A version of this story was originally published in the National Geographic Almanac 2019.
Whether you're a seasoned jet-setter or a first-time traveler, it never hurts to be prepared. Check out these 10 quick tips to ease your transit and enrich your destination.
Before you go
Reliable travel advice
Solicit advice from friends, relatives, and colleagues. Someone who knows your destination well may be in your social media network. Guidebooks or posts from a professional reviewer are the next best choice.
Booking your trip
Competent travel agents really are worth their weight in gold. But if you’re booking your own trip, take extra care, especially if venturing abroad: Check dates and times, airports, and names on your documents. It is crucial that you understand the terms of your purchase and any passport or visa requirements.
Take a car (yours or a rental) if you have the time and want the freedom to explore. Pack a map in case GPS isn’t available. If train or bus travel appeals to you, look into the peculiarities of that mode of travel on your route before booking your trip. [These 16 train trip’s are the world’s best.]
If you're traveling in the United States, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is an inevitable part of the air travel experience. You can get through the screening process with your nerves and your dignity intact as long as you plan ahead and know what to expect. [Ask TSA what you can bring with you.]
Making the most of your layover
Hate searching for an outlet so you can charge your devices? Bring a small power strip that works as an extension cord and lets others plug in too. [Make the most of your layover in the top ten busiest airports.]
When you arrive
Call your provider to find out whether your cell phone is “locked.” If it is, you can’t just swap out your SIM card to one that works in the country you’re visiting. You may need to buy an unlocked phone, which you’ll be able to use on any compatible network.
Not excited about a standard hotel stay? Informal and alternative choices include B&Bs, home swaps, glamping, hostels, and, of course, Airbnb. Decode which conveniences you can live without and make your choice accordingly. [Here are 44 places to stay if you care about the planet.]
If you’re traveling abroad, carry at least one credit card (preferably two) and some local currency. Both payment forms have risks and rewards, but both will serve you well. Mind the fine print and fees, and call the company in advance of your trip to avoid having a card suspended by its fraud monitoring department.
Food can easily become one of the most disappointing parts of a vacation, so plan ahead and avoid falling back on “first available” choices. Be open to cooking when possible and to packing picnics for the road. [These are six unexpected cities for the food lover.]