You picked the destination. You booked the flight and accommodation. Your travel fund is full of all the money you’ve saved from skipping happy hours and eating in. You think you’re all set for your trip across the world.
But you’d be wrong.
Picking a place, booking the flight, finding where you want to stay, and saving up are the fun parts (well, maybe not the saving) of a trip. They say that sometimes planning the trip makes people happier than the trip itself and it’s because people enjoy researching where to go, where to stay, and what to do. At least I’m that way which is why I started planning trips for people. We genuinely love daydreaming – of wondering what magic our future trip holds in store for us.
After the core of the trip (the fun part) is figured out, most people spend the rest of their time stressing about what to pack, but honestly, even if you pack poorly it’s easy to overcome if you’re prepared in the ways that really matter.
For those of us that travel frequently, there are certain things we’ve learned to just do before leaving for a trip and tricks of the trade while we’re gone. Things that have become second nature to us and unless you travel a lot you either wouldn’t think about, or even know about, until it’s too late.
Don’t get me wrong, frequent travelers still fuck up. Not that I’m speaking from experience or anything, but one minute everything could perfect, you’re enjoying the World Cup in Sochi, and the next, I don’t know, your trip is almost ruined because your wallet is mysteriously missing. The wallet that has EVERYTHING you need while abroad because (like an idiot) you didn’t separate the lock from the key, even though you knew better, but more on that later.
This post with international travel tips isn’t just for first-time travelers, it’s for anyone who travels because let’s face it, we could all use a reminder now and then. Below are some questions, tips, and tricks I’ve learned from years of traveling and trip planning that help me feel prepared before I leave and once I arrive.
International Travel Tips: Destination Questions
The questions below are things I think through before I leave on any trip. Some of my international travel tips are as simple as just asking questions. I like to make sure my departure and arrival into any place goes as smoothly as possible. Few things give you a heart attack more than to be at the airport only to realize you need a visa when you land but don’t have one. Which is why my first question is always….
Do you need a Visa?
If so, what is the Visa process to enter?
Do you need to apply ahead of time? On arrival?
How much does it cost?
Do you need to pay in cash or do they accept card?
Do you need to get any vaccinations? If so, which ones?
Where do you have to go to get them?
How much ahead of time do you need to get them?
Do you need to bring documentation that you’ve had them?
What’s the time difference from where you live to where you’re going?
This only matters if you plan on talking to anyone at home (which is generally most people)
Can you drink the water?
If not, you better budget for having to purchase water the whole trip
How are you going to charge things (laptop, phone, camera, drone)?
Do you have the right converter?
Do you need power strip
Should you bring a powerbank?
How are you getting from the airport/train station to where you are staying?
How are you getting around once you’re there?
Driving? Download google maps offline
International Travel Tips: Destination Research
Do yourself a favor and actually learn about the place you’re going. Keep in mind that you are the visitor and the customs and culture will not change because you are unprepared.
Learn basic phrasing if in a different language
Hi, Thank you, bye, yes, no, bathroom, how much, cheers, basic numbers (1-10) and whiskey are words I always try to know before going. There are 2 reasons to learn some basic phrases.
**You’re going to need them
**Locals appreciate the effort (even if your accent is terrible) and it will go a long way in their willingness to help you
Learn the local customs
Do certain parts of your body have to be covered?
Can you wear shorts and sandals?
Is the place religious?
Is drinking allowed? In public?
What type of food can you expect to find?
What’s the local currency?
What’s the exchange rate?
What’s the weather going to be like while you’re there?
Is the country known for anything specific?
Is it easy to pay with a credit card or is cash king?
If you have dietary restrictions, research if the place has common options that fit your specific needs.
Learn to pronounce the major cities in the region
Once again this will help you seem like you’ve put in effort to understand the place you’re going and that’s never a bad thing
Make a list of potential things to do in each place
I’m a big “where not what’ person. I like to research a place and make a list of things I could do once I get there. When I wake up I look at my list, think about what sounds fun that day, and then go and do it. The only time this doesn’t work is if you are doing some sort of tour; those are best to book in advance.
Related: 9 Tips for Your Next Trip
International Travel Tips: Transportation
Have a copy of passport/ID (either paper and downloaded somewhere)
Access to this information offline (write it down or on an app that doesn’t need to be connected to wifi
What bag or luggage are you taking?
Are you checking a bag?
Do you need to?
If so, you’ll need to make sure you arrive at the airport earlier and build time in to having to wait for your bag.
