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.



What do airline passengers want the most? Wi-fi service

The demand for wi-fi service on flights is so strong that many passengers are even willing to sacrifice alcoholic drinks and meals, according to a new survey.

More than three quarters of those surveyed (78 percent) think wi-fi is “fundamental” to daily life and more than half (55 percent) say the service is crucial, according to the fourth annual global Inflight Connectivity Survey by London-based global mobile services provider Inmarsat. But high-paying customers, parents and younger passengers are among those most likely to use inflight wi-fi service.

“Whether it’s used for sending that important work email, entertaining the children or even connecting with fellow passengers, staying online is becoming a crucial part of the inflight experience for today’s airline passengers,” Philip Balaam, president of Inmarsat Aviation, said in a statement.

Connectivity has become more of a focus as more people are using smartphones and other smart devices for everything. New data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that more than two-thirds of all U.S. households (68 percent) access the Internet via their mobile devices,

Global passengers ranked inflight wi-fi as the fourth most important factor — after airline reputation, free checked baggage and extra leg room — in booking a flight. Nearly 90 percent business travelers (87%) say they would use inflight wi-fi to work and 51 percent of nervous flyers would use it to keep in touch with family and friends on land.

Demand for inflight wi-fi outstrips supply. Passengers can send emails, search the Internet and more on some flights, but access is spotty from airline to airline. Less than half of global passengers (45 percent) have traveled on flights offering it, the survey found.

That led Inmarsat to conclude that inflight wi-fi is a key driver in forming airline customer satisfaction and loyalty. More than two-thirds of all passengers (67 percent) are more likely to rebook with an airline if quality inflight wi-fi was available (it’s 83 percent for business travelers and 81 percent of passengers traveling with children).

Most airline passengers are willing to give up other inflight amenities, such as alcohol (53 percent) and meals (54 percent, from Inmarsat’s 2016 survey), for Internet access.

Inmarsat and market research company Populous surveyed more than 9,300 passengers from 32 countries in the Americas, Asia Pacific, Europe and the Middle East.

Road trip? California Highway 1 section in Big Sur set to reopen in September

California Journal

Visitors to California can look forward to the reopening of one of the most scenic parts of California Highway 1 that winds along the Big Sur coastline in September after being closed for more than a year.

Highway 1, or the Pacific Coast Highway, is the state’s best-known scenic byway, starting near San Juan Capistrano and ending in Mendocino County.

California Highway 1 shield
(SPUI via Creative Commons)

Highway 1 winds for hundreds of miles along much of the state’s coastline, hugging cliff tops and passing through some of the state’s best tourist spots. Visitors will see California’s largest cities, many beaches, Redwood trees, Elephant seals, boardwalks, lighthouses, missions, wineries, Hearst Castle and spectacular coastal views.

Currently, however, you cannot drive along Highway 1 past Ragged Point just north of Hearst Castle to Big Sur. The detour route winds inland and adds about 30 minutes to the drive. The featured photo at top of California Highway 1 in Big Sur is about a mile north of Ragged Point looking south. (Fred Moore via Creative Commons)

Caltrans closed that section of road in April 2017 due to dangerous conditions. One month later, a massive landslide — one of the biggest in state history — occurred there at Mud Creek. (An earlier mudslide in March 2017 destroyed the Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge, which is used to access Big Sur from the north, but it reopened in October 2017.)


Big Sur northward view
This view of California Highway 1 near Big Sur includes Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge to the North. (Astronautilus via Creative Commons)

The treacherous stretch of Highway 1 around Big Sur has seen upwards of 60 road closures since 1935. A Caltrans report detailed 56 road closures from 1935 through mid-2000, but there have been many more  since then.

San Quentin Prison inmates and locals, like writer John Steinbeck, built Highway 1. It opened in 1934.

Are travel sites ripe for personalization?

Most people plan and book their travel online these days.

Last year, consumers booked nearly half of all U.S. travel online, and the online travel market is growing faster than the offline market, according to industry researcher Phocuswright.

Research firm eMarketer predicts that global digital travel sales will increase from $548 billion in 2016 to $855 billion by 2021.

Phocuswright's Mark Blutstein headshot
Mark Blutstein (Courtesy of Phocuswright)

It’s not all smooth sailing though. A new report from Phocuswright notes that consumers often complain that online travel shopping takes too long and they have to search too many different websites.

Phocuswright analyst Mark Blutstein notes that other websites — from e-tailers to Netflix —  have personalized and streamlined the process. These sites offer customers suggestions, such as movies or clothing they might like, based on current site activity, what’s in their cart and past searches or purchases. Why can’t travel sites?

Half of U.S. online travelers say they’d rather see fewer choices based on their interests than spend hours searching for the perfect option, according to Phocuswright.

The flip side of personalization, Blutstein reminds us, is that you have to share your personal data.

Many consumers are on high alert about data privacy these days. Social network Facebook recently garnered a lot of attention about the way it collects and stores users’ information following news that Cambridge Analytica, a company with links to President Donald Trump’s campaign, accessed the personal data of tens of millions of Facebook users to target them for political campaigns.

Travelers may be different — at least when it comes to some general information. Roughly half of travelers say they’re comfortable sharing their past or current travel brands and destinations with online travel sites if it helps provide a more personalized experience, according to Phocuswright.


What is a bothy?

bothy (pronounced both-ee) — A small hut or cottage in the wilderness that’s usually unlocked and open for anyone to use for free.

