel plans include as much as a layover in a yellow fever country. There are no other required vaccines, however. The US Center for Disease Control recommends you are up to date on the common vaccinations. It also recommends vaccinations against hepatitis A and typhoid for most travelers, but you should consult your local doctor before doing so.   Other vaccinations to consider are those against rabies and hepatitis B, depending on your plans. Another treatment to consider with your doctor is antimalarial medicine, which technically isn’t a vaccine because it won’t make you immune to malaria, so much as resistant to it. Avoiding mosquito bites altogether is the only way to absolutely avoid contracting malaria. The northeastern part of South Africa is the high mosquito area, so be sure to use proper insect repellant as an additional precaution if your travels take you there.   South Africa does have a high rate of crime, even though most travelers will experience no problems in this regard. US travelers should be especially vigilant when near US diplomatic facilities because there have been high instances of mugging there. Another common occurrence to watch out for can happen when you travel from the airport to your hotel. Many criminals will follow vehicles and look for an opportune time to detain your car and rob you. The US State Department recommends that travelers use the Gautrain service to transit from the airport to their hotels. Please consult the State Department website for additional safety precautions: http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/english/country/south-africa.html.   If you have a valid driver’s license in the US, you are able to drive legally in South Africa for up to six months. However, most insurance companies will not process an insurance claim in the event you get in an accident unless you provide proof of an International Driver’s Permit. Driving occurs on the left side of the road rather than the right, so be sure and reverse all driving procedures (such as providing right of way to drivers coming from your right – in South Africa, this would...

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New Zealand: Kiwi, Maori, and The Misty Mountains

Posted by on Jun 2, 2014 in New Zealand Articles, Travelers' Blog | Comments Off on New Zealand: Kiwi, Maori, and The Misty Mountains

New Zealand: Kiwi, Maori, and The Misty Mountains

The kiwi is the national bird of New Zealand. Not to be confused with kiwifruit, of which there is also abundance in New Zealand, the kiwi is a flightless bird, surprising considering New Zealand’s soaring countryside, featured prominently in The Lord of the Rings movies. Not only is it the sight for the fictional Middle Earth, but the home of the Māori people and a diverse range of flora and fauna. Full of adventures, a vacation to New Zealand brings you into a world like no other that’s stranger than fiction.   Getting in, out, and about   US travelers to New Zealand only need a valid passport for entry, so long as they travel for purposes of tourism and their stay in the country is for no longer than 90 days. New Zealand does not have any vaccination requirements for entry, but the CDC recommends that US travelers be up to date on the common vaccinations, such as those against small pox, the measles, and tetanus. You may consider getting additional vaccinations such as those against Hepatitis A & B, but these are only necessary depending on your planned activities. Consult with your local doctor when you make your travel plans to determine if any additional vaccinations are necessary.   New Zealand is a gorgeous country with highly varied landscapes. Touring the country by car is a great way to experience its beauty. Foreign visitors can drive with a valid driver’s license from their home country for up to a year, after which you would have to get a New Zealand driver’s license. Keep in mind that driving is on the left hand side in New Zealand, so that the placement of steering wheels, blinkers, and the like are all reversed, as are such common practices in the US as being able to turn right on a red light and needing a green light or protected arrow to turn left. In addition, once you get out of the cities, the roads become quite narrow. Most highways are comprised of two lanes, and in some areas they can take much sharper turns or go up and down much steeper grades than you might be used to when driving on the US interstate highway system.   New Zealand is not the place to engage in “buzzed” driving. If you’re under the age of 20, there is a zero tolerance policy, which means you cannot have any percentage of alcohol in your blood. If you are over the age of 20, the legal limit (as of 2014) is .05%. The authorities in New Zealand maintain random sobriety checkpoints throughout both the cities and in the countryside to ensure the law is complied with. Additional laws that you need to know include a law against the use of cellular phones while driving and a law that requires you to stop no closer than 6 feet away from a crosswalk that is occupied by pedestrians.   Since New Zealand proper is composed of two islands, so if you are driving, it will become necessary to use a ferry to cross from one island to another. In addition to driving, you have other options for traveling around to various sites in New Zealand. Air travel is often worth looking into because many domestic flights...

