International Travel Guide

So you’re ready to travel outside the U.S. and just pretend that the exchange rate (at least in Europe) is not poisonous. Here are some tips:

1) Use a travel site such as Expedia or Travelocity to book your flight/hotel (there’s usually a discount for combined bookings).

2) Look up the exchange rate in advance. You’ll want to have a ballpark idea of what goods/services will cost in dollars.

3) Buy a calling card. Not the an AT&T or other phone company calling card, but the sort you will find at a gas station or convenience store. You won’t want to bring your cellphone as the per minute rate will likely be quite high. You may also want to look into renting a cellphone (I did this in Israel).

4) Obviously bring some cash, but the rest of your funds should come from ATM withdrawls (the exchange rate and fees are in your favor) and from credit card purchases (Visa/Mastercard preferred). Again, the exchange rate/fees will be lower if you use your card/ATM than if you head to a local currency exchange kiosk.

5) Make sure you bring a travel guide (pocket guide is best) if you aren’t familiar with attractions, customs, dining options, etc of the city. They often have helpful hints such as how to order food at a cafe, metro maps, and tips.

6) When selecting a hotel, your best value will probably be a hostel. Hostels are sort of like dorm room hotels in that they are stripped down and have communal dining, living, and bathing areas (not necessarily a row of stalls and showers, but possibly single-occupancy). They aren’t fancy, but they are generally clean and may include free internet (key as e-cafes can add up) and free breakfast.

7) Keep your passport and flight info in your hotel room in a safe place. Also, make sure family/friends know where you will be in case of an emergency.

8) Finally, and I can’t stress this enough, book in advance! At least 60 days if possible. This will guarantee the best price even if you plan to travel during the peak season.

In these harsh economic times, South America, the Caribbean, and Mexico will probably have some bargains as they have good exchange rates, and/or are generally inexpensive. But if you want to head to Europe, the Euro is about 30% more than the dollar, so you may have to bite the bullet and try to budget.