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So, You’re Going to Lisbon…


by Joey Burke and Deri Ross Pryor

If you are one of the lucky ducks going to Lisbon for the BGWS Summer Residency this year, first of all, I’m jealous. Second of all, if this is your first time going, there are many little things (that can add up to big things) that can catch you off guard. I’m by no means an expert in international travel in general, or Lisbon in particular, but I went last year and thought I would share all the little practical things I learned. Let my mistakes be your learning experiences.

BGWS student Joey Burke is going for the first time this year, and since I don’t fit in her suitcase as her personal guide we cooked up a little collaboration of Q&As to demystify the trip.

Dear Deri,

Thank you for taking the time to answer questions about the pending trip to Lisbon. This is even better than having an audience with Rick Steves.  As my expired passport reminds me, I have not traveled outside the United States since Ronald Reagan was Commander in Chief.  A few things have changed since then. The world has changed.

The slogan “Don’t leave home without it” echoes in the dark corners of my brain but I haven’t actually seen a printed traveler’s check in few decades. So my first question would be….What is the “it” that I shouldn’t leave home without? My Kroger Visa has the “chip” that is the new to me, but old news in Europe. Is this an acceptable way for currency to be evacuated from of my checking account?  Is that enough? If it is lost or stolen will a 1- 800 angel rescue me from eminent peril? How did you handle the Euro and change in one currency to another when change is what is required?

Dear Joey,

Yes, your “chipped” Visa is not only acceptable, but it is the ONLY type of credit card you can use over there. (I actually wrote a magazine article not too long ago about how far behind we are in the U.S. in regards to credit card security.) If one does not have a credit or debit card with the chip, I strongly suggest procuring one post haste. Your bank, or credit company, should be able to update your card easily. I hadn’t even thought about it, but when I went to order my Euros from my bank, the very astute teller picked up on the fact that I didn’t have an updated card and would be running into some serious trouble over there. She over-nighted a new card to me just in time for my departure. I would suggest asking your bank (or card company) what the process for a lost card is before you go, and having a backup card stored separately back in your room just in case.

Which brings me to Euros. You can of course withdraw Euros with your chipped card at any ATM, (which is a much better option than trying to find an exchange place) but that can rack up some substantial fees. It’s much more cost effective to order Euros from your bank before you go, especially since you’ll need them almost immediately upon arrival to either use the Metro or other public transport to your accommodations. I made the mistake of going with too few Euros, then tried withdrawing a little at a time until I realized how costly that was. Then I ended up withdrawing too much, so now I have a nice little stash of Euros I desperately hope I will need again someday.

Which brings me to another thing that caught me by surprise. Many places, especially smaller sit-down restaurants, do not accept cards for payment. I got caught a few times without enough Euros at a cash only establishment. Also, if you are eating in a group, they will not break up the bill. (If they do consent to break it up, expect a lot of heavy sighs and eye rolling. Just saying.) One group, one bill, one payment, and everyone ponies up their Euros into a pile. For that reason alone, having a sufficient amount of Euros upon arrival is worth it. I honestly only used my card for buying souvenirs once I figure all this out.

Hope this helps. The nice thing is you’ll be with friends, and fellow students or the folks at Disquiet will help you figure out any problem you run into. 

Published on April 26, 2016

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