By Kim Dreese
Even the most savvy of us occasionally can forget some fundamentals of smart travel. After venturing abroad several times, I found the following tips prove to be the most useful regardless of where my journeys take me!
1: Call Your Bank
…and let them know about your trip. Otherwise, if you plan to use your credit or debit card outside of the United States, the bank may assume it’s been stolen and you’ll be stranded without funds until the situation is fixed.
Be sure that all of your financial tools and IDs are up-to-date and not slated to expire during your trip. It’s also a good idea to schedule payments on credit cards, cars, loans, and other important monetary obligations ahead of time.
2: Invest in a Power Converter
Before heading abroad, do some research: will the countries you’re visiting have the same type of electric current as your home country? Many won’t. To avoid damaging your electronic devices, purchase a power converter, available through online retailers and in many department stores.
When I visited France, Italy, Spain, and Malta, I used a power converter in every hotel to keep my camera battery and other electronics charged. One of my friends accidentally left hers behind and missed out on a lot of photo opportunities, so consider bringing an extra converter in case you tend to be forgetful!
3: Buy a Travel Pouch with a Lanyard
If you’re going to visit a typical tourist location, you likely will encounter a few pickpockets. Keep your passport, money, and any other important documentation in a travel pouch, and wear it underneath your clothes. It’s awkward looking, but it will prevent theft from all but the craftiest of pickpockets!
While visiting a cafe in Sicily, one of my group members left his wallet on a table for less than a minute as he went to the counter to pay. When he came back, it was gone. Another friend of mine lost the digital camera that was attached to her wrist on a Subway in Madrid. Never underestimate people who steal for a living.
4: Packing, Packing, Packing
Packing can be complicated—your first and most important tool is to make a list. This will enable you not only to get everything you need before your trip, but also to ensure that you don’t leave anything behind in a hotel. Take it with you from place to place.
As for clothing, less is often better. For what you do pack, bring plenty of layered items. Weather can be unpredictable, and you’ll want to be able to add or shed layers easily. It’s also a good idea to purchase powdered laundry detergent or tablets so you can wash your apparel and hang it to dry. When you’re ready to put your clothing in your suitcase or carry-on, roll the items so they take up less space. As a teenage girl with a shopping problem, I found the rolling trick to be invaluable for saving room.
Don’t bring anything that’s sentimentally priceless, such as nice jewelry. Keep all of your most important items (electronics, medications, keys to your home, and more) and a change of clothes in your carry-on in case your luggage is lost. And don’t forget to bring sunscreen—it’s expensive in tourist-heavy destinations.
Suitcase locks are not a good idea unless they’re certified by whichever organization oversees the safety at the airport you are flying out of—for example, the TSA. If airport security is unable to open your lock to inspect your suitcase, they will likely cut it off.
5: Bring a Notepad
…to match the numbers of the photos on your camera to the place in which they were taken. As an alternative, write your location on a piece of paper and snap a shot of it before you arrive at the destination to keep the sets of pictures separate.
6: Theft-Proof Your House
Remove as many signs as possible that your home is unoccupied if you will be gone for a couple of days or longer. Stop your mail services and invest in a timing system to illuminate a few lights at random intervals. If you’re traveling during the winter, ask one of your neighbors to shovel your driveway (for a fee, of course)!
7: Be Flexible with Your Return Date
Airlines can be unpredictable. Flights get delayed all the time, so don’t plan to arrive home the night before important events like weddings or business meetings. Also leave an itinerary with family or friends so they know where you are and how to contact you.
8: Save Energy While You’re Gone
Unplug all of your appliances—they will sap power even if they’re turned off. Also shut off your water to avoid leaks.
9: Clean Everything Before You Leave
There’s nothing more stressful than coming home from a trip to a house that’s filthy or in disarray. When I returned home from a trip to Florida, my bed was covered in clothing, books, and other assorted teen girl items that I neglected to put away before leaving, and I promptly shoved it all onto the floor so I could sleep. Putting away all that junk the next morning, in addition to the clothes I had to unpack and sort, was a huge inconvenience. In particular, you’ll want to get rid of all the food that will spoil in your fridge, take out your garbage, and clean the bathroom and kitchen.
10: Take a Bunch of Travel-Size Tissue Packets
As an American, I enjoy the privilege of utilizing public restrooms that are typically free for people to use. I discovered during a trip to Malta, however, that in some countries, the public restrooms require you to pay for toilet paper—or even the privilege to use the toilet at all. Tissue will be one of your most invaluable tools in an emergency and will save you a little bit of cash.