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  • Choose the right itinerary and ship for you
    The first step in planning your cruise vacation is choosing the cruise line that fits your lifestyle. While all offer great food, service and entertainment, each cruise line is unique in its own way. During the planning stages, consider asking yourself the following questions:

        What do you like/dislike about your past land-based vacations? Although cruising is very different from a land-based vacation, what you like to do on these vacations could translate into what you would enjoy on a cruise.
         What type of accommodations do you prefer? If you enjoy a quaint, intimate bed and breakfast and low-key atmosphere you may like a small ship experience such as is found on a Uniworld River Cruise.
        If you love to vacation at a large, sprawling resort with lots of activities to choose from, you would probably enjoy a large-ship experience and may want to try Royal Caribbean's Oasis of the Seas.
        What is your favorite hotel/resort? A lot of what you love about your favorite resort can be compared to specific cruise lines. For instance, if you prefer to stay at a Ritz Carlton, you would probably enjoy the six- star fleet of Regent Seven Seas or the luxurious Crystal Cruise Line.
        Do you enjoy exploring nature or do you prefer to spend most of your time onsite at the hotel/resort property? If you like to explore the destination and get in touch with nature you should experience a small-ship sailing, providing guests with an intimate experience with Mother Nature. If you prefer to participate in resort activities and events, large cruise ships will have something to suit everyone!
        Are you looking for a family experience? Many cruise lines offer kid and teen areas with a plethora of activities to keep them busy. Disney Cruise Line is known for providing a magical journey for all ages.

    Decide what kind of cruise suits your pace and interests. Ports of call on most cruises allow for one day in each port. If you're interested in doing in- depth sightseeing, inquire whether your cruise offers pre- or post-cruise extensions. These packages usually include a few nights at a hotel in your port of embarkation or debarkation. It's a great way to make the most of your sightseeing time, and your package often includes tours, meals, or special events.

    For more in-depth land exploration, a cruise-tour may be your style. Part of your itinerary will be spent cruising with several port stops, and then you'll disembark for a land tour with overnight stays in hotels.

    Expedition cruises focus less on luxury (though amenities are at your disposal) and more on adventure, education, and exploration. Your destinations may be more exotic, out-of-the-way places like Antarctica or the Galapagos Islands. Generally, your vessel will be smaller in order to navigate the narrower passages large cruise vessels cannot reach. Nature is a common focus, and your cruise line may feature onboard naturalists who will conduct lectures, present slide shows, and guide shore expeditions. Other themes may be archaeology, marine wildlife, or astronomy.

    Theme cruises are offered on vessels both large and small. Topics can include Big Band music (with well-known musicians and celebrities aboard to set the rhythm!), bridge tournaments, and health.

    River cruises may be aboard barges, steamers, ferries, and old-time Mississippi paddle boats. Increasingly popular, however, are river cruises on major European waterways, such as the Rhine and Danube rivers, aboard specially designed deluxe ships. Service is more personalized than on giant ocean liners - and with only about 150 passengers aboard, there is special camaraderie and unique ambiance.

    Choosing the right style cruise for you
    Consider the many differences in cruise experiences among various cruise lines - in addition to price. Atmosphere is a critical distinguishing factor. Ask your AAA travel professional about the general style of the ship: Elegant? Casual? Cozy? Oriented towards mature travelers, young singles, or families? Does it offer older ship elegance or newer ship chic? These issues have a big impact on your overall enjoyment of the cruise.

    The number of passengers a ship holds affects possibilities for socializing, service, convenience (waiting in lines for events), and general atmosphere. Ask about the crew-to-passenger ratio; the higher the ratio, the better your service is likely to be.

    Larger ships often cannot dock right in the port. In these cases, your ship will anchor at sea, and ferry you to shore by tender. These small crafts make frequent round trips, so you can get back aboard ship at various times. Just ask a crew member for the schedule. The inconvenience of tendering ashore may be offset by the other advantages of a large ship. This is a matter of personal preference.

    Which cruise line is right for you?
    Will you be using spa services? Many ships have an onboard spa, but the services they offer vary. Celebrity Cruises offers a wealth of products to enhance your well-being from seaweed wraps to acupuncture and has the largest spa afloat, AquaSpa.

    What is your space ratio tolerance? Space ratio compares the total public space of a cruise ship to passenger capacity. A high space ratio indicates and roomy ship. If you enjoy meeting new people around every corner and don't mind public areas full of new faces, you may enjoy a Carnival Cruise. For a more intimate experience with your party and a little more elbow room, a high-end cruise line with a higher space ratio would fit the bill.

    Are you interested in educational offerings? You may enjoy Cunard's Cultural Enrichment Program or Holland America Line's Culinary Arts Center classes and seminars.

    Do you like adventure and new athletic experiences? Select Royal Caribbean ships feature an ice skating rink, Flowrider® surf park, boxing ring, miniature golf course, bungee trampoline and rock climbing wall.

    Would you like a more formal, grand experience? Cunard's guests get to experience the golden age of trans-Atlantic cruising where you can get dressed up to dance in the biggest ballroom at sea, have high tea and attend a workshop presented by an Oxford professor.

    Consider the trade-offs when choosing your cabin location
    Know what to look for when you choose your cabin. On larger vessels, most people prefer outside cabins because they feature portholes or windows. These are more expensive than inside cabins. But be aware that your cabin may look out onto a lifeboat or, if on a promenade deck, have windows that passers-by can look into. River cruise ships generally offer outside cabins only. Depending on the ship, cabin sizes may range from standard size with a picture window to suites with an outside balcony. The size of rooms within the same price category may vary according to their location. Bear in mind that your cabin is not a hotel room and will consequently be much smaller. Generally, the larger the ship, the larger the cabin. Also, some older ships that were built for long transoceanic crossings tend to have larger staterooms. Diesel-powered ships may vibrate towards the stern. You may save money by requesting a cabin towards the bow, but be prepared for occasional morning noises (such as the anchor being lowered or raised).

    Select the dinner seating that best fits your needs
    On river cruise ships and many small ships, breakfast and lunch are generally served buffet style, and for dinner, travelers dine at one seating, in an open seating plan. Tables are not assigned, so travelers can choose their own dining companions at each meal.

    On larger cruise ships, there are generally two seatings: Early is around 6:00 p.m., late around 8:00 p.m. Some cruise lines now offer open dining, with no assigned seating. You will sit at an assigned table of 4, 6, or 8 for the duration of your cruise. Some diners prefer the late seating because it tends to be less rushed because diners won't be whisked out to make room for the next shift, and it allows a longer day on shore. On the other hand, early seatings leave you more time for evening shipboard activities - you'll be first in line for top seats at entertainment.

    On larger ships, as soon as you get on board, look for the confirmation of your dining assignment. If this card is not in your cabin, go directly to the office of the Chief Dining Steward or Maitre d'. Even if you've given your dining preferences to your travel agent, these are simply requests and are not confirmed until you board. Though you may have requested a table for 4, perhaps your table companions are not interested in this arrangement. It's wise to ask the Maitre d' discreetly if he can change your assignment. Make these requests as early in the cruise as possible.

    Bear in mind that wine and other alcoholic beverages are not usually included. If you order a bottle of wine with dinner, it's customary to offer some to your table-mates. They hopefully will do the same the next evening.

    Tell your cruise line about any special dietary needs
    Notify your cruise line in advance of your need for vegetarian, kosher, or low-salt meals, or any other special dietary needs. Most cruise ships can accommodate you with special meals.

    Notify your cruise director if you are diabetic
    Prior to departure, request refrigeration services on your cruise ship if you are insulin dependent.

    Find out the right attire for your cruise
    Small ship travel tends to be informal, which is one of its attractions. However, you should plan your attire to correspond with your ship's ambiance. For example, you may be familiar with large cruise lines, which offer gala events requiring tuxedos or dark suits for men, gowns or cocktail dresses for women. There are usually two formal nights for every seven days at sea. "Informal" means that men should wear a sports jacket and tie, and ladies, a dress or good pants suit. Every day aboard these vessels, you receive a bulletin indicating the dress for the evening. Aboard river ships and many small ships, on the other hand, dress is generally casual, so you can leave your tuxedos and cocktail dresses at home. "Casual" indicates that open-necked, short-sleeved shirts for men and slacks for women are permissible. No matter what cruise ship you are sailing on, shorts or bathing suits should not be worn in the main dining room. (You can sometimes wear shorts at breakfast.)

    Decide if you want help finding a roommate if you're traveling solo
    Compare the single supplement offered by the cruise lines you're considering if you're traveling solo. Some cruise lines also offer a service that helps you avoid the single supplement by matching you with a roommate.

    Pack appropriately
    As on a land tour, plan to dress in layers, as temperatures may vary widely during your voyage. No matter what kind of weather you anticipate, slip a windbreaker or light jacket with a nylon shell into your suitcase. It will come in handy, particularly if it becomes breezy on deck. Also, because space on small ships is limited, you may want to consider packing a soft-sided duffel bag instead of conventional luggage. That way, you can stow away your bag easily under a bed or in your cabin closet.

    What to wear? What to bring?
    Most cruise lines offer guidelines of how many casual, informal and formal nights will be onboard, but what exactly do these categories mean? These meanings vary by cruise line. Holland America, Crystal and Cunard offer a more upscale cruise, with an equivalent dress code. Disney, Carnival and Princess are a little more flexible. Here is a basic dress code guideline to follow:

        Formal-Tuxedo or suit and tie for men and an evening gown or cocktail dress for women.
        Informal-A suit or sport coat and slacks (a tie is optional) for men and a cocktail dress or pantsuit for women.
        Casual-Slacks and a collared sport shirt or button-down shirt for men and a casual dress or pantsuit for women.

