Travel & Adventure, Travel Tips

Travel Essentials | Preparing for Travel & Living Abroad

Stay alert and informed before you travel.

Some of the basics of traveling safely – don’t put yourself in sketchy situations, trust your intuition, don’t walk alone in questionable areas, talk to trusted locals, be aware of your surroundings, and stay informed.  Be aware of the political state of the country or area you’re visiting before travel.

Don’t make yourself a target for theft or scams.

When traveling alone especially, it’s important to blend in and stay confident.  If you’re traveling as a group, it’s still good to be vigilant.  In France, I would hang with trusted locals and friends and orient myself to my surroundings in each new place.  If I was going somewhere solo, I made sure I knew the route, the plan, and had a map of the area.  I always research an area beforehand and look at Google Maps to orient myself. (or a local map)

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Living in Lyon, France and visiting the Musée des Confluences (Confluence Museum)

Many people often thought I was a local, especially in France.  I speak the French language fluently which also helped.  Making an effort to learn key phrases in the language where you’re traveling is really helpful, especially if you get lost or need directions.  Learning key phrases in another language is useful even at a restaurant or the post office!

One of the best ways to avoid being a target for theft or scams is not using your GPS on your phone in highly public places or on streets and street corners.  If you need to search for directions, pop into a cafe quickly to get your bearings and check your map or phone there.  You can also use Google Maps offline if needed.  If you have WiFi at a restaurant, cafe, or where you’re staying and living, go ahead and plan out your route and then head out.

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My favorite little café in Lyon, France

Ask for directions from people who work at a cafe or restaurant and know the area. Avoid asking people on the street or in random places. If needed, go to a local tourist information kiosk or visitor’s center.

Keeping your phone out of sight in busy places helps to avoid cases of theft where people swipe your phone right out of your hand.  It can happen in big cities or high-traffic areas and crowded streets. So never make your valuables easily accessible.

Navigation, Maps, & Routes

Google Maps is the most notorious for navigation and maps and it’s my personal favorite.  It will navigate you by car, public transit, on foot, bicycle, and plane!  It’s also a great tool and resource for looking up businesses and restaurants.

If you’re doing multiple travels by bus, plane, train, etc. – one of the best resources is Rome2Rio – which will help you find the cheapest and most efficient ways to get to your desired destination.

If you’re doing a road trip in the United States, I recommend using Gas Buddy to find the best gas prices for your route as well as calculating fuel costs for your budget.

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At the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris

Guard your personal belongings on trains and when walking in crowds.

Trains and crowds are highly known for pick-pocketing so it’s important to guard your personal items. Friends and locals always encouraged me to wear my backpack on my front or position myself in a way where people couldn’t access my backpack or purse.  I carried an over the shoulder purse (a thrifty find at a vintage store in Paris in fact!) which I kept on the front of my body where I could guard it while walking.

Lock up valuables.

If you’re staying in a private room at an AirBNB, before you book, make sure it comes with a key to lock on the door so you can lock up your valuables while you are away. Many hostels and lodges provide a locker (typically you must bring your own lock) or you can rent one there. I use my combo lock or travel suitcase lock to store my computer and purse at night and any other valuables during the day that I didn’t need with me.  It’s always a good idea to not carry too many valuables with you on excursions.  Just bring the basics and bare minimum.

Research the area before you arrive and make friends with locals and other travelers.

Before I travel to a new place, I scope out my transportation options, maps of the area, restaurants and local places, distances to and from my destinations, and general information about the area (and history! I love discovering the history of a place).  I check reviews on lodging and neighborhoods to make sure it’s ideal and safe.  I opt for walking and the metro most of the time when I can, but at times I take a taxi or Uber if it’s later at night or if I have a ton of luggage with me upon arrival to a new city.  Walking with friends and trusted travelers is also a great way to opt for commuting.  You can meet great people who are also traveling while staying at hostels or AirBNBs – so team up with people when it feels right and you can make new friends along the way!

Banking & Cash Management Internationally

If you are using your personal bank card or credit card internationally, you’ll want to notify your bank of your travel dates and locations.  These travel alerts can be placed on your account for up to 6 months to a year.  This prevents your card from getting blocked during travel and also prevents theft if the card is used outside the countries you listed.

You can use your personal card for ATM withdrawals for cash (bank fees apply + factor in currency exchange rates).  I recommend the Travelex Money Card to save on currency exchange fees.  It allows you to have access to your funds without having to carry large amounts of cash on you.  There are several perks to using a currency Money Card like this:

  • you save money by getting a lower currency exchange rate and avoiding fees when you buy or download currency online to your money card
  • it works just like a normal debit card – you can get cash out at the ATM
  • it prevents international transaction fees adding up on your current bank account
  • if the card gets lost or stolen, someone will only have access to what’s on the card, not your main bank account (you can get the card blocked/stopped immediately by calling Travelex if this happens)
  • it’s super easy to manage and convenient for travel

Working in Other Countries & New Banks

If you’re going to be in a country working for a period of time, you’ll want to sign up for a local bank account of course.  Many banks have deals for newcomers or foreign workers.  In Canada, CIBC offers a free account to Newcomers/Foreign Workers for up to 1 year.

