Updated: Aug 16
As the world opens back up again, here are some tips to make your international travel a breeze no matter what gets thrown your way!
There is an air around people who travel often, especially those who travel solo. They have this ability to shrug off catastrophe and roll with the punches. They are the kind of people who turn getting lost into an opportunity to make lifelong friends with a local in the Scottish Highlands. I was in the UK when countries began closing their borders earlier this year. It was the people safe at home who were most worried. My friends and I who were abroad at the time and actually looking at the possibility of getting stuck were able to shrug it off. We had made contingency plans when things started to get serious. And that’s where the air comes from. Those who travel regularly are used to having little to no control over what is going around them so they learn to control their response by always having a plan B. Here are some ways you can learn to roll with catastrophe so even a global pandemic can’t ruin your trip.
Expect Everything to go wrong
Alright, that might be a bit pessimistic. You don’t have to expect everything to go wrong as long as you anticipate that it could. New travelers are often shaken when something unexpected happens. A delayed flight or a missed train isn’t a reflection of your ability as a traveler. Those who do this regularly know that these little hang-ups are ok and usually have some kind of plan floating in the back of our head. For instance, I’ve thought things like, “If the early bus isn’t running and I can’t get a taxi to the airport then I can take the overnight train and still make my connection in Lisbon if I have to.” Things go wrong and that’s ok as long as you have a plan B.
Register with the Embassy
This is one that even seasoned travelers often overlook. You can register with the US embassy in any country you are traveling to. You give them your name, passport information, and your address and contact information while you are in the country. This may not seem like a big deal, but should things truly go wrong - natural disaster, terrorist attack, global pandemic - the government knows where you are. This April there were still domestic flights leaving the UK, so I didn’t have to be repatriated but getting daily updates from the embassy about which rail lines were still running, which airlines were still being accepted at US airports, and which airports were still letting planes depart for the US was all extremely helpful when planning how I was going to get home.
Have a Hard Copy
Technology has given us the ability to keep boarding passes, directions, and emergency information all in the palm of your hand. Unfortunately, technology hasn’t figured out how to keep those things accessible if you lose or break your phone or if it dies or if you have no cell reception or wifi. All of these things are likely to happen to you at least once while traveling. That might mean something as simple as not having the address of your hotel or something a bit more worrisome, like no longer having access to your train ticket. As a failsafe, always have a hardcopy of your tickets, directions, and emergency contacts tucked away.
Have a Digital Copy
Imagine this, you are digging through your bag looking for your passport. You could have sworn you put it in your bag. It had been on the bedside table next to your water bottle and you… definitely forgot it there. Now what? How do you get a new one? Well, you need to go to the embassy and you need to show them your airline itinerary, proof of residency, and photo ID. Unless you want to bring hard copies of your water bill and a copy of your birth certificate with you whenever you travel, it’s best to have digital copies saved in google drive file that you can print out if needed.
Avoid Nonrefundable Anything
You can save a few bucks by booking online ahead of time, but train and bus tickets purchased this way are often nonrefundable. That means if your jet lag is bad and you sleep through your alarm, get on the metro going the wrong direction, or show up at the wrong terminal and miss your train or bus, you are not only out the price of the original ticket, you now have to buy another.
Have Multiple Ways to Pay
You would assume that store and restaurant transactions would be universal, especially if you’re sticking to major cities. You would be wrong. Some places don’t take cash, others don’t take credit, and plenty don’t take American debit cards or prepaid travel cards. Be prepared by having a few different options to pay. I always have some cash, my Google pay, my credit card, and my debit card.
Get a Travel-Friendly Card
Paying exchange fees can add up even on the shortest trips. If you are in the market for a new credit or debit card, keep an eye out for one that offers free international exchanges. I suggest Charles Schwabb. Not only do they have no fee, when I lost my card in the UK and needed a new one, they had an international number that wouldn’t cost me extra to call and they express shipped me one free of charge. Now that’s what I call service. (not sponsored)
Get an International Sim Card
Having a phone in a foreign country can be a lifesaver especially if you plan on renting Airbnbs. I once got locked out of my apartment because the host had an emergency and left the key at the pharmacy across the street. They had sent me a message to explain the situation, but I was depending on wifi so I never got it. I spent four hours sitting outside in the cold, long after the pharmacy had closed before I finally figured out what had happened. It was a stressful and frustrating situation for everyone involved and one that could have easily been avoided if I had just gotten a $10 prepaid SIM. If you’re traveling long term, your bank will often let you update your contact information to include this number. This is a godsend if any of your international purchases get marked as suspicious. If your bank can’t get ahold of you, your card will get shut off and that will be a very bad day for you.
Have Waiting Items
Flights get delayed. Trains run late. A lot of traveling is killing time while you wait and often that time doesn’t involve wifi or data. Always have a book or a crossword or knitting with you. It doesn’t matter what you bring, just as long as it doesn’t require batteries and is something you don’t mind sitting and doing for anywhere from 20 minutes to multiple hours at a time.
Don’t Worry too Much
Everything could go wrong… but most likely you’ll have a great time. The point of preparedness isn’t to be stressed or scared about all of the things that could go wrong. The point is to have the ability to handle anything and to turn an unexpected situation into an opportunity for adventure. So have your backups ready, have an idea of your plan B, and go forth with the belief that no matter what happens, everything will be fine.