International Travel Tips
TOP FIVE: Student Travel Tips
Preparing for international travel can be overwhelming, especially for students making thier first trip abroad. In addition to the advice offered to all travelers, such as registering with the Consul or Ambassador, traveling in pairs, etc. we offer to you some advice from student travelers.
5 - Research the weather for each region you plan to travel. Some areas are quite chilly, even during summer months. As Michael L., University of Florida Law Student, explains, “Know the weather of the places that you will be traveling to and pack accordingly. Places like Scotland have horrible weather even at this time of year (June).” Michael’s family has a tradition of sending their college graduates to Europe for a summer, and he found this advice particularly helpful for traveling the vast climatic changes afforded in Europe.
4 - Pack only the essentials. Pack conservative clothing. You simply will not need the wardrobe you are accustomed to in America. Emily S., a 15 year old student who visited her sister in Germany June 2010, tells us, “Do not bring more luggage than you need. I brought some stuff that I'm probably not even going to wear, everyone wears clothes over and over again in europe, just the basics is what you really need.” You want to be able to travel quickly and easily, unencumbered by hefty quantities of luggage.
3 - Get a pocket guide. No more worrying about big fold out maps to get about. Now you can manage with smaller pocketguides which give you much more information. Or download a free app from http://www.hostelworld.com/pdf-guides.php.
2 - Learn about the culture of each country and city to avoid “shock”. For example, Suzi M., FL, USA, traveled to Europe when she was 15. She was completely unaware of what the Red Light district in Holland was, “Prostitutes in windows, pornography everywhere, drugs etc. I have to say I was very overwhelmed by it all.” That’s not to say all sense of “shock” will be eradicated, but you will be better prepared in your response, and not appear so much as an American tourist. Marby, an American living in England for over four years, tells us another cultural aspect needing research are expressions and hand gestures. For example, some American expletives are completely acceptable amongst international societies. Likewise, some acceptable phrases in America are insulting and degrading in other countries. A common gesture of goodwill in the States is the two-fingered peace sign. In many European countries, the gesture is the antithesis of peace, and equivalent to the American “middle finger”, as is “thumbs up” in some Latin countries.
1 - Moderate your alcohol consumption. In most European countries, the legal drinking age is 18, and in some it is 16. In most European countries, if a parent or guardian serves the alcohol, the age is even lower, sometimes even in single digits. German-native Aslaug O. writes, “I don´t think I´ve ever been asked my age even when I was young.” With this newfound access to alcohol, students may be tempted to “go lush”. Don’t. Not only is public drunkenness frowned upon in many European circles, it is a green light for predators. Aslaug continues, “Always a good idea to not pour down too much....the big [European] cities have lots of `pickpockets`.” Pickpocketing is the least of worries when it comes to criminal minds. Be safe. Don’t intoxicate abroad.
Keeping these tips in mind when preparing for and while traveling will help you be safe and have fun.
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TOP FIVE: Best Online Travel Guides
While researching for travel, I came across plenty of travel guide sites… or should I say, bombardments of advertisement for travel agencies, travel deals, air fare, etc? Not what I consider a “helpful” guide for my vacation or travel. Travel agencies have their place, and offer a valuable service. However, once I’ve decided I want to visit a place, I’m looking for something a little more comprehensive than simple flight and hotel schedules. Thankfully, I did happen upon a handful of sites that actually provide helpful information to cities, regions, and countries, including restaurant reviews, current events, family activities, lifestyle activities, and the like. Here are my pick for Top Five, based on navigability, comprehensive information, and tasteful advertisement display. I hope you find these sites as informative and helpful to narrowing your trip’s agenda to a fun-filled experience.
5 - www.LetsGo.com This site is a handy reference for quick cultural and historical review of cities, regions and countries. However, I was unable to find any local itinerary. There are advertisements on the site, but displayed as an option, not a bombardment of pop-ups that you have to “x”-out to read desired materials. For your reading pleasure and glean-what-you-may, are blogs from travelers, sharing their experiences, great finds, and warnings.
4 - www.World66.com Let’s start with their credo, “We believe that travelers are the best source of travel information. They offer Day Trip ideas, history links, family travel ideas, budget travel ideas, 7-day itinerary ideas, and more.
