Do you love traveling? This post is meant for you! Traveling is fun, but it could also be very stressful if not well plan in advance. In this post, I seek to present few tips for all travelers especially those traveling abroad. This post is not meant to be exhaustive, neither for the information presented herein to replace any government travels tips or alert.
1. Be mentally prepared
Mental preparedness is a very important aspect that needs to be considered carefully before booking your ticket. Our mental state impacts our characters and our characters induce certain behaviors that could be positive or negative, stereotypical or critical, true or false impressions, etc. Your body should follow your head, heart, and soul and not the other way round. Mental preparedness also allows you to embrace your trip with confidence, joy, and peace of mind. Your physical health and mental health are well-connected and defined. So, before you embark on an international journey, whether it is for a vacation, family reunion, school, research, marriage, etc make sure you are mentally fit to embark on the journey.
2. Check on visas requirements
This is also a crucial point. You don’t want to arrive at the airport just to be told by the airline that you wouldn’t be accepted onboard because you need a visa. This almost happened to me in January 2014 on my way from Jakarta, Indonesia to Vientiane, Lao PDR via Viet Nam Airline. I had to transit from Ho Chi Minh City (Formerly Sargon) to Hanoi for more than 24 hours during my trip to Laos. Since transit flight from Sargon to Hanoi was a domestic flight, according to Viet Nam Law, I (as an American Citizen) needed a transit visa to be able to board my flight from Sargon to Hanoi even though my final destination was Vientiane, Laos for which I already had a visa. Here I was in Bali enjoying the sunshine beaches with my family and faced with the challenge of obtaining a Viet Namese transit visa. Luckily, Google never lies, if you search credible sources. I was able to obtained a pre-arrival transit visa via: http://www.vietnamvisacorp.com. My passport information, fees, and processing fees were emailed to folks at Viet Nam Visa Corp and within 4 hours, I received a rubber stem scanned pdf version letter giving me pre-arrival approval to land and stay in Viet Nam for 32 hours, which was legitimate. I presented the letter to the airline and they allowed me to board the flight without which I wouldn’t be allowed, if I don’t have a visa. I initially thought I never needed a visit since I was transit in Viet Nam, but actually needed one since my transit required a second/domestic travel from Sargon to Hanoi. So, you need to always make sure which country allows you visa on arrival and which doesn’t. Also, if you are transiting in a country, you could be in a milky water, if you stay over for more than 24 hours. If you don’t plan on leaving the airport you should be fine. However, some international airports around the world are not operated on 24 hours. So, this could be a problem. You don’t want to get into any problem with immigration officers. So, make sure you always double-check on visas requirements. If your flight plan requires you to transit in other countries, make sure to check on transit visa requirements for all transiting countries.
3. Travel Smart
Smart travelers are those who plan well in advance and make sure they are comfortable while traveling. This is traveling such that you minimize expense, while capitalizing on every positive opportunities as you travel. Also, make sure you familiarize yourself with the U.S. Department of State Travel site for those that are U.S. Citizen National or U.S. Non-citizen National. Here is the link: http://travel.state.gov/content/travel/english.html. If you register with the “Smart Traveler Enrollment Program” [https://step.state.gov/step/] at the U.S. Department of State, you will be notified with information, warnings, alerts, etc for all countries you listed when you register with the STEP. This is a very important tool that could save you more time, energy, and resources. Traveling smart means registering smart! So, make use of it! If you feel uncomfortable providing information of USDS of your international travels by registering with the STEP, just make sure someone else knows where you are heading, potential places you will be visiting, etc so that someone could have the officials inform should something happen.
This is the most important aspect. Make sure that your passport is valid for at least more than 6-month. Some countries could even deny you visa if your passport is valid for less than 6-month. Renew your passport as necessary. Let assume that your passport is valid, you’ve gotten your visa, ticket(s), cash, vaccines (as appropriate), etc make sure you make legible photocopies of your passport biographic pages, visas, any immigration document presented to you for your destined countries/transiting cities, important ID cards, health insurance card, etc. This is very important because in case of theft, misplace passport or identification cards, you always have backups. You never know when the unexpected happens, so, planning ahead would save you all the stress associated with this. If you are unclear what form of identifications you would need apart from your passport as you journey abroad, ask the appropriate Embassy of the countries you plan to travel to. However, in almost all cases, your passport, health insurance card, driver’s licenses, and or work ID could be some credible ID to take along. These could help in case an issue arise.
