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Information about travel and tips. Every post about a trip will NOT be in this category.

Written By: Gary on August 17, 2008 No Comment

The Tico Times is the english weekly paper from Costa Rica. For the last eight months I’ve been subscribing to the paper edition of The Tico Times. I’ve mentioned my Tico Times delivery issues before, it usually takes a while to get to Michigan but it’s much easier to read on paper than on the screen (they also offer a PDF subscription).

I’ve wanted to see what’s going on in the country when I’m not visiting. I’ve been paying attention to opinion pages, letters to the editor, classifieds and more local ads. Of the five times I’ve been there it’s all been in April or between the end of November and beginning of January (and really only covering half-a-dozen different weeks) so I’ve really only seen a portion of the year while there. So I’ve been paying more attention to the non-tourist type articles; when I’m there traveling I’m generally looking more for what’s going on there at that time.

Written By: Gary on April 16, 2008 No Comment

I lug a lot of stuff on vacation, before I left my Mom asked how much stuff I take on vacations but don’t use. I tried to pay attention this trip:

So I took along my XO Laptop with me and didn’t use it all (this is the durable OLPC kids laptop I purchased recently). We were running around more than usual (I usually try to stay in the same place for more than a few days), so just relaxing outside and typing never really happened. The reason I purchased this computer was because it’s screen is designed for outside use and I’m tired of sitting inside in the summer when I have things I’d like to type or edit.

I didn’t use my video camera at all, I usually don’t use it that much but I do use it a little. Once again, never sitting still for very long I just didn’t get the opportunity to pull it out.

Even though I didn’t use them the most useless large item I brought were a regular pair of sandals. I just didn’t get around to wearing them very much. They’re heavy and take up space and I just really didn’t need them. These and the few magazines I never read could have been left behind.

There were probably some adaptors / connectors, medicines and other little things but nothing very large (but they probably added up). The problem in Costa Rica verses traveling in other places is that you might not be able to get somethings that you might need if you don’t have it.

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Written By: Gary on April 16, 2008 One Comment

So I was feeling pretty great while I traveled this trip. The allergies weren’t too bad (even with all the extra dust and strange plants) and I slept great but never long enough (even the nights when I had my own room).

But the part I really noticed was:

  • I didn’t have any headaches. For the previous few weeks I’ve been eating Ibuprofin like they were M & M’s, I actually had to cut myself off since I was starting to bruise to easily (disturbs the platelets?). But I didn’t take a single one while I was on this trip (even after hiking and taking a little spill). The only time I considered it when banged my forehead last night.
  • My neck/back hasn’t bothered me much at all, even after sleeping on all sorts of strange beds, flying thousands of miles and carrying all sorts of luggage and other junk with me. And these cRaZy roads and all the bouncing around on them and I still feel pretty good.

    So what is it about home that causes these headaches and neck/back pain? Any thoughts?

  • Written By: Gary on April 15, 2008 One Comment

    So the Automatic Teller Machines have been when I generally use for ca$h when I travel. Travelers Checks have always been a hassle. Charging always works well too, I never seem to get any related fees (or the little fees I get are pretty minimal). And the exchange rate is usually really good on the charge or ATM cards.

    But the only ATMs in the southern Nicoya Peninsula appear to Banco Nacional and they don’t like my card (but they list my network). But it might just be their machines, since those machines are pretty inconsistent: sometimes it asks me for the language, sometimes it still gives me Spanish, sometimes the network just times out and other times it gives me a useless message (like ‘you can only take out between $10 and $200 per day’, but that’s all I was trying to do).

    So going inside the banco is a trip, guards with shotguns and you walk into a decompression-type chamber (closed in while they x-ray you, and then they open the second door, imagine walking into an ultra-secure government facility). Then it’s kinda set up like the DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) and you wait and try to communicate what you want. They have this neat system that you can phone in for live translation for English/Spanish, and when I say “neat” I mean if it worked. So after several tries, we determined that their ATM system was so crappy no one could say if it did / would / could work with the US.

    So we decided to do a cash advance instead, we didn’t know what the fees would be but we needed some more cash; not everyone takes charges and many charge premiums (and I think some discounts are because the money never gets reported somewhere down the line). This still took a while and they do everything in triplicate down there but I think it’d be hard for people to cheat the system since there are so many checks and balances.

    Once we got much more north the other ATMs took our cards just fine (I had a problem in Jaco once and I think it was the same bank but I just went to a different companies machine and it worked fine).

    Here’s the problem: Being curious of the fees of the Visa cash advance, we got on-line to check and discovered that the advance was done twice on the card, the fee was done twice and since it went over the card limit, tacked on another $39 fee. FYI, the cash advance fee was only $12.58 for $400 (and the back charged a dollar). The bank’s already been e-mailed and it’ll probably be fine from here.