You might have wondered what that is after recent news headlines featured a family rescued by the “Hogwarts Express” steam train of Harry Potter movies after they were stranded at a remote bothy in the Scottish Highlands.

The Scottish Bothy Bible book

Jon and Helen Cluett and their four children were staying at the Essan bothy on Loch (Lake) Eilt, about 130 miles northwest of Glasgow. After their canoe was swept away by a swollen river, the Cluetts called the police, which arranged for the train to pick them up, according to a BBC news report.

A bothy — also called a byre, or cowshed — is a rustic place to rest tired feet or sleep, sheltered from the wind and rain that pummels much of Scotland. The Mountain Bothies Association maintains about 100 of these basic shelters in remote areas across Great Britain.

For Americans, bothies are similar to the Appalachian Mountain Club huts available for rests or overnight lodging along part of the 2,190-mile Appalachian Trail.

Similarly in Scotland, it’s popular to sleep or rest at bothies along multi-day walks and hikes. Each bothy differs slightly, but they usually do not have water or a toilet. Most bothies have a fireplace or stove, but no fuel; some have a sleeping platform or a table.

Doune bothy, Scotland, GoogleMaps
The location of Doune bothy, or byre, where I rested tired feet. (GoogleMaps)

A new book, The Scottish Bothy Bible, reveals the location of 80 bothies across the country’s boggy, forested and mountainous terrain.

On a recent trip to Scotland, Doune bothy on the northeast shore of Loch Lomond in the Central Highlands (see photo at top) was a welcome respite after a tough stretch of a 17-mile hike on a rainy day. My traveling companion and I shared the one-room stone cottage with a fireplace, table and sleeping platform with three men from Germany.  Four other people stopped by as we were leaving.

The Bothy Code simply requests that users respect the shelter, other visitors, the surroundings, agreements with private estates and restrictions on numbers.

Edinburgh is rich in literary lore

A city that names a soccer team after a novel (The Heart of Midlothian by Sir Walter Scott) must be steeped in literary legends, right?

Right — at least for Edinburgh, Scotland.

Scott Monument in Edinburgh
The monument to author Sir Walter Scott. (Photo by Sheryl Jean)

Edinburgh has been known as a “City of Letters” since the early 18th century. Quotes by famous Scottish writers are scattered across the city, including on the wall of the Scottish Parliament building. A 200-foot monument to Scott — the world’s largest to a writer — looms over Princes Street across from Jenners department store. A marble statue of Scott (1771-1832) sits at the base and there are 64 other statues of characters from Scott’s historical novels.

It seems impossible that the narrow spires of the 1840s Victorian Gothic Scott Monument contain 287 steps to the top. I climbed up in a narrow, spiral stone stairway made me a bit dizzy. I was rewarded with spectacular 360-degree views of Edinburgh (see photo at top) from the tippity top. If you can’t make it all the way to the top, three platforms along the way also offer incredible vistas.

“I am sorry to report the Scott Monument a failure,” author Charles Dickens said in 1858, according to an information board inside the monument. “It is like the spire of a Gothic church taken off and stuck in the ground.”

The Writers’ Museum on Lady Stair’s Close celebrates Edinburgh’s three best known writers: Scott (Ivanhoe and Rob Roy), Scotland’s national poet Robert Burns and Robert Louis Stevenson (Treasure Island and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde). It’s free.

Stairwell  of the Scott Monument in Edinburgh
Slit windows let light inside a stairwell to the top of the Scott Monument. (Photo by Sheryl Jean)

The museum displays their portraits, rare books, letters and other personal items. You’ll see Scott’s pipe and chess set. There’s also Burns’ writing desk and, on the ghoulish side, a plaster cast of his skull. Born of a humble farming family, Burns (1759-96) was called the ‘Heaven-taught ploughman.”

Visitors also will see Stevenson’s snuff boxes, fishing rod, riding boots and the ring given to him by a Samoan chief, engraved with “Tusitala,” or “teller of tales.” Stevenson (1850-94) reportedly was wearing that ring when he died.

Visitors can eat or stay at Stevenson’s former home at 17A Heriot Row. It’s now called Stevenson House. (Note: I did not stay there).

For a more modern literary turn, The Writers’ Museum is celebrating the 30th anniversary of Scottish crime writer Ian Rankin’s character, Detective Inspector John Rebus. The Rebus30 exhibition, which runs through Jan. 21, 2018, displays some of Rankin’s personal items, such as manuscripts, and explores the relationship between him and Rebus, and both men’s connections with Edinburgh.

“I don’t think the Rebus novels could be set anywhere else – they really are about Edinburgh,” Ian Rankin writes in the exhibition. “I still haven’t got to the bottom of what makes Edinburgh tick or what makes it a unique setting. It just seems to be a place that has influenced writers, and continues to nurture writers.”

The Writers' Museum sign in Edinburgh
Entrance to The Writers’ Museum (Photo by Sheryl Jean)

You can take a Rebus Tours walking tour with readings from Rankin’s books and real Edinburgh locations. Grab a pint at Rebus’s local pub, the Oxford Bar or Milne’s Bar, where a group of poets including Norman MacCaig, Sorley MacLean and George Mackay Brown, used to meet. The Literary Pub Tour is another option.

As you leave town, you might pass through the central train station, which is named for another Scott novel (Waverly).