Each year I stay in upwards of 50 hotels and travel 10s of thousands of miles by planes, trains and automobiles. Along the way I have learned a great deal on traveling as smoothly as possible. Here are some of my international travel tips and tricks that I hope will help you the next time you travel abroad.
The first of my international travel tips is to start and stay organized throughout your trip. Packing and keeping everything in the same place will minimize frustrations.
One method for staying organized is by using packing cubes; I have a dozen of these handy items from Eagle Creek. Packing cubes come in a variety of different shapes, sizes and styles. Packing cubes are perfect for organizing both your checked and carry-on luggage. You can neatly pack tee shirts in one, underwear in another and then you simply stack them into your luggage. Some packing cubes are see-through, so you know exactly what is in each. I also use packing cubes in my carry-on for long flights. I will have one to store snacks, while a smaller one is useful for putting ear buds, ear plugs, toothbrush, gum, lip balm, and other items that I access during the flight. I might use another packing cube to store USB cables, back-up batteries, iPod and other electronic items.
When traveling abroad you will need to obtain some local currency. Some people will go to their local bank to procure currency for the country they are visiting, however this is by far the most expensive way to exchange money. At the airport you will often see many different currency exchange vendors. These are a rip off! The best and easiest way to exchange currency is to simply use an ATM. And, the XE Currency app is a great solution to know exactly what something costs in the country you are visiting.
Just in case you lose your passport, credit card or other important documentation, take photos of everything you are traveling with so you have a copy on your phone. For redundancy, upload those photos to DropBox (or other cloud based service). That way, in case you lose your phone, you still access to the files from a computer. Add one more level of redundancy by photocopying all your documents and place in a separate piece of luggage from your primary documents.
EXTRA SPACE IN FLIGHT
Most flights today are fully booked, so the following method will only work on occasion. The last seats to go on a flight are the middle seats, and international flights tend to have fewer single people flying. So, if you’re flying with a companion and want to increase your odds of having that middle seat as a buffer for long haul flight, book the aisle and window, it will improve your chances of having a vacant middle seat. If someone does occupy the middle seat, you can easily offer him or her the window or aisle if you don’t wish to be separated from your travel companion.
COMMUNICATION IS ESSENTIAL
We are all so tied to our phones today that it’s tough not to have access to information for a single minute. As soon as you get off the plane, you will likely want/need to use your phone, whether to book an Uber or to return those calls you missed while en route. The problem is, no one wants to incur exorbitant roaming fees and it might not be possible to get a local SIM card until you get to your destination. Thankfully, there is a solution. You can buy a World SIM (OneSimCard.com) card before you leave your home country. You do however need to read the fine print and follow the instructions explicitly so that you don’t use up all of your data before you leave the airport. Once settled, you can find a shop that sells local SIM cards. This is likely the best value.
STAYING POWERED UP
Today we cannot live (or travel) without our devices, each of which requires battery power. When traveling abroad, there are several things to consider, first of which is what type of power adaptor will you need. Rather than buying a slew of adaptors, I recommend buying a single universal adaptor that will work in most countries. Then, purchase a mini power strip, that way you can power up many devices at the same time. This is a particularly useful method when staying at a hotel that might only have a single outlet available.
INDISPENSABLE TRAVEL APPS
There are so many niche travel apps and while I use many like Uber, Airbnb and Google Translate, the most indispensable travel app I use is Tripit. I keep all of my flight, hotel, car rental and other reservation information all in one simple-to-use app. As a pro user, Tripit sends me flight updates, check-in notifications, gate changes, and even lets me store my frequent flyer, passport info and other travel related information. It’s simple to use, too and most information you want in the app such as your itineraries can be emailed to Plans@Tripit.com and their system will populate the correct fields within the app.
