While traveling is exciting and insightful, there are aspects that can be challenging and downright frustrating. After years of steady travel, I’ve come to learn that traveling, like everything else, comes with its fair share of quirks.
It’s inevitable that no matter the amount of planning, something is bound to test your patience: weather disturbances, missed flight connections, lost luggage, local scams, forgetting your passport at home, etc.
You can’t plan for all mishaps, but keeping some important factors in mind can better equip you to handle or help mitigate certain situations. Read on for practical travel tips and tricks to help save you some frustration and provide a more positive travel experience.
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International Travel Tips to Save Time, Money & Stress
1. Travel Off-Peak Seasons
Destination prices fluctuate based on the time of year. Research your selected city, and travel off- or slow seasons to take advantage of cheaper airfares, lower lodging prices, and fewer crowds.
For lower rates, avoid traveling to popular bucket list destinations in peak summer months. Families are more likely to vacation when the kids are out of school, attractions more packed and lodging more expensive due to demand.
Depending on the city, prices can start to look more favorable and sites less crowded in late summer/early fall.
2. Do Your Destination Research
A little planning goes a long way. It’s worth spending time prior to visiting a new destination to gain some insight into the local area, culture and customs.
Researching a destination can help keep you safe, avoid culturally insensitive interactions, and overall better equip you to make informed decisions.
Prior to departing on an international trip, put together a trip outline with destination-specific requirements: your intended stops, length of stay, visa and vaccination requirements, travel documents, etc.
Check your passport! If needed, obtain one, or renew your passport well before your current one expires. No one likes surprises at border control.
Here are some helpful tools to check destination requirements:
- US passport – search the nearest location to apply or renew your US passport
- CDC – travel health notices and vaccine recommendations
3. The Logistics Matter, Too
Once you’ve squared away the legal stuff, have a general plan and idea on where you want to stay, how you’ll get there, what to do, your must-see spots, etc.
Check the days and times when popular restaurants and major sites/attractions are open, and book tours ahead of time—especially if you’re traveling during peak tourist season.
Travel Tip: You don’t want surprises once you’ve arrived. A few days before taking off, ensure all your reservations are confirmed to avoid mishaps: flight, lodging, car rental, restaurants, and planned activities.
Have backup paper copies of your itineraries, hotel bookings, tour confirmations, etc. If not, at least write down the confirmation numbers for easy access.
4. Travel Tips-Packing
You pack it, haul it around and probably won’t use half of it. So save yourself the hassle and potential baggage fees. Pack light and smart! Consider your destination’s climate and culture norms, but don’t overdo it.
There will be a nearby market, store or pharmacy to pick up any necessities you may have forgotten. Take a good pair of comfortable walking shoes, but leave all the extra baggage behind.
- Make a checklist of your must-have travel items, and stick to it. A list helps with last-minute packing stress and serves as a basic inventory of your contents if your luggage gets lost in transit.
- When packing, roll your clothing in tight rolls instead of the flat fold, and use packing cubes like this to help save space and reduce wrinkles.
- Pack pieces that mix and match and do double duty
- Always pack your essentials—travel documents, medications, change of clothes, and valuables—in your carry-on in the event your luggage is lost or misplaced.
5. Check the Airline Baggage Guidelines
When flying, particularly with budget airlines, check the airlines’ luggage guidelines—even for carry-ons. You may have scored a great airfare, but that can easily add up when you’re hit with baggage fees at the airport.
To make matters worst, those fees are typically higher at the airport versus prepaying online. Save yourself time, money and sticker shock; find out the airline’s baggage regulations prior to travel.
6. Check the Destination’s Weather Forecast
It may seem obvious, but many travelers are caught off guard by changing weather or not being prepared for a destination’s climate. Checking the forecast helps you pack accordingly, plan activities, and arrive prepared.
If hiking Santorini’s famous Fira-to-Oia trail through the villages and along the caldera cliff in below-average temperatures taught me anything, it’s never to leave home without a jacket, or a lightweight raincoat for unexpected showers.
7. Buy the Travel Insurance!
Travel insurance policies can cover things from an emergency medical evacuation to trip cancellations to lost luggage. Buy travel insurance!
It may be an added upfront cost, but travel insurance can potentially save you thousands in recovered out-of-pocket expenses. Hopefully, you won’t need it, but you’ll be glad you did if the reverse is true.
Travel Tip: Share your trip itinerary, general plans, and leave copies of your documents with a trusted person not traveling with you. It’s always a great idea to have someone who can confirm your general whereabouts in the event of an emergency.
