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Important Questions to Ask Before Traveling Somewhere New

When planning a trip to somewhere new – or that you haven’t visited in many years – there’s more to think about than what you want to do or when to go. Being a well informed traveler is as important as being open and curious. On a practical note, there are some important questions to ask before traveling somewhere new.

important questions to ask before traveling somewhere new anywhere in the world represented by destination snapshots

What are some of the most common tourist scams?

Scams targeting travelers exist pretty much everywhere, especially in popular travel destinations. Being aware of the most common scams in the destination you’re planning to visit will keep you from falling victim to one. Tourist scams are often clever, and hinge on our desire to not be rude. From the Paris bracelet scam to shady taxis gouging tourists, get wise to these in advance. It will save you stress and money.

Some of the most common tourist scams around the globe include:

  • the friendship bracelet scam
  • the “found” gold ring (or other type of jewelry)
  • Fake charity or petition collectors
  • the “helpful” local (offering unsolicited assistance)
  • the “spilled” food or drink or fake bird poop scam (used as a distraction to pickpocket)
  • the “it’s closed today” scam: a local or taxi driver tells you a place is closed and offers an alternative

These are just a handful of the tourist scams out there: when travel planning, include learning about the scams specific to your intended destination. Even seasoned travelers have fallen for tourist scams, so stay vigilant even if you’re not a newbie.

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What are the important safety tips and knowledge?

Travel safety isn’t just about crime. As far as avoiding personal crime (from pickpocketing to assaults), practice good travel safety sense. Learn if there are any areas of town to avoid, whether all the time or just at night.

It’s generally wise to avoid wearing flashy jewelry (even if it’s not actually expensive), pay attention to your surroundings, be careful of getting overly intoxicated, and giving away too much detail about yourself right off the bat. This is even more important when traveling solo, as you won’t have a travel partner to help look out for you.

an older woman pickpockets a man not paying attention
Keep in mind pickpockets don’t always “look” like petty criminals. They are very good at blending in and looking harmless or respectable.

Depending on where you’re headed, there may be unique dangers from nature too. If your travels are taking you into the great outdoors, be sure to learn about local flora or fauna to watch out for. Pay attention to signs and don’t do silly things like climb over barriers, go off trails, or take nature lightly.

sign at double arch alcove telling hikers to stay on trail and protect the terrain
Ignoring signs can endanger you, others, or the local environment. Please don’t ignore them!

Natural phenomena can be dangerous: rogue waves, fragile cliff edges, whirlpools, extreme weather, and more have all resulted in travelers needing rescue or worse. Another unfortunate mistake made by many less experienced outdoor tourists is overestimating their abilities. Heed the warnings of those more experienced than you.

Ignoring advice or your own limits can also result in being fined or billed for rescue services. It’s not just about money: ignorance can be deadly, so take the time to do your homework on the environment you’ll be adventuring in.

Bonus Travel Safety Tip

Memorize the local emergency numbers – many countries have separate numbers for police, ambulance, and fire. Knowing where the nearest hospital and police station are is simple and good knowledge to have. Better to have this knowledge and not need it than the other way around!
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What is the local currency and exchange rate?

Knowing the local currency and exchange is important for several reasons, not all of them immediately obvious. Memorizing the exchange rate keeps you from accidentally overspending or getting ripped off – by an ATM or unscrupulous business. 

Find out if you need to get any foreign currency ahead of time. In the vast majority of destinations around the globe, it’s perfectly fine (and convenient) to wait until arriving to pull local cash from a bank ATM. This is usually the cheapest way to get local currency when traveling.

However if your card may not work or it’s a cash-dominant destination, already having a modest amount of local currency on arrival will be useful. Check with your bank to make sure your card won’t get frozen, and consult with other travelers who’ve been to the same place as to whether they had any issues using their bank cards to get cash.

If credit cards are widely accepted, it’s again a good idea to notify your bank and make sure your particular type of card is accepted at the destination. If possible, carry two different cards (Mastercard and Visa tend to be the most widely accepted). Keep them separate so if one is lost or stolen you still have access to funds.

Don’t Get Ripped off Exchanging Money!

When using an ATM, choose a bank ATM. Not only are they less likely to be tampered with (especially ones inside the bank), but the fees will be lower. Don’t accept the conversion – take money in the local currency. Your bank will provide a better conversion rate.
Exchange bureaus and desks (ESPECIALLY ones in the airport) should also be avoided unless you absolutely must have some cash. Their rates are inflated, so it’s best to not use them or only change a small amount of money to hold you over until you get to a bank ATM.

What is the best way to get around as a tourist?