    Don't worry if you forget to pack your formal outfit. Most ships have rental tuxedos and gowns. Don't feel like dressing up on formal night? Alternative dining options are usually available. Most dining rooms do not allow shorts or swimsuits, but otherwise casual resort wear is acceptable throughout the day. Make sure to pack a few bathing suits so you will always have a dry one. You will also want to pack a jacket or sweater, even on a tropical cruise, where dining rooms, common areas, and deck areas in the evening can be quite cool. For an Alaska cruise, you'll want to bring hiking shoes and clothes that work in layers for shore excursions. Pack your cruise documents, passport, swimsuit, medication and any other essentials in your carry-on so you are sure to have them if your luggage is lost. If you are traveling with a companion, you may want to split up your items among two checked bags, so that if one bag does not make it to the ship, you both will have something to wear. A good suggestion is to pack items you can re- wear. If you run out of clean clothes, most ships have laundry services on board. If you feel you do not have appropriate clothing, you can always pick something up while in port. Just be sure not to buy so much that your suitcase exceeds the allowed weight limit for your airline or you may have to pay an extra fee!

    Other items you may need:
        Sunscreen
        Hat
        Sunglasses
        Reading glasses and reading material
        Comfortable shoes
        Exercise clothes
        Swimsuit cover-up
        Camera
        MP3 Player
        Sea Bands
        Visa TravelMoney card

    Ensure smooth sailing by planning ahead
    Plan ahead. Cruise to the destination you desire at the price you want by booking several months before your desired departure date. Book shore excursions early. Ensure you get your first choice of shore excursions by booking prior to sailing.

    Check-in online prior to setting sail - it will expedite the boarding process and allow you to start enjoying your cruise faster. You may check-in online no matter which way you booked the cruise. Online check-in must take place no later than three days prior to cruising. In order to complete online check-in, you will need:
        Personal information for each guest in your party
        Identification document information (such as a passport)
        Cruise loyalty membership number (if you have one)
        Onboard expense account information- the credit card that is authorized to be charged for onboard expenses

    At the pier
    Guests who check in online will have a designated area for documentation validation at the pier. You will need to have your cruise confirmation you received when you checked in online, identification documents (proof of citizenship) for each guest and a credit card for your onboard expense account. Some cruise lines will not accept a debit card for the onboard expense account.

    New government regulations
    Cruise lines departing from the United States are required to submit final departure passenger manifests at least 60 minutes prior to sailing. Many cruise lines require you to check in at least 90 minutes in advance of the sailing time. If you have not completed online check-in, you will be required to complete the check-in process at the pier two hours prior to sailing time. Guests arriving late will not be permitted to sail.

    Perfect for family vacations
    Cruises offer something for all ages, so families can have fun together all in one vacation spot. Cruises make learning fun, treat both kids and adults like VIPs and offer the best family vacation value. Budgeting for a family vacation is easier since almost all of the major costs of a cruise are paid up front in the base price, plus children's pricing may be available. A cruise ship is like a big all-inclusive resort, except it moves across the water, providing a new playground for your family each day. Many cruise lines have developed extensive kids' programs with specific activities tailored to the interests and needs of each age group. Activities, including treasure hunts, water games, crafts, movies and special parties, are offered under the direction of highly trained counselors. Even hard-to-please teens will find plenty to enjoy in "clubs" designed just for their age group. In addition to activities for those younger ones, cruise lines do a great job of catering to adults by offering adult-only areas and entertainment. Even Disney Cruise Line offers a separate pool area onboard and beach area on their private island only for adults to enjoy. You can relax in these areas while your child is at the kids' club or at the onboard group babysitting. Keep in mind there may be a fee associated with babysitting. You can also enjoy time together in the many family-friendly public areas. There are cruises to suit any family's time schedule-from an extended weekend getaway to a week or even longer.

    Questions to ask when cruising with kids:
        What are the age restrictions for the cruise line?
        Do my children's ages qualify them for a discount?
        Are special activities and the child care/teen center available when we wish to cruise?
        How are the children's areas supervised? Is the teen center supervised?
        What are the hours, costs and restrictions on the centers?
        What are the requirements for placing a child in the center such as age, vaccinations or potty training?
        Are there any shore excursions scheduled that are geared toward children?
        Is there a babysitting service available?
        Are cribs available? If so, is there a rental fee?
        Are adjoining cabins available?
        Does the menu offer food my children will eat or is there a children's menu available?

    International Cruising
    Hassle-Free Transportation: Cruising mitigates the stress of navigating foreign roads and worrying about train schedules and routes.

    Economical: A cruise is prepaid in U.S. dollars, so you know what you are paying up front and you don't get stuck with high exchange rates. Plus, lodging, meals and entertainment are included on a cruise.

    Efficient: Cruising allows you to see many ports in a short amount of time. Also, you only have to unpack once!

    Fewer Language Barriers: With a cruise you are less likely to experience situations where it is difficult to communicate with locals.

    Families traveling with children: Most cruise lines offer children's programs, allowing kids to explore the ship with others of a similar age.

    Group Travel: Everyone is transported by ship so you won't get lost while traveling to different towns. Also, each person can experience ports as they wish by choosing their own shore excursions.

    Relaxing: Rest during your days at sea so you can take advantage of what each area has to offer while you are in port.

    Take advantage of exercise facilities
    Cruises now offer innovative and fun ways to keep the typical vacation weight gain at bay. Most ships offer gyms with state-of-the-art equipment and the latest fitness classes including step aerobics, spinning, yoga and Pilates. Check with your cruise line to see if a charge applies. Some ships even offer celebrity trainers. In addition, many offer enrichment through onboard wellness lectures, healthy dining tips and nutrition seminars. Soak up the sun while getting fit at the onboard track, basketball and volleyball courts and rock climbing wall. Royal Caribbean even offers self-guided running maps for some cruise ports. If all else fails, just take the stairs instead of the elevator.

    Want to make your vacation all about fitness? Try a fitness cruise, focused around ways to enhance your nutritional and physical lifestyle.

    Before you leave, be sure to consult your personal physician for any exercise instructions that may apply to you specifically.

    Dining
    Meal times offer a varied selection of appetizing choices including entrées, appetizers, soups, salads and desserts, to satisfy even the pickiest eater. Most cruise lines offer standard dining with assigned seating at an assigned time. In addition to this, many are now offering alternative dining options where guests can choose when, where and with whom they would like to dine.

    Most ships also offer lighter fare. Some cruise ships have a spa café and most have low-fat, heart-healthy and vegetarian dining options. For more intimate dining, try the specialty dining restaurant aboard most ships. These restaurants offer an even more elevated level of quality and service for a small fee. Be sure to make reservations when you embark the ship as they usually fill up fast. In addition to the main dining areas, larger ships may offer pizzerias, sushi bars, poolside grills and ice cream stations.

    Communicate with home
    In most cases, you can phone home when you're at sea by calling from your cabin or the ship's radio room using radiotelephone or satellite. Satellite calls are clearer but more costly. When in port, you must use local phone facilities or your cell phone. On some small ships, you can send email home. Or, on shore, look for an Internet cafe or cyber café wherever you go.

    Tip the ship's staff appropriately
    Refer to the information provided by your cruise line for tipping policies. They vary from cruise line to cruise line. Some lines request a single gratuity at the end of your stay to be distributed among all staff. Other lines encourage individual tipping. In general, you can abide by these rules on a large ocean liner (rates are per person, per day): Dining room waiter, $3- $4; Busboy, $2-$3; Cabin steward, $3-$4. You may also wish to tip the maitre d' if he has rendered any particular service. If your travel company provides a cruise escort, he or she usually receives $4-$6 per person, per day. You should also include tips for cruise staff in your planning if you're embarking on a small ship cruse, such as a river cruise, where gratuities are usually not included. The average tip of $10 to $12 per day per traveler is customary and given at the end of the cruise. The cruise staff, in turn, will pool this among the cruise staff.

    Run a tab for convenience
    If you use the ship's barber or hairdresser, or purchase optional shore excursions, photos from the ship's photographer (if there is one), or drinks from the bar, you can simply charge them to your cabin on most cruises. A bill will be presented at the end of the cruise to be paid before you disembark. Look for instructions in your cabin for setting up an account.

    Know where your hotel is on cruise-tours
    Be sure you know where your hotel is located, if a hotel stay is part of your cruise program. Hotel employees can give you advice about the local public transportation system and taxis.

    Learn the correct nautical term
    Here are the most common ones:

        Aft: near, toward, or at the rear of the vessel
        Midships: at the middle of the ship
        Bow: the forwardmost part of the ship
        Bridge: the navigational command center of the ship
        Free port: a port where no customs or duties are levied
        Galley: the ship's kitchen
        Leeward: the side sheltered from the wind
        Port: the left side of the ship when facing forward
        Starboard: the right side of the ship when facing forward
        Stern: the rearmost part of the ship
        Tender: a small craft used to ferry passengers from ship to shore
        Windward: the side towards which the wind blows

    What is small ship cruising?
    Small ship cruising has emerged as the most popular trend in travel today. It's a way to enjoy travel "up close," with the ability to visit smaller, less "touristy" ports of call and to sail into bays and channels closed to giant ocean liners.

    How is a small ship defined?
    A small ship is a vessel with a capacity of 400 passengers or less. This category is broad, including small ocean liners, river ships, yachts, clipper ships under sail, expedition vessels, and even paddle wheelers.

    What are the benefits of small ship cruising?
    Small ships can navigate harbors and ports where larger ships simply cannot go. Further, small ships can often dock right in the center of things, rather than anchor at an industrial pier far from city centers and attractions.

    When embarking a small ship cruise, you unpack at arrival and settle into your cabin. You can relax and forget about the tiresome details of travel, such as putting your baggage out in the morning, or worrisome transfer schedules and long bus rides to the next destination. You are free to enjoy your cruise in a relaxing, take-it-easy style while traveling from port to port.

    A congenial atmosphere surrounds you from the moment you step on board. Aboard a small vessel, you'll get to know your shipmates, and crew, quickly and easily. The atmosphere is friendly and casual, making it conducive to good times and forming lasting friendships. Plus, the smaller size of the whole ship's operation means that you'll get more personalized, attentive service.

