Doing Your Travel Homework

Before you go anywhere, it’s important to do your travel homework. In this post, I will cover some of the things I find most important and some resources before I go anywhere.

The Basics

before I go to any country abroad, I also send an email to the embassy. In this email, I ask about the “basics” as I call them. Embassies are there to help you, so don’t be afraid to ask questions before departing. Below are what I consider the basics.

Visas and fees

If you’re American, you’re pretty lucky here. I never take for granted my American passport as we are the most visa exempt than any other passport. This means we can enter 160 places without a visa. We just show up and get a limited amount of days we can stay.

Regardless, also do your homework and make sure this is the case. Even places you have international transfers, as you may need a transit visa. Also, you may need a visa depending on your reason of traveling.

Check for fees and make sure you have the exact amount when you go. A lot of countries you may not need a visa on arrival, but will still have to pay a “tourist” fee.

Onward travel – often a country wants to have proof that you are indeed leaving within their tourist visa timeframe. They will ask for documents showing that you will be leaving the country and you meet the proper requirements for the next country you plan on attending.

Important note – always have more than six months on your passport before it expires. This is a requirement for many countries abroad.

Medical requirements

While traveling abroad, there may be some health requirements that need to be met. Make sure you are up to date on vaccinations required. Some countries will require proof of certain vaccinations, so make sure you bring that with you. I suggest making a couple photocopies.

Getting around

Will you be taking public transport, taxis, or using an app? I learned that many countries have their own version of Uber and are often cheaper. Make sure you know the taxi etiquette. Taxi drivers everywhere you go are notorious for trying to rip off travelers. Often they will shut off the meter and makeup prices. This is where the haggling and hassle starts. Do some research on the taxi system before you go. I go into detail a bit more about public transport below.

If you’ll be renting a vehicle, make sure you meet the requirements and the best way to about this. There are often private renters that are much cheaper than your typical car rental companies. There are pros and cons to using either/or, so evaluate which is best for you.

Learn the Culture

Culture is one of my favorite things about traveling abroad. It has changed me in positive ways I could never describe and I spend time before I go anywhere learning about the culture.

Learn to be polite in their language

This is probably one of the most important things about learning the culture. When abroad, it can get you very far just learning how to say thank you, have a good day/night, you’re welcome, and your other basic manners.

Learn the dos and donts

Hand gestures, types of clothing, eye contact, and other body language mannerisms, can all have a different meaning where you travel to. Some hand gestures that mean good or ok in the USA can mean something offensive in Asia.

Examples:

  1. In predominantly Muslim countries, it is offensive to show your knees, especially being a female.
  2. In Japan, it is considered rude to maintain eye contact with the person you are speaking to. It is a sign of superiority.
  3. The USA “goodbye” wave in Latin America is considered as telling someone “no.”

Another big key here is when you eat. There are a ton of different customs for eating in different countries that you should be wary of.

Examples:

  1. In Europe, it is considered rude to put your hands in your lap. They rest their wrists on the table.
  2. Finishing your entire meal is a no-no in many Asain countries. It will be seen as they didn’t have enough to feed you.
  3. On the contrary, not finishing your entire meal in India (Yes, I know India is technically Asia.) is considered very rude.

Study the City

Studying the city will give you quite the advantage before heading there. If you’re like me, you can be spontaneous and end up places you didn’t really plan, so this can be difficult at times.

Public Transport

Doing a couple Google searches before you head anywhere can save you some headaches. How do you pay for public transport? Where does public transport go? Can I get from the airport or bus station via public transport? All of these questions I try to answer before stepping foot in a city.

Maps

Either buying a paper map or downloading an offline map will help you out tremendously. You can never rely on the internet when traveling, so you have to take it old school. Study a map if you already have places of interests and see how you can get there. If or should I say when you get lost, you will be thankful for the map. I’ve had many locals draw routes on my map to get me where I need to be.

Where to avoid

Every place has their bad areas and some have way more than others. Knowing where to avoid will go a long way.

Resources for your homework

I gathered some useful resources I use to find the information about the above topics.

  • Email the embassy – find out the basics here like visa requirements and fees, medical documentation, and any other needed documentation that may be needed
  • Reddit – I use Reddit backpacking and country’s forums often. You can ask locals questions about getting around, culture tips, things to do and see, and much more. I almost always make a thread in Reddit before heading out.
  • Couchsurfing – this is similar to Reddit in the information I seek. I go to the country’s page and read the questions already ask. From there I can ask my own questions I could not find answers to.
  • Travel blogs – a quick Google search will bring up an endless supply of travel blogs from people all over the world. You can find their insider tips to countries they have recently visited or even reach out to them personally.
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