Last Revised: January 25, 2015
Since I don’t run 24/7, wall-to-wall, “let me entertain you” tours, you will find it helpful to do a bit of research before the tour. It is easier and more convenient to use the internet. Click on the various links that I provide in the itinerary. Load some apps onto your smartphone or your iPad that you can take along on the tour. Alternatively, you could pick up a GUIDEBOOK or two. Browse through the travel section of Bookstop, Barnes & Noble, or any other good bookstore. I recommend either the Baedeker's or the Green Michelin guidebooks for encyclopedic coverage for both cities and countries. Birnbaum's gives great coverage for countries and culture. The Insight City Guides are a wonderful pre and post tour read--you really get a feel for the places.
Beware of the recommendations that you read in the local newspapers and the slick magazines. Sometimes these articles are long on entertainment and short on accurate information. Keep in mind that the writer might have a hidden agenda. He/she can't very well sell an article that concludes with "I went here because I thought it would be a great place to go. I was wrong. It's a dull as ditch water." Also, skip your Aunt Dorothy and Uncle Ned's recommendation for that great little restaurant they found in Paris ten years ago. It has either changed, gone out of business, or is closed on the one day that you could go, and you'll have wasted half a day trying to find it.
I encourage you to GET IN SHAPE before the tour. About one month before the tour, up your physical activity a notch or two. You are going to walk more than usual, since most of the sites that we will visit involve walking, and hills seem to be part of the deal. European cities were not designed for the car--Europeans walk far more than we do. Also, you will be dealing with luggage, stress, jet lag and other travel indignities. You'll be happier if you can take the stresses in stride.
Know what is on the ITINERARY. I will keep the preliminary itinerary on my web page as we go along. Read through it and make suggestions if you wish. My tours are small enough that I can often accommodate individual requests. Approximately two weeks before the tour, I will finalize the itinerary. This is an important document that outlines exactly what our tour does and does not include. Print a copy and make notes on it to bring with you on the tour.
Please make sure you are signed on for the right tour. I offer varied experiences from structured “guest expert” tours to less structured tours. Make sure the tour you sign up for is the type of experience you want. If all you want is to “do your own thing,” I can accommodate you on some of the tours--up to a point. On the other hand, if you need to be entertained on a 24-hour basis, you might want to cancel now rather than be disappointed later. In all cases I expect maturity from my fellow travelers and a willingness to play the game.
You need to be active on the INTERNET since this is the easiest way for me to reach you most of the time. Chances are you are going to need to arrange for your own airline ticket since internet fares are usually much better than what I can get for you. I use either Kayak or Orbitz since they list most of the ticket sources. There are alternatives, of course, including good local travel agencies. They charge for their services, but it is usually only a nominal fee. Along with any number of BETVets, Sara Lewis, my sister and former Administrative Assistant, and I both monitor the ticketing situation. Stay connected and you can probably find a fair fare.
You are going to need a valid PASSPORT. If you already have one, find it and make sure it is valid at least three months beyond the end of your tour. If you don't have one, start the process now. Passports are now valid for ten years. So there is no rational reason to put off the process. Go to the post office and pick up the forms. Follow the directions (birth certificate, photos, etc.) Turn the completed form back in to the post office and they will send it on to Houston or the nearest center. The process can take two months, so don't procrastinate. There have been problems in the past of people missing a tour because their passport did not arrive in time.
When you have your passport, you might want to make a photocopy of the front page with your picture on it (along with credit card numbers and birth certificate). Take this copy with you on the tour, but keep it separate from your passport. Then, if the passport is stolen on the tour, you'll have an easier time replacing it.
You will not need a Visa when traveling in Europe. However some of our other destinations require them. If in doubt, check with me.
WEATHER Before turning to luggage and packing, you need to know the weather. When asked, "What is the weather like?" my cop out answer is, "Well, it varies." It will be colder than San Antonio (usually) in the winter, but not as cold as the East Coast US. It will be about a month behind San Antonio in the spring. Usually the temperatures are cooler in the summer. I recommend using the either Intellicast for the most part, but there are other services. Keep in mind that these are predictions only. Climate change is upon us and we have experienced some rather weird weather events on recent tours, some of them having nothing to do with what was predicted.
LUGGAGE Your choice of luggage is a very important decision for the success of the tour for you AND your fellow travelers. Bags that work for car and airline travel within the states do not work in Europe. Porters are non-existent. Even on tours where I can provide baggage handling, there are still times that you have to pick up your bag and move it, by yourself. No matter what you choose, you are limited to one bag that you check and one that you carry on the plane. That doesn't mean a checked bag, a carry on, an enormous purse, make-up kit and a camera bag. Two bags that you can carry. Period. End of discussion. (Okay, you can sneak a duffle bag in your luggage going over in case the shopping bug hits.)
I have learned the above lesson from some 70+ tours. Until recently, American luggage manufacturers just did not keep pace with travel realities. Early in BET history, I required a backpack (I still recommend one if your joints are still functioning). Luckily, as baby boomers have aged, the manufacturers have adjusted, and functioning, attractive luggage is now available.
