Category Archives: Travel

Visit major World War I battlefields in France and Belgium before next year’s centenary crowds you out

French and Commonweath graves at the Thiepval Memorial

AUGUST 2014 MARKS the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of what came to be known as the “war to end all wars”—a reference that is now used ironically, because the devastation was soon overshadowed by the near-Armageddon of World War II.

When the first war ended, some nine million combatants were dead, and in the parts of eastern France and western Belgium that made up the Western Front it can seem like every road leads to a cemetery. But it is also a beautiful region, with gently flowing rivers, picturesque villages and noble Gothic cathedrals.

The areas where some of the most famous fighting took place—Verdun and Somme in France and Ieper (also known as Ypres) over the Belgian border—can easily be toured by car over a week, with side excursions to Champagne houses in Épernay and cathedrals at Amiens and Reims. Starting next year, big commemorations will be held, perhaps for the last time. Go soon to avoid crowds, or at least start planning—many hotels in the Somme are already booked for July 2016, the anniversary of the Somme offensive.

Read the rest.

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The Ultimate Trip?

Want an intimate dinner party for 100 in Giza, Egypt overlooking the pyramids?  And since you’ll be dining late, do you want the pyramids to be lighted until 2 a.m., three hours later than normal?   Join the club, the Abercrombie & Kent Lifestyle Club that is.

Abercrombie & Kent is known for luxurious travel.  For example we took the Orient Express – the same train that Agatha Christie made famous in her book “Murder on the Orient Express” – from Vienna to London.  The train cars had been painstakingly restored to their 1920s glory; the only thing missing was Hercule Poirot and a body.

It seems that the wealthy are looking for luxury travel experiences like New Year’s Eve helicopter excursion to behold the Northern Lights in Iceland and  a New Zealand golfing excursion that involved flying around on a private jet.

The cost for arranging trips like this ranges from alow of $325 to over $22,000.  That’s just for the planner, the trip is extra.  So if you have just inherited a fortune, sold your interest in a Silicon Valley start-up, or won the lottery and are interested, check it out here.  And if you can afford that kind of private planning, don’t overlook the opportunity to have your investments managed by our private boutique  investment firm: Korving & Company at 757-638-5490.

 

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What’s the hurry? Financial decisions that can wait

 

From Reuters we get some ideas that can be better if you procrastinate.  Here are some things that get better if you wait.

— Transferring from a traditional individual retirement account to a Roth IRA. When you move money from a tax-deferred IRA to a Roth, you have to pay income taxes on the amount you move. If you do that at mid-career, you’re likely to be paying at a top tax rate, and perhaps even limiting the amount of new money you can invest while you pay taxes.

COMMENT: If you wait until after retiring, you may be in a lower tax bracket.  But there are no guarantees since tax rates are on the rise.

— Buying TIPS. Treasury inflation protected securities … If you wanted to sell TIPS before maturity, you’d get less back than you paid for them.

COMMENT: That’s mostly true because TIPS prices have been bid up to extraordinary levels.

— Buying a fixed annuity.

COMMENT: Rates today are at a record low.  And, by the way, the older you are the higher the income from a fixed annuity.

— Paying off that mortgage

COMMENT: At today’s low, low interest rates you may be able to invest and make a higher rate of return on your money than the interest on your mortgage.  On the other hand, not having a mortgage payment frees up a lot of cash, and many people prefer to know that they, rather than the bank, own their home. 

— Buying the new car.

COMMENT: A car is a depreciating asset.  The writer suggests taking a trip instead, spending money on experiences, instead of things.  Good advice.  At one time, 100,000 miles was the limit for any car.  Today, many cars are good for another 50, 100 or 150,000 more miles.  The time to replace a car is when maintenance costs begin to mount.

 

Wondering what to do and when to do it?  Contact us.

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Over There!

From the Financial Planning.

Living abroad seems like an inexpensive option for some prospective retirees, and even some younger people who are not tied by a job to a specific location. 

But there are a number of issues that need to be considered before buying a ticket and pulling up stakes.  Without getting into details, here are the items that should be researched:

  • Tax Issues – first consult a tax lawyer. and see what the taxes will be and to whom you will pay them.
  • Health Insurance – no one living permanently outside the US can receive Medicare benefits.
  • Working Abroad – if you’re going to be running a small business abroad, be sure to know what the taxes, labor regulations and wage scales are.
  • Social Networking – it may be difficult to create a circle of friends in a new country unless you build a social network before you move.
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Burning Question: Air Blowers or Paper Towels?

Here’s one that has very little to do with investing or money but is something that anyone who has ever used a public bathroom has faced: which is better: paper towels or air blowers?

