Quirky Travel Tips


A selfie with the open-top of the dome over the German Bundestag in Berlin. If you’re going to Berlin, don’t miss it. Also, make reservations, they and the visit are free.

Phone and Tablet dependence

First, I need to admit that I am dependent on my phone and tablet.  They let me be a cyborg in terms of finding important information, taking pictures, communicating, and keeping up with useless trivia. On the more serious side, my only camera is my phone’s camera, so I really do need it charged and ready to go in the morning.

The extension cord

I now travel with a 10-foot extension cord with three outlets on the end.  Why? It all started in Europe when I had three of my five Euro plug adapters fail, break, or get lost.  I was on the verge of not being able to charge my devices!  I made it through the trip but needed a better solution than taking 30 plug adapters every trip.

Somewhere I read of someone who used one plug adapter to plug in the extension cord, which then allowed multiple devices to connect with their standard US-style plugs. The charging devices do not draw very much electricity. An adapter draws .3-.5 amp each (as a comparison one 100-watt bulb draws .9 amps), so it is safe to connect two or three to one cord.  The length also gives me flexibility to have the device where I want regardless of where the outlet is located.

Now I carry one everywhere I travel, even in the US, just for the flexibility.  Definitely consider one for your trips to areas with different plugs.  I still carry five plug adapters and three chargers, just in case.

The compact phone battery pack

I was in a seminar (on life insurance!) at work and won a battery pack.  Embarrassingly enough, I didn’t know what it was at first, as it was a promo item and didn’t come with instructions. Once I figured it out, it is great.  It’s about 2.25”x 3.25” x 3/8” and weighs maybe an ounce.  It has a built-in cord and connector for a non-iPhone and, even better for me, an adapter for that cord to charge an iPhone.

The fully charged battery pack will fully recharge my iPhone once in about an hour. That’s important, because a morning of taking pictures in a museum can drain my battery. I can charge it in my pocket, or hold the battery and phone together if needed – it’s that compact and light.

You can see one like it on Amazon here.

The Chip with PIN Card

All credit cards now have chips, so they are much more secure when using the card payment devices. Most US-based cards are chip and signature, which works fairly well in Europe, but far from perfectly.  Most of the time when I charge something, the person helping us hands over a bill to sign and we’re on our way.  We’re also likely among the few in the store that don’t use a PIN. Full disclosure – I was likely using a card with a 1.5% rebate to get the rebate rather than paying cash.

We pretty exclusively use public transportation when traveling and I have found that automated ticket terminals almost exclusively require a chip and PIN card.  I have also been in a very few stores that only support chip and PIN. I have one card with a PIN that I use for these and it’s worked great.  If I could find another with no-fee, I might get one as a backup.

Would you like to pay in dollars?

It’s fairly easy for European waiters/waitresses to identify US tourists. You might find that they kindly offer to let you charge your food bill in dollars, which makes it easy to instantly know your cost as opposed to multiplying Euros by 1.1247 in your head (or on the calculator on your phone).

Don’t take advantage of their offer.  If you do, you’ll get their credit card processor’s exchange rate (and they will get a cut) which will be much less advantageous then your credit card company’s rate.

Share, please.

Please share your travel tips in the comments!

Actions you can take include:

If you have not seen the “Why you should read this blog…WIIFY” post, it’s here.

Questions, comments, or suggestions for retirement surprise areas you want to know more about?
-Leave a comment
-Use ‘Contact’, above, to send an email.

Why not make money on your groceries?

First, Happy Bastille Day, here’s Raoul Dufy’s 1905 ‘July 14th at Le Havre’ (Fridart Foundation):

Dufy cropped

Why pay more if you don’t have to?

A friend of mine is travelling in Europe.  Before he left, we were discussing using credit cards while travelling. As it turns out, he has credit cards that charge foreign transaction fees.  Ouch, that’s pay to pay.  Not only that but the credit cards gave him zero cash back.   Let’s examine how to avoid that retirement (or pre-retirement) bad surprise and even turn it to our advantage.

As a retiree, you’ll want to stay within your budget and as a pre-retiree, who can still get raises, you’ll want to increase your retirement savings. Properly used, credit cards may be able to help with that by:
-paying you cash back when you make purchases
-not charging you foreign transaction fees when you travel
-providing other benefits like extended product warranties, travel emergency assistance, and your FICO score.

Not for credit card souvenir purchases – a gold marten head (Northern Italy, 1500’s) from the Musee de Cluny in Paris:

Early Famous Dave's.

Examine your credit

First, examine your credit.  Do you pay off your balance in full monthly?  Do you at least pay off all new charges in full monthly?  If yes, you’re a candidate for credit cards to pay you.  (If not, please Google techniques to pay off credit cards so you can avoid paying the bank before yourself.)

Check out your cards

Sign on to your card website(s) and look at your cards’ benefits. Are there fees that you are paying that you should not be – annual fee, foreign transaction fees?  Are you getting cash back for purchases?  If you’re paying fees or not getting cash back, it’s time to examine your cards, unless you really love the credit card issuer and want them to make more money.  Legitimately, you may have an affinity card (Friends of the Siamese Cat Foundation! spot cropped ) that has costs and they benefit – no problem as long as you have made an informed decision.

Does your card help you by providing:

  • cash back
  • no fees
  • product warranties
  • travel assistance
  • chip/chip and pin?

Look for card advantages

Cash back can be a big one. Capital One is 1.5% on everything.  Costco Visa gives 4% on gas, 3% on restaurants and travel (travel when purchased through their agency), 2% at Costco (makes that hotdog and pop $1.47 instead of $1.50!), and 1% on everything else.  Amazon Visa is 5% on Amazon purchases, 2% on gas, restaurants and drugstores, and 1% on everything else.  Discover has 1% on everything, but 5% on quarterly specials. USAA Visa has a chip/pin combo which can be helpful when traveling in Europe.

None of the above have foreign transaction fees.  Interesting fact, I ordered some delicious essential Waitrose sugar-free bitter lemon juice for Mrs. NoSurprisesRetirement from the British Corner Shop , used the wrong card and ended up with a foreign transaction fee. Ouch – that card is now gone.

The cards? You can’t handle the cards. (A play on An Officer and a Gentleman)

What can you handle? An extreme carder (is there such a word as carder?) would have:

  • Amazon card for 5% at Amazon and 2% at drugstores
  • Discover card for the 5% quarterly cash back special
  • Costco card for 4% on gas (anywhere!), 3% at restaurants, 2% at Costco
  • CapitalOne for 1.5% on anything not on the above
  • USAA for the chip/pin combo.

What’s in your wallet?

You’re probably not an extreme carder, so figure out what is most important to you and get cards that pay you for using them.  Even if you just had one paying you back 1% and not charging foreign transaction fees, that’s a win.  Remember, perfection is the enemy of the good.

Be careful

Even if you have cards with benefits, please do not get carried away. Stay within the budget, pay the balance off monthly, and enjoy that percent.

Actions you can take include:
-Review your budget and make sure you’re either not paying interest on credit cards every month or you have a plan to get to not paying interest.
-Examine your cards and see if you are getting benefits or paying fees that you don’t need to pay.
-Determine how much of a ‘carder’ you want to be and obtain cards to optimize your  percents back and no fees.  Cancel cards you will no longer use.
-Use the card website to check your FICO credit score monthly.

And if you have not seen the “Why you should read this blog…WIIFY” post, it’s here

Questions, comments, or suggestions for retirement surprise areas you want to know more about?
-Leave a comment
-Use ‘Contact’, above, to send an email.