Last week I wrote about my researching process before visiting a destination. Now let’s talk practical things that I ALWAYS check before any trip (okay a few things aren’t always part of my research like the Covid thing is recent…but you know what I mean).
- COVID-19, the thing we all love to hate
Check if you can actually travel to that destination. Does your country have a ban on it? Will your destination be closing borders soon, or does it seem likely? Is it on lockdown?
Even if you have bought the tickets already, you must keep updated about the travel restrictions and entry requirements on the country you’re planning to visit. The awful thing about this situation is that things are changing from week to week, which makes it more difficult for you to plan. Last week, a destination that was fine to visit may have decided to close borders or request PCR tests upon entry the following week. Also, you want to make sure a lockdown isn’t happening in your destination, otherwise, you won’t be able to do a thing. Plus, check if you are required to quarantine, even when presenting a negative PCR test. Again, if you only have a week, you don’t want to spend it inside a hotel.
2. Entry Requirements (even during normal times)
I’m very spoiled here. I am a European passport holder of a country part of the Schengen Area and I haven’t had issues entering any country so far, and I’m pretty sure even tourist visas will come easy for me. Still make sure of the below:
- How much time you can actually stay as a tourist
- How much time is your passport valid for. A lot of countries will not accept entry if your passport will expire in three or even six months. Research all of this before even buying your plane tickets!
3. Transportation – from the airport to the hotel
I always research the best alternatives beforehand. Are there buses or trains and how frequent are they? And how affordable? At this point, I will also research if Uber is an option if I’m arriving late at night or even taking an early flight back, public transportation may not be an option and I don’t like taxis. So these are the kind of things I will always research. If Uber isn’t an option, I’ll try to find out the fair taxi fare for the trip, to avoid being robbed by taxi drivers.
4. Transportation – within the city or country
I typically won’t be renting a car, unless I’m not solo. If you’re solo it ends up being quite expensive, so I always do extensive research on what’s the best way to travel from one point to the other. In some countries, there is an extensive train system. Others, you’ll have to take the bus. Or, if the country is large enough, your time is limited, and you’re not so tight on budget, consider taking a domestic flight, if that’s even an option.
To get around within a city, I’ll do my best to walk. BUT of course, some cities are huge or you may be interested in visiting attractions located in the outskirts. I will find out in advance if subway or buses are the best way to get around, as well as typical fares and even if there are tourist passes or day/week passes I can purchase. This is actually really important – in some countries, you need to pay the bus fare in cash, and if you don’t have the right amount, they won’t be able to give you change. So researching before going is the best way to be prepared for these situations.
Simple. I always use Booking.com (I have Genius rewards at this point) and these are the main things I look at:
- Anything with a score over 8
- City Centre with good connections
- I will look at comments to find out if it is safe and secondly clean
Other practical things…
I always need to know if I can safely drink the water from the tap. I know a lot of people are quite skittish about tap water. Well, I’m not such a person. If the tap water tastes good, satiates my thirst and doesn’t make me sick, I will definitely drink it. I typically carry my own bottle, which makes my trip cheaper (less investment in buying water) and more environmentally friendly, as I won’t be obliged to use plastic bottles.
7. Power Plugs
Really important. Not all countries have the same power voltage or use the same type of sockets. In some countries (yes, I’m talking about you, dear Italy) there are multiple types of sockets, which can be very confusing. I carry a very cool universal adaptor with me (something like this), but if you’re unsure I would advise you to contact your accommodation to find out exactly which sockets they have and consult this very useful website.
8. Currency & Forms of Payment
So I think it’s obvious that you can’t assume you’ll be able to use your currency everywhere you go. For us Europeans of Euro countries… again, we’re very spoiled. I recommend you always exchange some cash to the local currency before your flight (if possible, not all destinations allow this, and yes, talking about you Morocco), even if you use cards such as Monzo and Revolut that will allow you to pay by card in any currency without additional charge. Do carry cash with you… some countries won’t be card friendly, or won’t accept Mastercard or Visa payments as often as you’d think (Portugal for instance…).
On the other side, you have countries like Sweden that are aiming to be cash-free. So in a lot of places, they really won’t accept cash and you’ll have to pay by card. To avoid hefty fees, definitely consider solutions such as Monzo or Revolut (these are the ones I know from living in the UK).
9. Emergency Contacts
Know at least the 999 (UK), 911 (US), 112 (PT) equivalent of the country you’re visiting. Typically you’ll receive a phone message telling you about it when you land… but just take a note with you. Hopefully it would be all right, but just in case.
10. Tipping Culture
Awkward, right? I was raised in a country without a tipping culture so, until this day, I still don’t get it!!!! But yet, when you move to or are visiting a country where tipping is customary (if not even compulsory…) I don’t want to be a cheap tourist who will not tip. In Mexico I ended up spending so much on tipping… but at least no one spat on my food 🙂 so – check if it’s a custom in the country you’re visiting and, if it is, bear in mind what is the amount of tip you’re expected to give.
11. Dressing Codes
This may not apply to all destinations, and perhaps it affects women more than men. But be respectful of the place you’re visiting (after all it is your choice to go there…) and ensure you won’t be shocking the locals or even risk being asked to leave certain places because of the way you’re dressing. This can be due to multiple reasons, religious or cultural. Even if you’re in Europe, and visiting certain religious places, you may be required to have your shoulders covered, and wear trousers. If you’re planning to go to fancier restaurants or bars, please bear in mind that the trainers you were walking around with the whole day may not be the right type of shoe to wear. Especially in Europe.
12. Schedules & Potential discounts or free entries
If you’re planning on visiting museums or other attractions, be sure to check which days they close and the schedule. It is very common to find all of these closing on Mondays for instance. I also always take note of the price, if I have the right to any discount (if you’re a student, younger than 26, or a senior, you may qualify for a cheaper ticket) and also check if there are any days of the week/month when entry may be free. In some cities, every first Sunday of the month all museums are free, for example.
13. Local holidays
To avoid being surprised with unexpected closures, check if there are by any chance any local holidays that may affect your plans. This may mean that certain attractions will be closed, public transportation won’t be as widely available or even that certain things may be busier than usual.
And this is it folks! Hope you find this article useful – is there anything I have missed? I’m sure there are tons of other things… please do share them with me!