How To Avoid Extra Credit Card Fees During International Travel

Going on an international trip is very exciting but it can also be very expensive. Using a credit card to pay for purchases when traveling internationally is often the best way to get a good exchange rate and the rate your bank gets will be better than the one you’ll get on your own if you exchange cash. Using a card also means that you don’t have to carry around a bunch of cash with you. However, many cards will add on a “foreign transaction fee” to any transactions made with anything except your home currency. Here’s an easy way to keep from paying that extra 2-3 percent on all of your purchases while away.

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How To Sign Up For Airline Frequent Flyer Programs

You should always sign up for an airline’s frequent flyer program. First of all, it’s free. In addition, having your information on file with the airline saves you some time when making a reservation. You can also put your Known Traveler Number (KTN) into your profile if you have enrolled for TSA Pre✓® or Global Entry, which you should do if you travel even somewhat regularly.

Here are the links to the programs from the major US Airlines along with how long the miles you earn are good for. Note that while many plans will claim your miles will “never expire,” they will deactivate your account, thereby cause you to lose any miles earned, if you don’t have a qualifying activity within a certain time frame.

Continue reading “How To Sign Up For Airline Frequent Flyer Programs”

#TBT: Alaska ’09 – Part 9 of 9

Part 9 of 9: Going Home & Musings About The Trip

In August of 2009, I (Sharon) deserted my husband Joe and our puppy Dobby (at the time we had had her for about a month and a half) to go on a cruise to Alaska with the choir of which I was a member at the time (we were booked to sing on the ship). Some of my writing style has changed since 2009, some of my snark is exactly the same and heaven knows that cameras and photos have improved in the past 8 years, but here is the trip report I wrote about those adventures…the good, the bad and the ugly! To get up-to-date on the trip:

Part 1 – Arriving in Vancouver
Part 2 – On board and getting my bearings
Part 3 – Rehearsals and relaxing
Part 4 – Juneau – Nature Trails & Humpback Whales
Part 5 – Skagway – Walking on A Glacier and Taking A Train Ride to Canada
Part 6 – Day at Sea – Hangin’ Around the Ship, Enjoyin’ Doing’ Not much…
Part 7 – Ketchikan – Salmon Fishing!
Part 8 – Performing on the Cruise Ship!

Today was supposed to be a long but easy day. It certainly was long. Easy, not so much.

My first problem was my own fault – I had forgotten to hand in my “tell us what time you want to disembark” form for several days. So by the time I handed it in to say I wanted to leave at 8:00am, they had already scheduled me for 9:10am…which was exactly 5 minutes before my shuttle bus was leaving. Knowing that I wasn’t the first person in the world to hand the form in late, and with several hours before the end of the trip, I asked to be switched to 8:00am. The girl at the Zuiderdam office said it wouldn’t be a problem though, because all the luggage would be out early anyway.

She lied.

I had a quick breakfast at the buffet and disembarked at 8:00am…only to see that they were just bringing out the luggage that needed to be out at 8:00am. Ugh. So I sat there. And sat there. And sat there. Meanwhile, Carlene, Stewart and Celeste, who were all on the same shuttle bus as me (Esther had different plans and the Brits were flying out of Canada), had gotten their luggage long ago. At 8:50am, I asked one of the security ladies when the luggage with the green tags were scheduled to come out. She asked why and I explained my situation. She very nicely allowed me to stand right next to where the luggage carts come out so when I saw my 2 pieces, I could grab them and be on my way. It all worked out…I got to my shuttle bus with one (ONE!) minute to spare.

The ride to Seattle wasn’t noteworthy, especially since I slept through 90 minutes of the 4-hour ride. Our driver did manage to bypass the 5+ hour wait at Customs by stretching the truth a little, which was nice…and as it was, we were stuck there for an hour! But one hour is better than five.

