The fun never ends here at Napa Food and Vine. I am off for another adventure in Europe. I am hitting London again and will be spending time in Scotland. Stay tuned for more travel photos, fun food experiences, and, of course, wine! So far I do have a trip booked to Barcelona, but who knows what other fun I will find while I am there.
If you have ever wanted to go to Europe, now is the time to go. Flights are getting cheaper and cheaper and the dollar is at an all-time high against the British Pound. Right now it is £1 GBP = $1.22 USD. I thought I would share a few travel tips for you on this post. If you book on Norwegian Airlines, flights start at $79 from Oakland to London for an economy seat. They have Business Class tickets from $600 each way. That is a crazy good deal! You can hardly get an economy ticket for that on other airlines. WOW is another cheap airline that flies via Iceland. The best part of these airlines is that they fly through Oakland International as opposed to SFO. It is a lot less hassle and parking is a lot cheaper.
If you don’t subscribe to www.travelzoo.com you should; they have amazing deals that include vacation packages and make travel very affordable. Here is a great tip: Subscribe to www.travelzoo.co.uk. Why? Well, British people travel far more than Americans do and the deals within Europe are way better than what we get from here. Booking your flight to London and then jumping off on a tour from there will save you big money. That is what I always do. They also have Groupon and a great website called Lastminute.com which is similar to Groupon for experiences like having tea, catching Theatre tickets, riding the London Eye, and other travel deals. What I do from the USA is go to travelzoo.co.uk and look up the offered travel deals. I then find the website of the company offering the deals and go there. Guess what? Each of them has MORE DEALS! It’s awesome. One of these companies I have used is http://www.fleetwaytravel.com/
Before you go, make sure you call your bank and credit card companies to let them know you will be traveling outside the country. If you don’t, you may find that your credit card or ATM doesn’t work in an embarrassing situation. The two other financial tips I have for you is that look and see if your credit card charges fees for transactions abroad. My United Mileage Plus Credit Card and my Southwest Rapid Rewards cards don’t. This is great for most transactions. But what about cash? They charge you through the nose at foreign ATM’s for cash advances, so using your bank ATM is necessary for small amounts of cash. My bank charges a 3% fee on all of those transactions. It still works out better than what you would get from a bureau de change though. Try to limit your cash usage as much as you can and use those credit cards as it will cost you way less. *Tip: European credit cards are chip and pin. Yours are chip and sign and it will confuse cashiers. If they don’t know, just explain that to them and be patient. (Also take a pen with you everywhere as no stores seem to have them as no one signs credit cards there.)
Make sure that you tell your credit card company that you will be travel. They may think someone cloned your card and put an inconvenient and embarrassing fraud stop on it.
Remember your cell phone too! Call your cell phone company and put international dialing on it just in case of emergencies. My plan costs an extra $10 per month while I travel and it is well worth it. However, I use Skype and WhatsApp when traveling which both work on WiFi and incur no roaming charges. Facetime also works for free to other people with Apple products. Facebook Messanger also has a call function via wifi.
When you are in Europe, utilize the trains to go long distances. You see far more from the train, and you don’t have to worry about driving, navigating, and parking. Train tickets are booked like flights and if you have a bit of advance notice you can get great deals. For example, I am traveling to Scotland from London on a Virgin Train. The normal price for the ticket first class is £240 GBP ($280 USD) each way. I booked my tickets a few weeks in advance and was able to score a ticket for £58.00 ($70.00). That is a big saving. For the UK internal trains there is Trainline as well as Virgin Trains If you want to travel through Europe, use Eurail. You’d be amazed the places you can go on the train. The other thing to keep in mind is that airports are often located pretty far from the city centers so going by train will usually get you right where you want to be. The trains in Europe are really fast, so you can get to where you are going. Trains from London to Paris only take 40 minutes! That is way faster than using an airport.
Car Rental abroad: Ok, the last time we rented in London we got caught out. It sucked. We rented through Fox car rental via Travelocity but there was a big reason for the cheap price. It didn’t include international insurance. Nice huh? So we basically had to pay double the car rental for the insurance. Hertz, Budget, and Enterprise don’t do that. Keep that in mind. Also, your credit card covers car rental insurance deductibles so make sure you check that as well. Enterprise has a great service where they will pick you up from the train station or airport and take you to their office saving you the taxi fare. It’s a good thing to know. *Note* The UK drives on the other side of the road than we do. Remember that the passenger is always in the gutter when you drive. Secondly, unless you are super confident, I would suggest that you choose an automatic car so that you don’t have to shift with your right hand. You will already be confused enough. Always choose a compact car rather than a mini. If you are tall, or you are used to an American car a mini will be too crazy for you to drive. I would also get an international drivers license from AAA if you plan on doing a lot of driving.
When I was in London the last time I used Uber a lot. It worked beautifully for me and I was able to travel at all times of day and night without any issues. Lyft isn’t really used in Europe so keep that in mind. It cost me 1/3 of the price of a regular cab to use Uber when I needed a ride. It was really handy.
One of my best tips to use is to try to do customs only once when returning to the USA. Sometimes you get a stopover in your less expensive flights and you end up basically going through customs and immigration twice. I found that little gem in on the way from London to Houston to San Francisco on a connecting flight. What I try to do now is plan my trip via another European Country so you don’t have to get out of the plane, go through customs, claim back your luggage back and then recheck them only to have to get them during the next stop. What a pain. If you travel direct from Europe, you only have to go through that hassle one time.
I hope you will follow along with me as I explore more of Europe. Feel free to comment or make suggestions of places to go if you have them. Cheers!