Every holiday is the chance of a lifetime! If you know what you’re doing, you can have any experience you want without maxing out your credit cards. All you have to do is just plan ahead!
1-2 Months Before You Go: Practical Preparation
Passports: Citizens of the U.S. need valid passports to enter other countries and to re-enter their own country. You can apply for a passport at most post offices, passport offices or courts of law and will need to present proof of citizenship and identity. Regular service takes up to six weeks, but you can receive expedited service for an additional fee.
Airfare and Rail Tickets: When it comes to airfare, a little effort can save you a bundle. Many airline websites offer special last-minute deals. The key is to hunt around, be flexible and ask persistently about discounts. Students and those under 26 should never pay full price for a ticket. It is best to buy your Eurail or Europass before leaving to avoid marked-up prices in European cities. While the passes are sold at uniform prices in the U.S., some offer certain bonuses with purchase, so shop around. Also, keep in mind that the pass prices usually go up each year, so if you are traveling early in the year, you can save by purchasing before January 1.
Travel Insurance: Travel insurance generally covers basic areas like medical problems, property loss, trip cancellation/interruption and emergency evacuation. ISIC provides basic insurance benefits and access to a toll-free 24hr emergency hotline.
Accommodations: Many young budget travelers frequent hostels because of the low rates and atmosphere of camaraderie; however, many don’t accept reservations. If you plan on staying in hostels, research your options and call to find out what time of day generally offers greatest room availability. If you plan to stay in hotels, book your room far in advance – many hotels offer online reservations.
2 Weeks Before You Go: Creating Your Dream Trip
Research: Find out everything you can about your destination(s) and pick at least 10 sights you don’t want to miss. Many websites and travel guides have suggested itineraries and sample walking tours-find ones that suit you and add them to your plans.
Ask around: The best way to find the inside scoop on your travel destination is often to talk to other travelers. Check out chat forums on travel websites to get advice on anything from hidden deals to hostel recommendations to safety tips for solo travelers.
Life and Times: Read up on the history and culture of your destination. The more you know about a place, the more comfortable you’ll feel when you get there.
Travel Packing Tips
Pack Lightly. Lay out only what you absolutely need; then take half the clothes and twice the money.
- If you plan to cover most of your itinerary by foot, a sturdy frame backpack is unbeatable. Toting a suitcase or trunk is fine if you plan to live in one or two cities or can store things in your car, but otherwise can be burdensome. In addition to your main piece of luggage, a day pack (a small backpack or courier bag) is a must.
- For most places, it’s a good idea to bring a warm jacket, a rain jacket, sturdy shoes or hiking boots, and thick socks. Flip-flops or waterproof sandals are must-haves for grubby hostel showers. If you have a room, you may also want to add one outfit beyond the jeans and t-shirt uniform, and maybe a nicer pair of shoes. Remember also that if you plan to visit any religious or cultural sites, you’ll need something besides tank tops and shorts to be respectful.
Washing Clothes. Bring a small bar or tube of detergent soap, a small rubber ball to stop up the sink, and a travel clothesline so it won’t take up any space in your luggage bag.
Converters & Adapters. In the United States, electricity is 110 volts AC. 220/240V electrical appliances are not compatible with 110V current. Appliances from anywhere outside the US and Canada need an adapter (which changes the shape of the plug) and a converter (which changes the voltage). Don’t make the mistake of using only an adapter (unless appliance instructions explicitly state otherwise).
First-Aid Kit. For a basic first-aid kit, pack: bandages, paracetamol, antiseptic cream, a thermometer, a Swiss Army knife, tweezers, decongestant, diarrhea or upset-stomach medication (Pepto-Bismol or Imodium), an antihistamine, sunscreen, insect repellent, and burn ointment.
Cell Phones. A cell phone can be a lifesaver (literally) on the road; it is highly recommended that travelers carry one, especially when traveling alone.
Other Useful Items. For safety purposes, you should bring a money belt and small padlock. Basic outdoors equipment (plastic water bottle, flashlight, compass, waterproof matches, pocketknife, sunglasses, sunscreen, hat) may also prove useful. Quick repairs of torn garments can be done on the road with a needle and thread; also consider bringing electrical tape for patching tears. Other things you’re likely to forget are an umbrella, seal-able plastic bags (for damp clothes, soap, food, shampoo, and other liquids), an alarm clock, safety pins, rubber bands, and garbage bags.
