Seriously. We could all use a vacation.
After spending countless weeks living vicariously through my friend’s travel photos on Facebook from Italy, Spain, Hawaii, Las Vegas and Mexico, I had enough.
Inspired to plan our own trip, I called up my travel agent, Kim Johnston. She’s an experienced agent based out of Tacoma, who has been all over the world. I wanted to share some of her travel wisdom, because if you are itching to get out and explore, it’s not too late to put together a fantastic summer getaway.
Head south to Mexico!
Kim says if you can stand the extra heat and humidity, Mexico is a fantastic bargain this time of year. “I would suggest the West Coast of Mexico, such as Cabo San Lucas,” Kim told me via email. “Not only are the deals good, but there are fewer travelers this time of year.”
I second the recommendation, since it’s where my husband and I had a wonderful honeymoon. We spent a week relaxing at Riu Palace in Cabo San Lucas.
Bonus: Kim says if you are traveling with kids, most all-inclusive resorts in Mexico have kids clubs for no extra cost, so parents can get some much-deserved rest and relaxation.
I’m a huge fan of all-inclusive resorts. We work hard, we don’t get a ton of sleep, so in my humble opinion, there is nothing I love more than rewarding myself with a sunny beach and a cold drink. So that’s exactly what we are planning.
Here’s a quick tip: While all-inclusive resorts are great because everything is covered, Kim has always told me to tip the bartenders at the beginning of the trip, guaranteeing good service, and delicious drinks. Kim suggests $20 up front. As a former bartender, I don’t mind tipping up front. Every employee I’ve ever dealt with at these resorts is super nice, helpful and hard working.
Don’t be like me. Use TSA Precheck.
Kim is an advocate of TSA Precheck, especially with the growing security lines. “It’s well worth the investment of $85.00 for speed and ease at the airport,” she explains. And if you’re an avid traveler, you can take it a step further with something called Global Entry. “This gives you all the benefits on TSA Precheck, but also lets you skip the passport check lines.”
I have thought about Precheck a million times, but I just haven’t done it yet. I probably won’t get around to it, because I’m a terrible procrastinator. But seriously, don’t be like me. Use it, especially if you travel a lot. For $85, the time you spend not hassling yourself with the security checkpoints is worth it. Once you do, you’ll probably fly past me while I wait in a long security line at the airport. You’re allowed to point and laugh at me for my poor choices.
You can pay to use the airline lounges.
I had no idea that peons like me in economy class could use the airport lounges. “For a fee, you can go into the lounge,” Kim tells me. “You’ll have better wi-fi, quiet, comfortable seats and many times, food and beverages, alcoholic and non-alcoholic, are included.” If you have a long layover or you’re feeling fancy, it might be worth the money.
Take advantage of the hotel concierge.
If you’re anything like me, you probably overlook most hotel concierge. According to Kim, we’ve been doing it all wrong. “The concierge at your hotel is a great source. They can call to reconfirm your airport transportation, make restaurant reservations, and suggest a great place to buy that local item that you’ve been looking for. ” Of course, Kim adds a tip is greatly appreciated, and will get you better service.
Learn (some) of the language.
If you’re traveling to a non-English speaking country, Kim says it helps to learn some of the language. “It’s always very much appreciated by the locals and can be fun trying to learn to speak their language,” she told me. “They’ll enjoy trying to teach you some new words.”
I whole-heartedly agree with this tip for a number of reasons. First, learning a language before you leave for a trip is exciting, and a fun way to get ready for your adventure. Before we left for Italy, I took a few classes here in Seattle. Not only did I learn some of the language, but I also got trip recommendations and cultural advice from my Italian teachers.
If you don’t want to spend money on a live course, there are tons of free resources.
Try Duolingo, which is an app you can download on your smartphone. If you have a library card, many libraries have free language learning programs members can use online. Seattle Public Libraries has several language programs, including Transparent Languages and Mango Languages. I’m using them right now to learn some Spanish.
Get your finances in order!
Before you go anywhere, Kim recommends calling your credit card company and letting them know you will to be traveling. “They will put a hold on your card, if the charge is coming from a foreign country,” she explained. “And get a credit card that has no foreign transaction fees.”
Speaking of foreign transaction fees, here is my recommendation: we got the Chase Sapphire card last year for traveling and we really like it. There are no foreign transaction fees, and the rewards on it have allowed us to buy other flights for free. Fair warning: the interest rate is really high, so don’t keep a balance on it. Other than that, if you can afford to pay off the balance every month on this card, it’s worth looking into.
Don’t forget the details:
I didn’t realize this, but Kim says always carry tissues and hand sanitizer when traveling out of the country. “There are no guarantees that the bathroom will have toilet paper.” Better to be safe than sorry!
On a personal note, pack plenty of sunscreen if you’re headed to a sunny locale, like Mexico. The first time we went, we didn’t pack enough, and everywhere we went, it was all really expensive.
Are you ready to go?
I know I am. Kim helped us book our trip to Playa del Carmen, and I can almost feel the white sand between my toes now. We first chose to get a travel agent, because if you’ve noticed anything about me from these posts, I hate planning. The internet travel booking site work for some people. I totally get that. For me, having someone plan a fantastic trip is like having an event planner for a wedding. It’s worth it to have an expert on hand to figure out all the tiny details, share insight about the destination, places to stay and things to do. “A travel agent is a really great resource for information, not just a means to find the cheapest airline ticket,” said Kim.
Now that our trip is planned, I wish you luck planning your own fantastic getaway. For now, I’m going to daydream about the white sand while brushing up on my spanish.
Thanks to Kim Johnston for the travel tips, and for planning us a fantastic trip!
What are your tips and tricks to planning an amazing vacation? I would love to hear from you in the comments.