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Traveling around South Carolina looking for a retirement spot

Someone mentioned that his parents had just retired to Bluffton, SC. Spurred by that, my wife and I are headed to Bluffton in a couple of weeks to check it out. Her excuse is that they are having a marathon there and mine is that I want to get out of the cold. Retirement is still several years away but we are doing a meandering look at areas that might be potential places to settle down and gum our food.

So, I wanted to ask, is there anything in Bluffton that we should focus on while we visit, with the goal of a potential landing spot? We will check out Hilton Head and Savannah for tourism stuff so if there is something we shouldn’t miss from that respect that would be cool too.

In the retirement vein, next year we probably will look at Wilmington/Leland, and even New Bern in coastal NC. I heard that those places have higher than average crime though. We’ve also looked at Tempe/Mesa which were really nice. But when they said they had 116 last summer I got a bit scared. Also looked at Prescott and Sedona. Sedona was too pricey and touristy for me. I liked Prescott but it falls a little short of my top criteria of close to a medical university hospital and close to an international airport.

Answer 1: I have heard good things about neighboring Hardeeville. I can say you should definitely check out Savannah, a great town. The Olde Pink House is a cool spot, but if you go, try to eat in the bar downstairs. It is a really old bar, and has the same menu as the dining room. Alligator Soul and The Grey are other restaurants I highly recommend in Savannah. It is also one of 3 towns in the US that allows you to carry your drinks around town.

Answer 2: You should spend some time in Beaufort as well. Smaller town than Savanah but closer to Bluffton. Bluffton/Hilton head area has a range of “plantations” – Finding the right community for your circumstances could take some time.

Answer 3: That might have been me as my mom moved to Bluffton three years ago and LOVEs it. When we visit her, we go Savannah and take the trolley tour of the city. You can get on and off as many times as you want to walk around and check stuff out yourself. I also recommend going to Beaufort and taking the tour. Pretty cool little town and a ton of movies were filmed there. The Big Chill, Forrest Gump and Prince of tides are three off the top of my head. Hilton Head is great but better in the summer.

Answer 4: We moved to Summerville, SC and I love it here. I would check out Daniel Island, Mount Pleasant, Isle of Palms and Sullivan’s Island etc., all around the Charleston area. These keep you in a great position for North travels (Charlotte, Wilmington, Raleigh), South (Hilton Head, Savannah, GA, Jacksonville, Fla, Orlando, Daytona etc.) all within 5/6 hours.

Answer 5: It’s an awesome place. My daughter was in law enforcement there for 6 years, she recently moved back to upstate NY. My other half and I are definitely looking for a place there. There are several reasons.

1)The beaches are awesome, good sand, not crowded, without the touristy crap. You can even ride a bicycle on them.
2)The golf courses are top notch. Plenty to choose from and not that expensive. Do not go into the woods for balls, it ain’t worth it.
3) Bluffton is not on the island so it is less crowded. In my retirement I want quiet serene drama free days, kids being what they are these days….
4) The amenities, shopping, gas, restaurants are all close and easy to get to.

The drawbacks, there really is not an airport that close, Savannah is only a half an hour away, but flying into it is pricey and finding flight is a pain. South Carolina gets hot and humid even in October/November. I know that’s the reason to go, but maybe I’m not ready to retire yet?

Answer 6: A few years ago we vacationed in Isle of Palms. I loved Mt. Pleasant SC and had a realtor send me a ton of stuff. We know people that recently relocated there as well with great reviews. I have heard good things about Bluffton as well. Still many years before retirement but it never hurts to be prepared.

Mt. Pleasant is a frequent destination for retirees from the Carolinas. The Charleston area has a lot of attractive choices.

Bluffton isn’t bad – I really like that area, but if you are looking to travel North by car, the extra 90 minutes you save helps a lot. Plus, Bluffton and Hilton Head are both tucked away a little off the interstate, although with Bluffton you’re about 10 miles closer than in Hilton Head.

You’ll find air travel easier out of Charleston than Savannah, too.

Probably can’t go wrong in either place, but Charleston area living is more appealing to me.

