Congratulations! You’re finally getting that trip abroad you’ve always wanted. Heading to see the Eiffel Tower in Paris? The pyramids in Giza? Or perhaps the beaches in Rio de Janeiro?
There are some things to take into account before hopping onto an airplane and experiencing a foreign culture.
An early step would be to get your passport in order. Normally, it will take around 4-6 weeks to register and acquire one. A passport can be expedited. This will cost a bit more than the normal process. It can be done at your local post office. There are also options online in which a courier will act as a middleman.
Once you have the passport in possession, make multiple photocopies – and scan a copy to your personal email. When in a foreign place, you will want some sort of official identification. However, it isn’t smart to carry the official ID. If you lose your bag, or have it stolen, it could leave you in a tough spot. A trip to the consulate would then invariably follow. This can be both time-consuming and expensive.
Instead, keep the passport at your hotel/hostel. Carrying a photocopy of the ID will suffice quite nicely. Having a scanned copy on your email is also another way to ensure you won’t somehow be stranded in a foreign place.
Secondly, call your credit card company and alert them of your travels. You’ll provide the locations of where you’ll be going – as well as the dates. If you don’t do this, it’s very feasible that the provider will shut down your credit card until you clear up the snafu.
It’s also worth going to the bank and getting a credit/debit card with a chip on it. While the chip is something just hitting the United States, it’s practically used universally everywhere else.
Whilst also there at the bank, arrange to get some currency from the country you’re visiting. There are currency-exchange places abroad – and you can pull out money from banks outside of the country. With that said, it makes sense to grab a little bit of the local currency to have prior to traveling. In addition…don’t convert money at the airport. It’s quite expensive to do so with all of the extra fees added on.
Once you know where you’ll be staying, it’s a good idea to give the addresses/phone numbers of these places to family members back home. If there’s any sort of emergency, having this sort of information is integral.
When it comes to the airport, get there with plenty of time to spare. For any international flights, it’s suggested to arrive two hours prior to takeoff. The worst thing in the world is when you have to jam through (a usually crowded) security line, and then run to the gate. Being able to ease into the beginning of the trip is more important than people realize. There’s no need to throw some chaos and anxiety into the mix right from the start.
There’s also the matter of getting your phone squared away. You can link your phone up wherever there is Wi-Fi. This is a question you’d want to ask any establishment you venture into immediately. If you forget to do this and start using your phone, your data charges will truly be astronomical. Downloading apps such as Viber or WhatsApp will enable you to text and call your family for free (assuming you’re hooked up to Wi-Fi).
Prior to leaving, you can call your carrier service and ask about the best travel carrier plans made available. They are rather affordable in today’s climate. Should you opt to purchase an international phone, you will enjoy low rates within the country. However, calling the United States could be pricey.
You can also buy a SIM card for your phone. It’ll enable you to text and call within the country.
Once landing at your destination, it makes sense to have some sort of plan on how you’ll be getting to your apartment/Airbnb/hostel. Having your address handy will be helpful – as will grabbing a map at the airport. There’s a great chance you’ll be able to communicate with someone that speaks English. They’ll be able to tell you the most efficient way of getting to where you need to go – whether that’s by a cab or public transportation.
If you take public transportation, be cognizant of your bags. Thieves (particularly in Europe and South America) are rampant. They’re pros – knowing how to swiftly and strategically pilfer things. Always be aware of where your bag is. If you’re sitting down at a café outside, keep your bag between your legs. Never have it resting on the back of a chair. When on the metro or speed rail, hold the bag in your lap. It’s very easy for people to come up from behind you and sneak into your belongings – especially when there’s a crowded car in the metro.
If you have friends who’ve visited the country you’re traveling to, ask them for any information they may have. It could save you from wasting your time on something rather ordinary – despite how hyped up it may be.
It also makes a ton of sense to talk to the locals. Befriend some natives over a drink, and get the lay of the land. Not only will they give you excellent recommendations on restaurants and attractions, but they will also offer little hole-in-the-wall places you’d otherwise have no idea about. Remember, they know these places better than anyone coming into the country.
Knowing a few conversational words in the native language will go a long way when trying to communicate. An app such as Duolingo will help you bone up on requisite greetings. Most people in western and central Europe do speak English. But it isn’t smart to assume everyone does. People will be nicer, and will go out of their way to help if you at least attempt to speak their native tongue.
Make sure you are aware of your surroundings. If you happen to venture into a somewhat poor neighborhood or area, it would be smart to take off all and any jewelry – as well as hiding any sort of phone or electronic device. As a tourist, the last thing you want to do is to stand out as a tourist. You don’t really want to draw attention to yourself in any situation whilst traveling.
It’s key to keep things in perspective. Realize that things won’t always go as planned. There could be transportation problems, flight delays, horrible food, and unexpected surprises. Being able to manage emotions is the best thing in these sorts of situations.
Above all else, enjoy yourself! Go and explore. Try the native cuisine. Soak up the atmosphere. Do things you normally wouldn’t do.