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International Travel Tips or: Things I’ve learned on Vacation

25 May 2013 2,757 views 32 Comments

Adam and I recently returned from a (mostly) wonderful trip to Brazil — Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro — and Argentina — Iguazu Falls and Buenos Aires. And while the memories are still fresh in my mind, I wanted to share a few tips that I’ve picked up along the way — both in past wanderings and also on this particular time abroad.

While some of these suggestions are timeless, there are of course others that will not stand the test of time due to natural shifts in technology, economy, etc. That said, if this post helps even just a few people plan for and enjoy their vacations more thoroughly, it will be worth my time and effort.

Sucking out as much juice as I can. Photo Credit: Adam Holzband

Sucking out as much juice as I can. Photo Credit: Adam Holzband

14 Tips for Traveling Smarter Internationally

  1. Visas: If you’re going to a country that requires a visa, be sure to start the process of acquiring it ASAP — it can be lengthy. In our case, we had to pay a company to actually go to the Brazilian Embassy in Houston to get the visa for us; it was both expensive and relatively time-intensive.
  2. Kosher Reservations: Growing up, kosher meals used to be the best food you could get on a plane ride, so we would order them when we booked international flights, even though we don’t keep kosher. I learned through our experience on this trip that it’s not a foolproof strategy anymore. Unless you keep kosher, you’re better off taking chances with the regular meals — that way you have at least two choices.
  3. Makin’ Copies: Scan all of your important documents and information and email them to yourself and also to someone you trust at home in case you need to cancel/replace them.
  4. Don’t get Denied: Contact your credit card and banking providers to let them know that you will be traveling abroad, and consider asking your bank to raise the limit you can take out daily. This can save you money in that it will allow you to limit the number of withdrawals you’ll need to make, as well as minimize the associated fees.
  5. Confirm, then Reconfirm: Confirm hotel and flight reservations before you leave for your trip, and maybe again while traveling. I learned this the hard way after booking (I thought) flights on a foreign airline. Since I had received a confirmation code, and felt confident that the flights were booked. I didn’t learn until we arrived at the airport that this was not the case. That was an expensive (and stressful) lesson to learn, but we were lucky that there were extra seats on the flight and that we could afford to buy tickets on the spot.
  6. Leave the Family Jewels at Home: Leave any jewelry that has monetary or personal value at home. Even a simple gold band can make you a target in some countries.
  7. Pack Extra: Throw a fresh pair (or two) of contact lenses in your bag if you wear them, and take a backup pair of glasses too; bringing prescriptions for any medications you take isn’t a bad idea either.
  8. Plugging In: Check to see what kind of adaptor plugs you’ll need and the voltage for the countries you are visiting so that you can charge your smartphone, camera, razor, hair dryer, etc.
  9. Memories: Consider buying a larger memory card, or extra memory cards, for your camera. If you forget to do that before you leave, you can buy a new one on the road, albeit at a markup (most likely).
  10. Plane Travel: Bring layers of clothing, snacks, charging cords, important medications, and an extra change of underwear and socks. It’s also a good idea to invest in a backpack instead of a shoulder bag to ease the burden (to you, or in my case, to your husband) of lugging carry-ons between terminals during layovers.
  11. Smartphones: I personally recommend using your smartphone abroad and have dedicated an entire post to ways your smartphone can be worth the trouble of navigating international plans. That said, there are two words that can’t be stressed enough when it comes to using your smartphone internationally: Airplane Mode.
  12. TimeOut: Find out if there’s a TimeOut guide for the cities you’ll be visiting. We found the website and app invaluable for finding live music options.
  13. Foreign ATMs: When taking out money from an ATM, make sure you get your card back after the transaction ends. If you forget to grab it, the machine will suck it back in and then shred it, leaving you without an easy way to get local currency.
  14. Minimize the Damage: There is always a chance of being a victim of theft while traveling abroad (or even in your home country) no matter how careful or savvy you are. Here’s a tip from my cousin Julie, who has traveled extensively. Leave your passport and bank card in the hotel room safe and just carry cash (and maybe your credit card) to cover your needs for the day. That way, if you get pick pocketed, you only lose the cash you have (and your credit card if you brought it), and not your access to cash for the rest of the trip.

