Top Five Tips for International Travel

El Prat Barcelona International Airport

As I’ll be headed to Italy for two months, I feel it’s necessary that I refresh myself on some tips for traveling abroad. If you have any, please add your top international travel tips in the comments below, as I’m sure I’ll need to know them.

1.) Make your travel plans known

Tell your friends, your family, your credit card company and even the State Department if you feel so inclined. If anything should go wrong, they’ll be more prepared to help you out. With the exception of American Express, who says travel plans don’t need to be noted in advance, making known your travel plans to your credit card company will make your extravagant purchases on useless souvenirs (slightly) less suspicious.

2.) Educate yourself on the place you’re going to

Learn a bit of the language, the customs and the laws before heading to an unfamiliar country. It’s particularly helpful to research public transportation options prior to arrival, thus making it less likely you’ll be “that guy/girl” staring blankly at the train schedule. Knowing what hand gestures to avoid also helps if you’re, say, an “expressive speaker.” Additionally, everyday activities we often take for granted can be very different in other countries. For example, grocery shopping in Italy prohibits you from physically touching produce. It’s a good practice, now that I think of it.

3.) Keep the bling at home and your goods in front

This is fairly obvious, though a woman during my last trip had all her belongings stolen in the Vatican (yes, past admission and inside the basilica). Her pack was slung loosely around her shoulder and, though her valuables were packed deeply within, a thief had no problem taking out all her credit cards without her knowing it. In crowded places, keep your stuff in front of you and in your control. If you’re especially paranoid, certain companies, like Pacsafe, make theft-resistant bags. I picked one up for myself recently.

4.) Consider travel insurance and check your credit card benefits

A small one-time insurance payment can potentially save you from a huge headache should you ever (God forbid) need to cancel your flight during an emergency. Travel insurance also covers lost baggage due to negligence, as well as some medical issues. You should also check with your credit card companies to see what they cover, as many do at no additional charge (American Express is really good with this). Others, like the Capital One Venture Card, allow you to use your credit card without foreign transaction fees.

5.) Make some friends while you’re there

Befriend a few locals if you can, and you’ll instantly gain insider knowledge that no book or website can give you. New friends also provide you a local point of contact should you ever need help with anything. It also makes the trip infinitely more meaningful. ✈

  • Regarding (4) — all Capital One credit cards have free foreign transactions, not just the Venture card.

    • That is good to know. Thanks! I’m only familiar with the Venture One card series.

  • Omid Tavallai

    Here’s my #1 tip for international travel: Use your ATM card to withdraw cash from ATMs. Do not use traveler’s cheques. Do not “buy” foreign currency from your bank. Absolutely do not exchange currency at any Bureau de Change. If you use your ATM card, you will get the wholesale exchange rate, plus a (usually) negligible foreign transaction fee. Some banks (like Schwab) don’t charge any transaction fees at all.

    • That is great advice. Traveler’s cheques seem to be on their way out now, from what I’ve heard. I’m glad cards make it so easy to withdraw funds from ATMs, especially since I don’t have a physical bank.

    • Elleroi

      Je plussoie. If you do plan to use your ATM, make sure you change to a four digit pin. 

      • Aren’t all PINs four digits? Or are some fewer?

        • Emily L

          Ive had issues buying tickets at bus or train kiosks in italy. Sometimes they only accept a 5-digit pin or a card with a chip.

          • Ah, okay. I guess I’ll find out soon enough… Thanks!

      • Or if you want your ATM to work in some credit union ATM machines (the 12 digit pin on one of my ATM cards doesn’t work on most other bank ATMs).

  • Daisys

    Bring international power adapters, buy some of the country’s currency before getting there. If you go through your bank it is usually cheaper than an exchange at the airport and that way you have some local money for taxis and other expenses that come up as soon as you arrive. Bring your iPhone, leave it on airplane mode and use Internet and Skype over wifi. You will need to purchase Skype credit before but you can call landlines and cell phones for cheap. Finding a local sim card or getting an international cell phone package from your wireless carrier is troublesome and expensive.

    • That’s a good tip. I’m not quite certain how prominent free Wi-Fi is in Rome though. I was planning on picking up a prepaid SIM card like all the Italians do.

  • Love your tips and Omid is right about the ATM tip, too!

    • Thanks! Yeah, I’m excited that ATMs are as convenient as they are!

  • Don’t punch people in the face would be my suggestion.

    • From a Bostonian no less!

  • elleroi

    Keane~ when do you leave? I have a GSM phone that you can borrow. 

    Another tip: If you won’t be using your regular phone while abroad. Turn it to airplane mode once you board your flight and don’t take it off airplane mode till you are back in the US. This way you can still use your phone’s wifi and camera but won’t incur roaming fees. 

    • I have an old iPhone that I unlocked to use as a crap phone. That should work right? 

  • Cheryldavid

    I give a copy of my passport to my parents, and keep a copy in my luggage just in case.

    In addition to #3, I’ve found a moneybelt very useful.  I keep my important stuff – passport, cards the majority of my cash in it. I keep a nominal amount good for the day in my wallet, and if I need to buy anything big I go to a restroom and retrieve it.

    • Great tips. Thanks!