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Contributor: Travel editor Kerri Westenberg.

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Posts about Consumer travel

Megabus expands service

Posted by: Kerri Westenberg Updated: June 29, 2011 - 12:28 PM
, the express bus service made famous by its bargain-basement fares, doubled the number of trips between the Twin Cities and Milwaukee, Madison and Chicago today. The company now offers eight daily trips between Minneapolis and Chicago, four trips between Minneapolis and Madison and four trips between Minneapolis and Milwaukee. one-way ticket prices begin at $1; that fare requires traveling midweek and booking online and well in advance of travel. The company's ticket prices fluctuate according to demand, so booking earlier, when fewer seats have been sold, garners the best deals. Typical one-way fares range from $10 to $30. There is a $3 service fee for tickets purchased by phone; most travelers book online at The buses offer reclining seats and lavatories.

All trips depart Minneapolis from the bus stop located in the parking lot on the east side of Chicago Ave. between South 3rd St. and S. Washington Ave, near the Downtown East / Metrodome Light Rail Metro Transit Station. Buses arrive in Chicago on a street adjacent to Union Station.

A card that works in Europe and here at home

Posted by: Kerri Westenberg Updated: April 26, 2011 - 3:34 PM

A reader asks: can an American get a credit card from a European bank, which would contain the special chip that allows them to be used in ticket machines and other outlets in Europe?

My answer:  Probably, but you don’t need to if you’re simply interested in getting a card with chip technology rather than a card issued by a European bank.
A bit of context for people unfamiliar with the technology: American credit cards use a magnetic strip to exchange information during a financial transaction. In European and other countries, card issuers have turned to EMV chip technology (named for Europay, MasterCard and Visa). Where people are handling the charge, American credit cards often work. Not so at unmanned kiosks, such as those at train stations and gas pumps.
According to Greg McBride of, getting a card from a European bank isn’t impossible, though “banks are understandably reluctant to lend money on an unsecured basis to borrowers in a foreign jurisdiction.” It’s likely you could get one after opening a deposit account with that bank.
Fortunately, you likely don’t need to go through the hassle of opening an account overseas. “Chase has recently rolled out chip-and-pin technology,” McBride said, “and other large national and regional banks will most certainly follow suit.”
Wells Fargo, the largest bank in Minnesota, is one of them. Eric Schindewolf, vice president of product development at Wells Fargo, said the bank is rolling out a pilot program this summer with 15,000 customers who are frequent international travelers. “The pilot program is about understanding what it means to do a smart card program, how will customers use the product, what questions will they have.” The card will have both a magnetic strip and a chip for use here and overseas. Schindewolf said he didn’t know when or if such a card would go into production. Though this might be hard to accept for avid overseas travelers, the company has already identified the customers who will be part of the pilot program.
If you can’t track down a card with a chip through Chase or another bank, there is another option. Travelex, which used to issue traveler’s checks, now offers prepaid currency cards with chip-and-pin technology which you can use just like a debit card.

Traveler's checks lose currency

Posted by: Kerri Westenberg Updated: April 21, 2011 - 11:56 AM





Reader question: I’m heading to Europe and a friend suggested I forgo traveler’s checks and simply carry a bundle of cash in a money belt. I like the idea of traveler’s checks since, unlike cash, they can be replaced if lost or stolen. What do you think?

Our answer:  I appreciate your concern, but traveler’s checks are about as dated as the Grand Tour of Europe. Most people don’t carry them. Processing the conversion to cash and recording the check number can’t compete with the ease of swiping a bank card through an ATM. More important, the checks simply aren’t cost-effective and are no longer widely accepted. You can convert them to currency at banks, exchange counters and some hotels, but the transaction will carry a fee. My advice: Carry cash (tucked under your clothes), a credit card or two and your bank card. But also bring a few hundred in traveler’s checks purely as a backup if it gives you peace of mind.

If readers have other ideas, we'd love to hear them....



Good hiking destinations

Posted by: Kerri Westenberg Updated: October 13, 2010 - 2:27 PM

A reader posed this question:

Q My wife and I are planning to take a hiking vacation next summer. We’re looking for a place with a wide variety of scenic day hikes. Ideally, we’d be able to get there on a reasonably priced flight from Minneapolis. What are our best options?

Answer:  Earlier this year, Star Tribune writer and avid hiker Chris Riemenschneider recommended uncrowded national parks with breathtaking scenery in “Wide Open Spaces.” (Read it online at by searching for “Sequoia-Kings Canyon.”) Among his recommendations are Sequoia-Kings Canyon and North Cascades, both of which fit your needs. Fly to Seattle for North Cascades (the park is a three-hour drive away) and to San Francisco or Los Angeles for Sequoia-Kings Canyon (both require a drive of four or more hours).
I’ve hiked a variety of spots on the East Coast and am partial to the Appalachian Mountains. As an older, more worn-down mountain range, it isn’t as dramatic as the Rockies or Sierras, but the hikes are terrific. Head to the hills from any of the Washington, D.C.-area airports, or from Burlington, Vt., or Portland, Maine, and you won’t be disappointed.
Yosemite National Park also jumps to mind. You should go sometime in your life but, as Riemenschneider pointed out in his piece, summertime brings a trail-clogging crush of hikers. Glacier is another hiker’s paradise, but the flight to Kalispell or Great Falls, Mont., won’t be cheap.


Christmas holiday in the sun

Posted by: Kerri Westenberg Updated: October 5, 2010 - 1:25 PM

A reader wrote in to ask: Could you offer some ideas for Christmas holiday packages? My husband and I plan to go with our young adult daughters, one of whom is mentally disabled. We get a little nervous taking her to places outside the United States for safety and health reasons. We’re looking for a resort setting with restaurants, golf, fun shops and opportunities for suntanning. We’re not into the night life; usually after dinner we like to watch movies. I thought the U. S. Virgin Islands (USVI) would be nice.

A I went to a pro Renata Faeth of AAA Minneapolis Travel Agency, for advice.
Faeth likes the USVI, though she warns that availability may be limited and airfares and resort stays can cost more than nearby destinations. “I often find all-inclusive five-star resorts in the Dominican Republic to be less expensive than a three-star in St. Thomas,” she said. She has had luck with the Westin in St. Johns, the Ritz-Carlton in St. Thomas and the Palms in Pelican Cove in St. Croix.
She calls Hawaii “one of our American jewels,” with “an abundance of sea life, land and water sports and, of course, breathtaking beauty.” Kauai is an especially low-key island. Don’t let the distance intimidate you, Faeth said. It is just four hours from Los Angeles, and it can take longer to get to some Caribbean islands with the two plane changes some require.
Faeth is also a fan of Sanibel Island, near Ft. Myers, Fla., and California. “San Diego is a lovely city with plenty of sightseeing possibilities,” she said, but warns that the average temperature in December is 66.
I’d add to her enticing list one destination: Phoenix, Arizona. I went a few years back and stayed at a resort that fits your requirements perfectly (and others in the area could, too). The Arizona Biltmore has a eight swimming pools and access to stellar golf courses.



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