It happens to me, too. I see a picture online, or watch a show about somewhere that seems fantastic- too good to be true, and I automatically NEED to go there! But before you call your travel planner to book your next flight, you should talk to them to find out if this is somewhere you actually want to go.
Now, I'm not talking about the kind of vacation you take where you plan on staying in your resort the entire time… I'm talking about a real travel experience. The kind of trip you take when you really want to open yourself up to seeing the world. You want to try local foods, explore your surroundings, really embrace a different culture, and learn about a part of the world you're not all that familiar with.
Can this still be a luxurious beach holiday with all the top amenities and accommodations? Yes! Absolutely! You can have all the luxuries you're used to, but then take it to the next level and turn your vacation into a once-in-a-lifetime experience! Have your cake and eat it too! (A saying that I never understood… of course I'm going to eat my cake!)
Traveling is exciting, and we all do it for different reasons. We've all seen those beautiful photographs of white sand beaches with blue skies and crystal-clear water and have thought to ourselves ‘Wow! I want to go there!' But where is there? What to you actually know about the Greek Isles? Or Jamaica? Or the Maldives? Do you know when hurricane season is or what weather patterns to be aware of? Do you know what kind of government is in place? What is the national language? What currency will you need? These are just a few things you should find out before booking that trip, otherwise, you may be setting yourself up for disaster.
As a professional Travel Planner, it is my job to learn all about the different places in the world so that I can give my clients and fellow travelers the best information and traveling advice for their adventures. I obviously don't know everything about everywhere, but I do know the types of things I need to look into when planning the ultimate travel experience… and how to find them. My clients are always excited to have learned something about their favorite destinations when I'm working on their trips and provide them with lots of useful ‘fun facts.' Giving them knowledge makes them a more confident and better prepared traveler… and what a grand gift that is!
But, I want to make traveling easier for everyone, so today I want to talk about some of the things I always look into for my clients before they travel, and the top things you need to know before you go.
One of the very first things I look at are the requirements to visit the chosen destination. Will you need passports? Visas? Vaccines? Some destinations even require you to purchase additional travel insurance before you can visit them (I'm looking at you Galapagos.) It's important to know exactly what is required for you to enter another country, and that you to provide all the proper documents before you travel.
*Pro Tip* Many countries require your passport to be valid for at least 6 months AFTER your travel date. I have never had it happen to anyone I know, but you can absolutely be refused to travel if your passport doesn't meet this requirement.
Travel looks different for different destinations at different times of the year. You will want to plan accordingly so that you get exactly what you want out of your adventures. For example…
In the travel world we have different “seasons” of travel… there's the High season (typically the Summer months when tourism, and prices, are at their highest), the Low season (Prices are lowest, but the experiences may suffer due to weather, and certain attractions may be closed), and Shoulder seasons (Prices are reasonable, weather is typically manageable, and most attractions are open).
We also have sub seasons based around events that you may only get to experience at a certain time of the year. Some of these include Whale season (The best time to see whales at a certain location), Rainy season (this one should be self-explanatory), and Festive season (Takes place through most of December and January for certain locations to celebrate the winter holidays. It's an amazing time to travel and experience different cultural traditions, but it's also more expensive. If you're able to do something like this, I highly recommend it!)
While the most popular time to travel is during High season, due to good weather, more attractions, and families being able to plan vacations, it's also the most crowded and most expensive time to travel. The opposite is true for the Low season… Prices are going to be the best you'll see, but at what cost? I love recommending travel during the Shoulder seasons when possible. If you're flexible enough, you will find some great deals without having to sacrifice too much.
If you live in the northern part of the US you know about the changing seasons all too well. (Sometimes, here in PA, we get to experience all 4 seasons in one day!) Weather patterns aren't unique just to this part of the world- you will see them just about everywhere you go… Except Aruba… Aruba is somehow always perfect.
If you're vacationing to the Caribbean you will want to watch out for hurricane season. If you are traveling up north, say to Alaska, Northern Canada, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, or Finland… You will want to consider how little sunlight they get in the winter months… not to mention how much colder it will be. And if you are visiting parts of Asia (Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, India), you will want to try to avoid monsoon season.
Just about every destination has a ‘best' time to go based on the weather, and a ‘worst' time to go. If you don't mind risking the weather, prices are usually a lot lower if you visit in the off season. But the point is, check the weather patterns for the time of year you'll be visiting and plan accordingly.
This is one of my favorite things to experience while traveling, but it's important to keep an open mind, as the rest of the world does not necessarily think the same way as you do. You need to be aware of what you're getting into.
There are many countries where the LBGTQ+ community should avoid all together. I say this not because there's a low tolerance of equality in some parts of the world, but because there are some places (most of Africa and many places in Asia) where it's actually illegal and you may be physically harmed or legally punished for it.
There are also parts of the world that it may not be safe for women to travel alone due to kidnappings, sexual assault, violence, and harassment… or where they must dress, speak, and behave a certain way. When I was doing my research for the most dangerous places for women to visit, I found it interesting that the United States made almost every list… so, take that for what you will…
BUT, don't let cultural differences scare you off of travel entirely. The world is filled with amazing places that are safe for everyone! And, like I said, one of my favorite things to embrace is seeing how people in other parts of the world live their lives… and as long as you do it in a way that is safe, I believe it's an important thing to experience.
