Tips for Traveling Overseas

By North of Boston

This summer, my family and I are traveling to Europe to celebrate my 50th birthday.  Back in my young, single days, I used to travel internationally a lot.  However, those days are long gone, and I realize that it has been over 20 years since I last went abroad.  As I think about the upcoming trip, I realize that I have a lot of random questions about traveling overseas in the modern era.  Who better to help me with my questions, I thought, than The Totebag?

Totebaggers, I would love your input on the following questions.  If you have any additional tips for traveling internationally, please share those as well.  Also, if other Totebaggers have questions about their own travels, or would just like to chat about upcoming summer trips, feel free to jump in.

  • Many totebaggers have remarked in the past that it is considered very rude these days to recline your seat if you are sitting in coach on a plane. Is that true even for overnight flights when, presumably, most people want to sleep?  I don’t want to be rude, but I also want to try to rest on the eastbound, overnight flight.
  • Even when I was young, I had a lot of trouble with jetlag when going across several timezones . What is the current thinking about ways to minimize jetlag?
  • Back InMyDay, I remember that if you wanted to use anything electric overseas, you had to carry not only a plug adapter, but also a converter to change the voltage of your items. I think I have heard that most modern electronics (e.g. laptops, chargers, etc) already have converters, so you just need the plug adapter; is that true?
  • Also InMyDay, my pre-trip preparations always involved a trip to the American Express office to get a stack of U.S. dollar traveler’s checks. How do people pay for things these days?  Can I expect that credit cards will be acceptable pretty much everywhere (we’ll be in England and France), or should I also bring cash?  If the latter, is it better to get the cash in the U.S., or wait until we’re overseas?
  • What is the best way to get cell phone service overseas (I would like to be able to get my work voicemails, and to respond to any that need immediate attention)? Should I just ask my carrier what plans they offer, or should I do something else?
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Presents and shopping

These two related topics dovetail nicely so they are posted together.

Holiday Gift Giving

by North of Boston

OK, Totebaggers, the Holidays are upon us, so let’s talk presents. What are you planning to give your loved ones? What are you hoping to get? Are you changing your gift-giving habits this year (e.g. expanding or contracting your recipient list, or spending more or less on gifts than you have in the past)? And if you’re stuck on what to get someone, here’s your chance to ask for suggestions!

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Shopping Deals

by Finn

With Thanksgiving rapidly approaching, that can only mean one thing: Black Friday is also approaching, to be followed by Small Business Saturday, then Cyber Monday.

Are you looking to take advantage of any deals offered in this shopping season? What are your strategies? Are there any great deals out there that you’re willing to share?

Life Insurance: What Kinds, and How Much?

by North of Boston

I am wondering if I could call upon the wisdom of The Totebag regarding a question I have about my life insurance. I would also be interested in having a general discussion about life insurance. It’s not the most thrilling topic, I know, but it’s one that I imagine is on the minds of many of us.

Like many people, I bought term life insurance before my first child was born. When I was expecting my second child, I increased my coverage (from $700,000 to $1,000,000). There was no in-depth analysis that went into choosing those amounts – I just sort of did a rough, back-of-the-envelope estimate of what seemed sufficient. I am now nine years into a 20-year policy, and happily, I am still alive and well (knock on wood).

My insurance agent called me the other day to point out that my term policy is convertible to permanent (whole-life) insurance for one more year. Not surprisingly, he extolled the virtues of permanent insurance, and encouraged me to consider converting part of my term policy to whole-life

In the past, I would have dismissed this suggestion out of hand. Whole-life insurance is expensive, and I’ve always assumed that the dollars spent on it would be better invested elsewhere. But now I’m wondering whether whole-life insurance could be a decent part of a diversified financial portfolio. My husband and I have significant exposure to equities in our retirement accounts, so maybe the unspectacular-but-steady returns of a whole-life policy might provide a good complement to those investments. Down the road, in our old age, he and I could borrow against the cash value of the policy if we needed to, essentially giving us another source of tax-free retirement funds (in addition to a couple of Roth accounts that we have). If we didn’t end up needing the cash value, we could leave the policy, intact, to our kids.

Is there any merit to these ideas, or are they just the sales pitch of an insurance agent who is looking to earn a big commission?

Totebaggers, would you ever think about adding permanent life insurance as part of your financial portfolio? More generally, what kind of life insurance do you have? How much do you have? What were the factors that you considered in deciding what kind and how much insurance to buy? Do you feel you are adequately insured, or is adding insurance on your to-do list for the new year?