$19.95.. Do I need this? Does anyone have it and love it? And most importantly, will anyone buy it for me? 🙂
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Traveling Tip Tuesday – Tip #5:
And by request, a step-by-step guide to packing your precious wine bottles for the long trek home in your checked luggage! These tips also work for other sorts of liquids in glass bottles (e.g., spirits, sodas, mineral water, etc.). Of course there are professional methods of packing a bottle, but we travelers take what we can get. And that usually means junk and dirty clothes.
1. Gather your basic items:
- Paper products (local newspapers, old magazines, extra brochures, tissue paper from purchases)
- Masking/duct tape (packed courtesy of Travel Tip Tuesday #3!)
- Dark scarves and clothes
- Plastic bags
- Tenderly chosen bottle of wine
2. Place your wine bottle into one of the plastic bags and wrap extensively with tape. This layer is the best protection for the other items in your bag in case there does happen to be a crack in the bottle. Better to throw away a wet plastic bag than your whole suitcase of ruined clothes!
3. Wrap and tape a thick layer of paper around the neck and mouth of the bottle. This gives a little extra cushioning to the narrowest and most delicate part.
4. Liberally wrap and tape the paper all the way from the mouth to the punt (that conic indentation in the bottom!). Go ahead and overdo it. Tape it horizontally and vertically. The layers should feel very thick and spongy and will begin to resemble a very bizarre potato/baseball bat.
5. Put the entire contraption in another plastic bag and tape your heart out. At this point I begin to feel like a tape maniac… taping faster and faster, eyes bulging, palms sweating. It’s quite a scene.
6. Lovingly wrap your bottle in an item of clothing. Make it a dark piece in case, heaven forbid, your suitcase goes through a tornado and there is some staining. I prefer scarves because they are easy to wrap around an item a few times while not getting too bulky.
7. In keeping with the theme of cushiony layers, place your baby into another item of (dirty) clothing like a sweatshirt or pair of jeans.
8. Pack the bottle into your checked luggage with your other clothes. Put it somewhere in the middle of the suitcase in a horizontal position so the bottle will then be standing vertically and upright when the suitcase is stood on its wheels. Don’t put any heavy objects to the side of the bottle that will then be “on top” when the suitcase is stood up. Make sure you surround the bottle on the left, right, bottom, and top with clothes. Your suitcase will surely be thrown around so provide as much padding as you can!
9. When you finally get home and, crossing your fingers, open your suitcase, you can easily cut away the layers with a pair of scissors.
Traveling Tip Tuesday – Tip #4:
Worried about your money situation while abroad? You’re not alone. Being stranded without cash is one of my biggest fears! Luckily for me (and my flummoxed family members), getting funds fast is becoming quite convenient.
Stores in many popular destinations (and some not-so-popular ones) are becoming more and more accepting of credit cards. Thus, taking a deep look into your current financial institution’s policies is a boring yet helpful place to start your travel prep. Call your credit card company to verify what type of foreign transaction fees are in place. The most common fee is 3% of the transaction amount (…purchasing in another currency? the 3% fee is after conversion to U.S. dollars). For example, if you have your eye on a 100€ purse in Rome, the current conversion to USD is $1.28 for every 1€. Your purse would therefore cost you $128 plus 3% of this total ($128 + $3.84 = $131.84). As you can see, the fee is not so extreme for a few gifts. It is also safer than carrying around the same amount in cash for only shopping.
Speaking of cash, gathering some foreign currency while you’re still in the States sometimes works.. but sometimes doesn’t. The ATM is becoming an über common occurrence in many countries. First thing’s first: contact your bank and check out the fees for foreign ATM usage… and not just the fee for using another bank’s ATM! Make sure there are no sneaky fees for using ATMs internationally. Of course, there are those horror stories about travelers using rogue ATMs in airports and touristy areas and then getting an extra fee charged by that exact ATM. So far, I have never experienced this type of fee because 1) I’m lucky?… 2) I first scan the machine for any posting of an ATM-imposed fee, and 3) I try to ask a native which ATM is operated by the most well-known bank. Personally, I always hit the row of ATMs in the airport as soon as I land. Having cash to pay for a bottle of water and a taxi is surely worth the $1 ATM fee my bank charges and the risk of a trivial fee by the ATM.
