Top 10 Lessons from Traveling Abroad

Published on 22 April 2023 at 15:37

In the past year I have taken three amazing trips abroad, and these are the best things I learned!

1. Make smart bag decisions! Choose your bag based on transportation options. On my trips to South Korea, I took a small rolling bag and backpack or tote. That made it easier to get around on trains and buses. On my trip to Europe, I took a duffle that would fit in an overhead bin and a tote. The smaller airlines in Europe have strict regulations and carry-on bags must be smaller than on airlines in the USA. I like to carry my bag on the plane going, and check it with the airline coming home. I want to be sure everything I pack makes it with me. Returning, however, I mostly pack dirty clothes and send them off at airport check in since waiting on a delayed bag won't bother me at home.

2. Pack as light as possible! Pack clothes that are easy-care. Take along detergent sheets for clothes. Some places I visited had washers but not dryers, so I packed clothes I could wash and hang to dry overnight. I avoid really heavy pants or shoes, and take clothes made of light weight, wrinkle-free fabrics. If it gets chilly, I just layer the clothes I have. The one zipped Nike sweatshirt I packed saved me on a few occasions when the temperature dropped!

3. Choose the right shoes!  One Saturday in Seoul I set a personal walking record with 21,591 steps. What did I wear? My favorite Adidas Stan Smith tennis shoes. I'm currently on my third pair! On the other hand, I wore a pair of leather flats one day in Barcelona and got horrible blisters on my heels. Thank goodness for blister band-aids that actually work so I could keep walking!

4. Have a plan for your phone! Some travelers purchase a SIM card, others rent a WiFi egg. I have a plan that allows me access to everything I use at home in the US for $10 a day while abroad. If I don’t use signal, I don't get charged for that day. And I don’t always need it. WiFi is now widely available for free. I also use a VPN for online security on any WiFi.

5. Use that phone! You can take great photos on your phone. It’s all about lighting and a steady hand. You can also get around by using your phone camera and translation app. When traveling one day in Korea via taxi, train, and bus, I took a picture of the train station to show the taxi driver so I could get back to the station in time to catch my train. I could not miss that train, it was the only one running that evening! Always keep a battery or spare charger with you, especially if you’re using your phone for photos or navigation. I love the battery pod that matches my phone case, and have had to use it on several occasions. Just don’t leave it in a suitcase you check. Once when checking a bag at the Jeju airport, I forgot I had packed my battery and the officials came after my daughter and took her back for questioning. She was not happy with me!

6. Keep your valuables close! Carry a wallet or bag that safely holds your passport, cash, credit cards, and phone. These things I keep with me at all times when traveling. Know your surroundings. Anywhere in South Korea you could walk away from your wallet or phone and no one would touch them (but I didn’t). In Europe, we were constantly reminded to keep our belongings very close to the body and stay alert. This was especially true in Paris. Even famous traveler Rick Steves was once pickpocketed in Paris!

7. You can sleep anywhere! You can sleep on the floor wearing the same jammies for a week in a foreign country at 65 years old and still feel great. My secret was ordering and carrying an inflatable camping pad that folded up to the size of a water bottle, and adding a couple of thick blankets.

8. Know a little about the culture! Try to learn a few terms in the language. I suggest hello, goodbye, cheers, please, help, and thank you. People are people and kindness yields kindness, but it helps to know a tiny bit about the culture. For example, in some places locals do not like to make eye contact, in others they do. I was fortunate to meet wonderful people who wanted to help me, even when the language barrier made it challenging. One of the very best parts of traveling is meeting new people and making a connection!

9. Get out of the city! Leave the cosmopolitan behind and visit small towns. I like to spend a day or two in the city, then venture out. Alone in a small town in South Korea on a rainy day I grabbed my umbrella and set out to explore. I walked along a river and took pictures. I stopped at two cafés for coffee and treats. I walked into a park and found that I could actually cross a bridge and enter a small temple to escape the rain and take pictures of the decorative inner ceiling. I stopped at a little restaurant and took a photo of a meal they advertised (contents unknown) and showed it to the waiter. He brought me hot noodle soup and shrimp. What a wonderful, unplanned day!  In Italy and Spain we booked tour buses to some of the most interesting places, like monasteries, vineyards, and the world's best gelato!

10. Just relax, be flexible, and have fun! Take the road less traveled. Eat like the locals. Don't panic when plans change. Trust your intuition!