Coronavirus (COVID-19) Frequently Asked Questions

We proudly meet the global protocols for safety set by the World Travel & Tourism Council, which take into account recommendations by the CDC, the WHO, and the ECDC. Learn more about our commitment to #SafeTravels.

NOTICE: The situation with coronavirus (COVID-19) is continuously evolving. We will continue to update this page regularly.

Cancellation Policies for Witte Tours

Cancellation Policies for Witte Travel

What is Witte Travel & Tours doing to monitor the spread of COVID-19 and ensure the safety of all passengers?

Does airline travel increase my risk of contracting COVID-19?

If I choose to cancel my travel plans, will I get a refund?

My travel plans were canceled–when can I expect a refund?

Will my tour be canceled? If so, what will happen next?

Can I reschedule my trip/tour?

Should I purchase travel insurance?

Where can I get a COVID-19 test?

Do I need to be vaccinated in order to travel?

Will I need to wear a mask?


June 12, 2022: As of 12:01 a.m. on June 12, 2022, the CDC no longer requires air passengers traveling from a foreign country to the United States to present proof of a negative COVID-19 test or documentation of recovery.  Learn more >>>

April 18, 2022: As the result of a court order, the CDC’s order requiring masks on all public transportation and at transportation hubs (including airplanes and airports) is no longer in effect and will not be enforced. However, the CDC continues to recommend that people wear masks in indoor public spaces. Learn more >>>

Cancellation Policies for Witte Tours

Our Peace of Mind policy lets you book your next Witte tour with confidence, knowing that cancellation penalties will not increase until 90 days prior to departure.* Plus, enjoy even more booking flexibility with our new Refundable Deposit policy, now available on select tours. For most tours with the Refundable Deposit designation, tour deposits are 100% refundable until 90 days prior to departure.*

*Some exceptions may apply. Please refer to the terms & conditions listed in the tour brochure for complete details.


If you’ve booked travel arrangements through a Witte Travel Vacation Consultant, any cancellations or changes may be subject to penalties issued by the travel suppliers holding your reservations. Airlines, cruise lines, and leisure tour operators are frequently adjusting their change and cancellation policies, so please contact your Travel Consultant for the latest information regarding any cancellation fees that may apply to your unique trip.


  • We proudly meet the global protocols for safety set by the World Travel & Tourism Council, which take into account recommendations by the CDC, the WHO, and the ECDC. Learn more about our commitment to #SafeTravels.
  • Our team is closely monitoring the situation by reviewing all travel warnings, recommendations, and advisories from the U.S. State Department, the World Health Organization, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • We hold regular staff meetings to ensure that all our staff members are properly briefed on the most current information.
  • We are in constant communication with airlines, vendors, and our network of in-country partners for the latest news and updates.
  • If we have any reason to be concerned that your travel plans could put you at risk, we will contact you to discuss your options.


Because the cabin air on an airplane is circulated and filtered every 2-3 minutes using HEPA filters, most viruses and germs cannot spread easily, so your risk of infection is not higher on an airplane. However, it is still a good practice to use antiseptic wipes on tray tables and armrests and to use your hand sanitizer before meals.


Refundability depends on different factors specific to your trip or tour. It is best to contact your Travel Consultant for your specific trip’s information. Cancellation due to government travel advisories or travel bans, or due to concerns relating to a viral outbreak, are not eligible reasons for coverage under most standard travel insurance plans. If you purchased a “Cancel for Any Reason” plan, refer to the terms of your insurance plan or contact the insurance provider to determine whether cancellation benefits apply. 

My travel plans were cancelled– when can I expect a refund?

We are doing the best we can to issue refunds in a timely manner under these unique circumstances. However, due to the high volume of requests that we and our supplier partners are experiencing, it may take 4-6 weeks for your refund to be processed.


We are monitoring the situation very closely, and are making operational decisions about tours on a case-by-case basis. In cases where we feel that it is in the best interest of our passengers to cancel or postpone a tour, we will notify all registered passengers of those changes in detail. Unless we’ve told you otherwise, you can assume that your tour will continue to operate as scheduled.


This will vary for each individual trip/tour scenario. It’s best to contact your Travel Consultant directly for more information about the options available in your specific situation.


