Using Ecrater to Get Started in Ecommerce

Beginning ecommerce entrepreneurs have a vast choice of places to create their e-tail website. Since most new small business owners do not have a large amount of start up money, a free ecommerce choice may be very attractive to them. is one of these free ecommerce solutions.

Free is Good. Or Is It?

Free, of course, is financially wonderful. Start-up ecommerce owners love free, and with good reason. It greatly decreases the risk of coming out of your ecommerce adventure at a loss. Free web hosting at Ecrater is also better than most other free hosts in that they do not plaster ugly advertisements all over your website.

Free, however, has a down side. Not paying for your own ecommerce hosting decreases your ability to design your website in the way you want it. It can also be less professional than purchased or private hosting. Ecrater also gives subdomain addresses to their ecommerce shop owners. While you can exchange it for a full domain name, many still reflect the lack of professionalism by using the free subdomain.

Product Listing Included. Sometimes.

Ecrater boasts that your items will be listed at Froogle, a popular online discount product listing service run by Google Corporation. While your products will appear there, it will usually not help you unless you know exactly how to utilize it.

Also, Ecrater itself has a vast product listing. If someone surfs to, they can search for products from all the stores available. While this sounds like a very good thing, some products from certain wholesale distributors are not included.

Easy to Design. Or Graphically Boring?

For the beginning ecommerce website owner, Ecrater offers a very simple graphic look that is easy to deal with. Large blocks of your choice of five or six colors dominate the front page. All you have to do is change the title graphic and write one paragraph for the front page. Categories and products are displayed in the same place on every Ecrater site.

Easy, but boring. Also, it becomes more difficult to stand out from the hundreds of other ecommerce shops that are hosted there. It also drastically reduced the options of a more experienced website designer. You cannot use HTML or CSS on your ecommerce store. Nor can you insert extra images or change the layout in any way.

Using to get started in ecommerce can be a very good decision for your business. However, you must be careful to insure that you are getting exactly what you want for your business. The packaged ecommerce store at Ecrater is free, easy to use, and part of a pleasant community. If you intend to grow into a large professional ecommerce company, it might not be the cho

Using Examples of Successful Business Models to Understand Demographics & Define a Target Market

One of the toughest decisions is one that every entrepreneur has to face: to whom will I market my product. Having graduated in business management with a focus on entrepreneurship and strategy, I’m often puzzled by new startups with seemingly no understanding of their target markets. Many entrepreneurs are apparently plagued by the myth “If you build it, they will come.” With little to no effort on their part, these small business owners somehow think a marketing plan will take care of itself and a set of core customers will automatically develop. Sadly, that just isn’t true.

Successful Businesses Analyze Demographics, Understand Their Target Markets  amp; Service Accordingly

Successful businesses are built on competitive advantages. In addition to cost-advantages and product differentiations, businesses build brands based on focus–segmenting the market and catering products and services accordingly. No business can be all things to all people. This fundamental rule is what successful entrepreneurs internalize and base decisions on.

Let’s look at three profitable businesses who understand their places in the industries in which they conduct business. These companies know who their real customers are and act in view of that.

McDonald’s is Cheap. Is McDonald’s trying to be all things to all people? No! The fast-food chain sells low-priced hamburgers and French fries. It’s not super healthy, or that great of quality, but it’s consistent, convenient and cheap. Yes, prices have gone up and the menu has expanded over time, but McDonald’s has built its reputation catering to its target market: consumers who want quick and easy grub, on the go. Even though we all at times may be in the realm of McDonald’s target market, the restaurant chain doesn’t try to serve us every meal we could ever want. It wouldn’t make sense given its supply chain and corporate structure. McDonald’s is fine with you grabbing your filet mignon and caviar elsewhere because it knows those wants are better met by someone else. The company understands, given its core competencies, what its target market really is.

Walgreens is Convenient. Does Walgreens serve the same customers Walmart does? Not really. Yes, people who purchase items from Walgreens can also shop at Walmart. But in the moment you’re checking out at Walgreens, why are you there? Unless there’s a sale, or you have a coupon, Walgreens is not likely cheaper. On regular-priced items, you’re paying a premium for convenience. I shop at Walgreens because it’s on the corner. It’s a small store–I can run in and run out in under five minutes getting the three things I need that can’t wait until my next Walmart trip. And if I run into a problem, I have a much better chance at Walgreens of tracking down an employee and getting the help I need.

