First, let me tell you that there are sometimes recommendations specific to a certain country, specific banks and specific cards, so be sure to do a little research before you go for some additional guidance, but here are my recommendations based on my own experiences.
Forget about travelers checks. Some of my clients ask me about travelers checks, and the truth is, many countries won't even accept them any more, and they can be difficult (and costly) to get. It's best just not to bother.
Don't worry about changing money before you go. It's just another unnecessary hassle before your trip, and exchange rates are going to be bad. Just wait until you're at your destination.
Avoid exchanging money altogether. As much as possible, it usually makes sense to use a credit or debit card rather than cash. In some countries (like Iceland), you'll be hard pressed to find an establishment that doesn't accept plastic. In other places, you will need some cash for smaller shops or street markets, but you'll still be able to use your card (and avoid awful exchange rates) most of the time. Just double-check to make sure that your card doesn't charge a foreign transaction fee.
When you exchange money, use the ATM. Most ATMs will have a small(ish) charge for foreign cards, but you won't pay the commission and fees charged at a lot of cash exchange businesses AND you won't have to travel with cash to be exchanged when you arrive. And some banks will actually reimburse you for your foreign ATM fees, so it's good to do some research before you go!
Double-check that your card has no foreign transaction fees. I mentioned this above, but it's really important. If you're using your card for most things, just be sure that it's not charging a fee for every time you use it internationally. As you might expect, this can seriously add up.
Pay in local currency (not US dollars). Some places you'll visit will accept US dollars or will even charge your card in US dollars for you. Most of the time, this is a bad idea, and paying in local currency is the way to go. You'll usually pay less with fewer fees if you choose the local currency, but, again, this can vary based on your specific card, so make sure you know your own bank's rules.
Take a minute to familiarize yourself with the local currency. Get an idea of which coins and bills are for which amounts so that you avoid flashing a whole stack of bills and dumping out a pocketful of change when you pay. Also, an American who's used to ignoring the jingly sort of change, I'm sometimes surprised at how valuable coins can be in other countries. (For example, in Japan they use a ¥500 coin that is worth about $4.50!)
Double-check the type of card that you're using. Visa and MasterCard are pretty widely accepted, but you are sometimes hard-pressed to find places that will accept a Discover or American Express card, so be sure those aren't the only cards you're traveling with. Again, check what's normal for your destination!
Those are my experiences and recommendations, but, as I've mentioned, it's vital to know your own card, your own destination and your own buying habits to make the best choices for you!
A: Well, technically that's two questions, but I'll let it slide this time!
According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization, sustainable tourism "takes full account of its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment and host communities."
So, in short, it's NOT just staying in a hotel with solar panels on the roof. Sustainable travel is recognizing that when we travel there is an impact, not just on ourselves, but on the communities and people we encounter during those visits. It's about making tourism a positive thing and not a destructive one.
You may have heard about Maya Bay in Thailand closing because of overtourism. You might have read about how hoards of tourists in Venice are overloading the infrastructure, damaging buildings, and making daily life miserable for all who live there. And did you know that in Africa, sometimes poachers will follow your geotagged posts on Facebook or Instagram to know where to find their next victim. In Iceland and in other countries, they're actively concerned about how to protect the natural beauty that makes them so attractive to tourists FROM those very same tourists.
In fact, there are so many stories in the world about the negative impacts of tourism that it's a topic of concern just about anywhere you visit. It's not all about hugging trees and recycling; sustainable tourism is about finding ways to travel and experience the world without destroying the beauty, culture and nature that make travel so very worthwhile in the first place.
So, how do we do that?
Well, here are some things to consider:
Make a point of interacting with locals when you travel. These one-on-one connections can give you incredible insight into their daily lives and can help you become more sensitive to the impact your travel has on them. In some areas, this might mean understanding that when you buy that scarf, you're helping them feed their families. In other destinations, it might help you understand what kinds of tourist behaviors negatively impact the local life. These types of connections are much more easily accomplished outside of a large tour group and instead with a single, reputable guide who can help you dig deeper into destination and connect with its people.
