Travel & Adventure, Travel Tips

Travel Essentials | Preparing for Travel & Living Abroad

Stay alert and informed before you travel.

Some of the basics of traveling safely – don’t put yourself in sketchy situations, trust your intuition, don’t walk alone in questionable areas, talk to trusted locals, be aware of your surroundings, and stay informed.  Be aware of the political state of the country or area you’re visiting before travel.

Don’t make yourself a target for theft or scams.

When traveling alone especially, it’s important to blend in and stay confident.  If you’re traveling as a group, it’s still good to be vigilant.  In France, I would hang with trusted locals and friends and orient myself to my surroundings in each new place.  If I was going somewhere solo, I made sure I knew the route, the plan, and had a map of the area.  I always research an area beforehand and look at Google Maps to orient myself. (or a local map)

Living in Lyon, France and visiting the Musée des Confluences (Confluence Museum)

Many people often thought I was a local, especially in France.  I speak the French language fluently which also helped.  Making an effort to learn key phrases in the language where you’re traveling is really helpful, especially if you get lost or need directions.  Learning key phrases in another language is useful even at a restaurant or the post office!

One of the best ways to avoid being a target for theft or scams is not using your GPS on your phone in highly public places or on streets and street corners.  If you need to search for directions, pop into a cafe quickly to get your bearings and check your map or phone there.  You can also use Google Maps offline if needed.  If you have WiFi at a restaurant, cafe, or where you’re staying and living, go ahead and plan out your route and then head out.

My favorite little café in Lyon, France

Ask for directions from people who work at a cafe or restaurant and know the area. Avoid asking people on the street or in random places. If needed, go to a local tourist information kiosk or visitor’s center.

Keeping your phone out of sight in busy places helps to avoid cases of theft where people swipe your phone right out of your hand.  It can happen in big cities or high-traffic areas and crowded streets. So never make your valuables easily accessible.

Navigation, Maps, & Routes

Google Maps is the most notorious for navigation and maps and it’s my personal favorite.  It will navigate you by car, public transit, on foot, bicycle, and plane!  It’s also a great tool and resource for looking up businesses and restaurants.

If you’re doing multiple travels by bus, plane, train, etc. – one of the best resources is Rome2Rio – which will help you find the cheapest and most efficient ways to get to your desired destination.

If you’re doing a road trip in the United States, I recommend using Gas Buddy to find the best gas prices for your route as well as calculating fuel costs for your budget.

At the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris

Guard your personal belongings on trains and when walking in crowds.

Trains and crowds are highly known for pick-pocketing so it’s important to guard your personal items. Friends and locals always encouraged me to wear my backpack on my front or position myself in a way where people couldn’t access my backpack or purse.  I carried an over the shoulder purse (a thrifty find at a vintage store in Paris in fact!) which I kept on the front of my body where I could guard it while walking.

Lock up valuables.

If you’re staying in a private room at an AirBNB, before you book, make sure it comes with a key to lock on the door so you can lock up your valuables while you are away. Many hostels and lodges provide a locker (typically you must bring your own lock) or you can rent one there. I use my combo lock or travel suitcase lock to store my computer and purse at night and any other valuables during the day that I didn’t need with me.  It’s always a good idea to not carry too many valuables with you on excursions.  Just bring the basics and bare minimum.

Research the area before you arrive and make friends with locals and other travelers.

Before I travel to a new place, I scope out my transportation options, maps of the area, restaurants and local places, distances to and from my destinations, and general information about the area (and history! I love discovering the history of a place).  I check reviews on lodging and neighborhoods to make sure it’s ideal and safe.  I opt for walking and the metro most of the time when I can, but at times I take a taxi or Uber if it’s later at night or if I have a ton of luggage with me upon arrival to a new city.  Walking with friends and trusted travelers is also a great way to opt for commuting.  You can meet great people who are also traveling while staying at hostels or AirBNBs – so team up with people when it feels right and you can make new friends along the way!

