Out and About How To Plan for a Major (International) Trip




As many of you know, I LOVE to travel. If you haven't picked up on that already...I really question how your IQ would measure up next to a block of cheese...anyway, what you might not know about me is I also LOVE prepping for trips. I worked at an Outfitter in high school and never lost the love of reading gear reviews and finding fun new products that will make my trip better. I know it's kind of strange to be obsessed with packing and guide books but whatever, judge less. I figured that since I've spent the past several years planning dozens of trips, to several different countries and states, I might actually be able to provide some insight into HOW TO PLAN for your next adventure.


Torres De Serranos, Valencia, Spain

WHO YOU TRAVEL WITH:


If you're going to travel with someone, make sure you CAN travel with that person. I have a lot of friends that I love to death but planning a trip with them...I'd rather smell like a skunk for the rest of my life. Lucky for me, I have other friends that are amazing at traveling. Things you should ask yourself about when choosing someone to travel with: do y'all have the same budget? (it can be a point of contention if not) Is one of you a stick-to-the-plan kind of person and the other person is a floater? (THAT can be a major issue) Can you spend several days or even weeks with this person? Are they going to want to do the same things as you? Are they in the same physical condition, roughly as you? You don't want to travel with somebody that doesn't have the same priorities as you. It can ruin the trip and often the friendship. It's ok to come to the conclusion that y'all aren't planning the same trip and need to part ways for this one. Otherwise, keep planning!
My adventure buddy, Amboise, France
BUDGET: 

Your budget is really where it starts to get fun. I like challenging myself to see where I can cut corners. Make sure that you've put away enough for a flight first (international flights are usually around $1,200) and then go from there. Hostels ($), hotels ($$$), and food ($$) can add up but there's ways of being thrifty! Some quick tips: Make sure your credit limit is pretty high so that you can use your card when you're abroad, without limitation. Make sure your credit card company and bank know you're leaving the country, otherwise they might stop charges and then guess what, you're screwed! Check what your credit card company's policy is on fraudulent charges because it could happen. Thieves be ery'where. DON'T bring traveler's checks. A. Nobody accepts that crap anymore and if you have to convert them to cash, because you will, because nobody accepts that trash, you'll likely have to go to a branch bank...which are only located in major cities...and then, as if you haven't already wasted your time getting there, you usually not only lose on the conversion rate, they also usually charge you anywhere from 10-30% of however much you're converting...with something like a $600 limit at a time. Yea. You do the math. It blows. Also, check with your bank to see if there is an international bank with whom they do business so that it would allow you to use international ATMs without paying the fees. You can thank me later. Keep reading for more tips!

WHERE/WHEN/WHAT: 

Once you pick WHERE you want to go, you need to figure out WHEN you're going to be traveling there-this is very important because this indicates what type of weather you should be packing for and will also give you the first little bit of insight into what types of events you should expect to see during your trip. For example, Spain in the summer is hot as shit and there is a saints holiday almost every day of the week-ie. linen pants and flip flops so you can go in churches and not sweat to death.

The next thing you want to take into consideration is HOW LONG your entire trip is going to be. This will be a determining factor of how much you'll need to pack in terms of clothes/toiletries and also how much money you should bring. You can buy toiletries in pretty much every country but if you have certain products you like, like face wash, bring it. Just make sure only bring the size of bottles you can take on the plane with you or pack them in a checked bag (in plastic so if and when they explode they don't ruin everything you own). Also ask yourself if you need to have your mail held or put you bills on auto pay. All of these things are important things to think about and take care of before you leave. 


After running with the bulls in Pamplona, Spain
Also, keep in mind which hemisphere you'll be in. This might sound kind of duhhhh but some clients that used to come into the Fitter (my nickname for the Outfitter I worked at), didn't understand the concept of alternate seasons. When it's summery in the US, it's wintery in countries on the opposite side of the equator-think Australia.

Plan on booking your hostels/hotels in advance and make sure your flight will arrive at a time that you can still check in to your hostel/hotel AND that there will be running transit at that time. You have no idea how many people I've heard get into a pickle because of this. Booking in advance and doing your research prevents you from getting to some small town and realizing everyone's booked and you have nowhere to sleep. Sometimes you can also get discounts for booking in advance online. Keep all of your confirmation numbers in a small notebook and take it everywhere with you. I also write down the names of the cities in which each of them are located, the train station names to which you'll be going, and contact information including int'l phone number and email for each hotel/hostel. Keep reading and you'll understand how important this is. Also, make a photocopy of your passport and carry that in your notebook as well, just in case. I I get a new notebook (I prefer mini leather Moleskines because of the durability) for every trip. I shove tickets, museum stubs, match boxes, napkins, and pictures in them along the way. I write down interesting facts I learn at museums or on tours, too. I figure if anybody ever wants to hear about my trip, it's a good way to remember the details and also to remember in years to come. I've been doing this since I was 6-it's weird, I know-but you won't regret it once you start. I have dozens of these notebooks and I look back at them all with great fondness.

