One of my top goals each year is to travel the world and experience new cultures. This week I’m in Mexico enjoying a retreat with my work team! It’s my second time in Cancun (Tim and I honeymooned here for 2 weeks) and I’m having a blast exploring the area even more. I’ll definitely be sharing travel guides for all of the places we visit so keep an eye out for those, but until then, I thought I’d share some tips for traveling internationally in honor of my first international trip of the year!
I know for many, international travels can be super daunting but don’t fear! As someone who personally loves the adventure, I’ve learned how to set my trips up for success. When you correctly prepare for a trip, you can sit back and enjoy instead of being stressed out about all the logistical details. So if you’re planning any international getaways this year or just want to make sure you’re all set for your upcoming adventure, this post is for you! Here are 10 tips for your next trip abroad!
First let’s dive into things to do before you hop on the plane:
1. PACK LIGHTLY
I haven’t always been a proponent for packing lightly but after enjoying the conveniences of 3 weeks in Europe with a carry on suitcase, I’m sold! In many international destinations you’ll be lugging your suitcases up stairs and on planes and trains, so the less you have to transport the better. Check to make sure your carry on is the largest acceptable size, and don’t underestimate the power of your personal item! Since pretty much everyone’s suitcase is black, tie a colorful ribbon or identifying marker onto your bags to make them easier to pick out of a bunch. Pack what you need!
Shop my favorite travel accessories:
2. OFFLINE MAPS
Next up in your preparations for your trip is to offline your maps! There is nothing worse than getting to a new place and not being able to get directions to where you’re going. I love using Google Maps to offline the areas I’ll be exploring so I can get walking, driving, and public transport information without data or wifi connection. Just download the Google maps app on your phone and click the three lines in the top left corner. In the drop-down menu you’ll see the option to offline maps. Click custom map and search the city you are traveling to. Zoom out to the area you want to have available offline and save it! It’ll save all of the information to your phone for a 30 day period and you can save as many as you want- just make sure you have the storage space available on your phone.
After you’ve done this, I’d highly recommend searching all the attractions, restaurants, and spots you’re interested in checking out and saving them to your starred locations so you can easily access them without having to save all of the addresses somewhere. This is also helpful when trying to group together nearby stops and restaurants to plan out your days.
3. OFFLINE THE LANGUAGE
Now that you have maps down, it’s time to offline the language! Did you know you can do that? Head over and download the Google Translate app to your phone. Search for the language and offline it! This allows you to look up phrases and words so you can easily communicate in the moment. But it gets better 🙂 While on the app, click the camera icon and hover over a menu at a restaurant to get a live translation of what your camera is looking at. It’s pretty funny because it’s not 100% foolproof but definitely helps make sure you don’t order something you don’t want to eat- like when Tim and I ordered cow intestines in Italy. Whoops!
4. RESEARCH THE CURRENCY
Currency conversion is the next thing you need to make sure you understand. Most countries will have declared conversion rates for exchanging currencies but it’s important to research the best places to exchange currency and the standards for what currencies are accepted. For example, in touristy areas of Mexico, US Dollars are widely accepted but you won’t get the best exchange rate. In addition, the exchange rate isn’t monitored so depending on where you go to convert your money you can get a different rate. From my experiences, the best places to exchange your money are banks and specific money exchanges. Just be sure to look up the declared currency conversion rate, maximum you can exchange in a day, and what kind of identification you will need when you go. It’s also smart to calculate how much you should get back when you convert your money to make sure you don’t get scammed.
5. CALL YOUR CELL PHONE PROVIDER
Even if you don’t plan to use your phone on your trip, make sure to call your service provider and find out the terms and conditions for international travels in case of an emergency. Some phone providers will charge a daily rate of $20/day to access your phone plan internationally. Others, like T-Mobile, have partnerships with international phone providers so you can tap into your texting and data without any additional charges. Another option that I would recommend having on your phone no matter what would be Whatsapp. Download the app so you can text or call anyone in your phone while connected to wifi. The last thing you want to be is stranded in an airport or on the side of the road with no way to get a hold of anyone. It couldn’t hurt to memorize your emergency contacts as well! Prepare for the worst, hope for the best.
