Smartphone or Camera for Travels?

7667826378_dcf400aa0f_o

On my last trip, I relied solely on my smartphone camera for taking pictures while traveling. It was an older iPhone model but still did the job. However, it was very limited to its uses, and the clarity is somewhat lacking. I am contemplating the idea of getting a separate camera to take on this trip. But of course this brings up several things to think about.

Smartphone Camera
Your smartphone has a camera. It works great for selfies and other “get it now” pictures. However is is not a fine detail image builder. There are apps that you can get that mimic other digital cameras interfaces, and using one of these you may like. However unless you pick up a lense kit for your phone, you won’t get great picture quality. And even some of these lenses will only go so far. Check out some reviews on lenses for smartphones and see if this may be all that you need. Save money for splurging on something on the trip.

Budget
Always a tough one. The price of a really good camera can equal the price of a plane ticket. It’s always a matter of what can you afford? Most of the camera manufacturers like Canon, Sony, and Ricoh, have several models within ranges for their camera offerings. A decent camera starts in the $375.00 range and can go up to $800.00 for basic models. Do you want changeable lenses? Then you will need to pay more. The fixed lense models are more affordable, but some have less than desirable digital interfaces. Some models still have the classic camera mirror, others do not. However, mirrors are not a good thing when traveling as they will break. To find your camera for traveI, I would suggest going to a larger electronics store or camera store and look at models that you can test out. Then, see if you can get better pricing online. Pay attention to the interface for working with the camera. Does it feel like you are going to have a long learning curve on this software? Camera software is known to not be easy to work with.

Another Device to Keep track Of
Cameras have always been delicate pieces of machinery. Traveling with them means careful packing, often in a case specific to them. That means another case to keep track of. If you get a slimline style, you can get away with a very small padded case and stash it with your daypack. I am a big fan of a small daypack backpack for all travel as you can keep a lot in it for your day as you may not be able to get back to your lodgings in between all your touring for the day. You may want to get a locking mechanism for any external pouches you store camera in for anti theft deterrent. There are a vast array of camera back packs out there now with the padding and compartments built in to keep parts from jostling, and messenger bag styles as well.

What do You Really Need
Traveling means keeping things compact. Unless you are a photojournalist, chances are you would not need to have a higher end camera traveling with you. You are taking a chance with any electronic device in damage at the airports and other transit for your travels, train racks are brutal. Not to mention the target you become for theft because cameras are easy to grab and resell. Do you want that stress on your tour? I know that I don’t. However, I would like to have a camera that takes better pictures than my iPhone can. But a large extensive camera loaded with features is really going to be more than I truly need. I need to find one that is a few steps up from a camera phone model, with an easy interface to work with. Don’t need learning curve with electronics on vacation.

Tell us your camera stories

More…

http://www.switchbacktravel.com/best-travel-cameras
https://www.lifewire.com/best-camera-cases-and-bags-to-buy-4078328
http://www.tomsguide.com/us/best-iphone-lenses,review-2366.html
http://phandroid.com/2017/02/21/best-android-camera-apps/
https://iphonephotographyschool.com/best-camera-app-for-iphone/

Planning Your Travels and Keeping Track

4238670242_133393f33b_o.jpg

You have been living in America or Canada your whole life. You decide it’s time to adventure past your borders. You have mostly flown domestic or done a border hop to the US or Canada. Because the borders and cooperation between countries was fairly easy for years, you never took much notice of what it really requires to travel beyond. You’d be surprised at how many people forget they need a passport until about 6 weeks before travel, if not a few weeks. I have met people where I have asked how fun their passport pictures have turned out after they told me about their trip. I got the deer in headlights look. If you are lucky enough to live in a very large American or Canadian city with embassies from most countries available to you to stand and line and wait hours, you can wait physically in line for help with this. If not, you have to go to a passport center and wait some weeks, up to two months to get your passport. Then you need to figure out what visas are required for what countries. And if you will need to get shots for disease prevention. That cheap flight that attracted to you visit somewhere exotic suddenly becomes very complicated.

Americans have been traveling abroad more in the last few years. The economy is still not great, but many more people seem to be venturing out. But now we have countries, including our own, tightening borders and placing restrictions on travel. And face it, Americans tend to over do most things. Packing or not packing right is no exception. Then there comes the keeping track of how you travel.

