10 Things You Should Know When Traveling Abroad

by Arielle Loren

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.

  • chanela

    really?!?! learning a foreign language isnt fun for most people??? i love it. you would think more people would be ecstatic cause its so awesome and exciting to be able to speak to people in a different tongue!

  • Stephanie

    Great article! Already joined Nomad*ness on FB :)

  • Vee

    Yes, yes, yes!!! Thank you for posting this; I love to travel and have been blessed to have been abroad 3 time. This is TRUTH.

    I am very picky about where I lay my head at night; here and abroad. READ THE REVIEWS and who is writing them! (I have often found that the American standard of hospitality-I mean hotels, not friendliness–is quite different). And I totally agree w/ the point about not relying so much on your standard American travel sites; they tend to recommend places that are either stupid expensive OR VERY far away from the action! By visiting European travel sites, and with the MOST patience, lol, I was able to score a lovely hostel only a 20min walk from Notre Dame for 18 euro in Paris!

    About travelling in groups: yes it’s absolutely safer and can be TONS of fun, but do NOT be afraid to leave the group and explore on your own if the people you’re with turn out to be party poopers!!!!!!! (Safely, of course.) I’ve had positive ad negative experiences, and, I’m telling you, you don’t want to regret not having the BEST time of your life, especially after spending all that money!! :-)

    Happy travels!

  • Pingback: » 10 Things You Should Know When Traveling Abroad Arielle Loren

  • Mahogany

    I thought the article was on point. I am someone who travels frequently as well.

    I would add, exchange your dollars before you travel to another country. It can be problematic to exchange money in different countries.

    Plan before you travel. Don’t make your schedule once you’re in the country. Have a plan A, B & C.

    Find the local supermarket and don’t always buy in touristic areas. You will save money. When I went to Mexico last summer we discovered Walmart. Surprisingly they have better Walmarts overseas than in the US.

    Only drink bottled water and brush your teeth with bottle water. I got sick when I went to the Dominican Republic 2 years ago.

    Carry some Advil, Tylenol or some kind of pain relief medication. It comes in handy.

    Find out if your hotel has free Wi-fi. It makes a difference.

  • lynette

    Merci beaucoup! I needed this article since I’ll be travelling to Europe again next year but I’ll be travelling alone (although I might go with others based on this article!). I agree learning foreign languages can be fun and locals consider it to be very respectful. Don’t worry if you can’t speak their language very well because most of them know some type of English whether it’s American English or British English. It is mandatory in most countries to speak a second language. I remember taking french and Spanish in school all before I could speak proper English!!

  • Tami

    Evita is great! Had the pleasure of meeting her in Japan. Glad she can get more fans!

  • LemonNLime

    RIGHT! I have a hard time understanding why you wouldn’t want to learn other languages. Knowledge of languages other than your own can give you an in to the culture and it people. Ex: I have never had to pay overweight fees in France unlike other Americans I know. Why? I because I know how to butter up the check-in people in French. Best believe it works! I have also had debates on politics in Portuguese and traveled the Pacific coast slept on a beach with ticos in Costa Rice thanks to my knowledge of Spanish.

    Learn languages people!

  • LemonNLime

    I really like traveling alone too. I usually meet cool people staying in my hostel who are also traveling alone and we all just hang out. One of the best experiences travelings was 24 hours in Berlin running around with a British guy, Canadian guy, a kiwi guy, an American guy living in Germany, and his AWESOME mom. We were ALL over Berlin together for about 24 hours and then we went our separate ways. But I think it is just amazingly cool to be able to share an amazing experience or memory with people you met one moment in time and that you will never see again. It’s amazing and it makes you realize that even with all the bad they they constantly talk about on the news, outside of that are real amazing kind people that aren’t so different from you and you can share a connection with.

    Btw I LOVE these articles. It so great to find a community of black female travelers! I am moving to either Brazil or France next year so I hope to run into some of you ladies!

  • Timcampi

    Awesome piece! But MissLoren you already know you can do no wrong in my eyes.

    [Also bring the sexy back =P]

  • Urban Travel-bug

    Great Post! Came right on time as I am traveling to Europe (Naple, Italy) for the first time. I’m nervous and excited at the same time!

