Saba’s Guide to International Travel

To those of you who tend to read only my Sunday posts, you may have missed the announcement that I’m headed to Pakistan for the next 20 days.  What does this mean to all of you?  Another Survival Guide of course.

I have traveled internationally in three separate ways:  with family, with schoolmates, and by myself.  If you are an anxious person like I am, traveling alone is hard enough, but traveling internationally and alone is a whole new ball park. As the bulk of travel season is just around the corner, I know some people are getting prepared for their own adventures.  So to soothe any anxiety or stress you may have I have come up with five things to know.

Book the Cheapest Flight

Flights are expensive as a mother, and because of this it can be intimidating to fly anywhere really.  My personal App of choice is Hopper.  You input the dates, and the locations and set an alert.  When it’s the lowest it will be, it will tell you to buy, otherwise it will tell you to wait.  It’s great for anyone on-the-go, and allows to set multiple choices at once.  I have one set for Chicago to Frankfurt, Chicago to Stuttgart, and Chicago to Munich.

Things to know when booking a flight, use those stupid websites that feel like spam, but do it in private mode so there aren’t cookies saved and a million pop-ups.  Cheap-o Air, Kayak, Travelocity, and Last Minute Flights, are all good options, just take your time before choosing.  Tuesday is the best time to book flights as fares are the lowest.  Also if you don’t have specific dates, the websites that use calendars and show the prices per day, are perfect, as you can adjust to a day earlier or later to save hundreds.

Be smart, make sure your sites are authentic as well.  My suggestion is to find the flight you want and go to that airlines website.  Then you skip the hidden fees and still get the same great price.  Also make sure you credit card limit is high enough, I’ve made that mistake and watched my beautiful inexpensive flight tick away as I waited to make my limit higher.

Know Your Travel Logistics

To get started, is your passport still valid, do you need a visa, can I get away without a visa in multiple countries, how will I get there by train or flying?  DON’T BE A DUMBASS, DO THIS FIRST.  This shit takes forever, and you want to be on top of it.  Don’t be a Saba and have to drive to Chicago to get your Visa because your flight leaves in two days and mail takes three.

  1. The time for getting your first passport or a passport renewed is 6-8 weeks
    • There are rush services that can get them in 24 hours, but they’re much more expensive
  2. Visas can take 4-6 weeks and there is the possibility it will be denied, or pieces won’t be “correct”
    • Visas can be processed in 24 hours if you show up to the consulate
  3. Some countries require a visa if you are there for anything longer than 3 days, such as China, but Europe tends to be more lenient.  Research to know
  4. When traveling within your trip, trains take a long time, but can get you to more locations for less.  Flying can be as little as $100 within the EU.  Research to see what suits your needs and location

Pack For Your Location

If you are going to Europe and country jumping, maybe go for a modest hikers backpack or a rolling suitcase you can lift as opposed to two giant bags you can’t manage on your own.  In opposition if your location involves being picked up directly from the airport and never touching your bags, then be my guest, pack extra.

I have learned that the weather is never cooperative and I pack for all seasons, meaning everything going into my bag is versatile and multipurpose.  Less is more is a good rule of thumb as souvenirs always take up more room than you anticipate.  Always have good walking shoes, long pants, a jacket, and extra socks and underwear.

If you’re going someplace extra toasty and near the equator know the countries customs.  Are your short-shorts inappropriate?  Research what can and cannot be worn because as a tourist, you are a target for muggings and scams.  On top of that, being female puts you at a greater risk if your outfit ends up being too provocative and attracts unwanted attention.  I’ve had that happen before and it is far from pleasant.  Being conservative and comfortable is always the best option.  Only if you’re going there for months or a year should you bring all your fancy clothes and shoes.  Otherwise, what you have will be just fine.

If you’re nervous you’ll forget something, there are lists you can print and check off, which is always satisfying.  This will help to keep your mind at ease.  Simple.  If you think you don’t need it, leave it at home.

Be Money Smart

Travel is expensive so you want to be smart.  Always remember to call your bank and tell them where you’re going and for how long.  I forgot to do that when I went from Seoul to Tokyo and had to have my mom call the bank back in America for me.  Luckily my friend was with me and I borrowed cash until I could get my own.

If you don’t have to use an ATM or your credit card, all the better.  Cash is sometimes just easier, even if it can’t be replaced when stolen.  Those ugly money belts that hold your passport and cash under your shirt?  Yeah, buy one of those.  I’ve heard enough stories of being having wallets stolen to know that looking like a dork will save your ass.

To get the local currency have cash and do it at a local bank in that country rather than the airport or back home, as fees will be much higher.  If you’re worried, you can get some local currency at the airport until you find an ATM.

Have photos and copies of your credit card, debit card, drivers license, passport, tickets, luggage contents, phone number of where you’re staying, and address.  If anything goes missing or is stolen, you’ll need that information to cancel cards or get reprints.  Having an address or phone number is also great because you can hand it to the taxi driver.

Have A Sort-of Plan

Saying I’m a terrible planner isn’t too far from the truth.  When I went to Tokyo I had some places I wanted to see and like a half-formed plan and things went swimmingly.  When I went to Jeju Island I had one place I wanted to see and things went relatively well.  We had to run to catch a bus, but that wasn’t a big deal.

If you’re a planner and it kills you to just fly by the seat of your pants, then don’t.  If what makes you comfortable is knowing exactly where you’re going, how you’re getting there, and the exact cost, fucking kudos to you.  I’ve learned that for some people that keeps them sane in a foreign country.

On the other hand if you’re like me, just go for it.  Have a few things you want to see and do and let the rest happen naturally.  Don’t take that expensive taxi ride to your next museum, walk and enjoy the sunshine, maybe find a small cafe to get coffee at, or wine. I spent one trip desperately wanting to keep going and going and see everything we possibly could, and I missed out on enjoying myself.  I feel like I let my stress take over and didn’t enjoy the fact I was in fucking London and Paris.  As an adult I’ve learned that nothing has to be scheduled.  Take the train, stop for a long lunch, meet people in line for attractions, and just generally let the day take you.  Hiding a wine bottle under the Eiffel Tower two summers ago is something I’ll always remember, but I can’t tell you what I enjoyed doing in London back in 2008.

International travel is definitely a privilege and I have been lucky enough to do so many times.  Going alone can be terrifying, but it’s also exhilarating.  Always use common sense, be polite, and be safe.  You’re going to have a great time if you just relax and let the mistakes happen.  You might get lost or pay too much money for a souvenir, but that’s okay.  This is a gift you’ve earned for yourself and seeing the world makes you a better person.

Good luck international travelers!  If there’s anything I missed or suggestions, leave them below.

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