Although traveling across the world can be such an exciting experience, there are many important things to consider. Understanding major details such as obtaining a passport and/or visa, getting the right flight or hotel accommodations, properly packing your luggage, and adapting to your destination can help make a difference in having a pleasant vacation or a stressful one. Many fist-time travelers, such as myself, often find themselves making big mistakes when they don’t have the right information needed for international travel. After enduring my own share of travel mishaps, I want to share with you a list of do’s and dont’s that can potentially save you from a travel disaster.
Gather your passport, visa or other identification, such as your driver’s license, before planning your vacation and leaving for the airport
To travel out of the country, you will most definitely need a passport to identify who you are and your country of origin. Airlines require a passport for international travel at the time you arrive at check-in and before your flight’s departure. Actually, most countries require your passport upon entry, so it’s important that you keep your passport with you while traveling at all times. Having other government issued IDs such as your driver’s license may be required at check-in as well. In fact, there are certain countries that require travelers to obtain a visa in addition to a passport, so make sure that you gather information about the country you’re visiting to obtain proper documentation. If you’re a U.S. citizen who does not have a passport, you can start the process by filling out an application online at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/passports.html/ or visit your local U.S. Post Office to complete a paper application.
Get well acquainted with your flight information
Before you leave your home for the airport, it’s important that you understand the information on your plane ticket. Your plane ticket is often purchased through certain airline companies, such as Delta Airlines, American Airlines, United Airlines, etc., which often have their own guidelines as to the specific accommodations that are included with your plane ticket (i.e. first-class or economy seating, baggage allowance and fees, check-in times, insurance, etc.). It’s also important to understand the schedule of your flight (such as the departure time, and whether or not there is a layover at another airport) so that you avoid the mistake of missing your flight(s). It’s recommended that travelers arrive at the airport at least two hours early in case of any eventualities (long lines, baggage issues, etc. ) that may delay their time at check-in. Surely, knowing all of these important details ahead time can help you to be fully prepared for travel.
Research the language, laws and social customs of your destination(s)
There’s nothing worse than visiting a foreign country and getting that awkward stare because of the clothing you’re wearing, or your lack of familiarity of the language. It’s important that you research the language, social customs and local laws to avoid making a mistake that can result in uncomfortable situations. When visiting other countries, you may encounter a language barrier, which can hinder the ease of communication between you and the locals. Believe it or not, not all countries speak English, so it’s best to study the country’s official language to help you adapt to the locals’ communication styles.
Social customs, which may include a certain style of clothing, gestures and/or mannerisms are important to consider when traveling to another country. When I recently visited Morocco, I learned that women are often required to wear modest clothing that should cover certain areas of the body, such as shoulders, back and legs. In this case, I would recommend that if you’re a woman traveling to Morocco, make sure that you pack long dresses, jeans, cardigans, scarfs and flats to help you blend in with the country’s cultural expectations. Another social custom I learned in Morocco is that the locals value punctuality but are rarely in a hurry. In other words, you should arrive at appointments, reservations, etc. on time, and be patient and kind to show respect.
Lastly, you should to get to know some of the local laws of your destination. Certain countries may have specific laws that limit what you can and can’t do while visiting. Some things that you would normally do in one country may be considered illegal in another. Make sure that you are following the rules so that you may avoid unwanted fines—or worse, jail time.
To best prepare for your trip, you should pack items that you absolutely need to get through your vacation. Here is a short list of items you should pack in your luggage before traveling:
- Toiletries – Your tooth brush, soap or body wash, sanitary products (women), shampoo, body lotion and sunscreen, etc. are essential items you may want to pack for your vacation— especially for longer or extended vacations.
- Medicine – If you take certain medications, be sure to pack them in your suitcase or carry-on luggage to ensure your health and well-being. Even if you do not take medications, you may want to pack over-the-counter medicines such as Tylenol (for headaches) or Pepto-Bismol and Immodium A-D (for stomach issues or illnesses). (Please note: This is just a suggestion for any potential illnesses during travel. This advice should NOT be used to treat or diagnose any short or long-term illnesses. Please consult with your doctor or health professional before trying any non-prescription products.)
- Clothing – Once again, it’s important to pack clothing that suits your destination. Make sure to pack comfortable clothing by researching the country’s social customs and weather conditions. If you’re going to a country that has very hot and humid weather, dress accordingly. If you’re traveling to a country where the weather often varies from day to day, make sure to pack a variety of clothing styles and jackets for both warmer and cooler temperatures.
- Electrical power adapters – Different countries have specific electrical standards that affect the ways in which your electronics will receive power. If you’re traveling with your laptop, tablet, cell phone charger, or flat/curling irons, be sure to bring the correct adapter that fits the country’s electrical outlets. Using the wrong adapter, or simply plugging your electronics in noncompatible outlets can cause damage to your items, or may cause a fire. If you haven’t yet purchased a universal power adapter, you can visit Amazon.com, or other retailers for more information.
