International travel can be fun and exciting. With common sense and some precautions, you can greatly reduce the chances of anything going awry. No matter if you are a solo traveler or looking to join one of Reason Travel’s private organized tours, these tips can help you start thinking about how to best prepare for your adventure.
Loss and theft is the most common risk that you’ll face during any trip, and the rise of pickpocketing in so many cities around the world means you always have to keep aware of your surroundings. When going out, never keep your wallet in your back pocket. Always keep your wallet, phone, money and other valuables in front pockets, zippered pockets or in a money belt or pouch. For women, never let your purse or bag hang behind your back, as this makes an easy target. For most international travel, we recommend a small backpack as the most sensible option, as this is difficult to snatch from your shoulders.
When in public spaces always keep track of what’s going on around you and never let your valuables out of your immediate control. Avoid setting a bag or purse down where it can be easily snatched by a passerby. When paying for goods or services, always put your wallet or money belt away immediately after completing the transaction. Do not set it down, as it’s easy to forget when you walk away.
When you go out, do not leave any high-value items in open view in your room. Always stash them away in a safe place, in your suitcase, or check them into the hotel’s secure area or lockbox. We recommend having at least two copies of your passport (and any other travel documents). Leave your passport at your room, in a secure area or lockbox, and keep a copy of the passport on you at all times.
Do not travel with large amounts of cash, as this is an easy target. Bring a reasonable amount of cash to cover any emergencies or necessaries, keeping this hidden in your suitcase, bag or secure area. You can withdraw any needed cash from ATMs while on your trip to pay for day-to-day expenses. (another tip: research fee-free or low fee debit cards and checking accounts!)
Food and Water
Drinking bottled water is commonplace around the world. You should never assume that you can drink the tap water, even in developed countries. Always check with a local first and rely on purchased bottled or filtered water until you hear otherwise.
This advice carries to any foods or drinks prepared with unfiltered water. You can avoid a lot of potential sickness and food poisoning by not ordering items like uncooked salads, vegetables or fruits that have been washed with unclean water. Stick to packaged, bottled drinks, and avoid items like juices or iced drinks that may have been prepared with unclean, unfiltered water sources.
Minimize your risk of food poisoning by only eating foods, especially meats, that are fully cooked and that haven’t been left sitting out for a long time. Dry and packaged goods are normally safe as well.
Sunburn is the most common injury that you’ll face when traveling or going on a tour. While it may sound silly, a sunburn can have serious health repercussions later in life, and at the very least, a sunburn will be a painful nuisance and might ruin your trip experience. Try to always have a small container of sunscreen handy, in your day-bag. You can usually purchase sunscreens in most cities and even small towns, but plan to bring some from your home country, as the available sun lotions in your destination country might not be high quality or effective. Also remember to have a good hat with you!
Cell Phones and Internet
Unless you have made special arrangements for a travel roaming plan, as soon as you land in your destination country, you’ll quickly find that your cell phone connection won’t work. If you want to be able to check email messages, surf the web and use maps, the best option is to look for a prepaid SIM card. These are usually cheap, and in many countries you can get a large amount of data, 4G speeds and good coverage. Watch out for scammers and rip-offs. Around airports and train stations are usually the best places to pick up a local SIM card from reputable shops.
To use mobile internet overseas, you’ll need a GSM phone that lets you swap out the SIM card with the prepaid local options. WiFi connections are now nearly ubiquitous, and if you are traveling for a short amount of time and do not need constant access, it’s easier to use the WiFi at your hotel or at restaurants and cafes.
When traveling internationally, you’ll find that traffic and road conditions vary widely from what you may be used to in your home country. Traffic will often fail to obey the rules of the road, not yield to pedestrians or other vehicles or respect lights and signage. Things might even seem chaotic sometimes, so watch how the locals navigate the busy crossings before you make a move. Many countries in Southeast Asia drive on the left side of the road, so keep aware of your surroundings and check twice before entering a busy area or trying to cross a street.
