It's Memorial Day weekend upcoming, graduations are occuring, and summer travel is around the corner. In just a few weeks we will be enjoying an AmaWaterways Danube river cruise with a few extra nights in Budapest at the end, and then we have a quick turnaround before we head to Thailand with stops in Bangkok, Phuket and Koh Samui followed by another quick stop in Singapore. Full trip reports will of course follow.
Most experienced travelers have their own tips to make their journeys flow with as little hassle as possible, and we'll share ours below. None of the tips below are country specific, so make sure your travel advisor lets you know well in advance if there are any special requirements in your destinations. So almost no pretty pictures this week, just some practical advice for a change.
Top 5 Summer Travel Tips
The most controversial topic in the travel blog world! J5Travel are strong advocates of taking carry-ons only on ANY trip and we are approaching our 10-year anniversary of this household rule. There have been no exceptions except for moving our daughter in to college. We completely understand that this does not fit with everyone's needs, but if your itinerary includes more than a few flights, some trains, or multiple destinations then you will be doing yourself a huge favor by minimizing your luggage. Not only will movement be easier but you almost eliminate the risk of your luggage going missing, which unfortunately is still a fairly common occurrence. If traveling as a family we advise everyone takes responsibility for their own carry-on, rather than taking fewer larger bags.
2. Global Entry
Perhaps a little late if you are traveling in the next month, but apply anyway for any future international travel. There are several programs that can speed immigration such as STEP, Nexus, and Sentri, but Global Entry (below) is the most universal and also comes with automatic TSA Precheck. Global Entry has saved our family many hours by avoiding long immigration entry queues back into USA (especially JFK!). The fee is $100 for a 5 year membership and you will need to book an interview appointment at your nearest office, but check your credit card benefits as several issuers have cards that will rebate the fee in full.
Multiple tips in one here...
Make sure to tell your bank and credit card issuers where and when you are traveling internationally. You don't even need to call them these days. If you sign in to your various accounts there are links to list your destinations. It is not a fun feeling to be cashless and have a credit card declined in a foreign country (um...Thailand 1998). No matter where you are going it's always a good idea to have some local currency in your pocket. In this day of credit cards and mobile apps, it's not quite as essential but is very useful for gratuities and local shopping in markets. Rather than ordering currency before travel, we now use an ATM immediately on arrival at our destination airport. This is usually the most cost effective way of obtaining a small amount of local currency, but again, you must let your bank know where you are ahead of time.
4. Passport and Visas
A good travel advisor will let you know if your destinations require any type of Visa that needs to be applied for before travel. There are many variations around the world now, for instance New Zealand has a new policy coming in October 2019 in the form of an Electronic Travel Authority (ETA), which will need to be completed prior to travel. Passports are often overlooked. It is vital you check your expiry date, as many countries will DENY entry even if your passport is valid well through your dates of travel. Some countries require up to 6 months validity beyond your travel dates. I am lucky enough to have a different problem, as my passport is almost full of stamps (below) and you must have blank pages in order to enter some countries. I will be applying for an expedited process renewal in August.
5. Slow Down
Our own travels and now many of our clients trips have shown us that most vacations become even more enjoyable when you slow down and soak up your location. If your summer travel is a cultural experience rather than the beach, then schedule your tours wisely, book your skip-the-line tickets (essential), but leave some gaps to just wander aimlessly, relax, and don't think you are missing out because you haven't seen "everything".
Just as an example, on my trip to St Andrews in 2017, James and I had a lot of golf scheduled, but if I hadn't taken the time to slow down I'd never have enjoyed the incredible beach there (below).
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