Saturday, May 5, 2007

Hints on what to do, tipping, restaurants, safety

What to do

v Once you get to a city you want to explore find the information center and get maps, tour ideas, etc. There is usually a place called the "I" that has free maps and advice. The staff is usually very helpful.

v Libraries and the Internet are very good sources of information that you can gather before your trip. We usually take the best two guidebooks that we found with us (e.g., one best for lodging, the other best for sightseeing)

v We like to plan some variety, don’t plan one type of thing all day (e.g., cathedrals, castles, museums). Other things that are fun are zoos, parks, artist's homes, shopping districts, cemeteries, caves, ruins, and amusement parks.


v In Europe the tip is almost always added in for restaurants--they will usually make it clear if that is not the case. Rounding up the final tab (e.g.. from 23.50 to 25) is customary if you feel you received good service

v In Japan or most restaurants in China you don’t need to tip, it is included in the stated price


v In most European countries you have to ask for the bill when you are ready to leave. They don’t want you to feel rushed. If you are in a hurry you sometimes have to track down your waiter and ask for the bill. If everyone in the dinner party leaves except for the bill payer the waiter usually gets the idea.


  • In countries where they drive on the left side be extra careful when crossing streets on foot. Our tendency is to look the wrong way (left) for traffic as we step off the curb. You can step directly into on-coming traff ic if you don't learn this. I recommend that you always look both ways, regardless where you are to avoid this hazard.
  • In China pedestrians definitely do not have the right of way, even if the walk lights are on and you are in the crosswalk. The right-on-red people will run you over!
  • We've never had any significant trouble wherever we been. In general European cities are much safer than big US cities and Japan feels very safe. We recently visited a very seasoned traveler now living in Shanghai, China and she said it's the safest feeling place she has ever lived.
  • It's common sense to keep your wallet in your front pocket, and keep your purse in front. I'm much more alert and careful when we are in crowds. In riskier areas (e.g., Paris, Italy, Spain) I wear a money belt for the more valuable stuff. Instead of a money "belt", I have a wallet sort of thing that has a strong cord that goes over your neck. I think this is more comfortable. Even when you use a money belt I carry a wallet with nothing in it but some cash. It is much more convenient--and safer to use it for most transactions than to be continually dragging out your money belt.
  • Take only the credit cards you need
  • If there is any sort of commotion (e.g., fight, person running into another) be extra careful, these can be distractions that the thieves create to cover their moves. For example, two people might appear to get in a fight and while you are looking in that direction an accomplice will grab your purse or backpack behind you.
  • Gypsy kids used to be a problem in Europe, where a gang of kids, oftentimes with the oldest carrying a baby would swarm people. They would sometimes flap pieces of cardboard at you to increase the distraction factor while the younger ones rifled your pockets. I had been warned about this, so the one time this happened to us I yelled when they started to approach me and they backed off.

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