Monday, May 16, 2011

5 Tips For Easier International Travel

I just got back home after spending a week in Europe. This was my first trip overseas, and I really learned a lot about myself and about our world. If you are planning on taking a trip out of the country below are five tips that I have learned. These will be especially beneficial for novice travelers who have never been outside of the US.

5. Never Underestimate the Power of Jet Lag - If unprepared it can wreak havoc on the first part of your trip. You'll be exhausted dealing with culture shock and nothing familiar to cling to. To avoid jet lag as much as possible make sure you get a full night's sleep before your flight. People mistakenly think they can just get all the sleep they need on the plane. The problem with sleeping on the plane is that the quality of sleep in pretty much worthless. It's nearly impossible to get comfortable long enough to sleep and get any REM sleep, which is the deep phase of sleep that recharges your body. Sleeping pills don't give you REM sleep either, so they won't do much good except to knock you out for the duration of a long boring flight.

Once you are at your destination leave the first day's itinerary light. You want to make sure you give your body time to rest and adjust to the time change. 

4. Arrive Prepared - Before you leave home make sure you have an itinerary with addresses and phone numbers for all of the places you'll be going to. This will cut down on wasting time once you get there.

Other things to make sure you pack are: city maps (especially subway/mass transit maps), travel power plug outlet adapters (your electrical devices may not work without them), and backup copies of your passport and credit cards.

3. Buy Quality Luggage - I've learned the hard way over the years that buying cheap luggage costs more in the long run. The airlines are so hard on checked luggage that the cheap bags fall apart very quickly. Spend the extra money and get a quality brand like Samsonite. Sometimes you can pick up the quality brands for cheap at clearance stores like Ross, TJ Maxx, or Nordstrom Rack.

The first bag on international flights you check is free, as long as it is under 50 pounds. A good rule of thumb is that a 26" bag will weigh about 50 pounds fully packed and should be enough room for one person to pack 5-7 days worth of clothes. You can also buy a luggage scale to take with you to make sure you don't go over the weight limit.

2. Learn the Language - If you are going to a non-English speaking country make sure you take a phrasebook, and try to learn a little bit of the native language. I think people sometimes have grand delusions of trying to become completely fluent before their trip. Don't make this mistake, just buy a language CD and start with the basic phrases you'll be using on your trip. I bought some CD's from Michel Thomas that really saved me on my trip. They ended up being far more helpful than Rosetta Stone. While Rosetta Stone starts by teaching words like "boy" and "dog", the Michel Thomas CD's start by teaching phrases you use to order at a restaurant. 

Throughout the world English is more commonly spoken than you might think because of the economic power of the USA. Most people you meet will probably know at least a little bit of English, you just need to learn enough of their language to "meet them in the middle".

1. Embrace Their Culture - I think the biggest reason people have a bad time on a trip out of the country is because they lack the ability to step outside of their American expectations and embrace something new. Yeah sure America kicks ass at almost everything it does, and the standard of living is higher here than pretty much anywhere else. However, if you go to another country and embrace their culture I'm sure that you'll find things that they do better than here in America. Just remember that sometimes less is actually more. Focus on what makes that country special and try to adapt to their culture the best you can while you are there.