How To Plan a Trip Overseas

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Good morning – Friday dance! :lol:

This has perhaps been the fastest week of my life. I swear I blinked on Monday and, when I opened my eyes, it was Friday. Weeks where you’re trying to get your life back together always seem to go like that. No? Either way – awesome!

This morning I whipped up one of my favorite breakfasts, which I’ve been missing on hard for the past couple of weeks – Oatgurt!

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Ingredients:

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Directions: Microwave oats, milk, water and 1/2 a banana for 2 minutes. Stir, then nuke for 1.5 more minutes. Add in cinnamon & vanilla then top with cold Greek yogurt and crunchy Kashi cereal.

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Devour!

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The combo sounds weird, right? Hot oats and cold yogurt? It works. Try it! :D

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In other news, I thought I’d tack another city onto the tour de IGE and head to Chicago for the weekend!

One of my best girlfriends, who lives in the city, recently had a little girl and we’re throwing her a baby shower tomorrow! Squeal – I can’t wait to hold and fawn over her! :D

At any rate, I’m taking a half day of work and driving up this afternoon, so I’m grabbing lunch on the road. I’m stopping at a local deli to pick up some goodies for the party before I go, so I might just grab something there, me thinks. :D

So You Want To Plan a Trip…

I’ve received a ton of questions this week about how Ben and I planned our trip to Italy. Planning a trip overseas can be overwhelming. Where do you stay? How do you know what to do when you get there? What about the language barrier? Here are my Top 10 tips for planning a trip overseas.

1. Determine your budget.

Determine how much you’re willing and able to spend on your trip. Remember to factor in the amount of money you’ll need for food, sightseeing, getting around, shopping etc. once you arrive.

2. Decide where you want to go.

Will your destination be a tropical island, or a snowy getaway? Are you interested in sight seeing or relaxing? This will also determine how much money you’re going to need to have on hand once you arrive. Ie laying on the beach isn’t as expensive as buying a mountain pass to ski all day.

3. Decide when you want to go.

Heading to Australia during your summer break may seem like a good idea, but it’s actually winter down under when it’s summer in the US. Make sure you’re aware of what the weather conditions are going to be like at your destination before you book your trip.

4. Figure out how you’re going to get there.

If you’re able to drive to your destination, and only need to book a hotel, I recommend Hotels.com. Thier website has a great structure for comparing prices, ratings and areas.

If you need both a flight and hotel, my go-to booking agent is Expedia.com. Expedia always has the lowest prices of any of the travel websites, and they have the wonderful option of booking a multi-city trip. For example, I was able to book a flight and hotel in Rome, then a hotel in Praiano and return via the Naples airport, which was closer to Praiano then Rome.

Whether I’m flying or driving to my destination, I always check out TripAdvisor.com to double check the hotels I’m thinking about booking. Simply search for the hotel you’ve found on Hotels.com or Expedia:

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Then check out the reviews:

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I’ve never been steered wrong by this website. Of course, you’re going to get the occasional bad seed who bashes the hotel just because they’re the type of person who can’t be pleased in life, but generally you can get a really good feel as to if it’s going to be a good choice or not.

5. Research things to do.

If you’re going to Bora Bora, your list of things to do may be as simple as lay on the beach. If you’re planning on going to a large city with lots to do, make sure to do some research. I love reading travel blogs like YoungsAroundTheWorld.com or checking out guidebooks at the local library to get ideas. Googling “Top 10 Things to Do in XYZ” always turns up some great ideas as well.

6. Look into transportation methods available at your destination.

Will you be traveling to multiple cities during your trip? A call to your hotel might help you determine how to get from point A to point B, but a quick search on the Internet will most likely answer your questions too.

When trying to figure out how we were going to get from Rome to Praiano, I simply Googled, “how to get from Rome to Praiano” and the answer popped right up.

My encouraging statement is – it’s often easier than you think!

