Planning & Budgeting

A List of Technology I Bring When I Travel

Even if you plan to go off the grid, you should probably bring your cell phone and charger on your next vacation. Doing so will make navigating to your grid-less existence easier.

Not everyone has Sam's wilderness navigation skills (image source: amazon.com)

Not everyone has Sam’s wilderness navigation skills (image source: amazon.com)

Today’s society is rife with electronics. Free wifi – at one point limited to just hotels and internet cafes – is slowly proliferating stores, museums, bars, restaurants, grassy fields, and anywhere else a tourist may frequent. It’s a pandemic of sorts!

While technology was invented to be helpful, it often can be bulky. Cords on cords on cords may take up valuable room in your suitcase or carry-on. However, at this point we’ve become so reliant that it’s hard to live without! In my opinion, my techie gadgets provide enough utility to make lugging them around worth the weight (or wait…if you’re talking about the time spent untangling cords. Hah.).

So, without further ado, here is my list of gadget must-haves that I plan to take on my next vacation:

  1. Smartphone (for me, iphone5) and charger

    There are so many apps out there now that make traveling easier. A few that I always have on my phone are Spotify Premium, airline apps (Delta, American, etc.) and Google maps. I also recently downloaded Gate Guru after reading about it from Travel & Leisure, and I can’t wait to review it next time I’m at a new airport.

    Using Gate Guru on iphones (image source: http://www.gateguru.com/images/4.0/3_airportcard.png)

    Using Gate Guru on iphones (image source: http://www.gateguru.com/images/4.0/3_airportcard.png)

  2. Microsoft Surface Pro 3 and charger

    I love my Surface Pro 3. I left my Surface Pro 1 in a rental car last fall and ended up buying a new one because I loved it so much. The tablet functions exactly like a laptop but is compact for traveling. Plus, I can download informational PDFs, hotel confirmations, transit system maps, bus schedules, and more before I leave for my trip and have them all handy throughout my excursion. Further, I recently downloaded the apps for Kindle (books), Nook (books), and Next Issue (magazines) on my Surface in order to store numerous reading material options for my next trip. It’s a much lighter weight alternative to bring a bunch of books and paperwork!

    Guys. It's a tablet and a laptop. What more could you want!? (image source: http://www.techhapp.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/sur3.jpg)

    Guys. It’s a tablet and a laptop. What more could you want!? (image source: http://www.techhapp.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/sur3.jpg)

  3. International power adapters

    I just learned that Italy power adapters are actually slightly different than those of the rest of continental Europe. They have three prongs instead of two. For that reason I ordered a pack of three on Amazon to make sure I can always charge my equipment during my next vacation. Bringing power adaptors is so important so you can make sure all of your gadgets will charge.

    These chargers came in a small box for easy packing (image source: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B007YL6HY6?psc=1&redirect=true&ref_=detailpage)

    These chargers came in a small box for easy packing (image source: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B007YL6HY6?psc=1&redirect=true&ref_=detailpage)

  4. Portable charger for electronics

    I think the most famous (and probably most expensive) brand of portable chargers is the Mophie. I haven’t broken down and bought one yet, but instead I have a couple of smaller off-brand portable chargers that carry far fewer charges yet are still easy to throw in a purse (latest Jackery purchase can be found here). At this point I find it ESSENTIAL to carry around at least one portable charger in my day bag if I’m out and about…my iphone5 no longer holds a charge for a full day!

    We just bought this Jockery charger off of Amazon to bring on our trip (image source: amazon.com)

    We just bought this Jockery charger off of Amazon to bring on our trip (image source: amazon.com)

  5. Sony 16 megapixel digital camera, plus (2) charged batteries and (2) SIM cards

    My boyfriend and I bought a compact 16 megapixel Sony camera in 2012 and have loved it ever since. Due to the fact that we’ve had it for a few years now, the one that we bought is pretty discounted and you can get higher megapixel models now for the price we paid. However, ours is still working great. The camera itself is less heavy than a DSLR, making it easier to tote around all day – plus the picture quality is fantastic! Can’t ask for better.

