As I have already mentioned a gazillion times, I am going to Cancun just next week. And for someone that lives so close to Mexico, strangely, I have never been there before.
I’m going with three of my best friends from childhood: Andrea, Laura, and Gabriela. We’ve been friends since we were about 13 years old, and I haven’t seen them in exactly 3 years. They will fly in from Chile while I’ll take off from San Diego. And I can’t stop thinking about our teenager-selves always talking about doing a girls trip when we were “grown-ups,” before us having families of our own, which is why this trip has such a sweet meaning to me. We will stay in a beautiful resort in Cancun for 7 days, and I can’t wait for all the laughter and new memories we will create.
I have lived and visited several places throughout Sweden, Chile, USA, and China. So I can’t say that I am an expert, but I have definitely traveled more than the average person, therefore, I want to share a mini guide of the 10 most important things you need to have in mind before traveling.
Without looking, do you know when your ID/Passport/VISA expires? If you are like me, you most likely know in what area of the closet it is located, but I doubt you know the expiration date on it by heart (this is if you haven’t travelled recently).
This actually happened to my mother a few years ago when she travelled from Sweden to Chile. Her Swedish passport was okay, but her Chilean passport was expired, so they let her in (Really? They let her in to her country…) but with the condition that she had to reapply for the Chilean passport during her stay in order to leave Chile (Again, really?) And this is not exactly the bureaucratic errand you want to deal with on a vacation, let alone in Chile. This errand is the equivalent of going to the American DMV times three.
So to avoid this stressful situation, make sure to take a peek at all your travel documents, before you travel, and not a week before, months before. I set up an alarm on my iPhone calendar to notify me when my passports, ID’s and VISA’s are expiring with a 5 month anticipation. Now, I hope I stick with iPhone products so that I’ll get notified in 3 years…
2. Ticket to Heaven
I don’t know about you, but I have two e-mails, one for personal use and another separate e-mail that I use to sign up for all these rewards cards, clubs, and air miles. I also have it filtered so that when e-mails come in they are being placed in their specific folders, like for example, “Delta,” “Sephora,” and so on. I do this because every company has some sort of club or rewards program, and of course it’s a two way street benefit program. Companies store your e-mail and address info, creating a huge database of your demographics and purchasing patterns. Databases can be sold as leads to other companies or simply be used to communicate with you via sales and promotions that incentivize you getting hooked. From the costumer’s perspective, we get rebates, coupons, and amazing deals. I would just sign up for everything. You have no idea of all the free stuff that you are missing out on. As long as they aren’t credit cards, I’ll say go for it! And by having two e-mails you don’t have to worry about any clogs in your personal e-mail, and when it’s time for shopping or traveling, search in your junk folders to see if there is any upgrades, bonus deals that are up for your timing.
Another big thing is to do your research for when you book a flight ticket. The secret is to look ahead of time, check every day for a week and you’ll see that it can fluctuate by $100’s! In US at least, I’ve noticed that ticket prices go down during Tuesdays and Wednesdays (do not purchase a ticket on a weekend!). I would also not let more than 3 weeks before the actual travel date pass by; by that time you’ll start seeing the prices go up in general. Also, when you can control the days that you are getting off for your vacations, try to fly on a weekday instead of a weekend. Now, if you are a risk taker, I’ve seen Google Flight showing great prices on flight tickets on a same date flights. Like for example, on 2/25/14, from San Diego to NYC today from San Diego, the roundtrip was $278!
My absolute favorite search engine for flight tickets, as mentioned above, is Google Flight, it’s really the best so far, and it beats most of the other websites (Kayak, Expedia) that I usually would have used in the past. Unfortunately, this great website only search for flights going from the US to other countries.
3. Let’s Explore
Although I am totally a hotel person rather than a backpacker, I still think that it is important to explore and be cultural at some extent. I mean, if you are just staying in your hotel room, you might be better off staying at home.
Now, the art to plan can take time, so instead of losing precious time on planning at your destination, do your research and planning before your trip, and have a list of things you need to see and do. Check how you would get there, what are the hours of operation, entrance fees, and so on. You need to have a clear idea of what you will do. I promise that after all the activities, there will be plenty of down time to enjoy the hotel infinity pool or the in-room dining with an in-room movie. And please don’t go googling “Places to visit in [destination’s name]” and read the first couple of hits. Most of businesses on these sites pay the website to put their company or restaurant on there. Same goes for visitor centers and concierge desks at hotels. Go on blogs of private people that already been to your destination, or read comments and tips on the big travel sites, that way you’ll find the best hidden gems and holes in the wall.
Another huge thing to consider when you are traveling to areas that are way out of your culture zone, is to make sure that there are no internal political issues, extreme language barriers, and crazy currency fluctuations. Make sure that the country isn’t on the front page of a major newspaper, make sure to search for pictures of the country’s currency beforehand, if you don’t know how it looks like and what the value of each bill is, you could easily be paying $80 for a bubblegum when you thought you paid $0.80 (you can even make a cheat sheet table of the equivalents to your own currency, and glue it on your credit card or wallet).
