Here are some Travel tips I have after our travels.
These are not for going on a cruise or going to Club Med. These are for traveling to countries where you will be outside of your normal comfort zone. Places where people say "Don't drink the water".
Here is a link to Rick Steves travel tips site. http://www.ricksteves.com/plan/tips/tips_menu.htm
Here is a link to the US state department travel tips site. http://travel.state.gov/travel/tips/tips_1232.html
The statements about countries are rather canned. Don't do things because there are bad people around. They do mention the types of incidents that have been seen recently.
Obviously you will have a passport. You might also have an international medical card. Don't lose these. Carry a back up. The US passport is a powerful document. Be grateful that you live in a country where you are granted many travel opportunities, both by being allowed into countries and being allowed to leave your country. Don't be an ugly American. Treat everyone with respect.
When you enter a country you will fill in a form. They will give you part of it back. You will return this part of the form when you leave the country. Don't lose that form. They are generally small pieces of paper so they could easily be lost. Have a plastic bag or travel document folder to keep everything together in a safe place.
It might be convenient to carry additional photos for a visa with you. It is easy to make 6 pictures on one photo. I found two sites that make this a simple process. Follow the steps on this page to print your own. It would also be handy to have a picture if someone gets lost.
Have pictures of your bags. If they are lost at the airport you can leave a picture of it with the luggage people with the report you fill out.
Carry another photo ID as well. Most people will have their driver's license. I recommend getting a photo ID card for even those too young to drive (most states issue these if you do not have a driver's license). It will make getting a replacement for a lost passport easier. Another option is to get a passport card. These are really for driving in and out of Canada, but they do show who you are and that you are a citizen of the US. This really makes getting a replacement passport book easier.
My travel clinic gave me a nice plastic holder for my passport and health card. I would get some sort of holder. These keep the documents together. It keeps them from getting wet and bent. I don't think highly of the ones people wear around their neck. It just makes it easier for someone to see it and steal it. If you keep it under your shirt you should be fine.
When you travel in groups carry copies of each other's passports. You might not lose all the bags. Carry a copy of your own too. We have found that you need the passport number to fill out forms in lots of places like hotels or museums. Don't carry your original everyday. Just have it with you when you go through customs.
Carry a pen with you. On the plane before you arrive at a new country you will be given immigration forms to fill out. If you have a pen you can fill them out while you are on the plane instead of standing in line at immigration. If you also carry paper you can make notes about what you see. I recommend note cards because they are sturdy.
I recommend giving your doctor and dentist's address to someone back home. If something happens to you the people you leave the information with can track down your medical records so the local people can know what conditions you have.
Record model and serial numbers of the items you take with you. Remember all the items. Cameras, lenses, computers, phones. If they are lost, stolen, or broken you will know what you had. Have a list of everything you bring so you can report what you had.
Before you go
Do you park your car on the street? Check with your city departments to make sure that they are not going to be cleaning the street while you are gone. Also see if they have other street work planned (trimming trees, sewer, water). My city puts up signs only a day or two before they do these things. Of course have someone available during the winter to move your car when the streets are going to be plowed.
Health and safety
Follow the local laws. Don't do anything that will get you in trouble. This might sound like I am your mother but it is really true in many countries. You do NOT want to get thrown in jail. They are not nice places to be staying. If you think things will be clean and you will get meals you are thinking of the US. You do not have rights like you do in the US. You are in a foreign country. Just because you are a US citizen you are not granted the rights of one in a foreign country. You would expect people from a foreign country to obey the laws when they visit the US.
Look both ways when you cross the street. Remember to do this when you are in the middle of the street. That is when you forget because you "know" that you only have to look one way. Unfortunately it will be the wrong way.
Don't touch animals, even to pet them. The little dogs, cats, burros, and lizards look cute but they could have fleas or other insects. Their bites could make you ill. The street animals have a hard life. They will probably bite you. They could possibly have rabies. They might also have fleas or other insects that will jump on you and bite you.