  6. Suitcase with a built-in overweight indicator

    We just bought two new Delsey Helium Hyperlight 25” Spinner suitcases for our Italy trip that I’m really excited to try. As experienced travelers will admit, one of the most annoying things about traveling for long periods of time is learning that your suitcase is over the 50-lb limit when you check in. For this new suitcase line, if you pick up the luggage by the separate indicator handle, an small light will turn red if you’re bag is overweight. Pretty ingenious! Can’t wait to try the new suitcases out next month and report back. 🙂

Technology has always been defined as something that makes life easier. It fills a need. In order to travel meaningfully you do not need to buy all of the latest gadgets, but technology may help you get the most out of your trip. For example, by doing research and sending emails on your connected devices while in transit or relaxing in your hotel room in the evenings, you may be able to spend more time sightseeing during the day. Additionally, if you bring the right tools to take good pictures, you’ll be able to reminisce about your experiences for years to come.

With that said, I must divulge that I love paperback guidebooks. I don’t think I will ever stop buying them, and I have quite a collection! Although I may always bring guidebooks on my trips, it makes sense to save room and weight in my pack in other ways by converting all other forms of entertainment to digital.

Guidebooks come with me everywhere

Guidebooks come with me everywhere

Now that I’ve divulged my list of tech, I have a question for YOU, dear reader….

What do you think of selfie sticks?

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How To Prep for a Big Trip: Six Things To Do Six Weeks Before Takeoff

Every summer for my boyfriend and my anniversary (Aug 25th) we go on a full-week trip. Typically I am the one who plans the whole shebang due to my passion for travel – go figure. 🙂

This year two of our close friends are getting married at a vineyard in the Piedmont region of Italy on September 5th, so we are traveling a week later than usual in order to attend. The wedding should be gorgeous, and we are very excited for the vacation!

View of the pool and nearby Piedmont vineyards from the Albergo Castiglione B&B (image source: http://www.piemonte-traveller.com/en/c/albergo-castiglione)

View of the pool and nearby Piedmont vineyards from the Albergo Castiglione B&B (image source: http://www.piemonte-traveller.com/en/c/albergo-castiglione)

We will be in the Northwest part of Italy during the entire trip. Our itinerary includes stops at several Piedmont vineyards, two days in Turin, two days in Lake Como, and two days in Milan. The general plan is to sip and taste our way through the region, coupled with a little bit of hiking and sightseeing to burn off the calories!

I've circled in red the cities we will visit in the NW part of Itlay (image source:  http://www.kandaclub.com/hot-destinations/italy/italy-regions.html)

I’ve circled in red the cities we will visit in NW Italy (image source: http://www.kandaclub.com/hot-destinations/italy/italy-regions.html)

That said, even though the hotels, rental car, and Da Vinci’s Last Supper tour have been booked for months, we are now officially in countdown mode. This trip will last ten days, and it gives me peace of mind to start a few of the preparations now.

Thus, I have created a list of six things I am doing six weeks in advance of our trip to prepare:

  1. Double-check our airline seating assignments and see if better seats are available.
    Right now we are booked to fly from New York to Milan on Emirates, which is an airline that I have never flown before. I’m looking forward to the new experience since I’ve heard great things about Emirates’ customer service onboard! With that, I find it important on long-haul flights to strive to be next to a window (for sleeping), as far forward on the plane as possible, have seats that recline, not be near a bathroom, not have a wing obstructing my view, and avoid sitting in the same row as strangers (preference two-seater rows if available). On top of that, I don’t want to pay extra money for my seat. Usually I have to make compromises, but I typically continue checking the available seat map before my trip to see if any seats open up that check-off several boxes on my nice-to-haves list.

    Looks like there are no rows of only two seats - bummer.

    Looks like this plane does not have two-seater rows…bummer.

  2. Review Emirates’ baggage policy and limitations.
    One reason why we chose to fly Emirates to Milan this summer instead of other airlines is because they allow two 50-lb. checked bags free per flyer, even though we are neither part of their awards program nor have an Emirates credit card. While we won’t be taking that much luggage with us, it is comforting to know we will not need to worry about busting our budget on luggage fees. With that, it is always wise to double-check your airline’s luggage policies for weight, quantity, and dimension to ensure you have no surprise costs. Every airline differs.

