20 Important Things You Need to Know About Your Destination Before Traveling
We travel for different reasons. We travel for fun, work, to spend time with loved ones, or just to take a break after long hours of working on that important project. Whatever the reason is, traveling can be a fun and life-changing adventure. Travel can also be an exhausting ordeal with unexpected (unpleasant!) surprises.
You can save yourself a lot of money, stress, and time by setting aside a few hours to research your destination country before boarding the departure flight. Here are20 things you should research about your destination before traveling:
It is important to do everything you can to keep yourself safe and healthy. This includes getting vaccinations to cover yourself against illnesses that are particular to your destination. Many countries also require you to show proof of specific vaccinations before you are allowed into the country.
When I traveled to Uganda, I had to show proof of my yellow fever vaccination before I was allowed into the country.
2. Warnings and Advisories
Check your government’s website for the most up to date health and safety information. This helps you to familiarize yourself with the precautions you have to take in ensuring you keep yourself safe. Noting the following can be lifesaving:
- Warning: a travel warning is a broad-reaching caution—for when the government wants you to “consider very carefully whether you should go to a country at all.”
- Alert: these are specific, one-off events. According to the State Department, “examples of reasons for issuing an alert might include an election season that can result into strikes, demonstrations, or disturbances; a health alert like an outbreak of H1N1; or evidence of an elevated risk of terrorist attacks.”
3. Insurance Coverage
Having prior knowledge of warnings and alerts concerning your destination can help you make important decisions on your insurance coverage. It is important to do the following:
- Verification: Verify that the country you are visiting is covered by your insurance company, particularly if a travel advisory or warning has been issued.
I trust SafetyWing for my travel medical insurance, and their rates are crazy low, less than $40/month. However, I noticed some exclusions on their website. Their insurance coverage is limited for countries with ongoing conflict.
Check with whatever insurance company you use to ensure your destination country is covered, regardless of any alerts or warnings that may be going on at the time of your travel.
- Credit Card Confirmation: Confirm with your credit card company before you purchase any travel insurance. Credit cards can offer free limited travel insurance, so start there before booking anything else. My credit card gives me 21 days of free coverage.
4. Water Safety
In my experience, you can’t drink the water from the tap in most countries. If ever in doubt, stay safe and assume the answer to this question is “No!”
You can consider getting yourself one of those nifty sized travel wands that can sterilize the water for you and make it drinkable, such as Lifestraw, and Steripen. They’re easily available on amazon.
5. Onward Travel Requirement
Check if proof of onward travel is required. If you’re on a round trip (going into the country and then flying back out of the country), you have nothing to worry about. However, if you are entering on a “one-way” ticket, you often need to show proof that you are exiting the country.
Most airlines will check for proof of onward travel before you board. However, if you do not want to book a flight or a bus out of the country before your travel, you can use a service like Best Onward Ticket. This gives you a temporary airline ticket that’ll expire within 24 to 48 hours and can serve as proof of onward travel.
6. Check Your Visa Requirements and Processing Time
Do this early, as you may need to apply online and it may take time. Getting a 3-month visa for Vietnam takes 5 days to process. I didn’t give myself enough time and ended up having to cancel and rebook my flights.
Also, take your time to look into the details of each visa. For Vietnam, they gave me the option to have a 1-month visa ready in 24 hours which I could extend once I got into the country. It sounded like a great option at the time, until I researched the process of extending a visa in Vietnam. It’s lengthy and expensive at over 100 USD.
7. Entrance and Exit Fees
Some countries require that you pay a fee in cash, usually in USD, before you enter or exit. For Vietnam, it was $25, and I needed to make sure I had it on me. They wouldn’t accept CAD or any other currency that wasn’t USD.
8. On What Side of The Road Do They Drive On?
If you have an international driver’s license or you are planning on getting one, remember to research what side of the road they drive on. If you are anything like me, you may want to change your road trip plans if you find out that you will be driving on the opposite side.
9. Currency Conversion Rates
This could very well change where you decide to travel. As a Canadian, my money is worth half as much if I travel to London and convert to Pounds. On the flip side, if you’re from the UK, it may be very appealing to travel to places like New Zealand or Canada. Your money will be worth more in these countries, and you can do a lot more with it.
I recommend you download the Free App XE Currency Converter for keeping tabs on the conversion rates. This can help you monitor your spending while in the country.
10. Money Access
It is important to answer the following questions before your travel:
- Are credit cards widely accepted in the country?
- What are the ATM fees?
- What is ATM availability?
