By Stephen Esposito, CFP®, Travel Enthusiast
Whether you’re a recent retiree that is living a nomadic lifestyle, or a millennial delaying the purchase of a home for the next “experience”, there a few things you should consider before you start planning your next trip outside of the US.
First things first. Where do you want to go? Would a fare that is 50-70% lower than average help you make a decision? The first service you should sign up for after reading this blog is Scott’s Cheap Flights. (https://scottscheapflights.com/) It’s a free service, with a premium option for $49 per year, that sends you e-mail alerts with flight deals from your choice of airports. The alerts show you where and how to find the deals, and how long they expect them to last. You may be asking yourself, how good are the deals? I see direct, non-stop flights from many major airports to popular Europe destinations for $300-$400 per person. If Scott’s is not the service for you then at a minimum you should not book a flight without checking Google Flights first. (google.com/flights)
So, you have found your destination(s) and booked your flight(s), now what? There are some things that probably go without saying, but are worth re-emphasizing:
- Passport: Make sure it isn’t expired. Even further, make sure it isn’t expiring within 6 months of your trip, because some countries will not allow entrance even if it isn’t expired yet!
- Entry requirements: Do any of the countries you are visiting require a Visa? Check with the state department website for the most reliable information. (travel.state.gov)
- If a Visa is required, research a Visa “Runner” service to expedite your entry upon arrival
- Doctor’s Visit: If you are visiting anywhere other than Western Europe, I would recommend visiting your primary care physician at least 30 days prior to your trip to make sure you have proper vaccinations and medications.
- Travel Insurance: Emergency evacuation, medical, and trip interruption are common coverage features you may want to have. Insuremytrip (www.insuremytrip.com) will compare several policies from a number of carriers.
- Tours/Museums/Tourist Destinations: Research and book tours in advance, especially if you intend on visiting well-known tourist locations. Many museums and points of interest sell tickets in advance, online, so try to obtain whatever tickets you can well in advance of your trip to guarantee entry.
Dining & Eating Out
If you enjoy eating out and trying as many foods as possible on your trip, then I strongly suggest you put in some time researching your food destinations in advance. If you enjoy eating at prominent, or highly rated restaurants, then obtaining a reservation in advance is obviously encouraged. I would suggest researching any reservation-required restaurant at least 90 days in advance of your trip, as every restaurant has different policies on when reservations are released. While most will provide you an opportunity to purchase online, some may require you to set an alarm at 3am to make sure you get a table! Some may even require you call to make the reservation; for this I recommend using Skype to make the international call.
If you are going to adventure into street foods and/or other local delicacies, I strongly recommend double checking your sources and research. A good place to start would be Eater, with their “The Eater Guide to the Whole Entire World” (https://www.eater.com/a/global-38). Tripadvisor (www.tripadvisor.com) is a great follow-up source, but I always suggest getting a third reference if possible when venturing to street foods.
Last, but certainly not least, be careful with water consumption. You are likely putting your Fitbit to work, so you will need to stay hydrated, but always drink bottled!
Concierge and Perks
If you are a frequent traveler and are taking at least 1-2 trips a year, I strongly recommend considering a travel credit card. There are many out there, so make sure the one you select will provide you with the most opportunity for value and savings. Travel credit cards almost always have fees, with some as high as $600 per year, but if you use them correctly, your savings will exceed your annual costs by a significant margin. Here are some things to look for:
- No Foreign Transaction fees are a must. Most travel cards have this feature, but please make sure yours does too.
- Airline or travel credits – you may receive up to $300 per year in credits for any dollars spent on a specific airline. (Checked baggage, Wi-Fi, seat upgrades, etc.)
- If you always fly the same airline, you may want to consider your preferred airline’s card, but they aren’t all made equal. Most of these will provide for free checked baggage and possibly lounge access.
- Lounge Access – Priority Pass is common across several cards, which grants access to hundreds of lounges across the world.
- 5-Star Hotel Programs – Some cards include specific hotel programs that when booked through, you receive certain benefits, such as:
- Free breakfast for two
- Free room upgrades (when available)
- Guaranteed late checkouts
- Early check-in (when available)
- Hotel Credits (Typically for hotel restaurants, bars, and spa services)
- Preferred status for various hotel brands (without meeting minimum stay requirements)
- Preferred status for various car rental companies (without meeting minimum rental requirements)
- Travel Insurance
The thought of returning home after the trip of a lifetime can be dreadful enough, the last thing you want is a two hour wait at customs upon your return to the States. If you are traveling abroad at least once a year, consider Global Entry, which is a US Customs and Border Protection program that allows travelers to have expedited entry back into the US. (https://www.cbp.gov/travel/trusted-traveler-programs/global-entry) The cost is $100, and it is good for 5 years. It also includes TSA-Pre for your domestic travel. (Bonus tip: some travel credit cards will credit back the $100 fee)
If you aren’t up to going through an application and interview process with Global Entry, then you should at least download the Mobile Passport Control application for your smart phone. This is a free service (premium is available) that provides you with a dedicated, expedited line at 27 different airports (and 4 seaports) across the country.
If you have any additional tips or tricks, we would love to hear about them. Now go plan that next vacation!
Disclosure: AWP has no relationship with, and receives no benefit from, the services or websites discussed. The author is a user of several services mentioned.