All you need to know before going to GERMANY

German Flag

Whether it’s the legal and formal stuff or the fun and quirky things – everyone should read this compilation before setting foot in Germany.I’m listing relevant figures and important rules and regulations as well as sometimes unpredicted peculiarities and fun facts to know before you go so that no unexpected surprise will impair your experience.

this way to read the whole story >>>

What (not) to pack for JAPAN

Yes, of course, you can just grab some suitcase, throw a hodgepodge of clothes, shoes, and cosmetics in and you’re good to go – provided you stay within your airline’s weight limit.

bye:myself at the Hida Folk Village in Takayama in Japan
I’d found this umbrella at the Hida Folk Village in Takayama – but it was just a prop that could be used for pictures.

However, if you do a little planning when putting together your itinerary for Japan and while packing, your trip will be much more enjoyable – take it from me as I just came back from a road trip around Honshu island.

this way to read the whole story >>>

How (not) to behave in JAPAN

Before travelling to Japan, everyone is making a big deal of on how to behave correctly in Japan – because it’s so different.

Group of students in Tokyo Japan
Follow the leader. And follow the rules. And….oh, when in Japan, just follow.

I really don’t know why everyone emphasizes how different Japan is. Because – different from what? Like everything else in life, different is very relative.

this way to read the whole story >>>

travelling all by myself – five PROs and CONs

(Last Update March 2020)

When I’ve started my blog in the Spring of 2017, it was mainly because I got asked so often about travelling all by myself. Well, obviously, there are PROs and there what might be considered CONs.

Travelling all bye:myself to the Museu Oscar Niemeyer in Curitiba
This picture was just too congruent to illustrate solo travel – you do not always walk alone!

Therefore, I decided to share my experience not only with my friends. Actually, I hope to inspire, inform, and encourage as many of you as I can.

this way to read the whole story >>>

Paris Airport Charles de Gaulle: Instant Lounge, Instant Leisure

I didn’t know anybody who was excitedly looking forward to a stopover in Paris – notably at Charles de Gaulle airport.

Soyez bienvenus at the – free! – transfer lounge of Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport.
It’s not only comfy and cozy, it’s most of all hyper classy!
(Photo: Gwen Le Bras / Aéroports de Paris SA)

Well, this changed dramatically, and I’m here to show you what you are missing out on when you choose not to stop there.

The Cost-Comfort-Balance 

An unlimited urge to travel versus a pretty limited amount of money – how do you manage? I do it by travelling on a budget; and saving starts with the means of transportation – namely flights.

I have no intention to advertise for them, but it’s a fact that the national Dutch airline KLM has often the best deals, whether flying to Asia or to South America.
While I find that their service, at least in economy, is quite average, I’m always looking forward to my connection at Schiphol airport. It’s big, it’s entertaining and most importantly it’s quite comfortable: Many ‘themed’ waiting areas, furnished with all sort of large, soft seats and loungers – perfect to relax between flights.

I do not want to find myself in a situation where evacuation is necessary, but I wouldn’t mind someone chauffeuring me around a little bit on this chair while I’m waiting for my connecting flight at Schiphol airport.  

Like most airlines, KLM is part of an alliance, here it’s SkyTeam, and so is Air France, so that often I have to fly one way with KLM and the other with their French buddies. Which is fine when it comes to the flight itself – there Air France even takes the cake….metaphorically – and literally trades it for delicious food and very friendly service; a real treat for their customers.

When it came to the always obligatory stopover in Paris at the Charles de Gaulle airport, it was a different story: Terrible! Long, confusing corridors, hardly any store or restaurant or inspiration of any kind. Just dull and draining. I’ve never heard of anybody looking forward to a stopover at CDG.


The Cost-Time-Balance

This said, do I have to explain why I was pretty depressed facing my flight home from Rio de Janeiro, not only coming from from plus 40° C (over 100° Fahrenheit) and heading for minus 5° (sadly 23° Fahrenheit) – facing a stopover of over seven (yes, seven; as in….seven) hours at one of world’s most depressing airports?

Seven hours – in Paris too short to go downtown, especially after a 12 hours flight, and far too long not to get into a really bad mood.

But as I was dragging my feet as well as my hand luggage from the plane towards the next gate where I intended to sit for seven hours on a metal woven chair, embossing its design into my but, I spotted a sign: “instant Paris – free transfer lounge”. Free transfer lounge? At CDG? What could that possibly be – a complimentary cushion on the metal woven seating surface?
Grumpy and pessimistic, I followed the signs.

Remembering how my poor child had to sleep on uncomfortable metal seats, having only her plush penguin for a pillow. Well, at least in Paris, this misery is over.

I came to a large, white reception. To its left a gorgeous red sofa. Behind the counter a young man in a black suit looking at me in friendly anticipation. He was polite enough to ignore my traveller appearance of torn jeans and a hoodie stained from the French menu they served on the flight from Rio. And he was friendly enough to assure me that all the services in this area were completely free of charge.


