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How to Travel Abroad and Not Look Like a Tourist

Making plans for domestic travel is simple: figure out the destination, pick a hotel, book a flight, and go. International trips are more intricate and require more planning. Obviously, because of language barriers, it’s best to learn a few easy phrases to navigate foreign countries. When Robert was in the process of planning our Europe trip, there were several things he did. I don’t know how many times I’d wake up in the middle of the night to see him on the computer doing research or watching videos.

It takes way more than just booking a hotel and flight when going abroad. Travel savant Robert put a LOT  of work into knowing all the ends and outs of Europe so neither one of us looked out of place. Now, whenever the opportunity comes, I’ll know how to travel abroad, whether it’s with him or other people.

What are some ways you prepared for an international trip?

First, I did research on what was customary in the countries. For example, in Paris, Americans get a bad rap because they think we’re rude. We go up to a restaurant hostess here and put up two fingers but there that’s considered rude because restaurants are looked at as someone’s home. If you were to walk in someone’s house and put 2 fingers up, that’s rude; when you walk into a French restaurant, greet them and maybe say your name and how many are in the party.

Another thing that’s customary is waiters and waitresses are paid a living wage so tipping is extra. Here, tipping is almost mandatory; if you tip a pound or 2, that’s looked at as being very generous.

Purchase travel-sized toiletries to fit in your bags. Do research on TSA’s liquid rule if you don’t want any issues. Get a gallon freezer bag and fill that up with your things. Don’t waste your time with lotions because hotels have those or put them in your checked bag. Make sure the bag is secure because you know they’ll be rough with it. If you’re going to pack a lotion, put some foil underneath the top so it prevents leaks. The liquid rule is a big deal because you’ll roll up to TSA and have to throw away your Aveeno or end up paying $30 to check an extra bag. Your best bet would be to wait until you land to get some toiletries.

Cards are accepted everywhere now so it isn’t necessary to carry a lot of cash. If you want to carry cash, you can do a currency exchange at the airport or bank. Make sure your credit card has a 0% foreign transaction fee; Visa and MasterCard work everywhere but typically travel cards have that(regular debit/travel cards are going to have a 3% transfer fee). Definitely let your card provider know your travel plans and don’t take all your card and cash with you…take 3 tops. The last thing you want is for something to happen. You can take it all with you but don’t carry it all on you. I kept a backup back in the hotel room just in case.

Lastly, your phone isn’t going to work overseas unless you get an international mobile phone plan or hotspot. You can FaceTime, iMessage, and do wifi-calling. The most important thing is GPS.  The map app uses the transit system overseas so it works if you need to use the subway or any kind of public transit.

Were you intimidated when you started researching an international trip? Did you ever feel overwhelmed?

My anxiety is going to have me overwhelmed in general but not really. I figured in France they’d speak a little English but it’s not their first language. I wasn’t too worried about the trip but be a little more serious. Your passport is your lifeline so the last thing you want to do is misplace it. It’s easy to put it down somewhere and forget it. At the end of the day, the last thing you want to do is put it down in a hotel. Make sure you have it with you before you get to the airport.

When you started researching international destinations, what are some things you looked for?

For me, it was ‘What is the cheapest?’. The biggest things I looked at are flight times, layovers, culture, and landmarks. It just happened when I was looking at London and Paris, it was cheap to get to London. I’ve spent $400 on a plane ticket before but that was domestic so spending that much on an international flight is easy. At this point, you’re spending a week in hotels. We spent $900 on a room for a cruise so if you can swing that, you can swing the international trip.

Also, interaction with tourists. DR and Cuba are hotspots right now so I probably wouldn’t go there. I’m not too stressed in England because they already speak English there and there’s a lot of culture in Paris. You’ve never seen the Eiffel Tower in your entire life outside of tv or textbooks but now you’re actually there.

How does someone go overseas and not look like a tourist? What are some things they should do?

It depends on where you’re going because you’re going to look like a tourist already. Our waitress in Hardware Societe spoke French to the couple in front of us then came to us and spoke English. If they know you’re a tourist, it doesn’t matter how much you try to blend in. Some places you can’t help it. The only bad thing about looking like a tourist is you look like a mark. I wouldn’t be looking down at my phone the entire time because people pickpocket and you’ll be on public transit so it’s easy for that to happen with so many people around. My tip is always pay attention to your surroundings.

What should someone take with them to help navigate foreign spaces?

Everything you need is in your phone. If you’re not going to use an international plan, look for a mobile hotspot. You can get 3GB of data for $30; we only ended up using 2 GB in the week.

What was the biggest surprise to you when you were preparing to fly overseas?

The biggest surprise was how much English was spoken. It’s insane because America really runs the world. Here I am in Tampa, FL learning a few phrases and our waitress just walks up to us speaking English. You could literally go over there as an arrogant American, not caring about learning any French, and navigate.

The other shocker was how many Black people were in France. It was dope because we’re looking at each other and we’re both of African descent. I got a certain level of swag they admire and they’re head-nodding me like we’re in America but they have an entirely different life and world experience than me.