10 Questions to Ask Before Traveling Abroad

7:30:00 AM

I'm so excited to share starship elizabeth's very first guest post, brought to you by my good friend, Morgan Hatch of JandMHatch.

Morgan was born and raised in sunny Southern California (just around the corner from me!). She and her husband, Jordan have a wanderlust for travel and love for adventure. They recently packed up their bags after Jordan graduated from dental school and moved to Germany. From across the big pond, they enjoy sharing their travel stories on their blog.

As soon as I began reading Morgan's blog, I just knew I had to ask her to share some wisdom here on the starship. Morgan and I met right before college and spent our freshman year at Whitman College as roommates. Here's how I know my college roommate is cooler than yours: one day Morgan decided we should order custom M&Ms (Do you guys remember when this was a thing??) that said "Liz and Morg: Hotties" and "Liz and Morg: Call Us." So we did. And then we distributed them all over campus as ice breakers. 

So now I turn this ship over to Morgan, who is here to share the 10 questions you should be asking before traveling internationally.


While vacations are always great to look forward to, traveling isn't always easy.  I've encountered travel hang-ups many a time, so if you feel like you're the only one thinking...why does this only happen to me... chances are, I've been in your shoes.  Here are some great questions to ask yourself before your next bon-voyage abroad.

1. When should I book my trip?

This is a very popular question to ask, and one that is even harder to answer. You really need to consider many things: airfare prices, time of travel, destination etc.  If you have a flexible schedule, and have racked up vacation days, consider taking advantage of last minute deals. If you know when and where you want to travel internationally, plan three months ahead. If you plan to travel during the Christmas season, you may need to plan even farther in advance.
2. What does my airline ticket include?

You may get caught thinking, "WOW this is a cheap ticket let me book it NOW." Think twice.  Many airline companies (American Airlines, WizzAir etc.) sell tickets at discounted rates only to tack on the price for almost everything, including a glass of water. Going from Los Angeles to Cabo for $131 on Alaska Air sounds like a screaming deal, but does that include your bag of bikinis? Nothing is free these days. To your base fare, add on "mystery" fees ($47.50), a seat that you pick ($10), two checked bags for all your sombreros and sunscreen ($50), a travel plan incase there's a hurricane ($13) and margarita or two ($14). Surprise, now your $131 ticket has become a $265 ticket.  Cheap tickets are sometimes too good to be true, so make sure you know what you're getting!

3. How do I get to the hotel from the airport?

Most large cities like to keep airports on the outskirts of town, and sometimes getting to your hotel is no walk in the park.  Make sure to have a plan before you land. Whether by taxi, uber, subway, bus, or hotel shuttle; it's a good idea to know how you're going to get from point-A to point-B in advance. Call or E-mail your hotel and ask for their recommendation; also ask what they anticipate the cost of travel to be, to avoid a taxi rip-off. 

4. Can I drive in a foreign country?

Technically there are 101 countries that require you to have an international drivers permit.  If you want to live by this being a "theory," make sure you come to a complete stop at every stop sign... especially in Europe. While rental car companies may not request the permit, police do. Getting an international drivers permit is simple, easy, and can prevent you from encountering highway robbery.

5. What time is check-in?

There is no point in jet-setting early in the morning only to arrive at your destination and have to wait for your room to be ready.  Make sure you know what time you can check-in.  If you're arriving early, see if you can leave your luggage with the concierge and take on the town!

6. Will my cellphone work abroad?

The sad story of a friend coming home from a vacation to get hit with a a $1,000 cell phone bill is all too familiar.  Call your cellphone provider before turning on airplane mode. Spring for a data plan, only iMessage on WiFi, or if you have an unlocked phone buy a pre-paid card once you've arrived at your destination.  Avoid outrageous roaming and text charges, it can be like paying for a second vacation in itself.

7. Where is the best place to exchange money?

While some banks have fees to use foreign ATM and add on foreign-transaction fees (BofA, for example, charges $5 per withdrawal plus a 3% premium on top of each withdrawal at a non-partnered ATM), the ATM is still the cheapest way to exchange money.  Perhaps the best bank account to have if you're travel a lot is Capital One, as they charge nothing for foreign ATM withdrawal.  Exchange bureaus charge a hefty commission rate for exchange, and when you see a sign at an that advertises "no-fee" be sure to check the daily exchange rates.  Typically "no-fee" bureaus have a bad exchange rate; their secret is that they increase the rate 4-9% to make a profit. Bottom line, use an ATM, think carefully, and plan how much money you'll need for activities.

8. Is there a fee to use my credit cards abroad?

Shoveling out an extra 1-3% in foreign traction fees for each purchase is an unnecessary expense; consider applying for a credit card with no foreign transaction fee. Look into Chase Sapphire Preferred, Capital One Venture, BankAmericard Travel Rewards, and Barclay Arrival Plus.  Apply now and you may even snatch up some bonus offers.  Make sure your credit card has a micro-chip, it's becoming a global standard for security purposes.

9. Do I need to tip?

Not all countries have the same standards when it comes to gratuity.  Conde Nast and CCRA have great tipping guidelines on how to have proper etiquette wherever you may be. Be aware of service charges added onto your bill; typically this is considered a tip. Tip where you experience good service, and leave those who impressed you feeling well appreciated.

10. What are your top travel apps?

There are so many apps you can download onto your phone or pad before hitting the road. I have wrangled mine together in a folder labeled "travel."  I love to use Tripit. Tripit is useful for organizing plane ticket confirmations, hotel check-ins, car rentals and even train passes.  It's a great app to use if you're city hopping and will keep you updated on all of your reservations.  Triposo is an ultimate travel guide.  It can help you decide where to sleep, and what to see and do.  It's great for downloading offline maps and comes with compete guides to all the city attractions and sights. You wont miss a thing! TripAdvisor is my go-to for finding nearby restaurants.  A lot of foreign countries don't yelp review their restaurants, but they sure use TripAdvisor and I haven't been disappointed.  Skype is the most inexpensive way to communicate with loved ones back home.  Rather than using an international phone plan, you can talk to anyone by adding credits to your Skype account. I love to use WhatsApp for messaging internationally, when on WiFi! Last but not least, GoogleTranslate is a must.  You can translate into 90 different languages, and if you're having trouble understanding a menu, just take a picture of the text and it will translate for you!

Whether or not you're a seasoned world traveler, it's surprisingly simple to travel like one. So before you jet set for a fun adventure, or relaxing get away, ask yourself these questions so you don't get caught in a bind. 


Thanks, Morgan! P.S. Check out my 6 Tricks to Survive a Long Flight, and My Favorite Travel Apps

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