25 Stress-Reducing Tips for International Travel

Eiffel Tower - Paris

After a nine-year hiatus, 2024 is turning out to be my year of international travel. As I prepared for trips to Egypt, London and Paris this year, I found myself more than a little rusty! For the benefit of my fellow travelers, and in case I don’t travel again soon, I decided to document my best stress-reducing tips for international travel.

  • Check your passport. I know this seems ridiculously obvious, but time passes more quickly than we think. You might remember renewing your passport just a “few” years ago, only to find out that it’s nearly expired. While most passport applications process in 6-8 weeks, it sometimes takes longer. And some countries require that your passport expiration date not fall within six months of the end of your stay. Don’t risk it.
  • Plan ahead. Again, this seems obvious, but things have definitely changed since the Covid pandemic. Most museums now have timed-entry tickets, and if you don’t purchase them well in advance, you may be out of luck. This is true of museums and national parks in the United States, too. During my last visit to Paris 11 years ago, I wandered into Sainte-Chappelle on a whim and was completely awe-struck by the stunning stained glass. I was sad to miss it this time, since we had not purchased advance tickets.
  • Use a travel service. If you’re going to a place you’ve never been, it can be overwhelming to plan the itinerary. Unless you really love research, engage the services of a knowledgeable travel consultant. My daughter Lindsey engaged Wendi Mihalko at Trifecta Travels to plan the Paris itinerary. We were traveling with kids, and Wendi did a fantastic job of creating a kid-friendly itinerary. We had the full itinerary with all the tickets at our fingertips in an app. Talk about stress-free travel!
  • Apply for global entry. This is not critical, but it’s a great convenience. On previous business trips, I encountered long lines getting through customs, so I wanted to avoid that if possible. Be aware: it can take up to six months to get your final Global Entry approval, and it also requires an in-person interview that is crazy hard to schedule. It just happened that I got my notice of conditional approval while we were in Egypt, and I was able to do my in-person interview at the Chicago O’Hare customs office on our return trip, with no appointment. Once you have Global Entry, you breeze through customs in 30 seconds at a kiosk. Oh, Global Entry also includes TSA pre-check, and it’s good for five years. Worth doing if you travel much.
  • Consider travel insurance. There are many options for travel insurance, and I usually don’t bother with it. But if you have shelled out big bucks that will not be refunded if something prevents you from going, it’s worth considering how much you’re willing to lose. The one insurance I highly recommend is medical, because your health insurance likely does NOT cover medical care outside of the U.S. The older we get, the more this one matters, but medical emergencies can happen at any age. Just ask my niece about her premature birth experience in a sketchy Mexican hospital…
Venus de Milo in the Louvre - Paris
  • Carry on essentials for the long flight. Unless you’re flying business class, you’ll want to bring a small bag of comfort essentials for the flight. Things like: slippers or socks, hand sanitizer, a travel toothbrush and toothpaste, eye mask, lotion, face wipes, chap stick, ear plugs, and a few snacks. The airline provides headphones for in-flight entertainment, but you may want to bring your own if you just want to listen to podcasts or audio books on your phone.
  • Manage jet lag. I find it difficult to sleep on an airplane, so I typically only get a few catnaps on a long flight. I bring Melatonin and try to get acclimated to the local time as quickly as possible. For the Egypt trip, we added an extra day to acclimate before our tour started. For London, we arrived in the morning and just kept moving all day. Then we took our sleeping aids and went to bed by 7:00 that evening. I continued to take Melatonin for the next three nights. Generally, people find it easier to adjust when they are traveling west than east.
  • Invest in quality luggage. I’m kind of a scrooge most Christmases. My kids and grandkids have all they need, and I don’t like to buy gifts just to buy gifts. But last Christmas, knowing that everyone in the family planned to travel in 2024, we bought an Away carry-on suitcase for every child and grandchild. Everyone picked a different color, making it easy for the kids to identify their bag. These sturdy suitcases meet the carry-on limits for most airlines, and they roll so smoothly. I bought the matching duffle bag, which slides over the extended handle. Don’t mean to brag, but I maneuver through a crowded airport like O.J.
  • Pack light. This is my #1 tip, even though it comes in the middle of the list. Pack light enough that you don’t need to check your bags. I packed for 11-day and 13-day trips in only the carry-on bags referenced above. How? Choose tops that you can pair with several bottoms. Limit your shoes. Use packing cubes. Take a couple laundry detergent sheets in case you need to wash a few items in the sink. Buy merino wool t-shirts. They are soft and cool, they layer well, and you can wear them several days without them stinking. I bought three from Unbound Merino, and I love them. Trust me, when you’re wrangling your suitcase up the metro stairs and across cobblestone streets, you’ll be so glad you traveled light!
Bridge Across the Seine - Paris
  • Choose a hotel near the action. I don’t know very many people who don’t have to make trade-offs in their travel budget, but I place a premium on the location of the hotel. Choosing a location that is within walking distance of many of the attractions you want to see saves enormous amounts of time. It’s also likely to be safer. And at the end of a long day, having comfortable beds and a chocolate on your pillow suddenly feels essential.
  • Bring great walking shoes. On the London and Paris trips, we walked from 5-10 miles every day. Make sure your shoes are up to the task. Good arch support, lightweight, and stylish, of course.
  • Use a cross-body bag. I never felt unsafe on my trips this year, but I certainly did the last time I went to Paris. The pickpockets are thick and brazen. This time I traveled with this Vadoo sling crossbody bag and had no fear of pickpockets. It has thick straps and several zippered compartments, and it fits close to the body. I often had a shirt or light jacket over it, and you couldn’t even see it. During my flights, it was handy for keeping my passport close at hand. Once settled into our hotel, I left my passport in the hotel safe and just carried my ID and credit card.
