Crowdsourcing: Help! What Do I Need To Know Before Leaving The Country For The First Time?

Cannes Film Festival - Help! What Do I Need To Know Before Leaving The Country For The First Time?

Confession time! I have never been to another country–well, with the exception of Canada which I grew up rather close to so it doesn’t feel very faraway anyway. So, when I found out I was going with Stella Artois to France for the Cannes Film Festival this week, I was both wildly excited and mildly terrified.

Before you yelp, “Whaaaat? You’ve never left the country?!” let me preface with a few things:

1. It’s so expensive to go to other countries! To be frank, I am 24, don’t make the salary of a finance bro, and my parents would not/could not spontaneously drop $2,000 on a flight for me.

2. I am afraid of traveling. Why? Because I’m a total wimp. I love going to places where I already know people–I even don’t mind moving cross-country without ever having seen my destination city, but traveling on vacation to a faraway place I know no one? Totally different. Therefore, I was totally thrilled and filled with gratitude when I found out I would be going to France for a press trip with Stella Artois. Seriously, I looked like this minus the curls:

That said, I do not know exactly how to prepare for a trip abroad. Are there phrases most important to learn besides asking where the bathroom’s at? Are there any especially useful apps for the iPhone? How many croissants is too many croissants? Clearly, I am in need for some help, so let a girl know if you have any advice!

Photo: Mathieu Lebreton/Flickr

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    • Ashley Reese

      Exchange rate blows, be careful with your spending! Won’t hurt to DL an app for easy converting!

      • Samantha Escobar

        OH that is a great idea, thank you Ashley!

    • Lex

      Make a copy of your passport (the page with all your information first and foremost) and leave one copy in the states with parents/siblings/loved one of your choosing and put a second copy in your luggage. Losing your passport is THE WORST.

      See if your CC company charges a fee for international purchases. If they do see if you can make it a one time fee and if they cant make sure you bring enough cash.

      Keep your cash in a few places (some in a wristlet, some in your purse, some in your carry on) so if you lose one you arent broke.

      Dont lock your luggage. Security and customs will break it off.

      Make sure your phone is Europe compatible and no fees will be incurred (or at the very least you are ok with it).

      Thievery is more common in Europe than you would think. They target tourists. Keep things separated so you can hand over the 20 bucks in your bag without losing everything.

      Stock up on European beauty products. That stuff is dirt cheap there.

      • Samantha Escobar

        1) WOULD NOT HAVE THOUGHT OF THAT. Thank you so much.
        2) I am calling my credit card company to let ‘em know I’ll be in France, so thank you for the advice! I will definitely ask them that.
        3) Oh! Oh my. Did not know that about locks, though I guess I can see how they’d be suspicious and/or it might be against policy.
        4) I think I might just turn off my cell phone’s ability to do anything but take photos and connect with wifi. I’m paranoid.
        5) Eep! Will definitely do re: separating things.
        6) I have entirely too many beauty products already but I will still do this regardless. :(

        Thanks so much!

      • Lex

        Some phone companies (tmobile does this) let you get data and texting free of charge. So you could email, text and skype (since it uses data) with someone while abroad. I dont know if everyone does that. If not, it isnt a big deal.

        The passport thing was really helpful for my cousin. She went to France and was robbed. They took her passport too. She was lucky she had copies to give to the US consulate to help expedite her getting a new passport. You hope you never need it, but you never know.

        Also a solar charger is REALLY helpful. I have the WORST luck with converters. I eventually bit the bullet and bought a solar charger. Dont regret it for a second.

      • Natalie

        Oh ya, when I meant luggage locks I meant after you land when you are in taxis and leaving it in hotels!

      • Daniela

        There are TSA-approved luggage locks. You can find them at Walmart or whatever. I don’t know how secure they actually are, but I still feel better having them.

      • CMJ

        If you have an iPhone, turn off the cellular data. Turn on airplane mode. Then turn on the wifi….any place that has wifi will let you email, iMessage, etc. Also, the Viber app let’s you make phone calls in wifi but other people will also have to have it…it’s great!

        I would also call all your CC companies and your bank and let them know you will be traveling abroad so they don’t block your cards. It can be a real pain if they block it and you have no way to call them to take care of it.

    • Jenni

      Keep an eye out for the Olsen Twins, they’re always somewhere in Europe traveling around with hot boys on mopeds. Well one hot boy, one great personality boy.

      • Jenni

        Also in addition to this stellar advice, bring a converter. Or save money by becoming friends with someone who has one. Also don’t plug your straighter into a converter just because a kid who works at Radio Shack in America says it’s safe. Because sometimes you do that and it BLOWS THE OUTLET SO BADLY THAT THE PLUG FLIES OUT OF THE WALL. #TrueStory

      • Jenni

        Also if you want to read a daily blog about my semester abroad, you can just ask. I wouldn’t be where I am today without Live Journal. Seriously Sam, feel free to ask at any point! Don’t be shy.

