Travel Tips for Taking a Non-European Vacation
After your last trip to Europe with museum crowds, tour bus traffic, and ATM lines, and store crushes, are you ready for your first adventure trip? Or at least your first non European journey?
If so, here are some considerations along with suggestions on how to deal with each new experience.
Culture shock. You are going to see people dressed differently than you and your visitor status will be obvious to them. Get used to being seen as a foreigner. On the street in some countries, people might stare at you, not in anger but in curiosity. In our current political atmosphere, be ready with pride for your country and with simple explanations about our administration.
Religions are going to be different and practices might seem strange to you. Some festivities such as those of burning the dead on the banks of the Ganges might upset you. Be prepared for opening your mind and spirit. If your tour is taking you to one of these religious events, you can be sure it will be safe for foreigners. If your trip takes you to Islamic countries, you might be able to visit mosques. If so bring socks as you will be taking your shoes off at the door.
Water, you will now be drinking bottled water and hopefully using it to brush your teeth also. That means your tour group either is paying for some bottles each day or you will need to buy water yourself. And budget for it. You might bring some straws so you can safely drink out of bottles. A cheap way to get around the cost of bottled water is to find the local supermarket or food stall and buy large bottles for your use. Obviously they should be unopened and if in doubt, they should be carbonated.
Similarly, food will be different but equally tempting. Street food is a ‘no no’ even when it smells fabulous. And you need to reconsider eating anything fresh and unpeeled, like even a strawberry on top of a piece of cake. There are plenty of articles with information on safe food consumption so we don’t have to go over that here in detail. The general rule is peel it, cook it or don’t eat it. If you really really want fresh veggies and unpeeled fruit, you can bring water purification pills, fill a hotel ice bucket with water, use the pills are directed. Then soak your food items as again directed, usually 30+ minutes.
Language is going to be written in other alphabets: Arabic in Morocco for instance. Street directions will be trickier. Receipts and hotel bills might also be confusing.
Currencies might be highly inflated with 100’s or 1000’s to a US Dollar. Worse there might be out of date currencies still in circulation. You should familiarize yourself with what is a valid bill and what is not. Take along photos from the internet or pay in US. If you intend to pay in US on the assumption that people in country will want our dollars, you must bring only unmarked new bills, $20’s are popular. Ask your bank for new bills; most banks can order them for you.
Bargaining will be important. In many countries we consider adventurous, bargaining is the way to shop. There might be few printed price labels, many prices will be verbal after the vendor has had a good look at you. And figures out you are American or Canadian.
Health. Bring prescriptions in the generic; these can be read overseas. Ask your doctor for prophylactics against diarrhea or other tummy upsets.
Wifi security. In some countries you may assume your phone is hacked. This happened to The Women’s Travel Group in Iran in 2016. If you must use wifi overseas for secure purposes, buy a VPN line or put the information into a more secure app like whatsapp.com, or divide it up half text and half email. This applies to China, former Soviet countries and many other places you might not expect.
Visas: Many non European countries require a visa to be approved ahead of the trip. You need 6 moths left minimum on your passport from the last day of your trip. And you might need one free page. Finally some countries will not issue visas to journalists, so if you are a journalist, blogger or photographer, find out if the denial will apply to you.
Do your homework, don’t just read scare headlines: The US State Dept. publishes information about each country and often specific areas within a country. Do NOT rely on a newspaper, go to the source. You can also check what the Brits, Canadians, Aussies and New Zealanders say officially via their governments.
So now that we listed all the do’s and don’ts, here are the best countries for your first non European trip:
Morocco: short flight, French and Arabic speaking, strong tourist infrastructure, friendly, good roads and airports. Progressive religion means you can visit mosques and madrassas ( schools). Women might be veiled but are working professionals. The US Dollar goes far.
India: longer flight but in recent years, flight costs have plummeted. Fabulous hotels with spas and shopping malls, English spoken by many, modern airports and roads, endless street festivals all year around. India is huge so you will need a few trips: Rajasthan is the usual first trip. South India the second (East and West) and festivals should be included.
Africa, including Namibia: These are both former colonies, both English speaking and both have a rich heritage of tourism. Lodges will be luxurious, food European ( English and German) and English is widely spoken. Namibia is a hot newer destination with Americans as it includes game, tribes, scenery and is fairly unspoiled. Weather for both of these is important to get the best game viewing and avoid extremes in heat and cold.
If you have questions about other destinations, feel free to ask about our experiences there. The Women’s Travel Group has organized tours to many destinations for many years; we offer real time, real advice.
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