6. LOOK UP ROAD RULES AND LAWS
If you’re going to be driving in your destination, it’s smart to familiarize yourself with the basics of their road signs and rules. For most places it should be as simple as following the maximum speeds posted on the side of the road (whether that is in kph or mph) but it’s also smart to learn the basic road signs as well. Outside of road rules, I would also look up the laws of the area as well. There are some strange rules in certain destinations like not chewing gum or wearing certain clothes. For example in Europe I know you have to have your shoulders covered to enter any cathedrals or places of worship, so do your research before you visit.
Next, let’s dive into some things to keep in mind once you’ve arrived to your destination:
7. ADJUST TO LIFESTYLE DIFFERENCES
Once you arrive in your destination, you may notice some things that are very different than you are used to at home. For example, in Mexico there are signs in the restrooms that tell you not to flush your toilet paper and instead place it in the trash can. Many people also recommend not to drink the tap water as it isn’t filtered as well as other countries. Those are just a few examples of lifestyle shifts you will have to be aware of when traveling. It’s a habit of mine to get up in the morning, run my toothbrush under the water in the sink and brush my teeth, but in Mexico that’s probably not a good idea unless you want to become best friends with the toilet for a few days. Pay attention to the suggestions others give you and do your research so you are aware of what things you’ll need to do differently.
8. BUY AND EAT LOCAL
I cannot stress enough the importance of buying local. You will never truly experience the culture of a place unless you leave the touristy areas and force yourself to explore, shop, and eat at the local spots. Put yourself in the shoes of someone who would be living where you’re visiting and try to do some of the things they would do. This may seem intimidating because you most likely won’t be able to easily converse with people outside of tourist areas but I promise it will be so worth it. Off the beaten path, you will get better prices, better food, and in my opinion an overall better experience of the culture. Choose restaurants that don’t have touristy food photos on the menu and push yourself to try new things! After-all, isn’t that why you’re traveling internationally in the first place?
9. KEEP YOUR VALUABLES SAFE
Whenever you’re anywhere international always keep your valuables on you. First and foremost, your passport should never be left in your hotel, unless maybe you’re going on a boat or somewhere else where it could get lost or damaged. When I’m traveling I keep my passport in my small purse but leave my other ID hidden in a random place in my luggage. I will further divide and keep one credit card on me and another one hidden, plus divide my cash and do the same thing. This way if I lose my purse or I do have the unfortunate experience of being pickpocketed, I always have backups for an emergency situation. Be smart with your valuables! Hold your purse at all times, and don’t hide things in obvious places. For extra security you can also get a money clip or belt specifically designed to wear under your clothes.
10. BE POSITIVE!
If there is any last piece of advice I can give for traveling no matter where you’re going, it’s to be positive! I’m amazed at how many grumpy people there are when traveling and how they blame everyone around them for the bad day they’re having. Everything can be positive if you make it positive! Don’t get upset if you miss your flight or it gets canceled- you can get another one or explore the city you’re in. Don’t blame those around you if things don’t go as planned. Just be nice! Trust me you will get so much further and it truly isn’t the end of the world. A good trip is all in your mindset!
Here is a good example: Once when I was traveling for work, my connecting flight home from Charlotte was canceled due to weather, along with hundreds of flights. There was absolute chaos in the airport and long lines of people trying to rebook their flights and get hotels for the night. People were angry, yelling at airport staff, and just getting nowhere. I stood in line at the service desk for 45 minutes while listening to each of the staff tell other passengers there were no free hotel vouchers left. They angrily argued with the airline staff trying to explain why they deserved to have a free stay. I was beginning to question why I was standing in the line but something told me to stay. When I finally got up to the gentleman, I smiled and commented about how well he was handling being yelled out by hundreds of passengers for things that were absolutely out of his control. His face completely changed as he looked at my flight and made the adjustments for me. In the end, he handed me a free hotel voucher and thanked me for being so kind. The lesson? You get what you give, so be kind!
I hope this post helps you in your preparations for your next international trip! Let me know where you’re traveling to next and what you do to prepare for an enjoyable trip.
Thanks so much for reading!