LIFE IS TOO SHORT NOT TO TRAVEL.
So how can you travel while staying safe? Here are my top eight tips for getting to your destination and back again as smoothly as possible.
Research your destination: I don’t know of many people who are going to hop onto a plane and head to a war zone but just because a location isn’t in the western news doesn’t mean it is a good idea to go there. To keep up to date on the latest current events in foreign countries you can check out the travel section of the State Department’s website. Here you will find regularly updated alerts and cautions for every country in the world. This information can help you decide whether or not it is a good time to travel to your destination.
Register with the State Department: And while you are at it, register your travel plans with the State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). In a single form you can register to receive alerts as they pertain to your destination for the duration of your trip. Registering also allows the State Department to know that you and your family are in the country should an emergency arise.
Make copies of important documents: I never travel without leaving my itinerary with a trusted friend. I also make two copies of all of our passports and leave one at home and put another in my checked luggage.
Carry a cell phone: Despite wanting to get away from it all, it is important to be able to be connected when you need to. If you are traveling abroad from the United States your current cell phone may work overseas. There are international calling plans but they tend to be expensive. Instead pick up a pre-paid SIM card at the airport and pop it into your phone. You can also pre-program important phone numbers into your phone so you have them ready if needed. 112 is the universal emergency phone number in Europe and is always handy to have. Another important numbers include the local American Citizen Services number for the Embassy or Consulate closest to where you are staying. While you are at it be sure to program in the phone number and address of your hotel, your airline and car rental numbers.
Live like a local: Skip larger, western branded hotels in favor of smaller local ones. Or go one better and rent an apartment. I’ve had great success finding apartments through airbnb.com. Staying in apartments often allows me to stay in a better location than a hotel and many times it is much cheaper. In most cases you miss out on daily maid service but in return you get a kitchen and often laundry services, which make it so much easier when traveling with children.
Learn the language: I’m not necessarily talking about becoming fluent but knowing a few key words in language spoken at your destination can come in handy. But knowing how to say hello, please and thank you and asking for simple directions can go a long way when navigating a foreign land. You can even turn it into a game that they whole family can play. Before leaving home explore Duolingo, a free online site that can help you quickly get a grasp on language basics. And if you plan on carrying a smart phone, download the Google Translate app. It is also free and allows you to instantly translate words and the camera feature even allows you to scan foreign texts and receive instant translations.
Carry an “emergency” kit: You don’t need to bring your entire medicine cabinet with you but carry some basic necessities that can see you through in a pinch. As the mom of a boy this includes a ready supply of bandages, sun screen, and children’s pain reliever. For the adults I also include Tums and Pepto-bismal tablets (more on the reasoning behind this in my next suggestion). When fevers spike in the middle of the night—because that is when they inevitably do- you want to have medicine at hand rather than trying to find the one all night pharmacy in town. But of course you can’t always predict every medical issue that may arise.
Pharmacies in Europe are quite different than the around the clock Rite-Aids in the United States. Whether you need simple pain relievers or more potent drugs, you must go to a pharmacy to buy it. Hours are limited but there is always at least one in every town that is staffed overnight (the schedule rotates). But as I have discovered in three different countries, a trip to the pharmacy can often save you a trip to the hospital as pharmacists can diagnose and prescribe medicines on the spot. So whether it be an allergic reaction to a plant leaf (Romania), food poising (Croatia) or intolerable gas pain (Germany), a five minute stop at a pharmacy might do the trick.
Eat and drink with care: This is especially true in developing countries but also applies to any place where the food is different than at home. I am an unashamed foodie and don’t hesitate to try the local cuisine when I travel. But I do so with caution. Do some research ahead of time to find out whether or not the water is potable in your destination. If it isn’t, stick to bottled water only and ask for your drinks without ice. You might also want to skip raw vegetables and eat those that are cooked or have had their outer peels removed. If you aren’t used to spicy or rich foods, approach these with caution. The bottom line is no one wants to have a vacation ruined by an upset stomach or digestive issues.
So yes, get out and travel. Be aware and be cautious but get out there. The world is yours to explore. My next trip will be back to Italy; where will you be traveling next?