How To Plan Better Stress Less And Travel Like A Pro
I’m writing this in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. My daughter and I are in lockdown in Thailand and my husband has been in lockdown in China for the last four months.
So what do we do to keep our spirits high when we can’t travel?
We relive our favourite travel memories- such as daughter Claire and I attending Lakme Fashion Week in Mumbai just before lockdown.
And we commit to making new memories once we are post-Covid and free to travel.
This pandemic has been a wakeup call for many boomers.
Issues that affect travel, such as health and freedom of movement, have boomers reassessing their priorities. Many have decided to start planning their life long dreams of travelling the world to visit those places on their bucket list as soon as we all are able.
So whilst our travels are temporarily on hold, let’s grasp the opportunity to start planning ahead.
When you commit to travelling, you have to accept that it won’t always be smooth sailing.
There will be problems.
Fortunately the best solution to most travel problems is preparation.
So to help you plan better, stress less and travel like a pro, we have put together a list of 10 of the major travel problems people face that can be alleviated with a little pre-travel planning.
Making sure your passport is valid during your proposed travel dates and you have some blank pages left in it, is THE number one priority for your pre-travel planning. Let’s face it-international travel just isn’t going to happen without it.
Passports should have at least six months of validity when traveling internationally so you will need to renew if it has less.
As a general rule, you should always make sure your passport will remain valid for six months beyond your planned trip.
You never know if your travel plans are going to change. And the last thing you want is to be stuck because you’ve run out of months.
In addition, most countries won’t permit a traveler to enter the country if the passport is due to expire within six months of the ticketed date of return.
You may be refused flight check-in if this is a destination requirement, so allow up to six weeks to renew or get a passport.
Several countries also require at least two blank pages in your passport in order to enter and/or to get a visa.
Each country has their own requirements so you will want to check and possibly renew your passport if you have run out of blank pages.
Also keep in mind that the last two pages of the US passport are not qualifying visa pages so make sure that you have an empty page with “visa” at the top.
Likewise the Australian passport has a page in the centre of the passport with an electronic chip in it, so neither side of that page can be used for visa purposes even though they are blank.
Lost or Stolen Passport
Travel with a hard copy and digital copy of your passport along with a couple of passport photos.
If you have to replace a lost or stolen passport, heaven forbid, it's much easier to do if you have these to hand.
What is a Visa?
Just as an out of date passport can deny you boarding your flight, so can the lack of a required visa.
A visa is a stamp placed in your passport by a foreign government, allowing you to enter their country, generally as a tourist.
Visas other-than a tourist visa stamp can also be a permanently affixed document that takes up an entire passport page.
Visa and Immunization Requirements
Different countries have different requirements. Some countries require no visa at all, some do if your stay exceeds 90 days. Other countries allow visas on arrival whilst others offer e-visas that can be obtained in advance online.
This can take a month or longer in some cases. So check well in advance what, if any, visa and immunization requirements there are for your chosen destinations.
New Passport= New Visas
It is safe to assume your visas expire with your passport, even if your visas are still valid.
Although some countries will allow you to travel with both your new passport and old passport containing your valid visa, as long as your identifying information hasn’t changed, the majority of countries do not allow this.
Unfortunately there is no way to transfer a valid visa from your old passport to your new passport so you will have to get another visa.
3. Flight Solutions
When to Book
Book flights well in advance especially if traveling to popular destinations in peak season, booking award flights and using reward miles.
If you're not using a travel agent, start your research with an airline search engine.
They have made it really easy to search the entire world to find the best ticket. They compare fares available at multiple airlines, online travel agencies, or both, and then sort them by price.
Websites like Kayak, Skyscanner, Momondo and Google Flights all offer search tools that allow you to put in your home airport and see a map of the world with all the flights on it. This allows you to easily compare multiple destinations without having to brainstorm every possible option.
If you start or end your trip over a major holiday, check airline prices a day or two earlier or later by choosing “flexible dates’ when you search.
Avoiding high peak travel days can save you a lot of money!
Mr T and I saved $2500 on business class tickets on Turkish Airlines, Beijing to Istanbul, by booking several days after Chinese National holiday had started and returning several days after the holiday had finished.