  • Are we there yet?
    Family vacations can create long-lasting memories and be a nice bonding experience for children and parents. Road trips are ideal for traveling with youngsters, but keeping them occupied can be a challenge. Many parents now have the luxury of popping in a DVD or having kids plug into an MP3. There are still many other creative ways to keep your kids entertained and keep your sanity in check. Just follow these simple tips.

    Prepare for the trip
    Create anticipation with a countdown calendar.

    Let your kids help plan the trip. They will enjoy helping to choose the destination after reading options you provide, selecting the route and side trips with fun things to see and do on the way, and when old enough they can help navigate.

    Let kids pack their own bags.

    Ask kids to bring music and allot time to listen to each one's favorites.

    Visit your local AAA store for a variety of children's travel activities including books, puzzles and educational games.

    On the road
    Give your children a map so they can help chart your progress.

    Make it comfortable with pillows and blankets.

    Stop frequently to relieve physical tension and rekindle interest.

    Pack a ball, Frisbee or jump rope for a few minutes of playtime at rest stops.

    Prepare surprise treat bags and let the kids pick a treat approximately every hour.

    Bring activity bags with reading material, coloring books, electronic games and stuffed animals. Books about the destination usually spark kids' interest.

    Play games such as I Spy and 20 Questions, count how many states are represented on license plates and identify landmarks to represent each letter of the alphabet.

    At your destination
    Collect items while on vacation such as brochures and ticket stubs and have your children make a scrapbook.

    Have a daily schedule, but plan some free time for each family member.

    Send postcards to friends and family back home.

    Never let children venture off alone, especially if your vacation includes a trip to a pool, ocean or any place involving water.

    Apply sunscreen with at least 30 SPF.

    Keeping driving fun requires creativity and it takes time to gather and pack materials. This foresight and planning is well worth the effort when you have children who are less bored and you hear less complaints. Keep your children looking forward to your next road trip by helping them to discover that half the fun is getting there!

    Cruises are perfect for multi-generational family vacations.
    Cruises offer something for all ages, so families can have fun together all in one vacation spot. Cruises make learning fun, treat both kids and adults like VIPs and offer the best family vacation value. Budgeting for a family vacation is easier since almost all of the major costs of a cruise are paid up front in the base price, plus children's pricing may be available. A cruise ship is like a big all-inclusive resort, except it moves across the water, providing a new playground for your family each day. Many cruise lines have developed extensive kids' programs with specific activities tailored to the interests and needs of each age group. Activities, including treasure hunts, water games, crafts, movies and special parties, are offered under the direction of highly trained counselors. Even hard-to-please teens will find plenty to enjoy in "clubs" designed just for their age group. In addition to activities for those younger ones, cruise lines do a great job of catering to adults by offering adult-only areas and entertainment. Even Disney Cruise Line offers a separate pool area onboard and beach area on their private island only for adults to enjoy. You can relax in these areas while your child is at the kids' club or at the onboard group babysitting. Keep in mind there may be a fee associated with babysitting. You can also enjoy time together in the many family-friendly public areas. There are cruises to suit any family's time schedule-from an extended weekend getaway to a week or even longer.

    Questions to ask when cruising with kids:

    What are the age restrictions for the cruise line?

    Do my children's ages qualify them for a discount?

    Are special activities and the child care/teen center available when we wish to cruise?

    How are the children's areas supervised? Is the teen center supervised?

    What are the hours, costs and restrictions on the centers?

    What are the requirements for placing a child in the center such as age, vaccinations or potty training?

    Are there any shore excursions scheduled that are geared toward children?

    Is there a babysitting service available?

    Are cribs available? If so, is there a rental fee?

    Are adjoining cabins available?

    Does the menu offer food my children will eat or is there a children's menu available?

    Start an exercise regimen several weeks before your trip
    Build your flexibility and stamina gradually before you leave. After all, carrying suitcases, prolonged sitting, standing or walking, unfamiliar beds, and other activities to which you're unaccustomed can aggravate aches and pains. Walking and stretching exercises will help you get ready. You'll probably find it so enjoyable that it will become part of your lifestyle.

    Catch up on your sleep
    Try to get as much sleep as possible before you leave on your trip.

    Protect your eyes
    Bring sunglasses that deflect 100% of ultraviolet rays. You also may want to bring eye drops for bright days, long flights, and hot/dry environments.

    Have your feet tested for orthotic inserts in your shoes
    Look for a good fit and firm arch support. Sports stores also sell insoles for running shoes that can make any shoe more comfortable. Once you have them, you won't believe you ever lived without them!

    Bring your medical history
    Start early in obtaining your medical history, if necessary for your trip; it will probably take some time to do. Beyond the basics, be sure to include the generic names and dosages of current medications, your blood type, reasons for prior hospitalization, and a list of drug allergies. If you have any special health issues, have your doctor prepare your medical history for a foreign doctor. Be sure it includes:

    Your name and address

    Insurance company name and address

    Name and address of person to notify in case of emergency

    Medical history

    Current medications and dosages (generic names)

    Insulin (if diabetic)

    Blood type

    Reasons for prior hospitalization

    List of drug immunizations

    List of drug allergies

    You may also want to carry a medical alert card in your wallet. This is an internationally-recognized card, available at most pharmacies, stating any special medical conditions, allergies, and your blood type. MedicAlert, a nonprofit foundation, will compile whatever medical information you want to give them on their computers. The data can be retrieved via an emergency phone call from anywhere in the world. You'll also be supplied with an identification bracelet. To find out more details and the charge for a membership, contact:

    MedicAlert 2323
    Colorado Ave.
    Turlock, CA 95381
    Call Toll-Free: 1 800 432-5378
    On the Web: www.medicalert.org

    Take copies of prescriptions
    Foreign trade names are often different than those used in the United States and Canada, so ask your doctor or pharmacist for the generic drug name rather than a brand name. You should also carry a prescription for your eyeglasses.

    Take two of everything "medical"
    Take along extras of health-related items, including prescription glasses, contact lenses, and dentures, if possible. Bring along a travelling medical kit which should include not only a sufficient supply of your regular daily medications for the duration of your trip, but also aspirin or aspirin substitute, vitamins, cold tablets, antacids, bowel regulators, spray anesthetic, bandages, and your usual antibiotic.

    Let your tour operator know of special dietary needs
    Notify your tour company in advance of any special dietary needs. Upon receiving your tickets, notify the airline directly of your need for vegetarian, kosher, or low-salt meals.

    If you are diabetic, plan ahead
    See a diabetes professional or your physician before you travel, especially if you have been recently diagnosed or if you are an infrequent traveler. If you are insulin dependent, advise your travel consultant prior to departure so that they may request refrigeration services at hotels and on cruise ships, if necessary. Be sure to get a written prescription for any needles or testing supplies you may have in your carry-on, to have available for TSA screening personnel.

    Get information for traveling with a disability
    If you are physically disabled, get in touch with an information service to help you plan for more comfortable travelling. Your AAA travel professional can help with recommendations as well.
    Contact:
    Travel Information Service Moss Rehabilitation Hospital
    1200 West Tabor Road
    Philadelphia, PA 19141
    On the Web: www.mossresourcenet.org

    Note: Many foreign countries have not enacted legislation such as the ADA to require buildings and other public areas have facilities for the physically challenged traveler. Some stops will include historical sites dating back to antiquity, without modern upgrades to sidewalks or personal facilities. Other towns may have cobble-stoned streets. It is always best to research your destination prior to the trip.

    Get your shots before you leave
    Ask your AAA travel professional what shots and/or vaccinations you will need for your journey. You may also check with The Centers for Disease Control, toll-free: 888.232.3228, or on the Web at www.cdc.gov/travel/ Then, check with your doctor. Some vaccines could cause reactions, so get your shots well in advance.

    See your dentist
    Don't let a toothache interrupt your enjoyment. Schedule a dental checkup before your trip. Always pack aspirin or aspirin substitute. If you are known to have dental problems, you may consider packing Oragel or a similar oral pain reliever.

    Know how to find medical help abroad
    Before you leave on vacation, ask your doctor and dentist for a list of reliable practitioners in the areas you'll be visiting. If you don't have this information while abroad, go to the nearest university teaching-hospital emergency room, or call the U.S. embassy or consulate for a recommendation.

    AAA Travel Guides
    Ask your AAA travel professional, visit a store, call or click (link) to order a AAA travel guide. These informative and education guides provide tips and tricks regarding various types of travel, and featured trips. These are available at no cost to you.

    Background Notes on the Countries of the World
    These brief pamphlets published by the U.S. Department of State, offer facts on the culture, geography, people, history, government, economy, and political conditions of more than 170 different countries. Current Background Notes are available free of charge on the State Department's Web site: www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/

    Know Before You Go
    A booklet on U.S. customs regulations is available free from the U.S. Customs Service, Box 7407, Washington, DC 22044.The information is also available on the Web: www.cbp.gov/xp/cgov/travel/clearing_goods/

    Travel Insurance
    Travel Advisories are available from the State Department's American Citizen's Services. Call (202) 647-5225 or go online to travel.state.govTravel insurance usually covers losses for cancellation or interruption of your trip, some medical care, lost or stolen luggage, natural disasters that impede travel services and financial default of a vendor. Talk to a AAA travel professional about insurance needs for your vacation.

    International Medical Insurance
    Prior to traveling, check your regular medical plan to see if it provides adequate coverage outside the U.S. Ask your AAA travel professional about medical insurance available that is designed specifically for people traveling abroad.

    Theft happens in international areas just as it does in the United States. Use caution and common sense at all times, even if you have never had a problem before. The following tips will help you maintain your safety.

    Use a money belt or under-shirt pouch to hold your passport and extra money.

    Avoid carrying a purse if possible.

    Don't keep your wallet in your back pocket, especially in crowded areas.

    Only carry enough money to get you through the day.

    Leave the rest in a safe if possible.

    Keep your money, credit cards and valuables in separate places.

    Do not use ATMs alone or during nighttime hours.

    Do not wear expensive or flashy jewelry.

    Be aware of your surroundings at all times.

