International Driving Permits

International Driving Permits
“Although many countries do not recognize U.S. driver’s licenses, most countries accept an International Driving Permit (IDP).  IDPs are honored in more than 150 countries outside the United States.  (See AAA’s application form for the list of countries).  An IDP functions as an official translation of a U.S. driver’s license into ten foreign languages.  These licenses are not intended to replace valid U.S. state licenses and should only be used as a supplement to a valid U.S. license.  IDPs are not valid in an individual’s country of residence.
Before departure, you can obtain an IDP from an automobile association authorized by the U.S. Department of State to issue IDPs.  Article 24 of the United Nations Convention on Road Traffic (1949) authorizes the U.S. Department of State to empower certain organizations to issue IDPs to those who hold valid U.S. driver’s licenses.  The Department designated the American Automobile Association (AAA) and the American Automobile Touring Alliance (through the National Auto Club) as the only authorized distributors of IDPs.”        
In many countries it is now the law that you must have an International Driving Permit to drive and pick-up a rental car, fine for non-compliance can be quite steep.  Stop by your local AAA office and you can pick one up in about 30 minutes.
The countries shown in dark blue recognize the international driving permit:


Foreign Travel Etiquette - Mexico

Most tourists in Mexico come from the U.S. and Canada, and many parts of Mexico are very used to tourism. However, out of respect for Mexico and its people, read up a bit on their culture and etiquette. Below is a list of Mexican etiquette to help you out on your trip!

1. Dress Attire

  1. DON'T wear shorts if you wish to blend in. Aside from beaches and northern areas, shorts are seldom worn by Mexicans.
  2. DO dress nicely for business situations. A suit and tie is fine, and women may also wear conservative dresses. In very hot regions, it's acceptable to wear lighter clothing, but don't wear overly casual clothing, such as t-shirts or flip-flops.
  3. DO dress casually for social occasions.
  4. DO take off sunglasses and hats if entering a church.

2. Table Manners

  1. DO rest your wrists on the edge of the table while dining.
  2. DON'T sit until told where to sit.
  3. DON'T begin eating until the host does.
  4. DO understand that only men give toasts in Mexican culture.
  5. DO indicate that you are finished eating by putting your knife and fork across your plate with the prongs going downwards and the handles facing right.
  6. DO leave a little bit of food on your plate when you are done.

3. Tipping

  1. DO tip in the same fashion that you are used to in the U.S. or Canada.

4. Gift Giving and Accepting Gifts

  1. DON'T give red flowers or marigolds. However, white flowers make a nice gift.
  2. DO open a gift upon receipt.

5. Greetings

  1. DO shake hands upon meeting someone.
  2. DO follow the lead of who you are greeting. Hugs are often shared among friends, as well as a light kiss on the cheek for women.

6. Visitors Etiquette

  1. DO be fashionably late! Thirty minutes late is appropriate. Arriving early or even on time is considered rude.
  2. DO bring flowers or sweets for your host.

7. Business Meeting

  1. DO make an appointment at least two weeks in advance and confirm a week before. Confirm the meeting one last time upon arriving in Mexico.
  2. DON'T be late! However, your Mexican business associates may be late. Mexicans have a very relaxed view of time, but as a foreigner, you should make the effort to be on time.
  3. DO be patient. Negotiations may proceed slowly.
  4. DO have written material translated to Spanish.
  5. DO hire an interpreter.
  6. DO pick your negotiating team carefully. Have someone on your negotiating team who is an executive but do not include a lawyer.
  7. DO expect haggling and prepare accordingly.

8. Socializing and Conversation

  1. DO understand that "estúpido" is considered a bad word in Mexico, and it means much worse than "stupid."
  2. DO say "salud!" when someone sneezes. To not do so is considered rude.
The above list might seem a little intimidating, but don't let it make you nervous! Go with the flow, but be conservative in your behavior and you'll blend in just fine. Happy travels to Mexico!


Foreign Travel Etiquette - Japan

In spite of the fact that Japan is becoming more Westernized, especially with younger people, it is still important to abide by their customs whenever possible. Remember to be polite and respect Japanese traditions.

1. Dress Attire

  1. DO dress appropriately for business occasions. Casual attire in the workplace is not the norm in Japan. For a man, a suit and tie is appropriate and for a woman, a dress and pantyhose is fine.
  2. DO dress conservatively if visiting a temple or shrine.