    Check the baggage policies for your specific airline and qualifications to avoid fees

    Check the baggage policies for your specific airline and qualifications to avoid fees.

  3. Make sure our passports aren’t expired.
    Check! We still have a couple more years before that becomes an issue. That was easy. Next…

    Generally U.S. passports expire every ten years (image source:  http://www.bbc.com)

    Generally U.S. passports expire every ten years (image source: http://www.bbc.com)

  4. Look up the average weather during the time of year we are traveling at each city we’re visiting.
    Additionally, I also try to read online forums where other people have written about their own travel experiences during the week (or month) I plan to travel. In that way I am able to arrive mentally prepared.Example:  In May in Miami will the weather be sunny most of the day but usually rain from 2pm-3pm in the afternoon? Yes. After learning from surprise situations like that, I’ve found it is best to read other travelers’ ideas online that help me avoid getting drenched during my afternoon spent poolside and still have a great time.

    It rained off and on EVERY DAY when we went to Betws-y-Coed, Wales in late August 2012, so I always needed to carry an umbrella and wear a raincoat and waterproof shoes - just in case!

    It rained off and on EVERY DAY when we went to Betws-y-Coed, Wales in late August 2012, so I always needed to carry an umbrella and wear a raincoat and waterproof shoes – just in case!

  5. Brainstorm what we will need on our trip (but don’t start packing yet).
    My boyfriend and I learned this tip after a stressful experience. In 2012 on the day we were supposed to fly to Manchester, we darted around midtown Manhattan trying to find a place that sold hiking shoes that we could wear during our Mount Snowdon climb the following day. Needless to say, the shopping excursion was exhausting since the number of people who need hiking shoes in Manhattan is minimal and our deadline was tight. (We ended up buying Clarks WaveTrek Waterproof walking shoes instead of legitimate hiking boots.) Thus, moral of the story is that you should take a lesson from our book and identify if there is anything you will need (i.e. new suitcase, power converters, selfie sticks, comfortable footwear, jeans, money belt, raincoat, etc.) while you still have enough time to order online and/or search several stores.

    I ended up buying that hat when we got to the base of Mount Snowdon because I didn't realize how cold it would be - but at least we had the hiking shoes!

    I ended up buying that hat when we got to the base of Mount Snowdon because I didn’t realize how cold it would be – but at least we had the right shoes!

  6. Figure out how I am going to pay for things while in Italy.
    I’ve written about this before in tip #6 of my budgeting hacks, but I’ll repeat that it’s very important to determine how you will pay for things ahead of any foreign travel so you can make the necessary arrangements and save money on fees.

    I was recently convinced that I should open a Charles Schwab account since their debit cards have no foreign transaction fees. However, I have not been able to receive the debit card yet because I still need to transfer funds into the new account. Before I can transfer the funds online I need to authorize an external account, get it approved, and then transfer the money – all of this takes time. As a result, I’m grateful to have started this process in advance so I can hopefully receive the new card in the mail before our trip! Also, if something goes wrong, I have enough time to brainstorm a Plan B. (This blogger goes into more detail in point #6 of this entry for why Schwab is great for travelers.)

With the above list I hope to prove that it’s always better to prepare as much as you can in advance. In fact, I often buy a guidebook and skim through the local tips to see if there is something I have not thought of regarding my destination. If you have the time, you might as well  use it to avoid feeling stressed before you go!

Are there any other tips that I’ve missed? If you have any other pointers for vacation prep six weeks in advance, feel free to add your thoughts in the comments!

See My Trip Budgeting Tool In Action: Planning for our San Fran Trip

With long, steep hills rising above a glistening bay, San Francisco is one of the most iconic cities in the world. And for a good reason – there may be no other city on the planet as gorgeous year-round as “The City by the Bay.”

