Editor's note: I asked Laura Luthy to share some of her packing secrets with us since she is able to take long trips with carry-on only.
So now the clothes are washed and put away and the suitcases are stored again, and life is returning to normal and as I reflect on the trip we returned from, I find memories popping up to the surface as I savor the moments in quiet reflection and I wonder if you too are finding special slices of our days that bring smiles to your face. I know Boris and Sasha are probably at the top of favorite memories, but I'd really love to hear from you. What are the things that you are savoring when you remember this trip still fresh in your mind?
Please make your comments below and if you can, post pics with them, or send them to me and I'll post them below. I'll start with one of my favorite memories and hope you'll join.
I'll share one of my favorite memories- the Sunday night I shared the Book of Mormon with our waitress after everyone at the table wrote in it and we told her about it and she was interested and surprised the church was near her. I gave her a pass along card with the contact info on it and she said she is spiritual and will read it. We had made friends with her mother who owns the restaurant in May so we returned and brought more people back to eat there and then gave the daughter the Book of Mormon and of course that was the night the fireworks went off. We saw the mother and father looking through the book at what everyone had written later as they sat together at a table. Special night and Ron and Vicki are in the photo with me. -- Liz
We are still getting questions for clarification so I'm posting the questions and the answers that Mark has given along with an article we have found most helpful. Don't hesitate to ask if you need clarification.
Questions From Brent Olsen:
Hi. I just read your info on money and have a question. I don’t know the geography well enough to know how to divide the money needed between euros and kunas. How many meals am I responsible for in Croatia?
Also, you say you are bringing about $400 in cash and will rely on atms. What do you do with the US money? Can you spend it? What good is it?
Hello Brent, Some answers:
1. "geography... between euros and kunas." Kunas are only for Croatia...Dubrovnik to Pula. Every place else takes Euros.
2. How many meals am I responsible for in Croatia? I'm covering all of the tips except $50 aboard the ship. Dollars are fine there. We also cover all breakfasts for the whole trip, and 3 meals a day on the ship for 7 days. We are also picking up the lunch on the boat in Kotor, lunch on the boat to Krka and in Senj on the way to Pula. Here are the meals you need to cover in the chart to the left.
We've recommended only bringing about $200 per person and a good Debit Card with a pin after having told your Debit Card company what you'll be doing.
Exchanging your dollars brought from home is a problem for at least 3 reasons:
1. Changing dollars into Euros at Cambio or money exchange places can cost you 15%.
2. Vendors often accept $$$ but they have an even worse exchange rate.
3. European Banks are a bit better but still not the best solution.
The best solutions are:
1. Paying for something with your credit card. Best exchange rates.
2. Getting euros or Kunas from the ATM. Fair warning: Debit Cards with a pin are best. Cash advances on credit cards add tough fees. BUT: To use your Debit Card talk to your bank and make sure they know where you're going and that you're using ATM's so PLEASE, Mr./Mrs. Banker, "Don't freeze my account when you see I'm using my Debit Card!"
Questions from the Kittelsons with answers from Mark:
1. Do we pay tips in USD or local currency? We are covering the tips for the bus drivers, guides, park rangers, and most of the tips on the yacht. It's such a hassle for our guests to keep reaching in for some kind of a tip in whatever currency du jour, so we traded doing the tips for you covering some of the meals. In the blog it details those. You come out ahead and less hassle. But, tips are fine in Euros or dollars or kunas in Croatia although they prefer kunas so they don't have to exchange money. In Montenegro, Greece and Athens they prefer Euros.
2. Do we pay for tours by credit card or USD or local currency? The extra tours are mainly on the free day in Kotor and you can use Euros and often credit cards. Credit cards usually give you the best exchange rates.
3. Will we likely be paying for meals in USD, credit card, or local currency? Again see the blog for more details, but as a general rule, Euros are the easiest. ATMs in all countries except Croatia dispense money in Euros. In Croatia it's kunas. Some restaurants take credit cards, but don't count on it - you're safer with kunas in Croatia and Euros elsewhere.
We advise against getting Euros in the USA as the exchange rate is less favorable. Usually ATMs are the best choice. If you're using a DEBIT CARD, make sure your bank knows you're going to Croatia, etc., and the time period or they may see an international charge and freeze the DEBIT CARD. Also make sure you have a pin for your debit card.