3 - www.VirtualTourist.com While there are links for flights, deals, and reservations on this site, the links are tastefully located in a menu in the top left of the page. There is not a barrage of flashing “deals” hiding the treasure of a lonely tip. What is on this site are at-your-fingertips links to the world’s most traveled cities. Once you click on the city, a menu to your left offers links to guides for restaurants, maps, night life, and more. Not my absolute favorite site, but still a gem amongst the thousands of travel sites. While you can peruse the site sans-membership, the free-membership offers opportunity to post questions to other travelers, as well as offer your experience and knowledge to fellow trekkers.
2 - www.Concierge.com Offers what you would hope to fnd on a travel guide site for cities around the world: restaurants, hotels, night life, maps, deals, etc. Noticeably absent was local current events. What they did have that I especially liked was “What to Avoid”, pointing you away from tourist traps; currency converter, up to the date exchange rates of global currencies; and current time posting. I especially liked the on-the-page current weather conditions. In other words, you did not have to navigate away from the page or open a new window to learn the weather forecast. Nice touch. is an overall informative, comprehensive resource for international travel.
1 - www.TimeOut.com“Your guide to what's happening in the most exciting cities on the planet,“ It earns top position because of its comprehensive approach to city life: family, night life, kids, coffee shops, hotels, restaurants, freebies, current and upcoming events and more. Time Out also offers “getting there” directions, fast facts, and when to go advice – all written by locals. Also, if there is a “button” promising information, there will be information at the end of your “click”. (Many sites I reviewed, that did not make this Top Five, had either “parking pages” or “error: page not found” at the end of a “click”.) Additionally, the site’s layout is attractive and easily navigated. In essence, Time Out offers the best of travel guides and entertainment in one site.
TOP FIVE: Advice for Dining Abroad
No matter where you are, you’ve got to eat! And, you might as well eat well! A rule of thumb for me when in new city is not to dine at chain restaurants. An important part of new culture experience is the “taste” of each city. Admittedly, this can be challenging when traveling with my children, who are lured by the familiar menu of meals wrapped in bright characters accompanied by the current toy rage. LOL! The below traveler-penned tips, when followed, should make your dining experiences more enjoyable.
5 - Having waitressed in my earlier years, I am a generous tipper. I witnessed acquaintances sweat over tipping – nervous they will incorrectly tally appropriate gratuity. So, let’s get this one out of the way so you are able to enjoy your meal without a nervous stomach. Gratuity varies across the globe. Some countries have legislated gratuity in meal costs. The Gault-Millau Guide to Paris & Provence says, “French law mandates that the service charge, 15 percent, always be included in the menu prices. You are not obliged to leave an additional tip, but it is good form to leave a little more if the service was satisfactory.” Before you determine your tip, “make sure it isn't already included; in France & Italy for example, many cafes have a surcharge for sitting at tables. A custom in several European countries is to round your bill up to the next whole dollar amount. Please visit http://www.esquire.com/the-side/MARIANI/guide-to-tipping-031908 for comprehensive travel tipping advisory.
4 - Ask locals their recommendation on good dining. A hole-in-the-wall often offers the best flavor and variety. In Ocala, FL, off of main street Silver Springs Boulevard sits a run-down restaurant, Rick’s. Yet, on any given Sunday, there is a line out the door, and around the corner of patrons awaiting a table. The locals know something that travelers don’t. The food is authentic, hometown cooking at reasonable prices. This dining theory can translate into any culture or country. Who better to ask than the ones that live there, the ones whose good opinion is sought for repeat business? “Avoid local restaurants with English menu translations/ an American/British flag on a sign out front,” admonishes Mandy Meffert, a well-traveled American. “It's going to be a tourist trap, where the food isn't the star because they know you're transient.” And business owners don’t really care if you come again, because they know thousands of tourists will look for an easy-read menu all week long.
3 - BE ADVENTUROUS: Sometimes the greatest satisfaction comes
with exploring new and unfamiliar foods. Don't hesitate to try
something new, especially local drink specialties which are
often unavailable elsewhere. Eat everything, don't get too hung
up on exactly what a dish is before you order it. Do not eat at
an American restaurant under any circumstances. Try the local
food, and if you like a well done steak, learn the word for
‘cremate’ in French. They tend to show meat the fire and serve
You shouldn't be alarmed if you are at a restaurant and see young kids with their parents enjoying a small glass of wine/beer/cider with dinner. It's okay for the most part when the parents are around as long as they are over 5 and the child isn't intoxicated. The legal drinking age in the UK is 18 otherwise, and in some parts of Europe, 16.
