First-time travelers abroad may be especially prone to traveling mishaps, but even a seasoned traveler makes mistakes from time to time. Flying is stressful, with juggling expensive airfares, having all the proper documentation ready including an unexpired passport, packing for all kinds of climate scenarios, and the jungle of an airport itself once the big travel day arrives. By reviewing a few key points and harnessing the skill of preparation, the stress of international travel can be alleviated considerably. Without making these headache-inducing errors, you can enjoy your trip much more fully, taking in all that overseas travel has to offer.
When traveling abroad, we have a tendency to think we need to pack our entire lives into our suitcases. We pack clothing for every condition, all our electronics that we’re so addicted to along with the necessary power cords, and our entire bathroom cabinets. And that just skims the surface. For some reason, we worry that they won’t have most of these things abroad, and that it would be positively devastating to try and travel without them, even though traveling throughout the United States can be done with far less luggage. In the end, this results in overweight bags. Always leave room in your suitcase when traveling abroad, because chances are, you’ll accumulate some nifty stuff while you’re overseas. If you don’t think ahead, you could wind up paying crazy fees in overweight luggage at the airport. Weight limits vary by the airline, so checking this information and weighing your bag at home on a regular scale before your departure can help give you an estimate of how much wiggle room you have left in your bags.
International flights require a little more time at the airport than regular flights, so airlines suggest you get to the airport no later than two hours before your flight rather than the single hour allotted for domestic flights. This is more than a suggestion. If you arrive late and there are any delays in the process, you could end up missing your flight or arriving at the gate too late to board. They do have a cut-off and they will stick to it, no matter what your excuses are. When planning your arrival to the airport, take traffic conditions into consideration. You can move more quickly though the security lines if you know the protocol and have your bags ready for inspection in advance. If security officials have to fish out your liquids, that will slow up the process considerably, so have them all portioned out into three-ounce containers and in a baggy ahead of time. Even if you have to sit and read a book at the gate for an hour before boarding, you’ll be much less stressed knowing you will make your flight, and the hardest part of flying internationally is more or less behind you.
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If you’ve never been overseas before, you may not anticipate the dizzying, flu-like sensation of jet lag that occurs shortly after landing. Some jet lag is to be expected, but you can minimize it by sleeping on the plane at a time that would be appropriate for sleeping in the country of your destination. Taking a sleeping pill or herbal supplement like melatonin can help you achieve restfulness on the flight. You might also pack a sleeping mask in your carry-on. If you stay awake during the entire flight watching the in-flight entertainment and chowing down on peanuts, you’ll be exhausted once you arrive and probably end up taking a nap in the middle of the day there, which will only worsen the jet lag. Make this a habit, and your entire time overseas could be wasted away by sleeping during the daytime hours. And, let’s face it, there’s only so much sightseeing you can do at night.
College kids utilizing their summer break for a Euro trip are the worst offenders of this screw-up, as they don’t particularly have an eye for funds yet. In the excitement of travel, eating out at exotic restaurants every night, taking trains and taxis to and fro, and shopping for international designer clothing while you’re in the fashion capitol, Milan — all these activities can have a slimming effect on your wallet. And if you aren’t familiar enough with the exchange rates, you may be automatically thinking of everything in terms of dollars when, in fact, it could be double that amount in foreign currency. In a matter of days, you could find yourself broke and stranded abroad, desperately Skyping your relatives for help. Avoid this mistake by withdrawing a budgeted amount every couple of days and sticking to that allowance. When you know you’ve taken out $200 at the beginning of the trip, it shouldn’t be gone two days in, and if you’re spending money faster than you anticipated, it might be necessary to look into some budgeted travel options such as swapping out those fine dining restaurants for street food and that five-star hotel for a youth hostel.
Your first instinct might be to cram every possible site-seeing experience into your schedule when you’re traveling abroad, but it’s helpful to recognize that other cultures operate on a different schedule than Americans do. In America, we are very fast-paced in all of our actions. We even eat quickly. Meanwhile, in France, trains go on strike on a regular basis, causing delays. In Spain, nearly everything closes down each afternoon while essentially the entire country takes “siesta”, or a midday nap. In Italy, (and most European countries, for that matter), meals are eaten very slowly so that the food and conversation can be enjoyed as thoroughly as possible. While you may want to take in everything you can in the limited time that you’re there, you might want to factor in some time to just sit and appreciate the ebb and flow of the country you’re in, even if it means sitting on a park bench and people-watching for half an hour. Chances are, if you stop to take a look, you’ll take away more from the experience than a speedy expose of the Sistine Chapel.
If you’re flying into a country that doesn’t speak English or English isn’t its primary language, it is at least polite to try to master a few simple words in its language. Even if your pronunciation is terrible or your sentences are strung together awkwardly, most people will appreciate your effort and be more likely to interact with you. Likewise, knowing some of the customs can be very helpful in making sure you don’t offend the locals. For example, if you step into a home in Japan with your shoes on, you’ll probably get a negative reaction from your hosts. Taking the time to read a little bit about cultural differences in Japan would have saved you from embarrassment. There’s nothing more irritating than a loud American with no respect for another country’s customs and regulations. Traveling in this manner will only perpetuate stereotypes.
Before you leave the country, you should always notify your bank. Let them know where you will be and when your return date is. If you don’t, you’ll find yourself quickly stranded without a working ATM card. As a precautionary measure, banks note odd activity around your account. If they don’t have reason to believe that you’re overseas, when your card is used, the bank will assume it’s been stolen. Some ATMs will suck the card up and keep it, while others will simply decline it. It may be frustrating, but your bank is actually watching out for you in case you’ve been a victim of identity theft.