Having visited thirty-five different countries on five different continents, I like to call myself a world traveler. My first solo trip was at nineteen when I drove my motorcycle from Windsor, Canada to Daytona Beach, Florida. It was before the Internet, mobile phones, or GPS. It was a time when travelers referred to giant and cumbersome sheets of paper, otherwise known as maps.
I’ve learned many important lessons over the years, mostly by trial and error. By adhering to advice from seasoned travelers like myself and others, and using modern technology available today, even timid souls afflicted by wanderlust can experience the joy of discovering strange and exotic places that our planet has to offer. Here is my list of five tips for international travel to ensure you have a great experience.
Tips For International Travel
Having an oven-ready travel plan is like baking the perfect cake — you need a good recipe to ensure your success. Travel agents can do the work for you if you want a pre-packaged, no-brainer vacation. But if you want to get off the beaten path and explore, the Internet is your best friend. Sites like TripAdvisor are invaluable, and Google can virtually take you to any place in the world you want to see. Check YouTube for clips from experienced guides like Rick Steves.
If a particular country is your destination, open a tab or print a reference guide that shows things like terrain and transportation routes. A good map should include airports, rail, and roadways. Sites like TripAdvisor, Google Maps, and MapQuest compare distance and travel times for various modes of transportation. Check the weather patterns, best times of the year, and peak tourist seasons.
Another advantage the Internet offers is access. Many sites offer virtual tours, where you can see inside castles, museums, and even the layout of your cruise ship. Research and make notes or create a detailed itinerary with a calendar. Depending on your sense of adventure, you can book all your accommodations in advance, or play it by ear, deciding how long you want to stay once you get somewhere.
What exactly should I bring? It depends on your destination and what you are doing when you get there. I once read that one of the tips for international travel is to pack everything you think you’ll need and then take half of it out. It’s sound advice. Backpacks were the way to go in my day, but they can be awkward and heavy. I’ve heard my generation referred to as Flashpackers. We use bags on wheels.
Get something with lots of pockets and compartments for easy access to essentials. Make sure it’s easy to carry when you have to. I’ve seen too many people struggling with their luggage on planes, trains, and buses. Be smart and buy something you can easily handle. I sometimes bring disposable clothes that I can discard or give to the poor. It makes room for new stuff. Google ‘Packing Tips’ for hundreds of great ideas.
Once again, a good travel agent can book all your accommodations and modes of transportation, if that’s the way you decide to go. If you’re planning your own trip, one of the best tips for international travel is to consider open-ended flights when traveling abroad. Then you can arrive in one location and depart from another. This way, you’ll cover more ground without having to circle or double back. I’ve taken trips for two months or more where I didn’t book my return flight until much later on. Maybe you won’t be ready to go home. It’s great to have flexibility.
A fellow traveler once told me about his three-day rule. He wouldn’t venture to any particular destination unless he could spend at least three days there. It gives time to settle in, explore, and get a feel for the location before moving on to the next. Finding a place to stay is easy with sites like VRBO, Airbnb, Hotels.com, or Expedia.com. Even TripAdvisor offers accommodation searches. The latter is invaluable for getting reviews and insights from other travelers. Do your research and read what people have to say, keeping in mind not to believe everything you read. Compare, and buyer beware.
There are many choices for booking transportation and accommodations online. I use a wholesaler called Cheapo Air for my flights. They go a step further than sites like Trivago and give the cheapest flight option with all the details and discounts included. They are usually non-refundable, but there is the option of travel insurance.
Each mode of transportation has advantages and disadvantages. Flying is quicker but can be expensive. Rail might be efficient and less costly, but access in big cities can be limited. Buses are usually cheaper but normally take longer. Boats are even slower, usually relaxing, but not always economical. Car travel seems a lot easier, but it can be expensive, and parking can be a problem. Companies like Uber are now available around the world (mostly).
When deciding on your mode of travel consider things like schedules, fuel, insurance costs, ferry prices, cancelations, and mishaps. I once spent five hours stranded on a bus because of a mountain landslide. Always have food and water available no matter which option you choose. Make sure your passport, driver’s license, and any other travel documents are up to date and inquire if special visas are needed in certain countries. Beware of the laws in any foreign country you might visit.
Murphy’s Law sometimes comes into play when you travel. Know that shit happens, and certain things are beyond your control. Long and boring waits in airports are normal these days. Mechanical issues can happen to anyone at any time. Be patient and don’t sweat the small stuff. If you’re not happy with something in particular, feel free to complain in the proper forum. My wife is a master at it and has gotten us vouchers on non-refundable flights and free hotel rooms from sites like Hotels.com. It pays to complain, but do it politely — remember what your mom used to say about sugar and honey.
Traveling to and discovering new places can be a rewarding and fulfilling experience. Meet different people, explore their culture, and educate yourself. Try their food. Do these things to become a better version of yourself. But most importantly, enjoy the trip and have fun. Maybe you can write your own tips for international travel one day!
If you’re interested in any of my adventures or have any questions, please feel free to ask and/or visit my website: www.edmondgagnon.com.