Hi friends! If you follow me everyday (especially on Instagram!), you may know that Nick and I are leaving this weekend to travel to Ireland and France for almost three weeks. I am over the moon excited for our trip! We went to London a few years ago, and it was just magical. We both love traveling, and have learned a thing or two on our trips, so I thought I’d put together a little list of things that I have learned over the years that may be helpful to you if you are planning to travel internationally any time soon. Most of these tips work for any kind of trip or vacation, too! So without further ado, here are ten tips for preparing for a trip, in no particular order.
1. Read fiction set in the place where you are traveling.
This tip really isn’t mine, I actually read it in an article in Conde Nast Traveler by Anthony Bourdain. But it might just be my favorite tip ever! Nick and I both love to read, and we have just been devouring books set in France lately. Reading a fictional book about the place you are going to visit might not give you any practical tips about that particular country, but it does a great job in giving you a feeling of place. Descriptive books make you feel like you’re there, and it’s a great way to get excited about your trip! Of course, reading any kind of book about your planned location is a great idea, too. So far, I’ve read The Paris Wife (a fictional book from the perspective of Hemingway’s first wife set in 1920s Paris), Paris Was Ours ( a compilation of 32 different writers’ experiences in Paris), and A Moveable Feast (Hemingway’s memoir about his time in Paris).
2. Watch travel shows about the country to which you’re traveling.
I love travel shows. PBS is my jam, you guys. I am in such a perpetual state of wanderlust that I will watch travel shows anytime, anywhere. But they can be particularly helpful if you’re planning a trip! We stream Rudy Maxa, Rick Steves’ Europe, and Burt Wolf like they’re going out of style. If you haven’t heard of them, look them up! Most shows are available on either Netflix of Amazon, or even You Tube. I keep a notebook and pen handy when I’m watching so I can write down the locations that they’re talking about to research later. We’ve found out about some great places this way!
3. Download and listen to Rick Steves’ Audio Guide Podcasts.
Speaking of Rick Steves, I love him. His Audio Tours are available for download on your phone, and there are dozens of them! They cover everything from an introduction and history of a city, to an in-depth walking tour. For our trip to London, we downloaded his tours and used them as audio guides in the museums we went to. They are so well researched that they literally walk you through the city or museum, pausing to tell you the history of a building or artifact. I eat this stuff up, and it’s such a great way to get acquainted to the city or country that you’re visiting. I even listen to them in the car in preparation for our trip! I cannot say enough good things about these podcasts…but are you ready for another one?! They’re all free.
4. Download a free language learning app and practice key words before your trip.
I have never taken a French lesson in my life, so when we began planning this trip (over a year ago!), I downloaded Duolingo on my phone an have been practicing ever since. I am nowhere near fluent (or let’s be honest…conversational), but I have learned some key words or phrases that might be helpful. As an American, it goes a long way if you even attempt to greet others in their native language, and this is a great way to polish up on or even learn common words and phrases! Also, pack a pocket dictionary just in case.
5. Contact your bank or credit card company to see if you have any foreign transaction fees.
This is so important- a few of our cards had foreign transaction fees upwards of 30%! If you have certain travel credit cards for miles and such, this might not be an issue. We actually got a different card to use that has no foreign transaction fees, because those things add up! I don’t like to keep up with traveler’s checks and rarely carry cash, so it’s important to me not to pay an arm and a leg in interest for a cafe creme and a croissant. Of course, getting some bills of your particular currency is always a great idea for tips, taxi rides, etc., just in case.
6. Create a loose itinerary for your trip.
I am a planner. I don’t know what I would do without a physical calendar in my hands every day. That being said, I don’t like to over-plan my vacations. I don’t want to feel like I’m on a time crunch to see everything, and I like to leave time to sit in a cafe and drink said coffee and eat said croissant. But, sometimes a loose itinerary can be helpful. We will be in France for nine days; seven of them in Paris, one at Versailles, and one of them in the Loire Valley to see the chateaux. We are also planning to purchase the Paris Museum Pass, which is good for six days. And since many museums are closed on certain days and we will be leaving the city for two days, it was essential that we create a loose plan for what we wanted to see on each day. I drew up a calendar on a sheet of poster board, created a key with different colored post-it notes (one for museums, one for things included in our pass, one for travel days, and one for free sights), and mapped out a plan according to neighborhood. The post-it notes were great because we could move them around easily, and it showed us what we would actually be capable of seeing. It may sound like overkill, but we stayed in on a rainy Saturday night with a bottle of wine and got to planning. This was great for Paris since there are so many places to see, but we are much more relaxed for the Ireland leg of our vacation. It really made me excited for the trip- remember, planning is part of the fun! 🙂
7. Make sure your passport is valid and up-to-date.
This is obvious but very important. Passports are valid for ten years at a time, and if you’ve been traveling for a long time, you know that that time can slip by so quickly! Two months ago, we realized that Nick’s passport expired a few weeks later. It takes upwards of 8 weeks to receive a new passport, so make sure you check this a long time before you’re planning to leave. Thankfully, he got his in plenty of time, but if you’re down to the wire, it will cost you an arm and a leg to have a new one expedited!
8. Clear your phone and memory card of all photos.
If you’re an amateur photographer or just love Instagram like me, make sure that you have plenty of space on both your phone and camera before you go. You don’t want to be standing in the middle of the street deleting photos off of your memory card just so you can take a new one! Back them up to the Cloud or your computer before you go, so you don’t even have to worry about it. And, if you’re snap happy like me, take an extra memory card with you. You don’t want to worry about transferring photos from your camera to your computer on your trip (or worse, you don’t have your computer and you have to delete some!), so it never hurts to bring extra!
9. Break in any new shoes that you plan on packing for your trip.
The last thing you want on your vacation is blisters. I can think of few things besides foot pain (and a full memory card!) that would ruin a vacation quickly for me. If you have purchased any new shoes for your trip, make sure to wear them around the house or out and about first. That way, they will be comfortable and you won’t have to worry about any unnecessary rubbing or blistering. Ouch! If it’s too late to wear them before you leave, you can always try a handy little trick like this or this.
10. Search sites like AirBnb or VRBO to find apartments or homes to rent instead of a hotel.
We are staying in an apartment in Paris and a house in Ireland this time, both booked through AirBnb. The experience so far has been exceedingly wonderful and professional, and I cannot wait to see our digs! Renting an apartment or house is such a great idea for so many reasons: for the most part, they are cheaper than hotels, you can easily snag them in an awesome location, you get a real feel of how a local lives in that city, and most of them are beautiful and/or quirky! We are staying in a sixth floor studio in the heart of Paris (Canal St. Martin) with views of both the Eiffel Tower and the Sacre Couer. It was an incredible price, and is so adorable. Depending on your price range, you may sacrifice size or convenience for location, like we did (our apartment is a sixth floor walk-up!), but location was more important. In Ireland, we are staying in an entire house on the Dingle Peninsula, in a little town that has a population of 500. 500! How fun is that going to be? Both sites have apartments and homes in all price ranges, and are much more authentic than a plain hotel room. I will be sure to report back with photos of each place when we return!
So, those are my tips! Are you planning on taking a trip any time soon? If not, no worries! You can live vicariously through my Instagram for the next three weeks, and make sure to Pin this post for later use!
Do you have any tips that you swear by for traveling? I’d love to hear!