When you're on the go, a few smart travel choices can largly impact your experience.
Here are some general tips for your safety and convenience while you travel.
Let the US (or your home country) Embassy or Consulate know you’re in the country.
For US citizens you can do this by registering on the “Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP)”. Here’s their website.
Don’t exchange your money in the airport.
Sure, it’s convenient but it will cost you money. The exchange offices in all airports give you a lower exchange rate so they can make their money.
The best place to exchange money is at a bank. They usually have somebody that speaks English and they won’t rob you. When exchanging at a bank you need your passport, not a copy.
If you need a taxi and have to pay in your home currency, agree on the price before leaving the airport. Most of the time there is a taxi counter or an agent at the airport that speaks English and can help you.
Don’t believe everything you read from the hotel reviews
When I look at reviews the first thing I look for is when was it written. I don’t care where you go in the world, things change fast and if the review isn’t within a few months, they are probably outdated. I do read some of the older reviews also, but don’t put much weight on what is said.
I also see if the writer complains about the hotel not being a “true” star rated hotel. There is no worldwide, standardized hotel rating system, so a 5-star hotel in the US or UK will be a lot different than one in less wealthy country.
Also see if the writer was traveling alone, with a companion (couple), or with family. As a single male, and having traveled both alone and with a companion I know that my review would be different if I had to explain my companions’ opinion as well as mine. I was once told I'd be happy in a mud shack, so don’t expect me to say a place is a dump, unless it truly is. The reviews I write will be my honest opinion. If I have a companion, they can write their own review.
On the flip side, just because a review claims a hotel is spectacular, be prepared; nothing is always as good as it seems.
So, to keep reviews current and accurate, I post mine on Trip Advisor and Expedia. Be honest and provide as much detail as you can.
Be smart about cell phone usage and plans
If you want to take use your cell phone in in various countries you’ll need to have a compatible phone and chip, otherwise you'll pay insane roaming fees.
I travel with a quad band, unlocked, phone (mine is a Nokia). When I get to a particular country I go to a cell phone company and have them put a chip in and see if it works. If it works I simply buy the card and minutes on their pre-paid plan.
If it doesn’t work, I try another carrier until I find one that works or I run out of carriers.
Until a few years ago, as a tourist, you could not get cell service in Costa Rica. In planning for my recent trip (August) to Costa Rica I found a website, Costa Rica Cellular Connection, where visitors can buy a chip for a quad band unlocked phone and have it mailed to their home before departing. I tried it and it works great. Their support during and after the sale have been great. If you need more minutes you just buy them from the carrier in Costa Rica.
You will also need your passport here and KEEP the chip. You may be able to simply reactivate it if you return. Case in point, I got a chip for Panama and after almost a year, the chip is still good, all I have to do is add minutes.