As I have mentioned in a few of my articles, planning and preparation are so vital for when one has to travel, especially as we get older and I have been keeping you up to date with how we are planning for our trip to see the Northern Lights and other parts of Europe in December.

This is now step 9 and once again there has been a flurry of activity in the past couple of weeks after a long period of quiet. The highlight of these was to get our Rail Pass to travel by train through Europe after our Norway Safari.

China has not only had a direct effect on the USA and the developing nations but also on our plans for payment. We paid the 50% deposit for our Nordic Safari in March when the Euro was reasonable at R13.06 but, with the financial collapse in China, it is currently R15.02. Ouch! Expect the unexpected. A new quote doing the rounds is, “Recession: Made in China”

We keep trying to convince ourselves that it will come down again but it has done that only briefly last week. The final 50% only has to be paid by 19 November but I would like to do so further in advance because we can only apply for our Schengen Visa once it is paid and all bookings made.

So what has been done since I last wrote an update about 6 weeks ago. Firstly, we have purchased our Eurail Global Pass as there was a special promotion. When planning or travelling anywhere, especially Senior Citizens, always be on the lookout for any Special Offers. The Global Pass is wonderful to have as it allows one to visit up to 28 countries on a continuous basis for whatever length of time you will be travelling. The pass allows us oldies to travel 1st Class, unless it is not available, on any form of public transport – trains, buses, boats, trams etc. We have used this form of travel for 2 previous trips in 2010 and 2014 and have been very impressed with the system. It is excellent value for money especially when you find that you are on the wrong train. Hop off and on to the correct one without further cost. When we travelled in 2010, each time we boarded a ‘vehicle’ we asked the conductor what we would have paid for that particular trip and in less than a third of the time we had saved hundreds of Euros.

One thing I learnt from the 2010 purchase is that the Pass is supplied as a hard copy ticket delivered directly to your home. I made a serious error of ordering it just 4 days before we were due to leave being under the impression that it would be an e-ticket. The Pass arrived on the morning of departure. That was a very close encounter and a huge learning curve. Once issued the Pass must be validated for use within 6 months so it can be ordered well in advance. Validation is done at the first station of use. It is dated so that the time frame is clarified. For example, this time our Pass is for one month continuous and we should start using it from Narvik in Norway on 29 December 2015.  We will use it in Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, France and Spain until we depart from Madrid on 19 January 2016.

A second thing we have done is pay the hotel accounts for Copenhagen and Stockholm as these 2 currencies are currently a little kinder to the South African Rand (ZAR). Also, neither of these would give confirmation of booking for the visa if we had not paid in full. This is also something very important for South African travellers and any others who need a Schengen visa to visit the relevant countries. A number of documents and details have to be produced with the application. One of these is proof of accommodation, on a letterhead, faxed from the hotel. As a Senior Citizen you will also have to produce proof of pension status and of ownership of property or commitment to living here. This is beause the other countries do not want a whole lot of old people with their special health problems coming to settle and need medical assistance etc. Also, if only one of a couple has an income, s/he will have to declare that the spouse will be supported while travelling.

Hold thumbs for the Rand to strengthen against the Euro so that we can pay the balance! It is no good having the train pass if we can’t get to Norway first.

REMEMBER: 1. Print out and file all douments which arrive electronically as soon as received. Computers have been known to crash!

                       2. Update your Planning Spreadsheets – costs, bookings done & paid for, train ticket purchased & received etc

Don’t let all this careful preparation put you off travelling. Once all these applications and other paperwork have been done the rest is fun.

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