Travel Tips

Preparation:

At least six weeks before departure:
Check to be sure your passport is valid at least six months after we leave for Europe.  Have questions about your passport?  The U.S. State Department provides a list of Frequently Asked Questions with any questions you may have about your passport.

Verify that your credit/ATM cards are valid for the duration of our trip and that they can be used internationally.

Check with your physician about any specific health requirements for our destinations.

Send yourself an email (on a web based email account) recording your passport numbers and copies of passports.  The information will be accessible to you wherever you are, should you lose your documents.

Be sure you have a sufficient supply of prescription medications.  Obtain a legible, written prescription or a letter from your doctor to show that you legally use the medication to avoid any problems. If you wear glasses, take a spare pair and your prescription.

Make several photocopies of your passport, credit cards and other travel documents.  Carry at least one copy with you and leave one with someone at home.  Should your passport be lost or stolen, notify the police immediately to get a statement and contact the consulate. Having a photocopy of your passport will make replacement easier.

Electricity: Voltage/Current: 220V AC; 50 Hz

Electrical Plugs: Norwegian outlets accept plugs with two round pins.

Electrical Conversion:
U.S. appliances require a transformer to convert between 110V and 220V, while European and other international AC appliances will work without a transformer. However, nearly all appliances from outside Europe will require a plug adapter.

Telephone Codes:  Also known as a 'Country Code', it is a short, numerical code (generally 1-3 digits in length) that you dial when making an international call.
Denmark, the country code is +45
Finland, the country code is +358
Iceland, the country code is +354
Norway, the country code is +47
Sweden, the country code is +46
United States and Canada country code is +1

Time Zone:
1 hour ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (+1 GMT). Daylight Saving Time is observed from the last Sunday in March to the last Sunday in October.

Tipping Overview:
A 15% service charge is usually added to restaurant and hotel bills. There's no need to tip beyond this charge. If no service charge is added, no tip is expected. Tip porters about 10 NKr. Tip taxi drivers a few kroner if they are handling heavy luggage.

Camera Tips:
A digital camera with a high capacity memory card makes traveling easy. Rechargeable batteries plus a spare will make sure you never lose a shot because of drained batteries.  But if your camera does take film, be sure to take plenty of film. Buying film in Norway is three to five times more expensive than elsewhere. 

Packing Tips:
Plastic zip-lock bags.  If I could only choose one travel tip, this would be it:  Zipper-type plastic storage bags will pull it all together and make you a travel champ.  For starters, to meet ‘The 3-1-1 Rule’, the quart-size bags are a must for carry-on make-up and toiletries.  A variety of other sizes will keep you organized in a multitude of ways. 

Luggage. If you have rolling luggage, pack the heavier items towards the bottom of the case. This will help you control the case and keep it from falling over.  

Make your luggage more easily spot able.  Try adding a colorful ribbon to the handle or use a unique luggage tag. Or be creative and decorate your bag with paint pens or decorative tape. If you want to be discreet, mark the bottom of your luggage, where the wheels are.

Carry-on bag. Keep any medication and important papers in your carry-on bag. Computers and other electronics should always be kept with you.

Clothes – Pack right and Pack light.  Pack only what you know you will use and plan to re-wear and mix and match.  A good rule of thumb is if you don’t plan to wear the item at least three times, re-consider bringing it. 

Some travelers like to bring a small bottle of hand-laundering soap to wash a few items in the bathroom sink each night to avoid the high prices of hotel laundry services.   Choose clothing that is easily washable and will dry overnight. 

Travel Insurance:
International travel is an exciting adventure but also poses many unpredictable situations. One of the most serious is the risk of injury or illness in a foreign country.

Unfamiliarity with a different culture and medical system is intensified without the proper resources to assist you in securing medical care and covering the associated costs. Your credit card, homeowner's and personal health policy may provide limited benefits but won't cover it all.

You should seriously consider taking out travel insurance.  This not only covers you for medical expenses and luggage theft or loss but also for cancellation or delays in our travel arrangements.  (You could fall seriously ill two days before departure, for example.)

Trollhaugen Tours is more than happy to assist you in purchasing travel insurance.  We recommend the following travel insurance companies: Allianz Travel Insurance (www.allianztravelinsurance.com), CSA Travel Protection (www.csatravelpro.com ) or Travel Guard Travel Incurance ( www.travelguard.com ).

