Some of my most recommended and favourited apps:
FlightStats - most recently downloaded app but not sure why I didn't download this earlier! You can look up your flights and it'll tell you the terminal, gate number, baggage carousel, and any delays!
Guides by Lonely Planet - itinerary planning app. You can download guides by city plus offline maps. Solid app if you're looking for things to do or eat.
Google Maps - OK this is any smartphone standard app. I use My Maps a lot so it's helpful to visually see all the places I have pinned on my phone.
Lyft - best app to get around. Click on the link to get a $10 credit
Google Trips - helps with itinerary planning. It's extremely limited though- I think they're still working on it but there's a lot of improvements they need to make. The high advantage they have is that it integrates with gMail so they have tickets on file but there's no feature to search certain restaurants or places like you would on Google Map so you're limited to starring places they feature.
TripIt - I'm currently in the market for a good travel journal app so I can record what I've done on my trips. This one seems OK so far, probably the better free ones in the market. It lets me record my activity by day and time, and I can add photos and notes, which is nice. The other really nice thing about it is that it integrates with my gMail so it automatically records tickets for concerts, shows, and flights that I have. However, I wish the mobile app was as good as the desktop web version, and I also wish it was more integrated with other apps like Google Maps so I can see all the places within that city I've gone to, or be able to star different places that I'd like to go to.
PriorityPass - keeps your membership card stored (although most lounges require your actual card) + tells you which lounges are in which airport with super specific info like terminal, nearby gates, hours and amenities.
AirBnB (link gives you $40 off your reservation)
Units Plus (unit converter because America doesn't use the metric system while everyone else does)
Skype - to make international calls + if you want to subscribe to an international callback number
flight price tracker apps
Choosing A Device AND plan
If you haven't read my general post about wifi eggs, click here. We say 'hotspot' here in the States, but a lot of people use 'wifi egg' outside so I'll be interchanging the two, but they mean the same thing.
I did some research on which company I should use to rent a wifi egg in Europe. After reading reviews and comparing prices, I decided on Hippocket. To be honest, the prices didn't differ as wide a I thought, but some of these companies operate in various countries so the pick up locations were in their home country, or else you had to pay a hefty shipping fee (and return fee).
Since I was in France and the UK, I'd obviously want to be able to pick up in the first country I'll be in, return in my last country, and be able to use the device in every city I'll be in.
HIPPOCKET seemed to have great reviews and decent prices, I could pick it up from the airport I arrive in, it worked in all of the countries I was in, comes with charger, we can connect multiple devices at a time, and a return label for me to easily drop it off at any post office when I'm done.
Their Europe plan is now unlimited, meaning, it doesn't cost extra for extra data- the data comes unlimited so you never have to worry about usage.
During The trip
Using the wifi egg in France was a piece of cake. Never had any issues with it except it running out of batteries and us being on top of charging it. Probably lasts a good half day if everyone is connecting and using data frequently.
When we crossed into the UK, we noticed the device wasn't working at all. We had to email support about it and they sent us a PDF on how to make it work (something to do with international roaming), but because our plan was unlimited, whatever that roaming cost was on them; not us. Not something you really have to worry about since they're responsible for covering it all. The only hassle was finding free WiFi to email support, waiting a full day for them to reply and figuring out what to do about wifi in the meantime.
This actually happened twice in the UK so it was a bit inconvenient but it still worked out.
Our flight back to the States was out of Paris, which is where we landed, which is also where HIPPOCKET is based out of. Since they included a return envelope + return postage, returning the device was super easy. I put the device in the bag they gave me, put the bag in the return envelope, and dropped it off at a post mailbox at the airport. Easy peasy!
The Bottom line
Choosing which company to go with really depends on which countries you'll be visiting and which ends up being most cost efficient for you. In my case, definitely worth since it was the best option. Hiccups here and there but not anything you can't work with.
If you do end up going with this company, comment below or let me know and I can send you the PDF they sent me regarding roaming so you don't have to wait for them to reply with the same file.
It's a week before your trip and you don't know how to plan for spending money there... What are your options?!
You should have both cash and card options with you during your trip as a precaution (but not too much cash cus you'll get mugged).
