Leave Only Footprints: How To Get The Most Out Of Your Travel Abroad
Traveling to a foreign country is both a daunting and exciting challenge. On one hand, you will be in an unfamiliar environment with a different culture and in most cases, a different language. But on the other hand, you’ll get to witness new things and have a grand adventure.
Here are several tips to make sure you make the most out of your trip abroad.
Before the Trip
Research on your country of destination
This, of course, is always a must when going to a new and unfamiliar location. Make sure to do at least a little bit of research on the locals’ culture and lifestyle. What language do they speak? What can be acceptable to your country, but possibly offensive to them? What religion do they practice? Are there any major happenings in the country you should be aware of?
It’s a good idea to check in on the climate and weather on the date of your stay. Daily weather may be unpredictable but you should at least have an idea of what types of clothes to pack. Doing your research early on will help you be well prepared for your trip.
Online reviews are your best friends
Not sure if this activity/landmark you have in mind is worth checking out? Run to online reviews for help. Reviews can save you from wasting time, money, and a rare traveling opportunity on disappointing activities or places.
Sometimes, you’ll also find gems there to make your experience better. Stuff like what’s the best time to visit or try them out, where to get the best spot for photos, and even tips on how to save bucks and still get the full five-star experience.
Prepare your travel documents
You have to get all your travel documents ready before you can go on that flight, so make sure you don’t miss out on anything! Check if you will be needing a visa on your country of destination. If not, check how many days or weeks you are allowed to stay without a visa and if your planned route doesn’t exceed the number of days you have allocated for it.
If you need a visa, get one as early as you can, keeping in mind how long it’s going to be valid. Have a photocopy of your passport and other important documents handy. This will be of help when you suddenly lose or damage your passport.
Have a backup for everything
Anything can happen even when you’re on vacation. Things can get misplaced or stolen. Accidents can happen. To prepare yourself in these situations, always have a back-up for everything.
Aside from having extra copies of important documents, keep extra copies of your contact details too. Have one in your pocket, wallet, back at your hotel/Airbnb, and a digital copy or list in your Notes app.
See to it that your phone’s backed up too. If your phone gets stolen, misplaced, or damaged, at least all hope is not lost with your files. You can do the following when creating a backup for your phone:
- Do a manual backup by uploading your files on cloud storage like Google Drive
- Enable the backup/sync feature in your phone’s settings. Both Google and Apple have detailed instructions on how to enable this
List down your itinerary but be flexible
Each country has its own unique offerings of sights and attractions. List down the places or events you want to go so you can keep in check with your priorities. But even with the list, be flexible and allow yourself to deviate from your schedule in case you discovered something fun to do or see.
One of the best things about traveling abroad is that some things can surprise you! Open yourself up to these surprise experiences and soak in these moments as much as you can. Of course, there’s also a big chance you won’t get to see everything you listed. Don’t let that disappoint you. Instead, see it as a reason to go back one day!
Keep your itinerary in a balance
Speaking of itinerary, this one’s perhaps one of the most overlooked out of all the tips for international travel out there. Some get too excited to include everything that looks exciting to them, that by the end of the vacation, they feel more tired than they were before the trip.
When planning your itinerary, place a relaxing activity in between the adrenaline-pumping ones. For example, after a day of hiking or trekking, you can plan a trip to a spa, souvenir shopping, or simply people-watching in the park.
Less is more
Packing stuff for your trip is actually easier than you might think. If you’re not sure of a particular item’s usefulness during the trip, leave it behind. If the time comes that you need that stuff, just buy one at a local shop.
Speaking of wardrobe, choose only the most comfortable and appropriate ones out of your clothing choices. Go for clothes fit for more-than-one occasions (for example, outfits that can fall under casual and dressy) to optimize your luggage’s space.
Get yourself a comfortable pair of footwear
Whether you’re backpacking or joining a tour, you’ll be doing plenty of walking during your trip. Be kind to your feet and wear some comfortable kicks! Lots of shoes may look great in pictures, which you would probably prefer so you’ll look great on Instagram, but if your feet kill you in just half a day of traveling, do you think it would be worth it?
Get shoes appropriate for the type of activity you’ll be doing. If you’re just out for a stroll, comfy walking shoes or sandals may do. If you’ll be doing more intense physical activity such as trekking, then get yourself a good pair of hiking boots. Your shoes should last even longer than your feet could walk, so invest in a reliable pair!
