Sunday, September 14, 2014

My Best Travel Planning Tips

I have done a bit of travelling for pleasure (as well as for business) over the years… to several different places in Mexico, all across Canada and the U.S., and to Europe twice… Germany, Austria, Sweden, Denmark, and Holland, and I have also cruised to The Bahamas.

There are still so many more places I want to visit.  I love to travel and explore new places.  And I love planning our trips, too.

The first thing I do when I plan a vacation is to start a file folder or a notebook so that I can keep the information I accumulate, such as documents, pictures, articles, and correspondence, altogether in one place.  I make a checklist of things that need to get done, and check them off as I go along.  I also keep a list of question as they arise, and make sure I get answers to them, too.

I would like to share some of my experiences and offer some advice as to what I think are key elements of vacation travel planning.  Read on…

So, perhaps you have decided on a destination… maybe a mode of transportation… a time frame…some hotels… site-seeing activities, and you are so excited to get going.  But before you go too far in your planning, and start booking rooms and flights,  there are some other very practical things that you need to consider and research before you think about finalizing things.

I call these things the not-so-fun part of vacation planning – not fun perhaps, but oh so important. And yes, most of them do only come into play if you are planning to travel to a foreign country… but not all of them.

Just a few come to mind. But they are biggies:
  • Find out if there any legal impediments to your entering the country.  For example, in Canada, a DUI is considered a felony and you may be prevented from entering the country if you have one on your record. This happened to a young American acquaintance a few years ago. He was turned back at the border and his family’s vacation was abruptly ruined.   There are avenues to apply for entry waivers. Pursue them.
  • Learn about the current political climate and determine if it is stable and safe for visitors. Sometimes our local governments issue travel advisories against visiting certain parts of the world. You may just have to watch the news or tune in to your spidey senses.  We had plans to visit China and then Tienneman Square happened. Of course we didn't go then.
  • Check out travel health warning and health restrictions, too. 
  • Learn about vaccinations and if required, make appointments to get them done early. Some countries still require shots well ahead of your intended travel dates. 
  • Make sure your passport is valid beyond your travel dates.  And if it is expiring in the year you are travelling, make sure it will be valid long enough for you to return home. For example, you must have a passport that will be valid for 6 months beyond your intended stay if you are visiting the U.S.  Don’t rely on your travel agent to confirm that your passport is ‘good enough’.  Find out from a government agency and follow the rules. And another thing… it is a very good idea to take a photocopy of your passport with you, and leave another with someone else where you can access it.  For example, The Captain and I carry copies of each other’s passports.
  • Find out if you need visitors Visas or other special papers.  And get them. I have a friend who was born in England, but now lives in Canada, and she had to get some other paperwork completed before she could travel to Hawaii recently.
  • Check out the climatic/weather conditions for the time of year you intend to travel. Do you really want to drive through the Rocky Mountains in January (or early September this year!) and chance heavy snowfall on the highways? When is the rainy season in India? Can you actually go skiing in Australia in July?
  • If you have special dietary needs, find out if they can be met.  Or decide if you can find and live with substitutions or even without altogether.  For example, I wouldn’t bet on finding gluten free bread or fat free milk in a Mexican resort… but I certainly could live without them if I wanted to vacation there.
    • And find out if you can take your own food with you.  I had no trouble taking packaged protein powders and nuts across the border into the U.S. from Canada but fresh fruit with pits would not be allowed.
  • Find out about banned/illegal items before you think about travelling with or without them.  For example, you cannot bring your handguns to Canada.
  • Research your shopping intentions.  Can  you make your intended purchases legally, and also legally bring them home with you or even carry them along as you travel? These things can vary from state to state as well as country to country.  In February a few years ago, we purchased fresh fruit while on a day's outing to California, but had it taken away from us as we crossed the state line into Arizona where we were staying that week.  
  • Have a look at local customs to make sure you would be comfortable.  Are there any clothing restrictions you wouldn’t care for, or any social mores that make your skin crawl?  Do you require a lot of personal space and cannot imagine being constantly jostled on a street in New Delhi?
  • Will you be able to rent a car or drive your own vehicle once there if you need/want?  What about vehicle insurance and licensing requirements? Is your own driver’s licence valid or will you need to have an international licence?
  • Make sure the activities you want to enjoy are realistic? Can one really run along the Left Bank in Paris?  Are you allowed to cycle around the streets of London?  
Once those things are researched/taken care of, and you find you can live with them all, then you can start finalizing your plans.