We finally arrived at SEA a little before 3:00pm, bid goodbye to Celeste and tried to check our luggage…only to find out that we couldn’t check in until 4 hours before the plane. So not until 6:45pm. ARGH! With plenty (PLENTY!) of time to spare, we found a restaurant, had lunch, and essentially became squatters for the next 4 hours. We managed to figure out some ways to make the time go by faster but even so, it wasn’t the most pleasant or comfortable way to spend an afternoon.

They let us check our luggage in 5 whole minutes early (yee haw) and then sat at the gate for another 4 hours. Yeah, not exactly the most fun day in the world. But I got a good 4 hours of sleep on the plane going home, which was nice.

We landed about 15 minutes early on on Sunday morning and Joe picked me up, Dobby in tow. I managed to stay awake for the car ride home and even started to unpack a little. Lack of sleep finally caught up with me though and I napped from 9:30am to 3pm. And then from midnight to noon Monday.

Afterthoughts And Musings…

As much as I missed Joe and Dobby, I had a REALLY fantastic time. It was my first trip with this choir and it was wonderful to meet all of these people who I barely knew, or often didn’t know at all, yet we still had this “connection” in the form of the choir that allowed us to have full conversations. It was very neat!

The highlights of the trip were the salmon fishing, walking on the glacier and the concert. In that order.

Having to be at rehearsal at 8:00am SUCKED, hehehehe!

I thought Holland America was lovely. Not quite as good as the Disney Cruise line (the only other cruises I’ve gone on…yes, all to the Caribbean), but certainly high quality. Except for the food, which was just adequate to OK, as far as I was concerned. Nothing was bad (although that “chocolate pudding” was a bit questionable) but none of the meals, not even the “special” ones, stood out as being particularly wonderful, either.

There were only 5 of us Americans and everyone else was from the U.K. Learning 50-odd peoples’ names was HARD and I’m afraid I only eventually memorized about 2 dozen of them…some of which I only got right ‘some’ of the time (my apologies to the various Janes/Jeans/Paulas/Paulines). I wound up using mnemonics for some of them…I already mentioned that (Lord) James reminded me of Christopher Lloyd, who played “Reverend Jim” on Taxi (so I had the James/Jim thing going). And Bob looked like Reverend Alden from Little House on the Prairie, so I thought of him floating in the water, with his head “bobbing” (I didn’t get a decent picture of Bob so you’ll have to take my word for it).

Caroline and I bumped into each other a grand total of 11 times over the course of the week. It got to the point where it had happened so much early on in the trip (4 times on the first day) that I just started keeping track (and yeah, I am indeed OCD like that anyway, LOL!). There was no rhyme or reason to it, either – sometimes I would show up, sometimes her. That didn’t even count the times when we were supposed to be at the same place at the same time, like for a rehearsal or dinner. I mean “just walking along, minding my own business, when WHOOSH, there she was.” Good thing I liked her, huh?

I was admittedly not a cruise fan and really wasn’t thrilled with the idea of cruising but Alaska sounded intriguing, so I was willing to make the sacrifice. As it turned out, I finally figured out my issue…it’s not that I dislike cruising at all…I just dislike cruising to the Caribbean, LOL! As long as there are cool people to hang out with (because playing Bingo and learning how to carve a watermelon or cucumber into a flower are still LAME, no matter what ship you’re on), cruising can be great!

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#TBT: Alaska ’09 – Part 8 of 9

Part 8 of 9: Performing on the Cruise Ship!

In August of 2009, I (Sharon) deserted my husband Joe and our puppy Dobby (at the time we had had her for about a month and a half) to go on a cruise to Alaska with the choir of which I was a member at the time (we were booked to sing on the ship). Some of my writing style has changed since 2009, some of my snark is exactly the same and heaven knows that cameras and photos have improved in the past 8 years, but here is the trip report I wrote about those adventures…the good, the bad and the ugly! To get up-to-date on the trip:

Part 1 – Arriving in Vancouver
Part 2 – On board and getting my bearings
Part 3 – Rehearsals and relaxing
Part 4 – Juneau – Nature Trails & Humpback Whales
Part 5 – Skagway – Walking on A Glacier and Taking A Train Ride to Canada
Part 6 – Day at Sea – Hangin’ Around the Ship, Enjoyin’ Doing’ Not much…
Part 7 – Ketchikan – Salmon Fishing!

