Having not traveled internationally in over a year, I seem to have forgotten a few vital aspects of it all. I thought these tips would be useful to those who haven’t traveled in a while, as well as to globetrotting newcomers. I am writing this coming from the US and traveling to Europe, but it can be applied to most destinations.
BEFORE YOU GO:
Tip#1: Don’t burn down the house.
Check voltage in the countries you are traveling to, and buy the appropriate plugs instead of scrambling to find these when you arrive. Almost any shop in New York’s Chinatown has cheap plugs – $3.99 for the UK and $1 for continental European plugs (220V). Australian plugs are completely different from any of these. DO NOT pack items such as hair straighteners with US voltage (110V) for countries which do not have the same voltage – this can lead to short circuits and irreparable damage to your product. I would even be wary of using converters unless the product comes with a converter plug (such as MacBooks).
Tip#2: Good things come in small packages.
You will only wear half the items you think you’ll wear, and your bag will always be heavier upon your return, regardless of how little you think you bought. And check the weather before you go. If you’re coming from Los Angeles, remember to pack an umbrella (depending on your destination).
Tip#3: Oooh la la!
Change a small amount of money at your bank before you go. When you get to your destination, just take out money using your ATM card at the local cash machine instead of paying commission to money changing stations. Be aware that not all countries are as credit card friendly as the US, and that you may have to pay in cash more than you’re used to. Also, google tipping customs in the country you are going to. In Europe, tip is usually included for meals and taxis – it is customary to round up or to add one or two Euro if you feel the service was excellent, but if you don’t leave anything, you won’t be chased out the door. Tax is included in shops, so don’t be surprised if the price on the price-tag is exactly what you pay at the register.
If you’re traveling in Economy, try to get an Emergency row seat for more leg-room. If you’re only traveling domestically in the US, bring snacks and limit the number of bags you check-in – food is no longer provided and you now have to pay per checked-in bag (usually around $25, but depends on the airline). Also, I recommend bringing a large empty water bottle, and filling it up at a water fountain after you pass through security (unless you want to pay $5 for a small bottle). While on the topic of security, make sure to only bring the permitted liquids in a ziplock bag, and do not bring objects that can be considered weapons – when in doubt, leave it at home. For a full list, check http://www.tsa.gov/travelers/airtravel/prohibited/permitted-prohibited-items.shtm. On the plane, try to avoid large quantities of caffeine, alcohol, and food and try to sleep – this will not only make the time go by faster, but it will help ease jet lag and make you more comfortable. If you are a frequent traveler, remember to give your mileage number at check-in to rack up those miles! Keep track of the miles as well, as they often expire without notice.
YOU’RE FINALLY THERE!
Tip#1: “When in Rome…”
I’m sure you know the famous saying. Nothing shouts easy target for pickpockets more than a neon green wind-breaker, a big American flag on your T-shirt, baggy jeans, high-top white Reeboks, a map and guidebook in one hand, and a large Nikon camera around your neck (this may be an extreme example, but trust me, I’ve seen it). And I forgot to mention – the fanny pack (Gucci fanny packs would be considered an exception here). Women: keep your handbag tight under your arm, and preferably wear one that closes at the top.
Learn a few words in the local language. This will not only please the locals, but you would also more than likely get friendlier and better service, as well as proper directions. Please be aware that most countries are not as service-oriented as the US, so you might be in for some unpleasant surprises – such as extremely rude waiters whom I’ve had the pleasure of sparring with in Paris. Essential words to learn: hello, good-bye, please, thank you, where is the restroom? can we order? where is…? how do I get to…?
Learn basic customs –
For example, in East Asia, you must accept business cards handed to you with both hands, and look at it for a minute before putting it away. If you are going to a slightly more conservative country such as South Korea, do not wear a miniskirt unless you want everyone to stare at you, and take off your shoes when entering restaurants or private homes – unless they are very Westernized.
In Europe it is acceptable to drink alcohol in a business setting and smoke in a social setting, but both of these are frowned upon in the US. In Europe people do not eat and drink coffee on the go as commonly as they do in the US – people usually like to sit down and take time to enjoy their meal. For greetings, in the US you shake hands, in Europe you give kisses, and in Asia you bow – do not mix those up!
Tip#3: Louboutins or otherwise…
Wear the appropriate shoes for your destination. After living in Los Angeles for almost a year, I decided to bring only high heels on my NYC and Europe trip. Please do not follow this example! Do NOT wear stilettos and go on the tube in London (they get stuck in the escalator ridges and you will have to take them off and aggressively yank them out in front of several dozen onlookers). Also, many countries in Europe still have cobblestone streets – charming to the eye but painful for feet.
Tip#4: Getting friendly with your fellow travelers.
I know you’re excited to be crammed into some form of mass transit, standing room only, WITH all your luggage. Europe’s mass transit is actually quite bearable though. Depending on how long you are staying in each city, buy metro cards that save you money – either day, week, or month passes or packages.
London Underground day off-peak day passes are £5.60. Take the Heathrow Express from London Heathrow Airport to the city center (Paddington station) – one way purchased online is £16.50, roundtrip £32.00. London tube map: http://images.intolondon.com/images/intolondon/transport-maps/london-underground-tube-map.gif.
Paris metro 10 pack of tickets is 11.60 euro – which saves you 27% ( a single ticket is 1.60 euro). Paris metro map: http://www.frenchculture.com/images/metro_map.gif.
To travel between countries in Europe, take the Eurostar (http://www.eurostar.com/) for London-Paris-Brussels, and take the Thalys (http://www.thalys.com) for Paris-Brussels-Amsterdam-Cologne. I’d recommend purchasing tickets online as far in advance as possible and printing the tickets at home. Be aware that the Thalys only stops for five minutes at each destination, so get out as fast as you can. Otherwise, you’ll be stuck on the train until the next destination. Take your passport if you’re an American citizen going through customs for the Eurostar, as a driver’s license is not considered proper identification in Europe.
Tip#5: The Natives.
If you know someone in the place you’re going to, meet up with them. Seeing the city from a native’s perspective is a million times better than from a tourist’s point of view. And it encourages you to go to places that you would never think of going by yourself – such as when I traveled to Bogota, Colombia (http://www.colombia.travel/en/) and visited an old college friend, I saw a charming city full of culture, met warm and friendly people, drank delicious Juan Valdez coffee and ate arequipe (similar to dulce de leche). The experience completely shattered any stereotypical image of Colombia as a dangerous drug-ridden country. In short, travel opens up narrow-minds and lessens cross-cultural misunderstandings.
Tip#6: HAVE A BLAST!!!
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Tags: Bogota, Colombia, customs, Europe, international travel, jetsetting, languages, London, Louboutins, Monserrate, natives, Paris, Seoul, transport, travel tips