Files

I travel with a folder filled with many things. I may be an electronics nerd, and I use a lot of travel apps, but I know that things happen with electronics, that you will not have WiFi on the plane and sometimes having a hard copy to prove you paid in advance for a tour just feels a little more secure. It also helps organizing yourself if you have planned a crazy itinerary that isn’t all included in say a travel site like Booking.com.

I also have a digital folder in Google Docs and may do one in Dropbox as well just in case. I also have a folder with my professional CV and such. Yep, being a teacher means looking for the next year’s classroom while on vacation sometimes. Sigh.

The hard copy file though is my talisman. It shouldn’t be, maybe it’s better to think of it as a touchstone. I have printed copies of itineraries, booking confirmations, the list I started of gyms and other facilities. Oh, and the gym routine for the month copy so if I can get to a gym I can keep up with my plan. I know, you are on vacation, but I think of travel as a serious adventure and training and keeping fit helps you get through the marathon. Plus if the bathroom facilities in your accommodation are lacking, you have a backup shower. Also if you book in advance for theatre and comedy shows like I am doing for Galway’s Arts Festival and the Fringe Festival, having a hard copy of receipts may be a good idea. I do keep lists on my smartphone as well, but if the battery dies I am out of luck.

What to keep in this folder? Well, flight details are good. Yes, you should join the online website of your flight providers, not just rely on digital access when you need it. This way you can do things like make sure you have seats, because JustFly can only do so much with that on some participating airlines. It may say you have a reserved seat of choice, but when you get there it’s another story.

Any prepayments for tours. Yes, tours abound when you are traveling. You may book a tour or two from the city you are in. Many of them do not have cash facilities for when you get there and you will need to book online. Having a printout with a ticket is still the thing on many tours, they don’t all have online ticketing where you can download to your smartphone’s wallet app. And since many tour companies have very similar names in certain regions, it’s a good idea to have a hard copy with name print out and any tour meetup instructions. See, paper is really good for notes. Note that because tourist season is insane, it is best if you can book tours a month out, so retain your receipt. Many good tours get booked solid.

Notes on Your Smartphone
Yes, they all have a note app. You could also get Google Docs app to just play it safe. You should have a travel folder online as a backup and a document about your trip with notes, dates, etc. Travel can be overwhelming. I know for a fact that Fringe Festival is going to be massive and cramping 3 days of it is a marathon. Having a diary doc will work if you don’t have a travel journal. I have to do this since I blog. I will of course write bits in my hard copy journal while visiting sites and museums for notes. But constantly using your device in a heavy data city will rack up your minutes. Paper is cheaper.

Travel Checklist

Six or More Months Out
Shop for plane tickets. Great sales happen during end of year holidays. Shop even earlier and tickets will be less than half. Do research on visas.
Start booking rooms and reading reviews. You can change them later, but if you are going during high season, festival season in Europe and mean your fav city is already booked solid, you may have to stay in a neighboring town.

Two Months Out
Passport, Visas applied for 3 months out hopefully. Check embassy websites to see the requirements for the country you are coming from. Many countries are now revising their visa requirements.
Cases-Research luggage sizing allowed on all flights. European flights are restricted more than US flights and many of the newer small planes have very little overhead space.

Get laptops and electronics cases, sleeves suitable for travel. TSA is moving towards all electronics packed in the hold.

Week Of
Packing: Pack everything you would need for a mini vacation in the carryon in case luggage gets misplaced. Get trackable luggage tags. They have a online app that you can use to track luggage with and you can upload pictures of luggage and contents in case they get misplaced in travels. This supposedly helps if your tags get separated from bags. Take enough clothing and plan to wear some items several times. Baggage allowances are less than domestic US or Canadian flights allow.

More Reading

http://www.hongkiat.com/blog/travel-apps/

https://www.brit.co/travel-journals/

Terrorism and Travel

9298376_a3c3ecbfee_o

On May 22, another act of senseless and cruel terrorism occurred in Manchester, England. The fact that it targeted children and young adults has shocked many in the world, however brought together a beautiful city of caring inhabitants. This is their city, and they will not allow this terrible atrocity to do further injury. The government’s response is to go into the UK Terror Level of the highest “Critical”. Troops are deployed to work with law enforcement.

