European Train Travel

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There are a myriad of train options in Europe.  I started looking into options as I plan for a long trip to Europe next April/May.  I’ll be in Rome for a few days after the Transatlantic Cruise and am wondering if I should hop on some trains.  I would love to go to Germany or Switzerland or even Southern Italy.  I am a little overwhelmed by the choices and thankfully have time to consider what I am going to do.

Train travel in Europe is more popular than in the US.  The average European travels six times as much than their American counterpart. Travel by train is local, regional, high-speed, luxury, and by scenic specialty trains.  Local is shorter and regional goes through a towns and country.  High-speed trains are trains that transport you quickly from one city to another   Luxury trains have private cabins to travel from one location to another and also have European train tours.  Scenic specialty trains offers independent and escorted tours.

There are few things to consider before deciding how to get around by train.  Time, distance, destination, cost, and convenience.  All of these are interrelated when looking at the variety of options.  Local and regional are slower options between cities and areas with more lines that connect to locations that are not major cities.  They usually don’t need a reservation.  Local train route are usually less than an hour and less than 50 kilometers or 31 miles. These are great when you are not in a hurry and want to jump on and off.  High speed trains are one of the fastest modes of transportation.  They run at 220 mph and have their own dedicated tracks.  The train would be three times faster than driving and quicker than flying due to airline security checks and terminal size.  They only run between major cities.

In the past I have bought my tickets at the station kiosk or through Eurorail.  The Savvy Backpacker has a wonderful blog on how to purchase train tickets from other sources.  Go over there and check it out.  He does a nice job explaining the process.

 

How To Purchase Train Tickets for Europe | Strategies For Buying European Train Tickets

 

 

References

https://hsrail.org/

http://www.vacationsbyrail.com

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Train_categories_in_Europe

 

Amtrak Connects US

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I have always admired European train travel.  I have jumped trains in Italy and taken the train between London and Paris with my kids.  We all sat on the train speeding through the Chunnel while reading and viewing the countryside.  When we went to Italy for Christmas in 2015, we had lunch in Florence after viewing David and then dinner in Venice.  It was amazing, convenient and relatively inexpensive.  The only train rides I have taken in the US are between NYC and Philadelphia.  I have often looked for trips via Amtrak when I catch a deal and they are usually either too long, not a deal, or inconvenient due to where I need to catch the train.

I caught a new piece about Amtrak’s expansion.  According to amtrakconnectsus.com, their plan will

  • Connect up to 160 communities throughout the United States by building new or improved rail corridors in over 25 states.
  • Introduce new stations in over half of U.S. states, increase rail service to 47 out of the top 50 metropolitan areas.
  • Generate $30 billion in direct investments in our communities and reduce carbon emissions by nearly 50% when compared to automobile travel.
  • Create an estimated 550,000 skilled labor jobs in communities served through the construction, operation, maintenance and associated economic activity generated by Amtrak.

Amtrak Connects US

I am excited about the plan since it connects my immediate area to NYC.  Right now, I either have to park at a local train station, ride to the 30th Street Station in Philadelphia and jump into an Amtrak or the NJ transit or I drive to Princeton and jump the NJ Transit into NYC.  We usually opt for the hour drive to Princeton.  Bestie Bob and I drove the 1 mile to the Malvern Train Station and then to NYC via the 30th Street Station.  We had several pauses on the tract into Philly because of wet leaves on the track.  We left 4 hours early for our Blue Man Group tickets and were just on time because we jumped the Amtrak to go faster at triple the cost.

WMFZ Map: Reading to NYC

The Reading NYC route would travel roundtrip three times a day with a travel time of 3 hours one way.  The trip would connect Reading to the 30th Street Station in Philly and then head to NYC from there.  “A train ride from Reading to Philadelphia would take 1 hour and 37 minutes, with proposed stops in Pottstown, Phoenixville, King of Prussia, and Norristown.”  The route would connect dozen universities and more than 50 Fortune 500 companies.  Amtrak speculates that this route will help alleviate congestion on I-95 between Philly and NYC due to the 250,000 commuters a day from Philly to NYC.

 

To find articles related to the Amtrak expansion in your area, I have included a link below:

https://www.amtrakconnectsus.com/media/

To access the Amtrak map for potential routes and stations, here is the link:

https://www.amtrakconnectsus.com/maps/

 

References

amtrakconnectsus.com

https://www.wfmz.com/news/area/berks/amtrak-reveals-vision-for-service-between-reading-nyc/article_daed382e-01be-11ec-bd56-df36bf9bc6f6.html

https://vista.today/2021/09/amtrak-reading-to-new-york-line/

Passport Update

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Times have changed.  How we obtained information has changed.  I have a trip planned with my best friend/sister’s birthday in the middle of August.  We booked the airline, rental car and first night’s B&B.  Excited is an understatement.  She sent in for her passport approximately 12 weeks ahead of time when she realized that her passport was missing.  The State Department’s website quoted a 12 week wait.  She was relieved that she would get it in time.

