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Going Abroad? 5 Tips to Make the Most of Your International Travel

Do you have a medical mission to Uganda coming up? Are you visiting your sponsored child in the Dominican Republic? Does your church partner with Food for the Hungry (FH) to sponsor an entire community in a place like Indonesia as they rise up out of povertyRegardless of where you’re going or what draws you to international travel, we know you are carefully preparing for your trip overseas. 

As a global organization working in more than 20 countries, FH’s staff log countless flight miles every year. This makes us something of an expert when it comes to international travel! 

We all know that it’s important to get the right medicine or vaccinations and to stay safe while traveling. Nobody wants to get malaria on their tropical vacation! (Be sure to check the CDC’s health and safety recommendations for anywhere you go to stay prepared.) But aside from that, we at FH know that it’s also important to be in a good headspace before visiting another country. This not only helps you avoid embarrassing moments, but also might help with engaging the people and cultures around you. Being relational helps you make the most of your once-in-a-lifetime experience!

Before you hop on a plane or jump aboard your cruise, here are five tips for how you can prepare for international travel.

1. Plan to listen and learn

Americans are notorious for voicing our opinions and trying to find answers to the problems we see. Though that can be valuable, when visiting a new place, it’s far better to start by assuming that you know much less than the people who are from the place you are visiting. If you are visiting with FH, you can ask our wonderful staff to tell you about the background of the community you see. If you are traveling with a tourist company or other group, you can always ask local people what they like about their neighborhood or find exciting. Regardless, it’s always a good idea to start with a plan to listen and learn before talking.

2. Read about the history of the place you are visiting

Every place you visit has its own unique history! Try reading a book, listening to a podcast, or simply reading some articles online before you visit. Not only will you expand your knowledge, but you will be better prepared to ask good questions and understand the places and people you see. Taking the time to read about the places you visit also shows that you know you’re not an expert and that you are interested in learning new facts and ideas. 

The place you go will likely be quite different from what you’re used to at home. Reading about the area you are visiting will prepare you for the differences — and you might discover some surprising similarities too! 

3. Research local customs and etiquette

One of the beautiful things about living in a big world is the difference in cultural customs and etiquette between countries. Before you go on your international travel, do research into local customs and consider which habits you might need to adopt or avoid. For example, did you know that in Peru, it’s considered disrespectful to reject food that someone is serving you (even if you’re full)? Tipping restaurant waiters is also a common American practice that is considered rude in many other places! What about greetings? In Cambodia, the proper way to greet someone is by putting your hands in a prayer position and bowing. Resources like the Culture Smart! pocket book guides are great places to start to better understand the local culture.  

When you’re on your trip, pay attention to what your hosts or local people around you do, and consider whether it might be appropriate for you to emulate their actions. When you visit a friend’s house for the first time, you usually don’t know all of the family’s habits and traditions. Maybe you’re used to wearing shoes inside the house, but your friends take theirs off when they step inside. Perhaps you’re used to bringing a bottle of wine and a bouquet of flowers as a welcome gift, but you’re now bringing oranges and a box of pastries. As a guest in your friend’s home, you will probably watch what they do and follow their lead. You can take a similar approach when visiting other countries! If you’re not sure, think about quietly asking a friend or host you trust who knows the context well. Remember, you are a guest in their country!

4. Memorize a few phrases in the official language

Learning simple phrases in the local language is a good way to connect with people you meet! Even if you only a few words, learning a little bit of another culture’s language is a good way to show respect and desire for connection with the people you meet. Sure, odds are that wherever you go, someone there will know English, but it’s a basic courtesy to learn a few words in the local language when you’re visiting another culture. Google Translate and phone apps like Duolingo make it fun and easy to learn simple phrases or greetings in other languages. Try starting by learning the following words and phrases:

  • Hello
  • Good morning
  • Please
  • Thank you
  • My name is ____
  • Nice to meet you
  • How are you?
  • I am from ____
  • I’m sorry/Excuse me
  • Good night

5. Prepare to step outside of your comfort zone

Your international trip will become more valuable the more willing you are to have new experiences. Maybe that means eating food you wouldn’t normally try at home, giving up the comforts like hot showers or WiFi, or setting aside your opinions and preferences. I find that thinking, “I’m on an adventure! Who knows what I’ll learn today!” helps me adjust my mindset and step outside of my comfort zone! 

Bon Voyage!

These are just five tips, but our list could be so much longer! Whether you are traveling to visit your sponsored child, with a church team to see the impact of Food for the Hungry’s work around the world, or going on a different type of journey, we hope that these suggestions help you prepare for international travel…and get you excited to broaden your horizons. 

Read more articles like this:

Discovering the “Mission” in Mission Trips

Seven Small Ways Your Church Can Make A Big Difference

Ending Poverty Together: We’re All Part of the Poverty Puzzle