River Cruise Safety in Europe

By Hank Schrader, USMA ’71, Europe Destination & Europe River Cruise Expert

We have been on 11 river cruises in Europe and will go back again in December to take our 12th cruise.  There are many reasons why we like to river cruise so much, but one key reason is that it is a safe trip and it makes it a great vacation for most folks.  We would never consider cancelling our trip due to the current world situation in Europe, because we have so much confidence we will be safe.  As a retired Army Officer, I can assure you I never would put myself in danger anyway just to have a vacation.  I do, however, understand concerns in today’s world.  We have traveled during many periods of unrest or tension in Europe and always felt safe, as long as we take simple steps to avoid potential dangerous situations.  Please consider these items before you decide that travel to Europe or taking a river cruise in Europe is dangerous:

Risk

No one can promise you will be safe anywhere in the world, including where you live today in the US.  Despite the headlines, you are actually safer traveling to Europe than the risks you face in daily life.  From 2001-2013, according to the US State Department, 350 US citizens have been killed overseas.  In that same time period in the US (2001-2013), according to the Center for Disease Control, 406,496 people were killed by firearms and again from 2001-2013, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, roughly 520,000 people died in auto accidents.  Perception of danger overseas is not the reality.

Terrorism Aims

Terrorists want to spread their political agenda by fear and intimidation.  They want the 24-hour coverage of the news channels to show how horrible they are and that they disregard human life.  Terrorism is random and this increases fear.  The terrorists win if we stop traveling.  Do not worry constantly, just use good common sense to limit chances you will be harmed.

Tips to Protect Yourself in Europe

  • Buy Travel Insurance

There are many ways travel insurance can add a level of protection to safeguard your trip.  Travel insurance can cover trip cancellation for qualified reasons (you never go on the trip) and trip interruption for qualified reasons (you go but do not complete the entire trip); medical problems, evacuation home or to a hospital, lost or delayed baggage and flight insurance.  Not all policies cover all the above situations, especially trip cancellation coverage and the costly cancel for any reason policies.  Most policies we recommend are primary coverage—that means they pay first regardless of other coverage.  One of the best features is an emergency contact center, manned 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to assist in an emergency situation.  Just so you know, we never travel without travel insurance.  We always offer travel insurance, but you are not required to buy (disclaimer, we are paid a commission on these products, but the real reason we recommend travel insurance is that we want you to consider your personal risk and situation.  We have a professional responsibility to ensure you are properly informed).  We can help guide you through the process but we will never promise coverage for a specific situation —this is something you should discuss with the insurance company directly.  Travel insurance just adds peace of mind, in my opinion.  There are also policies that provide emergency evacuation that are not a medical necessity. 

  • Watch the News on TV

Just keeping up with world events can help you recognize potential danger areas to avoid.  CNN International and BBC Worldwide are usually available in most places we have stayed and are available on most river cruise ships.  Don’t become glued to the TV–just monitor so you are protected and informed

  • Realize that some venues make be directed to be closed or a ship might make a change in port stops or tours.

For your protection, you will often see more police at public transportation areas and there may be more security screening to enter some areas, museums or other attractions.  We have experienced all of these and in most cases, it was totally reassuring, and the delays were minimal.  Just be flexible and all will be all right.

  • Enjoy your trip but be aware of your surroundings

This is the common sense rule.  We always expect to have fun, but are aware—if something just does not seem right, use caution.

  • If traveling alone, make sure someone knows where you are and when you are expected back

While we recommend traveling with someone or in a group, if you are travelling alone, let the hotel front desk or the river cruise ship reception know if you are going out on your own.  It just adds another level of security.

  • Register with the State Department

The US State Department has a Safe Traveler Enrollment Program.  The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) is a free service to allow U.S. citizens and nationals traveling abroad to enroll their trip with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.  It allows US citizens to sign up to receive alerts from the US State Department, allows the US Embassy a way to contact you if needed and provides a way family or friends can contact you in an emergency.  Here is the link to their website to register https://step.state.gov/step/

  • Carry some items with you to help you be prepared if an emergency situations arises.

We always carry with us contact info for the hotel we are staying at or the emergency contact info for the river cruise ship, a copy of our passports, some local cash and a credit card.  We also have our cell phones.

How River Cruise Companies Help Insure Your Safety

River cruise lines train their crew members to insure your safety.  The sailing crew members (usually the Captain, First Officer, Engineer and deck hands) are well experienced—most have been sailing for years and the know and avoid dangers that could occur on your river cruise.  There is always a safety briefing on each river cruise prior to sailing. 