Shopping at Walgreens is a different experience. Hence, Walgreens doesn’t generally compete on price. There are sales to get you into the store, and a few novelty items here and there, but mostly customers are paying for a personalized shopping experience in a small drugstore on the corner. Would Walgreens gain sales if the company lowered prices? Yes. But, would the store actually profit from rebuilding the company’s structure and marketing strategy? Not likely. In the moment you’re shopping at Walgreens, you’re a different kind of customer than when you’re shopping at Walmart. Both companies know that and continue to grow their businesses accordingly.

Vitamin Cottage is Eco-Friendly. Locally, and perhaps company-wide, Vitamin Cottage Natural Food Market has discontinued making available plastic and paper bags for customers purchasing goods. Is that a revolutionary idea? Yes! Is it ridiculous? Absolutely not. The company has built its brand as a natural and healthy grocer, intent on saving you and the environment. Yes, the store may lose some customers on the sidelines who like killing the earth one plastic bag at a time. But, the business’ green target market has just become that much more loyal. Vitamin Cottage made a smart business move to further company aims and to appease consumer concerns–all because the store understood its target market.

How Can You, As a Small Business Owner, Get into the Successful Business Model Game?

Realize the Goldilocks Phenomenon. Entrepreneurs face what’s known as the “Goldilocks Phenomenon:” identifying a market not too big, not too small, but just right. Entrepreneurs rightfully do not want to limit themselves into too narrow of niches. But, no company has the resources or product offerings to satisfy everyone. And by trying to please everyone, generally, no one is completely satisfied.

In writing a business plan, honestly identify where your company’s strengths truly are in comparison to your competitors and the market which you plan to serve. If you have no edge in a given field, rethink the business plan. If initial research is showing too small of a target market, rethink the business plan. If the numbers aren’t working out–you guessed it–rethink the business plan.

Do Your Homework. Developing an accurate understanding of your company’s demographics is hard work. And while it’s not enough in and of itself to save a company, the lack of it is enough to kill a startup before it’s ever even gotten off the ground. Clearly, finding the perfect niche in the market would be every businessperson’s dream come true.

So how is it done? More market research, more competitor analysis, and a little more ingenuity. Answer the pertinent questions. Who is buying, or who would buy, what you are offering? If you have customers, interview them. What are the commonalities between your customers: age, sex, education? Race, occupation, hobbies, purchasing habits? If you’re only in brainstorming mode as a potential business, identify your potential competitors and interview their customers. What are the commonalities between them? What are the major differences? See what your competitors are offering and analyze who they are targeting. What are they doing wrong? What market segment is nobody reaching? Can you legitimately deliver to that segment that is presently being underserved?

Stick With It. Continue to conduct market research and employ creative techniques to further identify the circumstances in which your company will need to conduct business. Once you really understand your startups’ demographics, you can begin adjusting your company offerings accordingly. Knowing what to offer and whom to target is a balancing act. Fine tuning the details can take years, but the required effort is worth accurately identifying the perfect target market for your business.

For additional information on how to start a small business, you can visit the U.S. Small Business Administration’s website, which is a valuable resource for budding entrepreneurs.

Tips for the Beginning Small Business Owner

For many of you, just making the decision to become a small business owner is a big step. For those of you who have already made this decision, congratulations. The problem is, what do you do now that you’ve made this life-altering decision? Many people who started out with dreams of conquering the world have ended up struggling just to conquer their street corner in a world filled with competition and bigger brand-name companies.

The secret for today’s new entrepreneurs lies in the ability to learn from others so you don’t have to make those same mistakes yourself. Keeping these tips in mind that apply to almost every industry (regardless of what’s being sold) will help keep your company afloat while you’re getting your feet wet in the world of business. After all, as cliché as it sounds, you never know when your next idea will be the “big one”, and you’ll want to make sure your business is ready to ride the waves.

