- Mark Abadi
- Vacations can go awry if you don’t put in the research beforehand.
- Avoid uncomfortable situations like not knowing how much to tip or what the exchange rate is by doing some basic googling.
- It’s helpful to have a running checklist of things to look up before you arrive.
As a seasoned traveler, I’ve found myself in plenty of uncomfortable situations abroad, like not knowing how much to tip at a restaurant, or finding that my smartphone charger doesn’t fit the local outlets, or assuming there would be taxicabs waiting for me at the airport.
Luckily, Google is our friend, and I now have a running checklist of things I research online before I go to any country for the first time.
Here are 11 things you should Google before any international vacation.
What are the country’s visa requirements?
- Wikipedia Commons
The US has one of the strongest passports in the world, as Americans can travel to 173 countries with visa-free entry or visa on arrival.
But the few dozen countries that require visas in advance are some of the most popular for Americans to visit – they include tourist hot spots like Brazil, China, India, and Vietnam.
The first thing you should do after you decide on your travel destination is research its visa requirements. Some countries can take weeks to process visa applications, so it’s important to jump on it early.
What’s the weather going to be like?
Once you’ve settled on a destination, you’ll want to get a feel for what type of weather to prepare for.
Hopefully, you’ve done some of this research in advance, so you didn’t accidentally plan a beach getaway during a country’s rainy season. But you should continue to check on the weather in the days leading up to your trip – luggage space is precious, and you don’t want to waste room packing heavy clothing or weather-specific items you won’t end up needing.
What’s the exchange rate?
- Chris McGrath/Getty Images
Currency exchange rates are constantly fluctuating. By researching the exchange rate of your destination country before you go, you can save yourself from overpaying and ensure you’re getting the best deal from currency exchangers.
Are there any public holidays going on?
It’s worth looking up whether the country you’re visiting is observing any holidays while you’re there.
For one thing, you’ll want to know about special festivals or cultural celebrations you wouldn’t ordinarily get to experience. And from a logistical perspective, holidays can affect whether public transportation is running, whether banks are open, and whether your favorite tourist site will be crowded with locals enjoying their days off.
What’s the tipping etiquette?
There are few social customs more perplexing than tipping, because every country seems to have different protocol. In fact, most countries have a much less liberal tipping culture than the United States, where tips are expected in restaurants, hotels, hair salons, taxicabs, and plenty of other places.
It may not seem like a big deal – after all, what workers don’t want extra money? But tipping is actually perceived as rude in some countries like Japan, where the gesture is interpreted to mean that you’re saying a worker can’t be expected to provide good service without a bribe. Visit some travel forums where locals and tourists can give you some insight into tipping practices, and use our recommendations for tipping in 25 countries.
What does culturally appropriate clothing look like?
Speaking of clothing, depending on where you’re traveling, your destination might have different cultural expectations of what is OK and not OK to wear. In some countries, for example, it may be considered offensive to show your shoulders, legs, or bare feet.
Do some research beforehand to make sure you’re packing appropriate clothing.
What are some basic phrases in my country’s language?
- Flickr/Fiona Bradley
You can’t expect the world to speak English, so it’s always helpful to learn a few basic words in the local language of your destination. Start with phrases you’ll likely use every day, such as “hello” and “goodbye,” “thank you,” and “Where is the bathroom?”
You don’t have to become fluent, but learning just a few key words can go a long way in making your trip easier.
What kind of plugs do they use?
- YouTube/Arirang Issue
If you’ve never been abroad before, you might be surprised the first time you encounter an electrical outlet different from the kind you’re used to.
Any seasoned traveler knows that countries vary by socket type – there are at least 15 different kinds used in various regions. Google what type your destinations uses, and if you need to, buy a universal adapter so you won’t have to worry about it again.
Do I need to buy tickets in advance for certain tourist sites?
- Cathal McNaughton/Reuters
If you’re visiting somewhere for the first time, you probably have a list of go-to tourist attractions you want to hit while you’re there.
Do some research to find out which of those attractions you need to buy tickets for in advance. Sites like St. Peter’s Tomb in the Vatican or the Alhambra fortress in Spain only allow a certain amount of visitors in each day, and you’ll need to make those arrangements well before you arrive. There’s nothing wrong with spontaneity, but it could limit which sites you’re able to visit.
How do I get out of the airport?
You probably don’t need to work out the fine details of all the transportation you’ll need during your vacation, but the most important one to nail down is how you’re getting out of the airport when you arrive.
Will there be a fleet of taxis waiting for you, or just a small handful that might get scooped up before you have a chance? Is public transportation available, or is it a trek to walk to the nearest bus or train station? Do ride-sharing apps like Uber and Lyft exist in your destination, and if they don’t, is there a local equivalent it would be helpful to know about?
You don’t want your first experience in a new country to be stressful, so put in the research to make sure your time at the airport goes smoothly.
What kind of transportation do I need to get around the country?
- Christian Scheja/Flickr
And speaking of transportation, if you’re going on a long trip with several destinations, it helps to research what kinds of transportation you’ll need to get from place to place. There may be buses, trains, and airplanes – and in some countries, it may be more normal for travelers to rent cars or motorcycles. You could have several options with different pros and cons to each.
Visit a travel forum to find out the optimal transportation strategy, and whether you’ll need to book transportation tickets in advance or can just show up on the day you need to travel.