It’s time to dust off that passport and put those idle frequent flyer miles to good use during your next international journey. Think of international travel as a skill that, like a muscle, benefits from regular use. This blog post will refresh your travel know-how and provides a close look at the top six aspects you should focus on for a smooth international journey.
- Thorough Research
- Crafting and Following an Itinerary
- Mindful Luggage Management
- Adapting to Different Transportation
- Money Matters
- Optimizing Your Mobile Device
Thorough Research for a Smooth International Journey
Research is the first step when traveling, internationally or domestically. Jumping into your itinerary without research is similar to writing a book on photosynthesis with only knowing the basic definition.
When researching, always visit reputable and current websites. I recommend starting with facts about a certain item, and then exploring reviews from others as a secondary research option. For example, when looking to research an Eiffel Tower experience, go directly to the Eiffel Tower website. That site provides factual information versus reviews. Use that information as a starting point, then, if you want to lean more explore sites like Viator. Viator provides information on private or semi-private tours of the Eiffel tower or other tours available in the area. When researching, include items such as the following.
Timing of Travel
- Seasonality: Is the location you’re considering subject to distinct seasons or weather patterns? Understanding the climate during your travel dates can greatly impact your experience.
- Travel Restrictions: Are there specific timeframes when you can or can’t travel due to factors like weather, visa requirements, or local events? For example, unless you desire to go to the Oktoberfest, avoid Munich Germany in September.
- Peak vs. Off-Peak: Decide whether you prefer to visit during the destination’s peak tourist season or during the off-season. Each has its pros and cons, such as crowd levels and pricing. For example, you would not want to travel to Santorini Greece in October or wine country in Spain in December. While you might find a hotel or two open, the area is relatively closed to tourism for the winter.
Available Activities and Sightseeing Opportunities
- Attraction Prioritization: Determine what draws you to the destination and prioritize the activities and attractions you most want to experience.
- Booking Timelines: Depending on your travel dates, find out how far in advance you need to book tickets or reservations for popular activities or attractions. Some places may have limited availability, especially during peak times.
- Operating Hours: Confirm that the activities and attractions you’re interested in visiting will be open during your intended travel dates. Some may have seasonal closures or varying hours.
- Hotel vs. Alternative Rentals: Explore the variety of accommodation options available, including hotels, AirBnB, VRBO, and other rental platforms. Consider which type best suits your preferences, duration of stay and budget.
- Amenities and Services: Assess the amenities and services offered by the accommodation. Depending on your needs, you may prioritize factors like proximity to transportation hubs, on-site dining, or specific room features. For longer trips, we typically plan to do laundry. While you may not have laundry amenities available at your accommodation, laundry mats are common in large international cities.
- Proximity to Activities: Take into account how far your chosen accommodation is from the activities and attractions you plan to visit. Opting for a central location can save you time and transportation costs.
- Accessibility: Consider the ease of access to public transportation from your accommodation. Staying near well-connected transit options can make getting around the city more convenient.
Prior to traveling, download transportation apps such as Uber, Lyft, country specific Taxi apps, country specific local and long-distance train applications to your mobile device.
- Distance to Transport Hubs: Determine the distance between your chosen accommodation and the nearest airport or train station. This information will help you plan your arrival and departure logistics.
- Baggage Considerations: Think about how you’ll transport your luggage from the airport or train station to your accommodation. If it’s a significant distance, you may want to plan for convenient baggage transport options. Not all public transportation stations have elevator access or escalators.
- Transportation Costs: Understand the costs associated with public transportation, such as tickets, passes, and schedules. Using public transportation as your sol method of transportation is the most cost effective. Multi-day group passes are available for local public transportation options.
- Airlines Serving Your Destination: Identify which airlines operate flights to your chosen destination. This information can help you compare prices, schedules, frequent flyer and mile generation opportunities, and amenities.
- Number of Connecting Flights: Decide how many connecting flights you’re willing to take. Direct flights are often more convenient but may come at a higher price, while connecting flights can be more affordable but involve layovers. If traveling with small children, or anyone requiring additional assistance, direct flights, are worth the higher cost in my opinion.
- Best Cost Options: To find the best cost options, consider using flight comparison websites or apps to compare airline fares. If you are a frequent traveler, always explore frequent flyer perks. Be flexible with your travel dates. Prices can vary significantly based on the time of year, day of the week, and trip length.
- Economy Plus Option: Don’t forget to explore the “Economy Plus” or similar options offered by airlines. These may provide more comfortable seating and additional amenities for a slightly higher cost. International Economy Plus is similar to domestic first-class travel.
