Growing up, my father’s occupation caused my family to travel a lot. We lived everywhere from San Francisco to Australia. In doing all of this traveling, my parents taught my siblings and I to be extremely cautious when traveling country to country.
My friends and I will sometimes go on trips abroad now days when we can afford it, and I’m always a little bit surprised at some of the things they do. When a friend had her bag stolen (after my repeated warnings about her nonchalant leaving it everywhere), she suggested I write an article about it. So here you go! This is my list of things to be do in preparation before traveling abroad.
- Get Checked Up!
This has less to do with poor conditions in a third world country and more to do with basic differences in one country to another. For instance, diseases your body may be used to fighting off in the USA may not be a factor in the U.K., but that doesn’t mean the U.K. is in “poor conditions.” Doctors, if they know where you’re going, can recommend precautions and give you shots or medication before going abroad so you don’t become under the weather on your vacation.
Another huge thing to think about is pre-existing conditions and terminal conditions. One of our girlfriends has GERD, and she had to take some extra precautions before leaving. That said, this is another great reason to consult your doctor. If you are personally vulnerable to health threats across borders, you need to know.
Checkups are recommended before traveling in general, but another reason for this is health threats already present in you that you aren’t aware of. Serious problems with your health could worsen symptoms like jet lag or leave you more vulnerable to food poisoning or allergic reactions. Growing up my family always saw a doctor before going to a new country we hadn’t been. If we were living somewhere where we traveled a lot in general (for instance, Europe, where all the countries are very close to each other), a once-a-year checkup was required of us by my father. I recommend it to all of my friends before we go on our vacations together.
- Have Documentation on You at All Times.
When you’re in a different country, the last thing you ever want to deal with is testy authorities. You might already have to do this at customs, of course. But you want to avoid as much further trouble as possible. If you do find yourself being questioned by the law, however, you will need to have documentation proving why you’re there, how you got there, and of your own citizenship (aka your passport). Remember, the proper documentation changes where you go and you may have to carry more documentation in some places than others. However, just keeping it on you will save you a lot of trouble in the long run, I promise! Not having such documentation is a surefire way to be sent back home.
- Never Leave Your Bag Alone. Ever.
If you leave your bag alone in an airport or train station and it’s seen on security cameras, your bag will be taken away for fear of a bomb threat. This isn’t a joke — I’ve seen things like this happen. I remember being holed up in an airport for several hours due to a bomb threat, and nobody was allowed to leave (seems counterproductive, I know, but it happened. This is circa 2001 or 2002).
The more obvious reason to not leave your bag alone is that you don’t want your bag to be stolen or for something dangerous to be planted in it. These are pretty normal and straightforward ideas, but they’ll stop you from running into big problems. Losing important documents or items can lead to stalking and identity theft, so keep your bag on you at all times!
- Use the Buddy System!
Don’t be stuck in a foreign place by yourself, especially at night. Being unfamiliar with cultural cues and customs, “good” and “bad” parts of town, and directions isn’t just bad for time management — it can be dangerous. Keeping a friend around is recommended while exploring a new place.
If you do happen to go off on your own, have a way to communicate with your travel buddies, and try to have a pretty good idea of where you’ll later meet up and where you’re going to be in relation and comparison. Knowing a bit about the area you’re in is always smart as well, in case it’s known for muggings, kidnappings, and the like. Additionally, try not to be alone at night.
- Carry a Physical Map and Cash.
This is something my mother instilled in me as soon as the smartphone age began— to always carry a physical map on my person while traveling. The reason being smartphones have limited battery life. They die when you don’t want them to. In addition, how often does the average person forget a charger when they need it, and how hard can it be to buy a charger in a place you’re unfamiliar with? This goes double in a place you don’t speak the native language of, where you can’t find a place to plug a charger in!
On top of that, make sure you’re carrying cash on you. This eliminates card fees first of all, and sometimes taxis or cabs don’t take cards. However, I also recommend keeping some cash separate from your cards and wallet, in case those are stolen. Keep it at the place you’re staying or with somebody else in your travel group. You never know when an emergency or disaster will strike and you’ll need it!
What has your experience been with traveling abroad? What tips would you recommend to someone going for the first time? Let us know in the comments below!