5 Tips: Be a Better Traveler


Ditch The Attitude  (You got a problem with that?)

We all know the type – defensive, argumentative, thinks everybody is out to get them.  The kind of person who can never settle down and enjoy a trip because they’re too busy acting like an ass.
Come on man, breathe.
While a healthy dose of common sense regarding theft, petty scams, and being overcharged for a cab ride is never a bad idea, I can assure you, everyone is NOT out to get you.
I have found that most locals are remarkably generous with their time and almost always eager to help a traveler in need.
That definitely will not be the case, though, if you com across as an arrogant tool.
And if you do get scammed? Continue reading

Favorite Places: L’Auberge de Tourrettes

View from the terrace

I want to tell you about one of my favorite places in the south of France.

It is a calming, simple place.
It is a small country inn with eight rooms and an excellent restaurant.
The rooms are understated, clean, and comfortable.
The bathrooms are large.
There is no air-conditioning.
It is very quiet at night.
It is the Auberge de Tourrettes.


Quick Visit: Gourdon, France


Population: 294
Altitude: 760 meters

Perched high above the
Loup Valley, tiny Gourdon offers visitors one of the best views on the entire Riviera.  The village is dramatic and popular with plenty of parking just below the main entrance.  Numerous shops sell everything from scarves and wine to lavender and soap.  If the weather is warm the skies will no doubt be filled with countless para-gliders, so grab a table at an outdoor cafe, order a glass of local wine, and watch as they buzz the rooftops.

You may want to visit Gourdon early into your trip (and during the day, the village shuts down completely at night).  The exceptional lookout point at the southern edge of town (there’s a map built into the stone wall) can be helpful in getting a feel for the area.

Chateau de Gourdon
Many tourists visit Gourdon each year, but few know about the gardens of the Chateau.  Located at the western edge of the village Continue reading

Shifting Gears


Something to remember when booking your rental car

A good friend of mine was kind enough to travel to the south of France a couple of years ago to witness the wondrous moment when my wife and I told each other “I do”.
All of the arrangements for his rental car had been made well ahead of time and he was, understandably, quite pleased at the reasonable rate he received.
On the day of his arrival I met him at the airport in Nice.

Let’s pick up the action as we walk out of the terminal toward the rental car lot:

Scene 1:
The morning is sunny and warm and there is a slight hint of lavender in the air.  Well dressed, attractive mothers push cute babies in stylish strollers.  In the distance, visible over the skyline of Nice, snow glistens on jagged alpine peaks.

Me: So you got a really good deal on your car didn’t you?
Friend: Yeah, I was kind of surprised I got such a good price.
Me: Excellent.
Booked economy?
Friend: Yep.

(short pause)

Friend: Hey, do any of these economy cars ever come with manual transmissions?
Me: Uh…. well, yeah, they all pretty much do.  Why?
Friend: Gosh, I hadn’t thought about it until now, but the last time I drove a stick shift was about twenty five years ago.

(long pause)

Friend: You don’t think that will be a problem do you?

(even longer pause)

Me: So how was your flight?

Scene 2:
The paper work is complete.  Friend and I chat amiably as the car is pulled around front.  I barely notice that Friend has been edging subtly toward the only tree, and shade, on the lot.  Small beads of sweat begin to appear on his forehead.
The car is delivered and Friend throws his custom-machine-crafted Sears luggage into the trunk and slides behind the wheel with admirable aplomb.  Only then do I notice that his shirt is inside-out.  I choose not to mention it.

Friend: Are you gonna stand there and watch me while I start the car?
Me: Well, yeah that was my plan.

(uncomfortable silence)

Friend: So am I supposed to push the clutch in before I turn the key?
Me: That’s probably a good idea, assuming of course, you want it to start.

Anything else you can think of that I might have forgotten?
Me: You mean in the twenty five years since you’ve driven a manual transmission?  Hmmm, other than actually how to drive it, I can’t think of anything you’ve missed.
Friend: Well, why don’t you go on and pull your car around and I’ll follow you to the hotel?
Me: Just for kicks I think I’ll stick around another minute or two.

15 increasingly uncomfortable minutes pass.  The car remains in the same location.  Not the same general location, but the same
exact location.

Scene 3:
You want me to hop in and move this baby real quick so the line of cars behind you can get out of the lot?
Friend: Nope, I got it now.  Just took me a second to get a good feel for this high strung little lady.
Me: Right….It’s a Toyota Yaris.
Friend: I think once I get her out on the open road I’ll feel a lot more comfortable with the shifter.
Me: That’s the hand brake.

