There's no doubt that traveling can be fun. Seeing new places, new people, new experiences sounds very exciting, but to ensure that a trip is successful, there must be a lot of planning involved. One can't possibly know or think of everything before a trip - we certainly spent a lot of time researching and planning before our #europeanadventure. I wanted to share the things we did and wish we did before leaving, in hopes of making your next trip's planning easier. Grab your notebook and pen for notes, a cup of coffee (or tea) or whatever fancies you and get ready, it's a long one.
So here it goes below...
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First and foremost, check your passport. It might seem obvious, but do make sure it is in order and isn't expiring for the next 6 months: you might get denied entry in a country if your passport has an expiration date that is less than 6 months away.
Apart from your passport, make sure you bring other documents, as needed, like your boarding passes, hotel reservations, attraction tickets (if bought in advance), travel itineraries and so on, just in case you’re asked for them when going through customs. Have these documents in hard copies (printed) or electronically on your phone or tablet. If you choose to store them electronically, make sure you have them open and ready when going through Customs. We brought paper copies but only had to show our passports and boarding passes so far. However, you never know when you're asked by a Border and Customs Officer to provide details of your trip and stay, as it's at their discretion. Better safe than sorry, reason why I advise to have these documents ready.
Invest in RFID blocking passport cover (also here), and RFID blocking wallet (also here) to protect your data.
Check travel.state.gov for travel requirements/notices for the countries you’re visiting, like visas, vaccines and such.
While you're at it, I recommend registering for the STEP program, to receive email alerts about dangers or precautions and other useful travel news from the countries you're visiting.
If traveling to Europe, research about the Schengen area: the countries that are part of it and their requirements. Basically, without a visa, you can stay in the countries that are part of the Schengen area for up to 90 days total during a period of 180 days (if you stay for 90 days in the Schengen area, you must leave for 90 days, before you can come back).
It wouldn’t be a bad idea to check some of the traditions in the country you’re visiting, just to make sure you don’t break any rules or offend someone and their customs.
For your safety, make sure you have the recommended vaccines. Europe is currently experiencing an outbreak of measles. The disease has been eliminated in USA in 2000, and brought back by unvaccinated travelers. This caused an outbreak in several cities in the States as well, as you might have heard in the news. Protect yourself and the ones around you and get vaccinated (no, I am not getting paid to say this, I simply care for my own and my dear ones' safety).
Do your research about the countries you’re traveling to: dangers, scams and other things to keep in mind (I’ll talk about this in future posts but see what I mean here). A good website to check these out is Travelscams.org. Consider purchasing traveler’s insurance (not sponsored).
Maps would most certainly be needed and helpful. Get familiar with them ahead of time, download them to your devices, take screenshots of directions- you never know what your internet situation will be, so be prepared. I'd recommend checking the directions from the airport or train station to your hotel and vice versa. From our experience so far, city maps aren't as readily available as they are in the USA. However, there are maps posted on main or more popular streets. Still, some cities can be quite confusing.
Research about the means of transportation and prices: buying tickets online ahead of time is usually cheaper. Don't get overwhelmed by the transit system, it's not as complicated as it seems.
Also, it pays off buying tickets to tourist attractions online, ahead of time, as it is cheaper than in person, plus, you avoid waiting in lines. Do make sure you buy the said tickets from authorized sellers.
Prior to your trip, decide how you’re going to pay for things abroad, i.e. cash or Credit Card (CC). Check with your financial institution if you are charged foreign transaction fees. If so, either find a CC that doesn’t, or just don’t use it much, if at all. Make sure the places you go to accept cash and/or CC - yes, not all accept both.
If you decide to pay by CC while abroad, be mindful that the final price may vary depending on the exchange rate on the day your bank processes the transaction, just something to keep in mind if you try to stay on a budget. Also, let your bank know where and when you’ll be traveling, to avoid any issues.
Also, I recommend inquiring with your bank and exchanging (at least some) money prior to leaving US, to avoid hefty fees and bad exchange rates.
Check your luggage weight as well as your airline limit + fees. Be prepared in case you need to check in your luggage. See if your ticket includes a checked bag, just in case and plan accordingly.
Make a list of necessities and make sure you pack them with you. Check the requirements and restrictions for liquids and other items you're bringing in the countries you’re visiting.
Cellphone coverage... We all know that cellphone coverage can be very expensive abroad. And if you also want to add data to that, your bill could quite soar. Check with your cellphone provider the available plans for international travel - do your research, there can be a better one they're not telling you about. We upgraded our plans to Verizon Above Unlimited (not an ad), which includes free 5 TravelPasses a month, which would otherwise have costed us $10/day. It's been working fine so far.
Pack light! It’s not fun lagging heavy luggage on the famous cobblestone streets in Europe. Unless you have taxis waiting for you at the airport and everywhere you go, pack a carry-on only. Plus, if you pack less, you’ll have more room for the things you’ll want to buy abroad, because you’ll definitely want to.
Which brings me to... more packing. I cannot stress enough, packing light will make your life easier when traveling.
Plan your outfits, try them on, pair them and see if they go with each other. Bring as many 1-piece outfits as possible, like dresses, jumpsuits and such.
Find yourself really good walking shoes, that are broken into. Europe is very walkable and you’ll find yourself walking a lot - don’t let bad shoes ruin your trip.
Don’t pack more than 2-3 pairs of shoes: 1 comfy pair for walking, 1 pair of sandals and 1 pair of nicer shoes (heels and such). Wear the heaviest/biggest pair of shoes while traveling (i.e. flying) to save room and weight.
Do pack at least one pair of jeans or pants to keep you warm. Also, have layers, like 1-2 sweaters (best with zipper/buttons for easy layering).
Bring practical bags, for God’s sake - smaller in size, that have zippers (especially inside), to keep your valuables safe from stealing and/or losing. Watch your bag or keep it close to you at all times: aka, don’t carry your backpack on your back when going through large crowds, to avoid hitting people with it, or have someone try to steal from it. And DO NOT leave your bag unattended EVER!
Get plenty of rest prior to your flight, hydrate, eat healthy and take your vitamins.
It might sound crazy, but the week before leaving, we frequently ate raw garlic with our food to build our immune system. In case you didn’t know, garlic is a natural antibiotic, which helps kill flu and cold viruses as well as supports your immune system - trust me on this one (tip: drink LOTS of water if you decide to take it).
Until next time.