In this article, I will share my best travel advice and tips for traveling to help reduce the stress related to travel, which will help ensure a successful vacation.
Making travel plans, travel reservations, trip itineraries and travel preparations well in advance, can often be the key to ultimately enjoying your vacation.
Leaving your home secure is also paramount to being able to enjoy your trip. You don’t want to have to be worried about what might happen while you are away and I have some great tips for helping you find peace of mind about leaving your home.
Tips for Airline Travel and Reservations
Special Airline Meals ~ Be sure to inform the reservation agent if you have special dietary concerns for the in-flight meals. It will also be necessary to “remind” them of your special dietary needs upon check-in at the airport.
Be sure to inform the gate agent and the flight attendant that you ordered a special meal.
Seat Selection ~ As soon as the seat charts for your flights are available to view online, choose your own seats on the plane. Depending on the airlines, seating charts may be available at the time you make your reservations. Others are not available until 60 days before the flight, but you will definitely want to call back to select your seat/seats. Otherwise, they will be automatically assigned. Most airlines have websites when you can log in and select your own seats.
Travel Light ~ Travel as light as possible. Remember, everything will be inspected multiple times. For additional tips, see How to Pack for Your Vacation.
Be at the Airport Early ~ With the increased security in airports, it takes longer to reach your boarding gate. You will want to be in the airport at least 2 hrs. before your scheduled flight. On our last trip, we arrived a little over 2 hrs. early and barely reached the gate before boarding began. Security is increased on both domestic and international flights and it takes time to check your luggage, go through the initial security airport screening, check-in at the departing gate and then often go through additional security searches of carry-on luggage or even your own person.
Exchange Currency ~ If you are traveling outside of the US, exchange US dollars for your destinations currency. You do not want to arrive in another country without any cash. International airports have exchange counters.
Be Prepared for the Screening and Security ChecksMentally and physically prepare yourself, before you arrive at the airport, for the security screening. You will be required to remove your shoes, your jewelry, your belts, your coins, anything metal. Ladies, I highly recommend that you not wear underwire bras. You will also be required to turn off your cell phones and you will be required to show all liquids being carried on the plane. There are TSA requirements about the size of bottles and you must be able to get all of your carry-on liquids in a 1 quart size clear bag. They can and will confiscate anything that does not adhere to their guidelines. (See additional information about carry-on requirements at the link below) On my last trip, I was required to go through the new new x-ray whole body screening machine at both airports; my initial airport of departure, as well as my layover airport. I was also patted down by a security agent at the boarding gate. All of these measures felt invasive and the pat down was extremely embarrassing, but I had mentally prepared myself for the likely scenario. Once the agent finished “feeling me up and down,” I shrugged my shoulders and boarded the plane. Later, I was actually able to laugh with my family about being singled out at every checkpoint.
Take your Coat on the Plane, as well as any Medications your may need ~Check the weather at your destination before you go to the airport. I always take a coat or sweater on the plane and frequently a small, tote umbrella. I also carry my own Advil.
- TSA Requirements
Transportation Security Administration Guidelines
Make Hotel Reservations Far in Advance ~ As soon as you know your travel dates, select you hotel and make your reservations.
Reservations can usually be canceled within 24 – 48 hrs. of your arrival date without penalties, but be sure to check the individual hotels cancellation policy at the time you make reservations.
Ask if there is a hotel shuttle bus from the airport. If is often must less expensive, often even a free service, when provided by the hotel.
Make sure you get a confirmation number from the hotel. Request a confirmation email.
Required If Your Are Traveling Outside of the US
Apply for your passport 6 months before your trip ~ I highly recommend paying for the expedited service! Even if they tell you it should only take approximately 6 – 8 weeks, trust me, those words “should only take” and “approximately” literally mean approximately. I have known of several people who thought they had plenty of time who did not receive their passports until the day before a trip and were extremely stressed.
Be sure to take everything you need when you apply. The lines can be long and you don’t want to have to return another day. I always apply or renew at our local post office.
Take ALL of these documents with you at the time of application:
1) Passport Application (Printable in Advance at link provided below, but DO NOT SIGN in advance)
2) CERTIFIED Birth Certificate
3) Valid Drivers License (other forms of identification include previous passport, current government ID, current military ID)
4) Photocopy of front and back of each form of identification
5) Two Passport Photos (Several places offer these services such as Walgreens, CVS, RiteAid and even some post offices)
6) Payment for the Application Fees ~ Several checks are required since separate checks are required to cover the cost of postage
Children under 16 have additional required documents such as parents identification and parental consent forms. Please see the link below.
If you passport is due to renew within 6 months of your trip, you will need to renew it BEFORE you travel
- US Dept. of State
Details and requirements for applying for a Passport
Passport Application Information
- US Dept of State
- US Dept. of State
Requirements for children under 16
Shots & Vaccinations
I highly recommend taking flu shots whether you are traveling domestically or internationally.
