Here are, in my personal opinion, the top 11 things you need to know before traveling abroad.
1. What are the Visa requirements?
I’m not talking about credit cards, folks! Different countries have different entry requirements. Australia requires a visa to enter the country for pretty much everyone. Most countries in Europe will allow you to visit for up to 90 days using your regular old passport; if you’re from the USA that is. It’s entirely possible that a European nation might have strict requirements for folks outside Europe and the Americas. The point is: Check entry requirements months before you go to avoid any delays.
Which leads me to the second thing you need to consider:
2. Get a passport.
If you don’t have a passport, you’re obviously going to need one. Many years ago a citizen of North America (Canada, USA, Mexico) could travel between these countries without a passport. But ever since those pesky terrorists started blowing stuff up most countries have upped their entry restrictions. Now I need a passport to enter Canada and Mexico, and more importantly, to return to the USA! The only time I was able to go to Mexico and return to the USA without a passport was when I was in utero. Don’t get stranded in a country you don’t want to live in permanently. If you already have a passport, make sure it won’t be expiring any time soon. Countries tend to frown upon that. Make sure you renew your passport long before you’re scheduled to leave your homeland so you don’t have any unnecessary delays.
3. Bring a phrasebook or translation dictionary!
If you don’t speak any other languages and you’re traveling to a country where folks don’t speak your native language, you will want to at least bring a phrasebook! The first time I went to Croatia I didn’t stray from Zagreb. I brought my phrasebook just in case, but most people speak English there so I didn’t have any trouble communicating with folks there, except for my friend’s mother, who graciously hosted me during my visit.
The second time I visited Croatia I forgot to bring my phrasebook. Zagreb was no problem, of course, but when I traveled to southern Croatia, I discovered that while there are a lot of people who do speak English, there are also a lot of people who don’t. For example, in Split a good portion of the folks speak English. When I went to the village where my family originated I found that not many folks spoke English. A few of my family members understand English and speak it fluently, but the majority didn’t and it made it very difficult to communicate with them.
4. Learn about the country’s culture before you go!
In many countries, particularly Europe and Islander nations, refusing food is a huge insult. Even if you’re stuffed the point of exploding, try not to refuse the food you are offered. I made this mistake the first time I went to Croatia. I had dinner with my friend’s family and I just could not eat any more food! When I declined more food offered to me, my friend translated what her mother said and asked, “Did you not like the food?” The food was delicious, of course, but because I was stuffed and didn’t eat more her mother thought I didn’t like her cooking and was nearly offended. So eat up!
It’s also a good idea to learn about other cultures so you get a feel for any other customs that need to be respected during your visit. In some countries, typical hand gestures Americans use every day is considered rude. In some Middle Eastern countries, a woman not wearing a hijab or scarf is considered disrespectful. Sitting with the sole of the shoe facing someone is also an insult in many countries.
5. Check the weather before you pack!
If you’re planning a summer vacation to Australia for June you’re going to be very disappointed. June is fall/winter in Australia! It will be rainy. Beautiful, but rainy. You’d be pretty darn cold if you only packed hot pants, bikini tops and flip flops!
6. Check for travel warnings.
I don’t know about other countries, but the USA government has a Travel site where you can check for safety warnings and travel advisories for the country you plan to visit. I mean, you don’t want to step off the plane and right into the middle of a civil war or find a monsoon is headed your way!
7. Do I need vaccinations?
This is something you will want to ask yourself. It’s a good idea to check this out even if you’re going to a “First world” country just in case they’ve been having any problems you haven’t heard about. If you’re going to a country that’s considered “Third World” then it’s very probable that you’ll be needing vaccinations. Make sure you stay up to date. Nothing ruins a fun, relaxing vacation faster than catching ebola!
8. To bring friends, or not to bring friends. That is the question.
I personally don’t mind traveling alone. I find it relaxing. It allows me to do what I want, when I want. I don’t have to worry about waiting for other people to be ready or show up and I’m able to just go and explore areas or wander around cities without having to ask anyone else what they want to do. I know it sounds a bit selfish, but really, it is relaxing! Although, I’ll be honest, I’ve never actually tried traveling international with friends. Who knows, maybe I’d actually end up preferring it! But if you’re not into traveling alone, whether you’re a bit afraid to or you just find it more fun to travel with others, by all means, bring friends and enjoy yourself!
9. Notify the local embassy of your travel plans!
Whatever country you’re going to, notify your country’s local embassy of your travel plans. This will allow them to know and take action if you’ve vanished. Or if you find yourself in legal trouble (knock on wood) they will be able to assist you. So please let them know! Here’s a cool website I found that will help you find the embassy you need. It looks pretty straightforward. Select your country from the first list, select the country you’re traveling to from the second list and click search! Hopefully the information is current. Be sure to check that out before you go!
10. Make sure you have enough money to cover your trip!
Nothing’s worse than thinking you might be running out of money during your trip! My last trip to Croatia was planned very last minute because I hadn’t received word when my friend’s son was being baptized. My friend messaged me out of the blue saying, “My son’s being baptized on this day, are you coming or what?” Somehow, I honestly don’t know how, but I had enough money, I booked my flight the second I received her message and off I went! But towards the end of my second week in Croatia, days before I was supposed to arrive home, it appeared that I was running low on money and that I might not be able to afford accommodations for the last few days. Luckily, my friend and her husband put me up for two nights at their place and took me to the airport. I’m extremely grateful to them! So make sure you have plenty of money before you go and that there’s no chance whatsoever that you might run out of money!
11. Have fun!
Do a little research. You can find almost anything on Google these days! Look up all the cool things there are to do in the country you’re planning to visit. You’d be surprised at how many interesting things and opportunities you can find with a little bit of research. So go have some fun!
That’s it for now. I hope that you enjoyed this article. If there’s something you think I missed, please feel free to let me know. I’m always open to recommendations and updates.
In the meantime… Enjoy your trip!