Last Revised: April 8, 2016
PAYMENTS: BET is a small operation, which means that I have very low overhead. Which means that I can pass the savings on to you. However, I do have pre-tour expenses, deposit deadlines for the hotels and the airlines, concert tickets to purchase months before the event. Pre payments are the only way that I can offer these trips.
You may devise any number of ways to meet the obligation. Most people prefer making monthly payments; others find it easiest to pay a lump sum when signing up, leaving a small balance to pay one month before the tour. Whichever way you choose, all payments must be completed one month before departure. Payment methods:
- The traditional way is to make checks payable to Barker’s European Tours and send them to me at 10914 Toscana Isle, San Antonio TX 78249.
- If you already bank online, (and I strongly urge you to do so since you can keep track of your money while on tour) a free and simple solution is to use the bill pay service with your bank. Arrange for monthly payments and it is automatic -you just need to make sure the funds are available on the days your bank will be sending the check.
- A third way is to pay electronically. Not all banks use this service, but it is a direct way. You arrange to make payments using your smart phone with your bank and they tell a company called Zelle to pay directly into my account.
- Finally, if you are a Frost Bank customer, you can use My Frost services and transfer money directly from your account to my Frost Bank account. Call me at 210 702 1884 and I will help you get it set up.
STATEMENTS/INVOICES: Your invoice tells you how much the tour costs; statements show what you still owe. I do everything online now, so you will need to stay active on the internet to get tour updates, statements, and the current itinerary.
HOW MUCH $$?: The question that comes up most often is, “How much money do I need to take on the tour?” Rather than copping out with “pack light and carry large bills,” here are some thoughts that might help. Your breakfasts and one other meal, usually dinners, are covered but you will need to provide for that third meal. Figure on $5.00 for a cheap lunch and $30.00 for a splurge. If you live to eat, figure on the high side. If you eat to live, go low. Drinks are not always included with the meals–often you will end up paying for water. And teetotalers: soft drinks can be as expensive as wine and beer.
Entertainment expenses will vary, and I am providing you with a number of attractions as part of the tour. However, there may be other concerts and events that you want to go to that are not on the itinerary. That leaves shopping, and there is no way I can predict what you will need. Bottom line, an absolute bare minimum for meals & miscellaneous -figure $25.00 a day. And that does not include shopping!
As you realize, except in the most touristy of circumstances you can’t spend US dollars in the rest of the world. You will have to exchange your dollars into the currency of the country or countries that we will visit. The value of the dollar changes on a daily basis, depending on a number of factors that are far beyond the scope of this discussion. It’s not that complicated, but it is somewhat like other life experiences–you usually won’t understand it until you’ve actually done it. I can’t stress enough that the best way to change money any more is to use an ATM card. You will pay your bank a modest $1.00—$3.00 fee plus 1 to 3% (a bargain) beyond the official rate of exchange for the transaction. Cash machines are universally available -there are even three of them in the small village in Italy where I used to live. They work around the world the same way they do here with two major exceptions. First, they use numbers more often than numbers and letters so make sure that you know your PIN by numbers rather than letters. Second, they give you the local currency rather than US$$. Sometimes, the machine will turn you down. Don’t panic. Find another machine and try again. Or the international service may not be available at the moment. Try later.
ATM machines will also take your Visa, MasterCard or American Express cards in Europe–if you make the arrangements before the trip. With credit cards, there will be a surcharge, usually 3%.
A more traditional way is to convert some money before the tour, though I do not recommend it. Locally, your own bank can provide you with foreign currencies, but you will usually have to make the arrangements ahead of time. If you choose to go this route, check first to see what the charges will be. Of course you can change money at the airport, but the rate is usually so absurdly high it would make a Mafiosi don blush. You can also change money at some foreign banks. My local bank in Italy charged the official rate plus 2% plus various fess that added up to less than €10.00. But again, I highly recommend that you use your ATM card after you get to our destination.
Notice that I am not recommending Travelers Checks as they have gone the way of a letter of recommendation from your banker. Not only are travelers checks hard to deal with, ATM cards are simply far superior. Also, you don’t need to carry all that much cash -use credit cards for any purchases. Please do not bring Travelers Checks. (On just about every tour, we will have one newbie who shows up with Travelers Checks and then has a difficult time cashing them. Please excuse my lack of sympathy.)
In all of this, make sure that you have more than one way to access your funds. Carry some US$$, an ATM card and a credit card or two. Shop around for a credit card that gives the best rate of exchange. There are any number of them that only charge the basic 1%. Others charge 2 or 3%. On a major purchase this can add up. Notify your bank and credit card companies before the tour. Otherwise an overzealous fraud squad might deny your transactions.
Since the introduction of the euro (€), life is much easier for Americans. Not only can we travel from country to country without changing money, the euro is much more similar to our own currency than most of the previous currencies. I only have one caveat: The smallest bill is a €5.00. There are €2.00 and €1.00 coins, along with .50, .20, .10, .05, .02 and .01.If you are not careful, you can end up with a lot of pocket ballast. When you are asked to pay a bill of, say, €3.20, don’t just automatically pull out a bill. Chances are you have that much change in your pocket. I do recommend a change purse. It does make life easier.
