The trick to successful and stress-free travel is planning ahead. Challenging, though it might seem, your goal is to think of every possible contingency that might come up, and take action before it happens. What will you do if your luggage is lost? If you get sick? If you forget your blue pumps? Being PROACTIVE will reduce the possibility of a serious crisis occurring during your trip.
BUDGETING FOR YOUR TRIP
Travel doesn’t have to break the bank — not if you are willing to plan ahead for your vacation spending. Decide first how much you can AFFORD, then make your travel plans. Start searching early for travel deals — talk to your travel agent, look for internet specials, and check with travel clubs for discounts. You can find some great bargains in package deals that combine hotel and airfare at a discounted rate.
If vacations tend to get you in trouble on your credit cards, consider starting a savings account just for travel — where you put away a small amount each month toward your next trip. You should also plan to use traveler’s checks instead of credit cards to stay within your budget. It’s amazing how easy it is to go overboard when start handing out the plastic! And be sure to keep track of how much you actually spend — as compared to your budget — throughout the trip. You might keep a small pad of paper with you for recording expenses and tallying up your total for each day.
If you can’t seem to make it happen on your budget, consider COMPROMISING on lower priority expenses in exchange for the higher priority ones. When my husband and I travel, we are always willing to stay in a budget hotel so we can afford to eat out and attend cultural events. We decided that expensive hotels are wasted on us because we spend very little time in our room, and we would rather spend our money elsewhere. Where are you willing to trade off?
PACKING MADE EASY
Have you ever been away from home and suddenly realized that you forgot your toothbrush, your shoes, or your bathing suit? Having to rush around replacing items that you left behind not only wastes time and money, it also reduces your enjoyment of the trip. And sometimes, you might forget an item that isn’t so easily replaced — like your checkbook or the report you were supposed to present at tomorrow’s meeting. But you can save yourself a lot of heartache by taking the guesswork out of packing.
Start by developing PACKING LISTS for both short-term travel (from one to three days) and longer trips. You can even create different lists for different kinds of travel — camping, business, foreign travel, trips to the beach, cold-weather travel, etc. Try to include any and all generic items that you might need — clothes, toiletries, alarm clock, night light, whatever you like to take with you. Then use these lists as memory-joggers as you are packing for each trip. You can also cut down on the time you spend preparing for travel by keeping a “pre-packed” toiletry bag with duplicates of the items you use in your home. Fill your kit with samples of shampoo, soap, lotion, cosmetics, toothpaste, and shaving cream — even miniature toothbrushes and razors. These travel-sized items take up less room in your suitcase, and you will be less likely to leave something important behind.
And don’t forget your important documents – especially if you are travelling overseas. You should plan to bring proof of citizenship, an official government photo identification (driver’s license or military ID is fine), a state-issued birth certificate with a raised seal, and a passport. Remember that children and infants are also required to have a state-issued birth certificate for travel.
LESS IS MORE
If you can get away with it, try not to check your luggage. I purchased a very roomy pullman carry on that will accommodate up to a week’s worth of clothes — that way, I never have to be concerned about losing my bags. If you pack “mix-and-match” outfits and plan to do some washing along the way, you don’t need 15 different outfits for a one-week trip. And if you have to check a piece, be sure to keep those items you couldn’t live without in your carry on — toiletries, a change of clothes, clean underwear, medications, maps, travel confirmations, and any materials you might need for an upcoming business meeting. But try to take no more than one medium-sized and one carry on bag per person. Remember, you can always remedy underpacking, but not OVERPACKING! However heavy your suitcase is when you start out, it will be twice as heavy when you come home.
If you plan to do any shopping while on your trip, you may decide to bring along an extra bag for carrying your purchases home. Put your filled suitcase inside a slightly larger empty one — or, get a collapsible tote that will take up very little space in your bag. But the easiest option (although perhaps not the cheapest) is to have each store ship your treasures directly to your home. This is an especially good policy if you are bringing home anything large or bulky on a plane, as the airlines often charge extra for oversized parcels. And each bag you have to lug around limits your transportation options. Heavy suitcases mean cabs and porters and inconvenience and fatigue — while a light suitcase equals travel freedom.
PROTECT YOURSELF AND YOUR BELONGINGS
While no one wants to be paranoid about their safety when travelling, it’s a good idea to err on the side of caution when planning your trip. So let’s start with your “stuff” — list the contents of each piece of luggage and keep your list close at hand anytime your bags are out of your sight. This will save you a great deal of frustration if your bags are lost and you have to file a claim or replace your belongings. And don’t forget to mark your luggage for easy retrieval — all those black pullmans are starting to look alike, and it’s easy for someone else to pick up your bag.
