If you are planning a trip abroad, you are probably filled with anticipation, and possibly a little anxiety. Where you are going, for how long, and your prior travel experiences all help determine the amount of nerves you are feeling, but remember that it is completely normal to feel apprehensive before embarking on any journey, whether it is to play in a sports tournament in Canada for a few days or to volunteer in the Peace Corps in Tanzania for 27 months.
Of course, the longer, more distant, and more unfamiliar journeys are the ones that cause us to lose the most sleep before leaving, both because the excitement makes us want to burst, and because the uncertainty and worry starts to set in and take its toll. Although there is no way to completely relieve your fears, being prepared is the best way to reduce stress and focus on the things you are excited about.
Obviously, you should do your research, and this does not just mean watching the Travel Channel in high definition or reading your destination’s Wikipedia page (though neither of these is a bad idea). Check the State Department website for information about the country you will be visiting, including entry requirements and recommended vaccinations. Guide books are packed with useful advice about local transportation, accommodations, sights, and countless other topics. If you need to know where to find an ATM, receive a package, rent a bike, or catch an opera, check out the options in the travel section at your nearest bookstore; you will be amazed at the amount of information available for just about every country in the world. The internet is also a fantastic resource with an infinite amount of information; travel forums and blogs will give you the insider’s scoop that you may not find in a guide book.
If you will be traveling to a non-English-speaking country, it is a good idea to learn a bit of the language or brush up your skills before you go. There are many ways to do this, including self-tutoring with language books, international channels on satellite TV, language podcasts, or formal lessons. Obviously, the difficulty of this task will depend on your destination and your previous language abilities. Most people who head off to Nepal face a greater challenge in terms of language than a Spanish major heading to Peru. Of course, no matter where you go in the world, you are likely to find at least some people who speak English-English has become the language of business and of travel, and it is now taught all around the world. Even so, it is good form to at least learn the basics of communication in the native language of the country you will be visiting.
Of course, you should make sure you have a valid passport and the appropriate visa, if necessary. Call your bank and credit card companies to alert them of your plans so that they do not freeze your account when they see your card activity abroad. And finally, relax! Breaking away from the comforts of home, the daily routine, the satellite TV and video games, and all of the familiar faces, roads, restaurants, and stores, is an exciting prospect. Enjoy it!