As I cover different travel themes on Solo Traveler, I will turn to different experts. In this case, I went to Patrick Evans of STA Travel. STA is a youth travel company well worth checking out. His own travel experience consists mainly of European hot spots with a recent trip to Belfast among the highlights.
I like to call my travel style organized chaos.
I often will book my flight at the last minute, and then find a hotel. Beyond that, I try not to plan too much, but there are three very specific things I make sure I have straight before the wheels go up on the plane.
1. Get My Money in Order
I travel overseas enough that I went ahead and picked up a Capital One credit card. Why Capital One? No overseas transaction charges like most U.S.-based credit cards. I haven’t had any trouble yet using it, even though much of Europe is switching to the pin and chip cards. You won’t be able to use it to buy your metro or train passes as their kiosks require that type of card, but I haven’t run into any other problems.
I also use my IYTC (http://www.myisic.com/MyISIC/), the International Youth Travel Card for travelers under 26 years of age, to exchange some cash at Travelex with zero percent commission. ISIC and ITIC cardholders for student and teacher travelers also get the same discount. The exchange rate isn’t as great usually as what you will get using a credit card, but it is always a good idea to have some Euros, Pounds or whatever the local currency is on hand for tipping, transportation needs or when you want to try the local street food.
If you don’t fall into one of the categories to take advantage of the discount, check with the bank you regularly use. Many banks often can order currency for you and will cut you a break on any fees since you are a regular customer.
How much you get is really up to where you are traveling and the type of travel you enjoy. If you prefer to eat nicer meals, take taxis rather than public transport, and spend more on entertainment, you’ll likely need to keep a little more on hand if your credit card is declined.
Carrying around your cash is really all about personal comfort. I skip the travel wallet and opt to keep any extra funds in the hotel safe in my room. When I do carry cash, I will put half in my wallet and half in my pocket to avoid a potential pickpocket stealing all of my cash in one fell swoop.
2. Make Sure My Insurance Is In Order
Make sure you get travel insurance! I can’t stress it enough. At STA Travel (http://www.statravel.com/), our company believes in it so much that they purchase it for every employee for their travels.
For as little as $2.00 per day, you can cover yourself if something happens to go wrong.
It could be something as ordinary, like your luggage being lost that seems to happen at least once to every traveler. With travel insurance, you’ll get money straight away to get replacement clothing and other essentials so the airline’s slight mishap doesn’t derail your trip. If something more serious were to happen, you’d be able to get emergency medical treatment with no out of pocket medical expenses for the first $1,000.
No matter where you are based, don’t assume that if you already have standard health insurance, you are covered. Even if you think you are covered, double check before departing. In Canada for example, emergency medical expenses are generally not covered by a provincial medical plan.
If you’re going to spend several hundred or a few thousand dollars on a trip, the small cost of travel insurance is worth it for the peace of mind alone.
3. Organize My Documents
Organizing your travel documents these days has never been easier.
I take a two-pronged approach and use TripIt (http://www.tripit.com/) to keep all of my travel documents in one place online and on my phone, and I print out hard copies. I store my hard copies in a pretty cool retro document holder I got from our friends over at Flight 001 (http://www.flight001.com/). Papers can easily get lost, so I make sure I keep my hard copies in the holder so I don’t accidentally throw them away with the day’s newspaper or they don’t get crumbled at the bottom of my bag.
For my most important documents, like my passport, hotel confirmations and flight itinerary, I scan them to create a PDF to send them to a friend or family member who I could reach in an emergency.
With my documents, insurance and money in order, I can relax and enjoy my trip – no matter where the destination.