Crafting and Following an Itinerary for a Smooth Interntional Journey
Now that you have completed your basic research for traveling internationally, it is time to start plotting how that looks on your itinerary. When setting your itinerary, be mindful that you may need to compromise on everything you want to do or see. Prior to starting, keep in mind the purpose of your trip. Is the purpose relaxation and exploration or focused solely on one or the other. You want to enjoy your international experience and therefore be aware of overscheduling.
Tips for Planning your Itinerary
- Plan your itinerary based on the activities/sights you MUST see.
- Plan one structured item each day unless there are multiple activities in the same walkable area.
- Book your structured activities in advance. If there is a skip-the-line option, pay the extra amount.
- Double the expected commute time to each activity from your accommodations. You are staying in an unfamiliar area. It might take longer to determine the correct train, or your morning breakfast may take longer than the Dunkin Donuts drive-through.
- Fill in activity gaps.
- These are items that you would like to see if time permits. Do not purchase tickets in advance for these items.
- Add filler activities based on their location to your MUST see items..
- Provide options: Give yourself two possible activities per day. At times your must-see item may take far less time than you anticipated. Instead of sitting at a cafe to determine your next plan, your filler activities are already lined up. If your must-see takes a long time or are just tired after, you already identified that not seeing the filler activities was ok with you. That’s one less decision you need to make while relaxing and exploring when traveling internationally.
- Document all logistics on your itinerary
- Activities: Address, date and time reserved, transportation route, cost, the confirmation number
- Airfare or Train: Provider, date and time reserved, confirmation number, seat numbers, cost
- At destination transportation: train lines closest to your location and address of train station, cost of a single ticket or multiple-day tickets
- Accommodations: Provider, address, phone number, confirmation number, check-in/check-out, cost
- Share your itinerary
- Print a copy.
- Email yourself a copy of your itinerary plus a copy of your passport.
- Send a copy of your itinerary and passport to someone at home.
Mindful Luggage Management for a Smooth International Journey
You may have dreams of dressing in your most stylish outfits while walking through the streets of Paris. While that vision may lead to great photo ops, I highly recommend you re-think that clothing strategy. Unless you work in fashion, have a lifestyle blog, or will only move luggage between the hotel and airport, a more minimalist strategy is recommended for a smooth international journey.
When traveling internationally, bring a carry-on for plane essentials and check your luggage. We’ve never had problems with checking luggage or missing luggage when traveling internationally. To avoid hiccups, always get to the airport early. Some international airports have multiple checkpoints, or the check-in process itself is longer than I have typically experienced at US airports. When leaving Istanbul, we waited at the initial check-in line for almost an hour. At that same airport, we had the initial security screening and then at the gate, we went through another screening. We were thankful we got to the airport a little over two hours before our flight.
Recommended luggage type:
Each time we travel internationally, I commit to downsizing for our next trip. Thankfully, each time I pack less, and it is easier to maneuver my suitcase. The rule when traveling is that you should be able to lift your own luggage. If you can’t, then reassess.
Select luggage on rollers or a large backpack that you carry. Avoid multiple suitcases or a suitcase without rollers or without a back strap. Purchasing the most convenient luggage will aid in a smooth international journey.
Check out these options from Amazon, if you are searching for a new suitcase:
This is the new version of the luggage set I own. I take the small carry-on for domestic trips that are less than a week in length. The large one comes on international trips. I’ve used this set for four years and it still works great.
This is the luggage, my husband owns. He’s used this for the past six years and still in great shape. This piece is slightly taller than my large luggage piece. With both of these options, due to the side be mindful of weight. In recent trips, we now only take one of our large bags and a smaller checked bag.
This is a great example of a travel backpack. I haven’t used this, however, it has received over 1,800 ratings and averages 4.5 stars on Amazon. There are less expensive items out there, but the star rating is far less.
Please note, the above luggage recommendations are linked using the Amazon affiliate program. When purchases for these items are made, I receive a small commission.
When packing, keep the following in mind for a smooth international journey:
- Pack based on the climate at your destination. Track the weather several weeks before your trip to determine if any oddities in the weather pattern may occur.
- Avoid brand new shoes; break them in for at least one month prior to travel.
- Treat your feet well: You will most likely do far more walking than you expect. Plan for comfort not style on high step count days.
- Fight the urge to overpack shoes. Bring comfortable shoes that compliment your several outfits.
- If you are staying for longer than a week, plan a trip to the laundromat. Search laundromats around your hotel and plan the time in your itinerary. Always bring your own soap and dryer sheets to eliminate the risk of a rash breakout due to unfamiliar detergent.
