Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Would you pay $2000 to rent a car for a few days?

I refer to the thousands of travelers currently stranded at various airports on the East Coast. This just in from CNN online:

Zarmeen Hussain and her family knew their flight home to New Jersey -- scheduled for Monday evening -- might get canceled. But what they didn't expect was a delay of four days.

"We were very confused and like, oh my God," Hussain said from an Atlanta hotel Tuesday morning. She, her husband and daughter were in Georgia for a college reunion and were told the earliest available flight will be on Friday.

"We were thinking of the option of driving down, but the car rental company gave us a quote of $2,000," Hussain said, laughing …”

Since she was laughing, I assume she and her husband decided not to rent the car.

In the comments that followed this report was one that said the car rental company “should be boycotted and fined for price gouging. Typical American greedy bastards.”

I don’t think so. To repeat what I have been teaching and preaching for many years:

1. Do not buy anything (including air tickets for an unnecessary trip) until you first have thousand of dollars saved up for emergencies.

2. Then, when you do travel, carry extra cash as well as a credit card or debit card good for at least a few thousand dollars.

Thus, when a travel emergency arises, as it did with this big storm, be willing to pay whatever it takes. And in the case of a car rental company that wants $2000 for a short rental, that’s good news! It means the few cars left will be held for we savvy travelers who prepared beforehand for just such an emergency.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Keep your money safe from pickpockets when you travel

When I travel outside the United States, I always carry an unusual amount of cash. The question is, where to carry it? Over the years I've tried:

1. A money belt,

2. A jacket with secret inside pockets,

3. A holder that snaps around the calf of my leg,

4. A cloth wristlet wrapped around my lower arm, and/or

5. A cloth bag that hangs inside my shirt from a cord around my neck.

On my last trip to Mexico, however, I abandoned all of the above and just carried western-cut shirts with large snap pockets. In the right pocket went my passport and credit cards. In the left (shown in the picture), the "world's thinnest wallet" filled with $100 bills. For small purchases such as for food, drink and taxi fare, I carried small bills in my two front pockets--not enough to worry about in case they were somehow picked.

You don't have to look like a cowboy or a cowgirl when you wear a western shirt. Get a discreet design for everyday use and a plain color for dressing up. When I needed to wear a suit and tie, I wore a white western shirt with just a simple widely-spaced vertical gold thread. One businessman liked it so well that he asked me where he could buy one just like it!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Three reasons to carry cash when you travel

The wildcat strike last Friday by most of Spain's air traffic controllers reminded me once again why it is always wise to travel with emergency cash. Travelers from North America and elsewhere arrived in Madrid or Barcelona last Friday morning, only to find that all flights to and from Spanish airports were canceled!

Intrepid travelers who carried cash were able to hire taxis to take them on to Portugal, southern Spain, or elsewhere. Thousand of others had to sit it out or check into local hotels--if indeed any rooms were available. So here are three good reasons to carry extra cash when you travel:

1. Air travel shuts down. On 9/11 it was for terrorism. Last year it was due a a volcano spewing ash from Iceland. An air controller's strike, such as the one in Spain, can happen at any place and at any time.

2. One of your friends may be in immediate need of financial help. Just a few weeks ago we were preparing to fly back to the States from Loreto, Baja California Sur. My friend Cris came by our hotel to pick us up and take us to the airport, but not in his older but well-kept Nissan sedan. He was driving a rickety, rusted Astro van that was not safe to take beyond the end of the city bus line. What had happened?

"I stopped off at a small store last night," he said, "and a drunk driver smashed into my car and totalled it!" The driver had no insurance. This was the car Cris was about to use to travel to an extremely important convention in Tijuana just a few days hence. There was no time to hunt down an ATM and even if there had been, I am limited to $300 withdrawal per day. Fortunately I had a wad of $100 bills in the snap pocket of my western shirt. I handed them to Cris and we raced to the airport. The next week Chris and family were at the convention in Tijuana.

3. Even if you are not the type who helps out friends in need, cash can solve problems you had not forseen.

Example: I once had a confirmed coach ticket for an aisle seat on a flight from New York to Madrid. When I showed up at the gate, I discovered to my horror that I had been re-assigned to a middle seat. I am claustrophobic when it comes to middle seats. I travel only in aisle seats, so what to do?

I boarded the plane but stepped aside to explain to the flight attendant that once all were seated, I was going to walk down the aisle with cash in my hand. "I'll offer a $100 bill to anyone who will trade an aisle seat for my center seat, and if no one volunteers, I will raise the price a hundred at a time until--"

"Wait here," she said with a smile. "I'll fix it." When the passengers were seated, she went back to row 32 and spoke to a passenger. He immediately gave his seat up to me, so I assume he was "deadheading" [free flight for an airline employee] and had to take whatever seat he was given. Nevertheless, had this not been the case, I was in a position to buy my way out of a center seat.

In some so-called developing countries, nothing but cash will get you out of a sticky situation. So the next time you travel, carry some extra dollars or euros.