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Preparing for a Trip--My Drill

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It doesn't matter where I go, my trip preparation is always similar.

If it is a language where I don't have elemental conversational skills--and maybe one where I do and want to review--I crack open the Pimsleur about 3-4 months in advance and get to work. This year I have worked on Polish. I will take Turkish with me and perhaps do a few of the lessons in Poland and Belarus. I had some Russian in high school and chose not to review this time because I just did not have the time to deal with more than Polish and Turkish. In Sweden almost everyone speaks English so foreign language preparation is not as essential. I am not worrying about it. I have been to Turkey before and did Pimsleur before that trip. The second time through, you remember quite a bit and it goes a lot faster.

I then focus my reading and film watching on books about the country/countries I will be visiting. This includes both history and literature. Sometimes fiction is a greater window into the culture than history books are. Films can be wonderful as trip preparation. Mostly I scour Amazon Prime to see what I can watch without paying more than my basic membership. I just watch whatever looks interesting.

I set up files on my computer for each destination so I can easily retrieve reservations and information on the location of each home exchange. I then develop a trip "book" that is really not a book. It's a series of envelopes or folders on each part of the trip. I never take guide books with me. Some are downloaded to my Kindle. For the actual books I possess I copy the relevant pages and leave the books at home. As the trip proceeds, I can toss the pages I am done with and still have the books for research when I get home.

I check all my medications and make sure I have enough of each to last me for the trip. If I am going to run out of a prescription, I get an advance vacation refill.

I makes sure when I book odd reservations, etc., the credit card company is advance notified, so my card does not get blocked.

Before I leave on the trip, I notify all credit card suppliers and my bank of where I am going to be. I make sure to check my currency pouch for any currency that might be useful and pack it in hand luggage.

I have a secure backpack and purse that are difficult to get into (and difficult for me too!) and are made of cut resistant material. They are a good investment if you travel frequently.

My typical trip to Europe is from 2-12 weeks depending on the number of home exchanges I have. You may not have to be as organized as I am if your trip is just to one location, but I can be going to several.

For summer 2014 my trip will be to Krakow-Warsaw-Brest & Minsk, Belarus-Istanbul (side trip to Ephesus)-Stockholm.

When I book plane fares, I look for both convenience and price, but I don't look to where I get the most air miles. I am much more interested in paying less than on traveling on a particular airline. I would rather save the money up front. This summer I am (so far) flying American/Air Berlin to Krakow, Polish Lot Airways from Minsk to Istanbul, Pegasus Airways to Izmir (to go to Ephesus), and Turkish Air from Istanbul to Stockholm. If I return from Stockholm, I will use Icelandair--which participates in no one's air miles program but its own (not worth bothering with).

I make mistakes but usually not the same mistake twice. I do get better and better at this the more times I do this--and so will anyone who is a frequent overseas traveler. I never use a travel agent unless it is a specialized leg of the trip. For example, Belarus is an unusual destination and not a country in which I would feel comfortable being on my own plus my focus is going to see three villages in SW Belarus where some of my family came from. I have a guide and driver for 3 days in the Brest area. Once I am put on the train to Minsk, I'll be on my own until I leave 3 days later. With most of my nights in home exchange homes, I splurged. I have some basic Russian skills but it would take me awhile to read the road signs and who wants to be stressed out like that? I hired someone who knows the places I want to see--three tiny villages and then we'll go to Marc Chagall's house. The rest of the time she can show me what she wants as she knows what I might be interested in there.

Belarus requires a visa--and that was the first thing I did working up the trip. It was a real pain in the butt, but you either want to go or you don't. It also was $160. Those visa fees are generally reciprocal so there is no use complaining.

If any of you have some tips from your trips, I can always learn new things.

My trips are not everyone's cup of tea because I love going to places where I have not been before. Some of you go back to the same countries (or even the same towns) over and over again. Europe is a large menu and you can either try new things or go with the old reliables. I did home exchange in France and Spain last year, so I don't mind more conventional destinations either. I did Toulouse-Bordeaux-Salamanca-Madrid. The first 3 destinations were home exchanges. Madrid was a few nights in an inexpensive hotel.

Next year, who knows?

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