6 smart money tips for traveling overseas

You plan to travel overseas because it’s off season and exchange rates for the U.S. dollar are favorable, but you haven’t dealt with foreign currency for a while.

Don’t worry. Here are six tips, based on my travel experience, to help stretch your dollars.

1. Ditch foreign transaction fees: Before your departure, check if your credit card charges you a foreign transaction fee on any purchase overseas. If it does, consider switching to one that doesn’t charge such a fee or applying for one to take instead. Several credit cards, including Citi Premier Card and Bank of America Premium Rewards credit card, don’t charge a foreign transaction fee. The Points Guy website just wrote about this last month. Give yourself enough time for a card to arrive by mail.

2. Chip it: Make sure your bank card has a chip (most cards should by now)  and and you have a four-digit PIN number, which is what is used in Europe.

3. Be safe: To avoid theft or unauthorized use of your debit or credit card number, make sure to keep your cards safe and protect your PIN number from being seen by other people — even at U.S. airports.

4. Wait to get foreign currency: Given the prevalence of ATM machines at airports and the broad acceptance of credit cards, you don’t need to exchange dollars into the foreign currency of the country you’re traveling to before you get there. You can wait until you arrive at your destination and use a bank ATM at the airport or other location, not a money change center. If you feel more comfortable with some some foreign cash in hand, just exchange a small amount before your departure.

5. Convert money in bulk: Try to estimate how much money you’ll need and change it all once to avoid multiple bank fees and fluctuations in the exchange rate that may not be in your favor.

6. Pay in local currency: When using a credit or debit card in another country, if you’re given the option of paying in US. dollars or the foreign currency, choose the currency of the country where you are to avoid paying extra fees.

In Europe, for example, the dollar is enjoying one of the best exchange rates to the Euro in two years. On Tuesday, you would have received 0.88 euros for $1. For more information on the strong dollar, read my blog post from December.

Chaco is worth the trek for solitude, serenity and beauty

Some sites are treasured for their archaeological or historical significance. Others gather a cult following because they’re off the beaten path.

Chaco Culture National Historic Park in northwestern New Mexico is all of that — and more.

Chaco kiva
Chaco is famous for its “great houses,’This is one of the giant kivas at Chaco. (Sheryl Jean)

The canyon site, which dates back more than 1,000 years, was a center of ceremonial, trade and political activity for the ancestral Pueblo peoples in the Four Corners region.

Chaco recently made news headlines because the U.S. Bureau of Land Management planned to sell oil and gas leases that include land near Chaco and other American Indian sites on March 28. The BLM earlier this month deferred the sale of about 1,500 acres near Chaco in New Mexico.

Tribal leaders, environmental advocates and Democratic lawmakers opposed the BLM’s plan to auction land for oil and gas exploration within 10 miles of the Chaco site, citing an unfinished land management plan about how deep horizontal fracturing would affect the area.

Chaco, a UNESCO World Heritage site, contains some 4,000 archaeological sites and 1.5 million artifacts and documents, though a fraction are accessible to the public. It’s best known for its “great houses,” or kivas, public buildings that are the largest and best preserved prehistoric architectural structures in North America.

Why visit

During two visits to Chaco, I’ve been enchanted by the solitude, peacefulness and beauty of the desert. Even my 15-year-old nephew thought it was cool.

The massive buildings show off the architectural, astronomical, engineering and social achievements of the ancestral Pueblo people from the 9th to 13th centuries. Chaco’s setting also is spectacular: beautiful sandstone mesas, buttes, canyons and desert vistas from its elevation of 6,000 feet or higher.

Excavations started in 1896 by Richard Weatherill, who also excavated the nearby Mesa Verde cliff dwellings. Chaco became a national monument in 1907 and a historic park in 1980.

All of the park’s structures have been preserved, but not reconstructed. They truly are ruins.

What to do

Follow the 9-mile, paved Canyon Loop Drive to visit the park’s five major sites. You can drive it, but consider walking or bicycling it. From the loop road, short self-guided, gravel trails (from a quarter mile to 1 mile) lead to the ruins. Highlights include:

Pueblo Bonito: This is the most important cultural site in Chaco Canyon. Pueblo Bonito was the center of the Chacoan world the most important cultural site in Chaco Canyon, which once covered parts of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah. It was built in stages from 850 AD to 1150 AD. It was five stories high and had more than 600 rooms.