Banking & Cash Management Internationally

If you are using your personal bank card or credit card internationally, you’ll want to notify your bank of your travel dates and locations.  These travel alerts can be placed on your account for up to 6 months to a year.  This prevents your card from getting blocked during travel and also prevents theft if the card is used outside the countries you listed.

You can use your personal card for ATM withdrawals for cash (bank fees apply + factor in currency exchange rates).  I recommend the Travelex Money Card to save on currency exchange fees.  It allows you to have access to your funds without having to carry large amounts of cash on you.  There are several perks to using a currency Money Card like this:

  • you save money by getting a lower currency exchange rate and avoiding fees when you buy or download currency online to your money card
  • it works just like a normal debit card – you can get cash out at the ATM
  • it prevents international transaction fees adding up on your current bank account
  • if the card gets lost or stolen, someone will only have access to what’s on the card, not your main bank account (you can get the card blocked/stopped immediately by calling Travelex if this happens)
  • it’s super easy to manage and convenient for travel

Working in Other Countries & New Banks

If you’re going to be in a country working for a period of time, you’ll want to sign up for a local bank account of course.  Many banks have deals for newcomers or foreign workers.  In Canada, CIBC offers a free account to Newcomers/Foreign Workers for up to 1 year.

You’ll want to sure you sign up with an internationally recognized bank that offers a Visa or Master Card so that you can use your debit card internationally if you travel to other places, or need to use your current funds in your home country.  Sometimes Credit Unions or smaller, more local banks, don’t offer Visas or Master Cards so those debit cards can only be used locally (not online or during travel outside that country).

Check in and inform trusted people of your travel itinerary.

I checked in with either local friends or family when I left certain locations and arrived at home or at my next destination.  I sent my travel itineraries to my family when I was heading to a new place or going on an excursion.  I gave them contacts of people I would be working with or staying with including organizations, hostels, and AirBNB hosts. This is always a great idea to let friends and family know of your whereabouts or have a contingency plan for trips and outdoor adventures if you’re traveling solo, or in case you get into an emergency.  So if they don’t hear back from you by a certain time, they can know to contact someone you have listed on your travel itinerary.

Sunset view from the Château d’Annecy (Annecy Castle) in France

Using a Mobile Phone Internationally

This depends on your phone carrier and available global roaming plans. I had a free Global Roaming Plan with Sprint when I moved to France, so I could text for free and use my unlimited data just as I did in the States.  Through that plan, phone calls cost 20 cents a minute.  So I would opt for WiFi when possible to use WhatsApp and FaceTime Audio for phone calls.  For messaging my international friends at no charge to them, I would use Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp. In Canada I purchased a phone plan through Fido for around $70 per month.

Some people use SIM Cards when they travel if you have an unlocked phone which can be another affordable option.  You can choose what works best for you based on how long you’ll be traveling or living abroad.  Most countries have affordable phone plans and carriers or SIM Cards you can set up when you arrive in a main city.  Typically if you find any mall, or search phone carriers on Google, there will be businesses nearby with affordable plans.

Carry extra copies of your passport and ID.

It’s a good idea to make two copies of your passport and ID before you travel.  Scan and e-mail those copies to yourself and/or family member.  Keep the two paper copies in a separate & secure place while you travel. That way, if for some reason your wallet, or passport, is stolen or lost — you have a backup plan and copies of your ID.  You can always contact your bank if your card gets lost or stolen, and put a stop on transactions until that’s resolved.  As long as you’ve notified your bank of your travel plans, usually you won’t run into any issues with using your card.

Get travel insurance.

One of the top travel insurance companies is World Nomads and they offer reasonable plans for the length of your travel.  It’s never a bad idea in case you get injured or have a dental emergency or get severely sick.  It also can protect against theft in some cases. Some countries will accept patients without travel insurance if you need to visit a clinic or pharmacy.


© 2019. Sonya Anglin.