2 - If you just have to have a “cheeseburger and fries”, there is an advantageous time to indulge. Go to the tourist-trap places at 4pm or so, when you're tired from walking and want a beer or a snack to tide you over 'til dinner. At that point -- a touristy place with outdoor seating for people watching is ideal!
1 - Americans lead a fast paced life. Regrettably, the heightened pace often translates into our mealtime. Extend your meal. Europeans are never in a hurry when it comes to eating. Instead, they savor the food and camaraderie of a good meal by extending it well into the evening. Thus, if you are in a rush, you will usually have to alert your server that you are ready to pay. She or he will rarely hurry you to do so. To risk sounding cliché, savor the flavor. Chew your food slowly. Put your fork down in between bites. Incorporating a few easy steps into your mealtime routine will enable you to enhance your dining experience, whether dining abroad or in the comfort of your own home.
Bon appétit ! [French]
Yoqimli ishtaha! [Uzbek]
On egin! [Basque]
Bon pro'! [Genoese]
Afiyet olsun! [Turkish]
Jätku leiba! (Estonian - used when joining the table)
Head isu! (Estonian - used when leaving the table) Selamat makan! [Indonesian]
Guten Appetit! Mahlzeit! [German]
En Guete! [Swiss German]Bonum appetitionem! [Latin]
L-ikla t-tajba [Maltese]
Pofta buna! [Romanian]
¡Buen provecho! ¡Buen apetito! [Spanish]
For a more thorough list of how to say “Happy Eating” in other languages, please visit: http://www.omniglot.com/language/phrases/bonappetit.html
What NOT to Wear When Traveling
What you avoid wearing can be as important than what you do wear, especially when traveling abroad. So, what should you avoid wearing? Here are our top five picks, submitted by real world travelers.
5 - American Flag – The American flag has been incorporated into the fashion world on hats, shirts, bandanas, jeans, bathing suits, jewelry. If it can be worn, the American flag has probably been placed -- whether apparel or accessory. Should be obvious not to wear this abroad, but unfortunately, to some it’s not. With kidnappiongs on the rise it is wise not to draw attention to oneself as an American tourist or student.
4 - Bling. You know what bling is, right? Fine for clubbing stateside… but don’t even pack it for your trip. While "bling" is found on the hands, ears, necks and wrists of people of various socio-eco demographics, it is not found often outside of the US border. The jewelry doesn't necessarily have to be super-oversized to be inappropriate. The importance of blending in is for respect as well as safety, “...don't dress like an American with flashy jewelry … not worn by the locals… don't act like a tourist. Many tourists are preyed upon more than is reported. Dress comfortable and like everyone else. When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”
3 - Baseball caps – Admittedly, I considered a baseball cap as uber-American prior to receiving tips from world-travelers. Baseball is an American sport, after all…Hence – the baseball cap being perceived as an American accessory. Not that being American is a bad thing necessarily – just no need to draw attention to one’s self, especially in unfamiliar surroundings. So, when I dash out of the hotel for a quick pastry, I'll opt for a pony tail rather than donning a baseball on bad hair days. And for those who choose to top their attire with the American novelty, just keep it to the outdoor, informal activities. Wearing a baseball cap is a bit casual, and is a bit rude indoors anyway.
2 - Logos – Another tendency of American fashionistas is to display logos, both brand name and athletic team. Lately, most clothing dons larger than life logos – the more noticeable the better – or so it seems from the offerings of department stores and teen-college chain-retailers. But before you grab that oh-so-stylish hoodie with the Abercrombie or favorite collegiate team logo emblazoned on the front, give pause to think about what the locals will wear.
1 - Sleeveless shirts/Short hemlines - As Americans, we are very free and liberal in the US with our bodies, but in many foreign countries and the exception of a few in Europe, women culturally dress more conservatively. While in the states,you may be comfortable wearing spaghetti straps, but abroad you may not want to wear a tank top apart from a layered look. You will rarely see a woman wearing a micro-mini outside of the club scene or in a red light district.
Most travelers who contributed wardrobe tips included the importance of females wearing modest skirts when visiting holy sites.
