By Annie Lindgren
Have you dreamt of traveling to other countries, but don’t know where to start in planning? As I prepare to spend the month of March ‘down under’ in Australia and New Zealand, I will share with you some tips, resources, and a checklist of things to consider, for successful travel to other countries.
Booking the trip. There are many great organizations and websites offering deals on flights and travel packages. I receive their emails, and when I find an incredible deal to a place I have been wanting to visit, I book it. I spent a week in Ireland in November, and only paid $699 for the flight, six nights of hotels, and a rental car. Affordable travel is within reach, and mid-week flights are cheaper than weekend flights. Travelzoo, Great Value Vacations, and Orbitz are among my favorites.
Be Prepared for the flight. Show up to the airport two hours in advance to make it through security and customs, and do your research on what you can and cannot take on the plane. Have all your care items in travel-sized containers, 3.4 oz or smaller, and make sure that any liquid containing items fit inside a quart-sized bag. Neck pillows are life-savers for long flights.
Medications and Immunizations. Bring all the medications you will need for the trip, with prescriptions, either labeled on the bottle or present if you are using a pill organizer. Over the counter medications don’t need prescriptions, but should be labeled. Check the local health department to find out if you need any special immunizations for where you are traveling, and bring your immunization records, just in case. I bring a first aid kit and an assortment of medications that I may need if trouble arises.
Lodging and Transportation. Lodging accommodations come in a variety of forms, based on budget and comfort needs. It’s often included in trip packages, which is nice when traveling to a country for the first time. Booking in advance is helpful if you know for sure where you are staying. If you don’t know, then become familiar with lodging options in the areas you plan to visit. Rental cars are easy to find at airports or in cities. Many apps that you book flights with will also offer deals on car rentals and lodging, and airports will have information on public transportation options.
Packing. Research the weather where you are visiting, and plan your clothing and accessories accordingly. Short trips can be easy, but longer trips require clothes washing. Layers and easy to wash (and hang dry) clothes are best, with a few mix-and-matchable options in each layer. Travel laundry soap, travel clotheslines, and a sink drain cover make laundering easier.
Maps and Itinerary. Picking up a travel book about the area can teach you about the local culture and environment, as well as offer recommendations on where to eat and what to visit. Organized trips may do the planning for you, but if not, bring maps and do your research. You can’t always rely on your phone to pull up a map. I never plan my entire trip out, rather just a general plan with flexibility for visiting with locals and getting their recommendations on the best places to go.
Money. Each country has its own currency, so get familiar with how much an American dollar is worth compared to the country you are visiting. Bring a debit card for getting cash, or pick some up at a bank before departing. Many credit cards charge a conversion charge rate (an extra charge every time you use it) in other countries, so consider getting a card that doesn’t charge this, if you don’t have one. REI, Amazon, and many business cards do not charge this rate. Make sure to let your credit card companies know when you will be using your card in other countries.
Connect-ability. Let your cell phone company know what country you are visiting, and inquire about plan upgrades and connectivity options. Expect to not have as good of service, or be as reachable via text. I often wait until I am connected to wi-fi to communicate with folks back home. Some people get phones or sim cards once they arrive in the country, to use for the duration of their trip. Wi-Fi can be found almost anywhere but comes with a cost in more primitive places. Many hotels and restaurants offer it to customers for free. You likely need a power outlet adapter to charge devices.
Travel Insurance is a valuable protection for a low cost. It will protect everything from the money you spent on your tickets and vacation package, your belongings, a medical emergency, and unexpected changes in the plan due to situations beyond your control.
Visas. Many countries require travel visas, that can be applied for online before your trip. More primitive countries will have you apply for a visa at the airport when you land. Visas are often included in trip packages. Each country has a travel information website that you can review to learn about everything you need to know when traveling to that country, including safety concerns, special restrictions, and visa requirements.
Food and Customs. Learn about the food and cultural norms. If you have dietary restrictions or allergies, you may need to bring some food with you. I am a dairy-free vegetarian, so always carry nondairy creamer and an assortment of protein-rich snacks and bars. Customs is important as well if you don’t want to come across offensive, run into trouble, or get made fun of by the locals. A custom in Nepal was keeping shoulders and legs covered, and while it meant not packing some favorite outfits, I found myself more comfortable being properly dressed.
There is much to enjoy about traveling to other countries, and a never-ending bucket list of places to visit. Whether you are traveling with a group of friends, traveling solo, or have joined an organized tour, all are rewarding and life-changing experiences.