Travel insurance. I buy travel insurance because it covers medical evacuations. This means that if you need medical care on the way home and need an air ambulance that they will pay for it. It can cost fifty to one hundred thousand dollars to do this. If you don't want to stay in the hospitals in the countries you are visiting you should do this. Having it cover the cost of a cancelled trip is nice too. I have used CSA Travel Protection. You can do this all on line. The cost is generally based on the cost of your trip. I saw World Nomads referenced on the helpx website. They offer evacuation, medical, and cancellation for both personal and family.
Use the ATM to get your money. This is a great way to get cash in the local currency. The problem is that in many countries the bills you get are very large (What would you do if the ATMs in the USA gave you $100 bills). Where do you change the big bills into smaller bills and coins? I do not have an answer for this. I have tried to spend them at grocery stores and on city-to-city buses.
Be aware that in some countries certain types of cards are used more often than others. We saw that Visa was much more widely accepted than MasterCard. We saw very few places that took America Express. I wouldn't even try a Discover card.
Notify your credit card companies that you are leaving the country. Many will put a hold on your account when they see a charge outside of the US. It could take you a while to get the hold taken off.
Here is my simple idea to keep your valuables in your pocket. Place a wadded up bandana in your pocket after putting your wallet and money in your pocket. Someone would have to pull the bandana out before they got your stuff. Hopefully you would feel the bandana coming out of your pocket.
Always learn a few simple phrases in the native language. Don't assume everyone knows English. Even if they do you should ask them in their own language if they do.
Many words used for travel are of French origin. Some of them we know
but are rarely used. Is embarkation the line to get on or off the
(is is getting on the plane).
Know the local gestures for greeting. This is just as important as speaking in the local language. Is bowing normal? Is handshaking not done. You can watch what people do ahead of you in line so when you get to the agent or vendor you can do the same thing.
If you are speaking to someone in English try not to use contractions or idioms (figures of speech). Think about yourself trying to learn a second language. You do not learn all of these. Many times they do not make literal sense. Here is a simple one: "What time do you get up?" What you should say is "What time do you awaken?" or "What time do you get out of bed?" I say think like a thesaurus. If someone does not understand one word, you can use another that they might. A photo album is just a book of photographs. Book is a more common word than album.
Computers and Internet
The great thing is that there are internet cafes everywhere. They are not very expensive. All that I have seen have PCs running the Windows operating system. If you mainly use something else (say a Apple Mac) you will want to learn how to use the browsers under Windows before you leave. The browsers and web sites will probably be displayed in the language of the country you are in.
Know how to access your email using your provider's browser interface (web mail). Make sure the email addresses you want are in the web mail address book. You could also send yourself an email with a list of the email addresses you use. Write some down so you have access to the important ones. Give someone on that list a list of all your email addresses so they can send it to you if your provider loses your list.
The keyboards are not US English. This means that you will have some letters in odd locations. The Spanish keyboards have a special shift key labeled Alt-Gr (for Alternate Graphic). You need to use this key to get the at sign.
I would recommend not using too many punctuation symbols for passwords because you might find them hard to type on a keyboard. You can still use a period and the other common symbols for better passwords.
Most of the keyboards are not high quality. This means some keys stick or are hard to push. There isn't much you can do except to ask for another PC. I would definitely wash your hands after using the mouse and keyboard at one of the cafes. The person before you might have been sneezing into their hand while they where typing.
Check the web sites you use regularly to see if they have recommendations for using them in a different country (especially your email provider). They might have a different URL that specifies you want English.
Web sites will normally be in the local language. When you go to www.google.com in a Spanish speaking country, you will see that all the instructions and labels are in Spanish.
If you know the web sites you use frequently from the icons you will be able to use them even if the words are in a language you do not know (assuming that the layout is the same in both languages).
You might want to bring some writable CDs and a sturdy carrier. Most internet cafes have CD writing services or PCs that will do it. You can make backup copies of your pictures. They will sell you CDs, but you might not have a good way to carry them.