    Take extra precautions in train stations and subways.

    Be wary of groups of locals asking you for help or offering help.

    If using a rental car, hide valuables and keep the car locked.

    Keep a photocopy of your passport in a separate place from your actual one.

    Place valuables in a hotel safe, if it is a reputable hotel.

    Do not leave cameras or bags unattended.

    Avoid confrontation.

  • International Tours
    Tours offer a good value. Tour companies purchase accommodations, meals and transportation in large quantities, which means a greater discount than if you were to purchase these individually.

    Trips are paid for upfront in U.S. dollars, so you don't have to worry about exchange fees.

    Accommodations are at conveniently-located, reputable establishments.

    One upfront cost includes accommodations, some meals, hotel taxes and fees.

    Transportation is taken care of for you, which means you don't have to drive through foreign lands, deal with international car rental or worry about train schedules. This also makes it easier with transporting luggage.

    An experienced tour director will be with you throughout the trip to help deal with any issues that should come up.

    Local guides add to your trip by offering historic facts, local legends and pointing out the best shops and restaurants.

    You are sure to experience 'must-see'' attractions at each location.

    International Cruising
    Hassle-Free Transportation: Cruising mitigates the stress of navigating foreign roads and worrying about train schedules and routes.

    Economical: A cruise is prepaid in U.S. dollars, so you know what you are paying up front and you don't get stuck with high exchange rates. Plus, lodging, meals and entertainment are included on a cruise.

    Efficient: Cruising allows you to see many ports in a short amount of time. Also, you only have to unpack once!

    Fewer Language Barriers: With a cruise you are less likely to experience situations where it is difficult to communicate with locals.

    Families traveling with children: Most cruise lines offer children's programs, allowing kids to explore the ship with others of a similar age.

    Group Travel: Everyone is transported by ship so you won't get lost while traveling to different towns. Also, each person can experience ports as they wish by choosing their own shore excursions.

    Relaxing: Rest during your days at sea so you can take advantage of what each area has to offer while you are in port.

    Bring a phrasebook and language dictionary
    No matter how widely English is spoken, it pays (and is good diplomacy) to learn a few words in the native tongue. Learn basics such as: "Please, Thank you, Please speak slowly, Can you show me in this book, Do you speak English?," etc.

    Learn the customs of a country
    Remember that you are a guest in the country that you are visiting: respect local customs. Being tolerant is more than good manners - it's practical. If you don't pay attention to the customs of the land you're visiting, you may end up thwarting your own plans. Remember that many tropical and Latin countries close everything in the middle of the day for a long siesta ... that many Spanish restaurants are unprepared for diners until 9 p.m. or later in the evening ... that most French restaurants serve the salad last ... and so on. Books, such as Fodor's or Insight Guides, provide good insights into local customs.

    Be observant
    Be prepared for anything. When you leave the United States, don't expect to encounter our way of life again until you return home. Enjoy all the new sights, people, and sounds around you. Try speaking the language, sample the food, ask questions, read their newspaper (an English version may be available), smile a lot, and you will come home a more knowledgeable person with a lifetime of happy memories.

    Travel Insurance
    Travel insurance usually covers losses for cancellation or interruption of your trip, some medical care, lost or stolen luggage, natural disasters that impede travel services and financial default of a vendor. Talk to a AAA travel professional about insurance needs for your vacation.

    International medical insurance
    Prior to traveling, check your regular medical plan to see if it provides adequate coverage outside the U.S. Ask your AAA travel professional about medical insurance available that is designed specifically for people traveling abroad.

    Staying Safe
    Theft happens in international areas just as it does in the United States. Use caution and common sense at all times, even if you have never had a problem before. The following tips will help you maintain your safety.

    Use a money belt or under-shirt pouch to hold your passport and extra money. Avoid carrying a purse if possible.

    Don't keep your wallet in your back pocket, especially in crowded areas.

    Only carry enough money to get you through the day. Leave the rest in a safe if possible.

    Keep your money, credit cards and valuables in separate places.

    Do not use ATMs alone or during nighttime hours.

    Do not wear expensive or flashy jewelry.

    Be aware of your surroundings at all times.

    Take extra precautions in train stations and subways.

    Be wary of groups of locals asking you for help or offering help.

    If using a rental car, hide valuables and keep the car locked.

    Keep a photocopy of your passport in a separate place from your actual one.

    Place valuables in a hotel safe, if it is a reputable hotel.

    Do not leave cameras or bags unattended.

    Avoid confrontation.

    Become familiar with foreign currency
    Estimate how much money you'll need by checking the exchange rates listed in the financial section of your newspaper, or find the latest currency exchanges on the Web: www.xe.net/ucc. AAA members can purchase fee- free foreign currency in advance with AAA, with over 70 foreign currencies available. Your exchange can be shipped directly to your house, or to your AAA store. Note: The "Euro" became the single currency of the European Monetary Union in January 1999. There are now 16 member states: Belgium, Germany, Greece, Spain, Slovenia, Slovakia, France, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Austria, Portugal, Malta, Cyprus, and Finland.

    Purchasing foreign currency
    You may want to purchase small amounts of foreign currency prior to your departure to use for tips, taxis or bus transportation upon your arrival. Foreign currency is available at AAA stores and online at AAA.com.

    Carry "new" money
    Be sure that the small amount of U.S. currency you are carrying is in the newly designed bills - "old" bills are viewed with suspicion abroad because they are highly susceptible to counterfeiting. Carry clean, small U.S. bills.

    Make a conversion chart
    Make a small conversion chart to carry with you as a quick reference. Or bring a calculator or currency converter.

    Verify cash advance and ATM policies
    The best way to obtain cash overseas is with an ATM card. Use an ATM to benefit from the wholesale exchange rate banks use for large scale transactions. Since it has become more difficult to cash traveler's checks in many countries, ATM debit withdrawals and cash advances from major credit cards have become more common. It's the easiest way to obtain currency of the country where you withdraw. To use an ATM card overseas, check your card's network and find out if this network is available in the country you're visiting by asking your bank for a worldwide directory. If the networks match, your card may work overseas. Be sure to check with your U.S. bank to see if your PIN will work abroad and if there are charges for using a foreign ATM. Keep in mind that some banks will levy foreign transaction fees. Cash advances from credit cards are usually subject to interest charges from the day of withdrawal, and at higher interest rates than those used for credit purchases. However, other than the transaction fee, there are no interest charges for an ATM debit card withdrawal.

    Leave personal checks at home
    Be aware that personal checks generally are not accepted overseas. Due to currency exchange rates and check cashing fees, nearly all overseas merchants will refuse personal checks.

    Skip the traveler's checks
    With the prevalence and convenience of ATMs, few travelers use traveler's checks, and fewer merchants accept them, particularly in Europe. If you do plan on using traveler's checks, buy them in U.S. dollar denominations. Exchange them for local currency at a bank or hotel, for the smallest possible amount each time. This way, your money won't be tied up when you enter another country. Be sure to record the numbers of your checks, keeping them in a safe place, apart from the checks themselves.

    Cash in your foreign currency as soon as possible
    If you have a lot of leftover foreign currency, change it back to dollars while you're still in the country of origin. If you have only small bills or coins (usually coins cannot be exchanged), you might keep them as souvenirs, give them to a friend who's going to the same country, or save them for your next trip.

    Using Credit Cards
    Many credit cards can be used worldwide, even for cash advances. Notify your credit card company of your travels prior to departure to avoid a possible fraud alert being placed on your account, and keep track of purchases so you don't exceed your limit. Many banks charge one to three percent on every purchase made in foreign countries for "converting" purchases into U.S. dollars. You may want to check with your credit card company before traveling to see if they charge an exchange fee, and if so what that amount is.

    International and Inter-American Driving Permits
    Find out beforehand about International Driving Permits (IDPs) and any special restrictions on foreign drivers placed by governments or rental companies overseas. Rental companies in some countries (Ireland, for instance) will not allow people over a certain age (generally 70) to rent cars. Contact your local AAA store for complete information or to obtain an international driving permit. The cost is $15 plus tax.

    Renting a car
    When driving a rental car overseas, make sure to obtain a green card or international insurance certificate to prove that you have liability insurance. Most car rental agencies will provide this with the vehicle.

    Familiarize yourself with international road signs
    Get to know the pictorial symbols used in the country you are visiting. Most tourist offices or car rental companies can provide you with a list of signs and symbols you can expect to see. Remember that many European countries (Germany and Italy, for instance) have very high speed limits (some highways have no limits).

    Know kilometer conversions
    Familiarize yourself with the metric system, which is widely used internationally. One kilometer is .62 mile; 100 kilometers equals 62 miles. Also keep in mind that in Europe, gasoline is sold in liters and is much more expensive.

    Don't drive for long periods
    Remember, 100 miles on an American highway and 100 miles over narrow, winding European roads and cobblestone streets are two very different trips.

    Check your cell phone's international calling capabilities
    Investigate whether your cell phone will work overseas. Check with your service provider to see if your phone has tri-band capabilities and that your plan supports these capabilities. As an option, you can purchase a prepaid cell phone abroad. It will be more convenient than using a phone card, and you will be assured that your phone works properly wherever you're calling from. AAA members receive a discount and other benefits when renting an international cell phone from Planetfone. Be aware that leaving a cell phone turned on overseas, even if you are not using it, can lead to exorbitant roaming fees as the phone automatically attempts to check for messages.

    Find out about hotel phone surcharges
    Before calling long distance from your hotel, find out if your hotel belongs to Teleplan, an agreement established by AT&T with many overseas hotel chains and local phone companies. This limits the amount of surcharges the hotel can impose - charges that can otherwise be excessive. It may be less expensive to call collect or use a phone credit card, but even on these calls, your hotel will collect a modest fee for putting the call through. It can also be prudent to have the party in the U.S. call you right back. An economical solution would be to place your call from the phone in the hotel lobby, post office or a public phone - avoiding the hotel surcharge altogether!

