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The Simplest Way To Understand Schengen Visa Requirements

When you hear the word Schengen you either have never heard of it, know it’s related to Europe, or it’s the bane of your travel plans. Whichever category you’re in if you’re planning a trip to Europe the Schengen Area is a concept you need to be familiar with. Fortunately the Schengen Area rules are not nearly as complicated as people often make them to be. Here’s the simplest way to understand the Schengen Area.

What Is The Schengen?

The Schengen Area comprises of 29 European countries and is is not the same as the European Union although they overlap quite a bit. Norway for example is part of the Schengen Area but not in the European Union. Also, Ireland and the United Kingdom are notably not part of the Schengen Area or European Union (after Brexiting from the latter). The Schengen is a group of European countries but for travel purposes, you can simplify things by forgetting about national borders for a second.

One Area, Many States

Many travelers from various countries are permitted a 90 day visa-free stay in the Schengen Area out of every 180 days. You might be thinking alright, I’ve got a trip to Germany and the Netherlands planned, what does this mean for me?

berlin airport

It depends on where you’re from but to give an example – if you’re an American citizen who is traveling to a Schengen country – you have a visa free stay of 90 days within every 180 days.

So in the case of a 21 day trip to Europe say you spend 10 of those in Germany then 11 in the Netherlands, it’s all part of your 90 day allowance. It’s not 90 days in Germany then 90 days in the Netherlands, it’s 90 days in the Schengen Area.

It’s kind of like the United States. You get a visa to visit the US of say, 30 days, but you can freely go to California, New York, and Michigan, the days of your visit are counted when you enter the country.

You can think of the Schengen Area member countries as US states when it comes to travel. There are open borders between them and you can visit Germany, Spain, then hop over to Greece without having to go through immigration but your stay is counted by the total number of days in the Schengen Area, not each country.

Counting Passport Controls

The Schengen Agreement is why you’ll only go through passport control when you first enter the Schengen Area from say, Berlin, then when you leave the Schengen Area via Amsterdam, as an example. But flying between Germany and the Netherlands, you won’t go through passport control.

For most travelers, the Schengen Area rules only come into play if you’re planning a longer visit to Europe. When your plans start getting close to 90 days, it’s important you remember the specific rules for your nationality. For many, that’s 90 days out of every 180. The easiest way to count is to take a day on the calendar, go forward 90 days and back 90 (total 180), then make sure you aren’t in the Schengen Area for more than allowed resulting in an overstay. Longer (legal) stays will require paperwork but most tourists just need to remember every Schengen country counts toward your visa free stay.

Why You Should Never Post Your Boarding Pass Online

Posting pictures of your recent vacation on social media can be harmless but make sure you’re not uploading a photo of your boarding pass along with it. A boarding pass picture reveals a lot more than you think and could ruin your trip in more ways than one.

What’s On A Boarding Pass?

At first glance, boarding passes seem to have pretty generic information that’s not worth protecting. Your full name, the date of your flight, the departure and destination, flight number and seat. Those pieces of information: your full name, date of the flight, and seat number on their own might not seem like particularly sensitive information. Combined however, those pieces of data can give someone with malicious intent a lot of information to scam you.

Your full name might not seem very valuable but especially if you have a middle name is a good identifier for a thief to narrow things down. Departure city might also be interesting since it could indicate the area you live – and now a cyber criminal has bits of information indicating who you are, where you might live so by putting those together could potentially turn up an address with some Google searches. Going to Vienna for 2 weeks? Your house or apartment might be empty and a potential thief knows exactly how long you’ll be gone.

It might seem like paranoia but robberies after people post online that they’re on vacation do happen.

Changes You Don’t Want

Boarding passes will typically show your ticket number which, combined with the rest of the information on a boarding pass, is often enough for someone to modify or cancel your flights. Most airlines and booking sites will let you make changes to a flight with just a Passenger Name Record (PNR) – a common record on most boarding passes. Someone else with a picture of your boarding pass could do the same – potentially charging you for an upgrade or canceling your trip, causing you one big headache.

austrian airlines

All of this information is also contained in the bar code which can be decoded easily using a number of websites where you can upload an image and read all the data. Your frequent flyer number, flight details, all of that can be used to get into your mileage account or reset the password, locking you out.

