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22 March, 2016
Earth is the most diverse planet in our solar system. Traveling to another part of the world can be extremely rewarding. It gives us a firsthand look at an entirely different culture, and allows us to experience life in a totally new way.
But traveling far from home to an area that you aren’t familiar with also comes with a number of challenges, starting with just getting there.
Getting Approval to Enter the Country
Americans are fortunate in that there are many countries we can travel to with nothing more than our passport. Visiting the U.S. isn’t as easy for many people. Given the security threats, there is a higher level of security today than ever before, which restricts where people can travel.
If you plan to travel to the U.S., one of the first things you should do is start reading trusted traveler program information. There are several traveler programs that can make entry into the U.S. easier. No matter which one you apply for, there will be an extensive background check and interview before getting approved.
Whenever a person is removed from their familiar surroundings and immersed in a totally new environment, culture shock could occur. It can completely disorient a person and cause you to feel overwhelmed. This commonly occurs whenever a person travels to a foreign country they haven’t been to before.
Culture shock is the worst of four stages in what’s known as cultural adjustment.
Stage 1 - Honeymoon – The initial feeling of excitement and euphoria of having reached your destination. You are highly interested and motivated to learn and experience the culture.
Stage 2 - Culture Shock – Once the novelty wears off, the reality sets in, and the little stressors begin to build up. The differences between your culture and the new culture are very stark. Feelings of being out of place set in, and this is when you are most likely to seek out people from your own country.
Stage 3 - Adjustment – As you become more familiar with your surroundings, you are able to relax into it more. You don’t feel as isolated and are able to get around easier.
Stage 4 - Adaptation – After some time you are able to feel “at home” in the new environment, and it doesn’t feel new anymore.
Health Care and Vaccinations to Combat Local Diseases
Each area of the world has their own environment and their own health risks. For example, recently there has been a Zika outbreak in Brazil, and pregnant women are advised not to travel there. If you are traveling out of country, vaccinations may be needed to safeguard your health.
That brings up the issue of health care in general. No one wants to think about winding up in the emergency room in a foreign country, but it’s possible. Even if you have health insurance, it may not cover you during travel or in some areas of the world.
Many health care providers offer additional plans that provide overseas coverage. You can choose to get a plan through a U.S.-based provider or a foreign company. However, you’ll need to ensure that all the areas you plan to visit fall within the provider’s coverage and includes emergency care.
Even if you adjust without experiencing culture shock, it’s quite common to feel homesick during periods of extended travel. A study by YouthSight found that 33% of college students who study abroad feel homesick at some point.
Expats also report dealing with homesickness that can range from mild to severe. Often being so far from family is the cause. One of the best things travelers can do to beat the homesick blues is to start making connections and building a social network in their current location.
The Language Barrier
Anytime you travel to a foreign country that speaks another language there can be specific challenges. Even if you are fluent in the language, there could be local dialects, accents or slang that you don’t understand.
Prep before you travel by learning a few basics, such as asking for directions, how to say “yes”, “no” and “thank you”, etc. It’s also a good idea to get a book with translations from one language to the other. Google’s app Google Translate is another useful tool that can translate the words on pictures that you take with your phone. This can come in handy before ordering off a menu or when reading signs.
One significant difference that you will experience no matter where you travel outside of the U.S. is a new type of currency. The markings on it can be completely foreign and there will be completely different values to learn. You’ll also need to know the current exchange rate, which could be higher or lower depending on where you’re traveling.
It’s a good idea to exchange some currency as soon as you enter the country. Most airports, seaports and train stations will have places to exchange currency, but you may pay less in fees by using an ATM machine. You may also be able to use U.S. currency, so there’s no need to exchange all of your cash.
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