10 Things You Need To Do Before Traveling Abroad

May 29 2013

10 Things You Need To Do Before Traveling Abroad

I recently saw this video and thought it was a great list that included a lot of great tips for those with the desire to travel abroad.

I wanted to extrapolate on a couple of the points I thought were really critical and also add a few of my own. So without further adue, my list of the top 10 things you need to do before traveling abroad:

1.) Flash you Phone

Unlock your phone before you go abroad. Seriously. Roaming charges are outrageous and the first order of business when you arrive to any new city is to buy a sim card, and it won’t work if your phone is locked.

It sounds complicated but it’s super easy to do. I personally just bought a code on http://www.cellunlocker.net/ and within a couple hours my phone was unlocked and ready to accept any SIM card I bought off the street. Most only cost $1 and it’s free to accept calls from the states. Personally, I think it’s worth paying the extra $10 to get the data plan (I use Vodafone in Europe), but that’s just me. A small blue dot on your phone is ten times better than carrying around a map. It makes it easy to find restaurants, hotels, and all the points you stored on your treasure map.

Swinging by a starbucks for their free Wifi is also a decent option but honestly, who has time for that?

2.) Buy a Converter

Chances are where you’re going won’t accept your plugs. Europe, especially is a very unique place. In the amount of time it takes you to drive from Miami to Orlando, you could enter 3 different countries with three different languages, and three very different cultures. And unlike the states, each country has it’s own laws, electrical grids, and phone systems making traveling between them very difficult. Invest in a universal adapter so you’re always ready to charge your phone regardless of what city you wake up in.

Or better yet, get spare batteries for your phone (if possible) and keep them charged and ready to go in your backpocket. #HugsNotPlugs

3.) Rethink Your Luggage Choice

No rolling luggage. The world, and Europe especially  is filled with cobble stones and elevators are rare. If your bag has wheels you’ll want to kill yourself.

Personally I use the Canyon Sport 2100. It’s served me well and has held enough gear for 10 days in Spain (see clothing below) or a week in Maui.

If you’re only going to be gone one weekend, a smaller backpack like the Osprey Escapist or  North Face Surge Daypack (haven’t used but heard good things) might be a better option. The best part is all of these options fit in the overhead compartment on most planes so you never have to worry about arriving to a new city without any luggage.

If you must check-in, split your clothes with your travel partner so that if one bag gets lost at least you’ll both have something to wear the first couple days.

Also keep your toiletries in a toiletry bag so you can scan it separately at the airport. (Speaking of which, throw everything -keys, wallet, phone, from your pockets into your backpack while waiting in line at the airport. This way you just toss down your bag and walk through the x-ray no hassle).

4.) Rethink Your Clothes

In order for the luggage choices to work, you will need to rethink your clothing options. Gone are the days of bringing your entire wardrobe “just in case.”

Owning lightweight, odorfree, wrinkle-proof (think underarmour) clothes will save your life and your back. Try it once and you’ll never go back to packing like you used to.

Here’s what I do: I bring 3 pairs of underwear regardless of how long the trip. The trick is I use Ex-Officio’s Give-N-Go Boxer Briefs. You can wash them at night when you shower. They’ll be dry by morning. Don’t gasp at the cost. They’re worth double the price. Buy one and try it out. You’ll be buying your second pair in no time. Bring a 3rd pair of regular cotton underwear for the days you get lazy and forget to do laundry.

For pants I use Bluff Works. Same deal. They don’t wrinkle. Don’t get too hot. Look decent enough to take to a fancy dinner, but are rugged enough for a hike across town. I only bring one pair of pants for weekend trips. I’ll bring a back-up if I’m staying somewhere longer.

For shirts I use a mixture of underarmour t-shirts, travel button-ups, and I’m also experimenting with some Merino Wool shirts. I have a Merino Wool/Poly blend from Patagonia and it stays wrinkle resistant and dries quickly but so far I’m not impressed. About half my bag is occupied with tops including a lightweight rain jacket or blazer depending on the occasion.

Socks. Same deal as underwear. Get some good moisture wicking socks so you can self-launder.

For shoes, bring one pair of comfortable beaters that you can wear all day. I wear Vasque Hiking Boots and they have been phenomenal. Not too hot in Maui. Not too cold in Snoqualmie.

Boot

Things tend to get extra wet while traveling

Your second pair can be a pair of sneakers, dress shoes, or flip flops depending on the location. For your third pair? You don’t need a third pair.

For girls, ditch the hair-dryer and just bring bobby pins and scrunchies. Also, lose the heels. Cobblestones and sexy shoes are not a good mix. (Worst case scenario you can always buy them there if you really need them) and leggings that can go with multiple shirts will be a Godsend.

Never bring something “just in case.” Everything should have a purpose. Worst case scenario you can always buy it there and you’ll have a cool story to tell when you bring it back about why you bought it.

