Planning, Posted by Amy

5 Helpful Things to Know Before You Travel

Even though you only really need 3 things to travel (a passport, a flight, and a place to stay) there is some additional information you will need once you arrive and it’s helpful to have done the research ahead of time.

It can be very stressful if you are at a restaurant or in a taxi and realize you have no idea if you are supposed to tip your server or driver. I have been in this situation and wound up frantically searching for tipping etiquette online before my taxi reached our destination. Thankfully I was able to access the internet from my phone, despite being in a foreign country!

Here are 5 things to know before you travel. All of them can easily be found online using a search engine.

1. Tipping Etiquette

Tipping etiquette is different in every country. If you live in the U.S., you are probably used to tipping a hefty amount for almost everything. In other countries, China for example, it’s considered rude to offer a tip. The employees in restaurants are paid a good wage, and tips are generally not accepted. In France, you might just leave a very small tip, since it is already included in the bill.

Knowing whom to tip and when can be very stressful, so figure it out before you go. I always just google something like “Tipping in China” (or wherever) before heading out on a trip. The situations you want to make note of are:

  • Restaurants
  • Taxis (or rickshaws/other forms of transportation)
  • Hotel employees (Bellmen, Concierge, Housekeeping, Butler, etc)
  • Tour guides

Even in countries where tipping is not customary, there may be an expectation to tip in tourism-related activities. Most tour guides should be tipped.

Make sure you set aside enough money for tips as well!

'Walking with Lions' at Casela Nature Park in Mauritius. It's definitely a good idea to tip the guide here if he kept the lions from eating you. Getting to walk with and touch lions was such a cool travel experience!

2. Taxi Rules and Best Practices

Just like tipping, Taxis are different in every country. In the U.S., taxis are relatively safe and drivers are honest, but in many places, drivers are looking to scam tourists out of some money.

In some countries, you need to ask the driver to run the meter, because they will charge you a much higher fee without it. In Bangkok, when I was on my way to the airport from my hotel, the taxi driver told me it would be 400 Baht. I knew better, told him to turn on the meter, and paid 250 Baht.

In other countries, you need to negotiate the fare ahead of time, because the drivers rig the meters to run up much higher than they should. In Nepal, my friend and I spent 10 minutes negotiating with taxi drivers who wanted to overcharge us, but we eventually got a ride for a decent fare.

In Sofia, Bulgaria, visitors will be harassed as they walk out of the airport by people offering them taxis, and claiming that the “other guys” are going to rip them off. These people are the scammers, and will charge exorbitant rates. In a worst case scenario, they will drive you to the middle of nowhere and hold you and your belongings hostage until you pay them a large fee. But not to worry! If you’ve researched this ahead of time you know the following:

  • Where the legitimate taxi drivers are at the airport
  • What a normal fare would be
  • Whether or not to ask the driver to run the meter
  • How to identify a legit taxi vs a scam taxi

In Bulgaria, I had no problems at all with taxis since I knew ahead of time what to look for.

Taxis can seem scary, but knowledge is power, and as long as you know how the system works, it’s easy.

Don’t be afraid to be firm with taxi drivers and don’t let them intimidate you. I used to be nervous about asserting myself with a taxi driver, but have realized that knowledge and confidence goes a long way. If you are nervous, see if Uber is operating in the location you are visiting. Uber is an extremely reputable and dependable car service that you can call and pay right from your smart phone. (If you sign up for Uber through my link, your first ride is free, and I get a free ride too.) I’m going to Barcelona in a few weeks, and I know those taxi drivers love to add on fake fees for tourists, so I’m going to use Uber exclusively there.

We negotiated a fare with this rickshaw driver in Jodhpur, India to take us into town and also arranged for him to pick us up and bring us back later in the evening. He showed up right on time! Normally you would tip 5-10 Rupees for a rickshaw ride, but we gave him a big tip for the great service.

3. How to get Phone and Internet Service

Getting mobile phone and internet can be a stressful part of traveling for those of us who like to stay connected. I feel like I need to be connected at all times, so I make sure I am set up in every country I go to.

There area a few different options for getting service while traveling:

  • Apply an international roaming data/text/cell package to your current plan

This is what I do. For $30, I can pre-pay AT&T for 120MB of data and $10 for 50 text messages. If you go over the data, you pay $30 for each chunk of 120MB, so there is no real penalty for going over – you’re just buying more data at the same rate. Without the plan, using this kind of data would be astronomically expensive. I can apply the package and then remove it when I get back easily from my account page on the AT&T website, so it’s no big deal. So far, I have been able to do this in every country I’ve been to except Mauritius, where it wasn’t available.

This will be different for each carrier, so go to your provider’s website and look up the rates. Here are the most common ones: AT&TVerizonSprint

  • Get a SIM card with pre-paid cell and data minutes when you arrive

This is generally the cheapest option, but requires more effort to find a location where you can buy a SIM card. You will replace the card in your phone with the card you purchase. In many places you will need your passport with you to purchase the card.

  • Do nothing and use your phone like normal

This is a horrible option and might cost you thousands of dollars. Don’t do it unless you are super rich and like to burn money for fun.

As a heavy internet user, I tend to blow through 120 MB in 2-3 days, but I feel that $10/day for mobile internet, including maps and directions, is totally worth it.

My AT&T bill with international roaming and text charges that I set up for my trip to Bangkok. You can see in the 3rd box that I went over the 120 MB, but was only charged another $30. Not bad!

4. Religious Etiquette and Clothing

A lot of locations have cultural practices based on religion, so it’s helpful to learn about this ahead of time. Sites like wikitravel usually have plenty of information on this topic.

A few things to watch out for are:

  • Conservative countries where you must keep your knees and shoulders covered (i.e. no tank tops)
  • Places were you must cover your head
  • Removing shoes when entering a temple or holy place

If you are going to a conservative country when it will be very warm, be prepared ahead of time with clothes that keep you covered AND cool.

The Golden Temple in Amritsar India. This is a Sikh temple where all visitors must dress modestly, remove their shoes, and cover their head before entering.

5. Crime and Safety Issues

You can be a target of crime in any place and in any country (including your own), so follow the same precautions you would follow in any big city when traveling abroad. Tourists can be heavily targeted, so make sure you are aware of your surroundings and protect your belongings.

Do a Google search before you go to find out if there is anything in particular you need to watch out for. In Barcelona a few years ago, a number of my coworkers had their phones stolen, even though they were warned ahead of time about that very thing. I knew not to walk around with my phone in my pocket, and I was absolutely fine.

Scammers can be very suave, and work in pairs. One person will distract you while the other lifts things out of your pocket or bag. Be weary of anyone approaching you in cities where this is commonplace.

All of this information is readily available online – just open a browser and type in some search terms.

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