How hard is it to travel the world?

July 27, 2018, 6:18 PM · With Warner Bros. World turning heads after its debut this week in Abu Dhabi, some of you might be contemplating a visit to the United Arab Emirates. Even if not, perhaps you've been wondering how hard it would be to visit Efteling (our Theme Park Insider Award winner two years running), Tokyo DisneySea, Shanghai Disneyland, or some other world-class theme park outside your home country.

How hard is it to travel internationally? Ultimately, that question divides into two parts: Cost and Legality.

Let's take the second part first. Can you legally travel to a particular country? The answer almost always is some form of "Yes, if...."

Yes, if you have a clean criminal record. Yes, if your home country and the place you wish to visit have visa-free travel. And even if they don't, the answer remains yes, if you can get a visa.

"No" comes into play only if you have a criminal conviction on your record that would preclude your entry into a country. (That's usually for a drug or alcohol offense, including DUI.) "No" also is your answer if a visa is required for entry and the country will not issue you one or makes it so difficult to obtain that you decide it's not worth the effort.

If you want to see which countries your passport allows you to visit without a visa, check out PassportIndex.org. Oh, yes, passports. The answer as to whether you can visit a country is absolutely "no" if you do not have a passport... or even if it is going to expire within the next six months. So start your international vacation planning by applying for or renewing a passport, if needed. (Here's the link for US citizens.)

For theme park fans, the top markets to visit right now are Southern California and Central Florida in the United States, Japan, China (start with Hong Kong and Shanghai), Western Europe, and the UAE (Abu Dhabi or Dubai). For our American, Canadian, and European readers, Japan and the UAE are the easiest international destinations, legally, as they allow visa-free travel from those countries. The UAE also has no language barrier, either, as every sign I've seen in the country is in English as well as Arabic, and English is the default language spoken and understood in all the county's theme parks.

Warner Bros. World Abu Dhabi
Warner Bros. World Abu Dhabi

Despite what you might have seen on the Internet, the UAE has no bans on people of certain religions, races, orientation, or nationality entering the country. All are welcome (though getting a visa if you have an Israeli passport can take some work). Just don't bring any drugs (including prescription opiates — check here to see if your prescription medication is banned in the UAE), don't get drunk in public, and avoid all PDA when you are there (whether you are straight or gay), and you will be fine. Dress like you would for Orlando.

Japan is trickier when it comes to language. You can find some English-language signage in the parks and easily can obtain English guidemaps. But most park employees won't speak English, and you'll need to resort to some friendly pantomime from time to time. But Japanese culture values great service, and park employees will go out of the way to try to help you.

China is the toughest destination, legally, as you will need to obtain a visa to get there. English comprehension is basically nil outside maybe Hong Kong and tourist hotel concierge desks in major cities. You can navigate it if you do not speak Mandarin or Cantonese, but you'll need some international travel skills. I would not make China your first international travel destination, unless you welcome a challenge. Here's how to apply for a Chinese visa, if you decide to go.

Now, let's consider the other issue: Cost. Do not automatically assume that an international trip is unaffordable just because you're going to another country. For a week-long stay in the UAE during Thanksgiving week in November, when the weather is much better there than it was for my trip this week, I can find roundtrip airfare from LAX to Abu Dhabi for under $800. I've paid that much to go to Orlando at times in the past.

Granted, the cost of international flights is a lot more manageable if, like me, you live in or near a city with a major international airport that flies non-stop to Europe, Japan, China, and the UAE. If not, you're looking at a domestic connection that likely will inflate your price. But do look. Deals happen, and if you can be flexible about your travel dates, you can get them.

Louvre Abu Dhabi
The Louvre Abu Dhabi, which opened November 2017. It's one more place you could visit in the Emirate, in addition to the Yas Island parks.

In my experience, you don't have as many cheap options for hotels near theme parks abroad as you can find in the United States. But it's no worse than visiting someplace like New York or Boston on a non-theme park vacation. Heck, for that Thanksgiving week trip to Abu Dhabi, I can find a room in the Crowne Plaza I stayed in this week for $115 a night... provided you get out of town before the F1 Grand Prix starts. That's definitely in line with Anaheim prices.

