Leaving the continent is fashionable right now. Since 2003, the number of Canadians (per year) going overseas has increased 153.3%. Going overseas is fun and exciting, but if you’ve never done it before, you may be unaware of the things seasoned travellers know.
Less is More
It starts with not over-packing your suitcase – less is definitely more. Do not pack several outfits for every possible occasion but rather choose pieces that coordinate. Over-packing means excess baggage fees, a lot more hassle getting around on transportation, a heavy bag to lug around, and less room for souvenirs! Pack your suitcase with clothes that can do double duty (like a sundress that works for strolling around and dining out). Instead of taking a lot of clothes, plan on doing laundry during your trip.
Toss a change of clothes and travel-sized toiletries in your carry on. If your luggage gets lost or delayed, your flight cancelled, or you get stuck at an airport, you’ll appreciate being able to freshen up. It sounds like a small thing, but a clean pair of underwear and a toothbrush can be all that stands between you and a crying, jet-lagged meltdown if things don’t go according to plan.
Show Me the Money!
Don’t rely on your debit card. Not all countries accept them. Have a Visa or Mastercard on you, but also have a small amount of cash for each country you’ll be visiting. Take care of this step ahead of time, as exchange rates and fees vary by vendor. Your bank can order foreign currency for you, and likely has a supply of common currencies, such as Euros.
Keep your cash and credit in a safe place. A wallet sticking out of a back pocket is not a good idea in any country, including Canada! A secure hands-free option is to keep your money in a neck wallet to discourage pickpockets.
A Powerful Topic
Outlets vary around the world. You’ll need universal adaptors, or adaptors specific to where you are travelling. Limit your pluggable items to devices like your tablet or phone. Most hotels have hair dryers and if you can use a hand-held razor and go without a hair straightener for a week or two, you’ll be able to travel lighter.
Phoning it In
Hey, speaking of phones, don’t forget to call your carrier and make sure you have a roaming package. Even if roaming is included in your normal plan, such as Telus Easy Roam, you should still know how the package works and when it automatically turns on. Failure to pre-plan for roaming fees means hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars in charges.
Paperwork is Your Friend
Hopping on a plane spontaneously looks great in romcoms, but the reality is much different. Some countries need more than a passport. Depending on where you go and how long you stay, you may also need a travel visa, and if you do, you must apply for it weeks in advance.
Take a photo or write down your passport, visa, and credit card numbers and keep this with you in a safe place. This ensures you can locate or cancel your important papers much faster if they are lost or stolen.
On the plane or in the airport, you will fill out immigration cards, so always pack a pen. Keep your location details (address of accommodations, emergency contacts, flight numbers) in your carry on, since you’ll need to access this information for these cards. If part of the card is removed at your destination and handed to you, keep it in a safe place, as you may need it to exit the country.
When you re-enter the country, you must declare what you have (money, alcohol, etc.) Know the limits of what you can bring back ahead of time, and keep a running total of what you purchase, and how much it costs. Know what you can’t bring back, like soil, produce, some wood items, and ivory.
Again, movies are full of people just hopping on a plane and having whacky and life-changing adventures. That lack of preparation may be spontaneous, but also life changing in a very dangerous way. Safety first!
Before you go, check the Government of Canada’s Travel Advice and Advisories. It has updated information on everything from the weather to the political climate. Things can change quickly. A country that was advisable a week ago could suddenly face political unrest or be in the midst of a natural disaster.
Get travel insurance. This cannot be stressed enough. If you are not covered with travel benefits through work, pay the extra and get coverage. Do not rely on “automatic” coverage that comes with your credit card. Coverage that requires an application – even a brief one online – has a much higher chance of paying out when you need it. Know how to use your insurance. There will be a number you must call and steps you must take to ensure your insurance kicks in. Keep this number, and the insurance card, on your person.
Someone must know where you are at all times. Apps like TripCase make sharing your flight and accommodation details easy, and automatically updates your contacts should your flight information change. Visit tourist attractions in guided tour groups and do not, under any circumstances, go wandering off in ruins, jungles, go paddling out on the ocean, climb a mountain, or have any other adventure unless someone knows where you are going and when you are expected back.
There’s No Place Like Home
Each country has its own laws, traditions, and culture. Things will look, feel, smell, and be different – and that is exactly why you traveled there! You may be asked to cover your head or shoulders, or to not wear shorts around sites of religious importance. Or, you may be asked to not take photos in certain areas. Respect these requests. If such requests bother you, refrain from those areas and visit sites where you are more comfortable.
What Could Go Wrong?
Traveller’s diarrhea is a real thing, and it doesn’t mean you ate something that went bad. Your body is used to a certain brand of gut flora. Quickly adapting to new foods can cause it to protest. Keep some over- the-counter stomach medicine in your carry on. The symptoms usually ease after a couple days. Of course, you should only eat food that is prepared in a safe manner. Don’t take chances. But don’t necessarily blame the street food either!
Getting lost can be scary. Keep the name of your accommodations written down and know a few phrases in the language (help, where is my hotel, taxi please). It helps to travel with a tour group, even if you prefer a more solo type of adventure. Many tour companies give you plenty of space to roam, while accounting for your whereabouts, knowing if you go missing, and being an important contact in a faraway land.
Delays, flight cancellations, lost luggage, and inclement weather – it happens. You are not guaranteed sunny skies and smooth flights. Roll with it. It’s part of the adventure. If the flight or hotel situation is excessive, contact the airline or hotel chain when you return and have had a chance to rest and refresh.
Have an Adventure!
Travelling around the world is a privilege, one that can add experience and joy to your life. There are many variables and things that can go wrong, but even more, things that can go right. You’ll make memories that last a lifetime and you’ll come back a changed person. Preparing for your trip ahead of time and taking some basic precautions is the best way to have a successful journey.