As vaccine programs accelerate and life cautiously begins to return to normal, you may find yourself dreaming of your next trip. Whether you’re looking to take the vacation of a lifetime or just a quick trip to get back into “travel shape,” here are a few tips to make that first trip one that will have been worth waiting for!
- Dream big! Who knows what prices will be like when travel begins to return? We may find ourselves looking at great prices as travel companies try and lure back customers OR we may find prices sky high as travel companies try to catch up on lost revenue. What to do? Consumer (and travel) guru Clark Howard (www.clark.com) recommends finding a great airfare and then figuring out a reason to visit that destination. If you have a bucket list of places you’d like to go and sites you’d like to see, this philosophy becomes even more attractive. Have you always wanted to have lunch in a sidewalk café in Paris? Maybe see the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace or take a canal cruise in Amsterdam? Check the airline websites on a regular basis and, when you find a good airfare to a place on your list, grab it and go. It costs nothing to dream and, who knows, you might actually find yourself in one of your dream destinations, enjoying it more than you ever imagined!
- Plan, plan and plan some more! www.yelp.com and www.tripadvisor.com. Not only will you find recommendations for things to do and places to eat or stay, you’ll also find links to local travel companies that can provide additional information. Be sure to Google the website for the city or region you’ll be visiting. Entering the city name followed by the word “tourism” will usually result in several good informative sites directly related to that city or region. Be sure to pay attention to local Covid restrictions that may still be in place. Depending on your location, you may find their restrictions are quite a bit different from ours (either more lenient or stricter). PLUS, you’ll want to be sure that they’re allowing foreign visitors. Imagine how disappointing it would be to arrive at your destination ready to spend a week exploring the local sites only to find out they have a 10-day quarantine in place for visitors from other countries. Not fun… When you’ve decided on a destination, do your research on Google and your destination’s health site to be sure you know what awaits you!
- Look for “City Passes” in your destination. Most larger cities throughout the world (and here in the US) offer some sort of city pass. The names vary by city but can usually be found with just a bit of research. These passes cover use of local transportation (subways, buses and even water taxis in cities that have them) and will occasionally offer additional discounts on museum entries and other tourist sites. Be sure to do your research on these before you leave home because there are many that can only be purchased in the US. If you don’t do that before you arrive at your destination, you may find yourself out of luck once you get there.
- Purchase your attraction tickets before you go. If you know there are sites you absolutely must see, try to purchase those tickets online prior to your departure. Be sure to look for tickets that offer a “Skip the Line” option. While these may cost a bit more, they are almost always worth the extra money. Especially in the summer, you may find LONG lines at some of the most popular sites in your destination city and who wants to spend a couple of hours standing in a line (often in the hot summer sun) when you can move to the head of the line and go right in? Be sure to read the fine print before you make the final purchase because some of these tickets will have an assigned time (it could be a window of a couple hours or as specific as a designated time, such as 3pm). Make sure you’ll be able to be there at the assigned time.
- Make copies of your passport. Before you leave home, be sure to make a few copies of your passports. Keep one copy with you, always separate from your actual passport and leave one copy with a trusted friend at home. Should you lose your passport, those copies will make the replacement process much easier. (Trust us on this one…we speak from personal experience!
- Travel light. Baggage fees can add a significant amount to your travel cost but can be completely avoided if you travel light and can manage with one suitcase per person. Not only will it be easier to move around once you reach your destination, if you can pop your suitcase into the overhead bin, you won’t get hit with a checked bag fee. One special travel caveat, airport security in Europe can be even tighter than here in the US. If you use TSA Pre-check here in the US and don’t have to remove your liquids from your suitcase, be aware that may not be the case in Europe. When you’re heading back home, you may find yourself having to step into the “special area” of your departure airport while the security people ask you to remove all liquids and then make them fit into the standard size plastic bag, even if you didn’t have to do this when you flew out of the US. (Again, trust us on this one…yet another personal experience!)
- Get the best exchange rate for local currency. While travelers’ checks are still available, these days the best exchange rates come from local ATMs. Foreign ATMs are readily available and operate in the same fashion as those here in the US. While the exchange rate will be more favorable, there will be transaction fees. You can minimize these charges by making fewer and larger withdrawals. Carefully slip the extra cash into your money belt. As with any ATM anywhere, always be careful to cover the keypad while entering your PIN and use only ATMs located in brightly lit areas. It’s a good idea to check with your bank before you leave to be sure your card will work with foreign ATM networks.
- Consider using a credit card for foreign purchases. While it’s always good to have some cash on hand, for larger purchases, using a credit card can be a good plan. Before you leave, be sure to check with your credit card issuer to see what sort of fees they may charge for foreign transactions AND to let them know you’ll be using your credit card out of the country. Taking this step before you go will help you avoid hassles if you try to use your card in an unfamiliar location, which might cause the issuer to refuse the transaction.
These are just a few things that make any trip, especially the first one in a LONG time, a little better. The big thing to keep in mind when it’s safe is it’s important to JUST GO! Travel can be a life-changing experience. You’ll learn new things, meet new people, try new foods and see sites that will take your breath away. Things may not always go exactly as planned but you’ll come back with memories you’ll keep forever and, as a bonus, a new appreciation for our good old USA!