Tip No. 9: Don’t be afraid of public transportation, even when you are pressed for time. Sometimes it is your best option.
We were flying from Copenhagen, Denmark to Nice, France at the end of a Baltic cruise. Everyone told us we’d really be cutting it short since we hadn’t allowed the recommended five hours between docking and flying. There aren’t a lot of flights between Copenhagen and Nice, so we had to take what we could get.
We had just about decided to throw caution to the wind and splurge on a taxi to the airport when I thought how awful it would be to get caught in rush hour in a taxi. Our cruise was to dock at 7 a.m., so of course it would be rush hour. The train seemed to be our best bet.
We travel with only carry-ons, so we were among the first to disembark. We asked a local for directions and quickly found the closest bus stop and boarded our city bus nine minutes after leaving the ship. We got off at the nearest train station and took the regional train all the way to the airport, arriving at 8:06 for our 10:45 flight. The entire journey cost only $6.10 each, and best of all, we missed rush hour traffic.
Tip No. 10: But sometimes a taxi is your best option. In Ålesund, Norway, everyone wants to go up Mt. Aksla because the view is spectacular. Many people choose to walk up the 418 uneven steps; others prefer to save their legs for another day and take the little sightseeing train.
The train costs about $26/person and takes its time going up — about one hour. We took advantage of a third option: we took a taxi to the top and walked down. This way we could stay as long as we wanted and save our legs. The taxi driver said he’d take us just one way for $21. Since there were four of us, this was quite reasonable. In addition, our driver provided an interesting commentary.
Tip No. 11: Get a chip and PIN credit card if you plan to travel abroad. In the U.S., we generally have chip and signature cards, which work fine if a flesh and blood person is around to take your payment, but these credit cards do not work at unmanned booths. We have watched countless Americans spend a lot of their vacation time in lines waiting to charge entry tickets, transportation passes, highway tolls, gasoline, etc. at manned booths as Europeans waltzed by, smiling as they made use of unattended ticket machines.
Before we got our chip and PIN card, we once had to ask a friendly Frenchman filling his tank if we could use his card and reimburse him with cash. Thank goodness he said yes, because French filling stations are unmanned on Sundays and holidays — and the French have a lot of holidays.
Tip No. 12: Do your homework ahead of time so that you can make the most of your trip. There are a lot of tips for specific destinations online. Let your fingers do the walking (dating myself here) to familiarize yourself with your intended venues. Cut and paste from local tourist offices, lists of “top 10 things to see in _____,” and tips from locals or travelers who recently visited your upcoming destinations (can be found at cruisecritic.com).
You will have a much more personal and engaging trip if you don’t just rely on the cookie cutter city tours and ship excursions. If you know something about your destination and what you want to see ahead of time, you can take advantage of local recommendations and make up your own excursions. This is especially important on tours where you know they will drag you through the obligatory diamond factory or the Turkish rug emporium or the matryoshka gift shop, etc. that so often are included in package tours where the guide is getting a kickback.
If you are interested in these tourist stops, fine, but too often they are a waste of precious vacation time to someone who would rather be visiting the soccer stadium or the outdoor market, art museum, thermal baths, etc. Just because a tour is included in your trip price doesn’t make it a good value if you are bored and later regret what you didn’t see.
It is not difficult to flag down a taxi and head for where you want to go. If you are not sure how to go about that, head for a large hotel and ask the doorman or desk clerk to get you a cab and to explain to the driver what you want to see or do. A tip is a small price to pay for help in getting a tour tailored to your interests.
And...if all you want to do is sit on a beach or at a sidewalk cafe, then do it. It could end up being the best day of your vacation.
Tip No. 13: If you are worried about all the walking you will be doing and thinking about packing several pairs of shoes that will weigh down your suitcase, think instead about taking several pairs of insoles. Sometimes that is all it takes to feel like you are wearing different walking shoes. Add a short foot rub with something like Noxzema, and your feet will feel rejuvenated.
David and I hope that some of our tips will enrich your experiences and cut down on the shoulda-coulda-wouldas.
Paula Prindle wrote and submitted this travel column to be published in The Circleville Herald. David Prindle is the photographer.