While I’ve been lucky to travel the world from an extremely young age, I’ve recently found myself learning more and more about what to do and not to do when traveling abroad. To date I’ve visited twelve different countries, three of which I’ve called home, and picked up two languages along the way. Although I’ve had some amazing experiences, I’ve also been ripped off financially, semi-homeless sleeping in airports, in need of emergency medical care, and struggling with foreign languages amongst other dilemmas in the past. Traveling can be tough, but very rewarding if you plan appropriately.
While the majority of my travel experiences have been overwhelmingly positive, I want to give new globetrotters ten things to be vigilant for when traveling abroad. Take this advice, book a flight, pack your bags, and go see the world!
Shop around for the best travel deals. It’s easy to go to Orbitz or Kayak under the impression that both are the end all to be all for good deals. While both certainly have delivered incredible promotions, I’ve found that local airlines, such as Ryanair or easyJet in Europe, offer far better deals for intercontinental travel. I’ve also discovered cheaper accommodations compared to your average hotel through using services, such as Hostelling International or Airbnb. Shop around; don’t just bargain hunt with your favorite search engines. You never know what you may find!
Don’t be cheap when it comes to safety. I made this mistake once and I will never do it again. My best friend and I were attempting to save money on accommodations and booked a hostel in Cairo, Egypt without thoroughly checking the reviews. When we arrived, not only was the place unclean, but also the hotel owners allowed a local man to stalk my best friend for almost ten hours. As two women traveling through a country with complicated gender politics, we would have been better off booking an American hotel, such as the Hilton, where we ended up staying as an alternative. But safety precautions don’t stop there; always take a cab when traveling late at night, because it’s better to spend a few extra dollars than risk being mugged on the street. In general, your life and wellbeing is worth the extra cash, don’t skimp on security.
Not everyone is your friend. If I had a dollar for every local that’s ripped off a tourist, I’d probably give Oprah a run for her money on the Forbes list. Like many struggling areas, Bahia (Brazil) has shown me the beautiful, bad, and ugly. There are men and women that literally make their living romancing and then stealing from tourists. Watch your purses, iPods, and cameras, ladies. Just because that fine man wants to give you a backrub (even if you pay him for it), doesn’t mean you should completely let your guard down, close your eyes, and potentially allow him to take off with your stuff. Be vigilant and street smart even if the beach is your local scenery.
Don’t be afraid to talk to people. While there are plenty of douche bags robbing foreigners, there’s also a ton of kind, amazing locals that are thrilled to see you visiting their country and want to make your experience as positively memorable as possible. Don’t clam up and feel scared to get to know people living in the community or even other foreigners that have visited in the past. Evita Robinson’s Nomad•ness Tribe on Facebook is leading the way in connecting travelers with other travelers, so that we have a network of support in our adventures. Frankly, the best way to find the locations of excellent restaurants, off-the-beaten-path tourist attractions, and coolest hostels, is to ask someone young and adventurous like you that knows. Talk to people!
Foreign languages are not your enemy. For most people, learning a foreign language is not fun, but truthfully, if you speak the local language of the country in which you’re traveling, your experience will be richer. Luckily, English is the most widely spoken language when it comes to tourism, but it’s not always an option. Try to learn the basics of the language of the country that you want to travel. Simple things like “hello,” “thank you,” or “where is the bathroom?” will take you a long way. Not only will it show that you respect the local culture, but also it’s likely that the person on the receiving end will work harder to understand you or address you in English.