When an Expiration Date is not Really an Expiration Date

28 Aug

by Nancy Bestor

passportUS passports for adults are good for 10 years. I got mine in December of 2007 which means it will expire in December, 2017. But if I want to travel to say, Ecuador, my passport really will expire on June 1, 2017. Huh? It is somewhat confusing, but a growing number of countries (currently more than 50) require US Citizens to have at least six months remaining on their passport upon entry into their country. The reason for this is a little vague to me. One thing I’ve heard is that the US started requiring foreign citizens to have at least six months on their passports when visiting the US, so other countries are just returning the favor. Other things I’ve read says it keeps tourists from staying over their allotted number of days on a visa, which for many of these countries is good for six months. Whatever the reason, many travelers have realized too late that their passport expiration date is not good enough when traveling to a pretty good sized list of countries around the world.

The best advice I can give regarding passport expiration is that you should renew your passport about nine months before it is set to expire. Write it down on your calendar, or set your Smartphone calendar app to give you a message at the nine month mark. This way you’ll have plenty of time to send your passport in for renewal, and you won’t have to worry about your passport “expiring” if a last minute trip to Thailand or Trinidad & Tobago comes up. Oh to be so fortunate.

And since countries always seem to be altering their entry requirements, you can get the most up to date information for any country at the US State Department’s website. Just type in the country you are interested in to find out exactly what you’ll need to visit. I’m gonna look up French Polynesia and hope that a last minute trip magically appears in my near future.

Lend Me Your Books

28 Aug

by Nancy Bestor

DSCN1472When I was young, my summer days were rarely spent outside. Instead, my mom would drop me off at our local library while she went grocery shopping. I would come out a half hour later with a huge stack of books that I would read while sitting in a chair in the living room. I loved books, and still do.

Fast forward a few years to when I was sixteen and my sister and I were backpacking through Europe. At that time nearly every other student traveler carried the Let’s Go Europe guidebook. I was horrified to learn that my fellow travelers would rip out entire sections of their book just to make their backpacks lighter, only taking the parts they would need for the countries they would be visiting. It’s one thing to mark in a book, or dog-ear a page, (and if I’m being honest, I will admit that even this makes me a little uncomfortable) but to rip a book apart…..sacrilege!

It’s not just the folding, spindling and mutilating of books that makes me sad—having to part with a book makes me sad too. So while I love the idea of lending libraries in the hostels, hotels, and B&B’s around the world, I’m hesitant to actually leave any books, even though the sign always says “take a book, leave a book.” Frankly, I’d rather just take a book. But, being the rule abiding person that I am, I do leave a book when I take one—at least most of the time. On our recent trip to Bali, most hotels we stayed in had free book exchanges. It always feels a little like finding treasure to me, because even if I don’t have a book to leave, I can and will read a book (or even skim it, as I am, after all, on vacation) while I’m staying at the hotel, then just put it back on the shelf for the next person.

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Of course, the available books to exchange are not always in English, although the covers often look the same as their English counterpart, so I’m often initially excited to see a particular book, then sad when I discover it is in German or French. There always seems to be at least one of the Harry Potter books in most hotel book exchange libraries, and I’m always happy to read a little J.K. Rowling. There’s also almost always some kind of trashy beach read, and if you can’t justify a trashy beach read when you’re on vacation, I don’t know when you can justify it. And of course, there’s usually a Dan Brown or John Grisham mystery/thriller thrown in for good measure. A hotel book exchange library can be a good place to look for local guidebooks too, as guests often leave their books behind when leaving a country.

But the best thing EVER is when I can pick up a great find and leave a terrible paperback behind. And don’t you know, my great find was more than likely left by another hotel guest as a terrible paperback.

Sell Me Something Good

28 Aug

by Nancy Bestor

Can you imagine working at a job where all day long people say no to you? I’ve never wanted to be a telemarketer or a door to door salesperson for that very reason. (And because I’m regularly annoyed by people doing those jobs, heaven forbid I’d work a job where people find me annoying.) I can’t help but feel a little sorry for people in those sales jobs though. So while some folks might just immediately interrupt a telemarketer and say “no thanks” then hang up the phone, I politely listen to most or all of their spiel, then I say “no thanks” and hang up the phone. Something tells me I’m not doing the telemarketer any favors by keeping them on the line when I have no intention of buying, but I am trying to be polite.