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Finland: The Land of 1000 Lakes

Posted by on Jun 2, 2014 in Finland Articles, Travelers' Blog | Comments Off on Finland: The Land of 1000 Lakes

Finland: The Land of 1000 Lakes

While it’s not as popular a tourist destination as some of its Nordic counterparts, such as Sweden or Norway, Finland offers a qualitatively different vacation experience. The moniker “Land of 1000 lakes” is actually an understatement. Finland’s landscape is mostly flat, but filled with well over 100,000 lakes. Like the other Nordic countries, in the north of the country, Finland experiences the sun at midnight during the summer, and days where the sun never rises during the winter.   Getting in, out, and about   Since Finland is a participant in the Schengen Agreement that covers much of Europe, US travelers do not have to apply for any special travel visas to stay in the country for a period of up to 90 days within a 180 day period. You will need a passport that will remain valid for at least 90 days beyond your intended date of departure, as well as a return ticket and enough funds to be able to stay in the country. You can travel throughout the entire Schengen area without a visa, however, bear in mind that customs controls may be in effect that limit what you can bring into a country even when immigration controls that would limit your ability to enter a country are not.   The US Center for Disease Control recommends that all travelers be up to date on the common vaccinations, such as those against small pox, measles, and polio. Some travelers may find additional vaccinations advisable depending on what activities they will engage in, but Finland does not require any additional vaccinations. Consult with your local doctor about your travel itinerary well before you travel to determine if you should take any additional vaccinations.   Finland’s health care system is considered one of the best in the world. Non-Finnish citizens do have to have to pay for services upon treatment, but most places will accept major credit cards. If you need to travel with prescription drugs, be prepared to provide a doctor’s note that states why you need them, or you may not be allowed to carry them into Finland. The tap water in Finland is safe to drink and often superior to what you will find in the US. Food safety and hygiene requirements tend to be very strict so you need not have to worry if the food is safe when you buy it in Finland   Inside most of Finland’s cities, public transportation is ubiquitous and a far more economical way to get around than by taxis, which tend to be more expensive than what you’ll find in the US. Car rentals also tend to be expensive, but the highway system in Finland is extensive, so driving is a viable option. Keep in mind that Finland’s tolerance of driving while intoxicated is far lower than what you’ll find in the US, and even a single alcoholic beverage can put you over the legal limit. Another unique aspect of driving in Finland is that the fines for traffic violations are tied into your income level. A CEO who is caught speeding will have to pay a higher fine than a service worker who is caught doing the same. By law you must keep your headlights on at all times. Some traffic signs may have numbers on...

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Australia: Beyond the Black Stump

Posted by on Jun 1, 2014 in Australia Articles, Travelers' Blog | Comments Off on Australia: Beyond the Black Stump

Australia: Beyond the Black Stump

An Australian idiom “to go beyond the black stump” means that no matter how far you go, you still can’t get beyond the black stump, and this is a good metaphor for a vacation in Australia. Such a vast and varied country is impossible to explore in one or numerous treks, but wherever you go in the land down under, you are certain never to be bored. Getting in, out, and about To get into Australia for tourist purposes, you must have a valid US passport and apply for an electronic visa from the Electronic Travel Authority website, which can be accessed here: https://www.eta.immi.gov.au/ETA/etas.jsp. This will allow you to stay in the country for up to 90 days. The fee for this visa is around $18-19 USD. In addition, you can leave the country and reapply for a new visa as many times as you wish within a 12 month period. However, this visa does not permit you to work in Australia. You may be asked to furnish proof that you can support yourself financially during your stay. Travelers with HIV or tuberculosis may be barred from entering the country. You must carry your passport with you at all times while you’re in Australia or risk the possibility of detainment, being fined, or being deported if you’re caught. Australia also bars entry to any individual who has been sentenced to incarceration for more than 12 months, regardless whether that sentence has been served or not. There are no required vaccinations to enter Australia. The US CDC recommends that you are up to date on the common vaccinations such as those against tetanus, the measles, or polio. Some travelers may find it advisable to get additional vaccinations, such as those against Hepatitis A & B, Japanese encephalitis, yellow fever, or rabies. Your decision to take any of these additional vaccinations should be largely determined by your vacation itinerary. Consult with a local doctor about your vacation plans to determine if any additional vaccinations would be appropriate for your plans. Australia covers a vast area, and much of the population is concentrated on the eastern and southeastern side of the continent. Consequently, it’s quite possible that you will have to travel long distances to get from one area to another. Since Australia’s rail service is underdeveloped, your best options include taking a local flight or renting a car. If you need to fly from one Australian city to another, your best approach at finding bargain prices is to check the individual websites for each carrier. Keep in mind that Australia is composed of multiple states and some items, such as produce, are prohibited from being transported from one state to another. If you stock up on fruit and other snacks for a trip, make sure to familiarize yourself with any customs restrictions before doing so. If you rent a car, keep in mind that driving occurs on the left side of the road. Also, cars have the steering wheels on the right side, with everything reversed, such as windshield wipers and turn signals. The roads are good for the most part in Australia, particularly in the more highly populated parts. However, if you have to travel from one city to another, be sure to check with locals about your route and...

