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Disregarding Scandinavia for a moment, one of the most expensive cities you can visit in Europe is Zurich, Switzerland. This is the land of $8 lattes, pay-to-pee portapotties and four-star hotels asking four digits a night. In other words, it's not exactly for the budget traveler...until we drop the secret that direct flights to ZRH from the US often feature in those crazily discounted airfare sales. Getting a roundtrip for $350 sure defrays the cost of eating pretty little Swiss sweets every day.
Luckily for Zurich (and the rest of Switzerland, really), the scenery and atmosphere is so appealing and so intoxicating that it's easy to be distracted from your fast-emptying wallet. That $8 latte? Get it and walk down the River Limmat, and you'll look up from your caffeine to the scene pictured above. $8 doesn't seem so bad all of a sudden.
What we're saying is: when faced with excellent travel deals to expensive destinations, don't write off the idea immediately. Instead, plan. Your travel budget will be lower, so prepare for a higher daily budget. Andthis is hugedo not complain about the inflated price of McDonald's. TACKY, especially when someplace like this is likely just around the corner.
So this is interesting. Virgin Group head honcho Richard Branson has contributed to a massive $85 million round of funding for microblogging site Tumblr. The New York Times broke the news first thing this morning, and it's already coursing through the interwebs like the hot gossip it is.
The money will go towards scaling up Tumblr and improving features for its 30 million blogs.
The USA is pretty tech-advanced, right? We've got Apple, Silicon Valley, domestic airlines with fleetwide WiFi; it all sounds like America has it great...until you get to Europe and try to pay for anything with a credit card. Rejected! Why? Because Europe has fancier cards embedded with a computer chip, connected to a pin, which then don't get swiped, but inserted into machines to pay for things. These cardsappropriately named "chip-and-pin"are making things very difficult for US travelers.
While it's true that Europe suffers from more credit card fraud than the US, hence the extra security measures of the chip-and-pin, that doesn't mean that we should be left out of the fun and technology. Actually, we're left out of far more than that.
Paris' Velib bike rental kiosks famously don't accept any of the "old swipey" cards; they're chip-and-pin only. Corner stores have taped over the swipe portion of their card machines. We spent 15 minutes teaching a cash register girl at the Isle of Man airport what a swipey card was and how to properly charge us for our stupid postcards and pop. Then, just this past weekend, while attempting to buy a train ticket from Schiphol Airport to Amsterdam Centraal, we were alarmed to find that neither the machines nor the human-staffed ticket counters accepted swipey cards. Stuck without Euros, we considered bartering with travelers who did have chip-and-pin cards.
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Dallas-Ft. Worth International Airport is starting a program where Texas sales tax can be made optional to those visiting from overseas. Sure the tax needs to be paid up front, but afterwards they’re making it pretty easy to get a little percentage back on that Tony Romo jersey or bottle of BBQ sauce.
Apparently it’s one of the first big airports in the country to do this, and it’s all available through a little kiosk in the North Ticketing Hall inside Terminal D. TaxFree Shopping is the one running this new system, so be on the lookout for their sign if you want a little bit of money back. Sure you’ll need to show receipts for what you bought, but the refund here is instant—and via cash, PayPal or check—so there’s no waiting period or need to deal with overly confusing paperwork or mailing stuff in.
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Beginning today, travelers to the United States from 36 nations will face paying an extra $14 at the border, thanks to the Travel Promotion Act. It goes into effect today as you can guess, and the $14 fee's purpose is—to put it plainly—to take money from tourists for encouraging tourism. $4 will cover the operating costs of registering the travelers for the Electronic System for Travel Authorization, and the $10 chunk will then be turned right into a fund for promoting tourism to the United States.
The 36 nations are those that fall under the US' visa waiver program, which allows visits to the US of up to 90 days without the necessity of a seeking a visa (so long as you don't seek work). The foreign travelers who pay the $14 fee are covered for two years as the fees is not per-trip.
To find out if you'll be subject to forking over the extra dollars next time you visit the good old US of A, here is a complete list of the 36 countries:
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Earlier this summer, the US Government raised passport fees substantially, causing US citizens to reach deeper into their pockets for the ability to travel abroad. With that done, the fall focus will be on wringing a little extra cash from foreign visitors to the US with the new Travel Promotion Act. This act, which goes into effect on Wednesday, September 15, is essentially a $14 fee for entering the country, levied on the heads of travelers from 36 nations.
The 36 nations are those that fall under the US' visa waiver program, which allows visits to the US of up to 90 days without the necessity of a seeking a visa (so long as you don't seek work). Wikipedia has a nice map of these countries here, which includes most of Europe plus Australia/New Zealand and even Japan. So if you're from one of the countries marked in red on the map, you can now expect to plonk down the extra dollar bills.
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We've emphasized before that, especially if your travel plans are flexible, you should strongly consider going to Greece. The economic turmoil has caused tourism to plummet, and prices have declined accordingly. But Greece's problems are the Eurozone's problems, which means that there are also macroeconomic issues driving the Euro down relative to the dollar.
