I’ve been writing a lot about travel lately in preparation for my big wedding trip to the US at the end of the month. As I’ve been working on my travel posts, which mostly focus on packing, and helping my in-laws get organized for the US, I’ve been thinking about some other general tips that would be useful for travelers. I’ve also asked the Verlobter for some input, and he reminded me of a few things I hadn’t thought of. So here is my compiled list of travel tips!
1. Stay Hydrated
This is my number one because I get dehydrated very easily. It doesn’t matter the mode of transportation, plane, train, or car, I always need to have water with me or I will become fatigued, grumpy, and possibly get a huge headache. This isn’t fun when you’re trying to get somewhere, but sometimes you become so distracted that you forget to drink up. If you’re traveling with a buddy, try to recruit them to remind you. And if you’re easily dehydrated like me, skip the complimentary booze on international flights, it’s just going to give you an insta-hangover.
2. Keep your itinerary in an easy to find place
This is one of the many uses for your travel wallet. Don’t trust yourself to remember where you need to be and when you need to be there. It’s just better to have it all written down and easily accessible. And if you’re traveling in a place where you don’t speak the language very well, you have something written that you can point to when asking for help or directions.
3. Figure out the best time for booking
For some methods of transportation, particularly buses and trains, you can often find discounts if you book early – especially if you’re checking out the local websites. On the other hand, many international flights will have a dip in price closer to the departure date, so booking too early may be counterproductive to getting a good price. Don’t book the first trip you see, look around a little and research whether not your price has a chance of going down. (Kayak will do this for you when you’re looking up flights.)
4. Make sure your layovers are long enough
When you’re booking a trip with a connection, most services will use some sort of algorithm to determine how long you need to make your connection. I do not trust these. If you’re cutting it close and there is any kind of delay, you risk missing your flight/train which can cause all kinds of problems. We almost missed a flight in Amsterdam once because our flight was slightly delayed coming in and we underestimated the size of the airport. We always look up maps of the airport and try to see where we will be going beforehand based on our ticket info. There is also a resource for people traveling to the US to tell you the average wait time to get through border control and customs. This can vary a lot depending on the airport and the time of day. If you are running late, there is a good chance many other people are as well, and staff might not care enough to help you out. If you come in at a busy time, there may not be much they can do anyway. It’s best to always give yourself a bit more time than you think you need.
5. Check the expiration dates of all of your travel documents
Some countries will require your passport to be valid for a certain amount of time past your trip, so it’s good to keep an eye on your expiration date. The same goes for visas and other travel permissions. Best case scenario, these will all be checked at the airport before you leave, worst case scenario, you slip through and have to deal with getting sent back. No one wants either of those, honestly, so make sure you’ve got all your paperwork checked and ready to go.
6. Seatguru is your friend when choosing your seating for the plane
If you’re flying, you should really check with Seatguru before picking your seat. Using passenger experience, good and bad seats for flights are marked and you can avoid sitting somewhere really uncomfortable. It’s helping us avoid the box of doom this time around.
7. Double check the weather forecast before you leave
You may have a general idea what the climate of your final destination is like, but there is no accounting for strange weather patterns. Maybe your location will be experience a whole week of storms and you should throw in a rain jacket. Or maybe it’s been unseasonably chilly and you should bring an extra sweater. It’s always better to avoid assumptions and take one last look at the weather forecast before you are done packing.
8. Plan out your packing, even if you don’t actually pack until the last minute
Speaking of packing, as I’m sure you know now, I have many problems with it. I think a lot of my overpacking tendencies come from also being a last minute packer. I don’t have time to really think about what I need, so I end up throwing everything but the kitchen sink into my bag. While I still don’t really pack until the day before, I’ve started making checklist and planning out what I will need further in advance. This makes the last minute packing go a lot more smoothly and keeps me from forgetting important things. I also plan out different outfit combinations in advance so I know that I’m maximizing my space.
9. Always carry some cash, but not too much
It’s always important to have local currency on you, because depending on where you are traveling to, many places may not accept cards. It’s good to be able to pick up a snack or a drink without having to find an ATM that takes your card. I would suggest, however, not to carry more cash than you think you’ll need, especially if you’re going to a tourist location known for pickpockets. The right amount will depend on your comfort level and what you’re doing that day, but I would never carry so much that you’d be in serious trouble if it gets stolen.
10. Check public transportation routes beforehand, don’t assume they’ll be available to you
This is a big one for Europeans traveling to America. Especially in Germany, it’s possible, if not straight up easy, to get around without a car, especially if you’re in a big city. On the other hand, the public transportation options in the US depend quite a lot on where you are going. For example, St. Louis has a very bare bones light rail system, especially considering the size of the city. The bus system is a bit more extensive, but I’m not familiar enough with it to really help anyone and it’s not going to take them to some tourist attractions further away from the city. Train routes between the cities can be fairly hit or miss as well, so it’s best to make sure you figure out if the options meet your needs before making the decision to travel solely public transportation.
11. If you rent a car, check whether or not you need to take out extra insurance
This was something that I had never thought about before. I had only rented a car once, when my car was in the shop, and my car insurance covered it. It didn’t occur to me until we were arranging a rental car for my in-laws that their insurance wouldn’t cover them if they rented a car for travel in the US. In some cases, this can more than double your rental price. Some rental companies may include insurance packages, but you would need to check with your insurance to see what you would need additionally.
12. Don’t try to estimate distances – just look it up
Another thing I noticed while planning to travel with the Germans, is that there tends to be a general underestimation of the size of the US. If you’re planning a road trip, particularly in a country you aren’t familiar with, don’t estimate the distances just by looking at a map. Pop your locations into Google Maps to get a better idea, and you may realize that you thought it would take half as long to get somewhere as it actually does. Particular advice for Germans: you won’t necessarily be able to drive faster just because you’re on a highway in the middle of nowhere. Prepare to take your whole trip traveling around 65mph to 75mph (105kmh – 121kmh). Some place may let you go 80mph (129kph), but that’s the highest I can remember seeing.
Is there anything critical I’m missing? Comment below!