Traveling to strange locations and being in places you know nothing about can be very exciting. I have some memories I’m very fond of that include running early in the morning beside the Danube river in Budapest, enjoying a juicy steak with late night drinks in Uruguay, and checking out the temples of Angkor Wat.
In some cases, when traveling on business I was only able to see the things that were visible from the window of my hotel room because there just wasn’t any time left in between meetings and other business activities.
For every type of trip, there are proven steps that can be taken to make the journey better. Here are some my top tips when traveling abroad.
One of the very first things you should do when checking into your hotel is to get one of their business cards. Having it means that if you ever get lost you will have the address and the phone number of the hotel with you at all times. Whether or not people in the areas speak your language you’ll be able to show them and taxi drivers the card and they will better be able to help you.
Although the US will allow you to travel on your passport right up to its expiration date, this is not true in all countries. Many will deny entry if you have an expiration date that is less than 6 months. According to immigrationsolutions.sg they do this on the off chance that you get stuck in that country longer than you planned and the 6-month rule helps make sure that your passport is valid during the entire stay. A good rule of thumb is to renew it no later than 9 months before its expiration.
It is common to find that you’ll get the best exchange rates when using a credit card. It is necessary, however, to make sure that your card doesn’t add-on a transaction fee for foreign purchases as these can sometimes be as much as 3%. The Platinum American Express and the Chase Sapphire Preferred card are a couple of examples of credit cards that don’t have this ridiculous fee. It’s also recommended that you don’t have the hotel or a restaurant change the local money to US dollars first because it’s almost always a bad deal.
In the US it’s extremely common to get cash from the ATM but when abroad or anytime you’re out of your bank’s network you can accumulate fees every time you use an ATM. At airports, the ATM will be within the bank’s network but using it to take a large amount of cash is never recommended when traveling. Many also find that when they have a lot of cash that they convert into local currency that they end up with too much foreign currency when their trip is over. Fidelity and Charles Schwab have checking accounts that have no requirements for a minimum balance and they reimburse you for any ATM fees you’re charged even when abroad.
If your credit card company is unaware that you will be traveling internationally, then any use of your credit card while doing so could trigger a fraud alert. To prevent this you should contact your credit card companies and let them know where you’ll be traveling and on what dates. You should also remember to inform them of countries where you’re changing flights as you may have need for using your card there as well.
Many credit cards in Europe will commonly have a chip rather than magnetic strips like are used in the US. Many places abroad can still swipe your credit card using the strip but there are some places that are not able to. The chip is much more secure but America has not yet taken to having these types of credit cards. You will find that some gas stations, ticket machines for trains, and other machines that allow you to make purchases without the help of a person will often reject US-based cards because it can’t recognize the strip. Currently, it’s still difficult to get this type of card in the US but some cards are coming out with a system that can work.
It’s smart to check government warnings when traveling to make sure there are no alerts in areas you’ll be going to. You may also want to print out information on the address and contact number of the local Embassy.
Image by U.S. Embassy Pakistan via Flickr
As a precaution, you should usually carry things such as earplugs and eye mask in case your hotel room is not as convenient for sleeping as you would like. You might also want to take over the counter pain medications such as Advil and other medicine like Tums as these brands of medicine are not always available in other countries. Many countries you will travel to will certainly have drug stores and they might have something similar but if for example it’s late at night and you’re in Germany it might be difficult trying to get the pharmacist to understand you have diarrhea and that can all be avoided simply by carrying some of these basic over the counter medications with you.
Anytime you’re wanting to travel abroad on a budget you should strongly consider looking at Airlines owned by overseas companies. When searching for ticket prices you’ll want to use the foreign-based website as sometimes the US-based website will show a considerably higher price. When I was booking a flight from the southern region of Italy to the northern region on Alitalia I found that the US site was charging double. I couldn’t read Italian but Google Chrome was able to translate it well enough that I could understand the Italian based website and was able to enjoy the savings.
Always remember to set your cell phone so that you avoid data roaming internationally. If you’re a business traveler who travels often you may well have an international calling plan and data plan. But those who travel less frequently usually will not. Transmitting data overseas is usually the largest cost. I have experienced situations where I’m in an area but the information was being transmitted from a tower in another country and when I received the alert I needed to shut everything down until I was in a different area.
If you’re one of those who is always using Google Maps to get everywhere, you need to be aware that if you don’t have a data plan for overseas that it could really rack up charges. Instead, try to use the hotel provided Wi-Fi and pre-plan your routes for getting around for that day. If you take a screenshot of the map you can look at that and use your zoom in feature to help you follow the directions. Even if it’s not ideal it’s a solid workaround.
One way I accomplished this was by figuring out how much I need on the last night and then I put all the rest of the foreign currency I have aside. When I check out of the hotel I apply all the excess local currency to my current bill and only then pay the remaining amount with a credit card that does not charge me a fee for foreign transactions.