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Travel Tips - International Human Rights Clinic
USC Gould School of Law

  • General Tips
  • More travel tips can be found on the U.S. Department of State's website.

    1. Sign up for the STEP Program with your local embassy.
    2. Familiarize yourself with and follow local laws. Although you are a U.S. citizen, you are still subject to your host country's laws. You can find this information at the State Department's Country Specific Information page.
    3. Find out emergency numbers for the local police and ambulance if they are reliable in your host country.
    4. Find out if the medications you need are legal in your host country, especially if they contains narcotics. If not, ask your doctor to prescribe a suitable alternative or prepare a note explaining why your specific medication is necessary.
    5. As a foreigner, you are susceptible to theft. Be aware of your surroundings, avoid bringing unnecessary valuable items, and keep your wallet in your front pocket or use a money belt (underneath a layer of clothing) for carrying important documents and money.
    6. If possible, avoid arriving to your destination at night. If unavoidable, consider staying at the airport until morning. When new to a country, it is often difficult to determine which areas are dangerous at night.
    7. Contact your job placement two weeks before your arrival to ensure they are ready for you.
    8. Check if there are cheaper alternatives to taking your cell phone with you overseas, such as rental phones or simply living without and using pay phones or landlines when available. However, you may want to consider bringing your smart phone for free WiFi access available in your host country. Just check with your cell phone carrier beforehand on temporarily enrolling in international long-distance plans and remember to turn off your 3G/4G because roaming charges will add up quickly.
    9. Be aware of scams. Stay alert and if something doesn't feel right or feels too good to be true, trust your instincts and calmly remove yourself from the situation.
    10. Understand how people in your host destination view Americans. Not all countries have favorable views of Americans, and you may encounter some negative treatment. However, you can minimize this by learning the basics of your host country's language, observing local customs, and keeping in mind that you are a visitor in their country.
    11. Jet lag can result from rapid long-distance trans-meridian travel.
      1. Symptoms include headaches, fatigue, irregular sleep patterns or insomnia, mild depression, disorientation, irritability, constipation or diarrhea.
      2. You can minimize the effects of jet lag by staying hydrated and avoiding caffeinated beverages or alcohol on the plane, eat meals according to the local time upon arrival, and avoid naps to adapt to your host country's time as soon as possible (exposure to sunlight may help).
    12. When packing, keep in mind that some items may be cheaper to buy in your host country, especially certain clothing items that are customary.
  • Packing Tips
  • For your important documents that you bring with you, you should leave one photocopy with your emergency contact and keep one copy/digital copy with you (kept separate from the originals). When packing clothes, remember that less is usually more.

    Packing Checklist:

    1. Passport
      1. Remember to keep it handy while traveling through the airport as you will be required to show it several times.
    2. Airline Ticket
    3. Local Currency
    4. Travelers Checks and/or Credit Cards
    5. Receipt or confirmation for the accommodations where you will be staying
    6. Letter of Introduction or Program Acceptance for your work placement
    7. Clothes
    8. Prescriptions For Any Medication You Take With You
      1. You may be required to present these at customs so keep these documents accessible and keep your medication in the original prescription container.
    9. Laptop, charger, and currency adaptor
    10. Toiletries
      1. Don't forget that feminine hygiene products may not be as readily available in some destinations.
    11. Sunscreen and Moisturizer
      1. This applies especially if you are traveling to a warmer or drier climate.
    12. Bug Repellent

    Carry-On Luggage

    Be sure to review not only your airline carrier's restrictions on size and weight of carry-on luggage, but also the Transportation Security Administration's strict guidelines on what can be packed in your carry-on.
    Liquids, aerosols, and gels in carry-ons must follow the 3-1-1 rule (although you should check again before your departure for the latest guidelines). If you need larger liquids on-board for your medication or for baby formula and food, declare these items before putting your luggage through the screening.

