How to Survive in a Foreign CountrybyAurora Black©
Copyright Aurora Black, May 2006
The author asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work.
Author's Note: I am not eligible for this contest, but I'm glad you stopped by. In writing this How To, I'm assuming that you're a citizen of the United States. Everyone else, sorry. The following may still apply to you, however. We'll see.
Thanks to Zeb for the last minute edit & suggestions.
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So, you've decided to go on a getaway. You've got the perfect destination in mind, you've made all the necessary travel arrangements (I hope you shopped around first), and now you're almost ready. Why almost? Because you haven't yet read this guide, which contains all the information you need to make sure that you have the safest and most rewarding international vacation in recent years, if ever.
If the above statement sounds cocky, it's because I know exactly what I'm talking about. I've been fortunate enough to travel to many foreign lands, and I know the drill. So if you want to learn more, follow me.
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Before You Leave:
#1: Get your documents ready.
Before leaving the country, you must have a valid passport. If you're traveling with family, each relative must have their own passport (including infants). If you don't have a passport, you can apply for one in person at locations such as courthouses, select city halls, or post offices.
Requirements for a U.S. Passport:
1. You must fill out the Application for Passport, Form DS-11. (Do NOT sign the bottom of the document until the Passport Acceptance Agent tells you so.) If you're renewing your passport, you must fill out Form DS-82.
2. You must give proof of U.S. citizenship by either presenting a previous passport (if you're renewing) or a certified birth certificate issued by the city, county or state. (The birth certificate will be returned to you when the new passport is mailed to your home.)
3. You must prove your identity to the agent by presenting a photo ID, which can either be a driver's license, previous passport or a government/military ID. (Social Security cards don't count.)
4. You must provide two passport-sized color photos (2x2 inches) which have been taken within the last 6 months prior to the passport application so they show your current appearance. You can get them done at any photography studio.
5. You must pay a fee of $97 for a first-time passport if you're 16 years of age and above (as of May 2006), and $82 under the age of 16. For a passport renewal, the price is $67 for adults only. If you need a passport in a hurry (in case of an emergency), you must add an extra $60 for each passport application. Cash is acceptable in addition to credit/debit cards, personal checks, money orders, etc. All payments are non-refundable.
6. Finally, you must provide the Passport Agent with a valid Social Security Number. (If you fail to provide this, the IRS can fine you $500.)
When all is said and done, you should get the passport within 6 weeks (unless you choose Expedited Service and pay the extra fees mentioned above, which will speed things up so you'll get the passport within 2 weeks). Because of all the waiting involved, it's a good idea to get your passport at least several weeks before your scheduled departure date.
You should also make at least two photocopies of all important documents such as:
The passport page that features your photo, passport number and other identifying information, as well as any applicable travel visas.
1. Travel insurance policy information.
2. Plane ticket information.
3. Serial numbers for Traveler's Checks.
Keep one copy of these documents at home, and carry the second copy with you on your trip (in a safe place, yet separate from the originals) in case you need them in an emergency. In the case of loss and/or theft of your documents, you will need these copies to take immediate action with local law enforcement and the embassy/consulate in the country that you're visiting.
Regarding money, you should have some of it converted to the local currency before you leave so you won't waste time searching around for a place to do it once you get there. However, if you want to avoid hefty charges as a result of the exchange rate, you have the option of withdrawing money from ATM machines via your credit card. You'll get instant cash when you need it without having to pay extra fees for conversion, but you'll be charged by your credit card company for each withdrawal. Make sure to discuss this with your company before leaving.
Now that all the legal stuff is out of the way, it's time to move on to my favorite part.
#2: Study Up.
I cannot stress this enough. You cannot have too much information on where you're going! The more you research, the better your position will be to handle whatever situation comes your way when you're actually at your destination of choice.
One of the best investments you'll ever make for your trip can be found at your local bookstore: an up-to-date, in-depth and professionally written travel guide that deals specifically with the country you have in mind. There is a huge market out there for the hopeful traveler, and as a result there is a wide variety of these useful books to choose from. Browse around, feel free to take a look inside and see what each book has to offer. Don't be fooled by the pretty covers; make sure that you find exactly what you need within the pages. Let me show you what I mean.
Travel Guide "Must Haves":
1. Detailed descriptions of all of the goal country's regions and cities which you intend to visit, including tourist attractions and local events that may be of interest.
2. Detailed maps of each city that you plan to visit in the goal country, which clearly mark the locations of local police stations, hospitals, banks, and embassies/consulates.
3. Detailed listings for transportation to and from your selected destinations within the goal country, including up-to-date phone numbers and addresses of the agencies.
4. Information on the current exchange rate between your country's currency and that of the goal country.
5. Prices for tourist attractions, local museums, archaeological sites, hotels, restaurants, etc.
6. Safety tips, warnings, phone codes to call home, information on calling cards, etc.
7. Suggested itineraries.
8. Relevant historical information on your country of choice.
9. Relevant political information on your country of choice. (This is more important than it sounds! Politics can mean the difference between a pleasant trip and a nightmarish one, so please read up on the subject before you leave so you'll know what to expect.)
10. Useful words and phrases. (Very important. I'll get to this shortly.)
The above mentioned features will make the book your new best friend on your travels abroad. It will save you loads of time and effort when it comes to figuring out where you want to go, which sights you want to see, where to eat and so on. Not to mention how much everything will cost once you're over there! That's a lifesaver in itself.