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Running of the Bulls

Posted by on May 12, 2014 in Spain Videos, Travelers' Blog | Comments Off on Running of the Bulls

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Travel to the magical land of Austria

Posted by on Apr 27, 2014 in Austria Articles, European Blog, Travelers' Blog | Comments Off on Travel to the magical land of Austria

Travel to the magical land of Austria

An alpine land of fairy tale castles, Mozart, and Wiener schnitzel, Austria is a must see. The Austrians are friendly and benevolent hosts to a wide array of landscapes from mountains, glaciers, forested valleys and hills to lakes, plains, and vineyards. Summers are moderate, typically in the mid 70’s. Winters can get bitterly cold but Austria features numerous attractions for winter sports. Come enjoy the good life with a glass of wine or a cup of coffee and hearty food when you visit Austria.     About the country   Austrians object to comparison with Germans, even if, on the surface level, they seem similar. They speak, for the most part, the same language, and Austria was, from the earliest stirrings of World War II until the war’s end, an active part of Germany’s Third Reich. Perhaps that is why Austrians distance themselves from their shared heritage with Germany, particularly Bavaria. In fact the mad king of Bavaria, Ludwig II, actually lived right on the border between Bavaria and  Austria at the castle Neuschwanstein near the Austrian town of Pinswang. Austrians have not fared so well whenever they’ve hitched their wagon to Germany’s star through two world wars.   Before that Austria was the crown jewel of the wealthy Austro-Hungarian Empire, with its capital Vienna a crossroads for numerous cultures throughout Europe. Indeed even today, a glance at the bordering countries of land locked Austria gives a good indication of the diversity of cultures: proceeding north clockwise, Germany, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia, Italy, Liechtenstein, and Switzerland.   Austria is divided into nine states, which is first how the locals identify themselves, with each state offering a slightly different culture. While Vienna is a large metropolitan area, most of Austria is rural countryside and farm lands.   Getting in, out, and about   Austria is a member of the Schengen Agreement, which allows free travel with only a passport to and from all of its other member countries for residents in the Schengen Area. US travelers only need a passport, which is good for 90 days within a six month period inside the Schengen area. Your passport should be good for at least 90 days past your intended stay in case of an emergency.   Unlike many other European countries, including other Schengen states, Austria does allow you to change your passport status while you are in the country, however the processing usually takes more than 90 days to complete, so it’s not advisable to try to get some other kind of visa while you are there or in the Schengen area at all.   There are no required vaccinations, nor is there a minimum restriction on how much money you can bring in. If you are carrying more than the equivalent of €10,000 in cash, you will need to declare it. You should make sure you are up to date on the more common vaccinations and consult with your doctor about your vacation plans in case you need any other additional vaccinations.   If you carry prescription medicine for health concerns, you should check with an Austrian consul or embassy before you go about restrictions on the medications you can carry. Austria has recently passed strict laws regarding transfer of legal drugs across its borders.   Vienna has...

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Peru: paradise diversified

Posted by on Apr 15, 2014 in Peru Articles, South American Blog, Travelers' Blog | Comments Off on Peru: paradise diversified

Peru: paradise diversified

When you travel to Peru, you’ll have an opportunity to taste unique cuisine that features herbs, fruits and vegetables found nowhere else in the world. The country runs along the northern and central west coast of South America, but in addition to its coast and sandy beaches, the country also straddles the Andes and includes a significant portion of the Amazon rainforest, giving travelers an infinite variety of options for a reasonably priced vacation. And it also hosts Machu Picchu, the ancient heart of the Incan Empire.   With 15 uncontacted Amerindian tribes living in Peru in relative isolation, and a rich archaeological history that covers not just the Incas, but the Norte Chico as well, Peru offers a diversity of cultures, cuisines, and flora and fauna found nowhere else in the world. Make your travel plans today and see a part of the world that is unlike anywhere else.   Getting in, out, and about   In order to get into Peru, you will need a passport that will remain valid for the duration of your stay. When you present your passport, you will also need to include information regarding your return trip or destination plans beyond Peru. In exchange you will receive a card that you should keep with you at all times, and a stamp on your passport that indicates the amount of time you are allowed to stay (which is usually 90 days but can be for over 180 days in some cases).   If you have any electronic items with you, such as a laptop computer, be sure to declare these upon entry. Peruvian Customs officials adhere to strict regulations, and a failure to properly declare items, no matter how innocent your intent, can result in detainment, significant fines, and possible incarceration.   While none but the standard vaccinations against measles, rubella, chicken-pox, and tetanus are required, both the US Center for Disease Control and the Peruvian government highly recommend getting vaccinated against yellow fever. You should also consider getting vaccinated against typhoid, malaria, and Hepatitis A. If you plan on traveling in remote areas, in caves or other places where bats migrate, you may also want to get a rabies vaccination as well. Discuss your travel plans with your local physician to see which vaccines are right for you.   If you overstay your visit to Peru, you will have to pay a fine, which amounts to approximately $1 USD per day past the date allowed on your passport. If you find yourself falling in love with the country and want to stay extra time, keep in mind that it is not possible to get an extension on your passport beyond the dates that it was stamped for. You can travel over the border into Bolivia, Chile, or another neighboring country, stay there for a day, and then come back to get a new set of days stamped on your passport. If you choose this option, be sure you know the entry requirements for that country. Many countries in South America charge what’s called a reciprocity fee to US citizens crossing their borders. These fees can be expensive, particularly if you are a budget traveler who is watching your centimos (the smallest segment of Peruvian currency). Fortunately, Peru is not one of the...