    Written By: Gary on April 9, 2008 No Comment

    So when you take digital pictures, it records the date and the time with the picture. I’m a little slightly obsessive compulsive about the settings on the date and time and when my two cameras are both set for different time zones and neither of those are the correct time zone it tends to annoy me.

    So from now on I’m keeping my camera’s set to GMT (Greenwich Mean Time) so it’ll always be consistent. If you don’t know, this is the time zone where the clocks are set at “0”, for example when you set you clocks to EST (Eastern Standard) it sometimes says “-5” hours, that’s 5 hours off from GMT. I’m not sure how this will work for me in the long run but for now it seems like it will be consistent for me.

    The biggest problem I see for now it is that other devices like my camera phone will till record in the current time zone. But since its a phone, the time on that should always be correct, unless of course I’m traveling in a country where I don’t have reception and the clock would be wrong…

    Written By: Gary on December 4, 2007 One Comment

    In addition to the few books I brought I left some other things in Costa Rica. I always bring a few things to leave behind. When I’ve got some stuff that I know it’s near time to get rid of it, I’ll take it on vacation and leave it there. This includes books, an old pair of shoes, the jeans I wore to get there, a few old shirts (etc.), a few wash cloths (the hotels don’t always supply them here), a pair of beach shoes, and a pair of sandals if they don’t hold up. The clothes are stuff where when you pull it out of the dryer you can see it’s only god for a few more washes and are starting to fray and you think it won’t last many more washes. I even brought an old pillow that I almost got rid of last time I was cleaning (I’m kinda fussy about my pillows, if I travel by car I always bring one of my own). It lightens the load as the trip goes on :)

    As I get close to emptying things out at home I’ll save them for a trip. Toothpaste, shaving creme (not as empty as I’d like so if I have room, I’ll bring it back), shampoo, etc. Why carry down all that stuff full and bring it back 1/4 empty? I just take it 3/4 empty, which is a heck of a lot lighter and leave it when it’s more empty.

    I travel heavy, I blame my mother for this, I was an only child and we usually traveled by car so I could bring anything I wanted as long as it kept me entertained (quiet). I think that’s when I probably started bringing my own pillow too (that might be something I got from Grandma).

    Written By: Gary on November 29, 2007 One Comment

    So a few weeks before I left I subscribed to the TicoTimes. It’s a weekly English nation-wide newspaper about the size of Metro Times or a magazine from the Sunday section of a newspaper that comes out on Fridays in Costa Rica. A month’s subscription included the ability to download the PDF file every week. It’s a little hard to read on the screen, I think I get one more electronic issue, but I’ll probably buy a copy tomorrow.

    ticotimesIt was nice to get a feel for what was going on in the country. From a to do list it wasn’t very helpful to me. It comes out on Friday and the calendar generally doesn’t stretch much past the weekend. So I might go somewhere else tomorrow and I should have stayed here for something, but I’ve already made my arrangements. I did find out about some kind of air festival in the northwest but I forgot all about it, I’ll have to check on that…

    From a news standpoint I did know the rainy season was dying down early, I know the colon was going to go up in value (their “Greenspan” changed something), that the phone company might go on strike (they didn’t) and a few other things. It’s definitely worth the $8 to get the four issues on-line if you’re considering traveling the country. I recommend this for anywhere, I’ve gone to the bookstore and picked up a newspaper for London, England to get an idea of what’s going on there too (you might have to reserve these in advance).

    Written By: Gary on November 24, 2007 No Comment

    So I’ve always liked Skype it’s a great backup for my phone and it’s great for calling home when I’m on vacation. At 2.1 cents per minute, it’s hard to beat the price as long as you’ve got a semi-decent internet connection. Not that I talk a lot when I travel but I always feel like I’m being initiated when trying to figure out long distance calling when in a foreign country. They 2.1 cents is just for calls to the US, other countries have different rates.

    Skype - call the world at rock bottom pricesThe goofy* thing is that it’s 2.1 cents to call the US wherever I am, from next door, Egypt or Costa Rica it’s all 2.1 cents! But with the same reasoning it’s 6.4 cents to call Costa Rica, that’s if I’m here in Michigan or down there. Of course if I’m calling someone else’s Skype computer it’s free from anywhere to anywhere.

    I just upgraded to the new Mac version, I was 1.1 versions behind. I think the call quality is significantly better and I noticed the touch tones work better, so now I can call my (misplaced) cell phone and listen to my messages.* – It’s not really goofy, it’s what they pay for phone calls at the destination, the Internet probably doesn’t cost Skype any more regardless of where I’m calling from.

