Wandering around the World

What Does That Sign Mean?? A Guide to Driving Abroad

In my opinion, the BEST choice that we made on our trip to Scandinavia was renting a car. Believe it or not, this was my first international trip that involved renting a car — I typically prefer to travel by train or another type of public transportation, especially in countries that I am unfamiliar with. So needless to say, the experience of driving in a foreign country was a bit out of my comfort zone, in fact it was a WHOLE LOT out of my comfort zone, but I wouldn’t have wanted to do our trip any other way.  When it came to our Sweden and Denmark trip, B actually took care of most of the stuff involving the car. So as a special treat for you guys, I’m going to have him take over from here!

Hey all!  B here, and here’s some of my tips on driving abroad:

Know your options when picking out a rental

One of the big things I discovered when looking for a rental car was the fact that an automatic transmission vehicle cost extra. This was not a problem for us, as my daily driver is a manual, but if I didn’t know how to drive one, we would’ve had to pay the extra fee to get an automatic.  When you’re trying to save every penny you can when planning a trip, any extra cost not needed to be spent is a plus!  Knowing how much luggage you will be taking will also be a big thing to consider.  You don’t want to rent a 2 door if there’s more than 2 of you and you have large checked bags.

Know the conditions of your destination

If you want to rent a Porsche, but you’re going to be driving in a lot of snow (or any snow for that matter), why pay the extra money for it???  Rent a car that will fit well with the country and conditions you’ll be visiting.  Driving in the winter in the mountains?  Might be good to get a 4WD vehicle of some sort.  Going to be driving long distances during your travel?  Comfort may be a big thing to look at when picking a car.  Also, contrary to popular belief, the only countries in Europe that drive on the left hand side are Ireland and the UK, so don’t let that deter you too much!

Look for parking options when booking overnight stays

While there are quite a few perks to driving a vehicle during your vacation, one of the big drawbacks is constantly having to worry about parking.  Finding hotels/AirBnBs that offer parking options (cheap and/or free)  are a must.  We got lucky for the most part, although we had a little snag the last night we stayed when we didn’t realize that the parking garage closed at certain times during the night, which brings me to my next point…

Be sure to learn how parking garages/lots work ahead of time

Many of the places we parked in the larger cities were parking garages, and most of them had kiosks to print a ticket off.  The vast majority of them had English language options, but the few that didn’t were a little trickier to navigate.  Quite a few places also had apps you could download and enter your information to pay.  One particular instance was when we were in Malmo and we were trying to figure out the parking garage kiosk (which didn’t have an English option). Needless to say we didn’t have much luck.  We ended up going on to the street and trying our luck at one of the street parking kiosks, when a wonderful couple saw us struggling and informed us that parking on the street was free that day (it was a Sunday).

The biggest tip regarding this is make sure you know the hours of operation of the parking garage you are utilizing.  That “little snag” mentioned above happened on our last day, when we woke up to leave for the airport.  We woke up around 4:30am and went to the parking garage at around 4:45 to get our car and head for the airport.  That’s when we learned that the parking garage (and most within the city) was closed from 12am-7am (which obviously didn’t work for us).  We went back to the hotel where we talked with the desk attendant, and we ended up having to contact security. These then led us to have to pay an extra fee to have them come and open up the parking garage early.  We ended up making it to the airport with some time to spare, but it taught us a lesson we’ll never forget! We also learned that specific parking garages associated with hotels gave the guests 24/7 access. While there may not be a cost savings by utilizing these parking ramps, the convenience is unparalleled.

Know street signs/speed limits

Thankfully for us, most of the traffic signs in Sweden were wordless, but fairly ubiquitous in what they meant.  However this may not be true for other countries, so knowing some of the common traffic signals would be a wise thing to study up on before you head out!  Also, for you speed demons out there, be sure to learn if there is any sort of leniency when it comes to speeding.  Here in the US, you can typically get away with going 5 mph over, but we didn’t know if that was the case in Sweden, so we ended up going the speed limit 99% of the time. This was also due to the fact that there were speed cameras located along most of the main roads and this would allow them to easily know we were speeding. We had heard from a friend who had recently traveled to Iceland that their speeding tickets started at $400 USD, which definitely helped to scare us silly!

