It’s very easy to get caught up in researching the place you want to visit. We often forget the minor details in favor of day-dreaming about the bigger picture (mainly waking up to a view of the Eiffel Tower or getting up to see the sunrise over Angkor Wat), and this actually leads to a bit more stress for even the most laid-back of travelers.
In this post, I’ve created an easy, logistical guide to planning a trip. And trust me, you will do yourself a huge favor figuring this stuff out over a cup of tea in your apartment instead of frantically finding wi-fi somewhere to do it on your phone.
As a general rule, I try to book flights around 6 weeks ahead of schedule. I’m kind of lazy, so I don’t really have scientific proof towards this, but once I know I want to go somewhere and when, I use Skyscanner to set an alert for when the fares might be the lowest. It’s nice because it’ll send me an email if the price has increased or decreased about weekly, and then I book it when I think the timing is just right.
This one is pretty obvious, but you never know. I’m sure there are people who have mastered the art of chill and don’t mind rolling into a new city and finding accommodation on the fly. I am not, nor will I ever be that person. I need to know my bathroom situation is first world, that I have air conditioning in the heat, heat in the cold, and that my accommodation isn’t secretly crawling with insects or filled with yellow-ish tinted water. Plus, after talking with a few friends who did try to do the whole roll with it plan, it wound up being more stressful trying to find a place last minute than it would have been to just spend an hour checking the random accommodation sites. My go-tos are:
GETTING THERE & BACK
Figure out the easiest way to get from the airport to wherever you’re staying and how exactly to get back. It will save some of your pre-flight nerves (even the most traveled person gets them!), and you can make sure you don’t catch a cold huddle on the steps of Victoria Station in the middle of a London October at 2 am… *cough* Look up whatever airport limousine, subway or bus route you have to take and when to get there ahead of time so you don’t have to worry about it when you should be getting ready to explore.
Okay, you’ve got the airport situation down pat, but don’t forget you still need to figure out how to get around your new place once you’re settled. How’s the public transportation situation? Feel confident enough to use it? How about the taxi situation? Safe, not safe? Tips to make sure taxi drivers don’t rip you off? Not only should you figure out how to get wherever you want to go, you should figure out what you can buy for your stay. A lot of places have tourist passes that make getting around easier (like Madrid had a tourist pass that allowed you free use of the buses and metro) so you’re not fumbling with foreign coins trying to figure out what to pay the impatient driver.
This is an obvious one, but you should read up on typical safety tips in your area. Are pick pocketers next level? Should you be wary of certain areas and certain times of day? People are inherently good and blah blah, but I guarantee you won’t be so zen when someone’s just ripped your wallet out from right under your arm or a taxi driver has driven an extra $10 out of your way. Just be smart and don’t do stupid things. After all, it’s no one’s fault but your own if you wear an unzipped backpack touring Europe and your wallet disappears. That’s just common sense even the common senseless have.
PHRASES TO KNOW
I get it, English is errywhere. It’s the lingua franca of our times. However, not every single person on the planet speaks every word of it, and the least you could learn to do is say “Hello” and “Thank you.” I also highly recommend learning “Please,” “Bathroom,” “Where,” and “Sorry” or “Excuse me.” It’s called being considerate, and it will get the job done faster in more cases than not.
Figure out your money situation! And I don’t mean just budgeting, though you should have a general one in mind so you’re not bounding towards an angry bank letter. Know the currency you’re about to enter. The Japanese Yen is very different from the Korean won. Cambodian money means jack squat compared to the American dollar (and I don’t mean this as in “Urgh America is taking over, revolt and be a local! Use Cambodian money! I mean prices are literally listed in the dollar, and if you try paying with the Cambodian Riel, they will look at you like you have two heads, and they definitely won’t be taking your money). Know your currency, know that 5,000 yen is not 5,000 won, and you won’t overspend on something stupid.
Also, know your banking situation. Make sure someone has a credit or debit card on them just in case.
CARE FOR YOUR HOME LIFE
This isn’t that big, but obviously if you have plants and pets, you shouldn’t just leave them to fend for themselves while you’re gone. Especially the pets. Figure out where your pet is staying, and don’t just drop ’em there, wean them into it. Despite the cat’s uncaring apathy towards humans, she will still be wholly displeased with an interruption to her daily life. Also knocking on your neighbors door half an hour before you leave to ask them do something for you is rude no matter how genuinely you thank them later on.
Know the emergency lines for foreigners. You know, in case you discover you’re allergic to bees in the middle of Lisbon and are told three different times you should be shelling out 200 euros for an ER visit when all you really need is some anti-histamine medication and cream. You know, because it happened to a friend. *cough* Speaking of which:
PHONE AND/OR WI-FI SITUATION
Figure out your means of communication. I know, I know in our tech-obsessed world we should try to go off the grid, but let me refer you to the above. Figure out if you want to go the whole tourist SIM card route or if you can make do with cafe wi-fis. I was personally very happy to have a SIM card in Thailand because my lovely bank never recorded that I’d be out of the country. Thanks, Citi, that bus ride to Cambodia wasn’t stressful enough already. Anyhow, I had to talk on the phone as my mom held up her cell phone to the house phone so I could tell Citibank that no, my mother was not a fraud, and could you please not leave me stranded with no money. Please and thank you.
Tech, hair, etc. I mean why waste suitcase space on a hairdryer if it specifically says in your accommodation that there’s a hairdryer there for you to use? Allow me to refer you to this meme. Anyhow, in addition to knowing what awaits you and what you should bring with, also figure out your plug situation. Don’t rely on what friends have told you, look up what plugs are used in that country, pictures and all.
What do you think? Anything to add?