Chaco doorways at Pueblo Bonito
A visitor walks throught the aligned doorways of Pueblo Bonito, which at one time had over 600 rooms. (Sheryl Jean)

Chetro Ketl: This is the park’s second largest Chacoan great house. The site, which covers more than 3 acres, includes a great kiva and elevated kivas. An elevated plaza stood 12 feet above the canyon floor.

Casa Rinconada: The house and nearby small villages existed alongside grand public buildings like Pueblo Bonito and Chetro Ketl. Don’t miss the great kiva.

Una Vida: This Chacoan “great house” is a large multi-story public building with a great kiva. Don’t miss the petroglyphs above Una Vida. You also can see rock art on the Petroglyph Trail. Tip: Bring binoculars.

Una Vida petroglyphs at Chaco

Climb the Una Vida trail to see these petroglyphs. (Sheryl Jean)

Other activities, such as guided tours and night-sky programs, depend on the season and staffing. Four backcountry hiking trails range from 3 miles to 8 miles round trip.

It’s remote

On both of my visits, I could count my fellow visitors on my hands. For me, that’s part of the allure — to wander through these well-preserved ancient ruins practically alone.

Just over 55,000 people visited Chaco in 2017. In comparison, the Blue Ridge Parkway, the nation’s most visited national park, received just over 16 million visitors that year.

Part of the reason for few visitors is that Chaco is remote and hard to reach. The park, which sits in a remote canyon cut by the Chaco Wash, is about a three-hour drive from Albuquerque or Santa Fe. The last stretch is along a badly rutted dirt road (20 miles of that coming from the South on Highway 57 or 13 miles approaching from the North on County Roads 7900 and 7950.

Map of Chaco Culture National Historic Park
(Google Maps)

If you want to stay in the park, you must camp. Other accommodations are in towns, such as Aztec, Cuba, Farmington and Grants, about 1.5 hours to 3 hours away.

The area is prone to unpredictable weather and seasonal flash floods, and GPS may not work. Heading north out of the park in summer 2017, I got stuck waiting for a flash flood to end.

Don’t late that deter you. Chaco is definitely worth exploring.

Chaco campground
At Chaco’s campground, you’ll sleep next to mesas and ruins. (Sheryl Jean)

Business or pleasure? Travel trends for 2019

Do you plan to travel more or less this year?

Your answer may depend on whether you travel for business or pleasure.

Regardless, both types of travel within the United States are projected to slow in the first half of this year after 2018’s growth outpaced 2017.

Total U.S. travel is expected to grow 2.4 percent through June, compared with growth of 3.6 percent in December, according to the U.S. Travel Association.

Why? A slowing global economy and volatile financial markets present the biggest risks to the short-term travel outlook, said Adam Sacks, president of research firm Oxford Economics’ tourism economics group. Oxford conducted this research for the USTA.

It’s just business

Most growth over the next six months will come from domestic travel (projected to grow 2.6 percent) vs. international travel (projected to increase to 2 percent). And most of that domestic travel growth  will come from the business side (+3.4 percent). Leisure travel is expected to grow about 2.2 percent.

That continues a trend from last year, when business travel within in the United States saw its best year since 2010, according to the USTA.

Let’s play

Still, certain segments of the domestic leisure market will get more attention than others.

Here are some leisure travel trends from a recent study by the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA), Outside magazine and East Carolina University:

  • Adventure travelers seek novel experiences, embrace challenges and want to have a positive impact on the places they go.
  • Personal wellness as a travel experience will continue. This may include yoga retreats, “digital detoxes” and nature immersion.
  • International travel will continue to surge, helped by fast and easy digital research and booking. International tourist arrivals rose 6 percent to 1.4 billion in 2018 from 2017, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization.
  • Expect more global destinations to launch measures to combat overtourism. In the last couple of years, places including Italy’s Cinque Terre and Peru’s Machu Picchu, began limiting visitors, offering safety education, asking visitors to sign tourism pledges and implementing taxes or fines to protect their landmarks, support local infrastructure needs and encourage better visitor behavior.

Read other blog posts I’ve written about travel trends.

5 tips on how to make travel with multiple generations of family more fun

Have you ever traveled with your family? What about with three or more generations of your family?

Whether that sounds like a dream or a nightmare, such multigenerational travel is a hot travel trend.

Read my article in The Dallas Morning News published on Jan. 8, 2019, to learn more about  multigenerational travel and five tips to smooth sailing with your family.