TOP FIVE: Save Money While Traveling
Here are a few tips from seasoned travelers on how to make your money go further while traveling abroad:
5 – We’ve all heard, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” This adage is applicable for travel frugality. Review your travel plans. Are you planning to take a lot of pictures? Do you like to read while waiting? Are you a germ freak? If so, you may want to pack extra batteries, memory cards, literature, and hand sanitizer (in wipe forms, as not to alarm security). Take a travel sized Bible, First aid kit, sunscreen, camera, extra batteries and SD cards or film. Not only can these items be costly, but sometimes difficult to locate.
4 – Check your wireless communications provider’s international rates. Some companies offer international rates pro-rated to your traveling time. Some companies are willing to negotiate travel/roam fees. Purchasing a pre-pay plan in-country may be worth your while for extended stays. “Another important tip would be to check with phone company before traveling to negotiate a rate for international service, if planning to take and use your cellphone. It may be cheaper to pay for local service in foreign country, depending on length of stay.
3 – Don’t get mugged, pick-pocketed. Duh, right? Certainly, this seems obvious. However, habits Americans have with handling money stateside could forfeit your funds abroad. Avoid “flashing” currency. Pull currency from your purse/wallet only when paying a cashier. Never count your money on a street corner/in the open. Don't treat it like play money...it's very real and it can go fast. While we’re on the subject, although acceptable in the United States. Counting money that cashier has given you, in front of the cashier, is considered rude in many foreign countries. Avoid pickpockets by wearing your money, either in a fanny pack or in a secret pocket, rather than in an external pocket, backpack or wallet. The big cities have lots of `pickpockets'.
2 – Spend the currency from the country you’re in rather than using your debit/credit card. You will avoid further exchange fees. Literally having crossed the globe, Greg W., USA, travels extensively as a musician. He writes, “…when leaving the hotel I would try to use all my local currency to pay off the hotel so I wouldn't get the change fee back to dollars.” A helpful side note from Greg, “Europe has a "PIN chip" in their credit cards, so when you use your check card like a VISA, many times it won't work because there is no PIN chip in American credit cards. In other words, you enter a PIN for credit just like we do for a debit card here…[although European] hotels always honored the Visa without the PIN chip.”
1 – Get local currency from the airport upon arrival. Austin B.’s enlightening experience details the advantage of acquiring cash at the airport, ”Going on a trip with lots of US dollars didn't make much sense. I got to where I brought just enough US cash to use in the US airports in transit. When in country, I would always use my Visa/check card first. I found that changing from US currency to the another currency and then changing it back COST ME MORE than the fees that Visa charged for the transaction. In many countries, I never needed local currency and did everything with visa. But some countries I knew I might need to take a taxi (cash is MUCH easier there), or use a vending machine, so I ALWAYS GOT MY CASH FROM THE ATM AT THE AIRPORT before I went into town. Many times ATM's inside the country will not talk to the US banks for you to make a withdrawal, but the ATMS at the airports always do. I got nabbed in Athens on this very thing; the only ATM's that would work with my US bank for withdrawals was at the airport, a 30-45 minute drive away, etc...”
Using these tips should help you make the most of your funds and keep them safe!
TOP FIVE: Keeping Money Safe While Traveling Abroad
While most people wish no harm to travelers, “Unfortunately, [some] people are mean and love to take advantage of people who ‘look’ like tourists,” writes Suzi M., USA, who toured Europe as a teenager. “Again, common sense precautions will ensure an enjoyable trip.”
Precautions include how you dress, talk, traveling in small group, etc. Beyond taking obvious safety measures is the strategy to “wear your money”. How? Here are our Top Five picks.
5 - Money pouch – safely keeps your passport, identification, important papers, and cash. I would suggest only keeping a small portion of your cash in the money pouch, and other amounts stashed in some of the below places. This link categorizes their items as “money belts”, but I call them “pouches” because they are larger and more cumbersome than traditional money belts. These particular items are designed to be worn under clothing.
4 – Traditional money belts are often convenient and are available in many styles. Most are simply belts with either one long zipper inside compartment, or several.
3 – Roll bills into a pen. Obviously, this would be for cash you are not planning to spend that day. Keep the pen in an interior pocket. When inserted carefully, the money will not hinder pen usage. You may save this option for larger denominations.
2 – Slit your waistband wide enough to push rolled cash into your waistband. You may want to sew a vertical barrier seam to prevent the cash from going too far into your waistband. Again, make an enclosure either by sewing Velcro, snaps or a button to seal the slit.
