How to Plan the Perfect Itinerary

By Sara | June 13, 2016

We’ve all been there before. You’ve booked your travels, perhaps even arrived in your destination, but aren’t sure what the best things to do are. Asking the hotel or hostel reception for tips will usually get you to the top touristy places, but experiencing more than that requires a bit of planning and research. This can seem like a time-consuming task, but it doesn’t have to be. Below are my top tips on how to plan amazing things to do in any city.

Step 1: Pinterest is Your Friend

Yes, you read that right. Pinterest has more benefits than just photos of cute puppies and awesome recipes. Over the last few years their search function has dramatically improved and their content pool has grown. Type ‘things to do in’ followed by your destination of choice and you’ll see hundreds of pins. Many of those pins link to lists of things to do in any city you search for. Either save these pins to a board or pick your favorites and proceed to step 2. For a head start on this step, check out our Pinterest page to see our saved activities.

Step 2: Make A Foursquare Account

I never understood the use or purpose of Foursquare until I started traveling. Now, it’s a website and app that I use every week. Foursquare allows you to make lists of any kind, so make a list of whatever destination you’re heading to. Then, type in all those fun activities you found on Pinterest and save them to your list. Foursquare will place everything on a convenient map that will be used in step 4. Foursquare also has its own database of things to do in any city that you search for, though I find Pinterest’s variety to be larger.

Step 3: Use Google Search

Just to make sure that you have all of your options on the table, do one last search on Google for ‘top things to do in’ followed by your destination city. Not all travelers use social platforms like Pinterest Foursquare, or tripadvisor.com, and there have been several times that I’ve found some great hidden gems from travel posts by searching on Google. This is also a great time to check out the tourism website for your destination, as they often have deals on activities. Add any of your findings to the Foursquare list and proceed to step 4.

Step 4: Use Your Calendar

Time is the most precious asset you have during a trip, and too many people waste it carting back and forth between attractions. Head over to Foursquare and take a look at your completed map of your destination list. There should be dropped pins of all the things you’d like to see during your trip. Zoom in to a particular area and add items that are close together to your calendar on a specific day. Repeat this process until all of the pins are in your calendar, with three to six items per calendar day, depending on how long they take.

There are several benefits to doing this last step. The first is the obvious; it saves time. If all of your attractions are in one area of a city, you have more time to spend at each of them and less of a commute. The other advantage is that this approach will save you money on transportation. By doing activities that are physically close together, you may not even need to buy metro or bus tickets outside of getting to the first stop that day.

For budget travelers, this could stretch to the point of getting cheaper accommodation outside of the city center since you’d save money on daily transport while you’re out exploring.

Step 5: Explore

While having a plan ensures that you see everything you can during your trip, don’t be afraid to get lost and do things off the beaten path. Some of our favorite memories are from unexpected moments, so remember to relax and leave time to just wander.

The whole planning process should only take 30 minutes to an hour to complete, and will save you so much more time than that over the course of your trip. With the tools above, you’ll be well on your way to easily finding the top things to do in any city. For even more things to do, check out our Destinations page. What are your favorite trip planning tips?

The Importance of Travel Insurance

By Sara | March 30, 2016

The nice thing about having a 9-5 job is that the employer usually has some sort of insurance policy for the employee. Things like health coverage, life insurance, or even car insurance are benefits that job seekers usually look for. For most travelers however, this doesn’t work the same way.

Many travelers are adventuring during a gap year, while working for themselves, or living off of savings. This means that many do not have a pre-defined insurance policy, unless they pay for it out of pocket or are under their parents health coverage. While not being insured can certainly cut costs, it is not a safe way to travel, especially internationally.

There are many accounts of travelers getting injuries from the extreme sports we all love like cliff jumping, sky diving, parasailing, snowboarding, etc. It’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt though, and when injuries happen, that doctor visit wont be cheap without insurance.

Even if you’re not participating in any dangerous activities, what if you get sick? With all the different foods and unknowns going into your body, anything could happen even if you’re the most cautious traveler.

The point is, it’s better to be safe than sorry. The good news is that there are options. If you live in the USA and are under 26, check with you parents to see if you qualify to be under their health insurance. Just make sure to carry an insurance card with you and call your provider before your trip to check what their international policies cover.

If you’re over 26, can’t be covered by your parents insurance or don’t have an international insurance policy, consider purchasing travel insurance. There are several companies that offer travel insurance, and we use and trust World Nomads. The best part about World Nomads is that you can extend and renew your policy online, while you’re traveling.