First off, come up with a special offer for your customers, such as a discount off a bundle of products or the opportunity to purchase a desirable product you wouldn’t normally carry. This will create an incentive for people to purchase from you. Make sure the “special offer” is just that: an offer that is special. It defeats the purpose of the exercise if the customer can take advantage of the offer by any other means.

he great thing about special offers is the fact that you don’t have to go out of your way to order a slew of new products to put one together. Find a few items in your inventory that are related, discount the price if your customer purchases the whole package, and your customers will be satisfied that you’re giving them a good deal. It’s healthy for your own bottom line as well–you’ve just sold three or four items instead of just one.

Next, keep a sharp eye out for niche markets. Surprisingly, although this is one of the first things new business owners should be looking for, niche markets are overlooked far too often. Within your current customer base there are groups of people with common interests. Maybe you have a group who speaks a second language, or a teenage throng. Maybe your products really speak to the needs of the working class. Try to determine these niche groups within your customer base, and figure out the unique needs they must fill. This leads into “target marketing”, where you construct a marketing campaign solely for this group of people. Take your current advertisements, then change them slightly to speak to these niches. Most likely they’ll be grateful that you took the time to figure out their particular interests, which can lead to an increase in your own profits.

Lastly, consider setting up a referral program. One key strategy many entrepreneurs employ is the tactic of turning customers into mouthpieces for their products. Most of the time, if the product is of good quality and fills a need the company doesn’t even need to ask the customer to promote it to others. Word-of-mouth is an often ignored but necessary means of marketing.

Quality alone will help word spread of your business, but you can help it along even further by offering an incentive to customers who refer you. Give such referrals a special thank you, such as a product they can’t otherwise purchase from you, or a nice discount. Also give out customer surveys with your product delivery, asking what was pleasant about their experience with you and what needs work. A few surveys attached to a request for referrals can go a long way in improving your business.

These tips should help you get over that first rough year as a new business owner. Remember, no matter what happens, treat your customer with the utmost respect and you’re already miles ahead of your competition.

Strange Travels: Jules’ Lodge is an Underwater Hotel in Key Largo

If animated movies like Finding Nemo and The Little Mermaid left you fascinated with the undersea realm, then you may be delighted to know that you can live underwater with real tropical fish – at least for a night or two. At Jules’ Undersea Lodge in Key West, Florida, guests can pay for the privilege of scuba diving down to an aquatic research lab that has been enterprisingly converted into a small underwater hotel. Created by Neil Money and Ian Koblick in 1986, Jules’ Undersea Lodge welcomes a mix of couples, families, and curious celebrities for pampered overnight stays in a kitschily decorated enclave. Celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2006, this novel underwater hotel named after author Jules Verne was the first lodge of its type in the world.

Instead of 20,000 leagues under the sea, Jules’ Lodge rests a mere 5 fathoms (30 feet) into the fish-filled waters off of Key Largo. But that hasn’t negated the novelty of scuba diving to this steel and acrylic container, which consists of two bedrooms and a common area connected by a wetroom for equipment. Visitors enter the compressed-air lodge via a special moonpool in the wetroom. Looking something like an abandoned spaceship that crashed into the sea, the underwater hotel features 42-inch round windows in both bedrooms so that guests can enjoy watching their neighbors swim by. Because Jules’ Lodge was originally a research station, it is located in an exotic underwater thicket of maritime life featuring angelfish, barracudas, and other entertaining creatures along with the more contextual sponges and sea anemones in Key Largo’s Emerald Lagoon. So most guests try to log as much diving time as they can, using Jules’ Lodge as a resting place between their scuba adventures.

When guests tire of diving and window-watching, they can enjoy music and movies or feast on filet mignon prepared by the resident “merchef” for the underwater hotel. The result is an active diving component combined with a relaxing, pampering overnight stay. Within the womb-like confines of this submerged station, guests can rest assured that Jules’ Lodge is being monitored around the clock by staff and that it has numerous backup systems in place for protection and communication. In fact, to stay at this underwater hotel, one need not be an experienced scuba diver. The minimum requirement is a three hour class which teaches the essentials for a safe descent and resurfacing.