Confirm which airport you’re going to and where it is in the city.
Big cities tend to have multiple airports. Sometimes you fly in one and out of another. I strongly recommend knowing which airport you’re going to unless you want to be like me and spend $250 on a taxi to get from Heathrow to Gatwick—man, London sucks.
If you have Priority Pass, does the airport have a lounge you can access?
International Travel Tips: Technology Tips and Questions
Do you want to be reachable?
I’ve taken quite a few trips and I’ll be honest, sometimes I just want to go off-grid. I don’t want to talk to people back home, I don’t want to Instagram, Vlog, or even write. One of the first questions I always ask myself is ‘How connected do I want to be during this trip?” If the answer is none to very little, I just use my phone when I have a WiFi connection.
If the answer is a normal amount I have to think about what I want to do with my cell phone. I currently have an unlocked Pixel 3 on the Verizon network. Which means my choices are to pay $10(ish) a day for their international coverage through Verizon, which depending on the length of the trip can be a decent sized bill (18 days in the Middle East $200), or I can buy a local SIM card wherever I’m going ($10 for 4 GB). Each option has its pros and cons. For me, it really depends on the length of the trip. Like everything else, it’s money for convenience.
Is the destination tech-friendly?
While it’s important to ask yourself if you want to be reachable, it’s equally important to find out if you can be. I’ve been to places where I’d love nothing more than to post a photo or FaceTime a friend but it wasn’t even an option. If the place you’re going makes technology irrelevant it’s best to know that going in and warn people.
International Travel Tips: Money
It’s no secret that I love credit cards because of the rewards. They’ve paid for a lot of my trips over the past few years which is why when I travel, I try to use them as much as possible. As I make using them a point of emphasis I’ve learned a few tricks.
Carry two credit cards with you
Make sure neither card has international fees
The three cards I always travel with:
Chase Sapphire Reserve
Capital One Quicksilver
Keep each card in a different place: one in your wallet (or purse) and one in your luggage. That way if a wallet gets stolen or a bag gets lost you’re not completely screwed.
Tell the credit card company you’re leaving the country, where you’re going, and how long you’ll be gone
A lot of my rules for credit cards also apply to debit cards (have 2 and keep them separate). If you don’t currently have multiple checking accounts I strongly recommend getting a second one and use it mostly for traveling.
You always want to be aware of ATM fees and what your bank charges you to take money out somewhere else. To avoid (or at least get reimbursed) I recommend The Schwab Bank High Yield Investor Checking Account. I always transfer money into my Schwab account before any trip and use it as my primary account while abroad. The biggest perk is that Schwab will refund ALL ATM fees at the end of the month so you access your money without paying for it.
When it comes to money my last piece of advice is to always carry cash and take it out before you board the plane. Credit cards are great but not everywhere accepts them. ATMs can be handy, but they aren’t always nearby. Think ahead and when you take money out, and always take a little more than you think you’ll need.
International Travel Tips: Apps
I’ve been to over 45 countries and really only speak English. Google Translate has saved me on more trips than I can count. You can download languages, use the voice option, and basically translate a conversation in real time.
Everyone has Facebook. FB Messenger allows you to stay in touch easily with anyone those people whenever you have wifi or data.
I use WhatsApp to talk with most of my non-American friends. WhatsApp is an encrypted platform and like FB messenger it uses WiFi to send messages to other people who have the app. In short, it allows you to stay in touch with people from across the world.
Citymapper is the ultimate transit app. It helps you find the best route, see real-time departures, gives step by step directions, has offline maps, and gives you alerts if anything is going to be delayed.
Uber (not available in all countries)
Uber is great because you don’t have to worry about haggling with taxi drivers who speak a different language. You get picked up, dropped off, and a charge to your credit card.
App allows you to plan a trip, bookmark things of interest, and also quickly discover nearby hidden gems, travel recommendations, and book must-see things to do.
Because $1,000,000 Rupia isn’t nearly as much as it sounds and it’s really important to know how much things actually cost.
Great way to keep track of who’s paid for what and who owes who. Splitwise will keep everyone square with the fewest transactions possible.
Eventually, you’re going to need to send someone from a different country money. Transferwise makes it super easy to make sure the recipient gets exactly the amount (after conversion) they are supposed to and charges a much smaller fee than most banks.,
Traveling usually involves a lot of sitting around waiting for things to happen. Waiting is always better with music. I recommend the Pro version so you can download playlists.
If you made it this far, I feel confident that you’re finally ready knowing my international travel tips.