Monday, October 17, 2016

Packing Tips and Tricks

by David & Charlotte McGuffin, Dawnielle Jacobson, Audra Dupuis and Natalie Kelly

Packing can sometimes be the worst part of a trip: spending too much time deciding what to take and then regretting bringing too much. Here are some packing tips, travel “hacks” and a few suggested packing lists to help you pack quickly and efficiently and get on with enjoying your trip.

My number one tip

Jim and Roberta - My best-ever packers
Pack light! I usually travel with one carry-on suitcase (9x14x20) and a small backpack (This may seem impossible, but all you have to do is follow the tips in this blog). On my group tours, everyone has to lug their bag around, over uneven cobblestone streets and up several flights of stairs. Don’t make yourself miserable by bringing an oversized bag. As an added bonus, bringing a carry-on means you can be sure that your bag will show up at your final destination. If your checked bag doesn’t make it on the plane, it may take several days for your bag to catch up with you, especially if you are on tour. Be sure to check with your airline for carry-on size restrictions and measure the bag yourself (wheels included).

If you’re worried about having room for souvenirs, consider packing a duffle or other foldable bag in your suitcase to check on the way home.


What type of clothing to pack for Europe

Bring comfortable clothing. There is no need to buy a new travel wardrobe. Make sure you have comfortable walking shoes that are travel tested.

Pack items that can be layered for varied climate. Sweaters or a light jacket should suffice, except for winter travel. Jeans, pants and skirts are fine; Europeans don’t wear shorts unless they’re at the beach or out doing exercise.  In the summer, I pack one pair of shorts that can do double duty for jogging/exercise and swimming and one pair of very lightweight cargo shorts.  I also bring a pair of jeans and a pair of lightweight wool slacks which are unbelievable cool, dressy and comfortable.

Bring shirts and blouses that can be mixed-and-matched so you can make multiple outfits out of a few staple items. For an extended stay, you can also wash items in your bathroom sink or go to a laundromat if needed.

Most European churches require respectful dress; knees and shoulders must be covered. Make sure you plan ahead for those days or bring a scarf or shawl to cover your arms.

Making it fit

Pick out your clothes, shoes and accessories for the trip. Then put a third of it back. Most people are over-packers. Put back the shoes that look nice, but are not warm or comfy. Put back that “just in case” outfit. All makeup should fit in one little sandwich baggie. Pick your favorite makeup look and only pack the stuff for that.

Most hotels have a hair dryer, but they usually are less powerful than what we are accustomed to at home, so you might consider bring a small travel-sized blow dryer.  Do yourself a favor and go out and purchase an inexpensive dual voltage (120/240 VAC) blow dryer from Target or Walmart.  These usually sell for less than $20.  An added bonus is you'll not need to voltage converter to use it, just a wall socket adapter.

Plan to wear the bulkiest items on the plane.  Wear your biggest pair of shoes, your thickest scarf, maybe a sweater, and your coat.  You can remove these items as soon as you board, but doing this will free up space in your bag.

Roll your clothes. This is a big space saver. If you are really pressed for space, you can even put your clothes in gallon Ziploc bags and push the air out as you seal them. Consider filling bags by outfit so your luggage is well organized and you don’t have to search for things.

Fill your shoes (and bras) with socks and underwear to use every available space.

Don’t wait until the last minute to pack. Give yourself time to make sure it all fits and that your bag won’t be too heavy for you.

