Congratulations on taking that first step to realizing your dream to travel! I know exactly what’s running into your head right now so, stop! ha-ha… don’t get overwhelmed, breathe, It will be fun. I have laid out some very useful tips below to help guide you to plan and hopefully make that dream trip become a reality! As I mentioned before, with thoughtful planning, you can have a worry free trip and just enjoy an enriching experience that you will remember for a lifetime!
Are you ready? Fasten your seat belt and Let’s go!
1. Where is your dream destination?
As an avid fan of Travel shows and also an avid reader, I do get travel inspirations from the many travel gurus out there but one common question that will arise as you plan your trip is “Why do you want to travel?” which is the perfect question for anyone who wants venture and explore the unknown, having a solid answer to this question will greatly help you decide where you want to go.
Personally, as a full time working professional (no day job = no trips), my main reasons to travel are to relax & recharge and also for personal enrichment – I love learning and immersing in other cultures (and also the FOOD) but typically, my destination depends on what time of year I want to jet away, keep in mind that different countries have different seasons. It could be sunshine and daisies here in the US while Frosty the Snowman is chilling’ in Australia.
Determine whether you want sunshine & palms trees sipping Piña coladas by the beach? or a winter wonderland – jingle bells, hot cider and a fireplace in the Alps, or simply, a cultural immersion – experience, explore and learn the history, architecture and character of your main destination. Finding out the season of your destination is as easy as 1-2-3, I find google to be pretty reliable in giving on and off-season weather which also helps me determine if a trip is going to be within my budget. Having a set destination and time of year you want to leave will 100% help you assess your budget which is extremely helpful as it could give you all the time to plan ahead and save!
2. Does your destination have a tourist requirement?
Eventhough US Citizens can travel to most anywhere in the world without a tourist visa, it is best to know this information instead of getting a big surprise at the airport. Green Card holders will be required a Travel Visa or Schengen if your destination is not your country of citizenship or the country is not a participant of the VISA waiver Program, also due to the unfortunate Covid-19 pandemic, it will be wise to know as well if your destination has health requirements such as Covid-19 vaccinations and others. Does your destination require Travel Insurance in the event of an unfortunate circumstances or injury. Don’t be alarmed, you are on the right track planning your trip, I have provided some convenient links below to see if your destination has certain requirements courtesy of the Department of State. Also, in my many travels, I rarely encounter a requirement for travel insurance, however, personally, this is nice to have, I have provided a link of reputable travel insurance companies I use just in case you want to avail this for your trip. Like I said it is rarely required but a good safety net for the “just in case”.
- US Department of State – Bureau of Consular Affairs
- US Passport Service Guide -Travel Visa
- AXA Travel – Travel Insurance
- Allianz Travel
3. Let’s book your ticket!
So you have finally determined where you want to go and have done your thoughtful research diligently! Now it is time to commit, no more procrastinating! All you need to do is search for that flight, see if you’ll save by consolidating accommodation, flight & car rental, then click “BOOK IT”… Voila! You are done with one of the most important hurdles of your trip! The days of booking cheap flights last minute are long gone, pre-planning is always the way to go! unless of course you are traveling in the off-season and super flexible with schedule then you “might” be able to find that budget flight…but do you really want to do that for your dream vacay? Again, I have provided some links below for your convenience. I remember my very first trip to Paris, I have everything squared away months before I left the country; Plane ticket, Hotel, Shuttle to and from the airport, a day tour of Montmartre, even my Metro rail train ticket! I will give you some tips on this as we go on below.
4. Book your Hotel and Shuttle – Plan ahead!
Congrats for booking your flight! Now, with your vacay a few months (or weeks) away, let’s help you setup a quick plan so you don’t feel overwhelmed once you step outside your destination airport! If you have booked a Vacation Package, then a resounding hive fives to you! But if you just book your flight (give yourself a pat on your shoulder), I have a few tips and tricks for you.
On my first solo trip many years back, I decided to visit my dream city – Paris! I made it a point to do everything I imagined I’d do! See the places I really really wanted to see and most especially EAT… eat everything I imagined Paris could feed me (and I ate them all…. twice! Steak & Frites! Escargot! Canard! Luscious pastries & desserts, Macarons, Artisan breads, French Wine, buttery bread (more wine), cheesy bread (really needs wine), herby bread (so much wine), smelly bread and more bread! (sante!) ha-ha) as you can see, this is where your thoughtful planning comes in – being prepared saves you from being like a deer caught in headlights once you arrive at your destination and being able to enjoy the things you want to do, see and taste immediately not just idly sitting in your hotel room or hotel lobby, rummaging through brochures, indecisively planning your day, wasting your precious vacation time!