The novelty of this underwater hotel habitat is available for just under $400 per night per person. For information on booking, visit Jules’ Undersea Lodge online.

Getting Through Security when You’re Traveling

Getting Through Security when You're Traveling

Security today is now tighter than ever because if the September 11th events. In airports today, no stone goes unturned. Unfortunately, this can make traveling far more annoying, and if you get checked out, you may be delayed for your flight or overly upset unless you take certain measures.

There are a number of ways to make sure that your trip runs as smoothly as possible, even if you get checked by security. These simple actions will make all the difference in the timeliness and efficiency with which you get through security.

Make sure when you arrive at the airport that your bag isn’t locked. If it is locked, the lock will be broken. Arrange everything as neat as possible so that the person inspecting your luggage doesn’t have to dig around. If they can glance in and rifle it a bit without missing anything, you’re good to go.

Put anything at all sharp in your check-in luggage, even if it’s a pair of tweezers or nail clippers. This is highly important, as anything security deems a threat will be confiscated. The same goes for things like bobby pins and hair sticks.

Wear easily transferable clothing. If you wear a jacket, make sure it’s easy to take off. Also, wear slip on shoes that can be easily taken on and off. Whatever you do, don’t wear a belt that has a metal buckle. Go no belt at all or cloth.

If you have any bodily element, like a metal plate or pin, get a signed copy of a doctor’s note and have it ready to show authorities if the alarm goes off.

Always carry your boarding pass and ID in your hand. Security always checks for this, so make it easy on you and on them.

If you’re wearing metal or even silver jewelry, best practice is to tuck it away in your jacket pocket, and the same goes for watches. Better yet, don’t wear any jewelry; carry your jewelry or watch in your jacket or purse.

Watch your luggage as security checks it. You have the right to do so, and it’s a good idea, especially if you have valuables. Another passenger or stranger could lift something, and security doesn’t always notice.

Pack your valuables in a portable bag and carry them on to the plane. Don’t check them in, as this can be heartbreaking if your bag is lost or stolen. Put them in the most secure spot and leave them there.

Flying with Pet Rodents: The Rules for Traveling With Your Rabbit, Guinea Pig, Hamster, or Rat

Flying with Pet Rodents

Most travel agencies address traveling with pets such as dogs and cats, but tell an agent you’re bring along a pet rabbit, guinea pig, hamster, etc. and you’re likely to get a confused pause and then be passed among numerous people, none of whom know the proper procedure for bringing your furry friend aboard an airplane. But, if you’re slightly knowledgeable about the rules for your carrier and have allotted extra time before your trip to make arrangements, traveling with a pet rodent can be easy and relatively stress-free for both of you.

You’ll want to take your pet as a carry-on in the cabin with you as most rodents are too fragile to travel as checked luggage. Of course it goes without saying that your pet should be in good health before you attempt to travel with it. So, the first thing you must do is determine what the restrictions are as far as traveling carriers go for your airline. Most airlines post the dimensions on their websites, typically under the “Special Needs” section. For example, Continental’s maximum dimensions for hard sided carriers are 22″ Length x 14″ Width x 9″ Height. These dimensions are very important to follow because if your carrier is too large to fit under the seat in you will have to check your pet. Personally, I prefer a soft-sided carrier for my guinea pig as I’ve found that fewer people in the airport (children mostly) approach it asking what I have inside and peering into it.

The fewer people poking at your pet’s carrier the better as travel is already fairly stressful for them and you want to create as calm an environment as possible. You should also be aware that you might only be able to bring one pet per person in the cabin and that advance arrangements or notifying the airline are usually a requirement. Most airlines will be able to accommodate two small rodents if you make advance arrangements and if both animals travel in the same carrier, but it’s best to call your particular carrier’s customer service to ensure this is an option. When you do call to make arrangements be prepared to explain exactly what type of animal you have and how large it is (both size and weight).

