Hi all (from Cordoba, Spain),
It occurred to me during the ride back to Cordoba from Granada that for those who are not frequent travelers abroad, some helpful hints might work. For those who are frequent int'l travelers, ignore.
Assuming you're a FF (most of us probably are) check online when you buy your ticket to pick a seat. If it's on an affiliated carrier, i.e. Air France for Delta, ask Delta to contact AF then to get your desired aisle or window, front or back. If you get no satisfaction, the flight number for the carrier can be figured out easily by tracking your flight number on your FF account and then matching it to the equivalent and calling that airline. I recently almost had this happen despite best efforts, since I was flying through Paris and there were numerous strikes this week. Turns out the last day (on which I flew) they substituted the middle of a middle. When I nicely confronted the lounge person, they change it. But plane configurations and types change all the type, and you can usually change your seat till almost the last minute.
Food and Drink
I learned this one the hard way and it took me many years. The day before you leave and the day and night of flight, eat less than normal, despite the 'wonderful' free food in most lounges and on most airlines. Especially if you're on airlines, in most cases unless it's a very long flight abroad, you're going to be fed breakfast about 4-6 hrs after a substantial dinner. You won't feel good the next day.
Alas, I must say the same for wine and alcoholic beverages, not only because of dehydration. One's fine if it helps for sleep; more can really do you in on your first day in a foreign country.
Do not drink carbonated beverages starting the day before (unless it's one glass of champagne in the lounge or plane). You will feel bloated and along with the food in a short period of time can feel unpleasant for two or more days.
I have never had Montezuma's revenge, but I have had gastrointestinal problems, mostly because of doing the above AND because of the time difference -- it takes a while for your system to adjust to several different time zones' difference.
Unless you really hate taking any medications I strongly advise sleeping pills for long flights. You might not sleep well, but you should get a few hours sleep.
Always learn the basic phrases for yes, no, do you speak English, please, thank you, you're welcome, and also things like 'where is?' along with other question words. I've learned a few new lessons since being in Spain, where unlike other W. European countries, I don't know Spanish at all.
The phrase book in back of both books I bought was pitiful. Maybe I'm old fashioned, but I need to know the words for you and at least a basic conjugation. ANyway, on a full-day trip to Granada via a private driver (there was no other way to get there from Cordoba at the beginning of Cinco de Mayo week), my driver didn't speak English and I didn't speak Spanish. While my Italian is not great, after an hour or so, I asked in Italian if he spoke Italian. He gave the usual 'European' reply when they do 'piccolo,' a little. So I started speaking to him in Italian and he replied in Spanish and we could both understand each other. Spanish and Italian are unusual examples because they are exceptionally close, as my Roman friend who is a guide once told me -- he said "it's nothing to go from Italian to Spanish." Still, you can ask cognate words (there are lots) - words that sound the same or similar in English or other languages -- a good example for romance languages is the word different or normal.
Tipping is different in every country, so it's wise to check as many websites as possible for the most up-to-date local news. While you'll ingratiate yourself and avoid hassles in Egypt by being royal with your baksheesh, in other places (like Spain) you'll get pegged as being American, rich or stupid if you leave anything even close to what you would do in America. Even if it doesn't say so, 10-15% is usually included in the price and the norm is to leave a few extra coins depending on the price of the bill and your satisfaction. I would never go beyond 10% more (you could be giving a 25% tip).
The same applies to cab drivers, etc. It's good to be generous, but know when to do so. Otherwise (and I have heard it once too many times) the person will thank you profusely then laugh with his buddies in their language.
But there are very significant differences between countries, especially between Britain and the continent. Others can speak more to Britain than me, but I found that except in pubs (where you do NOT give tips), there is a real expectation of a tip. It is becoming coming in France and ITaly to expect a 10-20% tip at the best of restaurants in addition to what they've charged. That is not true in Spain. Italian restauranteurs often circumvent the laws, which disallow tipping, especially on the Via Veneto. At two very well known restaurants on the Via Veneto, I was given two separate bills, one with the amount of my meal with the country's tip added; another for my courtesy tip. The first time I was taken in till I went to a few other restaurants near the Piazza Navona (who would have expected) who told me it was against the law. The next few times (until I stopped frequenting certain restaurants) I added a few coins and crossed out the extra tip sheet.