      • Samantha Escobar

        TELL ME YOUR LIVEJOURNAL NAME. No really. Tell it to me. I need to know so I can find all your beret selfies.

        EDIT: Okay but really I need to see it.

      • Jenni

        Sam, there aren’t photos on there! I paint pictures with my words! Duh. #ReadMore #UMightLikeIt

      • Samantha Escobar

        Oh okay but if there are can I SEO the crap out of them?

      • Jenni

        Wait, one more thing. Stop by London on your way home and tell Prince George to lose weight.

      • Samantha Escobar

        - AH. I would not have thought about the converter thing. Holy crap.
        - Oh I’ll be bringing a Twininator with me just in case I need to have similarly-romantic-but-in-totally-different-styles whilst in Cannes. Gotta keep up with modern movies like Passport To Paris, ya feel me?

      • CMJ

        I bought a cheap curling iron in Europe because I didn’t want to fry my good one.

    • Kristina

      You will get a better exchange rate if you change your money over in France, so I would wait and do it there.

      In Europe, public restrooms are often marked as WC (water closet). It might come in handy to know that going in ;)

      To add to the suggestion of making a photocopy of your passport, I always have a digital version on my MP3 player as well. has a currency converter app for your phone. I just put it on mine for an upcoming trip.

      To add to the converter, sometimes a converter is not enough and you need a transformer as well. For things like hair dryers and epilators, you need a transformer. If you don’t have the transformer and only use a converter, you may not make the plug explode, but you will destroy your appliance.

      To add to the credit card suggestions, it might also be wise to let your credit card company know you will be in France from dates x through z so they don’t consider any purchases you might make as suspicious.

      It’s true that in France, not a lot of people speak other languages, though I don’t expect you’ll have too much trouble in Cannes. But a little goes a long way. Making an effort to at least say hello and politely asking for help while explaining you don’t speak French (all in French, of course) is very much appreciated. That being said, address strangers in the formal “vous” and not “tu”.

      It is not customary to tip in France.

      A latte would be a café crème and the milk is served on the side. Noisette refers to, if I remember correctly, an espresso with a splash of milk.

      There is no such thing as too many croissants. Or any pastry, really. Seriously, take advantage. Pain au chocolat is good, almond croissants, choquettes, a good crusty baguette. And they’re super cheap there too. If you can, swing by a grocery store and get yourself a nice selection of cheeses to go with that bread. Comté is my favourite (look for aged 12 months!), Caprices des Dieux, and fromage de brebis are also solid choices. Boursin is dirt cheap there. Cheese in general is cheap there. Spoil yourself!

      European Nutella, in my opinion, is far superior to North American Nutella. But a more delicious spread than that is Ovomaltine Crunchy. And while I’ve never had it, you can also get Speculoos spread, which is basically cinnamon spice cookie spread :)

      Also, if you can swing it, take advantage of that free flight to Europe and stay a little longer. Once you’re there, traveling is much more affordable. Trains are super efficient and will get you everywhere.

      I lived in France for four years, so feel free to ask any questions you may have!

      • LadyClodia

        I would add about the public toilets (WCs) that you might have to pay to use them. I’m not sure how it is in France (we were mostly at Disney while we were in France,) but in The Netherlands you have to pay to use most WCs even at train stations and such. So because of that and just that you generally get more coins and pay with coins more, it’s a good idea to have a wallet/coin purse to accommodate them.

    • LadyClodia

      There is no such thing as too many croissants (or macarons.) Seriously, I still think about the croissants and macarons I had in France last September, they were amazing.

      This is a strange piece of advice but Tylenol/acetaminophen is called paracetamol in Europe. I did not know that the first time I went to Europe, and I suffered with a headache for days because of it.

    • Natalie

      Several colored copies of your passport.

      Get locks for your luggage then wear the keys on your person or put them somewhere that is not your luggage.

      Outlet AND voltage coverter. I had so many cords and hair dryers get shorted out because I didn’t have a voltage coverter. Go to Walmart or Best Buy, they could help you. I think you can set your phone on a lower voltage too.

      The Eurostar train (I’m not sure how much traveling you’ll be doing) is ALWAYS worth the extra price over the local trains. Always. I can’t stress that enough.

      I’m not sure how much this goes down in France, but don’t get money out at the ATM. When I was in Italy, they would replace where you put your card in at an ATM with a little scanner to duplicate your card then steal it… anyway… actually go into a bank and ask them at the bank.

      Check currency conversion predictor websites. They will let you know what days have the best predicted conversion so that’s when you can buy any crazy French expensive stuff or even convert your money before you go.

