7 Essential Things to Get Before Going Abroad

In January 2023, my boyfriend and I decided to go abroad to visit Portugal, Spain, Germany, and Rome. It’s been an eventful and emotionally charged month so far, and I can’t wait to see what else is in store. This is my first time going abroad in the last ten years, so it feels practically like a whole new experience.

Upon finding myself in an entirely foreign place, I have learned some things about what to do and how to better prepare for a trip abroad. Ladies and gents, today, we’ll be talking about things to get (apart from the obvious passport and traveler’s insurance) before going abroad. Let’s get into it!

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Get an Unlocked Phone and a New Plan

First thing’s first… when you’re abroad, it is paramount that you have access to Google Maps, messages, and other things that require cellular. Naturally, you would want your phone to have a plan that works in whatever country you are in. The first step is to have an unlocked phone..

What is an unlocked phone? It basically means that the phone is not bound to any specific carrier and can be used with, say, Verizon, or T-Mobile, or other carriers across the globe. If your phone is already unlocked, this is great news, because all you have to do is pop out the old SIM card and insert a new one from a carrier that is supported in whatever country you are in.

How can you tell if your phone is unlocked? For iPhone, you will want to go to your Settings. From there, tap on General, then About. If you scroll down a bit, you should find Carrier Lock. Underneath, if it says No SIM Restrictions, you are golden! The category might also appear as Network Provider Lock depending on your iPhone model and year.

For Androids, you would go to Settings, then Connections, then Mobile Networks. There, scroll down to Network Operators, or Network Providers. If more than one network appears on the list, your phone is unlocked. This is not the best way to test whether or not your phone is unlocked since there might only be one carrier in the location you are checking.

A small plaza in Seville, Spain

A surefire way to check if your phone is carrier unlocked is to use an IMEI checker. All you need is your phone’s IMEI. Once you have that, you can plug it into a third party website, or call your carrier and ask them. There are times when, if your phone is locked, you can ask your carrier to unlock it, but I don’t have enough expertise on that to tell you how to do it.

If your phone is locked and you cannot unlock it, you might have to get a cheap and disposable phone once you are abroad. Of course, don’t forget about the new cellular plan, as well! While I’m in Portugal and Spain, I am using Vodafone. It doesn’t cover every country in Europe, which makes things tedious, but the data is cheap, and it’s easy to switch.

Before you go abroad, research the phone providers that are in whichever country you are planning to visit. Some will have more coverage than others, and some will have cheaper options than others. It’s up to you to decide what is best for your situation and budget. Also, make sure that your bank knows about your new number as soon as you get it- this is in case you have to authorize any cards or transactions.

A random street in Lisbon, Portugal

Get a High Quality Travel Adapter

Next on the list is a high quality travel adapter. Of course, you will need a way to power your phone once you’re abroad! Not to mention your laptop, airpods, electric toothbrush, and your beloved kindle reader. If you are anywhere other than the U.S. chances are, the power outlets will look different. That’s where the travel adapters come in!

Does the quality really matter? Well, that’s a little hard to answer. I got my travel adapter from a tourist shop in Lisbon for about ten bucks. It has a tendency to spark when I plug it into a wall, but that might just be the faulty wiring in older homes. A high quality adapter will probably be safer in the long run and protect your devices from getting fried or starting a small fire.

Here’s another tip: if you are going abroad to more than one country, get a multi-region or universal travel adapter- this will allow you to charge your devices in different countries that might not share the same power outlet. Just an FYI: there are 15 different types or power outlets around the world, 12 of which are considered common.

The view from a boat off the cost of Lagos, Portugal

Okay, one more tip before we move on… all devices that need to be plugged in have a certain voltage power draw that they can handle. THis means that, if you are in a country that uses 230V or 240V power and you have a device that draws 120V power, that might result in your device frying… and dying. Please check your device’s power draw before plugging it into a wall outlet abroad.

If indeed you discover that your device is not compatible with the voltage of the place you are visiting, you can also purchase a voltage protector. This will ensure that your Dyson hair dryer won’t explode.

Get the Proper Currency and a Dedicated Coin Pouch

When I went to Portugal, I had no idea how much I would rely on Euros for traveling, eating out, and even doing laundry. My boyfriend and I managed to burn through $250 of paper and coin Euros in about two weeks even when the majority of our transactions were done with a credit card. A lot of businesses abroad, especially if they are family owned or small, will only accept cash.

This means you will be in a real sticky situation if you find yourself in a restaurant needing to pay a $50 bill that you just don’t have the cash for. That’s why you need to have the currency of that country on you at all times. This also goes for laundromats and especially for busses and other public transportation options.

The beautiful Crystal Palace in the gardens of Madrid, Spain

I highly recommend getting a designated coin pouch and putting all your loose coins and some small dollar bills in there. This is because you typically want to secure your wallet deep in whatever bag you are carrying with you, and it might be really inconvenient to dig for it when you’re in a checkout line, or getting on the bus. A coin pouch doesn’t require nearly as much protection and care, and will keep your coins separate from your debit and credit cards. You can just put it in your pocket or the front of your bag and go about your day.

