Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Using Credit and Debit Cards in Italy

One thing I didn't realize is that when you use a credit card overseas the credit card company charges a fee. I have 2 different credit cards and I called both to check on the fee. The first credit card, through my credit union, charges a 1% fee. That fee is the same if you are using credit or using an ATM machine. Of course the specific ATM will also charge a fee.

The second credit card, which is a Citibank card charges a 3% fee per transaction. Quite a difference between the two cards.

I let both credit card companies know the dates of my travel and asked them to email me if they had a concern with the card use.

I decided that I will take both cards, but only use the credit union card, unless it is stolen or lost or there is an emergency.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Websites for Lodging in Italy - with a Pet

My criteria for finding a place to stay in Italy includes:
1. Inexpensive - hopefully under about $35/night;
2. Allow pets - for obvious reasons;
3. Near Transportation - I won't have a car so it should within walking distance from a bus or train; and
4. In or near a city that has easy access for day trips to other cities.

I looked at a lot of websites and many showed properties that were too expensive for me. If you have lots of money to spend, you could look at www.rentvillas.com or www.vbro.com.

Since I am not in that category, I found some other great websites that have a variety of prices. The ones I'm using the most are www.airbnb.com and www.bedycasa.com. I have also used www.venere.com in the past. When you have a dog you want to see in the listing if they allow pets.

I found a really good website www.hostelbookers.com. They had other lodging options besides hostels, but none of their sites mentioned whether they allow pets. When I wrote to them, they told me to tell them which place I was interested in and they would check. Unfortunately, that won't work for me. I don't know where I'm going to be so I need to be able to book spur of the moment places, not have to email a middle man to see if any of them allow pets.

I still hope to make 1-2 reservations before I leave, but if I don't have time, at least I know which websites to use.

Most of my time last night was spent trying to figure out how to get to the Courtyard Rome Central Park (a gift from my sister), from the airport. The hotel website only had driving instructions. Based on a past trip to Rome, driving would be the last thing I would want to do. After a few hours of searching, I finally found the answer: Take FM train (at the airport) to Trastevere Station, then take the FM3 train toward Victerlio/Cesany and get off at Gemelli. I will have my GPS to guide me on foot the rest of the way. (Wishful thinking??)

Three days and counting -

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Health Records Complete for Pet's Trip to Italy

I don't know what I am going to do with my time now that Seymour has all of his vets visits and health records completed! We had our last visit to the Vet on Tuesday when he had to be checked for parasites, fleas and other gross stuff. We purchased a 3 month supply of heartworm/flea pills to take with us. The Vet was great. He and his overseas specialist, Ann Marie reviewed all of the paperwork and went above and beyond with making sure it was right. Besides all of the health exams, the hardest thing was getting used to writing the date the European way: DD-MM-YYYY. Then we had to remind the Vet to sign things in blue ink. I brought my own blue pen, just in case. The vet visit was more expensive this time because they charged me for the time it took to complete the paperwork. I do understand that.

Wednesday I made copies of most of the forms and called the USDA to make sure we had everything we needed. The man mentioned another form that I had never heard of and told me to check with the airline to see if it was needed. So, I called AirFrance and they said that as long as I had something from the doctor saying he was healthy to fly we were OK. I also made sure Seymour still had his reservation. They had him listed as a "5 pound chihuahua". Although he is 7 pounds, he is still well within the weight limit to fly under the seat.

I then headed to the USDA office. I am so lucky to live near one of the offices. I don't think I would get the paperwork back in time, otherwise. They ended up taking most of the paperwork I had in my folder even though they really only needed the form 998 and the Certificate of his Rabies Vaccination. I hope I get it all back! They did ask me when Seymour had been microchipped and when he had his rabies vaccination. I had researched this and knew that he had to have his microchip BEFORE or the same day as the rabies shot. Otherwise, he would need an additional rabies vaccination.

Besides the Health Records, the USDA also needed $36.00. I paid by charge because I didn't want the paperwork held up waiting for the check to clear. They told me that the turn-around time to get the certification done was 24-48 hours and that it was better for me to come back and pick it up than for them to mail it. So, I got home and accidently left my cell phone in the car. This morning I retrieved my phone and there had been a message from the USDA that the paperwork was done. That message came yesterday afternoon, probably 1 hour after I got home. Talk about fast! The USDA is about an hour away in downtown Austin, so I plan to go back this afternoon to get it.