I remember my first trip to London back in my university days. I arrived a few weeks after a terrorist attack. I was very young and had just come from the bubble of American life where we were mostly untouched by such acts. I read the local papers and went to where it happened and looked around. Londoners were determined to carry on. It was a truly humbling experience to talk with locals.

Many other cities in the UK are on high alert now because they have very public events going on. In Scotland, where I am going, concert venues are stepping up security and soldiers are being deployed to guard nuclear facilities and infrastructure that may be possible targets.

As a traveler the summer, you will be experiencing heightened security on planes due to the new laptop and devices restrictions. There will now be another layer of security in airports due to these recent events of terrorism in several cities around the globe. Prepare yourself for longer times in customs and be patient. Much of what is being done is for your security. Add an hour to your pre-flight time.

Show solidarity when you travel. If you are traveling to any of the cites recently affected by these events, show your support in your tourism by participating in the economy and talking to local people. Listen to what they are saying and experience their cities’ greatness. Let them start the conversation.

For more reading:

http://www.bbc.com/news/live/uk-england-manchester-40007967
http://www.scotsman.com/regions/glasgow-strathclyde/scottish-concert-venues-increase-security-after-manchester-attack-1-4455976
http://www.scotsman.com/regions/edinburgh-fife-lothians/in-pictures-armed-police-deployed-across-scotland-1-4455556

Smartphone or Camera for Travel Pictures

On my last trip, I relied solely on my smartphone camera for taking pictures while traveling. It was an older iPhone model but still did the job. However, it was very limited to its use. I am contemplating the idea of getting a separate camera to take on this trip. But of course this brings up several things to think about.

Smartphone Camera
Your smartphone has a camera. It works great for selfies and other “get it now” pictures. However is is not a fine detail image builder. There are apps that you can get that mimic other digital cameras interfaces, and using one of these you may like. However unless you pick up a lense kit for your phone, you won’t get great picture quality. And even some of these lenses will only go so far. Check out some reviews on lenses for smartphones and see if this may be all that you need. Save money for splurging on something on the trip.

Budget
Always a tough one. The price of a really good camera can equal the price of a plane ticket. It’s always a matter of what can you afford? Most of the camera manufacturers like Canon, Sony, and Ricoh, have several models within ranges for their camera offerings. A decent camera starts in the $375.00 range and can go up to $800.00 for basic models. Do you want changeable lenses? Then you will need to pay more. The fixed lense models are more affordable, but some have less than desirable digital interfaces. Some models still have the classic camera mirror, others do not. However, mirrors are not a good thing when traveling as they will break. To find your camera for traveI, I would suggest going to a larger electronics store or camera store and look at models that you can test out. Then, see if you can get better pricing online. Pay attention to the interface for working with the camera. Does it feel like you are going to have a long learning curve on this software? Camera software is known to not be easy to work with.

Another Device to Keep Track Of
Cameras have always been delicate pieces of machinery. Traveling with them means careful packing, often in a case specific to them. That means another case to keep track of. If you get a slimline style, you can get away with a very small padded case and stash it with your daypack. I am a big fan of a small daypack backpack for all travel as you can keep a lot in it for your day as you may not be able to get back to your lodgings in between all your touring for the day. You may want to get a locking mechanism for any external pouches you store camera in for anti theft deterrent. There are a vast array of camera back packs out there now with the padding and compartments built in to keep parts from jostling, and messenger bag styles as well.

What do You Really Need
Traveling means keeping things compact. Unless you are a photojournalist, chances are you would not need to have a higher end camera traveling with you. You are taking a chance with any electronic device in damage at the airports and other transit for your travels, train racks are brutal. Not to mention the target you become for theft because cameras are easy to grab and resell. Do you want that stress on your tour? I know that I don’t. However, I would like to have a camera that takes better pictures than my iPhone can. But a large extensive camera loaded with features is really going to be more than I truly need. I need to find one that is a few steps up from a camera phone model, with an easy interface to work with. Don’t need learning curve with electronics on vacation.

Tell us your camera stories

http://www.switchbacktravel.com/best-travel-cameras
https://www.lifewire.com/best-camera-cases-and-bags-to-buy-4078328
http://www.tomsguide.com/us/best-iphone-lenses,review-2366.html
http://phandroid.com/2017/02/21/best-android-camera-apps/
https://iphonephotographyschool.com/best-camera-app-for-iPhone

Travel Insurance, Necessary Evil


Getting ready for the trip in two months, I had to do the reality check on mortality and everything else that is taken for granted in your home country. That’s right, the whether to buy a vacation insurance package or not for your upcoming trip. What could really go wrong on a trip you have planned on for months. Just about everything.