Do your research, Pt Deux:

Along with everything listed above, also take into consideration the following

Gas Prices – Be aware of what the cost of gas is, and look out for gas stations that may charge more than usual (we paid more at an unmanned gas station than a normal one! Like 2.5 times more.)

Travel times – Know when you’ll be arriving at a destination, and when it gets dark, because one of the scarier things we had to deal with was driving at night, in a neighborhood we didn’t know, trying to find a place we’ve never been to.

Use public transport for convenience – If you get a place outside the city, consider taking public transport into town for easiness sake. It is so much more convenient since you don’t have to worry about parking or driving in a busy part of town.

For people who like short lists, here’s the pros and cons of renting a vehicle:

Pros

  • Not restrained by public transportation
  • Can make last minute changes to your stops
  • Opportunity to see things off the beaten path
  • Ability to drive a vehicle you wouldn’t normally drive

Cons

  • Have to pay for gas
  • Worry about navigating traffic
  • Can make for a long day if most of your day involves traveling
  • Having to worry about parking

Ultimately, we’re both really glad we rented a car and would do it again on our next trip, but we’ll probably end up staying a short ways outside the city and taking the bus or train downtown.  Doing that allows us the flexibility of renting a car, but the easiness of navigating downtown.  I hope this helps, and if you have any questions, please do not hesitate to ask in the comments!

Happy Travels! – B

Wandering around the World

The GABF Experience: How to Survive the Great American Beer Festival

For those of you who do not know by now, I am a craft beer fanatic. Ever since I turned 21, I have made an effort to try as many different beers as possible in order to find the BEST. While others were drinking PBR and Bud Light during college (well, I guess when I was broke I drank them too), I would drink any IPA that wasn’t too expensive for my college-kid budget.

As I got older, my appreciation for a good IPA grew. Last year, my father took my twin sister and I on a father-daughter trip to Denver for the GABF and we had a ball; when I was presented with the opportunity to attend the Great American Beer Festival again this fall, I was trilled to be joined by my family, B, and a group of my closest friends.

Now there are a few of different options for experiences to have at the Great American Beer Festival. The first year, we had attended the Beer Pairing Session in which restaurants from all over the United States collaborate with a brewery to make the perfect canape to accompany the two specialty beers only offered at the Pairing Session. Most of the beers that are featured at this event are the barrel aged beers or the double/triple IPAs, which makes the accompanying food a necessity. Now, the important thing to keep in mind is that if you are a picky eater and don’t enjoy trying new foods, this wouldn’t be the event for you; I tried many dishes that I wouldn’t have ever tried had it not been for this event. But I will say that if you are open to trying new foods, this is an experience that you won’t regret! In addition, the Pairing Session tickets also allow you to have access to the General Session occurring at the same time, so you will get a lot of bang for your buck with that ticket (which was $195 this past year). 

The other two options are very beer focused: The General Sessions and the Members Only Session. The difference between the two is that the Members Only Session is for members of either the American Homebrewers Association or the Brewers Association, which means that it is usually attended by those who have an affinity for savoring and trying new beer. In addition, the Members Only Session was $70 this past year, while the General Sessions were $85. The General Sessions tickets are open to the public, which means that they tend to be a little bit rowdier. Both types of sessions are fun in their own way, it just depends on how you like your Beer Festivals. Personally, I like a bit more laid back session, which is why I opted to attend the Members Only Session on Saturday afternoon. 

For those of you thinking of attending either the Paired Session or a Beer Festival Session for the first time, below are my tips for making the most out of your time at the Great American Beer Festival.