The captain (left), hotel manager (top right) & Cruise manager always stress safety to the guests.

The cruise director and local guides also add a level of security—they know about potential problems and can insure guests do not venture into dangerous areas.  The cruise lines also monitor weather conditions and river levels to insure safety.  The ships all have great safety features, such as radar to help avoid other traffic on the rivers.  There is a 24 hour guard on each ship and outside entrances are locked during night-time hours and no one is granted access without proper ID.  When each guest leaves the river boat, they are required to take a card with emergency phone numbers.  This also allows the crew to know if you did not re-board prior to the departure of the ship.

These are just a few of the reasons we like river cruising so much—they are a safe way to travel.  We hope this will inspire you to give me a call at 713-397-0188 or send me an email (hschrader@dreamdestinations.com) so I can help you visit Europe on a river cruise and help you:

Savor life . . . make memories . . . Visit Dream Destinations!  Your journey begins here!

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Don’t Pack Stress in Your Vacation

by Anne Schrader, Certified Travel Counselor (CTC)

Summer may not be “officially” here, but even if you’re not already experiencing the 90 + degree weather associated with the season, we’re pretty sure you’re eagerly waiting for the date you’ve circled on the calendar for the beginning of your summer vacation.

We’re hoping you’ve already booked your trip (especially if you’ve used a travel professional, like either Hank or myself) so your trip is well-planned! But even if you braved the myriad of choices available on the internet, (or just booked a place based on the conversation you overheard standing in line at the grocery store or from the booth next to yours in the restaurant), we’re pretty sure you’ll still be faced with the arduous chore of packing for the trip.

Being in the travel business for 20 + years hasn’t lessened the time I spend trying to make sure I pack what I need for a trip, no more – no less. The luggage restrictions added by the airlines hasn’t helped, but it’s really more than that. There’s the actual physical exertion required to transport an overweight suitcase (or multiple lighter ones) onto the shuttle between the parking lot and the airport. And, then after claiming them, getting to next form of transportation: taxi, coach or train.

These days, most of our travels seem to be to Europe. This requires long flights, which, for me, means I’m going to want some of my “perceived” necessities on the plane. And, it also means that I’m probably not going to want to carry-on everything I’ve decided I’ll need for the trip.

When we are in Europe, we travel between locations by train. It is the most relaxing and time efficient way to experience multiple locations.  However, because trains stop at stations for only 3 to 5 minutes to board or exit, heavy luggage can be an issue. Then, once again, it’s getting to our destination, either a hotel or a ship. Just a tip: taxis in Europe often charge extra for more than one large case and one small personal item per person. And their cars are often small, so getting more than 2 people and luggage in one automobile can be tricky.

Several years ago, Hank decided we could both travel with a 21” suitcase and one carry on. It’s true, he can! For me, that’s not so easy. Luggage is my addiction. I’ve tried all types and shapes and sizes. I think (and Hank’s hoping) that I may have finally hit on the right combination (at least for now).

And, after 4-5 big trips a year, I think I’ve pretty much established my carry-on needs and clothing needs to ease some of the packing stress. I’m still pretty bad about being packed and ready to go more than a few minutes before we walk out the door. But at least it isn’t quite as bad as the time when Hank finally figured I’d never be ready, so he packed for me. One word of advice, ladies: NEVER let your husband pack your carry‑on or purse, especially if it is important to find your lipstick and hairbrush!

Based on our last trip in May, here’s the luggage and items I carried for our 2 week trip. And, I think it will work for our upcoming trips later this year.

My Carry-On Luggage

My new carry-on is the TravelSmith Spinner360 Carry-On with Free Tote. This is available online or through HSN.com. I haven’t spent enough time to really know everything it can hold, however, on my trip, I was able to carry:

  • Camera, lens and charger
  • electronic cords & chargers (in a small case)
  • iPad
  • noise canceling head phones
  • my makeup (in a small case)
  • my jewelry roll (NEVER CHECK in your luggage) and I don’t take jewelry that is irreplaceable
  • my medications (NEVER CHECK in your luggage)
  • clothing for a day
  • sleepwear
  • cozy socks
  • disposable slippers for the plane
  • a pair of shoes (very lightweight rain skimmers from TravelSmith.com)

The last item to go in was my zippered, clear quart-size bag which is TSA approved for 3.5 oz. liquids Flight 001Clear Carry-On Quart Bag (S) from eBags.com. The zippered bag is very handy.