Bienvenus à Paris

Whether Bauhaus or haunted castle style – every passenger waiting for the
connecting flights finds a quiet corner to relax, read or work.
(Photo: Gwen Le Bras / Aéroports de Paris SA)

I kept on dragging – feet and luggage – along a couloir, the hallway, which leads from the polished shiny white counter. To the left and the right are two different kinds of very comfy looking fauteuils – a Bauhaus-ish square kind with a middle grey cover.

To make up for the minimalist charm of these seats, the other kind looks a bit inspired by the Addams family: pseudo-baroque curvy shells in red and black.  Not my taste, but definitely very comfortable; plus the round shape certainly provides enough privacy to read or work undisturbed.

So does the whole arrangement, by the way: The furniture is positioned in a way that everybody is able to keep to himself if he so chooses.



The Cafeteria

If you don’t have your device with you, next to the hotel entrance is a large table
where you can use their pads for free – against the backdrop of the Eiffel tower.
(Photo: Gwen Le Bras / Aéroports de Paris SA)

Approximately halfway between the counter with the polite and friendly young man and a hotel entrance, the hallway opens to a sitting area with a food counter where they sell sandwiches, pastries and hot and cold drinks to be enjoyed in a very pleasant seating area.

I will not go so far as to praise their cafeteria: It’s still the same (whereby hopefully ‘same’ only in the sense of identical) pretty dry sandwich made of a forearm long piece of baguette with a paper thin slice of ham, garnished with a tired lettuce leaf – 8 €uro = are you kidding me?! To get this pretty dry stuff down, you need to order some sort of drink with it. Like for instance a large coffee – which everywhere else would be a small or at most medium coffee – for 5 €uro = seriously?!

I forgive them. I had the pleasure to enjoy my totally overprized breakfast at the spotless eating area next to the counter, listening to very soothing, slightly jazzy versions of different songs from the charts. I don’t know whether it was due to the early hour or to this quite relaxing atmosphere that everybody was very quiet, even speaking into mobile phones pretty piano.

Only in front of the hotel entrance was a Chinese guest yelling into his phone, otherwise: silenzio!

In front of the hotel? Yap, if all the comfort they are offering for free is not good enough for you, you can check in at the Yotel at the end of the corridor. This hotel counts with many amenities and you can book yourself in already for a minimum of four hours.

If you just want to refresh yourself, you can access their shower area for 20 €uro.


The Lounges

While the walls in the hallway are mainly decorated with large scale mirrors – giving it, especially in combination with the pompous rococo-ish chairs, an air of Versaille – the lounge next to the seating area is decorated with pictures of Parisian icons. There is even a miniature wooden Eiffel Tower.

Next to the very comfy lounge, the smallest guest can play and build in their own little space – and learn to love flying with mummy and daddy.

Since you cannot go to see the icons, instant Paris! lounge brings the icons to you – like the Arc de Triomphe – or the inevitable Eiffel tower.
(Photo: Gwen Le Bras / Aéroports de Paris SA)

At this point I was already so impressed that I forgot about all the horrible hours I had spent at this airport in the past. They’ve made up for it big time. It couldn’t get any better!

It couldn’t? Well, walking further down the hallway, I stood corrected: Entering their library!

Their library is a real library with real books – and everything else that characterizes a library: Dim lights, silence, comfortable armchairs….and two of the most beautiful and most commodious sofas I’ve ever seen. Or sit on. Or laid on.
I crashed.

Can a sofa become a home? This light golden beauty can!
It’s not only one of the most beautiful sofas I’ve ever placed my behind on, it’s also incredibly comfortable.
(Photo: Gwen Le Bras / Aéroports de Paris SA)

These things are long. I am about 5″10 and as I laid down, there was still room for another person to sit (which of course no other person did!).

These things are wide. I am about…I don’t put it in numbers, but I’m big, and as I laid down, there was still room to move freely without falling down.

What can I say, guys? After I had spent a couple of hours at their library, I hated travelling on. I wanted to stay longer! I wanted to move in!

You know what? I think next time I buy a ticket via Paris, I might just skip the rest of the trip altogether and stay at CDG – it might be the best vacation in Paris ever.

You should pin this for your next trip via Paris – this experience is not to be missed:

a few words about a few words: learning languages for travel

Considering that at least in Germany babbel.com is advertising a lot, to my surprise, I don’t know anybody actually learning with this online tool.

a few words about learning a few words. bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels
A pictogram might be the last resort when you are unfamiliar with a language; but to get to know a country and its people, you should rather use words – their words.

Anybody but me that is. And I will tell you why I love using it.

Just coming back from a very hard language course that I took on the occasion of my education leave, I’d like to encourage you to get a basic knowledge of the language spoken in the country you are travelling – and be it only a couple of words.

a few words about learning a few words. bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels
Agree, agreed: Learning Portuguese about one mile from the beach of Copacabana might be a bit more entertaining than learning it a home in front of your computer – but it’s way more expensive, too.

Coming back from a country where not too many people speak some basic English, I’d like to sort of urge you to get a basic knowledge of…you got the drill.

