Immersing oneself in a foreign country can be tough, especially on a short trip - so why not give yourself a headstart? Pick up a book by a local author before you go (or as vacation reading!) to help you understand the culture and enhance your trip! Here are some suggestions to get you started:
#2 Peru: Red April by Santiago Roncagliolo
Peru has a complicated political history and that complexity is brought to life in this thrilling mystery that centers around the 2000 elections in Peru.
#3 UK: White Teeth by Zadie Smith
The racing plot in this story of an immigrant family assimilating in London is belied by its thought-provoking themes. The book explores how different populations coexist in the UK and raises questions about race and identity that are extremely relevant in British society today.
#4 Turkey: Snow by Orhan Pamuk
Few authors are able to encapsulate so much history in such a riveting story, but Orhan Pamuk always delivers (probably why he’s a Nobel-prize winner). This epic love story set amid terrorism and a suicide epidemic (based on true events), will give you a history lesson and a strong cultural foundation that will surely enrich your travels.
#5 France: The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo
No book will bring to life Medieval Paris and the construction of the Notre Dame Cathedral better than Victor Hugo’s classic. Keep in mind, this book is much darker than the Disney movie of the same name (which is definitely worth watching!), but it will make the experience of visiting the Cathedral and walking through the cobblestone streets even more magical.
#6 Canada: Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood
Widely known for her dystopian novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood is one of the most respected living writers. Each of her books are different, and this work of historical fiction reads more like a mystery - it tells the story of a servant accused of murdering her employer in Northern Canada, brilliantly balancing the historical elements about 19th century society in Canada and the murder mystery plotline.
#7 Argentina: Ficciones by Jorge Luis Borges
Borges is a big deal in Argentina. A Big Deal. His mind-bending short stories have, for years, helped start important conversations in Argentina about society and government. His quote that is currently on the facade of the Kirchner Cultural Center in Buenos Aires, “No one is the fatherland, but we all are,” serves as an important reminder of the importance of peace and democracy.
#8 Ireland: Translations by Brian Friel
Set in the small fictional town of Baile Beag in the 19th century, this play humanizes many issues that have plagued Irish society for centuries, such as language barriers and cultural imperialism. This play will give you an appreciation for Irish culture and a better understanding of how hard people have fought to preserve that culture. Also: Try to take in a play at one of the famous theaters in downtown Dublin - from Oscar Wilde to Samuel Beckett, Ireland has been home to some of the greatest playwrights to ever live. Take advantage of it while you’re there!
#9 Colombia: Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Gabriel Garcia Marquez, a Nobel-prize winner, is known as the father of magical realism, a literary style in which most elements of the story are realistic, with unexpected touches of magic or fantasy. The style makes sense once you see the mythical landscape of Colombia - for example, the Cocora Valley, in which everything looks normal, except the 200-foot palm trees sprouting from the ground. His work also gives readers important insight into machismo culture and political struggles Colombians have faced. Garcia Marquez is a national hero - it almost doesn’t matter which one you read (One Hundred Years of Solitude, Death in the Time of Cholera, Autumn of the Patriarch), but make sure you pick up one of his books before you go!
#10 Italy: Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino
In this fictional travel narrative, Calvino draws on inspiration from Italy. Calvino is no traditional writer, so if it’s not your cup of tea, there are plenty of great Italian writers - going all the way back to Dante’s Divine Comedy to Primo Levi and the current rage, Elena Ferrante. Italy has a long literary tradition - so get reading!
If you liked this check out 10 Travel Books that Will Sweep you Away
You want to pack light. You’re not trying to bring five bags with you, but you also want to be prepared. We’ve been there. So, here are a few tips to help you downsize without sacrificing:
Pack a Scarf or tie - you want a fancier option in case you want to go to a fancy restaurant or get invited somewhere unexpected, but consider this: you don’t have to bring a whole fancy outfit. Often a nice scarf or a tie can dress up an outfit you were already planning to pack.
Discard things you can buy there - if you’re taking a long trip, you don’t have to pack all the toiletries you’re going to need. Unless you’re traveling to a place where cheap toiletries won’t be available, pack enough for a few days and buy the rest when you get there.
Take inventory - Lay out all your items on a flat surface for two reasons: (1) This is a good way to see what’s unnecessary (if you’re taking 6 shirts for a long weekend, you can probably discard from that pile) and (2) It’s must easier to pack efficiently when everything is laid out in one place. We’ve found that an overflowing suitcase often packs easily once we’ve removed everything, sorted it, and returned it to the suitcase in an organized way.
Roll your clothes - If it’s not fancy, roll clothes instead of folding them. And definitely don’t just throw everything in. That’s a great way to lose a lot of space.
