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Destinations, Dreams and Dogs - International adventure with a fast-track family (& dogs) of Old World values, adopting the Russian-Italian-American good life on the go…!

Averting Disaster When Daring to Travel Abroad: One Dozen Tips

I’ll leave the subject of possible arrest and imprisonment while abroad to another blog.  Let’s just say that these are everyday tips to ease your assimilation into a strange country without appearing, feeling, or behaving… strange.  Foreign countries tend to be… foreign… so here are a few “Know Before You Go” talking points.

1.  Universal Sink Stopper.  Yes, the flat disk that fits any size sink or tub.  You will thank me if you need to wash out socks or underwear, or bathe something like a baby.  Sink stoppers often disappear abroad, and only Agatha Christie would know why.

2.  Passport.  To be kept on your person at all times.  Do not leave in the hotel safe.  Do not lock in the suitcase.  You will most likely be asked to present your passport when changing money, checking into a hotel or apartment, and who knows, maybe when drinking coffee at a sidewalk establishment….

3.  Print out your own currency converter.  If there are 30 rubles to $1, then 150 rubles = $5, 300 rubles = $10, 600 rubles = $20, etc.  This makes it easier for you than scratching your head at a café or near a shop window, wondering, “How much is that in ‘real money’-?”

4.  No white tennis shoes, shorts or flipflops.  Ever.  Unless you are under 10 years old, or are going to the beach, or will be in a tennis tournament.  Don’t make yourself a target.

5.  A few phrases in the local lingo.  A lady recently told our girls that she always learned “hello” and “goodbye” in a language before venturing to a foreign country.  That gave me a giggle, as though foreigners could not tell when you were arriving or exiting.  Hello?  Hello-???  I would much rather learn, “Please”, “Thank you”, “Where is the bathroom?” and “You’d better not rip me off on the exchange rate because I have my nifty currency calculator pocket chart.”  And… goodbye.  (Alright, I’ll concede that “hello” might come in handy.)

6.  Figure out Plan B for communication.  Don’t count on phone lines, internet, or faxes.  Take tin cans and lots and lots of string.  Trust me:  everything will fail you precisely when you’re swinging a multi-million-dollar business deal, or when you desperately need to contact someone about a life-altering something or other.  All circuits will go down and you must be prepared.  A basket of carrier pigeons will work in a pinch.

7.  Underwear in your carryon.  Your suitcase will most likely be lost, delayed, stolen or mangled.  Now there’s a happy thought.  Stuff money in the underwear you’re wearing.  Stash more money in your socks.  (Am I talking too much about socks and underwear?)

8.  Wads of cash, along with your ATM card.  “ATM” stands for “All The Money” card because you will need it.  At first, everything appears deceptively inexpensive.  Then you realize all of the currency conversion and service fees they’re tagging onto your every move and that you have been impoverished for life.  With the ATM, best to have a numeric password—letters in another language don’t always translate.  Especially if the alphabet is different.  Remember that the local ATMs may be broken, secretly recording your numbers, or charging you a usurious commission fee equal to the entire cost of your trip.  Use cash when possible.

9.  A bungee cord or two for broken suitcase zippers or latches.  My last trip abroad ended with my bag arriving on the conveyer belt totally opened like a clamshell agape, but not a thing missing, miracle of miracles.  Figure that one out.  We’ve bought new luggage only to have them crushed to smithereens the next plane trip.

10.  Be prepared for any weather.  If it’s summer, it may snow (yes, we’re talking the Northern Hemisphere, so take an extra layer, in any event).  If it’s winter, toss in a t-shirt for a heatwave.  A collapsible umbrella and Dollar Store rain poncho will keep you dry and happy.  In a sunny region, bring extra sunglasses because yours will inevitably break, the teeny, tiny temple screw lost in the shifting desert sands.  An extra scarf and sunscreen wouldn’t hurt, either.

11.  Keep four granola bars on your person at all times.  If divided carefully, these can feed a family of 10 for two weeks.  If they fall into my hands during an airport delay or breakdown on the side of the road, I give the four bars two hours, at best.  Bandaids, pocket kleenex, ziplock bags, and rubberbands can also help avert disaster.  Hand sanitizer is overrated, unless you can wash your food in it.  (Don’t try that.)

12.  Bring copies of all important documents.  God forbid that your purse be stolen or slit, but if you have a photocopy in your carryon, everything is easier.  Make a copy of your passport, driver’s license, and credit cards, and keep them in a safe place, probably in your sock, since you won’t be wearing flipflops.  Include copies of all grade school report cards for extra credit… and your dog’s and cat’s maiden names.

There are so many items… a handful of trash bags, electrical converters/adaptors, a fold-out bicycle… we’ll leave for another day.  I tried to focus on those things which might invite disaster.

Have fun, kids, summertime travel is upon us.  Did I forget anything?


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2 Comments : Leave a Reply

  1. avatar Gwendolyn says:

    I have five additional ideas:

    1) Always leave photocopies or scans [preferable, actually] of your critical documents with someone ‘at home’ who can get them to the airline, the embassy, whatever, should you need it!
    2) Carry a COPY of your passport in a reasonably-safe-but-not-buried place on your body, and BURY your passport under your clothing.
    3) If you are on a bus / train / whatever and someone near you is acting drunk and bumping into you, MOVE AWAY IMMEDIATELY. The only time we’ve ever had documents stolen from us, that was the modus operandi of the thieves.
    4) Politeness and patience count a lot when dealing with people whose language you speak imperfectly or not at all. I admit, I’m the person who went ballistic when trying to register my passport at a local government office: my Russian friend had to send me outside to wait. We failed in the end, but she was a high official in the ministry of tourism in her state, and she used this experience to improve the preparedness of the clerks…
    5) TAKE CLEAN MONEY [bills] only, $20 bills preferred. Any mark or crease or tear — and it’s likely no one will change the USD for local currency.

    • avatar admin says:

      Excellent points, Gwendolyn! There’s so much to remember these days. I think of travel long ago, when travelers used to get so much accomplished, whether explorers, missionaries, arcaheologists, writers. The travel itself used to take weeks or months. Now we try to cram so much into a short period of time that it’s easy to forget items, and of course, it’s difficult to carry along as many steamer trunks as one wishes…. 🙂

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