The two tiers, standard and extreme, cover different situations and levels of compensation should things go wrong. Not only does World Nomads travel insurance cover health related issues, but they also cover damage or theft to your personal belongings and things like trip delay and flights home in emergency situations. Check out their website for more information.

You’re about to embark on an amazing trip, so don’t let it be spoiled by the unexpected. Take the necessary precautions to keep yourself safe and have some piece of mind that if and when things do go wrong, you have options and assistance to handle it.

How to Travel Europe for More Than 90 Days

By Sara | March 22, 2016

For many, traveling Europe is a dream. For those who turn that dream into a reality, you’ll soon find that Europe is a broad, amazing place to travel through. We sure did, and began extending our stays in each city. However, we soon encountered a problem: the Schengen Agreement.

The Schengen Area was formed in 1985 in Schengen, Luxembourg. The gist of the agreement was to make several countries in Europe “borderless,” thus treating them as one country in regards to travel. It abolished border checks at common borders of all countries involved, making travel between countries seamless for European residents.

While this works well for residents of the EU, non-residents are limited to 90 days of Schengen Area travel within every 180-day period. Once day 91 occurs, travelers must exit the Schengen area for 90 days before re-entering or risk fines and deportation.

For most vacationers, this is not a problem. For frequent travelers who want to stay longer, there are some work around options.

Option 1: Leave the Schengen Area

This is the simplest choice. There are still countries in Europe that are not part of the agreement. These include the UK, Ireland, Croatia, Bulgaria, Romania, Ukraine, Cyprus, Belarus, Moldova, Turkey, Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania, Bosnia, Macedonia and Croatia. See the up to date map of the Schengen Area for updated information.

The easiest option is to leave the Schengen Area and explore parts of Europe that are not in the agreement. With the countries listed above to choose from, three months won’t be enough time!

Option 2: Get a Long-Term Visa

Germany: Germany has an appealing option of a self-employment visa. If you can prove that you make sufficient income from your own business or by freelancing, make an appointment at the consulate office to get a one or two year European visa.

France: France offers a long-term visitor visa for a period of up to one year, a visa “D”. This visa allows you to stay in France for up to 12 months. To get this visa, you must set up an appointment at a French consulate office and show necessary documents.

Italy: Italy offers a one year visa for those who promise not to work whilst in the country. You’ll have to prove proof of sufficient funds to support yourself before this visa is granted.

Sweden: Sweden offers a one year visitor visa as well. Make an appointment at the consulate and bring the necessary forms. If you are approved, you’ll have to pass an interview on why you want to stay for a year before getting your visa.

Obtaining any one of these visas will allow you travel anywhere in Europe for the duration of that visa.

Option 3: Study Abroad

If you take courses at a University in Europe, the school will usually take care of all of this for you. The visa you get that allows you to study in your country abroad will allow you to travel to European countries as well during your stay.

Option 4: Get Married

While not the most practical option, it’s still an option. If you get engaged to a European national, you can then apply for a marriage visa.

Conclusion:

It’s not impossible to stay longer than 90 days in Europe, but it is a process. Be sure to plan well in advance should you wish to use any of these options, or just leave every 90 days for 90 days and then come back. There’s a lot of world to explore, so go see it!

NOTE: This post is mainly aimed at citizens of the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand since the visa policies are similar. Be sure to check if you need a Schengen visa before traveling to Europe or whether you can travel with just a passport.

How to Stay Connected Abroad

By Sara | February 8, 2016

Traveling the world is amazing, but what about staying in touch with everyone at home? In the digital age, it’s easier than ever to keep in touch with friends and family, but sometimes the options seem endless or confusing. Consider this your ultimate guide on how to stay connected while traveling.

Phones

If you live in the USA and plan to frequently travel, T-Mobile is your best option. T-Mobile has a Simple Choice Global plan that gives you 2 GB of data per month as well as unlimited talk and text in the US, Mexico, and Canada for $50/month.

If you travel outside of those countries, you still have the 2 GB per month and unlimited text, and calls jump to 20 cents per minute. Your phone bill stays the same every month, and if you go over your data allotment, T-Mobile will give you 2-G speeds instead of charging you anything extra.