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Guatemala: the heart of two empires

Posted by on Apr 15, 2014 in Guatemala Articles, South American Blog, Travelers' Blog | Comments Off on Guatemala: the heart of two empires

Guatemala: the heart of two empires

A country interspersed by mountains including some active volcanoes, highland plains, and sub-tropical forests, Guatemala is rich in both biodiversity and a rich history. Making up the heart of the ancient Mayan Empire as well as being a central location for Spanish colonial settlements, it is a hotspot for those who enjoy archaeological sites. Its long Pacific coast also provides lovely black sand beaches. Although the country has a high rate of crime, sensible precautions can make for an enjoyable and inexpensive vacation.   Getting in, out, and about Guatemala   US passport holders can get into Guatemala and stay for up to 90 days without a visa. When you enter the country, you’re asked the length of your stay, which is what gets stamped on your passport. It is possible to double the length of your stay while you are there, but you have to apply for this with the Guatemalan Immigration Agency. If you overstay the date stamped on your passport, you can face a fine for each day you stay past, which amounts to approximately $1.30 USD a day.   Guatemala is part of the Central America-4 Border Control Agreement, which establishes free travel across the borders of Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala if you have a stamped US passport in one of those countries, a similar arrangement to the Schengen Agreement in Europe.   If you leave Guatemala through an airport, you must pay an exit fee and an airport security fee. These are typically included in the price of your plane ticket. At present, the exit fee is approximately $30 USD, and the security fee is approximately $2.60 USD.   The exit fee only applies to air travel out of the country. There are no fees for exiting the Guatemala by car or bus. However, the US State Department does not recommend travel around the border areas around Guatemala because of an extremely high instance of armed highway robbery and kidnappings. In fact driving anywhere in Guatemala puts you at risk for possible holdups and car-jackings. Tourist groups out on an excursion can receive a security escort through the Guatemalan Tourist Assistance Office (called PROATUR).   If you do drive in Guatemala, even in areas with heavy tourism, be aware of Good Samaritan scams that involve sticking a nail into a tire at a rest stop or parking lot. When the tire goes flat later on down the road, a few people will show up to “help” you change the tire. Either through distraction or brandishing weapons, they will then help themselves to your things. Avoid keeping valuables in your car, and check your tires before leaving anywhere to help mitigate this risk.   Another common method of highway robbery is by use of motorcycles. The most common method used to involve a motorcycle with two riders pulling up and robbing someone while stopped at a stoplight. The Guatemalan government has since made it illegal to carry a passenger on a motorcycle. However, the use of multiple motorcyclists also occurs. Most of these thefts are non-violent and can be weathered safely through nonresistance. Travelers who travel lightly and avoid carrying valuables on them can also limit the damage should such an incident occur. Keep a copy of your stamped passport on you at...