There are many benefits to traveling alone, including independence and greater interaction with locals. On the other hand, any solo traveler is a more vulnerable target of harassment and street theft. Follow these tips to keep yourself at lower risk:
- When traveling alone, avoid unwanted attention by blending in as much as possible. If questioned, never admit that you are traveling alone.
- Familiarize yourself with your surroundings before setting out, and carry yourself with confidence.
- Check maps in shops and restaurants rather than on the street.
- Maintain regular contact with someone at home who knows your itinerary.
Women traveling on their own inevitably face some additional safety concerns, but it’s easy to be adventurous without taking undue risks. Consider staying in hostels that offer single rooms that lock from the inside or in religious organizations with rooms for women only.
- Stick to centrally located accommodations.
- Always carry extra money for a phone call, bus, or taxi.
- Hitchhiking is never safe for lone women, or even for two women traveling together.
- When on overnight or long train rides, if there is no women-only compartment, choose one occupied by women or couples.
- Look as if you know where you’re going and approach older women or couples for directions if you’re lost or uncomfortable.
- Generally, the less you look like a tourist, the better off you’ll be. Dress conservatively, especially in rural areas.
- Trying to fit in can be effective, but dressing to the style of an obviously different culture may cause you to be ill at ease and a conspicuous target.
- Use your best judgment.
Your best answer to verbal harassment is no answer at all; feigning deafness, sitting motionless, and staring straight ahead at nothing in particular will do a world of good that reactions usually don’t achieve.
Budget Travel Tips
Costs: The cost of your trip will vary considerably, depending on where you go, how you travel, and where you stay. The most significant expenses will probably be your round trip airfareto the US and a rail passor bus pass
Staying on a Budget. Before you go, spend some time calculating a reasonable per-day budgetthat will meet your needs. Accommodations start at about $12 per night in a hostel bed, while a basic sit-down meal costs about $10 depending on the region. If you stay in hostels and prepare your own food, you’ll probably spend from $30-40 per person per day. A slightly more comfortable day (sleeping in hostels/guesthouses and the occasional budget hotel, eating one meal a day at a restaurant, going out at night) would run $50-65.
Tips for Saving Money. Some simpler ways include searching out opportunities for free entertainment, splitting accommodation and food costs with other trustworthy fellow travelers, and buying food in supermarkets rather than eating out. Do your laundryin the sink (unless you’re explicitly prohibited from doing so). With that said, don’t go overboard with your budget obsession. Though staying within your budget is important, don’t do so at the expense of your health or a great travel experience.
Tipping & Bargaining. In the US, it is customary to tip wait staff and cab drivers 15-20% (at your discretion). Tips are usually not included in restaurant bills, unless you are in a party of six or more. At the airport and in hotels, porters expect at least a $1 per bag tip to carry your bags. Bargaining is generally frowned upon and fruitless in the US.
Each new ISIC issued in the U.S. after May 10,012 includes an ISIC Prepaid MasterCard®. You can use your ISIC as a payment card, and as an ATM card when you need money abroad. The ISIC Prepaid MasterCard offers competitive exchange rates and you won’t need to wait for the bank to open! Before you leave the U.S. check the fees schedule.
If you use traveler’s checks or bills, carry some in small denominations (the equivalent of $50 or less) for times when you are forced to exchange money at disadvantageous rates, but bring a range of denominations since charges may be levied per check cashed. Traveler’s checks are one of the safest and least troublesome means of carrying funds. American Express and Visa are the most widely recognized brands. Many banks and agencies sell them for a small commission. Check issuers provide refunds if the checks are lost or stolen, and many provide additional services, such as toll-free refund hotlines abroad, emergency message services, and stolen credit card assistance. Ask about toll-free refund hotlines and the location of refund centers when purchasing checks, and always carry emergency cash.
Ensure that you take all the immunizations you need before leaving the U.S. It is best to see your General Practitioner before you leave so that you can get all the suggested immunizations depending on where you’re travelling to and from.