Welcome Back to our Friday Blog Series: Jamie’s Destination “Do”s and “Don’t”s, where our favorite Travel Planning Aficionado shares her wealth of knowledge and experiences about traveling the world! After every trip to a new destination, Jamie gives us her perspective as both a traveler, and a travel advisor, through a quick but comprehensive list of what to do or not do at each vacation location!
As many of you who follow along know, Jamie is in the midst of her much-anticipated Summer Family Vacation on the Celebrity Beyond! This epic cruise through Europe has taken Jamie and Fam through Italy, Greece and Turkey, and as expected, it’s been BEYOND amazing! International travel has so many benefits, from cultural education to promoting open-mindedness and acceptance to seeing the diverse beauty of the world with your own eyes, just to name a few.
However, traveling internationally can be tricky, too, between currency exchanges, cell phone service, and the constantly changing rules and regulations for entering and exiting different countries; but don’t worry! Jamie’s got you covered! Here are Jamie’s “Do”s, “Don’t”s, and top tips for traveling internationally, based on her most recent trip, and the myriad of other international trips she’s taken as well.
So Let’s Go Travel Internationally! But First…
Table of Contents
Jamie’s “Do”s and “Don’t”s for International Travel!
Top Favorites, and Jamie’s “Must Do” Experiences
1. DO Double Check Your Passport!
This is the Number One, Most Important MUST DO for Traveling Internationally! First, make sure you HAVE a passport before you plan ANY travel outside the country. Second, make sure your passport is still valid and has not expired. Third, make sure the expiration date of your passport is at least 6 months AFTER your planned return date (this is one many, many people overlook). If you do not have a passport, or your passport has expired, do not plan any international travel for at least six months, or to be even more safe, for nine months to a year.
Applying for and renewing passports has been excruciatingly slow in the US for the last few years, and return times, even with paid expedited services have been delayed for months. Hopefully, if you are thinking about traveling internationally within the next year, you have your valid passports ready to go, but even if you’re not thinking about traveling out of the country very soon, you should still start the application process NOW so you don’t run into any trouble when you decide to take that European cruise like Jamie!
2. DO Plan Ahead for Attraction Visits
Although we Disney Enthusiasts may think of “Attractions” in terms of what we find in the Disney Theme Parks, like rides and shows, “Attraction” visits around the world include things like museum visits, church and temple visits, famous architectural and archeological site tours (such as the Acropolis and Colosseum), and generally anything people want to see in any given place (like the Eiffel Tower, Stonehenge, etc.). Most of these “Attractions” have specific hours, are only open certain days of the week, and sell out far in advance.
And because travel has become so accessible in our modern world, there are hardly any global attractions that you can just wander into anymore, though there are very good reasons for ticketing and timed entrances. These measures serve to protect the attraction from too many visitors at once that could cause damage or compromise the integrity of the structure, and also to prevent overcrowding and keep the experience positive for all visitors, among other safety reasons as well.
The good news is that with many travel packages, and with cruise excursions, many attraction tickets and entrances are built into the experience (with some of the higher end packages even including front-of-the-line access with your tickets). Your favorite Love of the Magic Vacations Travel Advisor will know the specifics of what is included with your package, and can create a custom package for you if necessary!
3. DO Some Credit Card Preparation Before You Leave
If you are going to be traveling anywhere outside of your normal daily radius, you should let your major credit card companies know. That way, they won’t freeze your account assuming it’s fraud the first time you charge something far away from home. This is something many people forget to do, even when traveling domestically (I once had my card frozen on a day trip a few hours from my house, which honestly was a bit excessive, but in the end felt better being protected from fraud than not).
Here are a few things to ask your credit card company (or companies, if you’re planning to use more than one card) when you call to let them know you’ll be traveling:
– Will my card work in foreign countries (and is there anywhere my card WON’T work)?
– Are there any extra fees/charges for using my card abroad (if there are, consider applying for a credit card to use while traveling that doesn’t charge a fee)?
– What is my daily spending limit on this card?
It’s even advisable to ask these questions pretty far in advance, with enough time to open a new card with a company that has preferable policies for traveling if your current card does not.
4. DO Expect Different Customs and Rules
Obviously one of the best parts of traveling, especially internationally, is experiencing new and different cultures. Seeing alternative traditions and lifestyles boosts open-mindedness and inspires curiosity and interest in the differences that exist across the world. Just remember to be mindful and respectful of the customs, and even the rules, that you don’t necessarily understand or agree with. For example, many religious buildings have dress codes, which may require shoulders to be covered, or clothing to hit below the knee, or even heads to be covered. And some dress codes may be different for men and women, which may bristle some people’s feathers.
