Phones

Travel in Europe

Getting to Europe is easy but can be expensive for most of us. See my tips on cheaper airfares. Once there, you need to move around between countries, between cities in a country and around a city. There are many ways to do this including:

  • Airplanes
  • Trains
  • Metro (Subway)
  • Ferries
  • Funicular
  • Boats
  • Trams
  • Cars
  • Car Services for hire)
  • Motorcycles or Vespas
  • Tour Busses (Hop on Hop Off)
  • Walking

Watch the YouTube video below for ideas on using these modes of transportation:

 

– Ciao
– George

Categories: Airplanes, Amalfi Coast, BLOG, Boats, cars, Driving in Italy, Europe, Ferries, Funicular, General Travel, Italy, Italy BLOGs, Madrid, Metro Travel, Phones, Seville, Smart Phones, Spain, Trains, trams, Travel Guides, Traveling without a tour, Valporetti, Vaporetto, Venice, VLOG, Walking, Water Taxi, YouTube | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How can I survive without a Tour?

English: icon for smartphone (smart phone) rel...

English: icon for smartphone (smart phone) related content (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

YES, YES, YES!!!! You really can survive very well without a large formal tour. Huge bus tours stop at restaurants that make food for a large number of people quickly. This is not the Italian way. They also can not get you into small mountain towns. The roads are to steep and narrow.

We are firm believers of not taking tours in Europe. Many people say to me that they need a tour for one or more of the following reasons:

  1. Hard to plan and I am not a planner – Planning today with the internet and smart phones is easy. GPS will prevent you from getting lost.
  2. I might miss something important – There are great guide books and Apps that will tell you about the top 10-20 things in a city. You can not miss anything important. They will also guide you through museums, castles and churches.
  3. I don’t speak the language – Large modern cities have many people that cater to tourists and can speak some English. When you speak, speak slowly and use basic English like you where talking to a child. Learn the basics like Hello, Good morning, please, thank you and how much is it.
  4. I might get lost – As we said use a GPS App on your smart phone to get you around. If you don’t have one, rent one.
  5. I am afraid to find my way around – This is pure fear … FIGHT IT! You can get around and you will find great things to see, great restaurants to eat at and meet very friendly people.

We help plan trips abroad without tours. There are so many forms of information on the internet today about travel. You have to be aware some are peoples opinions that are not the same as yours. This is true of formal tours as well. They may go to places you don’t care about. They most certainly will go to tourist places to eat (and get kick backs from these places) which are NOT the best food in these countries. Our rules are:

  1. Don’t eat at tourist restaurants or near tourist attractions. The food is for tourists not locals. Get out with the locals and go to their restaurants. You will be amazed at how good the food is.
  2. Number 1 & 2 above – trips are not hard to plan. Buy a tour book at Amazon or Barnes & Noble. These books show top attractions and top things inside these attractions. You really can not miss anything important. With a map or a smart phone, you can layout where all of the attractions you want to see are. How far apart they are. You can plan what you can do each day. Next decide if you will walk, take a taxi or public transportation. Taxi drivers speak enough english to get by. Buses and Metros are easy to find and travel on. In big cities there usually is a metro stop near every major attraction. There are smart phone apps that determine where you are (GPS) and tell you where nearest metro stop is. They even guide you as you walk. Once at the metro they tell you what train to get on, which direction to go, how many stops to yours and the name of your stop. Once off the train they once again guide your walk to your attraction.
  3. Number 3 above – English is the universal language, French speak english in Italy, Japanese speak English throughout Europe. Most big cities have people who know enough English to help you. Attractions hire people who speak english as well. We like to learn some words in the country’s language we am visiting. They feel good when we try to speak their language.
  4. Number 4 & 5 above – You really can’t get lost with a good map or better yet a smart phone. Smart phones are getting cheaper each year. Plans for foreign use are cheaper than ever and at least one company is offering free foreign usage. You really need a data plan so you can use the internet. Many apps require communication with a server on the net. Map apps show you where you are and how to get to another destination like your hotel or the next attraction you want to visit. You never have to be afraid of getting around again.
  5. Be polite and kind to other people you encounter. You are their guests. They are NOT your servants. If you are friendly and nice most people will return the same to you.
  6. Exchange your money at banks not airports! Check rates they vary a lot. Use credit cards to get cash or purchase items. They charge a slightly higher exchange rate and most today do not charge extra foreign fees.

