Category Archives: Travel Tips

Rick Steves’ Packing List

Rick Steves’ Packing list

The source for this list is Rick’s Europe Through the Back Door book.  If you are a beginning traveler, (and even if you are not) BOLD I highly recommend this book!! All kinds of basic information and “everything you need to know” about traveling light, staying safe and healthy, avoiding rip-offs, as well as a section on each part of Europe, and even sample routes to choose.

The book is available at ricksteves.com, which also includes information about Rick’s small-group tours, a community section, traveler’s help line, “grafitti wall” and Rick’s fascinating personal travel blog.

Below are two versions of his travel list. The first includes more details about each item.  The second is for you to use as a check-it-off after you’ve become more of an old hand at packing light; it includes no details and is easier to use on a smartphone or other small electronic gadget.

Before you check out the two versions of the list, here are a few general notes on Rick’s packing method:

Rick uses travel clothes which can be hand washed and will dry easily; he prefers a cotton/polyester blend. He packs an inflatable hanger or two because it causes the front and back of a garment to be separated, for faster drying.

He fits all of this into a European-plane-sized carry-on and an under-seat bag (except for the items which are worn on the plane). He recommends  always going carry-on on to start out, but to pack a light-weight fabric, checkable bag so that one can bring purchases home. (Or else put the purchases, which may be more fragile, in your carry-on and your clothes in the extra bag. (He sells a great “extra bag” on his website).

Rick recommends to always bring two cards, such as a debit card and and credit card.  If one card gets stolen or compromised, you still have the other. At all times one of the two cards should be under your clothes in your money belt, and usually both of them.

Remember that all liquids must be in small plastic bag in outside pocket of carry-on, for getting through Security.

Rick Steves’ Pack List (detailed version)

__5 shirts (cotton/polyester blend for easy drying)
__1 sweater or lightweight fleece (dark colors don’t show stains)
__2 pairs pants (one lightweight cotton and another super-lightweight for hot muggy days which
include visits to churches or other places where shorts are not appropriate)
__1 pair shorts with pockets (can double as swimsuit for men)
__swimsuit (for women)
__5 pairs underwear and socks (lighter dries quicker)
__1 pair shoes (well-used, light and cool pair with soles that have good traction)
(heavier, water-resistent shoes for winter)
__1 1 rainproof jacket (light and water-resistent windbreaker with a hood)
__man’s tie or woman’s scarf, for instant “dressy”
__money belt to be worn under one’s clothes, ricksteves.com sells a good one (as Rick writes, this is
“essential for the peace of mind it brings; you could lose everything except your money belt, and the
trip could still go on”
__money, your mix of:
__debit card
__credit card
__hard cash
__personal checks (optional)
__documents plus photo-copies of same (you can get replacements more quickly if the originals are
lost) hotel reservation confirmations, etc.
__passport
__print out of airline e-ticket
__driver’s license
__(student ID and hostel card)
__railpass/car rental voucher
__travel insurance documents
__daypack (ricksteves.com sells a good one) he does not recommend fanny-packs be used in place
of under-clothes money belts, the fanny packs are “notorious thief-magnets”
__sealable plastic baggies
__camera and related gear (digital)
__empty water bottle (buy in Europe and re-fill at hotel or water-fountains)
__wristwatch and alarm clock (at cheap hotels, wake-up calls are unreliable)
__earplugs
__first-aid kit (headache, bandages (neosporin), moleskin, motion sickness, something for diarrhea)
__medications (in original containers, prescription readable)
__extra glasses/contacts (he takes only one pair of glasses, but takes a copy of his vison prescription)
__sunscreen and sunglasses
__toiletries kit (Rick recommends one that you can hang up, as counter-space is meager in some
hotels
__soap/shampoo (cheap hotels do not always provide it)
__laundry soap
__clothesline
__small towel (the cheaper hotels and hostels do not always provide it)
__sewing kit (including a few safety pins and extra buttons)
__travel information (guidebooks, maps, phrasebooks–Rick recommends tearing out the relevant
sections of guidebooks instead of taking the entire book)
__address list and emergency phone numbers (set up group e-mail list on your lap-top before you go
if you want to send “travel-updates”)
__postcards and photos from home (great conversation-starter for chatting with locals or other
travelers)
__notepad and pen
__journal
OPTIONAL BRING-ALONGS
__picnic supplies
__packing cubes (see-through, zip-up mesh containers keep clothes tightly packed & organized
__clothes compressor bag (allows you to pack bulky clothes in less space_
__shirt-folding board (light-weight , to fold and carry shirts with minimal wrinkling)
__small packets of toilet-tissue
__nightgown or nightshirt
__light warm-up suit
__sandals or flip-flops
__slippers (especially for winter trips)
__inflatable pillow
__pillowcase
__skirts (easier for women when faced with a squat toilet)
__weather-specific variations such as silk long-johns, gloves, hat
__feminine hygeine products
__tech stuff (laptop, mobile phone, hand-held GPS device, smartphone, flash drive
__chargers, adapters and converters