Another day at sea, this time on our way back to Vancouver so we could disembark for good and go home.

We were scheduled for a 2-hour technical rehearsal at 8am so I set my alarm for 6:45am and woke up at 5:30am. Argh! I figured it was a good thing though…I’d have to wake up early to disembark on Saturday and with Florida being 3 or 4 hours ahead, it gave me the opportunity to get closer to an Eastern Time sleep schedule.

I had ordered some whole wheat toast, a grapefruit half and coffee from room service and then off I went to the rehearsal.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe still had Gabriel the piano player from 8a to 9a and then our bass player and drummer arrived at 9a. We did 2 complete (or near-complete, time allowing) run throughs, including soloists (all of whom totally rocked!). We sounded good and we hoped to get a good audience. Unfortunately, we were disappointed to find out that, due to their company policy, Holland America would not advertise our show in any way, shape or form…not in their daily booklet, nor via announcement, so our audience was going to only be based on the word of mouth we generated (and the flyers some of the Sing Live people handed out and left on tables and in mailboxes). Awesomesauce (she said sarcastically).

I had an appointment at the spa for a foot and leg massage at 11am, which was provided by Patricia from Jamaica. I didn’t have anything else on my agenda until we needed to be around for our concert, so I went back to my chair, caught up on some blogging and watched the outside world go by. I also spent some more time doing the jigsaw puzzle and *almost* catching a nap (I think I actually did sleep for about 20 minutes but then Jessie woke me up…GRRRRR…good thing I like her, LOL!).

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With a 3:00pm concert, we were told to meet in our formal attire (which is what we were going to sing in) at A Deck by the forward elevators at 2:25pm. I wound up getting there WAY early…2:10pm or so and there was NOBODY there. Nor was there anyplace to sit. So I went back up to Deck 1, where they was at least a bench. Some others got there a few minutes after me and once we had a big group, we took a bunch of pictures on the bench, on the stair landing, etc. Anyway, at 2:24pm, we went downstairs to A Deck to meet our conductor and one of the ship’s crew, who brought us “backstage” to access the stage area of the Vista Lounge.

3 o’clock finally came and our show went off without a hitch. We’re sure we lost potential audience members because of the lack of advertising (AND we were up against Bingo and 3pm High Tea) but still managed to get probably between 150 and 200 people in the house. We didn’t care though…we just had a good time singing!

Once the show was over, I went back to my cabin so I could put “real” clothes on again. I then tried to take a nap but it never did happen. Pity.

Dinner was going to be a “special” one because it was our last night. The meal began at 7:30pm instead of 8pm and the menu had more limited, but generally more fancy choices (oxtail soup, duck breast, etc.) We each got a paper chef’s hat with the menu written on a separate piece of paper that was stuck into the hat – those who put the hat on (not everyone did) looked simply lovely!

As part of the “special” meal, the servers put on some little shows for us for different parts of the meal…even for the napkins!

We all lingered after dinner – it was the last time we would all be together and it was REALLY hard to say goodbye to so many of my new friends. Jessie had mentioned that a bunch of people were going to the piano bar, in case I wanted to come. I was already tired but figured I would have PLENTY of time to sleep on Saturday, between the bus ride back to Seattle and the 5+ hours on the red eye home. So after going back to the Explorations Cafe to check in our flight electronically, off I went. The woman at the piano was very good…she had a nice, contralto voice and knew a LOT of songs. Apparently a lot of people had been visiting her all week long because she knew just about EVERYONE in the place and had written a “final evening” song that mentioned all of her “regulars”, including most of our choir people (although I hadn’t gone to the piano bar all week, she recognized me as soon as I walked in because she had gone to our concert). Anyway, there were about a half-dozen of us from the choir at any given time, until they closed up shop at 1:30am…when the last 5 of us (me, Nancy, Anne, Jane and John – who had been falling asleep on his barstool for the last hour, LOL) finally called it a night. With my alarm set for 6:30am, I was (not surprisingly) asleep before my head even hit the pillow.