Answer 7: Bill, we checked out all those beachy towns leading up to retirement…..we chose Summerville SC just outside of Charleston. In my opinion Charleston has more to offer than Savannah or Wilmington. We were looking for Restaurants, History, Entertainment and we found it all in Chuck-town. They play a game called “Golf” down here if you’re interested. Oh and there’s the Yankees Minor-League Team, when they play the BoSox farm team from Greenville upstate — it’s a Rumble.

Beaufort has a nice “small town” feel but is still close to things. New Bern is much the same. I have not been to Bluffton, but it seems kind of remote to me. You should make a few trips to these places as you get closer to Retirement. New Bern, NC is also worth a look.

Outer Banks vacation in late May?

Reader question: Is it warm enough for a family beach vacation to the OBX in mid-late May? Is the North Carolina coast too cold that time of year?

Answer 1: I booked in Nags Head the week of May 29th to June 4th. To celebrate my daughter’s graduation. Water temperature average is 70 air is 80. But I’d still say hit or miss. say

Answer 2: Not Bad if you’re a recently thawed northerner like me. My wife, the in-laws, and I have been renting in Rodanthe the week before Memorial Day (before the rates spike handsomely) for nearly a decade now. High temps are usually in the upper 70s/low 80s. Winds from the north can bring a chill in the evening. Ocean is also pretty chilly, but if your kids are like mine, they’re going to charge in anyway – and you’ll have to follow. Prepare yourself or rent a place with a pool. Bookings are light too. You can get a big swath of beach all to yourselves.

As a cost/benefit thing, it’s a nice balance. It’s much nicer on the opposite side of the busy season in late Aug, but then you run the risk of hurricanes. Our stingy wallets prefer to err on the side of caution.

Answer 3: Consider Sanibel Island in FL at that time. Warmer water. We’ve vacationed in the southern Outer Banks numerous times – from Rodanthe to Hatteras Landing – only once did we book pre-season – that was June. It was warm enough, but the wind was so intense a couple of days it kept us off the beach – sand-whipping HURTS!!!

Answer 4: Yes, the ocean is cold that time of year, but if you’re used to Jersey temps, no big thing. Average Ocean temp at Nag’s Head pier in late May is 68. That’s nothing for northerners. FWIW – can’t recommend Southern Banks in offseason enough. Stunning scenery, a bit of an off-grid feel to it, out in the middle of nowhere. Huge houses at very reasonable prices in off months, and you won’t have the insane traffic to fight getting in and out.

Only offseason downfall is a big one: No LIFEGUARDS. Also, each year, a few yummy tourists get eaten by sharks in N.C. One year we rented in Frisco. We could see schools of fish swimming in the waves in formation. Beautiful and awesome. My son and I were trying to grab them barehanded to no avail when my wife spotted a fin. OUT we came… of course! Where there are many little fish, there will be BIGGER fish!! Be careful.

Reader question: Anyone been to Barranquilla, Colombia? Carnival in Colombia?

Reader question: I was invited to join 3 others in traveling to Cartagena for 1 night and driving 2 hours to Barranquilla for a three night stay – during Colombia’s Carnival. Has anyone been to Colombia (Cartagena or Barranquilla)and/or the Carnival? I have done a lot of research online the past few days and I’m left both excited with this once in a lifetime trip opportunity – but also nervous due the stories of crime and all things that are related to Colombia.

I understand that the country has gotten a lot more safe for tourism in the last 10 years and if we don’t walk around like Lavar Ball’s Big Ballers – the odds are in our favor of us being left alone. I would be traveling with 3 other American’s all 30 years old. We’ve been all over Europe together and enjoy getting wild but understand this is a third world country and not a quick trip to Amsterdam or Dublin.

I’ve come here before and I got great insight before a few of my backpacking trips through Europe so I was hoping for some helpful comments again.

Answer 1: I had a client come in today who recently returned from a trip to Columbia. He is in his 70s and went with his wife and another couple. He raves about the trip and said he never felt unsafe. Accommodations were reasonable and he said dinners were very inexpensive. He enjoyed the experience.