Once you've arrived to where you're going, get acquainted with the local market or grocery store. Buying food from these places rather than eating out every meal will save you a great deal in the long run. Also, having had many international breakfasts, you'll really wish you had grabbed those bananas when there's a weird bowl of fish looking at you at 7am after you've been traveling for 27 hours. Also, whenever I travel, I pack an insulated, collapsible lunch box with me. It allows me to keep leftovers or groceries when I'm traveling and tote them around with me. When I was in France last year, I also used it as a trashbag on long train rides and a carrier for souvenirs at one point. I found mine at TJ Maxx for $6. 
Mine is actually a rectangle and neon green and pink but this gives you an idea

Market in Paris, France
The easiest part of every trip usually is figuring out WHAT YOU WANT TO SEE because you likely wouldn't just buy a plane ticket without knowing a little bit about where you were going, something has to be the draw factor. I usually plan first by city and then by events/places within those cities. A helpful piece of information to keep in mind-check and make sure you look at the hours of operation for all the sites you want to go to. A few museums on every trip I've ever been on have been closed on either Sundays or Mondays or both-plan accordingly! 

Statue of an Amazon in the Vatican Museum, Rome. 
The best thing to do, in my opinion, is buy a guide book to wherever you're going. These usually have a map, list of phrases, and things to do in all of the major cities as well as lists of hotels, restaurants, and sometimes great little pieces of information. I've used on in France and Italy and they've been nothing but helpful. I was able to find out where I could find a grocery store that was open late at night, how to ask how much something costs (very important!), and if there was AC in a few of the hotels I was trying to book. Don't forget, AC isn't a common amenity in most other countries, you have to look and ask usually because nobody likes to advertise they don't have a cooling system for your pampered, American toosh. I got stuck in Rome in a B&B with no air...sharing a bed with 2 other girls. NEVER. AGAIN. I didn't plan that trip obviously. When you're ready to murder someone on the streets of Paris and eat them whole, knowing where a grocery store is can be a pretty vital piece of information...to your victim. As can a little bit of breeze.If you don't want to carry the whole book (your bag will get heavy), just rip out the pages you think you're going to need and put them in your journal.
Rick Steves is my BOY!

Colosseum, Rome, Italy
When prepping for the trip, I usually will read about all of the different regions and keep in mind my time constraints-if I'm only going to be somewhere for two weeks, I need to take into account travel days and be realistic. For example, when we went to France last year for 17 days, we wanted to hit four different regions of the country, mostly in the center and southwestern and southeastern portions. When I thought about also going to Mont Saint Michel, it had to get cut. It was on the northern most coast and would have taken us 3 days further out than we needed to be to see everything else we had planned. Also, keep in mind the different transit options available where you're going. Again, when we were in France, there is a high speed rail and then there's more of a localized, light rail. Sometimes there was a direct route that you could take the light rail and go straight there, but a lot of times it was quicker to use the high-speed rail and backtrack. It's up to you but if you have the time, I prefer the slower rail option-it allows you to see little towns along the way and things you'd otherwise miss.
Parque Guell, Barcelona, Spain
Once you've gone through all the planning and chosen what you're going to do-you've got to get there! I have a tendency to use Expedia and check prices frequently. I try to keep in mind my budget and usually have an idea of what I can spend on airfare and try to stick to it. I've also heard that booking flights on Tuesdays is typically the best practice and that they're cheaper then. I don't really have any proof to back that up but it's what I've heard. Another great site is studentuniverse.com. I bought our tickets to France through there and got a student discount. All you have to do is send them a copy of your transcript to prove that you're still a student (Sorry to all of us adults in the world that no longer can use that as a benefit). Another student perk is the International Student ID card. I got mine through FSU when I went there but you can find out online how to get one. It acts as identification but also gets you a lot of discounts to museums.

