According to a recent study, only 42% of U.S. citizens currently have a passport (as oppose to 4% in 1990). More Americans are traveling abroad than ever. If you are someone who is leaving the country for the first time, it is good to do your homework. You are probably getting excited to go on a vacation or work trip, and may have certain expectations about your visit. Perhaps you are anxious about traveling. Following some of my tried and tested travel tips will make your trip more enjoyable, prepare for unexpected situations, have a more positive travel experience.
Find out the Visa Rules. Here’s a web site where you can quickly check if the country you are traveling to requires a visa for your nationality. You may nee to apple for an evisa, apply for a visa on arrival, or get one from the embassy in your home country. Depending on the requirements, allow for a few weeks to collect paperwork and apply, so you can have your visas before your trip. Note: some countries may require a visa even if you are not visiting, but transiting through the airport.
Get Vaccinated. If your last vaccination was when you started school, you may need to obtain records or get booster shots before you travel. Certain countries, like Kenya, require you to show your Yellow Fever vaccination papers to enter, while others will give you a list of recommend shots and medication you need. CDC’s website is a good source to check the vaccination requirements by country.
Obtain Records. Most of us get our prescriptions refilled through the pharmacy without seeing the original paperwork. You cannot get a prescription transferred to a pharmacy overseas, so keep a printed copy of all the prescriptions you are currently taking, so you could get refills if needed. Also, carry extra medications with you so you don’t run out.
Get Travel Insurance. Most travelers oversee this, thinking “nothing bad is going to happen.” But when you travel, there are several risks involved, some bigger than others. Travel insurance covers things like a delayed or lost luggage (happened to me countless times), missed connections, delays, trip cancellations, accidents, or a medical emergency overseas. I carry an annual policy to cover all my domestic and international trips.
Know What You Booked. Many people who book their own travels search for best deals online and often miss the fine print. When you book through 3rd party sites (such as Expedia, Orbits), may sure to check what is included. Booking your flights directly through the airline directly may save you extra fees for seat selection, check in baggage, priority boarding, and flight changes. Chances of delayed or lost luggage goes up with connecting flights. Similarly, booking directly through the hotel’s website may qualify for complimentary upgrades and free cancellations.
Check Luggage Rules. I did not know that a carry-on bag size is different traveling within Europe, than it is in then US. Check the airline’s luggage policy, because it can differ based on the type of ticket you purchased as well. Pack and weigh your luggage accordingly. I carry a small luggage scale when traveling to make sure I never pay excess bag fees.
Make Copies. If you lose your passport when traveling abroad, it can take a few days and lots of anxiety to get a new one. To make things easier, make sure to have a copy of the ID page of your passport, tickets, and drivers license. Carry 1 copy of your passport in your backpack (preferably secured with an RFID cover), and leave the original in your hotel’s locker room. Also, it’s good to leave another set of copies of travel documents with a family member back home.
Pack Strategically. Yes, you are going to pack your clothes, shoes, personal items, etc in your check in bag. But I also recommend to always have a carry on with a spare set (in case of flight delays). Keep a change of clothes and a few necessities.
Do not check in valuables such as cameras, laptops, designer handbags or jewelry. These should always be in your carry on.
Unless you are flying business class, you won’t get many amenities on the plane. Some of my must include are – noise cancellation headphones, phone charges, ear plugs, eye mask, mouthwash or mint, hand towel, hand lotion, warm blanket, and neck pillow. I also carry a refillable water bottle and a few healthy snacks since most airplane food doesn’t appeal to my palate.
Dress Appropriately. Depending on your destination, you may have to dress according to local customs. I recommend blending in rather than standing out. Find out what is commonly worn (casual, conservative), and pack accordingly. For long flights, you want to dress comfortably in layers. Long flights often get too cold, noisy and dry. I prefer a t-shirt, warm hoodie, yoga pants and sneakers.
Check Your Finances. Before you leave for your trip, make sure to inform your bank of your travel dates and countries visiting, so they don’t put a fraud alert when you try to use your card in another country. Most businesses around the world now accept credit cards, but some still don’t take American Express, so always have 2-3 different kinds on hand (Visa, MasterCard, etc).
ATMs work well most of the time, but check how much your bank charges for oversees withdrawal and transactions. As a backup, carry some cash because. There have been times when all the ATM’s are down and no one takes credit cards!
Ask your local bank branch for foreign currency. They can order Euros, Pounds or whatever you need at the current market rate, without extra fees.
Keep An Eye At Home. You may be so focused on planning your trip, that you may forget about managing things at home. If there will be no one to receive your mail and packages while you are away, sign up for the USPS Mail Hold program. I also have Ring security camera and home monitoring system that alerts me when someone is at my front door.
Stay Connected. Check with your cell phone provider about international roaming rates. If the price is too high, you can always connect to WiFi hot spots (usually free at hotels, restaurants and cafes) to make phone calls and send texts through WhatsApp. You may also want to download apps for currency conversion, weather, google translate and maps before you leave home.
T-Mobile has the best plans withs no roaming charges, free unlimited data, and reasonable calling rates (around $0.20-.25/ minute).
Protect Your Devices. There will be times where you leave something behind or have an expensive gadget stolen from you. Minimize the risk of losing your personal data by creating a password to access all of the electronic devices that you will be carrying with you, such as phones, tablets and laptops. Turn on their location setting and “find my phone,” so its relatively easier to recover it.
Be a Mindful Traveler. First time travelers often have bad experiences because they are victims of small crimes. To avoid such situations, just be more guarded than you are back home. Watch where you keep your belongings in public places, don’t carry big cameras and lots of cash, tuck your wallet into an inner pocket, watch your surroundings, and don’t attract too much attention.
Stay Healthy. The second most common reason for having a negative travel experience is getting sick in a foreign country. You are in a confided space with other travelers for a number of hours while flying. When you land, hygiene standards may be different or your belly is simply not accustomed to different foods. Give yourself some time by drinking bottled water, and eating at credible outlets. Proactively take Airborne, Vitamin C or multi vitamins to build your immunity.
Keep An Open Mind. If this is your first time traveling to a foreign country, know that things are going to be very different than what you are use to back home. Don’t assume everyone speaks English. Learn a few words in the local language to help you navigate.
Follow gender rules, meal times, local etiquettes. Don’t make fun of things or foods that you may find strange. Remember, you are a guest in their country.
It’s always good to read up on the country you are visiting. I find it watching a movie or reading a book about a place also helps me get in the mood and learn about a new place. Make sure these are currently relevant though not historical or fiction.
Many of these travel tips apply to first time international travelers, and domestic travelers too. Perhaps you are a seasoned traveler and would like to share another helpful tip with us? Tag us with your comment on social media @GoEatGive.