Start a web travel log (blog). These are great for posting pictures and highlights of your trip. People can look at it anytime. You don't have to send emails to everyone you know.
www.blogger.com is a site that allows you to create a web log.
www.travelpod.com is a travel specific blog site.
www.tripline.net lets you create a map of places you visit on your trip
StoryMapJS is another place that lets you create a map of where you visit with pictures and stories.
Create a web page that shows the country, or countries, where you will be visiting. You can put a map, the weather, and the time there. You can look at it for the weather. Your friends can look at it to see how things are going in the country you are in. Include a link to other sites that talk about the country. I put one to the CIA world fact book: https://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/. The World Travel Tips is also good: http://www.worldtraveltips.net/. You also might want to link to one of the travel guide sites such as Lonely Planet. WeatherUnderground has some simple HTML code you can paste into your site for the weather around the world. The Time and Date website has the time in foreign countries: http://www.timeanddate.com/worldclock/.
Documenting your trip
If you want to make a scrapbook when you return you might want to get a second copy of the brochures you pick up. One you can show people latter. The other you can cut up and place in your scrapbook.
If you have printed pictures write on the back where the picture is, when you were there, and who is in the picture. You might forget some details 20 years from now. If you have digital pictures you will want to document this information as well. You can do that many ways. One thing I have done is make a slide show that is burned onto a CD. With my software I can record my voice as the slide show plays. This way you get a commentary about the trip. You can also play this so you don't have to give the same description for the twentieth time.
Save your travel web log onto a disk so you have it in case the site goes away.
Write down what you do each day. On a long trip it is easy to forget the name of the restaurant you ate at or which day you went to the museum.
I think using email is the best way to communicate. You don't have to worry about time zone problems. Also many countries do not have the same quality of phone service that we are used to.
Many of the major phone companies have a local number to call to get an operator in the USA. The number might also let you dial direct into the US. It might also let you dial a toll free call (800 number). My brother found this out many years ago while he was traveling in Europe. The local edition of USA Today had a list of numbers to call. He cut it out and kept it with him during his trip. I have seen similar lists in the airline magazine. Here are some websites for the same list.
Toll free numbers only work in the USA. Make sure you have non-toll free numbers for your credit card, insurance, airline and travel companies. Many have numbers that will accept the charges. Usually the international numbers listed above will allow you to call to a toll free number once you get to the operator.
Now cell or mobile phones are used more. If you have one, and are taking it abroad,
make sure the frequencies are compatible. Europe uses GSM with 900 and 1800 MHz.
You phone will need to be unlocked (not tied to a specific carrier).
You can buy a SIM card for you phone at many locations. This gives you a number for your phone. There are several companies that sell international SIM cards. They have a single number but will work with local carriers at the same rate. Depending on where you are, and how many places you are traveling to, it might be easier to buy a SIM card in the country you are travelling to. This way you will have a phone number in that country.
Here are some companies that sell international SIM cards.
Most give you a number from one country. Then all minutes cost the same in the 100+ countries that they provide service in.
Film cameras are great. The problem is you need to carry your unused and used film around with you. The type of film available where you are going might be limited. The quality and age might not be what you are used to getting.
Battery chargers. Many good battery chargers will accept all standard power you see around the world: 100 to 220 volts, 50 and 60 hertz. Make sure you know what you can plug your's into before you plug it in. Make sure you plug it into the correct socket. Some hotels will have two different types of power. Check to see what types of outlets are used in the country you are traveling to. It is easier to buy an adapter before you leave.
Don't forget to bring your USB cable. Some places might be able to read your card directly, others might not.
Back up your images from your digital camera. Don't have all of the images stored on one memory card that goes bad or is stolen with your camera. Uploading pictures is one way to do this. Another is to have multiple cards. Don't carry the other cards in your camera bag with your camera. They you lose them all. You can get CDs burned at some internet cafes. You could also carry a USB flash drive and get them copied onto that.
It is nice to send cards to people while you are gone. The mail service in most countries is not as reliable or fast as we have in the US. You might just want to buy some cards, write your note while you are inspired, and hand carry it to your friends. Keep them up to date with email and a travel web log.
