In the last post, I talked about the electronics that we take when we are traveling overseas for longer periods of time. In this post, I want to talk about getting around in a foreign country.
Fortunately, our first trips were to English speaking countries so we were able to figure out our procedures while speaking our native language. Here are some things that we have learned……
The first question is “how do we get local money”……we no longer purchase local currency before we leave the US. The exchange rates and fees are very expensive and it simply hasn’t been worth it. Instead, we head for an ATM in the arrival airport and get our first cash there. We have yet to be in any country that hasn’t had multiple ATM’s in the airport. We only carry a minimum of US dollars and NEVER carry traveler’s checks. Many countries have no idea how to handle them!!
Before you leave home, it is important to decide how you will pay for your trip…both for cash withdrawals and purchases of goods and services. Be sure to check with your credit card company and also your local bank debit card to see how fees will be charged. We discovered that the fees were double when we used the credit card so we now only use our bank debit card.
Only carry a Mastercard and/or Visa…..American Express, Discover and other cards are not regularly recognized.
For security, we each carry two cards….one bank debit card and one credit card. AND, the credit cards are for two different accounts. That way, if one of us loses our wallet, we still have credit cards that will work…….Trust me, we learned this one the hard way!!!!
Also, it is important to contact your bank or credit card company and tell them that you will be using the card overseas during the specified period. If you don’t pre-authorize these withdrawals or payments, your card could be frozen. And again, ask me how I know this!!!!
Ok…you are ready for your first foray into the unknown land. The first thing that you want to do is write down the address of the apartment, house or hotel that you are staying in. If you are staying in a hotel, write down the phone number as well. This way, WHEN (not “if”) you get badly lost, you can ask for directions or, as a worse case scenario, hail a taxi and get a lift back to your temporary home.
Our favorite saying while traveling is….”Well, we are lost…..but we are lost in _____”(Rome, Paris, London, Bangalore, Kunming, Porto…..you get the idea)!!
When I step out into a foreign city, I always carry one bag/purse that holds everything that I need…
....my wallet with a driver’s license (for ID), credit cards and cash (leave everything else at home…..your library card or coffee house punch card wont work here)
….a map of the city
……my reading glasses (so that I can read the map!!!)….actually these normally reside on TOP of my head and not in my purse.
….camera with extra batteries and flip video
….lightweight rain jacket and compact umbrella
….sheer scarf (for throwing over my shoulders if I am entering temples or churches that require more modest attire)…..I purchased mine for $5 from Walmart and I fold it over about 4 times and then tie it into a knot. It resides comfortably in the corner of my purse until I need it (mine is white)….
….a small notebook and pen so that I can take notes about everything that I see. I normally buy a Mead notebook that is about 6x9 and has a wire binder.
I try to find a purse that fits comfortably over my shoulder but doesn’t hang down too far. I like to be able to clamp my elbow down on top of the purse while I am out. This makes it much harder for a pickpocket to do his worst!!! I also try to carry a wallet that will fit into an interior zip pocket of the purse. That way you have two types of protection for your valuable assets. I do not normally carry a backpack, but if I am carrying one in crowded areas, I put it on my chest rather than my back. It is simply too easy for someone to get his hand into your pack while you are busy looking at a local sight. I also tried carrying a messenger bag, but it was too bulky for easy carrying. I try to carry bags that are black or another neutral color….I don’t want my bag to be the first thing that people notice about this lost tourist!!!!
If the country is not English speaking, I carry a VERY small dictionary or other book to help me if absolutely necessary. In China, I am making flash cards with about twenty phrases written on one side in Chinese characters and then in English and also spelled phonetically on the back. I will see if this helps or not!!!
If I am needing a travel guide, I tend to tear out the pages that I will need for that day and not carry the entire book. Most of them are TOO big!!! As an aside, I think that Rick Steves’ puts out the most informative book, especially for European countries.
I love cities that have Metro systems. They are normally easy to navigate and you always know where you are going to end up. Not so with busses as they can turn ANY and EVERY direction!!!!
OK….enough for now…..more to come