“Nice Blazer” “Thanks, I bought it in London!”

Pack half the clothes, twice the cash, and you’ll have four times as much fun.

5.) Consider a Camera

Life is too short for shitty photos. Despite the major strides made in mobile phone camera technology, nothing beats the images you can get from a good dedicated camera. You don’t even need to go out and buy a dslr to take amazing photos. There are some excellent Point and Shoots out there. My personal favorite is the Sony DSC-RX100 but you can get 80% of the quality with half the price. I like it because it shoots RAW (look it up), is relatively compact (fits in the hip pocket of my Osprey backpack), and is rugged enough to handle most things you throw at it. I also have a DSLR and a Go-Pro but I wouldn’t recommend either for lightweight travel. One is too heavy and the other has awful battery life.

Garmisch

The Go-Pro Does Come in Handy Sometimes Though

6.) Get Your Finances in Order

The world is still very far behind the states in regards to paying by credit card. Most places only accept cash. Travelers checks are outdated and overpriced and most currency conversion shops are a rip-off. The best deals you can get are often your corner ATM.

I use my USAA ATM card because they refund me all of my ATM fees PLUS I always get the best daily conversion rate without any extra fees. I can use almost any ATM in the world without any extra fees. Only problem is most limit you to $200 a day so budget wisely.

If I have to use a credit card, I’ll usually use my Chase Sapphire Card. I haven’t written about this card yet, but I opened it before I came to Munich and so far it has worked like a dream. They even overnighted me my card to Germany when I left my original back in the states. Such sweethearts.

Regardless, you should always have back-up cards and cash waiting for you in your hotel room in case you get mugged or pick-pocketed. I keep all the rest of my cards (Schwab, BofA, Amex Starwoods, British Airways) in the hotel room/flat for this very reason. I also opened a Duetsche Bank Account for German-Only transactions (like my monthly U-Bahn card).

While you’re at it, also get an undercover money belt. You can keep spare cash, cards, and your passport hidden in case you get pick pocketed  Personally, I strap mine to my belt and run it down the side of my leg inside my pants. I just find it more comfortable.

Next, call all of your accounts (I only told a few, I got lazy- most will figure it out) and let them know you’re going to Europe so they don’t freeze your account upon arrival.

Lastly, make sure you bring some cash with you when you arrive (you can convert it at the airport) and have something to pay your fare to the hotel. You don’t want to be stuck at the airport without any mula.

7.) Get Travel Insurance

You probably won’t need it but to me, the peace of mind in knowing you won’t go bankrupt because you broke your leg skiing in Austria is worth it. Additionally, if your gear gets stolen you can get reimbursed. Personally I bought mine with World Nomads because they reimburse stolen DSLR’s but you can probably find cheaper elsewhere.

Also pack some hand sanitizer and wipes. Planes and airports are notoriously germy. Douse your  hands before you eat. You didn’t travel half-way around the world to spend your first week in bed (getting bad flashbacks of my trip to Mexico).

8.) Make a Small Travel Kit

Buy an inflatable neck pillow, scarf, eye-mask, ear plugs, and mummy liner. It will make sleeping on planes, hostels, trains, and buses much more tolerable. Also don’t forget to bring flip-flops and a small flashlight. Hostel bathrooms are mad sketch.

9.) Make Copies of All of Your Paperwork

Once again, probably won’t need it, but it’s so easy to do- why not? Snap some pictures of your passport, credit cards (both sides), ID’s, and other important documents and email them to yourself or load them to favorite cloud client. Confirm the pictures are sharp enough to read the phone number on the back of the card in case your wallet gets stolen.

Important: Check that your passport is not expiring in 6 months. I’ve been hearing horror stories of people being rejected from leaving the country because their passport was almost expired even if they were only leaving for a few weeks. Also, please don’t leave it at home..don’t laugh. I’ve seen it happen.

10.) Prep Your Electronics

Make sure your laptop is backed up so if it gets stolen you don’t lose your “priceless” college essays. Download some podcasts to your phone for the plane ride. Charge your kindle and fill it with some good books (stock up on magazines for takeoff and landing- English magazines cost a fortune overseas). Don’t forget any of your chargers, spare batteries, extra memory cards, or usb cables.

Also, unless you plan on doing some actual work, you should probably rethink bringing along your laptop. It’s huge, heavy, a giant burden in terms of responsibility, and with a data SIM card you can probably get all of your surfing done on your phone just fine- albeit much slower. Additionally there’s an internet cafe on every corner now. If you really need to buckle down and churn out a couple emails you can always just swing by one of these fine establishments.

This should get you started on your next adventure. Please add your suggestions to the comments below. I’d love to hear them.

  • Olman

    Number 1 is a great tip, I’ve had quite a few $600 phone bills barely using my phone. And many times I wish I could use the maps on my phone. Good call!