      Bring a cross-body bag with a zipper/flap. It’s safer.

      Eat everything. Don’t go anywhere that clearly is catering to a tourist crowd.

      Have fun!!

    • diane kaston

      first of all have fun, second of all keep all necessary things, medicine, tech, docs, with you in carry on, you do not want to land missing something urgent, insure your bags with this site you cc company and airline $ will not cover losses, as to being there google for a list of best fashion culture bloggers who do what you do, FB them and ask for hints and help, then will know the insider info, go meet them, go shopping for experiences not stuff cannes cost a bomb, as to makeup go to the drugstore for super cheapy great treats, don’t worry about too much about exchange rate cc fees etc, the total extras most likely will not break you, so go for a splurge if you can, watch the phone issue check with your carrier otherwise you will come home to a $$$$$ bill for one Fb post data costs alot, buy a cute boy a coffee/drink, go the farmers and antique market, if you find something you cannot live with out the hotel can arrange ups shipping for cheap, ps you can’t bring back french cheese, go to all the fab hotels in cannes, i know very $$ but they are classics buy a coffee soak up the atmosphere and feel like a 1950′s movie star, have so much fun!!!

    • porkchop

      You have to practice hiding your sticker shock. Have a friend show you a half liter bottle of water and then tell you it costs ten euros. Try to avoid gasping/horse-laughing.

      You have to take the train to either Rome or Paris while you’re there, even if it’s only for one day. The Geneva conventions state this and you have to comply, no matter how expensive it is. You won’t regret it, even if you get robbed.

      You’re probably not going to get robbed! Don’t waste one second worrying about getting robbed.

      Jet lag is for real. You should have an escape plan just in case you’re supposed to do something right after you land, because there’s a small but not insignificant chance that you’ll start crying uncontrollably or start acting like a psycho. If sedating yourself on the plane is an option, do it.

      Loyal readers of this site need for you to report back on the yacht/prostitute/drug scene… Also, keep an eye out for jewel thieves! A lot of heists happen at Cannes!

      When you return to the US, look around the customs area for adorable contraband-sniffing beagles. They have their own TSA uniforms!!

    • Carrie

      1. iMessage is still free and works abroad with Wifi (assuming you have an iPhone)! Otherwise, be sure to keep your phone on Airplane mode or the equivalent because data rates will be insane. I’d recommend carrying your phone with you like you would here though, because obviously in case of an emergency you won’t be so concerned about extra data charges.

      2. Personally, I find you get a better deal when you get money from ATMs rather than bringing cash and exchanging it. If you can, call your bank and see if they partner with any banks in France. Many of them do, and then you can use those ATMs with no fee.

      3. Definitely agree with others who have said check with your credit card company about foreign transaction fees. Chase Sapphire cards I know for sure don’t have one and I really recommend them for international travel, but I don’t know if you have time to get a new card before you leave.

      4. There is no such thing as too many croissants, unless they are making you too full to eat pain au chocolat. Fact.

      Have an amazing time!

    • alma

      I found that withdrawing money from any atm/banck was cheaper then going to the silly exchange places. Usually just withdrew what money I need and be done with it, no need bringing american money and exchanging there…like everyone else said don’t forget to tell your bank!

      Also talking to people (family?) via Skype, g-chat, Facebook ect. was way easier then dealing with the phone company and getting the phone to work in Europe (not to mention cheaper). As long as you have wifi you should be ok. I lived in Rome for a couple of months and survived totally off of wifi when available. Just learn to read a map, plan ahead and no need for gps.

      Do you know Spanish? I thought my high school French would get me through a week in Paris…people looked at me oddly when I tried to say something in French…then turn to my friend and ask her in ENGLISH what I was trying to say -_- So, I reverted to my spanish speaking ways and bam! Total love from the French, apparently (from my experience) a lot of them speak Spanish or understand better. I no longer sounded like a stupid america tourist, but an exotic Mexican / Spanish tourist :)

      Oh don’t forget to have fun!

      • LynnKell

        hahahahaha I was going to suggest that if you aren’t too proficient in French try Spanish or Italian before English. Even go to google translate and type some life-saving sentences and copy them to a note in your phone, so in case of emergency, you can communicate clearly what you need.

    • Sara

      Rolling up your clothes is more space efficient than folding them, and they get less wrinkly. I would also buy an inexpensive cell phone while you’re there. You can get a pre-paid SIM card so you don’t overspend, and you can get different SIM cards for different countries as you travel so you can use the phone again next time you’re in Europe. As for learning certain phrases, one of the most helpful is “I would like that, please” (easiest way to order food you can’t pronounce). I would also learn “May I have a glass of water?”, as, in my experience at least, water isn’t automatically served with a meal in Europe the way it is here.

