Travel Happy, Budget Low Sample Tips

Embassies or consulates are only open on weekdays. Furthermore, they often have limited hours for visa services. Traveling to a consulate or embassy to turn in your visa documents may require taking a day off of work, standing in a long line, or waiting in a busy waiting room. I have learned this the hard way. It may be less expensive to pay a visa processing service to handle your visa for you. All you have to do is mail them your passport, complete a visa application form that you can download from the Internet or that they mail to you, and pay the processing and mailing fees. If a visa processing company charges you $40 or $75 to take care of your visa, you should compare those prices to how much it will cost you to get to the consulate and take time off work. Some consulates won’t give you a visa on the spot and you may have to return in a few days to retrieve your passport. In that case, you have to calculate how much it costs to go to the consulate or embassy twice. A visa service sends a courier to the consulates and embassies and makes sure that the visas have the correct spelling of your name and the right dates for your trip.


Make sure to give yourself enough time to get the visas. Embassies and consulates honor the national holidays of the countries where they are located and their own national ones. This means that they have more holidays then you probably do.

Most embassies and consulates do not accept personal checks. They only take money orders or cashiers checks. Some may accept credit cards. Check with the consulate for instructions. If you want them to mail your passport and visa back to you, follow their mailing instructions carefully. If they say to bring a post office return envelope or a FedEx one, don’t come with a UPS one. They may not accept it.

Personal Story

I had to rush to get my Chinese visa in February 2008 because the Chinese consulate was closed for a few days during Chinese New Year. I wanted to save myself the trip to San Francisco to pick up my Chinese visa and asked a friend to get it for me. When my friend got home from the consulate and opened my passport, he called me and told me that the Chinese had re-baptized me and given me a new surname. I had to take a day off work and go up to San Francisco to fix the mistake and get a new visa.

Do you need your tea or coffee in the morning? Do you need a hot drink before going to bed? A simple immersion heater is an appliance that will save you money daily. An immersion heater is an electric coil with which you can boil water. People on a limited budget who are avoiding restaurant meals find it invaluable. Place it in a cup of water, plug it in, and you will quickly have boiling water. (Don’t use a plastic cup as it may melt. You can use a metallic cup but you should be careful when touching it as it may be hot.) It not only kills all disease organisms, it also lets you make a hot cup of tea, coffee, cocoa, or soup. You can even cook an egg by bringing the water to a boil, removing the heater, dropping in the egg, and waiting a few minutes.


Small, lightweight immersion heaters are inexpensive and available in dual voltages, though you may still need a plug adapter. You can buy a new immersion heater locally in most developed countries. Better-quality versions of these have thermostatic shut-offs. If you purchase a cheaper one, be sure that the coil is immersed in liquid whenever the unit is plugged in. Check here for immersion heaters and other travel products.

I’ve recently discovered the ease and comfort of traveling with a small suitcase with big wheels that also converts into a backpack. Samsonite, Swiss Gear, and other manufacturers make these convertible suitcases with a special padded pouch for laptop computers. This feature is wonderful because it’s easy to take the laptop in and out of the suitcase, and I don’t have to bother wrapping it in a sweater or something thick to protect it from hitting other items in my suitcase. The big wheels make it easy to roll the suitcase around. Small wheels break and chip easily, thus making it hard to roll the suitcase around. More expensive models have 360 degree wheels. When I have to walk upstairs and I don’t want to carry the suitcase in one hand, I just unwrap the backside of the suitcase, take out the backpack straps, and clip them to the bottom of the suitcase. Versatility and ease make traveling much easier.


This is probably the most important item to bring with you besides your wallet. Pickpockets love to lurk in your pockets, bags, backpacks, purses, and wallets. You need to hide your passport, money, plane tickets, and credit and bank cards from them. Travel pouches are like cloth envelopes with one or two pockets in which you can store your valuables. You can buy these in most travel and luggage supply stores or online. Some travel pouches hang from your neck. I advise against these as thieves can can cut the band around your neck and catch your falling travel pouch. The safest pouch is a cloth travel belt with an elastic band that you wear on your waist. It can be very inconvenient to wear, especially when it is hot and you don’t want a big pouch on your stomach that makes you look weird. Put only crucial items in there and avoid carrying physically large amounts of cash. I suggest putting the pouch on the bottom of your back between your pants and undergarments. You should keep your passport in a plastic re-sealable bag.


