Category: travel

Cell Phones Abroad: Help?

Last time I went to Europe, I definitely learned one thing above anything else: using Verizon’s “international plan” option is a complete and utter rip off. They might have tweaked it some since, but at the time, it was incredibly confusing. There was a $10/day option, but there was also a monthly option, but it was just for the calendar month (as I recall). And Denisa and I were both trying to use our phones abroad. In the end, we stopped using hers after a bit and just used mine, but we still ended up paying for both the monthly and the daily plan because of a screw up on our end, and . . .

I’m not doing that again.

My sister, on the other hand, waltzed into Hungary, picked up a European SIM card, and used her phone to her heart’s content for the whole trip, all for about $40. I’ll have what she’s having, thanks very much. But naturally, as I’m going to look through the options at the moment, there are just a ton of them, and it’s a bit bewildering if you haven’t done it before.

We both have iPhones, and I’m pretty sure they’re unlocked, and I’m almost positive they’ll work on European mobile platforms. She’ll be flying into the Czech Republic. I’ll be flying in to Austria. Then we’ll both be in Slovakia and Italy. There are options to buy SIM cards online and have them shipped to America before you go. There are options to buy them in the country. There are different carriers, different plans, different everything.

I’m all for choices, but when I get too many of them, my head starts to spin. That’s where you come in.

Have any of you done this recently? Do you have any words of wisdom or warning? If I’m going to get SIM cards sent to us here in the US, I probably better get on that right away. If we’re waiting to buy until we’re in the country, then it’s not as big of a deal.

Thanks in advance for any and all bits of advice.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking this PERFECT PLACE TO DIE Amazon link. It will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

European Vacation 2022 is a Go!

It was definitely later than I’d like to start planning, and we’re paying a bit more in airfare because of that, but our family European vacation is all lined up now. (And really, it’s hard to tell if I’m paying more for airfare or not. Trying to guess what the prices are going to do is very difficult this summer, between oil prices and war in Ukraine and the ever-present COVID dilemma. In the end, I just bought the tickets and decided to just be okay with the fact that prices might come down a bit at some point between now and then. They could just as easily go up, so . . . )

This time around, we’re going to give trains a shot. We kept trying to find a good airfare between Rome and Vienna, and I just wasn’t comfortable with anything we found. The tickets were either on one of Europe’s super budget airlines, or else they were at obnoxious times. I really didn’t want to just cross my fingers that CheapAir would actually fly the day we wanted it to, and then I discovered that one way tickets on the train from Vienna to Venice are about $20. Total.

So here’s how the fun’s going to go down this time:

  • Denisa’s leaving with the fam about a week before I do. I couldn’t justify taking so much vacation all at once. They’re going to fly from Boston to Prague, and then take the train to Trenčín.
  • A week later, I’m flying from Boston to Vienna, where Denisa will meet up with me, and we’ll hang out in the city for a couple of days. We’ll then travel to Slovakia. Not sure yet if we’ll get a car for that leg of the trip or not. It all depends on where we want to go. My thought at the moment is that we’ll check out Bratislava with the fam, something we’ve never really done.
  • On the way back, we’ll stay in Vienna for a night with the fam, since our train leaves at 6am the next morning for Venice.
  • For the Italian vacation, we’re doing 2 nights in Venice, 2 nights in Milan (with a day trip to Lake Como), 3 nights in Florence (with expeditions to Cinque Terra and Pisa), and 4 nights in Rome. For all of that, we’re going to be traveling by train. I did it for 2 years when I was 20 years old. It can’t be that much harder with a family, right? 🙂 (It’ll actually be great practice for Tomas, who will no doubt be doing a fair bit of train travel in the near future.)

I’ve got the plane tickets purchased and the hotels mostly reserved. Still have to figure out the exact logistics of getting from one city to the other, but we have time. I’m excited to be going over again. It’ll have been four years, but it feels like about ten.

Anyone out there have any hot tips on what to do in Venice, Milan, Florence, and Rome?

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking this PERFECT PLACE TO DIE Amazon link. It will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

European Planning 2022 Begins

Now that we know where and when Tomas is going on his mission, we can actually begin planning our life some again. First up? One last trip to Europe. Yes, Tomas will be living there for 2 years, but he won’t be with us, and we didn’t get to go last year, so . . . why not bring him along for a preview? Of course, to do that, I need to get a handle on the many different aspects of another trip to Europe, and I’m discovering I’m woefully out of practice.

With that in mind, I thought I’d take a bit to go over what needs to happen when I start a planning process like this. That will help me remember, and it might come in handy for one of you.

First up is always the parameters. I need to know when we can leave and when we can come back. That involves looking at schedules with Denisa and talking things over with the kids. When our kids were younger, their schedules were much easier (since they were essentially set by us). Now that they’re older, the each have conflicts at different points over the summer. Looking at it all, it appears we’ve got from mid-June to mid-July. That’s a big enough window to work with.

