As you’re probably aware by now, @puravidaville and I have been #traveliving abroad, in 30 day intervals since January 3rd, this year. We’re nearly one year into this two year journey of ours where we left Los Angeles, California, with just one backpack and one suitcase each. Our first stop was Central and South America, then New York City for a week, across the Atlantic to England, then to Wales, Greece, Israel, and currently in Rome, Italy. I previously wrote an article about Air B&B tips called Tricks Of The Stays. Whether you’re seasoned with Air B&B stays or not, that’s a good reference to keep in your pocket—we’ve pretty much made all of the mistakes and necessary adjustments ahead of time for you to ease your bookings, it’s a good one to hang onto.
This article covers everything else. Everything beyond the suitcase and the stay—things you don’t typically account for until it’s too late.
I’ve been taking notes. Every once in awhile I’ll pause whatever I’m doing when something significant catches my attention or Pura points out something we weren’t prepared for. Although I’m sure this list is far from complete, it’s fairly extensive already. Making a mental note of the things you’re about to read will save you time, money, and a considerable amount of headache.
Paper Or Plastic.
This section is particularly for the Americans tuned in. Us Americans have a tendency of mistakenly believing our currency reigns supreme—mistake! Dear Americans: in England, for example, they don’t even know what a dollar looks like. It’s safe to say everyone else tuned into this article is already aware there’s more than one currency in circulation but exchange rates come in all fiats. I’m going to do my best to explain this in a way you’ll understand—if numbers aren’t your thing, this section will be over in a minute and the rest will be more your language.
Your familiar currency, regardless of its name—sheckel, pound, euro, dollar, etc, is going to lose the exchange rate when you exchange it for the local currency in your foreign destination. What I mean by that is, there’s a high-low exchange rate that every bank utilizes and trades work in favor of banks. Add to that, when rounding the trade to the nearest decimal, that works against you, too, essentially causing you to lose two times on the same trade—I’ll give you an example.
In Central America, where colones are used to exchange goods, the value is based against USD, unlike places such as Europe and Dubai, which is constantly fluctuating, thus colones also fluctuate. That means the value of a colones today will not be the same as tomorrow’s value which causes the banks to create a high-low. If $1.00 USD equals 600 colones, the exchange rate is going to read something like ‘597-604:1’ which covers the financial institutions losses. That means a USD $20 bill is worth 11,940 colones (20 x 597). However, in order to acquire the same $20 bill from the same exchange, you’re going to pay 12,080 colones (20 x 604). See the difference? 140 colones (12,080 - 11,940) or roughly $.06 USD (597 / 140) you lost on the exchange. In the event where change is involved and your figure results in a decimal, you’re going to pay the rounding fees, too. Now I’ll explain that.
You purchase an item that costs 606.67 colones. At a low exchange rate, the rate your foreign currency will always presume, your total balance equals 1.0044—four thousandths more than the value of your $1 bill which means you owe one penny to cover the difference at a gross loss of $.006 on the deal. One colones doesn’t cover the value of one penny, 6.04 colones covers the value of one penny and the closest denomination is 10 colones. By the end of the exchange, your home currency netted a loss of roughly two cents on the deal on top of the high/low local exchange rate it presumed at the beginning of the transaction. Plastic always equals 1:1—remember that, you can’t lose when it’s 1:1. Avoid losing exchange rates by only using plastic.
In a world with borders, regulations, language barriers, and the list goes on, one language that’s universal is “visa” and “mastercard.” Those two words mean the same thing at every atm in every country. The only fiat you need is the dollar amount required to transfer you by bus, taxi, (Uber is NOT worldwide), whatever your mode of transportation is from the airport you landed in to your stay/hotel. Don’t use your local countries fiat, use the atm at the airport and only withdraw what you need. That brings us to our next travel consideration.
Cabbies Are Snakes.
Just as common as borders with armed guards and visa is a universal language, unfortunately, so long as there’s a sky above your head, you have to assume the cab driver is a snake. Whatever color their cab is, whatever currency they accept, their spoken language, none of it matters, the cab that picks you up in a foreign airport will try to rip you off—they’re seasoned professionals and know what to look for. Once you’re in town and you’ve familiarized yourself with your surroundings, calling for or hailing a cab from any location other than the arrival line at the airport, you’ll be ok, it’s that first pick-up that will rip you off if you’re not prepared—do your homework. Here’s how.
Download a currency app from your App Store, there’s several to choose from. I’ve been using Currency since the beginning of this journey and have experienced zero issues while using it. It’s updated regularly and I haven’t had trouble finding a currency on there yet including Bitcoin and Ethereum.
Know your exchange rates ahead of time. As I’ll address in a moment, your SIM card isn’t going to work at the airport and you’ll need to know your exchange rates. For example, if you land in Israel, you’ll need to know the exchange rate of a Shekel. If your cab ride is roughly $65, you’ll need to withdraw 225 Shekels.
