Travel: Traveling Internationally 101
I get a lot of questions from folks on how to travel internationally for the very first time.
|Cheesy selfie at the ruins of the Temple of Zeus in Greece.|
Here are my basic tips, based on those questions.
Make sure you have a passport.
You won't be able to leave the country or get back in without one. Here's a link straight to the government's website that lays it all out for ya!
Who are you going with?
Make sure they have their passport, too...before you even figure out your destination.
And, of course, the money! Determine how much you want to spend for the total trip. Here's a list of not-so-obvious things to consider in the budget.
- how much it will cost you to be away? (i.e. non-vacation days, pet storage, house sitting, and other expenses.)
- the cost of meals and snacks during flights and travel (before arriving at your destination)
- ground transportation from departure city, in arrival city and destination
- petty cash for tips (i.e. for shuttle drivers, cabs, hotel staff, tour guides)
Where to go?
Because there's a whole world to conquer, many people find this part daunting.
For risk takers...
You can have the strategy of random selection...like closing your eyes and picking a spot on the map. And if you take this route, try using airfare search websites, like Skyscanner.com. You can put "everywhere" in the destination box, and it will sort flights according to prices (lowest to highest) to literally "everywhere" in the world. This will start your wheels spinning for your fantastic new adventure.
Using Skyscanner.com is why I ended up in Greece last May. Ticket prices rarely go below $1000 out of the U.S. and I found mine for under $800.
On the safer side...
Select a place that speaks a language that you know or uses your native language regularly. Those are places like the UK, South Africa, the Caribbean. But those are obvious. The Philippines are a good example of a country that has accommodated to its English speaking travelers. Though a Spanish colony, in the main cities like Manila, there are signs in Tagalog, Spanish and English.
Once you've found the place you are going, use the internet to find out as much information as you can about it. Make sure there are no wars or restrictions that may inhibit your tourism experience. Check the U.S. Embassy for any warnings, or sign up for their free service Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP).
The first time I tried to go to Greece, which was 2010, moments before I was about to buy a ticket, a civil war broke out. But four years later, I was able to finally get there!
The U.S. Embassy is also the place to find out if you need a visa for the country you want to enter.
Some countries require you to have a visa, in addition to your passport (which is an additional cost.) And some visas can take up to a month to process...so research and pre-planning is essential.
When should you go?
Your research should also help you narrow down peak and off-peak seasons. Depending on why you are going, traveling during off-peak seasons will save you big bucks all around. For example, if you are going to Italy for tourism of their beautiful historical sites rather than their sexy beaches, then a visit in the fall and winter can save you up to 40% on air and 15% on land.
Also Read: How to avoid the Crowds while Traveling
Also Read: 10 Busiest Days to Travel
CurrencyFor the cash you need while there...
As a general rule of thumb, I have a standard of carrying $100 cash for most trips. There are other factors to consider, though - the length of your stay and the value of the American dollar in that country.
For example, on a trip to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, I grossly underestimated how expensive the city was.
Americans get only 33 cents to one Brazilian Real! So upon arrival, I had $200 cash for a five day trip- which I nearly spent on the very first day! I then had to borrow cash from a friend, because I couldn't withdraw cash from my credit card or debit card from any ATM or at one of their banks.
**Which brings up another point- don't take for granted that you can just use your credit card anywhere and everywhere. Remember other countries are just that - sovereign and independent, and they also have their own currency and banking system that doesn't consider our American dollar at all. There ultimately is a way to get cash - via wire transfer or FedEx- but that is extremely expensive and could blow your budget big time.
|Though this pose looks like I'm ballin', this is about $100 worth of Jamaican cash.|
Currency exchangeYou should expect that you will have to pay a rate to exchange your currency. But with preparation, you can find the best exchange rate.
I have found that credit unions often offer the lowest, some even no-rate, currency exchanges. If you have AAA membership, they can order currency for you if you do it at least a week in advance of your departure.
The kiosks at the airport, are a bit pricey, but are also an option to have cash before you head into the foreign land. And, most tourist hotels can also do it.
If you have run out of cash, try your card at an ATM - if it does work, then it will offer a better rate than at the hotel. Keep in mind, you will likely be charged "non-network" fees. But it will be better than going into a foreign bank in person - which will likely charge additional "in-person" transaction fees...if they agree to process the exchange.
Once you are out of the country, though you may need more than the hundred bucks, you are at the mercy of places like the hotels which have ridiculous exchange rates. Research will be your best advantage on how to manage your money.
The cash you carry is for "petty" stuff, like tipping and cabs. Carrying only the necessary amount for your international travels will also make you feel more secure - safer in the worst case scenarios, like losing your wallet.
