Here is some general information to make your beer tour more enjoyable:
- Make sure your passports are current for the entire duration of the tour and at least six months beyond.
Make sure your name is spelled on your air ticket the same as it is on your passport.
- Alert your credit card companies and debit card bank that you will be in which countries, which dates, so that a fraud alert doesn’t freeze your cards.
- Know your PIN numbers for debit and credit cards.
- Use your debit card to get Euros from ATMs. This will give you the best exchange rate. There are ATMs in the BRU airport.
- Exchange booths at the airport will almost always give you the worst exchange rate for both buying and selling. I avoid them.
- Bring at least $500 USD with you in case your cards don’t work or you cannot find an ATM that uses your system. In a pinch, you can typically exchange USD for Euros at hotels for a moderate, but not great rate. Carry your cash on you. Don't leave it in a your room or luggage.
- Don’t bring travelers checks. They are often difficult to cash and a lot of places don’t want to deal with them or won’t accept them.
- Bring a travel alarm or learn how to use the alarm on your personal device. Wake up calls are almost a thing of the past, but hotels will usually accommodate you while they hold back a smile.
- Keep your wallet in your front pocket and purses zipped. In large crowds, especially airports, train stations and crowded markets be alert for pickpockets. While not a huge problem, better safe than sorry.
- Opt out of housekeeping at hotels by hanging a "No housekeeping, please" sign on the door and notifying the front desk. Petty thievery can happen even at the nicest hotels. Most petty thievery is not done by housekeepers, but by other guests as your door is open during housekeeping. I like to spread out and not have housekeepers in my room. If I need more towels, I'll ask for them.
- Keep a photocopy of your passport somewhere besides in your passport in case it gets lost or stolen. Also, scan it and keep it on your Google docs (or similar) on the cloud. Then, you can access a copy from anywhere in the world.
- There will be access to computers along the way to check email, so no need to bring a laptop unless you really want the extra weight and responsibility.
- If you plan to use your cell phone in Europe, call your provider to make sure it will work there, or so they can mail you a temporary phone to use there. Or, get an international calling card from Costco and familiarize yourself with how to use it. If you have a phone with a SIM card, have your provider “unlock” your phone so you can buy a European SIM card and change it in and out to make less expensive calls. You can buy SIM cards many places for about €10 and make calls to the U.S. for about 15 cents a minute as opposed to 99 cents a minute like Verizon charges.
- I will have my phone on me and you will be able to text (preferably) or call me there while on tour. (231) 215-0173. For example, if you have a flight delay, you may text, call, or leave me a voice message to alert me to your situation and we can make plans to have you join us wherever.
- Know how to turn the data off on your smart phone so you don't incur unwanted charges.
- Skype is a great free way to keep in touch with people back in the United States. Set up an account before you go and get familiar with it. Besides Skyping between computers or smart phones, you can also use Skype via a paid service to call telephones. Visit Skype.com for details.
- For Apple users, Facetime is often better than Skype. Tango is a good app for free wifi calling, too.
- Make sure you have your prescriptions filled before you leave the U.S.
- Familiarize yourself with the latest TSA rules on what you can bring on board.
- For luggage, you get to bring one medium sized bag (roughly 20” x 28” x 10”) and one small carry on. Pack light and buy yourself out of a pinch if you need something. Repeat: Pack light and buy yourself out of a pinch if you need something. It’s OK to wear the same pants or sweater more than once. Make sure your bag has wheels. • Don’t even think about bringing a suitcase without wheels. I like large wheels like on roller blades as they go over cobblestones and through dirty better than little wheels. I personally like Eagle Creek luggage because it is tough and has a lifetime guarantee. Spend a little more on some decent luggage and you will never regret it.
- We may be traveling by train for parts of the tour, walking to the station, etc., so it is best to be mobile and light. Loading bags on trains, up and down steps, down aisles, in overhead bins, curbs, steps, etc.
- I recommend bringing a soft empty duffel (in addition to the luggage mentioned above) to put inside your large bag, so that on the way out of Brussels you can carry most of your dirty laundry and TSA approved items on board and then check your large suitcase with all the beer you will certainly buy and bring it back. You can usually get about 15 small bottles of beer in a piece of checked luggage before it weighs too much to avoid extra charges. I recommend bringing some bubble wrap (with small bubbles) and rubber bands in which to wrap beer for the way home. You will reach your weight limit before your alcohol duty limit. Customs permits you to bring back beer if you are not reselling it. Shipping beer back by other means is costly and most people don’t do it. Most airlines allow one “free” checked bag on an overseas flight. The second one can be very expensive, so most people avoid checking a second bag.
- Also overweight charges for checked luggage are very expensive. 50 lbs. is usually the limit. I have a portable luggage scale you may use on the way out to make sure your beer doesn’t put you over 50 lbs. Luggage scales are only about $20 and pay for themselves quickly.
- Buying too much beer and not being able to get it home is a real (but good) problem. Half way through the tour, you will all realize that you have too much beer and must either consume it or give it away. Pace yourself with all of the above.
- Use plastic zip ties to prevent petty thievery while in transit and hotels. Keeps everyone honest.
- Research the cities will visit so you have an idea of how you want to spend your free time: Museums, attractions, etc.
- Bring a flashlight. Lightweight LED headlamps are great. Europe can be dark. Plus if there is a power outage, you are prepared.
- Drink a lot of water on the tour. One glass of water for every beer is a good goal. It will help you stay regular and help your general constitution when consuming a lot of high-alcohol beer over an extended period of time. Pace yourself, you will have plenty of opportunity to sample plenty of beer. Go easy on consuming beer on your first night of the tour, it will make the rest of it much more enjoyable.
