I was recently chatting with a friend who will be traveling overseas for the first time. She had some great questions on things that I often take for granted. Hopefully someone else may find our discussion helpful:
Q: What do you do about your phone? Should I buy a sim card or get an international plan?
I don’t get a sim card or international plan. WiFi is almost everywhere now days and I like to disconnect as much as possible when traveling. I use internet based What’sApp for texting and calling. I use map apps like maps.me that can be used offline. I download translation apps ahead of time. And in the vary rare case that I need to use my data when I don’t have WiFi or the phone, I just go old school and pay for the minutes used. It is less in the end.
Q: Do you know of a good app for making an itinerary on your phone so you don’t have to carry around a notebook telling you when and where to be?
I love a paper spreadsheet but there are some apps to help keep everything together. A popular one is TripIt. However, some of the benefits of an old fashion spreadsheet are it makes sure you think through all of the pieces of your trip. You can also make notes and share it with others.
Q: What is the best way to pay for things in a foreign country? I don’t want to take a ton of cash, but I don’t want to pay credit card fees for international use. Can I just plan to use US Dollars everywhere?
I highly recommend a credit card without an international transaction fee. COVID has increased the usage of credit cards even in places that didn’t use them much just a few years ago. If given a choice, charge in the local currency. I also have an ATM card that does not charge a fee.
Don’t plan to be able to use US Dollars anywhere. There are a few exceptions (Belize, Cambodia) but for the most part, plan to use the local currency.
Travelers checks and converting money at your bank before a trip are both things of the past. Just plan to hit an ATM at the airport. Of note, there a couple of locations where ATMs are either difficult or dangerous – Argentina and Johannesburg come to mind. In these rare cases, go to your bank ahead of time to order some local currency.
Q: What kind of map apps do you prefer.
Some people use google maps off line. I prefer maps.me. You need to download the appropriate maps when you have wifi but you can then use them off line. It can be used for driving or walking. You can color code pin locations ahead of time.
Q: How do you carry your important documents?
Some people use a Fanny pack and others use a neck pouch or waist pouch that goes under your clothes. But I prefer a cross body purse. It stays on me at all times and I never take it off during the day. You want at least two compartments. One has your passports, emergency credit card and big bills. The other has small bills (no more than $100ish), debit card, and the credit card you are using. This way you should rarely/never get into the pocket with your more important items. Phone/camera goes in the latter or ideally somewhere else.
Also always have a copy of your passport that you keep somewhere separate.
If I want to carry more items with me, I have a separate small day pack. This has a water bottle, umbrella, coat, scarf etc… It has room for purchases. If it is lost or stolen it might be annoying but has nothing of value. And if targeted by pickpockets it is an easier opportunity (decoy) than where I keep my important items.
Q: What are other tips you recommend?
If you don’t already have it, you also want to set up Uber for within the cities.
Make sure you have the appropriate plug adapters for where you are going.
Register in the DoS STEP program. In case of an emergency (pandemic, war, volcanic eruption) it lets them know who is in the country.
Download the CBP app to expedite your immigration when you return to the US.