Answer 2: It’s as safe as any other place. Just keep your head about you and just have fun. Don’t be the ugly Americans over there either thinking you can just party and be drunk and obnoxious over there (not saying you are). Be respectful, have fun, don’t try to buy “illegal” drugs over there. Just keep it straight and you should be good.

Sometimes American men get in trouble: Not sure about your marital situations but if you’re looking to pick up girls it can be rather easy. You’re Americans. They think we are millionaires. And to them you are because you’ll see how far an american dollar can take you. But be respectful. Don’t be like the secret service guys that went there a few years ago and not pay what you owe.

Answer 3: The food is great, get ready to dance if you’re going out to party..doesn’t matter if you’re not good. Don’t be stupid either, some women over there will hustle you bone dry if you let them. So keep your head about you and you’ll be fine.

Answer 4: Little tip…don’t bring cash with you. Pull it out of the ATM once you’re there. Reason is if you bring cash then you gotta pay taxes on it. When you use an ATM NEVER use it alone. Make sure your buddies are around you covering. When you punch the numbers in they usually have a metal keypad. After you punch in your pin rub the entire key pad with your fingers. Why? Cuz guys over there have figured out to get heat readings off the keypad once you’re done using it. The hottest keys are the ones you just pressed. So just rub the whole keypad when you’re done and make sure you have your guys blocking the view. Also take out the max which I think is like 300,000 pesos…which is like 150 bucks.

Answer 5: I’ve been to Medellin, Bogota and then the small towns where my family is from. But yeah it can be a fun place, the women there are gorgeous, the city where you’re going is gorgeous. Old colonial type. Food is awesome. Their pizzas and hamburgers are not like the ones here. So don’t expect Italian type pizzas. That can shock some people when they bite into it. Beware of the Aguardiente! A vodka looking shot drink that is basically fire water.

Where should I look into cashing in a few dollars for pounds?

Reader submitted question: I am going to London for the New York Giants football game.Where should I look into cashing in a few dollars for pounds?

Answer:

The best thing to do would be to plan to take money out of an ATM while in London as you will get the best exchange rate. Some American banks have British counterparts (decreasing or eliminating fees). For example, Bank of America has been affiliated with Barclays in the UK but I am not certain if that relationship still exists (I will be finding out). Also, be sure to let your bank know that you will be traveling abroad so they don’t freeze your ATM or credit cards while you are traveling.

You may want to arrive with some British pounds in your pocket and you have several options for acquiring those before you leave. Several banks offer currency exchange. I am using Bank of America again as an example because I am a customer – I plan to get about £100 before I leave through BOA. As of today, their exchange rate was $1.3488, which is not great but not the worst exchange rate I’ve seen (Currency Exchange International quoted me $1.3679 today). If you are a member of AAA, their stores offer (or at least used to offer, I haven’t checked lately) packets of small change – probably around £50 worth) but the exchange rate is not usually great and you will want to pay in cash or with a debit card. If you pay for it with a credit card, it will be treated as a cash advance. However, the AAA option can be the most convenient way to get some small change foreign currency before traveling, especially for those who don’t live in a big city.

Which type of visitor to Yellow Stone would you be?

So I recently asked a friend who lives near Yellow Stone National Park if he had any travel tips. He said it depends on which of the three types of Yellow Stone visitors you are. Different tips for different folks.

Retirees in RVs – they drive around, take pictures, and only leave their RV for fly fishing.

Younger crowd – they camp, hike, rock-climb, and raft. They sometimes hitchhike their way in.

Families with young children – They do whatever it takes to keep the children amused/entertained.

I might fit into the third category if I were traveling with my dogs (see Sharon’s excellent article on camping in dog friendly national parks from 2 years ago.) But without my dogs, I don’t know if I fit nicely into one of the three categories. I guess I would want to be like the younger crowd. But maybe I’d be closer to the retirees.

A few tips anyway:

Day hikes: As opposed to the longer backcountry hikes.

Outside the Yellowstone entrances are some “touristy” type locations where you can buy pricey souvenirs and have a beer, visiting with locals and others. I’m partial towards West Yellowstone, since I enter the park from the west.