Flight Insurance

Yep, your flight you have booked for months can get cancelled. Granted, airlines are responsible to a degree to get you on another flight, but if it ends up being on another airlines so you can make a connecting flight, you may have to haggle to not pay a difference in ticket costs. Demand that the airlines cover this of course, but there may be a different story at the other ticket counter and you will have to eat it until you can get the airlines to reimburse you. Or, make a claim on the flight insurance you hopefully bought. Since I got my tickets at a steal last fall, I am only covered for the $876.39. That’s the trip cancellation. Trip interruption, caused by airline having to rebook flight, is about $1,300.00. Considering that will probably be what it would take to book a flight suddenly, I may eventually not be at a loss.

Baggage Loss

I call it loss. It’s lost until you find it. And sometimes you can’t find it. Airlines call it misplaced or some other marketing name that doesn’t seem so disastrous. It’s still a disaster to you. Sad thing is the insurance companies will barely cover $1000.00 of loss. That doesn’t cover the laptop you will be forced to put in your luggage now, much less the clothing. You will need to shop around for travel insurance that covers your losses with luggage. And make sure it does not exclude electronics. Electronics like an iPad fall under the luggage category and many insurance carriers require you have the original receipts for your items. I have no clue where those are. I used to keep every single receipt, of course now that I need it… The baggage loss for overseas is not covered by federal regulations. So I am lucky I get $750.00. That will barely cover a iPad that I don’t have original receipts for. Wait, I bought that at Apple, I could bother their customer service to help me research back 3 years, right?

Laptop Travel Ban Expansion Imminent

Carry on Luggage is Your LIfe

Medical

Sadly in the US, we still don’t really have socialized medical care. And our company issued insurance will do anything to not cover any claim. It certainly won’t cover you when in another country, and it’s a battle if you are in another state to get coverage if you get in an accident. Research the medical coverage portion of the policy you are buying. The policy I have covers $50k, and EMC and Transport to hospital is $25K. This may cover a small portion of a hospital stay and won’t cover any operations that may ensue. If you are in a socialized country, you will receive treatment but they will still come after you for a bill. If you are in a EU country and from another EU country, some things will be covered, but not all. I would advise trying to bump the insurance coverage up to $100k if you can. You may need to get a supplemental plan when traveling.

Mortality

I just called the policyholder today and informed them of my beneficiaries name for the accidental death coverage. Good thing I thought of it. It’s easy to not think about death when you are on the vacation you’ve waited months for. What, “I am inflatable” you think. Think again.

No one likes to think of their demise happening when you finally get on that trip. But it does happen. From the minute I get off the plane in a country that is left hand drive, I start self talking the “Look to the right” for cars immediately. Unfortunately, tourists do die while away from home. Could be traffic, could be a mugging gone wrong. Or your health gives out with a heart attack. Then your loved ones are left with the impossible task of getting your remains back to home. I have read articles of family and friends having to run crowdfunding campaigns just to bring a body home. It’s not just a simple matter of getting a plane ticket for a body. Each country has their laws for the transport of a body on planes and trains. There are fees. I have read that it can cost upwards of $5000.00 just to bring a body back. Got life insurance back home. It may cover just the loss of your life, the income loss to family. It will not cover transport costs. Will the $50k really cover my life? I have other life insurance, but there is probably some fine print about being in another country.

Read the accidental death coverage for the insurance, and any fine print.

Who to Go With

I chose the the insurance company preferred by the airline. Probably a mistake, but looking at all the other choices was getting to be a chore. I am not taking equipment with me. That is when you really need to pay attention. If you are really into your camera or are a professional film crew, of course you have to go with industry standard insurance coverage if you can get it. Your average person used to be able to carry cameras and laptops in carry on and I would still recommend that you do. However TSA rules are changing due to terrorism threats, laptops and electronics being the place to conceal explosives now. And you should lock your carry on luggage for when you have to use the toilets, the can get riffled through on a flight in the overhead.

