14. Consider bringing a duffel bag for the return trip

I don’t know how much shopping you plan on doing but you should really consider bringing a duffel bag (that is very small and lightweight when empty) on your trip or buying one in country.

The simple reasoning for bringing it is: it saves you from having to find one on those last days before you leave, when you’re trying to get all your shopping done.

I write a duffel bag because they’re just so much smaller and easier to deal with than a suitcase.

When it comes to the main travel bag, I’m a big fan of a big backpack. Mine has a sub-backpack that attaches to the front or, for shorter trips, detaches, making it perfect for backpacking.

I ended up using one of the bags I bought (shopping bag sized) as my second piece of checked luggage to store many of the scarves and shirts I bought over there. Fortunately for international travel, depending on the airline, you get two bags free, which is why I suggest the duffel bag.

Find all of the travel lessons curated here.

2. Get a SIM card from a telephone vendor as soon as you get in country.

The title says it all. Get a SIM card as soon as you get in country.

My first time around, when I went to Thailand, I waited far too long and then tried to do it myself. I don’t remember if I thought I could save money or if I wanted to get a better deal or I didn’t want to be connected to life like I am at home or I was just busy.

It doesn’t matter.

I should have switched my SIM cards out either in the airport or the following day at a telephone vendor. I think I was under the impression there would be enough WiFi networks to connect to. I was wrong.

I instead waited for a week and a half and tried to get it set up myself, and then tried to get the people in a 7/11 to set it up. It never worked very well and I really wish I would have just had some god damned 4G when I needed it.

On the other hand, the next year, when I went to Vietnam? I got a SIM card in the airport. Maybe it cost me a little more than it should have. I didn’t care. I had a functioning phone with a working phone number and internet access.

Trust me. You want to be able to access the internet, without having to rely on WiFi.

The flip side of this lesson is to make sure your smartphone both has a SIM card and that it can be used on overseas networks. If it doesn’t, consider buying a used smartphone that will work in the countries you plan on visiting. I bought my last and current phone, an HTC One M8, used, through Swappa. It still works like a charm and I can use it overseas.

The costs are minimal and they are worth it. Remember that if you go to a different country you may, or may not, need to get a new SIM card. Depends.

Find all of the travel lessons curated here.

A woman cleans a fountain in a park, Dec. 4, 2015 in Bangkok, Thailand.

A woman cleans a fountain in a park, Dec. 4, 2015 in Bangkok, Thailand.

Last December (2015), I flew to Bangkok, Thailand, for a two and a half week vacation.

I read a fair amount about what I should do beforehand but there was still a fair amount I learned while in country, and things I wished I had either done before, brought with me or what I wish I could have known.

This list is not made in any sort of order of importance and these posts will be put one on top of the other until the list is complete at which point, I will compile the big list in one post.

1. Have multiple debit cards linked to multiple checking accounts.

I learned that lesson the hard way when, halfway through my trip, I left my debit card (my one and only) in an ATM in Bangkok.

My problem was not that it was stolen, or used somewhere else. It wasn’t. My problem was that debit card was my only source of cash. Yes, I had an international (that is, no foreign transaction fees) credit card but getting cash from a credit card is a very expensive proposition and it’s not the easiest thing in the world. In fact, when I tried to do it, I was stymied by paperwork that I didn’t have.

I personally bank with Bank of America. I can now attest their international support is abyssal at best.

After trying to call their international collect line to no avail, I was finally able to get through in a browser messenger. The first person was dealing with was helpful, until the computer crashed. The second person I dealt with was half as competent and was unable to pull up any of the previous chat logs.

In the end, BofA supposedly sent my new card to some island in Thailand. It never arrived. UPS did not deliver it because they needed a better address and BofA never told me anything about the new card.

I was lucky enough to get the help of a Scot who took out the equivalent of $500 while we were at the secondary airport in Bangkok. (He was going to Chang MaiĀ and I was heading to Phuket).

(Tip: There are no ATMs beyond the security checkpoint at the Don Muang airport, which serves domestic traffic).

I also learned that PayPal is worthless overseas. Despite multiple tickets, attempts, etc. to get PayPal to allow me to transfer that $500 to that Scot, nothing worked. In the end, I had to have an American relative wire the Scot the $500.

What’s the lesson?

Have multiple debit cards attached to multiple checking accounts. Lose one? No sweat! You’ve got two more. That’s my plan for my next international vacation.

An adjunct to this lesson is to have a checking account with a bank that does not charge for either a certain amount of ATM fees or charges no ATM fees (that is, ATM fees are reimbursed). In doing my research, I found two options: The Charles Schwab Bank (investor checking account, which must be opened in conjunction with a brokerage account that you don’t have to fund or use) and Fidelity Bank.

Find all of the travel lessons curated here.

Vendors (center) set up their booths on the street on Dec. 4, 2015 in Bangkok, Thailand.

Vendors (center) set up their booths on the street on Dec. 4, 2015 in Bangkok, Thailand. Since most transactions are cash, get a debit card that doesn’t charge ATM fees, or reimburses you. Also, have multiple debit cards, in case you lose one.