You’ll want to sure you sign up with an internationally recognized bank that offers a Visa or Master Card so that you can use your debit card internationally if you travel to other places, or need to use your current funds in your home country.  Sometimes Credit Unions or smaller, more local banks, don’t offer Visas or Master Cards so those debit cards can only be used locally (not online or during travel outside that country).

Check in and inform trusted people of your travel itinerary.

I checked in with either local friends or family when I left certain locations and arrived at home or at my next destination.  I sent my travel itineraries to my family when I was heading to a new place or going on an excursion.  I gave them contacts of people I would be working with or staying with including organizations, hostels, and AirBNB hosts. This is always a great idea to let friends and family know of your whereabouts or have a contingency plan for trips and outdoor adventures if you’re traveling solo, or in case you get into an emergency.  So if they don’t hear back from you by a certain time, they can know to contact someone you have listed on your travel itinerary.

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Sunset view from the Château d’Annecy (Annecy Castle) in France

Using a Mobile Phone Internationally

This depends on your phone carrier and available global roaming plans. I had a free Global Roaming Plan with Sprint when I moved to France, so I could text for free and use my unlimited data just as I did in the States.  Through that plan, phone calls cost 20 cents a minute.  So I would opt for WiFi when possible to use WhatsApp and FaceTime Audio for phone calls.  For messaging my international friends at no charge to them, I would use Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp. In Canada I purchased a phone plan through Fido for around $70 per month.

Some people use SIM Cards when they travel if you have an unlocked phone which can be another affordable option.  You can choose what works best for you based on how long you’ll be traveling or living abroad.  Most countries have affordable phone plans and carriers or SIM Cards you can set up when you arrive in a main city.  Typically if you find any mall, or search phone carriers on Google, there will be businesses nearby with affordable plans.

Carry extra copies of your passport and ID.

It’s a good idea to make two copies of your passport and ID before you travel.  Scan and e-mail those copies to yourself and/or family member.  Keep the two paper copies in a separate & secure place while you travel. That way, if for some reason your wallet, or passport, is stolen or lost — you have a backup plan and copies of your ID.  You can always contact your bank if your card gets lost or stolen, and put a stop on transactions until that’s resolved.  As long as you’ve notified your bank of your travel plans, usually you won’t run into any issues with using your card.

Get travel insurance.

One of the top travel insurance companies is World Nomads and they offer reasonable plans for the length of your travel.  It’s never a bad idea in case you get injured or have a dental emergency or get severely sick.  It also can protect against theft in some cases. Some countries will accept patients without travel insurance if you need to visit a clinic or pharmacy.

 

© 2019. Sonya Anglin. perksofbeingawildflower.com

Travel & Adventure, Travel Tips

Budget Travel Hacks | How to Make it Happen

Vision for the Adventure

Create a vision board.  Make it visual and creative.  Make it your own.  I created a vision board on January 4th, 2015 — it had clips from a Travel + Leisure magazine, a Europe issue in fact that I had purchased, and my vision board had all kinds of words leading me onward.  “Follow your bliss”  “What are you passionate about?”  “Europe”  “Run to the Roar”  and so much more.  Ten months later, I was standing in front of the Eiffel Tower.

It might sound simple, but writing things down makes them real and it brings an idea to life.  It is then no longer just an idea.  Your dreams are now captured in front of you.

For more on the visualization & vision board process, I have A Girl’s Guide to Self-Care & Following Your Bliss.  It covers many of these concepts and preparing for huge shifts in your life and making dreams happen!

“Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

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How much do you need financially to get to your destinations?  Can you sell things to fuel your travels while saving up through work?  Also, who do you know around the globe? Do you have contacts?  Would you be willing to do volunteer work in exchange for accommodation and food?  Maybe work at a hostel in exchange for lodging?

Volunteer Work Options [Work Exchanges]

Many travelers do work exchanges with organizations across the globe such as Work Away or WWOOF International by working in exchange for room and board.  Work Away Programs can range from being an au pair to helping a family on a farm and more.  If you choose to work with WWOOF International, you enroll in a membership which gives you access to work on farms around the world.