Rick Steve’s Pack List (Essentials Version)

__5 shirts
__1 sweater or lightweight fleece
__2 pairs pants
__1 pair shorts
__1 swimsuit
__5 pairs underwear and socks
__1 pair shoes
__1 rainproof jacket
__tie or scarf
__money-belt
__cash and ATM cards
__documents and photo copies
__passport
__printout of airline e-ticket
__driver’s license
__(student ID and hostel card)
__Railpass/car rental voucher
__Insurance details
__daypack
__sealable plastic baggies
__camera and related gear
__empty water bottle
__Wristwatch and alarm clock
__earplugs
__first-aid kit
__medicine
__extra glasses/contacts, prescriptions
__sunscreen and sunglasses
__toiletries kit
__soap
__laundry soap/shampoo
__clothesline
__small towel
__guidebooks, maps
__address list
__post-cards and photos from home
__notepad and pen
__journal

The “Only Packing List You’ll Ever Need” According to SmarterTravel.com

From “Smarter Travel” (www.smartertravel.com), here’s a basic travel list which you can print out and customize for yourself. Thanks, viewer Mary Ingram, for sharing this!

Underwear
Skirts
Leisure shoes
Socks/stockings
Sweaters/sweatshirts
Hiking/athletic shoes
Undershirts/bras
Suits
Snow/rain boots
Sleepwear
Swimsuits/cover-ups
Dress shoes
T-shirts
Coats/jackets/rainwear
Sandals/flip-flops
Dress shirts
Hats
Belts
Casual shirts
Gloves
Ties
Jeans
Scarves
Jewelry
(if valuable, put in carry-on)
Pants
Umbrella
Purses
Shorts
Laundry kit
(soap, stain remover)
Collapsible totes
Dresses
Laundry bag
Under-clothing document holders
Toothbrush
Face lotion/gel/etc.
Nail file/clippers
Toothpaste
Sunscreen
Tweezers
Dental floss
Moisturizer
Hand sanitizer
Soap
Contact lenses/solution
Bandages
Deodorant
Shaving supplies
First-aid ointment
Shampoo/conditioner
Makeup
Insect repellant
Brush/comb
Makeup remover
Medications
Hairstyling appliances
Feminine-hygeine products
Pain relievers
Face cleanser
Birth control
Vitamins
Cell phone
Voltage adaptor
Emergency contacts
Laptop/tablet
Film/memory card
Credit-card/bank contacts
Electronics chargers
List of medications
Copies of passport/credit card/etc.
Books or e-books
Change of clothes
Cash
Video/MP3 player
Food/snacks/gum
Credit/ATM cards
Earbuds/headphones
Empty water bottle
(fill post-security)
Insurance cards (medical, travel)
Pashmina/travel blanket
In-flight medications
Itinerary
Travel pillow
Valuables, such as jewelry
Maps/directions
Ear plugs/eye mask
Camera
Guidebook
Tissues
Passport/visa/ID
Address book
Lip balm
Paper/pen
House keys

Visiting Cairo Now (Summer 2014)

Visiting Cairo Now (Useful Tips for Unstable Countries)

What is it like to visit Cairo this year, after all that has happened in Egypt during the last few years? During these times, should one avoid independent travel and choose to travel either with a group or with an official guide? Are the wonderful musical performances and the dinner cruises still happening? What’s different about just walking around on the streets? What about the infamous Cairo traffic?  What about public demonstrations and visible unrest? Do people feel less free to comment on the government? How is the economy doing?

Leyla and I sitting in sidewalk cafe, watching the action on Husseyn Square

Leyla and I sitting in sidewalk cafe, watching the action on Husseyn Square

My dear friend Lois White, whose performance name is “Leyla Lanty”, goes to Cairo every summer. She attends the Ahlan Wa Sahlan belly-dance festival, and even teaches a class there, in “zills” (the finger cymbals which dancers use).   She usually extends her stay after the festival, renting an apartment that her long-time guide Ahmed arranges for her.

