Traveling to a new country is always exciting, especially if it’s a foreign one.
We visualize ourselves meeting interesting people from another part of the world, discovering new cultures, and trying out exotic foods.
Just thinking about it has us jumping up from our chairs!
Before we get lost in the moment, let’s take a step back to prepare ourselves for the trip itself.
Here’s 7 essential things to check off on your travel checklist before your departure.
1. How you’ll enter the country
When you’re traveling to a foreign country, there’s strict rules that must be followed if we want to enjoy the fruits of the country.
- Visa. Depending on where you’re from and where you’re going, the country you are entering may require you to hold a tourist visa to enter. You should check with your country’s government website beforehand. Here’s the link to the US State Department website if you’re American.
- Up-to-date Passport. When does your passport expire? Most countries require you to have a passport that is valid for six months after your return date. Keep in mind that if you need to renew it, the normal processing time takes 4–6 weeks on average. You could pay an expediated fee to receive it faster, but it can be quite costly.
- Return ticket? Many countries require you to have a return ticket as a tourist to prove that you will not be staying inside the country more than the maximum time allowed.
*Quick tip: If you’re not 100% sure when you’ll be returning, here’s a quick hack to get in without needing to pay for a return ticket. There are certain airlines that allow you to cancel your ticket within 24 hours of purchasing the ticket. You can purchase your ticket on the day of your departure, show the border officers your return ticket, and cancel it when you arrive at your destination.
- Photocopies. We wouldn’t wish this upon anyone, but we tend to lose stuff when we’re traveling. The worst thing we could lose while abroad is our identifications. It’s better to play it safe and make photocopies of essential documents including:
a. Passport ID page
c. Credit card information
d. Airline or bus tickets
e. Hotel or hostel confirmation
- Reciprocity fee. Some countries, such as Argentina, charge for reciprocity fees for certain nationalities rather than requiring tourist visas. It’s necessary to not only pay for the fee beforehand, but also have the proof of document printed out to show when you enter the country.You can usethis website to check which countries require reciprocity fees.
2. Where you’ll be staying
Now that we know how we’ll enter the country, we need to figure out where we’ll be staying. Depending on how long you’ll be staying in one place, and how often you plan to be traveling, there’s a few options you can choose from.
Short term (3 days — 1 month)
We’ll rank the options listed in terms of cost, convenience, and easy access to new people.
- Hotels (Cost #4, Convenience #1, People #4): Hotels are a common route that many business workers pay the extra dollars for comfort purposes. If you’re traveling to meet new people, this is not a great option.
- AirBnB (Cost #3, Convenience #2, People #3): AirBnB is an easy, secure, and convenient option to go with for short-term stays. You could even meet new, local people, if you’re renting a room, not an entire apartment/house.
- Hostels (Cost #2, Convenience #3, People #4): If you’re budget strapped, and have a keen for meeting new people, hostels are the best option for you. You’ll meet fellow travellers from around the world in the same boat as you, and it’s incredibly easy to make new friends. If you’re choosing hostels for meeting new people versus saving money, you could rent a private room and get the best of both worlds.
- Couchsurfing (Cost #1, Convenience #4, People #3): This friendly, shared community has thrived amongst the traveller community. For $0, you can stay at someone’s couch (or sometime’s even a spare room), and most host’s are extremely friendly and open-minded. However, this option is not for the faint heart, as you can face uncomfortable situations.
Longer term (3+ months)
If you’re planning to stay in a country for more than 3+ months, we highly recommend renting out an apartment or house. You’ll save more money, and have the ability to live a more stable lifestyle.
- Craigslist. No matter where you go around the world, you’ll be able to find apartment listings available for rent. This is a great place to start to guage local pricing, and to explore your options.
- Local rental listings. Many foreign countries will have their own popular rental listings, and the fastest way to know about them is to type: “[Apartment or House] short term rentals in [City].”
*In the rental industry, short term rentals are normally around 1–6 months, so you should be able to find what you’re looking for with these keywords*
- Facebook Groups. Thanks to the power of Facebook communities, there are many Facebook groups already formed for rental listings in different cities. Keep in mind, this is the case for most popular cities. If you’re traveling to a smaller city, it may not exist.
