Traveler's Tongue becoming a world traveler - One of the simultaneously most challenging and...

Becoming a world traveler

Do you want to be a world traveler?

One of the simultaneously most challenging and rewarding activities you can engage in is to leave the comfort of the familiar and get out and see the rest of the world. Enjoying exotic cuisine and stumbling through bilingual conversations are just a small part of an experience that can build memories to last the rest of your life, experiences that can range from pure fun to life altering.

While international travel poses many challenges, you can meet these and enjoy an overall enriching experience through following some simple guidelines. These tips apply no matter what approach you take towards international travel, whether a well-planned itinerary or a moment to moment adventurous approach. Even with this minimal amount of planning, your trip can be adventurous and fun, while still remaining safe.

General tips for international travel

  • Get a passport and keep it up to date. When traveling abroad, your passport is vital for identification. Since countries all have different means of identification, your passport serves as a kind of international standard. Be sure to sign it and include emergency contact information.
  • Determine if your destination requires a visa or other additional paperwork and apply early enough to ensure it’s available before you go. Some countries require travel visas in addition to passports, and since these can take longer to process, you want to make sure you get it done in advance.
  • Enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program through the State Department. You can find more information about this free service at This program allows the State Department to contact you in case of an emergency either at home or in the country you are visiting. You should also locate the nearest US consulate or embassy in each area you plan to travel in and contact it when you get there in case you find yourself in an emergency situation.
  • Determine what overseas health coverage your insurance provides and consider purchasing supplemental or travelers insurance. The extra charges can save you money down the road if you find yourself in a situation where it’s necessary.
  • Research the country you are traveling to and familiarize yourself with its recent history. I had a friend who, while traveling in Greece, found herself in the middle of a riot after a visit from President Clinton, a sign of frustration that many Greeks had with the US policy of giving aid to Turkey. From our perspective here in the US, it’s not always evident what other people think about us. A little research allows you to navigate potentially dangerous situations more safely.
  • Familiarize yourself with the local laws and culture of your destination. Like becoming familiar with the country’s recent history, gathering knowledge about the customs in another country can help you avoid snafus and help you to avoid feeling uncomfortable if someone crosses your own cultural boundaries. For instance, people from the US require much more physical space from each other than people from Latin American countries. If you understand this fact, you may feel less threatened when someone stands “too close” to you. As for the local laws, ignorance of these can be downright disastrous. Remember that as a guest in another country, your behavior might be the only experience they have of Americans, so be respectful.
  • Leave a copy of your passport, visa, and travel itinerary with a trusted friend or relative. If something were to happen to you, having a loved one who knows where you are supposed to be at any given time could be the difference between life and death. For example, if you were out hiking and got injured outside one city and never showed up to the next city on your itinerary, people would have a head start on finding you and helping you with these details readily available.
  • Carry additional copies of your passport, visa, and other paperwork, and leave these in safe keeping at the front desk where you are staying or in the lockbox that many hotel rooms provide. In case you lose your passport, this provides you with a backup. That means less time you have to spend covering the loss and more time you can spend doing what you enjoy.

  • Contact your cell phone provider before you leave the US to determine what international capabilities your cellular service provides. This can save you a lot of money on unnecessary roaming charges. For instance, many cell phone companies charge you for roaming for doing something as simple as checking your voicemail, but companies can also provide a way to avoid these charges. In addition, be sure and download any smart phone applications you might want to use before you leave to avoid costly data charges.
  • If you bring any electrical devices with you, make sure that your chargers and plugs are compatible with the electrical requirements in the countries you are visiting. This not only applies to laptops and other electronic devices, but hairdryers and electric shavers as well. You also want to make sure that these devices use the correct voltage. Even with the correct adapters and plugs, if the voltage is wrong, your device won’t work.
  • Invest in a guidebook. Even if you prefer to take a spontaneous approach to travel, having a good guidebook can be invaluable for finding not only good places to sightsee, but information about restaurants, hotels, even campgrounds. Two publishers that produce excellent guidebooks are Fodor’s and Lonely Planet.
  • Research any events that might take place in the country where you are traveling and purchase tickets in advance. Imagine learning your favorite entertainer is performing in the country you’ve visited but it’s sold out. Getting your ticket in advance avoids this, and you can also avoid having to spend valuable time waiting in line.
  • Learn the language. While no one expects fluency, people from other countries typically love it when you at least attempt to speak their language. Familiarity with a few phrases and words can help you in a pinch. Our line of Traveler’s Tongue language cards can help you begin to learn a “survival” level of fluency. Remember, two of the most important things to learn in any language are please and thank you.
  • Manage your money in advance. Check that your credit cards are compatible with the country you are visiting and contact your credit card company to let them know that you will be leaving the country. This also applies to using your bank debit card at overseas ATMs. This helps you avoid having a hold put on your card because the credit card company suspects fraud. Also research conversion rates. You can frequently get a better exchange by changing your money in the US to the local currency where you will be traveling. Generally, credit card/ATM fees (including international exchange charges) will cost about 2% of the total transaction price, but this is a small price to pay for convenience and safety. Keep in mind that you can often get better exchanges using a local branch of your bank or ATM then you will find in airports. Be sure and have some of the local currency on hand in case you have problems with your plastic money.
  • Determine if the country you are visiting charges entrance and exit fees. This can be a surprise expense that you’re not prepared for if you haven’t done the research first.
  • Avoid making yourself a target for criminals. Although it’s advisable to carry some cash on you, don’t carry too much. Also, wearing expensive jewelry can entice criminal behavior. One helpful item to have is a money belt. It fits inside your pants, making it nearly impossible for pickpockets to make you a victim. A friend of mine, while traveling in Spain, was approached by a group of children who distracted her by begging for money while one of them cut the straps off her camera case and made off with it. Unfortunately, she had her passport and all of her money in the camera case. Keep your valuables close and be aware of your surroundings.
  • Check the climate for the time of year in the country you plan to visit. In some countries, April is a warm month, whereas in others, it still snows. Make sure you have the appropriate clothing you will need.
  • Research your transportation options in advance. Many cities have excellent public transportation that can keep your transportation needs inexpensive. If you are planning to travel to different cities within a country or different countries altogether, you might want to invest in a train pass. If you rent a vehicle, familiarize yourself with the local traffic laws, especially the traffic signs, which are often unique to the region.
  • Pack extra snacks for both the plane trip and for when you are in the other country. This can help you avoid having to make expensive purchases at an airport if you end up in a long delay, as well as provide you with alternatives if you find the local cuisine does not agree with you.
  • Pack a change of clothing in your carry-on luggage. If your luggage gets lost or you need to change clothes for whatever reason, you’ll be glad you packed that extra set of clothes. Also, if you have prescribed medications, pack these in your carry-on luggage as well. Make sure you include the original bottles, or have a copy of your prescriptions, to avoid any question of transporting “illicit” drugs.
  • Avoid traveling alone. Not only is this safer, but it’s more fun to have someone to share your experiences with.
  • Make sure your plane travel needs are addressed in advance. International travel usually involves long plane trips. For example, if you have longer legs, being cramped in a window seat for fourteen hours can become quite hellish. Requesting an aisle seat can avoid such problems.
  • Avoid jet lag by adjusting your schedule in advance of your trip. If you’re exhausted from the moment you land in a new country, your enjoyment of this experience will be tempered. Preparing in advance can help you feel refreshed and ready to see this new part of the world you’re exploring.

Remember, with some modest planning, your international adventure can be an enjoyable and safe experience.