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Traveling is a lot of fun, but as you have seen in previous posts, you need to do a lot of work before you depart to make sure that your travel experience goes as smoothly as possible. After all, you want to have the experience of a lifetime.
The internet has changed our lives – often for the better. Getting bookings for flights, hotels, car rentals – all can be done online now. Sites like Expedia and Travelocity make it easy for you to compare costs so that you get the best deal. In fact, these sites often sweeten the deal by adding hotels and/or rental cars to airline tickets at very low rates.
When you buy an airline ticket, you have certain rights whether you bought it online, through a travel agent, or in person from an airline. If the airline delays or cancels your flight for reasons other than an act of God, you might be entitled to compensation.
How long you’re delayed and how late you ultimately arrive at your destination will determine how much the airline owes you. In addition, some flights are overbooked and the airlines asks for volunteers to take a later flight. If you’re travel is flexible, you might be happy to make some money on a delayed or overbooked flight.
Just a few years ago, you probably saw the unpleasant image of a man being dragged off a plane and being hurt in the process. This event was very unfortunate for the gentleman involved, but as a result, airlines have become more sensitive to the rights of their customers.
In some situations, you might be entitled to be reimbursed the full cost of your ticket. But in other situations, you might be entitled to even more than the price of your flight.
If you happen to miss a connecting flight because of a delay in the first flight, you may be entitled to compensation, and/or the airline might be responsible for finding another flight to replace the one you missed.
The airline is unlikely to advertise that you are entitled to some compensation. You can’t rely on the airlines, so you need to know when you are entitled to compensation and when you are not.
Regulations change all the time, and they may be different from country to country or from airline to airline. Since no hard and fast rules exist, you need to take it upon yourself to be aware of what you are entitled to.
It is your responsibility to ask for compensation. Do not leave the airport until you approach the ticket counter and point out the fact that you are owed compensation. (It may not be fact, but you can act as though it is.)
You will need your ticket and your original receipt as proof to back up your claim, so keep these on hand while you travel. You probably have them on your smartphone or tablet anyhow. If at any point, you turn your ticket over to an airline employee, be sure that it is returned to you.
Credit and Debit Cards
You’ll definitely want to use your credit and debit cards on your trip. That’s far better than carrying around a lot of cash. Just make sure that you won’t have those cards declined when you need them most.
Before you leave home, be sure to let your bank and credit card companies know where you are going and how long you will be gone. Many of these companies have safeguards in place to protect you from fraud. If your card has never been used outside of your home state, and it suddenly shows up in Ireland, your card will probably be frozen until you contact them to confirm that you truly are the one who bought all those beers at a pub in Dublin.
Don’t get angry when this happens. It’s a security measure designed to protect you. Banks must follow legal regulations that can make getting them unfrozen a drawn out and painful process. You may have to prove that you are actually the person who owns the card by answering questions that the bank gets from public records. And those public records are not always accurate.
In the end, depending on the policies of the bank, the regulations that need to follow, and the actual situation, you may have to replace your card before you can continue to use it. And replacing a card overseas is not as easy as some of the credit card companies advertise. So, talk to your bank before you go.
You’ll want to have credit and debit cards that do not charge you a foreign transaction fee each time you make a purchase or withdraw cash from an ATM. Ask your bank what their policy is.
If your credit or debit card bank charges those fees, you can apply for other credit cards – and probably get a big boost in airline miles at the same time. At the time of writing, Capital One has credit and debit cards that do not charge foreign transaction fees or fees for using an ATM outside of their networks. This can change at a moment’s notice, so be sure to check whether this policy has changed.
Some people keep a diary or journal all the time, even when not traveling. Others have no interest in keeping that kind of information for posterity. However, while you are traveling, keeping a journal of some sort takes on new importance.
Don’t shy away from journaling because you think you’re not a good writer. You don’t need to ever show the content to anyone. And you don’t need to keep this journal in the form of prose. It can just be a list of dates, the sights you saw, and the things you did.
This information can come in handy when you want to recommend something you loved to new friends you meet along the way. Or maybe you’ll want to tell other travelers to avoid a horrible hotel or restaurant.
Keep track of the restaurants you enjoyed eating at – the hotel stays as well. Having this information written down may come in handy when you are looking back at photos and trying to remember exactly what you photographed and to help you remember the exact name of the place where you had the best burger of your life.
Unless you have an exceptional memory, you’ll probably forget names of people you meet while traveling. Having a record of their names and a photo can come in handy a year or two later, when someone you casually gave your contact information to shows up on your doorstep. Just give them a seat, excuse yourself for a moment, and run into another room to look back at your journal and the photos you carefully organized by date on your tablet. Coordinate the face with a name in your journal and you’re set. Of course, that presumes that you have taken photos of people that you were close enough to share contact information!
The laws of some countries are very different from those in the U.S. For example, some countries have laws about how women must dress. Be sure to make yourself aware of unusual laws prior to your arrival.
In addition to laws that are unusual for Americans, many countries have cultural norms that are very different from what Americans are used to. Although you would not be arrested for going against these cultural norms, being culturally sensitive will give you the best chance for a wonderful travel experience.
