Foreign data plans and currency
Get a credit card without International transaction fees
This is, without a doubt, my biggest piece of advice for anyone traveling abroad! First of all, a credit card in general is super important to have along with you. It certainly isn’t a necessity, but if something goes wrong and you find yourself without enough cash, a credit card ensures you have something. Another benefit to having a credit card when traveling internationally is that because you are borrowing money from the bank, every transaction is validated before it comes out of pocket. This means credit cards come with a built in insurance policy in case of fraud or theft.
One last bonus with the credit cards is that many of them come with a points system. This means every time you swipe your card, you’re technically earning money back. With cash or debit, you’re essentially leaving money on the table! I personally have the Chase Sapphire Preferred, and I don’t have enough good things to say about it. I earn one cent for every dollar spent, and two for every dollar spent on travel or dining. The cherry on top? If you spend a certain amount within the first four months, you automatically earn 60,000 bonus points, which equates to $850 towards travel!
Pro tip: Sign up for the card before you start planning your destination wedding and earn points as you plan!
Exchange your currency wisely
Many people end up exchanging their currency at the airport. However, these convenience booths often rob you with transaction fees and other services fees. In my experience, I’ve found that banks and credit unions are often the best place to do this. With this option, you can either order money through your own back at home before you leave, or exchange your US cash at a local bank after you arrive in the foreign country.
You also have the option of ordering money though an online currency converter where cash is delivered to your home. However, these services often have higher exchange rates than banks (although not as high as airport kiosks).
Whatever you do, I always warn people against withdrawing money at a random ATM on the street. These ATMs have high tendency for fraud as they are easy enough for any person on the street to tamper with.
Add an International Data Plan to your phone
This one’s pretty much a no-brainer, but easy to forget because of the natural convenience our phones come with. Depending on your service provider and the duration of your trip, the most economical decision may be to pay for an entire month of international data rather than paying by the day.
A word of advice on this… During my first trip outside the US, I decided to add an entire month of international data. Unfortunately, Verizon failed to remove the expanded coverage after the first month and they continued to charge us for two more months. Because of this, I always advise people to double check their plan after they return home and make sure they didn’t pay for anything they didn’t use.
How to survive a long-haul flight
Long legged flights are just how they sound… long. Anything you can do to keep yourself hydrated and comfortable will make a last impression on your overall travel experience. Over the years, I’ve developed a “travel bag” of all my own little necessities for flying. Of course you can survive a long-haul flight without these items, but they definitely make for an overall more comfortable experience.
Bring a hydration system (aka a water bottle!)
To me, this is the most important thing you can bring with you when traveling abroad. Not only does it become helpful once you actually arrive at your destination, but dehydration is one of the leading causes of illness when flying. Dehydration of the mucous membranes (yuck, I know, but it had to be said) increases your chances of contracting illness. Ever hear of people catching a cold or respiratory infection every time they travel abroad? Yeah, it happens a lot. I just can’t say enough things about staying hydrated when flying, but I won’t bog you down… here’s a great read from Lonely Planet that will help explain even more.
Carry-on moisturizers for hands and face
No, this is not me being high maintenance. Because cabin air only has about 20-30% of the normal humidity levels we’re used to, the dry air will steal any moisture from your hands and face, which can leave you uncomfortable for days. By protecting your skin with a good moisturizer, you can easily prevent all of this discomfort while traveling abroad.
Consider bringing “bedding”
Okay- this may be me approaching high maintenance, but I swear it makes my travel experience so much better. For me, other than dehydration, there’s nothing worse than not having a proper pillow or neck support. On long flights, I always do my best to bring a pashmina or blanket scarf to snuggle up under. Another little word of advice – dress in layers! I’ve been on flights that were freezing cold and others that were stifling. You never know what you’re gonna get.
Bring your own ear buds or noise cancelling headphones
Out of all the little luxuries I bring with me when I fly, this is one I continuously forget and regret every time. Airlines do often provide headphones, but more often than not these headphones either hardly work or don’t properly fit.
I always do my best to bring my own earbuds when traveling abroad, and noise cancelling headphones make for an even more comfortable flight experience. Just be aware that these often work via Bluetooth, which the airplane TVs do not have. This means your headphones will likely have to be plugged in to work.
Getting around while traveling abroad
In some places its better to rely on public transportation and shuttle services such as Uber or Lyft, while others may require you to rent your own car. It all depends on the location!
Going somewhere remote? Rent your own car
Generally speaking, renting your own car will be the most reliable form of transportation. Especially if you plan on visiting more rural or backcountry locations away from city life, having your own car will ensure you can get from A to B with no worries.
Just because you’re in a developed country doesn’t mean it will have good public transportation. Even some of the most developed countries (such as Iceland) are so small and remote that they haven’t bothered to develop an expansive public transportation system, even in the cities. In these instances, I would definitely recommend renting your own car.
Staying in a major city? Try the public transportation
Although it’s no the case everywhere, many major cities throughout the US, Europe, and other parts of the world have mastered public transportation. Many have options available including buses, trains, and shuttles, and even electric shooters – all of which are readily available and super affordable.
In these cases, especially if you don’t plan on leaving the city very much, I would recommend skipping the car rental and instead use public options. You’ll want to research your location to see if any of these options are available to you!
Other tips and tricks for traveling abroad
- Invest in a universal outlet adapter and converter kit like this one
- Stay in an AirBnb or VRBO to experience the convenience and comfort of home while spending much less than you would for a comparable hotel.
- Cook your own meals. Book a hotel with a fridge and microwave or an AirBnb/VRBO with a kitchen and do a little grocery shopping. Not only will you save money, but eating familiar meals can save you from home sickness (or actual sickness).
- Pack a few reusable shopping bags. If I plan on doing any shopping what-so-ever, I always do my best to pack a few reusable bags. Many grocery stores overseas don’t even offer bags at checkout or will charge you for every bag you use. Good for the environment, good for your wallet = a win win.
- Have the best time! Take lots of photos, then come home and host a viewing party with your favorite people! Walk them through the photos and tell them all your favorite stories. Be proud of your incredible experience!
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