  • http://kwerekwere.blogspot.com kwerekwere

    as an addendum to the money comment: if you travel a LOT, consider doing your retail banking with a major bank (putting aside any occupy wall street-type feelings you have about the “big banks”).

    the larger banks have various levels of service, one of which may be more beneficial than your current banking provider. for example, one of my friends banks with one of the largest banks in the world, which waives its 4% international transaction fee if you’re a user of its premium banking services. they charge $40 a month for the service if your banking relationship is less than a certain amount of money, but my friend did the math and realised that he spends more than $1000 a month in international transactions, so he actually comes out ahead in this regard.

    another good use of such banks is if you are robbed, it’s very likely that your multinational bank has a presence in the country that you’re visiting, and you can have a replacement card delivered to you at a local branch of that bank, much in the same way that american express does for its cardmembers.

  • d_nicegirl

    Thanks. I really appreciate this article. Sound advice.

  • Jas

    Also, change your pin number on your bank card to four digits before you leave. Here in the States, I’m allowed a 6 digit pin at the atm, but in Turkey and Brazil the max is 4.

  • http://www.nicolesconiers.com/blog Nicole

    Excellent article. Makes me ready to dust off my passport. I would add leave a copy of your passport number and itinerary with your loved ones. I also agree with Mahogany about changing your dollars before going abroad. I took enough foreign currency to cover transportation, tipping, food for the first day, and then used my ATM at a satellite branch once I reached my destination. The exchange rate was better, and I didn’t have to worry about carrying a lot of cash on me.

    I enjoy traveling abroad with friends, but the best trips I’ve had were solo vacays. Traveled to New Zealand in February, and Australia last year, and single women get a different adventure than those who travel with a group. The natives were super friendly and didn’t make me feel exotic for being a black chick Down Under. Plus, it’s really liberating and makes you feel like a citizen of the world to know you can navigate a foreign city on your own.

  • http://internationalblack.wordpress.com/2011/09/06/studying-abroad-how-terra-did-it/ Trina Roach

    Great article with some really helpful tips.

    I would add the following:

    a.) If you plan to use public transportation, and there are schedules/maps online, familiarize yourself with the system before you leave, so you know how to find your way around “like a local” when you arrive

    b.) If you are using taxis, make sure you understand pricing practices in the cities/countries you are visiting. In some places it’s really important to agree a price *before* you get started or the driver can literally charge you whatever astronomical fee he fancies

    c.) If you are taking prescription medication, not only take enough with you to last you while you’re gone. Also take a copy of the prescription and/or the name of that (or a similar) medication in the countries to which you’ll be traveling

    d.) Don’t forget to get a local SIM card for your cell phone and/or an international calling card to save money on calls home (and be prepared in an emergency)

    On a more social note (though I think this has been covered in a previous post):

    - Reach out to an expat or local blogger and build up a relationship with them before you leave home. That will give you a touch point when you hit the ground.

    - Consider contacting local women’s or professional organizations before you leave, if you’d like to do a little networking while you’re on the road. Check out their online event calendars before leaving home and/or consider sharing your expertise by offering to do a presentation, etc., on a relevant topic for them while you’re there.

    - Contact a local middle/high school if you are willing give a short presentation and field questions from kids interested in the States/learning English/becoming exchange students, etc.

    Wishing all the ladies who will be traveling soon a safe and inspiring journey!!

  • Teddy

    Love this article !!!!..

  • http://nomadnesstv.com Evita

    Thank you ladies for joining the Tribe and supporting the movement. We cut up in the Tribe, warning you now. It’s all love though. We’re a crazy traveling family around the world.


  • Alexandra

    Another great article on travel. I’m taking all of this in.
    Thanks for the tips.

  • Vee

    Also, some big US banks have relationships with major banks in other countries. This worked for me, and I was able to withdraw money from the ATM at the raw exchange rate, no ATM fees (just a negligible international charge fee, which amounted to less than half of the American sales tax most places). I also noticed that withdrawing from an ATM is THE best way to get money, because those currency exchange places up and down the street and ***the airport service desks*** will ROB you through fees!

    TravelEx is the best though, because if you exchange more than $500, you can get the raw exchange rate (zero hidden). Just make sure you are able to lock the money you aren’t carrying around w/ you each day in your hotel if you exchange that much at a time. This is best to do BEFORE you leave the US, and for shorter trips.

  • frankie

    What was the name of that hostel?

  • http://www.oneika-the-traveller.com Oneika the Traveller

    Great article! I’ve travelled to about 45 countries but have never really thought about researching the health care/emergency care resources of any of the places I’ve visited- excellent tip! Somebody mentioned it before, but it is SO important to check reviews on the places you’re staying in on websites like Trip Advisor.

    Big-ups to Evita and her travel tribe! It’s dope and has allowed me to connect with other travellers in London, UK, which is great since I just moved here!

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