So I asked her to fill me in on what was like to visit Cairo this year, when so many changes have been happening. Good news! Leyla reports that she always felt quite safe wherever she went, and found things to be normal everywhere she went.

However, it is important to remember that she is almost always accompanied by her guide Ahmed and his son Karim. And it is true that she does recommend,  in these changing times, that foreign visitors to Cairo either use a guide or travel with a group.

Ahmed (r.) hires an oud player to come to our table and serenade us

Ahmed (r.) hires an oud player to come to our table and serenade us

The guide she always hires is Ahmed, whose professional name is Ahmed ‘el gentil’, (“Ahmed the Gentleman”). It is true that Ahmed charges a little more than most guides in Cairo, but I have always felt that he was more than worth it.

Leyla has hired him for so many years that he’s almost like family. In addition to all of the usual sites and experiences, Leyla and I have been treated to experiences that most people never see. We’ve been to a wedding of the daughter one of the Khan el Khalili merchants, (a “local” wedding, not a “class wedding”, an experience that most non-Cairenes have seen) we’ve visited family friends such as a young woman who owns a photography studio. Leyla has attended family parties and danced in a back room with female members of Ahmed’s family. Her recent visit coincided with Ramadan, and she was invited to several “iftar” evenings (the nightly breaking of the Ramadan fast) with Ahmed’s family. New clients of Ahmed’s would not, of course, end up sharing these family occasions.

Of course, new clients of Ahmed’s would not, of course, end up sharing such family occasions, but I do feel that in these troubled times, it is all the more important to hire someone who comes personally recommended and who does a really professional job.  I feel strongly that  it is worth it, for the extra security and peace of mind, and let’s be frank, one’s physical safety. I definitely recommend Ahmed, whose contact information I list below.

During some of my past visits to Cairo, I have stayed with Leyla in the apartment she rents while she is there. The apartment is in Giza, the neighborhood of Cairo which is close to the Pyramids.  I found that staying in the apartment let me find out so much more about what Cairo culture and life is like, than staying in a hotel.  I used to love to sit and look out the window  with my coffee, for hours, and just watch the street.

There are also wonderful hotels to stay in while in Cairo.  My favorite, because it has that small, cozy antique atmosphere about it, (and because this is a travel website for those who prefer non-luxury travel) is the Hotel Victoria, which has been there since the 1920’s and is located near the Khan el Khalili Souq.

Sitting at our café, we watch the lighted towers of El Azhar Mosque as darkness falls

Sitting at our café, we watch the lighted towers of El Azhar Mosque as darkness falls

One difference this summer was that Leyla was advised by Ahmed to be careful what she wrote online about the Egyptian government and any of its actions. He told her that “everyone is being more careful about open criticism.”

In general conversations with Egyptians, Leyla doesn’t remember hearing anything negative about the current government and how it’s handling social and economic issues.  She told me, “I got the sense that everyone I talked with supports El Sissi in how he is approaching the problems caused by the Brotherhood, e.g. demonstrations that disrupt neighborhoods, traffic, etc. and how he is approaching making economic progress.  All who I talked with are optimistic about the future but expect it to be a long haul before Egypt prospers again.”

emceeAs true lovers of Egyptian music,  one of our favorite times in Cairo is going to the Cafe Darwiish on Friday evenings, to hear the fantastic musicians and singers there. I was so glad that Leyla reports that this experience was the same as always: the music “started right after the evening prayer as usual, same musicians and singers.  It went on until after 1 a.m.  Most of the usual crowd was in attendance.” She said that   Sa3id, the owner of the cafe, “was his usual micro-managing self.”

She said that walking around through the streets of Cairo with Ahmed, she saw no visible differences.

“In fact,” she said, “I saw quite a few younger women who were walking on the street with no veils or hijab (headscarves)”  There are still those who over their faces, but Ahmed said that is changing with more women showing their hair and faces.

A vendor, whom Leyla has known since he was a small boy, tries to charm her into buying a bracelet

A vendor, whom Leyla has known since he was a small boy, tries to charm her into buying a bracelet

Female tourists should be advised that “dresses are still worn long and pants are still not very tight.” Cairenes do not expect non-Muslim women to wear head-scarves (10% of Egyptians are Coptic Christians, and they do not always wear head scarves.)