Yes, tasting olive oil is a thing in California

California is rich in places visitors can tour and taste their products — wineries, breweries, cheesemakers and chocolate. Now, you can add olive oil to that list.

Many businesses in Northern California (and other parts of the state) make extra virgin olive oil, an industry with roots dating to the late 1700s. Northern California production has seen a resurgence since the early 1990s.

Read my article in The Dallas Morning News published in December 2018. It focused on McEvoy Ranch (in featured photo), tucked into the rolling hills of northwestern Marin County near the Sonoma County border. The 550-acre ranch, which is about 40 miles north of San Francisco and 30 miles west of Napa, has been open to the public since 2015.



Why do Catalonian nativity scenes feature a man pooping?

Some places have downright odd traditions and rituals.

As I wandered through some outdoor Christmas fairs in Barcelona, Spain, last weekend, I found many stalls specializing in crèches and figures for nativity scenes.

Fira de Nadal at the Barcelona Cathedral
This stall at the Christmas fair (fira de nadal) in front of the Barcelona Cathedral sells crèches. (Photo by Sheryl Jean)

One figurine caught my eye because it seemed so bizarre: El Caganer. In polite translation, it means “the defecator” or one who poops.

He usually wears the traditional Catalonian red cap, a white peasant shirt and squats with his pants pulled down and a pile of excrement on the ground behind him. (See featured photo at top.)

El Caganer can be found in Christmas nativity scenes, but not in the manger. He’s usually tucked away somewhere, presenting his gift to baby Jesus, so to say.

Yes, the Catalonians are somewhat obsessed with crap. They’re not the only ones.

Scatalogical humor is part of our modern global culture, whether you like it or not. Over the last few years, it’s received a bit of a boost with the insane popularity of the poop emoji. Although the poop emoji appeared in 2010, it didn’t become one of the most popular iPhone emojis until 2016. Now, it can be found on earrings, hats, cupcakes, balloons and more.

poop emoji
The iPhone poop emoji (Apple)

The origins of El Caganer go much farther back than that of the poop emoji. In his book Barcelona, author Robert Hughes, traced the caganer as a folk-art character to the 16th century. The story goes that he became popular as a nativity figure in the 19th century.

The caganer also has appeared in more modern art, including by Catalonia’s own Joan Miró. He painted a baby squatting near his mother washing clothes at a cistern in “The Farm” in 1921 and the surrealist “Man and Woman in Front of a Pile of Excrement” in 1935.

The Farm by Joan Miró
Catalonian native son, artist Joan Miró, painted a baby (a caganer) squatting near his mother washing clothes at a cistern in “The Farm” in 1921. (Wikiart)

At the Christmas fair (fira de nadal) in front of the Barcelona Cathedral and the one in front of the Sagrada Familia, I saw rows of traditional caganers for sale. (These stalls sell many other figurines to basically create an entire village, complete with miniature animals, pots, jamón and looms.)

At tourist tchotchke shops, I also saw caganer figures in slightly larger versions on celebrities like Elvis to politicians like Russian President Vladimir Putin and even FC Barcelona soccer stars. (See photo at end.)

Why? I’m not exactly sure where this affinity for poop comes from, but it’s real.

Catalonians have “an abiding taste” for scatological humor and place the value a “good crap” on level with that of a “good meal,”Hughes writes. An old Catalonian folk saying goes “Menjar be, cagar fort, I no tingues por de la mort”or “Eat well, shit strongly, and you will have no fear of death.”

Cagier figurines
Many tourist tchotchke shops in Barcelona sell caganers modeled after celebrities, politicians, soccer stars and others. (Wikimedia Commons)

Travel overseas while the dollar is high

If you need an excuse to travel overseas, here it is: the strong U.S. dollar.

Today, for example, you would have received 0.88 Euros for one U.S. dollar. (See Google image below.) That tied the exchange rate in Nov. 13 and Aug. 15. Before those dates, the last time the dollar was that high against the Euro was 0.94 on April 7, 2017.

A strong U.S. dollar means someone can exchange it for more of a foreign currency. (It also means U.S. consumers can buy foreign goods sold here for less, but foreign consumers will pay more for U.S. goods imported to other countries.)

Why is the dollar up? Well, there are several reasons:

1. The U.S. economy is sustaining strong growth when many other countries’ (China and Germany, for example) economic growth is slowing. The U.S. gross domestic product, which is a measure of economic growth, was 3.5 percent in the third quarter and 4.2 percent in the second quarter.

