1. Check the OFFICIAL RATE OF CURRENCY
On the borders, especially by land, there are always heaps of people trying to sell you the local currency, usually more expensive than the official rate. It’s difficult to avoid overpaying, but don’t let them cheat on you too easily. Be careful also with purchasing, especially for private taxis, on the borders they have really crazy prices and some of them may try to use the fact that you don’t know the actual exchange rate. We heard from a woman who paid ten times more the usual price for a taxi in Myanmar, simply because she was not used to the local currency and she didn’t realize the ride should cost 8 kyats instead of 80.
2. Take care of TICKET PRICES
If you want to use public transport get an idea of the costs. In a lot of countries drivers try to take advantage of tourists. It was especially difficult for us in Vietnam, where they tried to cheat in any possible way, giving us much higher prices, charging additionally for the baggage, including an improbable insurance for foreigners or simply not giving us the change back. But if you know the price and you are stubborn enough, they will take your deal in most of the cases.
Luckily, restrictions to enter a country for tourist reason are less and less common, with many places requiring no more than a valid (usually at least 6 months) passport. But in this field the rules of the game change overnight. What are the visa restrictions for the country you are going to? If you need a visa, can you buy it at the border? Do you need any invitation letter, ticket back or official address (your hostel, for instance)? Better check it out before being refused right at the door.
4. You may have to show a TICKET BACK
Some nations require to have a ticket to leave the country before you actually even enter the plane to get in the country. It happened to us in Singapore, when we tried to fly to the Philippines. Although for a short stay we don’t need a visa to the huge archipelago, they told us at the airport that without a ticket back they would not let us enter the plane – flight companies are quite strict for it is their duty to pay your way back from wherever you come if at the arrival the authority don’t let you in -. It was midnight, the batteries in our computers were almost empty, Internet connection sucked and we had 20 minutes to the closing of the gate. We managed, but it’s definitely better avoid such a kind of stress. Two years later, when we were flying to Brazil, which officially has this kind of expectations, we pre-booked a random ticket. We got a sort of temporary confirmation which we hoped would be enough to pass the control. Nobody even asked for it. You never know, all in all –better be prepared.
5. Mind about possible REGISTRATION duties
Doesn’t matter whether you need a visa or not, some countries require you to register you stay (It depends on the country. For instance, you need to do it if your visit lasts more than 2 days in Serbia or Macedonia, or for over 10 days in Azerbaijan). If you go for a hotel they usually take care of it, so not always this information is given at the border. So be very careful. We almost paid a 300 euro fine, for not registering in Azerbaijan. Luckily we got away with that one.
6. Better exchange money or pick from an ATM?
Where is it worth to withdraw money? Some ATM take a huge fee, sometime even without warning you. But this vary from bank to bank even within the same country. Actually, travelling we spent so much money on bank operations – in some case it added up to a 20% hidden tax - that we really got pro in checking rate of exchange, withdrawing or card paying conditions, safety, etc. We didn’t have problems with safety so far, but our friends lost all money they had in their account because somebody scanned their card in a ATM and they didn’t realize it. In our case, we don’t keep a card to the main account, every now and then we transfer money to a debit card (actually two), so even if somebody steals it we don’t lose much.
7. Get a local SIM CARD
Buying a local SIM card may be much cheaper than using the one from your country or seeking for internet cafes at need. The only exception we met so far was Turkey, where owning a SIM card costs a fortune. To us having a local number is very useful, it makes communication with local people much easier, smoother and faster. Sometime, though, the registration process was quite an headache.
It is also very important to discover the kind of plug (and voltage) they use in your destination country; anyway the adapter is easy to find once there.
8. Get a grip on HOSTEL options
Even if you use couchsurfing, workaway or other platforms, it’s good to know where you can sleep in case something goes wrong, especially if you plan to arrive late in the evening. In fact, we don’t do it often enough and it happened to us to go up and down, quite tired, in a completely new city, trying to figure out where to spend the night.
9. Learn FEW WORDS IN THE LOCAL LANGUAGE
It’s always much appreciated if you can say a few words in the local language. Try, even if you are not sure about the pronunciation; people will love it! And it makes your life so much easier. What’s more, learning a language of the country you are in tells you a lot about people’s way of thinking and it is a door to understand the culture. Did you know, for example, that in Thai they don’t have past and future tenses or in the Philippines they don’t distinguish the gender? They use “it” in all cases, no she /he.