Our travel expert Susan always comes up with practical ways to make your traveling smoother. Even seasoned travelers can learn something from her thoughts in this post on trip preparation …
Although flexibility – rolling with the punches – is the key to successful travel, some pre-planning will make your trip that much more fun. If there are things you know you want to do, try to arrange them before you go. That way you can spend time actually doing these things — vs. using your time planning them. Despite the current state of the world economy, the number of travelers continues to astound; they’re filling restaurants and standing in long lines at museums that you’ll want to avoid.
So, here’s a checklist of things to do before leaving home:
ATM Cards/Credit Cards: It is essential to call the customer service number on the back of each of your ATM and credit cards, telling them the countries you are visiting with the date of your departure and return (you might extend your return by a day, in case of delays en-route). Otherwise your cards may be blocked from usage once you are abroad. TIP 1: Check if your bank has any affiliates abroad so that ATM fees can be waived using these partners. Example: Bank of America’s partners includes Barclays in England, PNB Paribas in France and several others in Europe and Asia. TIP 2: Once at your destination, carry only an essential credit card and some cash, leaving everything else in your hotel room safe.
Other Documents: Make sure to photocopy your passport, keeping it separate from your actual passport (the passport should also stay in the room safe once you’ve arrived – although if shopping in certain countries you may need it for duty free forms– but often a photocopy is acceptable). Copies of e-tickets are also helpful — if you can give one set to your travel companion so they are separate from the ones you are carrying. If you have spare passport photos, carry them — great for an emergency and sometimes needed for various pass issues abroad for transport, etc. TIP: Also make sure that someone at home has your passport number ready in case you need a back up.
Contact List: Leave a list of where you are going, including hotel information, the email address you will be using, along with any international cell phone number you have with trusted friends and/or family.
Restaurants: If there are restaurants you know you want to try, make reservations in advance either via the hotel concierge, directly with the restaurant (check out web-sites as there often is an email address you can use), via www.toptable.com (mainly in Great Britain, but also on the continent) and even www.opentable.com which is starting to have some European restaurants listed. If you don’t know of any particular restaurants, but still want to get some reservations made in advance, look at the listings at www.concierge.com for a particular city, or any other online or printed guide you find matches your style. Another thing to try is to email the concierge with very specific guidelines (i.e.: hip, casual, mid-price, contemporary food, modern interior, etc.) and get recommendations. You can always change a reservation once you are there, so there’s no risk in doing this.
Museums: In many cities you can buy museum passes that admit you to major museums without waiting in line (for some cities these make sense, others not – -you need to do the math in advance). ALERT: These passes get you into the general collection of the museum (i.e.: the Louvre), but not the special exhibitions which may be the reason you’re visiting the museum in the first place. However, tickets for special exhibits for most museums can also be bought in advance, online. Check to make sure that you can printout your ticket online after you have purchased it. For instance, in Paris, www.digitick.com lets you print out the ticket, but www.fnac.com makes you pick up the ticket at one of their stores or offices. Other museums let you purchase tickets directly from their website, avoiding this problem entirely. A little groundwork on the Internet will reveal your options. If stymied, check with the concierge in advance.
Theater/Music: If there are performances you really want to see, it’s best to get tickets in advance. In many cases you can buy tickets from the venue’s own site, online, picking your seats — the Old Vic and the National Theatre in London let you do this. First, check the venue you are interested in and see if you can buy directly from its site. If not, try other sites such as www.tickets.com, which covers many international cities. Individual ticket brokers are also possible to use, if you can find them online. If you hit a roadblock, the hotel concierge is the route to go. However, you don’t have control over the ticket broker the hotel uses so this may be the most costly option. (Also, don’t forget to tip the concierge!)
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