This is the ULTIMATE TRAVEL PREP GUIDE that discusses pre-trip preparation including deciding where to travel, looking for deals on flights, choosing activities and excursions in each location, and our must-haves for travel. We want to share some tips that saved us money and time, and a few apps and websites that made travel life a little bit easier!
WEBSITES & APPS
When we begin planning a trip, we usually head over to Google Flights first. Google Flights aggregates information from various airlines and allows for a pretty accurate price comparison. We really enjoy the price calendar feature which shows when flights are the cheapest. Google Flights also provides destination suggestions if you provide a date range and departure city. The main drawback of Google Flights, is that it does not show Southwest flights or pricing. Momondo is another good price checking tool for flights if you know your departure and arrival destinations. Hopper is an app that lets you watch flights and sends you an alert when it’s the best time for you to buy. They also recently included hotels but we haven’t utilized this feature yet.
We also let deals drive some of our trips. We sign up for emails with U.S. based and international airlines. We also sign up for FREE newsletters from Mattsflights.com and Dollarflightclub.com to get alerts about flight deals (we know that these two websites have paid subscriptions, but we only signed up for the free versions).
TRAVEL TIP ALERT: When looking at potential flight dates, make sure to CHECK THE WEATHER. We utilized the Weather app and AccuWeather (Jessica’s favorite, she thinks it’s more accurate lol). This helps when anticipating what to pack/bring along, as well as where to avoid due to impending inclement weather.
For housing we used Booking.com, Airbnb, and Hotel Tonight. It’s also a good idea to use Google or look on TripAdvisor before booking; sometimes they list different websites where the hotel is cheaper. When we stayed at Hotel Corales de Indias, we got a free room upgrade for being Booking.com users. If you sign up using this link, you will get $25 off your first Booking.com reservation. If you are first time Airbnb users, use this link and you will get $40 off your first booking. For $25 off your first Hotel Tonight booking, click this link. Make sure to read the reviews before reserving housing.
TRAVEL TIP ALERT: When booking AirBnB or hotels abroad, make sure to check for any additional taxes, fees, or international transaction fees that you may incur, that are in addition to the stated price. We encountered this issue in Buenos Aires and we were charged a 21% fee, in addition to standard taxes and fees. We also were assessed a fee for using our American credit cards, in additional to an international transaction fee and currency conversion fee by our banks. Learn from our mistakes and clarify all the costs upfront. 🙂
Excursions & Activities:
We also like to learn what’s unique to the country, city, or region we’re visiting. For instance, while in Buenos Aires we took tango lessons on a bi-weekly basis and we learned about the harvesting of emeralds and cocoa beans in Colombia. We usually use a combination of Google, YouTube, Yelp, and (definitely) TripAdvisor to create a loose itinerary for our trip. We also like learning about history and culture, so we usually visit interesting museums and try to chat with residents to gain their perspectives. They usually have suggestions for activities, restaurants, and must-sees in the area. We always cross-check those references ourselves using TripAdvisor, Google, and Yelp.
TRAVEL TIP ALERT: Also, research is your friend. State.Gov is a useful site for travel advisories, as well as a source to check if you need visas or vaccines before entering certain countries or participating in certain activities. We also registered our presence in the country with Step.State.Gov so that the U.S. Embassy knew that we were there.
There are apps that we use on a more daily basis while traveling, including Google Translate, Google Maps, Currency, and WhatsApp (click the images below for direct links). In order to account for instances without Wifi, which were plentiful when we traveled abroad, we downloaded the offline Google Maps of the areas we were traveling to in advance. This helped us to navigate when our cell service or internet capabilities were impaired. We also downloaded the offline version of the language that we needed in Google Translator before our trip.
The app Currency was also helpful during our trips abroad. The currency exchange rates fluctuate daily and the rate you get when exchanging U.S. dollars for other currency, depends on where you go. To be frank, we used the Currency app to check the rates and make sure we weren’t getting completely ripped off. Some banks will exchange money, we stayed in a couple of hotels that exchanged money, and we found currency exchange places in the city. We found that we got better rates at certain ones when we used bigger bills. And typically the rates we got were a little below the actual day’s rate (which we expected).
Another app that we used daily while abroad was WhatsApp. We have different phone providers and different fees when we attempted to make international calls or texts. It was helpful to use WhatsApp instead, to both get in contact with our loved ones in the U.S., as well as communicate with those in other countries. We learned that WhatsApp is really common abroad.
TRAVEL TIP ALERT: Notify your bank before you travel. We’ve had experiences with our banks freezing our accounts due to suspicion of fraud because we didn’t alert them of our travels. You don’t want to be stranded without money. ALSO, check to see if your bank is apart of the Global ATM Alliance, where you can utilize ATMs at different banks around the world, without incurring an international fee. International fees are not fun.
Our Personal Travel Kit always includes: our passport (and at least 2 copies just in case), sunscreen, carry-on luggage that complies with international airline dimension requirements, over-the-counter medicine, hygiene products, fanny packs, portable battery packs, first aid kit, action camera, hand sanitizer, and an international adapter (some countries have different wall outlets).
TRAVEL TIP ALERT: Check to see if the water in the country you’re traveling in is potable. We usually err on the side of caution and always drink bottled water abroad, but you never realize how much you use water (washing dishes, brushing teeth, etc.)
Happy travels! Let us know if you have any questions! Thanks for reading 🙂
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