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International Travel: Why Now is the Time

by Cheryl Pendry, Guest Columnist and PassPorter Message Board Guide

With international travel becoming ever more competitive, cheaper and easier to book through a range of websites, it's becoming an attractive option. But what do you need to know if you'll be venturing abroad for the first time? Here, Cheryl Pendry, who has been traveling internationally for more than twenty years, offers some advice on country hopping.

A quick browse on the Internet will tell you that now is the time to start thinking about your next trip abroad; because the travel industry is doing everything they can to make it a possibility.

Dallas Fort Worth International Airport is embarking on a $2.7 billion expansion scheme, the largest post 9/11 airport project, which will see a new state of the art, international terminal opening in 2005. Meanwhile, a recent survey from an Internet based travel agent reports that sales are increasing for more exotic destinations, such as Vietnam, India and Cambodia.

And more traditional destinations are also experiencing an upturn in visitors., the official website of the British Tourist Authority, is also reporting a growth in the number of people coming to the UK, with the number of North American visitors up by 20% this year, compared to twelve months ago.

So if you're thinking of taking the plunge and heading to a foreign country for the first time, what do you need to know? Before you think about heading abroad, you need a passport; an internationally recognized travel document, which verifies not only your identity, but also your nationality.

If you don't have a passport or need to renew yours, then don't forget to allow adequate time to obtain one. For American citizens, the routine service takes around six weeks, although you can pay extra for expedited service and two-way overnight delivery to get your passport within about two weeks. For British citizens, the usual turnaround time for passports is two to three weeks, but if additional checks are required, then processing will take longer.

Once you have your passport, it's a good idea to carry it with you while you're in a foreign country. It's an excellent proof of ID and you never know when you might get asked for it. We have been asked for ours when renting a car and cashing travelers checks.

Speaking of car rentals, if you're traveling abroad, don't forget that you'll need your driver's license before you can rent a car and bear in mind that you need to have adequate insurance, as your own car insurance may not cover you to drive abroad.

Of course, car rentals, along with things like souvenirs and food all need to be paid for while you're abroad. One of the easiest ways to do this is to carry traveler's checks, which means you won't have too much cash on you at any one time. It's important to make a note of all the numbers on your traveler's checks and which have been used, and keep that note separate from your checks, so if the worst happens and you lose your checks or they're stolen, then you can easily get them cancelled.

Even if you take travelers checks and use popular credit cards (many of which are readily accepted), you will probably need some foreign currency somewhere along the way. While it does take a while to get to grips with the different coins and notes, life has become simpler for anyone traveling to those European countries that now use one currency -- the Euro. This means you may only have to take (and master) one currency if you're visiting countries like France, Spain or Italy. There are even some places in Britain that accept the Euro, but don't rely on that. For a British trip, you will need a supply of pounds and pence as well.

Jetlag is something that most international travelers have to deal with at some time, if they're crossing more than a couple of time zones. The worst problems usually occur when you're traveling eastwards and essentially going forward in time. Most of these flights tend to arrive at their destination early in the morning. This means that, to quickly adjust to your new time zone, you need to get through the whole day, following a night on board an aircraft.

Therefore, it's vital to try and get as much sleep as you can on your flight, although that's often easier said than done. Most airlines now recognize that this is an issue and do everything they can to help you sleep, including dimming the cabin lights for at least part of the flight and providing blankets and pillows.

Traditionally, on flights from America to Europe, dinner is served as soon after take-off as possible, allowing you time to relax and hopefully drift off to sleep for a couple of hours at least. And here is the main problem with long haul flights. You don't usually have enough time to get an average night's sleep. From Orlando to London, the flight time is usually around eight hours, but once you remove the time taken for departure, dinner, then breakfast and landing, in reality, you'll be lucky to get four hours sleep, before arriving somewhere between 6:40 and 10:15 in the morning.

One thing that will help you to sleep is setting your watch to your destination's time zone as soon as you take-off. It's amazing how tired you suddenly feel when you realize that, at your destination, it's already 2:00 in the morning! I also find that a glass of wine with dinner does help me to get to sleep, although there is advice now that you should avoid alcohol completely on long haul flights and instead drink lots of water, so it depends whether you find a glass of wine usually helps you to sleep at home.

Once you've landed, adrenalin will keep you going for a certain amount of time. After all, you're either home or you're at your destination. The best way to overcome jetlag is to fit into your new time zone as quickly as you can -- and that means staying awake all day. On a limited amount of sleep, that's not easy, but it's not impossible either.

Keeping busy and spending time outside will help, as the fresh air will keep you awake, while having things to do usually keeps your mind active and ensures you won't drift off to sleep. When we got back from our most recent Disney trip in May, I immediately unpacked all our suitcases and did five loads of washing. Having to regularly head outdoors to hang the washing out really helped to keep me alert and focused, and with the windows open to let some air in, there was no danger of me falling asleep.

But if you can't stay awake all day, don't despair. You just need to realize that it may take more than one day to adjust to your new routine and you may need to nap in the afternoon for a couple of days, until you're back on track. As a result, it's a good idea not to make any major plans right after a long flight. Plan to visit places and do things which can be moved to another day, if necessary. For example, don't book top priced theatre tickets for the night after a long flight -- just in case!

If you're worried that you might need to learn another language before you travel abroad, then don't be. If you're reading this, then English will now take you to many parts of the world, without you needing to know a word of another language. It's always a good idea to experiment with the French or Spanish you learnt at school, but in the top tourist destinations in Europe, if you speak to them in their native tongue, the chances are that they'll reply to you in English. It's happened many times to us!

As I've hopefully just proved, traveling internationally doesn't have to be a daunting experience and with prices dropping, it doesn't have to be a once in a lifetime experience either. There are literally hundreds of destinations waiting to be explored, all unique and all very different from what we're used to at home. Don't forget that travel broadens the mind and is also great fun. Happy international travels!

This article appeared in our August 26, 2004 newsletter -- subscribe to our popular newsletter today for free!

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Updated 04/06/07 

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