Frankly, there is only one type of luggage that I can recommend for most anyone at this point: vertical, wheeled luggage, preferably soft-sided. I have used an Eagle Creek bag for years now, and recommend it. Bigger is better is the American way, but resist the urge. Go beyond 44cm wide (about 17 inches) and 68cm tall (26 inches) and you are asking for trouble. The wheels do make it convenient, but occasionally you have to pick it up and carry it. If you have pushed the limit, you might find yourself in a whole lot of pain.
IN SUMMARY: I spend a significant part of my life traveling. This means I spend an inordinate amount of time in airports, hotels, train stations, on trains, and walking in European cities. I watch other travelers, observing what works, what doesn't. The recommended bags work. They will see you through any situation on any one of my tours. And, whatever you choose, remember that you are limited to a checked bag and a carryon.
PACKING The following list is a synthesis of several guidebooks, and has been revised with recommendations from previous groups. Common sense dictates that you travel as light as possible. Aim for 20-30 lbs. (female) 30-40 lbs. (male) as an absolute maximum for everything. (You will "gain weight" as you go along, picking up little souvenirs and gifts. Start off light.) Try to bring items that see double duty.
Bring clothes that are durable and easy to wash and dry. Avoid items that are 100% cotton; a 60-40 blend is almost as comfortable and much easier to wash. (Yes, you are going to have to deal with laundry. Don't even dream about taking enough separate outfits for a two-week tour.) Smaller numbers in the list below imply doing a hand washing on a nightly basis. Larger numbers assume finding a laundromat at some point mid-way through the tour. Color coordinate so you can mix and match. You'll need at least one "nice" outfit for concerts and classy restaurants if they are on the itinerary. This does not need to be a separate outfit. Dark slacks or skirt, shirt or blouse and a sweater or blazer will work. Add a tie if you are male. If your tour lasts only a week, add a few more clothes and take out the laundry supplies. Bring what you need, need what you bring. Couples: consider cross-packing on the flight over, i.e., have a basic outfit in each others luggage. That way if one of your bags doesn't arrive with you, you will have some clothes to wear until the airline delivers your bag.
- Rainproof (GORE-TEX or similar) jacket. Winter travelers will need to add a sweater for layering, gloves and headgear.
- 2 pairs comfortable shoes. Bring waterproof boots in winter. No high heels. One pair must be a comfortable walking shoe with a non-slip tread.
- 4 to 6 shirts/blouses. Long-sleeved in winter, short in summer. Bring at least one long-sleeved shirt/blouse in summer
- 3 pants, slacks, skirts
- Coat/tie or dress if concerts are on the itinerary (doesn't have to be a separate outfit).
- 2-6 pairs underwear (one pair thermal or silk in winter)
- 2-6 pairs of socks, women substitute 3-4 pair stockings
- 1 nightie, PJ's or T-shirt for sleeping (there may be a fire drill at the hotel).
- Modest shorts (optional) in summer.
- Refillable water bottle, a durable plastic canteen type that won't leak. Water is not always available when you need it: Carry it or plan to spend $2.00-3.00 daily buying it. (Of course you can reuse the plastic bottle that you buy on tour. The only problem is that if the maid finds it she will think it is trash and throw it away.)
- Survival stash. A Ziploc bag with granola bars, nuts, and/or dried fruit to tide you over if you wake up with the munchies at 2:00 a.m. before you adjust to local time, or if the promised dining car on the train gets left off.
- Umbrella, telescoping type (Skip if you have a hooded GORE-TEX jacket).
- Sturdy container of laundry detergent.
- Travel hangers, clothesline, and clothespins (Optional. I use the hangers in the hotel)
- Toiletries (small sizes), wash cloth or nylon net (surprisingly, wash cloths are seldom available)
- Alarm clock though you might find that the alarm on your cell phone is more reliable. The times I put in the itinerary are not suggestions. Please don't inconvenience the group by being late. You will need to be on time.
- Small packages of facial tissue. (I am ambivalent here. If you really need them, you can't possibly bring enough. And they are readily available in Europe. Bring a packet or two and see how you do.)
- Ziploc bags (1 gal. size, freezer)--packing aid, wet laundry or dirty clothes carrier, etc.
- Prescription drugs: make sure you bring everything that you use or might need.
- Duplicate glasses/contacts and everything you need to maintain these items.
- Small sewing kit in case you lose a button.
- Small first aid kit.
- Non-prescription drugs and sundries.
The following items have proved very useful on past trips for some obvious and not so obvious reasons:
- Advil or Ibuprofen. Good for aches and pains.
- Dramamine. Necessary if you are subject to motion sickness.
- Nyquil. Can help you sleep if you get the sneezles.
- Pepto Bismol tablets for minor tummy upsets and Imodium for more serious disruptions
- Aspirin. for headaches.
- Sudafed, Claritin. In case of allergies to cigarette smoke or feather pillows.
- Talcum powder. In case you get a rash.
- Ear plugs, eye shades. Helps for sleep on the plane.
- Melatonin. Sleep aid that helps you adjust to new time zones.
- Metamucil. The high fat, low fiber meals can cause some problems.