So, who do you go with for coverage? The one that is offered at ticket checkout may cover your very basic needs. However, if you have the time, do a little research on reviews and complaints against carriers. Make sure you get and print out your Policy Confirmation Letter. Make sure you make 2 copies, one you will have with your other travel plans folder and the one you leave with your beneficiary of the life insurance. Do a specific quirk search on each travel insurance company, and search for complaints against them.

Further Reading

http://www.travelinsurancereview.net/faqs/does-travel-insurance-cover-laptops-and-tablets/
http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/2012/06/do-you-need-travel-insurance/index.htm
http://lifehacker.com/do-i-really-need-to-buy-travel-insurance-1674681487
https://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/credit-cards/credit-cards-offer-lost-baggage-insurance/

Galway Spring Sunday Musings

Charlie Byrne’s Bookshop

The magic of a day in a place like Galway can keep your spirits up even in the most dreich of spring days. I’m stuck in PDX waiting to get back to a magic city like Galway, I need to get back out of the American flatness that seems to be happening this spring and I am being called to the verdant lands in the west of Ireland.

So what’s on in Galway this week? There is rain in the forecast for the week with Saturday being filed with Thunder and Lightening. Love a great thundershower? Some do. Not a great way to get the spring going, but you can always walk in the rain. People ask me why I go to places like Ireland with all the rain, shouldn’t you seek hot climes. I tell them I am used to it. I live in the Pacific Northwest and we live in a parallel world to Ireland and the UK weather wise. But when we get heat waves, we get them. Traveling to a place like Ireland and experiencing it’s people and places in all weather is still exciting to me. And in this case it is definitely the grass is greener.

So walking the parks with a brelly or hood up will mean a magical walk in the rain. Start your day with coffee or breakfast at some of the great eateries. Coffee or tea is first on the walk. Fun, eclectic Coffeewerk + Press in Quay Street has a soft, cozy muzzy morning feel to it. However, since much of the seating is outside and it’s raining you may want to get mobile with the brew, or go to a large shop with space to duck out of the rain. Try Urban Grind in William street. Serves up a brew that is changing as new beans varieties become available, pricing ranges in €2.70 to €3.00 ranges. For more of a sit down meal check out Ard Bia, it’s a brunch to dinner cafe in the Spanish Arches area. They serve pancakes, French toast and a host of other yummy foods in a great atmosphere. They also have traditional Irish fare and international dishes. There are some great murals in the neighborhood. So you can start an art walk after you get out.

Since it will be raining so much, checking out indoor activities is the key for ducking out in between the rains. Bookstores are always a fabulous rainy day adventure, because you need a book for reading later with your tea. Check out Charlie Byrnes Bookshop, a massive rambling place with new, bargain, used and anything in between books. Can’t find your book for the stack by your bed there, take a peruse in Kenny’s Books. Always on the hunt for used books in Galway or Ireland.

It’s afternoon and may rain still. Keep walking the streets and grab some lunch. Get your organic on at Kai Cafe and Restaurant with great textured stone walls and warmth. Dry out a bit and check out the local exhibits or cinemas you could go to, just try not to fall asleep. There is the IMC Cinema Galway and the EYE Cinema for major releases, but for independent film fun, check out the Galway Film Centre and see what independent makers are doing.

Weather really got you down or just need to laugh about it? Go to a comedy show. On May 16 you can catch The Róisín Dubh Comedy Showcase every tuesday at Róisín Dubh.

But really if you can, keep walking and talking in this lovely town. Artwalks and neighborhood exploration in the thing to get you out and enjoying the spring. It may rain but the foliage is busting out and well work the dampening.

For more ideas about this week or the next, visit:
http://www.dochara.com/event-county/galway/
http://thisisgalway.ie/event/comedy-showcase/

Articles
https://theculturetrip.com/europe/ireland/articles/the-10-best-breakfast-and-brunch-spots-in-galway-ireland/
https://www.theguardian.com/travel/2014/feb/03/a-day-in-galway-ireland-city-guide
http://www.galwaywalks.com


Photo Tom Macbeth

Scotrail Disruptions, Again and Buying Train Tickets Well in Advance for Best rates

34540181156_0de6bbe4a3_z

Just my luck. Looks like my main hub travel plans out of Glasgow will be impeded yet again this summer. Not a rail strike, but line improvements. I just have all the luck. So the 6 hour trip turns into 7 hours. At least it’s through the Highlands and can make up for delays once I get going. Unless clouds of midges take over the tracks.

