Flights – Compare prices and make sure you are covering all your airlines! American Airlines and tiny regional airlines don’t necessarily get aggregated into Kayak. Look at edreams against individual airline websites and book whatever is the lowest price after fees (edreams is sneaky!). If you are a heavy packer, you may want to add the additional bags when you first buy your tickets with budget airlines like Ryanair or Easyjet because if you buy the bag in person it’ll often cost you triple what it would have cost if you pre-purchased.
Hotels – Unless you are a seasoned traveller, know someone on the other side, or are referred by a trusted advisor to an apartment, do NOT use airbnb! Stick to major hotel chains or hotels with good reviews if you don’t want to be surprised and to (mostly) guarantee you’ll have a good English-speaking resource. If you are price-sensitive and don’t have special affinity towards a specific hotel chain, I use hotels.com (which charges extra fees) for the stay 10 nights, get 1 free.
Credit and ATM Cards - call your card providers in advance to figure out what the international fees are and to let them know you are traveling! If you have no-fee cards, you don’t have to fuss with taking large cash withdrawals! You may have heard something about needing a chip in your credit card to work in Europe–that’s mostly false. The only place I’ve had trouble without a chip is in Turkey, but if you ask them to use a Garanti scan machine instead of a Denizbank you shouldn’t have trouble.
Here are my personal favs:
- ATM: Charles Schwab’s High Yield Checking Account which offers ATM rebates (free but annoyingly takes some time to open the account and deposit checks, which I found out the hard way before my Germany trip last year!)
- Credit Card: Chase Sapphire Preferred Credit Card for no international fees ($95 annual fee), and of course if you already have the American Express Platinum though it isn’t as widely accepted.
Cell Phones - If you don’t travel often and you aren’t going for more than two weeks, it’s probably not worth it to figure out how to get a local cell or SIM card. However, you should definitely turn on an international data plan even if it’s just contingency for that one time you accidentally turn on your phone and you get blasted with iMessages. Verizon is $25/100MB and AT&T is similar. As for text messages and voice, for Verizon (and probably AT&T), the monthly $5 plan is prorated, so you can always turn it on/off for your two week vacation.
Safety and Emergencies
- Buy a cheap bag that seals really well, or only put your wallet into tight pockets where you’d feel hands.
- Leave your passport in the hotel safe and carry a copy unless you are in a place that requires a passport for international travelers for age verification (like in Hong Kong, though I’ve personally never been carded).
- Try not to carry a lot of cash, but make sure you have some for emergencies! I also like to leave some money in the hotel safe just in case.
- If you lose your credit cards, call right away (of course), but if it is a Visa, you can demand the Visa Emergency Card be overnighted to your hotel.
- It may be best to leave your family heirlooms home