    • Emily

      This tip is a bit random but from a North American in France to another, if you know any French, attempt to use it when ordering food etc. The French appreciate foreigners who at least try to communicate with them in their own language, and are a bit prejudiced when it comes to the foreigners who don’t even try.
      Also more random tips!
      - The French don’t clean up dog poo so watch out where you step
      - If you buy baguette never eat it on the go, it’s considered really rude
      - The service culture is VERY different to the service culture in America. The customer is NOT always right in France, if your server seems colder and more aloof, don’t worry, they don’t hate you, they just don’t go for the whole super smiley “hey how are you. how’s your day been” kind of thing
      - In terms of the public toilets thing I would definitely recommend using ones in restaurants since it’s quite common in France to just have porcelain holes in the ground in public bathrooms (not too much fun)
      - Warning: the prices will scare you
      - Produce is really lovely in France, there are stricter laws in Europe against pesticides etc, so I recommend enjoying the fresh fruit and veg :)
      - In terms of being robbed etc, this sounds REALLY awful, but be wary of the Romani, most are people just trying to get by, but if you find yourself surrounded by 4 asking you to sign a petition, DONT DO IT, it is a distraction to get your wallet and is something that happens to SO many tourists in France
      - Most of these tips are a bit on the negative side but in the same breath, have fun! The south of France is absolutely beautiful and I’m sure you’ll have a great time :)

      • alma

        I totally forgot about the gypsies!

    • Meg

      Sleep as much as possible on the plane ride over, and try, if you can, to not take a nap the day you arrive. It’ll be tough, but take a long stroll, and go to sleep at a normal time locally. Also melatonin that night. I’ve always found that, when I do this, I feel perfectly fine the next day.

      Seriously, if you see a group of 3 or more scruffy looking children with or without an accompanying adult approaching you (especially near a high end hotel or a tourist attraction), hold onto your stuff as if your life depended on it. The flailing hands and constant chatter are really distracting, and the next thing you know, you’ve been robbed. Gypsies (Romani as per a previous post) are a real problem in the South of France.

      Never carry anything in your back pockets, and use a purse with a closure, and keep it closed at all times.

      Ask a local for the best patisserie, and gorge on French pastries.

      The seafood in the South of France is amazing. Don’t miss out.

      If you have time, you are a short distance from both Nice and Monaco for a day trip. I suggest a stroll down the Avenue des Anglais in Nice, and check out the iconic Negresco Hotel (they won’t let you inside if yor not a guest), and the Palace and Casino in Monaco.

      Hope you have a blast. Please fill us in on all the details!

    • LynnKell

      I wanna add: check the weather forecast. Sounds really silly, but it can save you from freezing or melting. Still, take a cozy piece of clothing just in case.

      Have cosmetic minis in your hand purse and in your luggage, in case you loose something, you’ll have a backup.

      There are maps apps that work off-line, check them out.

      Search for emergency numbers in France, the equivalent of 911. Better off having it and not needing it…

      Keep a note on your phone with translated life-saving sentences. (how much this cost, where is___, I want to order____, etc)

      COMFY SHOES AND HANDBAG. Nothing screws a day like having your hand bag strap carve your shoulder. Also, take blister-preventing band-aids/pomade.

      If you aren’t too comfy speaking French, try Spanish or Italian. English is not too popular in France.

      Have fun and please write to us like there’s no tomorrow :)

    • Kate

      I guess this is too late, but you can use it for future trips (because once you go international, you never go back).

      -Withdrawing from foreign ATMs is generally the best exchange rate.
      -Get a CapitalOne credit card – 0% transaction fee!
      -Always alert your bank you’re going abroad. You can call or place travel flags online.
      -Look up and write down the info for the American consulate wherever you are. Better safe than sorry. If you lose your passport or something happens, at least you can avoid a tiny bit of panic by knowing where you need to go.
      -Don’t keep all your credit cards in one place. If your wallet gets stolen, it’s good to have a backup somewhere else.
      -Keep your liquids/laptop/etc in a handy place in your luggage. Less time in security line the better.
      -If you’re going somewhere for a week or more, look into SIMs for your phone. It can dramatically enhance your experience. E.g. in London I bought a pay-as-you-go SIM for GBP 10 and it allowed me access (for the week) to Google Maps, texts/emails…and Instagram.
      -Journal! I’m partial to the Moleskine city books, which are a little pricey but include maps and other handy things that have always helped me get around. It’s good to have a place to collect my thoughts and activities during travels, and you can also bring a gluestick and paste in ticket stubs and whatever instead of coming home with a wallet full of crumpled up papers. Also, if you’re traveling alone, a journal is the perfect companion to meals, coffee, lounging in park, etc.

      Hope you’re having a blast!