No kidding, nobody will ever learn a language using babbel. Learn in the sense of I speak it, I read it, I understand native speakers.
Depending on which language you are dealing with on babbel, you hardly learn any grammar, you get to listen to very few whole sentences, you’re hardly ever engaged in any form of conversation: practically every key to having command of a language is missing.

a few words about learning a few words. bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels
Depending on the language you are practicing, there are some basic dialogues. Before they abolished the individual vocable database, you were able to keep this additional vocabulary there, too. Let’s hope they re-install this great feature soon.

When I told my Portuguese teacher in Rio de Janeiro that I was practicing my basic knowledge of the language on babbel, she only rolled her eyes. Well, she is an excellent teacher with very high standards.

But – and this but does not only have a capital B because it’s at the beginning of this sentence, this but is a but with a capital B because there’s the other side of babbel: it’s a great tool for you savvy traveller who wants to say thank you and please and good morning and pleased to meet you and bread and water like the local people do! And for this basic knowledge of a language, babbel is just great because it has exactly what you need.

a few words about learning a few words. bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels
Instant friendship (and a blurry picture): A simple “selamat malam” (= good evening) impressed these lovely ladies from Jakarta, vacationing in Kuala Lumpur, so much that they insisted on lots of information – and a couple of pictures.

It starts with a really basic vocabulary such as good morning, good night, thanks etc. You are practicing these with pictures on little tiles; makes you feel like a toddler learning to speak.
But since the system is based on your brain relating to these pictures and thus visualizing the word and its meaning as well as on lots of repetitions, it actually works and makes remembering really easy.

a few words about learning a few words. bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels
Using these little pictures makes it easy to grasp. But take it from me: Every time someone asks you “A quelle heure?”, you’ll see these colorful clocks before your inner eye.

But exactly this effect is at the same time an obstacle: Try to remember the stupid word without the picture – you’ll feel like having a hole in your brain; you know exactly what it is…but what is it again?
Anyway, I will not discourage you, when you learn only a handful of words and expressions, it works really well.

So before you try it out here are some information: Surprise – you need to set up an account. There is a free trial of the first lesson and this might even be all you need. But watch it: If you happen to have a thing for languages, you get hooked pretty fast. For a trip to Bali, I started with the free Indonesian lesson – and got immediately addicted and wanted more and more.

You can choose how long you want to learn, the monthly costs are between 4,95 € if you subscribe for a year and 9,95 € for only one month. With the paid version you have access to all themes – some are really useful being designed for travel and meeting the people.

I practiced Indonesian maybe about one month and learned really a lot.
But actually everything beyond the standard pleasantries was pretty useless and like I explained above, out of context (and without the corresponding pictures) you remember only a part of what you have practiced; you have practiced, you didn’t learn.
However, the useful pleasantries are absolutely worth it, people in Bali and in Malaysia and Singapore were amazed that I was able to say a couple of words.

Babbel offers 14 languages: English, French, Spanish, German, Italian, Portuguese, Dutch, Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, Polish, Russian, Turkish, and Indonesian.
You can choose whether you want to repeat the words over a microphone or only klick on tiles resp. type the words.

Besides Portuguese, I’ve practiced Indonesian and Turkish, and the choice was surprisingly different: Turkish offers a much wider range of lessons including much more grammar and even short dialogues while Indonesian is basically a long list of vocabulary and a couple of sentences.

Unfortunately, they abolished my favorite feature where you were able to add your own vocabulary to your personal database. I hope they will re-install it since it was so helpful and fun.

But anyway, even as it is now, it’s a great and easy tool, and if on your next trip you want to impress and get right into people’s hearts, give it a try, it’s so much fun. Try it out right now!

And remember: The best way to actually learn (!) a language is to….travel! 

If you have any questions regarding travellers’ communication, I’d be very happy hearing from you.
How about you, do you learn some local vocabulary when travelling?
How do you do it, what are your sources?

If you choose to pin this post, please use this picture:

 

so it’s not getting out of hands: what to put in your hand luggage

Hand luggage – I’m a big fan, huge supporter and passionate user. Where possible, I even try to travel exclusively with hand luggage, not only because the cheap airlines charge almost the same amount you’ve paid for the ticket for checking luggage. No, it’s simply much more comfortable and so much faster; although since they established the security regulations regarding liquids, it has become a bit tricky. And once I got almost arrested at a French airport for carrying cheese.

man pulling cabin case
Globetrotting the easy way.

But mostly it’s really much more handy, and the longest I ‘survived’ on hand luggage were two weeks in Italy in summer; and I did not stink…


But also when you travel farther and longer and do check in a backpack or suitcase of whatever size, do yourself a favor and take in addition a sensibly packed piece of hand luggage, it will make the start of your trip so much more comfortable.

Expect the Unexpected – survive some days on hand luggage

Lesson Learned – pack like going away for a weekend

Have a Good Flight – prepare for comfort

Make Yourself at Home – enjoy your flight

Omnia Mea Mecum Porto – keep your valuables close to you

Expect the Unexpected


In 2003, out of 1,000 suitcases 13 got lost. By 2015 the figure has decreased to 6.5 – and in addition 95 per cent of these strays show up within 48 hours. All this is good news for you statisticians and of course for the airlines since the costs of about 3 billion USD for tracing, special deliverance and restitution will decrease accordingly. But if you are one of the 6.5 unfortunate ones, it’s of scant comfort that the other 993.5 passengers roll happily their luggage towards customs while you are filling out forms at ‘lost and found’.