Did you know that in Jamaica it's illegal to wear camouflage print unless you are in the local army? In Singapore, smoking in public will get you in serious trouble. In South Korea it is forbidden to photograph women without their consent – even in public places.
And because these are laws, don't expect to be exempt from them just because you're a visitor and didn't know any better. That's not how it works. It is your responsibility to know how to behave when you are a guest in another country. I have a friend who was arrested in Poland for taking pictures of a government building that she didn't know was off limits. Talk about a scary situation to be in!
The point is to be vigilant and know the local laws so that something like that doesn't happen to you. Talk to your travel planner if you have any specific concerns.
You may think it's obvious that if you're going to France you should expect that most of the people you encounter will speak French. The same if you are visiting Japan- it would seem clear that Japanese is the national language. However, I have heard it many times… travelers return home from their journeys and one of their biggest complaints is that ‘no one spoke English…'
Take a minute to process that if you need to.
It's true that many destinations around the world that are heavily visited by tourists are at least conversational, if not fluent, in several languages- including English… but I feel like it's a little foolish to simply expect it everywhere you go.
My advice is to find out what language is most commonly spoken where you are visiting and learn at least a few key words and phrases. In fact, this is a fantastic thing to practice while sitting on a plane for several hours!
Suggested words and phrases to learn:
Where is the bathroom?
Hello (formal and informal)
My name is…
Thank you (and no thank you)
I'm sorry (excuse me)
I need help
I only speak English
… and if you're anything like me, these will also come in handy:
Where should I eat?
May I pet your dog?
I'll have the white wine.
This cheese is fantastic / too stinky!
What is this song?
Even if you are going all-inclusive on your vacation, it's recommended that you bring at least 2 methods of payment with you in case you run into any emergencies.
While a credit card is the most practical thing to travel with, it may not always be the most essential. There are many places in the world where a credit card will not be accepted outside of the hotels, upscale restaurants, and touring excursions. If you plan on visiting local eateries and markets, or plan to tip you tour guides and other helpful individuals (always tip your tour guides) you will almost certainly need to bring cash. Preferably small bills.
A bit of research (or a top-notch travel planner) will be able to tell you exactly what kind of currency you will need to use.
Driving and getting around is always a main concern when traveling. Unless you're doing something all-inclusive and plan to stay at your resort, you are going to want to be mobile. One of the most popular ways of doing this is to rent a car! Here's what you need to think about before committing to driving in another country:
You may be aware that in Europe (and many other places in the world) they drive on the left side of the road. Not only that, but the steering wheel is on the right side of the car! From an American standpoint, that's completely backwards and can take a bit of getting used to. Proceed with caution.
Another aspect of driving you may want to consider is, can you drive stick shift? While an automatic transmission has become more common all over the world, don't assume that it will always be an option.
It's also a good idea if you plan to drive in a foreign country, that you look up what some of the road signs mean. Most of them will simply be abstract pictures (think of a yield sign)… but even if they are labeled, would you be able to read them?
Another thing you need to always be careful about when traveling are the time differences. Yes, jetlag is a real thing and can absolutely disorient you for a day or so… but that's not necessarily what I'm talking about.
When booking flights, you need to be extra cautious with time travel. Yes- you can literally move backwards and forwards through time! (Well… kinda.) If you fly from the US to Asia, you will be flying into the future, and will likely lose a whole day depending on your flight time… Adversely, when you fly from Asia to the US, you will be flying into the past, and may have to live the same day (calendar date) over again.
This can be really confusing, and it's an important thing to keep in mind when scheduling your air travel so that you don't end up missing a flight, or thinking you have a longer vacation than you actually do. But the good news is that all flights are posted in local time, which will make the scheduling process a little easier.
No matter where you go, unforeseen events can and do occur. It's important to check the news leading up to your travel date to learn about any natural disasters, civil unrest, or any other major event that may factor into (or cause you to need to adjust) your travel plans.
In a failed attempt to try to keep this article timely, I feel like I need to mention that this is especially important in the middle of a global pandemic. Travel advisories, requirements, and restrictions are being updated almost daily, and travelers need to be aware of what they're walking into and decide what will be best for them.
I recently did an entire Q&A session where I address the most common questions and concerns about Traveling During A Pandemic. You can find more information about that in my profile.
I know… this all seems like a lot to think about. But there is a simple solution (and you probably already know what I'm going to say.)
Work with an expert travel planner! It is literally our job to put you on the right path in your adventures! The research and planning process can be very stressful, but if you work with the right person, it doesn't have to be. It's not unreasonable to qualify your potential planner to ensure they are going to give exactly what you want in your partnership.
And with that I wish you- Happy Travels!
Guided tour of Sapelo Island five miles offshore from the Georgia Coast. Includes roundtrip ferry ride to the Island, the University of Georgia's Marine Institute, R. J. Reynolds Mansion, historic, Sapelo Island Lighthouse, beautiful unspoiled and undeveloped Atlantic Ocean beach, and African-American community of slave descendants.