Before you book a trip, I highly recommend you check the weather for your intended destination. The weather will have an impact on how much you enjoy a destination and how much hotels and tours may cost. For example, Europe is beautiful in the summer, but it can be very expensive during peak season. Or Japan is always fairly expensive, but it is brutally hot during August in Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka.
I like using this interactive map (Celsius version). At the bottom of this page is a GIF of the best times to visit each country. You can also check an individual city's monthly weather on HolidayWeather.com.
Things to Do After Booking a Flight
Check Your Passport Expiration Dates
Most countries require that your passport needs to be valid at least three to six months past the date of your return flight (e.g., if your going on a one week trip in April and your passport expires in June, you will be denied boarding at the start of your trip). This is a common mistake since you can use most things up until the expiration date.
- It does vary by country, but you can check the entry requirements online (e.g., China is six months, but Japan is only the duration of your stay).
- If your flight is within 4-6 weeks and you need to renew your passport, you will need to expedite the process for $60 in addition to $110 renewal fee (you can complete it online and click "Form Filler" under DS-82).
- If you are traveling within four weeks, then you need to visit one of the passport agencies, where you can get same day service. If you cannot travel to one of the agencies, there are several online websites that can go for you for a fee, just google "expedited passport service" and compare prices.
Check to See If You Need a Visa
Make sure you check the visa and entry requirements for each country you plan on visiting as soon as you book a trip. You can find a map and requirements here and US Government information on each country here. If you forget to check the entry requirements, such as having proof of a Yellow Fever vaccine in Nicaragua, you could be denied entry.
Check Your Vaccines
Some countries require certain vaccines, and some are highly recommended, so you should double check the CDC's website.
Make a Copy of Your Passport
Always keep a photocopy of your passport in your email and a paper copy on you.
Consider Buying Travel Insurance
Travel insurance is pretty cheap and could save you thousands of dollars if you need it. You may want to call your traditional health insurance company and ask about their international coverage. Many times the coverage is very limited and any event will be reimbursed at the out of network rate, which could be significantly higher. Travel insurance typically does include trip cancellation, trip delay, lost baggage, etc. (Your credit card may also offer that as a benefit, but you would need to pay for most of the trip using that card)
Sign Up for Global Entry
Global Entry is expedited customs in the U.S. and several other countries and also includes TSA Pre-Check, which saves you time in U.S. airport security. Global Entry costs $100 and lasts five years, but many credit cards will reimburse you for buying Global Entry. I highly recommend Global Entry, but it does require an in-person interview that you may have to a month or so in advance. (Guide to Global Entry)
- Alternatively, you could save some time by downloading the Mobile Passport app, which is free. You need to create a profile with your basic passport information, answer questions about your trip, and submit the information when you land. You will then get a receipt from U.S. customs, which allows you to skip the regular line and follow the signs for Mobile Passport Control. You then scan your receipt and show your passport to the customs agent.
Check Seat Reviews for Your Flights
Not all seats are alike, especially in economy. The best website to check seat reviews is Seat Guru. I didn't check seat reviews for a 9-hour flight and I ended up with a big in-flight entertainment box that took up half of my legroom.
Things to Do a Month Prior
Buy a Guidebook- A guidebook will really help you maximize your trip and is worth the $15-25. TripAdvisor is an okay resource, but you might miss out on some hidden gems or key information by relying on their website. For Europe, Rick Steves is the golden standard (you can also watch his free videos organized by country). For other locations, I check out the reviews on Amazon.
Wikitravel- This is a valuable free resource that that will tell you about a city's transportation system, history, climate, cultural norms, districts, tipping, ability to use English, ability to use credit cards, festivals, traditional foods, etc. I use Wikitravel to conduct my initial research on a city or country. After that, You should use a guidebook to research itineraries and find information while I am in that country (sometimes you don't have internet access, so a book is a quick and handy resource)
Check out Free Tours- Most cities offer free tours either through a private company or through the government. Check TripAdvisor's "Things to Do" section to see your options. If it is a free private tour company, expect to tip the tour guide $5 per person if you had a good time (they usually worth exclusively on tips and usually give some percentage to the tour company).
Power Adapters- You will need to buy an international power adapter (search Amazon). U.S. plugs won't work in Asia or Europe. Additionally, if you travel to multiple countries, each country may have a different power outlet. Therefore, do some research and buy one before you leave to save money. Here's a pretty good guide for most countries.
Renting a Car in a Foreign Country- If you are renting a car in a foreign country, you may want to consider getting an International Drivers Permit (IDP) for $20 through AAA (you don't need to be a member). Most countries won't require the IDP, but some countries or rental car agencies may require it (or if you want to drive a go-kart in Tokyo dressed as Super Mario character). Additionally, some rental car agencies will require proof of car rental insurance if you have it via your credit card, so contact your credit card issuer ahead of time for that verification.
Medicine- Certain medicines can be hard to find abroad, so consider packing various medications including cold medicine, and if you can get some antibiotics from your doctor just in case.
Airport Lounge Access- If you have a credit card with airport lounge access such as Priority Pass, be sure to set up your account several weeks before departure.
Book Direct with Chain Hotels- You don't earn points or elite status benefits by booking a chain hotel (Hilton, Marriott, IHG, Hyatt, etc.) through a third-party travel agency such as Priceline or Hotwire. Elite status is pretty easy to get through credit cards, and can be very valuable to get you a better room, breakfast, or late checkout. Plus, most hotel chains have a price match guarantee that will match that third-party price plus extra points or a further discount.