7. If you’re planning on traveling Internationally, and need a passport, allow at least 3-4 months to acquire one.

Getting a passport takes a long time these days and, if you’re recently married, allow the same amount of time to get your current passport updated. I completely failed in that department, as my still valid passport still had my old last name on it, so I took along a certified copy of my marriage license, which worked too!

8. Exchange money before you go.

You’ll often get better exchange rates if you go through your bank to get the local currency instead of waiting until you’re at the airport. Make sure to do this at least a week in advance of your trip as most banks will have to order the currency. Often times they don’t keep a ton of it on hand!

9. Brush up on the local lingo.

Don’t assume everyone speaks your language. When I lived in Japan for a summer in college, nearly all the locals I interacted with knew enough English to get by. That wasn’t really the case in Italy. Having a pocket translator book and knowing a few key phrases helped immensely!

10. Notify your bank, family and friends before you leave.

Make sure someone will know where you will be at all times of your trip. Hand out copies of your itinerary to anybody who will take one and let your bank know that you’re leaving the country, if you plan on using your credit card, so they don’t suspend your account for suspicious activity.  

All in all, traveling overseas is one of the most rewarding things you can ever do in your life. At times, the thought of planning and actually DOING it may seem daunting, but you’ll thank yourself a million times over in the end. You only live once, see the world while you’re at it!