Personal story

While traveling in Kiev in 1997, I had a travel pouch on my stomach. It was raining outside. The moisture on my skin seeped through the travel pouch and got the gold eagle paint on the outside of my passport wet. The gold paint went through the material of my passport and stained my passport photo, making it look fake. This was a disaster as I was leaving later the same day and had to go through customs with a suspicious looking passport. Lesson learned. I always keep my passport in a re-sealable (Ziploc) bag inside my travel pouch.

The way I get to accrue miles is because I play the games offered by the airlines. Each airline has its own credit card that it wants its customers to use. You get a 15,000 or 21,000 mile bonus when you sign up for the credit card. Usually for each dollar you spend on the card, you get one frequent flyer mile. Many times, the annual fee is waived for the first year. Some cards that have no annual fees at all, only award you one mile for every $2 spent. With 25,000 frequent flyer miles, you can have a free domestic ticket in the US. If you get a 21,000 mile bonus upon signing up for the card and you take at least at 4000 mile flight, you already have a free ticket.


Airlines say that you can’t get bonus miles more than once with their credit card partners. This is not always the case as I’ve closed cards for which I got many bonus miles and then opened new ones with the same airlines and still got the new bonus miles.

The American Express Gold card lets you accumulate points that you can then use to pay for part of or all of your plane fare.

I have had credit cards from several airlines and have always paid my balance in full each month. I never carry a balance. If you are unable to control your spending and are afraid of running up credit card debt by getting a new card to fund your free travel, then don’t get it. I don’t want to encourage people to get into debt. We already have a horrible savings rate in the US as it is. Be responsible. Look for Gold Card information.

List of airline and travel credit cards with interest rates and mileage credit policies.

Buy a calling card online and use in 50 countries and are ideal for travelers. Many countries do not have coin operated machines anymore and a prepaid calling card is ideal. provides local access numbers for the particularly city/country. You dial the local number and enter in your calling card number and then dial the country code and number of the person you are calling. So, you can call from a hotel phone or private residence and not incur long distance charges because the calls are considered as local calls within that country and you will never be blocked for dialing a toll free number. This is particularly convenient when you get free local calls from hotel rooms. For example, the rate from most countries to the US costs 2.7 cents a minute.

Bringing a small first aid kit is important, no matter where you travel. Hotels are notorious for charging high prices for simple medicines like Tylenol and cough syrup. In most drugstores you can buy inexpensive pre-assembled first-aid kits that include Aspirin/Tylenol, Band-Aids, alcohol swabs, cotton swabs, and medicine for stomach problems. If you are traveling to countries with severely different climates and foods than what you are used to, bring Pepto Bismol and anti-diarrhea medicine. Unless you are traveling to a country with a poor health care system, you don’t need to bring a suitcase full of medicine with you as you can buy most simple medicines abroad. You need just enough to last for a few days in case you get sick.


Personal Story

While traveling in Chicago in June 2008, I got food poisoning and didn’t have my usual first aid kit with me that I bring on international trips. I had to pay one of the bellmen at the hotel to go to the nearest pharmacy at 1am to get me Tylenol and Pepto- Bismol. I realized that the same precautions I take for travel in foreign countries should apply to domestic trips.

There are free walking tours in London, Edinburgh, Amsterdam, Berlin, Munich, and Paris operated by Sandeman’s New Europe. Tours are always available in English. Some cities have tours in German, Spanish, French, Hebrew, and other languages. The guides work for tips. I took the tours in Munich and Berlin and both guides were extremely knowledgeable about the history of each city. If you are in another city, you can do a search on the Internet to see if there are free tours offered. For example, if you go on Google and type in “San Francisco” and “free walking tours,” the first listing is for San Francisco City Guides. Volunteers who love to show their city give these tours of various parts of San Francisco.