Exchanging Money:
Cash: In general, cash is not a very good way to carry money.  Not only can it be stolen, but also you don’t get an optimal exchange rate.  Because of counterfeiting it may be difficult to change $100 notes.

Travelers Checks:  Just forget about using travelers checks even if is still  might be an option.  One must consider that the fee to cash them could be quite hefty and there may be difficulty finding a bank or institution who will handle the transaction. A better option may be using your credit/debit card at an ATM, which are found nearly everywhere, including small villages.
 

ATMs: ATMs cards can give you direct access to your cash reserves back home at a superior exchange rate.  Most ATMs will also give you a cash advance through your Visa or MasterCard, functioning as a sort of debit card attached to your bank account.  This method of getting cash usually incurs the lowest fees.  Some non-US ATMs won’t accept PIN numbers with more than four digits – ask your bank how to handle this, and while you’re at it find out about withdrawal fees and daily limits.  There are plenty of ATMs in Europe linked to the international Cirrus and Maestro networks.  If you normally remember your PIN code as a string of letters, translate it back into numbers, as keyboards may not have letters indicated.

Credit Cards: Overall, the cheapest way to take money with you to Europe is by using a credit or debit card, both to pay for things and to get cash advances.  Visa is the most widely accepted followed by Mastercard.  American Express cards are not very useful except at upmarket establishments.

Value-Added Tax (VAT) Refunds
Every year, tourists visiting Europe leave behind a billion dollars of refundable sales taxes. There's a reason visitors end up donating their dollars to their host countries: VAT refunds often aren't worth the trouble. You could spend a couple of hours collecting a few dollars back from a $25 purchase.

But if you're a die-hard shopper who can multi-task, you can recover a good portion of the hefty sales tax. The process isn't difficult; you just have to get the necessary documents from the retailer, carry your purchase with you, and track down the right folks at the airport, port, or border when you leave. 

Ideally- if you're lucky and have your passport handy - you can talk a merchant into taking the tax off the price right there at the store. But even so, you'll need to get the proper documents stamped when you depart Europe.

Europe's Value Added Tax ranges from five percent to 22 percent per country. The VAT is wrapped right into the purchase price. So if the VAT is 20 percent, the tax portion of a $100 item would be $16.70, not $20 as you might expect. Rates change, so check with merchants when you're there.
 

You can get back most of the tax you paid on merchandise such as sweaters, jewelry and crystal.  Shop at stores that know the process. Participation in the VAT refund program is optional. Most tourist-oriented stores opt in; often you'll see a sign in the window or by the cash register. If you don't, ask.  You'll also want to know whether the merchant handles refunds directly (which means a potentially bigger refund for you but more hassle) or uses a service (quicker and easier but they take a cut).

Get the documents. When you make your purchase, present your passport and have the merchant fully fill out the necessary refund document, called a "cheque." Store it in a safe place.

Know where to get your refund. If you buy merchandise in a European Union country, process your documents at you last stop, regardless of where you made your purchases.

Bring your goods - unused - to the airport.  You're not supposed to use your purchased goods before you present them at customs. If you show up wearing your new sweater, officials might look the other way - or deny you a refund. 

Get your documents stamped. The customs export officer will stamp your documents after you present your purchased goods to verify that you are, indeed, exporting them, so try to keep the goods in your carry-on. (There's a different process for shipped purchases that varies by country.) Some officials will stamp your documents even if you don't have your purchase with you, but others are stricter. Allow extra time for this process. If you leave without the stamp, recovering a refund can be difficult, if not impossible.

Collect the cash. Once you get your form stamped by customs, you'll need to return it to the retailer or its representative at the airport, port, or border crossing. Many merchants work with a service, such as Global Refund or Cashback, which have offices where you present your stamped document. They'll extract about four percent for their services, but it can be worth it — often they'll give you your refund in your currency of choice, right then and there. Otherwise, they'll credit the refund to your card (within one or two billing cycles). If the retailer handles VAT refunds directly, it's up to you to get the documents to the merchant to get your refund.

For more travel and handy packing tips, check out these web sites

http://www.ricksteves.com/plan/tips/tips_menu.htm

http://www.travellerspoint.com/packing-tips.cfm