Saturday, June 11, 2005

Update - Trip readiness! Luggage, passports and pounds!

We have been busy getting ready for our trip since my last posting and the excitement is truly mounting! What have we been up to?

Well who would of thought this part would have been difficult? Decisions, decisions and more decisions! Let alone a few mistakes along the way! Jeff decided we should do our hunting for luggage on the web. We had no idea how many places sold luggage! I will tell you, though, if you decide you need new luggage, look no further than! No matter how many places Jeff and I looked, inevitably they would have the best price. They didn't always have everything that some places had, but their prices are really hard to beat and their shipping is generally free on most orders. I ended up with a lovely set of Samsonite luggage in Burgundy that I am really very happy with. I bought the large case on wheels, a mid-sized wheeler case and a tote. Next was Aurora's turn and for her we ended up choosing Atlantic in a beautiful sage color... and now our troubles began! After Jeff did some more reading up after Aurora's luggage arrived we found the large case we bought for her was...well too large! We didn't realize that over a certain linear measurement (i.e. H + W + L) that the airlines charge you for excess baggage! In fact, we would have had to pay an extra hundred dollars every time her luggage would go for a ride on a plane...this could add up! So...if you need a luggage lesson, pay attention to your luggage linear measurements and do NOT exceed 62 inches when traveling! It was nearly a very costly error and has ended up costing us more already. We had only intended on buying Aurora one large case and her tote, now we had to order yet another piece for her in a smaller mid-size version. We didn't want to pay to send the larger case back, and we figure it will still be an excellent piece of luggage for her on any road trips she takes in her life travels. Goodness knows we have taken several ocean-side trips to the Pacific Ocean in Long Beach or at Ocean Shores or in Oregon that a big case would have been handy for. The scary part of this luggage fiasco is that here we are 20 days from our trip and the new case we ordered for her has yet to arrive! The luggage store was out at the time we ordered and is not going to have her case back in until mid-June...then they will ship, but they thought it might not be in until near the end of June! YIKES! I did tell them in an Email exchange that we were leaving the 1st of July. They did think they would have it in and could send it on time...I am on pins and needles about it, but I have my fingers crossed! If it does not arrive on time, she can use my second mid-sized case or Jeff's, but it would really be better if hers gets here. Or we could even buy it locally...I have seen it at Macy's - this would be our last resort.
The next luggage we had to buy was for Jeffrey. I had no idea just how picky my man can be! We first ordered luggage from a New York based luggage company to buy him Victorinox, and he was not happy with his purchase! I will not go into all the reasons he didn't like the luggage (he had plenty), but it was a big pain to get it all sent back to them. I must say that they were really very nice about it and gave us a full refund, sans a bit out of our pockets for some of the return shipping, but they did cover most of the return which was very nice them to do. Jeff had a horrible time deciding on his luggage. He is just one of those people that really needs to see/feel/touch before he buys something. The new Seattle Premium Outlet Mall opened here recently and was about a 20 mile trip north from where we live. They had a Samsonite outlet store, and I had seen it there a few weeks before when my Mom and I decided to venture a trip to the new mall along with going to the big Tulalip Casino next door for her Mother's Day lunch treat. So Jeff, Aurora, Jeff's Mom and I made a Saturday trip to the new mall to look at luggage. Jeff really liked Samsonite's Excalibur luggage which is their last year's top of the line luggage. It was 60% off the original ticketed retail price, so a good deal. We bought him the large case, the mid-size and the tote. Now here is where I again tell you...go to if you need luggage! We should have looked again at their site, because they had it on blow-out sale! We could have saved nearly $150.00 dollars had we bought it on line from them! I was sorely tempted to get in the car and drive the 40 mile round trip to get our money back and order it on-line, but Jeff did not want to go to the bother to do so. The important thing is we now ALL have our luggage (Well nearly all of our luggage!) for the trip! Live and learn as they say!

