Travel Tips: Best 21 International Travel Tips to Save Your Vacation


Travel season is officially here! If you are traveling internationally, be sure to read my best travel tips. These top travel tips will help make your next vacation overseas the very best it can be. I recently traveled to Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia for a non-profit I co-founded called the Band of Brothers Foundation, which helps orphans around the world live a richer life. I learned many of these travel tips from my two more widely-traveled companions, Troy Mikulka and Ray Bayat, but we also made our fair share of travel mistakes.

Learn the 21 top international travel tips, and please share your best travel tips in the comments section below.

Travel Tip #1: Arrange for English speaking guides in advance
I'm not suggesting you hire a tour guide company, but rather a much more informal guide to hang out with you, show you around, teach you the language and culture. For $15 to $20 a day, you can hire a local to educate you and watch your back. Don't sweat finding transportation, ordering food, or knowing what areas/spots are must-sees. Your guide can effortlessly handle all of these logistics so you can sit back and soak up the experience without stressing out over the details.

The best place to start your search is by contacting the hotel well in advance. Tell them you are looking for someone who is speaks decent English to hang out with you for the day. Often, you'll get someone from the hotel that will be interested in earning a few extra bucks and practicing their English. Exchange emails and/or phone calls to get to know them, their personality, and to test their English.

This simple and inexpensive tip will help you create an incredible experience visiting any country in the world. You won't feel like an outsider and you won't be stressed.

Travel Tip #2: Stay away from these ice cubes
When it's 98 degrees and 95% humidity, a nice cold drink may be the only thing that keeps you going. But be very careful! Make sure you're not cooling off your bottled water with contaminated ice cubes -- also known as sewage cubes. In order to save money, less established restaurants, bars, and street vendors shave/chip off large chunks of ice in the morning from delivery trucks. The problem is that the water they use is often from local rivers or streams, which is nearly always polluted and contaminated. So, how can you tell safe ice from sewage ice? If the ice is chipped, has rough edges, or is in shards, chances are good it's bad ice. Smooth ice cubes are what you want to use. Of course, if you're paranoid like me, you'll drink your water straight from the bottle sans ice. [Ice cube image by stevendepolo]
Travel Tip #3: Take photo of all luggage
If you're ever had your luggage lost by an airline, you know how challenging it can be to have to explain what your luggage looks like ("Well, it's sort of brownish-redish with checkers I think. Or actually, no, it's more beige with stripes.") Now try explaining this to someone who only speaks Cambodian! A quick photo of your luggage speaks volumes.
Travel Tip #4: Be careful what you eat
When you travel oversees, you should be thinking of the following three objectives (in this order):
  1. Don't get hurt
  2. Don't get sick
  3. Everything else
The biggest threat to your travel is getting sick. The single greatest cause of getting sick? Consuming contaminated food or water. Depending on where you travel, you need to be hyper vigilant about what goes in your mouth. Here are some rules of thumb. First, eat only cooked food. This means avoiding salads or other raw food. Second, if you eat fruit, make sure it has a hard or thick skin (e.g., bananas, coconut, oranges) instead of thin skin (e.g., apples, plums). Much of the water used for irrigation contains sewage. This contaminated water sits on the fruit, and if not thoroughly washed, can find it's way into your body and cause serious diarrhea and stomach sickness. It's hard to see the Taj Mahal from your bathroom. Third, drink only bottled water. I don't care how fancy the resort is, it's not worth saving a few Real. Fourth, you'll be exposed to an array of germs and bacteria that you're body may never have experienced before. Add to that a depressed immune system from jet lag, stress, and lack of sleep, and you are ripe for sickness. Bring plenty of hand sanitizer and don't be afraid to use it a lot and often.
Travel Tip #5: Create a detailed itinerary (aka, how to get a room upgrade!)
This is probably the most time consuming of the tips, but it can save you in a jam. Create a day-by-day itinerary of your trip. Include all flights, confirmation numbers, hotel stays, addresses, and phone numbers.

