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The 5 things not to assume when traveling abroad

When traveling, I repeatedly hear comments such as “this is not how _______ works at home”. Research is your best tool here and I spend a lot of time learning the ins and outs of destinations from other travelers. But I have also made mistaken assumptions and as a result have missed museum visits and planes.


Here are 5 assumptions travelers should not make...


1.Don’t assume you can travel without a passport or visa

When traveling, you must abide by the immigration laws of the countries you are visiting. Immigration requirements differ by visitors’ nationalities and can change frequently. Your passport and visa are vital documents when traveling abroad. Without them, you run the risk of not being able to enter or exit your travel destinations. Also, your passport must be valid for some time past the end of your trip.

Tip: Visit the immigration website of your destination country and research visitor documentation requirements. Pay close attention to passport expiration dates, visa requirements, and processing times for your specific passport and travel route. Visa processing and passport renewal times, as well as costs can vary greatly (especially when you need to rush applications). Plan accordingly.

2.Don’t assume everyone accepts the same kind of payment

Every country has its own payment customs. In some countries, coins are not only relevant, but a necessity. In others, cash is not even accepted. My latest find: In many countries, you won’t be able to pay with a credit card that does not have a chip AND PIN. Getting stuck in situations without a functioning method of payment can easily put a dampener on your vacation.


Tip: Ask your bank about transaction fees at foreign ATMs, as well as fee-free partner locations. Similarly, call your credit card company to inquire about fees and try to add a PIN to your card.


3.Don’t assume that everyone speaks English

It’s hard to imagine yourself in a situation where your only way of communicating is body language. Even though our world is becoming more globalized, you will meet residents of many cities that are fluent in 3+ languages, but not in English.

Tip: Download one of the many translation apps and investigate its offline capabilities, so you can access it without data roaming. My favorite app in this category is “Google Translate” - easy and efficient.


4.Don’t assume your phone will work abroad

We are glued to our phones and they often become lifelines when traveling. Our phones serve as GPS, travel guides, and connection to family/friends. Depending on your destination country and carrier’s partner networks, download speeds and reception change. Sadly, even the locals can’t really guide us, since their phones are already linked to local networks.

Tip: Contact your mobile phone provider to ask about international roaming charges and options. Research network capabilities at your destination (e.g., GSM vs. CDMA) and consider buying a local SIM card. Make sure your device is ready for the card. Also consider portable Wi-Fi equipment and look up free, secure, and reliable Wi-Fi hot spots.


5.Don’t assume anything when it comes to the weather

Even in cities with relatively consistent weather, it seems as though you always visit during that one week when the weather is “usually not like this.” Weather can change in the blink of an eye. It pays to be over-prepared.

Tip: Always pack a good umbrella and wear layers. This is especially true for remote destinations and expensive locations where last-minute purchases will break the budget. Cover your bases and save yourself from spending money on something you already have in your closet.


Here are 5 more things to consider….

Don’t assume you’ll get around as you do at home

Don’t bank on using the same means of transportation that you use daily at home. Investigate public transport connectivity, walkability, and existence/cost of taxis and ridesharing apps.

Don’t assume you can or can’t drink tap water

It’s easy to take for granted that you will have water available in your room. Research on the internet and ask the locals.

Don’t assume that you have access to food around the clock

Cultural norms and local habits dictate the opening times of restaurants, which can vary dramatically by country or even region.

Don’t assume airport security is the same across all countries

Each country’s airport security has different requirements; some more lenient, some more strict.

Don’t assume that the hotel concierge really knows the city

Hotel concierges won’t always be able to answer all inquiries or will have access to all types of event tickets or reservations. Oftentimes, their knowledge is restricted to the most popular and tourist-friendly locations.


Don’t assume you can buy tickets for same-day visits

Many popular tourist sights need to be booked months in advance. Don’t get caught in endless lines or finding out on-site that tickets are sold out.


Here are some examples from the fail highlight reel

Ex: A friend had planned a great ski weekend in Europe and wasn’t shy to announce it to anyone who would listen. Right when boarding the plane, he learned that the destination country required visitor passports to be valid for several months after the duration of the trip. He didn’t get to use his skis.

Ex: A friend was traveling between several countries in Europe and Asia. While on the trip, she found out that one of the countries required an entry visa to be obtained prior to departing her home country. She ended up having to cut the trip short and returned home.

Ex: The train ticket kiosks in Amsterdam and Copenhagen only accept coins or cards with a PIN. I wasn’t prepared for this surprise and ended up frantically rummaging through my bag to search for the debit card I hadn’t used the entire trip.

Ex: Many storage lockers in Europe will only work with 1 or 2-Euro coins. With only one coin left in my wallet and under immense time pressure, my hands were trembling while operating the locker door. I couldn’t afford to drop the coin and miss my connecting flight in Brussels.

Ex: In Russia’s St. Petersburg, I had to rely on hand-gestures and facial expressions if I wanted to convey anything. I was unable to have a proper conversation with anyone who wasn’t a tour guide or staff of a popular tourist venue.

Ex: I bought a local SIM card in Dublin, which turned out to be incompatible with my iPhone. Another time, I signed up for a pay-as-you-go international roaming plan with my mobile phone carrier. It ended up costing almost as much as my plane ticket.

Ex: I traveled to Iceland and researched the weather. However, while I was on my way there, the temperature unexpectedly dropped from 14 to 4C (57 to 39F). I had nothing to wear but yoga pants and didn’t want to leave the airport without warm clothes.

Ex: In Russia, I had to check my luggage because airport security wouldn’t allow battery packs in carry-on bags. Thankfully, I had spare time to drop off my bag – but I was left without a way to charge my electronics on the plane.

Ex: In Brussels, after their airport terrorist attack, security added 2 more check points. I didn’t take the potential delay into account when leaving for the airport. As a result, I ended up asking each person in the security line if I could skip ahead, because my plane was already boarding. I ran the whole way.

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