First Time International Travel

By Sarah V. Hines, on October 30, 2019

Just two years ago, I made my first international trip. It was visiting Vancouver, Canada while visiting my family in Washington state. I had recently received my first U.S. passport and, eager to cross the border, booked a couple of days in the heart of downtown Vancouver for a solo trip that I thought would be interesting, but not too difficult. Three days wasn’t a lot of time to really explore all that Vancouver had to offer, but it was plenty of time to experience the differences between this new country and my own.

When I got to Canada, I was surprised by just how many differences threw me off. While it was an absolutely enjoyable trip, I found myself having to stop and orientate myself repeatedly throughout the three days that I was there. In order to save the trouble for others, I have developed a couple of planning tools to help those taking their first international trip to prepare.

Money is more than just currency

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Of course, we all know that countries have different currencies and that it’s good to exchange that currency before you go and to warn your bank that you will be traveling so that they don’t shut off your card mid-trip for suspicious activity. Still, I had never stopped to think about the actual difference between the amount of money I would spend. In my case, it was a pleasant surprise. The Canadian dollar is equal to US$0.76. This means that the U.S. money will go farther than the Canadian dollar amount. When I got off the train and found a currency converter, I handed over US$25 and was surprised to get about CA$30 back! When I paid for things with my debit card and checked my bank account later, I was surprised by how much money I still had in the bank. 

While Canada is one experience, a country such as France, who uses the euro, will have the opposite result. 1 euro will equal US$1.11, and it would be very easy to let that money get away much quicker than you would anticipate. To add, even though I had paid less than I was expecting in Canada, my bank did charge me a small transaction fee for making international purchases, something I was unaware of at the time (though the fees never amounted to more than $3 for big purchases). It’s always a great idea to learn about the exchange rate and get a good idea for the general cost of things before traveling.

New ways of doing business

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The first night I was in Vancouver, I went to the Gastown area to see the steam clock and do a little window shopping in the touristy area. (I highly recommend an evening around that area if you want to just spend some time walking, and the steam clock is pretty impressive, as well.) When I got in my taxi to go from my hotel to Gastown, I was surprised to find out that the taxi, itself, had wi-fi. As in, in the actual taxi. This was a surprise for me, who lives in Washington, D.C. and has never seen a taxi equipped with wi-fi. 

After walking around and getting my video of the infamous steam clock, I stepped into a restaurant to grab dinner. At the end of the meal, the waitress asked if I was ready to pay. I told her I was and handed her my card. She looked down at the card and looked at me, completely confused. She told me she would be right back and brought a portable machine to my table to settle my bill. Upon my asking, (and her realizing I was obviously from out of town) she explained that the law states that nobody can just walk off with your credit card, and all transactions had to be done right in front of the customer. I didn’t catch whether this was strictly per British Colombia or true for Canada in its entirety, but it was a small rule that I was not expecting.

Currency isn’t the only conversion you will need

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While on Granville Island, I found the prosciutto shop my sister swore I needed to try. Imagine my surprise when they sold the prosciutto by the gram. I can confidently say that math is my worst subject and any form of measuring is the worst of that. With no service to my phone to pull up a quick guide, I was lucky to find that I had a mass converter on my phone’s calculator app. (For those that may have android, check to see if your calculator has a little ruler symbol under the screen. This will come in handy if you are ever in this situation.) I was able to convert to ounces, though I still am not the absolute best at mentally measuring that out and had a lot more prosciutto to eat before I left than I had planned to. It’s absolutely a great idea to prepare for a vast difference in things such as units of measurements, as this will affect things like the products you buy and the speed that you drive at. 

Everyday differences in the country you’re visiting can add a bit to the culture shock that you may experience beforehand. If you take care to prepare yourself for the little things that you weren’t expecting, however, you will find an easier trip that will allow for more time to enjoy the new experience all around.
Sarah V. Hines

About the Author

Sarah is a Visa and Passport Specialist for APVI. When not assisting clients in obtaining expedited passports and visas, she is working on her degrees in International Relations and Anthropology.

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