Obviously, there are a million websites telling you how to travel. But this “Pilgrim Priest” is going to give you a few new tips you may not have known:
Ahead of Time:
- Find out which countries require vaccines and masks not only to tour, but also to land in their country. Also, your passport may not be enough. Make sure to get travel-visas ahead of time. (Just before my very first flight to Brazil in seminary, I got stopped on the way from Denver to Rio De Janeiro in Atlanta, not knowing I needed a visa to enter Brazil. I had to fly back to Denver and re-book everything. Since then, I have obtained more long-term visas to travel to places like India. These get glued into your passport.)
- Get any power adaptors needed for countries you visit. (I suggest bringing only one adaptor as I’ll explain in the packing section.)
- Put into your to-do list or calendar the 24-hour ahead-of-time “check in,” especially for airlines where it matters (like Southwest Airlines.)
- Go minimalist in all your packing. Don’t bring computers unless you plan on working from abroad. Bring only enough clothes for a few days or maximum a week as most countries in the world have laundromats.
- Do bring these things you probably didn’t think about: a bandana, ear plugs, Vit C and D3, a rain jacket, baby-wipes for all adults and kids (trust me on this one.) Also, bring Miraculous Medals on chains as I wrote about in this blog with video because medals are an easy way to evangelize in any language, in any country.
Airports and Flying:
- Airports are rarely enforcing masks now (which may have yet again changed by the time you read this blog post) but as of now you should be able to get around an airport without a mask. Still, while flying, most attendants are still enforcing the mask, at least as of Feb 2022. While constantly eating and drinking is suggested by some “sovereign citizens” who hate the mask as much as me, my suggestion is rather this: Buy a hoodie and get a window seat. Sleep against the window with your hoodie up and you can take the mask off as long as you sleep. (I use the cowl of my religious habit to sleep against the window so I just like a crazy person sleeping. Everyone leaves me alone.)
- Hydration: If you get an aisle seat, stay well-hydrated and drink as much water as possible. (This is obviously easier in an aisle seat as you can go to the bathroom as much as you want without disturbing as many people.) I believe so much of our failing mental health can easily be taken care of by drinking lots more water than you ever thought your body needed. This is especially true while traveling, so drink water, drink water, drink water.
- Flight attendants are your friends. Attendants are like registered nurses: They are your best friends until you make their life hard, and then they have firm boundaries to make your life worse than theirs. Be nice to them, because they really are on your side unless you prove otherwise. And then life will get really hard.
- Pray a lot in the airplane because it’s meditative. Catholics (and others) may watch 3 movies on an international flight. That comes to at least five hours of wasted time. Do you realize you could do 15 decades of the Rosary in just one hour? I love to pray on airplanes. I know God is everywhere, so it would be silly to say “You’re close to God in an airplane,” but there is some truth to the fact that praying in the heavens gives you a very clear mind. Don’t waste the chance for all this time in silence, meditation, reflection and adoration of God. This is another reason a window seat is so good: Thanking God for His creation as you look upon the heaven and earth that He created.
Pro-tips in New Lands:
- Restaurants: Read and heed the 3 and 4 star reviews. (The 1 star and 5 star reviews are often done by enemies and friends, respectively, of the restaurant.) You can trust the 3 and 4 star reviews quite reliably, but read what they say. These review apps usually work in numerous countries. Obviously, trust the suggestions of locals, too. Cops in-person always know the best places to eat.
- Languages. If you are not fluent or at least proficient in a new language, it’s better to quietly and politely ask others in foreign countries if they speak English. Better to wade through their imperfect English than make them listen to you you babble the 100 words of Mandarin that you learned just before flying from Pimsleur or Rosetta. The fact is that you need a few thousand words in your vocabulary to be considered proficient and you need to be nearly perfect in a new language to be considered fluent. But we Americans foolishly call ourselves “fluent” we they have down just a few hundred words of a foreign language. Look—in no other country would you find such a low-bar definition of what it means to be “fluent” in a foreign language. So, just speak English quietly if you are not truly fluent or at least proficient in another language.
