*Disclaimer: This should not be considered a definitive guide for your next international vacation, as there is probably a lot of other crap you should be doing, like, I dunno, booking the appropriate tours and getting the necessary vaccinations.
To put it in perspective, assume this guide was written by a girl who thought that gauging the extent of a scorpion infestation by the light of her Blackberry in a Thai train car was a perfectly amusing experience.
Contact your bank before you depart. I have a pretty amazing track record of forgetting to notify my credit union that I will be attempting to charge things to my credit and debit cards outside of the U.S. Then they have the gall to get all pissed at me for trying to withdraw forty thousand riel (that's a lot less money than you think it is) from a shoddy ATM next to a fried bat stand in Phnom Penh. Seriously? You guys should know me by now. Even my estranged father assumed that our stock accounts hadn’t really been hacked, as his daughter had “probably been in Australia recently checking her earnings” or something.
Roll with it. Look, I spent $30 on a wicked awesome travel guide, but I’ll bet you another $30 I didn’t even open it (I'd win that bet). I have no idea where I’m going. I probably won’t even know how to pronounce the names of the cities I’m traveling in until I get to them (here’s looking at you, Xi’an). Somehow, this will work out.
If you forgot it at home, you can buy it where you’re going. The exception to that rule is tampons with applicators in Southeast Asia. Repeat: Buy all the Tampax at your local CVS before touching down in Laos. You will thank me.
Getting lost is half the fun. Okay, so, at some point, you’re probably going to have to get from point A to point B and something is going to go terribly wrong. Don’t panic! What’s the worst that could happen? So you could end up sleeping in a “love hotel” (re: place where horny teens hang out) or “DVD Bang” (re: other place where horny teens hang out) in a far-flung Korean province because your friend (ahem, you know who you are) forgot to explain that the main subway route has two branches and now you’re trapped in a dark neighborhood and the metro has stopped running for the night and you don’t have a working cell phone. Channel your anger at your friend into bribing/charming a taxi driver. I mean, it’s not your friend’s fault anyway. You’re the idiot who didn’t properly read the subway map.
Pepto Bismol is your best friend. This wonder-drug has conquered the following foods: water buffalo soup, crispy fried tarantula legs, dog on a stick, dog in a soup, fish sauce, random leaves I wasn’t supposed to be eating, soju dumped in beer, spicy chicken anus, street food that most likely contained stray cat, a burger topped with ham and refried beans, green beans topped with tiny whole fish, pickled mango, crickets on a stick, Vietnamese iced coffee and copious amounts of chili oil. Wow, just thinking about all these things together is making me queasy.
Pack light. Dude, the only people who will know you wore the same pair of pants two weeks in a row are the people you’re traveling with. They’re probably doing the same (unless they showed up with a suitcase the size of a wild boar and now you want to murder them because it takes your whole group to wrangle their suitcase between hostels). If your thoroughly-used jeans are smelly because you went clubbing in them, don’t worry. There’s a bathroom sink and a store that carries detergent somewhere. Hint: Be sure to scrub like mad, because when detergent dries on clothes, it gives them the consistency of cardboard. Also, bleach and detergent bottles can look extremely similar if their labels aren’t in English, and I know you’re not going to want to party in ‘90s acid wash-style jeans.
Carry some crisp American bills. You never know when you have to bribe some guys with machine guns to cross the border into a semi-dangerous nation to avoid being trapped in another country on an expired Visa. (Also, don’t mention this adventure to your mother, okay?)
Fuck traveler’s checks. Basically, these are the most pointless thing ever, and you’re never going to use them.
Is your passport expired? Check that, like, 30 times. This helpful hint is in honor of my poor friend Kirin, who had to venture to Norway without her three siblings due to an expired passport debacle and then was nearly killed in an ill-fated fjord road trip from hell on the day of a bombing and mass shooting (unrelated to the road trip, but I sent her lots of obnoxious “are you okay?!” messages only to discover she was in the hospital due to a completely different catastrophe). I’m sorry Kirin. You win the worst-trip-ever contest.
You live in the United States of America. No matter how tired, dirty, or dehydrated you are, the dudes at customs are still going to make fun of you when you write that you’re from “America” on your customs form. “America” is not a country. Get your shit together.
Purchase a phone card when you arrive at your destination. Phone cards are the best thing ever, and much cheaper and usable if you don’t try to buy one in the U.S. And dude, I know your smart phone gets service, but five dollars a minute is not a reasonable price to pay for convenience. Seriously. I know from experience. (Although, picking up an ex’s phone call to say “I can't talk right now, I’m on a bus in rural Cambodia” was almost worth the five dollars.)
Book your accommodations beforehand. This sounds like common sense, but I'm going to be in Madrid on Saturday, and have booked no accommodations. To save face, whenever someone inquires as to where I'm staying, I shrug and tell them I forgot the name of the hostel. This trip is going to be awesome.**
Don't fall madly in love with a local, marry him/her, and become an ex-pat. I only include this because my mother has been repeating it to me like a broken record for two weeks. I find it troubling that this is the kind of mistake she thinks I'd make (if it, indeed, is a mistake. I think I'd quite like a sexy Spaniard for a spouse). However, mother dearest, I'm much more likely to A) get punched in the face by a lacrosse player, B) take up smoking banana leaf cigarettes, C) be offered services at the brothel I thought was a bar, D) teach prostitutes how to do the Macarena, or E) end up in Vietnamese hospital with an infected foot. (True story.)
**Luckily, the accommodation problem has been remedied by my much more organized travel companion. We are currently at the Way Hostel in Madrid, which is pretty freaking awesome, yo.