Travel Planning Tips

I like to travel with a certain peace of mind that things at home will be looked after while I am away.  The Captain and I have never used a house/pet sitter ourselves when we travel, but we have acted in that capacity for several different people… some for many months at a time. We always went through a check list with our clients well-ahead of their departure.

Some of the things you will want to consider, whether or not you have someone staying in your home:
  • Check with your insurance policy to see if they have any requirements about the house being left empty, or house sitters moving in.
  • Alert any home security company to your absence whether or not you have house sitters.
  • Make arrangements to pay bills and collect mail and newspapers or stop deliveries.
  • Suspend any services you won’t need such as cable television if it is economical to do so.
  • Alert a trusted neighbor you will be away, if you have one. You may or may not want to leave a contact number with them, too, and a key. We live in an apartment now, so we tell our building supervisor that we will be away and that we have not given anyone a key.
  • Make arrangements for the living things in your home that are not travelling with you if you have them… pets, and plants.
  • Decide if you will have lights turned on while you are gone.  We used to have timers that turned some lamps on and off, but quit using them when we learned they may be a fire hazard. 
  • You may want to think about installing a security camera.  I have never used one, but have a look at  DropCam if this is something you think you might like.
Once I know home matters are taken care of, I start thinking about practical personal items:
  • Make sure you will have any medications you need while you are away.  And if you carry medication, make sure you also have a copy of your prescription with you. Don’t rely on being able to purchase needed medications in foreign countries.  When I was in Sweden several years ago, I contracted a terrible cold and the only help I could purchase for it in pharmacy, without visiting a doctor, was a Vick’s inhaler and tissues.
  • Find out about money and make plans to have enough with you.  There are all kinds of decisions to be made in this area so I have broken it down a bit:
    • Travelling with credit cards?  I like to have at least 2 different ones in case something happens to one.  Make sure you let your credit card companies know you are travelling.  And make sure you have their 1-800 number in your wallet so you can contact them if you run into problems.  Sometimes when you make a purchase at a foreign retail outlet they will offer to let you pay in your own currency so it is a good idea to have an idea what the rate is, and also what your credit card companies charge.
    • Travelling with debit cards? Get the details.  Find out from the card issuer if you can use the card out of the country and on which networks.  Make sure you have a way of keeping enough cash in your main account, or a way of adding more.  Again, get that 1-800 number. Many years ago my Father-in-Law thought he was travelling on a MasterCard credit card. Turns out it was a MasterCard debit card and he was amassing a huge overdraft in his chequing account that cost a great deal of $$ in interest when he arrived home 10 weeks later. 
    • Travelling with cash?  How much will you need?  Can you get more?  Will you exchange for a foreign currency before you leave home or after you arrive at your destination?  When we travelled to Mexico a lot, we always bought pesos with our Canadian dollars at the resort we where we stayed. Their rate was much better than we would have gotten here in Canada at a bank. Find out if the currency of the country you are visiting can be exchanged after you leave the country or if you will be stuck with it.
    • Travelling with traveller’s cheques? Not as common these days with the advances made in electronic funds around the world, but you may want to look into it. It has been many years since I used them.
  • Do you need your electronic devices? 
    • Cell phone?  Get a roaming plan if one is available. I just found out that there is no roaming plan for cruise ships from my carrier and that roaming talk on the ship would be $4.00 per minute. I can only imagine one emergency that would make me use that phone!  Check out roaming for talk, text, and data. Know what you will pay if you use your device.
    • Lap top computer or tablet? My advice is if you can live without it, don’t bother taking it.  Then you don’t have to either pack it around with you all the time, or worry about it being stolen.
  • Will you need travel medical insurance? Don’t take chances. We have a friend who ended up with a $16,000 medical bill from a hospital after being treated for a small medical emergency in Mexico several years ago.  I wouldn’t travel out of the country even for a couple of days without insurance.  Years ago when I worked for Manulife Financial, I was automatically covered with a wonderful inclusive policy from them simply because I was on staff. Find out what you have already and purchase more accordingly.  And don’t lie on the forms. They will check if you have a claim and you may be denied if they find out you lied about anything, even if it is something that would not affect your claim.
Packing for travel is such a personal thing… and I know that I always take a bit more clothing than I end up needing.  But I would hate to be caught wanting a dress and not having one, or without enough lingerie… hand-washing is not always practical!  I tried hand-washing some undies in Orlando, Florida one January, and it was so humid there, they were still damp 3 days later…

