Top Ten Travel Tools from the Before You Go Abroad Handbook
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Jan 12, 2018 / By Shyla Esko Bare
There are over 127 tips & tools in the Before You Go Abroad Handbook. These are our pick for the Top Ten! Also see the list of Top Five Travel Apps from the handbook.

Servas International—Peace through Travel
Servas is an international travel club that promotes world peace through travel. According to the Servas website (, there are 15,000 members in over one hundred countries. Each participating country has its own website.

ServasOrgDan and I are members of Servas United States. When we travel abroad, we contact the office ( and get a listing of hosts for the country we are going to. We then send email requests for home stays. If someone agrees, we stay with them for free. The only expectation is that we talk with them; it is a true cultural exchange. There is no requirement that we host people in return, although most members want to. We have used Servas in multiple countries and have had amazing stays every time.

One thing that differentiates Servas from other websites with free stays, where anyone can post if they have a spare bed or couch to sleep on, is that there is a vetting system. To apply for membership in Servas, you provide letters of reference and are interviewed by a local member. You also pay dues in your home country. To join, you agree to the organization’s ethos of tolerance and peace through travel. We highly recommend doing some Servas stays when you travel. It was a major factor in why Dan and I were able to travel for seven years. Not just because of the financial savings—which was nice—but it turned our trip from a sightseeing vacation to a cultural exchange where we made friends around the world.

The Man in Seat 61Seat61
To find out what a train is like before you take it, go to The Man in Seat 61 website ( This site has a wealth of information on everything a traveler needs to know about a train. It not only says whether it is comfortable—although that is covered—but it also has schedules, pricing, how to buy tickets, what stations and train cars are like, tips for which class of ticket to buy, which side of the train to sit on, and the information goes on and on. It is not just written data but also has photos, whenever possible, so you can actually see what the seats or the toilets are like. It really is amazing. When Dan and I were in foreign lands, this website was sometimes our only source of information in English on train times.

For reserving lodgings online, we also endorse using websites with reviews, such as Agoda ( We mention several in our book, and our favorite is Agoda. They have listings world-wide, have great reviews by verified customers, and very competitive pricing deals.

International flights can be the most expensive part of a trip abroad. Unfortunately, there isn’t one perfect website that guarantees the cheapest flight every time to every destination. The best search engine this month may not be the best one the next time you fly. Instead of doing your research using only one website, Dan and I recommend searching on a few, as well as checking airline websites directly.

GoogleFlightsOf these, Dan prefers Momondo (, and I like Google Flights ( Both are easy to use and regularly find the lowest rates. These websites also include a useful tool to set a fare alert. They monitor prices for the route and date you want, then send you a message if the price drops.

The need to research local holidays was a lesson we learned the hard way. Dan and I now recommend you find out what is going on before you go abroad. A helpful resource is the “Holidays and Observances around the World” page on the Time and Date website (

This is a resource that comes up numerous times in the Before You Go Abroad Handbook. It is a great tool for travel safety, accurate up-to-date destination country visa information (for US citizens), and passport information. This website is run by the US Government and is a go-to tool for Americans. For other nationalities, look for the website for your own country.

Note: To find visa information: on the home page, find the “Learn about Your Destination” section and the box immediately below it. Type the country you are traveling to in the box, and click Go.

CDCThere is health information for each country on the US Department of State website ( More comprehensive information can be found through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ( The website has a “Travelers’ Health” section, where you can search any country to find out if there are any current health concerns or issues.
FitForTravelAnother good resource is Scotland’s National Health Service website called Fit for Travel ( I especially like the maps in the “Malaria” section, which let you see what areas of a country malaria is an issue (often it is not everywhere). On a trip to Vietnam, we decided to avoid malaria-affected zones so we would not have to take malaria tablets. We used the Fit for Travel maps to determine where we could travel to and where we should avoid.

Charles Schwab Rebates ATM Fees Before you travel abroad, you may want to open a Charles Schwab account. Charles Schwab is an online bank ( They offer free Visa debit cards and rebate all ATM fees worldwide. Yup, you read right: they rebate all ATM fees worldwide. That means when you make a withdrawal from a foreign ATM, there will be a fee, but at the end of the month Charles Schwab will put it back in your account. This card is free; there is no minimum balance and no monthly service fee. It is our first-choice ATM card when we travel.

Travel insurance can be reasonably priced. Dan and I recently took out a plan for a month of travel that covered stolen property, lost bags, and emergency medical—including evacuation for the injured and a travel companion—at the low cost of forty US dollars. We found and purchased this plan through SquareMouth (, a website that compares multiple insurance options so you can find the one best suited for your trip.

The Wikitravel website ( is a free online resource, basically an online guidebook. It has insider tips and is easy to use. Just go to the website and enter a country or city, and you instantly get pages of free information.

Before You Go Abroad Handbook

Check out our newly released book: Before You Go Abroad Handbook! The first in the book series Travel Smart Strategies.

This book contains over 127 tips and tools any international travel should know about before they venture abroad. Available on Amazon in either paper or e-book format.

Are the tips and tools really secret?

Actually yes, they are secret—at least no one told us about them before we journeyed abroad and we had done a lot of research and preparation. We had to discover many of them the hard way as we traveled around the world to more than 70 countries. These are the secrets we wished we had found, in a concise and consolidated book like this one, before we went abroad.

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