Keep Your Identity Private

There are even cases where using the information gleaned from a boarding pass of identify theft where someone calls the airline using information gathered from a boarding pass to get more information and commit fraud, essentially opening the door to other forms of identity theft. In addition to your frequent flier number, your boarding pass can give away your Known Traveler Number which is associated with Global Entry and TSA Pre-Check in the US, and redress number that’s part of Department of Homeland Security’s TRIP program).

It all comes down to information – the less you post online, the better. For boarding passes, make sure you do take a picture of them for this reason just never post it online.

How Trove Slim Wallets Are Made

Most slim wallets manufacturers are large scale operations pumping out metal backed wallets for a premium price. On the other hand, Trove is an outlier, making fabric based slim wallets by hand and at competitive prices. I recently had the opportunity to visit the Trove factory in Leistershire, England and watch their wallet making process. Each wallet can be custom-designed before ordering and takes around 15 minutes to make before it is shipped out worldwide.

You can watch the entire process in the video tour here.

Why You Should Never Convert Currencies At Foreign ATMs

When you insert your card into a foreign ATM and enter your PIN you’re presented with two choices: withdraw cash in the local currency or have the ATM do a conversion for you. It’s confusing wording but there is a choice that’s always right.

Here’s why you should always choose to withdraw your money in the local currency.

Dynamic Currency Conversion (DCC)

DCC is a process where the ATM machine provider comes up with a conversion rate between your home currency and the local currency. ATM providers do this to profit by giving you a bad exchange rate. By doing so ATM providers can charge you 2% or more than they would be able to otherwise. It’s a completely unnecessary charge they trick you into paying with confusing wording.

atm currency conversion

For them it’s 2% or more on the transaction and those small charges can really add up – unfortunately for you and profit for them.

The Choice To Make

When you are using a foreign ATM always choose the option to be charged in the local currency. Do not accept the ATM’s conversion or rate and if you see those words go with the other choice. Whether you choose to accept the conversion rate or be charged in the local currency – you will get the local currency as cash in both cases.

The machine isn’t asking what currency you want – there are ATMs that may do that – but when it comes to the just taking money out of a foreign ATM, it’s asking if you want the transaction to be charged in the local currency.

To better explain this, let’s say you want to take out 20 Euro, which is about 22 US dollars. If you choose to have the ATM do the conversion for you they might charge your bank $25 dollars to get that 20 Euro. So you’ll have 20 Euro in your hands at the end – this is what the machine will spit out – but when you check your bank statement you’ll notice the money withdrawn will be 24, 25 or more dollars. The ATM provider made a currency conversion it didn’t need to and overcharged you for it.

When you use the alternative option to be charged in the local currency then your bank does the conversion which is going to be the best rate possible – without any additional charge or mark up.

Quick Tip

You always want to be charged in the local currency. In Germany that’s Euros and in America it’s dollars and in Bulgaria that’s leva, you get the idea – whatever it happens to be, choose to be charged in the local currency. You don’t want the ATM to do any currency conversion for you. Words like rate and conversion or percentage signs on the screen should be your red flags so be charged in the local currency and save on fees.

How To Visit El Chorrillo: Panama City’s Most Dangerous Neighborhood

Located adjacent to one of Panama City’s most popular touristic neighborhoods is El Chorrillo, considered one of the most dangerous parts of Panama’s capital. El Chorrillo is often called a “red zone” by locals – a place to avoid, fear, and steer clear of. There is one person though who is leading visitors through El Chorrillo and giving a glimpse into a story of history, neglect, and change.

