Coronavirus (COVID-19) Frequently Asked Questions

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

Our staff in the U.S. and in Europe are working around the clock to gather and communicate the latest information about how these recent events might impact your travel plans. We ask that you bear with us as we work to quickly find solutions for each unique individual situation. Please know that we are doing all we can to answer calls and respond to messages as fast as possible. Your patience and understanding is greatly appreciated!

RECENT ANNOUNCEMENTS

June 15, 2020: Our physical office has reopened to staff and to visitors by appointment only. Please contact us if you’d like to make an appointment. Visitors will be required to wear a mask, follow social distancing guidelines, and comply with a few additional safety measures to protect the health of our team and other clients. Our hours of operation are Monday – Thursday from 10 AM to 4 PM

Vacation Department

Group Tours Department

Moving forward, our hours of operation will be Monday – Thursday from 10 AM to 4 PM. 

As we adjust to these new circumstances, know that we will do our best to respond to you as quickly as possible, and please bear with us while we seek solutions and options.

CANCELLATION PENALTIES FOR WITTE TOURS

On March 1, 2020, Witte Tours opted to freeze all cancellation penalties for Witte-operated tours departing in 2020. This means that all cancellation penalty fees* will not increase after March 1st, as was previously stated in each tour’s terms and conditions. Therefore, you can comfortably wait to make any decisions about your trip without fear of incurring additional costs. Learn more about our Peace of Mind booking policies.

*The cancellation penalty freeze noted above refers to the fee that Witte Tours would apply if you choose to cancel your booking. Special arrangements such as business class upgrades, flight deviations, or extended stays may incur additional penalties.

CANCELLATION PENALTIES FOR WITTE TRAVEL

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.

WARNING AGAINST SCAMS

It is an unfortunate truth that some unscrupulous individuals will take advantage of opportunities to scam travelers during times of uncertainty by preying on their fears. There have been reports within the travel industry that an anonymous phone number was calling travelers “on behalf of your local travel agent” to offer extended cancel-for-any-reason travel insurance for an upcoming trip. When the caller was asked to provide the name of the travel agent and the travel destination, the caller simply hung up.

Please be on alert for potential scams. If you receive any communication from Witte Travel & Tours that seems suspicious or unusual, we encourage you to ask questions before providing any information, or simply hang up the phone and contact our office for verification.

WHAT IS THE CORONAVIRUS?

Coronavirus (also known as COVID-19) is part of a large group of viruses. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) list the following as symptoms of coronavirus, which may appear 2-14 days after exposure:

  • Respiratory symptoms
  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath

Severe cases can cause more serious symptoms such as pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and kidney failure. (Read more about symptoms here.)

WHAT MEASURES IS WITTE TRAVEL & TOURS TAKING TO MONITOR THE SPREAD OF CORONAVIRUS AND ENSURE THE SAFETY OF ALL PASSENGERS?

  • 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 daily 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.

DOES AIRLINE TRAVEL INCREASE MY RISK OF CONTRACTING THE CORONAVIRUS?

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.

IF I CHOOSE TO CANCEL MY TRAVEL PLANS, WILL I GET A REFUND?

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. Generally speaking, it is unlikely that you will receive a full refund if you cancel your trip due to the fear of contracting COVID-19, even if you have purchased travel insurance. 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 at least 8-12 weeks for your refund to be processed.

WILL MY TOUR BE CANCELLED? IF SO, WHAT WILL HAPPEN NEXT?

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.

Do I need to make my next scheduled payment?

Witte-Operated Tours: If your tour is scheduled to operate as planned, continue to make payments as outlined in your tour brochure. All cancellation penalties for tours departing in 2020 have been frozen, so you can be confident in receiving the rest of your money back if your tour does not travel. Learn more about our Peace of Mind booking policies.

All Other Travel: Some travel providers have modified their payment plans to extend final payment deadlines. If your final payment is due within the next four weeks, contact your travel advisor to see if there have been any revisions to your payment schedule; otherwise, continue to make payments as planned. If your final payment is not made by the due date, you could risk your booking being canceled for non-payment.

CAN I RESCHEDULE MY TRIP / TOUR?

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.

WHAT CAN I DO TO AVOID GETTING SICK?

Coronavirus disease is primarily spread person-to-person between people who are in close contact (within 6 feet) or through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. It may be possible to contract the virus from a surface or object that has the virus on it, and then touching the face—but that is not believed to be the primary method of contraction. (Read more about how the virus spreads here.)

The CDC recommends that the best way to prevent illness is to minimize your exposure to COVID-19 with a few simple but effective measures, such as:

  • Maintain at least six feet of distance between yourself and other people whenever possible
  • Wear a mask in public settings and when around people who don’t live in your household. The mask should cover your nose and mouth, and it is meant to protect other people in case you may be infected.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after coughing, sneezing or blowing your nose. Use hand sanitizer if soap and water are not readily available.

(Read more about prevention and treatment here.)

WHAT HAPPENS IF I DO GET SICK?

If you develop a fever or symptoms of a respiratory illness (such as a cough or difficulty breathing), call ahead to a healthcare professional immediately and inform them of your symptoms. They will determine if you need to be tested for COVID-19 and will provide further instructions for preventing the spread of the virus to others.

If you are diagnosed with COVID-19 or experience symptoms that you suspect may be related, it is important that you take every measure to prevent the disease from spreading to other people around you. Read more about what to do if you are sick here.

MY HEALTH INSURANCE PLAN OFFERS MEDICAL BENEFITS WHILE TRAVELING. DO I STILL NEED TO PURCHASE TRAVEL INSURANCE?

If you are planning an international trip, 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. There are three types of travel insurance that you should consider if you are planning an international trip:

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.  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. 

Travel Health 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.

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.

(Read more about the CDC’s recommendations related to travel insurance here.)


SOURCES

CDC – Advice for Travelers: https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/page/traveler-information-center

CDC – (COVID-19) Travel FAQs: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/travelers/faqs.html

WHO – (COVID-19) Advice for the Public: https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/advice-for-public

WHO – (COVID-19) Travel Advice: https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/travel-advice

WHO – Updated recommendations for international traffic in relation to the COVID-19 outbreak: https://www.who.int/ith/2019-nCoV_advice_for_international_traffic-rev/en/

Coronavirus COVID-19 Global Cases by Johns Hopkins CSSE: https://gisanddata.maps.arcgis.com/apps/opsdashboard/index.html#/bda7594740fd40299423467b48e9ecf6

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!

The REAL ID Act

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.


FURTHER INFORMATION

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?

Bread

  • 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

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
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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
Bankrate.com – Will your credit card work abroad?
US News – Chip and PIN cards to consider before traveling to Europe
CreditCards.com – American travelers’ guide to chip-and-PIN cards