1. Traveling abroad is too expensive.
It definitely can be, but it doesn’t have to be! When we were first married, we didn’t have a lot of money to spend on traveling so we kept a close eye on flights, stayed in reputable 3-star hotels (you’re only going to be there to sleep), and didn’t go to expensive dinners (yes, we couldn’t always afford our quest to gain Michelin stars). We truly wanted to travel and see the world, so we made it a priority and made it work within our budget.
Try traveling during shoulder season (usually spring or fall), as the weather is usually warm enough, and you have the added benefit of not encountering the crowds of summer.
While some destinations are simply more expensive than others (ex: Switzerland), there are many affordable destinations (ex: Ireland, Thailand, China). On our recent trip to Beijing, we ate dinner at a small, nice-looking restaurant on a main street that consisted of an appetizer, two beers, and a hearty bowl of beef noodle soup all for $5. The food was great, the owner nice, and, no, we didn’t get sick. Another option to keep costs down is to stay in a self-catering establishment. We really enjoyed going to the grocery store and cooking our own dinners in our aparthotel in Sarlat, France. A final point: If you can get over the sticker shock of the cost of the overseas flight, you’ll find that the cost of hotels, meals, transportation, and attractions at most destinations are comparable, if not cheaper, than the U.S. Don’t forget to use your travel credit card points and benefits and take advantage of the Citi Prestige 4th night free benefit!
2. There are so many places in the world – how do I pick where to go?
We struggle with this question every time we plan a trip, but the short answer is: Just pick one! You’ll never see any of those “one day I’d like to go there” destinations if you don’t just pick one off the list and make it happen! The world is a huge place, and the vast majority of us have limited time and resources to spend on exploring it. As morbid as it may sound, you have to admit to yourself that you’ll never travel to every country or explore every city. But, if you don’t pick a few and go, you’ll never get to experience any!
Try seeing if there is a trip where you can combine a couple of places that you really want to see (such as our trip to the Basque region, Bordeaux region, and Barcelona). One way we decide where to go next is by making a list of the top few places we want to see. Then, we check airfare and hotel rates for when would be able to travel. Normally, the cheapest option wins!
3. It’s too daunting to plan a trip.
Planning a trip can seem daunting and overwhelming, but there are more travel tools out there now than ever to help! We usually use Google Flights to research flight options since it will show you almost every airline, and you can customize the search by airline, alliance (ex: Oneworld), departure/arrival time, maximum number of stops, etc. You can also search flights from your home airport on specific dates without choosing a destination (or, put in “Europe” or “Asia”). Browse the map to see the cost of flights to any destination for those dates! As far as hotels go, we usually use Hotels.com to research what options are out there. Use the map function to see what hotels are in a good location (see below) and narrow the search by stars, price, etc. Check out the top candidates on TripAdvisor and look at the rankings to see if any of the reviews strongly sway you one way or the other.
4. How do I know what to do when I get there?
Travel guides, as ancient a concept as they may seem (even though they are regularly updated), are a great starting point. We have found two guides that we think are very helpful: Fodor’s and Lonely Planet. Fodor’s is a little more traditional in its recommendations, and Lonely Planet usually has some unique, not as well-known recommendations (we never would have experienced the beauty of the Skellig Ring in Ireland if it weren’t for the Lonely Planet suggestion). We like to purchase both brands for each destination or area, and we usually find most of what we need out of them. Read through the books, look up the places that sound interesting online, and decide if you want to see them! We’ve found that looking at TripAdvisor for attractions hasn’t been that useful; however, we definitely take into consideration the community reviews for hotels and restaurants. For a brief overview of traveling in a specific area, WikiTravel can also be useful.
Once you have an idea of what you want to see, decide on transportation. A car rental booking is quick and easy. Train tickets can usually be made online, although don’t hesitate to use a reputable service to book tickets if you feel uncomfortable with the website (or if online bookings aren’t possible, such as in China). Many services will deliver train tickets right to your hotel for a small fee!
Once all of the above is figured out, we usually rank the attractions as a “must see” or “would like to see” to have some direction on what we most care about seeing in our limited time. We’ll also make a “My Places” map on Google Maps to see where everything is located, while making a few notes on each attraction directly on Google Maps, such as opening hours and price so we have that information readily available later. Our final step that we normally do a few weeks before a trip is making a tentative itinerary in a Word/Pages document in order to get a bit of a reality check on what is possible. This normally involves calculating all travel times between attractions, planning time for lunches and dinners, etc.
