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Comparison of Smart Chip Credit Cards in U.S. – Chip & Signature

Posted on 24 June 2012 by David

Smart Chip Credit Card - Gold

Smart chip credit cards are becoming more important to carry on your trip abroad, as more merchants overseas discontinue their support for the magnetic strip credit cards predominately available in the U.S.

We have researched the list of smart chip credit cards you can apply for in the U.S. previously.  Today, we would like to provide a quick comparison of chip and signature smart cards available in the country.  Tomorrow I’ll compare the available chip and pin cards.

Key Considerations in Deciding the Right Card for You

The table below shows all the chip and signature cards available in the U.S. today.

None of the cards carry any foreign exchange fees (which is great news!) and all cards offer a rewards program.  All cards, with the exception of the J.P. Morgan Select Visa Signature Card, give you a sign-on bonus as well.

If you just want to get a smart chip credit card for travel (or bragging right for being ahead of the curve), get a card with no annual fee.  At this time, only the FlexPerks Travel Rewards Visa and J.P. Morgan Select Visa Signature offer no fee for the first year.  All cards have an annual fee after the first year.

However, after the first year, you can always cancel the card (just make sure you use up any rewards points in your account before you cancel), or call the bank and see if it will extend the no-fee promotion for you for another year (many banks will do that especially if you have been a good customer to them).

Which Chip and Signature Card We Would Pick and Why

Looking at the some of the benefits and features of each card, it appears that US Bank FlexPerks Travel Rewards Visa may be a decent card.  It has the lowest annual fee of all the cards, and no fee for the 1st year. That’s something to keep in mind especially if you plan to keep the card longer than a year.  As far as rewards are concerned, this card is currently offering bonus points.  The points will get you $50 for every 5,000 points which is equal to 1% cash back.  it also has a sign up promotion.

If it were up to us, our first choice would be the  US Bank FlexPerks Travel Rewards Visa by US Bank and our second choice would be the JP Morgan Select Visa Signature.  Both have no fees for the first year.  But by all means, take a look at the table below and pick the one that fits your spending style the most!

Chip-and-signature smart cards

Below are all the chip-and-signature cards compared side by side.

Card Name Issuing Bank Annual Fee Foreign Exchange Fees Rewards Sign Up Promotion
FlexPerks Travel Rewards Visa USBank $0 first year, $49 thereafter None FlexPerks rewards

  • 2 points per $1 spent on gas, grocery or airline purchases, whichever you spend most on each monthly billing cycle, and on most cell phone expenses
  • 1 point per $1 everywhere else
15,000 bonus FlexPoints after the first $500 in net purchases in the first 90 days.
J.P. Morgan Select Visa Signature Chase $0 first year, $95 thereafter None Chase Ultimate Rewards

  • 2 points per $1 on air, hotel, and auto rentals
  • 1 point per $1 everywhere else
None
J.P. Morgan Palladium Chase $595
(this is not a typo)
None Chase Ultimate Rewards

  • 2 points for every $1 spent on travel
  • 1 point per $1 everywhere else
35k points for spending $100,000 a year
British Airways Visa Signature® Card Chase $95 None British Airways Avios points

  • 2.5 Avios per $1 on British Airways
  • 1.25 Avios per $1 everywhere else
50,000 Avios Bonus after first use
The Hyatt Credit Card Chase $75 None Hyatt Gold Passport

  • 3 points per $1 at Hyatt
  • 1 point per $1 everywhere else
2 free nights at any Hyatt, worldwide, the first time you use the card.

 

Which smart chip credit card did you apply for?  Any questions, drop us a comment below!

 

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Kenya Travel Advice – US Warns of Imminent Terror Attack in Kenya

Posted on 23 June 2012 by onthegroundtravel

National flag - Kenya Travel Advice

Our Kenya travel advice today is based on a recent US government warning of an imminent terror attack in Kenya.

While our safari trip started in Nairobi, capital of Kenya, we want to highlight that US has issued a warning about an imminent terror attack in Kenya.  All US government personnel are required to leave Mombasa (~ 6 hrs drive away from Nairobi).  If you are planning a trip to Kenya, please take this warning into consideration in your planning.  Mombasa has beautiful beaches, but there have been reports of kidnappings of foreigners in the area by militants from neighboring Somalia.

Please stay safe!

 

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Guest Post: Travel the world, just don’t get scammed in Havana!