2. Table Manners

  1. DO eat "family style." Many times at people's homes and at certain restaurants, you will share several dishes at the table instead of having your own individual dish.
  2. DON'T take food from the serving plate with the ends of your chopsticks that you've eaten from. Instead, turn your chopsticks upside down and then pick the food up.
  3. DON'T pour an alcoholic beverage into your own glass. Instead, serve your dining partners their drinks.
  4. DON'T get noticeably drunk at a nice restaurant.
  5. DON'T start drinking until everyone at the table is served and the glasses are raised to toast. The Japanese drinking salute is usually "Kampai!"
  6. DON'T pour soy sauce over white, steamed rice.
  7. DO drink miso soup out of the bowl and use your chopsticks to eat the solid pieces.
  8. DO slurp noodles and soup.
  9. DO keep the bowl close to your mouth when eating noodle soup. This will avoid a mess.
  10. DON'T stick chopsticks into your food or spear your food with the chopsticks.
  11. DO drink alcohol if you can. It is socially important in Japanese culture and you will probably be pressured to participate. If you cannot partake, be ready with an excuse and an explanation.
  12. DO pay at a restaurant if you are initiated the invitation. Splitting the bill is not traditionally done in Japan.
  13. DO make an attempt to pay at a restaurant, even if someone else invited you. They won't let you pay, but your effort, as insincere as it may have been, will make a good impression upon those you are dining with.
  14. DO try to reciprocate by offering to pay for drinks or coffee after the meal. It's pretty common to extend the evening by going out for some drinks or to a coffee shop after dinner. But if you are paying for drinks, be aware that they can get very pricey!

3. Tipping

  1. DON'T tip. It is not customary in Japan.

4. Gift giving and Accepting Gifts

  1. DO give and receive gifts with both hands.
  2. DO give a gift to thank somebody. Good gifts include cake, sweets, and sake.
  3. DON'T open a wrapped gift until later.
  4. DO avoid giving gifts that have to do with the number four. It is bad luck.

5. Body Gestures

  1. DON'T use your chopsticks to point to something.

6. Greetings

  1. DO bow when greeting someone. A bow can range from a small nod to a ninety degree full-body bow. If you are greeting someone with a higher social status, the bow should be more pronounced. For the most part, however, as a foreigner in Japan, you won't be expected to know the specific bowing etiquette.
  2. DON'T say something to the effect of "I hope to see you again" when parting.

7. Bath Etiquette

  1. DO be aware of the communal bathing culture in Japan. Japan has a long history of communal bathing and it can be traced back to the eighth century. There are public bathhouses called sento and hot springs called onsen. There are usually separate baths for men and women.
  2. DO wash yourself outside the bath before getting in.
  3. DO bring your own toiletries, such as towels, pumice stones, toothpaste, shaving supplies, etc.

8. Visitors Etiquette

  1. DO take your shoes off when entering a Japanese person's home. Your host will likely provide you with a pair of slippers.
  2. DO take slippers off when entering a room with a tatami floor. Tatami mats are associated with religious rites and tea ceremonies. Slippers can damage the mats, but you may walk on them either barefoot or in socks.
  3. DO take your slippers off when entering a bathroom. There will be special toilet slippers there for you to put on.
  4. DO bring a gift. It's rude to go to a Japanese person's home without one.
  5. DON'T drain the water after taking a bath at someone's house. Everyone in the household uses the same bathwater. As a guest, you'll probably be able to use the bath first.

9. Business Meeting

  1. DON'T sit until told where to sit. Usually there is a seating arrangement based on professional status.
  2. DON'T stand once the meeting is finished until the person with the highest professional status stands.
  3. DO bring a gift, such as a little souvenir from your native city.
  4. DO show a lot of gratitude if given a gift by a business associate. Ask questions about the gift to show how interested you are.
  5. DO take notes during a meeting and use a black or blue pen.
Even though Japan, especially in the major cities, is adapting more to Western influences, they are still maintaining many important Japanese traditions. Throughout your travels, keep some basic Japanese etiquette in mind to make a great impression!


