I am only 23 years old and dread builds up in me when I think “country hopping”. I think country hopping is not for the weak. I don’t know how delegates and diplomats and politicians and celebrities and business executives do this on a weekly basis. It probably helps to have fancy planes with plush interiors, some bubbly while you’re going over your work and your own travel team. Disclaimer: I am stereotyping all of this from movies and TV shows like Scandal.
For the rest of us, plebes, who try to budget travel and see the wonderful sights of the world, country hopping requires meticulous planning, mental preparation, dedicated time for physical rest and a lot of communication if you’re traveling with other people (especially people you may have never traveled with before). Here are some tips and observations from my country hopping trip with my dear old dad.
Types of Country Hopping
a. Country hopping while in transit
- If your itinerary includes a stop over longer than 8 hours, I think it’s a good idea to go see the city around you. It can get boring, really quickly in an airport unless you’re reading the best book ever or you prefer naps.
- Make sure you plan out enough time to get back to the airport to catch your connecting flight.
- With advance preparation, you can get currency for the country you’ll be in, that way you don’t have to worry about high conversion rates, especially if you’re stuck in the airport.
b. Country hopping on purpose (for the real/seasoned/not weak travelers/clueless first-timers *like yours truly*)
- Once you get to your destination, make sure you determine the best way to/from the airport. European countries have really reliable bus/metro/public transit systems that make it easy to get to/from. You probably want to research the schedules, the price, if you can pay by card, etc. If you’re traveling with company, you may want to split a taxi since a lot of taxis have fixed rates to/from the airport (at least that’s my experience in European countries)
- You’re lucky if you know someone living in the city you’re traveling to! Since Copenhagen was my sister’s home for a month, we had our own tour guide receive us at the airport and take us around. Definitely reach out to people, even friends of friends, because it’s one less thing to stress about, especially if you’re traveling around a new country.
Warm welcome to Copenhagen!
- If you’re traveling with people (this deserves its own post), it’s a great idea for each of you to get a map of the city and go over important travel topics like what to do in emergencies.
- It can feel like you’re running through a city, just to get to see all the touristy things. It can feel like a blur, especially if you’re in the country for less than a day. I don’t think there’s a way to remedy that especially if it’s the first time you’re traveling to the city.
- Having sketched out a plan before you arrive to your cities can help you feel more organized and less chaotic. It is still a different experience living the plan for the trip, especially if you can’t speak the local language or are trying to figure out the public transportation system.
- Look at the dates of your travel – is it during national holidays? what are the hours of museums/parks/etc? what’s the weather like? If you’re final destination is sunny southern Spain but you’re going to Iceland/the Alps first, you need to pack accordingly.
- Always ask the people at your hotel/hostel for ideas for activities. They can help you plan a great trip for a short amount of time.
- If your traveler personality is “go-go-go”, definitely do research before you get to your city. Early mornings and late nights will be a thing, but if that’s what floats your boat, then go for it.
- If your traveler personality is “explorer”, do some light research and figure out what are the main spots you want to make sure you see. Try to get to those first and on the way, explore the city as you go.
- If your traveler personality is “follow the leader”, still do some research, in case you find something cool you want to do and you can share with your travel companions. Or do the city tour, hop on-hop off buses. You get a lot of information and see most of the city.
- Have a first aid ziploc with bandaids, ibuprofen, anti-histamine meds, alcohol swabs, etc.
- Expect the unexpected. If this is your maiden voyage – you will feel rushed to get to the airport, but you’ll make it in time. Or you’ll lose a flight. If this is the umpteenth time you’re doing this, your flight can get delayed/pre-poned and then you miss the next flight. The airline could go on strike.
1. Review that Itinerary with a fine toothed comb, re-dot the i’s and memorize it.
Building the itinerary usually depends on airline companies, your budget and the end goal of country hopping. Typically country hopping usually means spending an hour to fourteen at an airport while you’re in transit to your final destination. Or the other scenario is when you intentionally plan to travel around to different countries, like my father and I did. My sister was studying in Copenhagen, Denmark and I was moving to Spain for a year. My father, dear darlin’ dad, proposed we go see my sister (to curb any homesickness since it was her first time outside the country without family) and see another country. Since it fit well in our budget and timing, we planned the trip. This was our itinerary:
US — SPAIN (direct 9 hour flight to Barcelona) *connecting flight* — GERMANY — DENMARK (this was all in a span of 2 days)
DENMARK — SWEDEN — SPAIN (my final destination)
Breakfast/Tea time in Munich Airport
- Have printed copies of the itinerary. Have digital copies of it too.