    Use email
    Check and send emails from an Internet or cyber café wherever you go. A cyber café may or may not serve drinks or coffee; what they do provide is Internet access so that, for a small hourly fee, you can check your email and send email back home. The savings over international phone rates can be significant. Many hotels now offer Internet access; however, their rates may be much higher than those charged by a café. In any case, make sure you have your user name and password with you!

    Do some preliminary shopping research before you leave
    Make a list of items you want to buy and the sizes you'll need. Then check prices in your local stores. That way, you'll have a basis for comparison. The Born to Shop guides by Susan Schneider Thomas, published by Frommer's, are an excellent resource. Each guide in the series covers a major vacation destination, and offers tips on prices, maps of shopping districts, where to find factory outlets and flea markets, currency conversion charts, and more.

    Bring an extra bag
    Pack a collapsible bag or tote in the bottom of your suitcase to carry home your souvenirs. It will ease your way through customs. For large items, such as rugs, be prepared to pay shipping charges. The store where the item was purchased can usually arrange the transport.

    Pack a few plastic shopping bags
    Take a few plastic shopping bags with you and tuck them into your purse when you shop. In some countries, shopping bags may be unavailable or subject to an extra charge.

    Note airport security regulations on liquids
    Airport security regulations now specify that anything of a liquid or gel nature that you want to pack in your carry-on be in 3-ounce or smaller containers. All liquids, gels and aerosols must be placed in a single, quart- size, zip-top, clear plastic bag. Gallon size bags or bags that are not zip-top such as fold-over sandwich bags are not allowed.

    Check on export restrictions before buying antiques or works of art
    When travelling abroad, before you buy that antique or work of art, make sure you can get it out of the country. Many nations have laws against the export of such items.

    Value-added Tax (VAT)
    Keep track of whether you'll qualify for a value-added tax (VAT) refund. Many nations outside the U.S. impose a VAT on goods and services. Some of them, particularly those belonging to the European Common Market, offer refunds to foreign purchasers.

    Keep in mind that the minimum amount for purchases to qualify for refunds will vary from country to country. For example, the minimum can range from $25 USD in Sweden to $340 USD in Switzerland. Merchants in each country are well versed in which purchases qualify for VAT refunds. If a purchase qualifies for the VAT refund, you must ask for a form at the point of sale. This form needs to be stamped at the airport customs office in the country of purchase before you leave for the U.S. Time permitting, and if the refund office is open, it may be possible to get a refund at the airport. More often, you will be required to mail the stamped form in the specially marked envelope back to the VAT office listed on the form. The refund will take 6-8 weeks for processing. The refund will be made in the same form as the purchase, that is, purchases made by credit card will be refunded to the credit card, and cash purchases will be refunded by a check made out in the currency of the issuing office. Please note that U.S. banks charge fees to cash foreign checks. Unless the refund is significant, this extra time and effort, along with unfavorable currency fluctuations, may actually result in the VAT refund costing you money. It is recommended that major purchases be paid by credit card. If you wish to apply for the refund, be sure to allow extra time at the airport.

    Keep a log of all your purchases
    Include what you paid in foreign currency and the equivalent in U.S. dollars. This will make it easier to fill out customs forms.

    Check to see if tipping is customary
    Learn the tipping customs of your destination. Tipping is expected in most countries. In New Zealand and Japan, most tips are included in the bill. In Europe, the custom varies.

    Have cash available for tips
    Bellmen and chambermaids in hotels that have a foreign exchange desk will accept American bills (not coins), but they prefer local currency.

    Get plenty of local small bills and coins
    Exchange some currency and get plenty of small bills and coins for tips as soon as you enter the country. You won't waste money over tipping for lack of small change

    Ask if gratuities have been included in the restaurant bill
    If the gratuity is included, leave your change, or an additional 3-10%, depending on service or custom.

    Don't worry about whom to tip
    If someone performs a service you appreciate, go ahead and tip. If someone is not deserving of it, don't tip. As a guide, in most hotels, these rates are usual:

    DOORMAN: $1 per bag if he carries your luggage to the desk, 50¢ each for carrying them to the door, $1 for hailing a cab.

    BELLHOP: $2 for showing you into your room and delivering your bags, more if he opens drapes, checks for towels, puts your bags on a rack.

    ROOM SERVICE: $1 for ice and glasses; $2 for drinks; 20% for meals - but always check to see if a gratuity has been included in the bill for meals

    MAID: $2 - $2.50 per day.

    Tip Program Managers, local guides and bus drivers
    Check your tour information to learn if tipping for Program Managers, local guides, and drivers is included in the cost of your trip. In most cases, it is customary to tip the Program Manager at the end of the tour. This is based on the his/her performance, and the customary amount is $5 to $8 per day per person. Local tipping for guides ($2/day) and drivers ($2-4/day) should be provided with your tour information package.

    Be prepared
    As soon as you leave the plane, have your passport and any receipts for items purchased abroad handy.

    Know the regulations
    Be aware that there's a limit to the amount of duty-free merchandise you can bring home with you. Generally, each U.S. citizen may bring in $800 worth of merchandise duty-free; the next $1000 is taxed at only 10%. There are extra allowances for items from certain favored nations (underdeveloped countries) and U.S. possessions. If you've been out of the country within the past 30 days and already claimed your $800 exemption, or have been gone for less than 48 hours, you are allowed to claim only $25 worth of duty-free goods. The $800 per person duty-free allowance applies only to items you carry home with you. All items mailed home are subject to duty. A package, however, mailed home and marked unsolicited gift with a value (also indicated) of $50 or less will not be subject to duty. Appropriate mailing forms are available at foreign post offices.

    Bring a receipt or proof of purchase if you bring valuable imported goods
    When you bring valuable imported goods with you on a trip, bring a receipt or other proof of purchase. Otherwise, customs agents may try to impose a duty. (Register cameras or appliances that have serial numbers, with customs before you leave. If your jewelry is insured or appraised, a copy of relevant documents may be helpful. Even your foreign designer originals may be suspect; if receipts are missing, ask your dry cleaner for a descriptive letter.)

    Be aware of prohibited goods
    Don't bring home fruits, meats, vegetables, or liquids. Also, any goods made in Cuba, even if purchased in another country, are prohibited. Traveler's tips on bringing food products into the U.S. are available on the Customs Service's website:
    www.cbp.gov/xp/cgov/travel/clearing_goods/agri_prod_inus.xml

    Avoid items made from endangered wildlife
    Be aware that many items made from endangered wildlife are not permitted in the U.S.:

    Furs from spotted cats

    Furs from marine animals

    All products made from sea turtles

    All ivory, both Asian and African

    Feathers and feather products from wild birds

    All live and stuffed birds from Australia, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico, Paraguay, Venezuela, and some Caribbean countries

    Most crocodile and caiman leather

    Most coral

    Passports are required for travel outside the U.S.
    Several months before you depart, be sure you have an updated passport. Certain countries will not allow you to enter, nor will grant you a visa, if your passport is due to expire less than six months beyond your travel date. If you need a new passport, visit your local AAA store for a passport picture at a nominal fee.

    Passports are now required for entry into and return from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Bermuda.

    Applying for a Passport
    If you do not have a passport, apply for one in person as soon as possible. Demand on the U.S. Passport Office has been at unprecedented levels, so it is recommended to apply at least six months prior to the start of your trip. To facilitate the process, you will need the following: proof of citizenship, such as a certified or original birth certificate with a raised seal, or a naturalization certificate; a recent photo ID card such as state driver's license, to verify your identity; two recent two-inch by two-inch color photographs, available with a member discount from AAA; and a completed official passport application. You can get a passport application from your nearest AAA location, federal or state courthouse, U.S. post office or online from www.travel.state.gov/passport. A new passport is valid for ten years.

    How to get a passport:
    1. Obtain official passport photos from your local AAA store for a nominal fee.

    2. Fill out the passport application, which can be found online at www.travel.state.gov/passport, at your local post office or at your local AAA store.

    3. Turn in your application, passport photos, a certified copy of your birth certificate and the passport application fee to your local passport facility.

    For more information, contact a AAA travel professional, visit www.travel.state.gov/passport, or call the National Passport Information Center toll-free at (877) 487-2778 or TDD/TYY: (888) 874-7793.

    Renewing a Passport
    Renewal of passports may be done through the mail if the passport has not been expired for more than 15 years. Forms are available at your nearest AAA location, federal or state courthouse, U.S. post office or online at .. Important: Non-U.S. and Canadian citizens must check with the embassy of the country or countries of destination for passport and visa requirements. For detailed information, visit the U.S. State Department's website: www.travel.state.gov/passport.

    Record Passport Information
    Record your passport number and the date and place of issue, and retain this information in your wallet. It is also a good idea to photocopy of the first few pages of your passport. Remember to keep this copy with you on your trip, but separate from your real passport. If your passport is lost or stolen, immediately notify the nearest American embassy or consulate and the local police.

    Provide for Passport Safety
    Never pack your passport in your luggage. Keep it with you, on your person travelling and locked away in a hotel or ship's safe during your stay. Never surrender it to an unauthorized stranger. If you keep your passport in a suit jacket pocket, consider sewing an extra button or Velcro strip to keep the pocket securely closed. You can also secure any pocket with a safety pin.

    Check visa requirements
    Check whether you need to obtain a visa, which is required by some countries in advance of your trip. A visa is an endorsement made in a passport allowing entry into the country you're visiting, testifying that your passport has been examined and found in order. It permits you to visit that country for a specified purpose and usually for a limited time. While actual visa processing times vary from country to country, it is best to allow 120 days to ensure that you receive your visa before your trip. Important: Non- U.S. and Canadian citizens must check with the embassy of the country or countries of destination for passport and visa requirements.

    Obtaining a visa requires that you send your valid U.S. passport to that nation's nearest consulate along with a separate application, additional photos, and a processing fee. For instructions on processing a visa, you may visit www.travel.state.gov or contact that nation's nearest consulate. You can also see a AAA travel professional for additional assistance.