    Written By: Gary on January 3, 2007 No Comment

    As we know standards of living varying from place to place and so must our expectations as we travel. Most of these issues don’t apply when staying at a hugh hotel chain, but it never hurts to ask…

  • Air conditioning – Ceiling fans may sound quaint but if that’s all they’re listing then that’s probably all they have.
  • Private bathrooms – This isn’t anything exotic, it just means you don’t share it with any other hotel guests. This isn’t as bad as it sounds, if it’s a nice place then they they probably kkep it nice.
  • Number of beds – You never know how many unless you ask. And if you ask if it has two beds, they will respond with “no” if it has four beds.
  • Television – This is a luxury, but you can’t assume they have it. You also can’t assume they have cable, some areas just don’t have cable.
  • Telephones – Unless it’s a huge hotel many will not have them in in the rooms Iand if they do, rates are out rageous even to us a calling card).
  • Internet – If they say they have Internet it may only be one computer in the office (and it may be dial-up).
  • Water – If you’ve gone for some of the above “luxuries” you probably have hot water (but you never know). The “hot water” is generally some kind of electrical attachment to the shower head. Sometimes looking kinda scary but it heats the water. You can’t really count on too much water pressure; last night there was no pressure (no water) and this morning was the best shower I’ve had in a long time (even in the states).
  • Washcloths – Don’t assume the hotels will have washcloths. And don’t assume that if you have one that ater housekeeping comes that they’ll replace it (I’ve seen this at several places).
  • Hangers – And while there may be a place to hang clothes, there generally isn’t any hangers :)
  • Stay another night – Don’t assume you can stay another night. They may be full or have a reservation for that room. It seem like many places reserve you a specific room and juggling the rooms aroound later is a difficult concept for some.
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    Written By: Gary on April 27, 2006 No Comment

    So I haven’t had a chance to talk about security here, it’s been on my mind since day one. We’ve had an armed guard with us whenever we travel as a group. This didn’t surprise me, I actually expected a police escort so it was tamer than I thought.

    Plus every hotel or museum has one or metal detectors and may check bags (but not likely). I know it sounds crazy but you really get used to it.

    I got so used to the guns that one night a few of us were walking in an area that got kind of dark and heard footsteps behind us when I looked and saw it was men with guns my thoughts of fear went out of my mind.

    Security seemed to pick up when we went south (especially in Aswan). In the south we did have an escort pickup with one to four security folks and the security guy on the bus.

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    Written By: Gary on April 19, 2005 One Comment
    1. Where Do You Visit The Most On Vacation?:
    Probably Florida, the Miami (pardon me, the South Beach area) and Ft. Lauderdale area. Haven’t been there in a while but it’s got sun and good roller blading. I’ve probably been to Florida the most especially counting other locations. I’ve been to Washington D.C. a lot but mostly for work. I’ve been to Chicago and Toronto more than a few times but those are usually quick trips and don’t require much planning. I’ll make Florida be my final answer!
    2. What’s Your Idea Of A Dream Vacation?:

    A town with water and a beach and lots of time to relax (and A/C in the hotel room). Not too much noise, not too much time to wait in a line for anything…
    3. Ever Been To Disney World or Disneyland?:
    Yes. As a kid and again when I was 18 or 19, it’s okay. It’d be more fun if I had my own kids to take.
    4. What Has Been Your Favorite Vacation So Far?:
    My last few vacations have been great London and Costa Rica. What I really liked about them was very little travel, didn’t keep changing hotels and towns and such, just mostly hung out in one spot. I’d probably give Costa Rica the higher rating since there was sun and beach and a lot more relaxing.
    5. Have You Taken A Cruise?:
    Yes, but I was only 15 so I don’t really think I got all the benefits from the trip.

    From Chick Chat.

    Written By: Gary on July 5, 2004 No Comment
    1. Bed & Breakfast or hotel?
    B & B is the preference. But I also like the hotel with hot tub, pool, bar and WifI…
    2. What determines where you stay?(i.e. price, accommodations, transportation, travel package)
    Price helps, next trip it’s part of the package. It was the only way to make the flight affordable and it seems like we ended up with a great place.
    3. When determining where to stay, do you ever consider the establishment’s history? (i.e. it might be haunted, location of high profile crime)
    If it were interesting but not something I “shop” for when making plans.
    4. Would such considerations sway your decision?
    I might avoid the ghost. Or pay extra to know that einstein was conceived there…
    5. Do you try and read the local paper for where you’re visiting, to get an idea of what the area’s like?
    Definitely! I want to see what the people and area are like! I want a cafe to hang out at, maybe a bar or bookstore and want them to know my name or at least my order by the time I’m gone…

    Found at Monday Madness

    Written By: Gary on February 7, 2004 No Comment

    Here’s all the states I’ve traveled to. Stops at airports don’t count (and I didn’t count the states I went through when I traveled from Seattle to Chicago by train). I might be wrong about some of those gaps in the North East. Heck, from the map I’n not even sure what states those gaps are.

    I’m thinking my next state to fill in might be New Mexico, I’ve always wanted to go to Roswell.

    Another idea stolen from Heather’s blog.


    Create your own visited states map.

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