Hey everyone, it’s Thomas today, back again with a Travel Tuesday post. We happily accept reader questions, but our inboxes are always too full to address every question we get on an individual basis. This pains us because we know that you take time out of your day to write to us seeking information that you are really hoping we can help you with. We would love to be able to help everyone. Our next best solution is to create posts that address frequently asked questions. Lately, we’ve received many inquiries on various travel concerns, including the desire to collect as much advice and information as possible on our travel experience to the same or similar destinations. Instead of answering every specific question, I decided to do a quick Travel Tuesday mini-series to help provide insight and information on common concerns, especially when traveling internationally, which comes with a whole new set of unknown scenarios. Today’s post will be all about tips for getting around in a new country.
Rental Cars in other countries
Concern over driving in other countries is one of our top received travel questions. As photographers and explorers, we love the freedom of renting a car and not being limited by mode of transportation. That’s especially true because, while we love cities, we prefer to venture outside to explore the countryside. When renting a car overseas, you may be like us, not use to driving a manual transmission. Unfortunately, most rental cars, especially those with the lowest price point, have manual transmissions. I book all my rental cars through AMEX Travel which has a filter for “Automatic Transmission” so we don’t have to worry about getting stuck driving a stick. I’ve found that driving in another country, at least in Europe, is not anymore difficult than driving in the US and driving in the UK, on the right side, takes only a few minutes to get used to. A great trick is to put a post-it note up on the dashboard in front of you to remind you which ways to turn. One thing to note is there are significantly more toll roads, so it is always important to carry cash or change to be prepared just in case. While I normally believe rental car insurance can be a way for rental car companies to boost revenue, it can definitely come in handy. Since your credit card, or even your current auto insurance may cover you when driving a rental car (always check first), you may be buying insurance from the rental car company simply for peace of mind in case something happens. Twice I’ve declined the insurance and had issues in the past (rock hit window on car in Iceland and valet hit car bumper in Hawaii). Each time it was a huge ordeal requiring multiple months of work to get third parties to pay for the damage. If you are renting a car in another country, it is also a good idea to download “Save For Offline” Google Maps ahead of time, or find wifi to type in your destination address so you are prepared should your cell network stop working. I also suggest bringing a car charger for your phone.
I love train travel, especially in Europe. If you are focusing your travel in one country, like France or Italy, I highly recommend traveling by train. One of my favorite features about taking trains is that they are normally located closer to cities compared to airports. The check-in process and time needed to show-up in advance for a train is much less as well. I’ve found that, for trains that have travel times of 5 hours or less, it’s almost always the faster mode of transportation. The hardest challenge with train travel is booking tickets. I’ve found Trainline to help with this and it is very easy to use. The other challenge is tight connections, especially if you have a bit of luggage. A few times, we’ve had less than 15 minutes to make our connection and we needed to get all our luggage checked-in as soon as we pulled up to the station. We made sure to research the exact train platform that the next train departed from, as well as the station map so we wouldn’t get stuck.
Low Cost Air Carriers
We just flew Norwegian Airlines to London Gatwick from Chicago and while we were very well prepared, it was definitely a different experience from flying a major airline, like our favorite, Delta. When booking on low cost air carriers like Ryanair, Norwegian, Allegiant or Wow, break out your spreadsheet before letting the lower costs entice you. The base fare is more often than not too good to be true and they will do anything possible to add on fees. For example, if you decide to pay for baggage at the airport instead of online at booking, you’ll pay much more. Not only will the fees get you, but you should also be cognizant of the extra connections you may have to make, as well as the distance of the airport that you may have to travel to and from. I got to talking with a disgruntled first time flyer on Norwegian while at the airport in Chicago before our flight. She said that the price for the flight was too good to resist but she hadn’t read about luggage fees and ended up having to pay $100 for her luggage, and instead of having a direct flight from Chicago to her final destination (Rome), she had to take 3 flights to get there. She was also going to have to rebook her bags on yet another low cost airline once she got to London, which meant even more baggage fees.
While we try not to book budget airlines, on certain occasions we have no choice. Our nonstop flights to London were $750 per person one way on Premium, which is premium economy on other airlines. The equivalent on United was over $3,000 per person one way. As it turns out we were pleasantly surprised with our experience on Norwegian airlines. My best advice is to take into account all options and potential costs when booking flights.
Next up on Travel Tuesday mini-series is Communication, Electronics to Travel With, Money & Foreign Currencies, Language and Safety. Send us your travel questions about these topics and I’ll try and answer them in upcoming segments.