We will finally have Seymour ready to go to Italy. But I still won't relax until he is officially on the plane!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Cutting Expenses for the Next Three Months For Italy Trip

There are many things to think about when you are going to be away from home for an extended period of time. There is no use paying for services you won't be using - and that money can better be used for our trip. I am finding that I will save over $600 by just doing the following things:
1. Cell Phone - I am putting my cell phone plan on hold since I won't be bringing my phone with me. There is a fee for them to "Hold" your phone number, but it is minimal - around $12/month.
2. Cable, Internet and Home Phone service - These are also being put on hold for about $20-$25/month - again to "Hold" my phone number.
3. Trash Pick-up - We pay quarterly for this service, so I cancelled it and will probably go with a less expensive company when we come back.
4. Newspaper - I could have put this on hold but I only had one month left on the current subscription so I decided to have it forwarded to a friend. I will decided if I want to re-start the subscription when I come back.

The money saved will come in handy in Italy. Seymour and I will both be able to put it to good use - like being able to purchase gourmet Italian dog food, tee shirts for the both of us - and maybe even traveling first class on the train a time or two.

Tomorrow Seymour goes for his last vet visit and we will pick up his completed health records. I will make a copy of them and then take the originals to the USDA on Wednesday for certification.

Anticipation . . . .

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Crate Update and Beginning to Pack

Well, I was very proud of how quickly Seymour learned to quietly stay in his zipped crate all night - and then he learned something else. He realized that when he went into his crate in the early evening, he was prime for me zipping him in it and carrying it up to bed. After three nights he decided that he wasn't going to going in his crate in the evening; he hides under the bed. All day he will stay in his crate but obviously he wants his freedom at night. Why are they such quick learners on things you don't want them to learn? We still haven't mastered the pee pad.

On to starting to pack - A couple weeks ago I started gathering things I wanted to pack and actually tested them to be sure they fit in the suitcase. Today, I had to take them out because I needed to hem a couple pair of pants. As I looked at what I had packed, I started rejecting most of the clothes and adding new things.

Seymour is set with:
2 sweaters
2 folding doggie bowls
3 rolls of poop bags
His leash
Small bag of Doggie Chicken Tenders - at least I'm going to try to take that.
His crate with his sling used as a blanket in it.
His favorite doggie toy - a small stuffed cow he stole from my newborn grandson. I did get my grandson a replacement.
Some pee pads that I'll use to line his crate and keep an extra in the crate pocket; and
His Doggie passport (health records)

This is the carry-on I'm going to use for the trip - our only luggage!

My clothes, so far will include:
1 skirt
2 pairs of pants
1 pair of capri pants
8 shirts (or less)
1 sweater
4 pair underwear (3 are supposed to be quick wash/dry)
knit hat and gloves
1 pair of fold up shoes
1 pair of walking shoes (besides the ones I'll be wearing)
1 nightgown
1 pair of silk long underwear
3 pair of socks, stockings
1 towel
1 bar of soap that is supposed to be good to wash body and hair
1 silk sleep sack
1 neck pillow (blow up)
1 quart bag of makeup, etc.
A few other extras

BTW, I am rolling all clothes and I think it makes it much easier to fit more into the suitcare.

Electronics will probably include:
iPad with keyboard
small phone I bought to use in Italy
Small camera that will do some video
Chargers/Italian converter
GPS - I used when I was there 4 years ago for walking around and I just updated the maps. I can't function without my GPS.

This list will probably have to be pared down once I try to fit everything into my carry-on.

I will wear jeans, a shirt, and a coat on the plane. I may have to layer more clothes that don't fit into my luggage!

Somewhere I'll have to keep my paperwork, passport, travel book (although I will have a couple on my iPad)and a notebook.

Time is flying -

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Pee Pads and Airline Crate Training

There is good news and bad news. The good news is that Seymour took to his crate pretty quickly. I have had it in the living room for about a month and after I took the hard floor out of it, he has decided that it is his favorite place to rest.

So I went one step further; I zipped him in it and placed the crate on the bed beside me. He usually curls up next to me, and had those questioning eyes for a time the first night, but finally settled in. He has now been sleeping in his zipped crate for the past 3 nights and he is doing great. So far, he's been in it for about 9 hours straight and when I unzip it, he comes out reluctantly. I'm thinking that he may do OK on the plane.

As to the pee pads - well, they are working as well as the silent whistle I purchased to get him to stop barking. He has other ideas what both of those things are for. The silent whistle works great to get him to come to me, but has no affect on his barking.