Pack food separately - Bring your food for the plane in a separate plastic bag if it doesn’t fit in your carry-on. Food doesn’t count towards your 1-carry-on + 1-personal-item limit, so if you’re short on space, don’t waste it with food.
Wear bulky items - Instead of packing your winter coat, for example, wear it while traveling. You may be hot in the airport, but it’s a great way to make space in your suitcase if you’re desperate.
Check the weather - A little research goes a long way. Especially if you’re just going for a short trip, check the weather before you go. If there’s only a 10% chance of rain every day of your trip, you don’t need the windbreaker, the raincoat, and the umbrella. Choose one. Knowing the weather (and what activities you plan on doing) will help you discard the outfits you’re unlikely to actually wear.
Stuff socks in shoes - The inside of your shoes are dead space in your bag. Stuff your shoes with socks or other small items to make the most of the space.
Tie shoes to your bag - If you don’t even have room for the shoes in your bag, you can tie the laces to the straps of your backpack.
Plan to do laundry - Take out a few of your everyday outfits and bring some Tide hand-wash packets so you can re-wear more.
In case you missed the other packing posts:
Check out part I: 10 Packing tips to save you money
Check out part II: Packing tips to avoid a crisis
Recent cyberattacks have shown that there’s a lot more to be afraid of while traveling than the casual pick-pocketer. Here’s a list of things to watch out for, scams to be aware of, and tips to help keep you safe. The point isn’t to travel in fear, but rather to be savvy and smart. Safe travels!
Watch out for known scams. These days, it’s not just pick-pocketing scams you have to watch out for. For example, someone might offer a charging device, and the device (in addition to charging) is a downloading device that downloads the entire phone drive.
Wait to post pictures. Posting pictures from the road can alert potential burglars that you are away.
Stay on the 4th, 5th or 6th floor. Ask for these floors at a big hotel - they’re too high for cat burglars, but low enough for easy access to fire escapes.
Watch the road! This might surprise you, but the largest percent of travel fatalities are due to car accidents. Make sure you understand the local road rules before you get in the car.
Get the right insurance. If you’re buying Insurance, look for a plan that not only pays for travel medical expenses, but provides emergency support for accidents.
Know your driver. Taxis at airports are a hazard for kidnapping and an armed stop at an ATM for extortion, either book with a reputable service in advance, or find the official airport taxi stand to hail a cab.
Avoid public WiFi. This is a tough one, but public WiFi abroad, even in fancy hotels, is generally accessible to all sorts of criminal elements and should not be used for email, and never for accessing password-protected accounts.
New devices are the best. If you’re carrying sensitive information or worried about cybersecurity, use a new device only (one without any passwords saved). On return, the device should be wiped before re-use. Operating systems can be updated in foreign countries without consent. Many foreign countries routinely auto install malware when your arrive at airport
Encrypt. You can encrypt your entire hard drive on your phone or device, but note that in some countries bringing an encrypted hard drive into the country is illegal.
Store appraisals at home. If you have insurance on jewelry, make sure photos, lists, and appraisals are stored safely at home when traveling.
Lock up your jewelry. Jewelry should be kept on person or stored in a hotel safe at all times.
Know before you go. The State Department and CIA have websites with frequently updated travel warnings - check before you leave.
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After our first Q&A with frequent business traveler, Emani Fenton, about optimizing rewards points we got lots of questions from our readers. The most common one was about how to choose a good credit card for traveling. So we brought Emani back to help us out.
Q: What’s the best credit card for travel awards?
A: I am a fan of the Chase Sapphire Reserve, which has a $450 fee, but each year you get a $300 travel credit, and there are other benefits such as global entry that may make it worth it. The card also gives you a 50% bonus when using miles to pay for travel. The 100,000 miles sign-up bonus didn’t hurt either.
A lot of people enjoy hotel/airline branded cards. For example, I have a have friend who loves his Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card (I kid you not - as I write this I received an email from him about Southwest). Apparently, if you earn a certain amount of miles you receive a free Southwest companion pass that is good for an entire year. If you plan to travel a lot with a companion (benefit allows you to switch companions a few times) to destinations that Southwest travels, then this could be a great benefit.
The American Express Everyday card is a good card for travel rewards that does not require fees. (Note: I am not saying that this is the best no-fee card, I am sure there are great cards that don’t require a fee that offer beneficial perks like cash back.) One major advantage of the American Express Everyday card is that it allows you to transfer points to travel partners, which I think is an underused redemption option. Last week, I used Delta points (an AmEx travel partner that you can transfer points to) to purchase a one-way flight for 12,500 points. The same flight was just over $300 to purchase, so I felt great about the redemption value. For American Express, 12,500 points would be worth ~$125 if I used the credit card’s reward site to book the flight. In this case, if I used AmEx to transfer points to Delta, I would have gotten more than 2x that value.