An invaluable tip is this: tell you bank and credit card companies WHERE and WHEN you are traveling. It is necessary to put notes on accounts so debit and credit cards are not blocked based on “unusual or suspicious activity” (thanks, mom, for explaining to the bank that I actually was in Kazakhstan! No stolen card numbers here!). On a few occasions I have reached my final destination all sweaty and jetlagged to then frustratingly find out that my debit card is not working in the ATM (Welcome to Moscow Sheremetyevo Airport!). Thank goodness I told my bank where and when I was traveling beforehand. I fortunately was able to send an email to my dad and he contacted the bank from home. He told me later that if I had not told the bank about my travels then I would have needed to personally call and verify such transactions. What a mess that could have been!
A seriously wise international shopper would know her options when it comes to choosing credit cards and checking accounts. There are several credit card companies and smaller banks that offer credit cards with 0% foreign transactions fees (complementary plug for Somerset Trust Company of Somerset, PA! Thanks for hiring me as a bank teller! I learned a lot! Keep up the awesomely cheap products for travelers and great customer service!). Also, many banks and credit unions offer fee-free ATM usage or will reimburse any fees that may occur. Shop around online for accounts that work for you!
The best tip I’ve learned for making purchases in shops and grocery stores abroad is to use my debit card as a credit card (make sure your card is embossed with either the Visa or Mastercard logo and that you check the daily limits on in-store purchases [usually around $2,000]). My bank does not charge a fee when the debit card is used in stores so I bypass both the ATM fees for unnecessary cash withdrawals AND any 3% credit card transaction fee nonsense. No fees! Ta-da!
Traveling Tip Tuesday – Tip #2:
Some of my most prized possessions from various international destinations are the wine and liquor I manage to drag home. Maybe I enjoyed this particular Kazakh cognac with friends, or that bottle of Saperavi wine was a gift (from the President of Georgia, perhaps?). Alcoholic beverages act in the way a great souvenir should: a very piece of that region brought into your home that’s a fun and usable way to remember your journey (empty bottles and used corks are cute, too!). For this reason, I am very selective and protective of the bottles that are worthy enough to make it into my suitcase (more on packing these items in upcoming Traveling Tip Tuesdays).
The notion of bringing bottles of alcohol into the U.S. seems pretty basic until you remember those fateful little words: U.S. Customs. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is a hu-
ge component of the Department of Homeland Security which functions as the organization for all things “coming in”. Border security, trade facilitation, and traveler screening are all included in this agency, so it seems logical that bringing in bottles of valuable, flammable liquids would be dependent on its regulations.
Many 21-years-or-older travelers feel restricted when it comes to choosing which single bottle of wine to pack in their checked luggage (no carry-ons here! 3.4-ounce-rule still applies!). The truth is, there is no federal limit on the amount of alcohol you may import into the U.S. for personal use (click here for the CBP website). Generally, the amount of untaxed alcohol a traveler can bring in is one liter (approximately 34 fluid ounces). A standard bottle of wine is around 750mL, or 0.75 liters, so this works well.
Large quantities of liquid (say, a few cases of wine) may be a red-flag to border control only for tax purposes. They will not throw you in airport jail! If it seems to the officers that your amount could be used for commercial purposes (i.e., selling it), then it could be subject to duty and federal excise tax (that is to say, a fee for coming into the U.S. and an IRS tax).
Duties and IRS taxes go by the type of beverage, its percentage of alcohol, and its volume (click here for the U.S. International Trade Commission [USITC] PDF file and here for the Tax and Trade Bureau [TTB] website). For example, if the border official insists you pay up, the duty on a bottle of wine with less than 14% alcohol content is around $1.59/liter and the IRS tax is $0.21 – bring that bottle home for well under $2.00!
