By: Kalynn Raugh
International travel can be an adventure full of discovery, eye-popping views, education, and wonder! It can also be a time of stress and misfortune if you do not practice your due diligence to safeguard your trip. Things to prepare for international travel include five main areas: financial, physical, mental, cultural, and material. Ensure you are prepared to make the most of your travel experience, before you jet off.
Financial: Travel Insurance
This is a point of contention for many travelers. What we hear from many seasoned travelers is that insurance is a waste of money. They travel all the time and have never had to use it. That can be true. HOWEVER, I have also seen those very same travelers kicking themselves because they did not purchase any. Despite how often they didn’t need insurance, it ended up costing them thousands of dollars and many headaches the one time they could have used it. Traveling is a financial investment. It only makes sense to protect it.
Travel insurance is not just for your investment, many cover health, as well. Most domestic medical insurance agencies do not work the same while oversees. If you need medical help, you may be up a creek without a paddle if you did not purchase travel insurance.
Not all travel insurances are the same! Do your homework. Read reviews and see what their rate is for settling claims. Just because it is inexpensive, or comes with your credit card, does not mean you are getting what you think you are. Know the difference between primary insurance and secondary insurance. Know if your credit card covers all purchases or only those purchased with that particular credit card. Understand the difference of what medical insurance is provided through travel insurance (like medical evacuation) versus what is covered oversees through your domestic plan. Even a young and healthy person can find themselves in need of medical care while traveling. It only makes financial sense to prepare to protect your health!
Prepare. International travel can be an amazing adventure that can easily be thwarted by physical limitations. No matter your physical situation, this does not have to prevent you from experiencing the wonderful world of travel! The key is to prepare. You know your personal strengths and weaknesses. Be realistic with yourself but do not limit yourself, and get creative!
Be realistic. If you need a wheelchair to get around, an off-road hiking trip may not be right for you. If you are an adventure seeker and you get on a lazy river ship moseying down the Seine River, you may regret your choices. You know who you are. Chose a trip that will get you out of your comfort zone and push you to experience things you wouldn’t normally experience but not at the expense of your ability to physically enjoy it. Find a tour where you know you would be able to join in most activities without much struggle and will engage your mind, body, and spirit.
Do not limit yourself! If you are not in the best of shape and you would like to travel where you know the roads will be old and rocky and there will be a lot of walking/hiking – plan ahead! Get out and start hiking now to build up muscles and get your body conditioned to walking up hills and stairs. Pick good shoes that have good a grip and tread and get them worn in before you travel. If you need a cane to help you walk, find one that has a good grip and will bounce back to you if it is dropped. Don’t think that just because you can’t do the physical requirements now means that you couldn’t further down the road if you got the right equipment and planned ahead.
One year, I went on an off-the-beaten-path type of tour in Israel. Our leader guided us through intense hiking landscapes in 105°F weather. This took much preparation ahead of time. In the course of just over a week, we were to hike over 100 miles. Would you be surprised if I told you one of the couples that went with us were 75 years old? They were active for their age and, because they were traveling with a group, they had people helping them along the way. There were only two hikes which they decided not to participate. That same trip, we had a couple of ladies who were scared of heights and they were able to conquer their fears because the group encouraged them to keep going. If you think you would like to try something but cannot imagine doing it alone, consider traveling with a tour. You would be surprised what you can accomplish when you travel with a group!
Get creative. Perhaps you have a particular place you would like to visit but you are worried about your physical limitations. It can pay to do your homework! Sometimes there are accommodations that even seasoned travel operators do not know about because it is not a common issue. Google can be your best friend with handy travel hacks and tips when it comes to particular physical issues. We are all unique, therefore, cookie-cutter options sometimes require a little creative finessing to fit your unique travel needs!
Safety in numbers. For safety, traveling with a buddy or a tour group is key! There are many travel and tour operators that plan exclusive trips. Some specialize in adventure trips, others in luxury trips, and on and on the list goes. Whatever you are looking for, there is probably a company that is planning just that trip! There is safety in numbers, and you get the added benefit of having most if not all the details planned for you. Additionally, many tour operators can even match you with a roommate, if desired.
Mental: Prepare for anything. Don’t try for perfection.
Planning a trip can be stressful. There will always be issues. No matter how many contingencies you try to plan for, something will inevitably come up that you did not expect. The best way to combat this is to expect it, and prepare accordingly. Planners are going to hate me right now but here it is: The best-laid plans will not make a perfect vacation – being flexible will. For example, flights can get delayed, it might snow in the middle of summer, or you could lose your passport. All these things can happen. It sounds horrible but if you stay calm and look at the big picture, NONE of these things need to ruin your vacation. The worst thing you can do is to “doomsday” the situation.
A missed or delayed flight can be a biggie but there are options you can take. Most will go up to the counter to try to rebook. You can bypass the long line by getting on the phone and calling the airline directly the moment the delay appears. The weather is not cooperating? Stretch your creative mind and find something to pass the time while stuck inside. Finding the positive in situations can be some of the best memory-building moments!
When I was a child, my family went on a trip we later “lovingly” named The Trip From Hell. Our car broke down in the middle of nowhere, the trailer had a major malfunction, and our family dog was hit by a semi-truck and killed. I applaud my parents for their positive and flexible spirit during such trying times! Even though I cannot say that was the best trip of my life, I have some great stories out of it and many of them, despite the sad circumstances, are positive. Who knew you can fix a car with pantyhose and duct tape?! This is where the old saying rings very true: If you are given lemons, make lemonade.
