There is no shortage of destination information available out there. While knowing where to stay and go can be as easy as posing a question on your IG story or to one of your Facebook groups, it’s still important to have some of your own research done before traveling. Knowing certain things before you go helps to minimize stress, decrease your costs, and have a better time because you have some essentials handled. When I crowd-sourced travel questions that my friends wanted me to answer, a colleague asked: “what should a person know about a new country before they visit?” Based on my own planning, here are FIVE know before you go travel planning tips that will make your trip run smoothly, and turn you into your own travel researcher in no time.
1. The currency and the exchange rate
At the top of your list should be knowledge of the name of the currency of a new country you are visiting, and how much $1 can get you in that country. While this is just a start, you’d be surprised how many people have no idea of the money and its value when they are abroad. Don’t disappoint your bank account, and make sure you know how to calculate the costs in US Dollars of some basic items you are buying (like water and food) to get an idea on the cost of living within that country.
2. The weather and general climate
You do not want to me like me, when I was a baby in the travel game - freezing my ass off in London in July of 2007. I was FREEZING y’all. But the worst part was, I had tons of clothes for that AT HOME, I just didn’t take the time to look up the weather for the dates I would be there. Because, summer is worldwide, no?! I assumed it was summer across the pond, and wound up being really cold, disappointed, and creating makeshift scarves out of shirts. Don’t assume anything and have your ass out shivering like me back in the day!
3. Your airport entry & exit plan
How do you plan on getting out of the airport and back once your trip is over? This may not seem important, but a little known secret I realized is that many airports have a bus or train that connects the airport to the city’s center. These airport buses/trains are most often than not cost-effective, fast, and comfortable ways to get to the heart of the city you are traveling to. By figuring this out early, you can map out where you are staying as well, and get a leg up on figuring out what transportation options are nearby your accommodation. Knowing your airport entry and exit plan also helps you budget wisely, and if you can avoid the high taxi fares it gets you better acquainted with the destination overall.
4. The touristy things to do
I think being a tourist gets a bad rap. I’m pretty sure that shame started around the same time as social media claimed to be the only proof you did something, but I digress. Those who want to be considered (or are) travelers don’t like being called “tourists” and those who are tourists don’t necessarily like to own up to the negative behaviors tourists sometimes engage in. Well, I am here to tell you that for now, and as it pertains to what to know before you go, that doesn’t matter!
It is essential to know the possibilities of what can be seen and done in any new country, based on what most people choose to see. It is the best starting point if you know nothing, and even if you aren’t into being a “tourist” it’s again - a starting point. Looking up tourist attractions is like calculating the travel law of averages. There are outliers, but at least you are starting somewhere. Regardless of the label of tourism, tourist sights are STILL where I start my own research as an expert traveler. I have been to 55 countries and it hasn’t steered me wrong yet.
While I always do more than just touristy things, I am here to tell you that it is OKAY to WANT to SEE that thing you saw on TV or on a postcard, in real life. It feels AMAZING to see the Taj Mahal in real life! I also LOVE flexing my UNESCO World Heritage Sites (once you've been to three or four it starts to be a thing!).
Tourist sights represent a country’s highlight reel and while you may not want to visit ALL a country’s selected highlights, it can give you a decent glimpse into that country’s culture, significant relics, and/or most commonly visited places to help you make your own plans.
5. Off the beaten path things to do
Of course you should look up a few things that are “off the beaten path” which is a phrase that means less visited, traveled sites, and/or activities. I would say you can let your interest lead you on this one, as you are bound to find something to tickle your fancy. For example, I actually stumbled upon London’s Cartoon Museum, as I was making my way to the National Museum. As a cartoon aficionado, I was excited, and I loved it. So for every new country you are going to, look up things to do based on your interest - or simply do a Google search for (“Country Name) off the beaten path” and see what comes up.