This post will discuss tips for traveling locally–in your state or in your region. Why? Because the world is experiencing a pandemic, as we’ve detailed our recent travel experience with COVID 19. When I was talking with a friend recently about her travel plans for …
Tag: planning tips and tricks
Thoughtfully preparing for a trip can make your vacation even more fun and memorable. Below are nine ways to build anticipation for a vacation. We’ve mentioned before that a trip is made up of three phases: pre-trip, trip and post-trip. All three are an important …
Ah, the money conundrum. How much cash should I carry? Should I use my debit or credit card? Is it better to exchange money or use an ATM? I get more questions about money than anything else when friends and acquaintances are planning a trip overseas. Debit, credit or cash? Which is best for international travel? Personally, I use all three. But there is really no right answer. Below are some questions to consider and to research the next time you are traveling abroad and trying to answer this question for yourself.
Debit, credit or cash?
What is the preferred method of payment in the country I am traveling to?
Many countries, like Denmark and Australia, have become cashless for all practical purposes. That is not to say you cannot pay in cash, but it is neither quick nor convenient. Their banking systems are years ahead of ours and it is easier, even expected, to pay with a credit card. On the other hand, there are plenty of countries where you will be hard pressed to find a business that will accept a credit card. A little research is necessary to see if a card or cash system is preferred. This will help determine how much cash you will need.
What type of fees does my credit card charge?
If your credit card charges an international fee for each use, this may affect how often you want to use it. It may be easier to save it for larger purchases or emergencies and stick to cash. Of course, if you are traveling in an expensive country, this may necessitate multiple trips to the ATM and/or you carrying around large amounts of cash. These are not particularly good options. You may want to think about getting a credit card that does not charge an international fee. On the other hand, these types of credit cards usually charge an annual fee. So you really have to pick your poison on this one and decide which type of fee you want to pay.
What is the cost of living in the country I am traveling to?
$100 will get you a lot further in Serbia than it will in Switzerland. Cash will serve you well in Serbia where it is actually kind of hard to spend large sums of money. But if you want to go cardless in Switzerland, good luck! The higher the cost of living is in a country, the more likely you will be better served using a credit card. The lower the cost of living is in a country, the more likely you will be to pay for everything in cash. Again, some research on this topic ahead of time will serve you well. My favorite website for this type of research is Price of Travel.
Do my planned activities and/or lodging require cash payment?
Do you have lodging, tours or events lined up that require cash payment? You need to take these types of expenses into account. You do not want to show up to your walking tour and realize you do not have enough cash to pay for it. Or leave a tip.
Am I traveling to different countries with different currencies?
The Euro crosses many borders and if you are traveling to multiple countries that use it, great! You will not have to worry so much about how much cash you take out. However, if you are traveling through multiple countries that use different currencies, you will have to do a bit more research…and possibly some math. When R and I traveled to the Balkans a few years ago, we ended up in four countries with four different currencies. We had to try to get out the correct amount of cash for the length of our stay four different times. Honestly, it was a pain.
The B and R method for paying for stuff in a foreign county
I prefer to show up at my final destination, go through customs and look for an ATM. After 15 years of travel, only once have I not been able to get cash from an airport ATM. (That one place was Krakow, Poland. Three ATMs, three different debit cards, no luck. Instead, we used a card to purchase bus fare to the city center. There we located an ATM that provided us with cash and we went on our merry way).
Some people like to order money ahead of time so that they arrive at their destination with some local currency in hand. This costs money, but those who do it probably feel that money is worth the peace of mind. I do not bother. I also do not bother exchanging money at the airport. Everyone knows they rip you off. Plus, you have to carry around a bunch of U.S. dollars and that just seems risky to me.
How much cash do I take out?
Generally, I withdraw the equivalent of $200 (USD). If I am traveling in a cash-preferred country, I may take out $300-400 (USD). I wouldn’t go much higher than that for fear I would lose it or have it stolen. I then see how fast I spend my money. If it takes me the whole trip to spend that $200, great! (That rarely happens though. I enjoy shopping too much.) If it takes me about half the trip to spend $200, then I know I need to get the same amount out the next time. If I stumble upon a really cool market and blow through $200 in one day (hypothetically, of course), well then I get out double the next day.
