What is the only essential when traveling internationally?
Other than a passport? An open mind.
You don't need a guidebook. You don't need a pocket translator or a local guide. You don't need to have an itinerary. Forget all you ever learned about playing it safe. Sure, all of those things may help, but they'll never fill the hole you'll have in your journey if you do not bring the desire to see new things and witness the beauty of other countries' art and culture of everyday life, food, and people. These may be listed on forums and travel sites as being essential, but to have a good time and take something from your experience, you need only to open up and allow yourself to have a good time. It can sometimes be as simple as that.
Travel companies are expensive. Regular tourist sites have all been done. Plans are not set in stone.
Imagine this scenario: the train you're riding on through the hills of Thailand breaks down in a remote village, stranding you for days. Will you spend your time worrying whether or not your only two week vacation of the year has only been a waste of money and energy? Should you have just saved your vacation time and put a few more bucks in the bank?
"Oh no!" your husband says, "I knew we should have just taken the road trip to your parents' place this Christmas!"
You might think to yourself if you were placed in this scenario: Is this a waste? Should we have just driven the thirteen hours to rural Michigan to watch my father fall asleep in front of the TV and my mother would buy us outdated clothing in boxed in years' old JC Penney boxes?
The answer, if you've been paying attention, is a resounding NO. Whether you're someplace exotic or just have an eight hour layover in Beijing, there's always something to be had. Just remember that there's as much fun to be had while waiting for a scheduled bus as there is on the other end of the ride. Keep your eyes open and a laugh on your lips and you will enjoy yourself. Meet some local people. Make a wide-eyed child laugh with a silly face. Don't take anything too seriously, whether it's a business trip or a three week honeymoon to Austria.
It's not the amount of money that you spend. It's not the fact that you've hit every landmark listed in the tourist center. Our experiences are based on how we want to experience a place. If you focus on how much better a trip would be if you had been able to book that four star hotel in Tokyo when you're sleeping in a bungalow on the beach in the Philippines, then you're taking away from the purpose and lessening the experience you went out there to find. Keep your mind open. It's essential when traveling internationally.
So take that international trip without fear that you will miss something or you may miss everything. Be that jetsetter or the budget traveler. Have no fear. Have no regrets. Have your bags packed. Just make sure to pack your enthusiasm...
And your passport.