Tips:

Tickets Go Quickly: Be sure to purchase your tickets within the hour that they are released. These tickets sell out fast – last year tickets sold out in 4 hours and 15 minutes. The two years previous, they sold out in less than 80 minutes. If at all possible, I would highly recommend becoming an America Homebrewers Association member because this will allow you to buy tickets ahead of everyone else and it will also give you access to the Member’s Only tasting event on Saturday afternoon, which is what we attended this year. There are lots of other bonuses to becoming members, so I encourage you to check that out.

Bring A Designated Driver: I bet you didn’t realize that The Great American Beer Festival also sells Designated Driver tickets during the ticket sale. For $30, your designated driver will have access to a specialized lounge for DDs that comes equipped with its own stash of pop, movies playing and they also receive a special gift. They are also more than welcome to attend any of the beer or food seminars or even walk around with you on the festival floor. So, do you have a friend or family member who doesn’t enjoy beer? Bring them along as your DD and have a fun time together at the event.

Why Not Commute: Staying along the light rail line in Denver will allow you to stay out away from the commotion (and high price) of the downtown area. Plan to give yourself an extra 30 minutes to get to the conference center, but the low cost of the light rail ticket ($9 for an all day pass) and the lower cost of the hotel will make the stay exponentially cheaper. I highly recommend staying at the Wingate by Wyndham Greenwood Village Denver. Not only are the rooms extremely comfortable and reasonably priced ($90 per night for a double room), but they are also only a 10 minute walk from the nearest light rail station, Arapahoe at Village Center Station.

Staying Downtown: If you need or really want to stay downtown, there are many hotels that partner up with the beer festival in order to give you better rates. Granted, these rates are still going to be significantly more expensive than those further outside of town (for example, the Hyatt Regency Denver at Colorado Convention Center averages $300 a night for a double room). But the convenience if definitely there and if you aren’t comfortable with the idea of using public transportation, especially after a beer festival, I would highly recommend this option.

Get Yourself A Group: I will always recommend at least having a buddy to tackle the GABF with, but my experience is that a group between 4 and 8 people definitely makes the experience that much better. B definitely thinks that 4 people is better, but I love the feeling of 8 people — can you tell who’s the introvert and who’s the extrovert? Anyways, every year we have opted towards having a group of 7 or 8 because it’s not too large to cause problems when you’re trying to tackle the convention hall, but it also allows you to sample the largest amount of beer without getting TOO tipsy (HELLO, sharing beer is caring). Plus, what’s better than sharing good beer with good friends?

Group Uniform: So let me put it into prospective, you and 10,000 other beer lovers are walking around 580,000 SF space sampling beers from all over the United States. You want to check out one brewery in the Pacific Northwest area while your friends want to check out a different one a ways up. You grab your sample, turn around and cannot see your friends. How in the f*** are you going to find them in this sea of people?? Wouldn’t it have been easier if they were wearing something that made them stand out? The answer is yes – hell to the yes! So each year, one person from our group purchases distinctive hats for everyone on Amazon a week before the festival. Talk about standing out! Plus, everyone loves a group with matching hats, so we always make a bunch of new friends. This year, we went with cheap fedoras – they were ugly has heck and hardly fit on our heads, but we never lost each other!

 

Pretzel Necklaces Are Life: If you have ever been to any other beer festival, you will know this to be true. Let’s think about it this way, you and all of your closest beer-geeked friends are in a large convention center for hours (4 hours to be exact) with very few food options and a delicious array of beer to consume to your heart’s content. This situation could easily go from happiness to hell if you don’t get your snack on! Now the great thing about pretzel necklaces is that they aren’t just meant for pretzels, you can get as creative as you want! Check out below for a few of my favorite examples!