Points for Expensive Flights Within A Region- Sometimes the shortest flights are the most expensive, especially to islands or exotic places. For short and direct flights, I like using British Airways points. For example, Hong Kong to Okinawa has a direct flight on Cathay Pacific with a cash cost of $922 round trip. You can book that same round trip flight for $41.79 plus 15,000 British Airways points. For flights within the same region (Oceania, South America, Africa, Asia, etc.), most airline programs offer really cheap awards inside these regions. For example with Singapore Airlines points, you could fly Air New Zealand from Perth to Auckland (stopover) to Tahiti for only 25,000 points roundtrip in economy. That’s a $1,300 flight!
Hold Your Mail- If your trip is longer than 5 days and no one will be home, you may want to consider having USPS hold your mail for free while you are gone.
Load Up Entertainment- Some airlines offer limited or no entertainment. Netflix allows you to download shows and movies on to your tablet (do it before you get to the airport). Also, if you have a library card, you can download free kindle books from Overdrive.
Download the Airline's Mobile App- Airline's mobile apps have improved a lot over the past few years. Now many airlines will send flight delay information and rebooking options to users of their mobile app. This allows you to skip the long telephone wait times and be one of the first people to rebook on an upcoming flight. Delta's mobile app even tells you where your bag is.
Missing a Leg of a Roundtrip Flight- If you miss any flight segments, the airline will automatically cancel the remaining flights on your itinerary. Therefore, if you are catching a separate flight for a flight deal, I suggest allowing yourself a buffer of at least 3 hours (4 hours for New York City).
Google Translate and Google Maps- You can download an offline version of Google Maps, which will help you save battery and data. Additionally, download a country's language on Google Translate. I have used Google Translate many times when I am lost and needed help. I just show people my phone with the translation on it.
Arrive Early to the Airport- If you are flying out of a foreign airport or flying a low-cost carrier, arrive at the airport at least two hours prior to departure. The lines to check in on low-cost carriers can take up to an hour, plus the security line might be lengthy.
Pack Light- Overpacking is one of the most common mistakes for travelers. You don't need a huge checked bag for a one-week trip. Only bring things that can be used (1) every day, (2)easily mixed, matched, and layered with each other, and (3) is appropriate for where you are traveling. Additionally, rolling your clothes takes up less space than folding them.
- Bring a Kindle instead of a paper book.
- Consider skipping the large camera for your smartphone. (A large camera also tells people you are a tourist)
- Exception: Pack extra underwear and socks. I also like to bring a travel steamer since some hotels may not have an iron.
Laundry- If you are traveling for longer than seven days, you will need to do laundry. Hotel laundry is usually very overpriced. You may be able to find a local laundry service at a reasonable price, but there may be a language barrier issue in certain countries. Some Airbnbs have washer and dryers, so look for that when booking. Alternatively, you could do your laundry in a sink or bathtub, but be sure to buy travel laundry soap (or liquid bottle or soap bar) and a travel clothesline.
Wear Good Shoes- You typically walk a lot when you travel. Bring a comfy pair of tennis shoes that you could walk 2+ miles per day and also a pair of shoes for a nice restaurant.
Headphones- Bring a nice pair of headphones and consider installing a white noise app. That can drown out any noise from the people around you.
Baby Wipes- I like to bring baby wipes on trips to help freshen up in between showers while traveling. Also, baby wipes are way better than cheap airport toilet paper.
Eye Mask- Many long-haul airlines provide an eye mask during night flights, but I like to bring a higher quality one just in case one is not provided.
Pen- Bring a few pens with you to fill out immigration forms.
Be Aware of Pick Pockets- Rick Steves is famous for preaching about wearing a money belt to avoid being pickpocketed. The one time that he was not wearing his money belt, he got pickpocketed. You probably don't need a money belt, but keep your wallet in your front pocket. Pickpockets love to target tourists, so be aware especially when getting on trolleys or subways.
Don't Bring Fruit or Vegetables through Customs- Even if the airline gives you fruit or vegetables on the plane, don't bring them through security. A woman was fined $500 for bringing an apple that Delta gave her during the flight through U.S. Customs.
Saving Up for Your Trip- Traveling can be very expensive. In order to travel as much as you can, consider: (1) eating out less, (2) reducing your spending at coffee shops, (3) cutting cable or internet, (4) complete some of our published bank bonuses, (5) going out less, and (6) if you live in a city, eliminating one car from your household.
Contacting the Airline- If the wait time for an airline's call center is long, consider contacting them on Twitter or Facebook. It depends on the airline, but some airlines usually respond within 10 minutes.
Interesting Tips and Links
We can't cover everything, so here are some useful guides from other websites.
Airlines: Flying with Sports Equipment;
Disney World- You can buy discounted tickets at MickeyVisit.com; Guide to Disney World; Best Restaurants; How to Eat Healthy; Save Money by Renting Disney Vacation Club Points; Best Hotels for Points; Best Hotel by Points Program; Tips for Disney Without Kids; Tips for First Timers; How to Ride Every Ride in One Day; Get the Most out of your Dining Plan.
This map from DecisionData will show you the best time to visit any country in the world. The parameters of the map are: 1 day of rain or less on average, a high that doesn't pass 85, a low above 55, and mean (average) temperatures between 60 and 75. You can customize the map online and there's also a Celsius map.