At the end of July, she began to check the site so that she could anticipate the arrival of her passport.  “Still in process” was her only feedback.  She called only to find out that it would be closer to 18 weeks and to call at the end of the week to get an appointment for the Philadelphia office for an expedited passport.  She also paid for an expedited passport so that the State Department would send it sooner, which was completed via email even though updates are not processed through email due to privacy issues.  The appointment needed to be within 72 hours of travel and appointments are nontransferable as per State Department guideline.s  No appointments are made online since there were people making appointments and selling them to others who were desperate to obtain their passports.

We sat on the phone with the State Department to make an appointment. I called the Spanish-speaking line since I am fluent and she called the other line. The deal was that neither one of us would hang up until the other one completed a phone call.  She was able to get through after 2 hours on hold and at the end of the conversation, she found out that she needed to bring with her another completed application, a certified birth certificate, a new set of passport and her driver’s license.  The only copy of her certified birth certificate is in the hand of the State Department along with the original application and pictures.  She has no other copies.

We looked online so that she could quickly get a certified copy of her birth certificate.  We found a website that would overnight the birth certificate, however, it was a two week waiting period prior to that. The document would arrive in the middle of our trip. I did a search of walk-in vital records offices is in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. There are only five in the whole state and they are in Harrisburg, Erie, Scranton, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and New Castle.  We were able to get through to the Philadelphia office and found out that they are a walk-in where she would be able to get her documents there.  She was told that she might have to wait to pick it up until the next day, if they are busy.  Plans were made for her to go this coming Monday morning for two copies birth certificate (lesson learned).  She would have it in hand for her appointment for her expedited passport which is on the day we leave.  Luckily, Philadelphia has a passport office that produced a passport book on premises.

The moral of the story is make sure you have extra copies of important papers.  I have them scanned into an email file titled “Important Papers” with sub files named after each family member.  This helps in case something needs to be sent out or if you are out of the country and your documents were lost or stolen.  I also have the hard copies in an accordion file.  Allow time to order and receive documents and know what your state and local guidelines are for obtaining vital records and other important documents.  In the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, all vital records are handled by the Commonwealth.  This change occurred in the early 2000’s and unless you need a copy, you might not know about the change.  Keep an eye on wait times, too.

International Car Rentals

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When planning my trip to Ireland, I looked at a map and found that the Ireland is easily drivable since it’s 300 miles long and 175 miles wide.  Driving times to major areas are:

Dublin to Cork – 3 hours

Cork to Dingle – 2.5 hours

Dingle to Galway – 4 hours

Galway to Dublin – 2.5 hours

This calls to our adventurous nature.  We will be on our own time schedule and see the sites that call to us.  We are starting our driving tour in Dublin and driving north to Louth and then to the Causeway of the Giants.

I began to look into driving and found that renting a car is easy.  There are different requirements in different countries for being able to drive in those countries.  One requirement may be an International Driver Permit (IDP).  Normally, in English speaking countries an IDP is not needed.  Enquire about an IDP when making your reservation.  Here is the application:  http://www.aaa.com/vacation/idpapplc.html. In Ireland, a US, Canadian, or EU license is sufficient.  Make sure you have your driver’s license, passport, and IDP (if needed) on hand when picking up the rental.

Another consideration is auto insurance.  Not all companies cover rental car coverage. Call you carrier and ask about rental car coverage and international rental car coverage.  Some credit cards have rental car coverage, call the credit card you will be using to pay for the rental and ask if there is any coverage.   If you do not have proof of coverage from your insurance carrier or credit cards company, you may be required to buy coverage at the agency.   I found rate comparisons on Auto Europe and it lead me to Discover Cars at the Dublin airport.   Discover Cars sent me a voucher with a very clear outline of guidelines and expectations.

There are other considerations.

Border Crossing:  Ask whether you are able to cross borders. Be careful about return restrictions.

Gas:  Make sure you know what type of gas to put in the car.  Some companies provide a refill option which sometimes costs less than the gas station.  Gas is more expensive outside of the US, for the most part.  You can find current gas prices at https://www.globalpetrolprices.com/gasoline_prices/.  Also, gas is sold by the litre since the rest of the world is on the metric system. One gallon is equal to 3.78 litres, which makes gas in Ireland 6.90 a gallon.