(I would like to add that smiling at men you do not know, in Cairo, is just like saying, “I’m available”. It’s different if you are talking to a shopkeeper or someone you are doing business with, but it is not advised to be all friendly and smiley with men you pass on the street.)

Leyla went on to say that the Nile dinner cruises were operating pretty much as  usual, but with much smaller crowds. “Weddings and anniversaries are still being celebrated, most with dancers and live music, plus DJs.  During Ramadan, families still celebrated iftar (the breaking of the all-day fast) every night either with their own households or visiting other family members.  Those evenings probably were not as elaborate for many people, especially those who are unemployed because of the economy and the low level tourism.

After lunch at an outdoor restaurant on the road to Sakkara, Leyla rides a camel

After lunch at an outdoor restaurant on the road to Sakkara, Leyla rides a camel

She said that driving through the infamous Cairo traffic is “every bit as bad as it’s been, with a new addition in some areas, the “tuk-tuks”.  Leyla wrote me, “I think you remember the tuktuks that plied the narrow back streets near Ahmed’s building.  They were not allowed on the main streets like Faisal and Haram.  Now the tuktuk drivers have multiplied like rabbits and they are driving every which way on all the streets, including the busy ones like Faisal.  By every which way, I mean they drive in the direction they want to, not what most of the cars are doing – a REAL hazard!!!  they ignore the ‘rule’ that they don’t belong on the main streets.  As people are saying, many people think that having more freedom means they can do whatever they want to do regardless of how it might affect other people.”

View from the balcony of Leyla's Giza apartment, of the colorful vegetable shop below

View from the balcony of Leyla’s Giza apartment, of the colorful vegetable shop below

I asked Leyla if she saw demonstrations or other obvious signs of unrest.  She said that she did not see any demonstrations, but that was only because Ahmed and his son Karim found out where the demonstrations were that day, and made sure that they did not take her in that area.  This is one of the main reasons that she strongly recommends that foreign travelers, in these times, hire a guide or travel with a group.  The professional guides know the area and can make sure that the visitor does not inadvertently find themselves in an uncomfortable situation.

  I asked her if the police were acting differently than they did before the Arab spring and Morsi’s presidency. She told me, “My impression from both what I saw and what Egyptians told me, is that the police are getting more organized and getting more control of things like traffic and demonstrations, quickly preventing them or cordoning the areas off so people don’t inadvertently wander into them.  There are more police and they seem to be more effective these days.

       So, in conclusion, do go ahead and visit Egypt at this time!  But because of the current situation, hire a recommended guide, or go with an organized group.

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-

Still had planned to add Ahmed’s contact info, and also a list of my 10 favorite Cairo sites

 

 

Grace’s Packing List

Of course you will adjust to suit your own style and personality.  I can fit all of this into a 20 inch carry-on, though in winter trips, I admit to wearing a lot of heavy clothes on the plane in order to do so. 

Some of the items have an asterisk* (or two **, or three ***) after them: these are items that may need some explanation. Below the list, I will give an explanation for these items.

(In parentheses: items which are needed for some trips, for special reasons)

For temperate or hot weather trips: List “A” and “C”

For cold weather trips: List “B” and “C”

(In parentheses: specialty items which are needed for some trips but not for others)

1. Inside My Carry-On Bag :

A. Clothes for Temperate Weather

__long skirt or pants
__underskirt with secret pocket,
or under-clothes wallet

B. Cold Weather Clothes (What I took to Prague in December)

__1 pair winter pants
__long underwear pant
__extra long underwear pant
__change of heavy wool socks
__ear warmer and scarf
__warm knitted hat
__rag wool mittens from LL Bean

C. Clothes for Either Hot or Cold Weather

__2 to 4 tee shirts
__2 sets underwear
__2 to 4 pair socks
__long tunic top
__dressy top for dressy evenings
__(belt)
__scarf or scarves
__(underskirt with secret pocket, sometimes I use this
in place of an under-clothes wallet)