We strongly recommend that you purchase travel insurance to protect your investment and to provide you with coverage overseas in the event of an accident or illness abroad. Even if you have health insurance back home that offers some benefits while traveling internationally, the coverage may not be enough. These are some of the benefits provided by travel insurance:

Trip Cancellation – Trip Cancellation insurance protects your financial investment in your trip, such as the cost of your flights, cruises, or other travel arrangements. Depending on the specifics of the policy, it may provide cancellation benefits if you must cancel due to a covered reason as defined by the policy, for example:

  • Illness, injury, or death suffered by the insured or a member of the insured’s immediate family (and sometimes traveling companion).
  • You or a traveling companion test positive for COVID-19 and are unable to travel.
  • A non-traveling family member is diagnosed with COVID-19 and a physician determines that it is life-threatening or they require your care.

Some policies also provide a “Cancel for Any Reason” upgrade option, which provides more flexibility. Contact your Travel Consultant for policy details and for information about “Cancel for Any Reason” upgrade requirements. 

Trip Delay / Flight Delay – This typically covers accommodations, meals, and new travel arrangements once you’ve been delayed for a certain amount of time (often after 6-12 hours) due to unforeseen circumstances. Trip Delay may provide coverage if you contract COVID-19 during your trip and must physically quarantine at your destination.

Medical Insurance – When you are planning an international trip, it’s wise to be prepared in case of a medical emergency. Should you need medical care overseas, you may be required to pay out-of-pocket for services, which can be very expensive. If you have health insurance in the United States, find out if your plan will cover medical emergencies or expenses incurred while traveling abroad. Ask if your policy has any exclusions for preexisting conditions, and whether your policy will make payments to hospitals directly. If your health insurance coverage is not adequate, consider buying a supplemental travel insurance policy with medical benefits, which may include reimbursement for medical services required during your trip.

Medical Evacuation – Medical Evacuation insurance is especially important if you are traveling to a remote area or to a place where healthcare may not be up to U.S. standards. If you get sick or injured while traveling, medical evacuation coverage will pay for emergency transportation to a high-quality hospital.

Learn more about the CDC’s recommendations and the US State Department’s recommendations related to travel insurance.


If a COVID-19 test is required prior to arrival at your destination, visit or your state’s health department website to find a testing location near you. Be aware that some destinations will only accept certain types of test results within a specific period of time, so ensure that you are getting the correct test at the proper time before travel.

If you are traveling internationally, you will need to present a negative COVID-19 test result taken no more than 24 hours prior to boarding your departure flight back to the United States. You can research your destination prior to travel to find COVID-19 testing sites or check your departure airport to find out whether on-site testing is available. Test for Travel and Star Alliance Test Facilities are helpful resources for locating testing sites in international destinations.

Alternatively, you can purchase at-home test kits that are acceptable for international travel and self-administer the test before your return flight to the U.S. Make sure that the test you purchase is not expired and meets the CDC’s criteria for at-home tests. There are currently two tests on the market that are eligible for international travel:

  • The Abbott BinaxNOW™ COVID-19 Ag Card Home Test can be purchased through eMed (6-pack) or Optum (2-pack or 3-pack). Important: the over-the-counter BinaxNOW COVID-19 Antigen Self Test sold at pharmacies is not eligible for international travel. You must have the Ag Card Home Test that includes medical supervision via the NAVICA digital health platform.

The Ellume COVID-19 Home Test can be purchased at some pharmacies, and then you’ll need to schedule a video observation via the AZOVA digital health platform.


Vaccination is strongly recommended for safety and to ensure maximum access, enjoyment, and the smoothest possible travel experience.

Entry requirements and travel restrictions vary widely by destination and can change frequently. We will make every effort to provide you with accurate information, but it is your responsibility to make sure that you meet all requirements for travel to your destination. Some helpful resources include Sherpa,, and AirHeart. (Note: These are excellent tools for getting quick and clear information about entry requirements, but we still recommend that you check with your destination’s government website or tourism board for official verification.)


