Friday, April 11, 2008

Foreign Travel

Fifth in a series for

Foreign travel can be exciting and challenging. Researching your destinations and understanding all the laws and restrictions you may face when leaving the USA will help to make your world travels enriching and rewarding. Here is some advice to make your experience even better:

Language: Fortunately, many people in foreign countries speak English as a second language, but it’s always wise to bring a small dictionary containing important words and phrases.

Passports: Apply well in advance and visit this website for any questions you may have.

Visas: Certain countries require visas before you may enter. Research the countries you plan to visit well in advance, also. The US embassy’s websites on various countries will help to prepare.

Medical: Discuss your travel plans with your health care provider. Certain vaccinations may be required, and as some require several installments a few weeks apart, do this with plenty of lead time. Your physician may recommend a general antibiotic to carry with you, or other medications travelers may find invaluable when confronted with new foods. Many physicians recommend taking a baby aspirin to avoid blood clots in the legs due to sitting for long periods of time. Carry enough medication for the time you will be gone, and keep the pills in their original prescription bottles.

Luggage: Your airline will have limits on number of checked bags and their weights. However: if you plan on flights between countries, these regulations may be different. In most cases, they allow less bags and less weight. Be prepared! We learned this the hard way, traveling on a budget airline between Finland and Sweden. If we hadn’t been with relatives who had lighter bags, we would have been in trouble. Put several tags on your bags, as they can be torn off in transit, and be sure to put identifying labels inside your bags, too.

Travel insurance: Our neighbors planned a two-week cruise of the Greek Islands. On the morning they were to leave, a blizzard prevented them from even reaching the airport. Travel insurance made it possible for the whole amount of the trip to be refunded. For a trip which involves major expense, it is definitely a consideration to investigate.

Money: Well in advance, call your bank and order currency for the various countries you will visit. And with the daily changes in exchange rates, you may find credit cards the way to go. Again, learn which credit cards are accepted in the countries you will visit.

Cell phones: Call your provider and make sure that your phone will work outside of the USA. Adding international service usually does not involve an extra fee, but must be arranged before your trip. We were especially grateful for international cell phone service when our rental car broke down outside of Cancun, Mexico, and we had to call the rental agency for help. We might still be on the road to Cancun, however, if our son hadn’t been fluent in Spanish, and convinced the rental agency that we did, indeed, need assistance.

Power: Purchase a good quality power adapter that has electrical plugs for the countries you will visit. Since most hotels have hair dryers (research your hotel in the Internet before you go), use the ones provided there. Evidently high-powered devices made in other countries may short out, even when used with an adaptor. I used a curling iron one morning in Finland and burned a sizeable lock of hair (in the front, of course). The smell of burning hair is most unpleasant, and disguising the missing chunk of hair can also be a challenge. I finished the trip without trying the curling iron again. Heavenly Father gave me straight hair, and I humbly accepted that.

Safety: Theft is a real concern when traveling, especially outside the USA. We look like tourists and make great targets. Use your hotel’s safe and carry your money on your person in a money belt or other pouch. Leave your valuable watches, jewelry and other items at home. It’s just common sense not to take the risk of losing something important that you really didn’t need to bring on your trip in the first place.

Identify your personal items: This might have helped my husband when he left his expensive bifocals on a plane that landed in Amsterdam. The airline’s customer service phone line took the weekend off, the website didn’t offer any help, and our brief layover in Amsterdam didn’t allow us any time to go to their lost and found department when we were on our way home. It’s always a good idea to take an extra pair of glasses. Keep all your glasses in a hard case and stick an address label inside, or tuck a business card in the case. You just might recover your lost item. Ditto with cameras, cell phones, iPods, etc.

What to see, what to do: This is where organized tours can be wonderful, especially if it’s your first trip to a new region. Your guide will have an itinerary planned, interpreters arranged, and all the arrangements made for travel, housing, tours, entertainment, and every other detail you may never even think about. For your first trip abroad, this may be the most safe and rewarding way to go. Tours and cruises offer varied itineraries. Research the companies and read passenger feedback on the Internet when making your choice. When arriving in a new city, taking a bus tour can be a wonderful introduction to a new and fascinating place. Most tours are offered in various languages.

Take lots of pictures, which is now simplified with digital cameras, rechargeable batteries, and memory cards.

Don’t overschedule: You can’t see every attraction in a new country or city. See the ones you can reasonable schedule, and allow the time to enjoy them thoroughly.

Walking: Bring comfortable walking shoes. You will spend a lot of time on your feet. You may find yourself standing in lines and also walking on unfamiliar surfaces, such as cobblestone, which can have some painful repercussions when your body isn’t used to them. Many countries don’t offer many accommodations to persons with disabilities, so be prepared to cope with that issue.

In an emergency, be sure you know how to contact the US Embassy in the country you’re visiting, and never forget that helpful members of the church can be found nearly everywhere you go. Your hotel personnel may be very knowledgeable when you need assistance, also.

Note: We haven’t done much international traveling, and have always had the advantage of being on a tour or cruise, or staying with someone familiar with the country and the language. You could say we’re not that adventurous. But the foreign travel we have done has been memorable and enriching and educational. When you go, plan well in advance, make sensible decisions, and have a wonderful trip!

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