International Travel Tips
For the international traveler, here are some tips that helped me on a recent trip to Cape Town, South Africa that I think may help you no matter what country you visit:
While you are considering your international location of choice, be sure to check U.S. Department of State - Bureau of Consular Affairs website for important information about your travel destinations of consideration.
Be sure to read up on any vaccination and visa requirements, and follow any instructions provided.
Once you settle on your location and dates, booked your flight well in advance (no less than 30 days) to secure a good price and your seating preferences, like window or aisle seat. This is also a good time to contact the airline if you have any dietary and/or ADA accommodations to ensure everyone is on the same page to support you during your air travel.
Always purchase insurance offered with airline ticket purchase and hotel booking.
"It's better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it." ~ My grandpa
Purchase additional international insurance to cover unexpected medical, emergency evacuation, etc. Be sure to ask for extension coverage options that cover medical bills once you return to your home country to help keep costs down.
Register your trip with U.S. Embassy STEP Program.
Next, contact your bank through your message portal first and inquire what steps need to be taken for your upcoming travel. Be sure to provide the location(s) as well as dates of travel. It's a good idea to allow for a buffer or a window of a few days (or more) with your travel dates should you experience any delays. You will also want to find out what the currency conversion rate will be so that you can budget accordingly using your card, withdrawing cash or some combination of both.
Also call your mobile carrier and inform them of your upcoming trip. They will advise you if there is a notation needed on your account to avoid your sim card becoming locked. This is also a good time to discuss if your phone has an international plan, and if not, what options are available. Keep in mind, if your cellular data is not turned off and you use WiFi to place calls, when WiFi drops your call will switch to cellular data and you may be charged according to your carrier rates. For example, T-Mobile charges $0.99/minute without an international plan.
Since we're talking about mobile plans, if you have an old Android phone or even an Android, consider getting a local sim in your phone to place calls and use WhatsApp or other free apps to place local and international calls.
Note: Try not to be a tourist when buying your local sim card, vendors are known to whip out tourist prices which can be significantly more. (Shout out to the Voda Com rep that let me in on this secret, showed me the international prices charged to tourists, and charged me local prices).
Be sure to give your close family, friends, and/or loved ones your in-country mobile number.
Compression Stockings. Listen, for long flights, I dare say over 3.5 hours, you may want to strongly consider compression stockings or socks. Here's why. Ankle and leg swelling is REAL! If you opt not to get compression stockings or socks, I highly recommend you get up and walk the plane every 90 minutes or so and/or find a way to keep your feet elevated as much as possible.
Watch YouTube videos of "real people" who took real vacations, mission trips, or study abroad programs. Open your search up to international experiences from any country to your destination country. If necessary, consider connecting/following these people on their socials to ask more questions or see more accounts of their experiences.
Read online snippets from your destination country's local newspaper to get a sense of what's going on so that you are mentally prepared for the environment you will be spending time in. Understand local customs, greetings, etc. so that you are not inadvertently offensive.
Always, always use a reputable airport transfer service to and from the airport. Schedule this in advance and print out confirmation to go along with your digital confirmation.
Let your close family, friends, neighbor, and/or loved ones know of your travel plans and itinerary. Someone needs to know you are traveling and your whereabouts. Period.
Once in-country, look like you belong (don't walk around scary or nervous, be confident and alert)
Avoid crimes of opportunity - don't be flashy, especially with your cell phone/devices.
Some sort of waist belt, money belt, or comfortable bag you can throw across you where the bag itself is on your chest is a good idea depending on the country or area you are visiting.
Travel light and use reputable transportation companies like Uber or Bolt.
Carry a hard copy of your passport with you as well as a digital copy. Keep your passport in the hotel safe or buried strategically in your luggage. In some countries, it is not advisable to carry your passport with you, do your research.
Look around, and be aware of distractive, seemingly innocent people who might engage in dialogue to avoid being mugged or pick-pocketed.
Most important after safety is to have fun!