Pre-Arrival Prep for International Travel

Life has only three guarantees.  Death, taxes and forgetting to look up tipping customs.  No matter what, there is always a list of things we neglect to consider for travel until we land and have no internet access.  We have traveled in almost 60 countries on 6 continents, perfected minimalist packing, nailed our understanding of travel insurance and left no stone unturned when preparing for our long term travel.  But for some reason, there isn’t a flight where one of us doesn’t suddenly ask “are we supposed to tip at restaurants?” or “is Uber here?”.  It is so reliable that we made a checklist to ensure we don’t miss anything.  This is a quick reference of obscure and essential items to know before entering a new country.

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Visa and Immigration

We overheard a couple in an Australian airport frantically making calls to obtain a visa for their destination.  We also had someone on our bus detained at the Malaysian border for not having a proper visa.  Needless to say, these are the wrong times to realize that there is something else you need for entry.  Visit your destination country’s immigration website and confirm all of the requirements for visitors from your home country.  Cross reference your home country government travel website to confirm the site’s legitimacy.  For example, US citizens would check US Department of State travel page.  We have seen warnings of unofficial scam visa sites.

  • Ensure that all immigrations requirements have been met before departure.
  • Obtain E-visas when possible.

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Transportation Options

This seems like a no brainer, but knowing your transport options is essential.  Everything gets exponentially more difficult when you first arrive in a country and have no data or wifi access.  It is especially tough if there is any significant language barrier.  We try and use the most reliable method of public transport as our first option which means knowing what these are and where they go.  We also prefer using Uber over taxis, but the company doesn’t operate in all countries and requires a data/wifi connection.  Even though some cities have Uber, airport regulations or taxi unions may restrict operations in certain locations or zones.  Unfortunately, a taxi is sometimes the only option so checking which companies are reliable and typical costs helps avoid getting ripped off.

  • Research/download public transport maps.
  • See if Uber will be available and whether the airport has free wifi.
  • Understand the taxi system at the airport as a back up.

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Hotel Directions and Access Instructions

There have been countless times when we arrive and realize that we don’t have the exact location of guesthouse.  This may be a simple oversight, but usually happens when the address given by the hotel, Airbnb, etc. does not show accurately on Google and no one can help.  It is very frustrating to wander around lost with your bags in the heat or rain.  We have gotten into the habit of pinning the hotel location on an offline map (available with Google, Maps.me, etc.) and cross referencing the location shown through multiple sites to ensure they all show the same place.  It is also helpful to save guesthouse check in instructions to ensure that all door codes or special details are available offline.

  • Download offline maps.
  • Pin hotel address location after cross referencing to ensure reliability.
  • Save guesthouse check in instructions to wallet, email or notepad.

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Tipping

This is the hardest one for us to remember.  Every country is different, with some expecting tips for absolutely everything and others finding them insulting.  It is good to know the local customs before you jump in your first taxi or eat at your first restaurant.  The last thing anyone wants is to offend a local.  We find a simple Google search typically gives us what we need, but Lonely Planet is also a good source for country specific info.

  • Research tipping customs including which services and expected amounts.

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Currency Conversion

We went to the airport ATM in Indonesia for some cash and withdrew 1,500,000 IDR, which is about $113 USD.  A 1.5 million stack of cash can be very confusing to spend safely without knowing the conversion rates.  We keep a conversion app handy to easily check costs in our home currency.  This helps us get the right amount out of an ATM and avoid an accidental overspend by including too many zeros.  We use XE, but there are a ton of conversion apps available to stay up to date with the most recent rates.  We also figure an easy way to get a ball park conversion without using our app when possible.

  • Download currency conversion app and get a feel for rough values.

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Negotiating

We hate getting ripped off or taken advantage of when traveling.  We will haggle over a few cents to ensure we are getting a fair price, but bargaining practices vary widely around the world.  It is useful to know the local customs before bargaining for an item or service.  Most countries of European descent operate on a fixed price system while many Asian and African ones expect plenty of back and forth to reach a final price.  Trying to negotiate in Australia or Europe won’t make you any friends, but you will waste tons of money if you accept the first price in Nepal or India.  Even countries which do expect bargaining will still have some places or items which operate on a fixed price system.  We find that malls and restaurants are typically not places to negotiate and transport prices for buses and taxis are a mixed bag.  A quick internet search usually explains what is negotiable, how much room you should expect in the price, and some helpful tips on the local practices.

  • Know the local bargaining culture including what is or isn’t negotiable.
  • Get an idea of values to know where to start.

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Data Access

We enjoy having easy access to internet while traveling.  Availability of wifi varies worldwide so research access at your destinations.  It may be advantageous to get a SIM card for a data to expand your connectivity.  Understand company options, network coverages and requirements.  Most will need a passport copy.

  • Consider quality of wifi and understand SIM card data options.

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Water

There are numerous countries where tap water consumption is not advisable for foreigners.  Check if the local water is safe to drink, brush with, etc. before arrival so you can take the necessary precautions.  These could include packing a water filter or tablets or knowing where clean water dispensaries are located in the city.  We find it most convenient to carry a water filter for long term travel which saves money and reduces plastic bottle waste.  You can see our choice in our detailed world trip packing list.

  • Know whether local water is safe for consumption.
  • Bring purification system to ensure clean water access.

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Things to Do and See

This is geared towards long term travelers.  It is unlikely that someone going on their one yearly vacation isn’t prepared, but it gets tougher if you are continually moving locations.  We have traveled to 21 countries in the last 7 months and have many more upcoming, so it is tough to preplan everything to do and see.  Do research about the upcoming country beforehand which avoids time wasted on arrival.

  • Research your top things to do and see including festival and events.

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Local Customs

News flash – things are different in each country.  This can include dress, speaking, greeting, ordering and all types of other items.  Make sure to know the local customs and be prepared to fit in when possible to avoid embarrassment.  There are some dress items which you may need to bring to access temples or just to fit in with public social norms.  We have visited churches, mosques, temples and shrines around the world that require various body part coverage for one or both genders.  We have also visited countries where showing things such as knees in public will draw unwanted attention.

  • Understand the local social and dress customs and pack accordingly.

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Food

Get to know common food items, preparations and ingredients found in that country.  It is comforting to understand a menu when ordering, and fun to see the things listed which you want to try (or try and avoid).  Trust us, you don’t want to accidentally order the liver or eat the sea cucumbers.  We made a friend in Nepal who had mistakenly ordered a plate of duck heads when attempting to order tea.

  • Get familiar with the local delicacies and terminology.

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There is much more to consider when planning for an international trip.  We have a fully detailed long term travel planning guide and minimalist packing list available to supplement this information.  We also have other essential information to help you understand the intricacies of travel insurance, and useful technology for travel.img_6610

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