Planning, Posted by Amy, Transportation

10 Differences Between International and Domestic Travel

Normally I’m cool as a cucumber packing for a trip, but right now, that’s not the case. I’m headed to Costa Rica for a few days and because it’s so close to the US, I’ve been thinking about it like a domestic trip. Only as things get closer, like packing-right-now-plane-leaves-in-3-hours closer, I’m realizing how unprepared I am for this international trip.

Here are 10 differences between international and domestic travel to be aware of and think about before you go.

I've almost forgotten my passport a few times.

1. Your Passport

It’s the single most important thing you need on a trip abroad, so don’t forget to pack it! You might also need a Visa depending on the country, but hopefully you’ve already sorted through that part of the trip.

Make sure you know where your passport is at least a week ahead of time. Too often people wind up tearing apart their house when they can’t find it at the last minute. I’ve done it a few times. If it’s really gone, a week’s notice will give you enough time to get an emergency replacement.

Power adaptors that work for (most of) Europe

2. Power Adaptors

You can do a quick search on to find out if you will need power converters for your destination.

You can by cheap power adaptors for your destination on Amazon, like these that work in most of Europe. You can also by an all-in-one adaptor that will work anywhere.

3. Tipping Etiquette

A great resource for tipping in Etiquette in any country is

I like to get an idea of tipping etiquette for the following groups:

  • Taxis
  • Restaurants
  • Maids
  • Bellmen
  • Tour Guides
  • Drivers

4. Currency Information

Costa Rican Colones
What is the currency at your destination? What is the conversation between USD? How much will you need to take out?

Usually the best way to get local currency is to take it out of the ATM on arrival, but that’s not always the case so check before you go.

A google search such as “convert 10 USD to Costa Rican Colones” will give you the results and also allow you to adjust the numbers to see different conversions.

Google search results will convert one currency into another.

It’s best to take out as much local currency as you think you’ll need, but not more, because it can be difficult to change back. The look I got trying to change Nepalese Rupees back into USD at the airport in Boston was priceless… guess I’ll just keep those as souvenirs! Even if you can change money back, you will lose a significant percent as part of the exchange fee.

5. Modesty

In some places in the world, it’s considered inappropriate to wear tank tops, sleeveless shirts, shorts, or anything revealing.

It’s best to know before you go and pack accordingly.

6. International Phone Calls, Data, and Messaging

This will be different for everyone depending on what your needs are and what your cellular service offers.

Personally I like to make all my international phone calls using Skype on my laptop. I loaded my Skype account with $10.00 over a year ago and still have $7.10 left. I pay an extra fee to AT&T for data and messaging while abroad.

Bottled water in Costa Rica

7. Potable Water

It’s a good idea to figure out the water situation before you arrive. If the tap water is drinkable, you shouldn’t have any problems. If it’s not, make sure you are getting plenty of bottled water.

In Mauritius my family took a rather hectic drive to a local grocery store to buy water, since the resort told us to drink bottled water. Later, we found out that Mauritius has perfectly safe, clean water, but they think tourists will prefer the taste of bottled water! We lugged those heavy bottles around for nothing.

8. Claiming Baggage

On your way back into the country, you will have to claim and re-check baggage at the first US airport you land in. You will also go through immigration control/passport check at this airport.

For example, if I am flying from Costa Rica to Detroit through Atlanta, I will need to claim any checked bags in Atlanta, go through customs, and then re-check them before going onto Detroit. This is usually a seamless process and re-checking just means putting your bags on a conveyor belt that takes them off to your next flight.

A Tuk Tuk picking us up in Jodhpur, India

9. Local Transportation

The best, safest, and cheapest way to get around will highly vary according to what country you are in. Sometimes cabs are safe and cheap. Sometimes cabs are a huge scam. A little research before you go will go a long way.

Also check out this post on how to use public transit in any city.

10. Airport Rules and Regulations

We moved a lot of things back and forth between these bags to make the lower weight cutoff in India.
US airports are very standard in their rules, but other countries may be highly variable in their requirements.

In India, the checked baggage weight limit for domestic flights was significantly less than the US, and Mandi and I were constantly stressing and rearranging our bags to put all the heavy stuff in our small carry-ons. One time we both had to take the walk of shame to the other side of the airport to pay for the overage, get a receipt, and then go back to the check-in line to start over. In the Philippines, they weight YOU before you can get on the plane.

If you know what to expect in these situations, your trip can go much more smoothly. Luckily no matter what you’re doing, someone else has been there before and probably written about it. I love to use Tripadvisor to find out about the nuances of a travel destination.

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