Photography

Traveling Advice for the craving Wanderlust. By: Dana Arnold Photography, Virginia Wedding Photographer

Can you believe that summer is just right around the corner? You guys… spring will fly by and be over before you know it. Spring is also the time when people start to plan their summer vacation. Whether it’s in the states or at a different country, planning a trip near and far can take quite a while. In fact, I remember my first time ever traveling out of the country with my husband, Steve. When he surprised me with a trip to Paris, France for our three-year dating anniversary, I was so excited and wanted to start planning right away. I thought we had it all figured out. We had a timeline on when we were visiting what attraction, a list of nice restaurants we wanted to eat at, and the general idea of getting around the city. Except, when we got there, we were not prepared for heavy downpours, and walking what felt like forever, to find our hotel. That made us grouchy, sleepy, and hungry all at the same time. It wasn’t a pretty beginning. But, luckily we found our hotel, took a nap and had a delicious dinner that made it all better.

Anyways…

There were so many things I wish I had known when first traveling abroad. And nowadays, there are apps for that. Seriously, I have no idea what I would do without these apps, the websites I find to save money on booking flights, hotels, and activities. Which is why I want to share with ya’ll some key tips on preparing for your travels, surviving your travels, and making the most out of that situation! Because traveling should be fun, not stressful!

  1. Determine where you want to go and create a budget from there.

The first thing that Steve and I do is work on a budget, and see where we can go from there. This is because many countries simply cost more to visit, eat at, and stay in. We keep a few things in mind when we plan a trip. First off, we focus on what we have and what the value is there. For example, if we have 5,000 American dollars total to spend on a trip, that is only 4,450 in EURO. However, in EURO, the average bottle of coke alone is 3.49 EURO. So, do you think we can spend 8 days in Paris, France? I am talking hotel, flights, food, snacks, activities, transportation, etc. Not comfortably, no. We would, however, have a great and luxurious time in Thailand since our money is much more in value there.

The idea is simply to keep this in mind. Set your budget, make of list of places you want to go to, and then see which country can seem more of value with your budget amount. When we want to see currency trends, we use Oanda. This gives you up to date currency, and, provides a cheat sheet on what the value of a dollar, five dollars, etc. is in that country. This is useful when you start to book hotels, flights, and activities and see the price in that countries currency format.

2. Book your flight first

Once we find out where we want to go based on our budget, we search and book for flights. We always like doing this first for a few reasons. One, it allows us to see the options of when we leave and arrive, giving us an idea on which hotels to pick that has a better check-in time, and because flights always change their price and the closer you are to the travel date, the more expensive they may be.

We always use Hopper. This is a mobile app that compares travel, prices, and when they are expected to raise the price or when the flight is at its lowest. All you do is enter where you are leaving from and where you are going. It then shows a calendar of the next 8 months or so and shows what days of the month where the flights will be cheaper, and when they would be most expensive. It then gives you an option to book now, wait a bit, provides a link that takes you to the flights that are cheapest/better rated. It’s a pretty nifty app and, it’s free!

3. Book Your Hotel

My husband and I stayed in a hostel in Sydney because it was overall an expensive trip and we wanted to save when we could. This, however, was one of those “you get what you pay for” situations. Our hostel was crappy. Horrible beds, dirty bathrooms, and no wifi even though it stated wifi. Yes, we read the reviews but I am pretty sure those are paid people because it was nothing like it. So, in our advice, book a hotel and not a hostel, or air BnB. Privacy and cleanliness have no price and we regret not getting a hotel.

I am a Hilton Honors Member and travel often, so I use Hilton Hotels for most of our travels. Yes, the price may be more but at the end of the year, the number of points I racked up is enough for five nights hotel stay, which, we plan on using for our next vacation. So, if you are willing, sign up for a hotel account for a brand that is all over the world. This way, you are familiar with their policies and can rack up points that do not expire for your future travels.

If you do not want to create a specific hotel account and do not travel as often, Expedia is truly the way to go. You can even create an account through them to rack up points and save! I always love the easy access to filter our location, our price, and our wants (such as free breakfast, close to metro stations, walking distance to city, etc.)

4. Start booking your activities

This is one of the last, yet most important things to do and I do not recommend you wait until the week before to book your activities. When you are ready to research what you want to do, what is most popular, and even restaurants to eat at, Tripadvisor is it! Here, you can book your activities, restaurants to eat at, and plan your visit. We always write down the days on a piece of paper, research if an activity is only a certain day, and then plan out the vacation from there.

For example, in London, Jack The Ripper Tours and shows at the Shakespeare theatre quickly sell out, and only certain shows we were interested in were at certain times. In Paris, dinner in the Eiffel tower was always booked, and we bought that 5 months in advance and we wanted to go there for our 3 year anniversary only (to set the mood, ya know?). So, we made those priorities and then booked everything else on the other days.

I like using TripAdvisor because it tells you the price in your currency, it lets you customize certain times if that activity allows it, and you can add it to a cart and save it. So, when you are ready to book, it’s right there waiting for you. From there, you can download the app, log in, and save all your tickets on your phone, instead of carrying papers with you! The best part is, most activities offer discounts and are a bit cheaper than the actual website or when you buy in person.

5. Other Useful Information

  • Figure out which season you want to visit that country. Friendly reminder, just because it’s summer here, doesn’t mean it’s summer there. This key if you want to avoid tourist season and travel when it’s a bit cooler. Or, if you hate cold weather and want to go when it’s warm (that is our preference).
  • Check your airline’s flight policy. This references back to Hopper. Yes, your flight may be cheap, but your check-in bag may be $100 one way. This happened to us on the way to Thailand. If this is the case and you already booked, get a large suitcase and share if you are going with your spouse only.
  • Do research and figure out if the country you are going to as metro or their version of “uber”. If they do, most of them have apps you can download on your phone to help you get from point a to point b. Also, download “Rome2Rio” on your phone. This app has saved us so much time when we want to get around. It’s like a GPS but tells you step-by-step and the transportation options such as bus, walk, train, etc. If you do take the train or metro, it gives you the option in most places to buy tickets right there on the app.
  • Carry some cash and at least one emergency debit/credit card. Because, you never know when someone is going to steal something. In Singapore, Steve’s shoes were stolen while we were visiting a temple. We had to spend $135.00 just for him to have a decent pair of Nike’s and luckily, I had my discover credit card with me because we left most cash back in our safe in our hotel. So yeah, prepare for stuff like this and keep some extra every time you go out.
  • Lastly, if your phone company has it, get an international plan. Honestly, this is so important for so many reasons. Today, we strictly rely on our phones for communication and transportation. We always add a plan for us that is unlimited data for 10$ each person per/day. So worth it. This allows us to use all the apps we need when traveling (flight, ticket holding, transportation, etc. It’s better than going off of what someone says or looking at street signs you can’t understand and read. I admit that we did not use it for every country since it was easy to get around and people spoke English, but most of the location, such as France, Thailand, and South Korea, we got a plan and it was a god sent!

As someone who has traveled to many different countries for many occasions, my experience on its own has given me enough tips to provide. If you have any questions, want helping booking a trip, or just need an opinion on a location, please let me know! I am here to help you in anyway! You can email me here at danaarnoldphoto@gmail.com

April 5, 2019

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