You can also set up your own volunteer work arrangements & work exchanges with organizations around the globe which is what I did.  I worked for a faith-based organization in Paris for part of my time in France in exchange for accommodation and some meals during my stay.   I also had connections in France through friends within that organization.  So it’s amazing what can happen when you meet people around the globe! The rest of my time in Europe, I used my travel savings and funds from selling all of my stuff (including my vehicle) and was able to fund the rest of my time in Europe.

Side Tip:  There are some credit card companies that provide travel rewards and dividends which is a great option if that’s within your means.  I can’t link to any specific ones for affiliate marketing purposes/advertising guidelines, but if you do your research, that may be a perk for you.

Work & Travel Visas [Earning Money While You Travel Around the Globe]

For those wanting to work and earn money in the countries they’re traveling to or those who want to participate in unique travel programs, InterExchange is a great option!  I’ve participated in their Work & Travel Canada program.

There are also stints you can do for 1 to 2 weeks, or more, in various countries involving language programs, au pair jobs, and teaching English.  Certain age requirements or study requirements may apply depending on the program you’re signing up for.

You can also find Work & Holiday/Travel Visas on the Immigration & Citizenship websites of many countries.

You must submit certain paperwork to apply for each visa, and once you’re granted, you’re given a certain time frame to enter the country. 

Lodging & Accommodation

AirBNB is a great and affordable option during travel for booking private rooms.  Most nightly rates are super affordable if you find the right deal.  Some AirBNB hosts are willing to host you for longer-term stays if you need a rental-type set up.  Some AirBNB hosts also provide breakfast, snacks, coffee, tea, and more!

Other options are hostels & travel/backpacker hotels which are typically super nice, clean, community oriented and affordable!  There are many hostels across the globe, and you’ll want to check reviews before booking of course.  A consistent (and typically clean and safe) option around the globe that I choose is HI Hostels (Hostelling International)These international hostels typically include breakfast and/or coffee and tea in the mornings which can add to your savings.

Hostelling International also offers memberships which means more savings!  If you’re a member, you pay a fee once a year and you can enjoy discounts on nightly rates at hostels around the world.  There are also multiple benefits to being a HI Hostel member. You can view membership benefits here.

The cool thing about Hostelling International is that it’s a non-profit organization. And it also provides many travelers from all over the world with jobs and accommodation while traveling!  Super cool.

“We believe that exploration and travel lead to a better understanding of other cultures, and in turn that creates a peaceful, smarter, and more tolerant world. This is and has been our mission for almost 100 years.” (hihostels.com)

Another accommodation option is Hostel World and they have a great article covering 45 Travel Hacks!

IMG_9651If you’re willing to share a space with someone, or you can opt for your own private room at a hostel, you will be surprised at how much better it can be than a hotel!  Same for AirBNB.  I enjoy this way of traveling because it provides a “local experience” and you meet AMAZING people around the world!  You get to experience what it’s like living in that place on the map.  There are opportunities to meet more people, plus insider information for the city you’re in, locations to visit, food, and culture.

If you’re living abroad for a longer period of time, there are several websites and options for local rentals and room shares/flat mates.  You’ll want to search these options in the area where you’re traveling and word of mouth is usually a great option.  Often, Facebook has a local Rentals group for your area that you can join.

Find Cheaper Travel Options

Cheaper airfare and train fare is available if you find it at the right time. You can try different routes to avoid higher airfare costs. If you’re going to Europe, IcelandAir offers trans-Atlantic flights and you can find a flight for very cheap depending on the season.  It is worth the travel time and you get to see Iceland though a Stop-Over!  I did a Stop-Over in Iceland on the way back to the U.S. from France.  You can stay in Iceland for up to 5 nights or so with no additional airfare cost and explore the beauty of Iceland, then catch your connecting flight to your next destination!

img_0481You can fly within Europe on budget airlines such as Ryan Air and EasyJetCanada has budget airlines such as WestJet, Swoop, and Flair.  I opted for a lot of train travel in Europe because it made more sense for me based on my travel time, budget, and locations.  Trains and buses are great methods of transportation, and scenic!  It is best to book tickets for large trains about 2 to 3 months in advance for the best rates and prices.

For budget airlines in the United States, I recommend Southwest Airlines or Spirit Airlines.  Southwest always has great deals on flights.  I’ve found airfare from Seattle to Nashville for $300 round-trip before.

Train Travel

The TGV in France or SNCF / Rail Europe (high-speed trains) can be taken to many other surrounding countries in Europe.  I took a 4 hour train trip from Lyon, France to Zürich, Switzerland and it was well worth it and affordable.  There are also Euro Rail passes if you’re traveling throughout Europe for a longer period of time which can offer big savings for the travel budget.