Next, do your homework—conduct a couple of internet searches and know your cab fare ahead of time. Quora is a good resource (though the article you’re currently reading is only available on #steemit) where you can search and read “cab fare” results written by unbiased parties who have been in your position. Taxi Fare Finder is another good resource that bypasses all of the other search topics listed on Quora and gets straight to the point—we use both. Also, reaching out to your host, “what should I expect the cab fare to be?” A simple question to the hotel concierge or your Air B&B host covers a lot of ground.
There’s more. Taxi cab drivers aren’t allowed to park their cab in private parking at the airport—it’s illegal for them to do so. When you’re approached by a cab driver and his cab is not gathered amongst all of the other cabs, that’s your red flag—walk away. I suggest using the airport queue, each airport has them, they’re identified as “taxi accommodation” or something similar.
We recently began using Welcome Pickups, a private car service that’s haggle free, super convenient, and typically only $5-$8 more than an official taxi cab. Plus, by utilizing this service, you get to be one of those people at the airport who exits the plane and has a well-dressed driver waiting for you with your name on a sign—it adds excitement to your journey. They operate nice vehicles, too, have candies and water waiting for you, carry your luggage, the whole 9 for about $8 more than the price of a standard cab.
One more thing I’ll mention regarding public transportation is Uber. We use Uber a lot, however, it isn’t available in all destination cities. Where Uber isn’t available, Gett is. Gett is worldwide and is directly affiliated with the cab companies who calculate your fare prior to the cab arrival, eliminating the driver’s ability to rip you off or haggle the price, and fares are near equal to Uber fares.
Learning To Fly.
Firstly, I’d like to thank the late Tom Petty for that subtitle. When searching for your plane ride, finding the best deals is on everyone’s itinerary. The best deals are on Skyscanner, period, it’s available in the App Store—there isn’t a search engine available that offers more affordable flights. If you don’t have Skyscanner, download it before you schedule your next flight and delete all of the other ones you have. I used to go directly through the plane company only; Delta, Norwegian, etc, and bypass all of the search engines entirely until I was recently introduced to Skyscanner—you won’t find better air fares anywhere else.
Also, jet lag is no joke! With the amount of plane rides I’ve taken up and down, left and right, across the America’s, I’ve never experienced jet lag. However, crossing the Atlantic and experiencing a minimum five hour time change is nothing to take lightly. It will directly affect you and it will take its toll on you. When we crossed the Atlantic the first time, both @puravidaville and myself were incapacitated for three days and didn’t begin snapping out of it until day four. I’m talking can’t sleep, can’t eat, it’s horrible. Even professional athletes who travel across the Atlantic are given two days to recoup before they begin practice on the third day and they have some of the best medical staffs in the world at their leisure.
My best advice to prepare for jet lag is don’t sleep on the plane—I won’t make that mistake again. Next time, I’ll be sure to stay awake during the entire flight in anticipation of sleeping off the jet lag at the stay rather than sleep during the entire flight and suffer the consequences for the next three days—jet lag is no joke! Neither is airport security, that brings us to our next travel consideration.
When touring the world, you want to travel light. You don’t want more than one suitcase in tow per person. Optimum luggage capacity would be one backpack and one carry-on, those of you who travel heavier than that, as Pura and myself do, take that into consideration when purchasing your suitcase. I recommend against buying the largest suitcase you find. If you can’t fit your items in one carry-on, at least purchase the smallest full-size suitcase rather than the extra large one. Every pound/kilogram counts and, the larger the suitcase, the heavier it weighs. That goes for the material of the suitcase as well, the heavy nylon weighs more than the thin fabric and the hard cases are even heavier. I’ve learned the smaller sized, multi-fabric suitcase with hardened edges and corners is your best bet.
While traveling inside the United States, you’re allowed 50 pounds per suitcase. While traveling outside the United States, you’re only allowed 44 pounds—six pounds is a big difference especially if your suitcase weighs six pounds when it’s empty. Weighing your suitcase prior to reaching the airport is an important step you don’t want to skip. If you stick to a smaller suitcase of lightweight material, you can pretty much guarantee you’re under the 44 pound limit.
Purchase external locks if your suitcase isn’t equipped with locking zippers. We have external locks on our backpacks as well as our suitcases but they have to be TSA approved which means airport security has a master key granting them access to your luggage should they require extra screening while protecting yourself from everyone else. Everything as far as visible laptops, amount of liquid allowed in a backpack (typically 8oz), firearms, etc varies per airport but regulations will be clearly stated prior to boarding your plane.
One more thing about airports—don’t forget to pre-book your flight. There’s a few extra steps required when traveling abroad such as registering your passport and having your boarding pass in your phone prior to departing. These details are specific to your selected airline and they’re listed in your departing instructions once you’ve purchased your tickets. Not being able to access your flight itinerary means taking screen shots of your boarding pass—that brings us to our next travel consideration.
You’ll need to purchase a new SIM card every time you land in a new country—don’t purchase them at the airport. Airports tack on an extra $20-$25 just for the card, and that doesn’t include calling time or data, whereas purchasing a SIM card from a mobile retailer buys you the card, minutes, data, the whole package for roughly $20 total. If you’re staying in a hotel, I’ve learned the majority of the time, the hotel concierge is equipped with multiple SIM cards from multiple carriers, all are free of charge.
