Time and again I go through this list in my head – the Top 10 Tips for Traveling Abroad from my experience of countless flights across the pond and within other continents. With so many friends traveling this season I wanted to share this in hopes it will help you too!
Top 10 at a glance:
Things to pack in a carry-on
Apps for communication
Don’t be stupid
Less is more
Try the local cuisine
Know if you need a visa
When I’m packing for a trip abroad I always tell myself, “Don’t forget your passport!”. Fine, obvious. But I can’t tell you how many times I check where it is – at the airport, at the hotel, out and about. I ALWAYS have my passport on me and know where it is. You should too. Also, if you are traveling abroad next week and your passport expires in two months you may need to renew. Many countries require it to be valid for more months beyond your trip. For example, if an American is traveling to France your passport must be valid for 6 months beyond your travel in order to be able to leave the airport in the US and eat that French baguette you’ve been craving over the pond. THIS is an amazing website through the US government where you can type in your destination and learn more, including passport requirements.
2. CONVERT CURRENCY
I always try to convert some US Dollars to the local currency of where I’m traveling BEFORE I go. About 2 weeks before a trip I go to my local bank and convert money. There’s a small fee for the conversion, including shipping charges, but there’s nothing like having the local money when I land so I can hit the ground running! I also take my Visa with no international fees but money talks and it’s always a good idea to have a minimal amount on you. If I need more cash while on my trip I find a true local bank ATM in the city and withdraw money there (the airport conversion fees are usually the worst!).
3. THINGS TO PACK IN A CARRY-ON
Somehow on a trip to Paris in 2009 I had a feeling the airline was going to lose my luggage. I was sure to pack some necessities in my carry-on just in case, including my glasses and contact solution, extra underwear, a pair of socks, and minimal additional toiletries. If an airline loses your luggage hopefully they’re thoughtful and nice and provide a toothbrush and toothpaste before you leave the airport (as the airline did for me back then). If not, of course we know those two items aren’t hard to find in the first convenience or grocery store you see after leaving your destination airport. And of course, don’t forget some snacks and often an empty water bottle. Many airports have a “water bottle filling station” for this purpose so you don’t have to unnecessarily spend money on bottled water from shops.
4. PHONE SETTINGS
I opt not to do an international phone plan. Why? Everywhere abroad seems to have wifi these days. I simply set my phone on “airplane” mode with wifi enabled. Even if I added an international plan on my phone, I’m paying for time I use the phone ON TOP OF the charge for the international addition to my plan. So if you add an international plan, certainly know the terms and fees you are agreeing to. If not, you’ll simply pay per minute abroad. I had to call America to cancel my credit card while in Germany last December. The call cost me between $5-$10, which was still less expensive than if I had added a plan before I left. The moral is: put your phone on airplane mode and leave the wifi on. Pick up wifi where you can. Besides, isn’t part of the beauty of being away? I value those breaks from technology. (Also, Verizon in particular, my phone carrier, now has “Wifi calling” that works abroad. I tested it – it works!)
5. ELECTRICAL CONVERTER
You’ll need a power converter in many countries you travel to outside of the US, especially Europe and Asia. You can easily buy one on Amazon, REI or Best Buy. I’ve even seen them at my local pharmacy. Here’s a helpful list on REI’s website.
6. APPS for COMMUNICATION
If I’m on wifi I can still easily message most of my family via iMessage to let them know I’m safe(as I would like a text message at home, through Apple’s system). My mom, for instance, has an Android so two apps have been helpful to send her messages aside from simple emailing: Viber or What’s App. They’re free to download and use. You can even call people internationally for free on wifi (which you can do on the latest iOS version of Apple iPhones too). Skype is my third option. I also use this to communicate with some international friends while I’m home. So, it’s a good app to have on my phone all the time!
7. DON’T BE STUPID
This is self explanatory but I feel the need to mention it. If you’re a somewhat attractive female traveling alone, or even a male traveling alone, don’t be dumb. Don’t test fate by wandering down a desolate alley at night. Don’t have your camera out in dumb places. PAY ATTENTION to the world around you and don’t bury your head in a map or your phone for long periods of time. Maybe it’s the native New Yorker in me talking, but don’t be stupid. Okay?
8. LESS IS MORE
I mean this in two ways. 1) Travel with less “stuff.” I often pack light and wear a shirt twice. Or I make do with one pair of sneakers instead of two. No one cares about your fashion when you travel like you do so eat a little piece of humble pie in this regard. Pack less, I tell you! 2) Less LOCATIONS is sometimes more. On a recent trip to Europe I wish we traveled to less cities and focused more on Lisbon (where we were staying), to really engross ourselves there for a full three days instead of trying to spread ourselves so thinly to cram in more cities we inevitably spent less time in. Edit the list of cities you visit to allow more dedicated time in the areas you focus on.
9. TRY THE LOCAL CUISINE
I’m not a picky eater so this is a no-brainer to me. However if you are try to travel with the mindset that the cuisine is a lot of a country’s culture and until you try it you’re not immersing yourself in it. The fish market in Japan is a must-experience and part of Tokyo’s history and richness in location. And if I didn’t have falafel for the first time in 1999 in Israel I wouldn’t have known precisely what it’s like to truly experience the area in Tel Aviv we were in. Or the bratwurst and smoked salmon in Germany! If you’re worried about a stomach ache pshhhh – there are ways around that! Be sure to pack Pepto Bismol pills and Imodium. 😉 Then go try something new!
10. KNOW IF YOU NEED A VISA
I have yet to travel anywhere I need a visa, but I learn through other friends travel stories. A friend was denied entry into India, simply for a short visit on vacation, because her and her boyfriend hadn’t gone through the steps to apply for a Visa. Some countries you don’t need one, some you can simply purchase one upon arrival at your point-of-entry airport. But nothing sucks more than being told you need to leave because you didn’t research and option the proper paperwork before your trip. Again, please see this helpful government website and check “Entry, Exit & Visa Requirements” sub-heading after you search the country you’re visiting.
Those are my 10 Ten Tips for Traveling Abroad though I have many that would be the next five.
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What’s your favorite tip for traveling abroad?