I do have a story to share when it comes to an extreme language barrier. I went to China year 2008 with Spoken English Promotion Project (SEPP), and on our way home, the Chinese coordinator put me and my roommates in a cab to the airport. We were in Hangzhou, this means NO ENGLISH whatsoever. All the sudden, the cab driver stops and gesticulates that we need to get out of the taxi, and we were not at the airport (Oh holy crap…). We started to shout out “Does anyone speak English?” with no success of course. We started to frenetically stop random taxis and shout “Airport! Airport!” no success there either, the Chinese drivers were looking at us like we were crazy. Finally, I spread my arms out into airplane wings and pointed to the sky, one of the drivers said “Aaahhh!” We really didn’t know if he completely got us but it was worth a try. We got into the cab and sighed of relief when we started to hear turbine noise left and right. Note to self: Although I spoke 0.1% Chinese, it was my charade skills that got us to the airport. And this is why body language makes up to more than 50% of communication. Don’t be afraid to flap your wings!
4. Is this complimentary?
Make sure you know what amenities your hotel or hostel has. You don’t want to check out and get hit in the face with $180 in parking fees. These are normally the services that you need to ask for at check in: Laundry, Internet Connection (in-room and hotel premises), Parking (self and/or valet), Business Center, Gym, Airport Shuttle, Water Bottles, and Package Delivery. These things can even be consulted by calling in to the hotel before your travel plans, that way you’ll know if you need to bring your own laptop, or book an airport shuttle, take a taxi, or even rent a car.
5. Cool as a Cucumber
Just because you think that it is summer all year around in South America, and all you brought was your summer dresses, doesn’t make it summer all year around sweetie, sorry. Winter seasons in parts of South America can be cruel, I’m talking below zero! So find your version of weather bug on your smartphone and compare the degrees right now. Check in the morning, evening, and night to see how much it fluctuates, be aware of the time difference and the temperature measure (Celsius versus Fahrenheit). You want to pack clothes that adjust to morning, evening and night. My rule is to always bring one outfit that is somewhat warm no matter where I go because if it gets too hot you can always strip but there is nothing you can do if it gets too cold if you didn’t pack it, and I hate feeling cold.
6. Hoarder Status
I rather over-pack than having that feeling of doubt of leaving something at home. The absolute worst thing is when you actually do leave a clothing item at home, which could completely ruin an outfit that you had in mind, and because of this you start buying unnecessary items that you already have at home. To avoid these unnecesary purchases it’s so important that you have a checklist of packing. Starting with your electronic devices, make sure all of them are charged and ready to use, have their battery chargers set and don’t forget to investigate what voltage and what power outlets they use in the place of destination. Secondly, go through your bathroom amenities checklist, what is your morning, and night routine? Write down everythign you use from when you wake up until you go to bed.
7. Travel Size It
Make sure you stack your powder based makeup in a compact compartment. You don’t want your makeup to move around to much in your luggage because it can brake, and then you have loose powder everywhere. There is even an empty makeup set that you can buy and stack it with the shadows and powders that you use the most instead of packing all your pallettes. When it comes to shampoo, conditioner, and lotions (because we all know that the generic products at hotels are not the gentlest products for our precious hair and skin), buy travel sized bottles at any major pharmacy. They have it in different sizes and colors so you can differentiate shampoo from conditioner. That way you don’t have to pack the whole bottle of shampoo times 3 or 4 sometimes, depending how many lotions you use.
8. Call me, maybe?
All mobile companies have international plans to offer. Call your provider to see what they offer and how much it would be to add it to your plan. For example, if you are going away for a week, they will prorate the monthly international plan down to 7 days, if you are leaving for longer periods, phone providers can even freeze your account for up to 3 months. Now, if your intention is to only use your Wi-Fi applications, and you don’t know how to disable the phone setting on your phone, you can take your phone to your provider and they will gladly help you to lock it for you, or at least teach you how to lock and unlock this option. It’s important that you disable the cellular data, and roaming, because these are the services that will directly affect your bill whether you use your phone or not. And if you think that “one little call” or “surfing the web for just an hour a day” won’t hurt you? Trust me; a surprise $1200 bill is not so nice to come home to.
9. Due Date
Take a look at all your bills due date before you travel. Make sure you have all of them under control. The idea of a vacation is to relax and shut all that head noise off. Pay them off or set up scheduled payments, just make sure you leave with a piece of mind and doesn’t come back from your vacations and get hit and get hit in the face with a bunch of unpaid bills and late fees.
Another thing to check off your list is to call your bank and let them know that you are traveling. Most banks have an automatic geographic block, so when your bank card is being swiped in Portugal for example, your bank will most likely freeze your account, and there you are, in a foreign country with no funds. Call your bank and let them know to what country you are traveling, for how long, and if you are into finance, you could even check what the change rate is when you use your bank card versus withdrawing cash and changing it in another currency exchange institution (if the change rate is better of course).
10. The Little Black Luggage
Although black luggage is classic and maintained the cleanest (or should I say, the dirt goes unnoticed) it’s not the best idea when you travel. You will quickly realize that you are not the only one that thinks that classic black is timeless when black after black gets spitted out on the baggage claim carousel. With a black luggage you will experience the annoying peekaboo game, where at least the first five “oh there it is,” are not. I would just avoid the black luggage altogether but if you really want it, use some colorful luggage tags. There are so many cute and chic tags out there that will make the peekaboo game fashionably fun. Also, make sure you put the correct address on theme as well, in case the luggage gets misplaced, this happens more than you think. Write in the address of your place of origin and the place of destination, and most importantly, your contact information.
EXTRA TIP! CLOSE AND LOCK ALL YOUR WINDOWS AND DOORS. MAKE SURE ALL YOUR DEVICES ARE YANKED OUT OF THE OUTLETS, MAKE SURE THE FRIDGE/FREEZER IS SHUT, AND THE STOVE AND OVEN IS OFF.
Miss Natalia Silva