Don't hesitate to ask me anything. Glad to help and I hope this was useful.
Here's a good article on using ATM's abroad:
TRAVEL TIPS HOLIDAY MONEY
Using ATMs abroad:
How to avoid unfair exchange rates and hidden fees
Wise Online Financial Travel Magazine
5 minute read
Many seasoned travelers have discovered that the quickest and often cheapest way to get cash while traveling abroad is directly from an ATM. Airport exchange bureaus know you have nowhere else to go, so their fees can often be quite high. Other exchange options vary in quality and convenience. Even your bank will likely subject you to punishing hidden fees in their exchange rates.
So it’s good news that finding the best exchange rate can be as easy as finding an ATM. All cash withdrawals, no matter their size, are exchanged based on the wholesale - the real - exchange rate of the day. If you’re not careful though, you can pay fees that will cancel out any savings.
Here are a few things you should be aware of.
Different types of foreign ATM fees
Most bank ATMs charge fees. In some cases, these fees are only charged if you aren’t a member of that particular bank. To help avoid these fees, check what foreign banks your local bank partners with. Some ATMs, however, charge all users.
Do your homework on the four various fees charged, and your pocketbook will thank you later.
Fee 1: An International or transaction ATM fee
This fee is added when you use a foreign ATM. Many banks charge higher fees for international withdrawals. You’ll either pay a flat rate (between £1-5 or $1-5) or a percentage of your total withdrawal (generally between 1-3%).
Fee 2: A conversion charge
These days most larger banks add an additional ‘conversion fee’ of between 1-3% of the transaction. It’s an unfortunate hidden surcharge that banks often charge for foreign ATM withdrawals. These fees are most common from American, British and Australian banks.
Which means it’s likely that you’ll pay a combined flat fee for using an ATM network, plus a percentage of the value of the withdrawn cash.
Fee 3: A surcharge
A surcharge is added by the ATM as a fee for using the machine.
The good news is you’ll be notified on the ATM screen and it will ask your permission to proceed with the transaction. Your best chance of avoiding this might be to use ATMs at major banks or post offices. Smaller banks and independently owned ATMs mean a higher risk of surcharges.
Fee 4: Poor ATM exchange rates
ATM exchange rates are all tied to the interbank currency rates traded on the global financial market. The rates constantly fluctuate, but will likely hover around the same figure for months at a time.
With a quick Google search, you can find out what the current exchange rate is. Or just use an online currency converter to find out how much your money’s worth. That way, when you run across an ATM, you can decide for yourself whether the ATM is providing a fair exchange rate. You’d be surprised how many sneak in fees by offering a less than optimal amount.
Your card is probably linked to over a million ATMs globally through a financial computer system. This is known as an interbank network. Through the network, you can conduct similar transactions at any ATM inside the network. For example, the Cirrus network owns Mastercard, Maestro, and Cirrus. If you see one or more of those three logos on an ATM, that means it’s a part of the Cirrus network. Not only that, but each network has an online ATM locator so you can find the nearest in advance.
PLUS Network (Visa)
The PLUS system is an interbank network that covers all Visa cards. They’re located in 200 countries and territories around the world. PLUS is the local network most common in the United States and is also used in Canada. You’re also likely to find PLUS ATMs in India and Indonesia, where many interbank networks have a presence. Find the nearest one by using the PLUS/Visa ATM locator online.
Cirrus Network (MasterCard and Maestro)
Cirrus is an interbank network operated by MasterCard found in 93 countries. It links MasterCard, Maestro, Diners Club cards to its network. The network is frequently found in the United States, Canada, Venezuela, Chile, and Saudi Arabia. In India and Bangladesh, the Cirrus network serves as both a local and international interbank network.Use their online locator to find Cirrus ATMs.
Maestro Network (Mastercard and Maestro)
Maestro is a multi-national debit card service that is also operated by MasterCard. Within Europe, Maestro is MasterCard’s main debit brand. By default, Maestro cards are linked to the Cirrus network, but often you’ll still find the logo on ATMs. Search for your nearest Maestro/Mastercard ATM.
STAR is an interbank network in the United States. It’s the largest American interbank network, servicing 2 million ATMs and more than 5,700 banks and financial institutions. STAR has their own ATM locator online.