Have a good day! 

~~~~~

What’s your best tip for traveling overseas?

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Comments

  1. I have never traveled overseas! Heck, I’ve barely traveled across the country. I live in a bubble. It’s sad.

  2. Jessie 09.17.2010

    I love the pointers on traveling internationally. I hope to need this info in the next years. Thanks!

  3. Liz @ LBBakes 09.17.2010

    I have actually never traveled overseas. :( But having survived some travel nightmares this year, my top of mind tip once traveling is to keep a change of clothes and toothbrush in your carry on. :)

  4. Liz @ Blog is the New Black 09.17.2010

    I’ve only been out of the country a few times, but when I eventually get to Italia, I will be using the tips a la IGE! Have a safe road trip!

  5. Angharad 09.17.2010

    Agreed times a thousand! When people tell me I’m really adventurous for travelling a lot or living in a different country, I sometimes feel taken aback – we only live once and it’s short; of course I’m going to try and see as much of the world as I possibly can!

    Great tips!

  6. Nic 09.17.2010

    Love the tips! While reading them, I realized that those were the things I looked at when I recently traveled overseas. Maybe one last “tip” is to be adventerous and try new things… a new food or an experience that you might not normally do. Most likely you’ll enjoy it and have a great story to tell! Thanks for sharing your vaca with us!

  7. Alaina 09.17.2010

    Pick up a guidebook! You mentioned Rick Steves and he is GREAT, and there are some other great ones out there…my parents loved Lonely Planet when they came to visit me in Italy this past Spring :D They are full of great recommendations about places to eat, things to see, and just general history and information about your destination.

  8. Mellissa 09.17.2010

    I agree with Alaina on buying a guidebook, we like Rick Steve’s and Lonely Planet. My other tips are- pack light! You do not want to be lugging a huge suitcase down old cobblestone streets.

    No tours. It sounds harsh but doing your own thing is so much more fun!

  9. Melinda 09.17.2010

    Actually for exchanging money, your best bet is to change it at a bank in the country and on occasion using your credit card depending on your rates. You should always know what the current rate is on that day and compare it to what you are offered. Never go to an exchange window that is free standing. If you are staying in an expensive hotel, you may get very good rates there. It will also depend on the countries view of American money because if they have little exchanged they will have more of a fee to take USD. I live overseas and when my mom was traveling to visit me the rates were worse at her bank that mine over here. Most people do not know to go in to an actual bank in another country to change money. Most will do it although in Spain we found a few that would not.

  10. Jennifer 09.17.2010

    Here are some additional money-saving tips!
    To get the foreign currency of the country you’re visitng, simply hit up an ATM at the airport. Before I go, I check out my destination airport’s website to find out where their ATMs are located. My bank doesn’t charge ATM or foreign transaction fees, so I get the most current exchange rate without any additional costs.

    Travel during the shoulder seasons to save money. For instance, in Iceland, the main tourist season is during the summer. By booking our trip in the beginning of September, we saved on airfare, lodging and car rental, and still had great weather (by Iceland standards). Plus, for other top tourist destinations, you won’t have to fight the crowds.

    If you’re thinking of going somewhere, start tracking airfare prices now just to get a reference point for how much the average airfare costs. When researching tickets to Australia, we found the prices ranged from $1300 – $1600. When the price dropped to $930, we knew it was a steal and jumped at it!

  11. Kgrrrl 09.17.2010

    Good tips for sure! I watch the currency market and am able to buy foreign currencies for a bit better prices than the bank, so if you know of someone who’s in the industry, hit them up. The costs of pulling funds overseas can be huge. Greece for example was $12 per transaction and that’s even if your bank doesn’t charge! I’d suggest buying at home.
    Secondly, don’t bring as many clothes as you think. If you’re doing Europe in the summer, chances are you’ll be in the same few outfits over and over. Plus, don’t forget shopping :) You’ll want to buy stuff there as well! Notify your credit card company that you are travelling and wear comfy clothes on the airplane. Comfy is good :)
    Smile lots and DO NOT pull out your map everywhere you go… prime target for pick pocketing. Just be aware.
    North American’s tend to stick out due to their lack of travelling ability, keep your voices down, and be polite.

  12. jad18 09.17.2010

    My recommendations are to talk to friends/family members who have been where you are planning to go and get the Rick Steves guidebook if one exists for where you are headed. Actually a friend who has traveled overseas frequently is the one who first recommended Rick Steves to me.

    Your company must be very good about vacation time/time off. I cannot imagine coming back to work after a vacation and then leaving early one day the week back.

  13. andie 09.17.2010

    If you are going to one city, consider staying in an apartment instead of a hotel. If you can rent from an American agency or owner, you can often prepay for it in US Dollars and not have to worry about losing money due to the exchange rate. This is especially helpful in european cities because you can experience the city like you were a local- you can shop at the street markets, etc. and bring food back for breakfasts and snacks because you have a kitchen and such. Also, many of the apartments have bigger bathrooms and some even have washers and dryers, which come in handy if you packed light and want to wear something over again!

