How to Prepare in the Weeks Before an International Adventure
In 8 days, I'll be embarking on my 16 country adventure! I'll be doing a combo of business and vacation travel over the next few months, so stay tuned! There's something for everyone! In an upcoming blog post, you'll learn how to pack a carry-on to meet all your travel needs, especially for someone with high maintenance needs, like myself!
Right now, let's focus on what you should be thinking about in the weeks before you leave for an adventure!
1. Accommodation - If you didn't book a vacation package with accommodation and air included, book accommodations! If you travel a lot, do some serious thinking of what sort of loyalty program would best suit you.
- You can sign up for a points program with a 3rd party website such as hotels.com, Expedia, booking.com, Agoda, etc. Or if you generally stick with travelling in the same brand of hotels and you travel frequently, using the brand's loyalty program may serve your needs best. Keep in mind that most hotels and 3rd party sites price match. So there is no need to book 5 different hotels through different websites. You'll never get enough points for a free night that way! Honestly, price matching hotels has become a sport for me now. Most mornings I start my day at the office with a bowl of cereal and a quick search through my business hotel bookings to see if I can price match any of them!
- You may also wish to go the vacation rental route and check out sites such as Airbnb. Make sure you research all the risks and rewards of a vacation rental before you commit.
2. Visas - Do you need a travel visa to visit that country? If you do, must you get it in advance or can you get it at the airport on arrival? Check with the local embassy's website for the country you are visiting. It will usually tell you if people from your country need a travel visa, and the steps to obtaining one. This process can take several weeks and lots of paperwork, so get started on this early!
3. Transportation - Figure out how you will get from the airport to your accommodations.
- If you're in a safe country and you're ambitious, this may be public transportation. Most Canadian, U.S and European cities have great public transportation to and from airports. In some cities, such as Geneva, Switzerland, it is even free!
- Many resort or cruise packages include airport pickup or you can add it on for a small fee, you'll need to confirm!
- If you'll get a taxi, make sure you get in the airport's official taxi line. When you're tired and the locals don't speak english, it's tempting to go with someone official looking when they walk up to you in arrivals and ask if you need a taxi, in english. You may get scammed, or worse, so be careful. Always use the official taxi line outside arrivals.
- If you're in a country that is not traditionally known for being a safe place for foreigners, especially if you have never visited before, it may be wise to plan to have a hotel car pick you up. Yes, it's more expensive, so prepare yourself. In these cases, the hotel sends a car to get you and adds it to your hotel bill. The driver will normally be waiting at the arrivals lounge for you, with a sign. Safety first, folks! If the sign only says the name of your hotel, make sure you quiz the driver on your name to ensure that he or she is an actual hotel employee. The driver should have your name and fight details with them. I tend to use hotel cars for my African and Central American travels.
4. Foreign currency - Download a currency app, such as Oanda's, so you can convert prices on your phone, even out of wifi zones. This way, you won't be accidentally paying $50 for a fridge magnet! Figure out if you need foreign currency in advance, and how you will get it. I like to travel with foreign currency because I have had instances where my card hasn't worked in a certain atm abroad. If you need money ASAP to get to your hotel, this could be a problem! Don't travel with too much money, that's unwise. I don't like to carry any more than a few hundred dollars on me when travelling.
- If you are transiting through a major airport, such as Toronto, you can likely get it at the airport, provided you have enough time during your stopover.
- Your bank may have some on hand or will order it in for you. Be sure to specify what notes you want. If you're doing a resort type vacation, or you plan to hit a lot of strip clubs (lol!), you'll likely want some U.S. $1 bills. If you're from a more rural area, I suggest ordering the currency at least a month in advance, to allow shipping time to your home bank branch.
- Drop by your city's local currency exchange to purchase currency. Again, more rare currencies may need to be ordered in, so allow time for that.
5. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist - When's the last time you were vaccinated? Regardless of whether you're travelling, now might be a good chance to think about booster shots that you have probably not gotten as an adult. Also, depending on where you're travelling, you may need additional vaccinations. I'd highly recommend Hepatitis A or Twinrix (which is both Hepatitis A and B, for those who did not get the Hep B shot in school). Also, there may be specific vaccinations you may need for specific countries. For example, you'll need a yellow fever vaccination to enter many African countries. And if you plan on having some -ahem- physical relations, make sure you have your Hep B and HPV vaccinations! I'd also recommend asking your doctor for a prescription for anti-biotics to treat travellers diarrhea. And finally, if you are going to a malaria zone area, discuss the risks with your doctor as well as your antimaleral medication options, if necessary. Be sure to get a bug spray with an appropriate deet concentration to mitigate risk of contracting malaria.
6. Make copies - Make a copy of all reservations, your passport, your travel insurance information and your credit cards. Take one copy with you and leave one with a trusted friend or family member. Make sure all your emergency contact information is up-to-date.
7. Register with the government - No matter what country you are travelling in, the risk of natural disaster, political unrest or terrorist attack exists. Your government generally likes to know how many people they have in the area when such disasters strike. And let's be honest, you're going to want them to try to get you out if something terrible were to happen. Canadians should register here. Americans can register here. If you are a duel citizen, consider carefully which passport you use when you travel. Generally speaking, that is the government that will be responsible for providing you with diplomatic services should you need them.
8. Travel Insurance - Check the details of your travel insurance or purchase travel insurance. Look into your options for medical, baggage and trip cancellation insurance. Explore what your credit card offers for trips booked on your credit card. Educate yourself on what your home government or Canadian province will cover if you get ill abroad with no insurance. Carry a copy of the policy details with you. Look, it's your decision on whether you feel the expense is worth it. But let me tell you that I was grateful to have insurance when I ended up with a serious staph infection in Turkey last year.
9. Avoid hidden fees - They're everywhere, educate yourself! Here are some ways you may get burned:
- Banking - Check to see what the fees are for making charges or taking out money abroad. It may be worth it to pay more for a monthly package that reduces travel fees.
- Baggage - Make sure your luggage fits within the baggage limits of the planes you'll be taking. If you're getting on any smaller flights, baggage restrictions may be even tighter than normal. A luggage scale has saved my butt many times!
- Cellphones - Will you be using your cellphone? If so, you must buy a travel package or look into getting sim card when you arrive. Otherwise you could end up billed thousands of dollars! If you aren't planning to purchase a package, turn off your data!
10. Explore the laws and customs - In certain countries women are expected or required by law to dress modestly and keep certain body parts covered. In some countries in South East Asia, spitting your gum on the street can land you in trouble with the law and a hefty fine. At the risk of sounding like Captain No-Fun, the most important thing I want you to consider is drugs. Whatever you choose to do at home, is your choice. And you're probably aware of the consequences of those choices, should you be caught. However, I strongly suggest that you never, ever do illegal drugs abroad. Consequences can be much more than you have bargained for. There are countries where illegal drugs are punishable by execution. As a matter in fact, just last year we saw members the infamous "Bali 9" (a group of foreigners who got busted with heroin in Indonesia) be executed by firing squad. Prison conditions, access to legal counsel and basic rights may be non existent. For those of you visiting posh resorts, it may serve you well to remember that you are, in fact, likely in a developing country. Even in instances where you see locals doing drugs, avoid. Penalties can be much harsher for foreigners. Please act wisely abroad.
11. Research local - To end on a fun note, instead of a heavy one - Do some research! What restaurants do locals love? What cool or unusual activities are there to do where you will be visiting?
Have any more tips? Add them in the comments below! Check back next week to see how I pack my deluxe carry-on bags! Stay fabulous and comfortable on-the-go!