Otherwise, I expense the rest of the trip on my credit card. (If you have a credit card that gives you reward points, that's even better. Of course, paying it off immediately when I return home.)
Before you carry your card overseas, make sure to research the international conversion fees your card will charge you. Some are extremely more favorable for the consumer than others. And the cards that charge a huge exchange rate, feel like they are literally gouging you - taking advantage of your overseas situation!
But, expensing your trip on your card is:
1) a good way to keep track of the total costs.
2) a great way to protect your funds while traveling...in case of those worst case scenarios, again.
3) gain reward points
Some credit cards have chips in it, which is great for traveling abroad. Most card issuers will send you one with a chip if you ask them.
Also Read: Keeping Cards and Cash Safe as you Travel
Where to stay
For your first time...
There is something for every budget. There are also options for every experience level of travelers. The simplest option, especially if you are just getting your feet wet with international travel, is to try the all-inclusive resort experience. It will be pretty straight forward, and is set up for the tourist. You’ll pay in advance for your meal and some activities on the resort, and be given a wristband in exchange. That is your ticket to roam the property and take advantage of all of the amenities. There will also be people on site to aid you in picking your off-campus excursions; and the tour companies make it ever so convenient by picking you up and dropping you off at your resort.
I've told you about Airbnb and UniveristyRooms.com, and everything I've heard and have experienced has been positive. You can try these options to save more bucks on your room, (like up to 75% more), which means that leaves more money for your spending cash.
Try Couchsurfing and hostels...if you dare. (Not my cup of tea, though.) But this Huffington Post article makes a case for extreme-budget traveling.
When I first started traveling, you had to do the whole "buy a sim card at your destination, and switch out with your American mobile SIM card" to stay connected via cellphone while over seas. You did that to get the best rate. It also gave you a local number. So the logistics of that weren't necessarily great for those calling you from your home country, either.
Depending on your situation now, like you're doing an extended work-stay in Europe, it still may be more cost effective. But, you'd have to make a really good case to me.
My current plan with T-Mobile, automatically is a world phone. The rates are just cents if I call internationally.
|To my pleasant surprise, my phone service/phone greeted me with these messages every time I touched down in a new land.|
Also Read: How to Use Your Phone Abroad...for Cheap
But, one failsafe way is to rely on the internet. It's also, mostly free.
If you carry a smartphone take advantage of it's wifi, and most plans allow free calls that way. Also, whatever gadget (iPhone, smartphone, iPad, tablet), download your favorite chat app (i.e. Tango, Google Chat/Hangout, Skype), and catch up with your peeps at home at coffee shops, hotel lobbies and libraries (anywhere you can find wifi.)
Also Read: Find Free WifiAlso Read: How to Get Free Wifi Everywhere
What to doStart your exploration with tours. I really love them. Tours are a great way to get off the resort or out of the hotel and journey through the town in a well-planned and safe way. You can take a tour for almost any interest - food, history, adventure. It's also an easy way to meet people, which can be comforting for solo travelers.
Once you take your first tour, then you may feel confident enough to break away from the pack to journey off with more specific interests you may have. You can check with your hotel concierge or the town's visitor's center for ideas of places that you can explore that are beyond the brochures. Paying attention to any safety precautions, I always like to take a walk around the block that I am staying in and even map out a trip to the market using public transportation. This is a way to feel comfortable with your surroundings.
Planning for the worst case scenario will ultimately give you the most peace of mind. So before you go on your trip, take photos of your passport, I.D., medical cards, travel itinerary, contacts and email them to yourself (and a couple of friends back home.) So if the worst happens, you can use any computer from anywhere to retrieve what you need. Also, your friends and family at home can alert authorities on your behalf with your information, if necessary.
Carrying only the essential amount of cash will also make you feel more secure. Other than the petty cash you need for on-the-spot services, try to expense the bulk of the trip on a credit card. And if you have a credit card that also gives you reward points that's even better.
Plus, expensing your trip on a credit card is a good way to keep track of the total costs, and a great way to protect your funds while traveling. See if your credit card provider offers a card with embedded chip-and-PIN technology, which minimizes the chances of your card being rejected and helps protect it from fraud.There are certain trips where travel insurance actually does make sense. This is something you should add to your research. Things to consider are if you have any possibility that you won’t make the trip (i.e. injury prone, pre-existing medical conditions, family member care) and if you are traveling to a hurricane prone area. Some insurances also cover lost baggage and missed flights.
Finally, when traveling, don't lose sight of your card. It's only an American custom to allow the waiter to take the cards out of our view to pay the tab. Make sure when you travel that you handle transactions where you always can see card.
Check out my other published versions of this article on
U.S. News & World Report
The Huffington Post