Remember: the point of travel is to experience life authentically in whatever place you are visiting, and try to reframe your judgment into gratitude that your normal everyday life doesn’t have the same rules and regulations. Also, maybe throw a light cardigan in your purse to throw over your shoulders if needed; a little effort goes a long way when it comes to being respectful, and the last thing you want is to have traveled so far only to be turned away at the door because of your attire (though some places do provide coverings, not all will, especially more off-the-map type places).
Top Tips that Jamie Learned Along the Way
1. Make Smart Financial and Currency Choices
How to make the most of your money when traveling, especially when there are exchange rates to consider, can be confusing if you’re not used to the process. But don’t worry, Jamie’s expertise and extensive experience with traveling abroad have led her to develop some super smart, go-to financial choices to always ensure the best exchange rate, no matter where you are.
Here are a few easy tips to remember when it comes to currency:
– When making purchases, always choose the local currency on the credit card processing machine.
– To get the best exchange rates, find a local bank with an atm attached, and take money out that way (remember never to carry too much cash on you while traveling, just in case).
– Never exchange money in the US or at an airport (because they have the worst exchange rates compared to local banks).
2. Download Helpful Travel Apps Before You Leave
There are SO many travel Apps out there now, so choose what will be most helpful depending on where you’re going, and download them well in advance of your trip. Jamie suggests downloading an App that converts currencies/shows exchange rates, Google Translate if you are going to a country where a different language is spoken, and an App for ride shares to reliably get anywhere you need to, just in case.
Of course, you should always be downloading the App for whatever airline you are flying, not only for tickets, but also for the most up to date flight changes. And, if you’re visiting a city that has public transportation, check to see if the transportation system has an App to download to help with navigation (such as the London Tube Map App, for example).
3. Make Sure Your Phone has International Coverage
Speaking of Apps, make sure you have a phone that will work internationally, and a service that provides international coverage, so that you’re able to use all the helpful Apps just mentioned (because none of the Apps will be very useful if you don’t have a phone that works once you leave the country!).
Contact your phone service provider to inquire about international coverage, including how much it will cost per day. Often, you can set up coverage for the days you are traveling if you call ahead, so that you aren’t automatically put onto a new plan that includes indefinite international coverage (and that costs a whole lot more). If you will be on a cruise, you will also need special service for that kind of coverage as well, so be sure to specify if your travel includes a cruise when you speak with your provider. And, if you have an older mobile device and are concerned about how well it will work internationally, you can always take it into your local service branch to have them check it out for international capability.
Top “Must-Don’t”s, or Things Jamie Would Do Differently
1. DON’T Let the Airline Assign Your Seats
Flights can be booked in a variety of ways. Sometimes flights are booked through a package, sometimes with points, and sometimes flights are booked separately. However you decide to book your flights, make sure you have the Airline App downloaded, and always be sure to PICK YOUR OWN SEATS! Of course, if you’re booking a package with your favorite Love of the Magic Vacations Travel Advisor, or having your TA book your flights for you, she/he will be sure you have the best possible seats.
Even if you have to pay extra above Base Price tickets in order to pick your own seats, it’s absolutely worth it, especially for international flights, and especially for families. If you aren’t proactive about choosing your seats, and you wait and let the airline choose for you, you will wind up with middle seats, and even worse, you will most likely be separated from your family. Long haul flights are tough enough without being squished in the middle next to strangers, so budget for airfare that lets you choose your seats.
2. DON’T Draw Negative Attention to Yourself as a Tourist
First of all, be like Jamie and lead with respect and class. Second, destinations all over the world that have popular Attractions are generally used to tourists; many destinations even rely on the business of tourism to keep their economy steady and for the employment of locals in the area. Therefore, most popular destinations welcome tourists and embrace the business they provide. However, sometimes that also means that others rely on tourists for nefarious purposes as well, such as pick-pockets and scammers. While thinking about this darker side of travel isn’t fun, it’s better to think and plan ahead than have something negative happen and wish you had been more prepared.
When you are in a foreign county, especially where you don’t speak the same language, it’s not too hard for locals to pick you out as a tourist; however, there are a few things you can do to blend in as much as possible. As mentioned earlier, having helpful Apps loaded and ready to use in your phone will prevent your group from standing in a circle staring down at your phones for long periods of time (think of what tourists used to look like with maps and replace that with smart devices: it’s a total tourist giveaway, unless you’re a group of teenagers traveling, in which case you’ll look like normal teenagers who stand in circles on phones wherever they go).
