We chat about the hot list of cool vacation spots, the plans, the cost, and so on. But there’s always one neglected area which surprises me—how often parents consider sending their kids overseas on a back-packing tour or study abroad program without understanding the details of their children's trips and being informed on travel safety.
I’ve learned a few lessons during my extensive travels and would like to share my top tips for people who may not have had much experience in foreign countries. In order of importance, they
1) Arrive in the morning or early afternoon. Do everything possible not to arrive at night or on a Sunday. You are most vulnerable when you first arrive in a new place. Things appear differently at night, and you will not likely know where you are going. It’s easy to get lost or taken advantage of, since businesses are closed, and fewer people, including police officials, are
around to provide help.
2) Don’t assume you can find an ATM, use US dollars or credit cards. It’s a good idea to have some foreign currency before you leave the US. If you need local currency for food or transportation, you may have a hard time finding an ATM or money exchange. With our modern times, it’s easy to take credit card acceptance for granted. Recently, I was caught off-guard in Canada and had to borrow money off a friend to pay for groceries, much to my embarrassment!
3) Find a hotel that offers an airport shuttle or can have a driver pick you up, and arrange this when you make the reservation. This means you will probably stay near the airport, thus have a shorter commuting time, and someone else will be expecting you. Do not scrimp on hotel accommodations your first night. You’ll be tired, confused and will need time to adjust to unfamiliar surroundings. Give yourself a day to get your bearings. Airport hotels deal with travelers, so they will often be better informed. You can move to that nice local hotel, charming B&B or affordable backpackers’ hostel afterwards.
4) Look at a map and find out the layout of the city before you leave the hotel. Even if you just want to wander around the old town square, have an idea of where you are heading. Don’t just hop in a taxi or on a bus and hope it gets you there. Getting lost can lead you into unsavory parts of town. Also, make sure you have the address to your hotel in your pocket, in your purse, written on your hand or wherever, so you can return.
5) Don’t trust a local who approaches you and offers to show you around. It sounds paranoid, but just ask yourself: If you were at home, would you trust a stranger who walked up to you while you were scouring a map and offered to spend their time giving you a tour? They always seem extremely helpful and harmless (yes, I’ve fallen for it more than once). They will use excuses like “they’re heading that way anyway” or “a friend of theirs has a local restaurant that’s great.” What you end up doing is setting yourself up as an easy target. They’re typically part of a scheme to get you into some back-alley establishment and stick you with the tab, or worse.
After the first day or two, you will be much better equipped mentally and physically to make decisions. Give yourself some time to recover from your flight and don’t rush to cram in “new experiences” the moment you arrive.
The above safety advice is important, but don’t forget a few of the standard guidelines. Your transition will be easier if you don’t advertise yourself as a tourist. That means no US-flag prints or University of “big city” sweatshirts. Wearing a camera around your neck and waving maps are also obvious giveaways. You’ll get a truer cultural experience if you blend in a little.
A final tip, leave multiple copies of passports and itineraries in all your bags. Parents, make sure you have copies of your child’s information.
Please don’t let me scare you into not travelling—it’s one of life's greatest pleasures! Just remembering these few basic tips will help to ensure you have a fun adventure with memories that will last a lifetime.
Safe travels, everyone!