3. How you’ll communicate
If you’re traveling to a foreign country, chances are you’ll need tocommunicate in another language, whether it’s Spanish, Portuguese, Mandarin, etc.
Depending on your current level in the language:
- Know the essential basics of communicating:
If you have zero comprehension of the language, it’s important to know simple phrases that will help you get around. Phrases may include:
a. Hello, goodbye
b. Where is _____?
c. I don’t speak _______
d. How much is this?
e. My name is _______
Rype has a Complete List of Resources for language learning you can check out to make a better decision.
- Practice with native speakers beforehand:
Whether you’re looking to improve your skills or looking to familarize yourself with how native speakers communicate, immersing yourself with actual native speakers is the best way to prepare before your travels.
This is how we learned any skill faster when we were young, by immersing ourselves and practicing. Think of how you learned to swim, play sports, an instrument, etc.
However, unlike practicing an instrument, where we can practice on our own, few of us have native speakers around us that we can practice with at our convenience.
You can check out Rype, a platform created to empower language learners to connect with native speaking professionals around the world to reach conversation fluency faster through full-immersion.
4. How will you feel secure?
- Check warnings and advisories
Although these warnings can be exagerated, it’s better to be at least aware of these advisories. Check out your government’s travel site for any recent news on what you should watch out for.
- Read up on neighborhoods to avoid
No matter where we travel to, there’s always areas we should avoid entering, or at least take extra precaution in. However, instead searching for places to avoid, researching the best neighborhoods to stay will save you more time.
This mostly applies to emergency health insurance, because we’re more vulnerable while traveling, and the last thing we want is a hefty bill that we can’t cover.
Depending on how flexible you are with your travels, buying insurance that allows you to cancel/change around your flights without a fee may also be a good option.
5. How you’ll get around
- Taxis: In certain foreign countries, it’s critical to take caution which taxis are official and which ones are not. Do a quick search to find out what official taxis look like the city you’re traveling to. Or better yet, find out if there are secure, on-demand apps available, such as Uber or EasyTaxi.
- Metro/Bus: Most metropolitan cities will have robust metro systems that can help you explore the city at a fraction of the cost of taking a taxi. If you’re the budget-friendly type, it could be an economical option to take the bus/metro from the airport to the place you’ll be staying. This can often be solved through a quick Google Maps Direction search.
- Driving: Do you plan to drive while you’re there? Most countries require you to have what’s called an International Driving Permit (IDP). Most countries won’t accept a U.S license without an IDP. Use this link to check with the embassy of the place you’re traveling to.
6. What you’ll be bringing
Simplicity always wins here.
We have this common belief that we should bring everything we own to our travels. The truth is, we use only a small portion of our possessions on a regular basis, and more importantly, we can buy almost everything we need when we arrive — most likely at a cheaper cost.
A few tips here:
- Unless absolutely necessary, leave important valuables at home (watch, labtop, jewellery, etc.)
- Leave basic toiletries and accessories such as sunscreen, umbrella, waterbottles, and even toothpaste at home, because you can always buy it there.
- Clothes are the biggest spacefillers when packing. Rather than bringing clothes that you’ll wear once and throw away, pick clothes thatare durable, takes minimal space, and wrinkle-free. This will save you several pounds of space immediately.
You can use this checklist to see what you may have forgotten.
7. What will you pay for things?
- Calling your bank and credit card company beforehand
When you’re going abroad, it’s important to let your bank know that you’ll be using the card while you’re traveling. This is because your bank will block your card when they see abnormal activity for security purposes, such as card usage from another part of the world.
It’s highly recommended to do this before because when you’re on the other side of the world, it can be very difficult to re-activate your card without entering your bank branch to prove your identity.
- Exchanging dollars to maximize conversion rates
Depending on where you’re going, you could either take two approaches here:
a. convert your dollars to the currency of the place you’re traveling to before you leave
This could be a good option if the exchange rates are at your favor, and you want to have enough cash prepared before you arrive there.
b. bring large amounts of dollars and convert it when you arrive
Usually, this works for places that are experiencing inflation, and where currency from developed nations are stable.
For example, in Buenos Aires it’s possible to exchange your US dollar for nearly double ($1 US to 14–15 pesos) the normal exchange rate ($1 US to 8.5 pesos).