According to research at the Mayo Clinic, paper towels are better.

With all the new technology in restroom hand driers, you might think blowers are more hygienic than a simple sheet of paper. Banish that thought, says Rodney Lee Thompson, a hospital epidemiologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.

The Trouble with Blowers

Go to any sports stadium and watch people washing their hands in the bathroom, and you’ll likely switch to paper, notes Dr. Thompson. “The trouble with blowers is that they take so long,” he says. “Most people dry their hands for a bit, then wipe them on their dirty jeans, or open the door with their still-wet hands.” Maybe they even decide not to wash altogether to save time.

Paper towels are even better for the environment!

Even environmental concerns, Dr. Thompson says, are eradicated by the paper towel. “The electric blower uses more energy than making a paper towel,” he says.

What’s the Mayo Clinic way of proper public bathroom etiquette?

Even though studies have shown that a thorough washing with soap will remove nearly all traces of bacteria, some germaphobes take extra precautionary measures, like using a paper towel to touch the bathroom door or faucet.

Dr. Thompson doesn’t think that is such a bad idea. “Remember that some people don’t wash their hands at all. So when you turn off the faucet, you contaminate your hands again; then you grab the door handle and you’re picking up whatever germs were left behind.”

In a dream world, Dr. Thompson says, you’d use a paper towel to dry your hands, open the door with it, then throw it over your shoulder and into the trash. “I personally think that public bathroom doors should open out so you can push them with your thigh,” he says. “Or they should not have a door at all, like at airports.”

Don’t argue with science.

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Where Americans are moving

From Forbes:

If the economy somehow gains strength, it may only serve to further accelerate these trends. The incipient recovery in housing prices seems likely, at least in places like California and the Northeast, to create yet another bubble. This will give people more incentive to move to less expensive areas, particularly those who can cash in by selling a house in a pricier city and moving to a less expensive one. The differential in housing costs between New York and Tampa-St. Petersburg now stands at historic highs, and near peak bubble highs between Los Angeles and Phoenix; the traditional growth states are looking more attractive all the time for people looking to make quick money in an economy with shrinking opportunities elsewhere. This includes the massive wave of aging boomers, many of whom may see selling a house in California or the Northeast as a way to make up for less than adequate IRAs. The combination of low prices and warmer weather in the past has proven an irresistible one for those retiring or simply down-shifting their careers. This appeal is likely to grow as the senior population expands.

  • No. 1: Dallas-Fort Worth Metropolitan Statistical Area
  • No. 2: Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach MSA
  • No. 3: Austin, Texas
  • No. 4: Tampa-St. Petersburg, Fla.
  • No. 5: Houston
  • No. 6: Washington DC-VA-MD
  • No. 7: Denver
  • No. 8 San Antonio, Texas
  • No. 9 Seattle, Tacoma, Washington
  • No. 10 Riverside-San Bernadino, California

Note that the top five places are in states that do not have a state income tax.

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Tips for snowbirds

“Snowbirds” are those retired couples who live in more than one state.  Usually they live in northern climates in the summer and move to warmer places like Florida or Arizona in the winter months.

From the Wall Street Journal

By the time Gil Stanley retired from teaching in 2009, he’d had enough of the harsh winters in his hometown of York Harbor, Maine. So the now-72-year-old built a home in Florida where he spends about half the year.

But getting his financial life in tune with this new lifestyle was no easy task.

What are some of the issues for people who want to become snowbirds?

  • Make sure you have access to your bank and investment accounts.
  • Decide what state you choose as your primary residence.  Different states have different rules.  Your decision can make a big difference in the taxes you owe.
  • Get professional tax advice.
  • Check with your financial advisor to make sure you can afford it.
  • Use the Internet.  Look into electronic bill payment and billing statements.
  • Be sure to notify vendors and financial advisers of changes of address.  Returned mail can block access to accounts.
  • Check your auto, home and health insurance to make sure you remain covered.
  • Check on health care providers to make sure that you have access when you need it.
  • Arrange for someone to check on you vacant home.

As the Baby Boom generation moves into retirement, many will take advantage of increased longevity to remain active.  Many will become snowbirds or hit the road with their RV, doing the things they have put off while working.    Planning ahead is critical for this to succeed.

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The best time to buy an airline ticket.

If you travel and are looking for the best time to make your reservation, it may surprise you to know that the day of the week makes a difference in how much you pay.

Shoppers looking for the cheapest airfare can learn something from stand-up comedians: It’s all about timing.

Ticket prices are highest on weekends, on average, according to online travel agencies, fare trackers and airline pricing executives.

