Things to ALWAYS Do Abroad:
1. Download films to watch and music to listen to offline on apps like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Music/Prime Video, Pandora, Spotify, and YouTube Music. Keep in mind, several apps like Hulu or Pandora are not normally available outside of the US or their selection changes by country such as Netflix. My choices are Netflix and YouTube Music because they have the highest selection, in my opinion, are affordable, and are available in the majority of countries.
2. Download a VPN. What is a VPN? It’s essentially an app that manipulates your network to make it believe you are in a different country. So, when using the aforementioned apps, it will make them accessible abroad whereas they wouldn’t be under normal circumstances.
Keep in mind that there are free VPNs and paid VPNs, where the paid ones are higher quality and some can trick protected apps, like Netflix, which generally won’t work if they detect a VPN is being used. I use Turbo VPN because it’s free and pretty efficient.
Also, several countries like Vietnam or Myanmar block certain aspects of the Internet. In fact, in Mainland China the Internet is virtually inaccessible without a quality VPN.
3. Check-in to reservations online, if you can. This will always expedite the process of travel and lodging. This seems like common sense, but common sense is not so common nowadays unfortunately.
4. Print out copies of reservations and save them digitally on apps such as Google Drive. It’s always better to be safe than sorry! Again, this shouldn’t need to be mentioned but people often think it can never happen to them until it happens to them.
5. Download the Mobile Passport app. This allows users to skip the long queues at immigration and is super simple and quick to use. In fact, electronic passports holders generally queue up with the cabin and crew at immigration.
6. Download the Smart Traveler app aka STEP (Smart Traveler Enrollment Program). This app communicates with your local U.S. Embassy or Consulate and keeps track of your travels as well as emergency contact information. Basically, if crap hits the fan abroad, it’s used to give you security updates and as your lifeline between your local U.S. Embassy or Consulate, yourself, and your emergency contacts to know you’re in a bad situation that requires their assistance.
7. Ask questions in Facebook expats groups. There are groups for nearly every country for the specific reasons to ask questions, to meet new people, and to get insight on the do’s and don’ts of visiting a country. Keep in mind, a lot of groups are full of trolls and some are highly biased or opinionated so take everything with a grain of salt.
8. Haggle. Haggling is the local language anywhere and I admit I suck at it. Especially with older women, I always lose because it’s odd for me to be firm with an old women who are often the pros of haggling. If you go to a local market and don’t even try to haggle you are doing it wrong.
9. Get a burner phone and a local SIM card. Burner phones are cheap throwaway phones that are normally used just for a trip and usually cost around $10USD. I carry a $100 smartphone because I’ve used it in multiple countries and simply swapped out the SIM each time. I generally do it at the airport upon arriving because, even though it’s normally a little more expensive, I’m paying for the convenience of getting it done quick and right away.
10. Be aware of the snatch and grab. The most common form of theft is for someone on a motorcycle to drive by someone casually carrying a bag or purse on one shoulder and to snatch it and drive off. Often, the victim gets dragged in the street if they do not let go. A lot of people wear their backpacks frontwards because of this, but I simply recommend walking as far into the sidewalks as possible and holding your bag with two hands.
11. Be aware of mafia presence. Me? I love going to mafia bars and hangouts because I know what is and is not expected. I’ve done it in Japan, Vietnam, Malaysia and more. However, if you arrive acting entitled or like a sucker – thinking they are your friends right off the bat and you can ignore boundaries, then you are making some HUGE mistakes. Come in, be respectful, watch how much you drink and make kind but not naive gestures. Give a good tip, buy a round of drinks, exert common courtesy and good manners. They will often respect your respect but will also take note if you seem like a pushover. Find the balance between the two. Treat them like they are your boss because you are in their house and what they say goes.
12. Pay the bribe I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been bribed or seen someone get bribed. Never fight or argue because you will lose every time! A common example being when foreigners cross a border for a visa run or just simply traveling. The border patrol will often say there is a hidden or extra fee and normally it’s nothing significant, around $20USD usually. Pick your battles wisely and pay! I’ve seen people get marooned at the border, get bloodied up, and more, because they stood by the principle that it’s wrong to bribe someone and forgot they were in a country where they don’t make the rules.
13. Always pay in local currency when using a credit card, otherwise the exchange rate will almost always not be in your favor.
Things to NEVER Do Abroad:
1. Never open carry or draw on someone. I’ve seen it, I’ve done it, and it never works out in your favor. When people open carry abroad, especially in third world countries, you are not broadcasting that you are the person not to be messed with, you are broadcasting that you have something valuable enough that you need protection. Every local looking at foreigners as targets weigh out if the juice is worth the squeeze. So, if they see you open carrying a knife, for example, close the distance on you, and say, “You’re wallet or your life,” it generally means they have a gun and aren’t worried about your blade. Give it to them because money and credit cards can be replaced – your life cannot.
2. The number one rule of traveling abroad is to never fight a local – no matter the case! Even if it’s for a justified reason like animal or domestic abuse, you do not know who they are or what they are capable of and your government can only protect you abroad to such an extent.
For example, I saw a women getting beaten in the street by a guy in Vietnam and no one did anything but watch. I sat there getting ready to do something when my local friend told me he’s a corrupt cop and that girl is his wife but she is crazy. Basically saying if you get involved you, will get worse and the girl won’t be grateful and is likely to throw you under the bus to save herself. The damsel in distress and knight in shining armor concept does not exist abroad. This is real life, not a movie. Lawlessness is common abroad, especially in third world countries. Don’t try to be a hero without at least having all the facts first.
3. Never start a tab or pay with big bills in a new local bar or club. If the staff doesn’t know and or like you, they might decide to overcharge the crap out of you and if you do something about it they will either ignore you or escalate the situation because, again, you are in their house and you’re paying the “foreigner fee” in their eyes.
4. Never keep your valuables in your back pocket. I’m not a fan of money belts because they are uncomfortable and you look ridiculous trying to take anything out of it in public. Therefore, I normally walk with my wallet in my front left pocket and my cell phone in my front right pocket with my thumbs in each one. Pick pockets are experts and no matter how cautious you are if you have a nice iPhone they will find or create an opportunity to snatch it when you least expect it.
5. Never exchange your money abroad. If you can, do it at your local bank because you will always get a significantly better deal. I’ve had several “I told you so” moments when people thought they knew better and ended up spending $50+ dollars to simply exchange their money when they could have done it for free at their home bank.
In addition, if you do decide to exchange your currency abroad, most places will not take older bills and if your currency is not in mint condition it likely won’t be accepted.
If anything, I suggest investing in a travel card instead because you will be making money back off of making purchases abroad as apposed to losing it by exchanging and paying in cash.