Any trip abroad requires thoughtful planning and a well-researched itinerary, particularly if you're heading off on a vacation rather than traveling for business. The following five-step guide should help you cover key travel areas to make sure nothing is left to chance.
1. Local knowledge
Fail to prepare and prepare to… walk around aimlessly wondering what to do and why you can't buy tickets to see the things you really want to see, as the old adage almost goes. Preparation is the key to everything in life, particularly for travel. If heading abroad, research your destination thoroughly, from the places to eat and drink, the sights and the scenes, the public transport and everything else you'll need while you're away.
Take notes and work your options into an itinerary — one that's flexible enough to allow you to amend it once you get your bearings and begin to explore, but which gives you a solid, structured plan of action. Numerous apps will offer expert and up-to-the-minute insight, but download them before you leave home or risk high data charges.
You should also research any events taking place wherever you're headed. If you wait to buy tickets on the spur of the moment, you may not be able to attend the event. The same rule applies to tickets for museums, galleries or any other tourist attractions — you'll generally get a better deal by booking them online, well in advance.
2. Money matters
There are several ways to ensure your dollar goes far on vacation. The first is to research the exchange rate of where you're traveling to long before you book your trip. For example, in Europe, a vacation in Denmark or Iceland will cost more than if you go to Greece or mainland Spain.
Next, make sure your credit card will work abroad before you depart. It's best to call your credit card company for confirmation and while you have them on the phone, let them know you're going on a vacation to prevent card theft or deactivation. Once abroad, make sure you're carrying both a working credit card and local currency — some places may not accept credit cards, particularly on public transportation. You may also need local currency to enter the country — some countries have entrance or exit fees which are not always included in the price of your airfare. To avoid any surprises, check before you depart.
And lastly, make sure your credit card company doesn't charge a fee for using it overseas, and exchange money at either a bank or an ATM when you get to your destination for better rates. Even better, exchange money before you depart, while still at home.
3. Language and lingo
If traveling to a foreign country where they speak a different language, it may help to learn a few of the key phrases before you go. Mastering a language takes practice but learning a few key phrases will help you get by. Learn how to say 'hello' and 'goodbye', 'please' and 'thank you', 'good morning' and 'good night', 'two beers', 'two coffees' and 'the check, please', plus any other lines your brain can retain. The locals won't expect you to speak their language fluently, but they'll appreciate that you've made the effort to learn a few lines.
For further help while you're on your trip, consider one of the many language learning apps on the market. If you plan to learn, try Duolingo, a free app for iOS and Android that covers numerous languages. If you simply want to translate words or phrases you don't understand, or you need help when you're being spoken to but don't understand a word, try Google Translate, which is also free and available for iOS and Android.
4. Tech troubles
Everything we carry with us nowadays needs plugging in and charging. Your phone, tablet, laptop and reading devices won't run forever, or in some cases for long. So, you'll need to pack chargers and cables, but be aware that not all plugs and adapters are the same in every country. Before leaving, check to see if the country you're visiting requires a specific adapter and if so, purchase it ahead of time so that you won't run into any battery or power issues on your trip. Also, be advised that there may be data roaming charges when using your mobile phone or devices abroad. You'll also want to check if activating your mobile phone or device's global capabilities is a cost-effective option, something your provider should be able to assist you on.
5. Survival guide
No matter where you are going, it's always a good idea to take the necessary precautions ahead of time so that if an emergency were to happen, you'll be prepared. First things first, plan ahead by securing adequate travel insurance. Also, you should email yourself a copy of your flight tickets and double check that your passport will be valid for the entirety of your vacation — some countries may deny you entry if your passport is less than six months away from expiring. If traveling to a foreign country research the whereabouts of the U.S. Embassy closest to your destination, noting down the address and contact details. Next, print out the address of your hotel or accommodation and keep it on you at all times. If you can't speak the language, you can at least show the name of your hotel to your taxi driver.
And finally, to sleep more easily before and during your vacation, make sure your medical insurance covers you for your time away and ensure that you have all the relevant vaccinations needed for the country you are visiting. If you require medication at home, make certain you have enough to cover the duration of your vacation. And to guard against having to make a dash through an unfamiliar town in search of a drug store, pack an emergency medical kit. This should include a bare minimum of band-aids, ibuprofen, cold relief, antacids, antiseptic cream and antidiarrheal medication. Because as they say, it's far better to have and not need.