Top 5 travel tips for Legislators on international junkets

Taiwan postcardApril 4, 2013

By John Hrabe

I used to think that I was the world’s most well-traveled Californian.

In the past eighteen months, I’ve traveled to more than 70 cities in two dozen countries on four continents. I spent two months traveling overland from Cape Town to Nairobi, two weeks on a container ship crossing the North Atlantic and two days on a crowded train going from one end of India to the other.

Along the way, I’ve learned plenty of travel tips the hard way. It’s nearly impossible to update FlashReport.org while on a dial-up connection in Malawi. Don’t ever cross the North Atlantic in the middle of winter. And you’ll always find a clean and affordable place to stay with AirBnb.com.

But when it comes to globe-trotting, state Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff and Assembly Republican Leader Connie Conway put even me to shame. Last week, during the legislature’s spring break, both GOP leaders enjoyed international junkets sponsored by Sacramento special interest groups. “GOP Leaders Gone Wild: Taiwan and Poland Edition” comes on the heels of November junkets to Hawaii and Australia, as I reported here yesterday.

Before Sen. Huff and Asm. Conway log any more frequent flyer miles or passport stamps, I wanted to offer a few travel tips for future legislative junkets.

5. Avoid traveler’scCheques and foreign transaction credit card fees

Much like legislative ethics, traveler’s cheques have become a rather antiquated practice. Most hotels, restaurants and shops accept credit cards, which will give you the best currency exchange rate. As long as you select the right credit cards. Some companies charge an additional 3 percent foreign transaction fee. The key is to select a credit card with no foreign transaction fees. My personal favorite is the Chase Sapphire Preferred card, which also awards double points on all travel and dining purchases.

Of course, this tip is probably best directed at the special interest groups and Sacramento lobbyists that are picking up the tab for Conway and Huff’s adventures.

4. Keep connected with Google Voice and Skype

International long-distance charges are unnecessary in the digital age. Skype and other video conferencing programs are cost-effective ways to keep you connected with your staff in Sacramento. I’d also recommend acquiring a Google Voice account, which allows you to dial out using a California-based number. A Google Voice account will allow you to return calls from Taiwan and still display a (916) area code. Plus, you can retrieve messages online via the free voicemail feature. Google Voice can save you hundreds of dollars on your next phone bill with the added perk of making it seem like you never left.

3. Use free online translation programs to communicate with locals

With legislators traveling to so many different locations, it’d be impossible to learn every language. That’s where online translation programs can help you communicate with the locals. I haven’t used it yet, but I’m dying to try out Jibbigo, a translation app with on- and off-line components. With Internet access, you can use Google Translate for imperfect, but effective translations.

For example, say hypothetically speaking, you needed to translate the phrase: “Are enticements acceptable in your culture, or is that unique to Sacramento?” In Polish, according to Google Translate, that would be: “Łapówki są akceptowalne w kulturze, czy też jest to unikalny dla Sacramento?”

2. Prepare for the Form 700: Keep track of all your special interest junkets with trip it

Ann Ravel and the other killjoys at the FPPC don’t seem to understand the value of international junkets. How else will legislative leaders “strengthen cultural and economic ties” with lobbyists? Erg. Ugh. I mean other countries. Nevertheless, the buzzkills will no doubt expect to see the gifts listed on legislators’ annual Form 700 Financial Disclosure statements.

It can be difficult to keep track of which lobbyists bought which meal on which legislative junket. That’s where a travel planning application comes in. My personal favorite, Trip It, can help legislators keep track of all their gifts and travel reimbursements. You might even consider upgrading to Trip It Pro, which allows you to “automatically share all your travel plans with the people who need to know exactly where you are.”

1. Read CalWatchdog.com for all the latest California news.

Keep tabs on what’s going on back home by logging onto CalWatchdog.com. The website will keep you up to date on those legislative special elections in San Diego and the Central Valley. You know those elections that could determine the size of your caucus when you eventually return to California.

4 comments

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  1. us citizen
    us citizen 4 April, 2013, 11:44

    Interesting tid bits there. thanks

    Reply this comment
  2. Not a leader for these times
    Not a leader for these times 4 April, 2013, 17:26

    Thank you to John Hrabe for the continued courageous attention to the travel schedule of Assembly Mini-Minority Leader Connie Conway, who substitutes junkets for vision.

    Now it’s Taiwan. She went to Hawaii in November and went to Israel in December 2011.

    Stop the junkets! Serve your constituents in Tulare County during the legislative breaks. And work on developing a plan that makes Californians want to vote for Republicans in 2014.

    Reply this comment
  3. Steve Mehlman
    Steve Mehlman 4 April, 2013, 18:08

    OMG! The Dog actually had a piece that 1)exposed Republicans instead of Democrats, and 2) did not blame public employee unions. It is snowing in Palm Springs as we speak.

    Reply this comment
  4. Bob Hobson
    Bob Hobson 5 April, 2013, 05:15

    Great tips. I especially appreciate the idea of using a credit card without a foreign transaction fee. I thought they all had one. I would like to add one more general travel tip that saved my last trip to Rome from total disaster. I lost my passport during the day but had no idea it was missing. Fortunately, I had an Okoban tracer tag on it. A waiter where I ate lunch found it and entered my tracker number on their website and I was sent a text message (and an email) before I ever even knew my passport was missing. Lucky for me because I was leaving in the morning for Germany and getting a new passport would have been impossible. I found these tags at mystufflostandfound.com. It saved my trip and I now have tags on almost everything that goes with me on a trip.

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