If you’ve known me or Deb for more than a few minutes, you know we love traveling internationally.  I’ve actually been home for a few weeks now so I’m enjoying the Colorado life and getting out on my motorcycle, rollerblades, and hiking trails – we hope you’re having a good summer wherever you are. But speaking of international trips, Deb is heading to East Africa next month, and Debi is traveling back to the Caribbean in the fall.  Here are a few travel tips that clients have found helpful, especially for first trips abroad.  And contact us to talk about your first – or next – international travel plans!

#1: Pack the Correct Travel Power Adapter

This is an easy one – just google what you need for the country you are visiting.  I’ve had several cheap ones break mid-trip, so don’t pick the cheapest option out there.  And maybe buy two adapters.

#2: Check the Voltage

Just as it is a mistake to try to plug an American plug into a foreign electrical socket, it is also a mistake to not check the voltage level of the country you are staying in. In the U.S., most electronics and appliances typically run on 110 volts. In Europe, though, the voltage is much higher. The best way to avoid blowing up your appliances with all that extra electricity is to buy dual-voltage appliances for your trip. They usually cost the same amount but they will work in either type of socket. If you don’t want to buy all-new devices, you could invest in a power converter, which will decrease the voltage coming into your appliance. Keep in mind that your phone and computer should be fine, but check the voltage before plugging them in, just in case.

#3: Secure Your Passport

Depending on my destination and the time of year, I have several options to carry my passport: a scarf that doubles as a light blanket on the plane, a dedicated passport holder, an “under the shirt” money belt, and a purse or backpack with thick straps. Regardless of where I keep it to quickly access it to get on the plane, I always put it back in the exact same place in my carry-on bag so I never have to hunt for it or worry that I left it on the plane.

It’s a given that you will need your passport at the airport to get through security, but you may also need it when riding trains or if you get into some trouble abroad. It is the most important form of identification you have while you are traveling, so be sure to keep it in a place where you can easily get to it. If you are a light traveler or are worried about it falling out of your pocket or purse, you can easily find fanny packs, crossbody bags, and even special scarves for securely storing your passport.

Some countries require that you submit your passport when you check-in to your hotel and they return it at check-out.  Don’t be alarmed by this – they keep the passports safe.  You should always keep a color photocopy of your passport on you and in your suitcase.

For passports with a few stamps in them, make sure you have at least six months left on your passport before it expires, and that there are no torn pages or damage to the cover.  Some countries will reject your passport if it shows water damage or aging.

#4: Learn a Few Key Phrases in the Local Language

When traveling to a foreign country, you should learn how to ask for directions, how to say hello and goodbye, and how to say please and thank you. Even if you don’t say these things with the proper accent, you will most likely be understood, and the locals will be happy that you made the effort, making them more likely to help you.  Get familiar with using an app like Google Translate – it can make ordering the right food at dinner so much easier!

If you have an allergy, make small cards with your allergy listed in the local language.  You can give this to waiters to make sure you don’t accidentally get something you can’t eat.

We relied heavily on Google Translate for this dinner in Colombia which included lots of dramatic dry ice pours and ants on cigarettes at the end. We did not smoke the cigarettes! But I don’t know that we have ever laughed so hard and been so amazed and confused at a restaurant. The food was so delicious and this is one of our favorite memories.

#5: Call Your Cellphone Carrier Before You Travel

Ask them what your best option is to use your cell phone while traveling.  You will likely have a maximum daily allowance for data so if you can download maps and itineraries in advance that will help. 

#6: Plan How You Will Get the Correct Currency

Deb likes to get money at an airport ATM when she arrives at her destination, and Debi likes to get some cash at a bank in the states before departing.  Either way is fine – just understand your bank’s fees to exchange currency here in the US and to get cash abroad so you aren’t surprised later. Then split your cash up between your wallet, a purse, a fanny pack, suitcase, safe, etc so that if you are pickpocketed they won’t get your whole stash.  Also, call your credit card company to let them know you are traveling and to approve purchases.  While you are at it, store that phone number in your phone so if you do lose a credit card you can quickly call the company to put a hold on it.

#7: Think Safety First

The most important thing to think about during a trip to a new place is your safety. This can range from getting the proper locks for your luggage so that your things don’t get lost or stolen in transit to having maps and a usable phone so that you don’t get lost in a strange city. You should also avoid going into dark or deserted places alone, and never go anywhere alone with someone you have never met. It is also a good idea to learn the phone numbers of the local police and other emergency services, just in case. (911 is not a universal number in emergencies.)  Most people are nice, but you should still use your common sense so that your first trip doesn’t turn into something you later regret.

#8: Have Fun and Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff

Remember that part of the fun of traveling is getting out of your comfort zone.  This means that you will probably make some mistakes along the way.  Try to laugh at them and learn from them, and then go on with your vacation.  You may get on the wrong train, or greet everyone in Spanish with “good air” rather than “good day” despite practicing it multiple times, or leave your phone in a taxi in Paris and watch it be driven around the city for a day before the driver mailed it to your home, or destroy your nebulizer because the voltage is higher in Germany and you need to go buy another one from a pharmacy that doesn’t speak English.  (Um, yes, this has all happened to Debi.)  It all becomes part of the legacy of a trip worth taking.

With some forethought and planning, we went to Europe twice for ten days with just this carry-on luggage. It made traveling so much easier!