If You Don’t Like It, Dump It: The phenomenal thing about the Great American Beer Festival is the sheer quantity of delicious beer that is available. While I am strickly an IPA kind of lady, I use the GABF as an opportunity to try beers that I wouldn’t normally drink – sours, porters, stouts, etc. This is actually how I found out that I enjoy sour beers! But if I really didn’t enjoy the different beers, each table has a jar for you to dump beer out and a pitcher of water for you to rinse your glass out. I cannot stress enough that I have had some of the BEST beers of my life here and have also made some fun discoveries on what beers I do like, so I highly suggest giving different beers a taste.

Drink Up: For reference, although the Great American Beer Festival sessions go for 4 hours, they only serve beer up until 15 before the session ends. Don’t get stuck missing out on a brewery or two that you really wanted to sample because you left them until the end. And, for you information, they take this cut off VERY seriously — trust me, I tested it on a couple of different breweries and they wouldn’t budge.

Got the Munchies? After the GABF, every pub, bar and restaurant within a mile walk of the convention center will be full of your newest beer-loving friends. This is one of the many reasons why a well stocked pretzel necklace is key! This will help to tide you over until you are able to walk/Uber to restaurant or for your light rail ride back toward your hotel for some food and much needed relaxation. If you really cannot keep your hunger at bay, there are a few concession stands available around the convention center that are open to keep you satisfied.

Has anyone else experienced the GABF? What are your tips to making the most of your time there?

Until next time, happy adventures! – Kate

Wandering around the World

Avoiding the Effects of Altitude Sickness

As an avid visitor to Colorado, I usually have a day or so where I seem to be effected by Altitude Sickness. Altitude sickness occurs when your body doesn’t get enough oxygen from the air at a higher altitude. My hometown sits at a cool 640′ above sea level, whereas Colorado Springs sits at 6,035′ above sea level — that’s a huge difference, right?! Needless to say, this can set a girl back, which I hate on vacations. So here are my favorite tips for combating the symptoms of altitude sickness in order to make the most out of your high altitude vacations!

Stay hydrated – I cannot emphasize this enough! A major symptom of altitude sickness is headache and fatigue, both of which can be remedied with lots of water. I typically drink half my body weight in ounces when I’m at home, so I try to drink my body weight in ounces when I’m at a higher altitude. Yes, you’ll probably half to go to the bathroom more frequently, but your body will thank you by running at it’s optimum level.

Rest – This is terribly crucial. I know that the idea of resting and taking it easy while you are in a new place sounds terrible, but your body will thank you. Go to bed early and sleep a little later — make sure that you are getting at LEAST 8 hours of sleep per night and you’ll be in prime condition to take adventures in no time!

Drink Sparingly – Let me give you some first hand experience, drinking at a higher altitude can get a bit crazy. Drinks will hit you significantly faster at a higher altitude, so it’s important to use caution when drinking. Stick with the ‘for every beer, have a water’ mentality because nothing sucks more than having a massive hangover and dehydration when on vacation. Talk about a mood killer!

Hydration Station – Speaking of dehydration, let me AGAIN reiterate how important it is to drink water when you’re visiting a higher altitude. Just being at a higher elevation alone can cause you to lose more fluids – I’ve heard it’s somewhere around a quart per day from breathing alone. I always make an effort to keeping at least one full bottle of water with me at all times and (as I said above) I keep to the ‘one beer, one water’ rule.

You Are What You Eat – So I have some good news for you, when you’re a higher altitudes you are actually encouraged to eat carbs — heck yes!!! Complex carbs will help your body to use oxygen more efficiently and also aid in keeping your energy levels up. Another major plus is that they stabilize your blood sugar, which can be a problem at higher elevations. Also consider foods with higher levels of potassium, as potassium helps to act as an electrolyte.

Take Easy Adventures – At least for the first few days at a higher altitude, take so easy adventures. I guarantee you that even if you are in the best shape you have ever been, you will feel winded doing the easiest activity like running up a flight of stairs. If you’re an avid outdoor adventurer like me, you will want to ease into things. We love hiking and I didn’t even attempt to hike any trail harder than a yellow level; even that didn’t happen until one almost a week of being there.