Metro + Bicycle + Pedestrian Travel

And last but not least, walking, biking, and metro passes within each city are also affordable options of course!  I love exploring cities on foot or by renting a bicycle and getting lost on purpose. It’s one of the best ways to explore new cities and places on the map.  Many cities now have bicycle stations where you can check out a bicycle for hours at a time and drop it off anywhere around the city where there is a bicycle station.

Some cities have special metro passes with affordable weekly or monthly rates, such as the Navigo Pass in Paris.  I used the Navigo Pass while living in and near Paris for 3 weeks and it was so worth the savings!  Most cities have special metro deals if you inquire at the stations or look at the options at the ticket kiosks.

Food and Dining

When you travel, you want to enjoy the local cuisine, no doubt!  Budget for that!  Find cheap eats and local recommendations.  You don’t have to miss out on amazing, local dining experiences.  This can be done on any budget.  Scout out the local eateries, make half your lunch into dinner, buy groceries, cook like a local, make your own meals some days, and dine out other days.  Make the most out of it!   In France, bakeries and wine are both cheap, so there are advantages depending on the country you’re in.  🙂

Google Maps/Reviews and Yelp are two of the most helpful apps for finding local restaurants, price points, menus, pictures, and more.  Google Maps will also navigate you there efficiently too!

If you’re in Paris, you have to v42t8w8ifndrewftwisit the famous bakery Eric Kayser Artisan Boulanger which has super affordable options for breakfast and lunch.  A great dinner spot in Paris is Ma Salle à Manger which is a small local restaurant near Pont Neuf.  This place had the best Beef Bourguignon and Crème Brûlée you will ever taste!  So worth the visit.

blog picCurrency Exchanges

You can use your personal card for ATM withdrawals for cash (bank fees apply + factor in currency exchange rates).  I recommend the Travelex Money Card to save on currency exchange fees.  It allows you to have access to your funds without having to carry large amounts of cash on you.  There are several perks to using a currency Money Card like this:

  • you save money by getting a lower currency exchange rate and avoiding fees when you buy or download currency online to your money card
  • it works just like a normal debit card – you can get cash out at the ATM
  • it prevents international transaction fees adding up on your current bank account
  • if the card gets lost or stolen, someone will only have access to what’s on the card, not your main bank account (you can get the card blocked/stopped immediately by calling Travelex if this happens)
  • it’s super easy to manage and convenient for travel

Navigation, Maps, & Routes

Google Maps is the most notorious for navigation and maps and it’s my personal favorite.  It will navigate you by car, public transit, on foot, bicycle, and plane!  It’s also a great tool and resource for looking up businesses and restaurants.

If you’re doing multiple travels by bus, plane, train, etc. – one of the best resources is Rome2Rio – which will help you find the cheapest and most efficient ways to get to your desired destination.

If you’re doing a road trip in the United States, I recommend using Gas Buddy to find the best gas prices for your route as well as calculating fuel costs for your budget.

Travel in the United States

These travel hacks and resources are relevant to not only Europe, North America, and other countries, but can be applied to travel within the United States as well.  There are Work Away and WWOOF International options in the U.S.A. for sure.  There are hostels, AirBNBs, camps and organizations, all of the above and more!  If you’re wanting to explore the U.S.A. as a foreign citizen, or as an American wanting to see your own country, I definitely recommend taking advantage of some of these travel hacks!  It’s well worth it for the experience of exploring the beauty of America.

Stay Open and Flexible

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Whatever you do, you’ll learn and be challenged, that is a guarantee. And it’s also part of the goal.  To overcome obstacles, grow from the experiences, learn more about who you are and what you’re capable of, to adapt to new worlds, to be uncomfortable, to learn about a different culture. To let go and be free, to express your joy, to feel bliss and la joie de vivre. To live fully.

When I’m traveling, and in my life in general, I have the philosophy of “go with the flow, stay open, and be willing to step out of the familiar zone.”

Your thoughts, perspectives, ideas, cultural paradigms, preconceived notions, and routines — all of these will be challenged.  This is a good thing.  You will get lost sometimes and go the wrong way, you will arrive at a cafe or restaurant to find out that it’s in fact closed on Mondays. Or maybe there is only lunch served from 12pm-2pm. Maybe that cafe you headed to doesn’t have WiFi.  Maybe the bathrooms are so small that there is standing room only.  It’s actually comical sometimes.  You have to find the humor in everything.  Like when the streets are so small because they’re ancient and you have to dodge mopeds and bicycles while walking.  (True story in Lyon, France).  And like when the metros are crowded some days and you get to know your neighbors in the most random ways 🙂

You get the point. It’s all part of the adventure. You adapt. You learn. You laugh.  You change your plans.  And you make the most of all of it.  It’s what makes the story, the magical experience, that trip you’ll never forget, the adventure of a lifetime. ~~

© 2019. Sonya Anglin. perksofbeingawildflower.com