The New York Currency Exchange (NYCE) connects the ATMs of various financial institutions in Canada and the United States. You’ll find their machines mostly in the Midwest and Northeast. Search for NYCE ATMs online.
Reducing your hidden ATM fees
1. Withdraw carefully
While it’s never a good idea to travel with loads of cash on hand, you can avoid frequent ATM fees by withdrawing large amounts of cash at one time. Try to map out a rough budget in advance. Planning your withdrawals will mean you don’t end up with a lot of spare cash at the end of your trip.
2. Find a low-fee card
Some banks charge fewer fees than others. For example, HSBC has ATMs all over the world and only charges $2.50 per ATM transaction, even at non-HSBC ATMs. And Capital One doesn’t charge any withdrawal fees themselves, but the local bank will still likely charge you. With enough research, you can find cards that suit your travel needs; some are better than others.
3. Know that credit unions are your friend
If you have access to one, credit unions and smaller banks tend to have lower international transaction fees. Their ATM fees tend to be solely a percentage of the withdrawn amount with no additional flat fee. That means if you’re only withdrawing a small amount, it may be worth it. Credit unions only charge currency conversion fees, and do not tend to include other types of fees.
Now you have the facts. When you go abroad, skip the kiosk and head straight to an ATM. They’re always open for business, they’re everywhere, and they’re usually your most cost-effective option.
Mark J. Stoddard
A dear friend of mine who's coming on this trip asked me at lunch last week “What will happen if someone gets covid on this trip?”
My answer that I share with all of you: I don’t expect anyone will get covid on this trip.
We encourage those who have home health care tests to leave them behind along with your worries about covid. If anyone gets seriously ill there are plenty of clinics along the way to get medical attention if it's more than a simple cold and needs medical attention. Getting a false positive result from a home kit would be more of a problem than a help and could create serious consequences for the entire group.
None of the governments of the countries we are visiting are requiring testing at this time, or are at all interested in seeing your vaccination record. The USA is no longer requiring a negative test to return home. There are too many false negatives and the disease has become much less serious in nature, so the safeguards have changed to reflect that evolution.
We suggest everyone take the same normal safeguards we always recommend with international travel - be smart and take care of your health as always.
We are looking forward to seeing you soon!
In our original itinerary, we only had one full day in Kotor. But because Olympic Air ceased daily flights between Athens and Montenegro, and only had one flight on a Wednesday, we had to add another day to the tour. No extra charge for you! We're covering the extra hotel night. This is now a great time for a free day -- to explore as you like.
For your free day in Kotor, August 19, here are some suggestions:
1. Rent a speedboat with driver to see other places on the lakes than what you saw yesterday. Prices are negotiable and size of group will matter. (See picture 1.)
2. Return to old Kotor, hike the castle, see the many churches and museums (some are randomly closed for whatever reason) and "palaces" that are interesting but not particularly grand. Enjoy a nice slow day. (See picture 2.)
3. Take a hike! View above Kotor for the hikers. The climb itself should take just over an hour to reach the Castle of San Giovanni. However, when they designed hiking Kotor to its amazing castles and churches they didn't make it easy. In total, the hike has 1355 stairs and over 70 switchbacks! The views from the top are magnificent. (See picture 3.)
4. Get a taxi to drive you around to sites and perhaps the coastal town of Budva. It is a favorite vacation spot for Russians. There's an old town and small private beach meaning you have to pay to enjoy.
5. Guided Coach tours:
A. Nearby Kotor Mountain Tour.
Take a guided tour into the high mountains and next valley nearby to see the ancient royal grounds of Montenegro. Very reasonably priced at about $40 per person for the entire day. Here's the description from Ivana, the excellent guide: (See picture 4.)
"Dear American Friends,
For our Cetinje tour, you'll board our coach at Hotel PortoIn in Kotor. We then head up the mountain and over the ridge to visit King Nikola’s castle, the famous military Austro-hungarian map, Cetinje monastery, Mausoleum of Njegos, Lovcen mountain and National Park. We will break for lunch in Ivanova Korita.
Tickets to castle, map, National park, mausoleum, transfer, bus & guide for whole day.
Lunch is not included.
TOTAL: TOTAL: 38e per person (if 36pax)
45e – (if min 18pax)
Please pay at the coach.
B. North Country Alpine Tour
Here is a beautiful tour.
