Tips, Travel
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My Top 5 Travel Planning Tips

Dan and I just booked our accommodations for our trip to Tromsø, Norway in February so I’m starting to get that anxious/excited feeling again! I’ve been to Norway a few times, but only to the western and eastern parts of the country. Tromsø is in the Arctic Circle, so it should be a completely different experience. For a Florida girl like me, that’s very exciting, but also scary because I’ve never felt cold like that before, and I definitely don’t have the right clothes.

In Norway there’s a saying that goes, “Det finnes ikke dårlig vær, bare dårlig klær!”, which translates to “There is no bad weather, only bad clothing!” I’ve already begun my clothing search.

I’m starting to plan out the things we want to do while there. Since I’m in the midst of all this trip planning, I thought it would be a good time to share my top travel tips. These keep me sane and my wallet happy. Your girl ain’t rich! I’ve got champagne tastes on a beer budget.

Tip #1: Plan your payment options

This tip is especially important when traveling abroad. Before you leave, plan out what type of payment option(s) make the most sense for your trip. Some countries such as Norway are trying to go paperless, which means that it is sometimes difficult to find and use cash. You’d probably want to make sure you have a good card to use. However, other countries rely strictly on paper money, so you’d want to figure out whether to exchange money at home or upon your arrival.

Another thing to look into for international travel is a good travel credit card, if only to avoid international transaction fees. Some credit cards don’t have international fees, but many do, as do most debit cards. The typical international fees on most cards are between 1-3% of each purchase, and you will also be charged a fee to withdraw cash from an ATM. Even purchases made online to foreign entities can rack up international fees, so check before you make a large purchase. A good travel card will charge you nothing for international transactions.

The other reason I utilize a travel card is for the points! If you travel regularly (or hope to in the future) credit card points can be a great way to save you some extra cash. Dan and I have a Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card that offered a 50,000 point sign-up bonus. For Chase, the exchange rate for points is basically a penny for each point, so that gave us about $500 worth of money towards flights or hotel accommodations booked through Chase.

Something to note however, is that the interest rates for some of these cards can be high, so be sure to pay off purchases monthly, or the interest costs will negate your savings.

Tip #2: Compare flights

Consider all of your options. We don’t stick to one airline when booking our travel. We compare all of our options and simply choose whoever offers the best rate, or even a combination of airlines.

  • Google Flights can be very useful in comparing flight costs, especially if your travel dates and locations are flexible. However, they don’t always include budget airlines like Norwegian Air, so keep that in mind to compare those separately. Google is your friend when booking travel, but always be sure to delete your cache and cookies each time you do a search. If a site recognizes you’ve compared travel to a certain place a few times, they will automatically start raising the rates. I usually search in incognito mode.
  • Be sure to look up the high and low season in your destination of choice. You can often find great deals in the low season and still be able to do all of the activities on your list, just in different weather.
  • Look into all nearby airports, as well as those near your destination. For instance, Tampa Intl. is the closest airport to my house, but we also have smaller Clearwater/St. Petersburg Intl. close by, as well as Orlando Intl. an hour drive away, Ft. Myers Intl. 2 hours away, and Ft. Lauderdale Intl. 4 hours away. Especially when looking for international flights, I consider all of these locations as a point of departure or arrival.

Also keep in mind that you can leave from one airport and arrive at another. On our Tromsø trip we are departing from Orlando but fly into Tampa coming home.

Stopovers in other cities along the way can also save you money while expanding your horizons to other locations you might not otherwise go.

  • Search all budget airlines in the region. Budget airlines cut costs by cutting amenities, so if you’re looking for a fancy flying experience, then budget airlines probably aren’t for you, but if you’re looking to save money, they’re your best bet. It’s often cheaper for us to go to Europe on Norwegian Air than to the west coast of the U.S. Norwegian is our favorite, but you can find a list of other budget airlines within Europe here and some great budget airlines that fly within the U.S. here* *Note that since that article was published, Virgin America has now become Alaska Air.

