So, maybe you're thinking about traveling outside of the U.S., and want to know the "must knows" before you leave.
These are the little things, such as how to get around, and how to get money. These are the things you need to know to survive on your own overseas. I get asked about this stuff a lot, now that I'm an international traveler. So, I figured I'd share six tips with you:
* Know how to turn on the lights. If you are given a credit-card shaped entry key, you'll likely have to use that same key to turn on the lights inside the room. In both London, England, and Bunratty, Ireland, last year, I found that there is a slot in the wall, just inside the room, by the front door. The only way you can turn on the lights in the room is to put the card key in that slot. Then, the lights will come on when you flip the light switch. Once you take the card out of that slot, the lights will automatically shut off.
* You have to open the door for yourself on the subway train. We're so used to subway train doors opening on their own in the U.S., so this can actually lead to some confusion. The doors do not open automatically. You have to put in some effort, and do it yourself. In Paris, you have to pull a lever on the door to open it. In London, you have to push a button on the door. This is something I encountered on the Metro in Paris, and on the Underground in London. Rome, not so much.
* It is better to get your money out of an overseas ATM. Save yourselves the trouble of the higher conversion fees you might find at a currency exchange. If you've got a VISA card, you can go to a foreign ATM and get money out in that country's native currency, and you pay only a very small exchange fee. This goes for credit cards as well, because you can withdraw money from your credit card account with a PIN number. Along these same lines, you can use your VISA debit card, or credit card to make purchases.
* Learn the native language. You just need to know the basic stuff, like how to say "hello," how to ask for tickets (for admission to tourist sites, or transit), and how to ask stuff like "Where is ...?" and, most importantly, how to say you can't speak the native language. It will help you out a great deal.
* Eat on, and off, the beaten path. Using Rome for an example, there are plenty of restaurants in all the major piazzas in the city. They are great. They offer good food, and the service is actually very complimentary. There are also lots of great, little restaurants located just off the main streets, that tourists don't always go to because they don't see them. You also get what one of my college professors used to call "local flavor," meaning you get to experience what the local yocals experience. Don't think you have to go all one way, or the other. You're better served by doing it both ways.
* August is the best time to visit Paris, France. I actually learned this from a Parisian tour guide last summer, but there is a great article explaining it in this month's "National Geographic Traveler" magazine. The thing about Paris in August is that this is when the locals pretty much all go on a collective vacation, and the city is not as crowded, and full of hustle and bustle as it would be any other time of year (if you prefer the hustle and bustle, though, don't go in August). Some shops do close up for the month, because of this, however. This is also when they truck in sand, and set up a "beach" on the banks of the Seine River, in the heart of Paris.
Curt Yeomans covers education for the Clayton News Daily. He can be reached at (770) 478-5753, ext. 247, or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.