And while you’ll of course be taking pictures everywhere you go, try to prevent Uncle Ken from vigorously waving his arms to show the whole family where to stand, especially in sacred or religious places. Generally, try to carry yourself as if you know where you are and what you’re doing, even if you’re lost and confused, so that you can choose who to ask for assistance, instead of having someone you may not want to interact with coming up to you.
3. DON’T Forget to Visit the Non-Touristy Places, Too
After all that touristy talk, don’t forget to visit the places many tourists pass over, too. Find the nooks and crannies blooming with character that illustrate what real life is like wherever you are. Ask your tour guides and hotel concierges for their favorite places to eat or have drinks or ice cream; locals always have the best recommendations, especially for hidden gems hardly anyone else knows about yet.
And as Jamie always says wherever she goes, get out of the big cities for at least a day, or longer if your trip allows, and into the quaint and charming towns of the countryside. Cities are fun and big and bustling, but small towns are where you truly get a glimpse of authentic life in a different country. Being a respectful tourist is especially important in these areas, so you don’t disrupt the day-to-day life of the locals who live there.
4. DON’T Panic if Plans Change
This is true for every travel experience, whether it’s international or not. Sometimes a tour gets canceled because of weather, or because a tour guide calls in sick; sometimes the order of events gets shuffled around because of circumstances out of everyone’s control (again, usually weather). This is where those handy-dandy Apps you downloaded before your trip can save the day. Grab a ride share, or hop on the Tube or Metro, and pivot to a new plan before the day gets away from you.
While one of the great things about traveling to new places is learning about those places while you’re there, it’s advisable to at least have enough knowledge about where you’re going that you can confidently pivot if plans change. Water conditions preventing you from getting to The Blue Grotto while in Capri? Pivot to Limoncello tasting instead. Heatwave in London making you rethink that walking tour? Catch a train to Brighton Beach for the day instead. With a flexible attitude and a few helpful Apps and prior knowledge, any inconvenience can turn into an opportunity! The more flexible you are, the more enjoyable your vacation will be, wherever you are.
4. DON’T Just “Wing It”
No matter how flexible you are, though, international travel with just a plane ticket and a prayer, will not get you very far anymore. Popular European tours for next summer are already booking up (literally, I just looked into some for clients and had to shift activities around to get all the tours on available days), Cruise lines have begun releasing dates into 2025, and with the Olympics in Paris next summer, accommodations for those who either want to be close to the action or get as far away as possible are filling up fast.
Gone are the days when you could walk up to a museum, landmark, or historical site, buy tickets and wander around for the day. Now there are timed and ticketed entrances that require pre-purchase when they become available online, with add-ons such as front-of-the-line access.
Flexibility is super positive on vacation, but zero plan besides “get there” isn’t being flexible, it’s being unprepared.
As always, the best way to prepare for the best vacation is to plan with someone experienced in the field, such as your favorite Love of the Magic Travel Advisor. Because while this list of tips and tricks from Jamie is extremely valuable and helpful, there is so much more to planning an international vacation before you even get to everything mentioned throughout these “Do”s and “Don’t”s. And when you are spending the amount that it costs to travel internationally these days, “winging it” and not being happy with how things turn out, doesn’t seem worth the gamble when your favorite LOTMV TA would love to help make everything perfect for you!
And…that’s a wrap of Jamie’s Destination “Do”s and “Don’t”s for International Travel!
Ready to Plan?
Now that you have all of Jamie’s tried and true advice for having the best possible experience when traveling internationally, are you ready to plan your next global adventure? Contact your favorite Love of the Magic Vacations Travel Advisor or email hello@LOTMV.com to start planning today!
Just like last year, in 2023, a new Destination “Do”s and “Don’t”s list will come out the Friday after Jamie returns from her latest trip! And you can find links to all of Jamie’s 2022 Travel Tips at this Blog: Jamie’s 2022 Destination “Do”s and “Don’t”s: A Recap.
Looking for more of Jamie’s Destination “Do”s and “Don’t”s?
So far, we have:
And don’t forget to check out our Inspiring Itineraries as well, featuring a Perfect Plan for your next vacation, and highlighting a new destination each month! You can find links to all of 2022’s Inspiring Itineraries in this Blog: A Year of Inspired Travel: 2022’s Inspiring Itineraries, Month by Month.