2. The currencies of some countries have been hurt by fears that U.S. tariffs will curb economic growth.

3. Some countries’ currencies have fallen for other reasons, such as economic crisis (Venezuela) and high inflation (Turkey) and high foreign-currency debt levels (Indonesia).

This summer, some Wall Street forecasters expected the dollar to fall from its lofty perch. Morgan Stanley, State Street Corp. and Wells Fargo & Co. said the dollar’s fast rise (up about 5 percent from mid-April to late July) was nearly over, according to Bloomberg article.

The dollar’s fall hasn’t happened yet. It’s anyone’s guess when it will, but it will. Currencies rise and fall like the stock market.

So, take advantage of the strong dollar combined with the proliferation of low-fare European airlines and plan trip soon.

Alternative lodgings: This San Jose hotel offers history, charm and maybe ghosts

Do you know the way to San Jose?
I’m going back to find some peace of mind in San Jose …
–Burt Bacharach and Hal David

If you find yourself in fast-paced Silicon Valley over the holidays or for business, the Dolce Hayes Mansion may provide a welcome escape.

The San Jose, Calif., hotel exudes personality. Like history? It has that, too. And the rumors is it’s haunted.


This stained glass graces the ceiling in the hotel lobby. (Photo by Sheryl Jean)

The glorious grounds include palm trees, an outdoor swimming pool, tennis courts and a large outdoor patio. It’s location in the southeast corner of San Jose still offers easy access to freeways, many tech companies and two parks: one with a playground and one with a mixed-use trail.

The history

The mansion was home to the prominent Hayes family. Matriarch Mary Hayes Chynoweth commissioned the 65-room, 41,000-square–foot Spanish Colonial Revival house, but died just before it was completed in late 1905. Her two sons, Everis and Jay, and their families lived there. Everis was a U.S. Congressman and Jay was involved in state politics. In addition, the brothers owned and operated mines, farms and other businesses, including the San Jose Herald, San Jose Mercury and The Evening News. Those newspapers eventually became the San Jose Mercury News. At one time the Hayes family’s estate covered nearly 700 acres.

Mural Dolce Hays Mansion
This is one of two large murals depicting California landscapes in the hallway behind the hotel lobby. (Photo by Sheryl Jean)

When you walk through the hotel’s main entrance, take note of two old photographs in the vestibule. The one on the left shows the first Hayes mansion, a Victorian affair that burned down in 1899. The one on the right shows the current mansion in 1953. At check-in, make sure to ask for the self-guided walking tour (a brochure) of the mansion.

All of the wood trim in the lobby is mahogany. Just off the lobby is a beautiful library filled with legal volumes serves as a guest sitting area. From the lobby, a marble hallway takes you to other parts of the mansion, passing two wonderful murals (see photo above). More modern art of California landscapes by San Francisco Bay Area artists are in other parts of the mansion and wings.

Inglenook at the Dolce Hayes Mansion

This inglenook is below the grand staircase on the south side of the mansion. The mosaic is made of pieces of marble. (Photo by Sheryl Jean)

The Hayes family’s former sitting room serves as the Palm Plaza Lounge. Two inglenooks below the stairways in the mansion provide a cozy resting spot. The stairways lead to an historic photo gallery on the second floor.

The hotel

The City of San Jose bought the mansion in 1985. A division of Wyndham Hotels & Resorts now operates the 214-room hotel, which includes newer wings besides the main house, a conference center, two restaurants and a fitness center.

The hotel rooms seemed a bit dated, with heavy furniture and dark carpeting that should be replaced. (Was my view colored because I stayed there during gray, rainy weather?) Still, my room in a wing was clean and quiet, with a comfortable bed. You can find rooms priced at just over $100, but consider splurging for a large suite in the mansion (see photo below).

As for the hotel being haunted, who knows?

Note: I recently stayed at the Dolce Hayes Mansion on my own dime.


This is part of the bathroom a three-room suite in the mansion. There’s a separate walk-in shower. (Photo by Sheryl Jean)

Boise, Idaho’s train depot and bell tower are not to be missed

Like a sentry, the stately, Spanish-style tower watches over the city of Boise, Idaho, from its perch atop a hill south of downtown.

Still, I may not have noticed the modest spire if I hadn’t been staying in that part of the city. And that would have been a shame.

The stunning view of the Boise skyline and its foothills from its 90-foot bell tower is not to be missed.