#TBT: Alaska ’09 -Part 7 of 9

Part 7 of 9: Ketchikan – Salmon Fishing!

In August of 2009, I (Sharon) deserted my husband Joe and our puppy Dobby (at the time we had had her for about a month and a half) to go on a cruise to Alaska with the choir of which I was a member at the time (we were booked to sing on the ship). Some of my writing style has changed since 2009, some of my snark is exactly the same and heaven knows that cameras and photos have improved in the past 8 years, but here is the trip report I wrote about those adventures…the good, the bad and the ugly! To get up-to-date on the trip:

Part 1 – Arriving in Vancouver
Part 2 – On board and getting my bearings
Part 3 – Rehearsals and relaxing
Part 4 – Juneau – Nature Trails & Humpback Whales
Part 5 – Skagway – Walking on A Glacier and Taking A Train Ride to Canada
Part 6 – Day at Sea – Hangin’ Around the Ship, Enjoyin’ Doing’ Not much…

I woke up at 7:30am and had a breakfast of oatmeal with Rich, Chris, Jean and Pauline. We arrived in Ketchikan at 10am and, after talking to Joe for a little while, I was off the ship by 10:30am.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI had about 90 minutes before I had to be at the bottom of the dock for my fishing trip, so I walked through the nearby crap shops and bought a sandwich at a Subway so I would have something to eat on the fishing boat.

Crap shopped out, I went back towards the cruise ship and met up with my fishing buddy around 11:45am or so. He said he had already found the office of the boat company and checked us in. I followed him back to the office so I could buy my fishing license (a 1-day license is $20) and so we could wait for the other fishing people. They finally arrived, got registered etc., and after prodding through some unexpected housework (one of the boards they planned to use – not ours – had broken down so they had to add 2 more people to our boat), were on our way! There were 7 of us all together – a married couple from Palm Springs CA, two gay guys (one from CA and one who split his time between CO and NY), my fishing buddy and I and, of course, the captain.

I used to go deep sea fishing on party boards out of Sheepshead Bay (Brooklyn) with my dad every summer, starting from when I was 6 and up until I was 15 or 16, when I decided I didn’t want to wake up at 4 o’clock in the morning and have my hands smell like fish for 3 days. So it had been a long, long time. I also had never gone salmon fishing before and the rules were a little different – the boat captain set up 6 fishing poles and each one of us had a number (I was #1, my fishing buddy was #6 and the rest were all between). When any rod looked like it had a bite, we would take turns in numerical order – so I had first try, then #2 did, then #3, etc. Once all 6 of us had had a chance to catch a fish, we started again from #@1. If you had a fish on the line and it got away, it was your loss. But if you reeled it in and it turned out to be a false alarm (another line, for example), you were still “up.” It was a fair system, with a limit of 6 fish per person. We didn’t get even close to that, though – all together our bot caught 11 salmon – 10 silvers and 1 coho (cohos are bigger than silvers). Of the 11, I lost my first one and then caught 3, and my fishing buddy caught 2 and lost 2 (but his 2nd one was big – probably the biggest silver caught all day).

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Besides the fun of the fishing, we also got to see several bald eagles in the nearby trees on shore, and well as some whales in the ocean. VERY cool! The weather during our 4-hour trip varied from comfortable (partly cloudy, unzipped light jacket) to rainy and chilly.

When it was time to go back to the ship, the captain gave us the forms to fill out to have our fish filleted, flash frozen and shipped, if we so desired. The 2 guys hadn’t had a very good day of fishing and between the two of them, only had caught 1 or 2 fish (one of which was the coho). They said the other 4 of us could have their fish if we wanted, so we agreed to just split the 11 fish 50/50. My fishing buddy and I made plans so he would receive the fish and bring my share to rehearsal. We’ll probably see it towards the end of the month, or perhaps early September.