Once you’ve got your pet’s carrier and advance arrangements have been made you’re ready for the actual day of travel. You’ll want to feed your pet at least 4 hours before your flight. A full stomach can be uncomfortable for them with the pressure changes, so it’s best to feed them well ahead of time. Water, however, should be available before the flight. I typically bring along a small bottle and allow my pet to drink before boarding the plane and during any layovers we might have. Putting a soft towel, or t-shirt that smells like your pet or you inside the carrier will also help with stress as well as providing an absorbent layer for any “messes” that might happen along the way. Most rodents burrow when frightened, so a bit of extra fabric allows them to tunnel should they begin to feel unsafe. You will not be able to check-in from a self-service or curbside and will want to allow plenty of extra time for checking in at the counter. Most, if not all, airlines have a fee for bringing pets on board so be prepared to shell out extra cash at check-in in order to get your live animal sticker and the ok for your pet to board.

Security checkpoints are not a hassle if you know what to expect. Know that you will need to take off your shoes, jacket, and take your pet out of its carrier and hold it as you walk through the metal detector (the carrier goes through the x-ray machine, sans critter). I recommend wearing slip on shoes for ease and letting the guard know you have a pet before you start opening the carrier. Your pet might be frightened by all the new sounds and smells so you’ll want to be as calm as possible and speak in a soothing voice to help them know everything is ok. It also helps to hold your pet close to your chest and support both its front and hind quarters to repress their natural urge to flee. Once you make it through the metal detector place your animal back in the carrier and give your boarding pass and any papers you were given for your pet to the security representative. Then, you can head to the gate to await boarding. Please note that you will not be able to take out your pet on board the plane and possibly while in the airport.

Once you reach your destination, open the carrier and coax your furry friend out of it’s carrier with its favorite treat. Know that it might take awhile for your guinea pig, mouse, hamster, rabbit, rat, etc. to become accustomed to its new surroundings. If you’ve done everything you can to be well prepared for your trip however, it should be a fairly hassle-free experience for both you and your pet. Happy Vacationing!

How to Pack Light for a Trip to Europe

Pack Light for a Trip to Europe

When traveling in Europe, it’s important to pack for the occasion. If you are staying in multiple destinations, it is a good idea to pack lightly. Some airlines charge extra fees for luggage that exceeds their weight limit. If traveling by train, it is a difficult to swiftly board and exit with a lot of baggage. It is also a chore to find space for all your bags on a crowded train. You can maximize your space by following some simple tips in this article.

It should be fairly easy to find hostels or hotels with laundry facilities near by or in-house. This makes it easy to pack fewer clothing and maximize space by minimizing the dirty laundry you carry around. Coin operated laundry facilities are usually inexpensive compared to the burden it can cause to tote extra clothing around. For a three week trip, it is a good idea to take two pairs of jeans, one pair of shorts, two pairs of walking shoes (in case one gives you blisters or gets wet), socks and underwear for no more than five days, one jacket, one sweater and no more than four shirts. This offers a lot more luggage space and makes for cargo that is easier to carry in a smaller bag.

There are certain things that will be less hassle or even cheaper to buy while in Europe. Electrical outlet converters are easy to find in train stations, grocery stores and airports. They also often cost about half the price in Europe than in the U.S. On that note, instead of taking along a bulky laptop, it might be best to check out the list of best gaming laptops under $300 from DigiArch.

Packing food is generally not ideal. It’s hard to know how food items will fare in the flight. Flying to Europe, there is usually at least one lay over and with all the luggage handling, there’s no way to know how much of a mess it may have made in your bag. A few granola bars or a small package of crackers is not going to make much of a mess and may come in handy when you land and at the airport and they’re selling a bag of chips for $6.00. But plan on buying most of your food at your destination instead of taking up valuable room in your bag.

It’s a great suggestion to buy travel containers for your toiletries or buy travel/trial size toothpastes, toothbrush, shampoo, conditioner, lotion, shaving cream, etc. to conserve room.

Remember that a lot of hotels or hostels will have a blow dryer to use so you won’t need bring one.

It’s a long trip from home to hotel and you may have to walk with your luggage from the train station or bus. Keep your cargo as minimal as possible to make your time on foot less awkward and your trip less stressful.

