For trips abroad, carry credit cards -- and cash Money: Use credit cards for most items, but cash is handy for incidentals such as cabs and tips.

Travel Q&A

March 15, 1998|By Jean Allen | Jean Allen,SUN SENTINEL, SOUTH FLORIDA

I am going to Brussels for two or three days, then to Paris for two or three days, and then on to London for four or five days. I have an AT&T universal card, ATM card etc. What I want to know is: Is it better to use my credit card if possible in most cases, or get a few dollars in these cities' currencies?

I'll fly to Brussels. Then I want to take the French TGV train to Paris and then get the tunnel train to London.

I am leaving for Scotland soon and I have a few questions:

Is it better to have traveler's checks or should I use my credit card? Also, will the airport scanner ruin my film? I'm renting a car; do I have to obtain special insurance?

Take credit and/or debit cards, but take some traveler's checks as well. Use the cards for most expenses, but you'll need cash for cabs, buses, tips and incidentals, and traveler's checks are a good backup just in case. Worst-case scenarios: Your card is stolen or lost; you can't find an ATM when you need it; the shop, restaurant or hotel doesn't accept all kinds of credit cards. On the second day of a trip to Europe, a machine chewed up the magnetic strip of my Visa card, and nobody would accept it from then on.

All the above argue for having traveler's checks as backup.

Many travelers prefer to use debit cards, which draw money directly from your checking account at the prevailing exchange rate the day of use. Credit-card charges will be calculated at the exchange rate, foreign currency to dollars, on the day your monthly statement is prepared, not the day you make the charge.

As for car insurance, some credit-card companies will cover insurance if their card is used to rent the car, but this does not always apply overseas. Your own insurance carrier is unlikely to cover overseas rentals. You should definitely have insurance coverage even if you have to buy it from the rental company. Some European rental rates include insurance coverage and VAT (taxes) so you know the total cost up front. Determine all this before you leave home and reserve a car with a big firm (Hertz, Avis, etc.) or have your travel agent do so.

The jury is out on whether airport X-rays damage film. Some say film is damaged only after multiple trips through the X-ray, others claim the damage could be immediate because the machines' strength varies widely around the world. To be sure, put your camera and film in a see-through bag and ask for inspection by hand; or buy a lead-lined bag at a photo supply store and keep exposed film and still-loaded cameras in it.

And please, don't call the French TGVs bullet trains. That's a Japanese appellation that Europeans never use, especially because the French TGVs (trains of great speed) are faster than Japan's bullets.

Because you haven't ridden TGV trains, you have a treat coming. Speed is their most-mentioned asset, but what sells me on them is the comfort. The seats are extra comfy, and except for the England portion of the tracks, all TGV tracks are especially built for those specific trains, so you get an amazingly smooth ride and no grade crossings. England apparently put all its tunnel train money into high-tech improvements at Waterloo Station in London, where the trains arrive and leave.

In case you haven't made your TGV reservations, phone 800-EUROSTAR for the channel trains, 800-4-EURAIL for others. These are Rail Europe reservation lines, and that company can also handle hotel reservations and all the various train pass combinations throughout Europe including Great Britain.

When traveling by plane or ship, is it a good idea to put one's real address on luggage tags? We do, but were told, "Now someone knows you're going away and where you live."

If you put your home address on your luggage tags, you do indeed reveal where you live and that you are going away.

On the other hand, if your luggage gets lost and your address is not on the tags, how is the airline supposed to contact you when the bag is found?

Working people often put their business address on luggage tags. I did that, but nowadays I work from home, so I use luggage tags with flaps that cover the identification -- not a foolproof method, but better than nothing. You can use a relative's or friend's address with permission, but then they might become targets of thieves.

HotelDocs, a company that sends doctors to hotel rooms across the United States, offers this free service: It will send you luggage tags bearing your name, a luggage ID number but no address, and a toll-free number. If the finder calls HotelDocs, the company then phones you, telling you the location of your bag. To get tags, call 800-468-3537.

If you become ill in a hotel while traveling in the United States, the company hopes you will call the same number, after which you pay for only the doctor's call.

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