If you are going someplace where the currency is hard to understand at first glance, please take a little time out of your day to learn how to count it before going abroad. This will save you the embarrassment of trying to give vendors and drivers exact change when you don’t know what you are doing.

Get a Travel Rewards Credit Card and Notify Your Bank

If you travel abroad, chances are, your card will be declined for fraudulent use, and voila! You’re left without a card to pay for things! That would put a damper on any vacation. To prevent this, all you have to do is notify your bank that you are traveling abroad and they will lift the location restrictions on your card.

This brings me to the topic of travel cards- they are credit cards catered specifically towards travelers and people who buy a lot of plane tickets. While travel credit cards aren’t the best for every day use, they can be very beneficial if you are going on an extended trip, or are starting a new life that requires a lot of travel.

One of the many beaches in Lagos, Portugal

What can a travel rewards card do for you? For one, you earn “miles” through spending. This means you can either use those miles for free travel, or you can redeem them for money towards your card. I got my travel rewards card and received a $500 bonus after spending $2,000 within the first, like, fifty days of having it.

Depending on what card you get, that bonus can be less or more, and the annual fee can range from free to upwards of $400. These are all things to consider when getting a travel rewards credit card, so do the research. I found it to be easiest to stick with my bank and get my card directly from them so I didn’t have to open a new account. Plus, I got a well-appreciated $500 bonus for signing up and using the card.

Get a Quality Water Bottle (and a Portable Bottle Cleaner)

I cannot stress this enough- get a good water bottle that will last you a while. Don’t skip out on the bottle cleaner, either! During my first week in Lisbon, I got extremely sick and had to stay in bed for a while day because I didn’t clean my bottle and it got grimy and disgusting. While you are abroad, or anywhere, really, keeping your bottle clean is a good habit to have.

A very quirky restaurant in Madrid, Spain

If you are going abroad, especially to a place like Europe, restaurants are not going to give you free water. You have to pay for it. And if you are staying in a hostel, chances are, you are going to have access to a bathroom or kitchen sink. While some hostels and hotels have filtered water, don’t bank on it.

A nice and sturdy water bottle, preferably a metal one with its own filtration system, will do the trick and save you a lot of money and anxiety. Plus, you can deck it out with stickers and charms! It’s your own little oasis with customizable features. Here is a listing I found on Amazon for a Brita Insulated Filtered Water Bottle that has over twelve thousand ratings. While you’re at it, get that bottle cleaner- this Haakaa cleaning brush is collapsible and has two attachments, not to mention around a thousand positive ratings.

Get Flip Flops, Detergent, and a Laundry Bag

Once you are abroad, you will want to invest in flip flops and a laundry bag. These two things are essential for safety and comfort if you are in a dorm environment, such as a hostel or guest house.

Why flip flops? Simple. You might be sharing a bathroom with multiple people while you are abroad, which potentially might mean stepping on a dirty and wet floor. What does dirty and wet mean? Fungus and bacterial growth! If you aren’t careful, you can get one, or both, of these on your feet, which could be anything from a minor inconvenience to a life-threatening disease. Please, do yourself a favor and get flip flops.

A shop in the busy streets of Seville, Spain

You should also get detergent and a laundry bag because, odds are, you will have to wash your clothes if you are abroad for more than a week. This means that you will need to haul your pile of laundry to and from a laundromat (unless your hotel blessedly has a washer and dryer). Keep in mind that most laundromats out there will only accept coins, and some places might not have dryers and use clothing lines instead. This was a real point of contention for me for a while, but I got used to it.

Get Good Walking Shoes

This one might be a no-brainer, but it still deserves a mention. When I was packing for my trip abroad, I thought it best to pack three pairs of shoes along with a pair I would wear to the airport. I would have packed even more, but I didn’t have the room in my bag! Upon arriving in Europe, I found that I didn’t need those other three pairs because they weren’t suited for long distance walking.

If you are traveling to Europe, odds are, you will be walking on cobblestone streets- a lot. That means no flats, no sandals, and for the love of God, no pumps! The last thing you want to do is twist your ankle while you’re walking down the slanted, uneven streets of Lisbon and make a fool or yourself.

A beautiful pond in the gardens of Madrid, Spain

A good pair of walking shoes that are flat, have good grip, and good arch support are all you need. Sure, if you are going to the beach or showering, flip flops, as I’ve mentioned, are a good thing to have, but you don’t need much else. Make sure that the ones you chose are easy to slip on and off and are broken in before you start your travels.

I highly recommend BANGS shoes for your travels- not only are they comfortable, but they have super cute embroidered designs on the outside that really gives your outfit a little “oomph”.

Final Thoughts

Now that we’ve gone over the essentials, you can plan for your trip with confidence. Wherever the journey takes you, know that it’s the experiences that make it great- but having some essentials under your belt will make those experiences all the better. Good luck, and, as always, hobble on!

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