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Ten helpful travel tips

Oct

21

Posted by on Oct 21, 2012 | 5 comments

31-Days-of-Travel-in-Europe-PENSIEVEAfter you've researched your destination, the next step is planning your stay.  I'm a big subscriber to 

If you don't know where you're going,
how do you know you've arrived?

and in travel I've learned the hard way– 

better plans make for better trips.

I'm not saying a daily, detailed itinerary with all time accounted for is necessary; rather, that you've evaluated the information gathered during your research and you have a good idea in advance how you'll spend your time.  

Five Tips for Planning Your Trip


Studying map in Berlin1.  Involve your co-travelers in making decisions.

The people you're traveling with, be it children, spouse or friends, will better enjoy their time if they're actively involved in the planning.  I've been surprised to discover the things I've most wanted to see or do don't always line up with my husband and/or kids.

2.  Take advantage of Trip Advisor, Viator and Booking.com.

These sites have reliable information and ratings by other customers JUST LIKE YOU; plus, it's also possible the sites will save you money.  We've used them in choosing specific hotels, buying tickets and narrowing down what to do.  

For example, when we've located a great hotel deal on booking.com, we cross reference it with Trip Advisor reviews; what people have to say–good or bad–will impact our choice.

3.  Familiarize yourself with public transportation.

Especially in larger cities, public transit really is manageable. Reviewing subways and bus lines in advance minimizes the intimidation factor.  A quick google search will provide this information (or if you've purchased guidebooks, they're likely to have a small one).  You'll save money over taxis and time over walking.

4.  As soon as you arrive and drop off your bags, if it's available, invest in a hop-on/hop-off bus ticket.

A friend recommended this to us in Paris, and I strongly recommend you do this first thing; making the complete bus loop helps tremendously in orienting yourself to a larger city. To me, the benefits far outweigh the cost.  Often, it's very cheap to add the second day and if the stops are where you want to go anyway, it's win-win.  

5.  When possible, buy advance tickets.

Have we done this?  No.  Have I wished we done this?  Time and again. 

Buying advance tickets will save you time and money if the destination is at the top of your list (be sure to check Viator.com for discounts).  Lines are often long at top tourist sites and no one wants to waste valuable time. Also, if the place doesn't take e-verification and your hotel doesn't have printing services, you'll be glad to have tickets in hand when you arrive.

Be careful buying advance Theater ticket through "discount" agencies; often, they offer no savings at all.  When possible, buy those directly from the box office.

6.  Remember the downside of travel guides.

If Rick Steves, Fodor's, Frommer's or DK Eyewitness Travel Guides suggest it, everyone else and their brother will be doing it, too.  The tips are typically sound and good advice, but you aren't the only one taking it.  Don't be afraid to take the off-beaten path; little known secrets will be treasures from your trip.

7.  Pack your suitcase.  Then take half the stuff out.

Mercy.  Someone teach me this one!  You will NOT need most of what you want to bring; this goes for backpack contents when flying, too.  LESS is always the better choice.  

I was most impressed with my sister and brother-in-law who came for a two-week visit this summer; both of them brought only a carry on bag and backpack!  Their light load made it much easier to navigate their three-city trek through Italy after their visit with us; if only I had that gene.

8.  Always, always, always bring at least a light-weight rain jacket with you!

I'm convinced all of Europe likes to make fun of tourists by tricking us constantly with weather changes.  The forecast rarely matches the actual weather; and, I kid you not, on multiple days where sun was forecast with ZERO PERCENT CHANCE OF RAIN…it rained.  Even if your morning is bright and sunny, take rain gear or be prepared to buy it.  

Mark my words…this point will be the most important travel tip you'll take away from my series.  You'll be thinking, "I can't believe I didn't take Robin's advice," when you're sloshing though that unexpected rain shower.  

 

Caught in the rain with a polka-dotted umbrella

One of my favorite pictures from Paris–my daughter was sneaky with this one!