It is always a crapshoot trying to make your cash last through the end of a trip. That is why I like using a credit card when I travel. It takes the guesswork out of determining how much cash I will need.
In the end, I would prefer to overestimate a bit than underestimate. If I overestimate, I can buy some souvenirs at the airport or possibly save it for the next trip–I do that a lot with Euros since I know I will be able to use them on a future trip to Europe. If I underestimate, I may have to hit up an ATM and take out the bare minimum. I hate that.
- It never hurts to divide your cash and save it in various locations. That way, if your purse is stolen, you may still have some cash hidden in your luggage. (Read more about staying safe while traveling.)
- I do travel with some US dollars, usually around $50-75. This is hidden away and is there strictly for an emergency. I have read about people who travel with a couple hundred dollars and find it useful. I am not sure what kind of traveling they are doing, but I have never had to tap into my emergency stash and I wouldn’t want to carry more than that for fear of it getting stolen.
- If you are traveling with a friend, you might consider dividing and conquering your trips to the ATM. On that trip to the Balkans I mentioned earlier, I took out cash in Serbia for both R and me. Then in Montenegro, R took out cash. That way we both got hit with one international charge instead of two.
When it comes to money and travel, there is no right or wrong way. There is just your personal preference and level of comfort. I like a mix of debit, credit and cash. That mix depends on the country I am traveling to. Research is key here. I use my debit card to withdraw cash, and then I make all of my purchases using either that cash or my credit card. This method has served me well so far. Fingers crossed it continues to do so.
In 2017, R and I spent our first Christmas on the road and away from home. As the only single gals in our respective families, traipsing across Europe for Christmas sounded like a fine idea. We love our families, but we are lucky enough to see them on a regular basis. And without kids of our own, Christmas just kind of feels like another day off. Why not use that day to see how another part of world celebrates?
It was one of our better ideas and we have decided to make it an annual thing. We spent last Christmas hanging out in Bruges, Belgium. This year, we will be in Cologne, Germany. Experts at holiday travel we are not. But we have learned a few key lessons and are happy to share them with you.
Make arrangements early
Christmas is one of the busiest times of the year for travel. That means it can also be one of the most expensive. The trick to finding a good deal is to book early. We have gotten amazing deals to Europe during Christmas using Delta Vacations. We found those good deals by looking and booking early. We’re talking March. You might not have to start quite that early, but you are definitely going to want to start earlier than you would for any other trip. When it comes to Christmas travel, spontaneity probably won’t pay off.
Skip the hotel and rent a home
Hotels are nice and all, but if you want a cozy Christmas experience, you will want to rent out a home. Obviously, we are big Airbnb fans around here and we found a great one last year in Bruges to celebrate the holidays. Our place had a nice kitchen, comfy couches and even a fireplace to hang our stockings. It was located across the street from a chocolate shop and steps away from the main square where the Christmas market was in full swing. I love home rentals in general. But they are a must for Christmas travel.
Research what will be open and what will be closed
Each country, and city for that matter, celebrates Christmas a little differently. You will want to do a little research into hours of operation. Find out what museums are open on the days you plan to visit. Do the same with restaurants and the Christmas markets. The Christmas markets in Belgium were open the entire time we were there, including Christmas day. However, that will not be the case in Germany (from everything we have read), so we are tailoring our schedule and plans accordingly.
Make a reservation for dinner
Depending on your chosen location for Christmas, you may or may not have some fun options for dining. In Bruges, most of the nicer restaurants were open on Christmas Eve. We did a little research and found an adorable place in Old Town that served a special Christmas menu. So we made a reservation, which was necessary for having the Christmas dining experience we wanted. The plan was to dress up and go all out for this dinner. However, R and I miscalculated our schedule and instead of dressing up, we barely made our reservation at all! Oh well. We still had a wonderful (and interesting) meal with good friends.
