How to Survive International Travel (and Thrive)

    August 1, 2003

1. Buy a fanny pack with waterbottles and a necklace for papers.

Put water in the waterbottle on one side, and something else in the other, or put it aside and fill the pouch with things you need at hand, like your sunglasses. But one of those packet necklaces to put your passport in. Practice using your fanny pack for at least a week before you leave so you’re used to how it feels.

2. Learn a mantra and use it to keep yourself alert.

International air travel causes stress and fatigue. It’s also highly stimulating, which makes some of us tune out for self-protection. This is not a good thing to do. For a week before your leave, ask your intuition to help keep you safe.

3. Pack some Goodwill clothes.

What on earth does this mean? You KNOW you’re going to shop, so don’t deny it. Save up some casual wear clothes destined shortly for Goodwill, pack them, wear them, and dispose of them as you go. (Give them away if you can.)

4. Time zones and currency.

There’s plenty of good information on the Internet about currency conversion and time zones. Also handheld computers that do both. Print out the information you need on a card, and laminate it, or buy a toy.

5. Learn and practice the language.

You don’t need to be proficient, or even semi-fluent, but people in every country are thrilled when you can say to them, in their own language, “Thank you,” “Please,” “Excuse me,” “What’s your name?” and “Nice to meet you.” Phrases such as “Where is a toilet? Where is the airport? Where is a telephone?” and “Where is the American Embassy?” can also be very helpful! If you’re traveling to Russia, for instance, learn to recognize these words in the Cyrillic alphabet. Cton, for instance is what “stop” looks like.

6. Stay alert.

I recently returned from two weeks in Russia. We were on a guided tour, and well taken care of, including being warned as we left the River Cruise and the gentle country villages to enter the big cities of Moscow and Saint Petersburg to quit being relaxed and get alert about our money, credit cards, etc. Cruise guests argued if this could happen in the US and I wondered where they’d been. Yes, it can happen anywhere, particularly in big cities in tourist areas. Why? There is what the police call “opportunity.” That is, there are people, with money, who are distracted. Picture yourself in a crowd of 50 crammed side-by-side waiting to see the famous peacock clock in the Hermitage start turning. Picture someone in your tour group fainting. Picture yourself staring up at a beautiful onion dome. Where will your attention be? Not on your fanny pack. Keep your hands on your possessions. Practice with your travel companion. Learn to recognize any time anyone “brushes up against you.” Be particularly aware of children. Gypsies in Russia, for instance, train their children to beg and, I’m sorry to say, steal, and also use them to charm and distract you while the adults do their ‘work’. (And it works.)

7. Buy a money belt.

At all times keep some of your money and one credit card in the money belt, so you aren’t destitute if other things gets stolen.

8. Respect your health as well as your safety.

Don’t drink water unless it’s bottled or known to be safe Just don’t do it. Have you had a baby on a trip and used water to make their formula? If so, you know any change in water can cause problems, not to mention actual bacteria-caused diseases. Break in the comfortable shoes you plan to wear and bring blister bandages. Bring your own small first-aid kit. Bring calcium-magnesium pills for “jittery legs”. Don’t go til your tired and hungry; take reasonable breaks. If you’re traveling on a ship, remember the decks are ALWAYS slippery, wet or not. If you need to use a cane, bring one.

9. Don’t compare.

The reason you’re traveling is for something different, right? Or if it’s for business, you have no choice, but you know it’s going to be different. To tell someone who earns $2.00 an hour that the massage they offer you for $20 an hour is “cheap” is very insensitive. Be tactful if you simply can’t eat what’s offered. Get over the toilet-thing and bring your own toilet paper.

10. Use your EQ and your manners.

The one thing we all have in common, no matter where we live, is feelings. Go back to the basics (hopefully you haven’t strayed too far from them). Smile, say “please” and “thank you” and “excuse me”. Treat others with respect. Ask for help, don’t demand it. Be courteous. Speak clearly and slowly, not louder, as if the person you’re speaking to is an idiot or hard-of-hearing. Wear a head covering in other country’s places of worship. No matter how annoying the street peddlers are, remember they’re “just doing their job” like you do. Help others in your group who aren’t so savvy – sharing mosquito repellant and Immodium ID, waking fellow passengers who’ve fallen asleep in the airport, helping parents traveling with kids, and assisting seniors. All of these could/may well happen to you one day! Don’t hog the airtime when on a tour with questions designed to show how much you already know. And bring enough money for adequate tips; these service personnel count on tips to earn their living. Don’t make the decision emotionally, or you’ll give too much or too little. Decide what’s an appropriate tip, and then do it.

Susan Dunn, MA, Marketing Coach, Marketing consultation,
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