Travel Tips for the Budget Conscious

Travel Tips for the Budget Conscious

Traveling this summer? Are high gas prices causing you to rethink your travels? Not sure if you will have enough money to get to your destination after filling up your tank? Are airline tickets too pricey for your liking? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you are not alone. Many people are rethinking traveling altogether because of budget concerns. If thought out carefully and with a budget in mind, you can take a great trip this summer you just have to know how to plan accordingly, to save yourself that much needed money!

Once your destination is decided, it is important to start thinking about lodging. If lodging is too expensive at the particular city you are visiting, try looking at surrounding cities. Often times the smaller surrounding cities have much cheaper lodging than the larger cities. Begin your search for budget saving lodging by scouring the Internet. Many times websites such as,, and have excellent hotel deals on most major tourist destinations.

Another secret that many may not know is to actually call the hotel you are interested in. Many times booking directly with the hotel can save you money over booking online. If not calling the hotel directly, get as many different quotes from all the different online sites as possible, then compare who can get you the room the cheapest. The obvious answer would be to book with the cheaper site, since you are traveling on a budget.

Once you have found quotes on a hotel, the decision needs to be made as to how to get there. Will you be driving, flying, taking a bus or a train? For many people, driving this summer will be expensive it may end up almost as expensive as flying. If choosing to fly, think about how you will go from place to place once you reach your destination. Will you rent a car, take a taxi, or will you easily be within walking distance of each attraction you wish to see? If you know that walking won’t be an option and decide to fly and then rent a car, think about this added expense. Renting a car can be expensive especially when added onto to your airline fare; it may be cheaper to drive to your destination.

If flying, there are ways to not break your budget. Many websites do offer cheaper flights. However, another little unknown tip is to call the airline directly or book through the specific airline’s website. I have found numerous flights directly on an airline’s website that are much cheaper than booking through an online travel site. Many people are not aware of this secret, but it can save an airline passenger quite a bit of money, especially if booking early.

If flying, most of the time it is much cheaper to fly out of major metropolitan airports than smaller city airports. Try flying into a major city also; this cuts back on budget busting airfare prices. If you absolutely cannot fly into our out of major cities, many smaller airports offer airlines such as Southwest, Air Tran, Jet Blue and Frontier. Flying one of these airlines, if possible, can be much cheaper than booking a flight with one of the bigger airlines.

If renting a car once you arrive at your destination, know that you need to book a car rental at least 14 days in advance to receive a discounted rates. Car rental agencies also offer coupons for travelers and many agencies give discounts if renting the vehicle for one week. Another tip on car rentals: don’t rent from the airline car rental terminal. These terminals may charge you an airline fee to rent the car. If possible, rent a car from an agency not located at the airport. This little bit of information can often times save you from 10 to 15 dollars a day.

With gas prices so high these days, many people may think flying or taking a train is cheaper. Train travel can actually be expensive, if you choose to purchase a sleeping car. These cars are much more comfortable and allow for a bed to sleep on, but are much more expensive than just renting a chair in one of the travel cars. If comfort isn’t important to you, and you have extra travel time, than train travel may be for you. Keep in mind that train travel can go very slow, with many starts and stops throughout your journey. If your wish is to get to your destination more quickly, than train travel may not be the right choice for you.

If you choose to drive to your destination, no matter how far it may be for you, remember that you may need lodging throughout the trip until you reach your destination. If you are brave, many people choose to drive straight through until they reach the city they want to vacation in. This can be tiring and it can mean a grueling amount of time in the car. But, it can also save you the cost of extra hotel stays on the way.

Gas prices are high. A good way to decide if it would be cheaper to fly, drive, or take the train is estimate how much each form of travel will cost you. Make sure to add in extra hotel lodging, car rentals, etc. if needed. Once you have determined which form of transportation is cheapest, then you can begin to actually book your flights. If driving, a good website to find the cheapest gas in each city you may be driving through is the following: This website should be able to tell you where the cheapest gas is found in many cities throughout the country. The best part is, it is absolutely free!

Traveling, especially with the high price of everything these days, can be expensive. Knowing some important tips can help to save you money, and may even allow you to take a much-needed vacation to a place you thought you couldn’t afford!