9.  Money

Though we have a local bank account while living in Germany, we've found the easiest and CHEAPEST way to get Euros is by using our American debit card at most any local European ATM machine.  When you arrive at your destination airport, you're going to need the local currency of the place you're visiting if they don't use U.S. dollars (snacks, taxis, shuttle services, bathroom, etc.).  Before you leave home, the least expensive way of doing this is through your local bank (beware–not all branches will be able to accommodate your request), but there'll be a fee.  If you wait until you arrive in country and exchange dollars at the airport, you're going to pay a higher fee.  

We've visited France, Italy, Austria, Switzerland and the Czech Republic and have always been able to withdraw cash from their local ATMs.  

IMPORTANT:  Many restaurants and smaller hotels will take ONLY CASH; but for those times you'd prefer using a credit card, be sure to call before you leave home to have it released for International use!!

10.  Electronics and appliances

At a minimum, you're going to need adapters; if you use rollers or a flat iron, you'll likely need a transformer.  You can't count on your hotel to have either (though many will).  Remember, too, that if you're traveling with family, you'll need several adapters; otherwise, you'll have to take shifts during the night to plug in chargers :).

Make sure you bring along battery chargers for phone (did you get a temporary International plan?), camera, laptops and tablets; bring extra memory cards.  

Your turn:  Questions?  What tips am I leaving off?  Your suggestions might be fodder for an upcoming post!  

And thank you, always for sharing and Facebook likes–it lets me know you're reading (and I'm grateful).

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Tips for traveling abroad

Oct

06

Posted by on Oct 6, 2012 | 1 comment


31-Days-of-Travel-in-Europe-PENSIEVEAs I've considered the topics I'll cover in my 31 Days in Europe series, it occurred to me how a few simple tips will maximize any travel experience–whether it's domestic or international.  I'll be interspersing these posts among the more exciting destination pieces, and I hope the information will make a helpful difference in your experience.


Travel Tip #1:  Research!

Travel isn't cheap.  Often, your destination is once in a lifetime.  It just makes sense to learn as much as you can in advance to maximize your experience and fully appreciate all you're going to see.  Three suggestions:

1.  Invest in travel books.

If you're spending an extended amount of time in a new country, it's not just helpful, it's essential, to get a book on the country.  However, if you're spending time in a specific region, it's more helpful to buy one devoted to that area.  We really like the DK Eyewitness Travel books ~ 

The Germany
book, left above, has been helpful in planning overnight trips, while the book on DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Munich and the Bavarian Alps–focusing on the area we're living in–has been perfect for day trips.  

Family and friends (I'm looking at you Lora, Christi, Charles and Stephanie…!) swear by Rick Steves' travel guides.  We've also been happy with Fodor's.

Travel books are more than worth the $15-20 you'll spend buying them, a small investment with a great return.

Travel guides and books

2.  Poll your friends.

Because for so many years I was scared to fly, coupled with the expense of a family of five, travel to Europe was never on my radar; consequently, I must have turned a deaf ear to any talk of it.  

I was amazed at how much insight my friends provided in how to plan for both general travel, specific destinations and Must See and Do's.   Sharing their personal experiences made a significant difference in our choices.

3.  Scour the internet.

In a world where it's so easy to reach for your computer or smart phone to research everything, there's a reason I put this as my last suggestion (but I'd wager it's the first choice for many).

You're going to miss some wonderful less-traveled roads if the internet is all you rely on.

Sure, you might find some, too, but the tips and suggestions from friends and travel guides are the things that have added the most to our travel.  What to eat, the first thing to do upon arrival to a new place, pitfalls and touristy things to skip, these are the things that have proved invaluable in our travel.

It makes sense, especially where friends are concerned:  our friends know us.  Travel books are fairly objective.  But the returns on an internet search are based largely on smart SEO which may or may not lend itself to what's best for you.  

Of course I google the spots we're going to every time, but I don't rely on that information only.

Next travel tip will focus on planning, for which research is only the beginning.

Your turn:  What about you?  What other means of research do you recommend for those traveling (especially internationally)?  

Note:  Affiliate links used in this post.

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