  • Site Specific Risks
    1. Health

      1. Check for existing medical warnings in your area. A great resource with information on traveler's health and various destinations is the U.S. Centers For Disease Control.
      2. Understand your SOS emergency heath insurance claims process prior to your departure to avoid confusion later if a medical emergency does arise.
      3. Choose a legitimate clinic if you are unable to go to your pre-selected emergency plan hospital. Even if you have to pay more, it may be worth it to find a clinic with English-speaking, international doctors to ensure that you understand what treatment you are receiving and your post-treatment care instructions.
      4. Research in advance if your host country has safe drinking water. If not, drink only bottled, vigorously boiled, or iodine-treated water and stay away from ice cubes and raw vegetables as well to avoid discomfort or illness.
      5. Give yourself time to adjust to your host destinations local cuisine - those with more sensitive stomachs may want to steer away from more flavorful foods at first and gradually integrate them into your diet.
      6. Your host destination may not have a local pharmacy with over-the-counter medications you are accustomed to; bring a first-aid kit, aspirin, allergy medication and flu medication.
      7. When traveling to warmer climates, be aware of the symptoms of heat exhaustion (which can quickly turn into heat stroke) and keep yourself hydrated. By the time you are thirsty, you are generally past the point of dehydration.
        1. Symptoms of heat exhaustion include: feeling faint or dizzy, nausea, heavy sweating, rapid or weak heartbeat, low blood pressure, pale or moist skin, low-grade fever, cramps, headache, fatigue, and dark-colored urine.
        2. If you think you may have heat exhaustion, get into a shady or cool location, drink cool water slowly, loosen or remove clothing, and lie down. If drinking water is unavailable, avoid alcoholic or caffeinated beverages.
      8. Depending on your destination, be prepared with sunscreen, moisturizer, bug repellent and mosquito netting. Do not underestimate the need for bug repellent! This may be crucial for your health in certain countries with outbreaks of vector-borne diseases like West Nile virus, malaria, or yellow fever.
    2. Political

      1. Demonstrations can be triggered for a variety of reasons. As a foreigner, you probably won't be able to fully comprehend the politics behind the demonstration. Equally important is to remember that as a foreigner, you will not always be welcomed by protesters or government agencies. If you encounter a demonstration, it is best to leave the area. Listen to the local radio and check in with the U.S. Embassy to stay apprised of the situation.
  • Culture Shock
  • Traveling to a new country can be fun and exciting. However, it can also cause stress and anxiety in some, especially those who have never traveled abroad or outside of their comfort zone to non-English-speaking countries. Assess your mental and physical health before your departure and prepare yourself for the additional stress. Just remember, you can minimize your anxiety of the unknown by thoroughly researching your destination and having an emergency plan in place.

    1. Diversity

      1. If you choose to date or engage in sexual activities while overseas, familiarize yourself with local customs so you do not misunderstand social cues or even put yourself in jeopardy.
        1. Direct eye contact or overt friendliness may be misperceived as advances in some cultures.
      2. Taking pictures is a great way to document your trip, especially if you need to make a presentation for your trip donors. However, be aware of local customs and security sensitive areas to avoid misunderstandings.
      3. Research your host country's customs as much as possible to avoid embarrassment or misunderstandings.
        1. Some countries have cultural norms for women that are more conservative than in the U.S. You should follow local customs by dressing conservatively or covering your head or shoulders if required. In addition, be prepared if you are not permitted in certain locations, like places of worship.
      4. Some countries are not as open-minded when it comes to sexual orientation. Acquaint yourself with the laws and social mores surrounding homosexuality in your host destination. In some countries it might be illegal, but socially acceptable. In other countries, although homosexuality may be legal, it can be dangerous to be "out" in general society.
        1. If there is any possibility of being "out" in your host country, researching the politics surrounding sexual orientation should be part of your pre-departure preparation. Resources include:
          1. Amnesty International provides up to date information on human rights issues and country-to-country contacts.
          2. International Lesbian & Gay Association
          3. International Gay & Lesbian Human Rights Commission
        2. Dealing with homophobia can be an especially alienating experience when in a foreign country. Before going to a hostile destination, consider how you will deal with aggressive acts or comments.
        3. In countries with a poor record of dealing with homophobia or where homosexuality is illegal, use discretion before reporting a sexual orientation related hate crime. It may be wiser to consult the U.S. Embassy or Consulate first for advice.
      5. Some countries have a more flexible concept of time and promptness than what we are used to in the United States. Just remember to be patient and give yourself extra time.
      6. Some host destinations may have beggars and street children. Although it may be difficult to see them and not give anything, you should resist. Giving to street children can make you a victim of pick-pocketing while distracted by the children or of aggressive swarming by others who see you give to one child. Furthermore, you may be hurting more than helping because many children are forced to beg on to the streets by adults who take away whatever they collect.
      7. In many parts of the world, bargaining is an important aspect of many commercial exchanges. Always settle on a price before entering a taxi or starting any service. To bargain well, be respectful but ready (or at least appear ready) to walk away.
    2. Returning Home & Re-Entry Shock

      1. To make your transition home as smooth as possible, plan ahead for living arrangements and transportation home from the airport.
      2. Monitor your health when you get home as some illnesses may take months to present after exposure.
      3. Don't forget to give yourself time to adjust when returning home. Some people may experience re-entry shock, which is like reverse culture shock experienced in your own country.
        1. Symptoms include: feeling like a foreigner, being critical of American society, feeling like you have changed while everyone else has stayed the same, feelings of uselessness, irregular sleep patterns, or feeling homesick for your host country.
        2. Manage re-entry shock by expecting it and planning ahead. Get as much done when you first arrive while you still feel euphoric at being home at last. Finally, understand that while your trip was life-changing for you, friends and family may tire of constantly hearing stories about your travels so gauge their needs as well.



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