O how unique and exciting it is to arrive in a foreign country! While it’s always thrilling to discover a new country, its people, customs, currency and food, it can also be a stressful, sometimes costly, experience.
Here are 10 tips to help travelers prepare ahead – I might have added a few more, so you can enjoy your trip to the fullest!
Read and research: There’s a plethora of online travel resources these days so there’s no excuse not to be prepared. Check out some of these mainstream sites to get a feel for the place you’ll be visiting, as well as be aware ahead of time of some of the local customs as well as scams.
- Check out the latest news about the country you are about to visit
- The following sites are amazing sources of information:
Visas – Research whether you need to apply for a visa in advance or can one be delivered on arrival. There is usually a fee associated with visa procedures.
Travel Light! We had school-size backpacks during our eleven months of traveling. Having a small backpack helped us to be less conspicuous and we could also keep our bags with us at all times, if necessary.
Inform your Embassy of your travel plans Browse your country’s embassy website. The instructions to inform the Embassy of your upcoming travels should be on the website and note down the embassy’s address in your country of visit.
Travel Insurance and vaccinations Climbing a mountain? Spending the night in a tropical forest? Or riding an ATV in sand dunes? There will be many other fun activities and possible medical threats during your trip. In order to be safe while having the most fun, sign up for travel insurance. Research the internet for travel insurance companies, see what they offer and whether it covers the activities you intend to do or the ones you didn’t-even-know-you-wanted-to-do, like…let’s say…climbing Mount Kinabalu…
Learn a few local words To ease communication with locals, “Hello”, “goodbye” and “thank you” are a must to know! “How much?” is another good one to master, especially since you will be bargaining for e-very-thng.
While in China, we had a “Survival Chinese” handbook with all essential sentences in English, phonetics and traditional Chinese. Since my accent was not very convincing, I could hand the phrasebook to locals.
Local SIM card A local SIM card can come in very handy while traveling abroad. They are usually cheap and mobile Internet may be included. Family and friends have a number to reach you and making reservations for hotels and transportation can sometimes be easier by phone. Make sure your phone is unlocked to accept a foreign SIM. Research the different services available online prior to your trip.
Money and Banking
Check the latest exchange rate and know where to exchange – www.x-rates.com is a good website to use. If arriving very early or late, it may be a good idea to have some local currency beforehand (although rates will generally be less appealing when out of the country). Often times airports provide a poor rate, so you’ll know to exchange little (there are exceptions: Dhaka’s airport offered a good rate so we could exchange a bigger sum). In some cases such as in Vietnam, unofficial traders might offer the best rate. Watch out though: In Myanmar or in Bali, in Kuta and Legian, many currency exchange vendors offer a curiously high rate of exchange – but you could also get scammed. Most often your safest bet remains with national banks or certified agents in the touristy neighborhood.
Check the status of your credit card and fees at local ATMs – while traveling to multiple countries for a certain amount of time, you may find yourself looking for an ATM. You then have to wonder how much you want to take out (you don’t want to end up with too much extra local currency – it can be hard to exchange back to dollars/euros), the fees your bank will charge you per transaction and whether there is a maximum amount per transaction per foreign card. Ask your bank beforehand how much it will charge you, usually a flat fee and a certain percentage of the amount retrieved.
Keep some international currency in case: Dollars are widely accepted, especially to pay for Visas on Arrival , departure fees and sometimes even hotel rooms if you run out of local currency. Bali, Indonesia requests $25 for a visa on arrival, no change provided. Dhaka’s visa on arrival costs $50. Nepal allows you to pay in either Nepali rupees or US Dollars. It costs $25 for two weeks, $40 for thirty days and $100 for ninety days.
Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok has ATMs (after you passed through Immigration or at the arrival area) which allow you to take out your money in Euros, US Dollars or Thai Baht. There is a $500 limit per card per day.
Hotels and Accommodation
If we could find a good deal, we usually booked our hotel room ahead. In most cases, it is possible to find cheaper rates once there, but keep in mind: it can be time and energy consuming to visit different hotels after a long journey in local transportation, and these rooms might offer poor value. But if you are on a tight budget and intend to travel for a while, saving a couple of bucks can go a long way!
Local Transport: Maps and Getting Around
Always a good idea to have a map to visualize the distance between the airport/train station/bus stop. Nowadays, it is as easy as taking a screenshot on your cellphone!
Research the different mode of transportation to your hotel; depending on where you are, there may be free shuttles to take you to your hotel area, public transportation, taxis and research an approximate fare – you don’t want to be taken for a ride around town.
Scams and annoyances
Any scams known, do a quick online research regarding scams
Research the places to visit in this new town if you want to plan ahead, also in case your hotel does not offer WiFi. Some hotels do not offer WiFi so it can always be a good idea to save/write down or take a screen shot of the must-dos of the new city you just arrived in.
Have a local contact, if possible.
Happy and safe travels!