You will want to take any shots 6 weeks before your travel dates in case of any side effects or illness due to shots, but not so far in advance that the vaccine has worn off before you travel.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Your Online Source for Credible Information
Make an Itinerary in Advance
Plan you trip in advance by reading travel books, articles, blogs, or any source of information about attractions at your destination. I always make a flexible itinerary that lists places to see on each day. I also always leave at least one day, close to the end of our trip, completely open so we can visit an attraction we might have missed on previous days.
I never plan a trip without purchasing the Rick Steve’s book on that destination. These books are filled with great information for attractions, hotels, places to eat, etc. They also provide directions, subway and bus information. This is extremely helpful in finding your way around unfamiliar cities and streets.
We would have missed one of our favorite attractions if I had not consulted the book before we went to London the first time. It recommended the British Library and I had never heard a library recommended before. Let me tell you, that recommendation alone was worth the cost of the book! The relics, original works and maps displayed at the British Library were actually better than a lot of museums. They even have the Magna Carta on display occasionally as well as one of the few Gutenberg Bibles. We also saw some of Mozart’s handwritten music, Handel’s Messiah and several of Shakespeare’s original manuscripts. They also display a virtual treasure trove of literary manuscripts by famous authors. The British Library alone is worth a trip to London!
Just in Case You Wish to See It
- The British Museum
Sir John Ritblat Gallery
You can find a complete selection of Rick Steves Books Here:
Purchase as many museum and attraction tickets as possible in advance and have them shipped to your home before you ever leave for your vacation.
You will be amazed at how much time this can save by simply not having to spend part of your vacation standing in line to buy tickets.
This recommendation is especially true if you plan to attend a Broadway production or play in any major city. These types of shows sell out way in advance. Even long running musicals will sell out in places like New York, London or Paris.
Museum Passes and Metro Passes
We have personally used Roma Passes, London Passes and Paris Passes and I can assure you they are huge time savers. These passes allow you to bypass the lines into the museums. For museums such as the Louvre or the Vatican Museum, the lines can be several hours long and in some cases, you could stand in line for hours and still not receive admittance before they close.
These passes allow free access or reduced price tickets to many of the local museums and monuments. Some even include transportation passes.
Metro passes are also huge money savers for travelers who are staying for several days in one city.
Recommended Passes We Have Used
The London Pass
With a London Pass you can get free entry to over 55 top London sights with one smartcard – taking all the stress off organizing various tickets so you can fully enjoy your trip.
Make Arrangements for Pets
Immediately after purchasing airline tickets and making hotel reservations, I make reservations for my pups to stay with their vet. We are fortunate that our veterinarian also offers boarding. We have peace of mind that the babies vet will personally take care of either of them if they have any health problems or complications while we are away.
Because there is limited space, we always make these reservations as soon as we know we are going to be away. Our pups don’t like to be left either, so it it is actually better for them if they can stay somewhere that is familiar and with someone they already know looking in on them.
Check Your Cell Phone Service and Plan
If you are traveling internationally, adjust your cell phone plans to include international roaming, messaging, web service, etc. These services can usually be easily removed from your plan upon your return home.
Leave Your Home Secure
1) Place your mail delivery on hold. This can easily be done online at USPS Hold Mail Service.
2) Ask someone to check your home for packages or deliveries that will be left at your door. Seeing packages at your door for several days is a sure sign to criminals that you are away from home.
3) Set Timers on indoor lights. We use several times in different rooms, set to varying times so it appears that someone inside is turning on lights randomly.
4) Add a Light Sensor to Outdoor Lights. Having entries lite is especially important for security and we love our sensors that turn the lights on at dusk and off at dawn. I have included a sensor socket below that fits some outdoor lights. However, we can not use the sockets in our lights simply because they make the bulb stand up too tall to fit the light. We use Philips Dusk to Dawn Energy Saver automatic post light bulb. This bulb is well worth the cost and I highly recommend these bulbs if you can find them. I could not find them on Amazon, but we purchase our bulbs from Home Depot.
5) Water your plants. You may even want to use self watering products.
6) Check you Checklist. Make a checklist of things that must be done before your leave and check your list right before you leave.
Woods 50009 Indoor 7-Day Heavy Duty Digital Outlet Timer with 2-OutletsSelf-Watering Probes – Package of 5American Lighting ALSENSPAR Automatic Outdoor Photo Control Screw-in Adjustable Light Shutter, 150-Watt Maximum
1) Pack Tickets, Passes, etc.
2) Water Plants
3) Set Timers
4) Leave on Outside Light Switches
5) Withdraw Cash for Trip
6) Grab Airline Tickets
7) Turn off Computer 🙂
Your Will Want to Keep A Journal
Write in your journal each night while the events of the day are still fresh on your mind. By the time you get home, you probably won’t remember what you did on what day, where you ate, etc.
This could easily become your most valued souvenir!
This article provides tips for preparing for your trip. I have also published a companion article that gives an extensive list of what you should take on your trips with a breakdown of recommended items for your carry-on and recommendations for what to pack in the luggage you will check. You don’t want to get to another country and find you need something you didn’t even think to bring.
You will find that article by clicking here: How to Pack for Your Vacation