  • Spend the money for tours. Especially early in the trip, it really helps to take an organized tour of the city to get your bearings and learn some local history. We did a double-decker bus tour with tea in London and a family bike tour in Paris. I’ve done Segway and boat tours in other cities. These are always so informative, and well worth the money.
Highclere Castle
  • Map your routes. I’m old school, so I purchased a laminated map of London and Paris so I could visualize the city layout and the attractions on our itinerary before we left home. Then I used Google maps to see the walking time between points. Whenever time and energy permit, we like to walk. But it’s helpful to know in advance when the metro will be the better option.
  • Download metro apps. Speaking of the metro, it’s sooo much easier to navigate now that you can download an app and chart the route between two points. It still takes some getting used to if you’re a country bumpkin, but we managed quite easily. Oh, except for one thing. Don’t put your metro ticket in your pocket with your phone. It de-magnifies it or something like that. We were slow learners.
  • Don’t stress about local currency. Lots of travel sites recommend getting a small amount of money in the local currency before you go. We found that unnecessary. We used our credit card for everything, with one exception. It helps to have small amounts of cash for pay toilets, especially in Egypt. But we used our card for toilets in Europe, so it depends on where you’re going. And speaking of credit cards, make sure you have one that does not charge international transaction fees.
Stained glass in Westminster Abbey
  • Pack a collapsible bag for souvenirs. Because I don’t check bags on the outbound trip, my luggage is filled to max capacity. I doubt I could fit even an extra toothpick! But, of course, I’ll want to bring home a few souvenirs. For that, I pack a collapsible duffle bag. It’s made of a lightweight but sturdy nylon, and it folds up into a small zippered pouch. If I use the duffle bag, I just check my suitcase on the return trip.
  • Know customs rules. If you don’t have Global Entry (and even if you do), make sure you know the rules for what you can and cannot bring into the country. On a trip home from Germany 10 years ago, I tried to bring home some sausage. I didn’t know whether it was allowed or not, but I declared it. Hoo boy! I got a lecture from the customs dude, and it came up in my interview for Global Entry! When I expressed surprise that he was bringing up a 10-year-old incident, he informed me sternly that, “We never forget.” Come to think of it, I’ve never seen a customs person smile.
  • Build in down time. It’s tempting to pack your itinerary tight, because there’s so much to see! But don’t. Start late one or two mornings, or wind down early one evening. That buffer can make all the difference if jet lag hits you hard on the second or third day.
  • Use an international cell plan. Cell phone expenses can be a nasty surprise if you use your phone as normal outside the U.S. Before you go, sign up for an international plan. My AT&T International Day Pass charges $12/day whenever I use data, with a maximum cap at $120 per billing cycle. It only charges you when you use it, and most of the time I just used wi-fi and didn’t need data. I kept my phone in airplane mode and turned off data roaming to make sure I was not incurring charges.
Big Ben and Double Decker Bus in London
  • Brush up on the local language and customs. I enjoy a new culture more if I start with a bit of basic history and knowledge. In London, it helps to know a bit about Henry VIII, Shakespeare, and Winston Churchill, for example. And in Paris, you’d do well to know Louis XIV, Marie Antoinette, and a bit about the French Revolution. (Of which there were more than one, actually.) I don’t mean to reduce centuries of fascinating history to a few key players and events, but it’s just so much. Study up as much as your little heart desires, but respect a country enough to know at least a little bit of its history and importance to the world. Likewise, if you’re going to a non-English speaking country, learn a little bit of the language before you go. It’s more fun to be able to at least TRY to communicate in the native language. And sometimes just knowing a few simple words can make a real difference as you navigate unfamiliar places. At the Eiffel Tower, we faced two lines. One labeled “Sans Billet” and one labeled “Avec Billet.” My college French came back to me immediately and we chose the “Avec Billet” line, because, of course, we had tickets. 🙂
Tube sign for Notting Hill
  • Leave your big camera at home. Of course you want great photos to memorialize your trip, but these days, you really don’t need the big camera. The camera on my iPhone 15 has 5x zoom and all kinds of features to take stunning photos. Travel light.
  • Don’t forget your hat and umbrella. I bought this Cuyana packable straw Ecuador hat for our Egypt trip, and it was just what I needed. I took it to London and Paris, but we barely saw the sun there. Instead, I was thankful I had made room for a small umbrella in my suitcase. Nothing worse than getting soaked to the bone in a cold London drizzle.
  • Bring electric adaptors and/or convertors. You’ll almost certainly need an electric adaptor for your devices and personal appliances. Check online to see if you need an adaptor, a convertor, or both. You can get an all-in-one type device that covers any country requirements, but I prefer the smaller country specific ones, like these. To each his own.
  • Be flexible. You know what they say about the best laid plans. It’s true. Something will always come up, but that’s part of the adventure, right? Every grand adventure includes an element of the unknown, which means you can never fully plan for the experience. So, yes, by all means do your planning, but also be prepared to flex. Who knows what delightful surprises might be in store when your best laid plans go slightly awry?

I wish you happy travels wherever adventure beckons. By all means, share your own tips for international travel with me! I’d love to hear your favorite travel locations, misadventures, and bucket lists, so drop me a comment!

ComeOnAileen

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