I hope you found these tips to be useful; I’ll continue to add to this list as I pick up more tips along the way. I’ve also written a post with tips on using your smartphone internationally, including step-by-step instructions on using your iPhone internationally without racking up a huge bill from AT&T.

I’d love to hear your recommendations for international travel — I know that I have a lot of really smart, savvy, and widely traveled readers, and I hope you’ll weigh in and share your hard-earned wisdom!

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  • elizabeth

    Welcome back ~ These are great tips thanks for sharing!

  • elizabeth

    Welcome back ~ These are great tips thanks for sharing!

  • jodibart

    Thanks Elizabeth! I really appreciated you sharing your friends tips before we left, so wanted to give back :-)

  • Marni

    All great tips – most of which I've had to use at one time or another. The other one I'd add is to get some foreign currency ahead of time. Don't rely on ATMs to withdraw money. They don't always work, and some times the instructions are not in English.

    Hope you are all better. Your dad said you got pneumonia while you were away (urgh). You need to think of a tip on how not to get sick when you travel!

  • jodibart

    Marni – That's a really great suggestion too. I know that my ATM card didn't work in Brazil (thank goodness Adam's did). I'm on my way to being all better! Pneumonia definitely takes a lot out of you but I'm back to work and almost all of my normal activities now.

  • jodibart

    Thanks Elizabeth! I really appreciated you sharing your friends tips before we left, so wanted to give back :-)

  • Marni

    All great tips – most of which I've had to use at one time or another. The other one I'd add is to get some foreign currency ahead of time. Don't rely on ATMs to withdraw money. They don't always work, and some times the instructions are not in English.

    Hope you are all better. Your dad said you got pneumonia while you were away (urgh). You need to think of a tip on how not to get sick when you travel!

  • jodibart

    Marni – That's a really great suggestion too. I know that my ATM card didn't work in Brazil (thank goodness Adam's did). I'm on my way to being all better! Pneumonia definitely takes a lot out of you but I'm back to work and almost all of my normal activities now.

  • disqus_0MJzZMcNOn

    Great tips. I willleave some comments on your personal email.

  • disqus_0MJzZMcNOn

    Great tips. I willleave some comments on your personal email.

  • Sara

    Along with the “call your credit card company” and the “take your card before it gets sucked in” advice…it's always a good idea to have cold hard cash (stored in multiple secret places, of course) along with MULTIPLE bank cards to get cash. It's also a good idea to have both a Mastercard AND a Visa, b/c believe it or not, it makes a difference in some places. Make sure you know all of your pin #s (esp for the backup cards you don't use often). Not all banks accept all cards, even if there are matching logos on the card and the machine!

  • jodibart

    Got your email dad. You are too much ;-)

  • jodibart

    More great tips. You always give the best advice, Sara. Will banks issue multiple bank cards? That's a really good idea!

  • jodibart

    Got your email dad. You are too much ;-)

  • jodibart

    More great tips. You always give the best advice, Sara. Will banks issue multiple bank cards? That's a really good idea!

  • Mom

    I love having these suggestions. They are really good. You may want to mention that one needs a Passport for Canada. This is just a new concept in the last couple of years and it is really important.

  • chana pindi

    Important documents/credit card info should not be transferred via unsecured email. We use an encrypted zip file to save our credit card info onto a USB flash drive when travelling. Thanks for all the tips! I'd forgotten about last -minute confirmation of flights/reservations, especially foreign flights. And I had no idea that one person's ATM card might not work when the other person's does. Did you ever find out if that was a damaged card or was the bank or something else?

