Over the next few days, I’ll be detailing out some of the highlights from our trip through Croatia, Slovenia and Austria, things I wish I’d known and the tips for everyone who was messaging me that you were thinking about going there!
However, first I wanted to start with some of the major travel tips that made this trip feel easier and smoother than so many in the past. In other words, take my lessons from many international trips and let them save you some time and headache.
- How to pack a carry-on for 10 days (with running gear!)
- Long flight tips
- Healthy hotel room travel hacks
- How to travel with food allergies (like dairy in France the land of butter)
- Overcoming fears about international travel caused by the news
Top 9 Tips for Planning an International Vacation
Mobile WiFi or International Phone?
In the past, I’ve paid for a mobile hotspot which was great for being able to do pretty much anything I needed on my phone. This time however, I opted to pay for 1 month of international phone service which was just $60 and thus cheaper than $10 per day for WiFi.
I did this to ensure I could call the taxi’s or check-in with the car services who all said they would text. I also had enough data with this to search out things on Google Maps or do a quickie Instagram post when I was away from WiFi.
Bonus: Download maps.me.
Once you have this app on your phone, you can download a map of the specific area that you’ll be visiting. Then when you arrive, you’ll have your phone in airplane mode so as not to use any data or roaming charges. and it will just rely on GPS to show where you are and help you find where you need to go.
David would plot in the address of our AirBNB so we could walk there from the train station or find our way back after hours out exploring the city.
We found it also worked pretty well for finding trails while out in Lake Bled as well. Though I wouldn’t rely on trails always appearing on your map.Save time, money and your sanity with these great international travel tips! #wanderlust Click To Tweet
Travel on Sunday
When I was little, I remember a lot more things closed early on Sunday…now everything is open in the US all the dang time, including holidays. Europe is not on that bandwagon.
They close most retail stores by 8PM in big cities and earlier in smaller towns. Most stores on Saturday’s close by 1PM, yes that includes grocery and our Walgreens equivalents.
Sunday is a total closed shop, which makes it the perfect travel day! Book your long flights or your long train days to coincide with this and you won’t miss anything.
As always there are some exceptions to this rule. When you’re in the highly touristed areas you will find restaurants that are open, but shops, groceries and pharmacies will still be closed.
Save the Stomach
Also, yes you’re on vacation, but let’s be honest day after day of heavy meals aren’t going to leave you feeling refreshed when you get home. A few things to help:
- Enjoy the free apples in your hotel (thank you fiber)
- sneak in a salad
- slow down to really chew your food
- Enjoy those meals totally guilt free (truly studies show that helps improve digestion!!)
Understanding Local Transportation
When arriving in your new city, it’s often easy to grab a taxi to your hotel. However, I knew Zadar was a tiny airport, so I pre-booked through Rideaway and loved it. Someone is waiting with a sign of your name, ready to whisk you away.
Uber is available in places like Munich or very large cities, but there are more small operators in other locations. Additionally, Europe has a very strong bus system for cheap rides, the timetables are usually well laid out. The only issue is there could be less running during shoulder season than peak times to some tourist spots.
Again on this trip, I opted to book private cars for some of our self-organized excursions because I wanted to go on our own timetables, in comfort, with air conditioning and plenty of room. On a tighter budget, we’d have used the available buses.
After that don’t be afraid of the trains. They are absolutely our favorite way to travel!! You can pre-book using Eurorail or you can buy tickets at the station, usually from a kiosk. It’s all very easy.Quintessential Europe: a train, a pastry and a good looking man (ok he’s clearly American).
First or second class train?
It really depends on the age of the train as to if this will matter at all. In most cases, it will be a comfortable ride no matter what. We had an older train out of Zadar so I just slid down the window and soaked in the fresh air breezes for the duration of the ride.
I do like pre-booking because it ensures we have assigned seats. These trains do get packed and that simply meant we definitely sat together.
In the US, I admit there’s only a few places like Steamboat where I want to rent a bike. I mean a big city and a bike, no thank you. But Europe is a whole different animal.
Shoulder Season Travel
One of the best things I learned working with travel agents was “shoulder season”. In other words, the weeks right before or after peak travel times and before the off season. You’ll skip most of the big crowds, find many places are cheaper and still enjoy some great weather.
The biggest chances you’ll take here are weather and as we found, sometimes things change hours because it’s no longer peak season. For example, the ferry we wanted to an island in Croatia was only running twice a day instead of seven times a day, which left us with time slots that just didn’t work. (No worries, we found another island!).
Should You Use a Travel agent?
I believe many people think this is an outdated notion, but they’re wrong. In fact, I wrote travel content for three years for the travel industry and can tell you that travel agents are alive and kicking. I’ve used them on some trips and not on others. A few key points:
- It won’t cost you more (usually). They make money from the vendors like tours, hotels, etc.
- It can be a lifesaver if you have something go wrong on your trip. One year David’s company forced us to reschedule our Iceland trip. Since I’d used an agent she rebooked every single thing for me.
- They need to specialize in the kind of travel you want to do. Our Ireland trip was good, but not great because she didn’t understand our active nature no matter how many times I tried to explain it.
- They can get you deals, upgrades or share ideas from their own travels that will make the whole process less stressful.
Guided Tours or Solo?
When it comes to active travel there are an increasing number of options for a complete vacation package that will include things like guides, bikes, kayaks, whatever you need to explore. And they usually start around $3,500 per person.
We can spend 10 days in Europe and spend $4000 total even taking private cars, enjoying a couple nice hotel nights, first class train, etc. (Note I did use airline miles to book this trip.) Could we have done it for less, absolutely, but this why we work, not to buy cars.
A solo trip is going to require more research on your part. I hope some of the content here will help with that!But it also allows your husband to serve as a travel guide…if anything like mine it’s filled with made up information.Here are just a few of the destinations I’ve written about recently for active vacations:
AirBnb or Hotel?
As I discovered in booking our Croatia trip there aren’t a whole lot of hotels in many little towns. In fact, what you often find still remain apartments that are being rented out because these cities are experiencing massive tourism growth and weren’t previously built for it.
Myself and friends have all had excellent experiences using AirBnb abroad (read my full post on if AirBnb is right for you). I’ve tried it in at least 4 countries with no issues. It’s often easier than the US because they will almost always meet and greet you to provide access, give you a map of the area, answer questions.
The main difference is they are required to take a photo of your passport and some places like Zagreb had a tourism tax which was paid in person.
I hope this helps get you over any worries about what you’ll need to know or how different things might be. In general, we are extremely lucky that most places speak English and translate most written things to English making our travels very easy!
Any international travel tips you’ve found extremely helpful?
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