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International Travel Tips
When you're off to see the world for the first time

Travel is often more than just getting from A to B, so these international travel tips might help ease your way into a new culture or protect you from its sharpest differences when you first arrive in a foreign land. In fact this entire website will help you do that but - you have to start somewhere!

Learn a bit of the language
Whether you're in a new country for a week or a year, try to learn a few words of the language. No need to go overboard. Even 'please' or 'thank you' will send a signal that you care and that you respect your host country. If you're staying longer than a few weeks, consider taking a few classes. When I moved to Bangkok I did my best to learn Thai - not an easy language - but even showing I could count and ask for directions was an ice-breaker. The other effect of course was to propel my Thai friends into peals of laughter... Still, they appreciated the effort.

Notice how society functions around you
Things like clothes and manners can take on a much larger meaning overseas. Halter tops and shorts may be commonplace at home but overseas they may attract a lot of unwanted male attention. When in doubt, look around you and do as local women do. Learn to cope with culture shock. Find out about basic cultural etiquette. Notice the cultural differences around you.

Escargots - snailsFoods may be different where you're going

Be open

Things will be different from home, so be prepared. Some things will be better, some will be worse. The food may be unfamiliar, and you may be almost invisible as a woman in some societies. Take it in stride. If what you want is a carbon copy of what you left behind, then back home is where you'll find it, not on the road.

Change your sense of time
This is one of the most important international travel tips I can share because it's one of the most frustrating differences I've found when traveling. Western societies place a great premium on time and punctuality. Most other societies do not. If you can't adapt, your frustration level will rise. 'In a moment' may mean tomorrow, and tomorrow could mean next week. In Madrid my mother invited friends for dinner once. By 11pm we finally went to bed. They appeared well after midnight, chipper and hungry! 

Tread your politics lightly
Imagine trying to talk politics with Chinese in Tibet or a North Korean. Whatever your beliefs, you'll be communicating different value sets. If you're an activist or a political scientist, you'll know the various arguments and will tread carefully. But for the average traveler, political discussions can turn into minefields. Just be prepared for it and remember, there's always more than one way to see things. In some countries, especially more repressive ones, political discussions can rapidly spin out of control - and can also get local people into trouble. Speak your mind but be aware of the realities of where you are. That said, discussing politics is one of my favorite pastimes.

Stay away from negative expats
One of the best international travel tips I can give you is to stay positive. Foreigners who live in a country long-term can develop negative attitudes in which they compare their new home to their old one. Rather than enjoying the great local coffee, they'll bemoan the lack of a Starbucks. Being away from home for a long time makes some people see what they've left behind with rose-tinted glasses. It's always better... Don't get sucked into negativism - discovery is what travel is about.

Remember how little you know
Those of us who come from economically well-off countries may have a tendency to think we know what's best for the rest of the world. Travel light. Leave that piece of baggage at home.


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