Tolls:  Inquire about tolls.  If there are tolls, make sure you have local money.  Ask if more than one person can drive the rental car.

Other Drivers:  Make sure your travel partners bring their driver’s license and apply for an IDP , if needed.   You may need to pay extra for a second driver.

Car Options:  Look at the options on the rental site.  I chose a car without air conditioning because the weather will be mild.  A car with air conditioning costs more.  Make sure you check for damage prior to leaving the agency.

Driving:  Make sure you understand traffic patterns, such as what side of the road you are driving on.  Be aware of city traffic and rules of the road.  Don’t count on your phone’s GPS, you may not get a good single.  Download a map prior to heading out.  Distances are measured in kilometers.  One mile is 1.6 kilometers (1 killometer=.62 miles)

Further Reading

Discovering Ireland gives guidelines for renting through Hertz and Avis at https://www.discoveringireland.com/avis/

The Savvy Backpacker gives tips on how to rent a car in Europe at https://thesavvybackpacker.com/car-rental-in-europe/

US Embassy in Ireland guidelines for Driving In Ireland at https://ie.usembassy.gov/u-s-citizen-services/local-resources-of-u-s-citizens/driving-in-ireland/

 

 

 

 

Citations:

https://www.discoveringireland.com/avis/

Essential guide to How to Rent a Car in Ireland

https://traveltips.usatoday.com/rent-car-overseas-24479.html

 

Carmagedden

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Car rental rates have increased while availability has decreased due to 2020 pandemic conditions.  Now, the industry has been caught unaware that demand would come back sooner than expected.  Rental companies divested themselves of inventory during the height of the travel bans in 2020 and are now having difficulty building inventory.  Rental companies typically buy excess stock directly from car manufacturers.  Due to a global shortage of computer chips, a slow down in manufacturing has occurred.  Within the last 6 months, the prices of used cars has increased 40% plus there is a shortage of used cars in the market.  This coupled with a higher than normal demand for rentals, the price of renting a car has increased.  In Las Vegas, the cost to rent a car has gone up 70%.

Consumers are looking for alternatives to renting through traditional means (Hertz, Enterprise, etc.).  In Hawaii, U-Hauls have become a popular alternative.  Other alternatives, such as Uber and Lyft are available but are problematic for riders.  Currently, both ride shares are experiencing a 40% shortage of drivers due to pandemic fears, an increase in gas prices, extended unemployment benefits and a lure towards better jobs.  There has been a significant increase in wait times and cost.

What does this all mean?  Better planning for the consumer.  Allow enough time for travel if Uber and Lyft are the option.  Planning a trip that doesn’t need a rental car is also an option.  There are several vacation locations that do not need one, such as Disney, beach resorts (Cancun, the Caribbean, Jersey Shore, etc.), large cities (London, Paris, Chicago, New York), staycations, and road trips.  If rental cars and ride share options are the only option, make sure that your budget reflects current prices and includes wait times.  Do not hesitate to look into booking a rental car prior to purchasing airline tickets because of the decrease number of rental cars available.  Also, keep in mind insurance options.  Not all insurance companies cover rental cars and there may be a temptation to turn down insurance offered by car rental companies in order to keep cost down. This could be a costly mistake if an accident occurs, even if the renter is not at fault.  Planning ahead is more important since there has been a huge spike in traveling

Elliott Advocacy has an excellent outline of information on the implications of renting a car.  The information below is directly drawn from their website.  According to Michelle Couch-Friedman of Elliott Advocacy, there are several things to keep in mind when renting a car:

