Spevak: Make travel abroad more enjoyable with these tips

John SpevakJanuary 17, 2013 

Travel can broaden people's perspectives and help them see their lives and the lives of others in new ways.

For anyone resolving to travel abroad, especially to European countries like Italy, I have a few tips, based on my recent Italian excursion.

Learn a little of the language of the country you're visiting. Fortunately, in many countries, like Italy, many people, especially near hotels and shops, speak English fluently.

But it helps to know enough of the language to at least say "hello," "good-bye," "please," "thank you," "Do you speak English?" "How are you?" and "excuse me." I found when I expressed these simple greetings in Italian, even with my Anglo accent, I usually received a smile in return.

Stay in hotels near the center of the city you're visiting. Many tours put travelers in hotels on the city's outskirts, then bus them in. It's much better, however, to have a hotel room to which you can return, then relax and begin afresh your urban explorations.

Prepare yourself to walk a lot and bring good walking shoes. In many cities, the only way to experience its history, architecture and even its retail sales is by walking, often up hills and along uneven paths.

Walking turns out to be a blessing; it invigorates the body and encourages the spirit to absorb more gradually and thoroughly a city's charm.

Travel light. Often you have to roll or carry your own luggage. Hauling a bulky or heavy suitcase not only slows you down but makes you irritable.

Finally, if you are carrying a smart phone, turn off your data roaming option. This may be the most important tip of all.

Sandy, my wife, and I decided to take one of our smart phones to Italy. Sandy carried hers, which doubles as a camera. I carried a small camera and a simple flip phone, into which was inserted a SIM card in order to make relatively cheap calls in Europe.

In Rome, on our third day in Italy, Sandy received a text in the morning from our cell phone provider which read, "Your international data roaming charge now totals $250." She thought this must have been a mistake.

(A week earlier, in Los Banos, we had called our mobile provider. We were told how expensive it would be to send emails or use the Internet in a foreign country. So once in Italy, we didn't.)

During the afternoon of our third day in Italy, Sandy received another text: "Your data roaming charge now totals $425."

Again, we knew this had to be a mistake; in the bus, on the road to Florence, I called our provider.

"Did you turn off the data roaming service?" the provider's representative asked. "No," I said, "I didn't know we had to, since we weren't using that option for emails or the Internet."

"I suggest you turn it off now," the rep said, and told me which menu item to find and click. I followed his directions.

That evening Sandy got another text: "Your data roaming charges now total $565."

I called our cell phone provider again. After a long hold and brief conversation, the final answer I heard was, "Yep, that's what you owe."

When I returned to Los Banos, I called the mobile phone company again. I received the same reply and the following explanation: "Smart phones, unless you direct them not to, are -- on their own -- constantly seeking data connections. Until you turned that service off, that's what your phone was doing in Italy."

That's why I owed the big bucks.

To make a very long story short, I made several other phone calls, talked to many supervisors, and ended up writing a long, detailed letter, reminding the company I'd been a loyal customer for almost 10 years.

Eventually, after two months, my mobile phone provider removed the $585 from my bill.

I wish someone had told me to turn off the data roaming option before I left the United States. It would have saved me hours of time and prevented substantial increases in my blood pressure.

Comments on the writings of John Spevak, an Enterprise columnist for 29 years, are encouraged, and can be sent via email to john.spevak@gmail.com.

Comments on the writings of John Spevak, an Enterprise columnist for 29 years, are encouraged, and can be sent via email to john.spevak@gmail.com.

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