Secure the financial side of your trip
Prepping for the financial matters of your trip will always be one of the most important international travel tips you should keep in mind. Once you’re done with the planning part of your overseas vacation, secure these financial matters next:
Decide whether you’ll be using cash or a credit card (or both) for your spending galore while traveling
- If you’re bringing cash
- Exchange your pocket money in the local currency of your destination the day(s) before your flight. This way, you can have more time to browse around for banks and other money exchange services that offer the most affordable service fees. Ideally, you can go for a large bank that has an international branch in your destination country.
- If you’ll be using a credit card
- Check if the businesses and establishments in your destination mostly accept credit cards. Some countries like Japan are still embracing the cash-only basis mostly.
- Let your card issuer know that you’re going on a trip so they won’t label your future purchases/spending as a suspicious activity. If your card gets misplaced or stolen, you’ll have more credibility on your claim once you report the incident to your issuer.
- You can check your credit card or with your issuer for deals and discounts on flights, hotels, restaurants, travel insurance, and more.
- Tip: Use your credit card when paying for your stuff (such as restaurant bills or quick grocery shopping) and your extra pocket money for emergency purposes only.
Determine how much you’ll actually be spending during your trip. You’d want to avoid going back home with a pile of debt waiting.
- You can use budget tracking apps like Trail Wallet and Mint (both available for iOS and Android) to help you monitor your expenses.
Polish your foreign language skills
While waiting for your anticipated international trip, use the waiting time to learn useful phrases in the local dialect of your destination country. This way, you won’t be relying much on your pocket dictionary and can relay your message/question as quickly as possible to the locals, especially in the case of an emergency.
You can do a quick search of useful phrases for traveling on Google to brush up on your language skills. For example, search for useful Spanish phrases for travel. Write these phrases on paper. Read them aloud. Practice using these foreign phrases as you would use them in daily conversations.
Tip: If you’re not sure how to pronounce these words, copy-paste them on Google Translate and click on the speaker button below.
During the Trip
Keep an open mind
You probably heard of several stereotypes about the country you’re visiting before you got there. Throw away these prejudices and experience the country and the locals through your own eyes! See the places and talk to the people as if you’ve never heard anything about them.
This goes for meeting other tourists, too. You’re bound to have some prejudice when dealing with other foreigners. Talk to other tourists from other countries so you’ll know how they really are. See each person as an individual rather than a part of a group you think you know.
Make friends with the locals
Traveling is a great opportunity to witness a new culture and environment first-hand. You’ll understand more about the country you’re visiting if you make friends with the locals. Don’t be a loner or limit yourself to your tour group. Instead, go out there and make new friends!
Be mindful, as well, when you communicate with the local residents. Make sure your gestures or words are not offensive in their culture. Remember that you are basically representing your nation when you talk to foreigners. If you’re rude, other people will think all other people from your country are also rude.
Befriending a local will allow you to better appreciate the place. They’ll be more eager to tell you about their country and their way of life. And who knows? You might find friendships worth keeping, despite the distance.
Taste local cuisine
Even if you’re a picky eater, you would be missing out a lot if you don’t try local cuisines while you’re in a foreign country. That French restaurant you frequent back home? That won’t compare to actual French food in France! Used to Chinese takeout for dinner? You’ll be surprised at how much better it is when you’re actually in China!
The point is, you’re in a place that offers a unique set of cuisines. You won’t have access to that kind of food anytime you want, once you’re back home. So savor the moments and the food, while you’re there.
Go for the less touristy spots
Want an even better adventure? Go for the road, or the attractions, less traveled! It’s normal to prioritize famous spots in the country that you are visiting, but don’t underestimate its lesser-known attractions. Famous tourist attractions can get pretty crowded and you might not appreciate them as much as you expected with so much distraction going on. Go for great places that have fewer people present, to make the most out of your trip!
Ask your new local friends for places they recommend, which you wouldn’t normally see on social media or on travel blogs. You might actually end up liking those spots more than what you had originally jotted down on your list.
Leave your old self at home
This international trip is your best (and perhaps the only) opportunity to know more about the most important person in your life – YOU. So take this chance to try out things you’ve never thought of trying back home.
Go to places that speak the opposite of your normal routines. Try out things or visit places your heart begs you to experience but were always held back by your anxiety. If you’re not the mingling type, go outside your shell and schmooze on crowd-favorite spots, like cafes, bars, and local festivals.