To economize on travel, I was buying my train tickets for my journeys as some of the dates had finally opened up at Scotrail booking and I could purchase two months out. I learned long ago that sometimes the rail cards just don’t help if you are coming from another country, you pay a lot of money for something that is supposed to save you fare money and during festival season, it’s hard to just walk on and get a seat. Everyone else pre-books, so do as the natives do. Set up a free account on rail lines ahead online and you can manage your journeys.

Warning, when reserving online, not all rail stations have a machine where you can retrieve your pre-bought tickets. Check the messages you get while purchasing and make note if you will need to pick up ticket at a larger station like Queen Street or Central on your way out for other trips you are taking.

Why the concern? Rail journeys are not as economical as they used to be. In some cases it is cheaper to drive bay car for most residents of the UK. But if you don’t have the luxury, and that is what it is in the UK and Ireland, of having a motorcar at your disposal, you are dependent on public transit.

However, for the most part, public transit is in far superior shape in the UK and Ireland than in many parts of the US. You may not know the routes but you can figure them out with many city routes apps that are available. Printed time tables can be difficult to read coming from the US as the format is a bit different than we are used to, so grabbing a free transit map is great.

So, the cost of train rides can get high. I did some research on buying tickets 2 weeks out on Scotrail going from Queen Street Glasgow to Inverness/Kyle of Lochhalsh, £73.00. Yikes. Adding in the trip back out to Edinburgh at around £43.00, it was getting expensive. I remembered some train chats I had last year with some frequent travelers in Scotland. They said book online 1 to 2 months out if you have set travel days, and you could get a deal. So after waiting for the schedules to get a few months out, I finally did my round of bookings and saved heaps. What was getting close to £115.00 is now about half that. I also was able to splurge on a first class in the Virgin East Coast line for less than Edinburgh usually runs on that line. Wow, I get to see what their tea trolly looks like, or do they have a bar? Hmmm, mimosas?

Delays Expected on These Trains in Glasgow Through 2017

Glasgow Sub Crawl

Bad news, there will be delays. At least the Clockwork Orange subway will be running this year I hope. Last year it was under improvements. Yeah, I geek on the weirdest things. I like subways sometimes. The Clockwork Orange is one of the oldest subway systems in the world. It runs a circle under Glasgow, making it very convenient for a hop on and off to neighborhoods. There is also a student pub crawl that uses the system for a ripping night out. Bring plenty of coin, bills don’t do so well with the public transit systems in Scotland. They have an app, so download it at Google Play or iTunes. Nice thing about a loop is you can always get  back if you miss the station. Try to get a day pass if you can.

You can now buy tickets with a phone app, pilot program.

Now if Iarnród Éireann would open up their bookings a for July, I could get set.

6561110555_c9b30e6a17_z

Photo ©2011 by Greg Neate

Avoiding Accomodation Disasters: Finding Online Travel Reviews That Count

So many factors weigh in when you are planning a trip. After you have acquired plane or train travel plans, you have to chose where to stay, unless you are visiting relations. And maybe because you are visiting relations. There are so many online booking platforms for reservations, and granted there are massive amounts of hotels to choose from it’s very overwhelming. But how do you get the best bargain since most of us are not jet setter millionaires? How can you find accommodations that really meet your needs?

First you really need to know what is really important to you in your stay. Clean and safe are my priorities, especially since I end up traveling alone most of the time. Most hotel booking sites have reviews of their offerings for you to peruse. These are often skewed to the benefit of the establishment. And if you have not been to a location before, you will not know what the place is really like and if you really want to stay there. So how can you be better informed to make the decision that you hope won’t ruin your vacation, the place you set your head down for the night needs to not be a disaster. In other articles, I have written about checking out neighborhoods around where you stay, and this is always a good thing to do. But about the establishments themselves, it gets really complicated.

Really read some of the reviews for a hotel or service apartment service. The reviews on the booking platforms will be more favorable to the hotels and there is no guarantee that they have not picked which reviews to show you. So, if you are looking at a particular place to stay, open another browser window and search on reviews for the establishment. To me it’s the bed and the bath that have to be right.

What to look for in the sea of information that may or may not appear? Look for travel blogs like this one. Many bloggers review in depth a place they stay at. Check out Yelp for the city that you are going to. Search for a directory of reviews for Bed and Breakfast or vacation sublets.