Be aware of your impact on the environment you visit. In Iceland, that might mean not stepping on moss that will take 100 years to grow back; in other places, it might mean traveling at off-peak times, in smaller groups, or to less touristy destinations to limit your impact. Other places, it might mean simply being aware of the physical toll your visit takes on important landmarks — both man-made and natural. Think about how you can help ensure these places are in pristine condition for your kids and grandkids and all future generations.
Understand local culture and customs. Don't try to change a destination to be what you expect it to be or what you're used to. So much of the joy of traveling is in experiencing new and different cultures and customs. Join in on what the locals share with you instead of trying to impose your own customs. Because, when it comes down to it, many places are dependent financially on tourist dollars, and if every tourist who visits expects fast food on every corner, it won't take long for that expectation to be met.
Spend money locally. Tourists are huge business in many countries. And tourists can speak with their money, investing it where it can do the most good. For example, in Thailand, you can buy batik fabric from a woman with a small stall at a market who wove it herself and supports her family with her craft OR you can buy a similar fabric from a shop filled with mass-produced merchandise. It's always better, when you can, to spend your money on authentic, local products.
So, as you can see, sustainable tourism is about way more than just "being green." It means being the best possible tourist in ways that will help preserve and sustain the culture and beauty of the destinations you visit.
Sustainable tourism is important to me personally, and I'd love to help you plan a trip that benefits both you and the environment! Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we can get started!
A: The answer to this question depends on a few factors, including the length of your flight and whether you're flying solo, with family or with a large group. I won't get into the number of snacks, games and other multitude of distractions you'll want to pack if you're traveling with young kids, but here are my basics when I'm traveling by myself on a long-haul flight:
(Note: These are the things I carry in my "personal item," the one that stays under the seat in front of me. I've never been, and probably never will be, the type of person who can pack all of their clothes into a single carry-on bag! And, despite the lovely stock photo above, my carry-on bag of choice is a backpack, which leaves my hands free in airports and is simply more comfortable than slinging a bag over one shoulder!)
A scarf or blanket — Planes and airports can be cold, then warm, then cold again. Having something soft that can be easily added or removed makes the entire trip more pleasant. I love this one!
Noise-canceling headphones — I'm a recent convert to this world, and I'm too cheap to buy the fancy ones, but they have quickly become an important part of my flying routine now. I put them on as soon as I sit down and don't take them off until we land. They are easy to wear for hours and hours, whether I'm watching a show or just napping. Some people even say they help prevent jetlag. These are the ones I have.
Moisturizing products — Even if you don't ever need lotion or lip balm in your daily life, trust me, you'll want it on a long plane ride. The air is dry up there, and dry skin and lips can be seriously uncomfortable. This lip balm is always in my bag.
Snacks — Even if I'm seated in first class, I always take along a few snack items, like almonds or protein bars. Sometimes I sleep through meals or snacks, sometimes I have a long layover and don't want to eat airport food, sometimes I just get bored and eating helps pass the time (not recommended, but true!), so it's nice to have a few things just in case.
Entertainment — This is really a no-brainer, but I always load up my phone with podcasts, binge-worthy shows and books. I try to mix it up so that I have some audiobooks and podcasts that I can listen to if my eyes are tired but I'm not ready to sleep, plus some funny and engaging shows to keep me entertained for the times I want to stay awake.
Charger — Since things like my phone and my headphones require charging and not all planes have outlets, I always pack a portable power bank (or two). These also come in very handy at airports (so you don't have to fight for the outlet) and once you reach your destination and are out exploring all day. I generally use Anker brand, but be sure to check the mAh rating ... the larger the number, the more charges it'll give you.
Travel wallet — Obviously you're going to bring a wallet along; I like to bring one that will easily hold my passport, my boarding passes (cause I hate the electronic ones), and all of my receipts while I'm traveling. This one has worked well for me.
