Ouch – Travel Troubles Everywhere

October 16, 2011 on 6:57 pm | In Egypt travel, Europe travel, France Travel, Greece Travel, Italy travel, London travel, Mexico travel, Paris Travel, Spain Travel, Travel Safety, UK Travel, air travel, england travel, international travel, new york travel, personal travel, rome travel, strikes and travel, things travelers need to know, travel alert, travel alert Greece, travel new york city, travel warnings | 2 Comments

Where to start?

Two of the largest labor unions in Greece have announced a 48 hour nationwide strike for October 19 and 20. Currently, lawyers are on strike, as are customs officers who are on a ten-day strike. See the Belfast Telegraph for details.

The “Occupy Wall Street has gone international with demonstrations in London, Toronto, Mexico City, Madrid, Rome and other locations. Unfortunately, the demonstrations turned violent in Rome. See this article from CNN for a top level overview of the demonstrations.

In Egypt, reform leaders are criticizing Egypt’s Military leadership, while the friction between the Copts (Christians) and some sects of believers in Islam, continues.

All in all, not a good week for travelers, at least those in the centers of major cities around the world. We are unsure what lies ahead for the demonstrations in Europe and the United States, but urge you to search local news sources to see if the activity might interfere with any travel you have planned. Other hotspots such as Greece and Egypt look to be long term problems that might just wind up with you taking these potential travel destinations off your bucket list, at least for a while.

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Travel Medicine and Immunizations

January 19, 2011 on 6:08 pm | In ThereArePlaces.com, Travel Safety, international travel, personal travel, things travelers need to know, travel and health, travel immunizations, travel medicine | 1 Comment

We are preparing for a trip to an exotic location and needed the advice of specialist in travel medicine in terms of the immunizations we might require for the journey. Of course, the first question that comes to mind is. “How do I find an expert in travel medicine and the vaccinations that might be needed for travel in the countries we plan to visit?”

Our research led us to a specialist associated with the International Society of Travel Medicine. He was a great resource and we decided to write an article for the Things Travelers Need to Know section of our ThereAreplaces website to help others out who might be in the same situation. You can find the article here.

Somewhat serendipitously, another contact sent as an article posted on the BBC today that shows why you just might need some authoritative advice from a specialist in travel medicine.

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Travelers in Europe Stranded Until After Christmas?

December 21, 2010 on 9:39 am | In Europe travel, Germany, Germany travel, London travel, ThereArePlaces.com, UK Travel, air travel, england travel, international travel, things travelers need to know, travel alert, travel weather warning | Comments Off

Snow continues to plague holiday travelers across Europe, as well as in the United Kingdom. New storms and snow have caused more delays at Frankfurt Airport, while the managers at Heathrow Airport seem to be unable to figure out how to remove the snow quickly enough to solve their overload dilemma. However, airlines are not the only ones being influenced by the weather, as travel by trains, buses and cars suffers from long delays and, in some cases, route closures. See this article by DW-World.DE for detailed information on the troubles across Europe and this one from the Guardian about the travel-related troubles at Heathrow Airport outside London.

The weather situation in Europe and the UK is unprecedented and airports and airlines are not prepared to handle situations that fall outside of normal operating conditions. While this is not what travelers want to hear, it is, nonetheless, true. No matter how angry you get about being stuck in an airport, it will not change the situation or get you home any earlier. We know it is not very satisfying to read this, but you will need patience to get through any travel delay. Your stories about the delay will likely become a comedy routine at the next family reunion, even if you cannot believe that you would someday laugh at the incomprehensible disorganization that befallen you on your trouble plagued travels.

Several years ago we spent the night trapped at Heathrow airport, forced to sleep on their cold, hard floors. It was yet another weather related difficulty and British Airways cancelled our flight without notice and said we were on our own. Since we had been in London and were leaving from London, apparently they thought we could return to our home and spend the night. When we made inquiries to the airport hotels, we were told there were none available. When we inquired about hotels in London, our travel agent told us that there were no rooms available due to the storm and that they had never seen anything like it. When we asked about hotels anywhere in the UK, we were told it did not matter as the roads were closed and we could not get there anyway.