A few more packing hacks

  • Put dryer bounce sheets in between your clothes to keep them smelling fresh
  • Pack the heaviest items in the bottom of your suitcase (by the wheels) so that it is easy to roll
  • Use a contact case to store liquid makeup, like foundation
  • Keep powder makeup from breaking by putting a cotton ball or pad in the compact
  • Use a pill case to separate jewelry
  • Put your shoes in a shower cap or plactic grocery bag to contain any dirt
  • Roll up your belt and put it in the collar of a dress shirt to keep the collar stiff
  • Use an old glasses case to store your chargers and/or headphones so they don’t get tangled
  • To prevent liquids from spilling, unscrew the lid, cover with a small piece of plastic wrap and then screw the lid back on
  • Use a large binder clip to cover your razor
  • Store cotton swabs in an old medicine bottle


Winter travel tips

If you are traveling in the winter, make sure you are prepared for the “worst” weather. You will probably encounter snow and ice. The sun reflects off the snow, so don’t forget the sunscreen and sunglasses. Bring warm socks and shoes and clothing you can layer. Wear your heavy winter coat on the plane and stow it in the overhead bin. This will save a lot of space in your suitcase.

My wife and I use the following packing lists for winter travel:

Charlotte’s Winter Packing List
  • One Heavy Winter Coat – hip length or longer;
  • Gloves;
  • Earmuffs;
  • Several scarves for fashion and warmth;
  • At least one hat;
  • Small travel umbrella;
  • Boots/shoes that are comfortable, well broken-in, and travel-tested;
  • Thermal socks;
  • Five pairs of pants and/or jeans;
  • Long-sleeved fashion tee shirts;
  • Sweaters and Turtleneck shirts;
  • “Cuddle-duds” (long underwear) from JC Penney;
  • Underwear and bras for the trip’s duration.


David’s Winter Packing List
  • Hip-length wool pea coat;
  • Gloves;
  • Earmuffs;
  • Several scarves for fashion and warmth;
  • At least one hat;
  • Small travel umbrella;
  • One pair waterproof Gortex boots that are comfortable, well broken-in, and travel-tested;
  • three pairs of light-weight, moisture-wicking socks;
  • two pairs of pants and/or jeans;
  • Four moisture-wicking long-sleeved tee shirts;
  • Four long-sleeved cotton button-down shirts;
  • Two lightweight cashmere sweaters;
  • Underwear for the trip’s duration;
  • One pair of lightweight silk “long-johns.”


Packing List

Here are some additional packing suggestions, which can be adjusted based on the time of year.

The Essentials
  • Passport (valid at least 6 months beyond the end of your tour)
  • Debit/Credit cards (inform providers of your travel dates)
  • Insurance cards (just in case)
  • Driver’s license (as an extra ID)
  • Photocopies of the above (in case they are lost or stolen)
  • Medications (enough to last through the tour)
  • Travel insurance documents
  • Moneybelt (to keep your important documents safe)

Clothing
  • Underwear/Socks
  • Leggings/Tights
  • Shoes (well broken-in)
  • Pants/Skirts
  • Shirts
  • Sweaters
  • Light jacket
  • Pajamas
  • Scarf
  • Bathing suit

Winter Clothing
  • Thermal socks/Underwear
  • Boots
  • Heavy winter coat
  • Long-sleeved shirts
  • Gloves
  • Earmuffs/Hat
  • Scarves

For the Outdoors
  • Umbrella/Raincoat
  • Sunglasses/Hat
  • Chapstick/Sunscreen

Toiletries
  • Makeup/Hair products
  • Soap/Shampoo/Conditioner
  • Toothbrush/Toothpaste
  • Deodorant
  • Brush/Comb
  • Additional items (Cotton swabs, nail clippers, tweezers, razor, hair ties, bandages, dental floss, etc.)

Other Items to Consider
  • Earplugs/Eye cover
  • Glasses/Contacts/Contact solution
  • Headache/Stomach ache/Motion sickness medication
  • Alarm/Watch
  • Camera/Memory cards/Charger
  • Batteries (and charger)
  • Phone/Charger
  • Tablet/E-reader/Charger
  • MP3 player/Charger
  • Adapter/Converter
  • Travel journal/Pens
  • Snacks for the plane
  • Foldable duffle/Tote bag (if you plan to buy many souvenirs)


Summary

Heavy bags = lots of stress!
With this information, I hope you are ready to grab that suitcase and start packing. Remember to pack light, bring appropriate attire for the location and the weather, don’t bring too much and use your space efficiently. I hope you find my packing lists useful.