One of the most important thing to take along with you as you travel is your mobile phone. While some phone companies in the US can’t work abroad, some phones from T-Mobile, MetroPCS, Sprint, etc could use SIM Card from other countries, but remember, that means your phone has to be decoded before it can use the SIM cards from other countries. This process could be expensive for some travelers weight your options and see what’s best for you as you travel. One easier option is to get a phone immediately upon arrival in the country where you are heading. However, make sure the phone vendors “don’t eat your eye”, meaning charging you more for a phone that would usually cost less. If you know someone already in the city/country where you are traveling make sure you send them some money to buy you a phone that you can use immediately or you can buy one. However, you have to be a good negotiator to decide on some ridiculous price that would be punched in your face. This is no surprise, so be prepared for that one.
6. Secure your electronic gadgets
Most of us travel abroad with series of personal electronic gadgets,which are crucial to our journeys, to stay in touch with love ones, relatives, friends and record our experiences as we adventure. Taking these gadgets is one thing and bringing them back safely is another. Don’t flash your gadgets in the public as that could be inviting unexpected attention. Be cautious and stay alert. Do not put electronic gadgets in checked-in luggage if possible just to make sure that they aren’t damage. Make sure you backup all your data and materials on your electronic system before traveling.
7. Double check on medical documents and requirements
If you are traveling for the first time, make sure you get the appropriate vaccines of specific/potential illnesses to regions you are traveling to. Consult with your primary health provider and insurance company to determine if these vaccines are cover. Also, make sure you inform your insurance company where you are traveling, how long you will be there and when you will be back in the country. This information will help them provide recommendations of appropriate health affiliate companies that you could seek treatment or services from if you become ill. If your travel abroad is long-term, make sure you have a print out of your health insurance booklet and all appropriate forms and document their contact information in your personal notebook. You might need this urgently!
8. Contact your bank or financial institution
Most people forget about this aspect before they embark on a trip. Even if your trip is for a few days, a month, few months or a year, contacting your bank and letting them know and documenting all potential travels plans; that is, which include all cities or countries will you be traveling. This is important if you will be conducting direct financial activities via your home bank account through the us of ATM or other medium. If your financial institution is unaware and they detect your ATM/Visa Card is being used in a country without being informed, they would think your account was hack or card stolen and is being used elsewhere. They are right in every capacity to protect your resources by blocking the transaction and subsequently putting a restriction on the card until they can verify the use. Trust me! You really do not want to fall in this mess. Imagine the stress associated with trying to call a financial institution here in the US when you are about 9,000 miles away somewhere in West Papua or on the island of The Philippines. What will happen is that you will have to wait until folks in the US goes are working (time difference stress), buy tremendous amount of credit (very expensive to call back to the US), call your bank, probably put on hold for several minutes if not hours, listen to some annoying automated message of some robots, asked several repeated questions about your identity (verification process), probably put on hold again for the person speaking to you to talk to their supervisor (your call minutes is almost ended), and if you are luck, problem solve or the worst case, your time, resources, etc wasted and there you are having to repeat the process again. So, you don’t really want to be in this situation. Call your banks, credit card companies and let them know where you are going and that you will use your cards at the ATM while abroad. Watch out for ATM fees, they are like vampires that suck your money from your account. This is very important! It could eat up your budget significantly. Most travelers rarely pay attention to this until you return and see how much money was paid using the ATM.