Luggage and Clothes
Don't bring too much. It seems we take the same amount of stuff for a week trip as a three week trip. Don't stuff your bag so it is bulging. It is more likely to break open on a luggage conveyor. Another reason to not bring too much is to have a little space to bring souvenir home.
Bring layers of clothes. A long sleeve shirt, a light weight sweater or polar fleece, and a shell jacket will keep you warm. You can wear the sweater on its own if your long sleeve shirt is getting washed. I travel with light weight pants and a pair of long underwear.
Have clothes, especially under clothes, that are quick drying. This means underpants, undershirts, socks, bras. You will be washing them regularly. The polypropylene material used in these items is good because it wicks moisture (sweat) away from your body. This can keep you warmer.
Invest in good clothing. Some travel clothes make you stick out like a tourist. This is not what you want in places where there are pick pockets. Many people like pants that have zip off legs. I say "Nothing says tourist like zip off pants". Pants with zippered pockets are good to keep money in. Some have small pockets that are hard to see just for this purpose. A friend of mine said to go to Goodwill and get clothes there. If they are lost, stolen or soiled you don't have much invested in them. If you are traveling for many weeks you might not want to wear the same thing ever again because you had on the same pants for 8 weeks.
Bring some form of sandal to wear in the shower. A simple, cheap foam sandal is small and works great. We wore ours to the beach when we had a lay over in Miami. The showers and specifically the shower floors might not be up to your cleanliness standards.
Don't bring "loud" clothes. By this I mean clothes that are bright colors. Remember that come places will require that your legs are covered. This means you will need pants or a long skirt. Shorts are not typically worn in other countries.
Don't put your home address on the luggage tag. Don't do this even if you have a fancy luggage tag that covers your address. People can flip that open and find out where you live. There are scams where people do this and call their accomplices in your town to take your stuff. Put a tag with your business address on it. I just put a business card in the luggage tag. Carry an extra luggage tag with you. Pick up a free one or two at the airline. You can use it or give it away. I had mine ripped off my bag on the conveyor once. If you have a business card in your bag someone could open it and know how to get the bag back to you.
Now that there is more luggage searching going on it is harder to put a lock on your luggage. I have never put a lock on mine. This is because I use soft-sided luggage. A knife would go through the luggage. The little locks will not keep someone who whats to steal your stuff out of your bag. It is easily broken. I have used mini carabiners to lock my luggage. They seem to confuse the inspectors. I rarely get them back. Maybe a large paper clip. It is nice to keep the zipper from opening up while the bags are being toss around.
Pack like your bags are going to be tossed around. They will. Don't stuff it full. Make sure the latches or zippers will hold it together. Don't have things that are breakable. Pack delicate items inside with soft things around them. If something has liquid or gel inside put it inside a plastic bag. That way if it opens it won't get everything in your bag wet (or make it smell like the perfume you bought for your mother).
Wheels on bags are great on level floors. A lot of places don't have level sidewalks. I would save the weight and go without. Get a bag with a good shoulder strap or straps.
Bring your swim suit. Even if you are not planning on swimming. My dad always told me this. It is small and if you get somewhere where you can swim, and you don't have it, you will wish you did. You can use a pair of shorts and a shirt, but they take more time to dry. You might want to bring a pair of swim goggles too. My wife and I are swimmers so we might get into the water anywhere. You might want to take a sauna or sit in a hot tub. The local shower might be outside.
You might want to bring a bed sheet with you. This way you have a clean barrier between you and the bed you are sleeping in. Some beds get bed bugs (and they do bite). I don't know if a sheet would protect you but it is a start.
Things to bring along
Tape. Many people bring a small amount of duct tape. You can buy a small roll in some travel stores. I prefer athletic tape. You can use it for bandaging and sprains in addition to taping your camera back together.
Heavy duty zip close plastic bags. One or two in your bag you carry around can come in handy. Use them to carry food. Put your wet suit in. Put some dirty clothes in when they become unexpectedly soiled.
