No matter how much experience you have with international travel, venturing to a foreign country can be stressful. If you’re attending an important professional conference, you might be even more nervous about your upcoming journey.
Fortunately, whether you’re intending to stay for only a couple of days or you’re turning this into a bigger, more comprehensive trip, there are some strategies that can help you better manage your international travel.
Learn Both the Language and the Culture
If you’re traveling to a country that speaks a different language, it’s a good idea to spend at least some time learning that language. You don’t have to become bilingual in the months leading up to your trip, but if you know even a handful of common phrases, greetings and words, you’ll be much more capable of managing your trip (and you’ll make a better impression with the locals as well).
In addition, it’s important to learn how this culture works and how it’s different than yours. In the United States, for example, it’s common for professional colleagues to greet each other by shaking hands, smiling and maintaining eye contact—but that may not be the case in another country. Be sure you learn the common points of etiquette so you can make a good impression with your new colleagues and navigate the country without issue.
Work With a Local Expert
If possible, try to talk and work with someone who either lives in the country you’re visiting or is very familiar with the culture and common life there. Practice the language with them. Ask them any questions you have about etiquette. Try to see the country through their eyes. Their personal experience will probably teach you more than you can learn simply by reading articles online.
Research All Travel Requirements in Advance
Next, spend some time researching all the travel requirements for getting to your international destination (and coming back home). No matter what, you’ll probably need an up-to-date passport that isn’t going to expire in the near future. To travel to the United States through the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), international travelers need to have an electronic travel authorization (through ESTA). Check to see if is there something similar if you’re traveling from the United States to the country of your choice.
While you’re at it, make sure you stay up to date. These requirements often change without much warning.
Prepare a Thorough Itinerary and be Prepared
This should go without saying but work proactively to prepare a thorough itinerary. Make detailed plans for your travel and accommodations, and establish a few backup plans in case your primary strategies don’t work out.
It’s easy to take your telecommunication and internet connections for granted in the United States. Overseas, you may not be able to connect unless you purchase an international data plan or phone in the area. Do your research in advance and make sure you’re prepared with things like electrical outlet converters, charging cables for your destination country and upgraded international phone plans. It also pays to have an emergency backup plan in case your primary means of communication is no longer available.
Be Wary of Travel Advisories
Pay attention to travel advisories to and from your destination country. Countries may issue advisories based on a number of factors, such as natural disasters, military conflicts or the spread of infectious diseases. If travel advisories grow worse, or if you have significant concerns in the days leading up to your trip, you may need to cancel or change your plans.
Finally, you’ll need to take measures to protect yourself.
Invest in travel insurance. Investing in travel insurance can instantly make you feel more secure. Depending on the package you get, your travel insurance will likely cover you for medical issues, theft and even weather-related disasters.
Know the risks. Different countries and different areas within those countries have risks. Make sure you understand and account for these risks in advance. For example, is there a part of the city that has an exceptionally high crime rate? Is there an increased risk of a certain type of natural disaster?
Minimize losses. You can also work to minimize your losses. Only carry the essentials with you when you’re traveling—and keep an emergency stash of cash in case you lose your main wallet.
If done correctly, with the proper planning, international travel is more fun than it is stressful. You’ll be able to enjoy the conference with security and peace of mind—and when you’re done, you’ll likely have a chance to explore the country to see what else it has to offer.