We have been traveling for years and through the years we made a lot of errors that cost us time, money and energy. So in this blog entry I will share some of the things we have learned. These are some of our best practices that we use now. Hope you find some of it useful.
Spend More Time In Fewer Places
I know, it can be hard. You have been waiting to go on vacation and there is just so much you want to see and do. My suggestion is unless you are more or less doing a road trip, spend no less than 2 nights in a small town and 3-4 in larger towns or cities and 5+ nights in cities like Rome or New York.
If you are simply running from one location to another, I promise you, you will exhaust yourself and you are going to need a vacation from your vacation when you get home. What you might miss, an example above was our visit to the Algarve Coast in Portugal where we stayed in Portimao. Our first trip while touring Portugal we spend 5 days. There was so much to see, beautiful beaches, stunning coastlines and spectacular sunsets, that a couple of days just couldn’t do it justice.
Give yourself time to really enjoy a site or activity, take in the view, have time for a meal and time to put your feet up and think about what you have seen or done.
Make Plans, But Don’t Over Plan
I’m someone who makes plans……most are tentative plans. I like to know ahead of time what a city, country or state has to offer. To me, there is nothing worse than wasting your valuable vacation time trying to decide what to do. Or being disappointed like the time we couldn’t get into Park Guell in Barcelona because we didn’t have a reservation.
For me, planning is a large portion of the fun of a vacation. It doesn’t have to be stressful. I start planning about 3 months in advance.
First, pick your destination. Then use Google to locate some of the best attractions, sites, hiking trails, activities, museums, or whatever it is you like to do. Write them in a notebook. Make a note of destinations and activates. Kind of prioritize them.
Once you have that info compiled, find yourself a map. The example I am using here is if you wanted to see a state or a country in Europe and you have say 2 weeks. (This can still be done on a smaller scale) Locate your cities on your map. I often print a couple of the maps out and make notes on them. Once you can see them on the map it will be easier to plan your travel route. Will you want a car or other transit? What does travel time look like? Don’t overdo with the travel time. Give yourself enough time so you aren’t rushed. That can really wreck the mood.
Now that you know where you want to go, you can narrow those plans down to the various cities and towns. What are your priorities in those cities or towns? Pretty much what you did with the country or state, now down size it to fit the city or town. You would like to see, A, B and C. Check a map real quick. Are they close enough to see 2 in one day? Make a note of that. How many days do you need in that city? You don’t want to waste your precious vacation time, but you don’t want to be rushed either.
Once you have a pretty good idea of what, when and where, I start looking for our flights if needed about 60 days out. That may freak you out, like not enough time to get a good fare. Honestly though I usually book at about 45 days out and always have gotten fares that I was happy with. As the time of this writing I am actually watching flights to Greece.
Once your plane tickets are purchased, this trip is pretty much a go. Then I start booking my hotels. I still like to give myself wiggle room and I book where I have room to cancel if we decide we want to shift gears. If you need to make reservations to see certain things, get that done 2-4 weeks out. The busier the travel season, you may want to book even further ahead.
Quality Travel Gear
We have found that having appropriate travel gear is really helpful. I wish we could get our luggage down to a carry on bag, but still haven’t been able to get there. Not sure we ever will. We have however gotten down to a smaller suitcase for each of us. It’s fairly light weight at less then 6 lbs and measures 26 x 16 x 10. Since usually weight limits on luggage is 50 lbs. we try and use every ounce of that if needed. We have packing envelopes. They are awesome! You can squish your clothing items down to really small and it does help keep things organized. They don’t come out a wrinkled mess either. On occasion my husbands suitcase even included a 2 piece suit.
We like to take out pillows too. LOL, I know. It fits in the suitcase too. We have those bags that you can compress the air out of. It will take your cozy, fluffy pillow and, squish out all the air and make it a small little brick. The type we have you just start at one end and roll out the air.
Another concern when traveling is keeping your valuables safe. We own several pieces from PacSafe. Love them so much that we have another post just about PacSafe HERE.
