Stephanie Sonnabend, Sonesta's president and CEO, shares these tips for clients traveling abroad* :
1. Try to get some local currency, including small bills before you go or first thing when you arrive. You do not need very much cash since most cities have ATM machines that will dispense money in local currency. This is the easiest way to get money. Call your credit card company before you travel so that the fraud department does not flag your card and put a hold on it.
2. Be aware of local customs regarding dress. Shorts and tank tops may not be appropriate. Layers and mix and match help stretch your wardrobe. If you are gone more than a week, you can likely find a laundry service. Bring very practical shoes and not too many -- sneakers, a comfortable walking shoe, a dress shoe and flip flops (you might want to wear in shower). Do not bring high heels since many places do not have nicely paved roads or sidewalks.
3. If you are backtracking during your trip, plan on leaving one suitcase behind and pick it up later. Ask the hotel where you are returning to hold it for you until you return. They usually do it for free or just a gratuity.
4. Find out the hours and days of operations of stores and tourist attractions. Do not assume that places will be open. In some cultures, stores close midday and in others they close early and are not open on weekends. This could also vary by city or even neighborhood. Tourist areas tend to have longer hours but sometime hours of operation do not make sense.
5. Private tour guides are usually well worth the price, especially for the first day of your trip. Sometimes they come with a car and driver, which makes things very convenient. They can make suggestions to you about local places that you can visit on your own. Ask them where the locals like to eat, not just the tourist places and you may find some nice surprises. The easiest way to arrange this is either through the hotel or a local tour operator.
6. While you can usually find people who speak English, do not assume that everyone does. Always take something with the name, address and phone number of the hotel, written in the local language so you can ask someone or give it to a taxi driver. If you are in a remote part of a country, keep in mind that people may not speak the national language, but rather local dialects.
7. Find out if there is anything cultural or sports related going on in the destination before you go there or right when you arrive. We have attended opera in Palermo and football (soccer) in Lima, getting a wonderful feel for the local culture.
8. In Egypt, carry a lot of small money, since people frequently offer service for tips; spend extra time wondering around the ruins -- they are truly amazing. Never pay the first price offered. This is almost an insult if you do not bargain them down. Know what you are buying because what they claim is real, may in fact not be authentic. Remember that Friday is equivalent to our Sunday.
9. In Peru, drink the local coca tea as it helps with altitude sickness, or take pills in advance. Buy gifts for people even if it is not close to the holidays and save them. The blankets and table linens are beautiful. Spend an extra day in Yucay, the Sacred Valley, either rafting, horseback riding, or visiting the sites. It is an amazing place, and relatively close by train to Machu Picchu.
10. In Brazil, delve into the local culture by finding exciting restaurants and nightlife in Sao Paulo. If you enjoy architecture, Brasilia is definitely worth the easy flight. Weekends in Brasilia are less crowded.
*As seen in the May, 2007 Agent@home magazine cover story.