    International Driving Permits and Inter-American Driving Permits
    International Driving Permits (IDPs), which are documents that confirm you hold a valid driver's license in your home country, are recommended for driving in many countries. Inter-American Driving Permits (IADPs) are available for driving in Central and South America. You can apply for an IDP or IADP at your local AAA store.

  • Assemble an "information file".
    Put all important information - such as flight numbers, traveler's check numbers, insurance policy information, and emergency contact telephone numbers - on credit card size cards to carry in your wallet.

    Photocopy all important documents.
    Photocopy, in duplicate, all the paperwork you'll be taking along: passport, the credit cards you'll carry, driver's license, airline tickets, traveler's checks, itinerary, ship/hotel list. Keep one copy with you in your suitcase and give one set to a friend or relative, preferably one who has access to a fax machine or email. If you need a copy while you're away, it can be faxed to you.

    Learn about where you'll visit.
    Rent a travel video or a feature film of your destination; you'll learn a lot and they're fun to watch. Libraries can also provide you with a wealth of information. Learning about your destination's history, culture, government and people before you leave will make your journey more meaningful. Search the Internet for information about your destination. All countries, as well as major cities, have an official tourist board or visitor's bureau Web site. Many travel publishers' Web sites have valuable destination information. AAA also has a wealth of guidebooks available for many destinations. TourBooks® are free to members, and other guides are available at member discounted prices.

    Consider climate and geography
    Once you've decided on the itinerary you want and you've read the brochure, research further. What about the climate? Off-season dates may be a bargain, but the weather may not be as nice. Crowds, however, will be at a minimum.

    Study the travel brochures
    Make sure you know what you're getting. It's fun to read itineraries and enjoy photographs, but it's also important to know exactly what happens if you change your mind. If you're taking a packaged tour, check the cancellation and refund policy in the Tour Participant Agreement. Cancellation penalties vary; some are more severe than others. It's a good idea to purchase comprehensive travel insurance to protect your investment against unforeseen circumstances, such as illness or a family emergency, which might derail your plans.

    Determine what is and isn't included
    Know exactly what those descriptive brochures are really saying. Phrases like "You may choose to venture into the country" may mean this feature is not included in your trip cost. Does the itinerary clearly state what sightseeing is "included" or merely "available," whether the sight is "viewed" or "visited"? If in doubt, ask your AAA travel professional to clarify. Be sure to budget for additional tours that need to be purchased separately.

    Take advantage of credit card benefits.
    Bring along one or two major credit or debit cards. That way, you'll receive a good exchange rate, protection from the card's charge-back provisions, and often an extra guarantee on your purchase. Best of all, you won't have to worry about exchanging and carrying around a lot of money. Be sure to notify your credit card companies of your travel plans to avoid having a fraud alert on your account. AAA members can apply for the AAA World Points® Visa. ATM cards are best in terms of getting currency in the country of your destination. Check with your bank or card issuer before you go regarding using a particular card overseas.

    Check your cell phone's capabilities
    Investigate whether your cell phone will work overseas. Check with your service provider to see if your phone has tri-band capabilities and that your plan supports these capabilities. As an option, you can purchase a prepaid cell phone abroad. It will be more convenient than using a phone card, and you will be assured that your phone works properly wherever you're calling from. AAA members receive a discount and other benefits when renting an international cell phone from Planetfone. Be aware that leaving a cell phone turned on overseas, even if you are not using it, can lead to exorbitant roaming fees as the phone automatically attempts to check for messages.

    Find out about hotel phone surcharges
    Before calling long distance from your hotel, find out if your hotel belongs to Teleplan, an agreement established by AT&T with many overseas hotel chains and local phone companies. This limits the amount of surcharges the hotel can impose - charges that can otherwise be excessive. It may be less expensive to call collect or use a phone credit card, but even on these calls, your hotel will collect a modest fee for putting the call through. It can also be prudent to have the party in the U.S. call you right back. An economical solution would be to place your call from the phone in the hotel lobby, post office or a public phone - avoiding the hotel surcharge altogether!

    Use email
    Check and send emails from an Internet or cyber café wherever you go. A cyber café may or may not serve drinks or coffee; what they do provide is Internet access so that, for a small hourly fee, you can check your email and send email back home. The savings over international phone rates can be significant. Many hotels now offer Internet access; however, their rates may be much higher than those charged by a café. In any case, make sure you have your user name and password with you!

    Evaluate your luggage
    Before anything else, get your suitcases out of storage and inspect them carefully for damage that may have occurred on your last trip. Many luggage brands look similar, especially the soft-sided variety. Mark your luggage clearly with a distinctive stripe, special strap, big red dot, your initials in large letters - whatever helps to identify it quickly. If you're in need of new luggage, AAA members can save up to 60 percent off retail prices, even most sale prices. Shop at your AAA store or online.

    Clearly label your luggage
    Remove old destination tags, and then attach your name and address to a prominent place on your luggage. The outside tag should only show your name - print your address on the reverse (concealed) side. To easily identify your luggage, attached a brightly colored handle wrap to each piece. Enclose a copy of your itinerary in each bag.

    Tape your name and address inside your luggage
    Be sure to include "USA" with your address. Include a phone number, with area code, that can be reached at home, and label what the number is (your office phone, for example). Do not use your home phone number, unless someone will be there to answer it. Put the phone number of a friend inside, too.

    Prepare for the weather
    Check temperature listings for the cities you'll be visiting just before you depart. You can find weather information in your on the Web at www.weather.com. It's always a good idea to wear "layers." That way, clothes can be removed or added according to the climate.

    Organize by packing your "typical day"
    Make a checklist if you have difficulty deciding what necessities to bring. Start with your typical morning routine: medication, preferred items for hygiene, and the steps in getting dressed. Then follow through with everything you will need through bedtime.

    Use every inch of luggage space
    Insert socks and small items into your shoes. Roll up sweaters and undergarments on the bottom and sides of your luggage, followed by layers of clothing that wrinkle more easily.

    Coordinate your wardrobe
    Focus on a single color, to get more mileage from fewer items of clothing. Separates work best because they can easily be mixed and matched. A few scarves and small accessories can work wonders.

    Prepare for the possibility of lost luggage.
    Pack some of your travelling companion's clothes in your bag, and vice versa. This is a great idea, because both of you will have clothes if one bag is lost along the way. As a precaution, also pack a change of clothing in your carry-on bag.

    Packing and repacking
    Pack and repack items in the same order each time. This way, you'll be able to find what you want without unpacking completely.

    Minimize wrinkling
    Pack items with the buttons buttoned, fold clothes as little as possible, and fold items as close to the waist and seams as you can. Plastic dry cleaner's or laundry bags between layers minimize wrinkling - just keep each layer flat and even. On a cruise, unpack as soon as possible after you arrive aboard ship. Instead of bringing a bulky travel iron, try hanging your clothes in the bathroom when taking a shower. Often, the humidity is enough to de- wrinkle them.

    Pack few toiletry items
    Bring only sample sizes of toiletry items. Or you can transfer toiletries into small containers to pack in your checked luggage. Plastic containers work best, but don't fill them to the top - airplane pressure may cause them to leak. Seal containers with tape, and pack a roll of tape to reseal them at the end of your trip. Pack liquid and cream containers in plastic bags and keep them in your checked luggage. For more information regarding personal care items in carry-on luggage, consult the Transportation Security Administration's website: www.tsa.gov/311

    Don't pack anything valuable, fragile or perishable
    Always carry money, valuables, jewelry, important travel documents, and prescription drugs with you, and never in your checked luggage. Leave expensive and sentimental items at home or in safe storage.

    Make an inventory checklist
    Earplugs
    Medical supplies and documents
    Comfortable walking shoes
    Rubber bands or hair elastics
    Foreign currency - just enough for initial expenses, until you have a chance to change more money
    Language dictionary and phrase book
    Small sightseeing book for quick reference
    Fold-up umbrella and lightweight raincoat
    Eyeshades
    Pocket calculator
    Sunglasses
    Small flashlight
    Insect repellent and sunscreen lotion
    Travel alarm clock
    Tissues
    Sewing kit
    Small container of laundry soap for hand washables

    Take steps to protect your home
    Notify police and trusted neighbors about when you are leaving and how long you will be gone. Suspend all deliveries: mail, newspapers, etc. Put valuables in a bank safe deposit box. Leave a key to your home with a neighbor.

    Buy an automatic timer or two
    Set up automatic timers to turn your lights on and off and to play the radio at different times of the day.

    Arrange for the care of your house, lawn and garden
    Well-kept grounds give the impression that somebody's home. Ask a friend or neighbor to make periodic checks of your house, or consider employing a house-sitting service. Have someone remove flyers or advertising circulars from your steps, entryway, and doorknob. When ad material piles up, it's a dead giveaway that no one is home.

    Arrange for the care of indoor plants and pets
    Ask a neighbor, friend, or relative to come in once a week or so to water your plants. Or, if you're going to be away only a short while, use an automatic plant watering device. These have a tube and wick arrangement that lets plants take care of themselves. Be sure to arrange for someone to take care of the cat, dog, or other pets. They need care and maintenance, too!

    Leave a copy of your itinerary with friends and family
    Leave an itinerary with friends, relatives, neighbors, and coworkers, so they'll know where to reach you in case of an emergency.

    Document your valuables
    If you haven't done it already, your trip provides the perfect reason to record what you have. Photograph (or video) everything you value in your home - including antiques, artwork, and electronic equipment - and turn the photos over to a friend or put them in a safe deposit box. That way, should a calamity happen while you're away, you'll have proof for insurance claims.

    Check your insurance coverage
    Make sure you have adequate insurance coverage for all eventualities. Your regular insurance policy may have a travel clause covering you for personal injury and loss of baggage. But since many insurance policies, including Medicare, do not cover incidents/illnesses which occur outside of the country where it was purchased, it is important for your own self-interest and protection to be aware of what's covered. Talk to your travel agent about protecting your vacation investment and supplemental medical coverage.