The pee pads are a great place to sleep on, but not "mess up" with, well, pee. I first put the pad on the back porch and opened the doggie door from the house so he could only go to the porch if he had to "go". It didn't work - he held it. Then I moved the pad to the yard and put an old twig on it - one of his favorite things to "wet". He knows the word "pee" and will usually do it when I ask. But not on the pee pad. I think he likes the softness of it. When I put him on the pad and point to the twig and say "pee", he looks and me and then lays down - on the pad. We've been working with the pads for a couple of weeks and so far, nothing is happening. I was hoping to teach him to use them so I could take one into the rest room and put it on the floor for him to use. This is going to sound gross but my next idea to to put some other dog's poop on the pad (not at all hard to find around here) and see what he does. I'm not giving up!

We still need to make our final appointment at the vets and pick up his completed health records to take to the USDA. I plan to do that this week.

A little over 2 weeks until takeoff!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Double Check Required Health Records for Seymour

Well, I looked over the paperwork needed to get Seymour into Italy and it looks like the USDA might be right - I don't think he needs the titer test. Next week I will take him to the vet - one more time - to have his last minute examination to check that he has no fleas, parasites or ticks. The Vet should then sign the EU form 998 and I plan to drive to the USDA office to drop it off for signature. I also have to bring a stamped, self-addressed envelope and a check for $36.00 with me.

Hopefully, the form will be mailed back to me within a few days and I should then have everything I need to get Seymour on to the plane and into Italy. We will have:
1. The signed EU 998 form;
2. Proof of his new European microchip. He has a metal tag he will wear on his color with the chip number on it; and
3. The Veterinary Certificate for Domestic & International Airline Travel Certificate.

I understand that the EU 998 form is good for 4 months, so we should be able to get back into the country with it.

I plan on making a copy of each form to take with me, and to leave a copy of each form at home for family to access, if needed.

Time is flying!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Last Minute Questions about Seymour's Health Records

My veterinarian contacted the USDA to make sure they had all of Seymour's tests/immunizations completed. The USDA told them that Seymour doesn't need the titer test, which we had scheduled for August 11. I plan to dig out all of my paperwork and just re-check that information. I still have dreams that he won't be able to get on the plane (so I won't get on the plane) due to missing or incomplete health records.

Seymour does have to see the vet again so they can be sure he has no parasites or creepy crawly things in or on him! He will be getting a thorough bath and flea treatment before that visit.

Approximately three weeks and counting -

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Cell Phone for Italy

I don't think I've spent as much time researching anything for our trip to Italy as I have on cell phones. Well, that's not exactly true - figuring out Seymour's travel health requirements is still an ongoing problem - and will be covered in a later blog entry.

The first thing I had to decide was why I wanted to use a cell phone - to call the USA and Italy, for Italy only, or so people could contact me?

I decided that most of my communication needs back to the USA will be solved with Skype set up for the free service and then I plan to get the Skype phone number so people can leave me messages that I can check when I have internet. I will have an emergency calling card in case I have an emergency call to make.

What I think I need in Italy is a phone with an Italian phone number so I can call places in Italy for directions, reservations, etc. and people in Italy can call me. Not that I expect many phone calls. The next question is whether to buy, rent or use my own phone. You can use your own phone if it is set up with GSM access, but I decided not to bring my phone. I'm too chicken that I would do something wrong and I'd come home to $1000 worth of charges.

Some people believe that if you are only going for a week or so, renting a phone is the best bet. I personally think that you can purchase a phone pretty cheaply so why not just buy it and have it for future trips? And if you don't go on "future trips", sell it on craigslist or ebay.

I found this cute little phone on Amazon for about $32. It comes with a headset (probably not the best), an electrical charger and of course the phone and rechargeable battery. My concern is remembering where I put that "cute little phone" during my travels - it is little!

You will need to get an adapter to your charger so you can plug it in while in Italy. Adapters are really inexpensive and I already have one.
This is what they look like:

The outlets in Italy have 3 holes but you only use the 2 outer holes when you plug in an adapter.

Back to the cell phones. So, once I chose my phone, I had to decide what to do about a SIM card. Some SIM cards sold in the USA will give you a USA or UK phone number so your family can call you inexpensively. Since I only want to use it for calls within Italy, I decided to wait until I go to get a card. Some things I didn't know about SIM cards, that might be old news to you:

1. Every time you get a new SIM card, you get a new phone number. So, since I am just going to Italy, I will buy one card and get it recharged. I understand that you can get them recharged in tabacchi, grocery stores or via the internet.