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Cyprus is for lovers

Posted by on Apr 15, 2014 in Cyprus Articles, European Blog, Travelers' Blog | Comments Off on Cyprus is for lovers

Cyprus is for lovers

According to legend, the Greek goddess of love and beauty, Aphrodite, rose from the waters near the Mediterranean island of Cyprus. Ever since, Cyprus has been a ripe destination for those looking to kindle their romance. The over 400 mile coastline offers up some of the cleanest beaches you’ll find throughout the world. Olive and citrus groves, pine trees, and mountains provide a diverse range of activities, from hiking to skiing to sunbathing, all taking place in the course of a day. Typically, Cyprus provides year-round sunny weather, which makes it a hotspot for weddings.   Cyprus has also recently had a history of division. The northern section of the island is claimed and administered by Turkey. This arrangement is not recognized by any other country, however. The part of Cyprus discussed here refers to the Republic of Cyprus, an independent nation with close ties to Greece that covers the southern and central parts of the island.   Getting in, out, and about Cyprus   Although part of Europe and the European Union, Cyprus is not a party to the Schengen Agreement as of yet. It has signed on to the agreement but has not implemented it yet, which means it has its own separate border controls and visa requirements. For US travelers looking to stay there less than 90 days, a valid passport and proof of a return ticket or a ticket to an onward destination will allow you entry into the country. For stays longer than 90 days, you will need to apply for a residential permit.   The Turkish part of Cyprus is neither recognized by the US or the rest of the island. Consequently, residential permits and visas processed by that body are not valid for the rest of the island. Furthermore, there is a UN maintained buffer zone between the Turkish northern part of Cyprus and the Greek oriented majority of the island, the Republic of Cyprus. You should by no means try to venture into the buffer zone.   Cyprus does bar people with HIV or AIDS from entry into the country. There are no required vaccinations for entry into Cyprus, although many travelers get the vaccination against Hepatitis A. Once you have determined your itinerary, check with your local physician about what vaccines may be right for you.   In Cyprus, the water is potable in most areas; however, drinking bottled water is a good precaution against possibly contaminated water supplies. Take the same precautions in avoiding ice that has been made with tap water.   The traveler’s tongue   The official language in the Republic of Cyprus is Greek. While it is not unheard of for residents to speak Turkish, particularly as you move closer to northern Cyprus, most people will understand Greek. Since Cyprus was under British control for many years, English is also widely spoken. This makes for a perfect environment for English speakers to try their hand at Greek, a lovely language that rolls off the tongue. French, German, and Russian are additional languages commonly spoken in Cyprus as well.   Money matters in Cyprus   Cyprus’ unit of currency is the euro. Like most of the EU countries, Cyprus charges an additional Value Added Tax (VAT) of 15% on most goods and services. Unlike the rest of...

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Turkey: where east meets west

Posted by on Apr 15, 2014 in Asian Blog, European Blog, Travelers' Blog, Turkey Articles | Comments Off on Turkey: where east meets west

Turkey: where east meets west

While it may be tempting to think of Turkey solely as a Middle Eastern country steeped in Islamic tradition and history, this notion comes up woefully short in recognizing the numerous cultures that have passed through the country or grown up there. Any traveler stepping off the plane in Istanbul will be struck by the wide variety of architectural styles represented, and that’s merely the tip of the iceberg of what a vacation in Turkey can entail.   Once referred to as Asia Minor, Turkey is a crossroads between both Asia and Europe. Its largest city, Istanbul, sits on either side of the Bosporus Strait, straddling two continents. Further west lies the Dardanelles Strait, and in between those the Sea of Marmara. The Black Sea borders the northern coast, while the Aegean borders the western coast and the Mediterranean runs along the southern coast of Turkey. These surrounding seas give Turkey a diverse range of climates, and a list of the bordering countries makes clear the cultural diversity in play in this country: Greece and Bulgaria on the west; Syria, Iran, and Iraq to the southeast; and Georgia, Armenia, and Aizerbaijan to the northeast.   Getting in, out, and about Turkey   In order to travel to Turkey as a tourist, you need a valid passport that must be valid for an additional 6 months from the date of your arrival. You also will need to apply for a tourist visa. The most efficient and inexpensive way to go about this is to apply for an E-visa from Turkey’s visa website, www.evisa.gov.tr, where it only costs approximately $20 USD. You can also apply at any Turkish embassy or consulate, but the visas issued there will cost around $60 USD. You’re allowed a stay of up to 90 days within a 180 day period in Turkey on a tourist visa.   Although Turkey does not officially bar travelers with AIDS/HIV from entry into the country, there have been instances where people were deported when they were found to be carrying the virus. In addition to routine vaccinations, many travelers get vaccinations against Hepatitis A and typhoid. If you like to eat adventurously, these may be appropriate for you. In addition, some travelers get vaccinations against polio, Hepatitis B, malaria, and rabies. If you plan on traveling in more rural areas, volunteering in a refugee camp, or engaging in adventure travel, these may be necessary for you. Always consult with your local doctor well in advance of a trip about your vacation plans to determine which vaccines are appropriate.   The tap water in Turkey is not safe for consumption. You should avoid using ice cubes and only drink water that has been bottled and sealed. While milk products are safe to enjoy in Turkey, other types of food pose some dangers. Instances of bird flu contamination through poultry and other animal products, particularly in open air markets, have been known to occur.   While street crime is fairly low throughout Turkey, the usual crimes associated with heavy tourist areas, such as petty thefts and pickpocketing, can occur, and travelers need to be careful to avoid making themselves stand out as potential targets. Many scams target individual travelers, both male and female, so you can avoid this by traveling in groups....

