Tag Archives: rick steves

If you’re a tourist – demand a tax refund!

Stop Paying Taxes

Travellers can often claim back local sales tax on high-value goods you’ll be ‘exporting’. Whenever you make a purchase overseas it’s worth asking whether you can seek a refund of sales tax – it is possible throughout most of Europe but not for GST paid in New Zealand, for instance. Local regulations vary but this often involves having the goods and reciept stamped by customs before you depart. You may be paid on the spot, but more frequently you need to mail the stamped form back to the place of purchase for a refund check or electronic credit.

Global Refund - Tax Free ShoppingTwo services Global Tax Refund Tax Free Shopping and Premier Tax Free promise to simplify the process of reimbursement in many (overwealmingly European) countries, although whether you’re interested in the services or not the websites are useful for a guide to European sales tax rates and restrictions (e.g. time limit for export or refund claims).

Both services are designed to simplify and streamline the process and allow you to be reimbursed immediately at their airport kiosk for purchases previously mPremier Tax Freeade at participating merchants who display relevant logo. If you forget or don’t have a chance to claim at the airport you will often be able to access the refund by mailing the documents from home, but check this in advance. Global Tax Free is the larger with some 230,000 participating merchants in 35 countries, Premier claims around of 75,000 ‘retail partners’ across 15 countries. Both websites offer shopping guides containing a list of participating merchants and specific details of the claims process for each country.

Both of these systems charge a percentage commission (around 4%) for the service, which may or may not be a fair price for avoiding dealings with the local beuracracy.

For a good guide to tax refunds for travellers in Europe see Rick Steves’ guide.

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[Image by Jahat]

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A bag, in a pouch, in a bag

My Love Affair With Dorky Luggage

Rick StevesPBS travel writer and presenter Rick Steves is a lot of things. A good writer, an intelligent and passionate traveller and someone who successfully preaches to Americans that there’s a world out there (OK, Europe) that is worth not just travelling to, but really seeing and experiencing. But, no matter his qualities, I’m happy to consider him the friendly old uncle of travel writing, encouraging the emptynesters to get out there and explore. But my guilty secret is I lust after his bags. Particularly his convertible carry-on and his daypack – all sorts of cool features, the best of all of which is they’re durable but damn light. But they’re so lacking in badass cred that they ought to come with a pair of slippers and a bus pass. But the design! The practicality! However, they don’t appear to be available anywhere in Australia and Amazon, fortunately my own self image, won’t ship them to Australia.

Today The Geeky Traveller caught my eye with the Kiva Keychain Backpack, made by the same company as Rick Steves line.

Kiva Keychain Backpack 1

Kiva Keychain Backpack 2

The Kiva Key Chain Pakc is a 120 gram nylon backpack (around 40 cms x 30 x 7) that collapses into a keychain pouch roughly 10cms x 6 x 3. A great idea for a daypack or extra capacity for things picked up along the way, even if the few Amazon reviews seem to (predictably) warn that it won’t carry a whole hell of a lot of weight. Like the Rick Steves bags, Amazon will only ship to US addresses. Saved from my own unconcious yearning for naff baggage again.

All in all, I reckon Kiva are a company that deserve a more active, better, or just bigger, Australian distributor.

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Lonely Planet: We don’t accept freebies – except when we do

Lonely PlanetThe Age today digs a little deeper into Lonely Planet’s editorial policies following the Thomas Kohnstamm affair and the both the Melbourne daily newspaper and the travel icon emerge from the encounter looking more than a little worse for wear. The Age contrasts the strict editorial policies of Lonely Planet regarding its policies on freebies and desk-updates with comments from authors. Much more damaging, if true, are the admissions Lonely Planet rep Piers Pickard makes, particularly the pattern in which clear rules (no freebies, no “desk updates”) collapse under the weight of reality after closer questioning.

On freebies Pickard says

Lonely Planet lets its authors accept free entry to state-run institutions such as museums or national parks. Prodded further, he says the company also allows freebies when obtained through a tourist office. He says the wording of its policy will be tightened further in future books to close any perceived loophole.

And, about desk updates

“We don’t do desk updates. We’re really proud of the fact that we invest a lot of time and money sending our authors as far as we possibly can around the world,” he says.

Were there any exceptions? Mr Pickard pauses. He says there are cases where writers cannot travel to dangerous areas, such as parts of war-torn Afghanistan. “But I want to make it really, really clear, we go so much further than our competitors,” he says.

Asked about [allegations of desk updates regarding the South Australian outback], Mr Pickard admits that the time and cost taken to travel to particular areas is sometimes too high — particularly in the face of tight publication deadlines. He says the chunks of outback untouched by Lonely Planet will be updated in a subsequent edition, by which time the relevant portions of its guidebook will be six years out of date.