Second, we always try to go someplace other than Slovakia on each trip. Might as well multi-task as long as we’re over in Europe, right? This time, the plan is to go see a bunch of Italy. But “a bunch of Italy” is pretty broad, so I took some time to look over the different cities of the country and decide how long to stay in each, and what route would work best. I knew we wanted to go to Rome and Venice, so that pretty much cut out southern Italy due to time constraints. Looking at northern Italy, it seems like checking out Milan and Florence and some of the western coast (Cinque Terre and Pisa) could make for a nice loop by car. We don’t want to run ourselves ragged, so I try to limit the number of hotel/house changes. Maybe 4 different places, over around 10 days? It’s a starting point, at least.

Then comes the tricky part, which has proven especially tricky this time around: Figuring out how to get between Slovakia and Italy most economically. Right now, it appears we have two viable options. The first is to take a plane, but the only carriers that have seats right now are Wizz, Ryanair, and Austria Airlines. Wizz and Ryanair generally treat you like packages, and their reliability often leaves much to be desired. Austrian Airlines doesn’t exactly have uniformly glowing reviews either, and they’re more expensive. But on the other hand, the other choice is to travel by train, which will take something like 14 hours. There’s a sleeper car option, and that’s fairly intriguing, but it’s even more expensive. Not sure yet what I’m going to do about it. Currently the thought is to fly into Vienna on a one way ticket, then to Rome on another one way, and finally back to Boston on a one-way. But price is definitely going to matter, because money.

We debated traveling around the countries by car or train this time, as well. Trains can be pretty slick, and you get to avoid having to navigate strange cities and figuring out where in the world to put your car when you get where you’re going. But if you don’t have a car, your options to see the countryside are very limited, and you’re generally stuck staying in the city. We’d love to get a villa outside Milan or Florence for at least some of the time. Again, in the end it will depend on how much the car will cost, to see how much that compares with the train. My gut says we’ll get a car, but I’ll compare before I commit.

We’ll need places to stay, so I look into all of those in each city. I usually avoid hotels, but I’ll price those out just in case. (Traveling with 5 puts us out of the range of almost all European hotels, which generally only sleep 4. Paying for two rooms makes them anything but economical.) I check Booking, AirBNB, and VRBO, though if anyone knows any Italian-specific sites to look at, I’m all eyes. (The Slovakia side of things we have much more experience with.)

I really won’t worry about things to do and places to eat until all the rest of the pieces are in place, though I can’t wait that long, because if we want to do anything special that needs tickets, those can sell out if we’re too slow. But I do poke around online a little just to see what those things cost. (Again, I need to know a ballpark range to make sure I can afford everything.)

These days, we also need to look into extended dog sitting. Know anyone local who’d love to have a golden retriever with them for a few weeks this summer? As lovable as he is energetic . . .

I think the biggest problem I have with all of this is how much each piece ends up depending on every other piece. Instead of just being able to go through and buy one thing at a time, I need to get the big picture down so that I can know what options to make on each smaller choice. If I’d had more time to prepare for this, it would have been easier, but there’s the added “fun” of a time constraint now. Mid-June is less than two months away. Plane tickets will get more expensive, event tickets will get more scarce, and VRBOs will get snatched up the longer I wait. I’ve already put in many hours of research, and I have many to go.

Wish me luck.

(And as always, if you have any pointers for things I’m forgetting or ignoring, please speak up!)

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking this PERFECT PLACE TO DIE Amazon link. It will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Officially Vaccinated: What Next?

As of about an hour ago, it’s been two weeks since Denisa and I got our second COVID vaccine shot. Which means (theoretically) we can start going back to some of our old routines. It’s surprising to me how many things that used to seem very normal and not that stressful are now giving me low level anxiety (or worse). For example, I used to plan trips all the time. I don’t love flying (a well-established fact with long-time blog readers), but I love traveling enough to overcome my dislike of flying. The lack of travel was a real blow during COVID, and so it was high on my list of things to do as soon as I could.

I’m not one to shirk from doing something just because it’s making me anxious, and it was Denisa and my 20th anniversary just a week ago. So we’re heading to Puerto Rico next Sunday for a five night stay. That’s right! I’m finally using all these free Marriott room reservations we had stockpiled from credit card rewards, and we used up all of the credit I had with American Airlines from getting two trips canceled. We’ll be staying at a resort on the beach in San Juan, and we’ve got tours booked to hike through the rain forest, go kayak in a bioluminescent bay, snorkel, and scuba dive. These are all definitely things we haven’t been able to do in Maine, and so I’m really looking forward to it.

