If you don't do these things before traveling internationally, you're screwed.
First, no need to worry.
Yes, the main title is pretty extra, I'll admit. So I do apologize for bringing you here under such dramatic pretenses, but I ask you to please keep reading. Who knows, maybe there are some things I mention that you haven't thought about before!
Now, I will try and keep everything as holistic as possible. I don't want my words to be under such a biased and U.S.--strong subtext. Nothing wrong with being from the United States, but I just want to consider any fellow non-U.S.A. people who may read this. I will do my absolute best to be as universal as possible, without hopefully being too obnoxious and think I am the most cultured person on the planet. (Although it may seem that way).
But without further or due, let's get started!
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Triple check travel time, day, month and year before purchasing a ticket.
This actually just happened to me. Rookie mistake, I know. But pay close attention to the time of day you travel (morning, afternoon, or evening), the day and month you travel (August 3rd? September 3rd?), and even the YEAR you travel (2017, 2018, etc.).
Basically, I wanted to purchase a ticket to Scandinavia for July 7th, 2017. The ticket price was great (I got a student discount), and the travel times were great (Only a 2 hour layover in Paris!). What I failed to realize was that the reason the price was so good was because it was for August 7th, 2017.
But of course, I didn't know that was the case until I tried checking in the day before. Oops.
Check the validity of your passport.
Usually a passport must be valid for 6 months after you come back from your travels. Check this before you schedule ANY [international] flight.
Don't be me and have to expedite your passport because you realized you needed to renew it a month before you're supposed to fly. It'll save you stress and extra money.
If you need a visa, give yourself enough time to get everything you need for the visa.
I was pressed for time before flying and staying in Belgium for five months. When I walked into the Belgian Consulate in Manhattan, I ended up not having all the necessary paperwork and documents with me. So what ended up happening was that I had to scramble and get every single thing I needed and submit it all (and still get my visa approved!) just days before I had to leave. Thankfully my parents helped me out with this one, but still, it was very stressful.
It's bad to not have everything you need for your visa the first time (saves the embarrassment).
It's even worse if you have just days left before your departure.
Figure out if you need a visa.
There are different visa requirements depending on your country of residence. If your stay is under 90 days, make sure you don't need a visa for that duration. If it's more than 90 days, you are most likely going to need a visa.
Also, figure out which type of visa you need. If you're unsure, research the consulate/embassy website for the place you plan to visit. If you're still unsure about which visa you might need, call!
Since I hold a U.S. passport, I don't need a visa to Sweden since my stay is less than 90 days. HOWEVER, I am going to be volunteering over there; I was unsure if I still needed some type of work visa, even though my stay is not long, nor paid. So I called the consulate in Washington D.C. to make sure. After lots of waiting, I was told I didn't need any visa. Whew!
You see, it's better to do this than feel uneasy about possibly being in trouble with the country somehow. Just make some calls, and do your research.
Notify your bank, phone company, and local police.
I don't need to explain why you need to let your bank/credit card and phone company know of your travels. Just do it.
Extra note: It's better to exchange money at the bank than at the airport. Avoid it if you can.
Okay, so, you may be thinking that it's weird to contact the local police. Perhaps it's just a thing my parents do, but, it may be of use to know, anyway. If you notify them that you will be away from home from when to when and for x number of days, then they will know and provide services if god forbid anything beyond your control happens while you're away.
Determine how much time you need to travel to the airport.
You want to have an idea on time estimates. Google Maps is your friend! Whatever your mode of travel is, sometime before the day of your trip, check to see how long it will take for you to get to the airport. Google Maps can provide you walking estimates, car estimates, train estimates, etc.
So pick a time you want to reach the airport by (preferably 2 hours or more before boarding time, given security and if you decide to check in the airport and not online), then include travel time plus extra minutes for traffic, delays, etc.
It's always better to get to the airport super early than super late. What's an extra hour or two at the airport compared to the possibility of losing all that money you spent on tickets?
Have some sort of itinerary.