You will love Jackson Hole – which is on the east side of the Tetons. Lots of great fun there, particularly if you have some money (it’s very expensive). I’ve been up to the top – it’s a three day event – hiking to a base camp day 1 and 3, with a rise to the summit on day 2. You have to get permits for anything backcountry which is some work in advance. If you just want to see beautiful country and enjoy yourselves in the great outdoors around wealthy people you’ll really enjoy Jackson Hole.

I can’t emphasize enough how much fun you can have in Jackson Hole if you have some money. I don’t know what your budget looks like, but if you can afford it they will take you up the mountain on a helicopter and drop you off for you to hang-glide down. You can rent ATV’s and have a blast going off-road. You can hire a guide to take you out on the water and catch fish. You can find great dining, including a really nice pizza shop in town just off the main square. They’re busy all the time.

The town square has all kinds of cool boutiques for shopping with artists and craftsmen selling their wares. There are cool looking antlers to check out as well.

If you like hiking you’ll like Glacier, but aside from the hiking and being able to say that you were there and touched the dirty icey glaciers, it’s a long detour.

Yellowstone of course has all the diversity and beauty. It’s just overwhelmed with people everywhere, but that’s kind of the fun as well.

How to sell a timeshare or at least get rid of it without losing too much money

In the past, I’ve written about a few cases where people wanted to get rid of their timeshares. Manhattan Club may be the worst, but there are plenty of reasons not to buy a timeshare. But some people love them and even more people buy them.

So recently I got this question: My mother-in-law has an RCI timeshare she wants to dispose of. She offered it to my wife and I, but we don’t want it. Does anyone know of a reliable service that handles these sales? Are there significant costs involved in unloading it? Any info would be appreciated. I just don’t have any experience in this area and I can use your input to help jumpstart my research. Thanks.

Answers:

1. The timeshare store in Orlando. They specialize in Disney but handle all others as well I believe. My friend Chip has bought and sold using them and had no issues.

2. Another friend had to unload his dad’s timesharee after he passed. “After a lot of work I finally convinced them to let me “deed it back” to them, which cost me a few hundred bucks. Took multiple calls and pretty major escalation to layers of management. Yes, I had to pay to unload it. couldn’t give it away, no one would even accept it as a donation. Be careful with any of the sites that claim they can sell it, in most cases you’ll pay money to them and get nada.”

3. Century 21 has a timeshare dept. They are as reliable as anyone. You may also want to contact the home base office as they may be willing to negotiate a resale.

Q: Can CENTURY 21 Real Estate help with timeshare properties?
A: Depending on his or her level of expertise and preference, and pursuant to state real estate licensing laws, a CENTURY 21 Broker or Sales Associate may be able to help you buy or sell a timeshare. For information on a specific location or property, please contact a CENTURY 21 Office directly for assistance or a referral.

Do you carry emergency cash when you go to a foreign country?

When I travel, I rarely have any local currency before arriving in a foreign country. I go to an ATM in the airport and get some. However, I recently heard this from a friend:

As a banker I advise customers to obtain a small amount of currency before leaving as “just in case” or convenience cash. Your bank should be able to provide it to you but it will depend on the bank as will the timing and fees. Try to request at least 3 business days ahead of departure if possible in case your bank doesn’t carry that currency on hand at your location.

The rate you will get at your bank will be OK, but not the best, and you may pay a fee for the transaction as well, again depending on your bank. But it is likely to be better than the rate you would receive at an exchange at the airport. Note that the rates you see on the internet are estimated wholesale rates and are not reflective of what you should expect for a small retail transaction.

The best rates are generally provided by Visa for your card purchases and withdrawals while overseas. Whether your bank charges you a fee for ATM withdrawals from other banks varies; you may have an account or option which waives such fees which would make foreign ATM withdrawals your best option.

Do you carry emergency cash when you go to a foreign country?