The best advice is to travel light. Only bring the clothing and accessories that you absolutely need for your trip. While this may seem limiting at first, after lifting your suitcase or bag for the hundredth time, you’ll be glad that you left the extra shoes and the third pair of pants at home. When traveling in buses, trains or taxis, this is especially important, as a larger suitcase and bag sometimes won’t fit in the tight spaces.
For electronics, remember to bring only dual voltage devices. This means any device that can utilize voltage in the range of 110 to 220 volts. The majority of countries you travel in will use 220 voltage, and if you plug in a 110-volt device to a 220-volt outlet, the device will be instantly ruined. You’ll also need an international plug adapter (these are available on Amazon, online or in any airport).
Try to stick to lightweight, comfortable and breathable fabrics for your trip. Many companies now make special quick-dry, outdoor focused clothing that you can mix and match while on the road. Whatever you do, stay away from jeans and cotton, as they will become a sweaty mess while traveling in any hot climate. Look for moisture-wicking underwear and socks. These will keep you dry and comfortable, and the fabric cleans easily. For both men and women, you may be required to cover up when visiting religious sites, so a scarf or sarong will be a good bet.
A lightweight rain jacket (and a small umbrella) will be helpful, as nobody knows what the weather will hold. Even in the dry season, you could find yourself in an unexpected downpour. For footwear, we recommend one pair of low-cut hiking or walking shoes. Running shoes with good traction will also be a good option. Also pack a pair of flip-flops or sandals, for everywhere from showers and the bathroom, to the beach.
As you’ll be traveling through unfamiliar areas, airports, train stations and cities, illness is a real possibility. In the event that you do get sick, you can take care of most non-life threatening illness with just a few sets of pills. Pack and bring small quantities of medicine for headache, fever, diarrhea, indigestion and decongestion. And if you have need of any special medication, like insulin, you’ll have to plan for that as well. In case of minor cuts and abrasions, it will be handy to have some bandages and antibacterial ointments.
Always wear your seat belts and lifejackets. These are there for very good reasons, as crashes and accidents do happen. Anything you can do to reduce the likelihood of injury is a good thing.
When in cities and urban areas, you may be approached by vendors, panhandlers, scammers or pushy salespeople. It’s OK to say no. And if the other party persists and does not respect your answer, it’s also OK to be rude. As a general rule, if someone approaches you and starts asking a lot of questions, they want something from you. The less information you offer, the better. If someone comes up to you and offers you a trinket, a ring, a flower or other gift, you can politely refuse. If you take the offered item, they could them demand an exorbitant payment in exchange.
Always respect the laws and customs of the host country that you are visiting. You are a guest there, after all. Avoid drugs and excessive alcohol, as many countries have severe penalties for using drugs or public drunkenness.
When purchasing goods or services, always agree on the price beforehand. Don’t just get into a taxi and ask to be taken to a destination, without first asking the price or for the meter. Never allow anyone to take you anywhere where you don’t know where you’re going, and always use registered, official taxis or buses.
Reason Travel requires that all participants in our organized tours purchase trip insurance. And we also recommend that independent travelers also consider this. Trip insurance can cover anything from lost baggage to missed flights, and can cover the cost of your tours if for any reason you are not able to start your itinerary on time.
Travel Health Insurance
Reason Travel requires that all participants in our organized tours purchase travel health insurance before you leave on your trip. We recommend that independent travelers also research and purchase travel health insurance. When traveling overseas, your home-country health insurance plan will not cover your expenses, should you have an accident or need medical care. Medicare will also not cover any medical expenses while overseas.
People enjoy the vast majority of trips and tours without any problems, and following some common sense tips can further reduce the risk of anything going wrong. For couples, families and groups, check this page to learn more about our private, organized tours. Or if you like to travel independently, consider one of our downloadable travel guides. To read and learn about our destinations, visit the Reason Travel destination page.