Is international travel worth the hassles—and risk? For me, the answer is a resounding YES! It’s true there are hassles and also risks, but the rewards can be far greater. And a smart traveler can take steps to minimize risk and deal with any issues that may arise.
I just returned two days ago from seven weeks in Europe, hosting five groups in Cornwall, the Luberon, and Puglia. (I spent the last two-and-a-half weeks in the hilltop “white city” of Ostuni in Puglia, pictured above.) Yes, there were hassles during my seven weeks away. But the rewards were so sweet: beautiful scenery, centuries of history, amazing experiences, wonderful people, excellent food and wine… all enhanced by fantastic weather! This was my third trip to Europe this year, and I’ll be returning for our Christmas trips in just five weeks… I’m happy to be home, but I’ll be ready to do it again!
The photos that illustrate this post are from our nine European Experiences trips this fall in Cornwall, Paris, the Luberon, Mediterranean Provence, and Puglia. The beautiful scenery and happy travelers show the reasons to make the effort to travel internationally!
Over the past thirty years, I’ve made the trip across the Atlantic to Europe more than 65 times, on trips ranging from 10 days to 14 months. International travel is exciting, but it’s also hard work and physically demanding! Getting there (and back) is much more complicated than it was in my earlier days of European travel. It can definitely be exhausting: arriving hours early at busy airports, hauling your luggage, standing in lines, getting through security, dealing with delays or (worse) cancellations… then hoping your luggage comes off the carousel when you finally arrive.
Then when you arrive… it’s so different from home! Strange customs. Unusual food. A foreign language you don’t speak.
And that’s exactly why we do travel: to experience something very different from home.
I’ll share a few stories of mishaps from my recent trip. I learned the day before we left that there would be a train strike in England on the day we arrived. (Fortunately, this strike didn’t impact any train travel for our group.) Instead of a relaxing five-hour train trip to Cornwall in a comfortable first-class car, Charley and I took a bus from Heathrow to Penzance… an eight-hour trip. Although the bus trip wasn’t ideal, I was grateful I discovered that option, as our other alternative would have been to rent a car and drive.
And then in the middle of that relaxing trip from Cornwall back to London, someone jumped on the tracks in front of our train—sadly, a suicide. We waited on the train for two hours and then had to take two other trains to get back to London. I almost had another major issue… when changing trains, I left my laptop bag on the first train. Thankfully I realized I had left this bag behind when there was still time for Charley to run back and retrieve it. (Which reminds me of another time when I left my purse on a train and didn’t realize it until we were several miles away at the rental car office, long after the train had left the station… thankfully, also a story with a happy ending.)
A friend recently suggested that I shouldn’t write about these kind of travel issues…. stories like this might scare people away from international travel. (She is probably horrified at this post!) But I think it’s important to be honest and share these kinds of experiences, and in the process help others plan their best possible trip. After 30 years of international travel, I could share many more stories of issues and upsets… though they are far outweighed by all the wonderful memories, incredible experiences, and lasting friendships. My life has been so greatly enriched by my travels and experiences abroad—and especially by the people I’ve met. I strongly believe the rewards of international travel far exceed the risks. I enjoy the challenge of traveling and living abroad… and I always try to learn when things go wrong.
Is International Travel worth the hassles—and the risk? There can be issues on any trip—just as there can be issues when you travel in your own country or even if you just drive across town. But it’s essential to be aware of potential issues. You can then plan your travel to minimize risks and issues and adjust when something unexpected happens.
Here are some of my tips to minimize the hassles and risk of international travel. Most of these tips are “lessons learned” from my 30+ years of international travel!
Itinerary planning – the most important step!
- Simplify your itinerary. Don’t make your trip too complicated.
- Carefully consider your destinations given what’s most important to you.
- Plan the time of year to travel, considering weather and perhaps avoiding the busiest seasons and destinations.
- Always include a “buffer day” if your trip includes an important tour or cruise. This gives you a day to adjust to the time change and also provides flexibility if there are any issues with your transatlantic flight. You don’t want to miss a day of that tour or cruise!
- Travel slowly—stay longer in fewer places. You’ll have a deeper, richer, and more relaxing experience.
- Consider staying in smaller towns and in the countryside instead of focusing on cities. Fewer people = less complexity.
- Know yourself and what activities and environments you most enjoy—and what gives you the most stress and anxiety. Plan a trip that’s right for you given any physical issues.
