When at a cooking class in Merida, Mexico, our instructor asked us if we felt any culture shock while in Mexico. We said we didn’t – our only ‘shock’ was a delight in how much we loved it and how nice Mexico City was. However, it got me thinking about how we’ve been so lucky to do a lot of travel abroad that we’re more comfortable with being in foreign settings – especially when thinking back to my initial culture shock when arriving in Thailand – I felt so uncomfortable and overwhelmed I didn’t want to leave the hostel!
A lot of travel advice is country-specific, specific to the type of traveling you’ll be doing (budget backpacking vs luxury vs somewhere in the middle), or specific to how long you’ll be traveling. However, I think there are some tips and hints that apply to most international trips. Check them out here as you prepare for your next trip!
Tips & Hints While Traveling Abroad
Download the Google Translator App on your phone. Then, download the native-language-of-where-you’re-going/English dictionary so that you can use the translator while off-line. You can translate words into English, type in something in English then turn the phone sideways so the translation appears large and easy for someone to see, and use the camera to scan in and translate words. This is very helpful for communicating and navigating as well as menus.
Learn a bit of the native language ahead of your trip as much as you can. If nothing else, be sure to know how to say Hello, Good Bye, Thank You, Bathroom, Please, Yes, and No. The Pimsleur language learning CDs (which you can get from the library) are great. It’s all auditory with a focus on pronunciation and very practical.
Get a guidebook. We use Lonely Planet but there are a lot of options for different types of travel. A guidebook will not only tell you about things in the area, it will give you cultural background, history, and food & language info. I don’t like to carry the huge guidebook with me when I go out for the day, so I will sometimes rip that section out of the book (don’t do this with library books…) or more often take pictures of the pages that focus on the area I’m in. Also look at blogs for travel info/inspiration.
Bring a money belt and power converter (if applicable). A money belt can be worn around your waist, under your shirt, and helps to avoid issues with pickpockets/bag thieves. Relatedly, don’t keep your wallet or phone in your back pocket and it’s not really great in your front pocket either. Pickpockets can make a distraction/get you caught up in a crowd and easily grab your stuff. If using a bag, be sure it’s securely attached to you (not just under your arm).
Bring a credit card that doesn’t have foreign transaction fees. This is something you can check on your existing cards, or get our favorite, the Chase Sapphire. With regard to accessing money/cash, gone are the days of traveler’s checks. We don’t use money exchanges either – who wants to walk around with a bunch of cash and pay exchange fees? For cash, just go to the ATM. Check out what the fees are for your bank, but my Charles Schwab Checking Account reimburses all ATM fees, which has saved us hundreds of dollars. Be sure to notify your financial institutions of your travel so you don’t get cut off; it’s also a good idea to bring a couple of cards so you have a few options to access money.
Make copies of your passport and bank/credit cards. Carry your license and photocopy of your passport with you instead of your actual passport. In addition, scan your important items so you have an electronic copy accessible (we keep ours on Google Drive). I also like to make one master info sheet and have a paper and electronic copy. The master info sheet includes important information like credit card company info, embassy info, travel insurance info, etc.
For all of our travels I have always been against having functioning phones/data. It’s nice not to have a phone and the distraction! However, after getting sim cards for our travels in Mexico and Costa Rica, I recommend to get a sim card for your phone if it’s practical for your trip. It was great to be able to look stuff up while on the go, get directions, and call an Uber. Get the sim card while in the country – it’s a lot cheaper and you can usually get them when you land at the airport.
You don’t have to pack everything. If you forget something or are traveling for a long time and it’s impractical to pack months worth of toiletries, know that they have what you need in other countries. In fact, it’s a fun experience to go shopping for every day items!
Don’t take pictures of people without asking their permission (i.e. in a market). If it’s a performer who is performing for tips, give money if you watch/take pictures. If someone is selling something, buy something from their stand then ask if you can take a picture.
If you go to the supermarket (and I recommend you do), watch other people to see how to handle produce. Some places, you’re not allowed to touch the produce with your bare hands and need to use gloves; some you weigh your own.
At restaurants in a lot of foreign countries, you have to flag down the waiter/waitress when you want something. You also have to ask for the bill (which you can usually do with a hand motion looking like you’re signing something). They don’t come and check in with you every 5 minutes like in the US, and generally nobody is in a rush. When we go to restaurants in other countries, we usually try to observe how other customers order and how they pay (i.e. at the table or up front).
We expect and accept that we will get sick when we travel. Because of this, we pack Pepto Bismol, Immodium, Tums, and Dayquil. We have bought all of those products in foreign countries, but I usually like to bring my own stash to be ready for when it hits.
In many countries, the dates are written day-month-year. So October 15, 2018 is 15/10/18. Depending on the country, time is often written in 24 hour time – so 6:00pm is 18:00. But when speaking, they do the same as here – say 6 at night instead of 18 at night.
Of course, not all of these tips will apply to every trip but hopefully it offers some guidance! What about you, dear readers? Do you have any tips or hints you have learned while traveling abroad that may be helpful for other people?