Eight Rules To Acknowledge For Surviving Abroad

Eight Rules To Acknowledge For Surviving AbroadI’ve used to travel a lot and I still go abroad occasionally. My business took me to countries few Americans consider safe and I’ve learned a lot from each trip. Surviving abroad requires a certain level of preparedness, but also a traveling etiquette that needs to be respected to the letter.  

Many of those who travel to a foreign country are like children in the outback when it comes to surviving abroad. They lack the skills necessary to safe travel though unreliable territories. Having traveled around much of the world for the past 15 years, I have developed a few rules to help me return home safely. These rules for surviving abroad will help those traveling to a foreign country, regardless their reason behind the trip.

Follow these rules for surviving abroad:

  1. Prepare first

Any trip, may it be short or long, requires advance preparation. This makes the difference between struggling to find help in a God forsaken town and enjoying a day at the SPA. Planning an agenda for your trip can save you a lot of trouble when you arrive at your destination. Inform yourself about local customs, history, political climate and other requirements for entering and leaving the country.  Surviving abroad requires for you to have all the information regarding your visa and passport, but also to have a general idea of how much things and services cost.

Even more, you should learn about the exchange rate of currency and avoid being scammed when buying items in local currency. Another thing important for your safety and well-being is having a travel notebook. Write down, names, addresses and phone numbers of next of kin in case your phone gets stolen. This was an unpleasant situation I’ve experienced in India. I realized that I don’t remember any of the phone numbers that would be useful in case of misfortune.

  1. Learn the language

Obviously, you cannot learn the language of every country you plan on visiting. However, you can learn a few practical phrases that would save yourself unnecessary discomfort.  There are a few helpful key phrases that you should memorize. Phrases such as:

  • Where is the hotel, restaurant, etc.?
  • Where is the bus, tram, etc. station?
  • Call the police.
  • I am lost.
  • I am not feeling well.

If you are too lazy to memorize a few common phrases or if they seem too complicated, find a different alternative. Nowadays there are all sorts of translating apps that you can install on your phone. You can translate the word or phrase you wish to communicate with these helpful apps.

  1. Take certain essentials with you

Surviving abroad is not possible if you don’t take along certain essentials that may be difficult to acquire at your destination. Things such as sanitary napkins, personal toiletries and prescription medicine should always be taken. Start by making a list with the essential items and downsize if some of those items are too bulky.

I wrote in a previous article about how to build a travel bug out bag. I recommend reading it if you plan to travel to a foreign country. The article will provide you with some straightforward tips to build a travel bug out bag. The type of bag that will keep you safe when you are away from home. It covers what I’ve used in the past for carry-on emergency gear and other survival items that I’ve found useful.

Survival MD - A must see!

  1. Travel light

During my trips, I’ve seen a lot of Americans struggling to carry a backpack and one or two suitcases when moving from one location to another. Even more, some of them carry all this luggage when doing shopping or sightseeing. If you are in charge of carrying your own things from the bus to the airport or in between stops, you need a better strategy. Surviving abroad may require for you to walk from one destination to another. If you have 10 pieces of luggage, that won’t be possible and you will only get stressed about taking care of your belongings.

I recommend traveling with a large day pack that you can carry on your back. For any other type of luggage, you should make arrangements prior to booking your trip. Not only you will not have to worry about carrying your suitcase, but they will also be insured if you pay for transportation.

  1. Take care of money

Although anyone in the world may accept U.S. dollars, there could also be exceptions. You may not find and exchange office or you may be forced to use local currency, to avoid being charged of doing black marketing. Always change your money at authorized offices of exchange and avoid private money changers at popular landmarks, hotels and other points of interest. If they scam you, the police won’t help since in many countries they have an arrogant attitude towards Americans. They see us as rich people and we will lose a dispute, because we “should have paid attention”.

Suggested reading: Ten reasons to keep cash in your bug out bag

As a backup plan for surviving abroad, always keep some money on you, but not in your wallet. In case you get robbed or your backpack gets stolen, you will have something to get you by. I’ve seen children in Brazil slit a tourist’s backpack with a razor and finger out the wallet before he realized what’s happening. Think about investing in an anti-theft body pouch.

  1. Read about local customs and respect them

Each country has its own morale code and rules you need to follow. Surviving abroad requires for you to learn what is and what is not acceptable behavior. Do a little review and save yourself the later embarrassment, or even worse.  Learn at least about the basics to prevent patently offensive behavior. When traveling to Dubai, I found out the hard way about how bikinis are taboo outside the beach/swimming area of the hotel. My wife wanted to get something to eat and we didn’t get robes when living the pool area. Long story short, we were fined for wearing our bathing suits outside the “designated area”.

  1. Take care in drinking and eating

No matter how well prepared I am or at least I think I am, this remains one of my greatest weakness. Surviving abroad means you should avoid eating and drinking from areas that do not comply with the health code. To put it in a few words, you should avoid street food vendors. A general rule for eating and drinking in foreign lands, states that you should drink bottled water and eat at decent restaurants.

However, I’ve drank bottled water in India that proved to be just local tap water in a fancy bottle. So this is a big gamble in underdeveloped countries. The doctor who treated me told me that people there live with parasites that can destroy an American. As an added precaution, I keep a Lifestraw water filter in my travel bug out bag.  Most times, you simply have to take your chances when it comes to drink and diet abroad.


  1. Dress native

If you want to avoid paying extra for the souvenirs or getting robed, try to dress like the ordinary locals. Even more, you can wear whatever foreigners who live in the locale are wearing. This helps you traveling light as well as in convincing others you’re not new to the place. This will provide you with treatment as a local instead of a “rich American”.

A last word

Nowadays, because of international terrorism, many Americans are postponing traveling to foreign. They are suspicious of places and people, whenever they do travel and this ruins their whole trip. Terrorism is not a reason to live in fear and stay home. Chances of it happening to you are still low and they are the same as stepping outside your door and being struck by lightning. Surviving abroad is possible regardless of where you plan to go. All you need to do is to inform yourself and take the necessary items with you. With some preparation and a general  knowledge of the rules above, surviving abroad become natural behavior.

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2 thoughts on “Eight Rules To Acknowledge For Surviving Abroad”

  1. I have just returned from a trip to Hong Kong, everything was just about the same as it was on my last visit 5 years ago, except price tags in shops, sure I expected a rise due to inflation, but 5 years ago, all prices were in HK$, Chinese Yuan and US$, now it is only the HK$ and the Chinese Yuan that they want, the US$ is about as popular as diarrhea. How times change!

  2. Hey Bob,

    While most of this sounds good, I wouldn’t rely on everyone in the world accepting U.S. dollars. I live in Colombia and if you convinced most people to accept U.S. dollars, they’d want a high markup for (1) their risk of them being fake bills and (2) the extra effort their going to need to take to exchange them.

    Not to long ago I was at a sports bar watching a soccer match. The table next to me was a family visiting from Panama, a bordering country that uses the U.S. dollar as it’s currency. When they went to pay their tab, they didn’t have enough pesos and offered to pay with USD. The waiter wouldn’t accept it, but asked me if I’d exchange it for them. I did and they went on their marry way, presumably getting more pesos from an ATM.

    On that note, reach out to local expat communities whenever possible to find out what the policies are wherever you’re going. Facebook has expat communities for just about anywhere you want to go. Often times, drawing money out of an ATM is preferable to making an exchange with cash.


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