As independent travellers, we need to be a little more prepared when visiting an overseas destination than someone on an organized tour. Some pre-departure research can go a long way to easing culture shock and avoiding unpleasant situations when you find yourself in unfamiliar territory. Some people are partial to just rocking up and mustering their way through. However, from my experience, travel is just that much more fun when you’re not constantly learning the hard way.
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1. Entry/exit requirements
Do you require a visa to enter the country? Do you need to apply in advance or can you purchase one at the airport. Most countries require 6-months validity on your passport and blank pages ready to receive those passport stamps and/or visa. Check these requirements in advance, in addition to any exit or tourist fees. Often countries that charge these fees also require you to have the exact amount in local currency.
Find out what level of English is commonly spoken in your destination. Even if English is prevalent, learn a few useful phrases in the local tongue – it will endear you to locals and usually makes them more willing to help.
Research internet connectivity, WIFI hotspot availability and the pros and cons of buying a local SIM card versus utilizing global roaming.
3. Finances and gratuities
Figure out the local currency and exchange rate, along with common payment methods in your destination. You may be visiting a mostly cash economy, or they might accept debit and visa cards. If you are using a card for either payment or withdrawing cash, make sure you understand all the fees your bank will impose on you. It may be worth the time applying for a new card with better international transaction rates. Also, get familiar with local tipping customs if there are any.
As I mentioned in the post How to Survive a Long Haul Flight, knowing how to get the hell out of the airport and to your accommodation without faffing about, can be a real relief when you finally touch down in your destination. Along with airport transfers, research safety with regards to taxis, rideshare and public transport, so you can make the best transport decisions throughout your trip.
5. Personal security
Investigate common tourist scams and security concerns in your destination. Have an idea of local crime rates and locations to avoid (there’s always at least one). Women may need to take extra precautions, especially when travelling alone. Ensure you understand local customs and etiquette including dress so as not to draw unnecessary attention or make yourself a target.
6. Food and water safety
Before leaving home, inquire about the safety of drinking tap water. If you need to drink bottled or treated water it is helpful to pack a refillable water bottle and remember your SteriPEN if you have one.
Also, know how local water quality impacts upon food safety. Here is an excellent brochure by the World Health Organisation on general food safety rules for travellers.
Once you’ve checked off this international travel checklist of things to research before you travel overseas, you are going to be a much happier, secure and prepared voyageur, I promise! See this additional checklist for things that travellers often forget to do before leaving home.
Peace, love & inspiring travel,