I highly recommend carrying some local currency with you since depending on the country, you'll need to pay restaurants, taxis, tips, etc. in cash. However, make sure you have two separate stashes: 1 for day to day spending, meaning you should only keep maybe $20-50 worth of USD in youor visible wallet so people think that's the only cash you're carrying. The other stash should be a secret stash of the rest of your cash. It's more of a safety tip than anything else.
When I went to Paris, I needed to buy train tickets for my family but the machine kept declining my card. All the other places I used my card was totally fine but for some reason it wasn't working, so I ended up using my card at a service booth where a real person helped me buy my tickets. Had they not had a booth, I would have needed to withdraw some cash and pay for the tickets via cash.
I'm finding that it's getting harder and harder to exchange cash beforehand at bank. My dad went into his local bank and asked to exchange USD for Yen and they said it'd take up to 6 weeks... HA! Ain't nobody got time for that. Your other option is the post office, which can sometimes be cheaper than market rate.
Your worst (but sometimes only) option is exchanging at the airport. They always have high market rates, and sometimes a service fee depending on where you go. Nevertheless, you'll always get the short end of the stick there so avoid it if you can.
Of course you can be super prepared and exchange currency beforehand, but what if you need more cash in that country? My advice is to check which international banks your home bank is affiliated with. More often than not, your banks will have a partnership set up so that you're not charged an extra fee if you withdraw from those affiliate ATM.
I have Bank of America, so my international affiliate banks are:
Please note that they call 'ATM' something else in every city. So typing ATM in Google Maps in England probably won't work... You'd have to search for 'cashpoint.' I'd also recommend looking into maximum amounts, and any other fees that you may incur on your bank's websites.
Withdrawing cash from an affiliate ATM will not charge an extra withdrawal or foreign fee, but the cash will be exchanged at the rate that the bank charges, which in my opinion, is still worth it. For me, this has turned out to be the most convenient option when traveling.
SUPER IMPORTANT: You should ALWAYS notify your bank(s) when you're traveling so they don't mark it as fraud!!!
If you don't have an option to go to an affiliate bank, then be warned that you will incur a fee every time you withdraw. Depending on your bank and account, that amount will differ. I believe the standard is something like $5 per transaction.
For ATMs that try to get you with the 'FREE WITHDRAWAL' sign on the machine, be warned that though they may no charge you for using their machine, your bank might.
And of course, if this wasn't obvious, use your debit card when withdrawing cash. ;)
Paying With card
If you travel enough, I HIGHLY recommend getting a credit card that benefits international travel. The one benefit you probably want to look for is that they don't charge for foreign transaction fees. I don't know too much about credit cards and it's a game I'm learning myself still so I can't recommend any specific cards, so... go to CreditKarma & the Points Guy and do your own research :P
I can only speak to the one card I have, which is the Chase Sapphire Reserve and it's pretty freaking bomb.
ANYWAYS get a card that will benefit YOU, meaning, you can hear what your friends and experts say, but ultimately the decision is yours and you need to find a card that will benefit you in the ways you need your card to come through.
Some of the benefits might be: no foreign transaction fees, points towards travel, some kind of travel insurance domestic and international, an international concierge number, roadside assistance, lounge membership, or reimbursement for Global Entry.
It will make your life easier knowing they have your back (like I do, heh).
You get to your destination and you arrive at the baggage carousel but you can't find your bags. After some time waiting after you've convinced yourself it's probably at the bottom of the pile, you see a rep from that airline slowly approach you with news you can read on her face: your bags didn't make it.
What now? They probably gave you a website with a case number and a number you can call which is basically a support number where you're put on hold for ten minutes before talking with an actual person. So now you wait. You wait for your bags to be delivered, or an update on your case.
The exact thing happened to my family and me on our way to Paris. Our first flight was from LAX to JFK where we were supposed to have a layover a little over two hours. That flight was delayed (that's another story for next time), so by the time we made it to JFK, we had fifteen minutes to get off the plane, take the shuttle to another terminal, go through TSA check and run to our gate. Fortunately, my family made it to the gate, but as you can probably guess, our bags did not.