Every travel book you've ever bought says the same thing -- pack what you need then remove half (or more). It's true. Unless you have a personal man or maid, you're going to have to get that luggage around. Be European -- for a woman, a black dress, jacket, black pants and a few tops is all you really need unless you're going on an extended trip. Even then, minimize. Almost all hotels these days have hair dryers and so forth, so only take what you need in appliances. I do always take my computer for two reasons -- both to keep in touch and so I can download my photos as I take them rather than packing away a bunch of cards that I could lose. It's also vital for me to have contact with people at work, etc. But I can also check weather, news, stock market, and other things so the computer does end up replacing other things I'd bring.
Especially don't bring too many shoes. They take up too much room. You need a really good pair of walking shoes as well as something that is hopefully comfier but somewhat (or even mildly) dressy.
Everyone probably already knows this, but almost no one accepts travelers checks any more. Also, unless you're going to some remote region of the world, make sure your ATM/debit card has a four digit numerical code to use in bank machines. Some banks (though not most European banks) add a surcharge but much, much less than you'd get my changing money. Maybe have 10 euros or equivalent on hand to make sure you can get downtown, but that should be all you need and can you can always changes dollars in a pinch (at a better rate than you'll get in US airports). Likewise, use credit cards for the best rates -- Marriott Chase Rewards just recently eliminated the foreign surcharge and Capital One never had one. Always call your credit card company and bank (or write them online) to tell them in advance of your travel plans. It turned out a good thing I called my bank this time because it turned out Spain was on their 'exception list' for a good many fraudulent charges that had come in at one point. And naturally, behave with caution when using machines. Use ones at banks, not other outlets and be sure to shield your password and guard your card immediately afterwards.
The First Day There
If you don't want jet lag, do everything in your power to stay awake until the however at home you would normally go to sleep. Naps will sabotage you for several days.
Hope this helps some first or second time int'l travelers.
Any others have ideas or experiences?
Great post, ProfChiara.
Concerning plane seats, I frequently use www.seatguru.com when selecting my seat. It helps me make sure I don't accidentally select one that looks good but then come to find out has some sort of defect. The exit row seats with almost no padding come to mind.
Also, my experience in France back in February differed from what you have described. Every place we dined had the service charge included and it was expected to leave an additional one or two Euros for good service. I'd say when in doubt, ask (the other patrons, not the server). The first day we were there, I was debating what to tip, so I asked the gentlemen and the table next to us, and they gave us a pretty good rundown of what is expected.
BTW, welcome Versel as our new ambassador! I am in Cordoba, Spain, so haven't been as involved as usual.
I also use and highly recommend seatguru. My only suggestion is that once you do so, check again the day you fly (either online or at the airport) because sometimes they change the plane, which screws everything up. That happened to me on the way here, when I was told as a Plat Delta Medallion flying on Air France that they had put me in the middle of a middle row, whereas Delta had requested a side aisle. They had changed from a smaller plane to a 747 because of cancelled flights earlier in the week.
My experience in France (all over France) is that the French do not tend to tip, or as you say only a few coins at most. Still, I've been other places there where the tip is "non compris" or at some really nice restaurants where there is definitely an expectation of 10%. But as I said, adding more than that is ridiculous unless you're in a truly non-compris restaurant.
I've also found that tipping hotel maids is different everywhere. In Belgium and Spain, I found that if I leave money it is still there when I return at the end of the day. In Italy and France, they always take it :).
Alas, the rain in Spain has not fallen mainly on the plains during my trip to Andalusia, but I got one and a half good sunny (or not too cloudy) days out of it. Will post photos when I'm back. Cordoba is amazing!
I realize this thread is a little old and am hoping I can revive it! How is Spain these days?
I am taking my wife there for our 25 Anniversary this fall. We are booked for the Marriott Playa Andaluza Resort in Estapona - near Marbella on the beach, 28SEP13-05OCT13.
Currently our early plan is to:
We would really love to here about your trip and any suggestions you or anyone else on this thread could give - particularly from anyone who has visited recently i.e. How have the economic woes affected tourism, customer service, etc. Places to see, stay, eat, etc. etc.
Many thanks for any guidance you can share!
Actually I have only been to Spain once -- my usual stalking grounds are Italy, Greece, France, Belgium and the Middle East. But my one trip there was to Andalusia, which I simply had to see because of its historical significance -- but it was SO much more. I stayed in Cordoba, which I would definitely recommend over Granada. I absolutely fell in love with Cordoba (there is SO much to see) but had to hire a car for Granada because the train connections are good. If you're driving it's not a problem. I have not been to, but heard from my students that Toledo and other areas in that region are wonderful. You're not too far from the Marbella resort, so I would definitely recommend that.
I think others have spent more time in Spain, so hopefully they can help too. But don't miss Cordoba!