Book your hotel! Depending on your budget and where you want to establish your nest when you arrive, I suggest to search thoroughly, read the reviews and look at the reviewers pictures like there’s no tomorrow. You could decide to splurge by booking within the city center where you are minutes away from your planned itinerary or you could be like me, I tend to look for small boutique hotels or hostels a few train stops away from the city center (again, thoughtful planning) I do this because I personally just want a comfortable bed to sleep and a shower to refresh myself – splurging for a room isn’t my thing but again, it’s my preference – always go with what you’re comfortable with where you feel comfortable, safe and will feel well rested to dive into your itinerary the next day. You may also consider booking a home if you’re traveling with your family or a group, check-out Vrbo to explore housing options for your group.
Your shuttle (from and to your hotel and back to the airport once your vacay is done) It is best to get this done right away after you book your flight and hotel… why?
- It’s cheaper than Uber or Taxi especially if you are staying near or within the city center which is often several miles away from the airport.
- You have a guaranteed ride once you arrive and ready to leave ( make sure to get all the details especially the meeting spot or shuttle station) In Europe, the driver often greets you at the arrivals lobby (that infamous placard with your name) or you’ll get an instruction to go to a designated parking lot with details about the exact location.
- Saves you from getting overwhelmed when you arrive not knowing how to catch a ride or which bus to take. Public commute is available in most places (Paris has an amazing railway system, Italy has buses on the clock) but this requires additional research as to which bus or train to take once you arrive, being in a foreign place can be intimidating, for me – getting a shuttle booked right away saves me the headache of worrying, instead enjoying the ride and get your imagination going as you drive past boulevards with magnificent architectures or spectacular country views.
5. Plan your activities, tour, museum pass
Plan your itinerary and be realistic about it! Select and go places you really want to see not because everyone is talking about it or a guide books says so but because this is something you really want to explore and get to know. Have a final MUST-DO list. For example, if you decide to go to France and have planned to explore Paris for instance to visit the Louvre and say bonjour to the Mona Lisa – You literally have to plan almost half or your entire day around this excursion alone. Why? This museum is enormous and hands down spectacular, It houses an extensive collection of art pieces from floor to ceiling, sculptures, murals, historical paintings by the maestro’s, and priceless pieces from times past – in reality, there is no way to fully see, learn and admire the entirety of this place within a day even if you just spend a couple of minutes per exhibit – then what’s the sense? The good thing is you don’t have to see them all. Look for the museum directory or brochure, locate the exhibits you want to see and zoom in directly to those exhibits.
Plan your activities where you give yourself time to enjoy and relax, have the necessary breaks you need and not force yourself to see everything because it’s on your list. The trick is be realistic about it and go at your own pace, enjoy and appreciate anything new, learn something about it, take selfies and as much pictures as you want – this is your time, so just have a great time! However, this doesn’t mean you have to blow up an entire day at one location (unless you’re in an Island), you can be mindful of your time without overexerting yourself to do and see everything which seriously could burn you out – not a good thing especially if it’s just your first day.
Also, I cannot emphasize enough the necessity of pre-booking your activity/museum tickets or tours. Most museum passes are available to book online, this is something you would want to consider booking ahead of time. Why? A good example; When in Paris, the ticket line alone to buy admission passes to enter the Louvre will consume a good hour or two of your day especially during the peak season, then you will have to go to another line to get in the museum which could be another 30 minutes to an hour depending on the volume of patrons, as you can see, without your pre-booked Museum/Activity Pass, you have already wasted a good 3 hours of your day!
For Tropical Island trips, pre-booking your Island hopping tickets assures you’ll have a rig to take you to places otherwise inaccessible by land. I find that the concierge or hotel front desk staff are some of the best resources to help you book your island adventures!
6. Pack your bags and go
Making the list, checking it twice… It never hurts to be over cautious before you go.
Double check that you have your passport & wallet safely stashed in your carry-on bag. You do not want to start your travel in such a panic realizing your passport and wallet are comfortably sitting on your dresser while boarding is only a couple hours away! (whoopsies) Kidding aside, with your passport and wallet safely stashed in your satchel, here are some things to remember the day and the night before your departure:
- Purchase snacks for the flight or layover
- Bring an empty water bottle or container ( to fill once you’ve checked-in)
- Prepare a personal contact list for family and close friend
- Prepare a foreign contact list: embassy and hotel information
- Make sure portable devices are charged and their chargers are all packed
- Have you arranged transport, to & from the airport?
- Practice your basic lingo: Hola! Bonjour! Por Favor! Ciao! Gracias! Guten tag!
- Clean up your house, do the laundry
- Eat or discard food that might spoil
- Confirm flight status & check-in
Pack an extra shirt, pack your portable device charger and especially medicine. Extra underwear, or socks.
Trust me, in the event that you arrive at your destination before your luggage does (it happened to me once), you will be thankful you have these basic essentials when you arrive at your hotel without your luggage especially after a very long flight or multi-leg flight BUT don’t panic thank goodness to modernization, they could easily track the where-about of your precious luggage and delivered to your hotel the next day!
You’re all set and ready to go!
Remember to set aside all your preconception about a place! Just enjoy and have a fun time! Talk to the locals! They are the best free tour guides if you fully want to immerse in the culture, find great local food spots and generally points you to the right direction for awesome places to see!
Have a fantastic time!