- Have your ticket info always ready.
- Double check, especially when you’re in the booking process, how much time you have in each city/country. Sometimes airlines change their flights: delay/move ahead. Make sure you have a way to stay updated with that information so you can enjoy your trip. Some booking companies send you text messages. It could be worth it to have data while you’re traveling. Some airports have wi-fi for a short time and you could probably check/confirm your flight info.
- If you’re traveling with people, make sure as a group, you are all aware of the itinerary. It makes everyone feel good and can help reduce tension while traveling.
- Sometimes, you may travel through different means. For example: you fly in, but you have to take a train to your next destination. Know how to get to the train station from the airport or your hotel/hostel. Make sure you plan enough time for traveling to the next point to your connecting trip.
- Scan your itinerary for plane to train to bus, so you can be prepared when you have to keep going with your trip.
- Important: plan for rest in your itinerary. Don’t plan for a 2 hour nap during the plane/train/bus ride. Plan for rest in a warm/cool hostel/hotel room, in a yummy bed and for 5-7 hours. The worst thing to happen for short trips, that usually characterize country hopping, is falling sick because of exhaustion. You have to adjust to the time of the country and let your body also adjust. If you arrive to a country during the day time, when you’re usually asleep, walk around the center for a while and take a nap in the afternoon. A nap. If you reach at night time and you’re wide awake, drink some chamomile tea, slip on pajamas and read a book/journal till you sleep.
On our final leg of the Journey – to Santiago de Compostela.
- Call your credit card company and let them know the countries you will be in, whether or not you use your card. It’s a good idea because credit card companies will not read your activity as suspicious and having a card is great for emergencies/just-in-case moments.
- If you can, go to your bank and get some cash in the currency of your destinations. Airports charge a large fee and the conversion rates can be really high.
- I don’t think people use traveler’s checks anymore, however, you could get some of those.
3. Get all your documentation – and copies (hard and digital).
- Passport/ IDs (on a USB, online drive, hard copies, etc.)
- Itinerary (this is really important)
- Accommodation confirmations for hostels/hotels/etc.
Since you may not have access to a data plan in another country, it’s good to have these back ups on hand. It’s just an overall smart traveler tip.
a. Pack lightly. Just do yourself a favor and pack the essentials, like this is what you would need to survive an apocalypse within the TSA guidelines. You will feel proud when you accomplish this feat (especially if you’re a girl). You will have this revelation that you can do anything, ever. You will feel invincible. I’ll link the “invincible jet setter” packing list to this post.
b. If you are traveling with checked in bags, especially if you’re travelling internationally, you can store your luggage at airports. It is a good idea to call these airports and confirm they have a luggage locker place/room, so when you travel you can deposit your huge bags and jet set off with your convenient carry on. Plus, if you had any reorganization of items to manage the weight of the bags, you can readjust for your mini-trips. My father and I left our checked luggage at the BCN airport and traveled with our carry-ons. I think most international airports should have this facility for a small daily fee. If you’ll be in the same city and for a few hours, I think you can also rent a locker on an hourly basis.
If you’re country/continent hopping make sure you have the converters and adapters for each place you will be visiting. Spanish electrical sockets are different from French ones and those are different from Indian ones. This should be an easy issue to tackle since many converter/adapter sets come with one for each world region. They do tend to be bulky but it’s totally worth it. It’s also a good idea to have extras, in case you forget one because you realize it’s the last call to board your plane.
6. Traveling with people: Communicate
- It is very important you communicate with the people you are traveling. These short trips tend to be on the tenser side, especially if you’re trying to hit 5 countries in 2 weeks. (is that even possible?)
- Talk about activities you’d like to do.
- Talk about your travel nature (go-go-go/explorer/follow the leader).
- Talk about the overlooked things, ie: diet restrictions, sleeping habits, etc.
- Go over the itinerary. Better yet, if you can, plan it together. When people plan they tend to remember information better.
- Make sure everyone knows what the entire trip’s trajectory looks like. (Memorize the itinerary) This way, if the natural leader gets tired and cranky, someone else can take over. Maybe you could assign people portions of the trip. Who knows?
- If you’re traveling together for the first time, talk about why you like traveling. What do you want to get out of the trip? What are the things you know about traveling?
So if you are planning your country hopping trip, let me know if any of this helps. Or if you’re a seasoned hopper and gleaned some insight that wasn’t included here, please share! I’m getting ready for my next country hop with my lovely mom and need all the help I can get!
Flying through Scandinavian skies.