- Join a tour for at least part of your trip and let someone else be responsible— especially someone who knows the area and has local contacts. A small group tour—like those offered by European Experiences and other members of Slow Travel Tours—can offer more flexibility than a bus tour or river cruise.
- Consider working with a travel consultant experienced in international travel. If there are issues, they will help you resolve these.
- If travel using public transportation is too complicated (especially with luggage), invest in a private driver to take you door-to-door.
- Check all your bookings before your trip (air, train, hotels, tours)… sometimes these change and you aren’t notified!
Air travel – often the source of issues
- Allow plenty of time for connections. Tight connections have a greater potential for issues, including luggage problems.
- Don’t take a super-early flight to save a little money… it can be more important to be well-rested for a long, international journey.
- Never take the last flight of the day from your home airport. Earlier flights can give you more options if there are issues.
- If your home airport doesn’t offer direct international flights, connect through an airport with more than one flight a day to your international destination.
- Focus your air travel on one airline to become a priority flyer. When there are issues, good customers are given priority support.
- Select your airline carefully for reliability and on time results.
- Don’t use online booking sites to book international flights involving multiple airlines. If there are issues, this adds complexity.
- Budget airlines may offer attractive prices but have limited customer service support when there are issues.
- Pay attention to reviews and read them carefully.
- Know what’s most important to you in an accommodation (price? location? room size? amenities?).
- Choose hotels or apart-hotels if you want the support of a hotel staff. You’ll be much more on your own in a vacation rental.
- Review descriptions of rentals carefully to be sure you understand what to expect, especially if apartments are on an upper floor and stairs may be involved.
- Use Google Street View to understand the location and neighborhood.
Luggage and personal items
- Ensure you can easily manage your luggage on your own, especially if traveling by train.
- Pack light. Plan a simple wardrobe. Do laundry or handwashing. Limit shoes and toiletries.
- Wear shoes with a good tread, that are well-broken-in.
- Travel with carry-on only, if possible.
- If you check luggage, always include at least one change of clothes in your carry-on.
- Have a consistent place in your luggage for your most important personal items.
- Never rush when leaving your seat on a plane or train. Take extra time to be sure you have everything.
- Bring a walking stick if you are at all unsteady.
Dealing with Issues
- Download useful travel apps that will provide you with good info and enable you to make alternate arrangements if needed.
- Make sure you can access cellular data internationally.
- Always take an opportunity to charge your phone.
- If you need to contact your airline, try their chat function instead of calling.
- Contact your travel consultant… an important resource when there are issues.
- Buy travel insurance to provide coverage if you have issues that involve any additional expense.
- American travelers: Register with the State Department’s STEP program. You’ll be notified if there are any major issues in the countries you’re visiting, and the local embassy will contact you if there’s any emergency.
Your Personal Attitude – especially important!
- Learn from problems that you and others have encountered.
- Always stay flexible and keep a good sense of humor. Be patient.
- Remember sometimes things happen that are beyond your control—you can only control your own reaction. Focus on solutions.
- Learn some of the language and customs of the countries you’ll be visiting and be polite with others when things go wrong or are different from what you’re used to.
- Always offer a smile and express appreciation. Don’t hesitate to ask for help. The kindness of strangers—especially in another country—is a truly remarkable thing.
Is International Travel worth the hassles—and the risk?
You know my answer.
Ultimately, only you can decide what is right for you. But thoughtful, pro-active planning and a positive, flexible attitude will minimize many issues!
Do you have other ideas for minimizing the hassles and risks of international travel? We’d love your ideas… please leave them in the comments.
For more tips for managing your European travel, read these other “Travel Tips” posts on the Slow Travel Tours blog:
Kathy and Charley Wood founded European Experiences in 2006, offering week-long “slow tours” in some of the most beautiful areas of Europe. Their trips include The Luberon Experience in Provence, France, named one of the top 50 tours in the world by National Geographic Traveler magazine.
Kathy has personally organized and hosted over 150 Experience groups. She hosts Experience weeks in the Luberon, the Chianti region of Tuscany, Puglia, Alsace, the Dordogne, the Cotswolds, and Normandy. Charley is now mostly retired but continues to co-host The Cornwall Experience and our Christmas trips with Kathy every year.
Kathy has been traveling in Europe for 30+ years and loves sharing her special places in Europe with other travelers. The Woods have a second home in their beloved village of Bonnieux in the Luberon. Read more about Kathy and Charley here.
Slow Travel Tours is an affiliation of small-group tour operators who offer personalized trips in Italy, France and other European countries.