After flying 17 ½ hours to Bangkok and then another hour to Tratt, I really wanted to check in to my room. Guess what? They had no record that I had made a reservation! In fewer than 10 seconds, I pulled out my detailed itinerary, opened to the correct day, and handed it to them. Ten minutes later they said they finally found my reservation, and because of the hassle, they gave me an amazing cottage right on the beach.

Same thing happened with my travel partner when flying Vietnam Air -- no reservation! Again, by being prepared, he was able to prove he had the reservation and the problem was averted.

Include in your packet detailed information on each of the people traveling with you such as name, home address, emergency contact info, spouse's information, and passport number.

Another itinerary tip, bring several copies. Put one in each piece of luggage and one in your backpack or purse for quick access.

Travel Tip #6: Get travel health insurance & medical evacuation protection
So you say you already have medical insurance? Doesn't matter. Most domestic coverage won't cover you outside of the country (check your policy to be sure). When you travel overseas, you need international travel health insurance. Fortunately, you can buy protection for just a few dollars. I've used International Medical Group's Patriot Travel Medical Insurance and found it easy to sign-up and very cost-effective. They also offer affordable travel insurance for extra peace of mind.

You can't just stop with international medical insurance. If you are seriously injured, the last place you want (or your family wants) to be is in a foreign country. You want to back home. Enter medical evacuation insurance. I've purchased from MedJetAssist and the process was fast and affordable. If you become hospitalized more than 150 miles from your home and meet transport criteria, Medjet will arrange medical transfer to any hospital you wish for free.

Think about this. If you're hiking in the rainforests of Peru and suffer a medical emergency, how relieved are you and your family going to be knowing you'll have a medical transport all the way back to your local hospital?

The peace of mind you'll have with this policy is worth every penny. [Ambulance image by didbygraham]

Travel Tip #7: Notify U.S. State Department
It's always a good idea to notify the U.S. Department of State if you are going to travel outside of the United States. They offer a Smart Traveler Enrollment Program that takes just a few minutes to complete. Additionally, you can sign-up to receive travel warnings, travel alerts, and other important information for each country you will be visiting.

If you run into any problems, rest assured former President Clinton will be on the first plane...

Travel Tip #8: Bring antibiotics and other drugs
I'm not a doctor and I'm not providing medical advice, but my doctor strongly recommended I bring antibiotics. He prescribed one for bacterial problems and one for viruses. Depending on where you're traveling and how adventurous your palate, there is a decent chance you could get sick from something you eat or drink. Nothing can ruin a nice vacation quicker than getting sick. See your doctor and bring plenty of antibiotics. If you get sick, you can phone your home-doctor and describe your symptoms so she can recommend which antibiotics you should take.

If you suffer from motion sickness at all, ask your doctor for a prescription for the motion sickness patch. International travel often involves ferries, multiple plane legs, and long winding roads in vans. Slap a patch on and forget about motion sickness.

Also, don't forget an anti-diarrhea prescription and/or Imodium AD.

Travel Tip #9: Visit a travel doctor
If you're going to visit France, England, Italy, Japan, or other developed countries, you probably don't have much to worry about, but if you are going to Central America, South America, Africa, or SE Asia, visit a travel doctor at least three months in advance of your trip. She can research the particular diseases and issues for the countries you are visiting. For example, you may need to take medication for malaria, Typhoid Fever, or other diseases. You should also make sure you get a flu shot and are up to date on your Hepatitis and tetanus vaccinations.

Travel Tip #10: Turn off data/roaming on phones -- just use Wi-Fi
Several years ago when I was in Mexico I made the costly mistake of checking emails, stocks, and the weather a few times. Ouch! Data roaming in foreign countries is absurdly expensive, but it doesn't have to be. When I was in SE Asia last, I surfed the web and sent all of the emails I wanted free of charge. The trick is to turn off all data roaming and cell coverage and just leave your Wi-Fi connection on. Then when you are at a hotspot such as an airport, hotel, or Starbucks, you can piggyback off of their internet connection for free. Warning: text messages don't apply. If you want to send a text message for free, use any of the free web-based text message services such as oh, don't forget.

As an added bonus, you can bypass your carrier's $3+ minute rate and use Skype to make international calls for mere pennies a minute.