Steep hill rise high out of San Francisco Bay

Steep hill rise high out of San Francisco Bay

In less than two weeks my boyfriend Derek and I are headed to SF for six days to visit his brother Matt, who recently relocated to the Bay area for his job in finance.

Needless to say, we won’t be alone. Among the ever-growing number of young professionals calling San Francisco home, the city hosts an estimated 16 MILLION tourists each year! That’s double the population of New York City visiting annually!

The Golden Gate Bridge hiding in the SF Skyline - Dec 2010

The Golden Gate Bridge hiding in the SF Skyline – Dec 2010

With that said, the only other time I’ve been to San Francisco was in December 2010 for a long weekend – and my boyfriend has never been before. Having visited in early winter last time, my strongest memories are of thick, slow to disperse fog, as well as temperatures that barely cracked 55 degrees Fahrenheit.

Fog Clearing Over San Francisco - Dec 2010

Fog Clearing Over San Francisco – Dec 2010

This time we will be going in mid-May, and I’m keeping my fingers crossed for sunshine and mild, mid-60’s temperatures.

With my expectation for beautiful weather in tow, this past week I began using my trip planning tool that I discussed in my last post to craft a daily touring schedule. I thought it would be important to plan our days and calculate roughly how much money our “extra-long weekend trip” will cost (dun…dun…dun…).

As usual, I broke out our transportation, lodging, activities, and food expenses by day. I filled in the costs of what we already booked, and then inserted estimates for anything unplanned at this point (i.e. food allowances, vineyard tasting fees, etc.). Here’s what the schedule and costs currently look like in my planning spreadsheet:

San Francisco Budget

As you can see, even though we are staying with Derek’s brother for three of the five nights, our long weekend in SF WILL NOT be cheap.

The cost of living in the Bay area is one of the highest in the United States, and the cost of being a tourist proves no different. Downtown hotels are constantly in high demand. Restaurant menus are comparable to NYC pricing.  AND if you’re taking a full-day wine tour to Napa or Sonoma counties (like we are) – ohhhhh man – the cost per person that day may completely blow your food and activity budget for the trip.

With that said, when visiting San Francisco, careful planning is essential to be able to immerse yourself in the city’s finest offerings. I used TripAdvisor and recommendations from friends to sculpt our itinerary, while keeping in mind our personal travel style.

We like wine. We like history. We like nature.

We don’t like crowded, kitschy, tourist-filled hotspots.

Tourists waiting in line to ride the only National Monument that moves - the San Francisco trolley car

Tourists waiting in line to ride the only National Monument that moves – the San Francisco trolley car

So, after discussing together what will be most important to the two of us during our limited number of days in the city, we decided to de-prioritize some of the most common destinations – Alcatraz, Chinatown, and Pier 39. We figured they just aren’t our cup of tea.

The gate to SF's Chinatown district - Dec 2010

The gate to SF’s Chinatown district – Dec 2010

Wild seals relaxing by the docks at Pier 39 - Dec 2010

Wild seals relaxing by the docks at Pier 39 – Dec 2010

Instead, we pinpointed that we want to see The Presidio (with the Golden Gate Bridge backdrop), the Mission District, the Ghirardelli Factory, Fisherman’s Wharf, and the other destinations listed in my spreadsheet above.  By talking to my travel companion in advance about our expectations and priorities, we were not only able to estimate how much money we will spend in our activity budget each day, but I feel we have the flexible itinerary in place to optimize each day of our trip.

Outside the Ghirardelli Factory in downtown SF - Dec 2010

Outside the Ghirardelli Factory in downtown SF – Dec 2010

While some people enjoy spontaneity on their vacations, I always recommend traveling with some general idea of what you will do upon your arrival as well as how much money you plan to spend. In this way, you will avoid two types of regrets – spending over your budget and not seeing everything you wanted to see.

I hope this post provides a helpful example of how my trip budgeting tool can be applied in real life, as well as how you can replicate it for one of your upcoming trips!

For your reference, feel free to download my SF trip planning spreadsheet (seen in the above spreadsheet screenshot) from my MeansToTravel google docs. From there, you can make and save changes that apply to your own upcoming trips!