Although I’m no travel planning guru, I have learned a thing or two about making plans run smoothly when it comes to leaving the country. Here are lessons I’ve learned along the way that will save you time and energy during international travel.
Tip #1: Get Familiar with Google Maps
The primary tool I use for travel planning is Google Maps. In fact, I don’t know how people traveled before Google came to be. Not only am I able to determine which neighborhoods I want to stay in based on the restaurants in the area and/or a neighborhood’s proximity to a city’s various attractions, but I can also use the street view function to take a virtual walk down the neighborhood’s roads to get a feel for a potential accommodation’s surroundings. In many situations, I have used the street view tool ahead of my trip to “practice” walking to and from my hotel or vacation rental to a certain location in order to avoid looking like a lost tourist (i.e., a target for scammers or pickpockets). What’s even greater about Google Maps is your ability to download offline maps ahead of your trip that help you navigate when you have no cell service or Wi-Fi – a situation you don’t want to find yourself in when you’re in unfamiliar territory.
Tip #2: Prioritize Convenience Over Cost
Unless you’re traveling for work, the idea behind taking a trip abroad is to have fun and experience novelty. I’m a firm believer in spending a few extra dollars every now and then to make myself comfortable as opposed to being frugal to a fault. While there’s a time and a place for frugality, it’s necessary to treat a vacation as such. While this doesn’t mean booking thousands of dollars’ worth of first-class airplane tickets, I do encourage travelers to pay the minute upcharge for little luxuries such as seat selections. The last thing you want is to be stuck in the middle seat for over eight hours regretting not spending an additional $45 to book a window or aisle seat ahead of time for comfort.
Tip #3: Keep Spontaneity to a Minimum
A trip to Myrtle Beach leaves plenty of room for spontaneity, but a transatlantic trip to Prague does not. In today’s post-COVID world, it’s important to do your research and stay updated on the current events and political happenings of your destination. If the news is showing an upturn in political unrest or economic hardship, it might be a better idea to choose another country for the time being. For the six months prior to my trip to Italy in November 2021, I kept tabs on the COVID-19 infection rates for each region of Italy to determine which region would be least likely to re-enter lockdown if the situation worsened. In the process, I learned so much about Italy’s pandemic trends and policies as a byproduct of my obsessive preparation that I should have become Italy’s next prime minister.
Tip #4: Don’t Check Luggage
There are virtues to packing light, despite what your urge to pack four pairs of shoes for a two-week trip is telling you. Keep in mind that many streets in Europe are made of cobblestones, and the city centers in many popular European cities are pedestrian only. Whatever you pack will follow you over cobblestones, staircases, and onto public transportation, and other countries aren’t always as elevator-obsessed as the United States. There’s also the ever-increasing chance of your luggage getting lost as the airlines iron out their post-pandemic staffing and scheduling issues. Stick to cabin-only luggage and pack a modest amount of versatile, neutral-colored clothing to save space in your suitcase. Going to a local laundromat and grabbing a coffee nearby as your clothes wash and dry can be a cultural experience in itself, so don’t be afraid to pack less to relieve yourself of the burden of heavy luggage.