You’ll never be able to see everything (we’ve definitely exhausted ourselves trying!). Our advice: Be conservative in estimating how long it will take you to see a place (especially in Bangkok), and don’t forget to account for transportation or walking time, as well as meals and time for rest, if needed.
You don’t have to stick to this itinerary, but you’ll thank yourself later for having this general outline ahead of time. Save your itinerary and attraction list on your phone so you can access it offline while on your trip!
5. It will be too hard to get around when I’m there.
We haven’t had a problem getting around anywhere we have visited. Most larger cities have an efficient subway system and most are surprisingly easy to figure out (even in Beijing and Shanghai) and are clean.
We always look up subway directions while on WiFi in our hotel room, take a screenshot, and then go to the subway station. In the case where you aren’t able to use a ticket machine and need to buy a ticket from a person in the booth, this screenshot will be very helpful for overcoming the language barrier, as you can simply point to the stop you need, and they will easily be able to issue you a ticket.
Driving in Europe is also quite easy. While there are some crazy city centers (ex: Rome), using navigation either in the car or on your phone will get you around in no time! Highways throughout Europe actually put those in the U.S. to shame, and the drivers are more organized – and traffic seems to flow better – than in the U.S. Master the ever-present roundabout off of the highway, and you’ll be golden! Also, ride-sharing services such as Uber are available in many cities abroad. Train travel is also common around the world, and we’ve had good experiences when we’ve used it. High-speed trains in Europe and Asia are comfortable and whisk you away to your destination without the hassle of an airport.
6. I need to be able to speak the local language.
Generally, we’d say this is not true at all. If you are traveling to a tourist destination or large city, you can rest assured that English will be understood and spoken, especially by hotel staff and people at main attractions. Even when a person doesn’t understand any English, such as at a restaurant, we have found that most people are more than happy to have you as a visitor, and the person will work with you to help you out by using a picture menu or pointing to what other people have at their table. We once went through about a five-minute conversation at a tourist office just outside of Kyoto, Japan, struggling through words and hand motions in order to figure out that we needed to pay for the train after we boarded (we were looking for the ticket machine). We got it sorted out, and they were more than happy to try and help us the best they could – with a smile!
7. People will know I’m a foreigner and look at me funny.
Yes, they will probably pick up on the fact that you’re a foreigner (and people in China might want to take a picture with you!), but it’s really no big deal! Millions upon millions of different people are traveling all over the place, and you most likely are not the first foreigner they’ve seen!
While we believe it is important to do some quick research to understand any major faux pas in a particular area/culture you are visiting, we’ve found that locals are normally very accepting of tourists and rarely have we ever experienced ill-will (there was a lady on a bike in Bruges, Belgium, who yelled a bad word at me for being slightly in her way while I took a picture – I got over it).
There may be places where people look at you, but, in our experience, this has always been more out of curiosity and not irritation. In China, we experienced people staring at us, taking pictures of us, and asking to take pictures with us because they had not seen many western people before. While initially a little awkward, we embraced the picture requests as everyone was very nice and polite and honestly just curious!
8. I don’t have enough vacation days/time.
This is probably the biggest limitation for us. While we have been lucky to earn more vacation days as we have progressed in our careers, time off is still a major issue. We usually travel around holidays to conserve as many vacation days as possible. One tip is to see if an evening flight is offered to your destination. We often fly out on a Friday night after work (especially when traveling to Europe). You could fly out Friday night and home on Sunday of the following week and only use 4 vacation days if there is a holiday involved. This gives you 8 days to enjoy on your vacation for only 4 days off from work! Flights are usually cheaper if you fly home at least 7 days after you depart, so this works out perfectly!
9. I can’t sit on an airplane for that long.
Yea, we can’t either. After every transoceanic flight, we always wonder, “hasn’t someone invented a quicker way to travel?” Except for the long-gone Concorde, the answer is no. If you can’t sleep on a plane, the key to passing the time is keeping yourself entertained: Read a book, get some work done, listen to music, or watch movies or shows on the in-flight entertainment or on your own tablet or laptop. If you’re restless or uncomfortable, you can get up and walk around the cabin – you don’t have to remain seated the entire time. Long flights are a necessary evil, but when you finally arrive at your destination and see the Eiffel Tower in person for the first time, for example, it’s worth it.
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