Next To The Boom

The historic and touristic neighborhood of Casco Viejo is expanding and demand for more land have begun eating into El Chorrillo and driving both prices up and residents out. Local guide Victor Peretz who runs Local in Pty takes small groups through the winding streets where in 1989 the United States invaded the El Chorrillo, home of Manuel Noriega’s military base. El Chorrillo has never recovered truly and has been plagued with violence.

el chorrillo panama city

Victor takes you through the pain of El Chorrillo as well as the daily life within the neighborhood. (Shown in the video above.) El Chorrillo is vibrant with local domino games (an elderly favorite), education initiatives (which Victor is an integral part) and Panama hat maker Mario whose family has been there for three generations.

Changes For Better Or Worse

As Casco Viejo become more expensive, property owners are slowly buying land and constructing new buildings in El Chorrillo. Right now most of the activity is on the borders but the trend is clear – Casco Viejo is moving into El Chorrillo. A slow tidal wave that brings with it uncertainty, co-working spaces, and expensive apartments in a gentrification story familiar in many large cities worldwide.

el chorrillo tour panama city

Victor shows you the present while putting perspective on the past as premonitions about the future become apparent. Overall the walk through El Chorrillo is enlightening and not uncomfortable as you have an experienced guide navigating you through otherwise tricky streets. Victor can be reached by Instagram, Facebook, and email ([email protected]). Tours run around 3 hours at a leisurely pace and begin from Casco Viejo. I can highly recommend Victor’s tours if you want to see a part of Panama City that might otherwise seem unreachable. The tour of El Chorrillo was the most memorable part of my visit to Panama City and gave a contrast with Casco Viejo I would have missed.

The Ridge Commuter Backpack Is Solid But Standard

Ridge the company most known for its line of slim wallets has more recently ventured into luggage. They’ve got their durable but pricey Ridge Carry On and as part of the line, the Commuter Backpack. It’s sits between this world of travel bag and office bag and depending on where you’re going, the Commuter Backpack may or may not be the best fit for you.

Size And Specs

The Commuter Backpack is on the smaller side at around 20 liters and measures 46 x 31 x 18 centimeters. It’s available in four distinct colors ranging from black, matte olive, base camp orange, and alpine blue with all of the colors bright but not overstated or tacky. As Ridge tend to do, they’ve opted for durability but the use of 900 denier ballistic nylon makes the Ridge Commuter Backpack heavier than average at 1.43 kilos (3.15 pounds).

Quality YKK zippers are used and the combined with the other materials in use, the Commuter Backpack is weatherproof. You can’t submerge this backpack (unless you want to get everything inside wet) but it will keep its contents dry in even a strong downpour.

Inside The Bag

There are two side pockets for small water bottles, a flat front pocket that goes down about a quarter of the bag length you can use a a quick grab pocket or for smaller items like chargers or cables. (Since this pocket is more exposed, I wouldn’t store anything of high value like a passport.) The main compartment is a big open pocket with a halfway zip although a three quarters or sided access would make getting your stuff in and out a bit easier. Ridge have also squeezed in a separate laptop compartment as well with a soft microfiber suede lining and big enough to hold a 16 inch laptop.

ridge commuter backpack

Inside 210 denier nylon is used and made to be  anti-microbial. As an added bonus Ridge have sneaked in a hidden Airtag pocket. Overall the Commuter Backpack has a straightforward design when it comes to the pockets – not too different than many other similarly sized backpacks – but the materials used are more durable than most.

Cost Considerations

You will pay for those premium materials though – this is not an inexpensive backpack. As Ridge says, the Commuter Backpack is built to last and given the liberal use of nylon I would tend to say they’re right. At only 20 liters though this isn’t going to be a one bag travel backpack but more of an office, school, or business trip bag.

At 20 liters it may be a bit overkill and heavy for everyday use but if you want a rugged yet stylish backpack to carry a laptop, some books, or light clothes in, the Ridge Commuter Backpack should last you for years of short trips.

About Anil Polat

foxnomad aboutHi, I'm Anil. foXnoMad is where I combine travel and tech to help you travel smarter. I'm on a journey to every country in the world and you're invited to join the adventure! Read More

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