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Oklahoman columnist offers finance tips during vacation of a lifetime to Italy

Forty-five years after she dreamed of it, Oklahoman columnist Paula Burkes toured Rome, Florence and Italy last month.
by Paula Burkes Published: August 6, 2014

I experienced the vacation of a lifetime last month, some 45 years since I first dreamed of taking it. I’ve wanted to visit Italy, and especially Venice, since I wrote a report on the boot-shaped country in the fourth grade. It was everything, and more, than I imagined.

First, let me pass along a few personal finance/identity theft tips, so I can justify sharing travel adventures in the business section.

Before I left town: I suspended delivery of my Oklahoman and mail, and didn’t announce my tour dates on Facebook, so my vacant home wouldn’t be an easy target for would-be thieves. I turned up my thermostat to save on air-conditioning bills. And in the absence of a trust or will drawn up by an attorney, I hand-wrote the latter and left it on my kitchen counter, having learned from estate lawyers that a handwritten document holds up far better than filling in blanks on a downloaded template. Finally, we alerted our respective credit card companies that we’d be traveling in Italy, so they wouldn’t freeze our accounts should they see suspicious European purchases.

As to credit cards and cash: Months before our trip, my friend and I both got a highly encrypted Chase Sapphire credit card, which has no foreign transaction fees and no fee and hundreds of dollars in cash-back perks your introductory year. During the trip, we carried either my credit card and its duplicate that my friend could legally use, or his card and its duplicate I could use and left the other cards in the hotel safe with our passports, so we wouldn’t implicate two accounts if our cards were stolen or lost (He carried his wallet in his front pocket and I wore my shoulder purse across the front of me). Most restaurants and stores accepted credit cards, but before we went, we exchanged a few hundred dollars for euros at my bank, so that we’d have spending money for taxis or cappuccinos when we touched down in Rome.

My friend also carried his credit bureau debit card because the institution reimburses him for any fees charged at nonbank ATMs. Over our 10-day trip, he withdrew euros at ATMs several times without a hitch. Still, we had to stay mindful of prices. A pair of sandals marked 90 euros equates to roughly $135.

We took home few souvenirs, but a treasure trove of memories. In Rome, we marveled at ruins from the Roman Empire dating back to 500 B.C., including where Julius Caesar was killed, and the Coliseum where real gladiators, not Russell Crowe, fought to their bloody deaths. For me, the biggest takeaway from the Coliseum is that residents took refuge there during the World War II bombings, because the enemies agreed not to bomb the historic structure.

Of course, the Vatican museum (we caught Pope Francis’ Sunday blessing), St. Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine Chapel all were highlights. But it was almost laughable in the latter, where reverent silence is expected, and hired security guards are constantly bellowing “SHHH” and “QUIET!”

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by Paula Burkes
A 1981 journalism graduate of Oklahoma State University, Paula Burkes has more than 30 years experience writing and editing award-winning material for newspapers and healthcare, educational and telecommunications institutions in Tulsa, Oklahoma...
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