So 95 per cent of the 6.5 (this is 6.175 people) are fortunate enough to have their luggage delivered to their doorstep eventually.

That’s basically good news, but there are still two issues: 1. You cannot be absolutely sure that you aren’t the remaining 0.325 one until you hug your lost s…uitcase; and you are facing many uncomfortable hours if you’re not prepared and put all your important belongings in your checked baggage.

Don’t do that.

I went from Hamburg to Miami, wearing baggy jeans, long-sleeved T-Shirt, big sneakers, warm hoodie: perfect for a comfy flight, kind of a sauna-suite for Miami. On arrival at Miami, my suitcase was missing. Well, to be precise: it wasn’t missing, it was delayed; however, I did miss it. Also because I had nothing but the sauna-suite (that I’ve had been wearing for about 18 hours by then) and a handbag with my documents, phone and a book.

sandals and dress
Strappy sandals, light dress – I had all that…in my suitcase that arrived 24 hours later.

Lufthansa handed me not only a little necessaire including the…necessary for the first night, but also a traveller cheque worth 100 USD (I spare you the story how to cash a traveller cheque in the current millennium) so that after a long flight I spent the rest of the day in my sauna-suite shopping for things that I didn’t want and actually didn’t need. I’m not the true-born shopping queen, anyway, all the less when I have to shop; for stuff that I don’t want and don’t need. Wearing a sauna-suite. And I would have preferred to keep the hundred bucks for something else.

Lesson Learned


But I’ve learned my lesson and since then I pack my hand luggage as if I’m going away for the weekend – of course varying according to the climate on arrival. So if I’m travelling to a hot, beach destination, I pack

  • light clothes like a dress, a blouse and skirt, a T-shirt and shorts or the like for two days
  • PJs or an extra T-shirt for the night (in case you don’t like to sleep naked)
  • underwear for two days
  • sandals and/or flip flops
  • swimwear
  • beachtowel
  • sunhat
  • sunshades
  • sun protection (remember to take a container of 100 ml/3.4 ounces max.)
sun shades and hat
Pack your sun gear. It’s annoying if you have to spend money on things you do not need, but still have to buy while waiting.

It’s more important to be prepared for arriving at a hot place than a cold one. I assume that when you’re travelling to a cold place, you are already wearing your big sweater and warm jacket. So in this case you just need to pack two extra T-shirts and extra underwear.

Did you make reservation at a nice restaurant or do you have tickets for a concert, a theater play or the like during the first days? Then you should put your

  • evening wardrobe and your
  • dressing shoes

in the hand luggage, too. If your first stop is nowhere next to a beach, you won’t need the beachtowel, but still might want the swimwear if your accommodation happens to have a pool.

Not only for the first day when you are still eagerly waiting for your luggage, hoping that you are not the 0.325 person, you’ll appreciate to have your vanity bag on you, hence it belongs in your hand luggage, since during the flight or at layovers you will enjoy a cat lick with some wet wipes, rehydrate your skin with some deep nourishing cream, brush your hair and your teeth – preferably with separate utensils.

Usually facial cream as well as tooth paste come in containers smaller than 100 ml/3.4 oz, so actually there’s no need to buy the much more expensive travel sizes.

If you’re not extremely picky, it won’t be necessary to take your hair- and body-shampoo in your hand luggage since almost every hotel and even hostels supply you with it.

So here is what you need to put in a transparent bag with a zipper (e. g. zip lock sandwich bag – maximum size 1 liter/33.81 oz):

  • facial cream*
  • tooth paste*
  • tooth brush
  • wet wipes (also for your face)
  • deodorant* (preferably a roll-on product in a plastic container since they are lighter and do not break)
  • hair brush (preferably foldable)
  • small soap (bar – just in case)
  • sun protection* (already stated above, but since it’s crucial…)

*in this list only these four items are liquids

These are just the necessary basics, you can complete this list according to your personal habits and necessities. Mind you also cosmetics like foundation, lipstick and even mascara are considered liquids so they have to go into your zip lock bag.

going up!

Have a Good Flight

The other day I read on another blog the great advice to wear something comfortable on a long flight. Do you really need me to tell you not to wear your tightest jeans, a delicate blouse and stilettos? Do you?!

I think for a flight up to four hours you can wear whatever you please. It’s the longer flights that require some better planning in order to arrive at your final destination in good shape.

You’ll probably need one pair of long pants on your trip, anyway, so you should wear them on the flight. I find some cool, not to thick sweat pants the best option: they are soft, warm and comfy and you have the widest range to chose from. Many styles are so sassy that they will make you look rather like a fashionista than a hobo.

I like to wear a long sleeved T-shirt on the flight – the only long sleeved shirt I’m taking with me when travelling to the tropics. Hence, I absolutely need a hoodie: here too – soft, warm, comfy, yet stylish. And I love to pull the hood really deep over my face and practically disappear in my sweater. My hoodie is my castle.