I prefer to use my debit card and withdraw cash from an ATM on arrival, but sometimes the fees can be as much as 5-10usd per transaction. This affects how much I decide to withdraw at any given time. Higher transaction fee = fewer withdrawals for high amounts. Do some research to make an informed decision and avoid unnecessary fees.
Speaking of credit cards, I recommend STACK. It’s not just one of the best prepaid credit cards in Canada, it’s also one of the best credit cards without foreign transaction fees. That’s right! With STACK, you don’t pay any exchange fees when you withdraw money from a foreign ATM. The local ATM might charge you a processing fee, but STACK won’t. In other words, STACK is likely the cheapest way to get foreign currency as a Canadian.
Stack Card AND Free $20 credit to Stack
Staying safe includes protecting yourself from scams. While you can find scammers in any part of the world, they are particularly common in tourist destinations. You can Google common scam techniques, and check your government website, to keep yourself informed and safe.
Credit cards are widely accepted where I stayed in Canggu, Bali. However, credit card theft is a huge problem. I, along with three friends, had our cards copied. I also had my debit card copied after using it on an ATM. If you’re traveling to a destination known for credit card theft, it may be worth checking if you can get the country’s currency from a local bank at home before your travel.
STACK would be great to prevent credit card theft because, in addition to fee-free spending, it comes with an App which offers you extra security features:
- App notifications the instant you spend. This means you get notifications anytime an unauthorized transaction is made from your account.
- Freezing your card from the app. This is useful if you lose your card or notice an unauthorized transaction. You can unfreeze it anytime you choose.
A similar option would be Revolut for UK citizens.
12. SIM Cards and Data Plans
Your phone should be on airplane mode as soon as you leave your home country to avoid paying hundreds of dollars in roaming fees.
Research the SIM cards and data plans available at your destination so you are educated to purchase a good plan at a fair price. Different rules apply to different countries. For example, some countries over country-wide coverage, while others, like Bali, offer specific plans for specific locations.
13. Outlet And Voltage Types
Research on the outlet and voltage types available, as you may need to bring a converter and a universal adapter. You can usually buy these when you arrive, but I like to be prepared and have one with me before my travel. You don’t want your phone dead when you arrive, with no way to contact your hotel or book a ride.
If you do forget or lose your adapter, check with your hotel/hostel front desk before proceeding to get a new one. Travelers are notorious for leaving adapters behind, and they likely have one you can borrow at the front desk.
14. Popular Apps
Research popular apps particular to the country, and download and register on them before your travel.
Ridesharing apps are important. While UBER and LYFT may be popular in your home country, in countries like Singapore, GRAB is the popular ridesharing option.
The reason you should research and register in advance is that some apps require you to verify your account with your phone number. If your phone is on airplane mode, you will be unable to receive a verification text required to set up the account. While there are ways around this, it may be more convenient to do it while in your home country.
15. Tipping Culture
Research and adapt to the tipping culture of the country you’re traveling to. In Canada, you are expected to throw in a 15- 20% tip on top of the bill. Waiters in Canada often get paid less than the minimum wage. This is because it is expected that they will make up for it from tips.
Tipping is becoming expected in many countries that didn’t traditionally practice tipping. So look up the most current information you can find on what is expected at your destination country, and the amount you are expected to tip. TripAdvisor forums are a great place to start.
Research, research, and research again on what is legal! You don’t want to get into trouble for breaking the law.
In Canada for example, Marijuana is legal, but under Thai law, there’s still a death penalty attached to drug use.
17. Transport on Arrival
You may end up being stranded if you decide to wait till you arrive at the airport before figuring this out. Find out the transportation means available in advance.
For example, if you decide on taking the bus, find out the bus number and what time it runs to avoid missing your transport. And for the peace of mind.
18. Weather Forecast
Checking the weather forecast a day or two before you leave can help you pack accordingly. Do not assume it’ll be warm just because it’s summertime.
This year in Ottawa, we had snow in June! So check for weather anomalies.
19. Dress Restrictions
Regardless of the weather conditions, ensure there are no dress restrictions you should know about. In Saudi Arabia for example, many clothing styles are not permitted.
Find out if there are dress restrictions specific to your destination country.
20. Local Customs
Review local customs to avoid being unintentionally disrespectful. Some questions you need to ask include:
- Is eye contact considered rude or appropriate?
- Where do you sit at the dinner table?
- Do you talk at the dinner table?
- How do you greet new people- hug, kiss or handshake?
Also learn a few basic phrases like “Hello”, “Thank you”, and “Toilet”
Traveling is fun, and taking a few hours to check these 20 things off your list will ensure you stay safe, save money, and enjoy your trip. Knowledge is power, and setting aside a few hours to do your research will pay off on your vacation!
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