Safety is a big feature for me. You want to save money but that can mean staying in dicey areas. If you are not used to a city, you know there will always be crime areas. Usually you think you can spot what a bad area is, but not always. Research articles before you travel for the cities you plan to visit, safest neighborhoods to live in. Then use the maps features to see what accommodations may be there. Of course if you know you are going to a region that is very rustic, you will have to get what accommodations you can or rent camper vans and camp. That can be it’s own set of issues.

Know what you want or really need in the place you want to stay. If you are there for more than two days, you may want to go the service apartment route. This allows you to actually live in the place and some even come with laundry facilities. Everyone hates to lose time on the vacay with menial tasks like laundry, but it has to be done. If you don’t have laundry facilities, you will have to hunt them down.

While larger booking sites will seem in favor of the hotels, some booking sites do seem to give real reviews, if you can get the feature to work. The system for reviewing is one where hotels solicit a review from guests after their stay, and should be verified that the guest actually stayed there. Some of these can be done in a bribing fashion, promised discounts and such. Smaller booking sites may have more real reviews. And if they all look alike, it’s because they are all working off of the same database for the properties. And then there is Yelp or other review apps for cities.

HotelGuides.Com
This site claims to take a different approach for you the consumer. They only take the most recent reviews and from people who have been verified as staying in the hotel/accommodation. They also group reviews for an area so you can check a part of a city for several reviews at one time. The top recent reviews are displayed. I checked one of the places I am staying in Glasgow, and most of it is very favorable. Full real report from me later.
http://hotelguides.com/hotel-reviews.html
Oyster.Com
Purports to be the be all at ferreting out the truth of hotel accommodations. Real people actually go in and inspect hotels is what they say. Give them a read, see if it seems legit to you. Plus: Really breaks down each hotel room and get better pictures and descriptions of the accommodation than in most other sites. Detailed photos of the rooms. Tried it on one of the hotels I will be in 3 times on trip and fairly good reviews.
https://www.oyster.com
So, overall I expect my stay on the Isle of Skye to not be as good as I had hoped. I had booked months back, but in finding that the reviews are not so good for the guest house I will be at tried for other booking. Sadly it is all taken up so I will have to eat it on this overpriced booking. So look forward to that review when I get there. Sigh.

More Review Sites
http://www.bookdirectrooms.com

Articles

http://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/travel/2012/options-time-hotel-review-websites/
http://www.nomadicmatt.com/travel-blogs/find-cheap-hotel-room/
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-3647262/Commuters-avoid-crime-hotspots-Waze-app-route-drivers-high-risk-areas.html

Accommodations Glasgow: Fraser Suites and St. Enoch’s Apartment

Fraser Suites Glasgow

Ratings ♥ to ♥♥♥♥

My last 2 stays in Glasgow were two different types of accommodations. One was a standard small boutique affair, Fraser’s Suites, and the other was a service apartment off the Clyde in St. Enoch’s shopping area. Both were in the heart of the city. If you like to be in the thick of it, downtown is the place to be.

Central

Fraser Suites Glasgow $$$ ♥♥♥
Albion at Trongate, Glasgow, Scotland 44+ 141 553 4288

The pictures are quite charming, a rambling set of rooms in the Trongate area. Well, what I stayed in was not a suite. I came off the plane and dropped my cases. The very small and cramped room was as far away as i could get from the very busy pub down below, and next to a car park. No need for an alarm, because you have seagulls waking you at 05:00 am. It was basically a place to get over jet lag and get a footing in Scotland before I continued with my journey. For the most part it was clean, and there was a small gym where no one seemed to bother me at the weird hours I went in. I said jet lag, right?

This is where I first experienced Glasgow’s expansive nightlife. The noise of it can be going till the wee hours of 03:00 easy. Massive groups of people clamped on for dear life and the love of their city. So, just remember to try to get the rooms a floor more above the busy restaurant.

The apartment was a serviced apartment in a one room style with kitchenette. The room was small, and a bit tired. I could see this was set up to be a more business staying affair with desk and small living area. The lecky plugs monitored very heavily. The bed was hard. For the most part it was clean, which a clean place and monitored hotel is sometimes what you need when you just get to a country. You are not your best on jet lag. There was a hotel safe which was convenient. I did not use the breakfast services, what I could see was very limited. The staff though was very friendly and as helpful as they could be.