IMPORTANT NOTICE TO PARENTS OF DEPENDENT TRAVELERS: Please read the above paragraphs and make sure your son or daughter has access to emergency funds while on the tour. Wiring money to your offspring is difficult, expensive and slow. It is much easier to make preparations for an emergency before the trip.
And finally, now that you have brought enough of it, and have not lost any of it to gypsies or pickpockets, you might want to spend some of your money on . . . .
SHOPPING: Being chromosome challenged, it took me a long time to understand the attraction of shopping on tour, but I’ve adjusted. Not only can you find arts and crafts from the local area, but also you can find manufactured items that aren’t carried by USA stores. Also, I like to go into department stores just to see what is offered, see what the locals are buying. It is another way of getting to know the people.
Based on personal experience and the suggestions of previous groups, here is a list of do’s and don’ts:
Do use a credit card for major purchases. You’ll get the best rate of exchange.
Do look for items that are unique to the city, region or country: glass and masks in Venice; paper, leather goods–coats, gloves–in Florence; majolica pottery in Tuscany; mosaics in Ravenna, perfume in Paris, carved wood from Bavaria, handicrafts from everywhere.
Don’t expect to see the same items throughout Europe or even throughout a country; i.e., don’t try to buy a mask in Ravenna or mosaics in Florence, or leather in Venice.
Do remember the dictum, “if you buy it, you carry it.” Use a charge card and ship home if you buy large and/or expensive items. Consider bringing along a sturdy duffel bag rolled into your bag for souvenirs.
Don’t commit yourself to buying particular items for everyone at home. If you run into something small, inexpensive, appropriate and unique, buy it. Otherwise, buy postcards along the way, or some candy or cookies at the duty-free shop on the way home and be done with it. (Frankly, I get a little tired of watching some first-time travelers spend 90% of their time trying to find the perfect nick-knacks for everyone back home or chasing around trying to fill an “order.”)
Do look for Christmas or birthday presents, purchases that you would be making anyway. You can come up with some unique gifts.
Don’t waste your money on manufactured goods that you can buy in the States.
Do think of picking up museum guidebooks, note cards, and postcards, at your favorite museums. That way you can relive your experience over and over after you get home. Some of the books are unique, not available anywhere else (and it is fun to read the mangled English in the translations.) Along the same line, look for reproductions (both painting and sculpture) and posters at the museum shops. These items are truly unique to the museum, city, and region. But don’t forget: YOU BUY IT, YOU CARRY IT!!
General policy for all BET Tours
PRICING: Prices for the tours will be set approximately one year before departure, and are based on a specific number of paying passengers, an estimate of the cost of hotels, meals, rail and ground transportation, with some allowance for inflation and currency fluctuations. If true costs are lower than the original estimate, the price of the tour may be lowered by an amount up to 5% of the original price. If the costs are higher, the price may be raised, up to 5%. Pricing used to be based on my arranging all air transportation, but the situation has changed. On some tours I will still arrange for the air, but increasingly you can beat any price I am given. The price quotes are based on double occupancy in hotels, triples occasionally may be available if desired. Single occupancy is available at additional cost. NOT INCLUDED: Personal expenses such as passport fees, meals not covered by the itinerary, shopping, etc.
RESERVATIONS are accepted starting one year before each of the tours and tours are filled on a first-come, first served basis. (I reserve the right to refuse to accept a deposit from someone who has caused problems on a previous tour.) If the minimum number for the tour has not been reached six months before the tour, I may cancel the tour and return all deposits. A $100.00 per person deposit will hold your place. Seven months before the tour, you are to begin payments with the entire balance to be paid one month before departure.
CANCELLATIONS: If you should need to cancel after making a deposit and/or payments:
After your initial deposit but seven months before departure: 100% of your payments will be returned, subject to a $25.00 administrative fee.
Between six and four months before departure: up to $100 retained, plus any non-refundable payments that have been made to other agencies.
Within four months of departure: up to $250 retained, plus any non-refundable payments that have been made to other agencies. (The preceding charges will usually be credited to any subsequent trip.)
After the tour has been closed to further enrollment, or within a month of departure, I will return only what I would have spent on you on the tour.
All cancellations must be in writing. You may use E-mail, but make sure that I acknowledge receipt of your message.
Limitations-Requirements Participants on these tours are limited to one piece of luggage and a carry-on. Again, I highly recommend an internal frame backpack/suitcase if you are young, or upright wheeled luggage as described earlier. In every case, all participants must be physically capable of handling their own luggage. These tours are designed for active adults and college age students. Younger students and senior citizens are welcome–provided they are independent travelers. I reserve the right to cancel a person’s participation before a tour if it becomes obvious to me that the activities may be too strenuous.
Senior BETVet Program In acknowledgment of the contributions of my many repeat clients, I have established a simple “frequent traveler” program. After three tours of at least two weeks in duration, I will deduct $100.00 from the price of any subsequent tour. I wish I could offer more, but then I do not charge that much for the tours in the first place.
Barker’s European Tours – 10914 Toscana Isle – San Antonio TX 78249 – (210) 702 1884