You’re finally going to see the places you’ve dreamed about. Can you even contain your excitement? Before you head overseas, there are a few things you need to remember to make your travel abroad awesome—and they’re not the usual tips. (You already know you need to get your passport and make sure you have the right immunizations.) These five tips have been tried and tested. Lessons learned and passed on to you. Follow these and you’ll have a better travel abroad experience, minus (most of) the awkward situations and cultural faux pas.
1. Pack right—pack light
Packing light takes on new meaning when you travel abroad. If you think that two full-size suitcases won’t be a problem, you might be surprised. Other countries, especially in Europe, are notorious for cobblestone streets and minimal luggage space on trains. They’re also known to have steep flights of stairs and teeny elevators. You’re not going to want to lug a bunch of, well, luggage around everywhere. Take just one suitcase. Or better yet, a backpack.
2. Learn the word for bathroom
It seems so simple, right? Just ask where the bathroom is. Until you ask for the “bathroom” or the “restroom” and all you receive are blank stares. Obviously it’s important to know how to ask for the bathroom in the native language of the country you’re visiting, but English-speaking countries use other words for restroom, too. In fact, Americans are pretty much the only ones who use the terms “bathroom” or “restroom”. Common terms for bathroom in other English-speaking countries include water closet, washroom, toilet, lavatory and loo.
3. Prepare for cultural differences
Everything from how much to tip to what hand gestures are appropriate varies widely between countries. Study up on the cultural norms of the country you plan to visit. It’ll help alleviate any awkward situations. Also, prepare yourself for a language barrier if the country speaks a different language. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard someone talk louder and slower to a non-English speaker, as if that will help them magically understand. “Where. IS. The. BATH-ROOOOM?” Annunciating every syllable won’t make someone automatically understand English. It just makes you look dumb. (Usually an American makes this faux pas. Sigh.)
4. Rest up
The reality of traveling abroad is that you’ll be walking a lot. You’ll go and go and go until you’re absolutely exhausted and blisters have taken over your feet. Know before you leave on your trip that it’s OKAY to rest. Really, it is. If you have to skip out on that last museum to take a nap, do it. Otherwise, you’ll burn out—and fast.
5. Don’t plan everything
Plan where you’ll stay and how you’ll travel before your trip. Know the general sites you want to see. But don’t plan every step you take. If you plan too much, you’ll miss out on those accidental experiences. If you map out all of the restaurants you want to eat at, how will you find that amazing hole in the wall? If you only hit the top tourist spots, how will you get a taste of the local culture? You’ll have a more exciting experience if you leave some time open to explore the city or area you’re visiting.