- For your knowledge my birth name is Ford L. Stuart III (Stu is a nickname I’ve had since childhood and my stage name) and some hotel reservations may be listed under this name because it is on my passport. So if you find yourself having to check in early or deal with the front desk, the booking is in most cases under your name and mine.
- Consider apps for your smart phones that translate Flemish (Dutch), French and German. Food menus may be one of your greatest hurdles in dealing with language barriers. I like to use an app for translating menus called Foodictionary.
- If you use a CPAP for sleep apnea, DO bring it. It is worth the extra space and weight and likely uses dual voltage and will work fine in Europe. Your partner will thank you later.
- Common courtesy, politeness and being good ambassadors are foremost for us when traveling and representing our respective countries and BBM! With this in mind, please remove your hats when inside buildings and especially at meal tables. Wearing a hat at a table, especially in Europe, is very offensive and impolite. Americans, take note.
- And finally, bring a large travel cup for coffee. European coffee cups are tiny and you feel like you never have enough coffee. Also, you can fill your mug at breakfast and take a cup to go for the road.
- Also, bring a zip lock bag so can discretely make a sandwich at breakfast, save it in the bag and consume it later in the day. It’s amazing how good a ham and cheese sandwich can taste on the train or coach in between breweries.
You will thank me later!
"Converters," "Transformers," "Plug Adapters"
What's the difference?
Many appliances are dual voltage, you don't have to worry about converters and transformers. It should say 110-240 V (means dual voltage) somewhere on the power cord. Personally, my cell phone charger, blue tooth and Mac are all dual voltage.
You just need a plug adapter for the country you will be visiting. Most of Europe, including, Belgium, France, Netherlands and Germany use the Europlug (except the U.K., Italy, Switzerland and Denmark). So, it’s good if you bring two Eruoplug adaptors to charge your cell phone, camera batteries, bluetooths, etc. 99% of laptops are dual voltage. You can also buy adapters there. This is all most of you will need to know. For more details read below.
Plug Adapters do not convert electricity. They simply allow a dual-voltage appliance, a transformer or a converter from one country to be plugged into the wall outlet of another country. The plug of an American appliance will not fit into outlets in most foreign countries without an adapter.
Converters should be used only with "electric" appliances. Electric appliances are simple heating devices or have mechanical motors. Examples are hair dryers, steam irons, toasters, mixers, blenders, incandescent lamps, heating pads, electric blankets, and small fans. Converters should not be used for more than three hours at a time.
Transformers are used with "electronic" appliances. Electronic appliances have a chip or circuit. Examples are radios, CD players, shavers, battery rechargers, computers, computer printers, fax machines, televisions, answering machines, DVD Players, radios/stereos, and fluorescent lamps. Transformers can also be used with electric appliances and may be operated continually for many days. (The advantage of converters is that they are lighter and less expensive.)
Converters and transformers are available for appliances of different wattages. To find the wattage of your appliance, look at the label located on the appliance or in the owner's manual. The label or manual will show the input voltage, (100, 120, 220, 240, written as volts, V, volts AC or VAC), the wattage (written as watts or W) and sometimes the amperage (e.g. 0.5 Amps or 0.5 A or 500 mA). If only the amperage is shown, multiply the input voltage by the amps to find the watts. Volts x Amps = Watts. (Example - 120V x 0.5A = 60W; meaning a 120-volt appliance rated at 0.5 amps is a 60 watt appliance and requires a transformer or converter of at least 60 watts).
"So, what should I take?"
First, ask yourself if what you are taking is electric (such as a shaver, an iron, or a portable hair dryer) or electronic (such as an electric toothbrush, CD, radio or cassette player, camcorder battery recharger or laptop computer). Next, find out what its wattage is. A popular unit is the Auto-Adjusting Converter/Transformer. It is both a 50-2000 watt converter and a 1-50 watt transformer and automatically acts as a either converter or transformer depending on whether the appliance is electric or electronic.
Second, choose the appropriate plug adapter for the country that you are visiting. Since our converter fits European outlets (except the U.K., Italy, Switzerland and Denmark), you will need an adapter to plug it into most European outlets. The Auto-Adjusting converter/transformer also fits these outlets. We have a transformer that fits U.K. outlets and another for European outlets (except in the U.K., Italy, Switzerland and Denmark).
If you are not using your converter or transformer in a country whose outlets match its plug, you should purchase the plug adapter for that country.
"Should I take a surge protector?"
If you plan to use expensive electronic equipment abroad (especially a laptop computer), it is advisable to use a surge protector. The surge protector that you use in the United States or Canada is for 100-volt electricity and should NOT be used in countries with 220-volt electricity (but if you need one for the U.S., click here). There are travel-size 220-volt surge protectors for use in Europe and other 220-volt areas. You simply plug your dual-voltage appliance (or your transformer) into the surge protector. You then plug the surge protector into the outlet. The plug on our surge protector fits European outlets (except in the U.K., Italy, Switzerland and Denmark). To use it outside Europe (or in the U.K., Italy or Switzerland), you'll need a plug adapter (designed especially for the EuroSurge™) for the country you'll be visiting.
"What do I need for my computer for use in 220-volt regions?"
Computers are electronic devices and therefore must be used with a transformer (not a converter) unless they are dual voltage. Fortunately, most laptop battery chargers and AC adapters are dual voltage. Because they are dual voltage, they can be used with only a plug adapter for the country you'll be visiting. In addition, it is advisable to use a 220-volt surge protector in 220 volt countries. Simply plug your dual voltage charger or AC adapter into the 220-volt surge protector. Then plug the surge protector into the electrical outlet (using the appropriate plug adapter).