Inside I carry a travel-size:

  • toothpaste
  • toothbrush
  • mouthwash
  • hand lotion
  • contact lens case
  • contact solution
  • lip balm
  • mascara
  • lipstick
  • small perfume

In the accompanying (and matching) tote, I added:

  • small clutch purse (for my night time purse)
  • mobile phone
  • passports
  • paperwork for our trip
  • money belt, (which I put on upon landing at the destination)
  • the linen/flax cape/shaw (I bought it in Helsinki – maybe the best souvenir purchase ever)
  • travel pillow (inflatable with soft cover)
  • foam eye mask (It has curved indentions so it doesn’t squish my eyes and is bright red, so if I pull off in the middle of the night, I’ll see it before we the disembark plane!)
  • emergency medication bag (inhaler, nitroglycerin)
  • a small bag with nail file, pens and extra eye glasses
  • iPod and small earbuds
  • a Ditty Bag from Vera Bradley (which I fill on the plane with everything I want out during the flight, so I’m not constantly digging in my carry-on. After boarding, I’ll pull out my makeup, liquid bag and iPad out of carry-on. The Ditty Bag allows me to gather everything up, like headphone, iPods, etc. before we disembark, rather than trying to reload my carry-on. I’ll put everything back in the carry-on while waiting for our luggage to arrive at the carousel.)

My Suitcase

For my 50 lbs. of clothing (I really try to be lighter so I can shop at my destination), I have found that a 25” lightweight hard-sided case with 4 spinner wheels is best for me. The only drawback is there is no outside pocket for my rain jacket and umbrella. So I’ll put them on top inside the case so I only have to slightly unzip the luggage,  if required.

In Europe, I stick to a basic color wardrobe, black, cream, tan, gray. For clothing, here’s what I’ve found works best:

Day time:

  • 2 pairs of slacks (navy/black or black/brown)
  • 4-5 shirts to go with each

Evening:

  • Black knit wrap dress
  • one pair nice black slacks
  • a few dressy tops
  • a dressy jacket or sweater
  • and, of course, my personables
  • also, any additional sundries not in the carry on.

Here’s always my biggest challenge – shoes! I believe in being comfortable, so in winter, it’s boots with flat heels and suede shooties to wear with my evening slacks and dress. In warm weather, I will carry black pumps for night time. I’m pretty set, although I have discovered on Caribbean cruises, I’ll take sandals, espadrilles, (because I’ll substitute the slacks with crop pants). And in tropical areas I usually wear khaki, white or a bright color.

A couple of things I’ve learned to always travel with:

  • washcloth (in Europe many places don’t have them)
  • swimsuit (although I rarely use it, I’ve missed some great spas because I didn’t have it with me)
  • shaw/pashmina for the plane, restaurants and to enter religious sites

I may carry my travel hairdryer, although there is usually one in most hotels and ships. Amenities in hotels vary – some have hairdryers, magnifying mirrors, shampoo/conditioner/lotion; house slippers and robes. If your trip would be less than wonderful should any of those weren’t available, I’d recommend taking your own. Just remember, to avoid ruining your electronic gadgets, make sure they are dual-voltage (110-240 volts) and carry an adaptor for the country you will be visiting. (I  burned out a TV in England by plugging in my 110 volt power, even though I was using the correct convertor/adaptor. Needless to say, we no longer rely on the convertors.

Other items to consider:

  • Day pack (for sunscreen, water bottle, maps, etc.)
  • Plastic (foldable) tote bag with handles (or at a minimum grocery bags) for local purchases
  • TravelonMuV Digital Scale ( purchased at eBags.com). We’ve tried other luggage scales and this seems to be the most accurate.
  • Rain poncho (handy to cover your backpack or camera if caught in a quick shower)
  • Travel Valet (for dresser top with snaps at corners to corral you room key, pocket change, rings, receipts, etc. that you’ll use again the next day.)
  • piggy-back bungee cord system to securely hold a carry-on to the larger suitcase. It is made by Travelon, available from bagbungee@travelsmith.com

A quick word about prescription your medication. Never pack your medicine in your checked luggage. During your flight, if you have multiple medications that you’ll need to take at bedtime and/or early morning, put the correct dosage in a separate bottle or small zippy bag for quick retrieval.

 Remember, there are stores just about everywhere; you can always make any new purchase a great souvenir. It could end up being your most favorite purchase!

Now is the time to call Hank at 713-397-0188 to plan and book a spectacular trip! Grab your passport and go have fun! It’s not quite summer – you still have time to make those travel plans! Bon voyage!

 Savor life . . . make memories . . visit Dream Destinations! Your journey begins here!