Posted on 21 June 2012 by Danica

Cuba - Around the World Travel

This week, in our second installment of the “Travel the World, Just Dont’ Get Scammed” series, we feature Kellie Parry, a seasoned traveler and writer in her own right.  This is a cautionary tale about trusting others too quickly in a new place.  Often times, when we travel, we must juggle the balance between being polite to the locals and being cautious of the new surrounding.  This is a story you can not miss.  Read on…

A few years back I worked for a cruise line company in the States. I spent my days sailing down the coast of Mexico and through the Caribbean taking in all the sights. The Caribbean was always my favourite. Such lush tropical settings surrounded by a crystal clear ocean. No wonder everyone who lived there seemed so laid back and unaffected by the stresses of daily life. I made a promise to myself that I would go back one day. Years later that opportunity arrived. I was doing a round the world trip and Cuba was on my itinerary. I was excited to experience the casualness of the Caribbean again.

I arrived in Havana and was dropped by the taxi a fair way from my hotel which was not the drivers fault really. The road was missing. As I struggled with my suitcase past the huge abyss in the road, several people approached me for a chat. Most of them wanted to know if I wanted to stay in their house. Er…no thanks. Others wanted to know if I needed a tour guide while I was here. No thanks again. Fighting off all the overly enthusiastic unofficial Cuban ambassadors nearly sent me and my suitcase hurtling into the gaping hole in the ground.

scam-hotel-valencia-havana-cuba-trips-around-the-world

Eventually I made it to my hotel. Hotel Valencia was beautiful and I was most glad to be staying there rather than in some strangers living room. Once I had settled in I decided to go for a walk and get my bearings. I had not been walking long when I was approached by a tall Caribbean man. He was perfectly polite and introduced himself. He didn’t harass me about being a tour guide or me staying at his house. I kept walking and he kept up with me chatting away. He wanted to know where I was from, if it was my first time in Cuba and all the other standard travel questions. He told me that he was a chef and he worked at Hotel Valencia. He saw me check in and then after he had finished work, he saw me in the street and decided to come and say hi. In hindsight this should have been my first warning. It’s a bit much of a coincidence that not only does he happen to work where Im staying but then he also happens to see me in the street.

Havana Cuba Street - Round the World Trips - Scam

He then asked me if I wanted to see the bar where Ernest Hemingway used to frequent. Apparently it wasn’t far from where we were so I agreed to go. I figured once I had seen this then I could go on my way. We walked along, through narrow alley ways, around corners and past side streets. He continued to talk to me the whole time and after a few minutes I realized that I was hopelessly lost. I had no idea where my hotel was from here but didn’t panic yet. I could always get a taxi.

We finally arrived at the bar and he ordered a drink for the both of us. Since it was my first time in Cuba he declared that I MUST try a Havana Club rum. This should have been my second warning. After all my years doing bar work I knew that you should never accept a drink from a stranger. But I did and after I finished it I already felt tipsy. Usually it takes more than one drink to get me drunk. He got us another round and I swore to myself that I would leave after this one.

Cuba Havana Club - Around the World Travel

But I guess he had other plans. He then somehow convinced me to go to a salsa bar. “It’s on the way back to the hotel” he promised after hearing my protests. We arrived at the bar and I must admit it was fabulous with its live band and salsa dancers. I bought us another drink as my way of saying thank you for spending the afternoon showing me around and all that. By now I was drunk which was probably his plan all along. We continued on going from bar to bar and then on to a restaurant for something to eat. In my foggy drunken brain I realized that I had paid for everything. I made him buy the next round and he did with some reluctance. But then it soon returned to me paying for everything.

Montecristo Cuban Cigar - Havana Cuba Round the World Trips - Scam

His next plan was to get me some Cuban cigars. Now I don’t smoke and neither does anyone I know but how can one leave Cuba with no cigars? And I had promised my Dad that I would bring some home anyway. He assured me that he had a friend that could sell them to me much cheaper than I would get them in the shops. We headed into the seedy side of old Havana. As we walked through the dodgy streets people stood back and stared at me. After all I was the only white female tourist in sight. Once again my drunken brain tried to set off a warning but it got lost in the Havana Club that my head was swimming in. Next thing Im standing in someones living room while he did some sort of deal. The woman disappeared out the back and came back with two boxes of cigars. I was told that she worked at the factory and had in fact stolen the cigars and she would do me a deal for both boxes. I didn’t want two boxes but I wanted to get out of this strangers house and get back to the familiar tourist area. I gave her the money and we left. Finally after a few more drinks he lead me back to Hotel Valencia.