- Don’t smile constantly and talk loud. Americans in other countries who do this are very annoying as I explained in this blog. When Kennedy was President, the towering VP Johnson toured Southeast Asia and infamously patted a much shorter Vietnamese man on the head. Most of my readers would never be so stupid, but again, please don’t smile constantly and look around and talk so loud that the whole world knows you’re an American.
- Touring Cities: When I lived in Paris, I found that city buses gave exquisite tours of the city for about one euro. Or, you could pay a tour bus 20x that for similar views. So, take the free transport if you can find good routes for sight-seeing. Cities like New Orleans have a trolly down St. Charles that are probably as good as any tour bus for a fraction of the price. (Unfortunately, both rides probably require masks.)
- Scooters and bikes: Scooters and bikes are fun ways to explore new cities, but there are also dangers in getting hit by cars if you’re not used to the electronic system of the scooter or the traffic patterns of a new foreign city. Obviously, a small mistake could be fatal if you don’t know what you’re doing.
- Emergencies: Go help immediately anyone attacked or in medical need. You doing something untrained is generally better than anyone else who will certainly pull out their phone to film the emergency to become a single-day social-media star. Also, don’t be afraid to call the police on suspected terrorists or traffickers. It’s better to be embarrassed for calling the police for a non-emergency than being haunted the rest of your life when you may have seen a trafficker with children… and chose to do nothing.
- Robberies: It’s obviously better to hand over your wallet to armed robbers than to fight them, even if you think you can take them. If you lose, you die. If you win, you go to a foreign prison. Either way you lose if you fight. Of course, defend your family’s life immediately with your own life if it comes down to true issues of physical safety.
- Custody of the Eyes: If you can believe it, many countries have more immodesty than the United States! One can sightsee without staring at everyone. Keeping what I call “St. Joseph Custody of the Eyes” is my main goal while traveling. One can do this without running into pillars or walls, and this is easier than you might think.
- Holy Mass and Sites: Research ahead of time where you want to worship (for example, at the TLM.) Then, ask the locals at that traditional parish their suggestions for local Catholic shrines and pilgrimages. They’ll often have suggestions about things you didn’t find on the internet.
- Unplug. I like the fact my iMessage on my iPhone works in foreign countries when I’m in a cafe with wifi, which is why there’s little need for me to pay for international data on my phone when I travel. I suggest you take only one hour in the afternoon for all your needs on texts, emails and social media. This one hour should also include Skyping or Zooming back home to see family. Can you imagine traveling to Rome or Singapore to find you spent as much time on social media as you did back home in the USA? Really, put on one of those smart-phone timers to see if you’re spending more time on your phone than sight seeing.
- Evangelization. Be ready to explain your faith in a heartbeat. Don’t assume that your explanation of the Gospel is just too basic for foreign ears. Many people have never heard of Jesus or the Catholic Church. But they want to! In the land of the blind, one-eye is king. Give the basics without assuming information or malice on the part of the listener. Have your friend or spouse pray as you share the Gospel, even if it’s only for 60 seconds. See above link on Miraculous Medals.
- Jet Lag. Many travel experts have complex plans for beating jet lag. However, I fall asleep like a baby every time I fly on a plane (probably due to my baseline insomnia and lack of oxygen that high up) so my plan on international is this: Sleep lots on the plane and then caffeinate hard-core your first couple days on the ground. You’ll probably get on schedule quickly either plan you take.
- Coordination. Remember that flights’ departure times and arrival times are obviously different in different time zones. If your airline emails your flights to you, you can set your iCal to indicate the arrival and departure times coordinated to the city of arrival and departure relative to Greenwich Mean Time (GMT which is the same as UTC or Zulu) as found in my return flight from FL to CO just this week: