Traveling internationally for the first time is an exciting time; however, the prep-work beforehand can seem a bit overwhelming. While traveling to 13 countries, I have had my fair share of mishaps. There are many precautions you can take ahead of time that will ensure you are able to rest assured and enjoy your trip as soon as your plane touches the ground.
International Currency Exchange
There are 180 different forms of currency world-wide. This means that if you plan on traveling internationally, there is a good chance you will have to exchange your currency for that of the country you are traveling to. While many businesses will accept credit cards, there will undoubtedly be smaller shops and street vendors that only accept cash.
Airports have a currency exchange located near the exit once you arrive at your destination. I have found that waiting to exchange money until this point can cause added stress when you’re in the rush of getting your luggage and finding your transportation.
Most banks in your hometown can handle this for you in advance. Check your local bank for possible exchange fees. Many banks will do this for free or for a very small fee but it could take up to two weeks…so don’t wait last minute.
As for using your credit cards, the plus side is most credit card companies will protect you against fraudulent charges as opposed to using your debit card while traveling. However, again, plan ahead by informing your credit card carrier of your travel dates and destinations before you leave for your trip. This is important to ensure you can use your card without any issues.
Pro Tip: There are credit cards such as the Chase Sapphire Card that give you huge rewards such as air miles and cash back when you use their credit card during travel. Additionally, you avoid international travel fees and they even give you free travel insurance just for signing up.
Airplane Seat Selection
If you’re like most people, the points on your credit card haven’t quite warranted a first-class ticket just yet.
One way to make sure your long flight is as comfortable as possible is to choose your own seats. Once you have booked your flight and the airline has issued your ticket number, you have the option to go onto their website to look at your seats. Oftentimes, you can change your seat or pay a small amount in order to choose seats that have more legroom.
My favorite seats on long flights are always the emergency exit seats or the very first row of seats behind first class. These seats offer the most legroom.
Pro Tip: If you choose the seats in the back of the plane, it will be easy for you to make friends with the airline attendants. Sometimes, this is just as accommodating as first class.
Understanding Cultural Differences
One of the most important considerations while traveling internationally is to remember that you are also in a different culture. This means that what is normal to you might be offensive or even illegal in other countries.
While it is normal in many Asian cultures to remove your shoes before going into someone’s home or a place of worship, other more extreme variances exist.
I can recall visiting Thailand for the first time. My tour guide told us it is illegal to step on any form of Thai currency. This is because the King’s face is on each paper currency and coin.
A simple Google search will give you almost everything you need to know. Study on culture differences also gives you a newfound appreciation for the country you are about to visit.
Health Advisories and Vaccines
Apart from checking on Visa requirements and ensuring your passport is valid for at least three months past your expected return date home, it is also important to consider your health.
Many countries require or strongly recommend certain vaccines prior to entry. The CDC is a great resource for determining these requirements.
Before we travel, I always make two copies of our passports, Visas, itinerary, hotel and flight information and any other important documents.
I leave one set of copies behind in case someone at home needs them for any unforeseen reason. It is also a good idea that at least one person back home knows where you will be at all times, if possible.
Pro tip: Another suggestion is to email yourself a copy of these so that you have everything in one printable place, should you need it.
Shopping and Taxes
When you make larger purchases internationally, there might be an added tax called a VAT or Value-Added Tax. The store which you are purchasing from will usually tell you this. It is also on your receipts.
Before leaving the country and usually at the airport, you are expected to show these receipts and pay your due VAT tax.
Pro tip: Many more reputable stores that you shop at have the ability to ship your goods home to you. This can save a lot of luggage weight. Some items that I never expected to be ‘shippable,’ such as Italian wine, turned out to arrive home before we did. If you aren’t sure, always ask.
International Cell Phone Plans
If you plan on taking your cell phone with you while you travel, it is important to make sure that you are able to use it. It is easy to set up a temporary international calling plan with your cell phone carrier.
I always call when I set this up and I am vocal when asking if there are any available discounts or anything I should be aware of before I leave.
This ensures that you know how much data and call time you have while you are gone.
Pro tip: When you aren’t using your cell phone, it is best to set your phone to airplane mode. There’s something about being out of your normal cell-phone zone that tends to suck the juice out of your battery quicker.
Ready, Set, Go!
Traveling should be a time where you are able to relax and experience what it is like to be in a country other than the one you live in.
Preparing ahead of time will take some of the unknown out of your trip and give you the best foundation for minimal stress while traveling, especially if it’s for the first time.
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