A few things to note:
- Waters, juices, and non-alcoholic beverages are also subject to taxes.
- The TSA doesn’t allow you bring beverages with 70% alcohol content (140 proof) or higher at all.
- You may take up to five liters of alcohol with alcohol content between 24% and 70% if it’s packaged in a sealable bottle or flask (click here for the TSA website).
- Anything higher than 24% alcohol may be subject to “hazardous materials regulations”.
- Alcoholic beverages purchased in duty-free shops can still be taxed upon U.S. entry. It’s only “duty-free” in the place in which you bought it!
In short, please don’t be afraid to buy and bring home alcohol from your foreign excursions. I have yet to pay a tax on the ridiculous amount of alcohol I always seem to bring in (knock on wood)… But if there is a snag in your border crossing, the tax that may be placed on your purchases is minimal and even this is at the discretion of the border official. Go ahead and indulge!
Traveling Tip Tuesday – Tip #1:
First thing’s first – sign up for an airline’s frequent-flyer program (FFP) before any traveling. PERIOD. You may be thinking, “I will never use this airline again,” or “I don’t want to waste my time,” but registering for the FFP does have its perks… and I have yet to find a drawback in signing up for one!
Most customer-savvy airlines recognize and reward loyalty and FFP membership shows just that. By having a basic program number, you may log on to the airline’s website and choose your seat preferences (aisle seat, anyone?), review and change your itineraries, and be greeted by name at check-in in addition to accruing miles from your travel. Also, lost luggage tagged in the name of an FFP member may also find its way home faster because the member’s contact info is on file.
Now that you took the two minutes to register for a FFP, you now can start racking up your miles. Even if you have no travel plans on the horizon, you could easily earn enough for an award ticket to a great destination by doing things you would be doing anyways. My favorite way to earn miles (besides the actual “travel” part) is through the shopping websites linked to the airline. Here is a list of the most popular sites:
- Delta Skymiles Program: www.skymilesshopping.com
- American Airlines AAdvantage Program: www.aadvantageeshopping.com
- United MileagePlus Program: www.mileageplusshopping.com
Merchants like The Apple Store, Sephora, and Walmart strike up a deal with the airlines so that when you make purchases through the airline’s special website, the merchant rewards the airline for attracting that customer with real money and then the customer is rewarded with a mileage credit (free for the airlines to dish out). You simply visit the shopping website, log on with your FFP number, click on the merchant you want to use, and then their website opens up in a new window. Make a purchase from that website, and for every dollar you spend (excluding tax, shipping/handling), you get miles!
Each merchant has a different offer, for example: J.Crew offers 2 miles per dollar, whereas Sephora offers 3 miles per dollar. The merchants may offer specials too (“8 miles per dollar for a limited time!”). Shop around for merchants that give you the most bang for your buck.
The crucial part in making this work in your favor: REMEMBER TO GO TO THE AIRLINE’S SHOPPING SITE FIRST. You cannot retroactively earn miles for purchases you did not make originally through the airline’s website. In-store purchases also do not count towards your mileage.
So maybe I am interested in buying the Rosetta Stone software to brush up on my high school Spanish skills. I choose Delta Airlines (a SkyTeam partner) as the airline for which I want the miles to accrue. I go to www.skymilesshopping.com, log on with my FFP number, and click “Rosetta Stone”. A new window opens to the Rosetta Stone website and I make my purchase of $499.00. The deal is 6 miles per dollar, so I will receive 2994 miles credited to my Skymiles account within 45 days. Done!
I just checked the Delta website, and an award ticket from Pittsburgh to Paris for the “Low Price” of the Award Travel Calendar costs 60,000 miles with $91.00 in taxes. You can see how simple purchases for birthdays, anniversaries, and Christmas can turn into VERY CHEAP travel! Happy shopping!