CELL PHONES AND PICK POCKETS:

I love having my iphone handy at all times so that I can take pictures at the drop of a hat however, be mindful of pick pockets and the type of case you've got on it. I keep mine in an Otterbox or a LifeProof case when I travel (the LifeProof is awesome since you can take pictures underwater with it! I did it in Ville Franche Sur Mer and it was epic). Also, make sure you have your cell provider unlock or approve your phone to go international well before you leave. Sometimes you'll have to get an international sim card but iphones are capable of accepting int'l sim cards. The other nice thing about having a phone when you're abroad is you can google things that you're seeing rather than trying to translate all the signs-but you can use it for translations too! It's nice to have access to all that information when you can get wifi as well as be able to book things while you're there. Some hotels won't have computers for you to use and often no reliable wifi so it's a nice thing to have. I packed my phone and ipad and thought the ipad was excessive at first and then I realized how nice it was to download books from itunes when I was done with the ones I brought (and a lot lighter than bringing 10 books). You can also rent and download movies that way too! It's also nice to have the option to call/Skype family if you're going to be away for a long time-that being said, sometimes it's nice to disconnect too..
LifeProof case
Keep an eye on your stuff. At all times. Wherever you are. I have a PacSafe backpack that has a metal mesh inner liner (slashproof), an RFID blocking pocket (keeps thieves from being able to use this little device that steals your personal information from your credit/debit cards and even your passport), is water-resistant, washable, comfortable, and the PERFECT size. All of the locks have lobster claw clips on them which ensures that nobody can just rifle through my bag if I'm zoning out and staring at some...sculptures? It also has two side pouches where you can put your water bottles (I always carry a skinny metal one with me a. they don't taste like plastic b. typically hold onto less bacteria and c. carrying your own water bottle allows you to be eco-friendly and also cheap! Fill up at the hotel/hostel or wherever you know there's safe water. It's $109 on Amazon and the best investment I ever made. I carried a lot of cash on me in France because some of the tours we signed up for required cash payment and I felt better about having to carry it with this bag. It doesn't prevent you from being knocked down and having someone steal your bag though, so put your bitch face on and make it seem like somebody's gonna draw back a nub if they touch the goods. My mom carries a purse version. I don't know why, she'd rip somebody's eyes out with her pointed mani if they even thought about relieving her of stuff. She actually files her nails to points, and yes, she started before Lana. #prouddaughterofathugmama. If you're carrying a hobo bag or purse, make sure you carry it on your front and keep you hand on it at all times. Also, opt for one with a zipper top. You pack a purse with no zipper and just have it flopping around, I'd feel tempted to rob you just because you were being dumb.
PacSafe Slingsafe 300 
I had two people try to steal my phone out of my front pocket (I kept it there for quick and easy access) the first two days I was in Paris-the first was a huge Somalian guy that swiped it out of my pocket and took off while I was waiting for the metro to Montmarte. I barely felt it, but sir, you canNOT eff with Ray-Ray (my psychotic alter ego) and get away with it. I chased him through the Metro, grabbed him by the back of the shirt, twisted his arm back and pried my phone from his theiving little grip. He was screaming at me in Somali and all these Parisians stood around staring like I was so gauche to get my shit back. I don't give a shit if you think I'm a classless American, I'm one that still has my $400 phone, my $75 case, and all of my trip information. But beware, apparently people have been stabbed when trying to get their stuff back. In this case, move on Somali, I'm not your victim today. 

The second was a tiny little gypsy woman (she looked like a child she was so small) who tried to get me to sign a "petition to help save the children." When I wouldn't, because I'd caught on at this point (while you're holding the clipboard and signing, they go through you pockets and bag), she just reached in my pocket and grabbed my phone anyway. Like I said, she was pretty tiny. I'm not. I grabbed my phone back and pushed her. She was shocked that I did something about it. I don't care if you do look like some weird, advanced-growth toddler, I'll knock you on your ass if you try to steal from me. Paris, you had it coming.
Hugging a tranny street performer on Las Ramblas in Barcelona. Biggest pick-pocket street in Spain, some say Europe.
I hope you enjoyed this post and that it wasn't too long. I just felt that if I'm going to dispense advice, I might as well give you as much as I can so you don't end up hostel-less, robbed, and starving in a gutter in Prague somewhere.

I will be doing another post on how to pack for your grand adventure including what types of backpacks/boots/gear as well as how to be fashionable AND comfortable when you're living out of your bag. Also, because I have some pretty sweet lady friends, I'll be having them answer some questions about their favorite trips they've been on and any other travel advice they might have. 

I felt like July was the perfect month to celebrate freedom and the undying urge to just get up and dippy dip. What are your thoughts? If you have any questions feel free to email me and as always, I love readers' comments!
I cried because this pasta in Rome was so good. I hadn't eaten in 2 days because I'd been sick and this place gave me ice for my Coke. It's the little things.

1 comment

  1. You make me want to get online right now and book a trip outside the country! This is all fabulous advice and something I needed to read. It's been almost 20 years since I have been to Europe. I just reapplied for a passport and am going on my first cruise in November. I needed these refreshers. I almost got pick-pocketed in front of the Eiffel Tower and on the tube in London. Luckily, i was paying attention. I can't wait to read your post about packing. I need all the help in that department that I can get. Still loving your blog!
    Alison
    Rockin' and Lovin' Learnin'

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