    Arrange for transportation
    Arrange for transportation to and from the airport now - whether you'll be counting on a relative, friend, cab or limousine. The "from" part is probably the most important, because when you return you're likely to be a bit tired and rushed, and you may experience some delays. Many suburban locations have driver services that will take your flight information and will be there when the flight arrives - no matter what. The peace of mind is well worth the price.

    Prevent jet lag
    If you suffer from jet lag, try the "Feast-Fast Jet Lag Diet" developed at Argonne National Laboratory, a U.S. Department of Energy lab. Download a copy at: www.netlib.org/misc/jet-lag-diet. While the jury is still out, some experts are recommending that the over-the-counter substance Melatonin reduces the effects of jet lag. Melatonin is a hormone that is secreted into the blood stream when it's time to sleep. The pills are in health food stores, but have not yet received official FDA approval. Ask your doctor about Melatonin and jet lag.

    Prevent earaches
    If you suffer from earaches while flying, try this: 30-45 minutes before takeoff, take an antihistamine or decongestant. Just before takeoff, "pop" your ears by holding your nose shut, closing your mouth, and attempting to blow air through your nostrils. This helps to clear your Eustachian tubes, which can become swollen and blocked when cabin pressure changes. While in flight you should swallow frequently, chew gum or candy, and "pop" your ears when the pressure builds. It's especially important to take these precautions if you feel a cold coming on - if the tubes are blocked, fluids can become trapped, causing painful ear infections.

    Move around as much as possible on the plane
    Walk the aisles frequently. Movement minimizes swollen feet and ankles. Also, while sitting, elevate your feet on a small travel bag to keep the edge of the seat from cutting off the circulation in your legs.

    Drink plenty of fluids
    Drink at least four ounces of water per hour of flight. Avoid alcohol, which will accelerate dehydration. Also, to counter the effect of the dry airplane air, use a moisturizer on your face and hands. Or spray your face often with water from an atomizer bottle.

    Put a cushion behind the small of your back
    Use the airline cushion, or bring your own roll-shaped cushion.

    Avoid falling asleep with your head cocked to one side
    Bring along an inflatable travel pillow, available at your local AAA store. The U-shaped pillow is placed around the neck, which keeps your head from moving too much while sleeping. Since it's inflatable, it won't take up much space in your carry-on.

    Regularly exercise your neck muscles.
    Sitting erect, but relaxed, very slowly lower your head until it comes as close to resting on your chest as is comfortable. Hold for a count of five, then very slowly and smoothly raise it to the upright position. Repeat twice. Then turn your head very slowly to each side, three times in each direction. Then, tilt your head slowly to one shoulder, leading with the ear. Hold for a few seconds. Repeat three times on each side.

    Exercise your feet
    Sit with your feet flat on the floor, then lift your heels ten times, keeping your toes on the floor. Now reverse, lifting your toes ten times, while keeping your heels on the floor. Move your foot around in a circular motion from the ankle, five times in each direction. Repeat with the other foot. You can also try moving your legs up and down, as if you were walking, with the toes pointed. Take ten "steps."

    Frequently flex your hands
    Hold your arms out in front of you and spread the fingers as wide as you can for a count of five, then relax. Then make a fist and hold tightly for a count of five, then relax. Repeat both steps. Now, rotate your wrists 5-10 times clockwise and counterclockwise. Give your hands a gentle shake.

    Loosen your shoulder muscles
    Shrug and hold the shrug for a count of five, then slowly and smoothly move your shoulders back and down, as if trying to make your shoulder blades touch. Slowly and smoothly relax from the shrug, allowing shoulders to roll forward. Repeat this twice.

    Walk through your home one more time
    Make a final "walk through" of your home. Disconnect electric appliances. Turn off the hot water heater. Turn down the thermostat to 55-63. Empty and defrost the refrigerator if you are traveling for an extended period of time. Turn off all the faucets tightly, including the shower. Unplug your computer, TV, and VCR. Check that the toilet isn't "running." Turn the radio to a talk station and put it and your lights on an automatic timer. Check your windows and lock doors. Set the alarm system, if you have one.

    Reconfirm your reservations before leaving
    Call your airline or check the airline Web site, or call your AAA travel professional to reconfirm your reservation; there can be schedule changes at any time! Check within 24 hours of departure to get the most current update. Be sure to go over all aspects of the air reservation noting flight numbers, departure and arrival information, seat assignments, and any special requests. Your seat selection may change if changes are made to your reservation or in the type of aircraft used. You may also check in, print boarding passes and pre-pay for checked baggage on your airline's Web site.

    Arrive early for your flight
    Give yourself extra time at the airport to ensure a good start to your vacation. Airlines require that passengers on international flights arrive a minimum of 2 « hours before takeoff. On domestic flights, a minimum of 90 minutes is required.

    Staying comfortable
    You may want to take a sweater and a pair of slippers in your carry-on to wear on the plane in case it gets cold. You can also ask the flight attendant for a blanket and pillow once you board the plane.

    Bring water
    Take along a personal water bottle. You'll have to purchase water or fill your container after passing through airport security due to regulations regarding carrying liquids aboard. Plane travel has a dehydrating effect - and the drink cart may not get to you as often as you'd like.

    If an airline loses your luggage
    Complete the "lost baggage" report with the airline responsible for the loss before you leave the airport- regardless of any inconvenience. Leave your itinerary with the airline. That way, when your luggage is found, it can be returned to you expeditiously. Keep receipts for any items you may have had to purchase while your bags were missing, to make it easier to recover losses from the airline. Also, check your bags carefully for damaged or missing items before leaving the airport. The airline may not honor your claim once you've left the facility.

    If you miss a connecting flight
    If your plane is late arriving and you miss a connecting flight, you don't need to rush to the connecting airline. Instead, have the airline rebook a protection flight and have your ticket validated by the airline that caused the delay. The airline may be required to provide you with hotel accommodations at its expense, while rescheduling you on a flight the following morning when necessary.

    Relieve facial tension
    Open your mouth as wide as you can, letting your tongue hang out. At the same time open your eyes as wide as possible. Relax and repeat twice. This can help you avoid headaches, but you may want to do this one while the plane is dark or in the lavatory.

    Exercise your abdominal and buttock muscles
    Sitting tall, contract abdominals and count to four slowly; the release slowly in four counts. Your lower back will tend to flatten or slightly round into the chair back. Repeat five times. Now contract buttocks slowly in four counts, then release in four counts. Repeat five times.

    Map your way
    Get a map of the city with your hotel location or ship docking area clearly marked. You might also ask for an explanation of the local public transportation system and for advice on reasonable charges for taxis.

    Hotel Amenities
    Better hotels often have amenities you may need - irons, hair dryers, voltage converters, etc. Call the front desk or housekeeping for service. To ensure you can charge your camera, phone and other electronics, voltage converters and international plugs can be purchased from local AAA Travel Stores

    Carry the name and telephone number of your hotel or ship in writing
    Have the name and address of your hotel or ship on a piece of paper before you venture out to explore, or carry the hotel's business card. It makes life much easier to be able to hand over a legible piece of paper to a taxi driver or someone giving you directions. This is especially important in countries such as China, where the writing is totally different from ours.

    Do some preliminary shopping research before you leave.
    Make a list of items you want to buy and the sizes you'll need. Then check prices in your local stores. That way, you'll have a basis for comparison. The Born to Shop guides by Susan Schneider Thomas, published by Frommer's, are an excellent resource. Each guide in the series covers a major vacation destination, and offers tips on prices, maps of shopping districts, where to find factory outlets and flea markets, currency conversion charts, and more.

    Bring an extra bag
    Pack a collapsible bag or tote in the bottom of your suitcase to carry home your souvenirs. It will ease your way through customs. For large items, such as rugs, be prepared to pay shipping charges. The store where the item was purchased can usually arrange the transport.

    Pack a few plastic shopping bags
    Take a few plastic shopping bags with you and tuck them into your purse when you shop. In some countries, shopping bags may be unavailable or subject to an extra charge.

    Note airport security regulations on liquids
    Airport security regulations now specify that anything of a liquid or gel nature that you want to pack in your carry-on be in 3-ounce or smaller containers. All liquids, gels and aerosols must be placed in a single, quart- size, zip-top, clear plastic bag. Gallon size bags or bags that are not zip-top such as fold-over sandwich bags are not allowed.

    Check on export restrictions before buying antiques or works of art
    When travelling abroad, before you buy that antique or work of art, make sure you can get it out of the country. Many nations have laws against the export of such items.

    Value-added tax (VAT)
    Keep track of whether you'll qualify for a value-added tax (VAT) refund. Many nations outside the U.S. impose a VAT on goods and services. Some of them, particularly those belonging to the European Common Market, offer refunds to foreign purchasers.

    Keep in mind that the minimum amount for purchases to qualify for refunds will vary from country to country. For example, the minimum can range from $25 USD in Sweden to $340 USD in Switzerland. Merchants in each country are well versed in which purchases qualify for VAT refunds. If a purchase qualifies for the VAT refund, you must ask for a form at the point of sale. This form needs to be stamped at the airport customs office in the country of purchase before you leave for the U.S. Time permitting, and if the refund office is open, it may be possible to get a refund at the airport. More often, you will be required to mail the stamped form in the specially marked envelope back to the VAT office listed on the form. The refund will take 6-8 weeks for processing. The refund will be made in the same form as the purchase, that is, purchases made by credit card will be refunded to the credit card, and cash purchases will be refunded by a check made out in the currency of the issuing office. Please note that U.S. banks charge fees to cash foreign checks. Unless the refund is significant, this extra time and effort, along with unfavorable currency fluctuations, may actually result in the VAT refund costing you money. It is recommended that major purchases be paid by credit card. If you wish to apply for the refund, be sure to allow extra time at the airport.

    Keep a log of all your purchases
    Include what you paid in foreign currency and the equivalent in U.S. dollars. This will make it easier to fill out customs forms.

