“All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.” – Martin Buber

Passports, visa and map
Small things can make a big difference. What time of day do you want to arrive at your destination? Where do you want to stay in relation to what you want to see and do you want to go out for every meal? Are you renting a car and if so, do you need it every day? How adventurous are you in your diet and how cheaply do you want to eat? Can you drink the water? How safe is your destination? How much technology do you need?

Use a free translation program to make luggage tags in both the language of the country you are from and the language of the country you are visiting. Make sure that any bag you take has a tag on and/or inside it. You’ll also want to print up slips of paper that list any allergies you may have, including food allergies. This makes ordering food and talking with medical personnel much easier.

Think about safety. Most places have low instances of violent crime, but they may also have high instances of petty theft. Carry valuables, such as passports and bank cards, inside your clothes; consider pick-pocket proof purses, and money belts. Rather than traveler’s checks, most folks take bank cards and get cash as needed; credit cards cost the vender a rather hefty fee, so merchants prefer cash. Credit cards are expected to pay for hotels, rent cars, train tickets and so forth. Pay attention to which ATMs you use, making sure that your bank card logo is shown, and guard access to your PIN.

Getting where you’re going by plane is best booked as early as possible, certainly not closer than two weeks before departure. Generally, it is just a cheap to book on the airline website as it is through a third party provider, and it’s not a myth that Wednesdays are the best day to book a flight.

If you are hiring a car to drive in a foreign country, it’s cheaper to do it from the States and using a third party website may be more economical. Make sure that you take your driver’s license, proof of medical insurance, credit card and your passport when you go to pick up your car. Different countries have different requirements for renting a car; check these requirements before reserving the car. In Scotland you have to be younger than 70 years to rent a car. Driving means that you have to have maps you can read easily whether you do or do not have a GPS. Planning your routes on Google Maps or other map program will give you a good idea of distances and times. Thirty miles may take 30 minutes in one area but 2 hours in another. This will also help in picking where you’ll stay; you will know if you’re doing day trips or if you have to pick more than one hotel.

Using a third party website may also be the most economical method for booking a hotel or other accommodation. You can always check individual sites to make sure that you are getting the best deal. If you consider guest houses or bed and breakfast accommodations rather than hotels, you will need to determine which sorts of bath facilities you are comfortable using. In some places you’ll share with one or more other rooms. If you are particular, make sure that you ask before booking. What you want to do really affects where you’ll stay. Walking tours mean the necessity of maps and some research regarding what’s in what area. Websites that show you the ‘Best of’ a particular place are helpful in making housing decisions, as are current weather sites and specific travel sites such as Lonely Planet or Rick Steves. If you are considering tours, be sure to check them out carefully and read all of the reviews!

Food is a cultural experience and grocery stores are great fun to explore. Many times you can figure out what is in the package from the pictures on the label. Fresh vegetables and fruits should be approached with caution. If you can’t drink the water, you shouldn’t be eating raw, thin-skinned fruits and vegetables. Fresh breads are a good option for snacks. Cheeses may or may not be pasteurized; deli meats will probably not be processed in the same way they are in the States. I try pretty much try everything that’s been cooked knowing that I run the risk of needing a dose of Imodium. I usually do not eat ‘stick food’ from street vendors since there is a chance that even cooked food may not have reached a high enough temperature to kill parasites.

If you have to drink bottled water, you must use bottled water to brush your teeth and you cannot order drinks with ice unless that ice was made from purified water. This includes frozen drinks, such as Margaritas. Getting large bottles of water from a grocery store is much cheaper than buying multiple smaller bottles. In Rome, Italy you can drink the water right out of the city fountains; in Naples drink only bottled beverages!
Laptop, tablet, camera, 
phone, e-reader

Laptop, phone, camera, e-reader, iPod, tablet, etc., etc., etc. Some destinations are techno-friendly; others, not so much. If you need a laptop, take it; if you can get by with just your phone, then ditch the laptop. If your phone takes great pictures, you may not need a camera. In any case, you will need electrical adapters for all of your electronics including hair dryers and curling irons.

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