No one likes to waste their money and their time. Taking a few minutes to prepare for your trip can save you on both. Before traveling, consider the tips below. They just might save you time and money.
Traveling is expensive. Make sure you are getting the best rate by comparing prices. Take advantage of websites like booking.com. Also check with your travel agent, the hotel or airline website. Sometimes a travel agent may be able to get you a perk or two. Ask the hotel if they will match the lowest price you found.
Consider flight times and hidden costs.
I am a bargain hunter, however, make sure you haven’t backed yourself into a corner. Book a flight that arrives early and leaves late. That way you can make the most of your time at your location and minimize your lodging costs. It doesn’t make sense to save $50 on a flight, only to add the cost of spending another night at a hotel. Why pay for another night at a hotel if you have to leave for a 6 am flight? If you are short on time, pick direct flights. Otherwise, you are eating up your vacation time in layovers. Check for hidden fees like luggage, airport fees, etc. Some airlines offer a cheap base ticket but then add on additional fees.
Check the weather forecast.
Before you book a trip consult the weather forecast for the best time to visit. You don’t want to visit Malaysia in monsoon season. Look out for factors like hours of sunshine, precipitation, temperature, and humidity. Poor planning can make or break your dream vacation. It’s a drag to spend a lot of money on a beachfront luxury resort and then not be able to take advantage of it because it rained the whole time. When booking wildlife trips, keep mating & migration seasons in mind.
Check opening hours & national holidays.
Do a bit of research and check for opening hours, national holidays and renovations. It is a bummer when you show up for an attraction, and it’s closed for the next 6 weeks for maintenance or renovations. Google festivals in the area that can impact your visit. Be aware of international summer holidays which can lead to high prices and overcrowded attractions.
Buying your tickets online.
No matter where you go – at one point or the other you will need tickets to enter an attraction, national park, or museums. Most modern attractions have a website and offer you a way to book tickets online and in advance. You’ll save time (and often money) if you take advantage of booking in advance. Don’t forget to print them out and take a digital copy along as well. Some tickets sell out so fast, you’ll have very little chance of getting in without a prior booking.
Check with the Bureau of Consular Affairs
Check with the Bureau of Consular Affairs in your country to brush up on the current travel warnings, tips on visa requirements, and things prohibited upon entry or exit of that country.
Pre-book your accommodation.
Everyone likes freedom. Sometimes it’s fun to fly by the seat of your pants. However, I have also learned the hard way that when you don’t book a hotel room in advance (especially in Europe), you can spend 50% or more. You can also spend a lot of time calling from place to place trying to find an accommodation. Make a reservation through a booking site that will allow you to cancel your reservation 24-48 hours in advance.
Bring copies of all of your documents.
If your backpack or purse is stolen, you need to be able to take action quickly. While the copies of documents carry no legal authority it may speed up the process of setting things right. If there is an issue with hotel reservations, car rental or flight, having a copy of your documents can ease the process. I carry an electronic copy of everything on my phone and email myself another set of backup documents. That way I can access it from any internet cafe if my phone is stolen.
Pack a travel guide.
They don’t cost much, and they usually contain a proper map. A travel guide can also offer some basic language advice and an introduction to local customs. They may help you navigate attractions, places to eat and upcoming events. When your phone battery dies, you still have a way to find your way around.
Most European countries have pharmacies to meet your needs. However, there are several countries where a pharmacy may not be as readily available. If you are going to a country where the food or water is questionable, make sure you pack an anti-diarrheal. If you are going to a country where there are lots of bugs and mosquitos, makes sure you have malaria medication. Make sure your vaccines are up to speed, including tetanus. Several countries require certain vaccinations, like yellow fever or hepatitis. Make sure you carry proof of those vaccines with you. Be practical and prepared for the locations you are going to, don’t leave your health to chance.
Spend your money where it matters the most. If getting a cheap hotel means you can spend more on a specific unique experience, do it. If it means you have to limit your eating out, so you have enough to go hot air ballooning, do it. Use your loyalty points or airline miles to save where you can, so that you don’t have to scrimp on those tickets to the concert of your dreams.
Prepare for long distance flights.
Flying is stressful. It’s noisy, the seats are uncomfortable, and the air is dry. Boarding prepared can ease some of the discomforts of travel. For a list of what’s in my carry on bag click here.
Take care of business.
Give someone your itinerary. Someone should know where you are going and where you are staying. If there is an emergency at home or you have an emergency, there has to be a way to connect. For longer trips, make sure someone is collecting your mail. Let your bank and credit card company know what countries you will be traveling to. Make sure to close and lock your windows, unplug trickle electronics, and empty the fridge, etc.
Know the tipping culture.
Your waiter in the United States will be insulted if you don’t leave a tip, However, in Japan, leaving a tip is considered insulting. Many countries pay the service industry a fair wage, or a service fee is added to the bill, so there is no need to tip above that. Tipping cultures vary so do a bit of research in advance.
Check your bills.
No one wants to pay more than they have to or have an unexpected expense show up. Hotels make mistakes too. Check your hotel bill to make sure a breakfast you didn’t eat was accidentally charged to your room.
Take a business card from the hotel.
All hotels offer free business cards at the reception, pick one up. If you get lost or can’t speak the language, handing a business card to your taxi driver will help you get back.
You simply can not see 12 countries in 12 days. If you are serious about wanting to enjoy a country or culture you have to plan. If you have a couple of weeks, plant yourself in a city (like Paris for example) and then take a couple of day trips to a couple of other towns. Don’t expect a cultural experience if you blow through a city or country in a day. American’s have cultivated an expectation of getting the biggest bang for our buck so we cram as much as we can into the shortest amount of time possible. However, to really maximize your experience it’s important to travel slowly and be mindful of what you are trying to get out of the trip.
Respecting local customs & traditions
You are guest in a foreign country, and you will likely need the help of the locals at some point. Whether it’s directions or asking for a dinner recommendation, it’s so much easier if you haven’t offended the local because of what you are wearing or how you are acting. If you aren’t willing to adapt, stick to an all-inclusive beach resort. Don’t be an ugly American, you give the rest of us travelers a bad name.
Don’t attract attention.
Prepare for pickpocketers and scammers. Use common sense. Don’t flash your money or jewelry. Avoid standing out like a tourist. Dress appropriately. Wearing your pajamas, sweats and team baseball cap is a dead giveaway. Keep your cash and credit cards separate from one another. If you bring two credit cards, keep them separate, so if one is stolen, you still have the other. Consider an RFID-blocking wallet.
Taking a few minutes to adequately prepare for your trip ahead of time can help alleviate a lot of the stress while traveling. Experiencing a new place is fun and can change, enhance or enrich your life. Be practical, use common sense, be patient with yourself and others and above all be kind.
What traveling mistakes have you made and what have you learned from them? Let us know in the comments below.