    Check operating hours
    If you're planning to attend a special event, call before you go. It's very disappointing to find things closed when you expect them to be open. For your own personalized guidebook of the cities you'll be visiting, create a mini-guide at www.fodors.com or visit www.concierge.com for monthly insider's guides to top destinations. These guides feature up-to-date information on events, shows, and city essentials.

    Don't wear yourself out just to get your money's worth
    If the itinerary crowds too many events into one day, feel free to sit some of them out. If you overdo it, you may be too exhausted to enjoy your trip to the fullest extent. Sometimes the best part of your trip is spent just sitting back and watching the local people and culture.

    Be flexible
    Allow time for the unexpected, as well as for planned exploring.

    Bring only the camera equipment you need
    Don't overload yourself with camera equipment. If you own a large amount of camera equipment (several lenses, bodies, and tripods), don't load yourself down with all of it - that might make for an uncomfortable trip. Carry the most effective, compact camera you own, keeping extras to a minimum. Do bring a haze filter for your camera lens, however. It won't interfere with your photos and will keep your lens from getting damaged. Also, at the airport, beware of X-ray machines if you use film. If you don't have a film-shield bag (which can be purchased at camera shops), hand your film (and camera, if it's loaded) to the guard for manual inspection.

    Learn how to use new equipment before you depart
    It's tempting to buy new camera equipment before a big trip. If you do so, take the time to learn how to use it before you go, including obtaining prints of photos so you can see what your results are. Avoid taking out-of-focus photos because you didn't know what you were doing. Or arriving home to find out you've erased all of your images from your new digital camera.

    Buy film at home or go digital
    Purchase your film at home, where it is less expensive, and there's also a better selection. Plan to take along extra batteries, too. These items may not always be available overseas, or they may cost as much as three times the cost at home. If you're using a digital camera, make sure you have enough memory to store all your pictures you want to take, and don't forget your battery charger. A rule of thumb is that you will take twice the number of photos than you planned!

    Ask permission before taking pictures
    When photographing people, religious sites, or members of certain cultures, be sure to ask permission first. Many cultures have taboos against taking pictures, or are simply offended by the notion. In some cases, a tip may be required for taking a person's photo.

    Burn calories while sightseeing
    If you're in good shape, take advantage of sightseeing opportunities to burn calories. Climb the stairs instead of using the elevator. Climbing to the top of a cathedral or hill can be marvelous exercise. Remember to lean forward when heading uphill, and don't speed up on the way down, which is harder on the joints. Even on smaller ships, there's a promenade deck where you can get some exercise. Swing your arms to burn more calories and improve your stride.

    Maintain your normal exercise regimen as much as possible
    If you already exercise when you're home, try to keep it up while you travel, even if it's modified for convenience. Most cruise ships, and many hotels, have fitness facilities. Always warm up with rhythmic limbering exercises before beginning an intense work-out. Then cool down after intense exercise to lower your heart rate gradually. Also, stretch after you exercise to prevent muscles from tightening and becoming painful the next day.

    Exercise in your room or cabin
    Do simple exercises in your room or cabin. In addition to the exercises described above, here are two others:

    After a day of standing and walking, here's a way to relieve sore calves and prevent shin splints. Sit on a bed or the floor with legs straight out in front of you and toes pointing up. Hold the ends of a bath towel in your hands and loop around the ball of one foot. Pull towards you gently and hold for ten seconds. Repeat five times for each foot.

    Tense shoulder muscles can make you feel more tired than you are. To relax and condition them, stand with your arms straight out in front of you with your palms down. Bend the elbows as you move your arms back, as though trying to make your shoulder blades touch. Straighten arms and repeat five times.

    Avoid prolonged sitting or standing
    If you're waiting in line for any length of time, have someone save your place and walk to a nearby spot and back.

    Don't skip meals
    Enjoy three square meals a day - you'll need the energy for sightseeing. If you wish to economize, buy bread, cheese, and fruit and enjoy a picnic in a park instead of going to a restaurant; it's a great way to get a flavor of local life.

    Don't overeat
    Even if you're offered a seemingly endless array of courses at meal times, you don't have to overindulge. Most cruise lines, airlines and some hotels offer low-calorie, low-cholesterol, and low-salt choices on their menus. Many of the meal plans are approved by organizations like the American Heart Association.

    Drink plenty of fluids
    Drink plenty of fluids, especially in the tropics or during a day of vigorous walking or exercise. Mild dehydration, resulting from excessive perspiration, can cause fatigue. The best fluids are bottled water and fruit juices, Bring two small water bottles with you everywhere! (And while sightseeing, never pass up a chance to use the bathroom - even if you think you don't need to use it at the time.)

    Don't drink the water in certain countries
    Never drink tap water or any drink with ice in it in certain countries. This means taking precautions not to swallow any water during your shower, and using purified water even for brushing your teeth. Most U.S. drugstores sell water purification tablets. When dining out, always order mineral water, and be sure you see the waiter open the bottle in front of you.

    Be aware of what you eat
    Steer clear of salads and foods that have been left out in the sun. Also, avoid dairy products where refrigeration is suspect. A little caution can help prevent internal distresses all too common to travelers.

    Don't be afraid to ask how something is prepared
    Be adventurous when trying new delicacies in a foreign land - in fact, it's fun to give them a try! But combine that with a little caution to avoid very rich foods. If language is a problem, pull out your language dictionary or ask your Program Manager to teach you a few key phrases, such as "no salt" or "no butter" and how to identify broiled and steamed items on the menu.

    Eat fruits and vegetables whenever possible
    Avoid constipation by consuming plenty of fiber. You may also want to carry fiber supplements.

    AAA Travel Guides
    Ask your AAA travel professional, visit a store, call or click (link) to order a AAA travel guide. These informative and education guides provide tips and tricks regarding various types of travel, and featured trips. These are available at no cost to you.

    Background Notes on the Countries of the World
    These brief pamphlets published by the U.S. Department of State, offer facts on the culture, geography, people, history, government, economy, and political conditions of more than 170 different countries. Current Background Notes are available free of charge on the State Department's Web site: www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/

    Know Before You Go
    A booklet on U.S. customs regulations is available free from the U.S. Customs Service, Box 7407, Washington, DC 22044.The information is also available on the Web: www.cbp.gov/xp/cgov/travel/clearing_goods/

    International Travel Advisories
    Travel Advisories are available from the State Department's American Citizen's Services. Call (202) 647-5225 or go online to travel.state.gov

    Itinerary
    Having a general itinerary helps you make the most out of your time abroad. Make a list of places you want to visit and in what order. Be sure to leave your itinerary with relatives or friends at home so you can be reached in case of an emergency.

    Learn About Your Destination
    Read about the areas where you plan to travel. Informing yourself of a nation's history and culture will make your journey more meaningful and will help you decide which sights you would like to see. Visit your local AAA store for TourBooks® and member-discounted guidebooks about your destination.

    You're Ready with AAA Travel Money
    AAA offers an assortment of travel money products, allowing you to purchase the perfect mix of travel money for your trip, and giving you greater flexibility with how you will spend your money away from home. After considering your destination and understanding your budget, travel experience and the activities in which you plan to participate, your AAA Travel counselor will be able to recommend the right mix of products for your situation. You can also find the suggested combination of travel money by using the Travel Money Advisor at AAA.com. Select your destination and you will find the local currency for that area and AAA's recommended mix of travel money including travelers cheques, the Visa TravelMoney card, U.S. currency and local currency.

    AAA Visa TravelMoney® Card
    The AAA Visa TravelMoney® Card is a reloadable prepaid travel card that can be used at any Visa debit location, and it provides 24-hour Visa ATM access to that area's local currency. The AAA Visa TravelMoney® Card is the safest way to make purchases abroad. If your card is lost or stolen, emergency funds can be transferred to you quickly. These cards can be reloaded up to 23 times after the original load. This can be done online, at AAA stores or by phone. The card is recommended to anyone interested in convenience, immediate use, acceptability and oversight. The card is especially nice for children or college students traveling without a parent, since parents can monitor transactions online and reload the card if necessary. Cards are loaded in U.S. dollars and are subject to exchange rates and a foreign conversion fee as part of international banking rules and regulations. There is a small purchase fee for the card.

    Foreign Currency
    Foreign currency is recommended for travelers interested in low cost, convenience and acceptability. It is the most accepted of all travel money products, but it is not replaceable if it is lost or stolen. Foreign currency is the product to carry when traveling away from large cities and resort areas, where credit cards are less widely accepted. Many countries have rules about how much of their currency a traveler can bring into or take out of their country; however, having the local currency in hand when arriving at a foreign destination is very convenient. AAA's currency exchange gives you access to more than 100 different currencies. Foreign currency is available to order at a competitive retail rate at AAA stores or at AAA.com, and it will be shipped to your selected destination within one to two days.

    AAA Credit Card
    AAA's credit card is welcomed at more than 24 million locations worldwide. It offers the same convenience, acceptability and security as other credit cards, but at a lower foreign conversion rate, which is currently only two percent. Save money with a low introductory APR and earn reward points for every dollar spent.

Travel Insurance

Travel protection insures your tickets, accommodations and other travel expenses, in case you miss your trip for an unexpected covered reason. Trip protection can also include:

  • reimbursement for unexpected travel expenses
  • medical and dental benefits in case of medical emergencies
  • arrangement and payment for emergency medical evacuations and repatriations
  • 24-hour access to emergency medical referrals and assistance

AAA Travel Money Calculator

Local Currency:

If You Need... ...Plan to Spend in Local Currency
Double Room in 3 Star Accom.
Burger / Small Meal / Snack
Soft Drink / Beer
2x3 Course Meal
2xTravel Passes / Public Transport

Tipping:


To keep your vacation funds secure, AAA recommends carrying several forms of payment, broken down as follows:

AAA Visa: AAA Travel Money Prepaid Card: U.S. Dollar: Local Currency:
% % % %


Good To Know:

Foreign Currency

Carry local cash in your pocket wherever you are. Whether you're visiting for business or pleasure, it's more secure and convenient to order your foreign currency in advance from AAA. Now you can choose from hundreds of currencies and have your choice shipped straight to your door.

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