Make a special meal…or two
Perhaps you will be visiting a country where very little is open on Christmas day, including the restaurants. Even if you have plenty of dining options, it can be fun to cook a nice meal in the cozy home you opted to rent. (If you stay in a hotel, you will most likely be out of luck with this one.) Our friends hit up the local butcher and grocery store before the big day and come Christmas evening, we had a delicious, home-cooked meal. We gathered around the table, laughing and eating until our stomachs hurt.
If you want to make a special meal at your rental home, you will need to do a little prep work. Be sure to check out the cooking options at your rental. Take note of pots, pans, spices, etc. (In fact, it might not hurt to bring a few spices with you.) After that, head to the local butcher and/or grocery store. Try not to leave this until the last minute or you might be out of luck.
Exchange a few gifts
There is really no need to bring a suitcase full of presents on a Christmas trip. After all, the point of the trip is to see and do. At the same time, exchanging gifts is fun! R and I decided to bring just enough gifts to fill up each other’s stockings. That way, we would not have to pack too much, but we would still have something to open on Christmas day. When Christmas morning rolled around, after sleeping late and brewing some tea, we sat in our living room and exchanged gifts. It was fun and relaxing.
Decorate a bit
Other than our stockings (made special by my mother), we did not really think about decorations. But our friend G did! She packed small, lightweight decorations that made their place a lot more festive and fun. I would caution going crazy over decorations, you have to pack them in your suitcase after all. But some small options can bring a lot of cheer to what might be a sparsely decorated Airbnb.
Christmas on the road can be a fun and different experience, especially if you are over commercialization and family get-togethers. However, there is a lot of stress associated with traveling during the holidays. Keep the tips we shared in mind and you will be well on your way to having a wonderful Christmas vacation.
Finding the perfect Airbnb (for you) is not an impossible feat. However, it is not always a walk in the park either. If finding the right place to stay using Airbnb has been a struggle for you in the past, fear not. R and I …
A few weeks ago, my sister and I flew from Boise to Sacramento, where we met up with my cousin from Utah. Our destination was our Grandma’s and Aunt’s house in Northern California. I’m very lucky in that my sister and cousin are also my good friends, but traveling with family brings its own set of dynamics that are different from when you travel with people you aren’t related to. This post includes some ideas on how to make sure you enjoy your trip (and don’t revert to childhood norms where you put gum in your sister’s hair if she annoys you).
Plan meals accordingly
Very little puts you in a bad mood faster than being hungry. It is imperative that you don’t push off feeding too long in exchange for one more store, one more hike, etc. This is a good rule to travel by anyway, but it is especially important when traveling with family because, let’s face it, we can be bi%(#es to our family members a lot easier than we can to our friends. Our families are stuck with us, so they have to be more forgiving and look past our faults.
This, unfortunately, can lead to bad behavior we wouldn’t dream of pulling with our friends. The bigger the group, the easier it is to be indecisive and push off meals. Don’t fall into this trap! If it is getting close to lunchtime, make sure you stop what you’re doing and eat some food. No one likes to be around hangry.
On a trip to Europe with a large group of my friend’s family, we discovered that it was best not to let Mama R get too hungry. A good way to make sure we didn’t reach the point of no return was to always have chocolate on hand. A delicious piece of chocolate in Europe was an excellent stopgap until we could quickly find a restaurant. It is a good idea to always carry along some sort of small snack to tide you over until the next meal.
Use a cost-splitting app
In a post about handy travel apps, we talked about Split, an app that allows you to keep track of who paid for what and then show the final balance so you can square up at the end of the trip. Since we all know families get weird about money (how many people no longer talk to their siblings after a will is read?) it is best to be upfront about costs. And it is hard to argue with this app if you take the time to use it…which I didn’t on our California trip.
Thus at the airport to fly home I was inevitably pulling receipts out of my purse and trying to figure out who owed whom. Lucky for me, my sis got a degree in math, so she could do the computations. However, it would have been much easier to open the app and see the final numbers. Next month I’m going to meet up with most of the crew again in Washington D.C. and I’m going to make sure I have Split ready to go before I fly out. It is a great tool for when you are traveling with family.