Ten excruciatingly painful minutes pass.  It feels like a time frame within which Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” could easily be translated into Farsi …. by a German who doesn’t speak Farsi.

Friend now sits comfortably behind the wheel of a shiny BMW.

Scene 3:
So how do you like the Beemer?
Friend: Not bad.  I was actually kind of surprised they didn’t gouge me more than they did for the upgrade.
Me: You gonna be able to handle that automatic?
Friend: I think so…. you’re not gonna tell anybody about this are you?
Me: Not a chance.  Hey did I mention I was thinking about starting a blog?

5 Money Saving Tips For Frequent International Travelers

1) Run, don’t walk, past currency exchange kiosks
Usually found in airports, train stations, and at border crossings, currency exchange booths
NEVER provide a fair rate of exchange and alwaystack on exorbitant fees.
Bottom line: Don’t even consider using them.

2) Do your homework when choosing a credit card
Choosing the right card can immediately save you 2 -3% on foreign transaction fees, provide a substantial boost to your frequent flier account Continue reading

John Cleese Puts Wine Snobs in Their Place

John Cleese and I have at least two things in common.

1) We have both parlayed good looks and a crackerjack sense of comedic timing into long standing and lucrative careers in show business
2) We each have a healthy disdain for wine snobs

I’ve just finished watching “John Cleese’s Wine for the Confused” and I strongly recommend it to anyone with an interest in wine.  Cleese broaches the sometimes intimidating subjects of choosing, tasting, serving, and storing wine with humor and a simple, easy to understand style.

Released in 2004 and running a quick 92 minutes, this film is a must see for anyone in need of a wine confidence boost.

Available on Netflix and Hulu.

Addendum: Credit Card Foreign Transaction Fees

In my last post I listed two credit cards (Capital One and Discover) that do not charge a fee for foreign transactions.
I’ve since found another card I would like to add to the list.

1) Charles Schwab Bank Invest First Visa Card
In addition to no foreign transaction charges the Charles Schwab Visa has no annual fee and gives you unlimited 2% cash back on purchases, automatically deposited into a Schwab One brokerage account each month.  The APR is high, 13.24%, so make sure you don’t carry a balance and always read the fine print before signing up.

Travel Tip: Credit Card Foreign Transaction Fees

Savvy travelers know that most credit card issuers charge an international usage fee (usually 2 – 3%) for purchases made outside the United States.  They do this, they claim,in order to recoup what they are charged by Visa and Mastercard, even though that fee is usually no more than 1%.

What does this mean to you?

Each time you make a purchase in a foreign country the bank that issued your card is earning an additional 1 – 2%, ON TOP of the 1% they have to pay.  Add to that a weak dollar and costly travel expenses, and jet-setting around the globe becomes increasingly less appealing.

I am aware of only two companies that do not charge for foreign transactions.  I’ve listed them below along with the fees charged by other well known banks .

If you’re the type of person who always carries a balance on your card, read the fine print.
It makes no sense to save 2 -3% on foreign transactions just so you can turn around and pay an APR of 13% or higher.

0% – Capital One
0% – Discover

2% – American Express
2% – Pulaski Bank

3% – Citi Cards
3% – Chase
3% – Bank of America
3% – HSBC
3% – Providian

Dolceacqua, Italy: Bar California


Have you ever found yourself in a foreign country, standing outside a crowded bar or restaurant that’s brimming with local flavor, and locals, and can’t quite find the courage to walk inside?
I have and I think several factors come into play:

1) A fear of the language barrier
2) A feeling that you won’t be welcome and will have to extricate yourself from an uncomfortable situation
3) A general discomfort at not being, well, comfortable

At times like these there are two options to consider:

1) Acknowledge that you’re being silly, suck it up and walk inside
2) Move on to a more “agreeable” establishment

My wife and I found ourselves facing this dilemma a while back in Liguria Continue reading

Travel Safety: 3 Tips

It doesn’t make sense to be hyper-sensitive about the many perceived dangers lurking around each corner when you travel.  It does make sense to be reasonably aware of your surroundings and employ a few tricks to make life a little more difficult for someone trying to steal from you.
Listed below are three helpful tips.

1) Use a towel
When carrying a day pack or large purse worn over the shoulder(s), place a towel or flat piece of cardboard in the bottom of the bag.  Why?  Often thieves will slink up behind unsuspecting victims and slice open the bag’s underside with a razor, then simply walk away with the contents.  This is usually done in crowded areas Continue reading