Travel Tips for International Vacations

International Vacations

International vacations can be extremely fun. There’s just something about traveling to a different country in a different part of the world that is exciting. You get to experience a different culture, different food, sometimes even an entirely different lifestyle than your own. When you travel on an international vacation it is important to follow some general guidelines and safety tips.

Safety is one of the most important things to take into consideration when you travel on an international vacation. When you travel on an international vacation you should do whatever you can to keep from becoming a victim of theft. This is important regardless of the part of the world that you travel to on your international vacation. Make sure that you do not wear expensive jewelry or clothes. If you travel to a poor neighborhood, do not have your camera out.

Try to secure your belongings as much as possible when you travel on an international vacation. When there is a safe available at your hotel or hostel, use it only if it looks secure. When you travel with money on an international vacation, use a money clip only when you have to and use the kind that is worn on the inside of your clothing.

When you travel on an international vacation you should never leave your luggage unattended. This is one of the most important things to do when you travel on an international vacation. As long as your luggage is with you, no one will get a chance to steal it. Use padlocks if you can to deter thieves from breaking into your luggage when you are on an international vacation.

Make sure that you are always aware of where you are going. Many people that travel on an international vacation tend to wander around aimlessly. This makes them a target for muggers and thieves. Use a map to determine where you will be going on that day. Memorize the route so that you know what streets to look for. If you travel on an international vacation and walk around with a map in your head, others will know that you are lost. If you need to refer to your map along the way, you should move out of traffic and place your back on a wall that is still in or near the bustling parts of town. Look at the map and try to memorize the next few steps that you will make. Once you have done this put the map away and continue on.

Always be aware of your surroundings when you travel on an international vacation. Feel free to enjoy the sites and the culture because that is the purpose of the international vacation. Just make sure that you also pay attention when you travel. Trust your instincts and gut feelings about where you are. If something seems wrong, then it probably is. It will be hard to know the unspoken rules of the place that you travel to on an international vacation, but try to be as sure of your surroundings as you possibly can.

Six Tips for Travel to Germany (and Any Other Country)

Tips for Travel to Germany

             1.Know before you go – events

Way back in 1985, I’d had my first ‘real’ job for a year. I’d spent the entire time saving up money so I could take a nine-day trip to England as soon as I had earned my five days worth of vacation (awarded after one year of service). I wanted to see some plays in the West End, (London’s theater district), and I wanted to travel north to see some of the places associated with King Richard III, whom I’d become fascinated with after readingThe Murders of Richard III by Elizabeth Peters and The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey.

I could have gone over at any time, but I was impatient and went over literally the day after I was awarded my vacation days – in May, 1985. I had a good time…up to the point when I went to Bosworth Battlefield: the place where Richard III had died and the War of the Roses had ended. Like most ancient battlefields there wasn’t much to see, just placards placed along a walking path explaining what had happened where. Interesting, but it needed imagination to hear the sound of horses’ hooves, men yelling, the sound of blade against blade. After I’d walked over the ground, I went into the gift shop to buy some souveniers. And there I saw a poster advertising the Re-enaction of The Battle of Bosworth Field, which was to take place on August 22, 1985, the 500th anniversary of his death. Hundreds of uniformed soldiers, lots of fighting, Richard’s final desperate charge on horseback that led to his death…Now that would have been something to see…and I was four months too early. If I had but known…

In this day and age of the Internet superhighway, when detailed information on any subject is just a click away, there’s no need to miss an event that you’d want to see ‘if only you’d known.’ Whatever your hobbies or interests are, start doing your research well ahead of time so that if an event is going to take place at a certain time, you’ll be able to plan accordingly.

(And there may be times that you absolutely want to avoid, such as dates for big sporting events, or big festivals which will attract more people than you might want to deal with.)

             2.Know before you go – the language

Unless you have a gift for languages, you’re not going to learn enough German in less than a year or so to be fluent. Nevertheless, it’s worth your while to study the language for as long as you can – simply because it will add to your comfort level. Yes, quite a few Germans speak at least some English, but not all do, and it’s a joy to be able to read and understand phrases on buildings or posters.