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If you found this article informative, please share it with your friends, family, coworkers and associates. If you have something to add, just leave a comment in the box below.

Do you want to learn more about traveling to Europe? There is a wealth of information and special discount pricing on my tours at http://davidmcguffin.com/.

David McGuffin is Founder and CEO of David McGuffin’s Exploring Europe, Inc., based in Middleburg, Florida. You can connect with him on  Twitter,  Facebook,  Google+,  LinkedIn and YouTube. David spends his time in Europe organizing and leading small group and independent tours to European destinations. In business since 2001, David has provided exceptional travel opportunities to several thousand satisfied customers. You can find out more about David and his European tours at his website, http://davidmcguffin.com.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Hints on Tipping in Europe

In the United States, we’ve been raised on a tradition of tipping cabbies, hotel staff, bartenders, waiters and a variety of other service-oriented personnel.  Consequently, for Americans it seems normal to provide a tip or gratuity for good service.   When traveling in Europe tipping is not near as common as you might think and it certainly is not as lavish. While nothing about tipping is concrete, I hope these guidelines will relieve some stress and help you fit in like a local when traveling through Europe.

The information provided here is based on my extensive travels in Europe and my conversations with restaurant and hotel employees as well as local patrons. I’ve found a few generalities, which I’ll discuss first, and then I’ll dive into a country-by-country account.

Generalities

Europeans tend not to be as generous with their tips as we Americans.  In general, European restaurant servers are paid a salary and tips are considered a bonus on top of their wages. When pondering your tip, keep in mind a 5-10 percent tip is normal.  Only well-meaning or lavish-spending Americans leave a tip of 15-20 percent.  This is absolutely unnecessary and culturally inconsiderate.  Anywhere in Europe you’ll be safe by following the lead of Europeans and leaving a euro or two per person in your party.  In most cases the tip should be given directly to your server, not left on the table.  It is always a good idea to pay for your meal in cash as most Europeans do.  Paying with a credit card is common in some countries, but there is seldom an opportunity to add the tip to the final total.  If you are dining with a group, remember there is no such thing as “splitting the bill” whether it be with cash or credit card.  Please don’t be an arrogant American and try to push our customs on your server; it is rude.

If you take a taxi it is appropriate to round up the fare a euro or two as the cabbie’s tip.  Be prepared to pay the fare and tip in cash; there are no credit card machines in taxis.  

In hotels, it is appropriate to leave a hotel housekeeper one or two euros a day for their service and provide a euro or two for portage to your room.  It is not necessary to tip a doorman or anyone who hails a taxi.


Austria

It is customary give a 10%-15% tip at restaurants. Pay the tip in cash and hand it directly to the waiter when paying your bill.  There is a little trick to doing this in “Germanic” countries.  Let’s say the bill is €25 and you want to give a €5 tip.  Hand the waiter a €50 note and say, “30”.  The waiter will give you back 20 euros and keep 5 for himself.  You can walk away feeling like a local!

Croatia

Tipping is becoming popular in Croatia with the influx of mass tourism.  In a bar or sandwich shop, round up.  In restaurants with great service, leave 10%-15%.  Always give your tip to the waiter or waitress in the local currency.

If cruising on a private charter along the Croatia coast, plan to tip the captain and crew (collectively) about $50-$60 per person in your party.  If there is a cruise tour director, you should tip them about $12 a day per person.  This should be done in kunu (the local currency) or euros.

Czech Republic

Often a service charge is included in your bill.  If so, it will be clearly stated, usually in English.  Whether it is included or not you might consider giving an extra 5%-10% tip for good service.  Give your tip, in cash, directly to the waiter or waitress. 