And while travelling, here are some tips that will help you navigate through the crowds and checkpoints:
  • If you are using public transportation, make sure you carry important personal items with you and don’t put them in checked baggage, which may be lost or stolen or delayed upon your arrival. 
  • Learn the on-board baggage allowances and pack accordingly.  Every airline has different carryon baggage sizes.
  • Learn about any government guidelines for checked luggage and for carry on luggage. 
  • Find out about any restrictions that the carrier has for bringing goods on board. For example, some cruise ship companies allow you to bring a certain amount of alcohol on board… others allow none. Some will confiscate it and hold it for you till you disembark… others say they pour it overboard. 
  • Arrive early to make your connections.
  • Be polite to everyone, especially if they are wearing a uniform.  Remember what your Mama told you.. ‘you catch a lot more flies with honey than vinegar’. It’s true.  A smile and an ‘excuse me, please’ go such a long way and don’t cost you a penny… oh yeah, did you know that we don’t use pennies in Canada anymore?
  • Be careful with various words and phrases. Everyone around you is on high alert these days and may report your innocent shenanigans to an official who won’t think they are as cute as you do. You could end up being delayed or even arrested.
MOST IMPORTANT of all… when all is said an done, and you are on your way… have a wonderful, memorable vacation.  Roll with the punches, accept delays and cancellations and snow storms as they come… enact Plan B and carry on. 

One of the things I love best, and loved first, about The Captain is that he is such a great travelling companion. He never grumbles or gets angry when things go awry.  He always makes the best of every situation and that attitude just makes everything go better.. .when it’s good, it’s GREAT and when it’s not so good, we find another way to have FUN!  I hope you do, too.  And I hope you will be that great travelling companion for your spouse or friends and family, too.

I love to travel, and we are already planning our next vacation, so if you have any tips to share… please do!

Disclosure:  I have no affiliation with Drop Cam and was not compensated for mentioning them in this post.


  1. Great tips Elle! Very comprehensive. I haven't traveled out of the country in over a decade, so sad! I should see if my passport has expired.

  2. seriously the captain is my dream traveling companion!
    the tip about PHOTOCOPYING YOUR PASSPORT has almost saved me a few times---thankfully I always found it but...

  3. we're not huge travelers .... mostly just travel for events or to visit family!

  4. REALLY great tips! I've yet to travel out of the country, but I am itching to do so!

  5. I would add: find out if there is a gym or running trail beforehand. Much better chance of working out on vacay when when you plan for it!

    1. Oh yes, you need to check out your intended activities for sure.

  6. Great tips! You mentioned many things I would not have thought of like health insurance questions and issues that may prevent you from entering a different country.

  7. Great tips Elle! We have had plenty of mishaps on vacation and it definitely helps to roll with the punches;) Checking the weather is a must for sure. We have traveled out of the country only to be hit by a cold front at our destination that hadn't been seen in decades. Not fun:(

  8. These are fantastic traveling tips! I have not left the country for awhile and need to get my passport up to date. Reading this has sparked my desire to go on an adventure!

  9. Awesome tips! Now I'm in the mood to travel abroad.

  10. "Make sure you let your credit card companies know you are travelling." We forgot to do this on our recent trip to Saratoga Springs, NY. Both my hubby's debit card and credit card got closed by the bank while we were gone, but mine were ok. Thank goodness we don't have joint accounts! Great tips!


Love it when you leave me a comment!