As the result of a court order issued April 18, 2022, the CDC’s order requiring masks on all public transportation and at transportation hubs (including airplanes and airports) is no longer in effect and will not be enforced. However, the CDC continues to recommend that people wear masks in indoor public spaces.  Learn more >>>


CDC – Advice for Travelers:

CDC – (COVID-19) Travel FAQs:

WHO – (COVID-19) Advice for the Public:

WHO – (COVID-19) Travel Advice:

WHO – Updated recommendations for international traffic in relation to the COVID-19 outbreak:

Coronavirus COVID-19 Global Cases by Johns Hopkins CSSE:

State Department – Before you Travel: 

4 Tips for Using Public Transportation Abroad

Unless you are a seasoned traveler or you live in a big city, using public transportation while traveling can sometimes be intimidating. But public transportation is not only very budget friendly, it is also very efficient. As a bonus, you get the experience of traveling “as a local”. Recently, I used London’s Underground, more commonly known as the Tube, to get around the city. If you are still planning transportation for your upcoming trip and don’t know how you are going to get from the Tower Bridge to Westminster Abbey in less than 15 minutes, here are a few tips:

Purchasing your pass or tickets

If you know far enough in advance where you will be traveling, you can buy a pass ahead of time and have it mailed right to your door. But if you don’t have the chance to do this before your trip, don’t worry — Underground stations have a ticket counter or an automated kiosk where you can make your purchase. I did not purchase my card ahead of time; I simply used one of the automated machines.

To use the Underground system in London, you can choose to purchase a single / return ticket, a day pass ticket, or a reloadable Oyster card. The Oyster card is usually the easiest option, and it can also be used for other modes of public transport as well: bus, tram, London Overground, National Rail, etc. The Oyster card cost me a £5 deposit and then I was free to load as much money on it (or “top up”) as I saw fit. Another example is the Metro in Paris, where you can purchase a pass ahead of time, or buy individual tickets at automated Metro stations. Keep in mind that it is usually more cost-efficient to buy a pass, rather than point-to-point tickets.

Public transportation ticket options in London

Grab a map

Maps are often considered out of date and old fashioned in today’s technology-filled world. But I can tell you from experience that, when navigating a new subway system, a small portable map is your best friend. Stations always have large maps posted throughout, but with a portable map, if you are planning your day over breakfast, you can mark the names of your stops ahead of time. You can often find free Underground maps in the tube stations, or you can download and print them in advance. I also always download the local public transportation app on my phone, as this is always very helpful. But take note, sometimes cellular service while traveling abroad is spotty, especially if you are underground in a subway system.

London Underground map

London Underground map courtesy of Transport for London

Stay safe

It is very important to always be aware of where you are and where you are going. Double and triple check the names of your stop, and keep an eye on those around you. Always keep your personal items with you. Sometimes transport authorities will want to check your pass or ticket before exiting the system to make sure you have paid for your transportation. Make sure to keep your metro card or ticket in a safe, but easily accessible place until you have exited the station. It is not worth risking a fine because you did not keep track of your ticket.

Waiting for the Tube in London

Ask questions

Before you travel, be sure to ask your travel professional any questions you may have. They can assist you in purchasing these passes ahead of time, or guide you through the exact process for the city you are visiting. Stations also have professionals throughout the system to assist you if needed, so don’t be afraid to ask!

Have you tried using public transportation while traveling abroad? Share your experiences with us in the comments or on Facebook!


Flying after January 22, 2018?

Be prepared, identification rules are changing on domestic flights.

(Note this information is up-to-date as of 11/10/2017)

Who is affected by this?

Everyone.  If you are flying within the United States you will need to be aware of the new rules.

What is changing?

Anyone traveling domestically will need a REAL-ID compliant state-issued driver’s license or ID to pass security and board an airplane, otherwise, alternate forms of identification are needed.

What is a REAL ID?

A REAL ID is a state-issued form of identification that passes certain security standards set by Congress. The purpose of REAL ID is to make our identity documents more consistent and secure.

Do I have a REAL ID?

If your driver’s license or ID card has a gold star in a circle on it you have a REAL-ID compliant driver’s. Most often this is found on the top right. Enhanced driver’s licenses are also REAL-ID compliant.

Do the rules apply to me?

