You may never have traveled outside the country. You might think it’s dangerous and risky. You also might be really, really excited!
Only about 45 percent of Americans have a passport, according to the travel site, TheExpeditioner. It’s too bad. You mature a lot when you travel and you become more responsible. Oh, and you also have lots of fun and bring back lots of jealousy-inducing stories!
Without a plan, you could find yourself in a dangerous situation abroad. Or, you might find yourself flat broke in a foreign country. That’s what happened to me when I lived on $1 per day in Thailand!
To avoid problems, here are a few things to think about if you are a teenager overseas for the first time. These are important whether you’re taking part in French immersion summer program, teen community service program in South America, or planning your own gap year.
1. How Do I Pack?
The lighter the better! But what if you need something? Here’s my solution: Pack $200 less “stuff” and bring an extra $200 with you to buy the one thing you’ll actually need.
Of course, there may be specific requirements, if, say you’re in a summer art program for high school students that requires supplies. But after nearly two years of constant travel, my rule is, “When in doubt, leave it behind.”
2. How Do I Keep My Documents Safe?
The safest place for valuable documents is on your person. I keep my passport, driver’s license, and credit cards in a pouch on me at all times, especially if I’m rooming with strangers I don’t know. Or, when I rented an apartment in Thailand for three months, my passport was always inside my closet with a heavy chain and lock.
3. How Do I Manage My Money?
When I flew one-way to Asia I didn’t know how long my money would last so in Thailand, I ended up living on 33-cent white noodles for several days!
You don’t need to make the same mistake. Calculate how much it will cost you to live for a week in each country you visit. Some countries are much more expensive than others. You will have expenses even if you take part in a prepaid European summer camp or a gap year community service program. I recommend having access to an extra $1,000 so you know you can buy a ticket home from anywhere in the world.
4. How Do I Stay Safe?
Structured summer and gap programs for teens should have rules that help keep you safe. Leaders on teen summer programs will tell you how to stay out of trouble and if you follow the rules, you should be safe.
The question of safety becomes more important when you traveling are on your own. Looking like a lone tourist can make you a target for thieves and muggers.
So walk like you know where you are going. Don’t wear flashy jewelry or flaunt your electronics. Look at how locals dress and try to blend in. Ask for help if you need it but don’t accept unsolicited help. Be aware of those around you and try not to walk alone at night or in sketchy areas. You can research travel warnings and advisories and safety tips for specific countries on the State Department website.
Also, wear your seatbelt. Driving in some countries is almost a bloodsport. If you feel unsafe with a driver, ask to get out.
But know this: I’ve rarely felt in danger when I traveled. Don’t let fear keep you from leaving home.
5. How Do I Enjoy A Homestay?
I lived with a very kind local family in Vietnam for a about a month. They spoke almost no English and I spoke almost no Vietnamese. Here are my most important tips if you are in a homestay through a teen travel program or find a place through sites such as Airbnb.
Learn the words “Thank You,” “Delicious,” “Yes” and “Hello” in the local language. These six words will make you welcome anywhere!
Get to know the host’s kids. Language barriers don’t seem to matter with children.
Try the food, unless you’ve been advised that it might be unsafe (e.g. unwashed or unpeeled fruit). Rejecting food is rude and makes you seem close-minded.
Be aware of local customs and unspoken rules. When in doubt, ask. Be polite and respectful and obey the rules of your host family. If you make a mistake, laugh it off. Odds are it will be OK.
6. How Do I Manage Without Speaking The Language?
It’s respectful to learn a little of the local language before you get to a foreign country. That said, it’s not necessary. Besides, you might be interested in that summer program in France precisely because you don’t speak French and want to learn.
I didn’t know any Thai when I got to Thailand, but that wasn’t a problem. I just made sure I was polite.
7. What Do I Do If I Lose My Passport?
First, don’t panic. You’re not the first tourist to have to replace a lost or stolen passport.
If you are traveling as part of a teen summer program, alert a leader. If you are on your own, let someone at home know. The next step will be to go to the American Embassy or Consulate and apply for a replacement. If one is not nearby, go to the local police and they’ll likely give you a “temporary” travel document. Carry an extra passport photo with you just in case. That will speed things up. Also, before you leave home, make a photocopy of your passport and/or your birth certificate and keep it in a secure place separate from your real passport as you travel. The fee to replace a passport is the same as if you were applying for a passport, according to the U.S. Department of State.
8. How Do I Make Friends In A Strange Place?
A little courage makes this is easier than you think. When I was in Thailand I was the exciting new person whom local villagers wanted to meet! Everyone invited me in for food and even offered me places to sleep.
It will be easy to bond with other teenagers over food, a soccer game, skateboarding or music. Look for some of the same things you like to do at home and you’ll make friends. Use your social media connections to network. And look for volunteer opportunities overseas. That’s another way to connect.
9. How Can I Find Help If I Don’t Speak The Language?
Your cell phone is a good tool for directions and getting around. Even remote villages in Third World countries and tiny islands in the Philippines have WiFi and detailed Google Maps. Before you leave, make sure you have a data and calling plan that works where you need it.
And just in case, learn how to read a map!
When I need help in a foreign country, all I do is ask. You can use a translation app on your phone, point to place on a map, or use charades to communicate. Often the first person I ask invites me to stay with them, meet their family or take a tour of the city. The world is full of nice people. To me, the better question is, “Where can’t you get help?” I haven’t found that place yet.
So, Ready To Travel Abroad?
Before I took the leap abroad I was nervous and excited at the same time. I was so nervous that I almost didn’t buy my plane ticket! If I hadn’t I would have missed out on so much.
Still worried about traveling abroad like I was? Send me a message with your questions, worries, or concerns and I’ll help you as much as I can!