Most important is just relax and enjoy your adventure. Eat and enjoy the food, drink the wine, speak to the local people and see the sights. Take plenty of pictures and you will create a memory you will never forget. Most important be romantic, live like a European and enjoy yourself. You can do it!

George & Jo Anne

 

Categories: Cash, Europe, Exchange Rates, Food, General Travel, GPS, Money, Mountain Towns, Museums, Phones, Romance, Small Towns, Smart Phones, Tour Groups | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

Smartphone Apps on Vacation

If you have a smart phone or are thinking of getting one and you are planning a trip to Europe, take it with you. We have an iPhone 6 Plus’ and call AT&T before going. AT&T offers reduced call costs in Europe, a data plan for Europe and texting for a fee and it costs only $30/month. The phones work fine. We have had no problems at all. If you are at a hotel with WiFi, you don’t need a data plan and can text other iPhones for free using the WiFi. Some apps that are useful are:

  • Tom-Tom GPS – This is a great GPS program that doesn’t use Internet (unless you are looking up a place by name). We bought the Western Europe version for $50. We have had it since our iPhone 4s and we both share it for the one cost.
  • Airline Apps – Most airlines have apps to check-in, check on flights and book new reservations. They also usually work with the iPhones Passport. You can show your phone at check-in and security instead of paper.
  • My TSA – Is an app that has the latest TSA rules and regulations.
  • Metro App – This is a handy app that allows you to download subway maps from many of the world’s cities
  • Expedia, Orbitz, Trip Advisor, etc. – These apps give you access to hotels, cars and flights from anywhere in the world.
  • GateGuru – Shows gates at many large airports and what stores and restaurants are nearby.
  • Language Apps – These allow you to translate languages in either direction. This can be handy in a country that you don’t speak the language. There are also apps that allow you to take a picture from your camera or the Internet and translate the foreign text.
  • Vino Volo – If your airport has a Vino Volo, it is a great place to start your vacation. Have a glass of wine and something to eat. The app gets you free membership which gives free sampling.

If you get lost just use your map app and plug-in your hotel address (get a card as you leave your hotel). Make sure you have it set to walk not drive (unless you are driving) and get instructions back to your hotel. You can use this to find museums, monuments and gardens as well or just an interesting restaurant.

The subway apps are fantastic. We used the Paris Metro App to find the nearest metro stop to where we were and then to plot a course on the metro to where we wanted to go. It tells you which direction to take train, how many stops to go, which trains to switch to and your final stop. The map app can then pick up from the metro stop to your destination.

Your smart phone becomes your European guide-book but so much more powerful than any book could be. Many apps offer a guided tour through a museum or monument. Make sure you bring your headphones.

What did we do before smart phones? Paper maps were so hard to use!

George & Jo Anne

Categories: Car Rentals, Driving in Italy, Europe, General Travel, GPS, Hotels, Metro Travel, Museums, Phones, Smart Phones | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What is a good vacation in Italy

First and foremost DON’T try to see all of Italy on one trip unless you are there for a year! The single worst mistake a tourist makes is to try to see too much. The second biggest mistake they make is to join an organized tour group. The third mistake is people have funny feelings about bars.

Italy is good so more of Italy is better RIGHT? WRONG! If you haven’t been to Italy pick a large city to be your center of focus:

  • Venice – for the unusual city it is. The canals instead of roads. The food and the history.
  • Florence – for the museums and history. The Renaissance started here.
  • Rome – because there is no other city like it in the world. The history the architecture and the food.
  • Naples – because many Italian-Americans came from here. The food and the pizza.

These cities are all great in history, food, wine, architecture and people. Pick one and enjoy it. From there you can do small trips out to see smaller cities or sites like the Alps. All of these cities have airports but with the exception of Rome, you will have to make a connection somewhere in Europe.