8. Stay Healthy While Flying
Long flights can be hard on the body, leaving you feeling worn out and sluggish. To help alleviate the effects, move and stretch your legs regularly; drink lots of water; avoid processed foods, caffeinated drinks, and alcoholic beverages while flying. Sorry, but alcohol doesn’t help and is likely to make jet lag worse.
Make sure to have these travel essentials on hand for a more comfortable flight:
- Hand sanitizer & sanitizer wipes – traveling will never be the same after this pandemic
- Compression Socks – to prevent swelling during long travel days
- Chewing Gum – to help relieve ear pressure during taking-off and landing
- Travel Pillow – to provide head and neck support while traveling
- Noise-Canceling Headphones – perfect for tuning out unwanted noise or chatter
- Tablet/ E-Reader – download your favorite programs to watch offline and keep entertained
- Portable Power Bank – to keep your electronics powered up
9. Be Wary of Public WiFi
Keep in mind any information—documents, email, phone numbers, credit card info—shared or accessed on public WiFi networks are not secured and can lead to cybersecurity vulnerabilities. Protect your information; avoid connecting to sensitive accounts on unsecured free public WiFi in places like airports and coffee shops.
To help keep your online activities secure, consider a handy pocket-size wireless hotspot or a VPN to protect your data from unauthorized users. Most personal hotspots allow password setup and provide WEP or WPA encryption for added security.
10. Familiarize Yourself with Common Local Scams
Most of us don’t realize we’ve been victimized until after it’s done. I make it a point to read up on common local scams prior to heading to a new destination. The fact is, many of the scammers have been doing this for years and know how to take advantage of an opportunity.
You can’t necessarily prevent being deceived, but you can arm yourself with information on local neighborhoods, areas to avoid, and common scams. Be vigilant, especially in larger settings, and whenever approached with the promise of something. If it sounds too promising, it probably is.
There are dishonest people everywhere, be cognizant of your surroundings, keep a watchful eye on your valuables, relax and enjoy the experience, but don’t let paranoia get the best of you!
Travel Tip: Infinity scarfs with hidden pockets are a stylish (and effective) way of protecting IDs, credit cards, cash, and phones while out exploring.
11. Know Your Cards’ Foreign Transaction and ATM Fees
Before international travel, re-familiarize yourself with the specifics of your debit and credit cards. Be aware of cards with foreign transaction fees for purchases or international withdrawals.
Check if your bank partners with foreign banks, which can be helpful in avoiding ATM withdrawal fees. Better yet, look into credit cards or banks that don’t charge foreign transaction fees.
Travel Tip: Prior to traveling, contact your bank and credit card companies to notify them of your travel plans. This prevents transactions from being denied or accounts from being frozen due to suspicious activity. Also, be sure to have your credit card company telephone number handy in case your card is lost or stolen.
12. Currency Exchange: ATM vs Exchange Bureaus
Withdrawing cash at ATMs (upon arrival at an international destination) is often the easiest and cheapest way to obtain foreign currency. ATMs typically offer a better exchange rate since it’s provided at the interbank rate.
If using a change bureau, be sure to inquire about the currency exchange rate and any transaction fees.
Your bank may impose both an ATM and foreign transaction fees for ATM withdrawals done abroad. But even with the fees, the rate is typically better than what’s available at currency exchange bureaus or booths.
13. Have an Emergency Cash Stash
It’s wise to have an extra $200 to $300 backup cash stored away for emergencies. Things happen: you can’t find an ATM, your purse or wallet gets lost or stolen, unavailable ATM funds due to suspicious activity. Having backup cash stored away can cover you while you work to clear things up.
Travel Tip: If heading to a small town or region consider withdrawing more cash, as ATMs may be limited, and not all establishments in will accept credit cards.
14. Find Events Taking Place During Your Visit
Prior to heading out, search your destination’s local event calendars for activities taking place during your visit. Local tourist office websites are a great place to start!
Knowing what’s happening in advance gives you the opportunity to make proper arrangements. Headed to South Florida? Don’t miss out on any of these annual events!
15. Taking a Taxi? Agree on the Fare First.
I’m not a fan of utilizing taxis while abroad. They’re usually the most overpriced method of getting around, and often the most problematic, with drivers looking for ways to take advantage.
When left with no other choice, I take a taxi, but I’ve learned to always confirm and agree on the fare with the driver before even stepping foot into the vehicle. Not all taxi drivers are scammers, but a fair share are out to capitalize on the unsuspecting passenger.