1 – Hidden underwear pouch. Sew a pocket or pouch to suspend from the waistband of your underwear; or sew an interior pocket just beneath the waistband, large enough for whatever you’re comfortable stashing there: atm/credit cards, id, cash. Be sure to make a fastener for the pouch/pocket to secure the cash inside the pocket. You can either permanently affix the pocket by sewing it to the waistband; or you can make it mobile with buttons, Velcro, snaps, zipper, etc. Decide based on your activity level and what you feel will stay secure when using the restroom, walking, etc.
For the ladies, I suggest a hidden bra pocket. An easy option is to purchase padded bras with removable “cup enhancements”. Instead of using the cup enhancement pads, stuff money, even debit cards, in the pocket. Make sure you select a bra with a double enclosure seam that you have to actually open to access contents. Do not select a bra which only offers a “slit” with no fold-over. Padded bras conceal the edges of your plastic cards. Or try the cleavage caddy. It is "An insert for your bra which allows you to carry all of your personal items discretely tucked in your bra. Tuck away your keys, credit cards, lipstick and more!"
If you plan to swim, put your money in a small plastic snack bag with double zips, and then tuck into the undergarment.
Have fun accessorizing. ;)
TOP FIVE: Tips for Traveling with a Family
Traveling as a family, especially long distances abroad, can be challenging – all the more for families with young children. Following some basic guidelines when on the road (or in a plane, on a boat, etc.) will help make your travels more peaceful. We have five tips for maintaining sanity and enjoying your family travels. (These tips are in addition to our general Tips For Traveling Abroad.)
1 - Be organized –Perhaps the most important advice is to organize your trip. Good organization in any arena helps everything run smoothly. Organizing and planning your trip could and should begin once you’ve decided to take the trip. Organization begins with the basics: hotel reservations, flights, and any special event admission tickets. Taking care of the basics as early as possible is a good idea, as is packing printed confirmations for the trip. Writing a list of items needed to either purchase or pack for the trip will ensure you don’t forget anything. A written itinerary for the trip as well as for days leading up to the trip, help you make the most of your time. Having everything written down (including the things you need to do before the trip as well as what you will be taking with you), can increase your ability to relax during your travels without the nagging feeling that you forgot to take care of or have forgotten something.
2 - Pack an emergency medical kit – this kit need not be enormous, but be sure to have the basics on hand to cover any medical problems that may occur. At a minimum, you should have bandages, first-aid ointment, hydrocortisone cream, and pain relievers. Those would be the very basics, and to be extra prepared, it wouldn’t hurt having children’s pain reliever/fever reducer, any teething aids, and anti-nausea medication with you. Having your physician give you a prescription of the new cream Phenergan is something worth having, because with little ones you never know when little stomachs will get upset, especially during a flight. Or, for a natural alternative, tea tree oil is known for many medicinal qualities – including fighting nausea and/or motion sickness.
3- For airplane trips, limit carry-on bags to one per person. When traveling as a family, having too much on hand will slow you down and increase the risk of lost baggage. Keep bags to a minimum, even if the idea of packing in a few more items is tempting. You want as little as possible to have to keep up with, especially getting through security and during boarding. Young children can carry their own backpacks, so each family member can be responsible for their own items. With one bag per person, getting around is easier and items are less likely to get lost. This is also a good rule of thumb for road trips as well to keep clutter in your vehicle contained while you are on the road.
4 - Surprises for the kids – children will need their familiar comfort items (blanket, stuffed animal, pacifier, etc.), but have at least a couple of new items ready for them during the trip. Attention spans are short, especially for young children, so having multiple small gifts ready to break out every so often will make the journey that much better. You can purchase inexpensive clearance or dollar store items, such as playing cards, toy cars and trucks, handheld games, small coloring books and crayons. Hint: wrapping the items as gifts increase the fun factor for the little ones and the sane factor of the parents!
5 - Bring along helpers – if at all possible, co-op help during the trip. If you have a friend or family member who is able to join you, bring them along, especially if your family’s children-to-parent ration is high. Or if you can afford it, hiring a babysitter to join you on the trip can also make things run that much more smoothly. And a good helper on the road is worth their weight in gold! Surprisingly, bringing a sitter may also not be as expensive as you might expect. You can likely negotiate a deal, such as paying travel costs in exchange for a certain amount of babysitting and help on the way. Having another adult or even teenager, can make the journey much more pleasant for both parents and kids.
With preparation, the right supplies, and perhaps some extra help, you will be on your way to safe, fun journeys with your family with limited stress and lots of enjoyment!