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Helpful tips for winter trips

Posted: 08/24/2013 1:00 AM | Comments: 0


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The southernmost Greek Islands offer a unique winter option for snowbirds.

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The southernmost Greek Islands offer a unique winter option for snowbirds.

A few weeks ago I passed on the solution for filling up with gasoline at American service stations that require the customer to enter a zip code when paying with a credit card.

The method suggested is to enter the numerals only of your postal code and then add two zeros. If your postal code is R3L0L6 you would enter the 306, then add two 0's making the entry 30600.

Over the years there are few columns that have garnered more responses.

For the most part readers who have used this method have found that it works almost everywhere. However, there are some notable exceptions, with a number of reader suggestions that are also worth considering.

If you are an annual snowbird, set up a US bank account and through it purchase US dollar credit cards. According to the reader they easily pay for themselves by avoiding the approximate 2.5 per cent surcharge that banks automatically assess foreign transactions over and above their conversion fees.

This avoids having to carry cash since these cards are readily accepted at most retail outlets. Other readers report that while the system works very well for VISA it does not work as well for MasterCard. One reader will be testing his new World MasterCard with the hope that it works for him this winter. Your debit card often works and no zip code is asked for or required. Finally one traveler expressed his frustrations to an attendant and was told to punch in any zip code. This reader insists that it has worked in every State he has travelled through.

Given that so many of the comments were from those who spend large parts or all of our winters south of the border, this column will focus on responding to a couple of other questions they have asked concerning their annual escapes to warmer climes.


QUESTION: My wife needs to take a prescription opiate for pain every day. How can we avoid problems with authorities when we are entering the USA with a three month supply of the medicine?

If the medicine were to be confiscated, the trip would have to be abandoned and problems with reservations or leases and travel connections etc., to say nothing of a missed vacation, would have to be solved.

ANSWER: As you know the people at the various border crossings yield a lot of authority, and while they are trained to recognize shams and scams, there can never truly be an iron clad guarantee that anyone's explanation will be accepted.

At the same time authorities see snowbirds going across the border with all nature of medicines. Because of the nature of yours I would ensure you do a number of things in advance.

Make certain that all of the drugs that you are taking are in their original containers, unopened if possible.

I would also have a written document from your physician underscoring your need for these prescriptions.

At least try to contact the Canadian security administration offices at the point where you will be crossing the border. And try to find a drug store in the vicinity of where you will be staying over the winter so your physician is recognized by them as real and legitimate in advance should problems arise.


QUESTION: I know that the most common places Manitobans tend to spend the winter seem to be the US states of Florida and Arizona?

Are there any overseas destinations, or even other US regions, that may be less expensive and still allow us to get away from our cold winters?

ANSWER: It has always surprised me how chilly some those most common destinations can be, depending upon the winter months. And like here, the days are very short so the warmth of the sun only goes so far if the nights are colder.

In the United States there are a number of other well known retreats for snowbirds. The area around Brownsville, Texas has been popular for years.

I have spent time in the San Antonio area and know a number of people who go to that region as well. Monthly rentals can be negotiated at rates that are often more reasonable than some of the better known Florida and Arizona area prices.

While the January temperatures can be cool, as you consider overseas destinations I would look seriously at Portugal.

They have gone through a period of economic turbulence and have been really hungry for visitors. As a result prices have remained stable. In winter you can almost negotiate your own price at many of the tourist properties, if not apartments.

A country I used to suggest unabashedly was Tunisia.

It was becoming the go to place until it experienced a turbulence of its own during the Arab Spring uprisings, and subsequent protests that continued until recently.

While my recommendation for the area has become tempered I have heard reports recently that it is still a great place to go. Here you will find warmer weathe,r and accommodation and restaurant prices to suit almost any budget.

For more idyllic surroundings consider some of the southernmost Greek Islands. They too have suffered from a declining tourist market since their economic woes became worldwide news.


Forward your travel questions to . Ron Pradinuk is president of Journeys Travel & Leisure SuperCentre and can be heard Sundays at noon on CJOB. Previous columns and tips can be found on or read Ron's travel blog at

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 24, 2013 E3

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