Not if you live in Michigan.  Michigan has an extension to October 1, 2020. If you live in another state you can check your state’s compliance deadlines here.


Does this just affect flights?

No. After the deadline, a REAL ID-compliant license or ID will be required for domestic air travel or entering a military base, nuclear power plant and certain federal buildings.

What happens to my Standard License or ID after the deadlines?

Nothing.  You can still use your standard driver’s license for driving.  Both standard licenses and state ID’s will still be accepted as identification for voting, applying for or receiving Federal benefits, cashing checks, renting vehicles, purchasing alcohol and tobacco, or entering casinos.

What do the different cards look like?

You can see images of a Michigan standard card, a REAL ID-compliant card, and an enhanced card by clicking here.

How do I Apply for a REAL ID?

If you are applying for your first Michigan driver’s license or ID card visit a Secretary of State office and provide the proper forms of identification required.
If you are renewing a Michigan driver’s license or ID card check your renewal notice, it will say whether your card is REAL ID compliant. If your renewal notice says you are compliant your new card will have a star printed on it.  If your renewal notice says you are not compliant you will have to visit a Secretary of State office to provide more forms of identification.  Read your renewal notice carefully to see what documentation you will need to bring with you.  You cannot apply for a REAL ID online or via mail.

What does a REAL ID cost?

In Michigan, if you are up for a standard license or ID card renewal or are applying for your first card, standard driver’s license and ID card fees apply.  If you apply for a REAL ID-compliant license or ID outside of your normal renewal cycle a correction fee will be charged.

Do minors need a REAL ID?

TSA doesn’t require children under 18 to provide identification if they are traveling with a companion.  The companion will need acceptable identification.

What if I have a passport card?

TSA considers passport cards an acceptable form of identification.  After the deadlines, you can use this instead of a REAL-ID for domestic travel.  Click here for a list of other acceptable forms of identification.

For the latest information visit the Department of Homeland Security REAL ID Act website. 

Linking Cruises: Combining two (or more) cruise itineraries

Linking Cruises
Did you know that you can “link” cruises together? In other words, you can combine itineraries to turn, for example, a 7-day cruise into a 14-day or 21-day (or longer) cruise. My husband and I frequently link on Princess Cruises. In recent years, we have linked Eastern and Southern, Eastern and Western and, most recently, Eastern, Southern and Western Caribbean cruises during the month of January. A few years ago, we linked a British Isles cruise with a Trans-Atlantic cruise on the Royal Princess in October. The first time we did this, we learned how common it is – especially among seasoned cruisers.

Here’s an example of how to link cruises together:

Begin with a Trans-Atlantic cruise itinerary in the spring or fall. To link another cruise to this itinerary, find another cruise that ends on the first day the Trans-Atlantic cruise departs. The key is to make sure both cruises are on the same ship. Linking cruises is quite popular, and it works best if the cabin you select on cruise #1 is also open on the cruise you’re linking to. I recommend booking six months or more in advance – and watch for cruise sales! The best sale on Princess is the Anniversary Sale (early December through the end of February).

Cruise to St. John, US Virgin Islands
Who wouldn’t want to spend more time cruising through the Caribbean? (St. John, US Virgin Islands)

So how do you transfer from one cruise itinerary to the next?

On the night before the last day of the first completed cruise, you will receive a customs form and a transit card, as well as instructions explaining the transition to the next voyage and indicating where and what time to meet. You’ll probably be asked to bring your passport, transit card, current cruise card and your completed customs form.
On the day of “transit”, you will meet at the time and place indicated in your instructions, and a cruise attendant will swipe your cruise card. Once all of the transit guests are accounted for, everyone will depart the assigned area by row. A U.S. Immigration Officer will look at your passport and cruise card, and swipe your cruise card again.
It’s that easy! You don’t even have to leave the ship! Depending on how many people are “linking” cruises, this process takes approximately one hour. Of course, transit times and procedures will vary a bit, depending on the destination.

Docking in Bonaire during a Caribbean cruise
Docking in Bonaire.