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Thus when I’m sitting on the beach in a foreign country, or eating in a restaurant, or even riding the bus, and I’m approached by a tout, it’s hard for me to immediately say no, even if I’m not remotely interested in what is being sold. So many tourists can quickly say “no thank you” before they’ve even been shown the wares available for purchase. I rarely want to buy, but it is so difficult for me to just say no right off the bat. I’ve learned however, that if I don’t say no immediately, the tout won’t leave me alone. He or she will sense my hesitation, and continue to offer me suggestions on what I should buy. This includes, but is not limited to, hair extensions, a beach massage, an “I got drunk in Puerto Vallarta” t-shirt, and many other gems. I’ve even been offered English language teaching tapes on a bus in Costa Rica. Replying no, in English, only slightly dissuaded the salesperson. I’ve not come home from Turkey with a rug however, so in the end I can usually make a clean break, but it would really be better for all parties if I could just say no in the first place.

On a recent trip to Bali, it was fun to listen to the salespeople offer me their “best price” as I passed by their store. On various occasions we were presented with a morning price, a good luck price, a raining price and an afternoon price. We were given the opportunity to “come and have a coconut at my house” from a man renting snorkeling equipment. We were introduced to the children of touts on the beach. We were asked—repeatedly—where we were staying and where we were from. We were asked our names. The list goes on and on. I started out thinking that the touts were so nice and so interested in us, but quickly realized it was just a way for them to get more sales.

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I remember visiting the Grand Bazaar in Turkey. Walking down the aisles with booths on either side was like running the gauntlet. Salespeople would holler out at us to come and try their tea or spices or shop in their booth or ask where we were from. It got to the point that I couldn’t reply to their remarks, nor could I even make eye contact, because that was, in their eyes, a sign that I was interested. And if I wanted to take a closer look at something, I felt like it was almost a foregone conclusion that I was going to buy it.

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Last week a young woman knocked on my front door here in Ashland. When I answered she started her carpet cleaning sales spiel by asking if I was “the lady of the house.” I politely said yes, although I was on guard. Next she asked if I was “the queen of my castle.” Indeed I am, but that’s all it took. This time I immediately pulled up the drawbridge.

When A Picture Is Not Really Worth A Thousand Words

13 Aug

by Nancy Bestor

I am good at many things. But to be completely honest there is one area (one?) in which I am not very successful – photography. I am always sure I am about to get a GREAT travel shot, one that I could enter into the National Geographic esteemed photo contest and read comments like, “How is it possible that this woman is NOT a professional travel photographer?” Or, “I would like to pay for you to travel to Bora Bora and take photos of my adorable family on vacation.” But once I go back through my photos and view the “gems” I’ve snapped, I find dark, out-of-focus images, where my subjects are often not looking their best. My family has requested I check with them before posting any photos I have taken, because they know the truth—I would have trouble making Cindy Crawford look good. I can’t even master the art of the selfie, as posing for a photo and snapping the photo at the same time are apparently a bit more than I can handle.

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Thus I’ve taken to letting Bob be in charge of snapping shots on our travels. I didn’t pay much attention when he researched the best type of camera to buy. I didn’t pay attention when he studied the camera and its many features, learning how to best photograph food, night shots and more. And that also released me from worrying about carrying a camera, as Bob handles that as well. I did learn which button to press when I want to take a photo, and frankly that’s all I need to know. Every once in a blue moon I might snap a photo myself when we’re traveling, but more often than not I ask (demand?) Bob to take a photo of something that I cannot believe he has not already taken a photo of himself. It’s almost like having my own private photographer in tow. I’m sure he loves it.

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So I will not be entering the 14th Annual Travel Essentials Travel Photo Contest this month, partly because I am ineligible to enter Travel Essentials travel photo contest, but more importantly because my photos would go in to the “let’s laugh at these later” pile. (Don’t worry, we really don’t have a let’s laugh at these later pile. But if we did, I guarantee mine would be at the front of the pack.)

