FAQs

Questions about travel…we all have them. Some of these questions are actual ones travelers ask me; some are tips you may not know about; some I’ve read on other travel sites; some just make sense to me as a traveler.

Here are a few to start…

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Q: Where will I find the latest TSA regulations?

A: Go to http://www.tsa.gov/traveler-information for the latest information necessary for traveling.

Q: How do I choose my seat on my flight?

A: Check this site, www.seatguru.com, as it offers airline seat maps, flight information, seat advice, actual passenger comments, and more. There are other sites, and it is a good idea to check at least one site before booking your seat.

Q: Why is it important to know when my passport expires?

A: If possible, you should renew your passport approximately nine months before it expires. Why? Because some countries require your passport be valid at least six months beyond the dates of your trip. Some airlines will not allow you to board if this requirement is not met.

Q: What can I bring back from Europe?

A: Check out sites like www.fodors.com, www.reidsguides.com, https://help.cbp.gov/, or many others to find out exactly what can be brought into the US.

Q: What if my camera runs out of memory when I’m traveling?

A: The best solution would be to have additional memory cards with you. That requires you know how much memory your camera has. Check before leaving on vacation. In fact, check a month prior so you can buy what you need before you head to the airport.

Q: I want to stay in touch with my house sitter when I’m in Europe. How can I avoid roaming charges?

A: Personally, I’ve used an app called WhatsApp because I’ve had access to free wi-fi. I can send and receive text messages without paying roaming charges. There are others available as well. Check out the best one for you.

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Q: What is a VAT?

A: If you’ve traveled to Europe, you’ve probably seen the words ‘value added tax’ or VAT on your receipt or in some shops. What is it? It’s a tax on goods and it ranges from 15 to 25 percent. If you pay this tax when shopping in EU (European Union) countries, you can get your money back (the tax you paid) after you return home. But, you have to know how to do it and plan ahead.

Keep in mind the VAT refund is only on goods purchased, not on services like hotels, meals, etc. The tax is the amount added to a pretax base price, not a percentage of the final price.

Most EU countries allow you to recover the VAT when you bring your item home…in other words, that item needs to leave completely and not just cross over into another EU country. You will need to show or declare your items at US Customs.

These items are supposed to be new as they enter the US. For example, if you buy a high end item in Paris…keep it new and don’t wear it or use it before you get to the US. At least, make sure it doesn’t look well used.
You will need to have the merchant give you the appropriate paperwork and complete that paperwork before you leave the store. You will need to provide proper ID saying you are from outside that country. Then, when you leave the EU, take your items and the paperwork to the customs office to have the documents stamped by the agent. Be sure to keep the items with you as the agent may want to see them. Don’t put them in your checked luggage. Look for the customs office and if you can’t find it, ask. Be sure to get your paperwork stamped there at the airport or you won’t get your refund.

Another way to get your refund is to have the merchant handle the paperwork at the point of sale. Some merchants will ask you to sign two credit card slips…one for pre VAT prince and another for the VAT. You will still need to get the paperwork stamped at customs, but you mail in the paperwork once you get home. It’s less time consuming than at the customs office.

Or, you could have the merchant mail your items to you at home and avoid the VAT altogether. Keep in mind, shipping can be very expensive.

At any rate, if you spend a large amount on the VAT…it’s worth the time to receive the refund.

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Q: Should I read reviews for hotels, restaurants, etc.? If so, how do I know they’re legitimate?

A: I suggest always reading reviews. Having said that, pay close attention to good reviews and to bad reviews. If only one is bad, was the reviewer having a bad day, did they actually have a bad stay, or are they just writing a bad review for the sake of writing it? By the same token, if all reviews mention the same issue with the hotel or B&B…it’s probably a good bet there is an actual problem. Read, digest, and weed out the reviews that don’t sound true.

Have other questions? I answer more questions on my blog so please check that out.

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Q: How many wineries are there in Napa Valley?

A: Over 600 wineries; over 430 licensed to sell wine to the public.

Q: What’s the difference between Champagne, Prosecco, and Cava?

A: There are many differences between prosecco, cava, and champagne, though all three wines come from Europe, are effervescent, and tend toward a dry rather than sweet flavor. Yet each is limited by definitions placed on it by country, and while there are many brands of each type produced, they have to be produced in very specific ways.

First, champagne has a specific definition. It is effervescent wine made in the Champagne region of France. It can only be produced there and all other wines that are effervescent are called sparkling wines. Even when the champagne giant Louis Roederer, known for Cristal, began to produce champagne-like wines in the Anderson Valley in California, these could not be called champagnes. Instead they are sparkling wines because they are not made in the designated French region. This doesn’t make such wines inferior, but it does mean they’re not champagne.

Another major difference is in the process of fermentation or the “bubble making process”. Champagne goes through a second fermentation in a sealed bottle. For prosecco and cava, the second fermentation is done in a large vat, also known as the Charmat method. The three wines are also made from different grape varietals: Champagne from chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier grapes; cava from macabeo, parellada and xarel-lo grapes and prosecco from glera grapes.

Each wine has different amounts of fizz, either frizzante or spumante. The easiest way to determine how much fizz your bubbly will have is to simply compare the corks. If the cork has a string attached to it, you’ll have light fizz (frizzante) and if you notice a wire – traditional for Champagne – then you’ll have heavy fizz (spumante).

And in general as far as taste, Champagne is rich and complex, while cava and prosecco are lighter and slightly fruitier.

Q: What should I wear on a flight?

A: These are things I recommend: Layers

  • Breathable fabrics
  • Comfortable shoes you can slip off
  • Loose fitting clothing
  • Compression socks if you have a long flight or you have circulation issues
  • Scarf or Pashmina

A: Likewise, these are things I would not recommend wearing:

  • Uncomfortable or complicated shoes
  • Tight or restrictive clothing
  • Fabrics that don’t breathe
  • Heavy perfume
  • Clothing with offensive words or messages
  • A heavy jacket you won’t be able to remove

There are more. Check my blog for additional suggestions.

Q: What day is the best day to purchase my plane tickets?

A: Some sites will give you a day of the week they think works best. Others will tell you each airline is different and each airline has its best day. In reality, I’ve discovered it doesn’t really make a difference.

Q: How do I get the best airfare for my trip?

A: If you know the dates you want, or need, to travel, sign up for alerts on sites such as www.airfarewatchdog.com, www.smartertravel.com, www.kayak.com, www.hipmunk.com, www.wkyscanner.net, and so many more. Usually, you can search by dates. Then, ask for an email notification when fares change. This way you’ll be able to see what is going on with the fares for your destination. This is a great starting place.

That gives you the option of going to the airline’s website to check their fares or specials they may have. Then, you can decide where you want to book your fares. Sometimes, the airline’s site is cheaper. Take some time and check.