Passports: Here was another lesson learned in travel readiness. I will tell you to start this leg of a trip early on! I am so glad we got started early. I had picked up the paper work to complete last year when we talked about getting passports because of the touted changes coming for crossing the border into Canada. We like to go up to Canada every few years. When our friends from England came we were given such a hassle at the border (Not getting into Canada mind you, but trying to get back into the U.S.! And is was our family they hasseled...U.S. citizens! Not my friends from England who had passports!) that we had planned on getting passports long before we knew we were going to go to England. So Jeff took his time and carefully filled out all the paper work for all three of us. Then Aurora and I went to the local Walgreens Pharmacy store to get our photos done. Don't do this! They really do not take the best photos. It really isn't their fault entirely, the lighting in the stores is what makes it so bad. My first photo was very pale and I looked ghastly! Aurora's was okay but she looked very washed out as well. Jeff was appalled at my photo and told me to have it redone. I stopped at another Walgreens on the way to work and the lighting in that store was much better in the back where they too the photo, plus the young man who took my photo was much taller so he was looking more down at me and I'm sure the lighting bounce effect helped to make it better. Too when I told him how washed out the first ones I had were, he said likely that the camera that was used had the flash turned up to bright. I took Aurora that evening back to the other store and showed them the new photo I had and told them what the young man had said about their flash. They re-took Aurora's photo and gave me the money back on my first photo. They did turn down their flash and Aurora's second photo was better than the first go around. Then we went the next day, a Thursday, to turn in everything to the downtown Bothell court to get things going...only we got there at 4 PM and they didn't take the paperwork after 2 PM! The person there did point out a nice list they had of all the places that took the passport documents etc... and as it turned out Lake Forest Park which was only a few miles down the road was open until 7PM to accept paperwork and they were even open on Saturdays! Much better than the few hour window Bothell had and only on Tuesday and Thursday of each week. Plus when we got to the Lake Forest Park city hall, not only do they take the paperwork for passports, but they also take photos too! The lady there showed me the photo of the person before Aurora and I, and I must tell you they take far better photos then Walgreens does. If you live in this area...go there and do it all! Two weeks later that is just what Jeff did. It takes a good 4 to 6 weeks to get your passport once you have paid and turned in all your documents...which includes your birth certificate. Mind you, make sure you turn in an official birth certificate...not the one your Mom got from the hospital when you were born, that is not accepted! Months before we started the passports, Jeff and I learned about that and we had to order both his and Aurora's. I had gotten an original many years before for a completely different reason.

Pounds: Getting pounds for England has been another interesting venture. Here are a few things I've learned that I didn't know before. Our bank, fortunately, has ATM alliance with Barclays in England, which is a well known bank. We can take pounds out of their ATM's at no charge. I also found out from our bank that they have alliance with other ATM's in many other countries including France where we will be for two days. We can take up to 166 pounds out a day (the same as $300 a day here), which is much nicer than carrying too many pounds in your pockets to possibly have them picked! I also had to send money to my friend in England as she needed to book the train tickets and special coach tour including hotel for our leg of the trip to France so that we would all be riding together and staying together. Getting her the money was an interesting process...and I found I could send her money via PayPal that I use for my eBay purchases! Only you know what they did...they went and charged her 20 Pounds Sterling for the transfer! They did not charge me on my end. How cheeky is that! When I was going to have my bank transfer the money, they were going to charge me $35.00 to do so...and I would have had to go to the bank in person, have her account number, her bank's address, her ABA #, the exact name on her account and a phone number for her branch. How many people do you know so well you want to share all that information with? My friend did send me all that information, which I thought was terribly brave of her, before I found out about being able to send the money via PayPal. So I sent her the money via them, but then they charged her for the privilege! I have promised to make this up to her when we get there! A lesson learned that nothing is ever free, no matter how they make it sound. Life is never free. Even to get our money here converted to pounds will cost us $5.00 to have the bank order the money. Phooey! So, we have decided to take our pounds out in England at the ATM's. We are also taking one credit card...and I called them and gave them our trip dates so they don't think some one has stolen our card. You also need to do this for your bank debit card, or they will shut you out of your account when you are abroad as they will think you have had your card stolen.
The last little bits we have done to date is I went on eBay and bought some leather passport covers to keep our passports looking nice and to protect them from getting raggedy. After all, they issue them and they are good for ten long years, so it is best to have covers to keep them looking in good order. I also bought a security bag that will hold my passport and money under my shirt and Jeff got a special money belt that hides in his pants to keep from getting lifted. This is a real concern when in London or Paris we have been told, so we decided not to take any chances in this area. Jeff just learned about a new American Express debit card that you can get that is a Travelers Cheque Debit card. It costs $15. to get one and you have a card instead of checks to carry around. We may get this too, as it only takes 10 days to get one. You put the money you want to spend in the account and use what you need. Could be a good plan.
Aurora's Godmother traveler extraordinary, has a cell phone for Europe that she is lending us for our trip. That way we will have a local number in England and can contact our friends should we get separated. I also bought a power converter so that I can juice up my digital camera when the need arises. These days with so many X-rays and scans of luggage, film can readily be over-exposed and they do not recommend taking anything but a digital camera these days when you go abroad.

We are getting very excited...20 days and counting...and as you can see, we are getting ready!