You can also search using the “multi city” option to see if flying into one city and flying out of another is a better option than a round trip ticket.
Additionally, if you want more flight options and are flying into a city with several airports, select either "all airports" or the city name rather than a specific airport name.
After doing a few thorough searches using search engines, always check directly with specific airlines for the flights they offer, especially if you are looking to fly with a particular carrier in your preferred alliance.
Search engines can beat the fares on an airline’s official site, but you need to check the itinerary carefully for tight connections or long layovers.
Be mindful to book enough time between flights if you are transiting through an unfamiliar airport and more so if the flights are not all on one ticket.
It may be cost effective to search for a route using a combination of different airlines, but If you do book separate segments, be sure you have at least three hours between connections.
If you book with a separate airline, your connecting flight won't wait for you if there is a delay.
You have been warned!!
After completing your travel bookings, confirm your name on your ticket and your name on your ID match and that you have included any Frequent Flyer or Loyalty card information on your booking.
Also check your dates, times, destinations and baggage allowance.
As soon as you have completed your bookings and verified they are correct, go ahead and choose your seats. Use the Seat Guru site to see recommendations for the best seats on your specific airline and aircraft configuration for your travel dates.
4. Accommodation and Dining Solutions
It's not just flights that should be booked well in advance.
You need to make early reservations for your accommodation, popular restaurants, tours and sights, especially during peak season.
A bit of research goes a long way when deciding on accommodation choices.
Again, search engines are a great way to start the selection process and hotel booking sites such as Booking.com and Agoda are great places to start.
You can also use Kayak to search, not just for your flights, but for hotels as well. These sites can give you a lot of information about the types of hotels on offer and the range of prices.
Compare Hotel Offerings
The next step is to compare offerings on the search sites with what’s on offer with the official hotel sites.
Use Google to find the hotel’s own website where you will get more detailed information on the hotel and possibly a better rate.
If you belong to a loyalty program with the major international hotel chains like Starwood Preferred Guest, Hilton Honors, IHG Rewards etc., see if you can use your reward points to book your hotel.
Even better, if you have friends or family that are employed by any of the major hotel chains, see if you are eligible to join any of their “Friends and Family” type programs for great discounts.
Check Hotel Reviews
Before you book your accommodation, have a quick look at Tripadvisor reviews. Review manipulations aside, if you see a lot of similar sounding negatives, this may ring a few alarm bells and prompt you to look a little deeper.
Conversely, if there are a lot of positive reviews with similar plus points to make, you can not only make your booking choices with a little more confidence, but in some instances you can book directly through Tripadvisor.
This process can be especially useful if you are assessing a non branded hotel.
Confirm Your Hotel Booking
Make your booking, either through the search site or direct with the hotel site.
Then confirm all information for your booking is correct. Verify that the type of room, number of guests, number of nights with dates and any special requests are included in your booking confirmation.
Be particularly careful when confirming with non branded, more local lodgings. Often your arrangements are not done through a booking site but through email requests, acknowledgements and credit card confirmations.
So check your email booking confirmations thoroughly.
Houses and Apartments
Sometimes a short term rental in a house or apartment may be a more suitable accommodation option.
This is particularly so if you are wanting to spend longer than a few days, be self catering, have access to laundry facilities or traveling with a larger party. If it works with your itinerary, this option is a great way to get familiar with your destination and live a little like a local.
The most popular way to search and book for this type of accommodation is with Airbnb.
The booking process is like booking any other type of accommodation online. You search the database, find a place you like, create an account and request a booking. When the owner accepts, you are sent a confirmation.
The keys to finding a great place are as follows-
- Be sure to thoroughly read reviews about the host and the accommodation.
- Read the listings carefully.
- Check out the map with each listing to make sure the location is right for you.
- Check the availability of lifts (elevators), air conditioning, heating etc
Mr T and I booked a beautiful studio apartment in Prague with a fabulous view of the city.
We didn’t think to check if there were lifts.
Something we deeply regretted as we hauled our heavy suitcases up and down several flights of stairs.
We made a similar mistake in assuming there was air conditioning in a design statement apartment in Paris and one in Varenna on Lake Como. Not pleasant in the height of summer, so don’t assume anything.
What seems a given isn’t always so.
