A Holiday Season Spent Overseas is Fun and Educational for the Family

Spring has arrived, and with it, daydreams of some remote locale, far from the madding crowds.  Gasoline prices will surely top four dollars a gallon by summer, so perhaps a road trip might not be the best idea.  Maybe it is time to take the family to an overseas destination.  The Caribbean is close by, and bargains on tickets to Europe are always tempting.  In any event, a trip to another country is always mind expanding and can be a wonderful opportunity to introduce your children to a culture and way of life that is distinctly not American.

If you have never traveled overseas, then there are several tips to pass along that will prove helpful before, during, and after your journey.  First of all, determine if passports and visas are required, and then go about getting them.  If you are really going off the beaten track, then shots or pills may also be necessary with an accompanying health certificate.

Second, there are three types of countries – developed, developing, and underdeveloped.  The United States has one of the most highly developed infrastructures in the world.  Developing countries attempt to emulate what we have, i.e., planes, trains, police, banks, cars, utilities, telephones, and other forms of mass transit that work “24X7”.  They may occasionally break down, but in underdeveloped countries, everything is always breaking down.  Tour guides may warn of water issues, too, but let them deal with service breakdowns. 

Third, learn everything about your destination and make sure to do it before, not after you board your plane on travel day.  Make an effort, study travel books and local history, prepare an outline, and attempt to learn the language if it is different than English.  Most Americans abroad, unfortunately, are rude and arrogant, but the locals will rush to help you if they think you spent the time to learn about their culture, especially learning to speak a few important phrases.  Take a journal with you and take notes that you can summarize at the end of the day. 

Next, review the fine print of your debit and credit card agreements where they mention overseas travel and forex conversion fees.  The rates that you may see in papers pertain to wholesale commercial transactions.  Consumer retail rates are another story, but the major card associations do give you access to the best rates with a small fee tacked on.  Check your cards for the lowest rate.  Use ATMs for local cash, and put all purchases on plastic, and it does help to have a few Dollars in your pocket.  They will come in handy.

What about shopping on your family vacation holiday?  After you become familiar with the prevailing local exchange rate, you should be able to convert local price tags to Dollars to make a quick value assessment.  Believe it or not, most merchants around the world want you to bargain with them.  In these cases, the price tags are usually doubled to trick unquestioning Americans.  The merchant will continue talking to or chase after you if your offer is reasonable.  You must also be alert and wary of strangers.  Many con artists prey on unsuspecting tourists and then disappear into the shadows.

Lastly, if you are prepared and confident about your plan, then be sure to relax and enjoy the pleasures before you.  There is nothing like exposure to other cultures, cuisines, and other ways of living to open the senses and expand the consciousness of the world we live in.  When you go abroad, one truly gets to know oneself.

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