Getting ready for your first trip "across the pond?" Last week, I was asked to contribute to a TravelPulse article on travel agents' best tips for their travelers who are headed to Europe. (If you haven't read it yet, you can find it here!) I sent in a whole list of tips and tricks, and the other agents interviewed had similar ideas to make your European vacation as smooth as possible! But as with any article, the author had limited space, and had to pick and choose which tips to include. So this week, I'm giving you an insider scoop. Below, you'll find the list of my favorite tips for traveling abroad. While they are all about Europe, a lot of them can be applied to any international travel! So read up, and enjoy. I'd love to hear your favorite tips, too!
1. Before you leave, give your bank or credit union a call. Your financial institutions may see red flags if surprise charges from far-off places start showing up on your account. By letting them know you’ll be out of the country, you’ll avoid an inconvenient hold on your credit or debit card.
2. Check with your cell phone provider to see about international rates and what your best option is. Roaming charges can rack up quickly without the right phone plan. Worried about an expensive phone bill when you get home? Keep your phone in airplane mode, and communicate with friends and family back home by connecting to WIFI. Apps like Skype or Facetime will allow you to make voice and video calls!
3. Don’t cut things close on your way to the airport! For international flights, you’ll want to give yourself about 3 hours before departure. (And TSA lines have been notoriously long, lately, with extra screenings for flights returning to the U.S.)
4. When you arrive in your destination, visit an ATM and take out some local currency. The exchange rate is decent, and it’s a very easy way to keep cash on hand. Not all stores and restaurants accept credit cards. Just make sure you also read the fine print about any withdrawal fees! Taking out larger amounts so you make fewer trips to the ATM will help you avoid incurring too many extra charges.
5. Learn a few key phrases in the languages of the countries you’re visiting even if it’s just “hello,” “goodbye,” “please,” and “thank you.” The people you encounter on your travels will appreciate the effort!
6. Read up on local etiquette for the country you’re visiting. Depending on where you are, habits like giving a ‘thumbs up’ sign, chowing down on food on the go, or drinking a latte in the afternoon could be considered strange, or in some cases, even offensive.
7. Leave your baseball cap and white tennis shoes at home. While many spots you visit will be quite safe, pickpockets target people who look like they’re from out of town.
8. Stay aware of your surroundings. Especially in crowded places, make sure you keep an eye on your purse, backpack or wallet. Some travelers choose to wear money belts to keep their money and valuables in a hard-to-access spot.
9. Make a couple of copies of your passport and any other necessary documents. Leave one with a trusted friend or relative at home and carry the other separately from your documents in case of loss or theft.
10. Don’t over-pack! Oversized luggage fees are just the beginning. If you’re lugging your suitcase through the metro station, up and down stairs, or down cobblestone streets, trust me, you’ll be glad you fit everything in a small, light bag. Even if you take a taxi or shuttle straight to your hotel, you might end up on the fifth floor of the (elevator-less) building.
11. Get off the beaten path. You don’t have to skip the ‘touristy’ things. After all, that’s one of the reasons you’re there! But if you’re getting sick of the crowds or the higher prices at the restaurants closest to the big sites, wander a few blocks off the main drag. In no time, you’ll find the everyday version of the place you’re visiting, make friends, and have a more authentic experience.
12. Visit a local market. It’s a really interesting way to get a feel for local life. Picking out your own ingredients from the market for a picnic can be just as rewarding a cultural experience as eating out at a restaurant.
13. Don’t forget about travel insurance! Headaches can happen when you’re on vacation – from stolen luggage to canceled flights to family emergencies that cut your trip short unexpectedly. And you’ll want to have the peace of mind that you’re covered should something go wrong.
14. And of course, use a travel agent! We have the knowledge, experience, and time to help you craft a trip that’s personalized to you!