Not to be too callous on the point, but Europe's woes are creating some fairly interesting options for American tourists. Portuguese hoteliers have been sending up red flags about the state of their tourism industry, and even government officials have begun to pay attention. The exact same logic holds for Italy: dependent on tourism, and in a broad economic slump that makes it highly vulnerable to fluctuations in the Euro. And by "vulnerable" we mean "welcoming," and by "fluctuations in the Euro" we mean "tourists."
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This morning brings further confirmation of last week's story about how Greek turmoil is opening up absurd tourism opportunities, as hotels in Athens are talking about losing 1 in 10 of their guests, and cutting prices accordingly.
Far more broadly, Europe's economic problems have sent the Euro tumbling against the dollar, and a continued slide is more likely than not. We put up a broad overview of how Greece's problems interact with the Eurozone earlier this year, but now things are quickly coming to a head.
So, should you go to Europe now or what? Find out, after the jump
London just thinks it's so special...it can't just use any old cash, let alone Pounds Sterling. No, London has to have its own freaking money. Similar to the US state quarters before, the city of London will get its own £1 coinpictured above, hovering over the Tower Bridge thanks to the magic of Photoshop.
The coin depicts, St Paul, the city's patron saint, as well as the cross of St. George, London's motto Domine Dirige Nos, meaning “Lord, direct us,” and the coats of arms of the three other UK capital cities: Cardiff, Belfast and Edinburgh. If you look at Wikipedia's entry for the £1 coin, you'll notice that this London one is only the latest in a long line of commemorative coins. And like the others, it's real, circulating money issued by the Royal Mint, although we're sure that every self-respecting coin collector and souvenir-thirsty tourist will be jostling to get at them right away, thus probably wiping out the first run.
Regardless, there will be millions and millions out there eventually this year and, as it turns out, London isn't the only special UK city to get its own pound coin in 2010; Belfast is getting one too.
[Tower Bridge photo: Jaunted]
The immediate problem: the entire country of Greece is about to go bankrupt. They've got overly generous pensions and benefits, they've displayed a seemingly petulant unwillingness to consider belt-tightening, and their government sector is veritably Italian in its efficiency and size. This is not the stuff that long-term economic health is made of.
The bigger problem: Greece is part of the Eurozone and, while its long been kind of funny to refer to them as the "honorary member," the other 15 countries who share the Euro aren't amused. The bankruptcy of any individual state would tank the shared currency, cascading across the continent in ways that are totally unpredictable (the upshot of a disaster which was never even a consideration when the Eurozone was formed). If it did happen, most of what we've thought about travel for the last decadedollar vs. Euro, the long-term stability of the EU, frictionless travel across Europe, etcwould quickly have to be revised.
The alternative is for the rest of the Eurozone countries to bail out Athens, allowing them to service their sovereign debt and avoid default. But the bigger European countries - Germany in particular - don't see why they should have to suffer just because the Greek language doesn't have a translation for "fiscal responsibility." Some Germans are even calling for Greece to be kicked out the Eurozone altogether.
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Help! This is for all the travelers out there who confront a currency exchange booth at the airport or on the street and shake their heads at the unfavorable rates, only to give in anyways because they just need more cash.
We're wondering what is the best way to exchange your money? We've been through it allordering foreign currency from American Express, shuffling up to the Travelex booth in the airport arrivals hall, taking and taking more from foreign ATMs, and even making the walk of shame to a booth in tourist trap. But our indecision really worked against us last week in London, when we discovered that by choosing to exchange cash at a booth rather than just withdraw from an ATM, we had lost something like $30 that wasn't the fault of the high value of Sterling.
Currency exchange is one of those unavoidable, frustrating tasks that must happen during travel, and it can quickly reach eye-gouging annoying levels when you're pressed for time or facing shady dealers.
So please, help out us and everyone who reads this, and share you best tips for currency exchange in the comments. Care to take this remaining 15 pence off our hands for your time? No, we didn't think so either.
Update: the lottery jumps to $325 million this Friday with no winner found for the $252 million.
Yesterday evening, the winning numbers (3, 12, 19, 22 and 40; Mega Ball 2) were announced for one of the biggest MegaMillions lotteries ever: $252 Million Dollars. And it's about to get even larger with no winner this time around. The new jackpot will be $325 million, with numbers picked this Friday.
Megamillions is played in twelve states: California, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Texas, Virginia and Washington, and hopefuls who purchase a tickets stand a 1-in-175-million chance of winning the big payoff.
Whether it's $252 million or $325 million, imagine for a moment that the winner is you. Where would you take your first blow-out trip? Would you hop around five-star resorts in the Indian Ocean or opt for a year of private jet sharing? How about both? How about taking us along?
Let your imagination run wild and tell us your super-millionaire travel dreams in the comments!
· Cha-Ching! Tonight's Mega Millions Jackpot $252 Million [19ActionNews]
· MegaMillions Numbers Revealed [Cincinnati.com]
· Jaunted Open Threads [Jaunted]
[Photo: Rpbert S. Donovan]