Because I’m leaving the US and venturing across the pond, I needed to figure out a few things regarding travel. Actually, a lot of things. Things that don’t fall under the “common sense” file. Things that I had to tirelessly research because it would get so stupid complicated.
So below I’ve listed 6 Things About Travel That Took Forever to Learn. I hope this compressed article will be a fountain of information that will help you travel in the future.
Obtaining a visa was not something I wanted to mess around with. I wanted to do my research, and I wanted to get my travel visa early. But how does one go about requesting a tourist/travel visa for certain European countries?
The answer? You don’t.
Excuse me, what?
It seemed like a trick. But as I did more research, I discovered a wonderful thing called the Schengen Agreement. The traveler is stamped with a tourist visa on their passport upon first entry into one of the 26 countries that are a part of the agreement. This tourist visa allows them to travel for up to three months in the Schengen area.
As far as requirements go, make sure that your passport is valid for at least three months beyond your intended date of departure or you will be denied entrance. Another side note, the United Kingdom is not apart of the Schengen Agreement, but it does have the same general tourist visa requirements.
And that’s it! So put away your pens and your pleas to the Embassies! For official information, a full list of countries that the Schengen Agreement includes, and your relation as a U.S. citizen, click here.
Not to get too dramatic, but learning about adapters and converters was the bane of my existence. If you’re not aware, the U.S. has a different voltage system than half of the world. The U.S. runs on 110 volt/60 hertz electricity where a large majority of the world uses a 220 volt/50 hertz system.
My big question was, “So how does that affect me?”
Let’s use an example.
When I travel over to Europe, I’ll want to use my hairdryer. I will need two things: a converter AND an adapter. I need a converter that converts my U.S. 110 volts to the European 220 volts. I will also need an adapter so that my U.S plug will physically fit into the European electrical socket.
Here’s a video to explain further:
To browse voltage converters and adapters, click here.
The one thing I learned the most about hostels can be summed up in two words: it depends. As a first timer booking a hostel in London, I had so many questions. I wanted concrete information that was across the board for all hostels. That was some serious wishful thinking. After reading several travel forums about hostels, I did, however, learn what kinds of questions I should be asking before I book.
Do they provide personal lockers?
Imagine the convenience of being able to safely store your valuables such as your computer or extra stash of cash in your own personal locker as you’re out exploring a city. Checking for this one amenity can offer you a lot of peace of mind.
Extra note – make sure you bring your own padlock. Most hostels don’t supply those for you.
Do they provide fresh linens and towels?
A big thing you need to know is if they provide clean bed sheets and towels. If not, that’s something that you will need to leave extra space for in your suitcase!
Do they provide the use of a kitchen?
Being able to use a kitchen allows you to pick up food from a local grocery store and make a meal instead of eating out all the time. This saves you quite a bit of money as you travel. Next time you book a long stay at a hostel, take a look to see if they provide a kitchen and cookware.
If you’re not careful, you could come home from your trip with a hefty phone bill. Unless you have an unlimited-absolutely everything-plan, you’re going to have to think ahead. Some phone companies such as AT&T provide short-term international travel plans for when you’re abroad. Though each plan is different, they generally offer free international texts, a discounted price for international calling, and a limited amount of international data.
Because the amount of data is usually not a lot, you’ll want to watch your usage. Finding Wi-Fi or using hot spots will be your best bet while traveling. Also to save data, make sure you turn off your push notifications on your phone.
Because there are so many banks with their own individual procedures, you should probably call your bank to find out exactly what you’ll be charged with overseas. The general consensus is to expect fees. If you make an international withdrawal from an ATM, you’ll more than likely be hit with a fee. You’ll also more than likely be hit with a fee for any purchases made with your debit/credit card.
You can read about this further in my 5 Ways to Stay Ahead When Planning a Trip article under the subheading “Watch out for Foreign Transaction Fees.”
Side note – make sure you tell your bank that you will be traveling abroad and also ask them what your daily limit is.
For more information about the chip and pin credit cards that are used in Europe, click here.
Transportation in London
The first stop on my trip is the London Heathrow Airport. If your jumping-off point is Heathrow as well, then you’re probably wondering what your transportation options are. Luckily, there are so many travel options to choose from!
If you’re interested in taking public transportation, then the Heathrow Express is probably your best bet. It’s connected to every terminal in Heathrow and gives you a direct shot to Paddington Station. From there you can jump on a number of different tube lines, and you’re on your way to exploring London.
Airport Driving Service
If you’re interested in a more direct route, I would recommend a driving service. There are several to choose from, and they’re surprisingly more affordable than I was expecting. I ultimately decided to go with Airport Pickups London because they will meet me inside the airport. They will also keep track of my flight and won’t charge me if my flight is delayed.
If you’re staying at a hotel near the airport, then you’ll probably want to use the Hotel Hoppa. Instead of all the nearby hotels each having their own shuttle service, they use one bus system to transport between close hotels. To take a look at their time schedules, click here.
Travel Planning Conclusion
If you’re making your travel plans and feel like the details are about to swallow you up, take in a deep breath – and exhale. Don’t you fret. Don’t let the details make you forget about the rewards soon to come. When you find yourself swamped under packing lists and flight itineraries, picture yourself walking down the streets of Rome, standing in the halls of The Louvre, or laying on the beaches of Barcelona.
It will all be worth it.
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