If you are mentally prepared to be flexible and take each issue in stride, then even the big hurdles don’t have to ruin the rest of your trip. I am definitely NOT saying to wing it and go unprepared but to be open to rolling with the punches when things go sideways.
So, what if you do lose your passport? This is a great example of how being prepared and staying calm go hand in hand. Be prepared, take a picture of the information page of your passport, save it on your cell phone, and send it to a friend or family member back home. Also, save the number of the embassy in the region you are traveling to. Then, if for some reason you do lose your passport, you are prepared and not stuck. Just as you want to physically prepare for your trip, preparing yourself mentally by prepping for what you can, and making the best of what you cannot, can be the difference between getting all you can out of a trip and letting each situation snowball to where you can no longer enjoy your travels.
Cultural: Prepare for cultural differences.
You may love the country and culture from which you come. That’s great! However, when you make the conscious decision to travel abroad, you need to understand that it will not be the same from where you live. Different does not always mean wrong. You need to look at a different country as being a guest in someone’s home. We don’t all eat dinner at the same time or eat the same food, but as a guest, you eat when they do and what they serve. This is the same concept when you travel. Customs will be different. Making an effort to follow those customs will go far with the locals. You will come back from your travels with a new mindset. Trying new things and new foods are some of the best parts of international travel. It is a great way to draw closer to people and connect in a way you may not have imagined!
One night, while traveling in Turkey, my friends and I heard some loud music in the streets below our hotel. We decided to investigate and came upon a party some local people were throwing. We had no idea what the festivities were about, but we were fascinated by the music and dancing. One of the men at the party spotted us and invited us to join the party. They lined up chairs so we could watch the dancing and served us tea. Some of the younger girls were curious and came up to me. They did not know English and I could speak very little Turkish, but I tried. They found this very entertaining, since I was doing it poorly, and took a liking to me right away. They pulled me up on the dance floor and I joined in their line dance. The girls all took turns holding my hand in the line and showed me the steps. I did that horribly, as well, but they loved that I tried.
That night, I stepped outside my comfort zone of my cultural norms and discovered a lovely group of people who were amazingly hospitable and kind. It is a memory I will always have and that I could not have gotten by staying inside the walls of normal tourism. When you are open to new experiences, new foods, and new customs, you develop an appreciation and understanding of our differences. Some customs you may disagree with, but you still find an understanding of them. Others you may even find you like better than your own! This is the wondrous part of being open to differences and respecting local culture.
So how does this safeguard your trip? Interacting with people is an inevitable part of travel. Understanding local culture and customs will help to smooth out the bumps in the road that can cause misunderstanding and stress. The smoother your interactions go, the better the trip! Not only will you find your travels go smoother, but you will also find it to be more fulfilling and worthwhile. Remember, when you travel abroad, you are not just representing yourself but your country, as well. Going the extra mile to honor the country’s customs where you are lays a good foundation for future travelers. What kind of reputation do you want to leave for your country? There are many great books and blogs out there that focus on culture and customs for the countries you will be visiting. Read them, you will be glad you did!
Material: Great products and tips that protect from theft.
It’s never fun to be out of town and lose your things due to theft. There are many great products and tips out there that help protect your things from predators.
On the Street: Carrying a purse over the shoulder is the most common mode of travel for most women and the easiest for muggers to access. Anything out in the open is fair game. It’s best to keep money and passports secured and out of sight. If you cannot do so, then having a crossbody, slash-resistant bag with locking zippers will help deter a nefarious passerby from trying to steal from you. Also, in crowded areas, think about carrying it with the compartment section in front of you and not on your back. Wallets in back pockets or open coat pockets are a pick-pocket’s dream! A travel neck wallet keeps your item secure in front of you and out of sight under your coat or shirt.
On your person: Spread the love! Don’t have all your money in one location when you are out shopping. Have a few loose bills for buying incidentals separate from larger bills and credit cards. This not only helps snooping people nearby not see how much you are carrying with you, but it also helps while bargaining for a souvenir. If they see your wad of cash, they may think you could pay more. And yet, even if you have things spread out and hidden properly, this does not protect from cyber thieves. Protecting your items with RFID blocker fabric will. When looking for the right travel wallet or bag, look for this great feature, as well. Also, be aware that not all are the same. Some products may only have this blocker for one or two of their pockets. Make sure you know which ones and that all your items (credit cards and passports) can fit.
In Your Hotel: Safes in hotels may seem “safe” but don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Try to spread things out. Always lock valuables, like electronics, in your suitcase and keep out of sight. You can get airline-approved luggage locks, or you can use the less expensive regular locks. Just remember to keep your luggage unlocked during airport travel if your locks are not airline approved. Locking your suitcase is just one more deterrent. If people cannot see your valuables and your luggage is locked, they are less likely to snoop. They would have to steal your entire suitcase which is much more inconvenient than a single smaller item they could stuff in their pocket.
Here are just a few examples that work well and have gotten great reviews on Amazon. We list these items just for your reference as an example of what is available.
Full disclosure: At no cost to you, we take part in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon properties including, but not limited to, amazon.com.
Anti-Theft Crossover Bag:
Neck Wallet w/RFID:
TSA Approved Luggage Locks:
International travel can seem daunting when considering it in the safety of home, but with the proper preparation and precautions, it’s an experience of a lifetime. If you choose to travel abroad, Living Passages offers complete coordination of Christian group travel. We will take care of all of the fine details of your trip, and our experienced travel specialists will work with you for any questions you may have. Book your trip abroad today!