So, you are thinking of traveling internationally? Whether this is your first international trip or you are a world-traveler, there’s something in this article for you.
First off, let me build my credentials. I took my first international trip at 18 years old. My mom promised me, as a high school graduation present, that she would take me on a trip of my choice. I chose Europe, and my mom followed through on her promise and booked a Mediterranean cruise. We flew into the Madrid airport where I ordered my first café con leche, and to this day it was the best coffee I’ve ever had. When we entered the ship, my 16-year-old sister and I set off. We quickly became friends with fellow teenagers from England. I was enchanted by their accent and I couldn’t stop asking questions about their day to day lives. If I close my eyes I can still see how blue the water was when we went to our first destination, taking a smaller boat from the ship to the French Riviera. When we traveled through Italy, Rome was so exciting…driving along the cliffs of the Amalfi coast and the twists and turns of the streets of Venice. I remember the sound of the gondolas streaming through the canals. Yes, we did go on a gondola ride. I am sure it was super romantic for my mom and stepdad to have their 18- and 16-year-old daughters on the boat with them. We went to Greece and I remember the white homes against the deep blue sea and trying real feta cheese for the first time. It was during this trip that my passion for traveling and love of culture was born.
When it was over, I caught the travelling bug and I caught it hard. In college, I decided to study abroad in Spain and lived there for three months. While studying abroad, I traveled all around Europe and also went to Morocco and camped out in the Sahara desert for two nights. One of my dreams was to ride camel and that dream was granted on that trip. My mom and I went to Israel a few years ago to see the Holy Land and to Costa Rica the year after that. Two years ago, I went to Machu Picchu, Peru with my dad. This past year, I went to England, Ireland, and Haiti. I could go on for days with stories that I hold in my heart from these trips. But, I am thinking that you chose to read this article because you have already caught the bug and now desire some tips for traveling…
So, here are my 5 tips for traveling internationally:
1. Have an up-to-date passport.
This may seem like an obvious tip since you do need a passport to leave the country. You may already have a passport, but make sure you check the rules and regulations for each country to which you are traveling. For example, when I went to Israel, you have to have a passport that does not expire within six months from the date that you depart. Since I got my first passport at age 18 and went to Israel when I was 27, I had to renew my passport for that trip. Thank goodness, because my first passport photo was a hot mess. It’s also important to look up visa requirements for each country. I have not needed a visa for the countries I have traveled to yet, but I know I would like to go to Southeast Asia for my next trip and some of the countries surrounding that region do require a visa. You can find visa information here.
2. Make sure you are up-to-date with your immunizations.
This tip is very important to remain healthy. For most of the countries, the standard immunizations I received as a child were sufficient. But, when I went to Haiti in October, I needed a typhoid immunization and malaria pills. Some immunizations, you can take and it will last for the rest of your life. Some do expire. For example, my typhoid immunization will last for the next five years and then if I go to another country that requires it after that time spans ends, I will have to get it again. You can find immunization information here. It’s also important to talk to your doctor before you leave. I have asthma and certain allergies, so I always stock up on medications before I depart. While we are on the topic of health, I would say that it is inevitable that you may get sick in certain countries. I became sick in Morocco and Haiti. Be prepared and pack the medications you know you may need. I don’t recommend over-packing, but I would say if you’re going to over-pack on one thing while traveling, it would be in this category.
3. Be respectful and embrace the different cultures in each country.
It’s important to do research on the culture of each country to which you are traveling. For example, when I went to Morocco, I was advised to purchase a scarf and wear a turban on my head when walking through the medinas (streets) since it was disrespectful to show your skin. In Israel, I carried a scarf with me to cover my shoulders whenever I entered a church. For the culture in Haiti, I was advised not to show my knees, so I made sure I wore long skirts.
It’s important to embrace the culture of each country. The different languages, foods, and events are what make each country special. Be open to truly experiencing the place you are visiting. When I studied abroad, I was in Sevilla on April 1 and I had no idea that the Festival de Abril was happening that day. When my friend and I heard about it we started heading toward the festival, and as we were walking toward it, at midnight, lights turned on and everyone in the streets ran toward the entrance. Not knowing what was going on, we started to run toward the entrance too. There were families with tents inside and one family invited us into their tent. We got to experience the most incredible evening of food and dancing because we were open to what that city had to offer.
Part of embracing the culture is also trying the different foods. I had to learn to love sardine soup while in Spain and learned how to clean an octopus. While I was in Peru, the main delicacy is guinea pig. Yes, you read that correctly. When I was offered a piece, I was hesitant, but I had to try it. Of course, be weary if you have food allergies, but part of the experience is trying the different, sometimes unusual cuisine.
If someone in the country you are visiting is willing to open up about their culture, listen and ask questions! I’ve learned that if you are truly interested in learning about their culture, they will be more willing to open up and have a true, authentic conversation with you. I promise you, when you truly embrace the culture, you will hold that experience in your heart for a lifetime and it will be something intangible that you can bring back home and share with others.
The different languages, foods, and events are what make each country special.
4. Act like a local.
Sometimes it is fun to act like a local and to be able to blend in. I made such amazing connections with locals because I talked to them and asked their advice on where to go and what to do in their country. One time I was hanging out in Paris and met a woman who I asked many questions; we ended up having lunch together at a local spot that she loved. Acting like a local can also help prevent you from being taken advantage of. Not everyone you meet has your best interest in mind, and if a local business owner knows that you are a tourist, they may try to take advantage of you.
There is also truth to this for safety. When I lived in Spain, I did backpack around Europe by myself for a little while. For the most part, I felt safe. But I also didn’t draw attention to myself. I wore normal clothing and acted confident in my whereabouts. You may get lost while traveling, but take the time at a local café to look at your map and draw out your plan for the day. You can also look up maps on your phone. If you feel comfortable enough, ask a local. I remember getting so lost in both Prague and Paris, but staying calm and acting natural did help me get through it. Just make sure you are aware of your surroundings at all times and maybe don’t take risks in exploring new areas at night.
It may be hard to act like a local if you are only there for a week, and you may inevitably look like a tourist if you are part of a tour group. But, in the moments where you can take this advice, it may help you tremendously.
If you truly embrace the culture, you will hold that experience in your heart for a lifetime.
5. Be prepared and pack like a pro.
The most important part of traveling is being prepared. Yes, do your research. You will have a more enjoyable experience when you are prepared. Make sure you pack really well when it comes to medications and your health. I always have a traveling medical kit that I make myself, and it helps bring me peace of mind. Other than that, pack light. You will be going through airports, to different hotels and/or hostels, and will be doing a lot of walking. Think about how much weight you want to be carrying around, especially if you’re backpacking. When I backpacked through Europe, I brought very minimal clothes and did my laundry in the hostels I stayed in or went to local laundry mats.
Look up the weather before you travel. When my dad and I went to Peru in August, it was actually winter there since it was past the equator. If I hadn’t looked up the weather before I left, it would have been a bad experience for this Florida girl! When I went to Ireland, I packed a raincoat because it rains often. Also, make sure you pack a good pair of walking shoes. Another thing that I enjoy when traveling is having a jacket with inside pockets. That way I can carry my money and passport in there and I don’t have to walk around with a purse. I have also traveled with a money belt to keep under my clothing in certain countries. Don’t forget converters! Make sure you pack appropriate converters, so you can keep your electronics charged while traveling. One final thing I love to pack is a journal. I like to write down my experiences while traveling, so I can remember and cherish them forever.
So, there you have it! These are my five tips for traveling internationally. I really hope these tips will help you. Remember: do your research, be open, be safe, and most importantly, have fun! Happy traveling!
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