Top travel tips for your next vacation getaway

NAIT education abroad advisor offers expert insight

If you like to travel, you’re definitely not alone! Two thirds of Canadians have a passport so they’re able to take international trips. In August 2018, more than 4.5 million people returned to Canada from adventures abroad.

If you’re one of those jet-setters who like to explore other countries – or plan on hopping on a plane soon – it’s important to first put in some time preparing, says Laura Marchese, NAIT’s education abroad advisor. She runs regular pre-departure sessions for NAIT students who are going abroad for exchanges, internships, volunteering and field school.

“We want to make sure they know what they’re going to do,” she says. “We want to make sure that they're going to be safe.”

Not only does Marchese teach NAIT students the ins and outs of international travel, she’s clocked many miles herself. Here are her tips to consider before stepping on the plane.

1. Research and register

male researching travel

Any international adventure starts with a moment of inspiration and knowing where you want to travel. Can’t decide? According to travel search engine Kayak, Colombia, Morocco, Thailand and Japan rank among the popular places of interest for Canadians, and travel sites are often a great place to start to make informed choices.

Once you’ve settled on where to travel, it’s important to know what you’re getting into, says Marchese.

“Research the cultures and the history, what type of food is available,” she says.

Global Affairs Canada’s Country Insights directory provides useful information on cultural norms, communication styles, religion, stereotypes and more. It’s helpful to understand current economic and political climates as well, she says.

“If you're travelling to a country during election time, you're probably going to encounter protests.”

“If you're travelling to a country during election time, you're probably going to encounter protests,” she says. “You don't want to be involved in protests or demonstrations. You can actually be arrested in some countries for being part of them.”

Marchese also advises researching interesting places to visit during your trip. Doing so can help you plan your itinerary.

“[People] miss popular tourist destinations just because they weren't aware that they were going to a city where that was located,” she says.

You should also register your travel with the Government of Canada, says Marchese. That way, if there’s cause for evacuation – like during a natural disaster – the government can help you get out of the country safely. In other cases, the government can notify you about personal emergencies back at home, and issues travel advisories based on safety and well-being. Marchese says NAIT monitors those for all students leaving the country and it’s a great resource for all travellers.

2. What to bring

what to pack for travel

When you’re packing bags, make sure to bring a photocopy of your passport (along with the real thing), Marchese says, just in case it goes missing. You should also leave a copy of the passport at home.

Items like shampoo can eat up a lot of space in your suitcase. Remember that you can buy toiletries when you arrive, she says. Another way to save space in your bag is to limit the amount of clothes. You don’t need an outfit for each day you’re there. You can do laundry! She also says to consider what kind of weather you might encounter, which can influence your clothing choices.

If you have prescription medications, look into local rules about whether they’re allowed where you’re going. Different laws can affect what medication is permissible.

3. Prepare for culture shock

travel to remote places

You might feel disoriented when you arrive in a new place. Culture shock is brought on by experiencing a new way of life, whether that’s different social situations, new food or a foreign language. Marchese says it can be frustrating not to fit in or be able to understand what’s happening around you.

“Culture shock can sometimes feel a bit like depression.”

“Culture shock can sometimes feel a bit like depression,” she says. “You can feel really frustrated with your surroundings or with your decision to go abroad.”

Culture shock is normal and usually goes away within a couple of weeks. If you find yourself feeling blue and isolated, get out and explore your new surroundings, she says.

4. Know what to do in an emergency

japan after 2011 earthquake

It’s easy to dial 911 in Canada and know help is on the way. That’s not usually the number to dial in other countries, Marchese says. You can find country-specific information on the Government of Canada’s travel and tourism site. She recommends programming important numbers into your cellphone before you leave.

To avoid international roaming charges, she recommends picking up a different SIM card for your phone when you arrive. Or, shop for a phone plan designed for travel abroad.

“Think about what you would do if an earthquake hit while you were there.”

In addition to knowing emergency numbers, be aware of emergencies that could happen in the country you’re visiting, Marchese says. If you’re travelling to Japan, you should know earthquakes are common.

“Think about what you would do if an earthquake hit while you were there.”

It’s important to get health insurance before you travel and know what it covers in the event of a medical emergency, she adds.

5. Research special food needs

food being prepared

If you have food allergies, consider how you’ll communicate that to someone who speaks another language.

Peanut allergies aren’t common in Thailand, she says, and peanuts are often a key ingredient in Thai dishes. If you have an allergy, plan ahead.

“That might be a case where somebody wants to take charge of preparing all of their own food and not trust eating in restaurants.”

If you follow a vegetarian or vegan diet, Marchese recommends researching the likelihood of finding dishes you can eat.

6. The travel hangover

woman alone in city

Reverse culture shock is also common when returning from a trip. This often catches people by surprise, says Marchese, who describes similar feelings of isolation driven in part by having no outlet to share experiences and what you learned.

“You're coming back to a place where you think you should be able to just get back into the swing of things, but it doesn't usually work that way.”

It takes some time to adjust, but don’t worry, she says, as the feelings won’t last.

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