2. The SIM card itself costs money so you may pay 10 euros for a card and only get 5 euros worth of time - or less. But usually you only pay for outgoing calls, not incoming calls. With some services, you are charged for both.

3. There appears to be three main companies/stores that sell SIM cards in Italy: Telestial, TIM, and Vidafone. They each have stores all over Italy and you can find them by searching the internet - or asking someone.

4. You do have to get the SIM set up and hopefully they will help me when I buy it. Otherwise I'll have to try to translate the directions using either Google Translate or a cool new site I found called www.babblefish.com

5. In order to purchase a SIM in Italy you have to have a tax record called a "Codica Fiscal" which proves you live in Italy. I found a site online where you could supposedly create your own Codica Fiscal but it wouldn't work for me. Maybe that is good because they do say that is could be illegal. So,this tax form could be a problem. I understand that some shops will fill one out for you when you buy a SIM - and I hope that happens. Otherwise I might see if the woman I'll be staying with the first month will help me to get one.

6. There is a way to set up most phones to speak English instead of Italian but right now I don't know how to do it. Again I hope to learn more when I get to Italy. BTW, I understand that the reason for needing this card is because the Italian government doesn't want terrorists to be able to access phones for sinister reasons.

Besides needing to set up the Skype phone number, I think my communication needs are complete. I don't plan to get any data packages but instead will just seek out internet access in various places and use my iPad. I just purchased a bluetooth headseat with mike for my iPad but I haven't tried it out yet.

I'm trying to make this trip as inexpensively as possible, so any money savers I find, I will pass on to you.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Weather, Security and Communication in Italy

I'm back to planning our trip to Italy. I needed to know the weather conditions while I'm there so I knew what to pack. Also my sister talked me into thinking more about our security while I'm there, so I've been working on that.

Weather: I checked the temperatures in different parts of Italy and I found that they vary about 10 to 15 degrees between northern and southern Italy. It will be in the 60's and low 70's when we are in Montipulciano for 4 weeks. Then as we travel who knows where, the temperatures will drop to the 50's, then 40's. So, I will bring a down jacket, hat, gloves and scarf - and Seymour will have 2 warm sweaters.

Security: I got on the American Embassy website for Italy and found that there are 4 Embassies there - in Rome, Florence, Milan and Naples. They have a one page emergency contact list that I printed out and will carry with me. I plan to get a phone in Italy that I can just use for in-country calls and plan to program these numbers into that phone.

I also found that they have a list of English speaking professionals for different parts of Italy. The list is long, so I will probably only write down a few and then just have the website in my favorites, so I can access the whole list, as needed. The Embassy also has a program called STEP, which is the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program, where you give them your info as to when you are going to Italy, where you will be staying, your passport number, email and emergency contacts. This will give them a way to contact you in case of an emergency in the country. I'm sure it will also make it easier for them to help me if I lose my passport. It sounds like something travelers should consider doing consistently.

One problem I found in the STEP application was that there was no place to let them know that I'm traveling with a dog, so I added him as my traveling companion as if he were a person, but then in the comments section, said that he was indeed at least 1/2 dog. (Well, I didn't word it like that, but I was thinking it!)

I also emailed the Embassy to see if they have a list of English-speaking veterinarians or pet care places because if something happened to me, I would want to be sure he is taken care of and not stolen or left alone. I don't know if they deal with that many pet-obsessed travelers! I'll let you know what I find out.

Communication: After talking to many people who had bad experiences with shocking additional costs when using their American cell phones in other countries, I decided not to go that route. I plan to have 3 methods of communication:
1. As I said earlier, I plan to get an Italian phone for the 3 months I'm there so I can call people in Italy to find places to stay, or even to call the American Embassy, if needed.
2. I have a Skype account and have asked some family and friends for their Skype info so I can talk to them from my iPad for free when I have WiFi access. I am also checking into the Skype service where you get a phone number and can call people from your computer to their land line or mobile and leave messages instead of trying to plan for both of you to be available at the same time. Also, people can call me and leave me a message that I will pick up the next time I sign into Skype. I am assuming the number I get with be a USA number, but I have to check. I'll give you more details as ot cost, etc. once I finalize this.
3. As a back-up, I plan to get a pre-paid calling card so I can call when I don't have WiFi or again, in an emergency.

I feel like I'm talking about emergencies alot but I'm being told that it is better to plan ahead and be lucky to not need it than to have an emergency and be floundering around trying to figure out how to deal with it.

Four weeks until we leave -