More tips for linking cruises:

  1. Your credit card number rolls over to the next cruise.
  2. Your account on the first cruise will close at the end of the first cruise. You will begin a new account on your second cruise.
  3. Make sure your travel agent “links” the two cruises.
  4. You may have the option to keep the same dining table on the second cruise. (Sometimes the wait staff changes.)
  5. You can keep the same cabin, providing it’s available at the time of booking both cruises (which is why it’s important to book six months or more in advance).
  6. Onboard credits, internet minutes and the onboard account MAY roll over. (Mine have always rolled over on Princess.)
  7. If you have reached Elite status (Captain’s Circle), you will get a new minibar set-up on the second cruise.

Rent a condo for the winter? Or, cruise for one or two months?

On our January 2017 cruise, approximately 400 people linked two or more cruises. We also heard of a couple from Boston who stayed on the ship from January until March. They preferred cruising over renting a condo in Florida or Arizona for the winter!
A few advantages of cruising over renting a condo:

  1. The scenery changes every day.
  2. You don’t need a car.
  3. All meals, entertainment, cabin cleaning, and transportation are taken care of. And there’s all kinds of activities onboard and onshore that are already planned for you.
  4. Plus, if you’re at the highest frequent traveler level, your laundry is done for free. Otherwise, there are laundry facilities located on each passenger deck.
  5. While in port, you have the option to explore on your own, have lunch, play a round of golf, shop, join a ship excursion, go sailing, or just stay on board the ship! The options are endless!
  6. And the best part … you meet wonderful people from all over the world.

Curaçao cruises
Cruising in Curaçao

Are you ready to book your next back-to-back cruise? Give us a call at 800 GO WITTE (800-469-4883) or fill out our Contact Form to connect with a Certified Cruise Specialist!

Photo courtesy of kansasphoto.

Baggage Allowance and Fee Information

Baggage Allowance and Fee Information

Each airline has their own baggage allowance and fees for checked bags, oversized/overweight bags and instruments.  Click on the airlines below for more information.  Note these links will take you off the Witte Travel website.

Planning a Safe and Independent Trip Overseas

I found a love of travel when I joined Witte Travel & Tours. Before then, I never thought much of traveling and now 16 years later, I have just completed my first independent adventure overseas. And you know what? I will travel overseas alone again in a heartbeat. Do I like to travel with others? Sure I do; however, I also find solo travel to be very freeing. As a woman, I never felt unsafe during any of my travels and that was due to my well-planned trip and tips I always use.

For me, the key to a well-planned and safe trip is to use all resources available. And in my experience, using a travel professional is truly invaluable. They have the knowledge and experience to ensure that your itinerary as well as accommodations and transportation options will work for you. They will listen to what you want and then research all of the almost limitless choices to find what works best for you.

A few key questions to ask yourself during the planning stages:

  • Airlines: What is the best schedule based on the time of year I’m traveling?
  • Transportation: Do you want to travel by train or drive between destinations?  Do you want to use public transportation almost exclusively in your target cities or will you use hop-on /hop-off tours?
  • Hotels: Do you want to be in city center, close to the train station, or close to a public transportation stop? What is most important – budget or location?
  • Sightseeing: Do you want to visit multiple museums or just exterior visits (so hop-on hop-off tour may be an option)? Are half-day or day trips via a motorcoach company or independent day trips via public transportation wanted?

After I had an idea on what I wanted to see, I got invaluable information from the staff at Witte in deciding all items mentioned above. I had originally gotten a hotel near the train station in Munich, however, changed it after one of my co-workers saw the location and alerted me it wouldn’t be the best area for a solo person. None of that information was mentioned on Trip Advisor, so I appreciated the information in order to change my hotel to a safer area knowing I was traveling alone.

My tips for staying safe while in Europe:

  1. Walk with purpose, even when you are lost. Always be mindful of where you are and who is around you.
  2. Do NOT be distracted with scenes that are being made around you. It could be a setup for pick pockets.
  3. Pick a hotel in a safe neighborhood close to transportation. While city center seems enticing, there are times when staying outside the center makes more sense. Look at the destination you want to stay at and plan from there. Be open to staying farther out.
  4. Keep extra money and credit cards in a money belt. Only have enough money that you need for the day easily available. Men, be sure to keep your wallet in your front pocket.
  5. Take along copies of your passport in case yours gets stolen.
  6. Currency: If you need to get currency from Banks/ATMs while abroad, be sure you are in a well-lit and safe area and that you protect the screen from being viewed by anyone around. Do not keep cash in easy view.