At the very least, you must pick up a phrase book…and don’t wait until you need to know a phrase to start looking it up in the book. Familiarize yourself with its contents…memorize the phrases for use at hotels or in restaurants…to ask for the police or other emergency services, etc.

Think you don’t have time to listen to language CDs? Of course you do! Check out some from the library, and listen to them on the way to and from work.

             3.Luggage matters

Black seems to be the luggage color of choice. It looks ‘cool,’ right? It also makes everything look alike, especially if you’re just off the plane after a tiring trip and standing at the luggage carousel anxiously awaiting your bags. So instead of black, choose red or blue or green! If you must have black bags, tie bright red bows or something to the handles to easily distinguish your bags from somone else. This wll enable you to see your bags easily, and it will prevent other people from accidently making off with your bags – which has been known to happen.

  1. Know the Airport

Depending on where you live and where in Germany you’re going, you’ probably fly into either Berliln or Frankfurt. If you’re having someone meet you – familiarize yourself with the airport. There are diagrams of the airports at their respective websites. Important: Pay attention to the steward(ess)’s spiel at the end of your trip – they’ll tell you at which carousel your luggage will be arriving. But don’t put on your headphones and tune out while you wait – five minutes later your luggage carousel location might change, and it’ll be announced over loudspeakers. Once you get your luggage you’ll go through customs. (You went through passport control first thing.) If you have nothing to declare (duty free liquor, etc.) it usually won’t take too long…you just walk through the right door. You can be met here – *or you can arrange to be met at the official Meeting Point (there’s one in each terminal – and are usually used by tour companies who want all their people to wait in one place, but you can take advantage of it too.)

You can change your dollars into euros at plentyof places here. Practically all service personnel at the Airport will speak good English, so you’ll be able to ask questions if you have to.

              5.Don’t try to do too much

If you travel a great deal, you’re the best one to know how quickly you recover from jetlag. If you’re taking your first international trip, be aware that your first day in Germany will probably not be a fruitful one. Even if you can sleep on a plane, you only get a few hours shut-eye before you are wakened. So you’ll be tired. Try to schedule this day as one where you can simply relax. Try to stay awake as long as you can, at least until early evening, so that you can sleep straight through to the next morning and thus get onto German time…but again, it’s up to you to best know how your body responds.

Once you’ve recovered from the flight, don’t try to jam-pack your days. That’s the “If its Tuesday this must be Belgium” syndrome. Better to get a good look at a few things than a brief look at a lot of things that will simply blur together in your memory.

             6.You’re in Germany

It’s a common point of humor – don'[t drink the water in Mexico. The same thing holds true in Germany as well. You’ll find that Germans don’t drink tap water – they drink bottled water. Follow their example.

Depending on where you are in the country, you’ll find food just like home – McDonald’s are ubiquitous, there are Pizza Huts, Kentucky Fried Chickesn and other fast-food, chain style restaurants. While its fun to go in these places and see what’s the same and what’s different…you are in Germany! Try the local food! Try the local beers – but please don’t over-indulge.

Stores are usually closed not only on Sundays, but also for a couple of hours during the middle of the day on weekdays. This includes large cities as well as the smaller towns.

Throughout Europe, the Euro is the currency of choice. You can use German Euros in France, French Euros in Germany, and so on. (The countries have their own ‘national’ design on one side, but they’re accepted everywhere.)

There is a network of highways in Germany called the autobahn…and people drive really, really fast on them. There are no speed limits. If you want to drive on the autobahn, make sure you learn the meaning of the international road signs, and make sure you know the rules of the road. Fast cars drive in the left two lanes, slower cars in the right. There is *no passing on the right hand side. Plan your journey in advance on an atlas, and make sure you know not only the name of the town you’re heading for, but also the names of surrounding towns, so that if you see highway signs listing various city names, you’ll know if you’re heading in the right direction or not.

Germany has an excellent train service, so consider going places by train.

When it’s time to go home, remember that you’ve got to get to the airport with a couple of hours to spare – so that you can go through customs, have your luggage checked, etc.

The more prepared you are for your vacation to Germany, the better you’ll enjoy it, and the more you’ll be able to remember of it as the years go by. So be prepared, do your homework, and have fun.