Travel Tips for Americans Traveling to Foreign Countries
Things you should know before traveling overseas. These are ways to prepare and make your journey a little easier.
- My Travels
- Before Your Journey
- Know the Culture and the Laws
- What to Pack
- Do Not Drink the Water
- Contact Info & Registering with Local Authorities
I have been blessed to have traveled to various different countries throughout the Middle East, such as Bahrain, Qatar, and Dubai. I have also visited the United Kingdom, and currently I live in Pakistan. After doing such extensive travel, I have found there are certain things that I can do before I ever start my journey that will help to make my travel a bit easier. If someone had given me these tips, then it definitely would have made my first few travels a whole lot easier. It would have also kept me from getting sick on my journeys. There are a lot of small things that can make you ill while traveling. Things you might not think of unless someone pointed them out to you, but first let's start with the basics.
Before Your Journey
Before visiting any country, it is important to ensure you have all of the necessary paperwork prepared and have had all of the recommended vaccinations.
Don't wait til the last minute either to apply for your visa. Anything can happen. When I applied for my visa to Bahrain, the embassy lost my passport. It took them two weeks to find it. Luckily, I had submitted my visa application two months in advance so the delay didn't mean I had to reschedule my trip. If I had waited though, then I most likely would have had to cancel my flight. While I could have applied for a visa after landing in Bahrain, there was no way I could have got my passport replaced in time for me to make my flight. This is why it is important to make sure you apply for your visas ahead of schedule because you never know what might happen.
Make good quality photocopies of all of your ID
Not just having photocopies, but good quality photocopies is absolutely essential when traveling overseas. If you lose your passport, then having a photocopy of it will help you to get a replacement much quicker. You will be required to fill out forms which ask for your passport number. I would say that less than 25% of people even know where their passport number is located on their passport and even if they know where it is, ask them to tell you what it is without looking. I know I couldn't.
Another reason is in the unfortunate event you're traveling alone overseas and in an accident. Let's also say you had lost your passport and then you get hit by a car and are in a coma or unconcious. Having this photocopy will allow authorities to contact the embassy who will then be able to notify your relatives.
Always pack all of your original and photocopied documents in your carry-on luggage. Airlines lose luggage everyday. So it's important to keep your travel documents with you at all times.
Know the Culture and the Laws
It is also important to know a little bit about the culture of the area you plan on visiting. You might not think this is important because you're just vacationing there for a few days, but it is extremely important to know about what is socially and morally punishable when visiting another country.
In the Middle East, for example, there are morals laws. Things like kissing in public is punishable by jail time and huge fines. You might think this will never happen to you, but I am sure that is what the British couple who were arrested in 2010 for kissing in public thought too.
Certain types of bathing suits are not allowed and you can be fined for wearing them even if you are just wearing them on the beach. Also wearing certain types of clothing can make you a target for the locals. If a female visitor wears low cut or revealing clothing, then she is seen as easy, loose, and ready for a good time. While in the West, clothing is not a factor if a woman is attacked. In certain countries, it is the first question asked. So it is important to know in order to protect yourself.
These are some of the more serious things that can happen if you visit a country without knowing the cultural and moral laws, but it is also important to know just so you don't offend your host. In some places, showing the sole of your foot when seated to another is the equivalent of giving someone the finger in the USA. Locals will appreciate you having learned these things and often they will show and tell you things you might not have seen otherwise. This can make your trip more exciting and you will have great stories and pictures to share when you return home.
It is important that you remember you are now in another country, and the laws and freedoms that you enjoy in your own country might be quite different from the country you're visiting. For your own safety, it is important to find these things out even before you book your flight.
What to Pack
Regardless of where you're going, there are some essential things that you should take along with you. Having them can keep a simple upset stomach from turning into more serious illness. You can find most OTC (over the counter) medicines in the country you're traveling to, but they often are sold under a different name. One you most likely will have never heard of. This will make it difficult to find even the most basic medicines like Tylenol. In USA, one of the most common OTC headache/pain meds is Tylenol, but in the majority of overseas countries including the United Kingdom, it is known as Panadol. If you go in the convenience store in the UK and ask for Tylenol, the only thing you will get is a blank look on the clerk's face.
Here is my list of essential things that every person should pack when traveling to another country:
1. Nausea tablets - whether it's prescription or OTC, being able to take these at the onset of nausea can keep you from getting violently ill
2. Diarrhea tablets- again as in number 1
3. OTC pain meds such as tylenol, advil, ibuprofen4. Bandaids
6. Benadryl or any sinus/allergy meds- even if you don't normally have allergy/sinus problems, I would suggest bringing this anyways, sudden climate changes can cause you to have allergy/sinus problems.
