Travel to foreign countries

Flying from the US West coast to the East coast can be very expensive at times.  For a little bit more you could discover a completely new foreign country (other than South Carolina).  That is why you should consider spending your hard-earned air miles, hotel points, and/or money on leaving the country.

A few things to consider:

  1. Time of year / seasons: The seasons switch between the Northern to the Southern hemisphere.  You can go skiing in Chile in August, since that is Chile’s winter.
  2. Weather: This ties into the time of year.  Don’t just consider temperature, but also humidity.  Some South-East Asian countries will be hot any time of the year, but have varying levels of rainfall and/or humidity.  Do you want to be sweaty hot or drenched hot or just steamy hot?
  3. Language(s) spoken: English gets you far, but there are limits. You might have to resort to pointing and smiling.  This works fairly well in restaurants, if you’re not a picky eater.  You see some interesting dishes on the table next to you, so you point and say ‘gimme dat’.  Try to learn some basic words/phrases (yes, no, thank you, hello, left, right, how much is that dead parrot in the window).
  4. Travel time to get there and back. Going from the US to Australia could cost you 2 days getting there, with flight times and time zone change, so if you only have 4 days for your vacation, this might not be the best use of your time.  You do gain a day back on the way back, but that just means you’ll be traveling for a very long day – you might leave on a Tuesday morning and arrive Tuesday afternoon, even though 30+ hours passed.

    Don’t be put off by the journey!  You won’t care 6 months later that you spent 17 hours on a plane to Melbourne, Australia.  It’s trivial, it’s a nuisance at the time, but don’t dwell on it.  You really should focus on the destination, not the journey.

  5. What do you want to do? Sip wine, zip line, eat swine; dance, trance, enhance; bike, hike, open mic..
  6. Your age and energy level. Most first-world countries don’t require much stamina, so you can always do those trips later in life. Italy is nice, but you could strike that off your bucket list during your retirement years.  On the other hand, you might want to do skydiving, mountain-climbing, and scuba-diving trips earlier on in life.
  7. Priorities on the bucket list of countries to visit (taking into account the above points)
  8. Paperwork (Visas, permits, public transportation):  What do you need to enter the country?  In some cases you should buy tickets (museums, transportation passes) before you enter the country.  The Japan Rail Pass is a very cost-effective solution to traveling around Japan by rail and even includes the Shinkanzen (bullet train) network.  This pass is only available to tourists and only sold outside of Japan!  Once you’re in the country, you’ve lucked out, if you haven’t bought it.
  9. Political situation – is it safe?

Once you’ve figured out the country and city, look at package tour websites or do some Google searches on what there is to do. The package tour websites often describe their itineraries, and what’s needed in terms of money, shots, and other trivial, yet very useful tidbits of information. If you’re brave enough, repurpose these itineraries and make them your own! Traveling outside of a tour group speeds things up, if you’re organized and have done all the necessary research.  On the flipside you could get slowed down, if you don’t have the necessary paper work (permits, tickets, visas) and/or shots.

Armed with your list of activities/things to do, head to TripAdvisor, to research them and discover what other people have to say about them.

Finding the right destination can be a challenge, with so many countries out there, but there are plenty of resources to help you put together a travel agenda. Do your research, go to the library and get books (and DVDs!) out on the country you’re planning to visit.

Spend some time at the book stores, take mental notes, assemble a list of activities, restaurants, day trips. If you’re afraid too much research would make the trip boring or take away from the excitement, don’t be. Even if you had reams of notes and pictures assembled, the real thing cannot be captured in any book or video.

Useful links:

My wife and I traveled to Peru and our preconceived notions were blown away. It was a great country, the people were friendly and helpful, and it felt safe. At first we were paranoid about pick-pocketing and general safety, but we soon relaxed and were able to enjoy our trip to Machu Picchu.  There probably are some countries we will still avoid, but that’s because we’re chikkins.

Always use common sense, wherever you go – abroad or at home. If you get a funny gut feeling or the alley looks a little dark (even though it might save you walking 7 extra blocks), trust your instincts.  I wouldn’t go down a dark alley in San Francisco or New Orleans so it’s no different from avoiding the same in Buenos Aires, Munich, or Tokyo.

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