Flying Over the Holidays – Can I Bring That on a Plane?

Are you flying over the holidays?

Are you bringing your signature Thanksgiving dish to share? Do you know if your dish is allowed on a plane?

Flying over the holidays is stressful. It can seem hard to keep up with changing flight regulations. But flying over the holidays doesn’t need to be difficult. As of the date of this post (11/18/2016), here are some common Thanksgiving dishes and TSA’s rules regarding bringing them on a plane.

flying over the holidays with a turkey
Photo by Steve Johnson
Easy Turkey Thanksgiving

Can I bring a turkey on a plane? (You have to search for meat.)

Cooked Meat, Seafood and Vegetable (No Liquid)

  • Carry On Bags: Yes
  • Checked Bags: Yes

“You may transport this item in carry-on or checked bags. For items you wish to carry on, you should check with the airline to ensure that the item will fit in the overhead bin or underneath the seat of the airplane.

TSA officers may instruct travelers to separate items from carry-on bags such as foods, powders, and any materials that can clutter bags and obstruct clear images on the X-ray machine. Travelers are encouraged to organize their carry-on bags and keep them uncluttered to ease the screening process and keep the lines moving.”

Fresh Meat and Seafood

  • Carry On Bags: Yes (Special Instructions)
  • Checked Bags: Yes

“Meat, seafood and other non-liquid food items are permitted in both carry-on and checked bags. If the food is packed with ice or ice packs in a cooler or other container, the ice or ice packs must be completely frozen when brought through screening. If the ice or ice packs are partially melted and have any liquid at the bottom of the container, they will not be permitted. You also can pack frozen perishables in your carry-on or checked bags in dry ice. The FAA limits you to five pounds of dry ice that is properly packaged (the package is vented) and marked.”

Can I carry on a pumpkin pie?

Pies and Cakes

  • Carry On Bags: Yes
  • Checked Bags: Yes

TSA officers may instruct travelers to separate items from carry-on bags such as foods, powders, and any materials that can clutter bags and obstruct clear images on the X-ray machine. Travelers are encouraged to organize their carry-on bags and keep them uncluttered to ease the screening process and keep the lines moving.

Flying over the holidays with bread
Mark Bonica
Beer Bread

Can I bring two loaves of homemade bread with me when flying home?


  • Carry On Bags: Yes
  • Checked Bags: Yes

“Solid food items (not liquids or gels) can be transported in either your carry-on or checked bags. Liquid or gel food items larger than 3.4 oz are not allowed in carry-on bags and should be placed in your checked bags if possible.

TSA officers may instruct travelers to separate items from carry-on bags such as foods, powders, and any materials that can clutter bags and obstruct clear images on the X-ray machine. Travelers are encouraged to organize their carry-on bags and keep them uncluttered to ease the screening process and keep the lines moving.”

Looking for another dish?  Or do you have questions on bringing knitting needles (yes), wrapped presents (no) or other items with you as you fly?

Check out TSA’s What Can I Bring tool. Here you’ll find up-to-date information on rules and regulations for flying over the holidays. If your item is not listed, you can send a question to AskTSA on Facebook Messenger or Twitter. Please remember TSA gate agents have the most up to date information and the final say on what is allowed through security.

Everyone at Witte Travel & Tours wishes you a terrific Thanksgiving.  Here is to happy and safe travels!


Post updated 11/21/2018 for accuracy. Quotes come directly from TSA.

