Over the past several weeks, I’ve heard of several international destinations opening to vaccinated US travelers. This is amazing news! Get out that passport and let’s use those miles just sitting in our frequent flyer accounts. While it is so exciting to get the news of the world “opening up” again, we might be a little rusty when it comes to international travel. I truly believe that traveling internationally is a muscle that you must annually or semi-annually use in order to feel confident. This blog post reviews the top six things you should pay extra close attention to when planning for your next trip.

  1. Research everything
  2. Plan and follow an itinerary
  3. Be mindful of your luggage
  4. Transportation isn’t the same
  5. Money Money
  6. Prep that mobile phone

Research

Research is the first step when traveling, internally or domestically. Jumping into your itinerary without research is similar to writing a book on photosynthesis with only knowing the basic definition. You might get a great first paragraph and then stall.

When researching, make sure you are visiting reputable and current websites. While I will look at sites like Travel Advisor and review comments, I always view the primary site of the item I am researching. For example, when looking to research an Eiffel Tower experience, I will go directly to the Eiffel Tower website. That site will provide factual information versus reviews. I will then use that information as a starting point. If I want to learn more, I may then explore, do I want more than just a ticket to the Eiffel Tower. That is when you can start looking at websites like Viator to determine what private or semi-private tours are available in Paris that includes the Eiffel Tower. When researching, include items such as the following.

Timing of Travel

  • Is the location seasonal?
  • Do you have parameters based on when you can and can’t travel?
  • Are you looking to be there during prime tourist season or are you looking for off-season travel?

Available Activities/Sightseeing Opportunities

  • What is drawing you to the destination?
  • What do you want to see?
  • Depending on the timing of travel, would you be able to get tickets to everything you would like to see?
  • How far out do the activities book?
  • Are they open during the time you want to travel?

Accommodation Options

  • What hotels/AirBnB/VRBO options are available? Which fits your needs?
  • Where are the accommodations located in relation to your activities/sightseeing?
  • Where is the airport or train station in relation to your accommodations? How far will you need to carry your bags?
  • What does the public transportation look like near your activities and preferred accommodations?

Airfare

  • Which airlines fly to your destination?
  • How many connecting flights are you willing to take?
  • What are the best cost options?
  • Always look into the economy plus option!

Planning your Itinerary

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

  1. 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 small 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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
  4. 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

Luggage when Traveling Internationally

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.

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 check-points 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.

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.

Traveling internationally
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:

  • 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.
  • Footwear
    • Never bring brand new shoes; break them in for at least 1 month prior to travel.
    • Treat your feet well: You will most likely do far more walking than you expect. Plan for comfort not for style on high step count days.
    • Don’t overpack on the shoes. If you are bringing a pair of shoes that only go with one outfit, I recommend swapping out the outfit for something that works with the shoes you are planning to bring.
  • 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. You do not want to risk a rash breakout due to unfamiliar detergent.
  • Pack clothes that fall in a similar color scheme. Ideally, all tops you bring should also match all bottoms.
  • Always 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).
traveling internationally

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 traveling internationally 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 when traveling internationally

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.

Check out our blog on the Oktoberfest in Munich!

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.

Money

Making sure we have access to funds has always caused me anxiety when traveling internationally. Over the many trips, I’ve found my groove to provide relief to the money money!

  • 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 is 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.

Mobile Devices when Traveling Internationally

Our mobile devices are our third appendage these days! We use them for talking, texting, googling, directions, social media and so many other purposes. When traveling internationally, 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.

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. If you are traveling with a companion, you may only decide to extend coverage on one phone. That will be the device you share for directions and communication needs when outside a wifi hotspot.

I also recommend downloading 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. You are also able to text using WhatsApp.

Even though you may upgrade your phone plan, be aware that the speed will most likely differ. We have traveled with brand new “best of the time” 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.

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