    Instead of getting money at an exchange center, etc. Just go to an ATM at the airport when you arrive at your destination. As long as your bank knows you’ll be there you won’t have to pay to exchange you money. You’ll just get it straight out of the ATM!

    Go to your local public library prior to your trip and get cd’s and other recordings of the language. Listen to them for a month or so before so you can be familiar with the basics. most public libraries offer free language programs, downloads, or cd’s and tapes.

    Make copies of your ID, passport, credit card, etc. so that if you lose them you can bring your copies to the embassy just in case.

    Yapta your airfare before going. We did that with our trip to paris and wound up flying to paris round trip for $600 each! If you start watching your flights on yapta early, you can catch it on sale or when it goes down drastically! It’s a great resource.

    Find a travel forum dedicated to the region where people can give you input on everything. Tripadvisor is great, but some other cities have their own forums! It’s quite amazing what you can learn.

    I’m sure I have more but I’m drawing a blank now. LOL

    • Layla 03.21.2011

      Thanks andie! I just looked up yapta and it is so easy to use. Once I finalize the dates of my trip I’m going to use it to pick a flight.

  14. AnneWF 09.17.2010

    Dear IGE,
    I see you are going to Chicago this weekend. Please go see a wonderful street modeled after a street in London known as the street of 40 doors. It is a landmark street and is amazing. It is called Alta Vista Terrace. It is near Wrigley Field. Please check it out it is amazing. Have a great time in Chicago. Ask anyone where it is and you will find it. Use a GPS and you will find it.

  15. great tips! i also like to research restaurants before i go & do as much prep work as possible so you aren’t (in the US) driving around hungry and unsure of where to eat. food is important!

  16. Jen 09.17.2010

    Love your blog and how organized you are! I know you’ve posted previously on how you budget/grocery shop etc. Can you post on how you maintain week after week, month after month such great self control on staying on budget, etc? This is my weakness and I’m sure the same for many others….

  17. Dawn Patricia 09.17.2010

    Love your advice! I have some advice that may be very practical and obvious…don’t be a stereotypical “tourist”. I mean, if you are going someplace like Sandals where EVERYONE is on vacation it’s different, but if you are going to a place where tourists and residents mingle (ie, in your rented French car while driving to the Tour de Eiffel you will mingling in traffic with French citizens on their way to work…) “minimize yourself as a tourist”.

    Research local customs, find out the good “hole in the wall” restaurants, talk to people you know and find out things (maybe someone has family they’d like to put you in touch with… why pay for an expensive meal at a tourist trap restaurant when someone is willing to host you and share a meal with you…what a GREAT chance to learn about life in that country firsthand). Also, realize that when you do certain things…you LOOK like a tourist.

    Keep valuables secure. Respect the culture. Don’t wear short-shorts or other articles of clothing that might offend. Realize that in places like Europe people smoke and don’t want to be scoffed at for it. People shop for meat in marketplaces where carcasses may be displayed very differently than we are used to. Realize that country officials are not spoken of in a derogatory manner like they sometimes are in the States. Basically, be respectful. Also, research beforehand ways that people in certain places may *prey* on tourists. I can think of how when I went to the pyramids the men on camels were trying to charge 100 Egyptian pounds for a short ride and photos. Negotiate prices beforehand. Check to make sure that meters are reset in cabs… don’t carry a purse.

    Don’t walk around with a Hawaiian shirt on, a camera around your neck, and assume that just because you are in a foreign country no one speaks English. Basically, don’t be Chevy Chase in “European Vacation.” Simple advice, but it is really amazing to see how many people don’t follow it and the trouble they can get into (think of celebrities who constantly open mouth and insert foot when traveling outside of the States to shoot movies). :)

  18. Elizabeth 09.17.2010

    Your oatgurt looks yummy! Is that vanilla extract you add?

  19. Kim K 09.17.2010

    #1 tip: pack half as much as you think you need and twice as much money.

  20. Thank you for the trip planning tips. I always love to see how others plan!

  21. Lauren 09.17.2010

    I love hot oats and cold yogurt! Best of both worlds. :)

    Great tips. We were looking to plan a trip overseas last year but then decided to build a house instead.

  22. Ashley 09.17.2010

    Great travel tips! It can be so intimidating, especially when someone hasn’t traveled overseas or has done very little traveling. In my experience it has been better to change money where I’m headed – I’ve gotten a much better rate. I do have to suggest not doing it at the airport though, usually rates are lower and ATM fees are higher. Check with your bank about their rates for ATM transactions and with a local bank – I usually try to both bring cash and have my card so I can go with the best rate! My other suggestion is being sure to check lots of different sites for flights – kayak.com compares lots of sights, but for international flights momondo.com has been my best bet. Old standbys aren’t always the best, especially when you’re traveling somewhere you never have before!