I often fly to tropical destinations during cold seasons so that I need warm clothes for the way to the airport and possible at a layover destination – and then again only weeks later. Therefore a foldable jacket is the best option (packed in its own bag, it also makes a soft pillow).

Crucial tip for the ladies: wear a really comfortable bra on a long flight, anything else will kill you. I like to wear sport bras or bustiers – not only on the flight, but during the whole trip. They are much more comfortable and even if the straps show under tank tops or dresses, they don’t look necessarily like underwear.

I assume that you’ll wear comfortable shoes like sneakers or hiking boots on the flight anyway, since they are too big and heavy for the luggage.

But also think of socks – preferably compression stockings and in addition a pair of big, soft socks. If you don’t like to walk around in them on the plane – especially when going to the bathroom – a pair of disposable slippers (those you get at hotels) are more comfortable than taking your shoes on and off all the while.

I tend to get very cold on flights: often I have to get up really early, I’m all excited, they turn the air condition high – I’m freezing. So in addition to the long sleeved T-shirt and the hoodie and the jacket I like to have a big scarf on me that I can wrap around my shoulders or my neck or use as a light blanket. 

scarves

If you pick one made of a light cotton material, it also serves the purpose of a beach blanket, a sarong, a seat cover…come on, just pick a cotton one.

going up!

Make Yourself at Home

Whether you like it or not (I do), you are stuck for hours in this big metal thing, only now and then allowed to move – just relax and make the best of it. By the way, that’s the reason why I like it: I’m forced to sit still and relax – that’s like buddhist therapy.
However, you can still

rest


To make sleeping on the plane – and during jet lag – easier, you can take Melatonin. I don’t know if it’s for everybody, but I know that it helps me a lot getting a good night rest. Usually I’m taking one pill on the flight and then for three or four days to fight jet lag. Although in the US you can buy them at every supermarket, they should not be popped like candy.

I never ever travel without ear plugs – the old fashion wax kind that hermetically shuts your ears against any noise, but I don’t really need a sleeping mask since I’m crawling into my hoodie. Hence I know that many people appreciate it.

And of course you should have an inflatable pillow to rest your neck whether sitting or laying down. By the way, I sleep best with my head and upper body resting on the table. Since I’m tall, it’s not working with the table right in front of my seat, but the table next to me is fine. (No, of course I’m not doing that when someone is sitting in that seat, what are you thinking!?!)


entertainment


Can’t sleep on a plane? Poor you. Hope you’re at least travelling with an airline that supplies you with great entertainment like e. g. Emirates or British Airways. On TAP, the national Portuguese airline, there was Mr. Bean on – for everybody. Mr. Bean – since he doesn’t need to be translated… So if you happen to travel with an airline whose only entertainment program is dumb (and this on so many levels) Mr. Bean, you better make sure to have your own entertainment, be it a book – paper or on a device, music, your favorite series downloaded on your tablet or even phone. If you read or watch something on your phone, chances are your eyes are getting uncomfortably dry, particularly in the dry atmosphere on the plane. So you should have eye drops on you (drops=liquid, hence put them in your zip lock ‘vanity’) and instead of contact lenses you should wear reading glasses. Make sure to store them thoroughly in an adequate case – my experience is that after one hour of flight every seat on the plane is a mess with papers, candy wrappers, blankets and extra blankets and spare pillows flying around so you risk to find your glasses in this mess by hearing the cracking noise once you sit on them.

Talking ’bout candy wrappers: I like to eat on the plane (actually I like to eat anywhere and any time; but especially on a plane) – only exception here was again TAP where they just slapped a little trough down on the table – no explanations, and of course no questions about preferences or allergies asked. But maybe you like snacking between meals or you forgot to order your special diet. In this case it’s good to have some snacks on hand.

box from KLM
Thank you, KLM, this is so true! Especially if your neighbour is ME.

I personally don’t need snacks, but I need vitamins. Usually my diet is so good and healthy that I don’t take any supplements. But over the past years when I kept getting colds and rashes because my immune system went down from the stress of travelling, I took up the habit to pop vitamin capsules daily from about one week before leaving over the entire trip; and it’s getting better.

going up!

Omnia Mea Mecum Porto


“All that is mine I carry with me” – Bias of Priene, who according to Cicero said these words, was a pretty smart cookie. And although you don’t need to carry everything that is yours with you, you sure should follow his lead when it comes to valuables. And by valuables I don’t mean only jewelry (if you take any with you at all; however, it shouldn’t be of commercial value) cash and credit cards, your passport and your vaccination certificate*. No, in addition you should put all documents needed in your hand luggage, all necessary drugs you need to take (even on the first days at your destination – just in case you are 6 of 1000 passengers…). If you have a guide book, it might come handy to have it on you from day one. Important addresses and directions, booking confirmations etc. – even if you have them on your phone, it doesn’t hurt to have them printed out, too. Then you should have a copies of all your documents, especially your passport and vaccination certificate, in your check in baggage (careful with sensible info like your credit card numbers) and in your carry on luggage – and another copy left at home with your family (also numbers of all your credit cards (no PINs!) together with your banks’ emergency numbers).

