Sunday, December 21, 2014

Traveling abroad? 6 tips that can help

Holiday beckons!
Earlier, I wrote about what travel in the country has taught me over the years. I thought it’ll be a good idea to also share some tips from my experience in international travel. Whether you plan a quick shopping trip or plan to beach holiday, planning for a holiday itself can be quite stressful. I hope this list will help you sort most things out. 

1. Apply for visa well in time: The single big reason why I don’t look forward to international travel is the stress of applying for a visa in time. Since most of our plans are last minute, visa process just adds to the mayhem! Hence, preparation for travel overseas has to start much earlier than traveling within the country. Visa papers need time for processing. Every embassy has their own working time. In my experience, visas generally do not get rejected as long as all your papers are in place. But the haughty embassy staff will always make you believe that there could be a problem. The air tickets and hotel bookings already made make the suspense worse. 

2. Remember to carry your passport: OK! Now this is insulting your intelligence, right? Who forgets passport on an international trip? Just Joey and Rachel!! Better be safe than sorry, correct? I think it was important to add this point because when I follow my routine of packing for travel, there have been times when I have had to remind myself to fish out my passport and carry it along. When we are used to doing certain things in a particular way, we may forget that one odd little extra that needs to be done. And I do add that to my own last minute check list! It is a good idea to invest in a passport holder with pockets which can hold your cash, a pen, immigration forms etc. This way it’ll be convenient to have everything in one place and pull it out at different counters. (check in, immigration)

3. Do your research: Just like I mentioned in my post on domestic travel, research is the key even in international travel. Acting like a localite might not be of help here especially of you are going to a different part of the world. You will need real intelligence from the internet. A few things that you should look up are:

a. Hotel reviews: Booking a hotel in a place you have never been to is quite challenging. I was at my wits end when I had to do it all by myself for a hotel in Zurich. After a lot of research, I zeroed in on a popular chain of hotels. Yet, the rooms turned out to be smaller than the standard ones. Still, research is your best bet. Sites like tripadvisor have unbiased reviews from hundreds of users which can be trusted while booking. Consider factors like location (preferably city center), modes of transport available close by (a train station or a metro), presence of a market place/shopping area, restaurants etc. 

b. Geography/climate/culture: Google maps and Wikitravel can help you understand most aspects of a region. Reading up helps understand the culture of the place - laidback/fast, safe/unsafe, wealthy/third world, crowded/not so much etc. You will find enough stories online to tell you about things cabbie behaviour, food habits, popular food joints etc to give you a hang of how the city functions. You can understand routes, modes of transport, the type of area you will stay in (city center, suburbs, mountainous) and how the local travel system works. Wikitravel also helps you with the climate, temperature range etc which will help you decide the kind of clothes/shoes you will need.

c. Things to do: Unless you are going to a destination where you intend to just laze on a beach, it's a good idea to check out things there are to do - city tours, museums, beach trip, adventure sportsAnd then you can choose what you prefer to do. This way you will be ahead by planning your days according to the city tour pick and drop (if you choose to do that) or the closing time of famous monuments/landmarks.

It's best to understand what's in your food before you go for it!

d. Food: As Indians, we have varied food habits. For instance, many dishes in Mumbai will have Jain and half Jain versions - because just vegetarian isn't specific enough! Travelling abroad can be challenging, especially in countries like China, if you are a vegetarian or a vegan. I am a non-vegetarian and thought chicken was a safe bet in any country but was sadly mistaken. Boiled, bland chicken with its skin intact (served in South Africa) is not my idea of appetising food. In most countries, chicken stock is commonly used and considered vegetarian. You may want to research your food options in advance. It may not change what is available in that country but will help you be prepared for it.

4. Money matters: Understand the currency conversion ratio of the country you are visiting. You will need to convert sufficient Indian rupees in order to have enough cash even after conversion. In certain countries, a huge amount in rupees turns out to almost nothing when converted. Make sure you don't keep all your cash in one place, lest an unfortunate incident robs you of everything. If you choose to go shopping, it makes sense to convert local prices into our own currency before you decide to spend. Sometimes, a silly shirt turns out to be way more expensive in dollars/pounds and could have easily been purchased back home at half the price. 

5. Invest in appropriate clothes: Our first foreign trip was the beautiful city of museums - Amsterdam. But the trip was marred by lack of warm clothes suitable to the country. Living in a city like Mumbai doesn’t give you the option of buying over coats that can hold against winters in Europe. I had literally all my woollies on me every single day! Before the trip, it felt like a waste of money to buy warm, bulky stuff for a trip and hoard it afterwards. But you could always borrow and return later. Or if you have to buy them, give it away to friends/relatives who will find it useful. That way your investment still wouldn’t go waste and you get to enjoy your trip comfortably. 

6. Stay safe: Your research should also give you an idea of how safe the place is going to be. Don't expose yourself to late night traveling if it is advised otherwise. Use the security locker provided in rooms to lock up your gadgets, cash, passports and other valuables. Don't leave them carelessly around assuming it's safe. General common sense should mostly guide you to avoid danger. 

All said and done, travelling to different countries is the best way to broaden your horizons of thought. Take care of the important things and be sure to enjoy yourself and make it memorable!

Do you have any experiences to share? Would love to hear your stories. Hack away on the comments! 

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