It’s Thomas again, here to wrap up our Travel Tuesday Mini-Series covering some of our most frequently asked international travel questions. A few weeks back I discussed some of our tips for international transportation. To continue the conversation about travel, I’m sharing a grab bag of topics to help you navigate through international electricity, communication, safety, money and language.
Adapters and Electricity
We get lots of questions about travel outlet adapters, voltage converters and curling irons/straighteners. It’s definitely frustrating to find out you’ve just fried your curling iron right before you were about to go out on your first fancy dinner while on vacation (which has definitely happened to Julia in the past). To keep this from happening, use travel adapters and not voltage converters. An outlet adapter like this one is a good option if you are powering lower powered items like cell phones and laptops. If you are specifically traveling with curling irons, straighteners, steamers or blow dryers (which I don’t recommend since almost every hotel has a blow dryer in each room) then I highly recommend you buy this travel adapter. The reason being that these particular items have a large amp draw which can blow the fuse on cheaper adapters. This particular adapter has a self resetting fuse in case you do blow the fuse. If you plan to use these high powered electronics either check to see if it is dual voltage (120-240V) or invest in a new dual voltage one. Some of Julia’s favorites are this curling iron or this curling iron, this straightener, this travel blow dryer (also available in pink or purple from Ulta) and my favorite dual voltage travel steamer.
Major phone networks are finally embracing the fact that more and more people are traveling internationally by offering reasonable international plans. I’ve always sworn by my T-Mobile One Plus plan which provides free international coverage. While the free coverage is not going to win any speed records, it will definitely get you by. When we added T-Mobile plans 3-4 years ago, I fully switched, while Julia used her T-Mobile sim card only when traveling internationally, as she prefers AT&T in the US. AT&T at the time had ridiculously priced international plans. But now they have a plan where you can pay $10 per day and get the same talk, text and data that you get back home. While you might not have AT&T or T-Mobile, it’s important to research the packages that your carrier offers before any trip abroad, paying close attention to the data plans specifics. If you are travelling with someone else and looking to save a bit of money, you might want to consider only paying for international coverage for one phone and setting your other phone to airplane mode, which will allow you to use it on wifi.
Money & Foreign Currencies
Before every international trip, remember to set your travel notifications. It’s super easy to do when logged into your credit card or bank website. Withdraw money from bank-run ATMs. If preferred, you can call your bank to see if they have any pre-approved banks in the country you will be visiting, as these normally don’t charge a fee.
It’s very common for credit cards to have no foreign transaction fees if used internationally, especially credit cards that offer travel rewards. Additionally, travel cards often reward travel through higher point earnings based on transaction type. These two reasons are part of why our credit cards are always our preferred method of payment. If you’re not a frequent international traveler, you may want to review the credit card policies before it’s too late.
While most places accept credit cards, it’s true that there are some places in the world that aren’t as credit card friendly. That’s why we always travel with a bit of cash on hand. When withdrawing money from ATMs in another country, you’ll often see a prompt that asks if you’d like the ATM company to handle the conversion or your home bank. While I’m sure there are scenarios where you’d opt for the ATM company to do the conversion, it is most often a better deal to have the bank do the conversion. You may be charged a small fee, but your bank isn’t making money on the conversion, while the ATM company is actually making their money by converting at a less favorable rate. As an added safety measure, once you’ve withdrawn the cash, divy it up amongst those in your group. That way, no one person is carrying all of your cash.
In my opinion, language barriers shouldn’t be a deterrent to international travel. One reason is that English is growing in popularity around the world and the other is that we have tools like Google Translate and cell phone service options that can get us by in a tight pinch.
However, I would recommend at the very minimum, learning at least 10 simple everyday words like, “Hello”, “Thank you”, “Please”, “Do you speak English?” (don’t just assume), “I’m sorry”, Numbers 1-10, “I don’t understand”, “I would like”, “Water” and “How much is….”
If you have particular health needs, make sure to learn phrases related to that. For instance, one of our our friends is severely allergic to shrimp, so when she went to South East Asia she actually brought a laminated card that said “No Shrimp” in multiple languages and a picture of a shrimp with a red X through it.
Finally, leading into the next section on safety, make sure to know the emergency telephone number of the country you will be visiting because it won’t be 911.
The same precautions you take at home should be applied when traveling internationally. Thinking about safety and planning ahead of time will make a huge difference in making sure you are mentally prepared. When out and about, keep a watchful eye and pay attention to your surroundings. Making sure that you don’t stare at your phone too long, especially when walking around. Don’t leave valuables lying around in your room. That means computers, cameras, hard drives, passports and jewelry should be put away when you aren’t in your room. Always use the hotel safe as precaution. When checking out, even if you don’t remember using it, triple check the safe before you leave. You may want to consider leaving valuable jewelry at home.
Make sure to bring extra photocopies of your passport to carry around with you when leaving your passport in the hotel safe. Any valuables you have shouldn’t be flaunted. I prefer to carry my cameras and camera bags crossbody instead of around my neck or on my shoulder (this is a safe way to carry a purse as well). When sitting down at a restaurant, I often wrap a bag strap around the leg of my chair.
Final precautionary tips – never pack away valuables in your checked luggage, always use a TSA-approved lock, and always put a name tag on your checked suitcases. We once had a suitcase go missing for over two weeks, after almost giving up hope, a woman from Atlanta called saying our suitcase was delivered to her house by mistake. In this case, the name tag helped her get in touch with us and the lock on the suitcase ensured no one could get into it. We like to hope that everyone is as kind as this woman was, but unfortunately that isn’t always the case, so be prepared.