While you are making lists, create a WRITTEN RECORD of your credit card numbers, traveler’s checks, medical insurance, emergency phone numbers, and other important information to take with you when you travel. And always keep this information hidden away someplace secure — a hotel safe deposit box is a good choice — where you can easily access it if you need it. Do not — I repeat do not — keep this record in your purse or wallet. Think about it. Those are the first things a thief will take — if you keep your list with the credit cards and traveler’s checks, it doesn’t help much when they are stolen. You are better off sticking it in your shoe (as long as your feet don’t sweat a lot!)
Finally, be sure to have a POINT OF CONTACT at home — someone who knows where you are and how to reach you. Make sure to give this person any information that could be important in the event of an emergency — the phone number and address where you are staying, the code to your alarm system, your doctor’s name, etc. It will ease your mind to know that you can be contacted if something goes wrong at home — and that you have someone who can act on your behalf if something goes awry on your end.
KEEPING YOUR HOUSE SAFE
Nothing can ruin a fabulous vacation more than worrying about your home while you are gone. But a few simple precautions can help ease your mind and keep your domicile safe. Before you leave, let the police or a very trusted neighbor know you will be gone — especially if you are planning a lengthy trip. Nothing says “not home” more than a pile of newspapers in your driveway or magazines pouring out of your mailbox — so stop your mail and newspaper delivery or have neighbor collect them. Investing in timers for your lights, radios, etc, — and setting them to go on and off at random times during the day – will make your home look lived in and keep burglars away. And if you still aren’t comfortable abandoning your home, hire a housesitter.
INSURE YOUR TRIP
One thing that very few people remember to do before leaving home is review their insurance policies. This is particularly important if you are travelling overseas. First, make sure that you have the proper personal liability coverage. This is meant to insure the loss or theft of your personal possessions, injury (to yourself or someone else), your legal defense (other countries don’t operate like the US — remember that kid in Singapore who was caned?), and the repatriation of your remains should you die overseas (not a nice thought, but it does happen). Check with your insurance carriers — your homeowner’s policy may include coverage for your possessions while away from home, and your credit card company probably offers inexpensive life insurance.
If you plan to operate a vehicle while on your trip, check to see what your automobile insurance covers. If you are in an accident in a rented car, what is paid for? Are you covered if you are in an accident overseas? Are there any hidden costs that you will be expected to pay? You should also familiarize yourself with your MEDICAL insurance. What actions does your insurance company require if you become ill or injured while out of state? Out of the country?
If you are taking a package tour or an expensive trip, if you will be visiting a dangerous or unpredictable parts of the world, or if you have a personal or medical situation that might disrupt your travels, you should also consider trip cancellation and interruption insurance. This type of coverage can protect you in case of bad weather (ie: a cruise cancelled because of a hurricane), illness, family emergency, and even the default or bankruptcy of your travel suppliers. But remember that certain situations — like pre-existing medical conditions, terrorism, hijacking, and war — can void your trip cancellation coverage. Make sure that you clearly understand all of the terms, requirements, and EXCLUSIONS before you purchase your insurance. Does it only cover situations when someone in your party gets sick, or if someone at home gets sick as well? When does your coverage start and end? Does “medical evacuation” mean that you are evacuated to the nearest medical facility or back home? You might want to contact the insurance company yourself, as many travel agents may not understand all the terms of your policy. Don’t assume that anything is covered until you check it out for yourself.
SCHEDULING AS A SCIENCE
Some of the biggest frustrations people face when travelling are disruptions to their SCHEDULE — flight delays, traffic jams, getting lost, long lines, you name it. But you can take a number of precautions to make sure you are able to stick to your itinerary while travelling. Don’t wait until you arrive at your destination to learn the lay of the land. Take the time to research your trip before leaving — develop at least a cursory knowledge of the routes, directions, tourist attractions, transportation systems, and weather. Look at your options and pick a few major sights that you really want to see while on your trip — just remember that you can’t do everything! Then make as many advance reservations as possible once your itinerary is set, remembering to build the travel time from sight to sight into your itinerary. Be sure to confirm any appointments and reservations before leaving — and then reconfirm everything when you arrive. There is no such thing as double-checking too much!
We’ve talked a lot about physical preparations for your vacation — but preparing yourself mentally is just as important. Determine ahead of time what your EXPECTATIONS are for your trip. What must happen to make this a successful trip? Which activities or sights you it would disappoint you to miss? Which activities or sights you it wouldn’t bother you to miss? And what problems that you have had on other trips that you would like to avoid this time? Try to admit to yourself that things may not go perfectly throughout the entire trip. Be FLEXIBLE and have other options ready (reading, other activities) if your schedule gets off track. Understand that you can not control every (or any!) aspect of travel. The more willing you are to accept difficulties and delays, the less disruptive they will be if they do occur. Happy travels!