When’s the best time to buy? Travel experts have long said Tuesday is when sales are most often in place, which is true. An analysis of domestic fares shows that Wednesday also has good — and occasionally better — ticket prices.

Though prices fluctuate frequently and the ups and downs of airline prices can frustrate and anger consumers, airline pricing actually does follow a cycle during the week. Many sales, in which some seats are discounted by 15% to 25% typically, are launched Monday night. That was true again this week when AirTran Airways launched a sale to all its destinations. Competitors typically match the lower prices Tuesday morning. By Thursday or Friday, many sales have already expired.

Two weeks ago, a Chicago-Atlanta round-trip ticket for April travel dates cost $209 on Tuesday and Wednesday on American and Delta, but then $301 for the next four days. When Tuesday rolled around last week, the fare dropped to $219 at both airlines for the April 8-15 itinerary. By Friday it was up to $307 at both American and Delta. Come Tuesday this week, the fare was down to $229….

When airlines want to push through a fare increase, marking up their basic prices across the board usually by $5 or $10, they often do that on Thursday night, then watch to see if competitors match and if the higher rates stick over the weekend. If competitors balk, prices can be rolled back by Monday morning.

 

Via Yahoo.finance

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Best Places to Retire: Portland, Maine

You will find articles about places to retire in many newspapers, magazines and books.  Here’s an idea from the Wall Street Journal: Portland, Maine.

It’s been years since I have been in Portland, but here are some of the highlights from the article.

Portland has turned into an attractive city with an ample offering of music, art, education, cuisine, health care and historical architecture. In 2006 the Tysons bought a condo in downtown Portland, where they now spend five months of the year, close to the art museum, symphony orchestra and restaurants.

“We feel very fortunate to have landed where we did,” says Mr. Tyson, age 70, a semiretired landscape architect. The Tysons spend the other seven months in Naples, Fla.

Portland is attracting other retirees as well. The city juts into Casco Bay, with promenades on both ends of the peninsula. It has an active waterfront, stunning views of islands, quaint shops, many housing choices and a major hospital, the Maine Medical Center. Winters are cold and taxes steep, but there isn’t much traffic or crime.

The downside?  Cold and “social problems.”

“It’s not for everybody, because it is cold, and the biggest downside is the wind,” says Leslie Anderson, 63, who worked in software marketing before retiring to Portland from Somerville, Mass. “That wind whips, and in the winter it’s raw.”

Social problems spill into the streets in the form of homeless people, transients and panhandlers. The Bayside neighborhood, in particular, remains an eyesore with fenced-in empty lots. But a Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s have located there, and the city has long-term redevelopment plans for the area.

Portland is only two hours by car from Rockland, Maine, home of the Maine Lobster Festival held at the beginning of August.  It’s worth a visit to sample thousands of lobsters and see the picturesque sights of old Rockland.  if you go there, stay in one of the quaint Bed & Breakfasts.

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The Best and Worst U.S. Cities for Travel Taxes

Yesterday’s Wall Street Journal had an article on the effect of taxes on the cost of travel.  After retirement, many people want to travel so the effect of taxes on hotels, air fare, food and rental cars can have an impact on the cost of your trip.  The effect of taxes can be quite dramatic.  For example:

In Chicago, the tax on a case of Miller Lite beer runs about 9%. That pales in comparison with the 16.4% tax on a hotel room and the 23% tax on car rentals at O’Hare International Airport. … 

The hotel-tax increase in Chicago, which had the highest total tax burden for travelers of any city in the survey, raised the total hotel levy there to 16.4%. That includes a 2% tax to help pay for the Chicago White Sox stadium, 2.5% to help pay for the McCormick Place convention center and state taxes as well. Chicago’s rental-car tax is even higher. The tax on a $56, one-day car rental at the airport raises the cost by 23%.

The tax on air fares is also fairly steep.

There are a total of 17 potential different taxes and fees levied by the federal government and airports on airline tickets. Passengers pay a federal excise tax to help fund the Federal Aviation Administration, a security fee to help fund the Transportation Security Administration, various fees for international inspections and fees charged by airports for passing through terminals.

On a typical $300 domestic ticket with one connection, the airline fare is really $238.88 and taxes and airport fees are $61.12—more than 20% of the $300 cost comprises taxes and government fees. By comparison, a pack of cigarettes that costs roughly $12 in Chicago has $5.67 in federal, state, county and city taxes, or about 47% of the cost.

As you plan your trip, be sure to ask your agent if the price quotes includes all applicable taxes and fees.  When local politicians go in search of more tax revenue, they will often decide to tax the traveler rather than the resident, knowing that residents may vote them out of office if taxes get too high, but travelers can’t vote against them.

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