D. Small Items (optional items for certain trips are in parentheses)
__(change of jewelry in pouch)
__zip-loc bag with first aid items
___immodium AD
___Gatorade or Pediolyte
___bandaids
___Neosporin
__toilette articles bag with non-liquid items you need, such as
___Q-tips
___non-liquid deoderant
___toothbrush
___Nivea skin cream
___nail clippers
___nail file
__spare sunglasses*
__earplugs, the kind that you stuff into your
ear and the shape adjusts
__medications in Sunday-Saturday strip container
(or in original containers if tour leader says so)
__coil for heating water in hotel room
__electric outlet converter if necessary for the destination
__spoon for stirring instant coffee
__(belt)
__(packets of instant cappuchino mix for the AM)
__(pantihose for dressy evenings)
__sandals (I take “slides”, for dressy evenings or bathroom trips
__2 sun hats, fitting inside each other*
__small spray bottle**
__a couple of plastic bags for dirty laundry
__extra bag to check purchased items on return trip
__(cloth bag or string bag, for carrying around water bottle, guidebook
jacket and/or raincoat during day
__two light weight hangers
__travel alarm
__two bungee cords in outside pocket of bag
__small luggage strap for securing items to bag (such as neck pillow)
__house key for when you return home
__liquids bag in outside pocket of suitcase, with
___(liquid makeup)
___small shampoo***
___(conditioner) ***
___ _________________(other liquids you use).
___neck pillow
___reading matter
___phone charger
___phrase book
___guidebook(s)
___TP in small bags for iffy toilets
___any necessary paperwork for trip,
___ travel insurance papers
___ extra copies of passport photos
___copy of first page of passport****
__13-gallon plastic garbage bag (to surround entire
contents of your bag, invaluable if you must walk
in drenching rain)*****
__(guitar tuner, picks)
__(small tambourine)

2. In Under-Seat Carry-On

__wallet with daily $ and one of two cards
__(make-up bag if you use make-up)
__phone
__pens
__small notebook for daily notes
__jacket
__fleece vest
__raincoat
__small laptop or _________
__sunglasses
__comb
__scarf if traveling in Muslim countries

3. Clothes to Wear

__long pants or skirt
__T-shirt__long tunic
__ under-clothes wallet with cash and documents you do not need right then
(or, in my case, sometimes a special underskirt which includes a secret pocket)
__I use one of those hanging from the neck things, to wear on plane,
with itinerary, passport
(once you’ve landed, these go in your secret under-clothes
pocket!!!)
__camera

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-

Explanations of Asterisked Items:

* I had a basal-cell skin cancer taken out of my nose, so sunglasses and a hat are “de rigeur” for me.Thus I always bring spare sunglasses and a spare hat, as losing either one of these items could make my trip miserable, and you can’t always buy the type I like at any old store along the way.

**a small spray bottle can be filled with water in the hotel room. Spraying wrinkled clothes,
shaking them out, and hanging them up overnight, can leave even cotton clothes wrinkle-free.
This is a tip my daughter shared with me.

***small hotels do not always provide shampoo and conditioners, hostels rarely

****tour leaders have informed me that a copy of the first page of your passport will expedite things if yours is stolen and you must go to the US Embassy for a 2nd one

*****you can either cut a slit in the garbage bag to fit over the extended pull-handle of your wheeled bag (taking some small clips to keep the rain from getting in the slit) or you can wrap the entire contents of your bag in the garbage bag inside your bag. I have added this item to my packing list ever since I arrived at my destination with all of my clothes half-wet. Those carry-on bags are water-resistant, but I found out that they are not water-proof!

Last but not least, here’s an easy way to use your own pack list:

1. First I copy it to notepad and save it on my hard-drive

2. As I pack, I go down the list and put an x in front of each item as I pack it. Things that I can’t pack until the last minute get jotted on a “short list” for the last minute.

3. Then I click the “x” and a window comes up asking if you want to save changes. Click “no” and all the “x” marks disappear, ready for the next time you want to pack!

(Every time I change hotels, I always use the list when packing then as well, having lost too many things when I just used the “look around the room before you go” method.

 

 

Rip-offs I Have Known

We had ridden trolleys in Quito several times, and they were always rather harrowing, jammed in and always conscious of our bags, but also pleasant, helpful people and wonderful opportunities to practice our Spanish. Over and over, people whom we talked to on the trolley would use that little “finger to outside corner of eye” gesture to warn us to watch out for thieves. I took their advice seriously, but when I did get ripped off, I don’t believe there is any way I could have stopped it from happening.

It was our last evening in Quito, we had spent the day in the newer part of town at a wonder crafts market, and we were trying to get back to the old town at rush hour, and this turned out to be a difficult experience.

