When we travel overseas, as we’re getting ready to do, there are a few things we always try to do.
Make sure you have a valid passport with at least 6 months left on it. Many countries will not allow entry if your passport expires within 6 months of your visit.
Make copies or take a picture of all the credit cards and your passport you will be traveling with. If some or all of these documents are lost or stolen, you will be able to contact your credit card company and still have your passport information. Take a copy with you and leave a copy here with a family member.
Call the credit card company and the bank before leaving so that they are aware you will be using your card out of the country. Some banks and credit card companies must unlock your cards before they can be used. This is very important to avoid being locked out of your account. Also, be sure that you know your PIN numbers on your debit cards and know the maximum amount of money your bank allows you to take out per day.
Register your trip with the US State Department at https://travelregistration.state.gov/. This lets the State Department know where you will be and when. The State Department will also send you notifications if there is a travel warning in the area you are traveling.
Know where the US Embassy is located in the country in which you are traveling in case something happens and you need to get there.
Bring a charger adapter, if necessary. Some countries require different chargers.
Be sure to purchase travel insurance, as your medical insurance likely does not cover you while out of the country. Bring copies of your travel insurance cards.
If you plan to drive while there, be sure to obtain an international driver’s license. This can be done at AAA.
Check with your cell phone carrier to see if you will have service in the country you are visiting and inquire about any international charges for use of your phone in that country.
Traveling outside the United States can be exciting and a great experience; it may just take a little extra planning, but it is totally worth it!
On Wednesday, we did a whale watching tour. I had never been whale watching so I was excited, because I thought our chances of seeing a whale were good. Unfortunately, we didn’t see any whales, much to our dismay. However, the tour was pretty exciting because we saw lots of other things, including a group of sea otters playing in the water and lots and lots of dolphins. In fact, one group of dolphins was really large and they were all swimming alongside us in the boat. But the highlight of our trip was the great white shark we saw that wasn’t all that far from the beach. It was apparently sleeping at the time so we got a really good look at it. We also learned that the people on the beach weren’t in much danger…according to the expert on the boat, at least. That being said, I’m not sure I would have been swimming in the water near the beach if I knew what was there not too far away from me! So while we were disappointed about not seeing a whale, I figured there will be other whale watching tours in my future, but the chances of seeing a great white shark in real life while on a boat was pretty slim.
On a side note, a few weeks after we got back, Eric looked up sharks in Santa Cruz just to see if they had seen the shark again and we found out there was a helicopter shooting footage of it from the air, and when we looked a little closer, we noticed that it was filming the day we were on the boat and you could see us on the boat!
As I’ve mentioned before, we are planning a trip to Greece this summer, and we are taking our kids. Some people are shocked to hear that they are coming along because they are so small. Don’t get me wrong, we don’t always take our kids everywhere. We have taken a few trips to places like Jamaica, Mexico, and Costa Rica and have left them here, so Eric and I could spend time together on our own. However, they have gone to Europe with us every time we have gone since they have been born. This trip to Greece will be Anya’s 3rd trip to Europe and Felix’s 2nd trip. We are really lucky in that neither of our children have serious medical issues or anything that would keep us from being able to take them out of the country, and we are very grateful that we have been able to set aside money in order to take them places like this. It would probably be easier not to take them to Europe, but our motto has always been that they can throw a fit here at home or they can throw a fit wherever we happen to be.
My hope is that our travels will help our children to learn about other cultures and how people live in other places. The world is bigger than the street we live on. It is bigger than the city we live in. And it is definitely bigger than the state, and even the country, we live in. There is nothing wrong with choosing to stay in your own country for vacations, and I can completely respect that. It can get very expensive to travel out of the country (especially in some locations), and it can be a real pain to have to figure out car seat situations and how to keep kids busy in museums. But it is when you leave your own country and fly to a different one that you really see that the world is about more than just you. It really puts things into perspective in that your life is a small part of a much, much bigger picture. When you get off a plane in a different country where the language, culture, and food are all different, it makes you realize that there is so much more to the world than the box we live in. It makes you appreciate the freedoms we do have here in America, but it also shows you that, at the end of the day, we are all just people trying to live in this world.
Yes, there are some not-so-nice people in the world, and these people have done some really horrible things to innocent people. I would be lying if I said that some of the things I see on the news don’t make me nervous to travel. But I also know that these sorts of things also happen here in America, and there have even been some crazy things happening in my own city. I remind myself periodically that I am not really any less safe in another country than I am in my own, assuming I am smart about my decisions about when and where to go.