Travel Tip #12: Sign up for international calling plan
Sometimes there's no escaping having to use your cell carrier to place calls or send text messages. Even though you'll be paying out the nose for these calls, you can save a few bucks by signing up for an international calling plan through your wireless carrier. Note: most carriers offer two types of international calling plans. The first are for people who are making calls FROM the U.S. to people outside of the country. This is not the one for you. The second plan is for people traveling outside of the country and who want to make calls. For example, with AT&T, it's called the AT&T World Traveler international wireless package. It is $5.99 a month (there is no contract so you can cancel after you get back from your trip). [Globe image by jbachman01]

Travel Tip #12: Synthetic underwear and socks
Trick question: If you're traveling for two weeks, how many pairs of underwear and socks do you need? Fourteen of each? Nope. A couple of pairs of underwear and a few socks. I'm actually a really gross travel companion or I know something you don't. The trick is to bring underwear and socks made from synthetic material. Why? You can easily wash these in your hotel room sink and they dry quickly.

Not only will you save valuable luggage space but you'll stay dryer and cooler throughout the day than if you wore cotton.

Travel Tip #13: Bring multiple copies of your passport
Your passport is your ticket to international travel. If you lose it or if it gets stolen, you'll be in a world of hurt and aggravation. Make several color copies of your passport and put them in each piece of luggage, your purse or wallet, and with your itinerary -- the more copies the better! In the event you misplace your physical passport, having a photocopy can save you a lot of time and frustration.

A good friend of mine misplaced her passport on a flight to Paris on her way to New Zealand. What happened? They told her she could hop on the first plane back to the United States (she was just in the air for 12 hours!) or they would detain her. A copy of her passport could have saved her vacation!

Travel Tip #14: Us a small backpack for carry-on and one checked luggage
When it comes to international travel, lighter and smaller is the way to go for bags. While many of the women readers may not agree, a small backpack -- no matter how dorky it may look -- is the perfect travel companion. It can hold your iPad or laptop, itinerary, bandages, aspirin, medications, sunblock, bug repellant, phone, books magazines, etc. It should stay with you at all times, so you should never check it in. It provides hand-free use and ultra-fast access. While it's far less stylish than a Gucci purse, it's a whole lot more practical and convenient. [Backpack image by kthypryn]

Travel Tip #15: Create a sleep pack
If there's one thing nearly all international travel has in common, it's long flights. When I flew from Los Angeles to Bangkok, it was a 17 ½ hour flight! Prepare for long flights, train rides, etc. by bringing sleep accessories. The two must-haves are earplugs, so you can drown out the crying baby in 33A, and a night mask to block the light. You could pay $300 for the Bose QuiteComfort noise cancelling headphones, or you could pay a buck for some cheap (yet very effective!) earplugs. Other options include prescription sleeping medication or natural remedies such as melatonin, valerian, or kava. [Sleep mask by MadEmioselle Sugar]

Travel Tip #16: Load up on entertainment (rent movies, audiobooks, games, music, etc.)
Once you get on the ground, the last thing you'll be doing is watching videos or playing games, but in the air, on the rails, or on the water, you'll have plenty of down time. Load up your phone, laptop, or iPad with lots of entertainment. Even if your flight offers in-service movies or music, you must bring your own. Do you really want to suffer through Eat, Pray, Love or do you want to watch what you want to watch? You can rent new movies from iTunes. It's fast and cheap. And when you're at 38,000 feet, you'll be glad you have your favorite movies to pass the time.

I also enjoy listening to audiobooks. The best service out there is Audible. Load up your MP3 player or phone with engaging books. While you're swept away in the story, you won't realize just how long 17 ½ hours can be on a plane. [Book image by sleepyneko]