France

Tipping in France is not common nor is it expected.  Those in the service industry are paid a salary and therefore do not count on tips as part of their income.  If service is exceptional, rounding up a euro or two is plenty. Restaurants and caf├ęs typically include a service charge in the price of your meal. It usually is noted on the menu as service compris and will not be a line item on your bill.  Some tourist restaurants do not include this (in hopes of getting a bigger tip from Americans).  This is noted on the menu as service non compris and in this case a 15% tip is ok.

Germany

It is customary give a 10%-15% tip at restaurants. Pay the tip in cash and hand it directly to the waiter when paying your bill.  There is a little trick to doing this in “Germanic” countries.  Let’s say the bill is €25 and you want to give a €5 tip.  Hand the waiter a €50 note and say, “30”.  The waiter will give you back 20 euros and keep 5 for himself.  You can walk away feeling like a local!

Greece

The general rule of thumb here is the more expensive the restaurant, the lower the tip.  If you dine in an inexpensive taverna and spend €20 or less per person, then tip 10%.  Anything over €20 per person, tip 5%.  

Ireland

The “old Irish people” never tip.  Tipping was never their custom and theirs was a hard life growing up in the mid-20th century.  You’ll find them counting their pennies to the tee. The younger Irish, those under 40 years old, usually tip when ordering food but seldom when just having a drink.
Pubs - If you are simply served a drink by the guy/gal behind the bar then no tip is expected.  In the countryside, if it is not busy and the bartender “chats you up”, then leave a 15% tip with each drink or at the end of your drinking session. If the bartender is the proprietor, then no gratuity is expected, however it does not hurt to offer to buy him/her a drink.
Restaurants and Pubs that serve food – A 15% tip is standard for good table service. Up to 20% if exceptional service and extra “chatting up.”

Italy

Most often you will find a cover charge and service charge included in the price on the menu.  This will be noted, usually at the bottom of the menu, by il coperto and servizio incluso. The cover charge usually includes tap water and bread on the table.  The two usually add up to 15%-20%, but you’ll never see that published anywhere.  It is considered a generous gesture to round up your bill by a euro or two for exceptional service. Occasionally, you may find servizio non incluso (service not included) at tourist restaurants. In this case a 10% tip, handed to your waiter or left on the table, is fine.

The Netherlands

Value Added Tax (VAT) is included in every bill in the Netherlands.  It is not necessary to tip a taxi driver, hotel, restaurant or anyone in the service industry.

Spain

Service is always included at every bar or restaurant in Spain.  A tip is not necessary.  However, it is acceptable to leave 5%-8% for exceptional service.  Give your tip directly to the waiter or waitress in euro cash.  Do not leave it on the table.

Switzerland

A service charge is automatically calculated into your bill at restaurants.  For great service, you can round up or tip 5%, but it is not expected.  Always give your tip directly to the waiter in Swiss Franc cash.

United Kingdom (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland)

You do not need to tip in pubs when ordering drinks or food at the bar. In restaurants, often a service charge of 12.5% is added, so be sure to check your bill before paying. If no service charge is added, then a 10-15% tip will be appreciated, but it is not expected.  

Summary

When tipping in Europe it is important to keep in mind that the tip may already be included in the bill. You can always round up or leave a euro or two for each member of your party, like the Europeans do. A 5-10 percent tip is normal but anything more is excessive, since most servers receive a salary. Be sure to give the tip directly to the server in cash. It is also customary to tip cabbies and hotel staff a euro or two for their service.

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If you found this article informative, please share it with your friends, family, coworkers and associates. If you have something to add, just leave a comment in the box below.

Do you want to learn more about traveling to Europe? There is a wealth of information and special discount pricing on my tours at http://davidmcguffin.com/.

David McGuffin is Founder and CEO of David McGuffin’s Exploring Europe, Inc., based in Middleburg, Florida. You can connect with him on  Twitter,  Facebook,  Google+,  LinkedIn and YouTube. David spends his time in Europe organizing and leading small group and independent tours to European destinations. In business since 2001, David has provided exceptional travel opportunities to several thousand satisfied customers. You can find out more about David and his European tours at his website, http://davidmcguffin.com.


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