This is not a safe way to carry your credit cards.


Of course all your electronic devices such as your phone, tablet, laptop, camera etc. belong all this time with you, i. e. in your hand luggage. Don’t forget the charging cable(s) and it might be a good idea to carry an additional powerbank (fully charged); often it’s easier to obtain Wifi than power.

Even in these digital times you might have to fill out immigration forms or customs declarations, so it’s always good to have one or two ballpoint pens on you. To write something down quickly, larger sticky notes are very handy for multi purpose, I always have a small block on me.

You’ll probably have a little cash on you, anyway, but I always make sure to have at least 10 US$ in small bills to tip people. Although the €uro got really well accepted around the world, the disadvantage is that small amounts are in coins; so US Dollars it is.

* If you are uncertain which vaccination you need, check my WORLD’S MOST COMPLETE TRAVEL INFORMATION where you find this info no matter from where to where you are travelling as well as all other relevant information.

I think that I wrote all the necessary down. But if you happen to have further questions – or maybe an additional suggestion! – I’d be very  happy hearing from you.
To get in touch, please follow me here or on any other social media and send me a message, I’ll get back to you as soon as possible.

SPECIAL: Newsletter-subscribers will get a printable list with all the stuff that should go in your hand luggage that can be completed according to personal needs and checked so nothing will be forgotten. Wanna get it? Subscribe right now either through the pop-up form or by sending me an Email.


going up!

how fast a health insurance does pay off

…is the World Alliance for Patient Safety‘s goal. The alliance was launched in Washington D.C. in 2004 and the title leaves no questions regarding its purpose. According to my experience, it was about time.

byemyselftravels
Getting sick on a trip is hardly ever funny – but returning home in parts fortunately doesn’t happen very often.
(Illustration: “#SCHWEIN1378” – by Swiss artist Andrea Staudacher)


For years and years that I’ve been travelling, I didn’t even think about getting health insurance for my trips. Which doesn’t mean that I never got sick. It’s just that when I began to explore the world bye:myself, it was in Europe, where everything was covered by my regular German health insurance. When going to the US, I always stayed for roughly ten days only – and I know that this argument is completely illogical because it takes minutes to get sick and seconds to die. I mention latter because the travel health insurance doesn’t only cover therapy and care, but also the cost for your body being sent back home in an appropriate container; hence I’d say this might be called the worst case scenario, and fortunately you won’t use this service too often. So anyway, even though my chances to survive a ten days trip to the US weren’t that bad, I could have always gotten sick. But I didn’t.

While Euro-trips were covered and US-visits were short, medical service in every other country was very, very cheap and the insurance premium for a long term stay pretty high.
So no insurance, even when I began to travel with my baby at the age of two (just to be clear: I’m talking ’bout her age). And what can I say, the baby got sick from time to time. In Belize she got a sort of a rash. It’s the tropics, it’s hot and humid, perfect climate for a rash to stay.
At this point I might mention the fact that although you pay comparatively little for medical care, they are very, very generous when it comes to drugs: An itching mosquito bite? Go, cover yourself from head to toe with cortisone. A light flew? Here, have some antibiotics – or even better, pop two different types at the same time, just pop them like candy.
So the doctor at the hospital in Dangriga, without further ado or questions regarding allergies or intolerances, prescribed antibiotics. I wasn’t very happy with the prescription, but I had two more months there and wanted the baby’s skin to get better. So I took the prescription, put the baby back in the stroller and headed for the hospital’s pharmacy.
It was a small window in a dark wooden wall. “Where is your bottle?”, asked the lady in the window. I was confused – I had no bottle; and informed her thusly. She rolled her eyes. “How do you want to carry the medicine?” “In its pack?!”, I answered reluctantly. “The medicine has no pack. You have to bring a bottle and we fill it up.” Well, this to me was undoubtably a very new way of obtaining medication. Consequently I had – as mentioned before – no bottle on me. “Wait”, the unsympathetic lady ordered. I heard her rummaging behind the dark wooden wall, and when she reappeared she had a bottle of “Newman’s own ceasar dressing” filled halfway with some slimy, yellowish liquid. In addition to the cost for the medicine she charged ten cents for the recycled empty.
When I opened the bottle at home, a strong smell of caesar dressing filled the air. I hesitated a short moment. And then I flushed the content down the drain.
Back in Germany, I took the baby to the pediatrician, he put a tiny bit methyl violet on the affected area, and the rash was gone for good.

Unfortunately, Belize was not the only time that I threw out drugs some extremely generous doctors had prescribed. Avoiding the…let’s call it ‘unpretentious’ public clinic in a small Honduran town called Trujillo, I took my three year old daughter, who seemed to have a bladder infection, to the private clinic. The friendly elderly doctor looked at her, frowned thoughtfully, took out a sheet of paper and wrote a long, long list. With this list he sent me to the pharmacy next door which – don’t mistake coincidence for fate – belonged to his wife. I handed her a lot of money and she handed me a big shopping bag full of small bottles and boxes. At home I took a close look at the patient info leaflets – where there were any. While rummaging around I dropped and broke one of the bottles, so that problem was solved. And from the rest I more or less randomly picked one antibiotic and threw everything else out. The antibiotic did help, but no, this is not the procedure the doctor prescribes – and neither do I, but special situations sometimes require special measures.

