So you finally decided where to go, when, and with who. Now what? (Continued from Part 1!).
The next step is to book the thing, however first it’s helpful to make sure that the place you’ve decided on is within budget, look into the COVID restrictions, stuff like that.
For example, several years ago I went to Copenhagen, Denmark because it was the cheapest flight at the time from NYC to Europe. What I failed to look into was the fact that Copenhagen is a super expensive city, so I couldn’t even get a latte for less than like $7. It wasn’t the end of the world, but I may have chosen a different city had I realized.
Another good example is Tulum. You can get round trip flights for less than $300 (yay!) but hotels run upwards of $500 a night (boo!).
A quick few Google searches can help answer these questions for you.
This is self explanatory, I thiiiiink. Unpopular opinion: People love services like Hopper or Skyscanner but I hate them. They make flights look super cheap and then you look at the details and find out there’s 3 layovers and it’s going to take you 24 hours to get to the Carribbean. 😅I like Google Flights for aggregating all the options across different airlines. Search in Incognito Mode—it’s been said that the algorithm will raise your flight prices as you browse and I’m not sure if that’s true but, well, can’t hurt. Pay attention to refund/change policies and baggage fees and remember… if you’re flying from a major hub like NYC, layovers are almost never worth it! (Remember I said booking flights was self explanatory and then proceeded to write an entire paragraph about my thoughts?).
Do a Google search to find out the best neighborhood to stay in. Depending on your preferences, you may want to stay in the touristy area, or find a trendier, more local neighborhood. The important part is that it’s safe! Then decide if you want a hotel or an apartment—again, this comes down to preference and budget. Hotels for me say “vaca mode” and are good for short stints, whereas apartments can feel more homey, be easier to work from, and allow me to stick to some routines that are important to me without feeling cooped up. If you’re traveling solo, you may want to consider a private room within a hostel as a nice way to meet people (I’m personally too old + grumpy for a shared living situation but hey, you do you).
→ Do some quick research, such as general things to know about a place or their culture, whether or not you can drink the water, if it’s a place that widely accepts credit cards, and how they get around (whether it be Uber, taxi, bike, etc.).
→ Consider travel insurance. This is important particularly with disruptions that could happen to your trip as a result of COVID. I’ve used World Nomads in the past.
→ Look into the place’s COVID regulations. Will you need a negative test and/or proof of vaccination to get through customs? Are masks still required? Etc.
→ Look into your options for your cell phone. AT&T (& I think Verizon) have something called an International Day Pass, which charges you $10/day to use the same plan you use at home abroad. You can also rely on just Wifi, since most places have it. GoogleFi or a local SIM card are also options.
→ Look into your money things. Check in on your bank’s ATM fees and your credit card’s foreign transaction fees. I recently switched to a Charles Schwab checking account because they refund all ATM fees (amazing for travel), and my credit card Capital One Venture doesn’t have any foreign transaction fees. Do a little research to see if ATMs are widely available–in big cities they will be, but if you’re going to a smaller town it might be wise to order currency with your bank ahead of time. Typically, though, I usually get a small amount of cash out (maybe $100 USD worth) at an ATM at the airport when I arrive. Don’t use those currency exchange booths, it should go without saying that those are highway robbery.
→ Decide on your luggage. Do you need a checked bag? Unless you’re going away for a month, or doing some hardcore adventuring that requires lots of gear, probably not. I usually bring my Away carry on and a backpack as my personal item.
→ If you’re Type A like me, make a packing list based on the weather and activities.
Yay! The hard & annoying stuff is over. Now to the fun stuff…
→ Compile any restaurants or destinations you want to check out. I like doing this in my Google Maps, in a folder specific to the destination I’m going to.
→ Book a free walking tour for one of your first days. Almost every city has them, and they’re a great way to get the lay of the land and meet some new people.
→ Find any activities or excursions that may require a full day or weekend, so that you can set aside time accordingly.
→ Go with the flow and leave room for spontaneity. Don’t overplan, because honestly things will never go as planned anyway. Once you have any big things (like day trips or things that require buying tickets for), leave room to play it by ear.