What a fun, FUN time it was, though! Of everything I had planned for this vacation, going salmon fishing was the thing I was looking forward to the most, even more than singing on the ship…and I’m happy to say it met all of my expectations! I had forgotten how much I enjoyed fishing!

As always (and probably even more so after today’s excitement), I was exhausted by the time dinner was over, so after doing the jigsaw puzzle in the Exploration Cafe for an hour or so, I went to bed around midnight.
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#TBT: Sharon’s 2009 Alaska Cruise – Part 6 of 9

Part 6 of 9: Day at Sea – Hangin’ Around the Ship, Enjoyin’ Doing’ Not Much…

In August of 2009, I (Sharon) deserted my husband Joe and our puppy Dobby (at the time we had had her for about a month and a half) to go on a cruise to Alaska with the choir of which I was a member at the time (we were booked to sing on the ship). Some of my writing style has changed since 2009, some of my snark is exactly the same and heaven knows that cameras and photos have improved in the past 8 years, but here is the trip report I wrote about those adventures…the good, the bad and the ugly! To get up-to-date on the trip:

Part 1 – Arriving in Vancouver
Part 2 – On board and getting my bearings
Part 3 – Rehearsals and relaxing
Part 4 – Juneau – Nature Trails & Humpback Whales
Part 5 – Skagway – Walking on a Glacier & Taking A Train to Canada

Today was very much a “do nothing” day. It was a day at sea with no rehearsals, no spa appointments, no nuthin’! That alone was wonderful. I made sure to NOT set my alarm and so, of course, after going to bed at 10:30pm, I was bright eyed and bushy tailed at 7:00am (I swear Dobby is channeling me or something).

Breakfast was an Egg Beaters omelette at the Lido buffet, after which time I walked around the ship and took pictures of the various lounges, dining rooms, pool areas, etc.

I next plopped my butt into a chair at the Exploration cafe and, except for having lunch with Antony, Colin, (Lord) James and (Lady) Brenda, pretty much spent the whole day there.

We went through Glacier Bay and I watched the glacier from my chair.

 

I took a nap in my chair (sorry, no pictures).

I updated my blog in my chair (still couldn’t post – I fixed one technical problem and gained another).

I liked my chair.

I finally got up to change clothes around 5:45pm, bidding my chair goodbye.

Our choir was scheduled to meet in the Atrium at 7:15pm for a group photo in our formalwear. I got there by 6:30pm, ordered a drink and hung out, people watching until some of the others arrived. It’s not so easy to get 50-something people organized but we did it in pretty decent time.

Dinner was, of course, very good. Since it was our “big” formal night, they had their “special” dinners – I got the surf and turf, which was fine – the lobster was good, the steak was OK. The side dishes and desserts were starting to meld into one big respectful side dish and dessert, with none of them particularly spectacular or memorable (the food on Holland America, in general, fell into that category…none was bad, but none was stupendous either. Just “adequate”).

As always, I was exhausted by the time we were done with dinner and I went almost straight to sleep. What an old fart I’m turning into!
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#TBT: Alaska – Part 5 of 9

Part 5 of 9: Skagway: Walking on a Glacier and Taking a Train to Canada

In August of 2009, I (Sharon) deserted my husband Joe and our puppy Dobby (at the time we had had her for about a month and a half) to go on a cruise to Alaska with the choir of which I was a member at the time (we were booked to sing on the ship). Some of my writing style has changed since 2009, some of my snark is exactly the same and heaven knows that cameras and photos have improved in the past 8 years, but here is the trip report I wrote about those adventures…the good, the bad and the ugly! To get up-to-date on the trip:

Part 1 – Arriving in Vancouver
Part 2 – On board and getting my bearings
Part 3 – Rehearsals and relaxing
Part 4 – Juneau – Nature Trails & Humpback Whales

ZZZAlaskaPhotobomb
For those of you who know me – this was one of my first ever photobombs

I had gotten a letter last night that said

my Glass Blowing excursion, due to lack of participants at 9:30am, had been changed to 1:30pm. Unfortunately, that caused some time conflicts, so after waking up at 7:30am (luxury!), I went to the Excursion Desk down on Deck 1. I couldn’t switch my excursions around to get all three in, so I told them to cancel my Glass Blowing so I could receive a refund.

