I’m going on a trip in less than two weeks time and, needless to say, I am excited. However, I am also a little stressed out. I’ve traveled a lot until up to a year ago, mostly on my own and I’ve learned a lot from those trips. And a big chunk of what I’ve learned is about planning a trip (and I don’t mean the plane tickets and hotel reservations), hence the pre-trip stress.
So here’s the list of things I’m doing right now in preparation for my vacation, based on the things I’ve done right (and VERY wrong) in my previous trips abroad.
- Plan, plan, plan – I know it’s a no-brainer, but it really is essential to a successful trip. Every minute doesn’t have to be mapped out, but you should at least have an idea of what you want to do or visit every single day. It will save you the disappointment you’ll feel when you find out that the Table Mountain cableway is closed for maintenance the entire time you’ll be in Cape Town. Which brings me to…
- Research, research, research – Once you’ve figured out what you wanted to do and see, research. This is especially true if you want to visit certain places in Europe over the weekend. Some attractions are either closed or operate with limited hours during Saturday and Sunday. Find out if there are special discounts, special exhibits or different rates.
- Do as much as you can online – The internet is at your disposal, use it and abuse it. The most popular attractions such as Chateau Versailles sell tickets online and have special queues for people who bought their tickets through the internet. I find that some people are wary of online transactions and using their credit cards to pay online, but the hassle of all that is worth it. I definitely regretted not doing it while waiting 2 hours in line to buy tickets to the Vatican Museum. Another reason to do it online is that some attractions have a quota on the number of walk-in tickets they sell. As far as I remember, this is the case for the Uffizi in Florence, and I barely made the daily cutoff. So to avoid the disappointment, not to mention a lot of time wasted, buy your tickets online.
- Google this: Name of the city you’re visiting + tourist scams – I don’t mean to scare you but it’s a reality that tourists are an easy target for pickpockets, scammers and all sorts of petty criminals so it’s better to be aware. For example, if I only Googled “Rome tourist scams” I wouldn’t have lost €40 to the taxi driver who switched my €50 bill for a €10 one while I wasn’t looking (I was gathering my bags). He showed me the bills so I thought I mistakenly gave him the €10 instead of handing him two fifties. I had a bad feeling about it but I was in a hurry and couldn’t possibly argue in Italian, so I paid what was lacking. It was only when I checked my wallet when I realized my instincts were right and I was scammed.
- Google maps is your friend – I’ve never bought a city guide book, as I’m cheap I think it’s not worth the purchase if you’re going to be in a city only for 2-3 days. The next best thing for me would be Google Maps. During my first and second visits to Paris, I was armed with pages of printed out (on recycled paper, of course) Google Maps, with fluorescent circles drawn around Metro stations, Pierre Hermé branches and wine cellars open on a Sunday (a rarity in Paris). Google even has street views of most major cities, so you can get an actual visual representation of not just the place you’re looking for but of what’s beside, across and, sometimes, even what’s behind it. Not really a feature Frommer’s offers.
I hope this helps anyone who’s planning any sort of trip to a new place. I’ll post part 2 on what to do when you’re actually in the place soon.
Let me know in the comments if you have any trip-planning trips of your own!