Traveling in Europe by Train

Have you ever decided to do something while traveling and then wondered if that was a good decision?
Recently, I planned a trip for my family to travel around Europe by train. We planned on visiting four countries during our vacation. After considering the pros and cons of renting a car or traveling by train, train travel stood out as the best choice for us. I have traveled by train in Europe without my family in the past and really enjoyed it, but that was years ago. What if traveling with a family was more difficult? What if I didn’t remember how to do it or screwed up and got on the wrong train or off at the wrong destination and lead my family astray? These questions swirled around in my mind.
Because we were going to several different destinations, I decided to purchase Eurail passes for each of us. Eurail offers quite a few options for passes, so you can pick the best-fitting one based on how many countries you will visit and how many days you want to travel. We purchased the Eurail Select Pass, which worked perfectly with our itinerary because it would allow us to travel throughout 4 bordering countries of our choice. Next, I looked at all of the train departure times and made reservations on the trains that required a reservation. I also downloaded the Eurail “Rail Planner” app on my phone. This app gave me access to rail schedules, made it easy to locate train stations, displayed city maps, and much more. We were well prepared before we left for Europe.

Salzburg Train Station

Waiting at the train platform in Salzburg, Austria

Once we arrived in Europe, we walked to the train station that was located right at the airport. By looking at the train arrival/departure monitors, we could see which track our train would come in on, as well as the exact time it was scheduled to depart. All we had to do was head to the platform and wait for the train. Once we loaded our luggage on the train, we were able to relax and enjoy the ride. After a long night of sitting cooped up on an airplane, it felt so nice to be on the train; we could get up and walk around as much as we wanted or enjoy the comfortable train seats. And the views out the windows were a great way to acclimate ourselves to our current location.

Train Travel in Europe

Enjoying the big windows and roomy seats on the train after a cramped overnight flight.

My family embraced riding on the train. Our teenagers were excited to discover that the “the train was just like the trains used in the Harry Potter movies.” They loved that there was a food car on most of the trains as well, and that we were served a meal on the long train rides. Traveling in Europe by train with my family was just as good as it had been when I traveled alone. The extensive rail network in Europe made it simple to transfer from one destination to the next, and getting on and off the train was much easier than I remembered. There was no reason for me to be worried at all and I will definitely plan to travel by train in Europe again.
If the ease, comfort, and convenience of train travel appeals to you, let us know and we can help you arrange rail tickets and passes for your next vacation. Witte Travel & Tours is the only agency in West Michigan that has a direct link to Rail Europe’s reservation system, so we can process rail passes quickly while avoiding costly shipping fees.
What has been your experience with traveling by train? Share your stories with us onFacebook, or let us know what you think in the comments!

Using Your Credit Card Abroad

Are you planning to travel abroad, and unsure if your credit card will work overseas? With Canada, Europe, and much of Asia already using “chip and PIN” credit cards, here’s what you need to know before your next trip.