Hand sanitizer. Use it before eating. Either just the liquid or as a tissue.
Toilet paper. In many countries restrooms do not have toilet paper (if they do it will not be your favorite). Save the last part of the rolls at home for some months before you leave. Carry them in your plastic bags so they don't get wet. In some countries the sewer system is not very good. They place the used toilet paper in a waste basket beside the toilet. It takes some getting used to. Don't be the person who plugs up the toilet by putting your paper in the toilet.
Change for the toilet. Many places have public restrooms that require you to pay. It does not cost much. You need to have small change to use it. Try to have some coins for the country you are traveling to before you get there.
Food. Always have a snack with you. You might get off the train ready to eat lunch and you find out that the city closes from one until two for a siesta. The city might be closed because of a funeral. Try some local candy bars, chips or other items.
Water. Don't drink the tap water. Always carry bottled water. Have enough to keep yourself hydrated. This is conundrum. The bottles are now littering many countries, but you get to drink safe water. I just carry the water in the bottle it came in. No need to transfer it to another bottle. You can buy a large bottle and transfer it to smaller bottles (share a large bottle among several people and keep the plastic to a minimum). If you use a hydration system (Camel-bak) make sure you wash it with clean water. Ice is generally made with tap water. Try not to use it in your drinks unless you are confident in the restaurant when they say it was made with bottled or purified water. It is best to not have it and be safe.
Many buses don't stop for bathroom breaks. Don't drink so much before you get on the bus. Sip your water during the trip.
Electrolyte mix and energy gel. If/when you get sick you will need to eat something. You also can get dehydrate. Having these items provides you with something to keep you going. You will feel better having something. You can get Electrolyte (gatorade) powder in individual pouches that make a liter/quart of drink. These are great if you have not been able to eat because you have been sick. You don't want to be dehydrate too. There are a few calories in it too. You can drink it when you have been sweating a lot too. Runners and other athletes use energy gel while they are competing because it is easy to digest. There are not a lot of calories, but it is easy to eat. There are many kinds: GU and Clif Shot are the two popular ones. Make sure you try the different flavors before you go. You might as well have something that tastes good. Take these items a little at a time. Make sure your stomach can handle them.
Pictures of your life. Take a picture of your family, your house, your pet, the state fair, snow, your car, everyday things. These are great to show people when you are at your hotel or on the bus.
A world map. When you talk to people you can show them where in the world you live. You might/will meet someone from a different country and they can show you were they are from.
Knife and fold up pliers. This is harder now that you can not fly with anything pointy (other than your brother's head). Don't carry the knife that has sentimental value (the one Grandpa showed you how to whittle with). Don't carry a $400 fold up plier. Get a cheap one for $5 or $10. If it is taken or lost you don't care. These will have a bottle opener. They still use bottles in many countries. Clean the blade before you cut your sandwich. Don't stick it under a flame to pick out a splinter (this is bad for the blade). Just wipe it down with your hand sanitizer.
Sewing kit. At least a needle and thread. You might have to fix a ripped shirt. You might want to sew on a new patch too.
First aid. At least carry some adhesive bandages (Band-aids). Keep the items at the top of your pack. You will need it quickly if you are bleeding. Keep the items in a zip close bag. At a minimum I would say: adhesive bandages, tape, gauze pads, anti-bacterial ointment(Neosporin), sterile gloves(you might be working on someone else). Some pain reliever (Aspirin, ibuprophen). Feminine panty liners are great bandages. They have a protective layer and are large. Remember to restock before each trip.
Small length of thin rope. I carry about 10 feet of a 5 mm cord. A little thinner is not bad. Use it to make a clothes line or fix your backpack. You can tie your new purchase to your pack. You can tie your bag, or coat, shut if the zipper fails. You can use it as a belt.
Shoe laces. If one breaks while you are traveling you might not find one right away. You could always cut the other one in half and only thread the last few holes.
