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Whether you are planning a trip to Italy or Africa, it can be tempting to think about all the wonderful things that you’ll experience while away from home. But don’t let the destinations guides fool you – the best international trips require more than just your best hopes and dreams to have a good time. Great vacations require planning – good planning to be exact. To get you started in thinking strategically about your trip, we’ve included six things you might want to cross off your checklist right now.
- Update your Passport:
Do you know where your passport is? Are you aware of the date on which it expires? A good rule of thumb is to renew your passport about six months before it expires as most countries want to be sure that you’re six months or more pre-renewal before you visit. Take a look at the State Department’s website to look up the country to which you are traveling and see preferred timelines during which to renew your passport.
- Check for Travel Advisories:
With terrorist incidents ever more visible in today’s world, it’s important to check for travel warnings and advisories before you book your trip, prior to departure and even during your travels. A great resource is the State Department’s Consular Information Program for Travel Alerts. Many people also enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program which makes it easier for the State Department to assist you in the event of an emergency. It may also help to have a list of contact information for American embassies in the destinations to which you will be traveling.
- Get Vaccinated:
Many travel destinations require travelers to be up-to-date on certain vaccinations before entering the country. For the most comprehensive and up-to-date medical recommendations, check in with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website. It’s also a good rule of thumb to make sure you have enough prescription medication that will last the duration (plus any unexpected delays) of your trip. Remember to pack common over-the-counter medications for headaches, body aches etc. as these things may not always be easy to find upon arrival at certain destinations.
- Evaluate your Finances:
Before you leave, be sure to call your bank and credit card providers to advise them that you will be traveling so that your international charges won’t cause any suspicion or locked accounts. Do your research and be knowledgeable on exchange rates and how much things cost where you are going so that you can gauge how much you might spend.1
- Learn Key Words and Phrases:
When you set out to learn key words and phrases in the local language, it’s more than simple courtesy or learning how to ask where the bathroom is. There are times when being able to effectively communicate is a matter of health and safety.1 For example, in a foreign country it may be important to learn how to indicate to those around you that you or someone you are traveling with has a food allergy or a certain medical condition.
- Get a Travel Insurance Plan:
Travel insurance is more than coverage for medical incidences while abroad. While this is an important reason to seek coverage, many plans cover travelers for things like cancelling a trip for a covered reason, trip interruptions and baggage loss. Additionally, many Travel Guard travel insurance plans include travel assistance services like hotel and flight rebooking, baggage location assistance, up-to-the-minute travel alerts and even concierge services to make vacations more memorable.
Sustainable travel. Responsible tourism. Environmental travel. Anyone with even a passing interest in travel has seen these words tossed about – increasingly, so – over the past several years. As a hashtag on your niece’s Facebook page, in a headline on your favorite news site, as a vacation package category…wherever these words appear, the answer to one key question is often missing alongside them: “What on earth does it all mean?”
In fact, sustainable travel and its synonyms may mean many things. For example, the World Tourism Organization, a widely-respected authority on sustainable travel, uses this definition: “Tourism that takes full account of its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment and host communities.” Earlier this year, however, a sizable chunk of the 1,500 travelers we polled in our first sustainable travel pulse poll presented a different one: “treating your destination and its inhabitants the way you’d like others to treat yours.”
We love this simple, “golden rule” philosophy as it perfectly underscores one of the most important things to know about sustainable travel: anyone can practice it. To prove it, we’ve outlined seven perfectly attainable tactics to help you become a more conscious traveler on your next trip. Each idea costs not much (or not any) more time, effort, and money than its alternative, and those that practice them often find their own travel experience enhanced in the process:
- Research your destination: During a trip, learning about your destination’s history and culture is somewhat inevitable, but why not start sooner? Research your destination (Wikipedia may be a good starting point) to learn about its past, present, and future. Not only may doing so increase anticipation for your trip, but it may also improve it, as you spend less time “ramping up” at your destination, and more time experiencing it. There are also practical reasons to do your research – taking a peek at weather, traffic, and basic phrases ahead of time may cut down on the incidence of travel mishaps, such as poor packing, and help you navigate your destination.
- Reduce energy consumption: Even those who are relatively environmentally conscious at home, may shed their earth-friendly habits with their daily routines while on vacation. More than just friendly advice on hotel door hangers, simple actions – such as turning off lights, reusing towels, and unplugging chargers – take virtually no effort and may make a huge difference. Further, research shows taking such actions may actually improve your trip experience: A J.D. Power and Associates North America Hotel Guest Satisfaction Study found that guests who participate in a hotel’s green program report greater satisfaction with their stays than those who don’t (CNN).