Tip #3: Look into all accommodations

Where I stay depends on where I’m traveling and what kind of experience I’m looking for. I usually compare the best rates between traditional hotels and rental homes. Airbnbs are especially great if you are looking to save money by cooking a few meals at home, as they usually offer a kitchen and utensils to use, as well as the perfect amount of space for your number of guests. Airbnb and VRBO are my favorite for accommodating a larger group of people. I always try to book verified Airbnbs with good guest reviews.

If interested and you don’t already have an account, you can sign up for Airbnb through my referral link here. You’ll get a $40 credit just for signing up that you have up to a year to use, and I’ll get $20 when you book a stay. It’s a win, win for everyone!

I usually Google search hotels within the geographical radius I want to stay to get an idea of the best rates, then read the worst reviews of the ones I’m considering. If it seems dirty or mentions anything about bugs, I can quickly count that one out, but remember to take reviews with a grain of salt. Everyone is looking for different things.

I always book hotels directly through the hotel’s site, not a travel site. There are a few reasons for this, but I’ll get into those in a later post. I’ve heard enough horror stories about trying to make a last minute change through a travel site to know that it’s not worth the hassle for me.

You can often find great deals on private hotels and Airbnbs, but looking into hostels and shared Airbnbs can also be a great option to save money, especially if you are traveling solo. Even cheaper still, camping in a cabin or tent can be a fun option in certain locations, or even renting an R.V. or trailer, if you’re looking for a road trip adventure. If you go this route, you will need to keep in mind other things you’ll need to make your accommodations work, such as cooking utensils, sleeping bags, etc.

Tip #4: Be aware of the weather and terrain

If you’re going on a trip to a place you’ve never been, be sure to look into the weather and terrain at the specific time of year you are traveling so you know what to pack. I plan this out in advance if I’m going somewhere with a different climate from where I live, so I can shop the best deals on items I’ll need. Most places in the U.S. will have a cheap option nearby to pick up something you forget, but in Europe, that will definitely not be the case. Clothing is often much more expensive there.

On this trip I know that it will most likely be snowy and below freezing. I have exactly zero clothing items that will work for that type of weather. Poshmark is my go to when searching for travel clothes, especially if I’m buying something I probably won’t wear often afterward. If you aren’t familiar, it’s a resale site that sells men’s, women’s and children’s clothing, often at crazy low prices since they are gently used. However, sometimes you get lucky and find stuff that still has the tags! If you download the app, use code SLULU516 when you sign up to get $5 off your first order. I’ll also get $5 when you make your first purchase. Another win, win.

On my last trip to Norway in the spring I got this beautiful, red, never-worn boutique dress for Norway’s Independence Day and this North Face rain jacket for only $20 each.

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Those are some big savings. On this trip I’m currently looking at a bunch of warm, cozy wool sweaters and hats to keep me warm. I’ve got my eye on a few for only $25 or less, which will end up saving me hundreds of dollars. They also have warm weather clothes, if you’re headed somewhere more exotic. Poshmark is addicting.

Another option is to rent clothing at your destination, but definitely look into pricing and selection ahead of time since items can sell out and prices can vary. I’m currently considering this for a few items such as boot spikes when we arrive in Tromsø.

Tip #5: Plan your activities in advance

When I travel I always try to make a list of things I want to see, do, and eat on my trip. I keep the list as a note in my phone so I can view it while traveling, even without an internet connection. You definitely don’t need to plan your itinerary down to the hour (unless you want to) but having an idea of the costs and timing for things is a good idea to ensure you accomplish the things highest on your list. For instance, on this trip I really wanted to see whales and was told that Tromsø is great for whale watching. Imagine how sad I was when I realized we arrive the day after the last whale-watching tour!!! Unfortunately our flights are non-refundable, so now I’m just hoping for a random whale to appear to me somewhere, and I’m probably S.O.L on that. Maybe someday I’ll make this dream a reality. Learn from my mistakes, people! Book important things in advance.

Try not to over plan. This will save you a lot of heartbreak if something goes awry. Leave space available in your itinerary for unexpected adventures and just try to enjoy yourself. Traveling should be fun, not stressful! If you get most of the important planning done ahead of time, it will be nothing but smooth sailing when you reach your destination.

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