It’s a foreign land. No one knows you here, so you’ve got nothing to lose when you “make a fool of yourself.” Besides, when you feel too embarrassed to go back here, there are still a plethora of countries left to visit!
Do some things alone
Traveling with a group of friends is fun and it’s definitely a memorable bonding experience. But even when you enjoy doing things with your friends, try to take some time for yourself, too. It will be a great adventure! You’ll have to talk to the locals and find several places on your own.
You’ll learn more about yourself when you travel alone. You won’t be following anyone’s plans or just going with the flow. You’ll find out what you prioritize when you’re not influenced by other people’s decisions.
Plus, you might end up stumbling across a great place or a memorable learning experience. When you go in groups, you’re likely to just do as everyone does. But when you’re on your own, you’ll be figuring things out yourself.
Put your phone or camera down for a time
It’s tempting to keep on posting on social media when you are in a new place. It’s normal, nowadays, to share your experience with everyone in your network as it happens. But, difficult as it might be, it’s best to let your phone or camera rest for a little bit and be fully in the moment.
See the sights through your own eyes instead of the lenses. Take photographs not only with your eyes, but with all your senses, and store them in your memory. There are a lot of beautiful things, places, and experiences that a camera cannot give justice to. So make sure you’re living in the moment so you fully appreciate what you are currently experiencing.
Ditch the hotels
Even if you can afford the most luxurious hotel, find other alternatives. Hotels can give you luxury and comfort, but it won’t offer as much adventure as other options could. Try using Airbnb or even couch surfing instead of going for exclusive hotels.
Why? Because by using Airbnb or choosing couch surfing, you’ll be closer to your host, which is likely to be a local. You’ll have a higher chance of developing a friendship and hanging out with a person you just met.
This kind of thing isn’t likely to happen in a posh hotel. There, you’ll be served by waiters and staff who will be there for you only until the end of their shift. Sure, hotels are comfortable, but with the right research, other accommodations can give you just as much comfort and space.
Go grocery shopping instead of eating outside
Experience the life of a local by doing one of the basic things a non-tourist does – eating at home. Go to the local grocery and buy what they offer. You’ll probably find some familiar brands, but try to go for the ones you don’t normally find at home.
Going grocery shopping in a foreign country is a really cool experience. You get to find several brands which aren’t offered in your home country. There would be different sodas, chips, chocolates, ice cream, and the lot! Try as much as you can because you never know – you might find something you’ll absolutely love.
Even fruits and vegetables can taste different in another country. Try them out and compare them with fruits and vegetables from home. Try out local recipes and satisfy your palate that’s looking for adventure as well!
Wake up early
I know, I know, it’s a vacation, why would you have to get up early? Well, one good reason would be to avoid the crowds in touristy places. If you really want to get a good picture on a famous spot, you’ll avoid the mob if you are already there when everyone else is just preparing for the day.
Being in a great place without the crowd will make you appreciate it even more. You won’t have to worry about bumping and avoiding anyone. You can just walk there and take it all in.
Plus, it’s generally safer in the mornings, too. Even in areas they say are sketchy. Good and hardworking people are up early. Scammers and pickpockets are likely sleeping while you’re out having fun.
Do some volunteer work
If your time permits and if you see an opportunity, volunteer for a good cause! Not only will it make you feel good because you will be doing something worthwhile, you’ll also have the chance to be closer to some of the locals.
You will be able to appreciate the community more as you see them working together for a common goal. You are likely to build more intimate friendships through this, too, because you will be working with people instead of just chatting with them.
Still be careful of scams, though. Always do your research! There are still bad people out there waiting to take an opportunity to trick other people and they might use volunteer work opportunities to do this.
Taking a trip abroad is a great opportunity to get to know more people and culture. You’ll grow from it, as well. Being exposed to another environment will give you a chance to see how you would act and decide in a different setting. It’s a great way to see things from a fresh perspective and to get to know yourself.
Once you go back home, you’ll find yourself seeing your life in a new light. You might appreciate your own unique culture, or miss the way things are when you’re home. Conversely, you might also have gotten great insights in how to do things better or look at things better, as demonstrated by people from a different culture in the country you just visited.
It’s different for everybody. Appreciate every chance you get to travel abroad, as every country will open you up to new experiences and insights. Make sure to be mindful. Don’t litter. Leave only footprints in countries you visit. And take only good memories.