Bandana. Great for so many things. A head cover, a neck cover, a sack to carry food, a bandage for a cut. Get some fancy ones and give them away. Stuff it in your pocket to keep other people's hands off your stuff.
Sink plug. Many people laugh at this until they travel. Many hostels and even some hotels, especially in Europe, have shared bathrooms. There might be a sink in the sleeping room. Many do not have an integrated plug like we are accustomed to. If you want to wash you dainties out in the sink you need to plug it with something. These are sold at the hardware store or a travel store. Forgot to bring one? Try to tape the drain shut. You could use a plastic bag to plug it too.
Laundry soap. A small container of soap will help you when you are washing your close. There are also bars of laundry soap. You could also use your hand soap in a pinch. You can buy small packets of Tide that are for one sink load of clothes (search for Tide travel sink packet).
Laundry bag. When you drop off laundry it is easiest to have it in a sturdy bag. You might want it to be able to breath a little to keep the smells from building up a lot.
Soap. I have a trick for this. Instead of carrying a large soap bar in a large soap dish, I carry a used soap bar in an old throat lozenge box. The box I have is plastic(Sucrets). I drill some holes in it to allow the bar to dry out. I also put something in the bottom to keep it from sticking (I use a piece of a suction cup soap holder) and to give it a better chance to air out.
Flashlight. The power might go out. You might need to read a map late one night. There are great LED lights. The coin sized ones are good for clipping to your bag. A headlamp allows you to see without holding the light. If you read in bed you might need this if there are no bedside lamps.
Compass. A nice zipper pull compass is nice to have. Some have a thermometer too. But you will know if it is hot for you. You could use it to report the temperature to others. If you are looking at a map because you are lost you might be looking the wrong way.
Nail clippers. If you are going to be gone a while you might need these.
Additional tips I thought of after our trip to Turkey
Bathrooms are always a necessary thing to find when you are traveling. In Turkey they were marked as WC. This comes from the British water closet. Many of the mosques had public toilets. Many of the toilets had a small fee. They are all nicely maintained.
Don't know why I hadn't thought of this. Bring your back packing water filter to filter the water in countries where you can't drink the water.
Lots of hotels do not give you wash cloths. Bring your own if you like to use one.
For some reason cereal and yogurt was served with large spoons. Bigger than a soup spoon, more like a serving spoon. Bring a small one if you don't like eating with a big spoon.
Speed limits are slower. It takes longer to get places. It seems like most people obey the speed limit.
Bring post it notes or stickers to put in your guide book.
Get business cards printed with your name and email address. Hand them out to your fellow travelers. Write the date and place you are at so they remember when they go through their stuff.
Bring a small string backpack to take a few items to the beach. They are small so can be packed in your bag.
There isn't much space in the overhead storage on the tour bus. You might need a smaller bag (like the string bag I just mentioned).
If you don't want to hand cash to your driver and guide for tips, bring a few empty envelopes.
At most of the hotels the wifi was free, but the PC in the lobby cost money. I think they do that to make sure people don't sit at the PCs all day.
The inter-city buses leave on the time posted. You need to be on the bus 5 or 10 minutes before it is scheduled to leave.
Bring a pedometer to see how far you walk each day. I know we walked a lot and we were tired by the end of the day. A GPS would do the same thing.
Keep a running list of items you buy so you can report them for customs when you return home.
Bring a few rubber bands.
When going on a bus tour ask how large the group will be. 24 was a nice size for us. The more on the bus the longer it takes to eat, get in and out.
Ask if there will be stops at stores with sales pitches. The guide does this to help out the business. If you don't want to see leather coats, carpets, ceramics, or gemstones find out if this will happen.
See if every day is full. It is nice to have some afternoons open so you can relax and do things on your own.
Remember to walk when you are at the rest breaks.
There are some pretty amazing things made of specialized fabric. I have a new backpack and tarp. The string backpack I took with me fell apart on the first day. Now I have a backpack that folds up very small. I got a small tarp from Matador that folds up into a package smaller than a pack of cigarettes.