No overage fees, no hidden charges, and no switching SIM cards. T-Mobile automatically activates on a partner network when you arrive in a new country, and you’re good to go. I didn’t believe that a carrier could truly offer something like this and was skeptical all the way until I actually paid my first bill abroad, but it is that easy.

Just make sure that when you switch to T-Mobile, you buy one of their phones or bring your own from a compatible carrier. Sorry, Sprint users!

For those who don’t want to pay $5o per month, you can save money in many countries by buying an international SIM from local cell carrier shops. The downside to this is that you’ll arrive without data and will need to navigate to a carrier store every time you switch countries.

For those that use this method, download an offline maps app so you at least have navigation prior to getting data.

Social Media

With data, you should be set to use social media sites from your phone as usual. However, if you opt not to do this, you’ll need wifi to use Facebook, Twitter, etc. The simplest answer is to book accommodation that has wifi and primarily use it there. Most hostels and Airbnb’s have internet, and many cities have coffee shops with free wifi.

Apps

There’s a ton of apps that can help you keep in touch while you travel, and each traveler has their own preference. Here’s a few that we like:

WhatsApp: WhatsApp automatically pulls your phone contacts that are using WhatsApp, so you can easily message anyone. Texts and calls are free over wifi and this app is widely used around the world.

Facebook Messanger: Send messages for free over wifi, and make video and audio calls for free over wifi or a data plan.

FaceTime: For iOS and Mac users only. Over wifi or data, make video and audio calls for free.

Skype: Works on any platform, phone, and computer. Users can make video and phone calls over wifi and data. For those that need to call non cell phone numbers, Skype credit can be purchased by the minute at a lower rate than many phone plans.

There are countless ways to stay in touch while traveling, and we’d love to hear your favorites! We hope these tips will help give you confidence that you can travel and stay connected with ease.

8 Things to Do Before Traveling Internationally

By Sara | January 15, 2016

So you’ve decided to travel the world, or maybe just take an extended vacation. Before you leave, here’s eight commonly overlooked things to take care of before you board your flight.

1. Get Necessary Vaccinations – In Advance!

This is a biggie that we almost spaced on when we started trip planning. Depending on what countries you plan to visit, you may need vaccines in order to stay safe and healthy.

Nothing dampens the excitement of an African safari more than finding out you have Yellow Fever, and no one wants to halt Asian explorations because of a mosquito bite turned encephalitis. Even if an extreme illness is unlikely, visit your doctor to make sure your vaccines are up to date.

2. Change Your Address

If you’ll be gone longer than a few weeks, you’ll likely want someone to look after your mail. Change your address to a close friend or family member’s or have someone watch your mail for anything urgent.

If neither of these is an option, look into a service like Earth Class Mail. They’ll collect your mail for you, take photos of the outside envelope, and you choose what to do from there. Earth class will open, scan, forward, trash, or shred based on a few clicks from you.

3. Store Your Belongings

This only applies if you plan to leave your current home to travel. For most people who are living in an apartment, this is the most cost-conscious option. Shop around for the best storage size, then get some boxes and say goodbye to your rent! Don’t forget to look for coupons online for extra savings.

If you own a home, it may be worth looking into renting out your house to have some passive income while you’re away.

4. Find Pet Care

Finding a great foster home for your fur babies is crucial. This should be planned months in advance to be sure there are no fallouts. Additionally, consider how your time away will affect your pets. If you’ll be gone for a long stretch of time, it may be worth looking into adopting them into a new, loving home that will be around long-term.

5. Update Your Passport

Many countries require that you have at least 6 months of validity on your passport before they will grant entry, so be sure to renew your passport if it’s nearing expiration. Also make sure that you have enough blank pages in your passport book. Request more before you go if you’re low on empty pages.

6. Get Necessary Visas

With a U.S., Australian, or European passport,  travelers can access many countries visa free. However, some countries require that you obtain a visa.

Many countries offer visas on arrival, but other times you’ll need to arrange a visa before boarding your flight. Be sure to check visa laws in your your destination country before you travel, and give yourself time to send your passport out and receive the visa before your trip.

7. Set Your Budget

Expenses while traveling are different than expenses while at home. To stay on top of all things money, and to allow yourself to travel longer, set a budget for food, accommodation, transportation, and any other frequent expense you may incur. We recommend using budgeting platform Mint because of their user friendly design and ease of use.

8. Book a Flight

Congratulations! You’ve checked all the big boxes of things to do before traveling, so now you can buy your ticket, pack your bags, and just go.