Plus: Location for first time in Glasgow with transit and access to George Square where many of the tour buses depart from. You are walking distance from the train stations and the Clockwork Orange (tube). The prices are manageable and there is a full staff and it’s accessible most hours. The kitchens are fairly well equipped.

Minus: Bed is hard, the rooms a bit warn. There were recent remodels but still a bit sterile. Great to just crash, and the room was actually larger than some I stayed in in Glasgow previously.

Clyde Side

St. Enoch’s Apartments $$$$ ♥♥♥♥
101 Maxwell Street, Central Glasgow , Scotland
Sweeney Service Apartments 00 44 (0) 141 423 2001

This is where I fell in love with the rented apartment concept. The serviced apartments I had stayed at before had been very sterile, this had more of a home feeling about it. I thought as my last splurge on the way out of my trip, I would have a furnished apartment by the Clyde. I live by two rivers and enjoy them, walking the bank side parks are always a great treat. So I booked 3 days in a service apartment and lived among Glaswegians in the St. Enoch’s area.

St. Enoch’s is by the Clyde river, north side across from Laurieston. It’s in the heart of the shopping district and plenty of music and pub venues are in the area for your entertainment. Access to parks are a plus, and public transport hubs make it easy to get around if you are not walking. Noise is a bit of an issue, music venue around the corner, but the apartment was an interior one and buffered a bit. Also the view was narrow, you could see the Clyde, but a bit squished. The apartment had two rooms and could sleep up to 4 comfortably. Facilities were working, but the at the source water heater was a bit tricky, with the fuse switch chain having to be a bit of a twiddle.

Plus: Location was great for the second time in Glasgow. My first had been very close to George Square that was even more busy. If you like vibrant and somewhat busy, this is a good place. You have a tranquil side facing the Clyde that allows for a good morning jog or hike. The kitchen was well equipped. You are close to some of the downtown marts like Tesco which means you can get by, get things in a pinch. But if you want whole foods you will need to travel into the West End or outskirts to a super. Visit a wine merchant.

Minus: Price. The apartment was really too large for me, but when booking was the best I could find for the dates price wise. You are stuck with downtown restaurants. The heart of good food in Glasgow is usually in the West End and Northern parts, around the with some East End food areas getting to be rather tasty. But one of the pluses is to use the kitchen and supplement your eating. Inner city markets are very pricey and limited. Noise level is high on Friday and Saturdays. Check for weekend events as this is a transit hub area.

My first few visits to Glasgow were amazing, and I am heading back. However I will be staying in the West End this season as I found I was spending a great deal of time there each day and found that area around the university more to my type of neighborhood feel. I had one service apartment cancel on me due to building sale, so we will see how this trip goes in the West End as I check out other lodgings.

 

The New UK 5 Pound Note and Out With The Old

Got any £5.00 notes from your last journey to the UK? Worthless now. May 5 was the deadline to turn in the old bank notes. Not so good for those of us trying to change money in US and other countries. If you are ordering cash for your trip, play it safe and get denominations £20.00 and £50.00 if you must have the cash. The new note £10.00,  is due in a few months. You may be able to specify through your bank to get the new “plastic” notes, but just play it safe. Of course, you can just use your travel card, but it is good to have some cash on you for airport and taxi use. You don’t have fees with that unless you exchange it. Check that you receive change in the new polymer style notes if you are traveling over the next few months if it’s fiver in the UK, Scotland and N. Ireland. They have a plastic feel, very like the Canadian Dollars and look like:

And for you Jane fans, the new tenner will look like this:

The date for the Jane will coincide with her birthday, July 18th 200 birthday.

Scotland’s new polymers were issued last fall, but UNLIKE their British counterparts, they are pulled as they come in from circulation and replaced with the new notes. A much more sensible solution.

See the Scottish policies here

http://www.scotbanks.org.uk/banknotes.html

Articles and Resources

How to Spend or Exchange £5.00 Now They Are Not Legal Tender

https://www.thesun.co.uk/money/3409365/old-5-pound-notes-legal-tender/

 

http://www.mirror.co.uk/money/valuable-5-pound-notes-numbers-8903425?service=responsive

 

Official B of E Statements

http://www.bankofengland.co.uk/banknotes/polymer/Pages/default.aspx

 

Current Banknotes News

http://www.acbi.org.uk/rbs.php