It’s terrible, but there are moments I do understand why Latin Americans call doctors ‘matasanos’ (freely translated: ‘killing the healthy’).

Anyway, years later I did get a travel health insurance for the first time. Only because the woman at the travel agency offered it when handing me our tickets to Hawaii. “It’s only 19 Euro per year for the two of you. And getting sick in the US can get really expensive”, she added, and I felt foolish to spend so much money on tickets and not invest another twenty bucks so I signed the contract. And guess what – two days before our flight home we went to the food court at a mall and my then teenage daughter Mimi had a burrito and threw up all night. The problem was that she didn’t only throw up all night, she continued throwing up at the break of dawn, too, and went on all morning. She has an extremely sensitive stomach and once her guts get queasy she cannot stop. So after trying every home made cure like laying down to rest, moving around to get the circulation going, drinking some stale coke, eating a salty cracker, taking a shower and so on, I recognized the necessity to take her to the clinic. We hardly made it there since by then she was limp like a wet rag, holding a plastic bag to her face, her stomach contracting. “Hello, the doctor will be right with you. But first you have to sign here please”, the friendly nurse pointed on the dotted line. “So the basic fee is 180 Dollars, everything else will be added to this.” OK, 180 bucks plus maybe 30 or 40 for the saline solution – it’s salty water in a plastic hose after all – how much can that be?
An infusion and three hours later I had my answer: 588 American dollars and 62 cents. The 180 bucks basic fee were probably for using their door handle; cash or credit?
Before forwarding  the invoice to the insurance company, I had a quick look at it: besides the basic fee covering…nothing, and a long list of services that I didn’t understand, there was some medication they handed her although she didn’t need them at all. We threw them out.

I don’t know whether now, that we finally have insurance, she doesn’t want it to go to waste, but since then she has been on many drip infusions in various countries for the same symptom – severe dehydration – conspicuously often. If all these hospitals around the world cooperated, we might get her a loyalty card.

byemyselftravels
Good morning, sunshine! Food poisoning made Mimi spending the night at the most expensive accommodation of our trip to Malaysia, thus not necessarily the most luxurious one.
(However, thanx again to the guys at Gleneagles Penang Medical Center, you did a good job) 

I harbor the suspicion that doctors are particularly bountiful when it comes to desperate travellers that will forward their invoice to insurances.
They not only lavishly prescribe drugs, they also tend to double check überthoroughly.

A friend of mine got an infection while she was in San Francisco. Her credit card was somehow limited and she still had weeks of travel ahead so although she did have travel health insurance, she went to a public clinic. Needless to say that this institution was in no way more glamorous than those in Belize and Honduras. She had to wait for hours and hours together with other not so blessed and wealthy people. Then she got an examination, a prescription, everything was fine. Weeks later she got a long invoice from the clinic stating besides the check up and the medicine also a – surprise! – pregnancy test. Nobody at this clinic ever asked her if she might be pregnant, informed her let alone asked permission to perform a pregnancy test. Plus they added more than 60 bucks to the invoice for it.
Having said that, the extra-info that weeks after going to a free clinic she found an invoice in her mail might make you reconsider. The clinics are free insofar that they look at you although you don’t wave a credit card hello, but that doesn’t mean that the consultation is actually free. And don’t even think about not paying it because you think you’re far away: if you don’t settle the invoice within the time indicated, you’ll have a bad credit entry in the United States.

Maybe now, after these anecdotes – and I spared you all the belly-aching-food-poisoning-hugging-the-bowl-stories, you might feel like having an apple; to keep the matasanos away.

booking ahead vs. walking in

As I mentioned on various occasions, doing research on the Internet, reading guide books, sketching routes, making reservations sometimes months before my trip to me is a big and important part of the fun. This way your brain does already all the travelling before you – just like a scout.

But planning and booking ahead is not only an extra portion of fun, it can also save you lots of time and money.

Travelling in style: Getting ready for a domestic flight in Belize from Punta Gorda to Placencia. 

Airport Shuttle

Especially after a long, tiring flight all you want to do is get to your accommodation and crash. Or refresh and go out. Or something else. What you certainly do not want to do is wasting your time looking for a transport from the airport.

It’s recommendable to check the airport page of your first destination since very often you’ll find the latest, relevant instructions how to go on from there.

This is a page that connects you to every existing airport website worldwide – make sure to type the country’s name in English and correctly. If you prefer to search by IATA-Code, here’s a complete list.

Usually you can ask your hotel to send a cab or driver to pick you up. There are also private companies offering this personal service.
It’s very convenient to see someone at the airport waiting for you waving a sign with your name on it and then will surely know the way to your hotel. But mind you, you’ll pay double or triple of the regular fare for this convenience. After a long flight and late arrival at a place you’ve never been before, schlepping all your luggage, this can still be an option.

Another local transportation option.

