At last, summer is here! Hopefully, you are finding time to slow down and soak up the sun. While some may be enjoying a stay-cation this season, others may be gearing up to travel abroad.
Before you leave good ole’ U.S.A., take a peek at my ever-growing list of things I wish I knew before traveling internationally. << Click to Tweet
Since becoming an American Expat living in Europe six months ago, I have been blessed with the opportunity to visit several countries. While many of us do research and organize our trip ahead of time, sometimes it isn’t until we touch down in a foreign place that we recognize…”we are not in Kansas anymore, Toto!”
Whether you are traveling with a family or on an Eat, Pray, Love solo journey, hopefully these tips and links will help you in becoming a better-prepared traveler. << Click to Tweet
#1 Do you need a visa?
- Great! You’re U.S. passport is up-to-date and ready to be stamped. However, just because you have a U.S. passport doesn’t’ always mean you automatically have clearance to enter a country. After waiting in line at customs in Turkey, we arrived at the counter only to be told we were in the wrong line; we needed to obtain a tourist/short stay visa. The shuffling back and forth between lines made for a frustrating start to our vacation. Many countries allow travelers to obtain a visa on arrival, so plan accordingly. You can learn more about your destination requirements by clicking http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/english/country.html.
#2 Get your finances in order
- Before you leave the states, contact your bank and credit card companies and advise them of your travel. I was stranded without access to my debit card once in London as the bank thought it was an attempt on a fraudulent purchase.
- Understand the currency and foreign exchange rates of the country you are visiting. To ensure you get the best money exchange rate internationally, use helpful websites and apps like http://www.oanda.com/currency/converter. Watch out for high commission rates on exchanges from airports, hotels, even banks. If you don’t want to carry large sums of cash, accessing an ATM is a convenient way to get local currency (some fees may apply).
- Always have local cash on hand. I know many of us rely on our debit/credit cards, but don’t assume all merchants, taxi/bus/trains, or restaurants take cards. In addition, many international establishments do not accept magnetic stripe cards as they have converted to the more secure “chip and PIN” card system.
#3 Avoid being taken advantage of
Not always, but in my opinion, the minute you open your mouth, locals know you are an American aka dollar signs! From taxi drivers to bazaar vendors, be confident and aware.
- Taxi: Always try to find a taxi with a meter reader when possible. I once traveled on the Eurostar speed train from London to Paris. Upon arrival at Gare du Nord, I took a taxi to our nearby hotel. We certainly were taken for granted as I later learned. What should have only cost 15 Euros ended up costing me 50 Euros, as the taxi was not equipped with a meter and quite frankly I didn’t know the difference at the time. Avoid being taken advantage of by asking the hotel basic fees for local destinations in advance. As for a tip, rounding up is perfectly acceptable. For tipping etiquette check out http://www.cntraveler.com/travel-tips/travel-etiquette/2008/12/Etiquette-101-Tipping-Guide.
- Roma Children and Pickpocketers: Depending upon your travel destination, some countries have a higher rate of pickpocketing and Roma children (Gyspys). It can be heartbreaking when young children swarm you as you stroll streets in Paris or Florence begging for money. Do your best to avoid them as sometimes this is a tactic to distract you. Be aware and vigilant always, and have a copy of all your important details in the event your personal belongings are lost or stolen.
#4 Don’t always count on finding Wi-Fi or mobile phone service
- Tapping into a wireless network or finding a strong cellular signal is not always possible when traveling. Plan accordingly and ensure important affairs are handled before your trip. Unless you activate your phone’s global capabilities, you can be hit with roaming fees, but this doesn’t guarantee finding a signal. Need a phone just for emergencies? Consider purchasing a pay-as-you-go phone at your destination, if possible. Can’t connect…? Don’t fret! The thought of “unplugging” may feel uncomfortable, but you are on vacation after all!
#5 Check voltage, electronics, chargers, and adapters compatibility
- I don’t know about you, but keeping track of what charger goes with what device can feel like a full-time job sometimes. Plan ahead as many countries have different outlets and voltage. Be sure to pick up an adapter (usually in the airports) so you can charge your devices. Just know, sometimes even with the proper adapter, some devices won’t charge because the voltage isn’t strong enough for that country (for example, hair straighteners, blow dryers, and handheld devices like Nintendo DS may be worth leaving home).
#6 Familiarize yourself with basic language, terminology, and customs
- English is not a universal language. Take the time to learn basic words. A great source that comes in handy for me is https://translate.google.co.uk.
- Remember, not all words in American English mean the same in other English-speaking countries. For example, thanking the taxi driver for the lift in London doesn’t quite work.
- Know the customs ahead of time. Do you have to wear a head scarf while traveling in the Middle East? Is there a proper handshake or greeting in Asia? Or perhaps, you are relaxing in a European resort with your children, and forgot to explain European sunbathing etiquette to them (as in topless sunbathing is common). Guilty!
#7 Bonus tips for all types of travel
- Whether you are traveling domestically or internationally, always pack your own facial washcloths and/or body buffs. Many hotels do not offer wash clothes; even if they do, you may not be interested in using such a personal item on your face.
- NEVER…use the quilt overlay as a blanket. While most hotels will wash the linens, those decorative throw/overlay often never gets washed…yuck!
- Sometimes, less is more and always expect the unexpected!
#8 Most importantly, remember to have fun and relax!
Can you add to this list of things you have learned while traveling abroad? Do you have a wonderful hotel experience or destination place you can recommend? We would love to hear about your experiences.
Angele is an American Expat living in Europe with her husband and their 3 terrific (but rambunctious) boys. In a house full of males, she enjoys retail therapy and everything girlie! She is an imperfect women living in an imperfect world. She believes everyone has a story to share and is grateful that God has given her the courage to bless through her mess(ages). After giving into His unmatched voice, Angele created angeldancing.com as a place to spread her spiritual wings and sprinkle seeds of faith around the world.