  • You are accepting full responsibility for everything that happens to the car.
    Remember, you are 100% responsible for everything that happens to the vehicle after driving away. Of course, an accident is probably the last thing on your mind when you’re planning your vacation. But it’s essential to think about your insurance coverage before you step up to the car rental counter. It’s your responsibility to make sure you have proper insurance coverage.
  • Will your personal insurance cover your rental?
    If your rental is domestic, your own car insurance may cover you. But then again, depending on the type of coverage you have, it may not. It’s critical to consult with your insurance provider and confirm if it will provide the coverage you need. Find out if your policy protects you against damage to the car, damage to the property of others, and personal injuries. Lastly, it’s crucial to know if your insurance covers you if an uninsured or hit-and-run driver hits you.
  • Consider purchasing the insurance offered by the car rental company.
    Your car rental company will offer you a variety of insurance coverages. If your rental is international or you do not have a comprehensive personal insurance policy, this can be a good option. But the sheer number of insurance products offered at the rental counter can be mind-numbing. So it’s super important to acquaint yourself with the main types before a car rental employee thrusts a contract in front of your face awaiting your signature. Keep in mind that LDW covers all damage to the car rental. It can save the day — and your pocketbook — if unexplained damages appear on the car while it’s in your possession (for example, hail damage or someone scrapes the car in a parking lot.) Check out Christopher’s Ultimate guide to car rentals for all the information you need before your next trip.
  • If someone hits your car rental, call the police.
    If the worst happens and someone hits your car rental — you must call the police. In most cases, the insurance company will require an accident report to process a claim. So even if you believe the damage is minor or the other person promises to pay for everything, always involve the police. That’s true even if you don’t understand the language of the responding officers (See: His rental car crashed into the sea. Now he’s plunged into a $27,825 insurance nightmare.) Not having a police report will delay your claim and might even prevent it from being approved.
  • Take photos and videos.
    Hopefully, you already took photos and videos of the car before leaving the car rental location. But if you’re in an accident, you’ll want to take additional pictures and more videos detailing the damage. This evidence can help your insurance company and the car rental company to process your claim more quickly.
  • If an accident disables your car, confirm where it’s going.
    As mentioned previously, car renters are 100 percent responsible for everything that happens to the vehicle in their possession. Recently, a consumer contacted us who had crashed her rental car on a lonely mountain road. A tow truck driver came and took the vehicle away — to a location unknown. She assumed that the car rental company would follow up — which they did a month later by asking her where she had left the car. Yikes! So you don’t end up in a similar dilemma, find out from the tow driver where the vehicle is going, and then…
  • Make sure to close out the car rental agreement. 
    In the Vandettas case, Budget should have closed out the rental agreement on the day of the accident. But that didn’t happen, and Budget continued to bill them daily for over a month with all the associated taxes and fees. If you are in a car rental accident, make certain that the company closes the rental as soon as you no longer possess the vehicle.
  • Escalate your objection to any vague or unreasonable fees related to the accident
    Although your car rental company may attempt to charge you for loss of use and/or diminished value after an accident, escalating your complaint with a short, polite request for reconsideration can often lead to a reversal of the fees. This is especially true if you’re a loyal customer and you didn’t cause the damage. The Elliott Advocacy research team has compiled a list of executives of most major car rental companies to help you reach the right person within the company to present your plea.
  • Ask the Elliott Advocacy team for help.
    Lastly, if you’ve tried everything else and you believe that a car rental company has sent you an unjustified bill, send us a request. We’ll be happy to investigate. The Elliott Advocacy team is always here to help.

 

 

Citations:

https://www.cnbc.com/2021/07/04/why-many-uber-and-lyft-drivers-arent-coming-back.html

A drunk driver hit my car rental but I got a $22,158 bill!

https://www.familyvacationcritic.com/10-family-vacation-destinations-that-dont-require-a-car-rental/art/

https://lasvegassun.com/news/2021/aug/04/las-vegas-spared-worst-pandemic-rental-car-crunch/

https://www.reuters.com/business/autos-transportation/uber-lyft-seen-boosted-by-return-riders-driver-shortage-stubborn-virus-cloud-2021-08-02/

https://www.shermanstravel.com/slideshow/where-to-have-a-car-free-vacation-in-the-us

 

Pandemic Passport Delays

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If you’re planning any traveling make sure you give a new or renewed passports 6 months of lead time since it seems like the latest pandemic casualty are passports.  The wait has gone from 2-3 pre-pandemic weeks to 18 pandemic weeks, which according to State Department, have been extended due to understaffing and postal delays.  As, travel increase and planning begins, make sure passports are at the top of the list and secure your passport prior to booking flights.

 

Routine 18 weeks (includes up to 12 weeks processing and 6 weeks mailing)
Expedited 12 weeks (includes up to 6 weeks processing and 6 weeks mailing)
Expedited at Agency Must have international travel within 72 hours (3 business days)

https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/passports/how-apply/processing-times.html

 

Citations:

Passport Renewals Are Taking Months—Have You Checked Yours Lately?

https://www.wsj.com/articles/passport-renewal-delays-expired-11626144394

 

Unprecedented passport application delays stifle travelers 

https://.www.seattletimes./life/travel/unprecedented-passport-application-delays-stifle-travelers/

 

Need a passport? Expect long delays getting one

https://chicago.suntimes.com/consumer-affairs/2021/8/2/22606706/passport-waits-long-delays-state-department

 

 

 

 

 

 

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