    On another note I absolutely love this essay: http://www.worldhum.com/features/travel-stories/why-we-travel-20081213/ It’s such a good representation of travel, suggestions, advice, and an excellent explanation of WHY we travel! I love it!

  23. Kelsey Huebsch 09.17.2010

    I love your vacay pics and tips. It looks and sounds like it was an amazing experience for you and Ben! I am in need of a trip!
    On a completely other note…I just bought my first bunch of Honeycrisp apples at the store this week and ironically thought of you! It definately is fall–I can’t believe the changing leaves in Iowa already. In KC everything is still pretty green.
    Have a great weekend in Chicago with the girls.
    Kelsey

  24. Ashley 09.17.2010

    Thanks for all of the great international travel tips! We do A LOT of traveling and I’ve never even noticed the multi-city feature on Expedia! That is absolutely life-saving!

    Also, I’d be curious to know what you packed in your one bag? We’re traveling to Guatemala summer with just a backpack.

  25. Thanks for the great advice! I’m tentatively planning on a trip to Europe next summer. I need to just go for it and get planning or it’ll never happen :)

  26. great post – very interesting and some excellent tips there! x

  27. Brooke 09.17.2010

    Great tips!
    I don’t travel anywhere without a copy of Lonely Planet, but good ol’ Rick Steves knows Europe.

  28. Good post Iowa Girl. I believe that everyone should travel at least once a year. Travel broadens the mind and makes you look at life in a different way.

  29. SallyGirl 10.02.2010

    Oh. my. gawd!!! I stumbled here through like, 3 or 4 blogs that I stumbled on from I don’t even know where at this point but your Oatgurt has me salivating!!! I am one of those super-obese people (not joking) and I know my kids are at like a zillion percent higher risk of becoming obese because of me, so I’m always looking for great recipes, but this I think falls under AWESOME! I’m checking out those chia seeds, too!

  30. Noelle McKenzie 12.06.2010

    Pack light! You don’t want to end up like I did when I went to Italy and having to buy an extra suitcase to bring home everything you collected while visiting. I guarantee you won’t end up wearing all the clothes you thought you would die without and if you pack light it will save you more at the airport when you check your bag and you’ll have more room to pack new purchases while you’re there! Great site by the way- you put a lot of work into this for sure and it shows!

  31. Rozmin 01.16.2011

    Nice list! I’ll say though that the best way to change money depends on where you’re going. For most places that I’ve been to (India, most of the EU countries, Switzerland) using the ATM is the best. Usually this gives you the very best rate, especially if you are taking out a large amount.

    In Ukraine, Hungary and Czech republic (the latter two are EU but are for now still using their own currency) there are plenty of places to exchange currency that are clearly marked. Often these will be next to/inside a bank, department store, or large grocery store. Sometimes they look like small shops. You will notice them because they prominently display exchange rates. It is fine to exchange money at these places, the thing you don’t want to do is exchange with people on the street who may offer this. In many countries that is illegal.

  32. Layla 03.21.2011

    First of all – that looks delicious. I have something like this for breakfast (oatmeal/red river cereal, with cardamom and raisins, and banana and milk on top) and I’m starting to get bored of it every single day.

    Second thing: thanks for the tips. I’m planning on volunteering in Chile this summer then traveling around for a few days afterwards.

  33. Thomas 05.04.2011

    Those are all great tips, but I have to disagree on a couple of points. Number one, getting a passport these days actually doesn’t take that long. It used to be 6-8 weeks. The turnaround now is more like 2 weeks. I know this from personal experience and experience of friends.

    Number two, I would say NEVER exchange money before you travel overseas. The best thing to do (and best way to get the right exchange rate) is to get money straight from an ATM in the country you are visiting. These are usually readily available right outside of customs. I’ve traveled extensively around the world (every continent except Africa) and have honestly never gotten money before I left. I would also recommend talking to your bank about international fees. Credit Unions offer the best option as most of them have zero international fees. ATMs in other countries do not charge fees but your bank may. Although anymore banks cover ATM fees to stay competitive.

    Your tip about contacting your bank before you go is great! I forgot to do that once and got stuck in Paris for about 12 hours with little money.

  34. Jenny 12.15.2012

    I just found your blog I am from Iowa too. I love traveling overseas, so far I have been to Mexico, Scotland, Ireland, Spain, Italy and France and I think this spring/summer I am likely going to Norway and possibly Iceland or Sweden as well. I have to get my exact details all sorted out and decided on. I like traveling with a cruise ship best because there is no switching of hotels 10 times or anything but I have gone the other route as well when I went to Scotland and Ireland and still a great time. :)

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