International travel is fun. Unless it's not.
Learn some of the language. "Thank-you" is always good. "Ugh, you eat this?" is bad.
Be thoughtful with your camera. While certain parts of your trip might look great in a frame on your wall, an anonymous building or child may be someone else's home or son. Don't be afraid to ask if it's okay to take a photo.
Dress respectfully, based on the country's culture. In some countries, women should always cover their legs. In other countries, men wear Speedos at the beach. (Feel free to skip that tradition.)
In countries where water can make you sick, remember that water doesn't just come in a glass. Avoid ice and salad, as vegetables are often washed in tap water. Stick with boiled or fully cooked food. Brush your teeth with bottled water and keep your eyes closed in the shower.
Don't play the stereotype of the loud, ugly American. (Think Homer Simpson.)
One large transaction at a foreign ATM often provides the best exchange rates for your money.
Prepaid calling cards are often the cheapest way to call home (besides Skype).
Be sure to contact your credit card or debit card prior to your trip to alert them that you'll be making foreign transactions. Otherwise, your card may get rejected as these transactions may appear fraudulent.
Connecting international flights often depart on one day and arrive into the next. If you're booking a connection, consider the time and day.
Travel agents can be a good deal. Since they're often paid by the airline or hotel, the cost for your trip may actually be lower when using agents. They can give you local advice, locate deals, and help you when you miss your flight.
Bring a brochure or business card of your hotel when you go out on the town. On the return home, it can save you from a confusing, four-hour taxi ride if your driver doesn't speak English.
Consider travel insurance before you leave. (See our topic on travel insurance.)
Some countries charge a "departure fee" at the airport, so don't get to the airport with only a quarter in your pocket.
The US Department of State issues passports (see travel.state.gov). They cost around $100, usually last for ten years, and take between one to three months to get (depending upon the season). You can pay for expedited services to get one a little quicker.
A Visa credit card may be required in order to look fabulous at your friend's wedding, but a visa document may be required if her wedding is in a foreign country. A visa can usually be ordered from an embassy or picked up at the arriving airport. See the State Department website for specifics (travel.state.gov).
Make copies of your passport, visa, credit cards, prescriptions, and itinerary (such as plane and hotel details) and leave a copy in your luggage and with a family member in case you end up in a Thai prison.
On Bert's first trip abroad, he ended up eating raw goat meat because he didn't know the language. Now he always keeps a translation for the following phrases when he leaves the country.
- "What time is it?"
- "What do you mean we're married?"
- "Yes! Very good! It tastes like chicken."
- "Can I see your medical degree?"
- "Which one is the toilet?"
- "Where can I get diplomatic immunity?"
- "You've already kissed me, sir."
- "My plane! My plane! Don't close the doors!"
- "One Big Mac, please."