My first ever international trip was taken at the age of 16 when I flew by myself to Mexico City for an exchange program. Since then I’ve visited 17 other countries, some of which I’ve returned to multiple times. And so I consider myself pretty savvy in the international traveling department and wanted to give my own traveling tips if you’re about to go on your first ever trip out of the country or are doing so long after your first ever sojourn.
(As an American, I write these tips with American tourists in mind although they are probably applicable for most nationalities too.)
-Make multiple photocopies of your passport
While a photocopy of your passport (a traveler’s lifeline when going abroad) will not suffice for you to board a plane or leave a country (many countries require an exit stamp in your passport), should something happen to your passport, you’ll be in a much better position than having no evidence at all to produce to your country’s embassy. I am always leery when traveling with my passport for fear of anything that could happen to it; moreover I guard it like a hawk and grip the bag that I am carrying it in even tighter. Knock on wood, I have never once lost my passport or had it stolen, but from those I have encountered who have had this happen to them, it’s probably the biggest nightmare for a traveler to go through.
-Scan a copy of your passport and email it to yourself
I heard about this tip on a travel forum and think it’s a wonderful idea. Not only do you have a copy of your passport but it’s also digitally safe as well.
-Write down the address and other contact information of your country’s embassy where you’ll be visiting (if there is a consulate office, write down that information too)
Thankfully I have never had to telephone my country’s embassy. But when one travels, anything can happen, including events out of your control (i.e. natural disasters, civil disturbances that turn deadly, etc). So it’s a good idea to know how to contact your country’s embassy should the occasion ever arise. I do this for all my international trips.
-I would recommend registering with your embassy abroad only if you are going to be in that country for an extended period of time
This is a tip I never followed in any of the countries I lived in (South Korea, Costa Rica, Spain, and Mexico). While I always thought about doing it, I was lazy and never did. If you’re traveling to a country for just a week or two, no, it’s probably not worth it. However, anything longer than a month is probably a good idea. While letting relatives and close ones know of your travel plans and location is usually the smartest thing to do, should there ever be a problem, it’s also a good idea that your embassy knows where you’re staying and for how long in the event you would need to leave or be accounted for.
-Don’t exchange money at the airport
Currency booths at the airport will often have the worst exchange rates, meaning you will not be getting as much money back. Either exchange money ahead of time, or exchange just enough ahead to be able to cover incidental expenses early on in your trip (i.e. ground transportation from the airport to your hotel, food) until you can go to a currency house with more favorable exchange rates.
-Don’t search out “excitement”
Some people are born with an adventurous streak. I understand that. But when you’re abroad you are subject to that country’s laws and regulations, so play it safe and keep the adventure side for another time. No matter where you are in the world protests can occur. Some parts of the world may feature entirely peaceful ones, whereas others get violent and scary very fast. If you hear talk of a planned protest that is taking place, avoid the neighborhood. If it just happens to be the neighborhood where a site that you wanted to visit is located, come back another day. If you’re somewhere where things start to get dicey, leave as quickly as you can. When you’re an outsider, a country’s protests are not something you should be participating in, especially if you don’t know what it’s even about or you don’t speak the language. Even better, ask your hotel’s front desk staff for their advice and suggestions.
I visited Argentina only a couple of years after the devastating peso crisis that struck there in late 2004. A couple of nights while staying in the capital of Buenos Aires massive protests took place in which the participants marched through the streets, protesting against matters like the high cost of wares and unemployment; all of this occurred in the vicinity of the Casa Rosada (the president’s house), all within the vicinity of our centrally located hostel. One night my friend and I were walking when all of a sudden we heard very loud voices and an even louder drum being beaten. We quickly found a restaurant to eat dinner and got off the streets. No, American tourists were not being targeted but seeing the throngs of protesters at night when it was dark, and for me, hearing the drum which sounded so ominous and intimidating, was enough for me to not want to take any chances. Being a smart tourist means exercising common sense at all times.
-Tourist police, seek them out if needed
If you’re traveling to an area popular with tourists, you may see tourist police. More and more countries around the world are creating such special groups to better serve their visitors. While seeking out police in any country is generally a good idea (perhaps excluding those places with known corrupt police forces), tourist police have been trained to assist tourists in matters that may be more exclusive to visitors (i.e. filing a police report, needing to contact an embassy) and even better, have been trained to speak some English versus a random official on the street who may not know any.