Even seasoned travellers and expats know the feeling. Between packing bags, doctor’s visits and visa paperwork, preparing for a move abroad can be incredibly stressful.
For those of you who are planning to travel, here are five tips to limit your stress and make the most of your experience abroad.
1. Leave plenty of time to pack and prepare
Scrambling to get everything in order before you leave is one of the worst things you can do—it will only add more stress to your trip preparations. Your family and friends will understand if you need to pass on a get-together and you’ll be thankful you took the extra time.
Even when your schedule is clear, try not to stress about packing. Other than the essentials (i.e. basic clothes and personal medications), most forgotten items can be found in your destination country, or even be shipped over to you (thanks, mom!). If you love making lists like I do, take the time to write out everything you need and check it off as you pack— it will make you feel more assured.
2. Take proper health and safety precautions
Health and safety is a major concern for everyone, regardless of where they’re jetting off to. I like to remind myself that anything could happen, anywhere—I could get sick or I could get robbed, even when I’m at home. While this may seem like a pessimistic view, it’s helped me put things into perspective; the “what-ifs” should never stop me (or anyone) from living, let alone travelling.
The “what-ifs” should never stop me (or anyone) from living, let alone travelling.
If you have any sort of food allergies, I’ve had great luck with Allergy Translation Cards, which allow you to select your allergy (or allergies), choose the language you’d like the card translated into, and print as many copies as you’d like. I’m lucky to have a fairly mild peanut allergy, but these cards have made eating out stress-free all around the world.
Safety is another concern when traveling overseas. For a practical approach, I always make sure I have one or two contact numbers of locals (i.e. colleagues or friends) in my destination country that I could call if anything were to go wrong. If this isn’t an option, make sure to have the number for your home embassy on speed dial.
Travelling as a woman can provide additional set-backs. In any situation, I find it best to act confidently, even if you may not feel that way. You’ll be less likely to be approached, and it’ll be easier to ignore someone in the event that you are. There can also be cultural differences that may limit access to feminine products, or require women to dress in a certain way. Know before you go and prepare accordingly.
3. Understand language and cultural differences
Travelling to a country where English is not the first language can make the most expert traveller anxious. Try to brush up on a few simple phrases, but don’t worry about becoming fluent. Language learning is best when you learn and practice in real situations. Technology makes language learning and translation so much easier, too. For free language learning apps, I recommend Duolingo, Memrise, and 24/7 Tutor Apps. Google Translate and Speak & Translate are handy for translations.
Travelling to a new country may have you wondering if you’ll say the wrong thing, or insult someone without knowing. The easiest way to avoid any awkward encounters is to research. Make an honest effort to be understanding of the culture and social protocol.
In my research about Thailand, for example, I found it’s considered rude to touch someone’s head (or even the head of a statue) because in Thai culture the head is the most sacred part of the body. Knowing these kinds of rules beforehand, and following them while in-country, will give off an air of confidence and show respect to the local people. You’ll be making friends in no time.
4. Keep your money safe
Always know how you’re going to access your money—I can’t stress this enough. Be sure to call your bank at home if you decide to use your ATM card overseas. Aside from your home bank account, an excellent option is Charles Schwab Free ATM fees worldwide, where you can set up online checking accounts and receive unlimited ATM rebates worldwide.
If you’re working overseas, you’ll likely be setting up a bank account there. While teaching in China (and soon-to-be Thailand), I had colleagues from my school help me set up my bank account in-country and ensure I was paid on-time. When I was teaching, I was paid monthly, so it’s best to know how often you’ll be paid and have a back-up ATM card to use in case.
Always store your money in a safe space. Small cross-body bags or money belts can be a great way to keep your valuables close to you at all times, particularly in more touristy areas.
5. Plan your arrival.
Another common pre-travel stressor is not knowing what to do when you arrive in your destination country. Your bags are packed, your doctor’s visits are complete, and your visas are approved, but what happens when you step off the plane?
Like most things, I find it best to research. Guidebooks are a great resource, and you don’t even need to purchase them. Spend an afternoon in your local bookstore or library with a notebook, writing down key information about arriving in your destination country. You may learn tips about which taxis to take, which travel companies to avoid and how to navigate the public transportation system.
Another stress reliever is to book your accommodations beforehand, even if it’s just for a couple nights. This is especially important if this will be your first time in-country. Most accommodation booking sites will translate the address of your hostel or hotel in the local language, so you can just show it to your taxi driver and be on your way. For bookings, I swear by Hostelworld, Booking.com and Agoda.
When all else fails
Mindset is key, and is often more important than any of these practical solutions to pre-travel anxiety. Be aware that travelling in a foreign country will be a little overwhelming and confusing at first. Take a breath, and take your time—everything will work out. Enjoy the ride and embrace the wonderful adventure that awaits.Add this article to your reading list