So yes, there are bad people, but most people living in other countries don’t fall into that category. The only thing we really know about people from other countries is that there are some not-so-nice people, what the government officials in that country stand for, and what the media would like us to know about particular place, which is not even usually the full truth. But those groups of people are not the majority of the people living in those places. The majority of the people in these countries are just like us. I really enjoy being on the metro and/or the buses in other countries and watching how people living there do everyday things, like get to work and go grocery shopping. At the end of the day, we are all just trying to work, provide for our families, give our kids a good education, and take our kids to the park every once in awhile. Yes, we might go about these things in a different way, but ultimately, we all want pretty much the same things. Yes, there are some unfriendly people in other countries just like there are unfriendly people here in the US, but for the most part, we have always been met with smiles and a genuine willingness to help when we look like we could use directions or any kind of help. In fact, most people are pretty proud of their country and they want nothing more than to tell you all about it.
I hope that our travels will help to raise two intelligent, accepting, and open-minded American children. White children. Children some would call privileged. I want them to know that we do not all look or speak the same, but that we are all people, and we are all worthy of respect, no matter how we look or what language we speak. I want them to feel comfortable in unfamiliar places and be able to navigate their way around any city even if the street names are in another language. I want them to learn as much as they can about the world and the people in the world, and traveling is the best way to do just that.
This is not to say that kids can’t be taught these very same things without traveling, because that is certainly possible, but as long as we can save enough money to afford to travel with our children, we plan to keep doing just that.
The next day, we checked out of the lodge at Yosemite and headed for our last stop before heading back home: Santa Cruz. We had rented a cute little house in neat little neighborhood that wasn’t too far from the beach. The property manager talked with me on the phone on the way there and gave me some recommendations on things to do with the kids and where to eat. She also brought over some Meyer lemons from her lemon tree!
Even though Santa Cruz isn’t that much further south than San Francisco, it was surprisingly much warmer, which I really loved. I liked San Francisco, but I have since decided that I couldn’t live there because it was way too windy and cold in June.
The kids and I hanging out at the house
After settling into our new place, we went out to explore. We drove a short distance to Capitola and ate at a little beach bar type place that had a pretty view of the water. We got there in time for happy hour and those things were strong!!
After dinner, we walked down along the water before it got too cold.
They say that January through March/April is the busy season for travel agents because the holidays have finally passed and everyone is looking forward to spring break and summer plans. Now is the time do think about what you want to do this spring/summer!
I actually (mistakenly) always thought that it was more expensive to book trips through a travel agent, but the truth is, you just might find a better deal. It’s true that for some of the trips we have planned in the past, we have been looking for a specific type of hotel and we couldn’t get what we wanted through an agent, but in a lot of situations, we actually got a better deal, so it is always a good idea to have them price something out for you. If it’s better, then it’s better, and if it’s the same price, then you’re getting out of having to do all the work and letting her/him do it for you. There is just no reason not to have your agent check pricing for you.
We really want to go to Greece this summer. We’ve been thinking about it for years and I think we are really going to do it this year, but we were really discouraged by the fact that flights are almost $1500 apiece. That’s almost $6000 in just flights for the four of us and nothing else. When I looked in one of my supplier’s databases, I was able to find flights for the four of us and 3 nights in a hotel room in Athens for right around $3600. Yes, you read that right. $3600. Over $2300 cheaper than doing it outright and by just purchasing flights, we still wouldn’t have any hotels included in it. For $3600, we could get flights for all of us and 3 nights in Athens at a hotel. And this is before my agent discount. This is a deal I could get anyone. Is it the hotel we would have chosen on our own? No. It’s not. But that $2300 savings is the difference between us being able to actually go, even if we have to stay in a hotel that we wouldn’t normally have chosen, and not being able to afford to go at all. I will also add that there is nothing wrong with the hotel we would stay at. We just typically prefer smaller bed and breakfasts or apartments, and this hotel is a chain. But like I said, it is going to be totally worth it to spend 3 nights there if it gets us that kind of savings.
So, please always check with your travel agent to get pricing. You never know what you will find.
Other reasons to use a travel agent, besides the fact that they might get you a better deal:
1. They have access to all kinds of suppliers that are offering different deals that you would know nothing about.Sometimes suppliers offer deals that only agents have access to.
