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Tips for Travel

Whether you’re moving to a new country or taking off on a two-week holiday, here are 19 things you should know before you go

1. Take two debit card or credit cards. Get a Charles Schwab card to avoid ATM and currency exchange fees. You will be reimbursed at the end of each month. Your credit card company will assure you that you’ll have no trouble using your card overseas if you contact them in advance to let them know where and when you’ll be traveling. Don’t believe them. In today’s world, credit card companies are uber-sensitive. Break your usual pattern of card use, and your card will be declined. Count on it. You need at least one backup. 

2. Do not use your debit card to pay for things when traveling abroad. Save it for use in ATMs only. Debit cards are easy targets for fraud.

3. If you’re traveling to a country where the language is not English, learn how to say the basic pleasantries in the local language—good morning, good evening, hello, good-bye, thank you, please, etc. I recommend the language app Duolingo, which you can use to study before you go and on the fly as you’re traveling.

4. Carry a small amount of cash with you (maybe US$200 or US$300). Get additional cash as you need it from ATMs... which today are everywhere in the world and the easiest and most cost-efficient way to access cash when traveling. You’ll almost always get a better rate than from a currency exchange service. Definitely do not exchange money at an airport.

5. Find out what your bank will charge you for using your ATM card overseas. Charges vary from zero to as much as US$4 or US$5 per transaction. Schwab, for example, imposes no charge when you use your Schwab card at an ATM anywhere in the world. If the foreign bank imposes a fee (as they often do), Schwab reimburses it. 

6. Buy a local SIM card upon arrival. You should be able to do this in the airport. With a local SIM card, you can use your phone to access translation apps and google maps, for example. Plus it means you have a local phone number to give to local contacts and new friends. If you’re traveling in a group, it makes communicating and staying in touch much easier. Before we made obtaining a local SIM card upon arrival in a new country a rule for every member of our family, we spent the better part of one cold day in Paris running around (in the rain) trying to find one of us who’d taken a wrong turn. 

7. Dress appropriately. Try to blend in so you’re not a target for touts and hustlers. In some parts of the world, Americans stand out even if they dress to fit in... in Asia, for example. However, in Europe and Latin America, you can blend in. This has benefits... from not being targeted for tourist scams to being offered better tables in restaurants.

8. Carry US$50 in your shoe when going out at night. If your purse or wallet is snatched, you have cab fare.

9. Don’t carry your passport with you. Carry a photocopy of the photo and entry stamp pages of your passport, but leave the document itself in the hotel room safe.

10. Know what it should cost for the taxi ride from the airport to your destination... as well as what it should cost to take a taxi across town. In most places in the world, taxi fares are standard. Still, sometimes, unscrupulous drivers try to take advantage of foreigners. Know what you should pay before getting into a cab.

11. Stick with official taxis, rather than random guys who approach you asking if you need a ride.

12. Try to step away from the tourist zone. Never go where tourists go... never shop where tourists shop... never eat where tourists eat. Tourists pay the highest prices and get the worst service.

13. Walk with confidence and act like you know where you’re going. If you need to consult a map, for example, step into a restaurant, a shop, or a hotel lobby to reorient yourself.

14. In today’s world, it can be a good idea to avoid protests and demonstrations.

15. Avoid politics and political arguments. How the people of the country you’re visiting choose to run their country isn’t really any of your business.

16. If you feel unsafe or uncomfortable for any reason, go into a public place.

17. Be aware of the popular tourist scams in the place where you’re traveling. In Paris, for example, the gold ring on the ground scam is common.

18. Confirm whether you need a visa to visit the country for the period of time you intend to visit. An American needs a visa to travel to Brazil, for example, even as a tourist.

19. Find out if you’ll be required to pay an entry fee when entering the country. Americans can travel visa free to many countries. Some, though, that don’t require a visa do charge an entrance fee at immigration. In Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic, for example, the fee is US$10. In Kenya it’s US$50. These kinds of entry fees must be paid in cash in U.S. dollars or other hard currency. We had only just enough U.S. dollar cash in our pockets to cover our family of five when passing through immigration to enter Kenya a few years ago.


These tips and guidelines for travel come to you courtesy of Kathleen Peddicord, Publisher of “Live And Invest Overseas” a savvy online travel publication found here:


IMPORTANT:  In addition to point #3 above, I would add that besides Duolingo, downloading the app, “Google Translator” to your smartphone would be a smart idea. You select the language and speak your word or question into it, and then the native-speaker hears your query in their own language. No more having to memorize or look up whatever you wish to say or ask someone.