It was the end of a fascinating week of independent travel in Ecuador with my sister-in-law. She had booked us into a hotel in a centuries’ old building, where the staff spoke virtually no English. We had had much practice with our Spanish, and many fun encounters with the hotel staff and with the other guests, many of whom were from Venezuela and Argentina.

Now, at rush hour, the always-crowded trolleys were so jam-packed with people that I just said I couldn’t do it, and we went back to the corner to try to hail a cab. But when over and over the cabs sped by, back seats full of passengers, we decided to give the trolleys another try.  Finally one came that was full, but not jam-packed, and with relief we stuck our coins in the little turnstyle and got on.  Kathy enjoined me to zip my jacket over my bag and my camera, and I did zip my camera under my jacket.

Our alarm increased as more passengers pressed in at every stop.  The passengers already aboard were pleading desperately with the new people not to get on, “Por favor, senor, no!” The pressure from people all around me was so great that my left hand grabbing on to the bar above was in great pain. I couldn’t hold on with two hands because my right arm was clenched over my purse, zipper end where I could see it if I looked down. When the trolley went around a corner, the centrifical force caused the whole crowd to lean against me, and I cried out in pain. (Later I thought that possibly the thief’s accomplices might have leaned against me on purpose, hoping to get me to lose my balance, as Kathy did not feel such pressure against her.)

Finally it was our stop, and we pushed through the crammed-in crowd and emerged gratefully onto the sidewalk across from our lovely little hotel.  I realized that the claustrophobic ride had left me seriously shaky. I just didn’t think I could face the
people in the hotel lobby, who were always so friendly and chatty.  I told Kathy that I needed to go to that nearby coffee house we liked, and just sit for a while.  She was all sympathy, said of course she’d go there with me, and suggested that on the way she would stop and get me the camera batteries I’d been saying I needed.

I was standing in the door of the little shop when I reached down and realized that my purse was soft and empty. Panicking, I yanked it up to where I could see it better, and saw that the side seam had been neatly sliced open.

“Kathy,” I said in a toneless voice, “They got my computer and my wallet.” I walked beside her, in shock, and she got us two cappuchinos. Suddenly I thought of my passport, and jammed my hand down to my hip, where I felt the comforting lump of my passport, my bank cards, and my extra cash.

“Good Old Rick Steves!” I shouted aloud.  Wearing all one’s crucial items hidden under one’s clothes was what he always advised.

The little Acer laptop was old, after all, and had been “backed up” before the trip. My camera was fine, because at Kathy’s last-minute suggestion before we boarded the trolly, I’d zipped it up in my jacket. And all that had been left in my wallet after our day of folk craft market shopping was a ten dollar bill!

She felt that I would have been better off to zip both items under my jacket, but I myself think that the resulting huge lump might have caused those skillful thieves to slice open the jacket. I’ll never know. What I do know is that the people were so jammed in around me that I would not have been able to stop the thief even if I was watching him or her in the act.  And if I had tried to stop the theft, I might have had my hand or arm cut by the knife they used to slice the purse.

An important point: this purse was touted as being made of slash-resistant material.  The thieves seemed to know this because they sliced neatly along the side seam. This “slash-resistant” bag was not sewn with slash-resistant thread….

When telling this story, friends would immediately deduce that Ecuador is a dangerous place to travel. However, just that year, Kathy had had her own computer stolen from her car in Oakland, California (they broke the class of the car window) and also had had valuable furniture stolen when thieves broke in to her late father’s home in a “nice area” of Berkeley.

The amazing skill of practiced thieves was also demonstrated on a trip to Spain.  In the lovely little hill town of Rondo, about ten of our group were leaning over the stone wall, admiring the way the little stone buildings perched along the cliffs on either side of the deep ravine of the river. One of our group suddenly said, those people just opened all of our backpacks!  We had not felt a thing!  We all looked to the left, at the retreating backs of a well-dressed young couple pushing a baby stroller, who had just passed behind us. Luckily, none of us had anything valuable in our back packs.

We had a couple of hours to explore the little town before our bus left to go back down to the coast. But one of our group, Karen, a nurse, was so angry about the attempted rip-off, that she stood on that bridge for those two hours just to watch that the skillful thieves did not try the same thing on other tourists.

“Time and time again,” she said, “The couple with the baby stroller would approach the bridge, see me standing there watching them from the other side, and turn around and leave.”