Theme park tickets tend to be cheaper aboard than in the United States. (Much cheaper in Japan and the UAE, actually.) I would avoid the hassle of rental cars when traveling abroad, as well. Use trains to get around Europe and Japan, and shuttle and taxis in the UAE.

So as with anything in travel, timing is everything. A specific destination on a specific date might not be affordable. But trying another place at another time might be. If you can afford to spend a week on property at Walt Disney World, don't rule out all international travel just because one trip option looked too expensive. Something might be in reach.

The Internet is filled with haters who would love to convince you to join them in never traveling anywhere where you might meet someone different. But it's also filled with people, from a wide variety of economic backgrounds, who have found a way to travel the world and enjoy it. Those of us in the later category would love to help you to do the same.

And if you're still hesitating, remember this: Wherever in the world you go to visit a theme park, you're going to meet people who have something in common with you... because they are theme park fans, too.

Replies (21)

July 27, 2018 at 10:02 PM

It's worth checking out the practical limitations of not hiring a rental car, especially in Europe. Some of the theme parks don't have trains that go right to them and in the UK some are nowhere near one.
I've travelled to various places in continental Europe without hiring a car and it's fine if you're in or around a major city centre but once you move further out not having a car can add a lot of time to your journeys. I've always found it easier to not have a car when I'm in a city and hire one when I decide to travel further afield.
When I was in Amsterdam I didn't need a car despite staying on the outskirts because of their transport system, but if there's a group of you then it's actually cheaper to have a car and pay the reduced park and ride rate on their tram system.

July 28, 2018 at 1:10 AM

With the internet as a tool, international travel is not appreciably more difficult in 2018 than domestic travel. Years ago, we had to rely on paper guidebooks and if we wanted to make international hotel reservations, we either had to have expensive phone conversations with people who didn’t speak English or we had to stick to multinational chains with US 800 numbers. But even as long ago as 20 years, I was making reservations in small hotels in Europe.

The trick with any international travel is to manage your own expectations. If you go expecting things to be as they are at home, you’ll spend too much money and have a pretty dull time. If you prepare accordingly, you’ll both save money and have a much more authentic experience.

July 28, 2018 at 3:25 AM

Robert is right. The world is a wonderful, exciting and stimulating place to explore. But I would go one further than him. Do not be limited by places that speak only English or predominantly English. Most countries that welcome tourists have sufficient infrastructure for non-native speakers to be able to navigate their way around successfully. And if the menus are not in English then that's part of the fun! Embrace the difference, look for foods that you wouldn't normally eat, experiences that at home you would never consider. Travelling abroad SHOULD be different. Immersing yourself in other cultures and trying to see life through their eyes is essential to gaining a wider understanding of the world.

July 28, 2018 at 3:50 AM

Over the past 15 years it has become increasingly more of a chore to travel to the USA. It's almost the same as going to east Berlin or Russia in the past.

It's easy to dismiss a visit to a country due to perceived religion, culture or politics. Most of that knowledge are spinned by your news outlets and your country leaders (no mater where you live). In the end you'll find people who want to live a happy life and care deeply about their family and friends and don't differ that much from what you care for. Those brushes of contact will deepen your appreciation about other cultures and see there is a difference between the propaganda you got fed and the reality about the individuals you meet.

July 28, 2018 at 6:00 AM

International travel is amazing, and not necessarily expensive. You gain an appreciation for the way other people live, and a better understanding of your own country (and its place in the world).

Of all the places listed above, the only ones I've not made it to are Mainland China, and Japan (planning to tick that off next year). There's not a place among them that I'd not happily return to.

July 28, 2018 at 7:11 AM

I've been lucky enough to travel to a lot of places in the world. Of everywhere, the USA has been by far the most hostile to get into, including a two-hour interrogation at the border by Buffalo and being stalked around Orlando airport by a security guard, both for seemingly no reason. So if you're worried about finding other countries less neighbourly, I wouldn't worry!

While there are some initial costs to getting to China - flights, visa - it's an incredibly cheap place to visit as far as accommodation and food go. Two weeks there ended up being one of my cheapest trips. And I found the general experience as a non-native speaker much easier than the internet had prepared me for. Particularly Shanghai, which really seemed to have had a push to make itself foreigner-friendly of late.

