Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Tips for Planning a Great Vacation: What Every Traveler Should Know

When speaking to other travelers or those who have never splurged on a dream vacation one thing is apparent, knowing how to plan your holiday is imperative. A properly executed itinerary can prepare you for all sorts of unexpected dilemmas and affect your overall experience. Although traveling the world is exhilarating, there are obstacles that can put a damper on your plans. I’ve had many mishaps along the way including lost luggage, cancellations, 14 hour flight delays, being stranded at an airport halfway across the world and grueling detours that consumed every drop of my energy. Today I am going to share what I’ve learned over the years to help make your journey smoother.

1. Do your Research

*Before making any reservations make sure to research the country/city you are traveling to. You can find a lot of useful info pertaining to safety concerns, the outbreak of any illness, environmental quality/weather reports (you wouldn’t want to travel during hurricane or rainy season) and anything else you may need to know.

2. Travel Season & Savings

*If you are looking to save money, book during low season and avoid holidays. With some vacations such as cruises, it can help to check prices daily (as they may fluctuate) and book when rates are lowest. Sometimes a flight+air bundle or flight-air-hotel package can also save you money. Airlines may offer last minute deals but it’s not always safe to wait especially if you have paid for other reservations. I prefer to book in advance.

*If you feel more comfortable booking with a travel agency despite their fees then do so but make sure they are registered and reliable. Personally, I make most of my reservations online through expedia or via a direct company website.

*It is common for airlines to overbook flights so if you have the option of checking-in online and choosing your seat, do so.

*Create a budget for your trip so you don’t overspend or run out of funds and have a contingency stash for emergencies.

3. The Company You Keep

*Stepping outside of your comfort zone and being open to exciting new experiences can be amazing. Keep an open mind, delve into the culture and travel with people who have similar interests. If you love museum hopping, cathedral gazing and history like I do then you may not want to travel with the party crowd only interested in bar hopping and night clubs. Don’t let anything spoil your trip!

4. Packing Tips

*To make sure you don’t forget anything give yourself enough time to pack and don’t wait until last minute. I have a thorough checklist on my iPad which I use for most trips. You can create a main category for must-have essentials and sub categories that relate to different destinations. I include things like over the counter meds for upset stomach or general pain plus toiletries, clothing, electronics, beach gear, makeup etc. Make sure not too over-pack as not to exceed your weight allowance (usually 50 lbs) but be prepared.

*Adhere to the cultural guidelines and customs of the city you visit. Some religious buildings and certain areas require a more modest dress code so be prepared and respectful. 

*Pack a carry-on that you can live out of for a few days. My luggage has ended up in other countries and has even been lost for days! It is very helpful to have a set of travel sized toiletries, extra clothing, (in my case makeup), documents, electronics + cords and voltage adapters/converters (if needed) in your carry-on luggage should there be a mishap. If you take prescribed medication keep that with you as well.

*Make sure to put all liquids or gels in plastic ziplock bags and have them ready to put in the security bins when going through airport check points. Improperly packaged liquids may be confiscated or tossed out. You are only allowed small travel sized bottles in your carry-on (check airline guidelines).

5. Proper Documentation

*Some countries require supporting documentation like travel visas which you may need to apply for well in advance so check online or ask your travel agent. Make sure to know what identification and papers you need and while you’re at it, find out what type of goods and souvenirs can be brought in or out of the country to avoid fines and penalties. 

6. Important Things to Know When Booking a Hotel/Resort

*Find out what the general consensus is and how travelers have rated the property by reading reviews on sites like Expedia and Trip Advisor. The hotel may not disclose all important information but other travelers will be brutally honest and let you know of any infestations (yuck), construction noise and amenity issues. They also discuss things like quality of service, cleanliness, food, room comfort, location and overall experience to give you an idea of what to expect. I once cancelled a booking for an apartment in Paris when another traveler disclosed that it was broken into and they were robbed!

*Check out the hotel/resort photos on websites where travelers post their own vacation pics because the well edited, beautiful pictures on the hotel website or travel booking sites are not always an accurate representation. I usually book 4-5 star hotels to make sure my stay is comfortable and I look for resorts that are highly rated and recommended for excellence. Make sure to check for extra costs (travelers/tourist tax etc) parking, wifi and other services. You may also want to double check their refund policy should you need to cancel or miss your flight.

*When you get to your room leave your luggage by the door for a while and check the bed for bedbugs. Pull back the sheets, check the headboard and along the crease/seam of the mattress lining. I even get my husband to lift the mattress and check underneath it. Keep an eye out for little dots or droplets on the sheets. Although utterly disgusting, bedbugs are common worldwide and you wouldn't want to go home with them! Thankfully I've never found anything but better safe than sorry!