I next went to the Lido Buffet (the food isn’t so great but it’s convenient) and grabbed a breakfast of an omelette, hash browns, whole wheat toast and coffee. After that I called Joe so we could talk for a while.

We were already in port in Skagway, so with several hours to go until my first excursion at 1:30pm, I decided to see the town (it was only a few hundred feet off the dock) and go shopping. And shop I did!

Below: Downtown Skagway

My first excursion was a helicopter ride to Meade Glacier, followed by a walk on the glacier and then a helicopter ride back. The helicopter ride was fun but, well, I’ve done ‘copter rides before (Hawaii and the Grand Canyon) and it wasn’t anything new or special, other than a different view – and a cloudy view, at that. But still a pretty awesome view.

The glacier though, was incredible. A massive 700 feet deep, miles wide and many more miles long. Comprised of 100 feet of snow per 1 foot of glacier ice, moving downstream at 1″ per hour. Deep crevices, above and underground streams…just an amazing thing to stand on and something I MUST visit again someday!

The helicopter ride back was just as cool as the ride there, with some awe-inspiring (but still cloudy) views:

My White Pass Summit Club train ride to the Yukon was scheduled for a 4:10pm pickup. With just a 30-minute turnaround time and a VERY empty belly, I half-walked, half-ran to Starbucks (Skagway AK: Population 800. And they have a Starbucks!) for a sandwich that I wolfed down in no time flat.

The pickup for the train ride was on time but they said the train was running late (I found out later that a car of an earlier train had derailed. Oops.). So they drove us around town…all 8 blocks of it. We saw the Skagway library, fire department and police station (the latter of which looks an awful lot like a single wide). Finally it was time to go on the train, so we drove to the area where we would board car #242.

The train ride was fun and pretty (if not particularly interesting), with some lovely views of the valley below. The tracks were built during the Klondike gold rush and as we rode, they told some stories about areas and items we passed.

The train was riding, of course, on the side of a mountain so whereas the people on the left had a lovely view, the ones on the right only got to see the side of a mountain. So once we hit the Yukon (back into Canada – we weren’t allowed to leave the train), they gave us our champagne (part of this particular tour), detached the engine car and brought it to the back of the train, where it was reattached. Our seats were made to flip to the other direction so, with that, we did the mandatory switch of passengers to the “other” side of the train and those who were on the left side now had a mountain view, while those on the right now had a valley view. It was fair. And then we made our descent.

Had the train left on time, we would have arrived back at the ship at 7:15pm, which would give me just enough time to go back to my cabin, change clothes and be at dinner between 7:45 and 8pm. Unfortunately, with the delayed start, we didn’t arrive back until 7:45pm. So I rushed to the dining room to tell my table mates what I wanted to eat, figuring I could do that, get changed and be back in time for my main course to be on the table. However when I got to the restaurant and told the people at the desk my intentions, they told me I could eat there as is, so I got to eat in jeans, a polo shirt and my brand-spanking new Tilley OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAhat, LOL! The meal itself was, as always, just OK, but I chose chocolate pudding for dessert. Now granted, apparently what the British call “pudding” is not the same as what we call “pudding” (I never did figure out the difference – I’m bringing some Jello instant pudding with me to England next time I go), but I took a picture of what they gave me because it looked VERY much more like a souffle than chocolate pudding. I even double-checked with the server who insisted that the cake-like object on my plate was indeed chocolate pudding. OK, then…

It had been a LONG day with a LOT of walking. With no plans for Wednesday (another day at sea), I went to bed at 10:30pm and figured I would wake up whenever I woke up.
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