All those Lonely Planet books exist for a reason and that’s because EVERYONE should be doing their research before traveling. Whether it’s just up the coast or flying to somewhere exotic for mid semester break, you need to take the time to research. Taking time to research the area you plan on going to can end up making your experience there a million times better. It can save you money, help you find hidden attractions, and keep you safe.
If you’re like me, taking the time to research and do all these things might seem like you are going to suck all the fun out of your trip, but it’s doing the exact opposite. You can still just go with whatever presents itself and go without a day-to-day plan, but it gives you at least a rough idea of what you want to be doing while you are there, or at the very least what to expect when you arrive.
I never really thought about how much I should be checking areas and attractions out before I was looking into traveling to Thailand. I had dreamed for so long of visiting this beautiful place and being able to sit atop an elephant and be able to go for a swim with one. It took me about one Google search to find out how many people are against it and how bad it is for the animals being used in these tourist attractions.
That’s how I came across a different type of elephant encounter at the Elephant Nature Park in Thailand. You get to spend the day pampering the animals that were saved from different tour groups, which sounds even cooler to me than just making one take me around. It made me start thinking about how many times that my travels may have been hurting someone or something else. I am now avid about making sure to do all my homework before deciding to go somewhere and how I’ll spend my time there.
So, the next time you’re getting ready for a trip, take the time to go through this checklist:
- Is it safe? This is truly the first thing you should be asking yourself if you go anywhere. You can always keep updated on travel information to places that may be a risk through your country’s embassy and consulate websites. Look up different laws, know what is going on in that country, and look into their stance on topics that may be normal where you are from, but taboo there. This also plays into whether or not you’ll need a guide for where you are traveling, if you should travel with others, or if it’s okay to travel alone.
- Do you need a visa or any other extra documentation? Make sure you check these things out because it usually takes at least a month or more to get them. It could be applying for a visa, or making sure that you have a vaccination and the proper documentation that you have received it.
- How much is your money worth there? This is a big thing to check out. If you set a spending limit and get to a country where your money is worth less than the local currency, you’ll be in some trouble. You’ll also have to figure out where the best place is to exchange your money. Sometimes it’s at the airport kiosks, but most of the time, it’s better to withdraw money from an ATM (depending on how your bank charges you for international transactions). You’ll also want to make sure to give your credit card company and bank a head’s up that you’ll be traveling so they don’t suspend the use of your cards.
- How does the culture feel about photography? Everyone wants to document their time away, but sometimes that’s not possible. Make sure you know how the culture feels about photography and filming. It may be okay in some areas, but not in others, such as at sacred sites. A lot of the time photography is allowed, but don’t go around sticking your lens in people’s faces. Be courteous and know when it is acceptable and when it isn’t to snap photos, especially of children. You don’t want to go through the stress of having your equipment or phone confiscated because you didn’t take the time to find out the rules.
- Does what you plan on doing hurt anyone or anything? This is a big one. Make sure that the companies and tours that you are giving money to are not causing problems where you are heading. If major companies are running things and leaving locals out of the profit, you probably won’t be greeted too fondly. Always ask yourself two questions: Is this hurting the people that live here? Is this hurting the environment, including animals and plants? Your presence should not be changing the life of any living thing.
- What should you dress like while you are there? Every culture has different views on what is appropriate dress. This can change from different seasons or be different for males and females. Make sure you really check out the proper clothing for any sacred or religious areas. Sometimes you just plainly stick out as a tourist, but other times it can get you into some scary situations if you are not dressed correctly. You can also try wearing the local garb if it’s allowed, even if it isn’t required. It will make the people know that you are open minded to their way of life.
- What are some often missed/less popular attractions? Hitting all the big tourist attractions are great, but you will truly get to experience the culture and people if you find some less popular places to visit. These places usually aren’t so crowded, so you’ll be able to talk with locals, learn more and even make a new connection. You don’t have to spend your time trying to find some remote place to accomplish this, but maybe try stopping in at a local café instead of eating at your hotel.
- What are typical scams or dangers to look out for? Dangers can be people trying to scam you or crazy bugs that might kill you. Learn about all of them and what to look out for while you are traveling. Learn how to spot pick pockets or when taxis may be charging you too much. There is so much information from the people that have had these bad things happen to them and who don’t want it to happen to you. You just have to take the time to research!
- Do you know basic phrases in the native language? You don’t need to be fluent, but just being able to ask basic questions or say things like hello, welcome and thank you can make a big difference. People appreciate that you took the time to learn and that you are trying, even if you don’t sound perfect. It will only open up the opportunity for people to try and teach you more of that language (or at least how to correctly pronounce what you learned)!
- Will you be able to use your computer or phone normally? If you don’t plan on buying an international plan, make sure you have a plan for how you’ll be using your phone. Do you plan on only using it when you have wi-fi? If so, make sure to turn off your cellular data to avoid unexpected charges. If you have a phone that has a removal SIM card, will a new one work or does your provider lock your phone? Will there be wi-fi where you are? These are all important questions, especially if you have parents that want to make sure you’re doing okay on a regular basis.
If you only do a couple of these or maybe you add some more, it will improve your trip so much. Be a smarter traveler. Support local communities. Do your best to grow from your travel experiences instead of just checking another place off the map. So, what are you waiting for? Start researching your next adventure today!