7.  Transportation

*Before leaving make sure to determine how you will be getting around. Arrange transportation to and from your hotel and find out if your hotel offers a free shuttle service. If you are relying on public transportation, it is helpful to stay at a hotel close to a station.

*Many cities have great deals on car rentals (usually close to the airport) but some destinations have a lot of traffic, are difficult to drive in and have laws about international licensing. Remember that the rules of the road may not be the same as your hometown so weigh your options, consider safety and always inquire about car insurance. If driving is an option, it gives you the freedom to make spontaneous stops along the way and if you require directions ask the concierge or reception desk at your hotel, they usually provide free maps or Mapquest print outs. Make use of the business center if they have one.

Transit Passes
*Some cities have amazing transportation systems that can be fast and convenient. Before arrival, check to see if the city offers a metro card that allows you pay one fee for all the days you are visiting as this option may be most cost effective. These transit cards may cover buses, subway, trains and streetcars.

Taxi Service
*Taxis are another story because cab drivers are not always honest and when they see a tourist coming rates can sky rocket. Make sure to research what the average going rates are and ask the cab driver if he/she knows where your destination is and the estimated cost BEFORE getting in. The most important tip I can share is make sure the cab is registered and licensed! There are many con-artists waiting around airports who try to get you into their non-legitimate taxis. For safety reasons never go with drivers who are not at designated taxi lanes.

Transportation Apps
*There are also a lot of helpful apps that work offline that you can download for your trip. These apps may include information about attractions and help you navigate the city with street maps and metro info.

8. Security & Safety

*Get a lock for the luggage you are checking-in to secure your belongings. When traveling through Fort Lauderdale airport, staff opened my bag and stole my property! This actually happens quite frequently and there isn’t much the airport can do about it. NEVER put valuables including jewelry, important documents, electronics + chargers (laptop, phone, iPad etc) in your checked luggage, always keep them with you.

*Upon arrival do not tour with important documentation on you and make copies of your passport, one as a backup and another to leave at home with a relative or friend. Lock your passport and valuables in the hotel room safe before heading out but remember to take another form of ID. In many cities pick-pocket activity is high in tourist areas and in Europe there are even warning signs. Keep your bag/purse close to your body and avoid backpacks. It is also a good idea not to keep all your money on you, take what you need for the day and leave the rest locked in the safe.

*I don’t usually travel with valuables such as my wedding rings or other expensive jewelry because I don’t want them stolen or forgotten at the hotel. I also don’t leave anything valuable lying around my hotel room in plain sight as the staff  have access to your room.

*It is a good idea to have an emergency contact back home and make sure to leave your flight and hotel info with them.

*It is usually helpful to have a cell phone with you for emergencies. If you are deterred by high roaming fees and data usage download Magic Jack or a similar app that allows you to make free calls using wifi. This has been extremely handy, especially when I was stranded in Italy this March and had to make other travel arrangements from the airport.

9. Health Insurance

*Accidents or illness can happen to anyone so to avoid racking up large medical bills in a foreign country never leave home without purchasing health/travel insurance and always keep the card with you. If you don't have an insurance agency, banks usually offer affordable short-term policies.

10. Attractions

*To make the most of your trip research top attractions or what you’d like to do prior to departure. Make note of hours of operation and closures.

*There are many tours to choose from when traveling but look for ones that have good reviews and are highly rated. Guided tours can be a great way to learn about the city and not have to worry about transportation to and from. You can also do self guided tours if apps are available or the Hop on Hop Off bus found in many cities worldwide can be a great option.

Attraction Passes
*Attraction passes can usually be purchased online before departure to save you money. You are charged one fee for entry to a list of top attractions and sometimes you can skip long ticket/entrance lines.

*If you decide not to take a tour, map out how to get to points of interest via public transportation and don’t be afraid to ask for help along the way.

11. Food

*Food is an important part of culture and travel so I like to do my research before I leave. I usually look up the best places to eat, authentic local cuisine and I read travelers reviews and menus. This is a good way to ensure that you don’t miss out on the most delicious dishes and that you don't eat somewhere that will make you ill with food poisoning. 
12. Take Time to Recoup

*Traveling can be very tiring when you factor in long flights, jetlag, adjusting to time zones, long days touring and early mornings. When I get home from a faraway destination I am usually exhausted so it’s a good idea to take a day or two off work to give your body time to recuperate.

I couldn’t include everything I wanted in this post as it would be way too long but I hope it has made you aware of what to consider when vacationing. If you have any tips please feel free to leave them in the comment section below.

~Bon voyage! 

1 comment:

  1. Great post hun! Lots of tips you wouldn't normally think of or remember to think of. I may need to print this out for future reference *if* I ever plan a trip ;)


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