In addition to point #19 above, make sure that you know ahead of time if there is also an exit fee that must be paid at the airport after you have checked your baggage in and you are on your way to the boarding area to await your departing flight.

I spoke to a man in one of those countries, and he literally stood near the toll-booth where these exit fees are collected, and when unsuspecting travelers who had a plane to catch were told they must pay the fee in local currency before they could proceed past the toll-booth, they were astonished because they had none left over!

This man would approach and ask if they needed some money in order to pay the exit fee. Those people were so grateful - until they heard his fee for helping them – an extra $20.USD for his services! When they protested, he reminded them that without paying the mandatory exit fee at the toll-booth, they would be denied passage, and would have to turn around and go back to an ATM somewhere in order to withdraw that fee in local currency.

Did they pay? Every time; so be warned - never convert all of your remaining local currency back into your home country’s currency just before you leave the country. Have some extra just in case. It always makes for a good souvenir once you're home.



What to Do About Cell Phone

Service When Abroad
by Rachel Jensen at


I’d guess that most people are reading this on their phone. If not, then I suspect your phone is nearby. As a culture, we have become addicted to our smart devices - and no, it’s not just the younger generations. Our devices give us access to everything: our friends and family hundreds or thousands of miles away, work, the weather, directions to the newest restaurants, etc. And one of the questions I am most commonly asked by folks traveling abroad is what to do about cell phone service.


If you’re planning to spend time outside of your home country and are not too sure what to do with your phone, the good news is that you have options. What you need to identify is how long you are going to be on the road for, since not all options make sense for the quick getaway, long-term visits, or permanent relocation.


For 12 years, I had the same cell phone carrier. When spending time in the States, the plan was great. Service was reliable, with some exceptions in a few desolate pockets. Then I moved to Nicaragua. I froze my account for the first 3 months I was there and told friends and family at home to reach me via email or Google Voice. While a good money saver, this wasn’t practical when I didn’t have WiFi. It took a few years of playing around with different options to come across the option that made the most sense.


Below you’ll find a few options that may work for you. Note, this is applicable for a smartphone.  If you’re still hanging onto a flip phone, we’ll get to that after.


  1. Purchase an international plan with your provider. Carriers such as Verizon offer a $10/day plan to use your phone abroad, as if you were back in the U.S. (data, phone calls, or texting) with no extra charges. This is great for a vacationer every now and again, but not so practical for those who spend considerable amount of time internationally, as $10/day can add up.

  2. Instead of roaming or purchasing an international plan, keep your phone on airplane mode and connect to WiFi. You’ll be able to use communication apps such as iMessage and Facetime (for iPhone users), WhatsApp, Viber, Skype, Google Voice, Facebook messaging and calling, etc. Regular phone calls won’t come through, and if you’re on an iPhone, neither will those green non-iPhone messages.

  3. Purchase a local SIM card to insert into your phone and a pre-paid plan when you arrive at your destination (usually available at the airport or a local supermarket/convenience store). Prior to your travels, make sure your cell phone is unlocked (you may need to call your provider to double check that your phone is unlocked) and able to read other SIM cards. Don’t forget to store your regular SIM card in a safe spot! They are small chips and can easily be lost. Note: Once you take out your current SIM card, calls or texts to your original number will not come through to your phone. In most cases, if you want a traditional plan, you will need to be a resident of the country.  Or if you have family/friends who are residents, maybe they’ll add you to their family plan!

  4. Purchase a local SIM card + pre-paid plan and a local phone. Whether a flip phone or a smart device, this will keep your home phone and your local phone separate.

  5. Switch service providers to one that is more internationally friendly.  


Don’t have a smartphone? Try option number 3 or 4 above. If you’re pursuing option 3, make sure you can take out your current SIM Card.


After a few years of ridiculously high cell phone bills due to my carrier not having a sensible international plan, I made the switch to a more internationally-friendly provider. Being able to use my phone in hundreds of countries with no additional fees for data usage or texts, I feel confident that no matter where in the world I am, I won’t miss a call or message to my phone. For extra confirmation, I purchased a pre-used Samsung that holds two SIM cards - one for my pre-paid Belize SIM and one for whichever country I’m traveling in (if necessary). I live in Belize and often travel to other countries, including the U.S. This option may not make the most sense for you, so it’s important to identify which scenario fits best for your timeframe.

As I write this, I am landing in Cuba - and I don’t think my U.S. phone or Belize SIM card works here, so I guess you can’t win them all. Sometimes you just have to disconnect.



Bon voyage,


Rachel Jensen


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