  • chana pindi

    Important documents/credit card info should not be transferred via unsecured email. We use an encrypted zip file to save our credit card info onto a USB flash drive when travelling. Thanks for all the tips! I'd forgotten about last -minute confirmation of flights/reservations, especially foreign flights. And I had no idea that one person's ATM card might not work when the other person's does. Did you ever find out if that was a damaged card or was the bank or something else?

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  • Sara

    Yes, I think you have a choice when banks issue a card to get a MC or Visa. It really doesn't hurt to have both while traveling. I find that AMEX is rarely accepted abroad…

  • Sara

    Yes, I think you have a choice when banks issue a card to get a MC or Visa. It really doesn't hurt to have both while traveling. I find that AMEX is rarely accepted abroad…

  • jodibart

    Good reminder, mom!

  • jodibart

    You never know though – this place we went for lunch in Buenos Aires ONLY took AMEX or cash.

  • jodibart

    Thanks, Chana. We called the bank and they told us that when they retrieve the card from the ATM, they'll shred it.

  • http://www.hotelurbano.com.br/ Luizze Oliveira

    People should get medical check up before trip, this is the main thing people must consider. Anyway, all these are great tips, I am quite impressed to read.

  • http://www.hotelurbano.com.br/ Luizze Oliveira

    People should get medical check up before trip, this is the main thing people must consider. Anyway, all these are great tips, I am quite impressed to read.

  • Alice Lou-Lee

    Wish I had this list before our recent adventures abroad! Other tidbits and lessons learned on our travels: 1) Always pack Tylenol and your preferred med for stomach stuff. 2) Pack your clothes in vacuum-seal bags. Saves a lot of space for when you want to haul more goodies home. There are lots of brands now that don't actually require a vacuum which is even better. You just roll the air out. Super handy for all of your stinky/dirty clothes too. 3) Find a safe place to tuck away your house/car keys that you will remember so you don't scare yourself when you arrive back at your home airport. 4) Ladies – pack tissues. You can't be certain of restroom facility supplies. 5) For cities where you will be traveling by public transit, look into their week passes. Many are cards you can load up with cash value and then use for other items beyond the subway like at the convenience stores. Way handier than carrying a lot of loose change.

  • Alice Lou-Lee

    Wish I had this list before our recent adventures abroad! Other tidbits and lessons learned on our travels: 1) Always pack Tylenol and your preferred med for stomach stuff. 2) Pack your clothes in vacuum-seal bags. Saves a lot of space for when you want to haul more goodies home. There are lots of brands now that don't actually require a vacuum which is even better. You just roll the air out. Super handy for all of your stinky/dirty clothes too. 3) Find a safe place to tuck away your house/car keys that you will remember so you don't scare yourself when you arrive back at your home airport. 4) Ladies – pack tissues. You can't be certain of restroom facility supplies. 5) For cities where you will be traveling by public transit, look into their week passes. Many are cards you can load up with cash value and then use for other items beyond the subway like at the convenience stores. Way handier than carrying a lot of loose change.

  • jodibart

    The vacuum-seal bags is a great idea, Alice! I always pack tissues and hand sanitizer when I travel too.

  • jodibart

    The vacuum-seal bags is a great idea, Alice! I always pack tissues and hand sanitizer when I travel too.

  • jodibart

    The vacuum-seal bags is a great idea, Alice! I always pack tissues and hand sanitizer when I travel too.

  • Tom

    As we are currently in Barcelona I enjoyed your recent “travel tips”… I thought I might add a couple:
    1. If you are getting on a subway in a strange city make sure your wife (spouse) gets on the same train as you do.
    2. If you end up on different trains from your spouse and by some miracle get reconnected don’t try to explain just apologize, apologize, apologize.
    3. When exploring a new city with your spouse it might be a good idea for both parties to have some cash, a map, and a key to the room….(in case you end up on different trains on a subway)