Packing guides and pre-vacation checklists have been published across the web for years. But once you’ve strategically packed every item on your list, safely stored your passport and confirmed your reservations, there’s a different set of pre-travel steps to take. It’s time to prepare for the culture, customs and even the weather conditions of your destination, so you’re not caught off guard when you arrive.
Nothing’s worse than taking a big swig of tap water just before learning that it’s contaminated. Always research the condition of the drinking water in your destination by locating it on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website or contacting your hotel before you arrive. If you won’t be able to drink the water at your destination, purchase a large bottle of water at the airport, so you’re not searching for one as soon as you exit the airport.
Free restroom access and toilet paper is expected in North America, but many countries don’t have the sophisticated plumbing systems and access to affordable bathroom products that we have here. It’s always best to be prepared for cultural difference like paying a small price for toilet paper, tipping a bathroom attendant or even paying to use a restroom at your destination. This is especially important for women, because we don’t always have the same ease-of-access to “restrooms” that men do.
Every country and culture in the world has a different idea of what “dressing appropriately” means. Always research the dress code for your destination before you arrive. Not only does wearing the proper attire show that you respect the local culture, it also ensures that you don’t stand out as a vulnerable tourist.
Don’t stress about buying Rosetta Stone and studying your destination’s language thoroughly before you arrive. Although it’s helpful to be fluent in any country’s language, you can usually communicate enough with a basic knowledge of the local lingo. Learn how to say “hello,” “goodbye,” “please,” “thank you,” “I’m sorry,” and any other phrases that are considered polite and respectful at your destination. Other than the basic phrases, your hand gestures and a big smile should be enough to get you by.
If you’re open to eating just about anything, you can probably skip this step. But for those travelers who have specific eating interests (such as vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free or just plain picky), it’s important to research the food options at your destination to see what you’ll eat while you travel. This research could help you realize that you need to pack those extra granola bars that may save you down the road.
I recently rented a car for a trip to Mexico ahead of time only to find that the rate was tripled when I arrived. If I’d known about this car rental “scam” before I left, I may have planned on catching a cab from the airport and getting around via public transportation. Always weigh the transportation options for your destination, whether that means learning the bus routes, researching reasonable cab prices or calling the car rental company to find out your total cost.
In addition to dressing according to your destination’s dress code, you’ll want to be prepared for the area’s unique weather conditions. It’s easy to think of the dessert as a steaming hot place in the daytime, but you’ll probably be buying a new jacket as soon as the sun sets. In addition to looking at the forecast for the duration of your trip, research the typical weather conditions for the time of year you’ll be visiting and be prepared for them.
Returning home from a relaxing vacation to an outrageous phone bill can put a bitter taste for travel in your mouth, but that grueling argument with the phone company can be prevented. Call your service provider before you leave to discuss calling and data plans for your destination. If you can’t find a reasonable deal, consider turning your data off and strictly using wireless internet access to use your device at your destination.
Have your destination’s currency exchange rate in mind (or easily accessible with an app on your phone) at all times. Whether you’re looking for the bank with the best rate, shopping for an item in a marketplace or hailing a cab, knowing the exchange rate can help you determine if you’re getting a good deal or not.
I absolutely hate buying a brand new souvenir just to find out my friend got the exact same thing for half the price. Research whether or not haggling is a common practice at your destination (and which items and services are open to haggling), to ensure you to get the best prices and experiences possible. After all, knowing that you got an incredible deal on a tour can help you enjoy the adventure that much more.