A trip is supposed to be relaxing. Yet you can find yourself becoming exhausted after an international trip from all of the small hassles you have to endure. Because a vacation is an investment, in your memories, relationships, your perspective on life, you want it to be as beautiful and carefree as possible. Below are some tips on how to make your next international trip less stressful.
Sign up for TSA Pre-Check
Among the many small annoyances that slowly add up as travelers make their way through the airport is going through security. Shoes have to be removed, laptops taken out of stuffed bags, personal items sorted into different bins. And then there are the lines.
Save yourself some of the hassle by signing up for the TSA Pre-Check program. Even if you only travel once a year or less, it's worth the sweet feeling of skipping the line and avoiding the hassle of unloading your gear to go through security.
The benefits of TSA Pre-Check are that you can speed through security, in less than 5 minutes (according to the TSA), and you won't have to remove your shoes, laptops, liquids, belts and light jackets. The process for signing up involves completing an online form and then meeting a representative in-person for a background check and fingerprinting at one of the U.S. locations.
Plan Sensible Flight Routes
Many people wear the pride of finding a cheap flight deal as a badge of honor. But traveling internationally isn't a frequent activity for most people. It's likely a special event and the experience you have will stick with you much longer than the joy of finding the cheapest deal. So, plan your flights. This will sometimes mean booking a more expensive flight in exchange for convenience, comfort and to avoid hassles.
Do you mind arriving late at night and having to navigate an unfamiliar place? Or would a morning arrival be better? If you have a connection, do you have enough time between flights to collect bags, go through customs and re-check bags, if necessary? Is your layover too long or is a long layover a good thing? Does your connection allow for extra time if the first leg of your journey is delayed? Can you avoid this all together and fly direct to your destination?
Check in Online in Advance
The airlines allow you to check in online within 24 hours of your flight. Even for plane tickets purchased through an online travel agency, you can still check in directly on the airline's website using the confirmation number. Submit your passport details, purchase extras such as Wi-fi or better seats, and print your boarding pass at home (or download it to your phone) to avoid having to wait in line at the check in counter at the airport.
Carry On Only
It may require some creativity and planning, but by only taking a carrying on bag, you avoid having to wait in the check in line at the airline counter. You also avoid the extra time spent waiting for luggage to come through the baggage claim at arrival and the risk of lost bags. Also, if you have a flight connection outside the US, you may have to collect your bags, go through customs, re-check your bags before continuing on your next flight leg. This increases the chances of missing a connection.
Check Cell Phone for International Use
When you're accustomed to the convenience of whipping out your phone to check directions or restaurant reviews in an instant, you'll want to be sure you have service available while you travel.
You have a few options. If you have a GSM phone, request that your wireless company unlock it. This way, you can buy a local SIM card that will work in the country you're visiting. Or, you can simply buy or rent a cell phone that will work in other countries through a company such as Cellular Abroad.
Your phone company may also offer international phone plans that you can add to your existing plan for a short time. For example, AT&T's Passport plan that includes calls, texts and data can be purchased for $40. This is in addition to complimentary WiFi that you would find in hotels or coffee shops (and even outdoors such as Mirabell Gardens in Salzburg) where can use voice apps, such as Skype and text messaging apps, such as WhatsApp.
Plan Some Activities in Advance
We definitely recommend taking it easy while on vacation, without turning your trip into a whirlwind checklist of things to do. But if there are some sights you wish to see at your destination, try planning your visit to them in advance either through research or booking a tour. A little bit of planning can save you the hassle of arriving at a museum that's closed on the only day you're there, getting lost (and wasting time) trying to find a spot, or finding that a place can only be explored with a guided group, that just happens to be sold out.
You may also wish to research some of the places you're thinking of visiting via photo sites, to be sure that they're worth the time and effort.
Work Out Ground Transportation in Advance
When you have a limited amount of travel time, winging it on ground transportation can be a stress-inducing option. You'd be surprised at how many cities around the world don't have Uber or Supershuttle or that frequent trains actually sell out. If you're traveling to multiple cities that are reachable by train, consult the train schedules and buy tickets before you depart the U.S. This will also save you the challenge of buying tickets at the station where language may be an issue as well as the chaotic nature of the stations themselves.
Also, look into how you will get around within the city. Do you prefer taxis, or is the metro an option for you? Be sure you know how to buy and use tickets to ride public transit.
Go in the Opposite Direction of the Tourists
A big travel stressor is crowds. When you can, try to go where there are fewer people. Is everyone at the Louvre? Opt for the Museum of the Middle Ages in Paris. Are flights filling up for the Memorial Day holiday? Take some days off in early May instead.