Sometime in the middle of the night, airport police tried to evict us for sleeping in the airport and told us we would have to leave. We refused, thinking that even a cell in jail would be more comfortable than the floors in Heathrow’s Arrival Hall. Finally, the constables relented and let us stay. We arrived home several days late and swore that we would never travel again. Of course, we soon began dreaming about some exotic destination where we could sleep on the sands of a nice, warm beach.

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Cold and Snow Continues in the UK and Europe

December 19, 2010 on 9:39 am | In France Travel, Germany travel, Ireland travel, London travel, Scotland travel, UK Travel, air travel, international travel, things travelers need to know, travel weather warning | Comments Off

The weather-related travel misery we noted yesterday continues today in the United Kingdom and Europe. It now looks as if planes might start flying on Monday, but even that is not a sure thing at this point.

See these articles by CNN and Bloomberg for more information. The CNN article has a slide show of winter scenes across Europe that might help you judge the snowfall and how cold it is in some of these locations.

We note that this has been a unique storm in the annals of weather history, but are equally sure that this is no comfort to those stuck because of it.

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Goodbye October, Travelers Hope For a Better November

October 31, 2010 on 1:08 pm | In Istanbul travel, Northern Ireland travel, Spain Travel, ThereArePlaces.com, Travel Safety, air travel, air travel security, international travel, things travelers need to know, travel news, travel warnings, travels in Turkey | Comments Off

It’s has been a tough month for Tourism and October appears to be ending like it started. In addition to all of the strikes across Europe, particularly those in France and Italy, terrorism has once again reared its ugly head in Europe and the Mideast.

A suicide bomber attacked Taksim Square in Istanbul, wounding 32 people. Taksim Square, Istanbul’s main square, is located close to several upscale hotels. The square is a noted meeting place and is often frequented by tourists because it is a major transportation hub. Taksim Square is located across the Galata Bridge and away from the main tourism area of the city. No organization has claimed responsibility, although it is thought that the Kurdish separatist militants are behind the incident. Authorities in Istanbul are vigilant about tourism and it is to be noted that fifteen of the wounded were police, as the terrorist appears to have focused the attack on the police stationed around the square.

Repercussions from the explosive packages shipped from Yemen to the United States seem bound to cause an investigation on security checks for air-freight packages that are shipped around the world. It has been rumored that one of the packages involved in the recent controversy was shipped on a passenger plane and that the sophisticated devices were designed to bring down aircraft.

Overall, we think establishing best practices on safety for parcel and package shipping is a good idea, but if freight is banned from passenger flights, the expense of our tickets will surely go up.

In Northern Ireland police disarmed two bombs, one near Belfast Airport, in a sign that Northern Ireland may be slipping back in to the “troubles”. Due to the presence of another bomb that required defusing, the railway connecting Belfast and Dublin was closed for 24 hours.

In the only piece of good news for travelers over the weekend, was the speculation that the days of the ETA Basque Separatist Movement in Spain may be drawing to a close, although we have heard these rumors several times in the past. See Yahoo News for more information.

As those of you who have read our travel advice at ThereArePlaces know, we advise that travelers keep a low profile when traveling and avoid large crowds when possible. We continue to regard travel as the best prescription the doctor can order!

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More Strikes in France

October 11, 2010 on 10:26 am | In France Travel, Paris Travel, ThereArePlaces.com, international travel, personal travel, strikes, strikes and travel, things travelers need to know, travel warnings | 2 Comments

The strike season appears to be turning into a year around phenomenon in France, as a major strike has been called for Tuesday that is expected to grind transportation to a halt countrywide (including air, rail and Metro (in Paris)). Further, the strikers will demonstrate again on Saturday. Another aspect of this strike is that it is an “open strike”, which means that the strike could be renewed daily by a vote of the workers supporting the effort.

Most flights into Orly and Charles de Gaulle airports will be canceled, so if you have plans to fly to, from or within France, you should contact your airlines to see what is possible.