- Pack clothes within a similar color scheme. Ideally, all tops you bring should also match all bottoms.
- Bring a jacket. Depending on the weather, this can be a jean jacket or a winter jacket. Make sure the jacket can go with all your outfits, including a nice evening out casual dress.
- Bring one nice outfit that you can dress up or down with various accessories. To dress up, add jewelry, and to dress down add a light jacket (jean jacket or similar).
Adapting to Different Transportation
Transporation options differ based on where you are traveling internationally. In Europe, most large cities have a commuter train, local buses, and access to the Eurail. When planning for a smooth international journey it is key to determine how you plan to get around the city and leave the city, if you have multiple cities on your agenda.
Jump on the Eurail for a smooth international journey
When visiting locations where the Eurail is available between locations, we use that as our first option. We used the Eurail when traveling in Italy. We flew into Venice, and then took the train to Florence, and ended our trip in Madrid. The train stations are typically centrally located in the large metropolitan cities, are relatively easy to get tickets and the schedule is consistent and relatively on time. The cost of traveling by train is also quite economical.
We have also taken the Eurail for day trips. When traveling in Munich, we took the Eurail down to Fusen to see Neuschwanstein Castle. It was a great way to see the countryside and allowed us time to relax versus renting a car and navigating on our own.
Don’t be afraid to rent a car
We have rented cars in Ireland, Spain, Greece, and Israel. Each was a slightly different experience and there are specific ways to prepare. When traveling internationally, manual cars are less expensive to rent. When we traveled in Spain, Greece, and Ireland, I was completely comfortable with the manual car. In Israel, I recommend getting an automatic car if traveling in cities like Jerusalem and Nazareth. Those cities are exceptionally hilly, and you will encounter traffic. Unless your daily driver at home is a manual, to avoid headaches in Israel, get an automatic.
If renting a car, I recommend only renting when you are traveling outside of the large metropolitan city. For example, when renting a car in Spain. We picked the car up after our allocated time in Madrid, drove through the wine country, and spent a few days in the vineyards, and then once we arrived in Barcelona, we dropped off the car. This minimized the car rental time and eliminated the need to pay for parking in the large metropolitan cities.
When renting a car internationally, bring a printed copy of your insurance stating you are covered for international driving. We have protection through the Chase credit card program to cover international car insurance. This is key, without this printed documentation, you may end up spending quite a bit on the insurance policy offered by the rental agency.
Making sure we have access to funds has always caused me anxiety when traveling internationally. Over many trips I have found that the following money matters tips work for me for a smooth international journey.
- Review policies with your credit cards regarding international transaction fees. Chase Reserve is a great option if your card charges international transaction fees.
- Call your credit card agency and debit card bank prior to your trip. Let them know where and when you are traveling. Many banks allow you to do this online.
- I always have a minimum of three cards with me when traveling, a debit and then two credit cards (from different financial institutions). The different financial institutions are a must. If you run into fraud issues while abroad and your card is shut down, you will then have access to the other credit card from the other institution.
- Order cash in the local currency of your destination from your bank prior to travel. You may need cash immediately upon arrival for food, taxi, luggage tips, or public transportation. Many times, there are cash stations, however, they could be out of order. We ran into this situation in Ireland.
- Determine the cash versus credit culture. In Munich, cash is used primarily at all restaurants and really exclusively in the Oktoberfest beer tents. For retail shops in Munich, a credit card is accepted and widely used.
Optimize Your Mobile Device
Our mobile devices are our third appendage these days! We use them for talking, texting, googling, directions, social media and so many other purposes. For a smooth international journey, review your phone plan in depth. You may even want to call your provider to make sure you have a clear understanding of how and when you are able to use your phone.
Your phone will play a large role with identifying bus, train, and walking routes. Google maps is recommended for walking directions, while apple maps is ideal for bus and train routes.
Many provides will offer international packages, where you pay by day or week for international access. Purchasing this extended coverage in advance is highly recommended for all individuals traveling in your group.
Download WhatsApp, a free mobile phone application, and asking your loved ones at home to do the same. WhatsApp allows you to call using the WiFi connection at your hotel or other location versus using data. If you entire traveling party uses iPhones, then you can also take advantage of iMessage and FaceTime calling to avoid long distance calling fees.
Even though you may upgrade your phone plan, be aware that the speed will most likely differ. We have traveled with newly released phones and then older phones and each time, we have still experienced slower connections. There will also be times when a connection is not available.