2. They can make sure you are booking a service with a reputable company. There are a lot of scams out there.
3. More than likely, they have a network of other agents to ask specific questions to if they don’t have the answers.
4. If something goes wrong with your trip, she/he might be able to help get things sorted out. The very first trip I booked had a glitch. I got a call early one morning from my client who was in London and had missed their flight to Vienna, which meant they were going to miss their train to Salzburg. I was able to call the supplier to have the hotel notified that they would be arriving late and I was able to get the name of the train station my client needed to go to and the times for train options that evening. I was also able to start their insurance claim.
6. Speaking of insurance, travel agents can get you a great plan…and on any big trip that has non-refundable parts to it (like flights) really should be insured in case you need to cancel for a covered reason. And anytime you leave the country (if you live in the US), you really need insurance because it’s very likely that your primary insurance does not cover you medically when you leave the country.
All this being said, please contact me if you need me to check any prices on anything. It is worth a try, and it costs you nothing to have me check something for you. You can contact me through email at RachelM@MyAmbassadorTravel.com. I will also be adding a travel contact page on my blog that will make it easier, but that is the way to contact me for now!
On Friday, we decided to venture to Muir Woods, which is a little ways across the bridge. However, we had to pick up a rental car to be able to get there, and we were planning to leave the city the following day. It was a good thing we opted to get the car this morning instead of the day we had planned to leave, because it took forever. I’m not sure why, but I wish I had known it was going to take that long, even with a reservation.
Once we finally got our car, we headed to Muir Woods. We had heard that parking was a nightmare and that is totally the truth. We drove around for awhile until we finally found a spot. We got to hike around the woods and see some pretty amazing trees and it was nice and peaceful for most of that walk.
Next, we opted to stop at Muir Beach. It was definitely too cold to get in the water, but the views were gorgeous. Eric made a cairn and I got some really cute pictures of Felix making his own cairn and Anya joined in to help him with it, too.
We did some grocery shopping at an organic store that would make all the crunchies here go crazy and then headed back across the bridge. We parked at the hotel and then headed back down to Fisherman’s Wharf. We shopped for a bit andthen had a late dinner at Joe’s Crab Shack. It was a nice way to end our time in San Francisco, but we still had another week of fun ahead of us.
This was one of our favorite days of the trip, though it was one I was most concerned about working out. Eric found a bike rental shop near our hotel so we decided to rent bikes and a trailer for the kids and bike across the Golden Gate Bridge, spend the day in Sausalito, and then bike back across the bridge. I guess a lot of people take the ferry back so they don’t have to bike it again, but we opted to just bike both ways. It ended up being a lot of fun.
It took some time for us all to get fitted for bikes and helmets and to get the trailer hooked up to the bike. I was really nervous about riding with the kids, but we were able to ride on side streets that weren’t busy until we got to the bike trail, though I have to say that it was probably scariest riding with pedestrians across the bridge. There was supposed to be a bike lane and a pedestrian lane but people just didn’t pay attention to it. The kids fell asleep on the way over and were kind of cuddled together…
Somehow we made it to Sausalito and parked the bikes for a few hours. We walked through a few shops and opted for lunch at a seafood place where we could order at the counter and then eat outside. Of course, we also got ice cream, but at a different ice cream shop. Cookie monster ice cream (blue ice cream with different kinds of cookies in it) was a popular flavor around San Francisco, and Felix is still disappointed that he hasn’t been able to find it here.
When we were finished in Sausalito, we rode back across the bridge and ended up riding through Fisherman’s Wharf. We stopped in a few stores, including the Ghiradelli stores so we could take turns walking in and getting free samples. In fact, Anya went in with her jacket on and then took it off and walked in again, just so she could get another sample. She thought she was so sneaky! We also stopped at Boudin’s and got sourdough bread that was amazing.
Once we turned in the bikes, we found a pizza place open late and got some dinner before heading to bed. We were exhausted!
Check out what else we did on our trip to California:
On Wednesday of the first week, we had breakfast in the room and I went for a Starbucks run to get some coffee. Then, we headed for the Golden Gate Park, and more specifically, the Japanese Tea Garden. If you get there before a certain time, it is free. Otherwise, you have to pay to get in. There was another free tour that morning, so we opted to take advantage of it. The tour guide talked a lot about the architecture and what things around the area meant. It was a pleasing place to spend a morning and it had a zen-like quality to it.
Next, we explored the rest of the Golden Gate Park, including a nearby playground where we let the kids play for awhile. Afterwards, we headed toward the area where there was supposed to be bison. We were thinking we might see several grazing in the fields, but the only ones we saw were holed up in the barn. It was actually pretty disappointing.