Restaurants, Tours and Sights
If food is a big part of your trip and you want to eat in a specific restaurant, you need to make advance reservations.
TripAdvisor is a useful site to research online reviews for restaurants as well as accommodation.
Follow the same guidelines previously mentioned when searching for accommodation and if possible, make your reservation using TripAdvisor’s online platform, The Fork.
If your venue of choice doesn’t have an online booking service you will need to email the restaurant and request a reservation. Make sure you receive an email confirmation. Have it to hand on your phone or print it out and bring with you to the restaurant.
It’s also a good stress saving strategy to pre-purchase tour packages and admission tickets to popular destination sights and activities. Check out reviews for tours on TripAdvisor and make your bookings accordingly.
Purchasing passes, tour packages and tickets online before you depart can help you avoid disappointments, lock in your preferred dates and times, skip lengthy queues and save you money.
How good is that!
Decide on your main mode of transport at your destination and if renting a car, check the expiration date on your driver's license and renew if needed. Also check requirements for an International Driver's Permit (IDP)
IDP enforcement may vary based upon your car rental agency as well as rental country.
The permit, which may be purchased from a government authorized organization such as national automobile associations, is valid for a year and should be carried along with your driver's license.
In addition, check with the rental agent as to requirements for cross border travel, vignettes and snow chains.
Also consider if your destination warrants hiring a car.
Spending a few days in Venice for example will have you paying rental fees and parking for a vehicle that will sit in a parking lot whilst you explore the city on foot or by boat.
See below for information regarding car rental insurance.
Transportation doesn’t need to be an either or decision. In many cases a combination of car rental, train and ferry travel is not only possible but ideal.
For example- taking Eurostar from London to Paris instead of driving or flying.
When you add in the time and money costs of transport from your London hotel to either Heathrow or Gatwick airport, Eurostar can be a very attractive option.
As mentioned previously, traveling in peak season necessitates booking early to lock in the timetable you need and at an attractive price. Check how far in advance you can book as bargain tickets are snapped up quickly when the booking window opens.
Pre book any additional transportation passes such as ferry, bus etc. Like rail tickets, pre booking can save you money and guarantee your preferred schedule.
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6. Insurance Solutions
One of the biggest mistakes travelers make is omitting to check if they have appropriate insurance cover when they travel.
Travel insurance can minimize the considerable financial risks of traveling because no matter how healthy you may be-you can have an accident.
No matter how careful you are- you can be robbed.
No matter how careful a driver you are- you can be involved in a car accident.
So do your research.
Assess coverage you already have through your medical, homeowners or renters insurance plus your credit card. Find out if they cover you and your possessions overseas.
Then compare with coverage available from companies such as World Nomads, or if over 70 investigate Insure My Trip.
Additional companies such as Travelex and Travel Guard offer comprehensive packages that serve as your primary coverage. This consists of trip cancellation and interruption, medical, evacuation, baggage and flight insurance.
A trip-cancellation or interruption insurance policy covers the nonrefundable financial penalties or losses you incur when you cancel a prepaid tour or flight for an acceptable reason.
Policies can differ as to what they consider an acceptable reason, so review your policy carefully.
Luggage that is lost, delayed, or damaged is generally included in most comprehensive policies and covers the deductibles and items excluded from your homeowners policy.
Before buying medical insurance for your trip, make inquiries with your medical insurer as you might already be covered by your existing health plan.
Whilst your home country medical insurance may cover you overseas, you might want to buy a specific medical travel policy so it covers whatever expenses your health plan doesn't.
If you're already purchasing a comprehensive policy for your trip, adding collision damage waiver (CDW) coverage is an option and probably less expensive than purchased through the car rental company.
Travel Guard, for example, sells affordable car rental collision insurance as an add-on to its other policies.Some credit cards offer complimentary travel insurance coverage with collision coverage built in, so you may not need to purchase additional which could save you money. Check with your credit card company the particulars of the coverage, request a Letter of Coverage and have a hard copy of it with you when you go to the rental counter.
Credit and Debit Cards
Notify your bank of your travel plans and inform them that you'll be using your debit and credit cards overseas.
If you do not forewarn your bank of your travel plans, you run the risk your bank, for security reasons, will put a block on your account to protect it.