While you are inside the borders of a foreign country, you are bound by that country's laws – whether you know those laws or not. Being ignorant of a law is no excuse for breaking it in your home country, and the same goes when you’re in other countries.
Because of that, you would be wise to take a little time to research local laws before you go. If chewing gum is illegal, you probably want to know it ahead of time. And yes, there is at least one country where that is a crime. While your embassy or consulate can more than likely help you out in situations with minor infractions, representatives from your embassy probably won’t be able to help you with serious ones.
While you are in a foreign country, your passport is your only means of legal identification. Whether you should have your passport on your person at all times or not is up for debate. International tour directors generally advise their tour members to carry a photocopy of the passport and leave the original in the hotel safe.
However, there is another school of thought that says you need to have your original passport on your person at all times. In fact, some people say that they feel uncomfortable in a foreign country without the actual passport on their person.
If the authorities stop you, they will want to see the visa stamp in your passport as proof that you are in their country legally. If you decide to carry a copy of your passport, then copy the page that has the entry stamp for the country you’re visiting.
If you are arrested, having your passport on your person will be the proof of American citizenship that will allow you to contact the nearest American embassy.
The reason to leave your passport in the hotel and carry a photocopy is the possibility of theft or loss. It can be a long process to replace it. Embassies are in capital cities only. Consulates may exist in other important cities in the same country. If there is no embassy or consulate nearby, you will have to travel to a city that has an embassy or consulate. You can see the difficulties.
If you are stopped by authorities who want to see your passport and visa, tell them to accompany you to your hotel and you will be happy to produce your documents for them to examine. They may be scam artists, but even if they are real officials, they may not want to bother. And if they are scam artists, they will get lost right away.
So it’s up to you to decide whether you’ll carry the original or a copy of your passport. Both ways have valid reasons.
Getting Your Visa
Americans are able to visit many countries without a visa, but don’t take that for granted. Be sure to investigate the consular information of each country that you want to visit in order to know whether you will need a visa or not.
Each country has its own regulations about which nationalities need visas as well as the requirements for getting one. Your visa is either a stamp in your passport or a paper pasted on a page inside.
Some countries allow you to get your visa at the airport upon arrival. Others force you to get your visa in advance that will have the earliest date you are allowed to enter the country and when you must leave.
When you arrive at your destination country, an official at a customs booth will examine your passport. This official may ask you questions. Be sure to answer all questions honestly and to the best of your knowledge. These questions generally concern why you are coming to their country, how long you plan to stay, and what your general plans are for your visit.
The official will scan your passport, a process that uploads your information into the country's computer system and registers you as a foreign visitor. The customs officer will stamp a page of your passport, which will identify the date of your entry.
It is important to remember that a tourist or visitor visa allows you to visit the country, but it usually does not permit you to work in that country.
The International Driving Permit
The International Driving Permit functions as an international photo identification, but is generally only valid if you also possess a driver’s license for your home country and can present both at the same time.
In Canada, Mexico and many other countries, your American driver’s license will be accepted. But in many countries, you will need to possess an International Driving Permit if you plan to rent a vehicle or drive on public roads. You can get specific information about the regulations for the countries you plan to visit online.
Even if you are going to a country that accepts your American driver’s license, having an International Driving Permit as well is a good idea in case your plans change and you find yourself in a country that does not accept it and you want to rent a car.
In the U.S., there are two organizations that can legally process International Driving Permits – the American Automobile Association (AAA) and the American Automobile Touring Alliance (AATA). You can get the applications at these links.
Using the U.S. Department of State
The U.S. Department of State has an online website that can give you very good information while you are preparing for your travel.
Before you arrive in a foreign country, you should go to this page to find the nearest American embassy to where you will be staying. The American embassy is where you must go if trouble arises while you are overseas. The embassy is considered American soil where you will usually be safe from almost anything that happens.
When you travel abroad, the American embassy does not receive the information about you when your passport is scanned by immigration officials. It is, therefore, your responsibility to register yourself with the embassy upon arrival and to keep it updated as you move around. You need to provide your email address and a phone number that you will use during your visit.
In the event of a disaster or an emergency, the embassy will use that registration information to create a list of the American citizens that need to be located and helped during the event. If you fail to register, the embassy will have no means of contacting you.
The U.S. Department of State website has data about important laws and information about all countries. This is a good place to start your research about another country. There are pages of tips for traveling and living abroad. It is up to you to do the research about a country before you travel there. Ignorance is not an excuse in any legal system, so be prepared.
This website is not just for Americans. Anyone can use it and find critical information about countries they’ll be traveling to.
Using the Economist Intelligence Unit
Trying to guess how expensive it will be to live in another country can be tricky. In some places, the cost of the cheapest item on a fast food menu can cost upwards of ten dollars. In other places, confusing exchange rates may make it difficult for you to determine if you are getting a good deal at a hotel.
Visit the Economist Intelligence Unit online for up-to-date cost of living information in relation to the American dollar for 93 countries in the world. You will need to sign up with the website and complete a download, but the information is free and updated frequently. Having these figures available to you will make it easier to plan ahead.
The Bottom Line
Having information at your fingertips and organizing all your documents in advance of departure will give you the best chance of having a great travel experience. In addition, if you tackle these issues with a fun attitude, you will probably get even more excited about your adventure.