Visit to Djurdjevica tara brigde – zip line over the deepest canyon in Europe, visit to Black lake, largest glacial lake in Montenegro, lunch at private household with fresh homemade meal. Ticket to panoramic ride on the ski lift with a view on Durmitor. Drive back – same road, we do not make a circle. One way is 3h of driving.
Included: Ticket to NP Durmitor, transfer, ticket to Savin kuk, lunch in local household , guide for the whole day.
(See pictures 5 and 6.)
TOTAL: 50e per person (if 36pax)
65e – (if min 18pax)
If you wish to take the Centije or Zabljak tour, please email us immediately so we can book a bus. Ivana is awaiting. Email us at BucketList1776@gmail.com You will pay Ivana directly.
For other options our host at the Hotel PortoIn will be happy to make arrangements or provide directions.
Mark J. Stoddard
With our departure dates approaching quickly, it's time to get serious about what to pack for our next travel adventure. As I sit down to create my list of "must have's" for this trip to Croatia, I am struck by the wealth of experience represented in the group who are going on this trip and I invite you all to join me in creating an exhaustive list of things that have made your travel easier in the past and what we plan to take along this time. I hope my list will also help to answer some of the questions I've been getting from some of you. So please add your two cents or more to my list and help me make this post a valuable asset to our traveling plans.
The countries we will be visiting along this route including the yacht all require European plugs. They also use 220 Voltage. So we will need both adaptors (plugs) and converters (to change voltage from 220V to 110V). If you don't already have a converter and plan to use appliances other than laptop computers (which have their own converter) you will need to bring one with you. The hotels and yacht we use will all provide hair dryers, so that will not be a problem. Here's a link to a converter I just purchased that includes adaptors for the plug. https://www.amazon.com/dp/B074QLCKW6?psc=1&ref=ppx_yo2ov_dt_b_product_details
Since some of us will be traveling for more than three weeks, it's inevitable that laundry will be done. Here are some of our plans:
a. There will be several places where laundry mats are available.
b. Limited loads will be done on the yacht. We suggest bringing mesh laundry bags with your name on them so we can do a couple of group laundry batches. Here's a link to the mesh bags pictured below that can be written on and are good quality: https://a.co/d/bRVvlbW
c. I have purchased a portable travel clothesline to hang my swim suit in our cabin and to wash underwear by hand in the sink. I'll have sheets of earth breeze laundry detergent to share with you if you'd like to use this on the trip.
d. Hotels along the way will have laundry service you can take advantage of.
e. I swear by Tide Sticks - avoid trips to the laundry with this magical stick that erases so many drips and drops along the way.
With the airline nightmares of 2022 there is more reason than ever before to travel lightly. We highly suggest packing as light as possible. One 20" carry-on suitcase per person is essential. Be sure to pack many changes of clothing in this bag just in case your checked bag doesn't show up. In addition to the 20" bag each traveler is allowed a second bag such as a back pack or bag. This bag should contain your meds, travel documents and things you can't afford to lose.
Now the challenge comes with the third bag. If you are able, it would be really great to have each couple share the third bag to be checked and that bag should be no larger than 36" if at all possible. Remember, we are traveling in the heat, with a casual itinerary, so no dressy, formal wear is needed. Our secondary flights from Athens and Zagreb are on smaller planes with less room for luggage, so avoid extra baggage charges and keep things simple.
4. Personal Security
On our last trip to Croatia Mark and I noticed some of the hotel rooms didn't have security chains on the doors. I decided to check on a personal alarm we used to take to Russia with us and found a handy one on Amazon www.amazon.com/Lewis-Clark-Portable-Apartment-Flashlight/dp/B000SKZM0A/ref=asc_df_B000SKZM0A?tag=bingshoppinga-20&linkCode=df0&hvadid=80676721523990&hvnetw=o&hvqmt=e&hvbmt=be&hvdev=c&hvlocint=&hvlocphy=&hvtargid=pla-4584276298671539&th=1
This little gadget hangs on the doorknob and the clip goes in the space between the door and the door frame so when the door opens a shrill alarm goes off if you haven't removed the clip. This also can be used when walking in public as an alarm if approached by someone who tries to grab a bag or take inappropriate action. Just an additional step of security if you find yourself in an uncomfortable situation.
