When I decided to go on my trip, I was overwhelmed with excitement. When I realized all the planning I had in front of me, I was overwhelmed. Period. I joined the trip late so I had to think about the financial commitment, catching up on the transportation my cousins already booked and getting the time off work. Surprisingly, getting the time off work wasn’t difficult. All the flights, ferry boats and hydrofoils were still available so I wouldn’t be separated from my cousins. Cue the sigh of relief. All the hard parts were over, right? Wrong!
Thankfully, my cousin Michelle was the organizer of the trip. Before I joined up, Michelle and Kaylee decided on the cities to visit, hotels to stay at and our entire route. Yes, I will be tapping her for some tips on how to organize a trip without a travel agent/experienced traveler. Until then, I leave you with some tips on what helped me prepare for my trip on such late notice.
- Get Your Passport – This is common sense, I know! I ordered my passport mid-April and received it mid-May. It usually takes four to six weeks for passports to process. If it’s during the passport centers busy season (May – end of summer), it could take up to eight weeks. Be sure to take your original birth certificate with you. They’ll send it into the passport center for processing. No worries! They send it back around the same time your passport is delivered.
- Save Up – Being an intern, there’s no such thing as paid time off in my world. Three weeks unpaid? That will make anyone with bills cringe just a bit. I always put a certain amount of my paychecks into savings each month. In April, I started putting more money than usual aside into my savings to help curve the financial hit I was going to take with this trip. By doing so, I was able to pay off my flight immediately after booking it. As many of you know, the flight is usually one of the most costly parts of your travels. This was a huge relief and it helped me be more comfortable to with money I’d be spending overseas.
- Make Checklists – You may not be a checklist person, but it helps keep your thoughts together. Create checklists for: Bills that need paid before and during your trip; errands you need to run before you leave; what you need to pack; and tasks that need completed at work and home before departure.
- Pack Smart – I admit that I did not pack smart. I carried a 46 pound rolling bag and a backpack with me across Italy. Having that large of a rolling bag caused issues mainly at the train stations. There were several occasions where we had to switch trains to get to our final destination. We had to lug our bags up and down the station stairs. This wouldn’t have been the major issue it was if we had more time to get from train to train. We had 60 – 90 seconds to get from Train A to Train B. Lesson learned: Travel as lightly as you possibly can. Force yourself to pack less!
- Order Currency for the Country You’re Visiting – I went to my bank and inquired about how to obtain Euros before I left for Italy. It was as simple as filling out a form at the bank and having them send it in. All you need to do is tell them the amount you want to have and what account you want the money taken out of. My bank said it usually takes 48 hours, but be courteous and give them at least a week to account for any mishaps that could come along.
- Create a Financial Spreadsheet – This may sound a little much, but keeping track of your pre-travel purchases and payments helps you understand your financial situation. I kept track of the checks I sent to my cousin, when I paid off specific purchases and what I still had left to pay off. When returning, I added my expenses from the trip to this spreadsheet to see the total cost of my amazing trip. This is good for your personal records in case you come across any issues with your credit card company or bank.
All of these tips may seem like common sense, and some of them are. But when you’ve thrown yourself into a trip that normally can take eight months or more of planning and saving, you need to stay organized. Your thoughts need to be kept together. Having documents to reference keep you structured.
I hope some of these tips help you when you’re planning your first, or next, trip. Domestic or international, I feel these can help you prepare for a successful trip!