1. Never use taxis unless absolutely necessary. This applies tenfold at airports, where locals always avoid the taxi ranks in favor of a convenient bus. At Moscow Domodedovo, I purchased a bus ticket, only to have to wade through taxi drivers trying to hit me up for thirty times what I just paid to the same destination! In an international airport where there are no good public transportation options, make sure you determine a transportation solution before you leave the building – once you’re outside, you’re fair game. In Mexico City, for example, buying a ticket at a fixed-price booth near the international arrival exit cuts the taxi fare in half. However, taxis aren’t always bad – in Central Asia, ‘shared taxis’ are the most popular way to get between cities. They’re a great way to do as the Romans do, and good prices are a haggle away.
2. It’s OK not to have every detail planned out. While you might end up spending a night in a rather sketchy establishment (even with slippers, the general condition of my place in Izmir discouraged me from showering). Especially if you’re accomplished in the art of sniffing out a deal, most destinations (and people) are friendlier than you might think, especially in areas where traditions of hospitality date back thousands of years.
3. That said, it’s better to have a plan than not. Planning ahead saves time, stress and, possibly money (though not always the latter, as advertising costs are passed on to travelers in the form of higher prices). Especially when making complicated transit connections (particularly those involving timed routes), mapping where you’ll be when can make a big difference (e.g. not getting stuck in the middle of nowhere because you missed the last bus). Take every opportunity to collect transit maps and timetables, in case you’re stuck without Internet connections. See [Sample Trip Plan].
4. When in doubt, write down anything you hope you won’t need. For domestic trips, I try to keep printouts from airline and hotel reservations – in the past, not doing so has created enough room for error that I’ve managed to get myself in trouble! For international trips, I include in my money pouch a detailed itinerary with addresses, telephone numbers, confirmation codes, contact information, emergency numbers (embassies, passport info). See [Sample Itinerary].
5. That said, nothing ever goes according to plan. Things sometimes (or often, depending on the country) fail. Nothing (and nobody) is perfect. Don’t worry if you don’t get to do everything you wanted; it will likely be there next time! Leave extra time for Plan B – and enjoy the free time when Plan A works out! Don’t be the Ugly American just because you can’t get from Point A to B in a New York minute.
6. Trip planning is a zero-sum game: because you can only do as much as your time and money allow, choosing to do particular activities or visit destinations means choosing not to do others. (insert opportunity cost joke) Thorough research can help with these decisions – is a distant monastery really worth the same amount of time as three nearby museums?
7. The best parts of trips are the ones you don’t anticipate, so leave time to let them happen. Don’t overplan every minute trying to cram everything in, leaving you with too little time and too many things to worry about. Take time to make personal connections, often the most meaningful part of international travel.