Things I consider when planning to visit a new country
I'm preparing for another international family vacation trip. This time it's to Spain, France, Italy, and Morocco. I love planning these things. This list is some of the considerations I always make whenever planning a trip to a new country.
What is the official language of the country? What percentage of the population speaks English? If a significant percentage of the population doesn't speak English, I would then start learning the basics of the dominant language in the country. That way, I hope I can at least grunt out some important things and hopefully pronounce the names of places correctly.
What is the local currency? How widespread is credit card usage? How much of the local currency should I have when I go out?
What is the tipping culture in the country? We tend to take tipping to the extreme in the US. Other countries either don't have a tipping culture at all, or tip less than Americans are used to. Should you tip wait staff, cab drivers, tour guides, baristas, and hotel cleaning staff?
What are the good and bad parts of the city? Bad parts are not off limits, but you should at least know when you're in a bad part of town so you can stay more alert.
What's the best way to get around? Sometimes it's by renting a car. Other times the metro may be better. Or buses, or taxis, or walking. It's also a good time to look into how public transit works and how you would pay for it.
What are the locally famous foods? Is there anything I definitely have to taste? Any must-visit restaurants? Is there a street food culture?
On a trip to Iceland a few years ago, I had failed to check the local holidays. We got taken by surprise when we first arrived because everything was closed for Pentecost. But then a couple of weeks later we were pleasantly surprised when we accidentally found ourselves in the middle of National Icelandic Day festivities in Reykjavik. Now I always look up the local holidays and festivities whenever I visit a new place.
It's good to know what "normal" weather is at the location you're visiting, especially so you know how to dress. Right before a trip, I would often check the 10-day weather forecast at the destination and make itinerary adjustments where necessary.
I also like to look up sunrise and sunset times at the destination. This is more of an issue if you're traveling north or south. That way you can at least know whether to expect to be out in daylight or night. Also, in some cities you wouldn't want to be out after dark (::ahem:: Baltimore ::cough:: ::cough::)
What are the big tourist attractions in the city? Are any of them must-visit locations? Should you buy tickets to anything in advance? I generally try to skip the crowded attractions and visit the lesser known attractions instead. I dislike crowds.