View from the Boise Depot tower
The view from the Boise Depot tower. (Photo by Sheryl Jean)

It’s one of the many grand old train stations that have been renovated across the country.

Railroads helped the nation’s westward expansion, creating much of the network of roads and towns we have today. Many depots closed as autos and planes replaced trains for transportation. Some depots — including those in Denver; Kansas City, Mo.; New York City; and St. Paul, Minn. — still are used for Amtrak and/or a local commuter rail system. Others have been renovated for other uses, such as apartments, retail and event space. And some have been demolished or sit vacant and crumbling per a recent New York Times article.

I have visited a dozen renovated train stations across the country, including seven in the Midwest. I’m no train nut by any stretch, but I appreciate architecture and history.

In Boise, New York architects designed the city’s depot for Union Pacific Railroad. Guide John Devries told me construction began in 1920, with the first train rolling through five years later.

Boise Depot's Great Hall
The Boise Depot’s Great Hall, or lobby, was a cavernous room with a 44-foot high ceiling. (Photo by Sheryl Jean)

At the time, the depot was called “the most beautiful structure of its kind in the West.”

“At the depot’s height, there were six trains coming through daily,” Devries said. “There was Amtrak passenger service until 1997, but now the only passenger rail access is in Sandpoint,” Idaho (420 miles or nearly eight hours to the North).

Ceiling in the Boise Depot
Spanish trusses and rafters in the 44-foot-high “Great Hall” lobby are painted in original colors. (Photo by Sheryl Jean)

Construction company Morrison Knudsen Co. (known in these parts as MK) bought the building in 1990 and restored it. The $3.4 million renovation was unveiled in 1993.

The renovation opened the bell tower to the public for the first time as MK installed an elevator and stairway. The tower’s four bells used to play music; today, only one rings on the hour.


Inside, a large 1945 train schedule graces part of a wall. The old retail counter houses Boise Depot and Union Pacific memorabilia, such as matches, pins, sugar packets and train time tables. (See photos taken by me below.)

In 1996, the city of Boise bought the depot, which is operated by the Boise Parks and Recreation Department.

The Boise Depot is open to the public for free from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays and Sundays. Otherwise, you can rent it for an event.

Talking turkey: Thanksgiving air travel could soar

The Thanksgiving travel season promises to be one of the busiest ever for fliers, and I’m not talking about turkeys.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) expects more than 25 million people to travel through airports across the country this Thanksgiving season (Nov. 16 through Nov. 26). That’s nearly a 7 percent increase from 2017, making the holiday season one of TSA’s busiest on record.

Last year, the TSA noticed a shift in Thanksgiving air travel patterns it expects to continue this year: The big travel crush starts the Friday before Thanksgiving, instead of one day before the holiday.

Still, the busiest travel days are expected be the Tuesday and Wednesday before Thanksgiving and the Sunday afterward when people are returning home.

If this Thanksgiving might log record travel numbers, should we expect Christmas travel to do the same?

Most outlooks for the December holidays aren’t out yet, but it’s a good bet. In its 2018 Holiday Outlook report, PricewaterhouseCoopers expects more than a third (35 percent) of consumers to travel for the winter holidays. That figure is even higher for younger people: 52 percent for older millennials (age 32-36), 46 percent for young millennials (age 23-26) and 40 percent for Generation Z (people age 17-22).

Overall, travel volume to and within the United States has been growing each year for nearly 10 straight years, according to the U.S. Travel Association.

And the winter holidays always have been busy times of year for travel as children come home on college break and other family members gather from afar.

Here are some quick holiday air travel tips:

  • Plan to arrive at the airport early. That means two hours before the departure of a flight within the United States and three hours before an international flight. Allow extra time for traffic congestion, parking, returning a rental car or checking luggage.
  • Check this list from the TSA of items you can and cannot carry through an airport or onto an airplane.
  • Be prepared to move quickly through airport security. Have your identification and boarding pass ready. Remember to remove from your carry-on bag any electronic devices larger than a cell phone and the quart-size plastic bag containing liquids and gels in 3.4-ounce containers or smaller (unless you have TSA PreCheck).
  • Travel light. The less luggage you have, the easier it will be to move around. It could cost you less since many airlines have raised their checked baggage fee.
  • Dress light. You must remove shoes, coats or sweaters and empty your pockets at airport security checkpoints. You also may need to remove watches and jewelry, if you’re wearing any.