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 a great holiday is important. A well executed itinerary can prepare you for unexpected dilemmas and affect your overall experience. Although traveling the world is exhilarating, there are many obstacles that can put a damper on your plans.

Over the years 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 tiresome detours. Today I am sharing useful tips and information to help you prepare for your next expedition.

1. Do your Research
*Before making reservations, research the country/city you are traveling to. You can find a lot of useful information pertaining to safety, illness and environmental concerns online or through government websites. You definitely wouldn’t want to travel during hurricane or rainy season.

2. Travel Season & Savings
*If you want to save money, book during low season and avoid holidays. With some vacations such as cruises, it may be helpful to check prices daily (they tend to 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 is not always wise to wait, especially if you've already made other reservations. I always 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 a direct company website. Always read  the fine print.

*It is common for airlines to overbook flights so check-in online and choose your seat. Always get to the airport 2-3 hours early because long lines and delays are common. You would't want to lose your seat to standby passengers. 

*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, 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 the last minute. I have a thorough checklist on my iPad for a variety of climates. Create a main category of must-have essentials and sub categories that relate to different destinations. I include things like over the counter medication, toiletries, clothing, electronics, beach gear, makeup etc. Check airline baggage policies and do not exceed the maximum weight allowance (usually 50 lbs). Read my article -16 Travel Essentials I never Leave Home Without.

*Adhere to cultural guidelines of the city and sites you visit. Some religious buildings and sacred locations require a modest dress code so pack accordingly and be 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-size toiletries, extra clothing, (in my case makeup), documents, electronics + cords and voltage adapters/converters (if necessary) in your carry-on should there be a mishap. If you take prescribed medication, keep it with you at all times.

*Put all liquids or gels in plastic ziplock bags so they are ready for airport check points. Improperly packaged liquids may be confiscated or tossed out. You are only allowed small travel-sized bottles (100 ml each) in your carry-on, everything else must be placed in checked luggage. Refer to airline guidelines for more information.

5. Proper Documentation
*Some countries require supporting documentation like travel visas which you may need to apply for well in advance. 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.

*If your passport is near its expiration date, make sure your destination country will accept it. Some places have a minimum validity period.

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 report infestations, construction noise and amenity issues. They also discuss things like quality of service, cleanliness, food, comfort, location and overall experience so you know what to expect. I once cancelled a booking for an apartment in Paris when another traveler disclosed that it was broken into and robbed!

*Check the hotel/resort photos on websites where travelers post their own vacation pictures because the well edited, beautiful images on hotel websites or travel booking sites are not always an accurate representation. I book 4-5 star hotels/resorts that are highly rated and recommended for excellence. Read the fine print and check for extra costs such as tourist tax, parking, wifi and other services. You may also want to inquire about the cancellation policy.

*When you get to your room, leave the luggage by the door and check for bedbugs. Pull back the sheets, check the headboard and along the mattress seam. I even get my husband to lift the mattress and check underneath. Although utterly disgusting, bedbugs are common worldwide and you wouldn't want to go home with them! Better safe than sorry.

7.  Transportation
*Before leaving home, determine how you will be getting around. Arrange transportation to and from the hotel and find out if they offers a free shuttle service. If you are relying on public transit, it is helpful to stay near a metro station.

*Many destinations have great deals on car rentals and GPS but some cities are difficult to drive in and have laws about international licensing. The rules of the road may be different and street signs may be displayed in foreign languages so 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 available.

Transit Passes
*Most cities have amazing transportation systems that can be fast, affordable and convenient. Find out if the city has a metro card that allows you pay one fee for all the days you are visiting. These transit cards may cover buses, subway, trains and streetcars.

Taxi Service
*Cab drivers are not always honest and when they see tourists coming rates often skyrocket. Find out what the average rates are and ask the driver if he/she knows where your destination is and the estimated cost before getting in.

*The most important tip I can share is to make sure the cab is registered and licensed. There are many con-artists waiting around airports trying get people into non-legitimate vehicles. For safety reasons, never go with drivers who are not at designated taxi lanes.

Transportation Apps
*There are a lot of helpful apps that work offline and include information about popular attractions. They also help you navigate the city by providing street maps and metro info.

8. Security & Safety
*Get a lock for your checked luggage to secure your belongings and NEVER put valuables including jewelry, important documents, electronics + chargers (laptop, phone, iPad etc) in checked luggage. Always keep them with you.

*Upon arrival do not tour with important documentation and make copies of your passport - one as a backup and another to leave at home with a trusted relative or friend. Lock your passport and valuables in the hotel room safe before heading out but remember to take another form of ID just in case.

*In many cities pick-pocket activity is high in tourist areas so keep your purse close to your body and avoid backpacks - Read my article - The Best Crossbody Bags for Travel.

*Do not to keep all your money on you. Take what you need for the day and leave the rest locked in the safe.

*Avoid wearing expensive jewelry as it attracts thieves. Hotel staff always have access to your room so do not leave valuables lying around.

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

*It is usually helpful to have a cell phone for emergencies. If you are deterred by high roaming fees and data charges, download Magic Jack or an app that allows you to make free calls via wifi. This came in very hand when stranded at the airport in Rome. Some phone companies and shops sell special WiFi/data plans for travelers so you can pay for what you need.

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 do not have an insurance agency, banks usually offer affordable short-term policies.

10. Attractions
*To make the most of your trip, research top attractions and what activities you’d like to do prior to departure. Make note of hours of operation, weather conditions and closures.

*There are many tours to choose from when traveling but look for companies that have good reviews and are highly rated. Guided tours can be a great way to learn about the city without having to worry about transportation. You can also do self-guided walking tours if an app is available or the Hop On Hop Off buses found in many cities worldwide.

Attraction Passes
*Attraction passes can usually be purchased at discounted rates online. You are charged one fee for a list of top attractions and sometimes you can bypass long lines.

*If you decide not to take a tour, map out your route via public transportation and don’t be afraid to ask for help.

11. Food
*Food is an important part of culture and travel so do some research before the trip. 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 or eat somewhere that will make you ill. For more information read my article - 13 Helpful Tips to Prevent Illness While Traveling.
12. Take Time to Recoup
*Traveling can be very tiring when you factor in long flights, jet-lag, adjusting to time zones and early mornings. When I return from a faraway destination, I am usually exhausted so it’s a good idea to take a day or two off work so your body can recuperate.

If you have any helpful 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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