This week’s strike in France is a specific response to the Upper House of the French system of government voting to change the minimum retirement age from 60 to 62 and the age for a full pension from 65 to 67. Read more details about the strike and the issues behind it at Yahoo news.

If you will be traveling in France tomorrow, avoid gatherings associated with the strike. It is expected that the strike will be large (as all unions seem to be supporting it) and disrupt the normal flow of daily life throughout the country.

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Greece Tries a New Lure

June 22, 2010 on 12:36 pm | In Greece Travel, ThereArePlaces.com, international travel, things travelers need to know, travel news | Comments Off

Tourism in Greece has suffered this year as parades, demonstrations and riots have been common responses to the country’s economic woes. Because the government required outside funding to resolve its budgetary crisis, it was required, as a debtor, to make some severe cutbacks to the country’s social budgets and these changes are extremely unpopular. The violent responses to the governements programs have caused some travelers to avoid Greece this summer, although the trend may slowly be reversing.

In order to lure the travelers back, the government of Greece is now willing to pay the cost of tourists who are stranded in Greece due to industrial action or natural disaster. Read about this program in this announcement from the BBC. If the news sways you, see the ThereArePlaces guide to the best places to visit in Greece and start your travel planning.

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This Week’s Strikes and Other Impediments to Travel

May 19, 2010 on 9:20 am | In Europe travel, Greece Travel, London travel, air travel, international travel, strikes and travel, things travelers need to know, volcano travel warning | Comments Off

Another general strike against the government’s austerity plans is scheduled in Greece for tomorrow (Thursday). The prognosis is that the strike will disrupt public services and most transport, except air travel. Read about it at Kathimerini

Also, in the same publication is an article indicating that hotel occupancy in Greece is down 10 percent. In turn, the hotels have responded with price cuts reported at the 10 percent level. We suspect that bargains may be struck by those inclined to haggle (and it could be a prolonged haggle).

In the UK, the situation with the BA strike appears unsettled. Although the strike was banned by the courts, it still caused 20,000 cancellations yesterday and will likely have the same influence today. In addition, the cabin crews are seeking to have the courts overturn the injunction on striking. See this updated article in Bloomberg – Business Week for more details.

The Iceland volcano caused problems over the weekend for flights in the UK and Ireland and yesterday in the eastern Mediterranean. Britain and Ireland have relaxed the rules for flying in “ash cloud” situations. Read this article from The New York Times for more details.

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Hotels and Wi-Fi

May 6, 2010 on 11:15 am | In Wi-Fi and travel, international travel, personal travel | 1 Comment

A recent New York Times article indicated that some hotels now consider Wi-Fi availability as standard an offering as a bed.

Well, that seems debatable. First, many hotels seem to overcharge for Wi-Fi connectivity. Second, the bandwidth available at hotels is usually limited and service is slow. Finally, the Wi-Fi service in hotels is often spotty and not available everywhere you need it. If Wi-Fi at hotels were to become standard, the service would be free, available where you needed it (including public areas, patios, swimming pools and restaurants), and serviced by high-bandwidth connections.

While the article referenced above is U.S.-centric in its coverage of Wi-Fi, you may be wondering whether you will find Wi-Fi in your hotel in Europe. The answer is most likely yes, but if this is a critical issue for you, find out before you book your hotel. There may be a little sticker-shock when you look at the charges, as a 24-hour session usually costs in the range of €20, or slightly higher. While plans for using Wi-Fi only for a portion of a day are usually available, they are very high in respect to the daily plans (e.g. €8 for 2 hours or €5 for an hour (if available)).

In hotels in major metropolitan areas of China and Southeast Asia, you will find the daily rates for Wi-Fi from hotels to be around $25. The prices will be similar in the Australia and New Zealand.

During a recent trip to Vienna, we were stunned to see even higher rates for Wi-Fi at our hotel, but as we dug deeper, we realized that these rates were for business users who required higher speeds and the ability to send large files. In very small print at the bottom of the brochure, we discovered that there was an alternative for connecting, if you did not need high data volumes, but that the procedure for connecting to it was slightly different than described in the main brochure. Once we unlocked it, the service was fine and, best of all, free.

