Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Planning a Vacation: Tips and Tricks

Having done a fair amount of travel in Europe and the US, I've picked up a few tricks along the way.

Outline a high level itinerary that you'd like to accomplish and when you would like to do what. While you may not stick to this schedule, I've found it very beneficial in ultimately seeing, doing, and accomplishing much more than just showing up and deciding what to do when you get there. In your research, you may even discover options you didn't previously know were available.

When first arriving in a city get out and walk. Anywhere. This will help to establish a framework and base from which to work while you're there. If you're into running/jogging, get up in the morning and go for a run to take in some of the sites and get a lay of the land. Essential to the walking/running is a good pair of comfortable shoes.

As far as transportation when you get there, if you'll be doing a good bit of sightseeing, walking can be the best option. You won't be tethered to a car and in all European cities that I've visited, I was easily able to see everything I wanted by using the trusty old feet. Public transportation such as bus and train can also be very beneficial when visiting a larger city. Most large cities have some type of route finder online for their public transit which you can utilize in getting an idea of where things go.

Also key if you'll be traveling on foot is obtaining a good map. I found the pocket sized pop-up maps (found in any bookstore or airport) to provide good directions in most cities I visited and very handy from a portability standpoint. Be sure to review the map prior to going on vacation so that you have an idea of where things are located and how to plan your schedule. This helps save time when you're there for actually seeing and doing things.

One site which has some great information on pretty much any somewhat major city is They have everything such as suggested walking routes, top attractions, basic city information, dining recommendations, and more. It gives lots of good information to work from and plan out a basic itinerary.

Other good websites are,, and These will provide a wealth of information as to good hotels in an area (including other visitor's comments) as well as assisting in comparing prices for flights and hotels. provides good high level information about a city/country and a taste of their culture. Always nice to read up a little on things prior to going.

If you're interested in seeing popular museums, exhibits, or shows, it is wise to book in advance due to long lines waiting for tickets or potential sellouts.

A key to getting good prices is to book far ahead of time. As the vacation date approaches, transportation and lodging fills up and prices rise substantially.

From a financial standpoint, it is highly advisable to save up for the trip ahead of time rather than paying for it on credit cards. This will avoid lingering debt and allow you to enjoy the trip without the specter of a credit card bill hanging over your head. provides excellent information on staying out of debt and saving up for purchases such as a vacation.

If you'll be traveling internationally, be sure to contact your bank to let them know you'll be using your debit or ATM card overseas. If you don't do this, your card could be blocked from usage and you really don't want to have to deal with this in another country. You may also want to pick up a small amount of cash for when you first arrive in the country. This can be done either at your local bank or at an ATM when you arrive.

Using ATMs will obtain the best exchange rate. Using exchange stores in airports will usually obtain the worst exchange rate so only use this if absolutely necessary. Check with your bank to see if they have any international relationships set up for free ATM transactions. Otherwise, you'll pay a hefty commission as well as possibly a 1% to 3% exchange fee.

If you do not already have a passport, be certain to apply for it well in advance of your trip as this can sometimes take a decent amount of time. Leave a copy with a friend or family member and put one in your luggage in case it is lost while on the trip. This will help the embassy in speeding the process of getting you a new one.

Keep a close eye on valuables at all times as pickpockets can abound in popular tourist spots. I always carried my passport and wallet in my front pockets and made sure to maintain contact with them, frequently, to help keep people honest. If you will be carrying a purse or camera, I recommend one which you can strap from one shoulder to the hip of the opposite side. Also, keep a hand on your purse or camera at all times. This helps to provide additional security by making it more difficult for someone to grab and run.

Most of all enjoy your vacation and be sure to have fun. Happy vacationing!

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