Respect The Country You Are In
You would think this would go without saying, but sadly it still needs to be said. We have been in tour groups where we have witnessed the dumbest stuff come out of people’s mouths. Remember, we are guests in someone else’s country. This is their home and usually they love it. Don’t be the reason your country gets a bad rap. Be respectful.
Talk To The Locals
Be friendly, talk to the locals. You can learn about all kinds of history, places to explore and eat from those who actually like there.
Get Travel Insurance
This is so important. Not the time to cheap out. Very rarely will your health insurance from your country cover you in a different country. There are lots of options and different companies that will fit most everyone’s budget. Here are some recommendations according to Forbes for 2022. Forbes 2022 Travel Health Insurance It can change from year to year, so do your research.
There is also insure that will cover your trip if say you are injured or fall ill and must go home early. There is insurance that will cover emergency flights if you must get home to your country for more extensive treatment.
Take A Tour
We LOVE wandering around on our own, but we also LOVE taking tours. Highly recommend taking a half day or full day trip if you have the time. Places like Rome or Greece really could use a tour. You will learn so much, things you would never learn on your own.
Look For The Free Stuff
Free is always good. Like in Granada, Spain they are famous for free tapas. It’s not that often that you find that kind of free though. Still you can wander quaint streets, splash in the waves, watch the sunset or rise. Talk to the locals or take a hike.
Experience Local Events
As you plan your trip be sure to check your destinations for local events. It’s a way of really experiencing culture. One thing we really enjoy is Markets. If not for going to local markets we would have never experienced things like this. Thai snacks. Our actual experience only extended to looking at them and taking a picture for which I had to pay a dollar for.
Don’t Be A Cheap Scape
I understand that we aren’t all wealthy, certainly we are not. But consider how much you spent on your plane fare. But really, you want to get the full experience. When will you get to take a trip abroad again. Give yourself a few hundred extra bucks to splurge. You will be surprised how far that little bit of extra money will go in many countries.
Take A Decent Camera
Today you can get some killer photos with your phone. You can also get an instamatic camera that shoots in RAW. That way if you are interested in pursuing photography you can branch out further into the world of editing. We have this little guy. It shoots in RAW and it is water resistant. Olympus Tough. It is durable, water proof, shock proof, dust proof, crush proof and freeze proof. We take it everywhere I’m not comfortable taking my high end camera, like in the water.
Try Local Foods
For us, experiencing local foods is a significant part of the fun. It can be done safely and something that having a guide on a tour can help you experience. We had a great guide in Bangkok and she took us to the Train Market where we tried some treats right off of little carts and then went to the Water Market and had lunch served from a canoe while we sat on the steps. It was so much fun!
But just to be extra safe we went to our hotel and had a tequila shot each while sitting by the roof pool. It was my first. We got a good tequila with salt and lemon and it wasn’t bad. We were none the worse for the wear and it was a memory we won’t forget.
Avoid Bank Fees
Having a travel bank account might be a good idea in order to avoid those pesky withdrawal fees every time you use and ATM. Banks like Charles Schwab don’t have those fees. They offer unlimited refunds on ATM fees AND they don’t charge foreign transaction fees!
Get A Sim Card
You can keep your phone up and running almost everywhere you go. There are usually places to purchase SIM cards right when you land. Various plans are available. We use T Mobile because they have the very best travel service of all the carriers. It’s seamless, switches over automatically in 100s of countries. If you get a SIM card you may need to notify family and friends of a new # for the country you are in.
Over packing is a problem we all have when new to traveling. After years of traveling, I have finally gotten us down to a suitcase each, just a little larger then a carry-on as mentioned above. We travel with a lot of camera gear and that we always carry on and I’m not really addressing that here.
I have learned to shop for what I call our travel clothes. I try to stick with basic color, black, tan, khaki. Personally I’m not a big fan of travelling with white. They are problematic. I pick tops that can easily go with any of the bottoms so you can switch it up and they can be a bit more fun and interesting.
I don’t like to do a lot of laundry (no more than once a week) so if I choose clothing that is light weight I can generally take a few more options so I don’t have to wash.
We invested in down parkas and they roll up to tiny little balls and shake out beautifully. Light weight rain coats/wind breakers.
