Each Monday through Friday, a Travel Gem of the Day will be posted at SmartWomenTravelers.com. These Travel Gems are tips that will help a traveler travel smarter, safer, handle home issues, be prepared and enjoy their journeys.
Here are last week’s Travel Gems:
Monday May 31st – When I travel to a new country, my habit has been to ask someone at my hotel as to what the local tipping customs are. I always get the same answer. “Tip whatever you want to give.”
That answer doesn’t help me at all!
I want to know if I’m going to get a food server upset if I only leave 10% for a tip or add the tip to the credit card rather than give it in cash. I want to know if it’s customary to leave a tip for the hotel maid each day or not at all.
So now I’ve learned a better question to ask. I still ask a hotel concierge or desk clerk, but I ask the question a different way. My better way is to ask “What percentage (or money) amount do you typically give in your local area when … eat out … ride in a taxi …. stay in a hotel? Now I get better answers such as “I will leave 10% if the food service is good, nothing if the service is minimal.” Or “I round up to the nearest whole dollar” in a taxi as the driver does not expect a tip.
Much better answers when the question is asked a better way.
And for those of us who love web research, yes, there are many websites that discuss tipping customs. However, I’ve always found that they’re missing some aspect of tipping, whether it be for concierge service, spa service, food delivery or any other service provided in person. So I’ll do my initial research and then ask for the missing pieces once I arrive at my destination.
Tuesday June 1st – Pack your own washcloth! Here’s why!
Many hotels in Europe do not provide washcloths in the rooms. Bath towels and hand towels are always available, but do not count on having a washcloth.
I have stayed at many hotels through Europe and never noticed an absentee washcloth before, but recently had a shared experience with several female travelers at a hotel in Scotland. We all arrived at the breakfast table in our hotel’s restaurant and immediately asked each other “Did your room have a washcloth?” “No, did yours?” No one wanted to admit that they had to really think about another way to wash their face!
Since there wasn’t one white washcloth amongst the four of us females, we knew that it wasn’t a maid oversight but rather intended that way. We did not want to go through a second night of not properly washing our faces!
First stop on our trip: A visit to the local department store to pick up a pack of washcloths for each of us!
After this experience, I learned we weren’t the first to go washcloth-less. In France they use what is called a ‘gant,’ which translates to ‘glove.’ It is made of terrycloth like a washcloth, but is sewn together on the front and sides, and it slips over your hand like a mitten but with no thumb.
A traveler from Belgium said that people scrub down with mittens made of thick bath towel fabric that is treated as a personal item rather than a common item such as a washcloth in the United States. In fact, they are pretty close to underwear in how personal they are. You wouldn’t offer one of yours to someone else.
Many Europeans wash up the old fashioned way by using a bar of soap in their hand. They view the washcloth-wielding and lathering-up by Americans as obsessive.
For hotels that cater to American needs, you will probably find washcloths. But don’t expect them in every hotel, as we found out (even though all of us thought we were very experienced global travelers). Be ready to suds up your palms in Eastern European hotels, or smaller private hotels on the continent. Better yet, bring your own washcloth and shower pouf.
Wednesday June 2nd – Ever wonder what happens to used hotel bars of soap?
Each month, hundreds of thousands of hotels and motels across the world discard tons of slightly-used soap. These products often end up in already overflowing landfills.
Now there is an organization where hotels and motels (and you!) can contribute leftover soap. Clean the World is based in my home city of Orlando. They distribute recycled soap products to impoverished countries worldwide and to domestic homeless shelters and will accept donations of soap or dollars. The Disney World hotels are a big contributor to Clean the World.
Encourage the hotels where you stay to join this soap-saving program. Be Green and send in your leftover soap also. Better yet, just use one bar of soap while in your hotel room … just move it between the shower and the sink.
Really, when was the last time you used two full bars of soap at a hotel? (Or even one full bar?)
Thursday June 3rd –Microfiber towels are great wherever your journeys take you! Useful when backpacking, enjoying a day at the beach, traveling via overnight train, drying long hair and more, microfiber travel towels are wonderful! No more carrying around heavy wet towels. These are lightweight, highly absorbent and dry quickly. Best yet, a microfiber towel feels really soft and compactly fits into your bag.
I love the hair towel as it’s really absorbent with my heavy wet hair, and it comes in handy when hotel towels are at a minimum or the absorbency is long-gone.
An extra-large towel weighs as little as a few ounces. Extra-large is best for showering and the beach, while a large size is great for hair. Aquis is a popular brand. Get some of every size!
Friday June 4th – Traveling this summer with your family? Know when a passport is needed!
According to the U.S. Department of State, every child 17 or under (this means all children, even infants and newborns) must have a valid passport among other official documents to leave the United States no matter where they are traveling. Also, many countries require that all minors have passports from their home countries to enter their borders.
Due to many child abductions over international borders by parents, relatives and strangers, stringent requirements have been put in place to protect minors.
To receive a minor passport, there is an application process to complete, documents to provide and additional documents that will need to accompany the passport to be shown to a custom agent before leaving the country. To obtain a passport for a minor child the process is as follows:
Minors aged 16 and 17 have their own special set of requirements in addition to the basic passport application process:
- They must be present at the time of application
- They must present photo identification
- If the minor does not have photo ID of their own, the guardian or parent must present their photo identification
- A photocopy of the same identification document must be provided during the application process
- Parental or guardian consent must be established
For minors below age 16 there is a seven step process that must be followed to be issued a minor passport:
Step 1: Submit the completed and signed Form DS-11 Application for A U.S. Passport. To complete and submit this form the minor must:
- Be present with both guardians/parents
- Provide additional documents required on the DS-11 form (Listed in steps 2-7)
- Provide the minor’s SSN