Travel Tip: If taking a taxi, hire from the official taxi line usually outside the airport or train station. Inquiry about a flat rate, many times there are standard fees for airport trips. Avoid drivers who approach you while you’re still in the airport.
16. Research Transfer Options to Your Accommodation
Avoid high-cost transportation by researching how to get to your hotel from your arrival point. Start by looking up the distance to your hotel and call ahead to see if transfers can be arranged.
If possible, pre-book your transportation method ahead of time, or use online fare estimates to make informed decisions.
Pro Tip: Have enough cash to get from the airport to your hotel, in case you can’t find an ATM or if your card isn’t cooperating.
17. Bring an Outlet Converter/Adapter
While many of today’s gadgets are “dual voltage,” it’s wise to have a universal plug adapter to charge your electronics when traveling abroad. Voltage and plug-in outlets vary by country and could impact your device’s functionality.
My handy all-in-one universal travel adapter with the capability to fit electric sockets around the globe is usually one of the first things I pack for international trips.
Travel Tip: Don’t forget to pack and have with you a portable power bank to keep your devices connected and prevent your battery from running low.
18. Shop at Local Markets
Heavy tourist areas often equate inflated souvenirs and food prices. Finding a local supermarket to buy essentials like water and snacks is one of the first things I do upon arrival at a destination.
Picking up necessities at local supermarkets not only helps with the overall food budget; it’s also an opportunity to find local souvenirs at competitive prices. I can’t count the number of times I’ve purchased local specialties at a supermarket at a much better price compared to local souvenirs shops.
Travel Tip: To realize even more savings on food, try securing lodging with a kitchenette. It provides the opportunity to cook meals (when desired) instead of eating out every meal.
19. Stop by the Visitor Information Center
Visitor information centers are designed to promote the local area and have tons of information to help navigate around a city. These centers are your friend, especially if it’s your first time in a location.
They are a great resource for what’s happening in the area: tours, hotels, local attractions, dining, shopping, recreational activities, etc. Stop by a visitor center at the beginning of your trip to get acquainted and stock up on free tips, guides, maps, brochures—and even discounted activities.
20. Learn Key Phrases in the Local Language
Download a language app and learn a few phrases before heading to your destination. Locals appreciate interacting with visitors who attempt to communicate in their native tongue. It’s also a great icebreaker.
I always make a point to learn how to say “Hello,” “Please” and “Thank you” in the local language. Besides, it’s fun using your newly learned phrases—“Grazie” and “Danke je”—long after the trip.
21. Opt for the Local Tour Guide
When visiting cultural sites or monuments, always spend the few extra dollars and opt for the local tour guide. You travel all this way; why short-change yourself? Getting a tour guide is typically much more enlightening and eye-opening than attempting to explore the city using a guide-book or wandering around on your own.
Many tour operators like Get Your Guide offer advance ticket booking, like these tour options in Miami. So check out your destination tour offerings, take advantage, book ahead, and avoid long lines, sold out, or wait-list situations.
22. Ask Locals for Recommendations
Don’t rely solely on the hotel’s concierge recommendations. Their suggestions often lead only to the popular tourist-friendly spots, not necessarily authentic experiences. This goes back to international travel tip #2 .
I find locals are happy to point me in the right direction or share pointers on where to get the best eats, the best spot to catch a sunset—sometimes zig-zagging through a maze of streets to help me find a place. Use your judgment, but don’t be afraid to ask.
23. Embrace Cultural Differences
Traveling exposes you to people from different races, religions and all corners of life. Be open to embracing local cultural traditions for a more enhanced experience.
You don’t have to participate in what may look or seem strange, but that’s what distinguishes cultures and makes traveling so exciting. So reserve judgment, respect cultural customs and take it all in.
24. Be Patient and Flexible
Stuff happens: union strikes, booking the wrong train, unexpected site closures, etc. Build your itinerary to account for interruptions and be prepared to modify your plans as surprises arise.
But don’t stress the small stuff. In the end, the outcome or success of your trip will depend primarily on your attitude and how you react to things, including the mishaps. So accept that delays and blunders are all part of the experience—another story to tell!
25. Take Your Time
While being prepared and having a plan can help you stay on schedule and budget, I caution against being too rigid. Leave a little room for spontaneity. Avoid the urge to have a jam-packed itinerary.
Overbooking your itinerary defeats the purpose and takes away from fully appreciating the experience. Even with the most well-planned itinerary, you probably won’t see and do everything on your list. So make a plan, prioritize the must-sees and must-dos, but take your time to explore and enjoy the journey.