Are you heading to an exotic hot spot for spring break? Maybe diving into a semester studying overseas during the summer? Or perhaps you’re just finally treating yourself to that long-overdue vacation?
Whatever your reason for traveling abroad, getting prepared to hop on a plane or a boat can be a bit of a stressful process. There’s a lot to remember before you even get your foot on a plane, and heading out into a new place with different languages, customs, and cultures can be intimidating (and exciting!). Luckily, we’ve got you covered with some of the best tips for planning your trip so that you can get the most of your experience!
1. Keep a photocopy of your passport on hand at all times.
If you’re going out of the country, a passport is an absolute necessity. To make sure you avoid losing it, it is best to take a photocopy of your passport to keep with you in your wallet or purse while you’re out adventuring, and leave the actual document in a secure location in your room. Any US embassy will be able to use your passport number to identify you if you need assistance. For places that require a photo ID (like a bar), you can continue to rely on your state driver’s license or ID.
And don’t forget: it takes a minimum of four to six weeks to get your passport in the U.S., so plan accordingly!
2. Pack light!
It can be tempting to want to bring your whole world with you when you go overseas, but this really isn’t necessary. Depending on the length of your stay, 3-4 outfits, a couple of pairs of shoes (a comfy pair for walking, and a nicer pair for events), and other miscellaneous necessities such as medication, a camera, and travel documents is all you really need. Liquid goods like shampoo, body wash, etc. are heavy and can cost you in baggage fees; all can be purchased in small amounts once you reach your destination.
That being said, it is always a good idea to keep an extra change of clothes in your carry-on luggage, along with other necessities (meds, a toothbrush, hairbrush, deodorant, what have you) in case your luggage accidentally gets delayed or lost in transit. It’s uncommon, but it does occasionally happen, so it’s best to stay prepared.
3. When possible, pay with cash.
Using a debit or credit card may seem like the easier option when you’re traveling, but if you go anyplace that doesn’t use your home country’s form of currency (ex. the dollar), then you’re going to be hit with conversion fees every time you swipe that card. Conversion charges add up quickly, and the last place you want to be stuck with an empty bank account is in a foreign airport. Withdraw as much cash as you feel comfortable carrying at one time and use that as your primary means of paying while you’re traveling (extra tip: most train stations, airports, and even banks will convert cash to the proper currency if you’re hopping around).
Tourists are also a huge target for credit card theft or fraud in many foreign countries, so relying on cash will help minimize your chance of being a target.
4. Hostels aren’t really all that terrifying.
Don’t let the horror movie hit “Hostel” scare you; real life hostels are usually friendly, clean, well-run establishments that give you housing at a fraction of the cost of staying at a hotel. You can research hostels in the area you’re headed too beforehand with websites like hostelworld.com, which provides booking information, guest reviews, ratings, and detailed listings of the amenities and qualities of each hostel.
If you’re on the extroverted side, you can also try couchsurfing. There is a legitimate couchsurfing network that provides information on people willing to host guests, along with reviews from travelers who have stayed with them. Couchsurfing is normally free (though a host may ask you to chip in for gas) and is a great way to meet new people when you’re on the road.
5. Two words: Discount. Airlines.
Do you want to cram a bunch of different locations into one trip without draining your savings? Discount airlines like Ryanair, EasyJet, and more provide safe and affordable transportation. Sure, you may have to listen to product plugs or advertisements throughout the flight, but booking with a discount airline can literally save you hundreds of dollars, depending on the flight.
If you’re headed to Europe, trains are also a great option. They may take a little longer than a flight, but they’re worth it for the view (and the extra leg room!). There are trains leading to just about any location in Europe and most of the Mediterranean.
6. McDonald’s will always have free wifi.
If you’re in a foreign country and don’t want to rack up outrageous roaming charges on your smartphone’s network, you can always make your way to the nearest golden arches. McDonald’s is pretty much everywhere, and they always have free wifi available for their customers. So if you find yourself lost, need to contact a friend or family member, or have a sudden, urgent need to use Google, then McDonald’s will have you covered. Starbucks is somewhat less common depending upon the country, but they will generally offer free wifi as well.
7. Hang on to business cards.
This seems like an odd tip, but it actually comes in handy more than you might think. Make sure to grab a business card from whatever establishment you’re staying at during your travels; that way, if you get lost, you can easily show the card to locals who can point you in the right direction. A business card will normally have a phone number you can call as well if you need to reach the hotel, etc. directly.
8. Invest in a universal charger adapter.
Not all countries use the same type of outlets to charge or power their electronics. To avoid having to rush to the nearest computer or department store with a dying smartphone, make sure you invest in a universal charger adapter beforehand. They’re generally inexpensive (this one on Amazon is only $7.19) and will make sure that you can stay plugged in no matter where you go.
Going overseas to another country can be a fantastic and life-changing experience. Following this tips will help to make sure that your trip is as low-stress as possible (so that you can have as much fun as possible!). Remember to stay safe, travel in groups when possible, and stay in the moment… the memories are what’s going to last forever, not the souvenirs!