After booking my first international trip, panic immediately started rising like bile in my throat. I could be wrong, but I don’t think that’s a normal feeling. As I tried to understand the reason for my anxiety, I realized it was because I felt so unprepared. It was like I had the word “clueless” stamped in big letters across my forehead. Everything felt so foreign to me (pun definitely intended).
As I began to start planning for my trip, I would ask myself, “Where do I even begin??”
Turns out, I had all the necessary tools available to me in planning for this trip – it just took hours upon hours online trying to find the answers I was looking for. So lucky for you, I’m going to skip all the nonsense and walk you through a few of the most valuable things I learned in planning ahead, as well as what your first steps should be.
Buy Your Plane Tickets
I read quite a few articles about when the best times to buy plane tickets were. It’s practically an underground conspiracy. Here’s the deal – plane tickets aren’t going to magically drop $900. I know, it’s very disappointing. However, the days you choose to fly matter quite a bit. Try to avoid flying on Friday and Sunday, and opt for Tuesday through Thursday. I purchased my international tickets (DFW – LHR non-stop, round-trip) four months in advance and after the winter holidays were over. I ended up saving $300 on my tickets! Hooray, I beat the system! And you know what happened? Two months later they dropped another $200. Moral of the story – ticket prices fluctuate a lot. It’s the burden we must all bear.
Create an Excel Spreadsheet
Most people underestimate the power of keeping their finances organized through an Excel spreadsheet. But can I tell you a little secret? It’s been psychologically proven that your short-term memory can only store 5-9 items at one time. The psychologist George Miller called it The Magic Number Seven (plus or minus two). When you’re planning a trip, you have to remember the cost of all your train/flight tickets, how much the museums cost in US Dollars compared to Euros, how much you’ve set aside as a daily food budget… etc. From personal experience, these details will continuously turn in your mind. So your options are to either memorize every detail to store in your long-term memory, or simply create an Excel spreadsheet. My advice is to write it down, get it out of your head, and use that extra brain space in planning more exciting things!
Watch Out For Foreign Transaction Fees
As you may know, accounts are charged with a foreign transaction fee when purchasing items abroad. But word to the wise? Watch out for the foreign fees even before you leave. If you’re planning to pay in advance for hotels/hostels, car rentals, museum tickets, or anything based internationally, then beware of the fee. Most banks put a 1% – 3% fee on every transaction. When I paid off my Topdeck trip, I checked my bank account to find a lovely $107 foreign fee – it was not a fun surprise. So my recommendation to you? Use a credit card that offers the perk of no foreign transaction fees, and use the money you save to buy lattes in Paris.
For more information about foreign fees, and a list of banks with their fee structure, click here.
Learn the Basic Phrases
I would recommend not being as eager/delusional as I was in learning all the languages. Simply put, if you’re not a linguist prodigy, then you’re probably not going to become an expert in all European languages in mere months. A healthy alternative? As you’re planning your trip, try to start learning the basic phrases such as “Yes,” “No,” “Hello,” “How Much,” “Can you help me find…,” and “Thank you.” And when all else fails, download a translation app on your phone. Google Translate and iTranslate are some of the more popular translation apps right now. Another tidbit, make sure you find an app that works offline since international data charges are kind of ridiculous.
Just a quick side note, I really relate to Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally as she’s trying to copy Billy Crystal’s accent. This is exactly what I sound like as I repeat Greek phrases from YouTube videos.
Keep Your Paperwork In Order
The last way to stay ahead when planning a trip is to keep your papers in order. This involves bank statements, flight itineraries, and hotel confirmations. Make sure you print out your confirmations and take them with you on your trip. If your phone should become lost or stolen, you have a trusty backup of all the important details of your trip. Also, make sure you give yourself plenty of time to get your passport (or renew it). I called in to make an appointment, thinking I had plenty of time ahead of me, to then find out they were booked solid for the next month. I just barely squeezed in through a cancellation.
Planning Ahead can save you later
Finally, keep in mind that things on your trip will probably not go according to plan. But when they do, you’ll be ready for them. Planning just a little bit ahead can save you lots of headaches (or bitter tears depending on your stress level) later on.
Do you have any tips in staying ahead when planning a trip? I’d love to read about them in the comments!
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