Our next stop was all the way to the other end of the park at Ocean Beach. There were some gorgeous views here but you couldn’t really get in the water because of the riptide and the temperatures were too cool.
Once we were finished in this area, we decided to go back to the Haight-Ashbury area and visit Loved to Death. This little shop has a lot of macabre things and is on the TV show Oddities. Unfortunately, you aren’t allowed to take any pictures, so I only have one picture of an item they specifically said we could photograph until it was sold to a band who planned to use it in their music video, and at that time, people would no longer be able to photograph it.
We walked around the area and decided to have a late lunch/early dinner at a place called 1428. They had savory crepes that were pretty amazing. I had a pesto chicken crepe with roasted potatoes and Eric ordered a garden fajita crepe with roasted potatoes. The kids wanted macaroni and cheese, and I have to say it was the best macaroni and cheese I have ever tasted. We stopped at a local coffee shop next and had coffee, hot chocolate, and some goodies. After stopping in to a few shops, we headed back to the room. Later that night, I ran out to pick up Thai food because Eric needed a snack, but we stayed in for the evening.
Tuesday morning, I ran out for a Starbucks run and stopped by a local bakery to pick up some food for breakfast, which we ate in the room before heading to North Beach, which was the site of our next tour. We arrived early so we let the kids play on the playground nearby before catching our tour.
North Beach is the “Little Italy” of San Francisco. The tour took us through different churches and notable buildings in the area, including many of the quaint little restaurants around.
Somehow, a little miracle happened and both kids had fallen asleep by the end of the tour and we ended up stopping at a little place called Mario’s for lunch and had a sausage sandwich. It was delicious and tasted even better because we got to eat it in peace!
After lunch, we headed to the market at the Ferry building where we bought these incredibly delicious apricots and nectarines, as well as some other goodies like olive oil herbal blends, caramel, and bread. We wandered around and ended up at a place called Soma that sells creme puffs, and then shopped a bit in China Town.
Afterwards, we visited Lombard Street, which is famous for it’s 8 hair-pin turns up and down a really steep hill. We didn’t drive down it but we got to walk down it and watch the cars slowly make their way down it.
That evening, we made it an informal night and got burgers at a local joint.
Check out the other jam-packed days we spent in California:
The third day of our trip was a Monday and we had decided to do another tour through City Guides. This time, we opted for a tour of Chinatown, because we figured we wouldn’t know much about what we were looking at without a guide. We ate a quick breakfast at the hotel and then took the bus to the meeting spot.
This area of town was much more crowded and very different from the Haight-Ashbury area. During the tour, we even got to go into a Taoist temple and the guide told us a little about how all of that works…very interesting stuff that I didn’t know.
Once the tour ended, we ate lunch at the Hong Kong Clay Pot House. We had honey walnut prawns, a chicken and mushroom clay pot, spring rolls, and tea. It was delicious and the best part was that the kids actually ate the food because they wanted to try to eat with chopsticks. We shopped for a bit and Eric let the kids by play swords, despite my protests.
Next, we headed to the pier to go to Alcatraz. If you ever visit San Francisco, you must include Alcatraz as part of your visit, and you must schedule it beforehand or you won’t get in. I think the sign said that the next available tour was about a month later. Oh, and just in case you were wondering…play swords are not allowed on the ship to Alcatraz, just like I told everyone! Luckily, they held them for us and we picked them up when we got back.
When you visit Alcatraz, you meet at the pier at your scheduled time and you go through minimal security measures to get on the boat, and the boat takes you to the island where you get an audio guide that takes you through the prison. When we were there, there was an exhibit about aging in prison. The visit really makes you think about incarceration in the United States and how messed up some of the sentencing is just because of the way some of the laws are written. There are definite needs for reform. When you’re done on the island, you catch another boat back…simple as that!
When we got back, we walked down by the water to Fisherman’s Wharf and saw the sea lions, but there weren’t that many at the time. Ghiradelli Square was our next stop and we decided to ride the streetcar on the way. Did you know they give you a free sample when you walk in? Definitely check it out if you ever go. We had ice cream, hot chocolate, and amazing coffee while there. We walked around a bit as well and found some paintings to purchase. We like to buy paintings of the places we visit and hang them around our home.
We got back to the hotel later than we intended but we covered a lot of ground that day. We had dinner at an Italian restaurant named Delarosa that got great reviews and then crashed for the evening at the hotel.