In the summer of 2014, I joined two friends on a cycling trip across Europe and visited 17 countries over the span of three months. We didn’t want to carry three months’ worth of cash (in ten different currencies, mind you), so we relied on our credit/debit cards for everything. However, we soon learned that our American “swipe-and-sign” cards were becoming a thing of the past—the distantpast, judging by the reactions we got from servers and storeowners as they shook their heads incredulously at our swiping motions.
Over the past several years, Europe has switched from traditional magnetic-stripe credit cards over to “chip and PIN” credit card systems in an effort to reduce credit card fraud.These new cards contain a tiny visible microchip and require a PIN for validation, rather than a signature. Instead of swiping a credit card through the reader and signing a receipt, customers insert these “smart” cards (sometimes called EMV cards, for Europay, MasterCard and Visa) into a slot on the card reader and type in their PIN.
chip and pin
Photo Credit: bestofcategoryreviews via Compfight cc
These microchipped cards are effective at preventing credit card skimming, which accounts for37% of credit card fraud in the U.S. Credit card skimming devices snag the information from the magnetic stripe on a credit card, and copy it onto another card that can then be used to make fraudulent purchases. The microchip, on the other hand, creates unique data for each transaction that can’t be copied.
Since the U.S. seems to lag about 5 years behind Europe in many ways (policy, fashion, etc.), it’s not surprising to learn that financial institutions in the United States are finally starting to warm to the new technology. As of October 1, 2015, a “liability shift” has shifted the financial responsibility in the event of fraud onto banks, credit card companies, and retailers. As you might imagine, this has created a powerful incentive to switch over to a system that makes in-person purchases more secure. Banks have been issuing EMV cards to American consumers left and right—perhaps you’ve already received new microchipped versions of your credit / debit cards in the mail—and American retailers are starting to update their credit card readers. But there is an important distinction to make between the EMV cards in the U.S., and the EMV cards used in Europe.
The new microchipped credit cards that we’ve been receiving in the U.S. are mostly “chip and sign”, rather than “chip and PIN”. They require a signature for verification, just like our old “swipe and sign” cards. That won’t cause you any problems here, where our new card readers are prepared to accept both versions. But at self-service kiosks or ATMs in Europe, you might run into some issues if you don’t have a PIN.
credit card types
Or, you might not have a problem. MasterCard and Visa have said that “chip and sign” cards should still work abroad, and Rick Steves doesn’t seem too concerned, but my personal experience makes me skeptical. Many of the ATMs or the new portable card readers that were presented to me in Europe did not have a place for a signature, and were not able to bypass the PIN requirement. (Another way the EMV cards prevent fraud is at restaurants, where servers used to take your credit card out of your sight to run it through their POS – giving any less-than-upstanding servers the perfect opportunity to write down your credit card information for later use. Now, the card readers are brought to the table for customers to enter their PIN directly.) And trust me, nothing compares to the feeling of trying to buy a train ticket from a kiosk while the train is approaching, only to panic when asked for PIN that you don’t have.
Besides, even if mag-stripe or “chip and sign” cards can be accepted in Europe, it doesn’t guarantee that they will be. We ran into a few store owners and restaurant servers who had the technology to accept my old magnetic-stripe MasterCard, but still refused to do so for their own protection. Others simply didn’t know how to process non-chip credit cards, and couldn’t complete the transaction. I had to endure a few embarrassing incidents when a friend had to cover my meal because I couldn’t use my “swipe” credit card to pay my bill at a restaurant, or when had to sheepishly abandon two bags of groceries upon learning that the Lidl or Aldi I was shopping at would not accept my credit card. So, although you certainly might be able to get by in Europe without a “chip and PIN” card, you may find it to be a major inconvenience.
But the good news is – preventing such headache and humiliation before your next trip is actually pretty easy. If you’re not sure whether your new EMV card is “chip and sign” or “chip and PIN”, the easiest way to find out is to call your bank and ask. If it turns out that you have a “chip-and-sign” card, then you’re already halfway there– all you have to do is ask the bank for a PIN. Be warned that you might still run into a few issues at self-service kiosks (gas pumps, train stations, etc.), but these can often be solved by finding an attendant or cashier to help you.
If you’re really concerned about not having a true “chip and PIN” card for your next travel adventure, you may be able to get one—ask your bank if they can offer one, or check out this handy U.S. chip card guide. Here’s another helpful resource for finding “chip and PIN” options at decent rates.
A Few Last Pieces of Advice
Bring more than one credit / debit card with you! Upon landing in Denmark, I tried to buy a bus ticket at the airport, but my debit card simply would not work at any of the kiosks. I could’ve easily been stranded in Copenhagen with no access to money and no means of calling my bank to sort out the problem. Fortunately, my other credit card did work, so I was able to happily proceed with my trip.
If you are worried that your card might not be accepted, withdraw some cash ahead of time. The panic I felt while trying to purchase a train ticket from a kiosk in Colchester (as the last train of the night approached the platform) might have been easily avoided if I’d just withdrawn a few extra pounds to use at the ticket kiosk. Fortunately, one of my friends was able to spot me.
When in doubt, ask first! It didn’t take long for me to learn that the simplest way to make sure my credit card was going to work at a shop or restaurant was to ask someone first. Even though I didn’t speak any of the languages that I encountered in Europe, all I had to do upon walking into the grocery store was to greet a clerk with a smile, make a swiping motion in midair with my credit card, and then look at the clerk inquisitively. They either understood what I was asking and nodded “yes” or “no”, or they would respond with a motion of inserting an imaginary chip card into a reader, at which point I would thank them and leave.
Still have questions? Check out these additional resources:
Rick Steves – Chip and PIN cards
LA Times – Chip and PIN? Chip and signature? Here’s what travelers need to know
TIME – Here’s why your credit card now has a chip and why you should care – Will your credit card work abroad?
US News – Chip and PIN cards to consider before traveling to Europe – American travelers’ guide to chip-and-PIN cards