Travel article

Pro Tips for Your First Trip Abroad

by Sara Parker

You’ve been bitten by the travel bug, and you finally have the time, money and means to take your first trip abroad. But where do you start? There are so many places to go, people to meet, things to eat and cultures to experience. Lucky for you, there are plenty of resources available to help you decide where to go and plan your entire trip. The following are just a few tips to get you started:

Decide Where to Go

All you know is that you want to travel out of the country, but aren’t sure where to go first. Begin your journey with research. Ask your friends about their favorite trips abroad, conduct online searches of some of the most popular destinations or go to your local bookstore to browse the travel section. You also should start narrowing down what type of trip you want to take, such as a remote, outdoors trek, major city tour or a cruise. Think about what you want out of your first time abroad to help decide what kind of excursion you want. As you start narrowing down your options, you also should narrow down your search parameters. For example, only look for the best locations to go backpacking or the best places with art history museums. The lists, books, and websites you’ll find will help you pick the best destination.

Get Your Documents

Once you know where you're going, you need to get going on your paperwork as soon as possible. If you don't have a passport or need to update an old one, do this immediately because it can take several weeks (and sometimes months) to complete. According to the U.S. Department of State, your passport needs to be valid at least six months after your return and have at least two blank pages that can be stamped by customs. Depending on the country you've chosen and the duration of your visit, you also may need to get a visa. Each country has different rules and regulations for visas and you usually have to send your passport and documentation to that country to be granted a visa (which is why you should do it immediately). The Department of State has information broken down by country that gives you directions on how to apply for a visa.

Book Your Flights

There are several points you need to consider before booking your flights online: dates, location, and price. If you are set on a certain time of year for your trip, the first thing you need to do is make sure flights are available during this time. From there, you can narrow down your options by what airport you want to fly out of from your home and into for your destination. Be very careful when you're conducting your research because many websites will tell you they are close to major tourist destinations even if they aren't (it's all relative after all). Do your due diligence by checking how far the airport is from your hotel so you don't end up with a large taxi bill. Now you can start looking at various airlines and prices. Although you may be excited, you may not want to book your flight too far in advance, according to CheapAir.com. According to their study, you should book your flight two to four months in advance of your trip to get the best prices. They have each region of the world broken down by the best time to book flights for more information.

Reserve a Place to Stay

Just like with your flights, you need to do some research on where you'll stay during your trip abroad. Whether you make a reservation at a hotel, hostel, Airbnb or couch-surfing option, you should look into how far it is from the major attractions and destination in the city. Use Google Maps on your smartphone to input addresses and locations to see if you can walk or take public transportation to all the places you want to go or if you'll need a car or taxi to get around. Keep in mind that the cost of cab rides adds up quickly.

Your accommodations also greatly depend on your budget for the trip. If you're pinching pennies, hostels are a great option. They usually are in the heart of major cities and can be booked for affordable prices (especially if you're planning an extended trip). Hostels also provide you with the opportunity to meet new people, talk to the locals and have a more authentic experience. Hotels and Airbnb may be more expensive options, but offer more privacy, services, and luxury. Be sure to look at pictures of the hotels or homes on their website, and read reviews and comments on websites like TripAdvisor and Yelp. Take advantage of the power of a smartphone like the LG G6 to compare all of your options and do as much research as possible. Your phone not only lets you look at websites, but also take screenshots and save information for later use in case something goes wrong.

As you plan your trip, be sure to include the major tourist attractions as well as some local activities on your itinerary. Give yourself plenty of time to explore, try new things and soak in a new culture. With a little research and planning, you'll have an amazing trip and be itching to plan the next one.

Purchase Travel Insurance

Getting travel insurance is prudent with any vacation, but it’s especially important when you’re traveling abroad. Protect your investment in your trip, and also ensure you’re covered in case of sickness or an accident while traveling (after all, many U.S. healthcare plans don’t cover you outside the U.S. Check with your individual plan). USI Travel Insurance Services offers a variety of travel protection plans, so you can find the right plan for you:

Visit http://www.travelinsure.com/ to view all of our plans and learn more.

 

Sara Parker has a passion for travel and travel writing. She lived and studied in Segovia, Spain, for six weeks, has traveled throughout Western Europe, Peru, Costa Rica and the United States. She hopes to hit every continent and share her journeys through her writing.

 


Travel

3 Common Mistakes to Avoid When Planning a Holiday Road Trip

By Alison Stanton

It's official: Your time-off request has been approved, and with the holidays fast approaching, you and the family are ready to head out to spend some quality time with grandma and grandpa.