Wedding in Paradise - Greece

Thinking of getting married in Europe?  Greece offers spectacular settings and a great infrastructure for your European wedding.  Here is one example offered by one of my preferred suppliers in Greece.


Foreign Travel Etiquette - France

1. Dress Attire
DO wear what you normally wear, but keep in mind that attire such as baseball caps, flip-flops, and white sneakers are not traditionally worn by French people.  It is fine to wear it, but you will probably be labeled as a tourist.
DO feel welcome to wear your country's ethnic attire if necessary, such as kilts, saris, etc.  People may stare at you in the more rural areas of France, but people will not be offended.

2. Table Manners
DON'T eat with your fingers!  You should always use your eating utensils, even at a fast food restaurant.
DON'T   eat on the street.  It can be seen as unsophisticated.
DON'T start eating immediately after being served.  Wait for your host to put their napkin on their lap, and then follow suit. After drinks have been served, join in on the toast.  You may start dining after the host invites you to begin eating.
DON'T take a bite from a whole piece of bread. Instead, tear your bread into a bite-sized piece and then eat it.
DO expect a glass of wine with dinner.  Wine glasses are filled only three-quarters of the way.
DON'T put your arms on your lap during dinner.  Put them above the table.

3. Tipping
DO round up when paying a bill at a bar or restaurant, unless the service was really bad.  Bars and restaurants are legally required to include a service fee in their bill, but customarily people will either round up or pay a small 5% tip.
DO tip taxi drivers and hairdressers 10%.
DO tip chambermaids about Euro 1.50 if you stay more than two or three nights at a hotel, or more if they do any pressing or laundry for you.  If the concierge was helpful, it is customary to leave a tip of Euro 8 - Euro 16, depending on the level of service and the hotel itself.
DO tip train and airport porters on a per bag basis.  They usually receive a fixed sum of Euro 0.90 - Euro 1.50 per bag. After a guided tour, museum guides should get Euro 1.50 - Euro 3. It is also a standard practice to tip bus drivers  Euro 1.50 after an trip.

4. Gift giving and Accepting Gifts
DO give a gift that shows that you are intellectual, such a gift of books or music.
DO bring a gift for the hostess if invited to a French person's house.  Good host gift ideas include flowers and wine.  Bear in mind that France is known for its wine, so do your research and bring a nice bottle of wine!  If you are invited to dinner, a dessert or cheese previously decided on also makes a nice gift.
DON'T give an even number of flowers as a gift.  Flowers should always be given in odd numbers, except for thirteen, as that is an unlucky number.
DO be very careful when picking out flowers as a gift.  There are a few taboos when it comes to giving a French person flowers.  White flowers are typically only used during weddings, white lilies and chrysanthemums are flowers for funerals, and red carnations stand for bad will.

5. Body Gestures
DO maintain eye contact because it shows you are interested in the conversation.

6. Greetings
DO shake hands upon meeting someone, as well as when you are leaving.  French handshakes are not as firm as American handshakes.
DO greet people with "bonjour" (good day) or "bonsoir" (good evening), and when leaving say "au revoir", which means good-bye.
DO address people with the titles "Monsieur"  (Mister) and "Madame" (Mrs.) when meeting someone for the first time, or in a business meeting.  Use "Mademoiselle" when greeting a young, unmarried woman or girl.  Older, unmarried women can still be referred to as "Madame."

7. Language Etiquette
DO address people with the titles "Monsieur"  (Mister) and "Madame" (Mrs.) when meeting someone for the first time, or in a business meeting.  Use "Mademoiselle" when greeting a young, unmarried woman or girl.  Older, unmarried women can still be referred to as "Madame."
DO apologize for your lack of knowledge if you do not speak French.

8. Visitors Etiquette
DO give your host a gift.  As a tourist from another country, a gift from your native country is appreciated.

9. Business Meeting
DO maintain eye contact when talking with clients.  This shows them that your full attention is with them.
DON'T expect the people you are meeting with to be on time.  Punctuality is treated very casually in France.
DON'T show any impatience or a confrontational attitude, as it can be seen as a sign of being unprofessional.
DO wear business outfits such as tailored suits, pants, and skirts.

10. Beach Etiquette
DON'T take your top off at a swimming pool or beaches that are part of a hotel unless you don't mind people staring.  It won't necessarily cause a scene, but some people may ogle.
DO put a shirt on once leaving the beach.
DON'T worry about small children running around the beach without clothes on.  People won't be offended.