If you’ve got a few travel photos in your albums that you’ve gotten complements on, or you just have a couple of photos that you’ve taken that you really enjoy looking at, please consider emailing them to us and entering our contest. Your photos might be displayed for the world to enjoy on our website or in our front window, and even better, you might win some great travel gear. The contest ends August 31, so start looking through your photos now. Once we get them, I’ll look through your photos and pretend like I took them.

 

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Blinded By The Light

31 Jul

by Nancy Bestor

I like to think I’m not too picky of a traveler. But, I do prefer non-squat toilets. I also like a good mattress and hot water. One other key component? Electricity. It’s always a welcome feature. A few years ago we traveled to Vernazza in Italy’s Cinque Terre. The town was recovering from a tremendous flood, and construction was happening throughout the area. When we checked in to our hotel they advised us that the power would be out that day and the next, but just during daytime hours, while they were continuing to repair the streets. That wasn’t a big deal, because you don’t really need electric lights in the daytime. On our most recent trip to Bali, however, we lost a bit more electricity than I would have liked. It was fun at first, then it got a little old, but in the end we adapted, because really, what were our choices?

We had planned our vacation for beach time at the the beginning of our trip, and more beach time in Amed, on Bali’s eastern coast at the end of our trip, for some lazy days after traveling throughout the country, hiking and seeing the sites. Amed is a beautiful and sleepy fishing village that boasts lovely beaches, great snorkeling and diving, and fish–lots and lots of fish. It turns out the roads along the five-plus miles of the Amed coastline were first paved in 2000 and telephone lines were first installed in 2003. Once very remote, the region is more touristed now, but still pretty quiet.

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When we checked in to our beachfront villa at Life in Amed the gentleman who showed us to our room pointed out a battery operated light and advised us that once or twice a month the power goes out all up and down the coast. So we were now prepared in the unlikely event that were to happen. Well we stayed in Amed three nights, and guess how many times the power was out after dark for at least an hour? Four times.

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The first time we were the only people eating in a restaurant a few miles from our hotel. The power went out before we got our food, but they were able to finish making it and we ate with a small battery operated lantern at our table. It was fun at first, but then large bugs began landing on our table, near the lantern, and the girls became slightly unnerved. We finished up our meal and headed back to our hotel and within an hour or so, the power came back on. Another night the power went off as we went to bed. We had headlamps and flashlights to read by so that wasn’t too big of a deal, but the upstairs of the villa was pretty hot under mosquito netting without air conditioning or an overhead fan. Boo hoo. The power went off once at dusk too, so we sat by the pool reading with flashlights. The last power outage was at dinner on our final night, where we decided to make it easier on ourselves and just eat at the hotel. This time the tables were better lit, but sadly there were several things on the menu they could not make, including delicious jaffle sandwiches (made with an electric jaffle toaster).

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Really our time without electricity was no big deal. But I’m very glad we had headlamps along and little flashlights too. It’s amazing how handy things like that are when you’re walking down a cobblestone footpath in the dark without electricity, or trying to fit your key into your hotel door’s keyhole. I’m also glad I live in a country where electricity rarely goes out (and where we can sit rather than squat on a toilet too!), although people in Amed seem very used to functioning without electricity. If you want to visit a somewhat remote and sleepy fishing village in a third world country you should be prepared for things to run at least a bit differently than you otherwise might be used to. In the end it was a great experience, and one that made me thankful for what we’ve got.

I Fought The Law and the Law Won

31 Jul

by Nancy Bestor

Lonely Planet advises that if you plan to drive a car in Bali, you’re “supposed” to have an International Driving Permit (IDP). Knowing that we did plan to drive (that’s the Royal We here, Bob would be doing all the driving in Bali), Bob went ahead and got an IDP from our local AAA store in Medford, Oregon for $23. It was easy to obtain, he simply showed his US driver’s license, filled out a form, had his picture taken and paid his money. The entire process took about 10 minutes.