Travel Tip #17: How not to get pick pocketed
On my most recent trip, a savvy world traveler and ex-Marine had his wallet pick-pocketed while in line for tickets in Ba Na, Vietnam. Anytime you're going to be in a high-risk situation -- crowd, waiting in line, in a group, or traveling in close quarters (e.g., bus, subway) -- take these precautions:
  • Keep your wallet/money in your front pocket. Yes it's uncomfortable, but this is a must in high risk situations.
  • Avoid purses/backpacks. Don't keep your camera, wallet, or money purse in your backpack or purse. Thieves can go through these without detection because you'll never feel it.
  • Watch for the "stall" tactic. Thieves will work in tandem. One will stop short in front of you and the other will accidentally bump into you from behind, which will give them the opportunity to remove your wallet.
  • Be cautious for contact. The more the thief touches you the less suspecting you'll be. The master thief waits for the right environment and opportunity. The more they can distract you with innocuous contact, the less likely you will be able to notice the lift.
  • Drunk girl routine. Men, be careful! Attractive women who appear drunk will fall into or affectionately touch unsuspecting men. Men become so distracted it gives the woman ample time and opportunity to steal their wallet.
Travel Tip #18: How not to get scammed
In Bangkok, my friends and I wanted to visit the Reclining Buddha -- a large and popular Buddhist Temple that features a 150 long gold-plated Buddha. Map in hand, we knew we were getting close to the Temple when a friendly local asked us if we needed help. Well, sure, can you direct us to the Temple? And that's when this concerned local gave us the bad news. He said the temple wouldn't allow us in while wearing shorts. And furthermore, the King was visiting the Temple so visitors were not allowed. He suggested another temple we could visit and kindly called for a Tuk Tuk (i.e., open-air cab). Darn. We really wanted to see the Reclining Buddha. What's that? The Reclining Buddha closes early today, too? And that's when my travel partner put it all together. This wasn't a concerned citizen, this was a scam to direct tourists to the other temple. We walked another block and low and behold, there was the Reclining Buddha. The Temple was not only open, but we could wear shorts and the King was noticeably absent.

If you ever get unsolicited advice or help while traveling, listen very carefully to what they are saying and question everything.

Travel Tip #19: When and where to convert money
You can spend a lot of time and money trying to convert U.S. dollars to foreign currencies before your trip, but you can save yourself a lot of trouble by converting while overseas. Every airport (small and large) we visited had several currency exchange booths. They didn't want to accept credit cards, but after pressing them, they acquiesced. For that reason, I suggest taking a credit card and a debit card along with some dollars.

Do a bit of research on currencies before your trip. We learned this lesson the hard way. At the Cambodia airport we converted several hundred dollars into several hundred thousand Cambodian Riel. For a brief moment, we felt rich. Then we tried to use the Riel and just got blank stares. Apparently, most Cambodians prefer the U.S. dollar over Riel. Our first clue should have been at the airport currency booth -- they posted the exchange rate for every other world currency but the U.S. dollar. I remember telling my friend, "That's strange. I guess they don't get many tourists from the U.S." Oh well. You live and you learn...

Travel Tip #21: Alert your credit card companies
Failing to make this five minute call can cost you dearly. All credit card companies are now vigilant about credit card fraud. If you've been buying gas and groceries on your card in Toledo for the past five years and then all of a sudden they see a $200 charge from Moscow show up, there's a very good chance they will not authorize the charge and put a freeze on all future charges. This means you'll be in the middle of Moscow with no ability to use your card.

Another important tip when it comes to credit cards: be sure you bring the same card you used to make hotel and flight reservations. They will ask for it and it will make finding your reservation and paying much easier for you (and them!). [Credit card image by liewcf]

Travel Tip #21: Minimize jet-lag
Traveling overseas can create brutal jet-lag that can rob you of precious days on your vacation. To minimize jet-lag, adjust as soon as you get on the plane by changing your sleep cycle to your destination's time zone. For example, I flew out of Los Angeles at midnight. Based on my local sleep pattern, I would have gone to sleep immediately on the plane. But, in Thailand, it was only 2:00pm. So I stayed up another eight hours and went to sleep at 10:00pm Thai time.

Also, visit your local health food store and ask about herbs you can take that will help minimize jet lag. My travel partner had bags of powders, vials, packets, and other mysterious concoctions that we frequently took throughout the 17+ hour flight. And guess what? It worked! We landed at 6:00am in Bangkok and had tons of energy all day.

There you have it . . . my best 21 travel tips. Be sure to share your best travel tips in the comments section below.

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[Woman sleeping image by Wiros]