Get information about currency exchange
Oftentimes, the bulk of your vacation involves spending money, whether it’s for food, activities or souvenirs. Like so, many countries require certain currencies in making such transactions. In this case, you must convert your money over to a specific currency, which can be done at a local currency exchange, and through certain banks. Currency exchange companies frequently charge a foreign exchange rate according to the country’s currency market value. For instance, if you’re traveling to Spain from the U.S., you must convert your US dollars over to Euros. According to today’s exchange rates, $1 USD is equivalent to 0.88 €. In Morocco, the currency is in dirhams (DHS); So, for example, $1 USD is equal to approximately 10 DHS. London currency, although in Europe is measured in pounds (GBP), which means $1 USD is equal to about 0.77 GBP. It’s important to know this information so that you can keep track of your money and your spending while on vacation.
Have fun and visit as many attractions as possible
Hopefully, the main purpose of your trip is to get some much needed rest and to have fun! Find as many fun activities to do while visiting other countries. This may include sightseeing and taking photos, visiting museums, trying new restaurants or taking a swim at the beach. Although it may require some planning and preparation, your vacation should consist of happy moments that you will cherish forever.
Overpack your luggage
First-time travelers, like myself, can often get so excited about our first trip that we pack almost our entire world. This is a big mistake. Not only is it a hassle to travel with heavy luggage, it can also cost you a lot of money. Overstuffing you suitcase may result in overage baggage fees, which occurs when your luggage exceeds the weight limit according to the airline’s policy. In my case, my luggage was eight pounds over the weight limit, which cost me about $368 USD. Can someone say ouch?! Had I packed only my essential items, and a limited amount of outfits, I could have avoided such an outrageous expense. Truly, if you can pack almost everything in a carry-on suitcase, you can bypass those baggage fees. With this, it wise to pack your toiletries by the TSA’s 3-3-1 rule, for which you are allowed to bring a quart-sized bag of liquids, aerosols, gels, creams and pastes through checkpoint in 3.4 ounces (maximum) containers per item.
Bring your most valuable items
It’s not uncommon for people to want to wear their finest linen and/or jewelry while on vacation, but at times, bringing your expensive items abroad can attract unwanted attention. Many of the locals of other countries often associate travelers or tourists with money. Depending on the country, there may be a significant socioeconomic difference between you (the traveler) and the people who maybe living through poverty or harsh living conditions. As a result, bringing expensive items, such as designer handbags or diamond and gold jewelry, may cause you to become the next target of theft, robbery, fraud and scams. Certainly, it’s best to keep your most valuable items at home to reduce the chances of those items being stolen—or you being placed in harm’s way.
Carry all of your money in one place
Like stated previously, traveling involves spending money—-perhaps lots of money if you’re a big spender. This ultimately means that you will either be carrying cash/ local currency or credit cards to use for shopping, buying food, gifts etc. One thing people fail to realize is that carrying all of your money in one place can put you at risk of losing it all, at once. Countries like Spain have a major problem with pick-pocketers who can easy steal all of your money without you even noticing it. This will leave you stranded in a foreign country with no money for spending or emergencies. Yikes! Try using different forms of money (cash, global debit card and regular credit card) and place them in different areas of your belongings (purse, suitcase, hidden pockets in your clothing etc.) to keep from losing every bit of your stash.
Eat ‘Street’ Food or drink local water
Even if you’re an adventurous eater, one thing you should reconsider trying is ‘street’ food. That’s no fun right? But here’s the thing—- It’s difficult to determine how the food is being prepared, whether the food is fresh or stored properly to avoid extreme temperatures, or if utensils have been thoroughly cleaned before the food was prepared. You’re putting yourself at risk of contracting food-borne illnesses, which is definitely not a fun way to spend your vacation. You’re better off grabbing a meal from well-known restaurants with a good reputation for delicious, clean food. This also goes for drinking any type of local water. The process of cleaning or filtering the water in one country is oftentimes significantly different than the next. You can become extremely ill (like unfortunately contracting traveler’s diarrhea) if you decide to drink water from a water fountain, faucet, coffee machine, or anything else that does not guarantee clean water. It’s best to keep a bottle of water with you at all times to avoid this mistake.
Travel alone at night
You may be a tough girl or guy, but it’s best not to roam alone, especially at night. Even if you have to run to a local store or walk back to your hotel after dinner, always make sure to travel with someone. If you happen to be vacationing alone, make sure that you take care of all of your adventures or errands before sun down, to avoid running into potentially dangerous situations. Also, let your family or friends know about your whereabouts, the name of your hotel, and even passport information, just in case there’s an emergency and if you’re in need of help.
I hope this list of do’s and don’ts will help travelers become well-equipped for their next international adventure. Getting prepared for your next vacation with gathering the right documents (such as your passport), or packing the right items (such as certain clothing, toiletries, power adapters, etc.) can help alleviate many of the potential problems that may occur while traveling abroad.
Are there any other do’s and dont’s that can be added to this list? Feel free to share your traveling advice in the comments below.