I personally recommend travel guides from either Lonely Planet, Rough Guide or Let's Go for those who are on a budget yet still want to have a great time. If you can afford a more luxurious vacation, you may want to kick things up a notch and spring for a book from Fodor's.
In addition to the book learning, you can also read about your destination online. There are thousands of travelogues, tourist sites and blog entries written by those who have already been where you're going and are willing to share their knowledge.
#3: Learn the Language.
No one's going to quiz you about how much of the foreign language you know, but it's very useful to know at least a few words in case of an emergency. I strongly recommend that you learn the following words & phrases in the other language to use when you're caught in a sticky spot:
"Do you speak English?"
"I don't speak (Insert language here)."
"I don't understand."
"I am lost."
"I need a ticket / room."
"Good morning" / "Good evening" / "Goodnight"
"Please" and "Thank you" (You'll be amazed at how far courtesy will take you abroad.)
"Hello" and "Goodbye"
"Yes" and "No"
"Go away!" (Scare the shit out of the local con artists who try to rip off tourists by shouting at them in their own language. Trust me, they'll freak out and leave.)
"Fuck off, asshole!" (For the same reason as above, but be careful. Since curses may not be available in the Glossary section of your travel book, I recommend Swearsaurus, which can be found online and contains tons of insults in several languages.)
"Taxi." (Okay, this may be the easiest of them all.)
Hopefully these helpful words and phrases will be included in your trusty travel guide.
While You're There:
#1: Please (Please) leave the "Ugly American" attitude at home.
It happens all the time abroad. Loud and obnoxious tourists walking down the street, raising hell in restaurants and hotels, and treating the locals with disrespect despite the fact that it's their country that the jerks are visiting.
The worse case scenario of this is when people visit a foreign country and get drunk or stoned off their asses, start fights, commit crimes, and even engage in physical acts of violence with the natives.
Examples of this kind of behavior: The scandal involving Michael Fay and the caning in Singapore. Or an incident which took place a few years ago in Athens where a group of British teenagers brutally attacked the owner of a convenience store, stomping on him and breaking both of his legs. This is a growing epidemic.
For the love of God, please don't be an asshole on your travels. You'll not only make yourselves look bad, but also the country you represent. Sure, you'll still be smiled at by those who want your business, but they won't respect you because you're not doing anything to deserve it. "They're Americans / Brits / Germans, aren't they? Jesus God..."
"Do unto others as you would have them do to you." - Luke 6:31
#2: Watch Your Valuables (and your Clothing).
Every once in a while, I see tourists doing their thing downtown and I take a moment to observe them. I sip my tea and watch them from a nearby cafe as they tote around their heavy backpacks, their shiny and expensive cameras swinging to and fro from their neck straps as they walk around on Birkenstock-clad feet. It's an amusing sight for me because I was once like that, but that's another story.
I've noticed that tourists are dressed in a very specific way that sets them apart from the natives, and that's not a good thing. No doubt they follow the dress code guidelines put to them by the travel guides; dress comfortably and for the weather, comfortable walking shoes, etc. The clothes, however, along with the camcorder and fanny pack, scream that you don't belong. There are also those who wear a lot of flashy jewelry while on vacation. My opinion upon seeing these tourists is that they may as well put up a sign saying "Hey, come rob me," but that's just me.
I can't change your mind concerning what to pack and wear, but I can tell you this: Please avoid wearing anything featuring flags. If you walk down the streets with a T-shirt / sweater / jacket with either the U.S. flag, the U.K. flag, or any type of political slogans, you are flirting with disaster. Most likely you will be approached by strangers who want to be your friend (yeah right), or you'll be harassed. You will be seen as an easy mark for con artists and thieves who think they can take advantage of you because (to them) you are just another ignorant, stereotypical tourist.
You can prove them wrong. Keep these things in mind while you're packing. If you have your eye on the brand-new piece of clothing that says "USA ROCKS," don't take it along.
As for your sexy cameras, camcorders and cell phones, keep your eye on them. Make sure that the straps are tight around your wrists while you're shooting pictures for bragging rights later. While you're out on the town, secure your backpacks with either a tiny padlock or a safety pin to prevent sneaky little hands from getting into your goodies.
#3: Watch Your Ass.
Safety in numbers is the best way to go when you're visiting a foreign country, especially if you're a woman. Try to stay in public places, day and night. If you absolutely must go out after dark, use the buddy system. If you're out very late and need a taxi, but not sure about the language, make sure you have your hotel's name and address written down on a slip of paper to give to the driver.
Be aware of what's going on around you at all times.
In nightclubs, never leave your drink unattended. There have been cases of men slipping date rape drugs into women's drinks, and then following them into the bathroom when they become ill.
If you're alone and someone approaches you, walk in the opposite direction as fast as you can. If he follows you, don't try to lose him by going off the beaten path. There's nothing wrong with calling out for help. Loudly. Draw attention to the asshole, and he'll retreat. Believe me, I have done this several times when I found myself with an unwanted guest at my heels. The stranger counts on your being afraid so you'll panic and put yourself in a position to be robbed or worse, but you have the power to make sure it doesn't get that far. Scream and draw people's attention to what's going on, exposing him. He will leave you alone.
#4: Most importantly, have fun!
While the warnings I gave you above are essential for your safety abroad, don't let them distract you from the joy of your trip. It is possible to be vigilant and enjoy yourself at the same time, so try to get the most out of your travels and make memories that you'll treasure forever.
Exploration is knowledge, and I applaud your decision to see the world outside of your own country. You'd be surprised at how many people never do. So rest easy, feel the excitement of your approaching trip and have a blast!