We have found the Wi-Fi connection speeds at hotels, in general, to be slow and subject to degradation, especially in the morning when the business travelers awaken and check their email. Highest speeds seem to be available in the mid-afternoon, late at night and very early in the morning.

Of course, there are other options for finding Wi-Fi and there are many free services available almost anywhere you travel. We have found that the free services generally are not accessible from hotels, but if you are willing to walk to a coffee shop or a public access point, you can get your work done there. Usually the public hotspots are slow, but in some areas the provisioning of the systems produces high transmission rates.

It is important to remember that the Wi-Fi connections at hotels, airports, Starbucks, and other publicly available hotspots are not secure. In other words, there is no guarantee that someone is not “sniffing” the packets sent to and from your laptop. What this means is that you should avoid sending any secure information, such as a credit card number, over these connections. In addition, if you need to supply a password for you email account in order to access it, be sure and change it periodically, so if your password was snagged, you can re-secure your account. Of course, it is always possible that they will snag your password and take control of your account, locking you out, so be as careful as you can when using public Wi-Fi.

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Using Your iPhone Abroad

April 26, 2010 on 10:21 pm | In Europe travel, ThereArePlaces.com, international travel, phoning home, things travelers need to know | 1 Comment

We saw a great advertisement tonight for the iPhone. It featured a U.S.-based,college-aged student who was touring Europe and using iPhone applications to book rooms at hostels, buy tickets, make reservations, post photos to the Web and just about anything that you could think about related to travel. It looked inviting and it appeared like a hassle-free way to solve arranging travel on the road. However, our advice is not to try this with your iPhone! As a matter of fact, the best use of your iPhone during international travel is to leave it at home.

Why? Well there is the little issue of the expense of international data roaming. When you use your iPhone outside of your home country, in this case, outside of the U.S., Puerto Rico or the U.S. Virgin Islands (for either voice or data) international roaming rates apply. So if your are in Canada, Mexico, Europe, Asia or anyplace other than the U.S., you could find out that opening an email with a 5 megapixel photo in it, or downloading a three-minute video on YouTube, each take about two megabytes of data. AT&T indicates that the cost for this harmless task could be $40, based on pay-per-use international data rates of $0.0195 per kilobyte of data. In fact, we know travelers who have forgotten this little tidbit and racked up charges over $2,000 on brief, international visits.

The poor man’s approach (and the one we practice if we absolutely need to take our iPhone) is to turn off the settings that are going to consume data. Your best bet is to go to the settings screen on your iPhone, look for the button labeled “general” and turn “data roaming” off. In addition, turn off 3G. Finally turn off “fetch new data” under the email setting. Note, that even if you take all of these precautions, it will not guarantee that some data might squeak through, as these actions do not block text or picture/video messages.

AT&T has a page that describes these issues in detail and we urge you to follow their advice, which can be found here.

In short, taking your iPhone abroad can be a real liability. If you forget to make the changes above, you can return home to a very big bill. In addition, even if you do turn off all the data functions, you never know when somebody is going to call and you will be paying international rates for the call, regardless of its point of origination.

AT& T does offer international data plans (described in the page referenced by the link above), but they are expensvie for relatively limited amounts of data. If interested, order one of these before you depart, measure your usage closely while abroad, and cancel the service on your return.

You can use Wi-Fi on the iPhone without charge and this is the low cost way to use your iPhone when traveling, since you can often find free Wi-Fi access points at airports, coffee shops and in some hotels. In addition, you can use Wi-Fi with Skype to call at reduced rates, but there is the problem that someone may call you and the price of that conversation could be more than you were going to spend on hotels for the next few days.

While it is not our intent to beat up the iPhone or AT&T, if you have one of those snazzy new iPads with 3G, turn off the 3G before you take it international or you will run into the same extraordinary data costs that plague the iPhone, although you won’t have to worry about anyone calling you on it.

We have several articles about alternatives for calling home in the ThereArePlaces section on Travel Tips.

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