On that same trip, one of the group had her purse stolen in the breakfast room of the hotel we were staying in! She left her bag on the chair next to her as she went to the breakfast buffet, and when she returned it was gone.  Our Spanish guide said that some people book a hotel room, and pay for it by just such a theft. This incident made a big impression on me, because I had naively thought of the hotel as a “safe zone”, where I could let down my guard.

Her passport and wallet with her cards were in the purse, not under her clothes. She and her husband had to stay in Seville an extra day, which they spent at the US Embassy. They then had to take a train on their own to meet us in the next city.

Many travelers swear by the use of a fanny pack, worn facing forwards. Even some of those who comment on the Traveler’s Help Line on the Rick Steves website, pooh pooh Rick’s advice to keep all important papers and cards hidden under one’s clothes.  A theft which took place in Athens demonstrates that Rick is right about this one.

The three women in our group were from Mercer Island, an affluent part of Seattle, and were shopping at a jewelry store near the Acropolis. They were telling the woman behind the counter that they wanted to go to a certain museum. She advised them to take the subway, that it was much the easiest way to go. Later, they wondered if she didn’t signal someone to follow them….

On the subway, there was a bit of a commotion as a young man fell into them as the car swerved around a corner. He apologized profusely, smiles all around….and it wasn’t until the three women got back to the hotel that one of them realized that her fanny pack had been unzipped, emptied, and zipped up again without her feeling a thing.  The young man falling into them was probably the diversion which allowed another to perform the act without her noticing.

The victim immediately called her bank and had the cards “stopped” before any funds were withdrawn. Her passport was back at the hotel in the room safe, so that was all right, and she had not had much cash in her bag.

On a trip to Italy, my roommate was the victim of a ATM machine scam. This lady was the Chief Economic Officer of a small Seattle company, a pleasant, sensible woman and the furthest thing from a fool. She had noticed, when she’d put her card in an ATM machine that day, that the machine held on to the card for longer than she’d expected.  A passer-by suggested, “Just try again,” and this time the card came out (to her great relief), and so did her cash.

The following day, her card did not work at the ATM machine she tried. She went into a bank, and they found that the card was not valid!

That evening in the hotel room, she waited until 11:00 PM Italian time, which was her bank’s opening hour in Seattle. She was speaking with a bank official, and I suddenly hear her say, “Bangcok?!!!” There had already been four withdrawals from her card, in Bangcok!

She had brought another card with her, a credit card, but had never activated it.  She was able to do this over the phone, in about a half hour.

Apparently there are some ATM machines which have had a false front put on them, and this contraption was able to copy her card information before returning the card.

Her experience demonstrates the truth of another Rick Steves “instruction”, to always bring two bank cards with you. I myself do not use credit cards, so after I saw what happened to her, I opened a second checking account and put some cash in both accounts before I travel. Never do I have both cards out of my under-clothes wallet at the same time.

And if you don’t remember your password for your bank account, bring it with you.  There was some trouble with my card (not a rip-off, just Cairo bank problems, even though I had told my bank that I would be in Egypt). I couldn’t remember my bank account password, and I had to call my husband and have him go into the bank in person, before the problem was straightened out and I could use my card.

The only other attempted theft I remember was also in Spain, where a cute, charming young girl came up to an older man in our group who was looking at their city map of Madrid, offering to help him.  He guessed that her hand was under the map, coming toward his wallet, and slammed his free hand hard down on the map, knocking her hand away! He re-told this story with great pleasure that night at dinner.

My husband refuses to keep anything under his clothes, insisting that is passport is safe in his front shirt pocket. This drives me crazy, because these practiced thieves are as skillful at slight-of-hand as a professional magician.

It’s true that it’s often quite an inconvenience to have one’s passport hidden and hard to get to. In Ecuador, for instance, as foreigners we had to show our passports just to buy long-distance bus tickets.  It was irritating to go into the restroom and remove the document, then go back in the restroom to put it back in the hidden wallet.  But the Ecuador trolly theft I describe above
made me realize that the extra hassle was so worth the trouble!

Well, thanks to you for taking the trouble to read this!  If I haven’t convinced you that Rick Steves’ safety suggestions are worth listening to, then at least I’ve tried as hard as I am able to! He says in his guidebooks that each time he gets ripped off he is happy, because it makes him better able at stopping the same thing happening to his readers!

Happy traveling, and I wish you great travels with no problems!

Bedbugs! And How to Make Sure They Don’t Come Home With You!

