Planning for global travel can make a big difference in how smooth your trip goes when something goes awry.
1. Pack light – Avoid Check in bags, they are getting increasingly costly and can prevent you from getting on early flights, and can slow you down. Even if you pay $0 for your check in, now you’re wasting time when you arrive and for potential connections and stops along the way. You’ll also find that compact cars in most places around the world don’t have much room for a big check in bag.
2. Pack for ultimate flexibility in weather and comfort – I like to bring my hiking pants that zip off into shorts. They also wear really well. I can often go for a week in these and did so on a trip to East Africa. If I need to dress up, I can do that in a wrinkle free button up collared shirt, or for work trips I’ll wear a sports jacket that doubles as a coat. Look at the materials and avoid cotton. There are some amazing clothes that roll up very tight and don’t wrinkle. I rarely bring more than 1 pair of shoes, because I look for shoes that work in a wide variety of situations.
3. Money and Cards – There are a lot of strategies around this. Some of the most important are having a good backup plan. You don’t plan to get mugged, but you should plan to get pickpocketed. I consider myself very aware and I’ve been pickpocketed four times… once on the Train in London, once on train in Rome, once on train in Barcelona, and once in a religious parade in Guatemala. All this and across 100 countries from the best to the worst across the extremes of economic conditions. In all of those instances I never felt anyone pulling something out of my pocket. Of all of those times…. three times it was phones, once my wallet. Thank goodness I had a strategy. On that trip I took a dual strategy of storing cards in two places. One on my person (in my wallet) and the other in my bags. I had travelers checks and my passport. Traveling with friends I was able to get some cash and use paypal to quickly reimburse my friends. Amex was incredibly fast. I had an AMEX replacement card in 36 hours in Barcelona. As I suggested there are lots of strategies…
Having a fake second wallet with convincing but old cards to provide in case of mugging with minimal but enough to satisfy cash desperation. The primary one could be a money belt or alternative safe location.
Money belt or storing it in your sock or shoe – I find the inconvenience of having a place that’s hard to get to… well… inconvenient.
Travelers checks – These are great for 1st world countries especially Europe and North America. Cash them as often as you need to just stop by most banks or money changers. Only sign them when ready to use them and keep the stub in another location such as home or in your bags. This will allow you to get the cash back if stolen.
Hard Cash Money Euros and Dollars spread out – I don’t want to admit it, but in Africa and places with fewer banks often the easiest thing is to have cash distributed across multiple bags in strategic places. Never too much in one place, but allows you to dip into your reserves and saves you on ATM fees. Bags do get lost, that’s why I’m referring to carry on in this case. Don’t ever put large amounts of money in outside pockets of large suitcase even with a tiny little lock. As well, just because your bag is wrapped in plastic doesn’t mean it won’t be messed with. It’s a nice deterrent, but basically you should never fly with anyone you can’t live without in a check in bag. Must haves should be in carry on bag, especially in overseas trips with stopovers.
ATM Card – There are way more ATMs than McDonalds around the world. I have used and abused the ATM machines. I’m sure I’ve paid a few thousand dollars in ATM fees alone. On top of that I’m sure I’ve paid hundreds if not thousands in conversion fees as well, but don’t let anyone convince you that you get a better deal dollar for dollar. If you convert $100 cash vs. pull out $100 from the ATM you will get a better rate with the ATM machine 80% of the time. The trick is to visit the ATM machine as infrequently as possible without having a bunch of foreign currency at the end of your trip, especially Argentinian Pesos. In 95% of the cases, you can fly back and transfer your money in the US (at the airport NOT your bank) and get better rates than local. Your local branch bank most of the time will not take your foreign currency… EVEN EUROS!! That is unless they are an international bank and unless they are big head quarters.
6. Online backups of your Identity – You should have a scanned copy of your passport as well as copies of both sides of your credit cards online in a safe place that you trust. That’s step one. It will be handy for all of your future travels as well. I also carry extra copies of my picture which is great for border crossings and border visas, you never know. You’d be surprised as well how much a business card can buy you in your story even if you are on vacation. SkyDrive, Corporate email keep folder, or Digital lockers with high encryption… you get the idea. It’s not hard to add a password to the file if you’re going to send it to yourself in email and then store it. Remember you’re going to need to be able to get at it to print it out so you can call the 800 numbers on the cards to report them as missing… oh yeah, 800 number doesn’t work foreign right? That’s why you want the card, so you can look it up and see if they have a foreign number for contact and for the country you’re in. 800 numbers are a pain in Europe, but I’ve found often my personal at&t cell phone finds a way to get around it. Any in country phone will give an error.
Don’t be afraid to contact your country Embassy if there’s not one. If you are ever concerned about a trip. Register ahead of time with the Embassy or Consulate. Many contain really good travel details. You can get
7. Don’t pack too many just in case items – It’s amazing how huge some people’s toiletry bags are. Beyond toothpaste, toothbrush and a minimal brush or comb, some tiny travel sized deodorant… girls I understand… but minimize remember where you’re going and work to reduce and reduce again. Those three extra pairs of pants and 2 extra pairs of shoes or boots make a huge difference in weight and size of your bags. Minimize… think… Hey I’m going to pick up a shirt in Vietnam or South Africa or where ever you’re going. I find it fun to collect football/soccer shirts in the countries I’m visiting. At least that’s the plan, if I start to feel low on clothes. The other thing is those type of shirts pack well and don’t wrinkle.