At some airports you pay at a booth and get a voucher that you give to the driver (e. g. Mexico City, Ho Chi Minh City, Kuala Lumpur), in many cities they have trains or busses getting you downtown, so booking an airport shuttle in advance is seldom necessary and mostly far too costy.

Hotels

Actually, this is a toughy. While in general in European countries and in the USA early online booking guarantees the best prices, e. g. in Asia it can be quite the opposite.
Whenever you choose to book, the promise that one website compares all prices and guarantees you the best deal, is simply a lie. No website does that, and if you want to choose from a wider range of accommodations and make sure to get the best deal, you have to do some additional research yourself. 
I usually check trivago first to get an general idea – but be aware that trivago does not have all hotels available no matter what they claim. Therefore I look at least on hotels.com and on amoma.com, too. Amoma does not have a very wide range, but according to my experience the best prices, and if you’re registered on hotels.com, you get a free bonus night after ten booked nights (so that’s practically another 10% off). 
Then, don’t forget to check the hotel’s website, too, and if you have any doubt, send them an email, sometimes they make you an additional offer. 
One of the nicest accommodations I’ve been to: Alas Petulu in Ubud/Bali.

It will probably surprise you when I recommend to check also the extremely touristy companies such as Thomson Vacations (USA and UK), Voyages E. Leclerc (France) or TUI (Germany). Sometimes they are giving hotel rooms from their tourist packages away at a very cheap price. They of course don’t cater to ‘exotic’ destinations, but I got incredibly good deals for Paris, Naples (Florida), etc.
Some hotels are not listed on internet portals, but review (and contact details) can still be found on tripadvisor, so that’s a good source, too (if they don’t publish the contact details, you have to do some research according to the name; and don’t forget to check facebook, some hotels use exclusively that for their marketing).
So all this is recommendable for countries where fixed prices are common (and I personally saved a lot of money (up to 50% of the rack rate) by booking in advance in Colombia).
In most Asian countries (and – funny enough – in Peru) I actually often paid for pre-booked rooms much more than what people paid when they just walked in and negotiated on the spot.
But there is an obvious downside to latter method: You cannot compare a whole bunch of hotels unless you spend a lot of time walking around and checking, and the hotel of your choice could be booked out; and I definitely wouldn’t recommend the spontaneous way in (Latin American) catholic countries during semana santa (Holy week before Easter Sunday) – this is their main holiday and it’s packed everywhere you go!

So yes, while I’m already hitting the beach, you might still be looking for a convenient accommodation, but I possibly paid a bit more by booking via a portal. And forget about the portals’ price guarantees, that never ever worked for me because mysteriously they always had some reason why I didn’t qualify for a refund although I proved by adding confirmations and price lists that their offer was way too expensive.
Book, pay, and never look back; it’s not worth the bad mood.

Domestic Transportation

While you might negotiate on hotel rooms and tours, it obviously does not work with airlines (and to be honest, I wouldn’t set foot in an airplane where I was able to bargain the fare), trains, and every bus company. Here you can often save money when booking ahead. Since I always have a relatively short time for my trips (up to four weeks), I determine the route quite precisely beforehand, so it’s convenient to book the transportation between the chosen destinations fairly early. And if something goes wrong (or very right) and you do want to skip a destination, depending on the price you paid, it possibly won’t hurt you just to waste the ticket. 
Getting tickets for the night train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai – what a pleasant trip that was!
Anyway, if maximum flexibility is not that important to you, pre-booking of tickets is – regarding price and seats – highly recommendable.
Viet Nam was the only country where prices for bus tickets did differ from vendor to vendor and were subject to negotiations. But remember: We are always talking peanuts here.

Tours and Day Trips

Now this is a factor where you might get a better deal buying online beforehand when travelling Europe or the US, but other than that, it doesn’t really make sense to book anything in advance. Tours and Day Trips are always much more expensive over the internet. Unless you want to visit a site like Machu Picchu or a national park were places are limited to a certain number per day, you will always find a guide or a company to join on the spot – and possibly negotiate a good price. 
The most expensive day trip of my life: Round trip from Cuzco and Entrance Fee for Machu Picchu sums up to 200 $; thus it was worth every cent!
I did the mistake to pre-book some tours in Peru because my schedule was so tight, and I paid far more than the local prices (I’m not talking about Machu Picchu here. To go there, there is hardly a less expensive way than the tourist train).

And keep in mind that often it’s as easy, but much more fun, to simply go by public transport.

never without you – what i like to take on my travels

Seriously, what is it that you really need to take with you on your trip? Actually it’s your passport, your vaccination record, a credit card and your phone with your ticket, boarding pass, and all that matters on it.

 

Project by Yin Xiuzhen: "Portable City - Hangzhou"

Of course, you can follow Yin Xiuzhen’s example and pack your entire hometown. But mind you, usually, you get everything you need on the spot. (Yin Xiuzhen: “Portable City – Hangzhou” (2011))

 

Everything else such as clothes, toiletries, sunshades,….you can buy almost everything in almost every country in the world. I’m by no means an advocate to buy constantly everything – and, as a matter of fact, I hate shopping.

All I’m saying is that it’s neither the end of the world nor the end of a happy vacation if you forget something.

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