In less than a month I will be traveling to Quito, Ecuador for a study abroad trip and I could not be more excited! Considering I’ve only been on a plane twice in my life and have only had one real experience abroad, preparing for this trip has been a pain in my backside. So here’s the basics of what I’ve learned so far in my how-to on preparing for traveling abroad:
Get a passport (if you already have a passport check the expiration date): I know you’re sitting there thinking, “Thanks Captain Obvious! I’m going out of the country of course I need a passport!” But let me tell you something, Lieutenant Sarcasm; putting off getting your passport can turn into a big problem.
I had a passport from my freshman year of high school, but unluckily for me it expired within five months after my study abroad. In order to leave Ecuador you need to present a passport with at least six months validity. (I recommend checking your country of travels policy on validity.) So I took my drivers license, old passport, social security card and another government issued I.D. to the post office to renew my passport. Because I was a minor when I got my first passport, those four forms of identification weren’t enough. I also needed my birth certificate and a copy of my birth certificate. Basically the only thing they didn’t need from me was a list of my ancestry and a written note from the doctor that delivered me stating that I was, in fact, myself.
I did eventually end up getting all thirty forms of the necessary documentation, filling out the application and getting my picture taken. A half an hour and $150 later, I had ordered my new passport.
Purchase your plane tickets: Make sure you have enough time to get from terminal to terminal if you have a connecting flight. I, being the inexperienced flyer I am, made sure I had plenty of time between flights… six hours to be exact. You know just in case I can’t find my terminal or get lost in the airport for five and half hours. On second thought, I’m probably going to regret that layover choice.
Pack light: You’re going on a trip, not moving you’re entire life to a foreign country. I realize you might really like those black studded heels but realistically you’re never going to wear them! Leave them behind! Only pack the necessities and when you’re dragging your suitcase through the airport by yourself, you’re going to thank me. Check ahead of time to see if you’ll have access to a laundry facility, because if so, only take enough clothes for a week. Just think the less stuff you bring, the more room you’ll have to take things back!
Embrace a more natural look: You don’t want to lug 50 different hair products or tools to another country, trust me. And this goes for the men too! Leave the hair gel behind! Take only what you need. I promise that you’re not going to want to spend an hour getting ready when you could be out exploring.
Adapters, Money, Identification, Etc.: If you plan on using any electronics you’re going to need an adapter. Research the type of outlet used in the country you’re traveling to and buy a couple adapters of that type. When traveling you don’t want to be carrying around all your money in case you get pick pocketed. Your best bet would be to take the money you will need for the day with you when you go out and leave the rest in the safe at your hostel or hotel. Same thing goes for identification; take COPIES of your passport with you and leave your original passport in your safe. In foreign countries your United States driver’s license will not work as identification, instead use a photocopy of your passport.
In Quito the American dollar is widely accepted so I won’t have to worry about changing currency, however they aren’t going to be able to break large bills for me either so I’ll be taking mainly smaller bills (10’s, 5’s and 1’s) and change.
The Not-So-Stand-Out American: Basically try not to look too American and tourist-y. Blend into the culture; wear clothing that doesn’t make you stand out. The more out of place you look, the easier target you are for pick pocketing and petty theft. If you make an effort to keep your belongings on or in front of you, you definitely reduce the risk of theft, but if you’re wearing name brand clothing that is obviously expensive you are basically holding up a sign inviting thieves to target you.
Last but definitely not least,
HAVE FUN! Traveling is fun and exciting. You get to experience a new culture with interesting customs, foods and languages. Many people don’t get the opportunity to travel so take advantage of it. Take risks and do something new! Personally, I have this crazy fear of sharks but while abroad I’ll be snorkeling with sharks and other tropical fish in the Galapagos Islands. Granted I might have a minor anxiety attack, but I’m still going to! Take chances and do something that you’ll remember forever; make the thousands of dollars you’re spending worth the trip. Don’t spend too much time stressing the little things and just look forward to the great experience ahead of you.
Travel safe and wish me luck in Quito! I’m going to need it with those sharks!
-Rebecca Zook is a sophomore studying journalism with a minor in studio art. Follow her at @BeccaZook.