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Tips for the soon-to-be overseas traveler
by Albert Rodriguez - SGN A&E Writer

Traveling overseas can be an exhilarating yet intimidating experience with the exposure to foreign languages, currency, food, customs, and climates. Whether you're venturing out on a personal holiday or work assignment outside North America, keep these tips in mind to make your travels less challenging. Bon voyage!

Exchange some money at your bank prior to leaving, thus avoiding commission fees. You want money immediately available upon landing at your destination for taxis, phones, or public transportation. Use your credit or debit card as much as possible, and alert your bank to the precise location of your travels, so they won't suspect your cards have been stolen and freeze your accounts.

Stricter guidelines are now in effect for most American-based airlines. Call your airline or visit its official website for specific baggage policies, including weight, size, and number of check-in bags allowed.

Direct flights
Book direct flights to major cities in Europe and Asia to avoid unpleasant layovers and connections. It may cost you a bit more, but it will save you time and sanity. Northwest, Air France, Lufthansa, and Hainan airlines have all added Seattle gateways to European and Asian airports, and Northwest will soon fly direct to Beijing from Seattle.

Cabin upgrades
For a more enjoyable long-haul voyage, fly business or first-class for more legroom and better amenities, like flatbed seats and quality food. It can be pricey, but you'll arrive with a wider smile and you can stride past those economy fliers with some pep in your step. Call your airline prior to departure for possible upgrade specials or inquire at the time of check-in, and don't forget to use your accumulated mileage plan miles (i.e. Alaska miles = Northwest, Air France, etc.).

If taking electronics, such as laptops, blackberries, and cell phones, inquire with your provider as to accessibility at your destination. WiFi in just catching on in some countries, so your hotel may or may not have it available. Ask your cell phone provider about international calling, including rates and specific calling codes.

Unless you're fluent in the language spoken at your arrival country, take a pocket-size dictionary and/or phrasebook on your trip. Don't assume everyone will know English at your destination, even if you've been told they will. Learn basic words and phrases prior to leaving - I even take a notebook with pasted pictures of a toilet, medical cross, and food items (i.e. chicken) to point to in serious cases of misunderstanding.

A valid US-issued passport is required for all travel outside North America. Make a copy of your passport and leave it with a friend, neighbor, or family member - ditto for a major credit card and medical card. Look up the address, phone number, and US embassy contact nearest your destination.

Purchase or print out a map of the city or area you're visiting, and mark the street where you'll be staying at and the places you plan to visit. Getting acquainted with your arrival spot, particularly large urban spreads, will help you navigate better once you're there. When you arrive, be sure to have the name of your hotel and address within arm's reach - especially if you head out for a long night.

Public transit
You'll save money by using a city's subway or light rail system, so go online and find information about it on the web. Taxis are very expensive in some places, and can be unreliable as well, another reason to utilize mass transit. You can take public transportation from most airports to downtown sectors, so inquire at an airport information booth on how to get to your hotel via bus or train.

At some destinations - like India for example - street food should be consumed at your own risk. Eat at centralized diners and three or four-star hotel restaurants, if possible. Also, know your adventurous boundaries - you don't have to sample scorpions in China, snails in France, or guinea pigs in Peru. If you don't think you can stomach it, watch someone else digest it. Finally, be aware that most European alcoholic beverages, such as German beer, are more potent than here in America, so pace yourself - I speak from experience.

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