August is here and summer travel season is coming to a close! I recently returned from two beautiful weeks exploring Istanbul, Greece, Malta and Italy and was inspired along the way to take a few notes on international travel. Obviously not all of these tips apply to every form of travel, or every place you’ll ever go, but they do apply in general and I wrote them to emphasize the difference in domestic and international travel. Please see below for some ideas on how to have a safe, happy international traveling experience.
1. STEP Up and Be Prepared
It didn’t matter how many times I told Josh that I would be fine in Turkey, he was very nervous about my trip. So of course he had to be proven correct and we were in the country on the day of the military coup. We ended up getting out of Istanbul safely and quickly, but I had been prepared in case of such an emergency. The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program is a free service that allows Americans to register with the nearest embassy while traveling abroad, before even leaving the U.S. The program updates you on security risks and threats, as well as provides the embassy with both your contact and your emergency contact’s information in case of an emergency. Sign up for it once, and then just add any travel plans to your account in the future. I signed up before my trip and it was very easy and reassuring to know the embassy knew exactly where we were and what our travel plans were, as well as how to contact Josh if something was to happen.
I will never stop traveling, there is still so much to see out there in this beautiful, diverse world and I endeavor to see as much of it as I possibly can… But rest assured, I am also going to take every precaution and will always take my plans and safety very seriously.
2. Pack Your Patience
If you travel to Europe in the summer, you are going to stand in more lines than Disney World. In July. On a Saturday.* You’ll stand in Passport Control and Customs and at tourist attractions and subway platforms and taxi stands and…well, you get the idea. Any traveling requires patience, but traveling internationally requires an extra dose of patience as you fumble your way through foreign languages and unknown cities. Everything seems a little more complicated and a lot more frustrating when you aren’t sure where you are going and you’re out of your element. But that’s exactly why you’re traveling to the unknown! The adventure!
So put on your Patience Hat and try to relax…you’re on an adventure.
3. Maps (I know, actual hold-in-your-hand maps)
Remember maps? We used to have them if we went somewhere that we’ve never been and used them to navigate? Well bust them out if you’re going abroad, even if you have an international data plan but especially if you do not! We’ve almost become conditioned to just depend on our smart phones, but its a good idea to have an actual map if you are in a foreign country dealing with a language barrier. I had a map in my hand throughout most of Istanbul, Athens and Rome and it saved us a few times when someone’s phone wasn’t working or Google Maps was on the fritz. And I am proud to say I didn’t get us lost once! I like these Frommer’s Day By Day books because they give some ideas on what to see in a city, as well as have a convenient pull-out map in a pocket in the back.
4. Try New Things
Listen, I am all for enjoying the comforts of home…but remember, you’re not home. And presumably you left home for a reason. So logic dictates that maybe you should try some new things while you’re out exploring the world. You don’t have to try lamb innards in Sicily, but stepping out of your comfort zone is a great way to experience a new culture and give you a good story to tell when you get back home! We even made sure to check out the McDonald’s menu in each country, if only to compare it to home and see what was considered local fast food. It was fascinating.
Nothing teaches you how to be more understanding than adjusting to other cultures. Small things such as European air conditioning (not nearly as powerful as ours here in the South, FYI) can become big things if you let them. Adjusting to customs such as a store being closed from 1-3, or a city basically shutting down on a Monday, can be difficult adjustments for those of us stuck in our American ways. But again, you have presumably left your circle of the world to see someone else’s – adjust your expectations, take a deep breath, and enjoy it. You’ll be home to your Normal and missing the stunning shores of Greece before you know it!
6. Be Ready to Have Your Outlook Changed (and let it)
Believe it or not, the rest of the world does not revolve around the United States. I know, I just blew your mind. But I think as a nation we tend to have a very U.S.-centric mindset and I believe it holds us back as a culture. Traveling internationally exposes you to so many new sights and sounds – but it also can expose your ignorance and biases, if you let it. It is much easier to say “Nope, we don’t want your refugees” while sitting at home…and an entirely different experience to watch them line up at the Athens docks, waiting to escape their war-torn country with children and everything they own in the entire world in their hands. It may not change your mindset, but it will give you a level of understanding you simply could not achieve from your couch. Or seeing soldiers with automatic weapons walking the streets in droves and feeling an overwhelming feeling of gratitude that we live in the United States and are not experiencing military coups (insert Donald Trump presidency “that’s an inevitability” joke here) or a police state. I am so lucky to be an American, and nothing hammers that point home quite like exposing my heart and mind to different cultures and countries.
Alright, that sums it up for now! I know I’ll never be done traveling or learning, so I presume I may need to come back and update this list as time goes on. In the mean time, I encourage you all to travel and join me in a life filled with new experiences, cultural awareness, and adventure!
Do you have any tips for international travel? Any trips planned? What’s on your Travel Bucket List?
*Don’t go to Disney World in July. That’s just good advice.