Organized large tours are not fun. They feel safe for some and that is why most people join them. I hear excuses like: “I don’t speak the language”, “I will get lost”, “I might miss something import” or “Where will I stay”.

  • I don’t speak the language – If you learn simple phrases like Buon Giorno, Buona Notte, Grazie, Quanta costa, etc you will do fine. Most of Italy’s large cities have people who speak English to some degree especially in the tourist areas.
  • I will get lost – With todays smart phones and GPS you can’t get lost. Program in your hotel’s address so you can always get back. Look up each attraction you want to visit in a day and place addresses into the GPS. Now simply look at your map to determine where each is relative to the others. Pick your first attraction and go. Then the next and so on until you are done. Then select your hotel and return to it. For longer distances you can take a bus or subway. They are safe and fast. Your hotel can help you select the correct line and understand how to get a ticket (biglietto).
  • I might miss something important – There are many tour guide books at your local book store or online. Pick one that is for the city you have chosen (not a general Italy book). Some list top ten attractions and then top ten things to see at each attraction. You will see more than any organized large tour and you can spend as much or as little time at each place as you like. This is important since we are all different. You never know what will attract you until you are there.
  • Where will I stay – Hotels are everywhere! Go online and search for deals. Make sure you get one in the city near the attractions and not at the airport. Get one with a private bath. Size shouldn’t matter (at least with hotels). Hopefully you are there only to sleep. Get out and enjoy the city and the life within it.

Italian bars are NOT like American bars. They are not places to get drunk in (although you can). They are family places. In the morning you get your breakfast here (if it was not included in your room). Coffee and a sweet roll. At lunch you can get a panini (sandwich) or sometimes pasta and a soda, beer or wine. Most bars have gelato as well. In the evening you can have a cheap meal r sandwich and a glass of good wine. Italians do not believe in drinking without food. It is bad form. Happy hours serve drinks and small plates of food to be eaten along with your drink.

George & Jo Anne

 

Categories: Bars, Eating Italian, Europe, Gelato, General Travel, Italy, Museums, Phones, Regions of Italy, Tour Groups, Trains, Wine | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Using Your Smartphone in Europe

Phones have become a part of our daily lives. We rely on them for everything. I have an iPhone 5 and use AT&T cellular service. I was grandfathered into an unlimited data plan so they have me until that changes. When you go to Europe (or any place outside the USA) your plan no longer stands. If you have unlimited free calls, that is only in the USA. In Europe you will be charged for all calls made as well as incoming messages even if you don’t answer the call. If the phone is off or in airport mode, then the in coming messages are not charged unless you listen to them. Data is you ability to do internet searches, maps and run your various apps. Your home data plan does not include foreign data usage. You will be charged a hefty fee for the use of data. You can buy a phone plan that reduces the cost of calls. Only do this if you must make or receive calls for your work or an important personal matter at home. You can also buy a data plan. AT&T charges $30 for so many MB of data usage. This can easily be exceeded if you stream video or music or send pictures and videos to friends or Facebook. The experience can end up costing you a lot of money.

OK what to do? I keep my phone in airport mode all the time. If I am at a hotel I either get free wi-fi or I buy it (usually around $10/night). This is much cheaper than the data costs from your phone company. You can keep your phone in airport mode and still connect to wi-fi. There are no additional charges from your phone company. You can also go to a free wi-fi area (like a town, cafe or restaurant). Once you are on wi-fi you can get your email, check Facebook, etc. Avoid texting since that costs extra (except on apple texting to another iPhone – iMSG). Send emails and you can include all the pictures and videos you want. It’s free! I use a Tom Tom app for Europe when driving. It costs a one time $50. It is a great app that does not use the internet. I can keep my phone in airport mode and still get GPS directions. If you have to go off airport mode to make a call, Make sure you turn off data over cellular in your preferences. If not your apps could start using data.

Phones are important in Europe as is directions. If you get lost it is nice to find your way back to your hotel with a GPS app. Make sure you have it in walk mode. Get an app like Tom Tom that does not use the internet for directions. I usually save a favorite for my hotel so I can easily use it when needed. Happy travels!

George & Jo Anne

 

Categories: General Travel, GPS, Hotels, Phones | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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