9. DO NOT CARRY ONBOARD OR PLACE IN CHECKED-IN LUGGAGES PROHIBITED ITEMS
The FAA as well as aviation authorities in other countries are very strict on hazardous items being transported via civilian airlines. Here is a link to some resources released by the FAA: http://www.faa.gov/about/office_org/headquarters_offices/ash/ash_programs/hazmat/media/materialscarriedbypassengersandcrew.pdf. Carrying items that are restricted could delay your time and attract unnecessary attention on you. Certain items could be carried, however, there are strict process put in place for those items. Contact your airline carrier well in advance about your plan and they would let you know how to proceed.
10. Carry few cash
I overlook or forget this almost each time I travel. How much to carry? Well, I don’t have an answer to that question. I would say as much as would be needed to survive in case there is an emergency. The issue here is not to attract unwanted attention to you when revealing cash. Just watch your back and cautious!
11. Track your air travel mileage
Most airlines provide travel rewards for those flying with them. Make use of these opportunities as cumulative mileages could land you and your family a ‘free fly’ adventure. Contact your favorite airline(s) and register before your next trip.
12. Travel green
Traveling abroad requires significant mileages, which caused pollution. As much as possible, reduce your vacation plans to destinations abroad to local or much closer alternatives. Or prioritize green airlines. Here is an article that talks about eco-efficient airlines: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/06/28/green-airlines-carbon-efficiency_n_885553.html. Or get familiarize with some eco-efficient air travel tips: http://news.travel.aol.com/2011/06/28/eco-friendly-flying-how-to-reduce-your-carbon-footprint-in-the/.
13. Make use of inflight food
Eat and drink enough water while traveling. The ticket fees include food and complimentary drinks. Make use of these and don’t starve yourself as most international travels last for few hours. Make sure you notify the airline about your specific nutritional needs. This could be done while booking your ticket. If for any specific personal reason(s) you can’t eat food provided, make sure you have some snacks with you.
14. Choose the seat you like
You will most likely be seated throughout the flight. While the option of seat choice depends on several factors (other passengers, number of available vacant seats, etc) choose the seat you would like to be seated in. Note that this would have to be verified by the airline. This post is specific to the economy class passengers:)
15. Are you flying with children?
If you have kids traveling along with you make sure you inform the travel agency and or the airline in advance to make sure they have that information in order to provide you with the necessary assistance to make your trip and the experience of your kids an adventure. Take in your carry on some toys for your kids look for their favorite ones. This could help you a lot. If your departure time requires you to be at the airport 2-hours before boarding start going their 3-hours before because you have kids and that could take time to arrive on time.
16. Arrive at the airport on time
Well, I was a victim of this underestimating traffic in Providence in 2007 when I had a 6:00pm flight from Providence to Richmond, VA. I started traveling 3 hours early and what should have lasted 30-45 minutes. In the midst of traffic I was 10 minutes late. I had to rebook a different flight.
17. Watch out for airports taxes
Most countries you will be traveling to requires airport taxes before you depart some usually paid directly to the airline when you check in or at the immigration officer before your passport is stemmed. Make sure you have some local currency to handle this fee as you will not be allowed to board without paying the appropriate airport tax. Here is a link provided by the International Air Travel Agency (IATA), which provides prior information on specific customs, currency, and airport tax regulations [http://www.iatatravelcentre.com/customs-currency-airport-tax-regulations.htm#]. This could help you plan well. Just select the country of your destination and search.
18. Read about the cities/countries of your destination at least before heading there
You could use the CIA country fact book for this, but that in itself is so formal, but provides credible information. If you are familiar with the language of your destined cities/countries, try navigating online for credible information of what life looks like there, areas to visit, food, people, culture, local norms, etc. Some prior knowledge and information is always helpful. If your country has an embassy in that country, visit the link of your country’s embassy in the country and get to know what relations is like at least from what you read.
19. Do what the locals ‘legally’ do
This is a very easy strategy to get localized if you intent to stay much longer. Even if your stay is brief, don’t act differently. This doesn’t mean doing everything they do, but don’t act differently. You want to make use of your experience, so, stop talking, look, listen, learn, do, and share. Good strategy? I bet!
I hope there were some useful information in this post for your next travel, good luck, and have fun!