That said, it was still stressful to make out all the reservations and plan a schedule again. You’d think it’d be just like getting back on a bike, and I suppose it is. However, for that comment to make sense, you need to know about the time I was on my mission in Germany and was suddenly confronted with living in a city (Gotha) where the Elders had always used bikes to get around. My new companion asked me if I could ride, and I said of course. But I hadn’t biked since . . . middle school? I don’t know. It had been a while. He hopped on his bike and sped off. I teetered onto mine and tried to catch up. And it was true! I could still maintain my balance on a bike. But then I saw he’d stopped abruptly by a mailbox to send a letter, and I discovered I couldn’t remember how to stop a bike. I tried backpedaling (old habits die hard) to no avail. The bike had handbrakes. And I distinctly remembered being told never to use one of those brakes to stop fast. I couldn’t remember which one. In the heat of the moment, I panicked and chose at random.

I chose poorly.

I jammed on the front brake, and my front tire came to an abrupt halt, launching me up and over my handlebards onto the sidewalk. I ruined a pair of suit pants that day. (Good thing my suit came with two. I’d ruin the other pair a few weeks later in another bike accident. When my companion was transferred a month later, I hid both bikes in a closet and didn’t mention to my new companion that we had them. We walked from then on . . .)

So yes. Planning trips really is just like riding a bike.

In any case, the trip’s planned now, and I’ve got other irons in the fire for future trips. Out to Utah. Down to Boston. Down to Pennsylvania. Over to Machias. Camping. I will wear a mask and follow any social distancing/testing rules I need to when I go to these places, and I’m definitely wondering how stressed I’m going to be flying (with strangers!) after all this time, but I’m very much looking forward to being somewhere farther than an hour’s drive away from my house.

I realize the pandemic is far from over, especially when I look at the horrific things going on in India at the moment. But I still have to celebrate the progress that’s happening locally and personally. Hopefully there’s more and more of that in the days to come.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

How I Scored $22 Plane Tickets to Puerto Rico

I’m not typically the world’s most spontaneous person. When I buy something significant, it’s usually after a long hard look at my finances, and there’s a fair bit of price comparison that goes into it as well. A vacation? I’ll stew on that for months. So if someone came up to me and said, “Do you want to go to Puerto Rico at Thanksgiving?” but said I had to make my mind up that instant, it would be a pretty easy pass.

Except last week I bought plane tickets to Puerto Rico twenty minutes after I first had the idea to go there for Thanksgiving. Why? Because they were $22 each, round trip. I bought tickets for my family of five to fly at Thanksgiving for a total of $110, including tax. (Technically, the tickets were $1 each way. The rest of the cost was airport fees.)

I posted about this on Facebook, hoping some friends might be able to nab the same deal. Within an hour or two, however, the deal was gone. So how did I manage to get such ridiculous airfare?

Honestly, I got lucky. But that said, I did a few things ahead of time to put myself in a position where luck could help me out.

First off, I have a travel deals blog that I check most days. The Flight Deal lists great prices on airfare from a number of American cities. I’ve been watching them for about two years. Boston is the largest close city that they cover, so I just skim the deals for mention of Boston, and then perk up if I see anything good. I’ve seen tickets to Asia for $400, for example. But often the prices are contingent on things I just can’t do right now. With kids at home, Denisa and I can’t just up and go to Tokyo two weeks from tomorrow. (Well, assuming anyone was going anywhere, that is.) So it’s been more an exercise of “someday maybe I’ll be able to buy one of those tickets . . .”

In light of all the garbage happening in the world right now, I’d stopped even looking at the blog for the last while. Then last week I saw a news story in the morning about how cheap airfare was right now, and how now was the time to buy. It was enough to make me curious. I poked around on Kayak some for European fares. They were low ($450 at the right times), but none of the times worked for me, and it wasn’t as if I was going to pick now to plunk down $2,500 in plane tickets for something six months from now.

I shrugged off the idea and moved on, but when it came time to check my daily blogs, the article was enough for me to check my travel blogs again. And that’s when I saw the rate: Boston to Puerto Rico for $20.

It had to be something weaselly, like you could only fly on the third Wednesday of a month on a red eye. Or maybe it was with some sketchy carrier. I checked it out, though. Jet Blue. And when I checked the travel dates, it was for anytime until the end of the year. Summer still seems like it might be iffy for travel, so the next window my family could go would be Thanksgiving. Surely that would be more expensive.

I checked. It wasn’t. I read the fine print. The tickets are fully refundable, meaning if the world hasn’t settled down by then, I could get my money back. I sent the price to Denisa, we talked about it for a couple of minutes, wondering what the angle was we weren’t seeing. How in the world could it be that cheap?

We bought the tickets.

As I said, a few hours later, the deal was gone. Those same tickets I had bought for $110 now would cost $3,800. I waited for JetBlue to contact me and explain it had all been a pricing error. A week later, the trip is still good to go. All signs point to yes, assuming flying is allowed by then.

So like I said, I was lucky with this airfare. But if I hadn’t been checking travel blogs, I wouldn’t have gotten lucky. Will I do it more often? Probably about the same as I’ve always done. There’s only so often I can pick up and head out on a big trip.

But it never hurts to check . . .

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

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