A note about parents paying
This is lame that I have to write this, but it is SO easy to get resentful when you feel like your parents are footing the bill for one of your siblings and not you. This terrible emotion just creeps up out of the smallest part of us and it is important to head it off before it surfaces, otherwise your vacation with your family might be your last. Before you leave on your trip, speak with your parents or siblings and lay down the law. Sure, this is easier said than done and probably stretches way beyond just family vacations, but it is extra important to do on a trip because if you get annoyed at home you can always just remove yourself from a situation; on a vacation, though, you are stuck. BTW: B wrote a great post about traveling with her ‘rents.
Prioritize and compromise
There is consistently that one person in a family who always seems to get their way…and it drives the rest of the group bonkers. To make sure bossy pants doesn’t monopolize your hard-earned vacation, you should discuss important things that you want to see or do on your trip. Everyone going should list their most important items and these should be incorporated into the overall travel plan.
Spoiler alert: you’re not going to be able to do everything you want to do. This is where the compromise part comes in. You can console yourself by knowing that while the trip itself is part of this family vacation, so is ‘family.’
You came on a trip with your family to spend time with the people you love. It is more important to spend time with your Grandma than to go on a five mile solo hike. When you are planning out what you guys want to do, it is a good idea to keep in mind that not everyone can do everything, so be a team player and you’ll enjoy the the time you spend with your peeps.
Do your own thing
In direct opposition to the advice above…sometimes you need to get away. If you are going to lose your cool if you spend one more minute with these people…you should definitely take a time out. There’s no shame in breaking up the group for a few hours.
Likewise, if a few of you want to explore a city and a few of you want to chill by the pool for the afternoon, do it! The trick here is to try to make sure that no one feels left out. Don’t get a buddy and spend all your time with that person, just the two of you. You came as a group, so do group things most of the time. This is important when traveling with family.
Get enough sleep
Like the advice about making sure to eat so you don’t get mean, some people get real cranky if they don’t get enough quality sleep. I know that as I’ve gotten older, sleeping is one of my very favorite things to do (is that sad? My fave thing happens when I’m unconscious? Hmm…). If I want to be at my best on this trip and enjoy to the maximum I need to get enough sleep.
One member of my family LOVES being around family. The more, the better, and couldn’t fathom why everyone wouldn’t all just pile into one giant room and sleep on the floor, beds, couches, etc. I am NOT like that. I prefer my own space when I sleep and I am too old to sleep on the floor. If you are like me, then for heaven sakes, don’t feel bad getting an extra room at the hotel. If lack of sleep impedes your ability to enjoy yourself during the day, it will be worth the extra cost. Traveling with small children gives you a good excuse for this, but really, you don’t need an excuse. Just get another room if you want a bed to yourself.
Go with the flow
No matter how much a vacation has been planned, things always happen that change your original plan. We got rained out of our camel ride in the Sahara, it was too windy to take a boat to see the Northern Lights in Reykjavik, the sun was covered with clouds on our sunrise hike in Indonesia. Guess, what, it happens. Roll with it. This is especially helpful when traveling with family.
On our trip to California, we wanted to go to the coast one day. Unfortunately, Grandma wanted to have a big dinner on the day with the best weather. Instead of throwing a fit, Gammy changed the dinner to the next night and came to the coast with us. It was a beautiful day and I know we all enjoyed the sun and each other’s company. Being flexible will make sure you enjoy spending time with your family.
I don’t see my family, especially those who live far away, as much as I do my friends. Going on a vacation and traveling with family can be a great way to reconnect and catch up. It is a different experience than when B and I hit the road, but different can definitely be good.
Yeah for your birthday! I do not know very many people who enjoy getting older (besides kids that is). Regardless of whether you embrace getting older, pretend it isn’t happening or actively work to prevent it, those birthdays roll around once a year no matter …