7. Chapstick - even if you're not going to a dry climate area, the weather in places like the United Kingdom is often more windy and the air more chilled which can cause dry chapped lips
8. Hand Lotion - same reason as #7 climate change can wreak havoc on your skin
9. Any other OTC meds or things that you use or require on a daily basis- these items I would suggest packing a few extra in case you need more than you normally take due to increased illness or in case they get lost.
While this may sound like alot, it really isn't. Most of these items are sold in travel size quantities so it won't take up as much space as you think, and if you happen to need any of these items, you will be very grateful to have it on hand.
If at all possible, I would suggest to pack any medications, but especially those that are prescribed by doctor for chronic illnesses such as diabetes or heart medications in your carry-on luggage. Airlines lose luggage all of the time and getting a prescription filled overseas can be nearly impossible. Since the majority of drugs go by different names overseas you can't be 100% sure that you're getting the proper medications as well. Pharmacies in the USA make mistakes all of the time and they are tightly regulated. There are far fewer regulations if any at all in overseas pharmacies.
Do Not Drink the Water
This might sound like it is easily avoided, but often you are drinking the local water without realizing it. Go to the local cafe and order a Pepsi or any cola. What do you think will be in it? Ice. Where does ice come from? Water. Even though it is a small amount, it can make you sick. Also things like tea and coffee are often made from the local water and NOT from bottled water. Therefore it is better to stick to bottled drinks. Ones that are sealed and you are the one that opens it to ensure that it is sealed properly.
Water is not the only thing that can cause upset stomach and diarrhea. Milk can also. Make sure the milk you drink is from a sealed bottle just like your water. In Pakistan, locals often drink milk from cows that were freshly milked in the morning. The milk hasn't gone through any sort of pasteurization process. If you are use to drinking milk like this, then it might not bother you, but for someone like me who has some lactose intolerance, even just a little of this milk in my tea will make me sick for 2-3 days.
Spending your trip in the bathroom is usually not what I would call a great vacation. These little things you often don't think about are why it's necessary to have the items I listed above.
In USA, if you want to know the price of an item, then you simply check the price tag or ask the store clerk. Whatever is written on the price tag or whatever the clerk tells you, you just accept. This is called "fixed price system".
In most foreign countries especially Middle Eastern countries, there really is no "fixed price" for anything especially in the local souks (open air markets). Here are some tips on how to NOT get cheated when visiting overseas:
Do NOT buy from the first stall you go to.
Even if you find the most beautiful trinket and Aunt Jane would love it, do not buy the first thing you see. Go to other markets because they might have similar items and for less. Also foreigners are often charged double or triple that of locals. By visiting various stalls, you can get a better idea of what the locals pay. Just because something has a price written on it does not mean that it is fixed. That is what the stall owner "hopes" to sell it for. That does not mean it is what he "will" sell it for.
Do not be afraid to walk away
Everyone wants to make the sell and if the seller sees that you're willing to walk away, then he will come down on the price. He knows his competitor knows his prices and if you go to another shop, then his competitor will give you a price for slightly less than what he did. So don't be afraid to walk away. Soon they will be chasing after you and you will get some amazing deals.
Be careful about giving money to beggars. I know this might sound harsh, but begging is a profession overseas. Just because someone looks like a beggar doesn't mean they are. Do not carry large amounts of cash on you. Try to use your credit or debit card or better still travelers cheques. If you're at the local market and pull out a big wad of cash, then I can almost guarantee you will be surrounded by beggars when you walk out and it is very possible your wallet and cash could get stolen.
If you want to help a beggar, then buy them a meal. If they are truly that poor, then they will accept a hot meal and not insist upon cash.
Contact Info & Registering with Local Authorities
This is also another very important thing to remember. Make sure the next of kin information on your passport is filled out. You never know what unexpected event might occur. It is important that people are able to contact your next of kin in the event you are seriously injured and unable to tell them who to call. Also carry a list of your known allergies or medical conditions with you at all times. This will help local medical professionals know how to treat you better and keep them from giving you some medicine that you might be extremely allergic to.
In some countries, foreigners who are there for an extended period of time are required to register with local authorities. This is also for your protection. It might seem silly, but you won't know how important these things are until you actually need them but don't have them.
Lastly make sure to check travel warnings as close to the time of your departure as possible. Just because there were no warnings 2 months ago when you checked before booking your flight doesn't mean there is no warning when you're about to leave. Also check for past travel warnings. Past warnings are good indicators of what types of warnings that might occur while you're there. There also helpful tips and suggestions along contact details of the embassy in the country you're visiting. Make sure to note these down and keep them with you. While this list is not all inclusive, it is some things that I have learned through experience. If you're planning a vacation to an exotic land, then just take a few minutes to prepare because you never know what lies ahead.
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