That means you need to take screen shots of everything important prior to losing your phone service. Take screen shots of your stay address and entering instructions, screen shots of driving directions to your stay address from the airport (however many it takes), your boarding passes, and anything else you may need to view without having access to the internet.
You obviously never want to discard your SIM cards, keep them in a safe place. Also, WhatsApp works when you’re connected to WiFi regardless if your SIM card is activated or not, it’s always a good idea to acquire your hosts WhatsApp number prior to boarding the plane. Each time you activate a new SIM card, choose the option that doesn’t change your WhatsApp number upon SIM activation. In case this is your first time hearing of WhatsApp, you should familiarize yourself with that one by downloading it in the App Store whether or not you plan on traveling abroad—it’s like text messaging only better with calling functions and it isn’t limited by borders like your current mobile plan is. Speaking of communication apps.
You need to download a translator app. I recommend downloading one that allows you to both text and speak into your phone, in your native language, while translating what you’ve said into the language you selected. I use Google Translate and, as far I know, it hasn’t failed me yet. I’ve carried numerous conversations with various people, each speaking a different language than my own, and we’ve managed to understand each other every time.
A few key words you should consider teaching yourself in the native language of your foreign destination prior to your arrival are “hello,” “thank you,” “please,” and “goodbye.” That’s the minimum, learn as much as you can prior to landing in your destination but you should at least know those ones—they go a long way.
Know the emergency hotline number(s) at your destination city before you need to dial them. We’ve never needed emergency services since beginning our travels but we still make ourselves aware of the number prior to arriving in a new location. Each country has their own emergency services hotline. Most countries outside of the US have multiple emergency service numbers—one for police, another for fire, and another for medical. A full list of emergency hotline numbers to every country around the world can be found here—they’re listed in alphabetical order.
I can’t speak on behalf of financial institutions other than the ones I’m familiar with—the ones in the states. While traveling abroad, you’re going to pay substantial ATM fees each and every time you withdraw fiat. Even though I previously explained why you need to avoid using fiat, in some situations, plastic isn’t an option.
Nine out of 10 financial institutions in the US charge international fees each time you withdraw fiat at an average of $5 per withdrawal. Add to that, the ATM in the destination country you’re in will charge a fee and, by the time you’ve withdrawn fiat, you’ve spent approximately $8 in transaction fees. A couple of withdrawals per week add up quickly—avoid fees altogether.
Charles Schwab is a necessary evil that offers free checking, free withdrawals, free checks, a free brokerage account with free brokerage advice, free everything regardless of your geographic location. What happens is, at the end of your 30-day banking cycle, you’re reimbursed 100% of your ATM fees—all of them. That’s worldwide, by the way. That means even those of you in the states who bank with other financial institutions and limit yourself to strictly using their ATM services are wasting your time. I’m not here to preach centralized banking services, in fact, I’m a #cryptocurrency advocate, however, until crypto and mainstream are one in the same, don’t throw away your fiat. I’ll just leave it at that.
Minor But Notable Mentions.
This will be the last section. Just a few more tips that most of you probably won’t think about until you realize you wished you did.
Avoid buying produce and specialty items from super markets. We limit our super market purchases to things like household items and toiletries. In Los Angeles, we’re accustom to purchasing bleach, apples, bread, engine oil, etc all from the same market—that isn’t normal. Our grocery shopping trips usually consist of three or four different locations. Bread and baked goods from the bakery, produce from the produce stand, and so on. Quality and price varies drastically depending where you make your purchase, do your shopping strategically and you’ll save money while gaining quality.
You’ll need a universal electric adapter—one that converts receptacles worldwide into a receptacle that accepts your device. There’s many different styles and types available, choose the one that works best for you, just make sure it’s universal. You’ll eventually collect things like extension cords and additional chargers, just make sure you have at least one adapter before you begin your travels. External batteries are another good idea in the event your battery drains on the plane or in the airport.
Last but definitely not least—wash cloths. For whatever reason, the majority of destinations we’ve visited outside the United States are not equipped with wash cloths. I’m not sure what that’s all about, I doubt I’ll ever make sense of it, in the meantime, we travel with a wash cloth each.
We’re in Rome right now but we’re slowing down our travels at the beginning of the year and going back to the UK. Pura needs medical attention—it’s free there. Thanks to the overwhelming and surprisingly humbling response we received from this article, we think we’ve mapped out a decent defense strategy. This is in no way a thank you to all of you who shared your knowledge and voiced your concerns, keep an eye out for a formal thank you in the near future.
I haven’t even shown you Israel yet—I’m really falling behind. I took over 2k pictures with the GoPro while we were there that I still need to transfer and edit and now I’m surrounded by all of these gorgeous, massive structures in Rome, Italy, that have been standing for thousands of years such as Trevi Fountain to show you.