But before you head over the river and through the woods to grandmother's house, it's important to ensure your vehicle can withstand the harsh winter conditions. Check out the following three common mistakes people make when planning a cold-weather road trip and what you should do instead.

1. Assuming Your Vehicle Can Handle Winter Weather

If your car is humming along nicely on the way to work and/or school, you might assume it will be able to handle a road trip with ease. However, going a few miles to and from work is vastly different than driving hundreds of miles in winter weather. Prior to leaving, schedule a winter tune-up at your mechanic to ensure your:

  • Anti-freeze and other fluid systems are topped off
  • Spark plugs are replaced
  • Windshield wipers are in good condition

Additionally, you'll want to inspect your tires carefully for any rot or damage. Beyond having plenty of quality tread, also check the brand of your tires to determine whether they're designed to handle slick and icy road conditions. If your tires are showing signs of baldness and aren't designed for harsh conditions, invest in four, new winter performance tires before you skip town.

Not sure where to turn with your trip fast approaching? Check out resources like TireBuyer.com to shop for tires meant to handle snow and ice. The online retailer offers a variety of winter-ready tires at affordable prices.

2. Not Checking the Weather Report

You and your family may be chomping at the bit to leave and see grandma and grandpa as soon as possible. But before heading out, be sure to check the seven-day forecast for your impending route.

It's possible a snowstorm may hit the areas in which you plan to travel. If this is the case — and, more importantly, you know this information well in advance — you can delay your trip by a day or two instead of ending up being stranded along the way.

Looking for a trusty resource? Check the conditions and forecast by using the National Weather Service as a resource. Through this website, you can enter your current location and destination to find out if any inclement weather is headed your way.

3. Forgetting to Pack an Emergency Roadside Kit

You may assume having your vehicle thoroughly checked over — and with four new winter tires — means you won't experience any issues on the open road. Unfortunately, despite your best efforts and intentions, you may wind up getting stuck along the way.

For example, your options will be severely limited if an accident involving multiple vehicles shuts down a portion of the highway for several hours. Additionally, you could experience unexpected car issues or have the battery go dead. Talk about a holiday downer.

Before leaving on your trip, pack an emergency roadside kit that includes plenty of warm blankets, extra food and water, and Thermoses filled with hot drinks like coffee and cocoa. Additionally, keep your smartphone fully charged, and try not to let your gas tank dip below half full.

Have a Great Time!

With some proper planning, you're bound to enjoy a safe and fun winter road trip that will provide you and your family with plenty of lifelong memories. Just be sure to give grandma a big ol' hug when you get there.

 

About the Author: Alison has been a freelance writer for the past 15 years. She enjoys writing about a wide variety of topics, and always looks for opportunities to learn about new subjects.


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When Natural Disasters Affect Your Travel Plans

Take a moment to consider: once busy streets, alive with passersby enjoying the seemingly endless sunshine, now rivers of murky water and debris. Within the last few weeks, Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Maria and Jose have devastated Florida, Texas, Puerto Rico and the Caribbean Islands. Millions of people have been displaced and millions of travelers have had their travel plans derailed or even canceled.

So, what did we learn amid the chaos?

As a result of the recent hurricanes, travel insurance companies have experienced a sudden influx of travel-related claims from many of their policy holders. Luckily for many travelers, airlines and lodging facilities often offer full refunds for trips to areas affected by natural disasters when they can’t render the services that were purchased. As such, insurance companies do not see as much of a jump in Trip Cancellation insurance claims in these circumstances. However, Trip Interruption and Travel Delay claims typically spike during disasters like the ones experienced in the last few weeks.

  • Trip Cancellation
    Your insurance will generally reimburse you for any non-refundable, pre-paid trip payments or deposits, up to the amount insured, if cancellation occurs before scheduled departure because of unforeseen circumstances covered by the plan.
  • Trip Interruption
    Your insurance reimburses non-refundable, pre-paid and unused trip payments if your trip is interrupted after departure because of covered circumstances. And here’s the best part – coverage includes reimbursement for additional transportation expenses to re-join the trip or return back home.
  • Travel Delay
    If your trip is delayed beyond the minimum time specified in the plan and for a covered reason, you will be reimbursed up to the plan limits for reasonable expenses.

The Early Bird Gets the Worm

Many travel insurance policies do cover natural disasters, such as hurricanes, that may impact a traveler’s plans. However, this particular coverage often comes with the stipulation that the policy must have been purchased before the storm was named. So, those who are proactive with their travel insurance purchase tend to fare better with receiving Trip Cancellation, Trip Interruption, and Travel Delay benefits than those who wait to purchase insurance.