Once we got there he told me that he had no where to go and could he please stay with me. Was he kidding? But by now I was so drunk and all I wanted to do was pass out. I threw a pillow on the floor for him and told him if he moved or touched me I would kill him and I slipped into a drunken coma. I woke with a start a couple of hours later. For some reason he was in bed beside me. He was on top of the blankets and still had all his clothes on (including his shoes) so I guess he just wanted somewhere more comfortable to sleep. All the events of the night before came crashing down on me. All of a sudden I felt sick. I woke him up and told him to get the hell out. Once he was gone I sat on the bed and tried to remember everything that had happened. With a sinking feeling I grabbed my purse to see how much money I had left. Nothing. I had spent it all. Luckily in my drunken state I had locked my purse in the safe but he didn’t need to steal from my purse. He had already taken US$500 off me. All the drinks, dinner and then of course the cigars which Im sure he got a cut from. I locked myself in the room for the day nursing a hangover and kicking myself. How could I be so stupid?

Cuba Apartment - Havana Round the World Trips - Scam

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next day, I ventured out to try and get more cash which in Cuba is not easy. ATM’s were a rarity. I finally found an money exchange where I could get a cash advance on my credit card. Once again I kicked myself for being so stupid. On my way back to the hotel I passed a cigar shop. Out of curiosity I went in to see how much cigars actually were. Once again I felt sick. A box of Monte Cristo’s like the ones I had bought was $50. I had paid $300 for two boxes so I had literally paid triple what they were worth.

Apart from this incident, the rest of my time in Cuba was amazing. It’s a beautiful place and it’s definitely worth seeing. I still to this day cringe at the thought of what could have happened to me that night. When I think of all the seedy places we went to and the fact that I let him crash out in my room, Im glad that all I lost was $500….

 

About Kellie Parry: Kellie is a travel writer who is currently based in Darwin, Australia. She spent 18 months working as an Assistant Bar Manager for Carnival Cruise Lines. During this time she had the fortune of working on 5 different ships within the company, with each ship taking her to a new exotic location. It was here that she found her passion for travel and has spent the last 6 years criss-crossing the globe on her own.  Kellie documents her travel adventures at www.meandmypassport.com and facebook.com/TravellingKellie.  She can also be reached at kellie@meandmypassport.com.

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Thank you Kellie for sharing!   We have learned a great deal from your experience as well.

Like this story?  Check out our other story in the “Travel the world, just don’t get scammed” series.

If you want to share your short story about a time you have been scammed, leave us a comment below.  We’d love to hear from you!

 

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Packing for Your Morocco Sahara Desert Tour

Posted on 18 June 2012 by David

Our Shadows - Morocco Sahara Desert Tour

People have been asking us what they should pack for their Morocco Sahara desert tour.

If you’re planning a trip out to the desert, you need to insure you pack as light as possible.  However since you’ll be miles away from civilization you need to make sure you’re prepared for any situation you may encounter.

So, to help you prepare for your trip, here’s our list plus some tips about the items you should take.  We had a great time seeing the sand dunes in the Sahara Desert, and with preparation, you can as well.

As a side note, we bought many of our items from REI (www.rei.com), mostly because if you are not satisfied with a product for any reason you can return it. (I returned a set of earmuffs that kept falling off my ears after three months and I got my refund for it.)   You may want to check them out as well.

Packing List – Morocco Sahara Desert Tour

 Erg Chebbi Sand Dunes - Sahara Desert Tour - Morocco Travel

Clothing

  • Windbreaker or light jacket
    • TIP: The sun can be unbearable during the day but at night it can get a bit chilly.  Take a windbreaker or light jacket just in case.
  • Comfortable jeans
    • TIP: Riding a camel will not be very enjoyable if you wear shorts!  The camel fur is rough and jeans will protect your legs.
  • Sneakers or hiking boots or sport sandals
    • TIP: Don’t take a new pair of shoes, you’ll get sand all on them and inside of them.
  • A hat, visor, or headscarf
    • TIP: A desert headscarf works wonders to block the sun and the dust.
  • Sunglasses
    • TIP: Don’t sit on them.

Electronics

  • Digital Camera
    • TIP: A strap will help make sure you don’t lose it while trying to take picture as you’re bouncing around on a camel.
  • Extra batteries
    • TIP: Fully charge all your batteries at your hotel before you embark.  There are no facilities to charge your batteries in the desert!
  • Lens and camera brush
    • TIP: Get one such as the Nikon 7072 Lens Pen Cleaning System for dusting off all the dust that will get on your camera.  Your camera will love you.  It worked wonders on ours!
  • Tripod
  • Alarm clock
    • TIP: You can use your phone, but take a little alarm clock just in case your phone runs out of battery!