Is there good and safe public transportation – and is it fairly easy to use? Are taxis or a car service recommended (and can you afford it?) – this can be the case in some areas especially at night when public transport might be less safe. If you like to walk everywhere, take that into account when planning your travel itinerary and choosing lodging.

distinctive blue and yellow dutch train at the Hoorn train station

If it’s necessary to rent a car – especially when renting a car abroad – you’ll need to consider several things. Will any car do or will it be necessary to rent a specialty vehicle? Is any additional documentation required? Some countries require an IDP. What is an IDP? It stands for International Driver’s Permit, and it’s an official translation of your license. An IDP can easily be obtained at many AAA offices in the U.S. for $20 plus the cost of photos.

Some car rental companies require a license that has been valid for a certain amount of time – 2-3 years in many cases. This isn’t necessarily a law but may be a policy of an individual car rental company. Years ago I lost my wallet and had to have my driver’s license replaced. Since that license was “new”, I had to provide additional documentation of my license history to the rental service.

Be sure to study up on rules of the road and the most common road signs. Few things ruin a vacation like getting a ticket that could have been avoided. Even worse, it could end up getting you into an accident.

Are there any cultural or social norms to be aware of?

Traveling to a foreign destination may mean a culture and society very different from your own. In order to avoid a faux pas – or running afoul of the law – find out common missteps made by travelers. It can help you stick out a bit less (which makes you less vulnerable as a scam or pickpocket target) and avoid uncomfortable situations. 

architectural lines inside the world trade center memorial area in NYC
Certain locations or buildings – like the World Trade Center are in NYC can require extra sensitivity or awareness around cultural or historical significance.

Some countries may have laws that seem strange or unfair but that doesn’t mean you won’t get in trouble. Lots of countries like to make examples out of bumbling tourists by way of hefty fines or even prison time. Play by the rules or risk ending up in your own version of Locked Up Abroad!

Whether as a matter of law or just culture, when we travel we are a guest. If you don’t like the rules (official or not), it’s probably best not to go at all. Speak to locals or at least people deeply familiar with the culture so that you’re a well-informed traveler. Approach differences with patience and curiosity rather than immediate judgement or criticism.

Will there be any events going on?

Before booking anything non-refundable – like flights and hotels – check to see if there are any events or holidays happening during your intended visit. This is especially important if you have your heart set on doing something in particular. Events and holidays often impact opening hours or can mean a tourist site is far busier than usual.

The upside to this is that it can also mean additional fun events and activities! From parades to special exhibitions, events and holidays can make your trip extra special. Just make sure you have enough lead time to book well in advance.

What do other travelers wish they had known?

Relying on social media for travel planning isn’t always the best solution. However, asking in like-minded groups or threads can provide valuable insight. Asking other travelers – particularly those with similar interests and needs – what they wish they’d known before visiting can be very helpful.

Everyone will have their own key questions to ask before traveling: experienced travelers can be a trove of insight. As the saying goes, “You don’t know what you don’t know”. When asking fellow travelers this question, you can avoid pitfalls or learn about lesser known tourist attractions perfect for you.

Essential Tips for First-Time Travelers

For newbie travelers, it can feel overwhelming. There is so much information, and of course LOTS of opinions. From what to pack to making sure travel documents are in proper order, giving yourself lots of extra time in the planning process is extremely valuable. 

Some examples of important advice for new travelers:

  • Do you need a tourist visa? Depending on what passport you’re traveling on and where you’re going, you may need to apply for a visa in advance or bring extra documentation along to present on arrival
  • Travel insurance is generally recommended – there are many types but look for one that covers medical emergencies, extreme travel delays, lost or stolen personal items, and unexpected cancellation. 
  • Make sure to have extra copies of your important documents and cards. Keep a secure digital copy that you can access from anywhere, a hard copy in a safe spot with you, and copies (digital or physical) with someone you trust back home
  • Give yourself extra time: arrive a bit earlier than usual to airports or train stations and allow wiggle room between activities. This way delays or mistakes won’t derail your trip.
  • Especially if traveling solo, provide your planned itinerary to someone at home and check in with them once a day or so. You can also use an app like Life360, which allows those with authorized access to see where you are.
  • Don’t carry all of your money (cash or card) with you in one spot. If you lose your wallet, you won’t be stranded without funds. Keep one card and a little cash in a safe spot separate from the rest, both when transit and when out and about for the day.
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Questions to Ask Yourself Before Traveling

On a final note, there are a few questions to ask yourself before taking off on a travel adventure. Because travel is so personal, it’s not one size fits all. You’ll get hit with lots of advice and opinions – solicited or not. So check in with yourself first before taking all that in. You don’t have to get overly complicated or deep – short and sweet will do.

  • What is the purpose of my trip?
  • Am I adding something to my itinerary because I WANT to see/do it, or because I feel like I’m supposed to?
  • Am I taking advice from people who have been to the same destination and/or have similar travel styles?
  • Have I been honest with myself about my abilities, available budget, and wants/needs?

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