Thanks to the internet and new technology, international travel has become easier and more accessible for all. No more trips to a travel agent for visas, tickets and travel itinerary. Everything is available at our fingertips. Numerous websites help in making plans and getting reviews from fellow travellers about the place you want to visit.
Though travel has become easy, there are many things which first-time travellers must keep in mind. My husband and I plan all our trips without the help of a travel agent. Here are some tips we’ve picked up over the years. Whether you are travelling locally or internationally, these tips will help you.
Is Your Passport Valid for Six Months?
Once we receive our passport, we usually don’t check it after that. We probably don’t even remember details, such as the passport number and expiry date. Only when we make travel plans, do we then look at the passport. We see it is still valid and move ahead with other arrangements. We book our hotel, as that is the requirement for the visa, start arranging other required documents and submit the application.
After a few days/ weeks, we get a letter stating that the visa is rejected because the passport is not valid for more than six months. Usually, after the visa is rejected for non-validity of the passport, we realise our mistake. At this point, you may lose money, you paid for flight and hotel bookings. A return-flight ticket is a basic requirement for some countries to apply for a visa. The worst-case scenario is if you have visa on arrival for the country you are planning to visit, and your passport has expired or is about to expire during the time of your stay in the country. In this case, you may be sent back to your country.
To avoid all this mess, always check that your passport is valid for at least six months before you plan your trip. If it isn’t, renew your passport before making travel arrangements.
Which country do you want to visit?
Once you know your passport is valid, then comes the question of which country you want to visit. There are a few parameters which will help you in deciding your destination:
· When do you want to visit?
· What is your travel budget?
· How many days will the trip last?
· What is the weather like during your travel dates?
· What kind of holiday you want? Beach, outdoor adventures, relaxing, etc.
These are some of the important factors which will help you narrow down the country if you are undecided.
What are the visa requirements?
After you decide on your destination, you need to check their visa requirements. Visit the website of the country’s consulate to check if you need to apply for a visa in advance or whether you will receive one on arrival. Check the documents required for applications on the consulate website. Prepare all documents before you go to submit the application. This will help you in avoiding delays. It is advisable to apply for visas well in advance. This gives you enough buffer time in case of delays, resubmission of missing documents or rejection.
Are there any medical requirements?
Some countries have specific requirements pertaining to vaccinations. Please make sure that you follow them. You may have to produce paperwork to that effect, either when you land in the country or maybe when you apply for the visa.
Another point I would like to stress is the importance of having medical insurance before you travel. It helps in case of an illness or accidents during your trip.
During our Bali trip, I suffered from the ‘Bali belly’ syndrome. The resort staff was very helpful. They called a doctor. After coming back to Dubai, we realised that we had to get a medical certificate from the doctor to claim the insurance. Had we known this earlier we could have got it. A small warning: avoid ice or tap water during your trip to Bali. It may give you upset stomach.
What is the baggage allowance?
On one of our trips to Greece, we encountered an issue with baggage size while taking domestic flights from Athens to Santorini and had to spend some time rearranging our luggage in the crowded domestic airport.
Always check the requirement of baggage size and weight, especially if you are taking domestic flights within the country you are visiting but also for international flights. Wrong baggage size or excess baggage may cost you extra, along with some last-minute hassle.
What is your budget?
For us, budget plays an important role in deciding the destination. Visiting a country nearby may be a cheaper deal than visiting countries which are far off.
When you budget for a trip you need to think about the cost of several different elements:
· Flight tickets: It is important to remember that the price of flight tickets change almost every day. If you book well in advance, then you will get a better rate. Also, budget airlines will always have a good rate. Always compare prices from different airlines. Remember to also check layover time between two connecting flights. These layovers affect the ticket price.
· Visa: Check the cost of the visa for the country you are planning to visit. I will talk about visas in more detail in a bit.
· Accommodation: Where are you planning to stay when you go travelling? A resort, a bed and breakfast, Airbnb or a homestay; depending on your schedule and budget, you can look at any of these options. If you are going to be out of your room for most of the day, then don’t spend money on resorts. Refer to websites like TripAdvisor or Lonely Planet to find out about accommodation and read reviews. Remember to check photos uploaded by fellow travellers to get an idea of the place. Always compare hotel prices from different websites and also check directly with the hotel. In my experience, hotels give a better rate and discounts than other websites.
· Transportation in the country: Once you finalise the accommodation, then comes transportation. I prefer to take public transport in the country I’m travelling to unless it is not convenient. If you decide to use public transport, then check their ticketing system. In some countries, you get a travel card which you can use for all modes of public transport. If you are planning to use private transportation, then arrange for it before you visit the country. It saves time once you reach your destination. If you are visiting a country where English is not a frequently spoken language, then ask for a driver who can speak either your language or English. It helps in good communication and you can understand the country better.
· Fees for tourist attractions: Once you choose a destination and the number of days you are going to stay, then decide on the places to visit. You can first narrow down the places you want to visit and then decide how many days you want to spend at each. Check the prices of entry tickets for museums or other attractions, and whether you need to buy tickets in advance or at the door. It is advisable to plan your itinerary and book tickets accordingly. This saves time for queuing for tickets. Some countries have a museum pass or a public attraction pass which gives you an economical deal. One important tip here – check the days when these places are open. Some places will have a weekly day off or some may be seasonal attractions.
· Food: Always refer to a couple of tourist sites to get an idea of the price of food. Also check if there are any sites such as Groupon, Cobone or Entertainer which can offer you discounts on food and beverages, as well as on attractions.
· Shopping: You may want to buy souvenirs for your friends and family. I recommend not to buy these gift items at the main tourist spots. It may be expensive. If you are going to visit a local market, then it is a good place to buy them. Always remember to keep all the tax invoices. In a few countries, you can reclaim the tax at the airport. Check regulations about the tax before-hand, as well.
What are the dos and don’ts of travelling?
It is a must that you respect the culture of the country you are visiting. Google can help you learn about every country and their dos and don’ts. TripAdvisor, or similar sites, have forums where fellow travellers share their experiences. Language may be a barrier in the country, so use common sense when in doubt. I would advise being careful when you use hand gestures while talking. People may not always realise that you are a tourist. Most important is to keep all required contact details handy.
How do you stay connected?
With technology, it is easy to be connected with the world. You can purchase a local sim with data, rather than activating international roaming. Local sim cards are available at the airport. As a tourist, you may also get discount offers on SIM cards. You will need to give a copy of an identity document, preferably your passport, to avail of the SIM card. You should also check available network service providers in the country before landing.
These are some of the basics for planning a trip on your own to any country in the world. Now, it is time for me to plan another trip. Where should we go?
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