Cross Country National Park Trip: towing and route advice

Question: Have some time off from work, planning a cross country road trip. 25 years old and not sure when else I would have this kind of opportunity. Plan on hitting a few of the big national parks over a 6 week period (Glacier, Tetons, Rushmore, Yellowstone, Arches, Bryce, Grand Canyon, Rocky Mountains, etc.)

I will be towing my friends 17′ travel trailer. It has a weight of 2850 lbs dry, about 3500 gross weight. I have RV/camping experience. Unfortunately my CRV will not tow that (its also brand new not trying to destroy the transmission). I am looking at buying a used suv/truck putting a transmission cooler and brake controller on it (maybe a V8 Explorer) then selling when I get back. I looked into renting but most rental companies do not allow towing and it would be cheaper to buy and then sell a couple months alter than to pay the $45 a day for a car.

Any recommendations on reliable tow vehicles with decent mileage (all things considered)? What advice would you have for towing, and towing long distance. Any other advice regarding the trip route would be greatly appreciated!

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

As always, reader comments are most welcome. I actually got some good towing advice from someone who just went through a similar scenario. Sadly he said there is no good answer currently available.

The first thing that you need to know is that tow ratings are usually given for an empty tow vehicle with a 150-pound driver. The weight of all optional equipment and any other payload (other people, luggage, tool box, etc.) must be subtracted from the tow rating. So that will lower your effective tow rating from the opening number.

Also travel trailers are boxy and have a lot more wind resistance than something like a boat trailer or a even a streamlined snowmobile trailer. And you also want a good margin of reserve over the minimum tow rating to make up for loss of performance at altitude (3% loss of engine power for every 1,000-feet above sea level), to give you some extra margin for passing situations, and to keep you from outright abusing the tow vehicle by overworking it.

Although you can tow with a front wheel drive vehicle, it isn’t the best thing to do because the hitch weight (should be 8 to 13% of the trailer load rating) will be pushing down on the back end of the tow vehicle with takes weight off the front end. So rear wheel drive vehicles with a full frame are the preferred tow vehicles, although really solid unibody models like the Jeep Grand Cherokee can get the job done pretty well, too.

So, you probably need to look at vehicles with at least a 5,000-pound tow rating. That eliminates virtually all the 4-cylinder and 6-cylinder cross overs that are so popular now.

The Chevy Traverse is right there at 5,000-pounds tow rating, but it’s a Chevy and a front-wheel drive one at that. Don’t know how you feel about them but personally I wouldn’t touch one with a ten foot pole. Ditto its butt-ugly GMC cousin. An old style Nissan Pathfinder would work, but they are pretty crude vehicles in some ways and new ones are fast disappearing. The new Pathfinder is only rated to tow 3,500-pounds, which is par for the course for most of the cross overs. Same for the mid-sized Toyotas, and towing reports on the big Nissans and Toyotas (Armada and Sierra) are not very good.

There isn’t anything that will handle your trailer properly that will give you gas mileage like you are accustomed to. But the full sized GM SUVs (Chevy Tahoe, GMC Yukon) seem to do a little better on gas than most of the others. The Durangos are not as good, although the new ones should be better than the old ones. The ’99 Durango that I had was optimized for towing in winter was bad on gas. On one multi-day, multi-state trip I noted that my buddy’s Tahoe got a mile or two per gallon better than I got despite the fact that his truck was a bit bigger. My ’06 Explorer rear wheel drive V-8 does somewhat better, but this vehicle is no longer available new. Current Explorers are front wheel drive on what is essentially a Taurus chassis.

The Ford Ecoboost twin-turbo does get around the altitude problem, and they get very good gas mileage when running light without a trailer, but suck gas like crazy when towing because they are working hard. And I think the only rear wheel drive choice for this engine is a pickup truck although it might be available in an Excursion.

But a 4-door pickup might be your best solution, if you can live with it. GM, Ford, and Ram all offer diesels now, too, and the mileage with gas engines from all of them is better than it used to be.