Foreign Travel Etiquette

I am constantly asked questions about how to act when traveling to a foreign country, what the local customs are, how to interact with locals, and how not to look like the ugly American tourist.  Americans tend to be more casual with their interactions, which can be frowned upon in other countries.  Things like tipping, socializing, drinking, eating, driving and even shopping can be very different from country to country.  Over the next couple weeks I am going to post some very good tips from the Vayama.com and Travel Etiquette websites along with a few personal observations for the countries I have visited.  I hope you enjoy the postings.


Fee Free Days at National Parks

America’s Best Idea – the national parks – gets even better this year with several fee-free days at more than 100 national parks that usually charge entrance fees*.
Mark your calendar for fee-free days this year:
  • April 17-25, 2010
    (National Park Week)
  • June 5-6, 2010
  • August 14-15, 2010
  • September 25, 2010
    (Public Lands Day)
  • November 11, 2010
    (Veterans Day)
And to make the fun even more affordable, many national park concessioners are joining the National Park Service in welcoming visitors on this summer’s fee free weekends with the their own special offers.
Here’s a tip – many of your 392 national parks NEVER charge an entrance fee. So start Planning Your Visit!

*Fee waiver includes: entrance fees, commercial tour fees, and transportation entrance fees. Other fees such as reservation, camping, tours, concession and fees collected by third parties are not included unless stated otherwise.


Mauna Kea Beach Hotel Trip Report

I recently visited the Big Island and stayed at the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel.

The Mauna Kea Beach Hotel was first opened in 1965, it was one of the first resorts on the Big Island and is located along the Kohala Coast about 28 miles north of the Kona Airport.  It's the last big resort you pass as you drive north from the airport giving the resort a more secluded feeling.  The hotel was closed after the 2006 earthquake and given a $150 million dollar renovation.  I was excited to see the changes as I had stayed there right before the earthquake and the hotel was showing its age.

Most of the renovation was done to the guest rooms and the shopping areas, including a complete rebuild of the top (8th) floor, which sustained major damage.  There are two sections to the hotel, the main building which you see displayed in the photo, and the Plumeria Wing, just off to the right and barely visible above the tree tops.  Most of the major design changes occurred in the main building, while the Plumeria Wing was refreshed, they left many of the designs in place to please some of the longstanding clients who did not want to see major changes to the hotel.

I stayed in a deluxe ocean view room on the 6th floor, the 4th floor is really the 1st floor, as you go down to the Plumeria Wing and up to the main building.  These rooms are completely new.  The hotel took 3 old rooms and made them into 2, giving you a much larger space and a huge bathroom.

Here are a couple of pictures:

The main room has a very nice walk-in closet, a small foyer and the sleeping space.  There is a nice new entertainment area with flat panel TV with a a sliding door to hide it.  The room is 615 square feet and includes 2 lanai's totaling 265 square feet.  One is off the bedroom and one is off the bathroom.  The bathroom is very nice, a large double vanity, a separate wet room with shower and tub.  The shower is open with a great ocean view.  In my opinion they did an excellent job renovating and creating these rooms.

Other observations about the hotel:

We had breakfast every morning at Manta, they had a very nice buffet and the view over the small bay is wonderful, most mornings we saw Manta's swimming in the bay.

Dinner at Manta and Monettes was typical resort cuisine, expensive and not very inspiring.

The Clambake is very popular, and all you can eat seafood buffet.  If you want quantity over quality this is your place.

Staff were very friendly and accommodating.

Make sure to specify your bedding request, the hotel has a number of rooms with 2 double beds instead of kings.

Highlights off the property:

Merrimans in Waimea for dinner, very fresh and local.

La Bourgogne French Restaurant in Kona, a very small French restaurant with excellent food.  Not the best location but great food.  I was surprised that food portions seemed to have gotten larger since my last visit, very un-French.

Monstera at the Shops at Mauna Lani, great Sushi and very reasonable prices.

The Saddle road drive to Hilo.  The road has had many improvements recently and there are only a few bad spots at each end of the road now, a great drive.

The Big Island is one of my favorite destinations, please contact me if you have questions.


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