Tipping in Restaurants

Tips are expected in some countries…not so much in others. Amounts vary by country. Expectations vary even more. Recently I came across an article with some tips guidelines. Not set in stone…just guidelines. Perhaps you have your own experiences regarding tips. Share them, please.
In Germany a service charge is included in your bill as bedienung. However, it is still the norm to tip up to an extra 10%, especially in upscale restaurants. It is also good manners to hand your tip to your server instead of placing it on the table.

When dining in restaurants in Italy a 10% to 15% service charge may be already added to your bill. If so, it is not expected to add more. If not, a 10% tip is sufficient. Some smaller family run trattorias do not accept tips. Probably best to look around and see what the locals are doing.

Service is included by law in France and your bill may say service compris to indicate this. It is still polite to round up the bill to the nearest Euro or to add 10% for exceptional service.
Tipping in the US is expected and a 15% tip appears to be the minimum. Exceptional service should include a 20% tip.
These are recent guidelines from a travel source. Do you agree? Do you tip? Just curious…

Vacation Rentals

Renting a home, condo or other accommodation for your vacation is an option many people like. You get to stay in one spot, have to unpack only once, see the local sights, take day trips and live like a local. The Better Business Bureau has some tips to consider when renting that vacation home.
Be sure to get your agreement in writing. Never wire money or send a check. Using a credit card will most likely offer the most protection in case there are problems with your rental. And be sure to actually talk to the owner…not just communicate by email.
Find out how to get back your security deposit. Ask if there is a cleaning fee or a fee for electricity, phone service, Internet or other utilities.
It never hurts to ask if the owner offers tickets to attractions or discounts, especially if you are renting in “off season”.
If you notice a problem with anything once you arrive, be sure to take photos or videos. Share a copy of them immediately with the owner.
If a offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is. This doesn’t mean you still can’t find a “deal” when renting. Just do your homework first.

Westwood Hills Trail

Less than a mile from busy Highway 29 in Napa, California lies Westwood Hills. This relatively small park is packed with a variety vegetation, canopies of trees and panoramic views. Today the hills were splendid in their Spring greenery.

Wildflowers in pinks, yellows and purples lined our trails and walking paths. Some tiny flowers easily get trampled if they venture out onto the path.

Smells from tress and flowers alike surrounded us as we walked. Eucalyptus, California Bay, Coast Live Oak and Buckeye trees towered over head…

or stood guard as one in groves such as this.

Canopies of branches offered us a warm welcome as we walked up the forest road.

Rental Cars in Europe

What should you rent for a car when traveling around Europe? Here are a few suggestions that may help you.
Drive what the locals drive. This probably means a small car with manual transmission. Having said that…rethink the number and size of your bags.
Drive as the locals drive. In the UK it will be on the other side of the road. For the rest of Europe it will be the same as the US. Keep in mind in Germany you are required to drive in the right lane unless passing. And don’t assume you can turn right on a red light. Know what other countries may have as laws as well.
Learn to read the signs. You need to understand the road signs if you are going to be driving in Europe. Auto Europe is a popular rental can company that has an online pictorial of signs. Remember distances will be posted in kilometers, not miles. Gas is sold by the liter.

Gadgets

You’re getting ready to take a trip across the ocean and you’re packing all your gadgets. They all have cords, right? Will you be able to use them in Europe or Asia?
First, they probably won’t fit in the socket because our two-parallel prong plugs are seldom used anywhere else. You will need an adapter. Don’t know what to buy? Check out http://electricaloutlet.org for a useful comparison chart.
Keep in mind that just because your plug may fit doesn’t mean your appliance can handle the type of power now coursing through your cord. There is also a difference in voltage in other countries. Not a pretty site when you “fry” your hair dryer.
What do you do? You could leave all your appliances at home. Or you could check with your hotel to see if the rooms come equipped with hairdryers, if that’s what you need to get ready in the morning.
You could purchase battery operated models of whatever it is you need. Or buy one that has dual voltage capacity. Some have a switch so you can change from 110 to 220 volts.
Can’t live without something? Then purchase your adapters before you leave home. You’ll save some money. If you like shopping online, check out www.magellans.com. You may want to look into a surge protector specifically designed for higher voltages.

Savor Sonoma

Sights from last weekend’s Savor Sonoma wine and food tastings. Flowers were in full bloom everywhere.

Old vines just waiting for bud break.

Winery owner serving his tasty Italian wines out of a barrel.

Tulips of every color…

Coupons for Travel Savings

With travel plans being made now for summer vacations, think about using coupons for extra savings.
If you go to www.retailmenot.com and put the word “travel” in the search line, there is a whole section devoted to just travel coupons. Some are for rental cars, vacation packages, Amtrak or luggage.
Check out www.couponsherpa.com and again use the word “travel” for searching. I noticed some coupons for museums, entertainment and parks as well as hotels and restaurants.
Don’t forget to check the websites of the places you will be visiting, hotels where you are staying or attractions you may be interested in doing while you are in the area. Their websites often have “Internet specials” or coupons you can print before you book.
As always, check carefully the dates these coupons are good for to make sure they match your travel dates.

Travel Smart

Regardless of where you are traveling this year these tips may save you some money.
Check for any discounts on hotels, airfare or attractions. Are you a rewards member, or AAA or AARP? Can you use your hotel points? If you have a spouse that travels frequently and stays at one hotel chain, be sure they are signed up for the rewards program. The points add up and can be used for a vacation to save some cash.
Are you absolutely sure you will be staying at the hotel you booked? If so, many offer a discount of up to 30 or even 50% off the rate if you prepay for your room. Some of these will refund payment if you cancel within 24 to 48 hours.

Already bought your plane ticket? Keep checking the fares anyway. Some airlines will adjust your ticket if fares go down.

Read the guidebooks or ask the hotel if there are discounts on attractions you wish to visit. Sometimes you will get a deal or a coupon just by asking.
Once you get to a new, or even favorite, destination…walk. There is no better way to see the sights than on foot. Plus you save on costly cab rides. You can even visit the sites in your hometown or in the closest large city and save money by having a staycation. Check online before you go to see the best times to visit certain attractions, museums, zoos, etc.

Check the weather before you go. And be sure to check daytime as well as night temps. If you don’t need a heavy sweater…don’t let it take up room in your suitcase. On the other hand, you may want to plan on wearing layers of lighter clothing to stay warm enough.

Summer Travel Ideas

Summer is on its way. Head to California for these ideas…
Pet a bat ray at the Monterrey Bay Aquarium. Designed to give a sense of what it’s like to be in the water with the animals is just one of the special beauties of this aquarium. Sardines swim around your head in a circular tank. A petting pool gives you a hands on experience with bat rays. Other tanks give you the feeling of swimming with jellies.

Watch boats and builders at Hyde Street Pier in San Francisco. Many times you might see boat builders actually at work.
Or just watch boats. Balclutha, an 1886 full-rigged three masted sailing ship, sailed around Cape Horn 17 times. She is over 250 feet long and newly restored. The Eureka, a side wheel passenger and car ferry, hosts a collection of vintage cars on board.

Take some time out to grab your lunch at a gourmet to-go window, sit by the bay and watch the ships and sailboats. Some award winning chefs from places like Fish and Farm or Chez Spencer are now serving lunch from to-go windows. American Box Lunch at Union Square, Spencer On the Go in SOMA, Greens to Go in the Fort Mason or Marina district, The Sentinel in the Financial district and Little Skillet in SOMA are just a few. Check them out.