It is reasonable to assume that the advent of these disasters will continue to affect the travel insurance industry as travelers become more conscious of how forces out of their control can derail any well laid travel plan. And it’s not just natural disasters – anything from terrible weather to a family medical emergency can ruin careful planning and bring your trip to an end before it even begins.

Having a travel insurance policy in place with Trip Cancellation, Trip Interruption and Travel Delay clauses can help protect you from losing your financial investment in your trip regardless of the situation. USI Affinity Travel Insurance Services offers plan options to fit your individual needs as a traveler. For example, with the Travel Insurance Select plan, travelers receive the following benefits and non-insurance services:

  • Coverage for Trip Cancellation - Be reimbursed up to 100% of the money you invested in your trip.
  • Coverage for Trip Interruption - Recover up to 150% of your trip costs, depending on the plan you choose.
  • Coverage and services on Emergency Medical Evacuation, Missed Connections, and more
  • 24-hour access to Emergency Assistance Services – No matter where you are, you have help when you need it.

Life is unpredictable no matter how well you plan, but you can be prepared. Consider protecting your next trip with travel insurance.

For more information about the options offered by USI Affinity Travel Insurance Services to protect your next trip, click here.


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How to Prepare for the Ultimate Backpacking Trip

By Jim Burch

John Muir once said, "The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.” And there is no better way to see America's wilderness than to strap your gear to your back and walk. But it's not that simple, is it? Backpacking, while fun and rewarding, is sometimes difficult and requires real preparation.

Get in Hiking Shape

Even at no grade and low altitude, hiking for 10 miles and 25 plus pounds on your back takes a toll on your body. If you're a beginner hiker or you spend most of the day sitting in an office chair, there are a few simple exercises to get your legs and core into prime hiking shape.

  • Core - Deadlifts are crucial to back and core strength. Learn to do them safely and properly.
  • Legs - Squats and lunges target both the front and back muscles all the way down the leg.
  • Mobility - The "Limber 11" is a great series of stretches to make long hikes safer and more comfortable.

Get the Gear

The toys needed for a backpacking adventure into the wilderness are minimal, but you should still invest time and research into these key items before exploring the backcountry:

  • Backpack - A good backpack should carry 35-45 liters of gear and have an internal frame to distribute the weight off your shoulders and onto your hips.
  • Tent - The giant tent you use for family car camping won't do for this excursion. Backpacking tents are light, small and only big enough to fit the exact number of people in your group (usually 1-3). Make sure it has a rainfly and consider the additional footprint if you'll be camping on rough ground.
  • Sleeping Bag - If there is one item to splurge on, it should be the sleeping bag. Down feathers pack down and loft out better than synthetic material. You should also find one with a temperature rating below the coldest night of your trip.
  • Sleeping Pad - Most people think the primary function of a sleeping pad is to give cushion, but it's actually to separate you from the cold ground below. The best sleeping bag does nothing if it's pressed up against the cold ground, but a sleeping pad offers a buffer between your body and the dirt below. It also just so happens to be more comfortable.
  • Water Filtration - When you're more than a day's hike from the nearest clean water source, you need a method to filter your own from a stream or pond. Water filters filter out impurities from any water source so you can have safe, clean water to drink and cook with.

There are dozens more items to consider, such as headlamps, a knife, and first aid, but any good backpacking checklist will help ensure you have everything you need.

Get Your Itinerary

You've got the gear, you're in great shape, now it's time to prepare for the actual trip. Controlled land, such as National and State Parks, will usually require backcountry permits for wilderness camping. Popular parks such as Grand Canyon and Yosemite are very difficult to get permits for, so you should sign up for them the moment they're available.

Even if you're backpacking through a national forest or wilderness area, which usually does not require permits, it's a good idea to have an itinerary and share it with someone before you leave. National parks use permits to control crowds on the trail, but also to know where you are if something happens (a fall, an animal attack, etc.).

Make an itinerary, share it and stick to it and you'll be just fine.

Focus on the Journey

Multi-day backpacking trips can be physically challenging, but try to enjoy each moment — even when your body is tired — instead of just thinking about completing your journey. After all, you're off the grid and among nature to savor every step and take in every sight.

 

About the author:

Jim Burch studied creative writing and journalism while working as an editor for the Murray State News in Kentucky. These days, he writes diverse copy -- from sports and movies to tech and health.

 


10 Important Items for Your Vacation Safety Checklist

By: Jessica Thiefels

image from exchange.aaa.comYou feel at ease on vacation—and you should—but that doesn’t mean you should completely let your guard down. Unpredictable circumstances can still happen while on vacation, from sickness and car problems to having a lost or stolen passport or getting injured.

While you can’t predict what will go wrong, you can prepare by taking these ten safety items with you.

 

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