When traveling abroad, using your cell phone is unfortunately pretty useless, as most signals can be limited and it will most definitely be extremely expensive to use. When I’m traveling for more than a couple of months, I ask my cell phone carrier to suspend my coverage, so that I’m not billed while traveling – do take note that this will extend your cell contract the length of your duration. There are two other options if cellular connectivity is a must for you... 1. You may purchase a local phone with a local sim and plan. 2. Ask your current carrier to ‘unlock your phone for global use.’ If you have a newer phone with a sim card, you should have no trouble putting a new sim in while you’re traveling. When calling in to customer support, keep in mind that not every representative you talk to will know what you’re asking about, so be sure to ask to be transferred to a manager in a polite manner – they will be able to direct you in the right direction to have your service unlocked. Another option is using Skype or Google Voice, where you’re able to complete calls over a wifi connection.
If you’re traveling on a tight or limited budget (like myself), it’s important to have a firm idea of what your entire budget will be before flying out. Understand your situation and leave nothing to chance. Budget for the always unexpected – I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been surprised by something that I either never thought to plan for, or had never knew existed. It’s one of the worst feelings to begin traveling and believe that you’ll be just fine, then ‘BAM!’ and some wallet-sucking fee hits, and your heart sinks, because you realize that you may be much more worse off now. I typically budget a low, but realistic number for my daily spending, which includes accommodations, food, drink and local transportation. I leave myself plenty of room to work with for larger transportation options like rental cars, trains, buses, regional air, and taxies. I like to travel sporadically, without a lot of concrete plans, so budgeting this way creates a bit of a safety net. If I’m backpacking multiple countries, I will spoil myself a bit for the first day or two, then I will buckle down on my budget, and when the end of my trip is nearing and if my budget is still in good shape, I will treat myself even more. I do the same thing when I’m traveling to only a couple destinations – I will spoil myself a little bit early on, then buckle down, and I will then assess where I stand toward the end.
It’s pretty easy to eat cheap everywhere in the world. I won’t know exactly how much I will need to budget for each day, but I do like to stock up on a few basic groceries (ex. fruit, bread, cheese, etc). There are always local specialties that are priced cheap, which add to my overall experience, yet also keep my spending manageable. I always look out for local markets and street vendors, as they usually have great tasting food which is reasonably priced – plus, there’s the local culinary aspect. Depending what my budget looks like, I will plan to have one nice meal a day or every few days in a cafe or restaurant. I love trying new foods and there’s usually nothing better than being able to eat authentic local food. If you’re ever having trouble finding quality cheap food, ask a local – they will always know best.
Alright, now on to some of the ‘fun stuff’... Paperwork is boring, but oh so necessary. Print off copies of your bookings, reservations, accommodations, itinerary, identity (etc, etc, etc) – put one set in a waterproof bag and pack it with your things, then leave copies with trusted family and friends. Be sure that they have everything you could possibly need, just in case you lose everything. Imagine losing everything, even every piece of documentation that would prove to the authorities of who you are and what country you hold a passport in. By copying your identifications (passport, driver’s license, credit cards, etc), your family and friends can provide the information you need to prove your identity easily, which will make your trip home much more successful. I was once robbed in Edinburgh, Scotland, where they took my passport – without my documentation and copied paperwork, I would have been deported home after some time. But since I had access to these items, I just had to spend a little bit of cash at my local embassy, and they gave me a temporary replacement passport, and the whole situation was nothing more than a hiccup in a very successful European trek.
I’ve also been robbed in Puerto Rico, where they took EVERYTHING from me, which included my bags, toiletries, clothes, electronics, passport, money, etc. This was a trip-stopper, unfortunately. If you’ve been keeping up with my blog since September, then you know that I am still fighting with my insurance company to pay my claim from the theft. To save myself the trouble the next time around, I’ve documented everything about each and every item I’ve brought with me. Before packing, I sat each and every item out and as I began packing my bag, I wrote down everything that my insurance would want to know, so if I were ever to be in the same situation again, I’m covered. I wrote down the name and make of the item with a description and any possible serial number, and I also included the purchase date, location and price. I took plenty of photos of the items to prove that I had them in my possession before leaving for my trip. I then took the list I compiled and the photographs and filed them with my lawyer, who notarized and witnessed the information. This may not be necessary for you, but it never hurts to be prepared enough – especially if you fear being robbed or ripped off.
Two quick notes about paperwork for customs and immigration. Depending on which passport you hold, most countries will allow you to visit as a tourist for 3-6 months, but they requite proof of ‘onward travel.’ And if you’re a backpacker, that’s a pain in the ass. For my recent travels to Europe, I wanted to wing the entire trip – floating around from place to place for as long or as short of time that I pleased. This particular rule put sort of a hiccup in that plan – however, I found a way around it, per say. To avoid the hassle of applying for a long term visa and to avoid spending money on a plane ticket home that I wasn’t planning on using, I decided to create a fake onward travel itinerary. You may have a problem with this method if you’re quite the ‘Bureaucratic Bobby’ – but for me personally, I think that rule is simply silly. Here’s a how-to guide, if this interests you. Just because I plan on entering the country by plane, doesn’t mean that I want to leave the country by plane, but customs agents don’t seem to understand this concept. I fully plan on keeping to the tourist visa’s time restrictions of 3 months for the Schengen region of Europe, where afterwards I will be traveling to the UK and Ireland to wait out the 3 month period before I can reenter again.
Most of the time you will not even be asked to prove when you’re leaving (which was the case for me entering Spain last week), however if you feel the same as me and many, many other travels, then it’s important to at least be prepared, and to sell the point. To do this, I looked up an actual return flight, filled in the data just like my real purchased ticket and then I also created an itinerary to match, just in case. Customs agents don’t have access to the airline’s reservations system, so as long as everything looks legit and you give them no reason to suspect that you’re up to something, then you should be good to go.
Now, the OTHER point that I have for customs paperwork (or as far as I know of) is only necessary for those who are American citizens. When you reenter the country from traveling abroad with electronics, there are times that an agent will fee or detain the items IF THEY BELIEVE the items were purchased while you were abroad. First off, if the items have data that proves they are older or show signs of wear, then you don’t need to worry about this. But if your items look new or if you wish to take care of all potential issues, then it’s important to go to the customs/immigration office in the final U.S. airport that you will be leaving from to go abroad, and have them inspect the items and sign off on Form CBP-4457. Basically, you need to write down the item’s name and what it is (ex. Canon camera – DSLR digital camera), along with any available serial numbers. This is a bit of a pain in the ass, but it can be necessary. You can also try your luck at simply taking photos of the items before you leave and then not worrying about it, as long as there’s a time stamp on the photos. I’ve never been asked to prove how long I’ve had the items though, but you just never know.
(Photo by © Brandon Elijah Scott / Eye & Pen)
Travel planning (Step THREE) – Packing
Travel planning (Step TWO) – Your itinerary
Travel planning (Step ONE) – Travel RIGHT!