Therefore, to save yourself the drama of having to contact the bank from overseas to unblock your account, alert your bank before you depart.
That said-take a photo of the back of your credit and debit cards that shows bank contact numbers and store in an online folder just in case you do need to contact them.
Check the expiry dates on your cards and renew if they will expire while traveling. Ask about transaction fees, adjust your ATM withdrawal limit if necessary and make sure you know the four-digit PIN for all of your cards, both debit and credit.
Consider carrying a third debit or credit card, from a different bank, just in case one gets lost, demagnetized, eaten by a temperamental machine or simply doesn't work.
Withdraw some home currency cash to be kept for emergencies such as when banks go on strike or your ATM card stops working or is lost or stolen.
Get local currency in the airport when you land.
ATMs at your destination are the easiest and smartest way for you to get local cash. No more traveler's cheques!!!
Even though you pay withdrawal fees you will still get a better rate than you would when exchanging your home currency for local cash at a currency exchange booth.
So save your home currency stash for emergencies only.
The most cost effective option when using your phone is to access WIFI whenever possible.That said, there will be numerous situations when WIFI is not available and you will need to go online over a cellular network-AKA data roaming-which can be costly.
Research network roaming plus data plans with your mobile service provider and activate international roaming for your travel dates if suitable.
Make sure it's the better option, rather than purchasing a destination sim card for your phone, especially if you will be traveling for a longer period of time.
You can purchase a local SIM card that also includes data if you are traveling with an unlocked smartphone.This can be cheaper than data roaming through your home provider and is the preferred option for Mr T and I when we are traveling overseas for an extended period of time.
We have found the cost of a local pay-as-you-go SIM package to be worth every penny, especially when we decline an expensive rental car option for a GPS navigation device.
We purchase a local SIM card-ideally when we land at the airport- and have the Google Maps app ready to go when we pick up the hire car.
9.Voltage and Plug Solutions
Plugs and Chargers
Research the type of plug configuration and electrical voltage at your destination and purchase plug adapters.
Unless you know for certain that all the countries you will visit on your trip all use the same plug configuration, buy a universal adapter. Otherwise a single plug adapter will work.
Another choice is to purchase a multi-port USB charger if you have several electronic devices. This enables you to charge them at one time if short of outlets in your hotel room- a common challenge in heritage properties.
Just be sure that at least one port is rated at 2.1 amps so tablets will charge properly.
Voltage doesn't directly have anything to do with the type of wall socket or the plug that goes in it- it’s about the flow of electricity.
And different parts of the world have different flow.
U.S appliances run on 110 volts, while in most other countries appliances are 220 volts.
Many portable appliances are now designed to handle any common voltage. Check the fine print on your appliance or its charger, and look for a voltage range.
So if you see a range of voltages printed on the item or its plug such as 110–220, you're OK to use it internationally. Some older appliances have a voltage switch marked 110-US and 220- Europe so switch it to 220 when you pack.
Avoid adding extra weight to your luggage-don’t pack items that need a heavy, bulky voltage converter.
Order refills for any prescription medications before you travel.
Pack crucial meds in your carry-on luggage, preferably in labeled, original containers, just in case there is loss or delay with your checked luggage.
Take a photo of the medications showing the generic drug name to show overseas pharmacies if necessary and pack the prescription for the meds along with your other hard copy documents.
First Aid Kit
A First Aid Kit is a wise addition to the prescription medications, although, unlike the meds, it should be packed in your check-in luggage if it contains anything non TSA allowed- tweezers for example.
The following items are what we include in our kit-
- Bandaids in various sizes including ones specifically for blisters on the feet.
- Gauze squares and surgical tape
- Antibacterial cream-eg Neosporin
- Over the counter painkillers such as acetaminophen, aspirin or ibuprofen
- Anti-diarrhea medication-eg Imodium
- Over the counter hydrocortisone cream for insect bites
- Digital thermometer
- Small scissors
- Antibiotic eye drops or cream
- Betadine Solution or antiseptic wipes
Prescription Glasses and Contact Lens
Order contact lens and prescription glasses, sunglasses and check that you have a spare pair of glasses in case of loss or damage.
Carry a hard copy of your prescription for contact lenses or glasses with your other hard copy documents.