Traveling is one of my favorite hobbies. I love traveling to foreign countries even more than local excursions. I find the whole experience of researching places to explore, eat, stay, is exhilarating, and taking a flight to a far-off destination, and embracing yourself in a new and different culture can be magical. There are a few things, however, that should consider before heading to the airport. If you want to become an expert traveler and enjoy your travels even more, then keep reading!
1. Learn several key phrases in the native language:
There is no doubt about it that having a few phrases in the native language of the country you’re traveling to under your belt certainly makes getting around a lot easier. It also makes you feel more immersed in the culture which will result in an overall better experience. Below are the top key phrases and words I would recommend you learn:
- Do you speak English [your native language]? Where can I find someone who speaks English?
- I need help! I am hurt.
- How do I get to [location]? (It always helps to have a map handy so you can get those helping you a visual aid in order to make describing directions easier on their end.) Knowing “right”, “left” and “straight ahead” are helpful with understanding the directions given.
- Where’s the restroom?
- I am gluten free, lactose intolerant, allergic to nuts, vegetarian, etc. (This is particularly helpful when ordering food at a restaurant when it’s hard to read the menu or understand what it’s made of.)
- Thank you!
- Good morning/good evening/hello.
- Excuse me/pardon.
- How much does this cost? (And, the basic numbers to 100, or 1000 if you’re enthusiastic about communicating.)
2. Always have local cash:
Not every place takes credit cards, especially important places like trains or buses, and you don’t want to be in a rush being unable to get to where you need to go. Currency in coins is equally important since the ticket machines at train stations rarely accept bills.
3. Look up the monetary conversion before you arrive:
If you don’t have time to convert at your local bank before you leave, go to a bank or ATM in the country you’re visiting. The conversion centers in the airport or around the city tend to be huge rip-offs. You won’t get charged as many fees at the ATM or the bank, and the conversion will be exact.
4. Call your bank or credit card provider to activate alert them of your travels:
Some credit cards will think there is suspicious activity on your credit card if they see purchases in another country and they will put a stop on your card. Warning them of your travels will guarantee that you can pay for your purchases easily with your credit card or bank card.
5. Research cell phone/data options:
You will want to see what kind of international calling/data plans your cell phone provider offers. Some providers offer free international calls and data, while other providers will charge you by the minute if you do not sign up for an international plan. Those minutes can add up to a lot of dollars if you’re uploading vacation photos 24/7 on Instagram, so make sure you have an international plan before leaving.
6. Buy tickets in advance for places you know you want to visit or see:
By buying in advance you’ll be able to skip more lines and find more deals targeted toward you, saving both money and time.
7. Bring a charger adapter:
Countries can have different size plugs and voltage. So if you want to use your phone and computer, make sure you can charge it.
8. Bring snacks:
Traveling abroad is fun, but eating in a foreign country can sometimes become a task. Bring small snacks that will hold you over until you find that perfect restaurant or grocery store. There may even be times when you aren’t around places to eat for several hours.
9. Get a passport card:
If your passport gets lost or stolen you’ll want an easy way to be able to get a new one. A passport card is a trick to this. If you do misplace your passport, you can go to your embassy in the country and they will be able to give you another passport right away.
10. Make sure your passport is up to date and check visa requirements:
Most countries require your passport to be valid for six months after your return date. The last thing you want is to be stuck in a foreign country missing several appointments back at home. Also, make sure you know if the country you are traveling to requires a visa, this way you will be all prepared when it comes time to take your trip.
11. Do your research:
The more you know about the history and customs of your destination country, the more you will enjoy and benefit from your journey. Do not bring shorts, mini skirts and tank tops if you’re going to a conservative country. If you’re going to a place where you will have to take your shoes off frequently to enter tourist sites, pack slip-on shoes. Also, know who to tip and how much.
Know what is considered respectful clothing:
Is there a religious majority in the country that you are visiting? Check into the conservatism they enact with clothing and jewelry. Even if you don’t practice or believe the religion or social norms they do, it is a sign of respect to the culture and people. Visiting a famous church to look at the architecture? Traditionally, it is good to at least cover shoulders and knees, and wear pants if you are male.
Know eating mannerisms:
Did you know in Egypt (and several other countries) that finishing all the food on your plate signifies that the host did not provide you with enough to eat? To finish it all may seem insulting. In Japan, it is the exact opposite! Don’t finish and they may believe you did not appreciate the meal. Make sure if you have a host, you understand what is expected with dining so they feel appreciated.
12. Bring back up medications:
There have been times where I’ve gotten severely ill while abroad, and while I was fortunate to know how to speak some of the language of the country I was in, talking about symptoms and medications is always a challenge. Thus, no matter if you’re ill or not, it’s always better to be safe and pack a small medical kit with your favorite over the counter pain and fever reducers, as well as bandaids and digestive meds. If you are traveling to a place where you fear it may be difficult to get good medical treatment, you should ask your doctor for an emergency Z-pak (antibiotic.) Many doctors will not prescribe this, but it’s good to have for an emergency in more remote destinations.
13. Make copies of travel documents:
Most importantly, have at least one color copy of your passport ID page stored somewhere safe and separate from your passport. You should also make copies of any visas that pertain to your current travels. Hotel reservations, train ticket confirmations, and all other travel documents - as well as credit card numbers, should be copied as well. This is just to be sure if anything were to happen to the actual copies you would have some form of backup.
14. Print all itineraries and hotel, flight and other confirmations:
I like to print a hard copy of my flight and hotel email confirmations – this way I don’t have to rely on having wi-fi or my data plan working to pull up my reservations.
15. Check the weather:
Make sure you check the weather for your final destination so you know what to pack. Yes, weather constantly changes, but at least you will have an idea if it’s shorts or sweatshirt weather. You don’t want to spend trip souvenir money on wardrobe basics because you didn’t pack properly.
16. Put a hold on mail:
If you plan on being abroad for over a week, you might want to contact your post office to hold your mail before delivering to your home. It’s happened to me that while I’ve been abroad, a big rainstorm came and soaked a package I had waiting. It’s better to not risk this and put a hold to all mail and newspaper for the duration of your trip. If you also have a growing mile of mail outside your house, it may become clear you’re out of town which is never a good thing for criminals.
17. Home Security:
Ask a friendly neighbor to keep an eye out for any suspicious activity and any packages that might have arrived. Before you lock the front door and head to the airport, it’s also a smart idea to leave a few lights on inside your house so it looks like your home even though you’re not.
What tips do you use when traveling abroad?