International Driving Permits are actually recommended and/or required in many foreign countries, although lots of people don’t bother to get them. We’ve driven in several European countries and never bothered to get one either. Bob’s brother, Andy Bestor, has been renting cars to European travelers for nearly 20 years (and is very knowledgeable about all things car rental). He says they “officially recommend” the IDP, but tells customers it is mostly for peace of mind.

When we picked up our rental car in Bali (more on that easy third world process in a future post), the American hotel owner where we were staying said an IDP was not really necessary. If we were stopped, we could simply bribe the police officer, and if we also smiled a lot, all would be well. When we hit the road, we tucked Bob’s IDP deep into one of our bags and promptly forgot we had it.

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Bob drove like a pro (on the opposite side of the road, more on that in a future post too!), for the two weeks we were on the island, and we rarely even saw a police officer, let alone worried about being stopped by one. Until of course, our last day when we were hurrying to the airport and came upon a roadblock where several officers were randomly pulling cars over. One of the policeman took a quick look at us and motioned us to stop. The very first thing he asked for? Our International Driving Permit.

It took us a while to find our IDP. It wasn’t in the glove compartment. It wasn’t my shoulder bag. It wasn’t in Bob’s daypack either. I could see Bob getting a bit worried even though I assured him it was somewhere in our bags. Finally we found it, buried deep in one of main bags in the trunk, under some end-of-the-trip dirty laundry. We were glad to find is, because let’s be frank here, we’re really not the bribing type.

All the while our policeman stood quietly by our vehicle, waiting for us to find our IDP and once we finally presented it to him, he looked at it like he had never seen one before. He even yelled to a colleague and waved our IDP in the air, as if to say “look, these silly Americans actually HAVE an IDP.” (For all I know, that is exactly what he did say. Two weeks is not nearly enough time to understand more than a few words of Indonesian.) Once we cleared up the fact that we did have an IDP, the policeman became quite friendly and pointed to our teenage daughters in the backseat. He motioned with his smartphone, gesturing could he take a picture of them. “Yes,” we nodded, of course. Then he asked “Where from?” When we answered America he said “Ohhhh, OBAMA!” Yes, we nodded and smiled, Obama. Finally he motioned that he wanted a picture with Bob, and said “for memories.”

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And that’s the story of our international driving permit. Thanks to our IDP, Bob made a friend that day and a Balinese policeman likely went home and showed his family the photos he took of the first Americans ever to carry an International Driving Permit in Bali. That’s the best $23 we’ve spent in a long time.

A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall

30 Jul

by Nancy Bestor

Perhaps I’m like the cobbler who wears broken down shoes, or the carpenter whose deck is falling apart, as every now and then when we travel I neglect to take along a handy item that we sell at Travel Essentials, and I am truly sorry. There was the time my daughter got seasick on a whale-watching trip in the San Juan Islands, and our guide advised us that she really should be wearing motion bands, and then proceeded to inform us of all their benefits as she lent Emily a pair. I knew all about the benefits, because we sell them at Travel Essentials. Other trips have found us desperate to take a family photo but without a tri-pod. And of course, we sell excellent little travel tri-pods at Travel Essentials too.

Most recently however, Bob and I were caught in a torrential downpour at a beautiful temple on the outskirts of Tirtagangga in Bali, without any kind of rain gear. It was coming down so hard that there was no way we would be able to walk the 1700 steps to see the temple at the top without being completely drenched by about our third step. The temple is beautiful (or so I’m told) and it was a warm downpour, but our cameras and phones would have been soaked through and ruined, not to mention our bodies.

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Sure wish we would have had the emergency poncho that we sell at Travel Essentials for $3.95. Yes, just three dollars and ninety-five cents, and it packs up into a teeny-tiny square. How easy it would have been for me to throw two (or four) of those ponchos into my suitcase. We would have put them on and hiked up the 1,700 stairs to see Pura Lempuyang, and it would have been beautiful (I’m sure). We’re headed to New Orleans in September, and if it rains, rather than walking around with plastic trash bags over ourselves, like we did when we were younger, (and by the way, I would have been delighted with trash bags in Bali) I’ll make sure to pack a couple of emergency ponchos. If nothing else, it will guarantee a weekend of perfect weather.

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