Research, planning can ease international travel

By: 
Katie Siebenaller

        There might actually be a right and wrong way to vacation. I never thought about taking a trip in those terms, but after recently traveling to Italy with my fiancé, Tyler, I find merit to this new theory.
        Our plan to traverse Italy began months ago. Tyler had mandatory time off of work in May, and as a result, proposed we spend a portion of those three weeks on vacation — time to explore, relax and escape the indecisive Ohio weather.
        Originally, we were going to simply venture outside of the state. But a quick flip through the latest Costco travel brochure changed that; our sights were now on an Italian travel package, transporting us to the cities of Venice, Florence and Rome. Having studied abroad in Florence three years ago, also visiting Venice and Rome while there, I jumped at the opportunity to return, excited not only to go back, but to show this country and cities I love to someone I love. Needless to say, Tyler was excited as well, having never been outside of the United States before. This trip and the Italian cities we visited will be described in the details they deserve in later articles.
        There were many aspects to this vacation that made it special — but romanticism aside, one major difference between taking a trip to Chicago or Cedar Point and vacationing in Italy is studying.
        This sounds like the opposite of relaxing, but the more time and knowledge you put into planning, packing and learning about the culture you’re going to immerse yourself in, the calmer you’ll be while on vacation. The effort pays off greatly in the end.
        Throwing the dart
        It’s best to settle on your destination(s), hotel(s) and book all forms of transportation, such as flights and rails (in Italy these are trains), months in advance of when you plan on vacationing. Booking at the last-minute means your trip will cost more, and you risk not getting the flight or hotel room you wanted. Getting or renewing your passport should also be done as far in advance as possible, as they are received via mail. You cannot leave the country, much less return, without a valid passport.
        If you have never ventured outside of the country before or don’t know where to start in terms of finding hotels and booking international flights, I recommend consulting a travel agent or looking into a packaged trip like Tyler and I did. Our hotels, flights and rails were all booked for us through Costco; all we had to do was set out dates and which U.S. airport we were departing from and returning to. Having our hotels and transportation taken care of alleviated stress and confusion, not to mention allowed us more time to plan what we wanted to see and do while in Italy.
        Preparing to be a world traveler
        Your vacation studies continue in the form of research. This is twofold because not only are you reading up on sites and attractions, you’re also taking the time to study your destination’s culture.
        I highly encourage you, whether you’re venturing to Italy or Iceland or Mexico, to take the time to learn about your destination’s culture. One of my favorite things about being in Italy — both times — was embracing life as an Italian. My goal was to walk, talk, eat and dress like the people of Italy, to blend right in. Of course, a few months is not enough time to become fluent in Italian, and no matter what I look like, the locals have some way of knowing, just by looking, that I am not exactly one of them. (I do have some Italian in my DNA, so I like to believe I have an advantage.) The point of this exercise isn’t to create an exotic version of yourself; it’s to immerse yourself into a new culture, enhance your experience in a different environment and show respect to your hosting nation. If you want to speak exclusively American English and dine in chain restaurants like McDonald’s, a 10-minute drive is all you require, not a ten-hour flight.
        Not only did my research about Italian culture earn us a more relaxing vacation, it also gave me a clue as to what to pack. Italy, a country full of Roman Catholics, is home to many beautiful and historic churches. But unlike many churches in the United States, many of Italy’s churches will not allow those in shorts or sleeveless dresses entrance. Your shoulders and, in most cases, your knees need to be covered to see treasures, such as the works of Caravaggio and Michelangelo. With information like this in mind, I knew to pack longer dresses, pants and scarves to ensure I was covered enough.
        Hawaiian shirts, shorts, shirts with American sports teams and the like are all sure signs you are a tourist. These sorts of clothing we knew to leave at home. Many people these days, from students to frequent travelers, share a lot of helpful tips and useful information for planning your vacation as well. This is how I first learned that Italians wear long pants and leather jackets year-round, style choices differing greatly from our tank tops and shorts.
        Travel blogs are a great resource if you’re looking for a city’s hidden gems and restaurants that aren’t necessarily in the average guidebook. This doesn’t mean you have to throw out books though. I would encourage the exploration of multiple sources. Guidebooks, which can be acquired through a travel agency, library or bookstore, tend to hold a basic outline, highlighting the main points of a country, region or city. They’re especially helpful if it’s your first time visiting a certain locale.
        With new knowledge about what your vacation destination has to offer, whether it is museums, historic ruins or mouth-watering cuisine, you can determine exactly how you want to spend your time. Tyler and I sketched out a rough daily itinerary for each city in Italy we visited. Having that itinerary with us on our trip made it so much smoother. We didn’t have to get up and consult guidebooks, trying to figure out where to go that day; we got up and knew where we were going and when. To stay relaxed and really enjoy your vacation, remember less is more. If you cram a ton of sites into one week, you’ll spend your vacation running around in a stressed out blur and not be able to recall much.
        Being smart with your time and money
        International travel is an investment. For most of us, it requires a lot of saving (or student loans). You want your vacation to be worthwhile and enjoyable.
        Imagine saving up paychecks for months, only to end up waiting in line for two hours to see the Colosseum. That doesn’t sound like fun, especially if it was a rainy day (many lines to get into Italy’s larger and more famous attractions are completely out in the elements). Those two hours could be spent sipping espresso in a café while people watching or marveling over another historic site. Many sites and attractions allow you to reserve tickets or even (for a little extra) purchase special tickets that allow you to skip the lines. The extra cost is well worth it. Getting our skip the line tickets for museums and historical sites saved Tyler and I so much time and stress.
        When purchasing tickets or something in another country, you’ll have to alert your bank/credit card company first. Most will flag a purchase like this as unusual or suspicious activity and not let the transaction go through. It’s important to also give you bank and credit card company a call about two weeks before you go on vacation to have them put a travel notice on your accounts. This will let the bank/company know it is you in that foreign country using your debit/credit card for the duration of your vacation, preventing the disaster of being in a foreign country with frozen accounts.
        It’s also good to find out if your credit card company charges an international fee with each transaction. The international fee is usually around three percent, but depending on your spending, it can add up. Some credit cards do not have this fee. If yours doesn’t, plan on using your credit card for larger foreign purchases.
        International travel also entails currency exchange of some sort. The exchange rates are always in flux, changing daily. You can keep an eye on the exchange rate between the U.S. dollar and your destination’s currency to give you an idea if your spending on vacation will likely be greater or less. You can also save money by ordering foreign currency in advance. Italy, along with most of Europe, utilizes the Euro, so I ordered some from AAA to use on smaller purchases and at local markets where vendors didn’t have card readers.
 
 
 
 

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