Sunday, January 1, 2017

Tips for International Travel

I just got back from a spur of the moment trip to Hong Kong. Fantastic memories made with my fella in a country that was a blast to explore. As my brother and sister-in-law prepare for their first international trip together I thought I would provide some tips for them (and you).
First, have your travel paperwork squared away. Some countries require a visitor's visa. If you do not know if the country you are traveling to requires a visitor's visa look it up here on the US Department of State website: https://travel.state.gov/content/visas/en/general/americans-traveling-abroad.html. And, of course, make sure your passport is current. For our trip to Hong Kong, our passports couldn't expire within one-month of us traveling. For China, it was six months. Every country has different requirements so make sure your paperwork is in order.

Second, know how to pack. For our five day, four night trip to Hong Kong me and the fella both did a backpack and one carry-on luggage. The minimal luggage helped us move around airports and train stations easily. Also, if you ever need to do standby for a flight NOT having checked luggage makes it EXTREMELY easier to get on a flight.

Here are tips on what you should pack.
Items you need for customs (in carry-on luggage):
  • Passport. Keep this with you at all times while traveling. Local police can and will stop you if they feel like it. They will ask for your passport. This happened to the fella while we were in Hong Kong. The police officer did a quick call into dispatch, read off the passport info, got the all clear, and we were back on our merry way. 
  • Pen. You have to fill out paperwork for the country you are visiting. Your flight attendants will hand out the necessary papers for your to fill out. Having a pen handy will allow you to fill out the paperwork on your flight instead of at the airport (saving you time).
  • Address and phone number of where you will be staying in the country you are visiting. This info is needed on your visiting paperwork. If you are staying at a hotel, use the address and phone number to the front desk. If you are staying at an AirBNB type of place, use the address and phone number of the homeowner. If you are staying at multiple places, use the place you are staying at the most for your paperwork.
  • Address of place you are staying. If you don’t speak the language of the country you are visiting it can be helpful to print the address of where you are staying on small pieces of paper (business card size) so you can hand it to taxi/Uber drivers. You can also keep the hotel concierge (or AirBNB host) on speed dial if you need their help in translating while you are out and about.
  • Visa paperwork. If needed. If the country you are visiting requires a visa makes sure you have the appropriate paperwork handy as you will need to show it to the customs agent. If you do not have it, before you leave the US they will help you get the required visa before you board your plane. It costs more and it creates more stress ... I don't recommend it.
  • Flight information (carrier and flight number).  You need this info for your customs paperwork. It may look like AA60 (American Airlines 60 ... this was my flight from Tokyo). Or CX825 (Cathay Pacific 825). It'll be on your boarding pass.
Items in your carry-on luggage (to help make long flights a little more comfy):
Lucky enough to be upgraded to business class for 16 hour flight.

  • Scarf/shawl. Can double as a light blanket. 
  • Sleeping eye mask. No matter how dark they try to get the cabin it never gets dark enough for sleeping.
  • Ear plugs. If you are trying to sleep, these are a must. Crying babies might happen but noisy adults are guaranteed.
  • Earbuds/headphones. International flights have entertainment consoles. And good movies! Most airlines provide headphones but if they don't you'll be prepared.
  • Book. Lots of hours means lots of time to read. I usually purchase a couple of "travel" books ... once I'm done reading them I leave them. Less books on the way home mean more room for souveigners. 
  • Toothbrush and toothpaste. I brush my teeth before landing because it makes me feel human again.
  • Brush. Same as brushing the teeth.
  • Face wipes. Same as brushing the teeth and hair.
  • Tissues. A runny nose is never pleasant. And sneezing into a tissue is very grown up. 
  • Melatonin pills. These are natural sleeping aids. I take them for long haul flights to help me stay asleep (without the awkward effects of drowsiness).
  • Comfy socks. I cannot wear shoes on a long flight. But I'm also not going to gross anyone out with bare feet. Plus, comfy socks provide comfort.

Items to pack: 
  • International electrical adapter. The one I have didn't have a label for Asia so I had to research it before my trip. My electrical adapter worked great (Hong Kong is the same as the UK). I use this type of adapter. Or borrow one from a friend if you don't travel internationally frequently.
  • Put copies of the following in your room's safe.  If you should happen to lose them or if they should get stolen you'll have the copies available.
    • Passport
    • Credit/debit cards
  • Portable charger like this one. If you are using your phone a lot on your trip you'll be glad you had this charger handy.
  • Cords to charge your electronic devices
  • Camera. Digital is preferred (where do you get film developed these days?)
  • Hand sanitizer. Trust me.
    Escalators and markets are EVERYWHERE in Hong Kong. It'll make you want to keep your hands clean.
  • First aid kit. I keep this bag stocked year round and throw it in my bag whenever I'm traveling to a different country. It is not a big bag ... REI has a good one here.  I never want a little medical nusance to get in the way of a good trip.
    • Bandaids
    • Antibacterial ointment
    • Pepto-Bismol tablets
    • Alcohol wipes
    • Benadryl pills
    • Tweezers
    • Bandages
    • Advil/Tylenol
  • Dirty clothes bag. If I'm doing a long trip I will do laundry (or pay for it to be done) so I don't have to pack as much.
  • Prescription drugs. Take just enough for your trip. 
A couple of other tips:
  • Mass transit. Look it up and know the best option for transportation. Taxis can be expensive. Plus, mass transit shows you how the locals do things.
    Traveling with the locals is an adventure in itself.
  • Mind your Ps and Qs. Americans get a bad wrap for a lot of things. Be courteous, gracious, humble, and mindful of your surroundings. 
  • Great food doesn't mean expensive. Splurging on a meal or two while traveling is fun but REALLY good food doesn't require a bank loan. Most of our meals in Hong Kong were less than $20 for two people and we ate like kings! Be adventurous and try new stuff.
  • Bypass cell phone usage. When I take my phone, I turn off the cellular data so I don't get charged for international fees. I do keep the WiFi on. Most countries have WiFi hotspots (EVERY country has a Starbucks and most mass transit systems offer free WiFi). In Hong Kong I didn't take my phone, only my iPad. Our hotel provided a free Handy phone during our stay. It was awesome to have and we could turn on the hotspot feature so we were connected all the time. I hope more hotels/countries start using this device.
Unless you are going to a VERY remote place, most things you can buy wherever you are going. Don't worry if you forgot to pack something, you can buy it there. 

Enjoy the heck out of your trip. Let the mishaps that will happen be memories to laugh at later. But be as prepared as you can be to have fun.

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