Good luck with the towing business. Personally, I’m not sure towing a trailer is the way to go. You get to take your home with you and don’t have to pack/unpack, but you’ll spend on gas and camping fees, and the trailer will be a major pain when you’re navigating the switchbacks (and there will be a lot of them in your trek)

Let’s talk about your route. It’s awesome but here are some ideas:

1) Drive back on a different route – no use seeing the same thing twice. Consider coming through KC, St. Louis across KY and WV, and then up through Shenandoah NP.

2) Buy a National Parks Permit for the year.

3) Check out the Navaho Nation Parks, namely Antelope Canyon and Monument Valley when in Arizona/Utah. Two of my favorite experiences from the trip.

4) After Rushmore go to Devil’s Tower, it’s not too far out of your planned route and it’s cool. Also, Rushmore on July 3rd is Fireworks – totally worth it.

5) Glacier is amazing, and I thought it was worth it to go into Canada to Wateron Lakes park too. Depends on your time. Also, I don’t know when you are going, but make sure the Going to the Sun rd is open. They are usually plowing snow off until late june.

6) If driving across Iowa, and you are a baseball fan – Field of dreams is pretty cool.

7) Invest in a good camera and learn how to use it.

8) When driving across Minnesota on I-90, if you see a sign for a 55 ft tall Jolly Green Giant, get off that exit and see the darn thing. Biggest regret was missing that.

9) The Michell Corn Palace however wasn’t really worth the stop.

10) Looking back I’m upset we didn’t do more of the Utah national parks, so I’m jeaolous of that.

11) I would strongly suggest the Henry Ford Museum and/or Greenfield Village. Very family oriented and a historical gem. Located in Dearborn and it seems you are passing it anayway.

12) Although it’s slightly West of your current route, Death Valley is amazing and may be worth a few extra miles.

Traveling to Turks and Caicos – international calling plan advice needed

Traveler’s question: Anyone have any advice on how to stay connected to the mainland. Normally I don’t worry about ataying connected on vacation, but I need to keep in touch. We are going to be laying people off so i need to touch base once a day with my foreman and be ready to deal with whatever pops up.

So I need to be able to conduct business via voice, text, and email. I can add an international package with AT& T but it does not seem very affordable. Any help is appreciated. We are apple users and will have wifi but not everyone we will be in need of contacting will be apple users.

Answer: Skype may be your answer. I don’t use it personally, but Skype can work for mac users and I’m sure the plan to allow calls to a landline is cheaper than an international calling plan.

If anyone can add some tips for international calling plans and the like, please comment below.

How to sneak booze aboard: bringing alcohol on a cruise ship

A few friends of mine had a funny conversation I thought I would summarize for you. I’ll link to a few products that people have tried but keep in mind that some people prefer the less expensive way – just hide the bottle in your clothes. Anyway, here’s the summary.

Question: Me and the Mrs are going on a cruise at the end of March. We just recently found out that our boat does not have the drink program on it. We still plan on getting some at the bars but would like to offset some of the cost. Plus it can be nice to have a drink in our cabin. So we need to sneak our alcohol onto the cruise ship. Anyone have any good ideas how to bring the booze aboard?

1. Barnoculars. They don’t check very thoroughly when you embark.

2. We bought a case of water and refilled two of the bottles with vodka. Listerine works for yellow liquor.

3. One friend and I put a Plastic 1.75L of vodka (quality stuff I know) in our suitcases and just wrapped in in a plastic bag and some clothing and I it got on. My friend who used the same tactic as I did got caught and all they did was hold it until the night before we disembarked which actually ended up being convenient since they close the bar early that night to count inventory.

4. You can buy an iFlask

5. Rinse out a couple of Costco hydrogen peroxide bottles. Fill with your vodka of choice, twist top tightly to close. Put in 2 gallon ziplock baggies, throw in a few band aids or gauze before sealing and nobody’s gonna check. My pharmacist buddy suggested this to me and it worked out perfectly.

6. They’re not in the confiscation business. I’ve taken a number of domestic cruises and simply wrap the bottles in my clothing. They don’t go digging through your suitcases. Don’t spend time or money on ridiculous flasks or bottles that will end up leaking and embarrassing you even more than getting caught outright.

7. One guy ought these run runners: “I bought them and packed them with my clothes and got through without a problem.”