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The Netherlands: experience highlife in the lowlands

Posted by on Apr 15, 2014 in European Blog, Netherlands Articles, Travelers' Blog | Comments Off on The Netherlands: experience highlife in the lowlands

The Netherlands: experience highlife in the lowlands

Whether it’s part of an overarching trip to Europe or its own separate vacation, a journey to the Netherlands cannot fail to bring enjoyment. While famous in particular for its liberal policies, red-light district, and “coffee” shops, the Netherlands offers a blend of activities that can make it the high point of any vacation, no matter your proclivities.   Formerly known as Holland and the birthplace of the Dutch empire, the Netherlands gets its name from the fact that most of the country lies below sea level. Consequently, the country has developed an elaborate system of dikes and canals to combat flooding. The historical use of wind power to assist in draining flooded areas has also made this country famous for its windmills, which are present everywhere, as well as its fertile land for flowers, tulips in particular. Even though the country is densely populated, its flat land and numerous trails make it ideal to tour by bicycle. Two of the world’s great artists Vincent Van Gogh and Rembrandt van Rijn hail from here, as well as many others, and this makes the art museums a must-see for any patron of the fine arts.   Getting in, out, and about the Netherlands   The Netherlands is a founding member of the European Union and a party to the Schengen agreement. The country’s borders are open to travelers from any other Schengen country without having to get an additional passport stamp or visa, so long as your stay in the Schengen area is for no longer than 90 days of a 180 day period. American travelers should make sure their passports are valid for 90 days beyond their intended stay. Once you get your passport stamped in one of the Schengen countries, you are then able to travel freely to any other Schengen country. Upon entry into the Netherlands, you should register your presence in the country with the local authorities, according to Dutch immigration requirements. Hotels frequently take care of this for you, but it’s a good idea to ask to make sure, particularly if you are staying in a bed and breakfast or a youth hostel.   The Netherlands does not pose any problems in terms of communicable diseases that you won’t find in the U.S. or the rest of Europe. Consequently, aside from the common vaccinations against measles, small pox, and the like, you do not have to get any additional vaccinations. Some travelers elect to get an additional Hepatitis A vaccination, which is commonly transmitted through contaminated food and water; however, the Netherlands tap water is perhaps the cleanest and safest (and best tasting!) that you’ll find throughout the world. Another elective vaccine is against Hepatitis B. Rabies is not found typically in dogs or domesticated animals in this area, and it should only be considered if you plan on traveling to areas where exposure to bats is likely. Before traveling, you should consult with your doctor about your travel plans to see if any of these optional vaccinations would fit your needs.   While the Netherlands boasts few instances of violent crime, as with most travel destinations, tourists are often targeted for thefts, particularly in bus and train stations and near the airport. Pickpockets and other petty thieves often work in teams, using one person...

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What I need to know when traveling to Spain

Posted by on Apr 7, 2014 in European Blog, Spain Articles, Travelers' Blog | Comments Off on What I need to know when traveling to Spain