Notebook/pen — Sometimes inspiration strikes, sometimes I remember something I need to do when I land, sometimes I just need to take a break from electronics. Even if you don't want to carry a notebook, ALWAYS pack a pen! You think you won't need one, but you always will. It's worth it to tuck one in your bag just in case.
Itinerary and hotel details — I'm not talking about having it on your phone or in your head, I'm talking about having a printout of your full itinerary and the contact details for your ride from the airport as well as details for your first hotel AND, of course, your travel agent's contact info. You never know what internet connectivity will be like when you land, so just make sure you have the details you'll need right away so that you can avoid the hassle!
Personal items — Just pick a few items that will make you feel a bit refreshed after a 14-hour flight. Think toothbrush and toothpaste, hairbrush, and deodorant. Take a minute to freshen up in the airplane bathroom before you land, and you'll feel much better at the start of your trip.
Change of clothes — I don't always follow my own rule here, and one time on my way to India I ended up stuck in Toronto overnight with no change of clothes and had to take an Uber to Walmart just to feel somewhat presentable. Learn from my mistake and pack an extra set of clothes just in case!
I hope this helps next time you are packing up for a getaway! If you have questions you'd like me to answer about travel, just click the button below to send me a message!
Hello there, intrepid adventurer!
It's been a while! There have been a lot of changes around here, so I thought I should start with the basics. My name is Kati Knowland, I like long walks through the jungle with elephants, and I’m the owner of Curio Travel Designs (formerly Mosaic World Travel...see? Changes!)
This week, I'm going to do things a little bit differently so that I can bring you up to speed on what's new around here and share my excitement about two upcoming trips that are on my calendar for 2019. I've gotten a lot of questions lately, so let's do a little Q&A to bring everyone up to speed!
Going forward, in this space I'll share insights and reviews from my own travels, and I'll also give you real-world tips for making your travels extraordinary! If you have any travel questions that you'd like me to answer for you, just send me a note, and I might feature you (or, your question at least!) in a future newsletter.
I'm so glad you're along for the ride!
Q: "So, Kati, what's with the new company name?"
A: I'm so glad you asked! My goal in changing my company name to Curio Travel Designs was to focus more obviously on serving my clients — the curious travelers who want to see the world in style. A "curio" is defined as a rare, unusual, or intriguing object, and I love to seek out the rare, unusual, and intriguing destinations and experiences for my clients, so the word just seemed to perfectly fit my business!
In addition to the change of name, I've also switched my agency affiliation from Signature Travel Network to Virtuoso, the industry's leading luxury travel consortium. Now, that may not mean much to you (depending on how plugged in you are to the ins and outs of the travel world), but let's just say that Curio Travel Designs has taken a big step up and will now be able to offer even higher levels of service and exclusive amenities to our clients. So, yay!
If you've got a trip in mind, and you'd like my help making it rare, unusual and intriguing, just click the button below to get started or send me a note at email@example.com. I can't wait to uncover some gems that will take your trip from ordinary to extraordinary!
Q: "Wait, where are you going NOW?"
A: That's what my husband asks me any time I start a sentence with, "So, guess what?" (Poor guy!) It's true that I have been very fortunate to visit some incredible places since becoming a travel advisor (India, Myanmar, Cambodia, Japan and Thailand so far), and I have two more trips on the calendar for 2019!
First up, I'll be leaving at the end of May to explore Laos and Vietnam, two of the only countries in Southeast Asia that I've never visited! I can't wait to:
see the historical treasure that is Luang Prabang
experience a private Baci ceremony (for good luck and blessings)
visit the Pak Ou caves filled with more than 4,000 sacred Buddhist statues and images
people-watch in a vintage coffee shop in Hanoi
marvel at limestone karsts in Lan Ha Bay (a more secluded part of Halong Bay)
learn to prepare traditional Vietnamese dishes on board the Ginger Cruise
delight in the street food in the ancient town of Hoi An
learn the traditional Vietnamese art of lantern making
brave the Saigon city streets at night on a vintage Vespa
eat lunch with a local farmer along the Mekong Delta
AND, of course, visit some of the most breathtaking hotels in Laos and Vietnam