THREE WAYS TO THE BAY

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - Escape - - ASK THE EXPERT | DOC HOLIDAY - KIM CULYER

We’re tak­ing a tour of na­tional parks and canyons in the United States in Au­gust. The tour ends in Las Vegas and we would love to take a train to San Fran­cisco. Can this be done rea­son­ably eas­ily or would it be bet­ter to fly? Also, what area of San Fran­cisco do you rec­om­mend to stay?

DOC

It can be done, but the trip will take about 13 hours. Gen­er­ally you would travel via Bak­ers­field and Rich­mond, or Los An­ge­les, with a change of ser­vice at each stop. Am­trak (am­trak.com) pro­vides the ser­vice.

Al­ter­na­tively, you could hire a car and drive – with no stops it takes about nine hours, but al­low a day or two and you will en­joy ex­plor­ing along the way. The drive be­tween Los An­ge­les and San Fran­cisco is in­cred­i­bly scenic if you stay off the free­way and fol­low the coast – it’s rated one of the best in the world.

Head to the Pa­cific Coast High­way and make your way up through Santa Bar­bara where you could stop and take a wan­der around Down­town, the Wa­ter­front and the mar­ket.

There are many small towns to stop into as you head fur­ther north, in­clud­ing San Simeon where you can visit the Hearst Cas­tle, and Mon­terey where you might like to stop for the night. Along the drive you will find nu­mer­ous scenic van­tage points to ad­mire the views.

Santa Cruz is an hour up the road from Mon­terey and shortly af­ter that you will hit San Fran­cisco.

If you’re short on time, a di­rect flight takes 1½ hours. For a clas­sic San Fran­cisco ex­pe­ri­ence, stay in the Nob Hill area, for shop­ping Union Square and for views of the Golden Gate Bridge the Ma­rina neigh­bour­hood would suit.

HOLD FEE HURTS

I am go­ing to Europe next Septem­ber and have booked 15 dif­fer­ent ho­tels. Most of them have €150 (about $240) dam­age fee which is re­fund­able back into your credit card. This puts a big strain on our fi­nances as well as we lose money with re­verse cur­rency ex­change rate. How can we avoid this cost and loss of the con­ver­sion back into our credit card?

DOC®

This is def­i­nitely one of the most an­noy­ing pit­falls of a jour­ney that in­cludes mul­ti­ple stays at dif­fer­ent ho­tels. Hav­ing your pre­cious spend­ing money held by ho­tels can cer­tainly put a dint in your abil­ity to en­joy and ex­plore each des­ti­na­tion.

The prac­tice of ho­tels charg­ing a credit card pre-au­tho­ri­sa­tion is stan­dard across the world. Sim­ply put, it safe­guards the ho­tel and en­ables them to re­coup any costs for dam­age or in­ci­den­tals that may not be paid for. As a gen­eral rule, it is the cost of the room with tax, plus a set per day charge. Usu­ally the more ex­pen­sive the room, the more it will be. When us­ing a debit card for this pre-auth, the funds are in­stantly taken from your ac­count. With a credit card, your avail­able-to-spend amount is re­duced un­til it is re­funded. This can add up to large amounts very quickly.

The ho­tel is not able to do any­thing with your funds, they just sit in limbo and how long they linger there is up to the merchant. Around five days is stan­dard but the longer the fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tion can hang on to your funds the more it can do with them. There’s a cou­ple of ways to avoid this and hav­ing cash is prob­a­bly the eas­i­est. About $500 in $100 notes, or a €500 note, should be enough to cover most DOC’S TIP OF THE WEEK Take a reusable water bot­tle on your trav­els. ho­tels. When you check in, tell the clerk you are pay­ing the pre-auth in cash. They should then seal it in an en­ve­lope with your sig­na­ture across the seal and put it in their safe un­til you check out.

If there is a charge on your ac­count for in­ci­den­tals you can then use your credit or debit card to cover that. Or, you could carry a spare credit card just for this charge, or an Amer­i­can Ex­press card with­out a limit.

If you’re stuck with just one card, use it to set­tle your bill or charge some­thing small to your room. The au­tho­ri­sa­tion amount will then be added to the charged amount, ap­par­ently gen­er­at­ing the bal­ance to be re­leased sooner.

SE­NIOR’S PASS

My wife and I will spend about six weeks in Bri­tain af­ter a river cruise in Por­tu­gal. As dual pass­port hold­ers of Aus­tralia and the UK, my ques­tion is, are we en­ti­tled to a se­nior’s pass for bus and trains dur­ing our stay in the UK?

DOC ®

To be el­i­gi­ble for a UK Se­nior’s Rail­card, you must be over 60 years and hold ei­ther a valid UK pass­port or driv­ing li­cence. You can buy the pass on­line at se­nior-rail­card.co.uk or at a staffed rail sta­tion. There are free lo­cal bus rides for se­niors.

DUTY-FREE AL­CO­HOL

When trav­el­ling to Bali on Jet­star from Perth, can I take one litre of non duty-free al­co­hol from a lo­cal bot­tle shop, rather than from the duty-free shop? DOC ® Yes. It should be in your checked-in bag­gage and wrapped well. The du­tyfree al­co­hol al­lowance into Bali is max­i­mum one litre per per­son. I do ques­tion why you wish to do this as the air­port duty-free shop prices will be bet­ter than your lo­cal bot­tle shop, par­tic­u­larly for spir­its.

A SLING AT RAF­FLES

We are plan­ning a trip to Sin­ga­pore in early July and my sis­ter has on her bucket list a Sin­ga­pore sling drink from the Raf­fles Ho­tel. They are closed for ren­o­va­tions un­til mid-year. Is there any in­di­ca­tion when they will re­open?

DOC ®

The date for re­open­ing has not been an­nounced. But your sis­ter can still en­joy sip­ping her way through the fa­mous drink, or per­haps two. The en­tire ex­pe­ri­ence, along with the peanuts, is be­ing served at a pop- up Long Bar lo­cated at 3 Seah St, next to the Raf­fles Gift Shop, which re­mains open through­out the ren­o­va­tion.

PIC­TURE: IS­TOCK

Check out the Ma­rina neigh­bour­hood in San Fran­cisco for views of the Golden Gate Bridge.

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