8. International Data plans, Global Cell Plans, Unlocked Phones and Sim Cards – Depending on how much time you plan to stay in one place. Getting a sim once you arrive may do the trick to get you both data and voice for your unlocked phone. Yes UNLOCKED is the key if you’re going to be swapping sim cards. Talk to your cell provider to find out what type of international calling plans they have. There is a HUGE difference between providers. When I travel, I often hop from country to country either by plane, boat, car or ferry. So I don’t want to lock myself down with a sim and it’s a pain to track them down if others are traveling with me and don’t want to wait while I check the various telecoms when I arrive. The easiest I’ve found is having a good cell provider that provides good global plans that provide some data and some text and a little voice.
If you don’t prepare you will feel extremely disconnected or end up with a HUGE bill. There are some important strategies of being aware of what you’re using along the way and then making sure you turned it off when you get back so you can get a pro-rated rate. Think about Voice, Data, and Text as well as sending and receiving. Make sure you reset your usage meter on your phone just prior to leaving as well as applying the service right as you leave. There’s an app for that in many cases.
$10 – Global Messaging 50 – send 50 text messages. $.40 for ea message beyond that
$30 – 120MB Data Global Add-on – 120MB of data in 140 countries (I laugh at the list of countries since I’m not even that liberal in counting countries. Many of the countries they list are simply islands of other countries.) Even countries like South Africa are not on the At&t list so be sure to check.
$30 – 30 minutes of Europe Travel Minutes / $60 – 40 Rest of World minutes
So for less than $100 USD you can stay connected while on the go. Those are the cheap packages, and another reason I say… if you’re going to stay in one place like Germany or South Africa for 3 weeks… get the SIM card. Way cheaper. Go to 4 Countries at $29.99 a pop and you’re better off with the data plan, and oh yeah… is our phone unlocked?
9. Travel Mobile Apps – There are some great language apps that you’re going to want to pack ahead of time… meaning don’t use your precious bandwidth to download the apps that you could have done at home on your high speed connection.
Free Currency converter app (sync it before you leave so it works offline)
Language / Translation apps – I use to collect them all and have top 10 language apps. Now I simply add them to my phone prior to leaving and keep them on my home screen, but it is handy to have Spanish, French, Russian and German one click away. The English to other language partial sentences around common scenarios can be handy for getting my order right. Pointing at menus works fine most of the time. I am in the process of testing “verbalize it” a new app that gives you access to human translator. Simply start the app (requires data) then connect to a translator and they can be your interpreter. They are just getting started, but they already do Chinese, so it’s already becoming interesting. I also favorite/bookmark google translate, but again requires data. Unfortunately
Good alarm clock app – good for your iPad you might bring for entertainment. Always good to have a backup incase your wake up call fails or that converter that was charging your phone disconnected from the wall and your phone is dead when you wake up.
Maps and CIA Factbook – CIA Factbook can go offline, and google maps caches fairly well if I know what I’m doing to optimize my data strategy. Even Waze has been useful when bing and google maps chokes for directions. Often with directions you can go online put in the directions and then go offline. Even works somewhat with turn by turn directions on Mapquest, until it looses you. Wish I could say bring your GPS, but the lame GPS companies still don’t understand global travel. $100 per country does not scale. Often you can get GPS for your rental car. I’ve stopped doing the $7 per day GPS and using that money toward my data plan. It’s an interface I’m familiar with and most of the time, you can get a basic map from the rental car company for free. This is a comfort level thing. I may not be like most people where I feel fine relying on the Internet and apps in most places around the world. Where I don’t I make friends and contacts. I’ve never hired a guide company that would meet me at the airport. Instead I prefer to make friends with Taxi’s and tuk tuk drivers or leverage my global social network.
Travel books as Apps and PDF – The lonely planet and various travel guides and books are available as apps and as PDFs these days… Much smaller, but sometimes it’s cool to carry the book on the way to your destination so people ask you about where you’re going. I understand.
Skype or Facetime for voice & video calls home – I use Skype a lot. Whenever I’m on wifi I’m connecting with home. Well maybe not that much, but at least I try to on a daily basis. The skype to phone is something you want to hook up ahead of time. This allows me to simply dial from skype and call home at $.02 per minute. That’s my preferred way of using voice minutes. It’s way cheaper than the $1-$2 it will cost you otherwise. A global calling card is an alternative, but I haven’t even thought about one of those in 10 years. You’ll have to see if they still make sense. Trying to find a telephone booth will be another challenge and another reason I elect to avoid that scenario.
10. Travel Power Converter/Adapter – I’m still waiting for the uber dense universal converter. It’s amazing to me how many of these there are out there on the market and none of them are perfect. My friend Michael Noel carries the converters that he knows he’s going to use… I carry two of the universal converters (different shapes and sizes) with a power converter on it plus a small travel three outlet extension cord with 2 USB ports. Power is something that is very important. Power can mean the difference between getting to my destination on time and safely. The extension cord also means if all the plugs are taken, I can courteously ask if I can plug my extension cord in and unplug and replug them in. Never once been denied! (Assumes the power works!)