Top 10 Vital Tips for Safely (and Smartly) Traveling Abroad

Time and again I go through this list in my head, to cover our Top 10 Tips for Traveling Abroad from my experience of countless flights across the pond and within other continents. Some things may be obvious but we’ve mastered how to perfect the art of, let’s say converting money for example. And other things aren’t as apparent, like what to pack in your carry on and why.

Top 10 Travel Tips Abroad blog post by Sometimes Home blog, by Mikkel Paige. Approachable advice and info on international trips.

1. Passport

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 on me – 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.

Information regarding passport requirements for your destination country, as a US Citizen, will always be available on the government’s travel website.

2. Convert Currency

I always try to convert some US Dollars to the local currency of where I’m traveling BEFORE I go. I simply go online to my bank’s website, log in to my account and search “Order Currency.” I’m then prompted to add the country I’m traveling to, which automatically pulls up its currency (whether Krones or Euros, etc.) and place my order.

Bank of America allows me to ship it to my home or to a nearby bank. Since we live in an apartment building and I don’t want it to be left by the door (it’s cash, after all) I ship it to a bank. I’m then notified by a bank employee after it arrives and drive to pick it up.

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!).

Just be sure that you know how many zeros are on the ATM conversion! I had a jarring experience taking money out of an ATM in Japan the day before I left.

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. (The airline did that 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.

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.

Be sure to check out My Top Tips to Help You Pack in 10 Minutes Flat.

(Truthfully it’s rare we don’t only travel with carry on bags these days, thanks to the compact size of our Cabin Zero backpacks. But if we do have to check luggage we always safely travel with these things!)

Top 10 Travel Tips Abroad blog post with what to pack in a carry on by Sometimes Home blog, by Mikkel Paige. Approachable advice and info on international trips.

4. Phone Settings and Life-Savings Maps

Wifi Hack for your Phone to Save Money

You’ve budgeted for an amazing trip abroad but still want to stay connected while you travel. But you don’t want it to cost you an arm and a leg to do so. So, what do you do?

We opt not add an international phone plan when we travel. Why? Everywhere abroad has Wifi these days. Instead, we either travel with our Skyroam pocket-sized Wifi hotspot or we simply set our phones to “airplane” mode with Wifi enabled.

Even if we added an international plan on our phones, we would be paying for time we use the phone ON TOP OF the charge for the international addition to our plans. (If you add an international plan, know the terms and fees you are agreeing to.) If you’re not adding a plan to your phone from what we understand from most major US cell phone carriers, you will simply pay per minute you use the phone abroad.

I had to call America to cancel my credit card while in Germany a few years ago. 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!)

Life-Saving Maps on Your Phone

Another life-saving tip is “OK Maps”. Google has this incredible feature you can take care of before the trip for use on the journey once you arrive to your destination. You don’t even have to be on wifi for it to work! Here’s how to do it:

  • Open the Google Maps app on your mobile phone
  • Look up the area you’re visiting. For instance, if you’re going to Madrid, Spain, simply type it in.
  • The map then pulls up the map of Madrid.
  • Go back to the search bar, “X” out “Madrid, Spain” and instead write “OK Maps” and hit return.
  • It will then put a rectangle around an area (pictured below) and ask to confirm it’s the map you want to download. (You can move the rectangle’s area by zooming in or out on the map.)
  • Hit “download” and you’ll see it begin to download. The map will be locally saved on your phone for 30 days.

If you’re wondering if you can open the map while you’re traveling, not on wifi, and still accurately see the blue dot indicating where you are on a street with the direction you’re walking too, you can! It’s the best tip!!!

Top 10 Tips for Traveling Abroad on Sometimes Home blog. Includes the best things to do before you leave and while you're away, including a trick to download Google Maps!

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.

And we’re always online when there is cell service when we travel with the help of our Skyroam pocket wifi devices we adore.

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!

Top 10 Travel Tips Abroad blog post by Sometimes Home blog, by Mikkel Paige with recommended apps to use for international communication.

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.

Travel tips abroad by Sometimes Home, approachable info and mid-size budget trips. Narrow down your city visit list for advice aboard and internationally.

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 cheese and delicious dumplings that’s part of the traditional cuisine in Slovenia.

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

We have yet to travel anywhere we need a visa, but we learn through other friends’ travel stories.

A friend was denied entry into India when they arrived for a short vacation because her and her boyfriend hadn’t gone through the steps to apply for a Visa! Ouch.

You don’t need a visa in a lot of countries. Others, 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 do the research ahead of time and figure out the proper paperwork before your trip!

The information for visas where you’re traveling to is readily available on the US Government’s website.

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What’s your favorite tip for traveling abroad?
Top 10 Tips for Traveling Abroad by Sometimes Home travel blog, including converters, visas, and communication apps.

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