7 Things I Usually Do Before I Travel Abroad

My wife’s family is in the Philippines and it’s been years since she celebrated Christmas and New Year’s with them. The last time that we traveled to the Philippines was two years ago and this was because her father passed away. We were able to spend only 10 days there due to her school and my work. I was only allowed for the bereavement leave since I already used my vacation time during the early part of the year when we went on our anniversary travel. Usually, we would travel on non-holiday season to the Philippines because the airfare is so much cheaper. On this trip, I paid an airfare equivalent to the first class rate for the non-peak season travel but I will be sitting in the economy class seats. Ouucch!!

What I like about the Philippines is it is really very festive there. Majority of the houses have Christmas decorations outside their homes such as the star lantern, lights and other decors. There are also a lot of kids going from house to house singing Christmas carols. It’s kind of like a “trick or treat” here in the United States but instead of the homeowners giving candies, they would be giving money to the kids. We would normally attend the “Simbang Gabi (night masses)” which ironically are held at around 3 to 4 o’clock in the morning and not at night. This has been an ongoing tradition and elders have told us that if you complete all the masses for 9 consecutive days starting on Dec 16 all the way to Christmas, you can make a wish. After the mass, we usually treat ourselves with a freshly made popular Filipino pastries called “bibingka”  and “puto bungbong” (both are called rice cakes but differs in flavor and style of baking).

I also like the New Year as the fireworks are allowed on the street and this is happening throughout the country and not just on selected areas. Almost everybody are lighting up different kinds of fireworks and this is how the New Year is celebrated with a big bang.  I still remember the time when my wife called her family in the past New Year celebration and you can hear the firework sound over the phone and the New Year has not even arrived yet!

So for this trip, my wife took a semester leave from school so she can go home for six weeks and make it to her mom’s birthday. I will be following her this week as I leave on Friday night. In the meantime, I still have a few more errands to do and also some stuff at work that I was trying to finish.

Photo credit: PacoAlcantara

Below are the seven things I usually do before I travel:

1. Call credit card companies

I always try to limit the use of credit cards because of the transaction fees  (around 1-5%), the high interest rate, and bad exchange rate conversion. However, when traveling abroad, I would bring a couple just for emergency purposes. Before I leave, I usually call the credit card companies and inform them that I would be using the card abroad so that it won’t be flagged as fraud when I try to use them.

2. Exchange foreign money in advance

Before I travel, I would exchange a few of my US dollars to the foreign currency in advance. I would usually go to the local foreign exchange centers since they have better rates than the banks and those located in the airports. We know a couple of places in the Philippines that offer competitive exchange rates as well so we would go there whenever we run out of foreign currency.

3. Go to post office to hold mail

It is important to go to the post office and fill out a form to hold our mail for the duration of our vacation. As much as possible, I make sure that our mail box is not full while we’re gone. Besides, the mailman would get upset whenever the mailbox is full and we have not collected our mail.

4. Notify Apartment Manager

We still live in apartment and we always make sure that we notify our apartment manager that we will be gone for so many weeks. It is also good for security reasons just in case somebody is trying to break in the apartment. The good thing about our apartment is that it is gated and our unit is right in front of the manager’s so she would be alerted in case someone is trying to break in the apartment.

5. Schedule payment of the bills

We use online payment for most of our bills and we usually schedule automatic payments. But for the ones that are not, we have sent the payment in advance. It is better to pay them early than to pay late especially when it comes to credit card payments. We also issue a rent check for the following month so our landlord does not lock the door because of non-payment or charged us a late fee.

6. Bring Old Cell phones

I always bring an old cell phone with me so I can use it abroad. In the Philippines, I can purchase a sim card for a nominal fee and buy pre-paid minutes there. I’ve heard stories of how cell phones can be snatched out of your hand even while you ‘re still talking with someone. They can take my old phone instead of my iPhone 4 and I wouldn’t care. Buying a sim card there can save me a lot of money instead of using my US sim card since my AT&T will charged me roaming fees and who knows how much it is going to cost me when I receive my bills  back here in United States.

7. Create a decoy wallet

Why a decoy wallet? This is just in case I get mugged or held up: I want to be able to give something to the perpetrator but I don’t want to give my true wallet with everything on it. It does not eliminate the risk of getting hurt but it is better to give them something rather than making them think that I don’t want to give up my wallet. Getting held up has never happened to me so far but it is better to be safe than sorry. It’s the Christmas time and this is the time when the crime rate would be higher. I would put a couple of old (expired cards) there, a few small dollar bills and foreign currency money.

Readers: What about you? Do you have additional travel tips that you would like to share?


  1. Jessica07 says

    Creating a decoy wallet is SUCH a good idea! Thanks for sharing it with us.

  2. We usually exchange money at our final destination. Somehow, it always worked for us. I never thought about post office holding our mail. I usually ask our next door neighbors to get our mail. Every time I ask them, I feel like they don’t want to do it (our mail boxes are next to each other). They never say it, but the way they look at me… you can sense it. We might use the post office next time.

    Have a great and safe trip. I hope you won’t need to use your decoy wallet.

    • Ken says

      Thanks and I do hope that I won’t be using that decoy wallet. So far, It has not happened to me.

  3. We use money belt when going to iffy destinations. I have a decoy wallet too, it’s just cash in there and everything else is in the money belt.
    I always change money at the destination like Aloysa. Usually I just use the ATM card and withdraw money from the airport ATM. Haven’t had much problem. Don’t forget to call the bank too.

    More things to do – turn down hot water tank, unplug major appliance like TV and computers.
    For us – get a pet sitter. 🙂

  4. These are good tips, especially the old phone + SIM card. God knows how much you’ll pay if you pay roaming charges, but local SIMs + a calling card can offer very decent rates. It will also probably be a good idea to find a place to store your car if you only have on-street parking.

    • Ken says

      Roaming charges are just crazy and could add up. Before you know it, you already have $1,000 worth of charges.

  5. Ken, good point on calling the credit card company. I had my card turned down this past April when I tried to buy some gold jewelry in India. We were on a time crunch, and I lost the opportunity to go back to that particular store, which was running a sale (7% over spot on 22K bangles – dang!). Anytime we leave the house for a length of time, we install on/off timers on strategically located table lamps throughout the house, and leave the outside lights on. Might not deter a determined burglar, but it can’t hurt.

    • Ken says

      That happened to me at one time and I learned my lesson. So I always call the credit card company since then.

  6. Mel says

    I too have family in the Philippines and travel there often. If you have to transact business, many office buildings / government offices in Greater Manila require visitors to leave a picture id when they enter, to be retrieved upon departure. Rather than leave my US driver’s license or passport (which might be stolen), I made copies of both (id page of the passport only) and laminated same. I show one or the other copy when I enter a building. I carry the originals in case I get asked to show them. I’ve also been able to enter using a long-expired Philippine driver’s license.

  7. I always forget to call my credit card company. When I traveled abroad all the time, my card never got flagged, but now that I do mostly domestic travel I think I’ve lost my travel sense.

    The Philippines sound like a wonderful place to spend a holiday. I am so envious that your wife has the flexibility to take so much time off but I guess being young has it’s benefits. I’m glad I did my cross country trips in college. I had a feeling it would be harder to do later in life and indeed it is.