- Airborne, a new dietary supplement that helps boost the immune system
- A smart phone covers a lot of what I've listed below--camera, camcorder, WIFI, music player, flashlight and so on. Just make sure you have a good plan with your provider so you don't come home to a 4-digit bill.
- Laptop computer or iPad with WIFI. All hotels provide a connection, quite often free. Subscribe to Skype and you can call the states inexpensively.
- iPod if you are addicted to music.
- Small flashlight (a penlight has served me well on several occasions).
- Swiss Army Knife w/corkscrew (or pocketknife and a corkscrew). In post 9/11 travel, make sure that you put this in your checked luggage.
- Inflatable pillow
- Strapping tape: One roll for 4 people. Great for temporary luggage repairs or to wrap a box to ship purchases back home.
- Electrical adapter and converter (necessary if you bring any appliance that needs electricity such as the next three items):
- Small hair dryer, but most of my hotels provide them.
- Digital camera or camcorder. Your smart phone can fill the bill.
- Battery charger and or spare batteries for any electronic gadgets you bring along.
- Small travel iron, but again every hotel makes these available. Ask at the front desk.
- Plastic/acrylic glass or folding cup.
- Bandanna or small towel (use as tablecloth, napkin, lap cloth, scarf).
- Small guidebooks. and/or foreign language dictionary. (A better plan is to print your own "guidebook" at home or use apps on either your laptop, smart phone, or iPad.)
- Pen/pencil, diary/journal.
- Paperback book or Kindle/Nook 'iPad for plane.
- Student ID if currently enrolled in school
- Nail scissors, emery board. (Put in checked luggage.)
- Address book or pre addressed labels for post cards, letters. (Or use your address book on your computer or iPad.)
- Small, sturdy duffel bag rolled into your luggage to carry home "goodies" if you plan to shop.
- Sturdy tube for posters and prints.
TRAVEL DOCUMENTS AND CARDS (Carried on your body at all times):
- Passport, cash, student ID, drivers license, airline ticket and Eurailpass or train tickets.
- Credit Card(s) and your ATM card for your bank.
- Long distance phone card purchased in Europe.
For the above items use a neck safe, money belt, hidden pocket, or document pouch. Keep your passport, airline and train tickets or passes on your body at all times. Keep credit cards and money in separate places so if you lose one, you won't be without the other. Don't flash large amounts of cash. Carry only what you need for the day with you. Keep the rest of your stash in the hotel safe or on your body.
If you insist on carrying a purse, Eagle Creek offers a small canvas bag that has a shoulder strap and a belt loop. It carries as much as many purses, but doesn't scream "money!" And it can be secured to your body. The easiest purse solution for travel clutter (not valuables) is a day pack or book bag.
LEAVE AT HOME.
- Hard-side cosmetic case. Use a foldable fabric/plastic type or Ziploc bags.
- Expensive jewelry. Don't take anything that has great value to you.
- Purses. A purse just screams: "Steal me." A "good" purse (Gucci, Dooney & Bourke, Coach) screams: "Steal me because I hold big $$$!" A purse has to be carried, kept track of, kept an eye on... LEAVE ALL PURSES AT HOME!
HAND LAUNDRY SUGGESTIONS
I hear you: “I’m not going all the way to Europe just to do laundry.” And, by the same token, I never dreamed that I would be offering “how to” suggestions on the subject. However, clean clothing is desirable and laundromats are few and far between. Of course the hotel will do your laundry, but at a price many of us find excessive. Hand laundry in the basin is the solution.
First thing, choose clothing that will dry. 60/40% blends are about as comfortable as cotton and will dry overnight. Levis take forever to dry, but mercifully they never look that dirty so you usually don't have to deal with them on a short tour. Leave all-cotton socks at home. There are some good blends sold in sporting goods stores that will dry quickly, and, more importantly, keep your feet dry when you are wearing them. Tilley’s makes travel underwear that is as comfortable as cotton but will dry overnight.
Bring a small amount of detergent from home in a secure package along with Shout or some other stain remover. Travel stores sell packets of detergent, but at a premium. You might also want to invest in a universal stopper, sold in supermarkets, just in case the drain plug in your room is missing or doesn't work.
Don't put off doing the laundry until you've built up a major project. Doing a few things every night is much easier than dealing with your entire wardrobe in the middle of the tour.
Put a small amount of detergent in the basin and fill with warm water. Put the clothes in (of course after separating) and allow to soak for a while. Slosh around, checking to see if stains are coming out. When you've achieved an acceptable level of cleanliness (no, it will not be as good as your washer at home), drain and squeeze out as much suds as possible. Now here is the key part--rinse, rinse, and rinse again. Otherwise, you will be wearing cardboard. And you might break out in a rash in a very uncomfortable area.
To dry, wring out as much water by hand, and then roll the wet clothes in a towel and twist. Hang to dry where convenient. If it is spring or summer, you might be able to open the window. I get good results just hanging things in the closet (with door open, of course.) The next morning, most everything should be dry. If not, and we are leaving that day, put the damp clothes in a zip lock bag and finish the drying when we get to the next destination.
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Barker's European Tours - 10914 Toscana Isle - San Antonio TX 78249 - (210) 702 1884