Tips before departure
- Make sure that your passport will be valid for the required period of time after your trip. Many countries require a validity of 6 months.
- Ensure that your passport has available pages for visas, entry and exit stamps. If not, you could be denied entry into a country.
- Verify that you have all the travel documents (passports, visas, tickets, vaccination booklet, hotel, and car confirmations) that will be required for your trip. Bring photocopies of all these documents. Don’t count on having access to Internet everywhere; a paper copy in a handy place can save you some headaches.
- Make sure that your vaccinations are up to date, especially if you’re traveling to remote locations. Look on government sites for requirements or suggestions (which may change over time, so look a month or two before you leave and again as the date approaches).
- Take pictures with your mobile phone or tablet of all your important documents (plane tickets, hotel or other accommodations reservations, car rental reservation, train tickets, etc.), travel itinerary, tourist maps and all other pertinent information. This will insure that you have all your important travel information on hand. However, bring all original documents.
- Put a copy of your personal information and itinerary inside your suitcase in case your luggage gets lost and make sure to identify your bag with your name, address and phone number.
- Secure your suitcase with a TSA approved lock.
- If you’re flying, weigh your luggage before leaving home to avoid having to pay extra fees or having to remove stuff from your suitcase at the check-in counter. Bring a little portable scale for the way back.
- As your travel date approaches, check you car rental rates and see if prices have come down. Most car companies allow you to cancel up to the last minute, so making a new reservation and cancelling the old one is a quick and painless process. While prices may go up when availability is limited on busy travel dates, off season prices a week or two before departure can save you 50-100$ or more on a weekly rental. Many companies also offer additional discounts when you pre-pay. While we don’t like to do that far in advance, as the date approaches we often switch our reservation for a pre-paid one to save even more. Alternatively, you may choose to upgrade your vehicle instead of saving $ or perhaps both! Just make sure to keep the old reservation until the new one is confirmed!
I’ve had trips that went exactly as planned but sometimes you just have to adapt: bad weather, delayed or cancelled flights, lost luggage and all kinds of surprises. Each situation became part of the memories of the trip!
Tips to help limit theses problems: Worry Free Travel
Tips for your accommodation
- Choose your accommodation near the area you want to discover. A good location will give you more time for sightseeing instead of wasting time traveling back and forth on public transportation, taxis, or renting (and trying to park) cars all of which can be costly.
- Write to the hotel by email and ask them about services and the best rooms. Tell them if it’s a romantic getaway or an anniversary. We’ve often been lucky enough to get upgraded or even get a choice room simply by being nice and asking ahead of time.
- Double check your hotel rates as your trip approaches. We usually like to book well in advance to ensure availability. One thing we like to do is to periodically check the hotel website as the reservation approaches to see if the rates have changed. Most hotels allow cancellations free of charge right up to the night of arrival or perhaps a few days/weeks prior. If you see a lower rate for the same room type, you can rebook and save. I usually write to the hotel asking them if the room is indeed the same, and if they would honor the new published rate, they usually do. Note that this usually only works if you book directly with the hotel (and not sites like hotels.com or priceline.com, etc).
Tips for your destination
- Take TripAdvisor or Yelp along on your phone and check out the restaurant reviews before deciding. With so few days to visit, we always want to make the most of each meal and there is nothing worse than paying high prices for low quality in some of the tourist traps that are common on the main strips.
- Bring lots of small bills for tipping. A dollar or two for tips for bag handlers, chambermaids, drivers, and doormen goes a long way.
- Smaller bills in local currency are useful and more discreet when making purchases at markets. Ideally keep some of currency separate from a large wallet full of bills that you probably don’t want to flash around when looking for a few dollars to buy a trinket or two.
- While on vacation don’t suddenly turn cheap with entrance costs! We once overheard a man tell is wife that 10 Euros was too expensive for the entrance price to the Acropolis of Athens, and they stayed to admire the outside. Of course, everyone’s situation is different but keep these prices in perspective with the amount you paid to travel there, and how much it would cost you to come back! Don’t miss out on an opportunity to visit everything you can to make the most of your trip.
- Show-up early (15-20 minutes) for reserved excursions and/or pre-paid admissions with a specific entrance time-slot. Usually, if you’re late you’ll miss out on your excursion or visit and a refund isn’t guaranteed.
- Make sure that you show-up at the right meeting point for an excursion. For example, the meeting point on cruise excursions can be on board or on the pier or sometimes at the end of the pier which could be a 10-15 min walk or more …
- If you pass by a public toilet, use it! You never know where next one will be. Bring some paper or wet naps.
- Leave your fancy jewelry and designer items at home especially when visiting poorer or underprivileged areas, no need to make yourself an obvious target.
Handy stuff to have
- Bring a small flashlight. Dark alleys at night, or power failures at hotels, there are many times when we’ve been grateful to have our own little flashlight. The new LED based ones are very bright, can also double as a safety device. We were surprised to hear on our safari trip in Africa that the guides would actually use a flashlight to shine into the eyes of large animals to scare them off effectively. The first flashlight we bought had a metal barrel, which always had security wanting to look at it at the airport. We now have a hard plastic one that works just as well.
- Don’t forget to pack some insect repellent. It’s always useful to have some on hand especially when traveling to a wooded or mosquito prone area. The “Off! Deep Woods” works well and it comes in a convenient travel pen that fits nicely in your small ziplock bag when traveling by plane. The small and convenient package is also great to carry around in a purse or day travel pack. Just in case, we still bring some After Bite and some Benadryl.
- Packing an emergency medical kit is a convenient way to avoid wasting time looking for a pharmacy at your destination or for trying to interpret foreign language labels or find comparable brands of items that you may be used to. Above all, this is taking precious time away from sightseeing! If you’re traveling off the beaten track, it is essential to have such a kit, as there may not be a pharmacy in proximity. Think also about not just medicine but a small sewing kit, perhaps some moleskin in case of blisters, and band-aids.
- Stash a few tie wraps in your luggage for emergency repairs. These little handy tools don’t take any room, weigh nothing and are cheap to buy. Even if the repairs are just temporary, we were once able to reattach a broken luggage handle and another time fix a pair of sandals.
Have a look at my packing tips: How and What to Pack
Depending on the destination I’m visiting, I choose a specific type of trip: organized tours (groups and/or private), cruises, resorts or on my own. Different modes of transportation may be required and I’ve travelled by plane, car, jeep, cruise ship, riverboat, exploration ship, train, subway, bus and on foot.
Have a look at my tips here: Choosing the type of trip