“We can’t cover the whole of the Australian outback. That’s like imagining our authors sleep in every single hotel,” he says.

The Washington Post recently compared Lonely Planet’s freebies policy with five other major guidebook publishers and it demonstrates just what a high bar LP sets for itself compared to the competition. It’s sad seeing Lonely Planet hoist with its own petard – its paying a high price for idealistic but impractical editorial policies which are inevitably flouted in Lonely Planetpractice. What’s becoming crystal clear is the public relations price of maintaining these impossible to uphold policies, so expect idealism to give way to pragmatism (even at the guidebook born on the hippy trail). However, if the experiences of Lonely Planet contributor “interviewed” for The Age article, Zora O’Neil, are to believed then the Lonely Planet still probably has a thing or two to teach The Age about editorial standards. O’Neil in her blog ‘Roving Gastronome’ labels the article ‘tacky, lazy journalism’

I had a sinking feeling after my phone interview with Peter Munro. It was a good twenty minutes of him fishing for me to say Lonely Planet was hypocritical…

I spent a lot of time in my phone interview saying, in fact, that I thought LP generally has great intentions, and maybe it had written its freebie policy without a loophole in mind. And executives have been very responsive to my comments on the freebies issue, which is more than I can say for any other employer I’ve ever had.

But because I was uncooperative and my rational response doesn’t make a great story, Munro just resorted to quoting my statements on this blog–without even attributing them, so Age readers can’t come here and read my full comments. Worse, it’s in a larger context that makes it sound like I have taken freebies while on the job with LP, which is completely untrue.

The latest chapter in this unfortunate affair which is doing nothing for the reputation of Lonely Planet, guide books, travel writers or telling travellers anything they couldn’t already guess. But like a traffic accident, you can’t bring yourself to avert your gaze.

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Guidebooks: neither good nor bad, but thinking makes it so

Imagine having one month to track down information as broad as the prices at Laundromats in Seattle, the details of the Tijuana border crossing, where to find a decent sandwich in Bakersfield, an overview of LA’s nightlife, hiking trails in Yosemite, museum hours in Portland, bus schedules in San Francisco, and the location of a decent tourist office in Boise. Now imagine trying to do that in a place with no reliable transportation schedules, dial-up Internet connections (when there are Internet connections, or even phones), thousands of miles of unpaved roads, and heavily accented Northeast Brazilian Portuguese as the language of choice (Thomas Kohnstamm – Former Lonely Planet contributor)

In light of the Lonely Planet shemozzle I thought I would get round to writing a post I’d had in mind for a while. Guidebooks – the good, the bad and the unnecessary.

RomeThere are a multiplicity of guidebook series – Transitionsabroad.com has a decent run-down of the characteristics of some of the major players, in it particular highlights the drawbacks of each, which correspond almost exactly with my thoughts.

Personally I am drawn to Frommer’s when I am planning a trip by the ‘Best of’ lists and the uncluttered layout. I dislike the (admittedly handsome) DK Guides with a passion – at least for anything practical – and avoid the Let’s Go guides because of some glaring errors I have come across. I have found Moon Guides excellent for on-the-road reference where available, but have generally relied on LP’s as the most reliable (!). I haven’t had a chance to check them out but I have a grudging fondness for Rick Steve’s guides which contain no extraneous material – a country guide may concentrate on only a handful of cities or areas – opininated reviews and charming hand-drawn maps of questionable utility inviting you get lost. This almost directed approach creates a Rick Steves’ trail not unlike the more infamous LP trail.

If you are in the market for a guidebook remember they vary drastically in quality within series – try to find experiences of people who have actually used the book, then spend time in the bookstore browsing those you are interested in (or even better check for it in your local library). What’s more, keep in mind that ALL guidebooks are out of date:

Sure, there’s a disclaimer that says the information was accurate as of some date, but truthfully, the guidebook is only accurate during the time that the harried researcher/writer is standing on site at the open attraction/airline gateway/hotel/etc. Guidebooks are out of date before they’ve gone to print (Why Your Guidebook Is Wrong).

Wikitravel and World66 are noble attempts to create free, up-to-date, travel guides which are coming into their own which I urge you contribute to (although relying soley on them may still be unwise). This article in The Atlantic point to the fIbn Battutahuture relying on a diversity of internet sites – no travel guide can match google maps, the sheer number of reviews on chowhound and traveladvisor, not to mention the various travel blogging sites give you an incredible diversity of perspectives.

Guidebooks are still incredibly useful for planning and for giving you the lowdown on a particuar place. Ultimately, however, perhaps the best travel guide to take with you isn’t a travel guide at all. Why not ditch the LP or Rough Guide and try to recreate the footsteps of a great traveller, say Ibn Battutah, or if you’re heading to Europe try a specialist archelogical guide like the Oxford Archaeological Guides. Or travel light and just leave them all at home.

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