Getting ready for a trip can be a huge ordeal. The first few times you are preparing for a big trip it can be nerve wracking. There are so many things to worry about, like what to pack, what to do about money, what to do about food, etc. But once you have headed off into the world a couple of times, packing and preparing for a trip gets easier and easier. Here I have some suggestions for making your trip a little bit easier.
- Once you have decided on a destination, it would be best to start reading about where you will be going and what you will be seeing. Even if you are going on a group tour, you will still have free time, so I would suggest reading about where you will be, what you will see with your group and what your options are for your free time. If you are not going with a group, then all of your time is free time.
I hate standing somewhere thinking about what to do next. If you already have a list of sights, shops or restaurants you would like to visit, then you don’t have to waste time deciding where to go. Maybe you want to wander through a really cool neighborhood you read about or maybe there is an art exhibit with paintings from your favorite artist. With research, you know about those things and can plan accordingly.
You should also consider any passes the city or country offers for reduced or free entrances into the sights. I purchased a pass in the Netherlands that gave me line-cutting privileges and free entrances to museums that accept the card. Athens offers a group ticket into all of the ancient sights. Rome offers a pass that gets you into two museums free and others at a reduced price plus a three-day transit pass. If you will be going to the places that accept that passes, these are almost always a good offer.
- The second most important step in getting ready for a trip is budgeting money. You need to be able to pay your bills when you get home, so knowing where you need to be thrifty and how much you can afford to splurge will make returning to the real world easier.
- While you were reading about the places you will be visiting, you probably came across information about what identification and documentation is needed to enter the country or countries you will be visiting. If you haven’t seen this information, visit the U.S. Department of State’s travel information website. It tells you the entry requirements for every county. No matter where you are going if you leave the country, you need a passport. Some countries may give you a tourist visa upon entry, no matter how long you are staying. Ireland did this for me when I entered. If you need to renew or get a passport (or need a visa or other documents), begin the process early. You do not want to have to cancel or postpone your trip because you do not have proper identification.
- Will you be taking any medications with you? If so, count ahead to make sure you have enough (and extras) to get you through your trip. Do not leave this for last in case you need your doctor to write a special prescription or have your prescription service allow an early refill.
- Know the currency of the places you will visit and decide how you will get money there. I prefer using an ATM. This way, I never have lots of cash on me. Travelers checks could be worthwhile for some locations, but I prefer to avoid changing money because the rates are better from an ATM. But if you are going to do this, I recommend having two cards you can use for withdrawals and if one is a Visa and one a Mastercard, that is even better. A couple of times I had a hard time finding ATMs that accept Visa. If you plan on using any cards abroad, it is advisable to let the companies know you will be abroad. If you don’t, then there is a chance a hold could be put on your account and then your card wouldn’t be usable, which would be terrible. You could also ask your bank if it could change money for you before you leave.
- Know the voltage of where you will be going. You don’t want to blow up your hotel and you don’t want to have your computer and not be able to use it. You need a converter if the voltage is a different current and you need an outlet adapter if the holes for the prongs are different.
- Think about any phone calls you might need to make. If you want to call home, how will you do that? Check with your cell phone provider if you want to use your cell phone abroad, but expect high rates. An easier solution is a phone card. A catch here, though, is if payphones require a special card for them to work. This is the case in Greece and Italy. I usually used an American phone card with my Austrian cell phone when I wanted to call home and I wasn’t in Salzburg. Another option is paying for the call with change, but again, the pay phone has to accept coins. If you will have reliable Internet, Skype is a great way to communicate.
- Depending on the location of your hotel and the sights you will be visiting, getting a transit pass could be beneficial. If you know you can walk everywhere, then it is not necessary, but if you are traveling to Berlin or London or Paris or another big city, the public transit system will be your best friend. Types of tickets vary by city, but your choices often include one-time use passes and various day passes, from one, three, five or seven days in length. Buy what will be the most beneficial to you. I got lucky in the Netherlands because the transit pass was good for 15 or so rides and I could use it in the Hague, Delft and Amsterdam. One thing to watch our for with mass transit is traveling through zones and the type of ticket needed.
- Research the types of clothing locals wear and if there are any sight-specific clothing requirements. In Rome, knees and shoulders have to be covered to enter a church. In Austria, locals do not wear shorts. In Croatia, they do. Most times you cannot avoid looking like a tourist, but if there is anything that can be done to stand out less, I would suggest doing it. This could mean not wearing a ball cap or dressing nicely when you are out and about. This means definitely no fanny pack. This also means not being a loud American. In Europe, the locals are much quieter than Americans and the loud people you do hear are other Americans. This really comes down to being respectful of the local way of doing things.
- Think about what bag or purse you will carry with you when you are sightseeing. Something that zips closed is best because that is one more step for a thief. Will you want to carry a water bottle with you? Will you have a camera? Maps? Guide book? Phone? IPod? Decide what things you will want with you and pick a bag accordingly.
Check back tomorrow for “How to pack.”