A couple of years ago I was scheduled to go visit a friend in another city. About a month before the planned visit, she e-mailed me that they had found evidence of bedbugs in their home. They had made great efforts to rid their home of the pests, but as they were not sure how the bedbugs had “got in” in the first place, they could not absolutely guarantee that their home would be pest-free during my visit.
 
At first, I admit I was horrified. But then I started noticing that in recent travel catalogs there was a plethora of merchandise offered which claimed to protect against bedbugs. Suddenly, the little critters seemed to be a world-wide epidemic. I decided not to miss a longed-for visit with my friend. These days, anyone who travels runs the risk of a “close encounter of the un-wanted kind” with these little sucking crawlies who can’t live without human blood.

Well, I found out that bedbugs, like head lice, are as happy to live in a clean environment, and feed on clean people, as they are to live in a filthy flophouse and feed on bums!

However, the good news is that bedbugs are easier to get rid of than head lice. They cannot survive 115 degree heat (and you can get them out of clothes by washing and drying on hot) and they won’t stick to your hair like lice nits do….shampooing washes them out.
 
My friend had researched everything she could about the little pests. The first day I got there, she gave me a very large ziploc bag, and I put everything into it that I would not absolutely need while I stayed with her, and sealed the bag. (This included a rain-poncho, papers, etc.)
 
During my visit, I did not get bitten at all that I could tell; it may have been because I was sleeping in a bed with a metal frame and the legs were set in small dishes of borax. But while I was staying with her, she did some evidence of bites on one of her children, proof that her place still was not cleared of them. So, the last day I was at her place, I set aside several hours to go through everything I’d brought with me and make absolutely sure it was pest free before I went home.
 
  1. My shoes and my luggage, and almost all items except clothes, I took outside to her patio, and sprayed thoroughly with rubbing alcohol, using a large spray bottle she had filled with the stuff, letting them dry in the sun.
  2. I changed into a light dress and washed all my other clothes in hot water and dried them on high heat (bedbugs or their eggs cannot survive above 110 degrees, my friend had told me) (the U.S. Gov’t says 115degrees).
  3. I took the clothes out of the drier and put the items I would be wearing in a zip-loc bag, and carried other clean laundry out to my carry-on (which had been sprayed with the rubbing alcohol, dried in the sun, and was still out on her patio.)
  4. I then showered and shampooed my hair, and dried off and dressed while still standing in the shower, including my shoes which had been sprayed with rubbing alcohol and dried in the sun.
  5. Items which couldn’t be sprayed and washed, such as my laptop, she took to work with her and left them in her car in the sun, which because it was summer would heat up to more than 115 degrees. (A friend says that one can also put a laptop in the freezer and that this kills bedbugs and any eggs).
  6. Lastly, there were a few small items which I had not “bedbug-proofed” including a small notebook, a necklace I’d bought, and the light dress I’d worn while I washed my other clothes. I put these in a clean zip-loc bag carefully sealed, and packed them, but did not allow myself to open that zip-loc bag until two months after I’d come home, way past the life cycle of a bed-bug.
  7. After I’d packed everything on her back patio, I carried my carry-on through her house and into the car without setting it down on anything. I did not sit down at all after changing into the clean clothes and my rubbing alcohol-sprayed shoes. And I did not bring home any bedbugs!
 
To summarize: wash and dry your laundry on hot, spray other items thoroughly with rubbing alcohol, or if you are able to, leave them in a car in the sun if it’s a hot day or you can put them in the freezer). Small items can be sealed in a ziploc bag for six months, by which time all live eggs or bugs will have died .
 
If you are staying at a hotel it would be difficult to do everything as I did, but if you have a back yard or a patio, you could treat everything before you brought it into your house once you get home, putting your laundry into a large shopping bag getting it into a hot cycle of the washing machine (or laundromat) before it comes into contact with any of your furniture or carpets. Spray the non-washables down with rubbing alcohol before you bring them into the house. In hot weather, leaving some of the items in a closed car for a few hours will kill any bedbugs, eggs, or larvae. And small items which you will not need for a while can be sealed in a zip-loc bag and not opened for a couple of months.

A fact about bedbugs which I did not know is that some people can be bitten without showing any signs of it. Others react to the bites and the evidence can be seen on their skin.
 
I recommend that you check out www.epa.gov/bedbugs. Also, if you Google bedbugs, you can find some interesting articles by people who have had personal experiences with getting rid of the little critters.

So, as the old saying says, “Sleep tight and don’t let the bedbugs bite!”