Welcome back to Ricardo’s Travel Advice, a series in which I lay out some of the insight I’ve gained from my overseas journeys. This advice comes from the perspective of an American male who’s done three solo extended overseas journeys—two to Europe and one to Japan and South Korea—and might not apply to everyone, but there should be a lot here that’s broadly applicable. Today I’ll be giving some advice related to transportation.
Book your flight(s) far in advance if possible
This should be common sense so I’ll get this one out of the way right at the start. Generally speaking, looking for flight(s) far in advance of your departure will give you more options to choose from and oftentimes a better price. On all of my journeys I bought my airline tickets about 4 to 6 months prior to departure. That might be overkill and not everyone will have the advantage of knowing their schedule that far in advance, but if you do you should be able to find a good flight at a good price.
Always use Private Browsing when searching for flights
Unfortunately it is very common these days for websites to track your online viewing habits and sometimes airline websites will adjust their prices higher if they see you’re repeatedly looking at certain flights. Use Private Browsing (or Incognito Mode, or whatever it’s called on your web browser) to avoid this potential pitfall.
Use aggregating websites, but also check an airline’s official website
Websites like Expedia can be very handy tools to find flights, but also check an airline’s official website to see if you can get a better offer there. Most of the time the prices you see on aggregate websites will be the same or extremely close to those on the official airline website, but once in awhile you’ll be able to get a better deal if you book your flight on the official website, or it could turn out that the aggregate website has the better price. It never hurts to check.
Carefully read an airline’s rules and amenities before purchasing your tickets
Some airlines are extremely cheap, but have very strict rules and absolutely zero frills, so always do your research before purchasing a ticket. If you’re like me and you travel with just a single carry-on backpack as your only luggage, make sure your backpack complies with the airline’s rules for carry-on sizes and weights.
Do you need a return ticket?
Related to an item in yesterday’s post about researching the country you’ll be visiting, find out if you need a return ticket or not before departure. Some countries, like Japan and South Korea, have stricter immigration and tourism policies and don’t like people showing up in their country without a return ticket.
Should you buy travel insurance for your tickets?
Maybe. I’ve never bought travel insurance myself on any of my journeys, but each time I had the advantage of being in-between jobs and I was traveling alone so there wasn’t any danger of a travel partner having an emergency and needing to cancel the trip. I also have the mindset that when I buy plane tickets and commit to one of these sorts of overseas journeys there is nothing short of divine intervention that will keep the trip from happening. If you think there’s a decent chance you’ll need to change your plans then travel insurance can give you some peace of mind, but if the plan is set in stone and you’re going to make sure it happens then don’t waste your money.
What about rail passes?
In a lot of the Developed World you have the option of purchasing a rail pass to use on train rides. Some rail passes are for individual countries, while others (like the kind you can get for the EU) cover multiple countries. Whether or not a rail pass is worth your money depends on how many trains do you intend to ride, what sorts of trains they are, and how far you are going. If you’re only taking a few regional train rides then you’re probably better off buying individual tickets for those trains. If you’re going to be taking several rides on long-distance, high-speed trains, then a rail pass might save you some money. Take the time to compare the price of rail pass against your best guess for what individual tickets would cost and make a decision. One other thing to keep in mind is that if you know your travel schedule far in advance then you can oftentimes buy train tickets at a discount.
Beware of reservation charges
A number of countries in Europe have figured out that they can extract some extra money from train riders by requiring people to purchase reservations in addition to their tickets. Not all trains in Europe require reservations, but know that rail passes do not cover these reservation fees.
Some countries have good bus networks in addition to their train networks, and in some countries the buses are a better option than trains. Always take a look and see if a bus would be the best way to get where you need to go.
Car rental advice
I unfortunately can’t give you much advice on car rentals since I’ve only done it once, but one thing I can suggest is checking to see if the car rental company you’re renting from has any sort of free membership benefits. When I rented a car in South Korea I got a massive discount for joining their free membership program. The other thing I can tell you is that you’ll likely need to get an International Driving Permit (IDP). An IDP is nothing more than a document with your information listed in the language of the country you’ll be visiting. To get an IDP you’ll just need your driver’s license and whatever the fee is at the place where you get the IDP issues. I went to my local AAA office to get mine.
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