Other Tips:

Moisturize – You’ll need extra lip balm and skin moisturizer when you’re at higher altitudes. Similarly to the way dehydration works, higher altitudes have lower pressure, which means that there’s a higher rate of evaporation of moisture from you skin. I store lip balm and sample size containers of lotion in my purse, day pack, rental car and on my bedside table.

Protect Your Skin – Remember your sunscreen ya’ll! At higher elevations mean not only that you are closer to the sun, but that there is less water vapor in the air. This means that there’s 25% less sun protection. It doesn’t matter how tan you are or how protected you think you are from the sun, put on that sunscreen; you won’t regret it.

Wandering around the World

Schengen Area – What You Should Know

Beginning in 1985, various countries in the EU gathered together to brainstorm ideas to create an easier way for people, including tourist, to travel about Europe. In 1995, an agreement was implemented called the Schengen Area — named after the area of Luxembourg where the talks were first initiated in 1985. As of today, there are 26 European states that have signed this agreement. Currently, this is an area that encompasses most EU states, with the exception of Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Ireland, Romania, and the UK. Please take note that at this current time, Bulgaria and Romania are currently in the process of joining it. Of the non-EU States, Iceland, Norway, Switzerland, and Liechtenstein have joined it as well.

What does this mean for you as a traveler? 

They have officially abolished passport and all other types of border control at their mutual boarders. The area functions similarly to a single country for the purpose of traveling internationally, due to its common visa policy. This means that any person, regardless of nationality, may cross the Schengen Area interior boarders without being subject to border checks; however, national authorities can carry out police checks at the internal boarders or any other boards, provided that they aren’t equivalent to border checks.

Also, you will need to be aware that if you plan to spend 3 months in the Schengen area during any 6 month period, you must wait another 3 months from your date of departure from the Schengen area before you can apply to enter the area again without a visa. What this means is that you must be aware of the countries that are within the Schengen Area and which ones are not. For example, you could travel through Europe for 6 months, but only a total of 3 months could be spent within the Schengen area – whether that time is consecutive or not.

What do you need to enter in Schengen Area?

To enter the area, you will need the following:

  • A passport, valid for at least 90 days beyond your intended date of departure from the Schengen Area.
  • A justifiable purpose of travel
  • Proof of financial resources for the visit. Both for while you are there and upon time of departure.
  • Compliance with any other entry requirements for each country you will visit or transit.

Helpful Tips:

  • Make sure that you carry your passport with you at all times when you’re traveling to/from the Schengen Area, but also when you’re traveling within the area.
  • Ensure the you get your passport stamped directly upon entering and exiting the Schengen Area.
  • If you plan to stay in the area longer than 90 days, you should contact the embassy of the country you plan to spend the majority of your time to apply for a visa.

Do you have any plans to travel to Europe soon? What other tips or tricks do you have for navigating the Schengen Area?

Until next time, happy adventures! – Kate

Wandering around the World

Checklist: Before You Travel

If you’re anything like me (which you may or may not be), having a list of things to do before you jet away on your vacation is extremely important – yet sometimes you don’t even know where to start. Here is my ‘must complete tasks’ for before I travel.

Get Vaccinations – Be sure to check out the CDC’s website regarding what vaccinations are required for the country that you are planning to travel to. As a good rule of thumb, be sure that your regular vaccinations are all up to date as well. Visit your physician four to six weeks prior to your trip – this will give the vaccine enough time to get working in your system and it will also give you time to get a secondary dosage if necessary.

Get Visa – Many countries require people of different nationalities to apply for visas prior to arrival. If you happen to be from the United States, there are almost 150 countries that you can visit without obtaining a visa, most of which are located in Europe and South America. For more specific information regarding which countries require visas for Americans, please visit this website. For more specific information about the Schengen Area, check out this post.