DON’T WAIT TO DO THIS
I don’t know why this is the case, but so many times after landing at an international destination I have discovered there are no bathrooms until after you’ve passed through customs. Whether you’re a local to the origin or not, it can often take extensive time to get through customs. Therefore, I encourage you to use the restroom on your flight just before they begin the landing descent and turn on the fasten seat belt sign.
GETTING ON WITH YOUR CARRY ON
So many of us want to avoid baggage fees, so more people than ever are towing a roller bag, but the issue is there is often not enough room in overhead storage to accommodate everyone. If you are caught in the last couple of boarding groups, there is a good chance you will have to check your luggage at the gate. On the plus side, there is no fee, but the downside is valuable items will be out of your control. If carrying your roller bag onto the plane is crucial, make sure you check in online as soon as you possibly can (don’t wait until you arrive at the airport). Alternatively, some airlines will allow you to purchase an early boarding pass.
It’s also a good idea to take a photo of your checked luggage and its contents just in case it is lost or stolen. It’s much easier to have a photo than trying to describe the luggage and contents by memory.
DON’T DO THAT, DO THIS
If you use your phone for your boarding pass, a pro travel tip is to take a screen shot of the image so that when you go to scan it at the gate, the image stays in place and does not move into landscape mode. Your fellow passengers will be delighted when you don’t hold up the line, especially when traveling with a family and you have to scan multiple boarding passes.
Don’t keep all of your money and credit cards in one place. Keep some in multiple pockets when out and about, but keep most in hidden parts of luggage back at the hotel. Even better, utilize the in-room hotel safe.
DON’T FORGET TO CALL
Before you leave your home country, don’t forget to call your credit card companies and let them know in which countries you will be traveling to so that the fraud alert department does not turn off access to your card(s). It’s also a good idea to leave a travel itinerary with friends and loved ones in case of an emergency.
ASK YOUR DOCTOR
Depending on where you are traveling, you may need or want to consider getting vaccinations (check with the CDC). I would also recommend asking your doctor for a general all-purpose antibiotic (such as ciprofloxacin) in case you get sick. Here are some other over-the-counter medications to consider taking with you. Topical antibacterial, Band-Aids, Imodium, Advil/pain reliever, TUMS, earplugs and eye mask.
If you’re like me and you have a tough time sleeping in a cramped coach seat, entertainment is key to passing the time. I remember the first time I took an international trip; I brought 15-20 CDs and several books. It was so bulky and heavy! Today, an iPad (or other tablet) can hold thousands of songs, dozens of movies and books. That one tiny device can entertain for hours and hours. Three suggestions:
- Bring USB storage (they have them for Apple now using the lightning outlet) to hold more content.
- Bring a battery bank to keep your device(s) charged.
- Bring cordless bluetooth headset, not having the cord to contend with is quite nice. That said, I recommend bringing corded earbuds as a backup in case the bluetooth headset dies and/or will not sync with the movie you are watching. Plus, the bluetooth headset will not work if using the in-flight entertainment.
I wish I had some international travel tips for this next one, but unfortunately there is no cure or solution to overcome or elevate jet-lag. And, the older you are, the more difficult it is on your body. You will also discover that traveling east is much more difficult than traveling west. To help minimize jet-lag you could try not sleeping on your flight, thus making you very tired upon arrival, which may help you adjust to your new time zone a little quicker. Don’t be surprised that you fall right asleep, but wake just an hour or two later completely unable to sleep. Before your trip you could ask your doctor for a sleep aid such as Ambien to try and keep you asleep until you acclimate to your new time zone.
Those are some of my international travel tips; I hope you will find them helpful. If you have any international travel tips to help new travelers, please leave a comment below and share them.
Mike Shubic is an official Travelocity Gnomad. Gnational Gnomads is an exclusive group of high-profile travel and lifestyle experts who offer international travel tips and inspiration on behalf of Travelocity. For more information on the Gnomads, visit Travelocity Gnomads.
Travelocity compensates authors for their writings appearing on this site; such compensation may include travel and other costs.