In this post, I will be adding general tips for making travel arrangements, regardless of your destination. However, there are also a few suggestions that refer specifically to our trip to Italy in 2014, but I think that they can be applied to other locations as well.
In the future, these will include things such as …
- Planning a stopover on your itinerary
- Booking stays using VRBO (or AirBNB)
- Arranging payments to a foreign country
- Researching and making travel reservations
- Including how to plan an extended stopover on almost any air itinerary
- Using sites like AirBNB and VRBO
- Rental cars
- Local driver’s license requirements
- Whether or not to purchase addl. insurance
- How to research the locations you wish to visit
- Use TripAdvisor.com
- Use VRBO.com
- Use AirBNB.com
- Securing and updating necessary travel documents
- Considerations for using local currency
- Considerations for using the local language (or at least trying to)
- Preparing a “to do list” and a “to take along” list in advance of your trip
To get this post started, I want to begin by sharing some information I discovered some years ago that I believe you should be able to use when making airfare reservations with almost any carrier.
However, if you have any specific questions about some of the items that I mention above, but have not yet written about, please add a “comment” to this post, and I would be happy to get back to you.
Planning a stopover on your air itinerary
Let’s say, for example, that you are planning a trip to Germany. Your airfare itinerary between the U.S. and Germany could have you either stopping or transferring planes at a number of different locations – New York or Boston in the U.S.; London, Amsterdam and Paris in Europe are all common stops on the way to other cities in Europe.
Your specific air itinerary has you stopping for 5 hours in London on your way to Germany, and has you stopping for 6 hours in Paris on your way back from Germany. You have never visited either London or Paris, and since you are planning and paying for this major airfare to get you to Germany, it would be nice if you could visit either London or Paris while you are on that same trip. But 5 hours in London or 6 hours in Paris are hardly enough for you to spend time seeing either of those cities.
There is an option that I’m not sure many people know about. I discovered that, as long as you take the same plane/same time when you continue after having a stop on a flight, such as either in London or Paris in the scenario I have used here, you do not have to take that connecting flight … on the same day. I have used this successfully on many of my international travels.
So, again for example, your Monday flight to Germany stops in London at 10AM London time and your connecting flight to Berlin leaves London at 3PM London time. What you can do is to plan to get off the plane in London at 10AM on Monday, spend 2, 3 or more days in London, and then take that exact same flight at 3PM on say Wednesday or Thursday to continue on to Berlin. I have been told that any airline will allow this, but only on one leg of the trip. So you would have to choose in this example, whether or not you wanted to stopover in London on the way to Berlin, or stop in Paris on your way back from Berlin. You just need to make this known when you make your reservation. This will allow you to take your baggage off of the plane and check back in when you continue on some days later.
I have never been charged any extra for doing this and have never experienced any problems in getting my checked luggage.
So, when my wife and I plan our international trips, I almost always plan to stop over somewhere new on either the way to or from our final destination. Play around with your air itineraries to see what different cities are stopovers on the various flights. Depending on the time and the day of your flight, there will often be connecting flights that stop in different cities. Choose a flight that stops in the additional city that you would like to visit, and then make your reservation for that flight.
We most recently did this on our trip to Italy in 2014. We stopped over in London for three days on the way to Rome, and then continued on to Rome after having spent some time exploring London. It was like having two trips in one, but for the same airfare. I have not personally done this for trips within the U.S. but I assume that the same thing could be done on a flight itinerary solely here in the U.S. as well. If you are planning to fly from Los Angeles to Boston, and would like to see Chicago, find a flight that stops in Chicago and delay your departure to Boston for a few days.
Please check out this option, if it makes sense to you, and I would love to hear about your experience.
Booking stays using VRBO (or AirBNB)
We have used the website Vacation Rental by Owner (VRBO) on numerous occasions both in the United States and in Mexico. Our trip to Italy was the first time I had ever used it in Europe.
I now will usually check both AirBNB and VRBO when we are looking for places to stay. They are very similar. I believe VRBO was AirBNB before there was an AirBNB.
I have not booked a location using AirBNB yet but I have friends who have, and they have been very satisfied. Personally, I am just much more familiar with the VRBO website, and their way of identifying and describing their units, so I still tend to go with them first.
When I did start looking for Italy units, I was very surprised by the number of VRBO units available in Italy. In fact, we stayed at VRBO units in each of the six locations we stayed except for Venice. We took the train to Venice and only stayed there one night so I booked a hotel on the canal.
Even though all of the units were owned by either Italians or Germans, I had no problem communicating with them via email prior to booking.
Arranging payments to a foreign country
One thing that did come up, though, was the difference (at the time) with how some landlords accepted payment. That was over two years ago (Oct 2014) though so hopefully, payment methods options have been updated by the landlords since then.
Avoid doing wire transfers. Those are expensive. You can end up paying some substantial fees to your bank. I had to eliminate some possible locations because the landlord required a wire transfer – no other option.
The two methods we used were direct bank-to-bank transfers and also PayPal. Neither one involved a fee for us, although I believe that PayPal requires a fee, which in our case was paid for by our landlord.
PayPal was certainly simpler. Each party just had to setup an account with PayPal, and we already had one. I just had to walk my Italian landlord through opening their own account.
Bank-to-Bank transfers were a bit more complicated but I was able to have my bank set it up for me at no charge. They just required a bunch of routing information for the Italian bank to which to send the payment. I set that up with one of my landlords who did not want to setup a PayPal account.