Here is part one of the tips that I have learned over the past 20 years. Use this as a guide or a checklist. Planning ahead can lead to an enjoyable vacation where nearly every minute is a wonderful adventure.
Documents, Health and Insurance
- Passports – Check the expiration date on your passports. Generally, your passports must be valid until at least 6 months after the last date of your trip.
- Visas – Most countries do not require a Visa but check with your travel agent or the US State Department (https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/us-visas/visa-information-resources/americans-traveling-abroad.html)
- International Driver’s Permit. If you are renting a car, the country(ies) where you plan to drive might require an international driver’s permit. AAA is one source for driver’s permits.
- Auto Insurance. Plan to purchase auto insurance as part of the car rental. I learned the hard way that my charge card only covers auto rentals within the United States.
- Trip cancellation and interruption insurance. Make sure you purchase a policy that will cover emergency medical care, including evacuation. It should cover airline ticket, cruise or tour group, hotels, and other major costs.
- Recommended Vaccinations. Check the vaccination requirements for each country you plan to visit. Check online with the Center for Disease Control (https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel)
- For more detailed information and links to pertinent websites, visit the Department of State – Bureau of Consular Affairs (https://travel.state.gov/content/travel.html)
- Document your plans. As you make your plans, store all of your arrangements (e.g. flight record locators/details, hotel confirmation/dates/address, Guide names and contact information, etc.) store the information in a safe location. Smartphone apps such as TripIt enable you to store all arrangements for your travel.
- Smartphone Apps. There is a plethora of apps that can help with your travel. Familiarize yourself with options and download them now. I don’t travel without a currency converter, language translator, Rick Steves Smartphone Guides, TripAdvisor, PayPay, Boingo and my Airline and Hotel apps.
- Even if you planned a Cruise, you may want to book hotels at the cities near the ports of departure and disembarkation. Work with your travel agent who can help you select the best hotel for your budget. Remember that not all foreign hotels have elevators so travel light.
- Flights. Not all airlines will sell through the large booking websites. I check with the airport of departure to see which airlines fly from/to that airport. Then I start searching on the individual websites to be sure I find the best price and flight options. You should also check neighboring airports. For instance, while I generally fly out of JFK, I also check Newark, NJ flights. If you need connecting flights, make sure the layover is not too short (you can miss the second flight) or too long (you will arrive at your destination weary from spending too much time traveling). Once you book your flight, you need to log into the airline website to complete TSA required information including passport numbers, emergency contact, destination hotel, and birth dates.
- Guides. It pays to research guided tours available in the areas you plan to visit. TripAdvisor is a great resource for helping select a guide. Book ahead. If you wait until the last minute your guide may not have availability.
- Other Transportation. Schedule car service to and from your home airport if you are not driving to the airport. Find out if you need to book airport parking if you are driving yourself. Unless your tour group is providing transfers from the airport, learn now how you can best travel from the airport to your hotel. If your travel involves trains, car rentals and other means to transportation, start reviewing available options now.
- Research and Plan Your Time. Spend time learning about your destinations and plan your time. This is especially important if you are traveling independently from a group. Rick Steves, Trip Advisor and Lonely Planet (and many others) have websites full of information. I have used both Rick Steves and Lonely Planet published guidebooks. There are many YouTube videos covering nearly any destination. And I always travel with printed guidebooks.
- Travel Limitations and Accommodations. You can still plan a perfect vacation but do your research and plan ahead. Don’t hesitate to ask questions and request accommodation for your specific requirements.
- Credit Cards – Sign up for a credit card that is widely recognized abroad and does not charge foreign currency exchange fees. I always travel with 2 different cards in case something happens to one card or the other. Make sure you have an appropriate credit limit. Find out if your credit card companies require notice of your international plans.
- ATM Cards – An ATM card is just as essential as the credit card so apply for a card if you do not have one. Not all merchants accept credit cards abroad. Most, if not all banks, do charge exchange rate fees each time you withdraw money at a foreign ATM. (About 2-4 weeks before you leave the country, call the bank to let them know what countries you will be traveling to and the dates.) To save money, withdraw large amounts in foreign ATMS fewer times.
- Budget – Put together a budget that includes all expected costs.
- Foreign Currency. Have enough foreign currency for your first destination to pay the taxi driver and for incidentals. Then you can use a local ATM for ongoing requirements. AAA, Wells Fargo and American Express can provide currency at competitive exchange rates. However, for most currency needs, plan to use local ATMs once you arrive at your destinations. I generally withdraw the maximum amount at foreign ATMS in order to save on fees.
- Pets – Don’t forget to schedule the pet sitter or boarding service.
- Luggage – Find out the airline luggage limitations, especially weights. Look for deals on luggage if your current luggage is not suitable.
- Packing aids. Compression bags are a great way to stuff more clothing into a suitcase. I also use packing cubes for items that wrinkle.
- Clothing. Think about washable, comfortable versatile clothing that you can wear several times. Plan to dress in layers. If you must bring dress shoes, pack one pair. Otherwise, make sure you have comfortable shoes made for lots of walking.