An Air France rep met us at baggage to us know that our bags didn't make the connection, but that it was already on its way to Paris to the other main airport, where they'd deliver our bags to the doorsteps of our Airbnb. We were disappointed but not too upset because they offered to deliver it to us. They gave us an ETA, a case number along with a link, and a phone number.
We went to our Airbnb and waited all day for our bags. We originally had plans to tour the city since our time in Paris was already limited, but ended up scrapping it to make sure we were home when the delivery guys came. We expected them to come around 2PM, 3 at the latest. Fun fact: They never came. I bought international credit on Skype to give the airline a call. Every time we called , they gave us the same answer: keep checking the website for updates. I did, and found nothing.
The next day, we headed over to Versailles Palace since we bought tickets beforehand. We at least got to enjoy the Palace for a few hours, and headed back to the city where we visited the Arc di Triomphe. We enjoyed the sights for a minute, and then spent over 3 hours shopping on Champs Elysees because we still haven't gotten an update on our bags and were starting to assume the worst. The next morning we were headed to London so if we didn't get our bags by that day, we weren't sure when we'd ever get them. Post-shopping, my brother and I took turns getting our calls dropped by Air France. They're really really terrible at answering their phones... When we finally got a hold of someone, they admitted they weren't sure where our bags even were, which was reassuring. We had to prepare for the worst and bought clothes to get us by through the trip, and a new suitcase for all this new luggage we just bought.
Towards the end of the night, my mom looked at us and said in Korean something along the lines of "it's time to take matters into our own hands." She sent my dad and brother to CDG airport where they claimed our bags would be. My dad and brother were rerouted to several people until reaching the correct person where they had been denied access because that department was about to close and asked that they return the next morning. Obviously, I can only share what my brother shared with me since I wasn't there myself, but this guy was had absolutely no sympathy and was rude AF. After some time of arguing with this man, his supervisor finally came and spoke with them. After some more time of arguing and trying to convince them, she gave my dad access to the Air France luggage storage room, where all unclaimed bags go with a very limited amount of time to find all of our bags. Since everyone had packed their own bags, my dad wasn't sure which bags belonged to us... But, my dad being my dad, was finally able to find every one of them. They took an Uber back to our Airbnb with 4 suitcases in hand.
My dad described the luggage storage room being this crazy huge room filled with bags, and I thought of all other people who had their luggage delayed and never got a chance to actually go inside that room to find it. Due to airplane policy, I'm sure a lot of these people's bags were just marked as "lost" after 21 days when they could have gone and found it themselves. The system they use to track baggage is tragically faulted and hugely lacking. The people working with this system appear incompetent because of the lack of information they're even given. There is too much room for error and miscommunication that nothing gets done. I think often of what would have happened if my dad and brother never went to the airport themselves. Air France would still claim they don't know where our bags are, and probably wait to mark it as "lost" and just pay us the minimal fee to compensate for it, while we would have to compensate in other ways.
Since, we've filed a claim to Air France asking them to reimburse us for all of the clothes and toiletries costs, which we're still waiting on. Lucky for us, we bought our plane tickets and the new clothes with my Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card, which I'll be filing a claim for if Air France does not reimburse everything, so I'm confident that everything will be covered. However, no money could cove the cost of our time in Paris. We didn't get to sightsee because we were busy waiting for the delivery guys, or out shopping for new clothes; and we were stressed for those two days wondering if we'd ever see our bags again. They won't be able to reimburse us for that time. It's a crappy situation and not exactly how you want to spend your trip.
If there's anything I would have done differently: It would have been to subscribe to an international France number from Skype so I could have given it to Air France to call me when they arrived. Sure, they would never have called, but at least I could have spent the day touring the city until they called, and for me to call them periodically so I could at least enjoy some time there rather than worrying theh entire time.
Once I got back from Europe and told this story to my friends and colleagues, I heard too many stories of how the airline lost their bags or didn't track it correctly, leading to a ton of problems. Again, I was lucky enough to have my Chase credit card willing to cover whatever the airline didn't. But I would HATE for this to happen to any of you! Do yourself a favor and make sure you take protective precautions in case something like this happens to you!