What I need to know when traveling to Spain

What I need to know when traveling to Spain Famous for its stunning beaches, the running of the bulls, an annual food fight which may be the largest in the world, and afternoon siestas, the European country of Spain offers the perfect vacation destination when you need to get away from the fast pace of life. The people of this country take their time, work fewer hours, and enjoy the passage of each day at a much slower pace than in most other parts of the world. While this might require some adjustment for tourists who have to manage around the country’s national pastime of afternoon naps, which results in closed businesses everywhere, if you join in this pace, you can rejoin your regular world after the vacation feeling refreshed and rejuvenated. Getting into Spain Spain is part of the Schengen Agreement with other European countries. This makes it possible to travel across borders with other Schengen participants such as Portugal and France without the need for a visa. You will need an up to date passport with at least six more months of validity. This allows you entry into the country for up to 90 days within a 6 month period. For longer stays, you would need to apply for a visa and provide specifics about your travel plans and purposes as well as a criminal background history. Even for short vacations, Spain rigidly enforces its travel and immigration laws. Be prepared to answer questions about how much money you have available for your stay as well as your hotel accommodations and return travel plans. There are no minimum or maximum currency requirements or required vaccines for entry into Spain. Be certain that you comply with all Spanish entry and travel requirements because it’s not uncommon for US travelers who have violated Spanish policies to be barred from entry on subsequent visits. The traveler’s tongue Spain is host to a number of different languages and dialects in addition to its national language, Spanish. The pronunciation of Spanish words spoken here is somewhat different than the variety of accents found in North and South American Spanish speakers. Spanish as spoken in Spain has a more lisp-y quality. For example, North American Spanish speakers pronounce the Spanish word for thank you as grawss-eee-us, but in Spain it’s pronounced more like grawth-eee-uh. In addition to variations on pronunciation, there are also numerous dialects. In fact, Spanish as spoken in Spain is often referred to by others as Castilian Spanish. Other languages include Galician, Catalan, Basque, and Aragonese, which are spoken in various regions of Spain. While many Spanish speakers have been taught English in school, with the exception of hotels and restaurants in high tourist areas, finding fluent English speakers is dicey. Italian and Portuguese share many similarities with Spanish, and French is another language that many Spaniards may be familiar with, so there are opportunities for multilingual conversations if you’re feeling adventurous. At the very least, it is a good idea to learn a small degree of survival Spanish unless you have no intention of venturing outside of the touristy areas. What is there to do in Spain? Spain hosts a variety of geographical features from the famous beaches along the southern part of the country, to the rugged mountains...

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What you need to know about traveling in Italy

Posted by on Apr 7, 2014 in European Blog, Italy Articles, Travelers' Blog | Comments Off on What you need to know about traveling in Italy

What you need to know about traveling in Italy

What you need to know about traveling in Italy Although Italy did not officially become a country until the same time as the United States was fighting its Civil War, the Italian peninsula has been inhabited for hundreds of millennia and once was the heart of the Roman Empire from whence much of Western Civilization derives. Consequently, the country of Italy is dense with history. In addition to its rich history, Italy is also the home to rich and exquisite food and wine, a variety of activities, and a climate that, while varied, tends towards the warm and mild, making Italy a prime destination for vacationers. Getting into Italy Entry into Italy requires you to have a valid passport that will continue to be valid for an additional 90 days. You can stay in the country legally for up to 90 days without having to get a visa. For any stays of longer than 90 days, you will need to get a visa and do so before your entry into Italy. In addition to your passport, non-residents of Italy (which includes anyone who is staying there for less than 90 days) must provide what’s referred to as a dichiarazione di presenza (declaration of presence). This amounts to your immigration stamp that you receive on your passport at the airport upon entry to Italy. However Italy is part of the Schengen Group and has open borders without visa requirements for travel to and from other Schengen Group member countries. If you arrive in Italy in that fashion, from another Schengen country such as France, then you have to get the declaration of presence forms from either your hotel or local police station and fill out and submit these forms within eight business days or risk expulsion from Italy. If you have a visa for a longer than 90 days stay in Italy, then you are considered a resident and will have to apply for a residency permit upon entry into Italy, known as a permesso di soggiorno. You can get the form to apply for this from most post offices, but have to turn it in at specially designated post offices. You will be given a receipt at this point which is important to keep with your visa and passport documentation. Within roughly two months you will receive an official residency permit, known as the Certificato di Residenza. How much does a vacation in Italy cost? Like other countries that are part of the Schengen Group, Italy uses the euro as its currency. As of January, 2014, the euro has stably converted to $1.35 US dollars for the past eight to nine months. While it’s a good idea to have some euros on hand, it is better to change most of your money once you are in Italy rather than before. At any rate, it is illegal to bring more than the equivalent of €10,000.00 in cash into Italy. If you live on a shoestring budget, eat two simple meals a day, spend minimal amounts on sightseeing, and stay in hostels or camp grounds, you can live on roughly €50-60 a day. However money spent on mid-range accommodations and at least one decent meal a day can swell those expenses to €100-150 a day. If you budget for more than...

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Can I take a French Vacation?

Posted by on Apr 6, 2014 in European Blog, France Articles, Travelers' Blog | Comments Off on Can I take a French Vacation?

Can I take a French Vacation?