5. Mosquito repellant
We've been warned that mosquito repellant is needed on this trip. We haven't experienced a problem with mosquitos, but if this is a possibility I know I will be the first one to be sampled, so I'll be prepared. I've been told baby oil is one easy way to repel the little monsters and it's worth a try along with some natural oils.
Here's a very important element in this summer season and with the time we'll be on the water, it's best to be prepared.
Don't forget hats - several so the sun doesn't get the best of you and don't forget water proof hats.
8. Swim suits
Notice the plural. If you enjoy swimming, the days on the yacht will be more enjoyable if you have several suits so there's time to dry between use.
9. Church clothes
Don't go formal, but do plan to wear simple dress clothes when we attend services or have our own devotional on Sunday. Men will need a shirt and tie for Sunday and women will need a skirt or dress, but keep it simple and travel will be much easier with less.
10. Water shoes/sandals
Many of the beaches are rocky, so plan to wear sturdy sandals or water shoes.
11. Water bottle
Staying hydrated in this hot climate is important and while on the ship I plan to fill my personal bottle with water and perhaps lemon or orange slices. We have asked the bus company to provide water bottles on the bus, and we are hopeful this will be fulfilled. At the very least, we'll be stopping along the route to give everyone a chance to purchase water and soda. On the plane I have found most stewardesses are willing to fill my bottle with cold water and this really helps me stay hydrated.
12. Nasal spray
I use xclear nasal spray or a simple saline solution as preventative care since virus' grow in the nose and travel exposes us to more virus's as well as the dry air of the airline cabin.
13. Basic medicine
Travel exposes us to unknown elements, so small quantities of basic meds for colds, allergies, diarrhea, sore throat, etc. should be included in your carry-on bag. We will be able to visit a pharmacy later if needed.
14. Zip lock plastic bags
A strange but helpful item that somehow always comes in handy and takes no space to speak of. I can't even tell you what I've used these for, but I always take a variety of sizes and find different ways to use them. Of course the most obvious use is to carry any lotions, shampoos, toothpaste, etc. in your carry-on luggage. Here's a link to a site where you can refresh yourself on the TSA rules for liquids (seems they are always changing) https://www.wikihow.com/Pack-Liquid-and-Gels-on-a-Plane
15. Personal Snacks
Mark and I like to have a bag of nuts and protein bars (our choice are Built bars) for those times when we are between stops and need a little nibble. Especially on the plane or in the airport when we don't want to pay airport prices. Some who have diabetes are wise to travel with a small store to keep their blood sugar in check. Of course there will be many opportunities along the route to refill your stores.
16. Sweater or Jacket
Even though we are traveling in the hottest time of the year, it is wise to have a sweater or jacket on the plane for when the air conditioning kicks on and for the cooler evenings or even on a bus ride. One or two pair of long slacks would be wise as well so you can be prepared for changing temps.
17. Cooling tools
Be prepared for the heat. We'll bring a cooling towel for everyone, but you are welcome to bring your own fan, or cooling hat or whatever method you can plan for keeping your cool when the sun shines. Of course the yacht, hotels and vehicles will all be air conditioned, but we will be outside and it's wise to plan ahead.
OK, that's it for now .... please add to this list in the comments. We want to hear from you on what you've found to be helpful in your international travels.
OK, traveling friends, I just got a letter from one of our August guests who will be heading to Croatia with us and I need your help answering his letter. I'll post his letter and my reply and hope you'll jump in with advice based on your travel experience regarding phones in Europe.
12:41 PM Friday, July 7
What are your recommendations for using our cell phones while on the trip? Carol and I both have unlocked I-phones with Verizon as our current carrier. They have an international plan we can add. But, there should be a better way to go. Cellular Abroad looks like a good option. Does a SIM card that works in Italy also work in Croatia? What do you usually do? Thanks,
We recently changed from Verizon to T-Mobile so we could have better coverage. We can text for no extra charge, but calls are still pricey for us at .25 per minute.
Our partner, Boris Leostrin will be purchasing a sim card when he arrives in Croatia, but he said it won't work in Montenegro and therefore, probably not in Italy. We may have to purchase separate sim cards for each country if we want to make calls.
We'll do some more research. In fact, lets start a discussion with our travel group and see what advice everyone has to share with each other. I'll post it on the blog and invite everyone to make comments.
Thanks for asking!
So, I'm asking you, our traveling friends, what do you do for phone service in Europe? Please tell us in the comments below.
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