FOLLOW THESE 10 TIPS FOR A STRESS-FREE VACATION | Published December 15th, 2020 | Last Updated January 1st, 2021

A hammock tied between trees on a beach at sunset

I'm sure you've heard this before, but it deserves repeating; life happens, and sometimes our best-laid plans are met with an unexpected kink. The trick to avoiding setbacks on vacation is to be prepared before you set out. Follow these ten tips to help ensure your travel goes as smoothly as possible.

Have Travel Insurance

1. IF YOU CAN'T AFFORD TRAVEL INSURANCE CAN YOU AFFORD TO TRAVEL? Imagine breaking a leg, an arm, or worse on your vacation. What would you do without insurance? Is it worth being in debt for years to come?

I realized late in the travel game that insurance is included on my credit card. It provides full coverage for 15 days. I’m not sure how I missed that for so many years, but there you have it. Before I found this out, I purchased insurance through my bank and was confident if anything happened, I would be in good hands (after reading the fine print, of course). You can use a company such as World Nomads, your bank or any other source, just be sure that the package you’re purchasing fits your needs.

International Driver's Licence

2 - RENTING A CAR MEANS YOU WILL PROBABLY NEED AN INTERNATIONAL DRIVER'S LICENCE - New travellers might not realize that most often you will be required to have this document when you rent a car in another country. Without it, a rental company may not let you take the car you have already paid for or reserved.

The process of obtaining an International Driver’s Licence is relatively easy, and in Canada, it can be done in about a half-hour if you go into a CAA office. Here's what you need to get this document from CAA:

  • Photocopies of your driver’s licence.

  • 2 Passport photos

  • A completed application form, which you can either download from their website or fill out in the office.

You can also apply for an International Driver’s licence online; however, I have always used CAA, so I cannot comment on the reliability or speed of the process.


3 - CONFIRM THE TIME OF YOUR FLIGHT AND THE DEPARTURE AIRPORT - It’s good practice to double-check the status of your flight and airport information before heading out. It makes sense to ensure that the flight has not been delayed, especially in 2020. We're in rocky times, and it is best to confirm the status before arriving at the airport.

Some cities have multiple airports; be sure you're heading to the correct one before leaving your home or hotel. I learned this the hard way when I was on my way to Romania in 2018. At the time of the trip I had taken 23 International Flights from Toronto and each one had departed from Pearson International. When I arrived at the airport check-in there was no record of my flight. After a panicked few minutes the ticket agent said my flight was taking off from Billy Bishop Airport. With a mad dash through the city during rush hour traffic and a taxi bill that I care not to discuss, I made it with only a few minutes to spare. Always check the airport information...lesson learned!

Woman on a laptop with a pen, itinerary and coffee cup

Do Flight Check-ins Online and Confirm Reservations Before Departing


4 - BE IN THE CITY YOU FLY OUT OF THE DAY BEFORE YOUR SCHEDULED FLIGHT - I often do a tour of a country and end up in the same city I started from to catch my flight back home. I arrive in that city the day before departure. I use this last day to explore the city anyway, so no precious vacation days are compromised.

Buses break down, trains get delayed for hours; I’m looking at you Italy, you know what you did. It would be awful to miss a flight because of a delay from another means of transportation.

A friend who taught me this lesson said she was travelling through Europe and was to arrive in Paris via train at 8am. Her flight back to Canada was at 1pm, so she assumed 5 hours would be enough time. Unfortunately, there was an issue with the train, and she ended up missing her flight. I have also experienced long transportation delays, so I play it safe and arrive in the city the day before I depart.

Prebook Tickets

5 - PREBOOK TICKETS FOR ATTRACTIONS WITH NOTORIOUSLY LONG QUEUES - I think it’s fair to assume that most people don’t want to spend their vacations tied to a schedule. On the flip side, people also don’t want to waste time waiting in lines when they could be exploring a city or relaxing in a cafe. Here’s a suggestion for a happy medium. When planning a trip, read through Trip Advisor reviews (or any other source you have) on the sites you would like to see. If people mention that the queues were long, go to the website of that attraction and check if online tickets are available. Most often, these online tickets allow you to skip the line and go right in.

If you decide that the pre-booked ticket is the way to go, why not book the entrance or tour for first thing in the morning so you don’t have to rely on a schedule for the rest of the day?

You may also consider purchasing a City Pass. These passes are available in several locations worldwide and are usually purchased for a set price. The pass allows you to visit a specified number of sites within a certain number of days and often have skip-the-line benefits.

Person holding a Philadelphia Zoo ticket on a tree-lined sidewalk

Pre-booking Tickets for Attractions With Long Lines will Save Time During Your Travels

Go with the Flow

6 - DON'T OVER-SCHEDULE - This point goes hand in hand with the previous one. While pre-booking tickets is an excellent idea to avoid lineups, you also need to give yourself time to wander randomly: no schedules, no restraints, no timelines. Sometimes you need to put the itinerary away and be in the moment of the city you're exploring. Only prebook sites with notoriously long lines or a tour you don't want to miss because it often sells out.

Entry Requirements​

7 - KNOW ENTRY REQUIREMENTS AND ENSURE DOCUMENTS ARE UP TO DATE - Many countries require a passport to be valid for six months after you leave the country. So, if you're travelling in February 2021, your passport would need to have an expiry date of August 2021 or later. If you arrive and it's not valid for this period, you will likely be denied entry.

You may also need a Visa in addition to your passport in certain countries. Be sure to know the requirements, have these documents updated, and have them on hand.

Black passport in front of a plane window

Be Sure to Check Passport Requirements with your Destination Country Before Departure

Travel Budget

8 - MAKE A BUDGET AND WORK A CONTINGENCY AMOUNT INTO IT - There can be no worse let down from vacation then realizing partway through that you may be short funds or there's an emergency, and you have no money to get yourself out of a jam. It's advisable to use a budget template before you leave and stick to it as much as possible. It’s also advisable to have an emergency fund worked into this budget.

Many travellers have their own idea of how much this should be. Some say 10% of the trip's cost, and others say a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. It's for you to decide how much you feel comfortable having as a backup; any extra bit helps.

American dollars in a jar with other dollars on a wood table in the background

Creating a Budget is an Important Part of Trip Planning to Determine the Type of Travel you can Afford

Packing Tips

9 - PACK LIGHT - Many of my first years travelling were spent packing far more than I ever needed. When you arrive in train stations with no escalator or elevator, you begin to regret packing that 5th camera lens you thought you'd finally use.

Carry-on bag beside a hotel bed with heeled boots, coat and purse

Pack What you Think you Need, then Edit, and Edit Some More

Connect with Home

10 - KEEP IN TOUCH WITH FAMILY AND FRIENDS - This last tip is especially important for solo travellers. It can get lonely if you're away from family and friends for an extended period of time. Keeping in touch is not only an issue of safety, but it also keeps you connected to the important people in your life.

Find a plan for your phone before you leave, buy a SIM card or use an app like Skype and make use of it. It’s always nice to hear a familiar voice when travelling in foreign lands.

Girl on the phone with a train at the station in the background

Keeping in Touch with Family and Friends is Important for Stress-free Successful Solo Travel

There here you have it! A list of 10 tips to help make your vacations go as smoothly as possible. Remember, even the best-planned trips can have snags in them, but being proactive makes the possibility of stress-free travel more likely.

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