Sunrise in the Sahara Sahara Morocco Travel

Supplies

  • Swiss army knife
  • Hand Sanitizer
    • TIP:  It’s true.  There is no running water inside the desert.
  • Face wipes
  • Napkins or tissue
  • Roll of toilet paper
  • Water bottle
  • Flashlights
    • TIP: You’ll have candles but just try walking out with one in the middle of the night when you need to go.   A flashlight will at least stay on.
  • Non-salty snacks
    • TIP: Overly salty snacks will make you thirsty, stay away from those.

Medicines and Lotions

  • Pain medicine
    • TIP: Just remember, any medical facility is miles of camel rides away.  It will take a while to get there.
    • TIP:  For headaches use Acetaminophen (Tylenol)
    • TIP:  For bites, scratches, anything that’s swollen, use Ibuprofen (Advil)
  • Band-aids
    • TIP: No need for a big box, just a few strips is good.
  • Antibiotic cream
  • Anti-Diarrhea medicine
  • Antacids
  • Antibiotics
  • Allergy medicine

Another article you may be interested in is our interview with a local guiding company on planning a Morocco Sahara desert tour.  Hope you enjoy it.

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Guest Post: Travel the world, just don’t get scammed in London!

Posted on 14 June 2012 by Danica

 

Travel the World - Just Don't be Scammed in London Big Ben Horizontal

In our first “Travel the World, Just Dont’ Get Scammed” series, we feature our first guest, Ele Pranaityte.   This is her little misfortune in London.   Read on…

When I volunteered a post for a feature about scams I had this one particular scam in mind. The interesting thing is that now, when some time has passed, I am not so sure it was a scam proper. Yes, you might ask, how can a scam be…not scam?

I went to London in 2008. It was my first time there and I planned my routine very carefully and I was sure to include all the major tourist sites. And so, here I was, walking towards the Houses of Parliament, aiming to take a good photo of Big Ben on a clear August day. There I was approached by a woman. She complimented me on my headwear (I was wearing a crocheted cap that keeps my hair safe from wind and is also pretty, obviously) and aksed me where I was from, etc. Then she said she wants to give me something as a sign of welcome, and she stuck a flower pin to my top. I reckon it must have been a daffodil or something. I was like eeee….ooohhhh…..ooookkkkkeyyy…. And then she said she was raising money for charity and it would be nice of me to donate some money for the cause. Translation: I had to pay for the flower that was supposed to be a gift from what I understood.

Travel the World - Just Don't be Scammed in London House of Parliament

I have just browsed Wikitravel.org and in the section for common scams it was written: “Another similar scam involves overly pushy people who pose as collecting money for charity. This is particularly common in developed countries. Usually an old woman will approach you, tie a small flower to your shirt and expect you to “donate” money. They never say the specific charity, they often say “for the children.” Inquiring about the specifics of their “charity” may help scare them off. Typically, if they have no name badges or even a charity name, it’s probably not a real charity.“ This was exactly my case but I think she was wearing a sort a banner rather than a badge. Now, coming back to my initial doubt, what if there is a slight chance this was really, really, really for charity? I turned out to be a stingy sponge of a tourist, didn‘t I?

Another story is in my home country but launched on a larger scale, so I take my chance to warn you now. Women of Roma origin with bunches of roses stand on the middle of pavement and hand out flowers to pedestrians. They like to aim at young couples and single women. When you accept the gifted flower, they ask for a few coins. The reason is again for charity. I have seen people hand back their flowers and walk away. Even the police advises to stay away from such flower sellers, so doubts of real charity in this case are waived.

 

About  Ele Pranaityte: I am a traveller, teacher, and tourist guide. I have discovered blogging only about a year ago and I am still on a steep learning curve. I especially want to promote tavelling in one’s own country and set myself a goal to see my country a lot.  My travel blog is at http://www.kootvela.blogspot.com

Thank you Ele for sharing!   We encountered that as well on our travels.  Best advice?  Never accept “candy” from strangers, even when they say it’s free.

Like this story?  Check out our other story in the “Travel the world, just don’t get scammed” series.

If you want to share your short story about a time you have been scammed, leave us a comment below.  We’d love to hear from you!

 

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Weekly Inspiration #5

"The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.”

- St Augustine


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