Spontaneity is cool at times, but it's still a good to have an idea of what you will be doing on what day. You don't want to figure out what you want to do once you get there, because time will fly right before your eyes.
Understand these few things.
This topic is like learning a language in itself, but it still needs to be addressed.
- To those from Liberia, Myanmar (Burma) and the United States: Most of the world uses the metric system. I don't expect you to be great at converting but don't assume that someone in any other country is going to really understand when you talk to them in miles or in feet and inches.
- To those NOT from Liberia, Myanmar (Burma) and the United States: Similar thing as before. Except understand that people in these places did not grow up using kilometers or grams as a standard unit of measurement. I know it may be confusing for you, but please be respectful about it.
- To all of those from the Bahamas, Belize, the Cayman Islands, Palau and the United States and associated territories (plus UK? Canada?): In terms of temperature, the rest of the world uses Celsius. Try to learn it. Not only will it be easier for you to dress for the weather, but..people will appreciate you more for it.
- To all of those NOT from the Bahamas, Belize, the Cayman Islands, Palau and the United States and associated territories (plus UK? Canada?):
In terms of temperature, please don't be obnoxious and complain about the other places using Fahrenheit. It's literally not their fault the metric system temperature thing didn't catch on. So instead, be understanding and maybe you try to learn Fahrenheit.
- Lastly, be aware that the 24 hour clock is more dominant than the 12 hour clock. But also be aware that many people use the 12 hour clock to tell time. Don't ruin each others' fun, ok?
(In case it wasn't obvious, I tried to be very equal and rational about this specific topic. Please don't take my words as an attack.Thank you.)
Learn some of the language.
I can't stress this enough. Seriously, at least try to learn the basics. People I have met were appreciative of my lame attempts at speaking Hungarian and Dutch and so forth. So even if the locals prefer to speak to you in [I'll go on a limb and assume] English, learning a little of the language can still help you with reading signs and maps and food labels and such.
I know people travel spontaneously, or for business, so they're not given weeks to practice a language. I get that. But give yourself a crash course on Duolingo or Memrise or something. Of course you won't be fluent--and that's okay since it's not expected--but a little goes a long way.
But be aware that if you need to communicate with someone in a country like Denmark, it's much preferred to just speak English. Honestly, Denmark is the only exception I can think of right now to the "try and learn the language" speech. A simple "tack" and you're good to go. Still try to learn bit of Danish to read signs, though, it'll be helpful. But hey, if you decide to study to be fluent in Danish, thats great!
Make a packing checklist.
That is different from this pre-departure checklist. The packing checklist entails what stuff you'd like to carry in your bag(s), the number of bags you will/should bring, and so forth.
Writing a packing list is annoying, yeah, but it can help you remember things you maybe wouldn't have thought about if you solely relied on your memory.
I will write a more in depth article on packing another time, so be on the look out for that soon!
Lastly, remember why you're travelling.
You're there to see the sights. You're there to be a part of a different culture. Perhaps, you're just there for work. No matter the case, acknowledge that this country will be different from your own.
It will be a surprise for you, but don't laugh if Japanese people in Japan slurp their soup. Don't snicker if Swedish people in Sweden are sticklers for queues. Don't giggle if Indian people in India eat with their hands. Don't make fun of Americans in the U.S.A. for tipping.
Everything is going to be so shockworthy if you know absolutely nothing about where you are. You have no right to make fun of a people who have greeted you into their country. That is their home. You are their guest. Don't overstep your welcome.
Look, I get it. People will make cultural observations, which is fine! In fact, it's good! Thats the point of travelling. But don't come to a point of arrogance, because that will get you nowhere. It will only make you look like an ugly tourist.
Try to read up on social customs, the night scene, dining etiquette, and so forth. In places like Saudi Arabia, for example, it's imperative to follow dress codes. Keep all of this in mind.
This all may seem like a lot, but it will make your travels a more pleasant experience. Honestly, most of this can apply for domestic travel as well, if you think about it. Unfortunately, most of the nitty gritty happens before you take off, but it will be worth it! So it's time to pack your bags and start exploring.
Bon voyage! ✵