What do I need to know for a vacation in France? You have probably never had real champagne, since most of what is available around the world is actually sparkling wine. True champagne comes exclusively from the Champagne region in France. France is the capital and origin of many of the world’s greatest wines, greatest cheeses, pastries, and numerous other forms of gustatory delights. It also houses much of the world’s greatest art and museums, as well as other architectural marvels such as the Eiffel Tower and numerous castles throughout the countryside. With both mountains for skiing and beaches for sunbathing, France boasts numerous options for activities at all times during the year, making it the world’s most popular vacation get away. What do I need to get into France? For stays within France for fewer than 90 days, a passport with at least six-months left of validity is acceptable. For stays longer than 90 days or for purposes other than short term business or tourism, you can apply for a visa specialized for your purpose, but you must do so while not in France, where it is impossible to change your visa status once you are there. France is part of the Schengen Group, which includes many of the countries in Europe. Their agreement allows you to cross borders into other Schengen countries without applying for a visa first. France also has an open border with Monaco as well. Depending on what region of France you plan on traveling in, and what time of year should determine what types of clothes you will need, although err on the side of formality and style, two things the French appreciate. The French climate can range widely from the cold snowy climate of the Alps, Auverne, and the Pyrenees to the hot summers in Southern France along the Mediterranean. You do not need any special vaccinations to get into France. Nor do you have to carry a minimum amount of money, although a cash amount of 10,000 euros or the equivalent is the maximum amount of cash that you can bring into the country. The traveler’s tongue French is the official language of France, and the French are quite proud of their language. English has been taught regularly in public schools, so many French people can speak English and will do so if necessary. It’s customary to ask politely in French if someone can converse with you (parlez vous Anglais) before proceeding in English. In some of the more tourist-frequented areas, people may automatically switch to English for you, although they appreciate your attempt to speak their language. Keep in mind that native French speakers find it difficult to understand French spoken with some thick North American accents. If they don’t understand you, this isn’t meant as a slight. You may try speaking more slowly or be more attentive to your accent. At any rate, do not try speaking more loudly because this would be considered quite rude. The measurement system in France is metric rather than the standard system used in the United States. Consequently, all measurements are in metric terms. Distances are in kilometers rather than miles. Temperatures are in degrees Celsius rather than Fahrenheit, and weights are in grams and kilograms rather than ounces and pounds. While this...

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Can I take a German Vacation?

Posted by on Apr 6, 2014 in European Blog, Germany Articles, Travelers' Blog | Comments Off on Can I take a German Vacation?

Can I take a German Vacation?

What do I need to know for my German vacation? A poignant image of Germany’s long and troubled history comes from the lyrics of David Bowie’s “Heroes,” a song he wrote while he lived in Berlin: “I can remember/ standing by the Wall/ and the guns shot over our heads/ and we kissed as though nothing could fall.” But the Wall did finally go down, because Time marches on. This pregnant history permeates everywhere and lends a melancholy atmosphere to the lavish beauty of this country. Germany is not merely gravity and philosophical reflection, however, although it’s spawned much of both. With its famous annual beer festival in October, Germany is also a place of great joy and celebration. When you travel there, keep in mind that one trip will not be enough; it will beget a myriad of future trips. How do I get in? United States citizens can enter Germany with a valid passport so long as it does not expire for at least another three months. You are then able to stay in Germany for up to three months before you would have to leave. Germany does not require any vaccinations upon entry, although it’s a good idea to make sure you are up to date on the common vaccines (measles, polio, etc.). See http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/traveler/none/germany for further information. Germany is part of the Schengen Agreement, which allows you to cross the borders from one country into any other that’s part of the agreement, as long as you are qualified to enter the Schengen area, which consists of 26 countries in Europe. This allows you to expand your trip, make Germany a home base (ideal for its centralized location in Europe), and incorporate other countries into your vacation. Can I afford it? Germany is one of the wealthiest countries in the world, an economic juggernaut, especially considering its relative size. Yet vacationing in Germany is relatively affordable. You can expect to spend about $200 to $250 USD a day if you stay at mid-range hotels and use public transportation, and this allows for a couple of good meals and a moderate amount of money spent on sightseeing. If you’re on a tight budget, you can stay at hostels, prepare your own food, and limit your entertainment options. Following this course you can get by for as low as roughly $60 if you’re resourceful; however, budgeting to spend about $100 a day is your best bet. Germany uses the euro as its currency and many banks and post offices will convert your money for you. You will also find dedicated (this is primarily what they do) foreign-exchange offices to be a convenient way to do this. The Reisebank offices, located at some of the bigger train stations, provide some of the best exchange rates you’ll find. While there are large sales taxes on many goods and services throughout the Schengen area, those are refundable for residents outside the EU, but you have to shop at places where signs are displayed for “Tax-Free Tourists,” and you have to get a form from the sales clerk. Before you leave the country, show this form, your receipts, and any unused goods you’re taking with you to the customs official to get the forms stamped; then, you can get your refund at...

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