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Planning Is Key to Successful Travel

Editor's Note: Editor's Note: The following article is re-printed from Abilities Magazine, Issue 30, Spring, 1997

Traveling abroad can and should be a rewarding and enriching experience

You may prefer to join a wine-tasting tour of France, back-pack through Nepal, visit the archaeological wonders of Egypt, or simply spend some time lounging on the beaches of the Caribbean. Whatever your style of travel and your choice of destination, the time invested in pre-trip planning should enable you to get the most out of your trip

First, decide how much you can afford to spend on your vacation. Flying overseas on charter flights, using a Eurail pass, joining local walking tours, and staying In hostels, bed and breakfast hotels or with families can help stretch your budget and bring you into closer contact with people who live in the country you have chosen to visit. Booking far in advance or purchasing last-minute sell-off can gain you big discounts. And if your schedule allows you to travel in off-peak periods, you are likely to benefit from both discounts and smaller crowds at your favorite attractions.

Find a good travel agent. This process is much like searching for any other resource or product. Speak to your friends and associates and ask them for some recommendations. Shop around. Talk to several travel agents, and ask lots of questions. Sooner or later, you are bound to develop that all important rapport with an agent who understands your particular likes and dislikes and who makes suggestions that are compatible with your pocketbook and preferred style of travel.

Read as much as you possibly can. Your local library or bookstore will have, or can acquire for you, a wealth of worthwhile books on whatever destinations you may be considering. Guidebooks such as Fodars, Lonely Planet, the British Automobile Association series, or Harvard University's Let's Go series contain lots of background information on a country and its people, along with numerous suggestions on places to visit, where to stay and where to eat. Most good guidebooks offer a range of options, based on various styles of travel and available budgets.

Contact the country's national tourist board. Staff are there to provide advice, lots of brochures, and maybe even some vouchers or coupons for discounts on places to stay or visit. Thanks to the assistance provided to us by the Danish National Tourist Board, my wife and I were able to put together our own customized problem-free tour of Denmark.

Consult several tour brochures. By reviewing a number of itineraries, you can become familiar with the most popular attractions. While we will not necessarily stick to the most popular sites--we usually prefer to include some off the beaten track, less touristy places in our itinerary whenever possible-we always want to be fully aware which sites are considered to be the most important.

Choose your destination, and develop a list of must visit places. After all, there are many, many exciting destinations throughout the world to choose from, and you may visit a particular area only once. You would not want to come home having missed visiting the Taj Mahal or the Eiffel Tower.

Decide how important your lodgings will be to you while you are away from home. Are you looking for luxurious accommodations with lots of pampering, or are you prepared to stay in more modest places and spend your available budget on sightseeing and sampling the region's culinary delights?

Determine which style of travel best suites you and your chosen destination most comfortably. While we generally prefer the flexibility that comes from independent touring, this approach can be more difficult, and it definitely requires greater preparation.

The less experienced traveler or the first-time visitor to a particular country may feel more secure participating in an organized tour where your travel arrangements and accommodations are made in advance for you by the tour operator. Group tours also offer companionship throughout the journey, and we have made some lasting friendships from group tours.

Be sure you have a valid passport, and find out if the country you are planning to visit also requires an entry visa or proof of vaccinations. Your travel agent should be able to assist you in acquiring necessary travel documents, but obtaining visas can sometimes take a rather long while.

Decide how you plan to pay for your trip while you are away from home. Will you take cash, credit cards, travelers cheques, or a combination of these options? Carrying large amounts of cash is always risky. Too many people have had their trips ruined when their cash was stolen. However, if you obtain an initial supply of local currency before starting on your journey, you can avoid long airport lineups upon arrival and maybe higher commissions for exchanging dollars into local currency. Credit cards are being accepted more and more. When you use a credit card, you are usually charged the prevailing exchange rate for that particular day, and that can result in some savings, but credit cards will not be accepted everywhere, especially in smaller shops and in more rural areas. Travelers cheques are much safer than cash, and can usually be replaced quite quickly if stolen. You will always be advised to carry travelers cheques only in U.S. funds, since most countries would like to acquire more U.S. foreign exchange dollars, and while I will not dispute that advice, I have never had much trouble cashing travelers cheques that were in Canadian funds.

Determine what clothing and other accessories you will take with you on your trip. Do you expect to encounter varying temperatures while you are away?

Do you expect to attend events where fancy eveningwear will be required, or will more casual clothing suffice? If you are required to take any medication regularly, be sure to obtain a sufficient supply that will last throughout your entire trip, for getting a prescription refilled in some countries can be difficult. If you are planning to take along any electrical appliances such as hair dryers or electric shavers, find out if the current will require you to take a converter. Most travelers pack far more than they will ever need.

Some guidebooks recommend that when you are ready to pack, lay out everything that you think you will need for your trip and then divide that load in half. Perhaps that is going a little overboard, since most travelers want to be ready to enjoy themselves throughout their journey, but most people do pack far too much. Shopping enthusiasts often purposely pack lightly when they know they are visiting a destination that is a shopper's paradise and where they know good bargains abound.

Pre-trip planning should pay large dividends for any traveler, but this process is doubly critical for any prospective traveler who has a disability. No wheelchair user wants to arrive in an unfamiliar city and discover their hotel room is nowhere near as accessible as they require. A blind traveler may be able to get hotel staff to read about local attractions, but they should not count on this always happening. Contacting the office of a particular attraction in advance can enable you to better determine if its amenities will meet your needs, and it is sometimes possible to arrange a special tour that can offer great insight into the collection that is on display. There are lots of guidebooks that are geared specifically for travelers with disabilities, but most of these tend to focus mainly on concerns of mobility disabled travelers.

All vacationers want to enjoy themselves when away from home. A little pre-trip planning will go a long way to ensuring that you will come home with lots of great memories from your trip, and that's what anyone hopes for when you start thinking of visiting that ideal destination.