A pair of good walking shoes and sandals, love my Birkenstocks and some dressier sandals if appropriate. If you are hiking, invest in some good boots that don’t weigh 10 lbs alone.
RULE: Start laying out what you want to take at least a week before. Then a couple days before, go through it again, remove what you don’t feel like you will use every day or at least every few days. You will find that often after thinking about it, you may not really need certain items.
Get Those Flyer Miles
Flyer Miles…..can’t say enough. Credit cards that give you money back for purchases you make. I think the top 2 are Chase and Capitol One. We have a family member who flies their whole family of 5 for free all over the world by using their accumulated Flyer Miles. Some use their miles to upgrade to more comfortable sections of the plane. You can also use those flyer miles for all sorts of travel expenses including your hotels. Definitely do your research and get yourself one of those credit cards which usually come with a nice start up bonus.
You Aren’t Too Old, But Take a Tour
Chances are you aren’t really to old. If planning on your own is just more than you can handle, book a tour with a group. When I was much younger I accompanied my grandmother on a group tour with Tauck Tours after my grandfather passed away. I had a really nice time. Everything was pre-arranged. The most difficult part was getting to the airport on time. When we arrived every detail was done. We traveled in a luxury coach with a guide, our luggage was brought to our room. In the case of our meals, most were included. The hotels were all very nice, 4 and 5 stars, restaurants were very nice and activities and smaller tours along the way were excellent and very informative. We even had time to do whatever we wanted. My grandma took a nap and I wandered around Quebec.
Odds & Ends You Might Want To Take
Through our many years of travel we have discovered little items that can just make the trip a little easier. As I mentioned earlier, packing envelopes are a must for us. I also like packing cubes which help to organize smaller items so they aren’t lost in your suitcase.
Consider getting a light weight rain coat. We learned the hard way after spending 2 days in Venice with nothing but rain. We had umbrellas but still we got so wet we had to go back and spend a couple of hours in our room to dry and warm up.
Travel pillow for those long haul flights, we just hang them off of our suitcases. And additional collapsible tote for those goodies you might want to bring home. A pill caddy or we use little tiny bags that we put our day/night supplements and meds in so we don’t have to carry bottles. Bottles are heavy and take up space. We put tiny bags into a Ziplock bag and you can stuff them anywhere,
In this new day and age, carry extra face masks and hand sanitizer. A small sewing kit is sometimes needed and a little laundry kit or some packets with spot remover towelettes. Travel bottles! you can carry any size you want with you onto the airplane AS LONG AS IT’S CHECKED. Like a couple bottles of wine. But if you want to carry it on, all liquids must be in approved travel sized bottles. You can get them at any drugstore, big box store or Amazon.
A portable charger, but it must be carried on, you can’t check it.
Don’t forget the converter to reduce wattage from 220 to 120, like we have in the US. Again learned the hard way and I even knew better. Blew an appliance in about 20 seconds due to forget the converter. Also, you will need outlet/plug adapters. You can get sets that will include adapters for multiple countries.
A cool little money saving item we have are collapsible water bottles. Ours roll up to a tiny 3 inch by 4 inches. Just unroll it and fill it once inside the airport and past security. You will save so much money, enough to spend at little extra when you get to your destination maybe.
A little hand held scale so you can keep track of the weight of your large suitcase.
Make Your Own Plans
I am an advocate for making your own plans. It doesn’t have to be terrifying to do so. There are lots of tools and the internet is just a wealth of information. Thing is, don’t wait to the last minuet. Start researching months in advance. Get a rough idea, put it on paper. It can all start out as a tentative plan. Pick a date, book a flight and then fill in the details. It can be really fun and you will get to do exactly what you have always dreamed of.
When To Book Flights, Hotels & Cars
As of the time I am writing this post, we are about 2.5 months out on an international trip. I’ve been jotting down notes, getting some rough ideas of accommodations, rental car costs, flights, etc. In a couple of weeks, 2 months ahead I will start watching for flights and book when I find a fare we are comfortable with. Then I’ll start filling in all of the details, hotels, ABNBs, tours and the like. By the time we are 3-4 weeks out all of the primary arrangements will have been made. Then all that’s left to do is pack and let the anticipation build.