Note: This article is a guide to enjoying your destination. For tips on how to make the most of the journey to your destination, check out 8 Essentials for Comfy Travel.
Baby, it’s cold outside, and for many desi families, that means flying east for the winter. If you plan on taking a trip this winter break, take these extra steps to be a savvy international traveler. Experience the thrill of venturing out into the unknown—just make sure you have a few tricks up your sleeve.
Pack Like a Winner
1 Go easy on the clothes: If you’re going to a major city, bring about half as many clothes as you’ll need. Don’t lie to yourself; you know you want to go shopping!
2 Skimp on toiletries: If you’re going to any part of the developed world, don’t worry too much about the toiletries you pack. Save space in your luggage allowance, and buy a lot of toiletries when you arrive. The exception to this rule is tampons. Always pack a supply of your brand of tampons, because there’s a chance your preferred brand is unavailable wherever you’re going.
3 Copy your passport: Make a copy of your passport face page and visa page. Keep the copy in your hotel in case anything happens to your passport. It’s even a good idea to scan those pages and keep it in my email account so I can access it from anywhere.
Be Smart About Money
4 Notify your bank: Let your credit card and debit card companies know you’re going to travel. If you don’t, any use of your cards outside of your home country is flagged as suspicious activity. Your bank or credit card company may decide to freeze your accounts. Believe me, it’ll be a huge pain to call and address the problem. (Have you ever tried calling a bank’s customer service number from an international pay phone? You can’t call collect! And don’t believe your bank if they tell you otherwise.)
5 Take out emergency money: Get at least $100 worth of the local currency before you go. You don’t know what will happen once you arrive: you might be hungry, you might need a cab, or your credit and ATM cards might not work (even if you diligently notified them of your trip). It sounds silly, but you can’t call your bank if you don’t have access to money to make the call. (True story!)
6 Prepare to be denied: Unless you’re traveling to Western Europe, don’t expect credit cards to be widely accepted. I suggest taking out a two-day supply of cash from the ATM, even though you might not use it all. Carry some of the money in your purse, some in your pocket, etc., as insurance against pickpocketing.
Don’t Look Like a Lost Tourist
7 Buy the right guidebook: At some point you will look like a lost tourist. To make that go as quickly as possible, make sure the map in your guidebook has street names in the local language as well as English. This will really help you communicate with the kind person who is willing to help you find your way.
8 Don’t broadcast your status: Don’t announce where you’re from before being asked, but don’t be afraid to tell people either. Don’t wear your college sweatshirt or anything else with words that tell people where you’re from. (That isn’t for safety reasons; it’s just tacky!) If someone asks where you’re from, this is a great opportunity to tell them and get educated on where they’re from, getting valuable tips from the local people on what to do, where to eat, etc.
9 Be flexible: If you’re a planner, don’t be married to your itinerary. Know that when you get there, you’re going to find out about something awesome that Lonely Planet didn’t tell you about.
10 Put your map away: The most important key to not looking like a lost tourist is to avoid walk around brandishing your guidebook. Keep it in your purse until you need it. You should be soaking in all the new sights around you anyway, not burying your face in a book. More importantly, don’t carry a giant foldout map. Don’t even buy one. Trust me, I know what I’m talking about! (Whenever I travel, people usually ask me for directions, even if I have no idea where I’m going and have only been in the country for two hours.) Just walk confidently and take out your map only when extremely necessary.
11 Take it all in stride: Be extra politically correct when addressing local people, but never get offended. This is not the time to lecture others on racial equality, feminism or anything else. If someone makes an off-color comment, move on and complain about it on Facebook later. Just try to be agreeable and go with the flow. You’ll have a much better experience! And as people sense you’re comfortable with them, they’ll open up and share valuable insights about their intriguing city.
The illustration for this article was done by Alicia Adamerovich, Sapna’s Creative Illustrator. To view more of Alicia’s work, visit her official website. To become involved with Sapna’s creative team, email contribute[at]sapnamagazine.com.