My first overseas travel adventure (literally) was to Bermuda when I was a young kid. Shortly after that were family trips to London, Amsterdam, Lucerne, Rome, Florence. (You get the idea.)
Suffice it to say, I've had the travel bug from an early age, and though I took a brief detour into the legal world for some years in my 20s, it's not too surprising that I find myself celebrating my 30th anniversary in the business travel industry this year.
When I was younger and traveled, my parents did the heavy lifting. I simply followed them to the airport, book in hand (to my mother's dismay), and did my best to not focus on the friends and fun I was missing at home. Now that I'm older and the head of my own family (and my own travel company), I appreciate the intricacies of a well-thought-out trip.
I'm now the person who's in the know about how to best prepare for an overseas journey, something I take pride in. Below, I'll highlight some tips for travelers heading abroad, straight from my head to your to-do list.
1. Stay connected.
Gone are the days of disappearing into foreign countries. Whether you're in the UAE on business or in Australia for pleasure, people can and will expect to be in touch with you. To stay in touch, you should plan to do two things. First, download all necessary travel apps before you leave home (email, Skype, WhatsApp or Viber, pertinent airline and hotel applications) to avoid international data fees and roaming charges. Second, look for tech-rich and tech-savvy hotel properties to stay in. Many hotel properties have wireless throughout the premises, making staying connected when you're out of the country easy and hassle free.
Further, as someone who has heard horror stories about outrageous wireless bills upon returning from a stint overseas, I would strongly recommend you contact your wireless carrier prior to leaving the U.S. It might be worth it to invest in an international data plan if you think you'll be using data out of the country. Better to be safe than sorry.
2. Break down the barriers.
All it takes is one journey to a closed post office, pharmacy, or grocery store when you're in need of stamps, medicine, or water to realize the importance of knowing the local language, customs, and etiquette in a foreign place. Though it's not necessary to train yourself to become a local in every international destination you're planning on visiting, arming yourself with knowledge on these topics is certainly a good thing. And while a guidebook was yesteryear's tool for international voyagers, mobile phone travel apps are today's traveler's best friend.
TripLingo and Verbalize It are two of my favorite apps to use when going abroad. TripLingo, a free app, boasts language and translation tools and insight into local culture (i.e., how to tip) via a sleek interface.
Verbalize It connects users in every major foreign country with human translators in 15 seconds and is great for a traveler on the go who needs language translation assistance. Verbalize It's costs range from $1.75 per minute to speak to a language expert on the phone to $.17 per word for document translation, but isn't being in the know priceless?
These apps, as mentioned in my earlier comments, should be downloaded before heading on your trip and are best used over a wireless connection. Again, check with your wireless provider to confirm your coverage, and if necessary, invest in an international data plan.
3. Pack light.
One of my favorite new travel startups is called 3FLOZ. The company sells 3-ounce versions of popular health and beauty products (Burt's Bees, Bigelow, The Laundress, and H2O+, to name a few) via vending machines at popular airports in the United States, eliminating the need to pack full-size toiletries and check bags.
In addition to packing only travel-size toiletries when going abroad, you can pack light in your wallet, too. For the most part, foreign ATMs provide the best currency conversion rates for travelers, making it unnecessary to pack traveler's checks and wads of foreign bills when heading to the airport. Additionally, credit card fraud is something to be aware of when you're heading out of the country. In terms of security, packing one or two trusted credit cards for an overseas trip allows for the right amount of spending diversity and is my best practice. Finally, of course, contacting your bank and credit card providers prior to leaving to make sure they know there will be irregular activity on the account is also a good idea.
Traveling is always a worthwhile pursuit; traveling smart just makes something that's great even better.