- When in Rome…: As flight prices trend downward, and international travel becomes more accessible, the old adage “When in Rome, do as the Romans do” may be more relevant than ever before. Some say that with the benefits of globalization comes an increased responsibility to take advantage of opportunities to learn about others and develop more nuanced perspectives on the world. While at a new destination, engage in its local culture – talk to its people, eat its food, and shop its markets. After spending time, money, and effort traveling to your destination, you owe yourself an experience you couldn’t have at home.
- Pack a Reusable Water Bottle: In the realm of green travel, packing reusable water bottles may seem so elementary that many people overlook it. While simple, opting for reusable water bottles remains one of the most effective ways to minimize your environmental impact while traveling. Remember, 88 percent of water bottles end up in landfills, and in areas with frequent tourists – and thus, frequent water bottle usage – that can really add up. For insights into the right reusable water bottle for your trip, check out this handy com article.
- Make it a family thing: Traveling sustainably isn’t just for young, solo travelers. On the contrary, a core tenet of sustainable travel is empowering the next generation to be great global stewards. There are so many fun ways to get your kids involved in this effort – for example, calculating your “travel footprint” and brainstorming ways to reduce it together. As a family, you have a greater opportunity to make a difference than any one person has alone, and when your kids carry these lessons into adulthood there’s a chance for a more lasting impact!
- Capitalize on the sharing economy: In just a few short years, the sharing economy has so revolutionized the travel industry that taking advantage of it now may no longer be considered a “tip.” Instead, for many travelers, it has become the default option. If you’re still on the fence, however, consider the following: Home and ride sharing services are often less expensive than their alternatives, naturally provide a more authentic experience of your destination, and often, provide a more direct stream of income to the locals.
- Take culturally-sensitive photos: Taking photos on trips has always been popular – and is even more so now with the rise of social media – but many travelers don’t realize that their snaps may be indirectly harming their subjects. This Crooked Trails article provides great insights on culturally-sensitive photography, including tips such as: always ask before taking a photo, personally engage with the people you want to photograph, and leave respectful distances between yourself and your subject.
Still not convinced? Take a minute to watch this helpful video from our friend and award-winning travel blogger Heather Delaney Reese of It’s a Lovely Life. In it, she and her family dispel common “myths” that sometimes keep people from traveling sustainably.
Travel bloggers Heather Greenwood Davis (Globetrotting Mama), Melissa Northway (Dandelion Moms), and Chelsea Day (Someday I’ll Learn) — who will also serve as panelists, alongside Amber Mamian (Global Munchkins), for our upcoming Sustainable Travel Twitter Chat from 8-9pm CST on Aug. 9 (RSVP here) — offer more essential sustainable travel reading in their respective articles: “The Importance of Sustainable Travel: Do Good As You Go,” “Teaching Kids about Sustainable Travel,” and “Join the Sustainable Travel Movement.” Finally, sustainabletravel.org, ecotourism.org, and gstcouncil.org are other great resources for sustainable travel news and tips.
Summer is one of the most popular travel seasons and with good reason – the kids are out of school, the office is quieter, and the weather is great…right? If you’re making plans to visit coastal destinations, keep in mind that summer travel coincides with hurricane season (June 1 – November 30). If your summer travel plans feature a Caribbean or an Atlantic-adjacent destination, consider the following:
Flag your trip. If you’re a U.S. citizen, enroll in the free Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to register your trip with your destination’s nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. Doing so will make it much easier for the U.S. to update you and keep you in touch with family and friends in an emergency.
Maintain access. Make sure you have access to a radio, a TV or a mobile device that can
keep you apprised of severe weather updates. If you have internet access, the National
Hurricane Center website is a great resource for monitoring the status of storms before and during a trip.
Stay in touch. Keep in close contact with tour operators, cruise lines, hotel staff and/or local officials to learn the correct protocol and procedures for inclement weather. Ask about evacuation routes, so you’re prepared to take action should evacuation become necessary on short notice during your tip.
Call ahead. Confirm weather-related cancellation policies with hotels, airlines and booking services. Each service is likely to have its own policies, so it pays to explore each one’s change and refund options. Some hotels in the Caribbean, for example, offer “hurricane guarantees,” while others hold travelers wholly responsible for this risk.
Fuel up. If you’re renting a vehicle at your destination, be sure it always has plenty of fuel. Weather can change quickly and tropical storms may blow in without much warning. You don’t want to have to stop for gas on your way to a safer area, so as possible, stay ahead of the game with a full tank!