Learn about the Customs – This is actually a more important topic than I realized, until me and B wanted to travel to Dubai. We didn’t know a lot about the country and it’s customs, so we did a bit of research. Come to find out, because we aren’t married, getting a joint hotel room would be extremely difficult to accomplish. Needless to say, we are looking into that trip for another time, but that research was a real eye opener. I have also noticed that quite a few countries frown upon women drinking in public — to me

Learn Key Phrases – I cannot stress this enough, although English is a widely spoken language, you cannot expect that every person you encounter will know it. Thus, my tip, learn key phrases that will help you navigate the waters in a new country. One of my closest friends recently traveled internationally for the first time; she moved throughout Europe primarily by train and recommended that anyone who travels internationally learn vocabulary associated with the transit (ex. baggage, arrival, etc.). Along with this, learn at least the following words for easier travels.

International Drivers License Needed? – International Driving Permits (incorrectly referred to as licenses) are recognized by 150 countries and contain a photo, your name and your driver information translated into 10 different languages. Everyone that applies must be 18 years or older and have a valid United States drivers license. Now your IDP will remain valid for a year, so you will be required to apply for a new permit. You can apply for it through either AAA or AATA. For additional information for both United States drivers and drivers from other countries, please check out this website. The other thing I would advise is to be smart and research some of the visiting countries driving laws prior to leaving, which can be give by the rental car company (just make sure that they give it to you in English).

Contact card company and your bank – There is nothing worse than finding a cute little restaurant, sipping on a lovely glass of wine while eating a delicious meal and when you go to pay the check, having your card declined. Rats, you forgot to call your credit card company to tell them you are traveling – don’t let this happen to you! Be sure to give your bank and your credit card company an update as to where you will be; I would highly suggest giving them specific instructions as to what dates you will be where so that you will keep yourself protected.

Contact your phone provider – If you’re heading out of the country, don’t forget to call your phone provider to ask about coverage when you’re abroad. Costs will be anywhere from $10 to $20 per day with phone and data coverage. Now, typically is covers a 24 hour period, so if you utilize it at noon on one day, it will be good until noon on the next day for the nominal fee. But honestly, $10 to $20 a day really that much in the grand scheme of things.

Exchange Currency – It is exponentially cheaper to exchange your currency ahead of time as opposed to once your abroad. Your best chance will be finding a bank near the airport that will have international currency or finding a large branch/headquarters in your city. When we went to the United Kingdom, we made a point of exchanging our money in advance, yet we still needed to exchange addition funds when we got there. OUCH, that exchange rate and fee hurt when we did that, but I suppose a smaller exchange was better than all of our funds. I always make a point of keeping

Copy of Passport, Cards and Drivers Licenses – As a woman who has had her wallet stolen, this is a must – even for everyday smarts. Be sure to keep a photocopy of all of your important documents both at your home and with you. In the off chance that anything is stolen, this will help ease your worries, especially when contacting your credit card company or bank. I will also advise that you also locate the embassy closest to where you are visiting in case you need more assistance.

Print Hotel Reservations – Growing up in a time before smartphones, we always used to print out our hotel reservations (in addition to our Mapquest Directions). And, although I have gained a smartphone many years later, this is a habit that I still haven’t been able to break, thank goodness! I cannot count the number of times that I’ve gotten into a hotel and either couldn’t find the confirmation in my email or I would lose service – talk about awkward! So I have made a point of printing it out because, if nothing else, I have it for easy reference.

Leave an Itinerary Behind – For your sake (and your family’s sanity), leave an itinerary behind. Even if it’s just a rough estimate of what days you will be where, this will give everyone piece of mind. In addition, it will allow for your family or friends to send things to you if you need it. Did you run out of baby powder for your trip to India during the summer and now you can’t find it anywhere? You’ll be thankful that your family can send a container of that to your next location!

What are some of the things that you do before you head out on a trip?

Until next time, happy adventures! – Kate