Pack travel protection. Some travel insurance plans provide coverage for natural disasters under the Trip Cancellation benefit and will refund prepaid, forfeited, nonrefundable trip costs up to the limit of coverage. Travel Guard plans also come with 24/7 assistance services designed to help rebook cancelled flights and get travelers to safety.
For additional information on hurricanes and other tropical storms, please visit the State
Department’s Natural Disaster website.
The summer travel season is in full swing and, if Airlines for America predictions hold true, it’s going to be a busy one…potentially, the busiest ever. The group is expecting 231 million passengers to fly on U.S. airlines this summer, a four percent increase from last year’s all-time high. That means long security lines, more traffic, and for many travelers, difficulty keeping the stress at bay. While we can’t teleport you to your destination, we can provide several quick tips to help you “stay cool” as you fly, drive or cruise there!
1.) Read the reviews: Mismanaged expectations can trigger travel stress. Plan ahead, and
take time to check lodging, transportation and food reviews for insights like hotel
construction or early closings at tourist sites. Whether or not you can do anything about
them, you may be able to proactively manage stress with a bit of mental preparation.
2.) Create an itinerary: A comprehensive itinerary of travel plans can serve as a reference
for quick questions (e.g., “what time does the tour group leave tomorrow?”) during your
trip, helping to save time and prevent travel mishaps. Savvy travelers may even try one
of many travel apps (check out this list from Travel + Leisure) for a digital itinerary.
3.) Travel light: Did you know most people wear 20 percent of their clothing 80 percent of
the time (NY Mag)? To save space (and fees for oversized bags!), keep your packing list
as streamlined as possible. Hints: Check the weather at your destination, plan to mix
and match, select trial-sized toiletries and roll, don’t fold, clothes.
4.) Be an early bird: Many travelers understand booking trips early can help them take
advantage of lower costs and wider selections, but there are also benefits to continuing
that momentum throughout the trip. Arriving early for the airport, tourist attractions, and
more will help you spend less time in line and more time experiencing your destination!
5.) Just plane comfortable: To help manage potential flight-related stress or anxiety, bring
headphones, eye covers, neck pillows, ear plugs, blankets, sweaters, snacks or anything
else that might keep you comfortable and entertained. Pack a special item from home,
such as scented aromatherapy oil, for a pleasant distraction.
6.) Remember to breathe: Deep-breathing exercises can help de-stress you by calming
your nervous system. Simple tips like taking long, deep breaths, staying mindful of your
breathing, and breathing with your diaphragm can help to refresh and refocus you. You
might also consider talking with your doctor about other stress-reducing methods.
7.) Break a sweat: On travel day, consider getting up a little early to go for a run or take a
workout class. Have some down time at the airport? People watch on the go during a
few laps around the terminal. Once you arrive at your new destination, consider
exploring your new environment with a relaxing evening run.
You’ve checked your bags, printed your boarding passes, and you’re ready to go…but not just yet. Due to a layover, it’s time to hunker down for the next few hours before your next flight. So, what’s a traveler to do with all this extra time? Consider the following tips to make the most of it:
Make new friends or contacts: With people from every walk of life, representing a variety of different cultures, airports are known as one of the best people-watching destinations. Whether traveling for business or for pleasure, consider striking up a conversation with the person sitting next to you. You never know where that conversation might lead or what you might learn!
Take an exercise break: Muscles a little cramped after a long flight? Many airport hotels have fitness centers that offer day passes for the general public. If buying a day pass isn’t an option for you or if you don’t have a set of workout clothes handy, take a brisk walk around the airport instead. Consider your stroll a warm-up for making your next rushed connection!
Treat yourself to a mini spa day: Many airports offer spas where travelers can get manicures, pedicures or even massages. If indulging in a beauty or wellness treatment isn’t in your budget, take some time to freshen up in the restroom, grab some mints or lip balm from the gift shop, and run a comb or a brush through your hair. Sometimes, looking good is feeling good!
Sample the local cuisine: If you find your stomach growling, especially if you’re in another
country, take the time to sample the local cuisine. While there may be options in the food court or the gift shop, the best places likely will be outside of the airport. If your schedule allows, explore – just be sure to watch the clock and build in time to get through security.
Find a spot to rest: Sometimes you just need to rest – especially if your layover occurs
between hectic business trips or stressful life events. Take a seat in a relatively empty terminal and set your music player to an easy-listening station. For a small fee, many airports also offer travelers access to deluxe lounges with comfy seating, reading material, food and free wifi.1
If you’re still looking for other ways to enjoy your hours between flights, check out this article from time.com/money.com.