As Robert says, if you can afford a week staying in WDW, then most any other theme park destination is feasible. Possibly cheaper, even.

July 28, 2018 at 10:13 AM

Security at other airports in other countries has increased substantially in the last 10 years as terrorist attacks have become more prevalent. Not that long ago I remember any country you went to other than the USA it was so easy to get in, just stamp the passport and your in. Nowadays pretty much every country has high tech camera stuff you have to deal with, they want to know exactly where you're going to be at all times, and sometimes fingerprints. The USA used to be by far the most frustrating country to get into but the rest of the world has been catching up.

Also do some research and make realistic expectations.

-Europe has had mass immigration and is a lot different than it used to be. Cities like Paris and London have huge swaths of people from the middle east and Africa. I'm not saying that's bad, but don't go strolling down the Champs-Elysees expecting a stereotypical Parisian experience because that's not how it is. The major tourist attractions, especially, in France and Italy, are surrounded by scammers that you have to fight your way away from (and there are so many of them from the bracelet scam, the baby scam, the baggage swap scam, to the "i've had a horrible life and now i'm homeless on the street give me money" scam. Its not like the USA where people will ask then leave you alone, the big European cities these people will not let you go, you must ignore at all cost.

-France, Italy, Greece, and Spain, you must be aware of union activity because the trains and stuff shut down frequently for strikes. It's happened to me twice when visiting Europe that I had to change plans to get somewhere because of strikes so you need to be aware. They do generally have great transport infrastructure though (at least when there are no issues).

-Be aware that not everyone in countries you think would speak English do. Although English is widely spoken throughout Europe there are still many people that don't and will get mad. Generally airports, hotels, and major attractions its a safe bet people speak English, but other than that don't make any assumptions as you might offend somebody or be that "do you speak English?" ethnocentric American/Brit.

-Never get into a Chinese taxi: I have done so four times, and all four times the driver tried to scam me and I had to argue with them in my broken Chinese and not pay them what they were demanding. Then they start yelling at you and try to bring attention to people around them a foreigner is refusing to pay. China just like Europe has its share of scams...although I found the people aren't as agressive about them. There is the tea-house scam, the "i'm going to help you find something...now give me a tip" scam, and of course the taxi's.

-Air pollution is a major issue in mainland China and you must bring respirator masks if you want to breathe comfortably. Thank god I brought a box of them because oddly enough even though a lot of people wear them, I did not see them for sale in any stores there and the last thing you want to do is walk around China looking for somewhere to buy a mask then have to negotiate for it while choking on bad air. The pollution isn't so bad in Shanghai or Hong Kong but the further inland you go the more industrial the cities get, places like Beijing and Chongqing can get really bad.

-Japan has no scams, everything is clean and organized, and the people are very respectful. Japan does not really allow immigration and they train kids from a young age how to act in with society and with other people, and (other than economic problems from declining population) it's very safe and comfortable. However it's still not the easiest place to visit because the population is entirely Japanese, meaning no one speaks English or has any reason to learn, so you will be on your own even at the airports/major tourist sites. Also Disney is always extremely packed.

July 28, 2018 at 1:19 PM

There is a strong dose of irony in this article if you concentrate purely on cost and language. Disneyland Paris is a hop, skip and a jump for us Brits but 2/3 nights in a 4 key Disney hotel with transport costs no less than 2 weeks flying to Orlando and staying in an excellent off-site hotel or condo. And, trust me, you can go to anywhere in the world and they will at least try to communicate in English.......bar the French.

July 28, 2018 at 2:01 PM

In both China and Japan we had great success communicating with younger people. They teach English as a second language at schools in both countries now, so younger people are more likely to speak some English. Every time we tried to talk to a group of students, we ended up spending quite a while letting them practice their English on us. Those interactions were the hi-lights of the trip! Also, in major cities in China (Beijing & Shanghai) we were able to get English speaking guides for around $100 per day (arranged through our hotel). Hong Kong was considerably more English speaking, but was also considerably more expensive.

July 28, 2018 at 5:00 PM

And when it comes down to it this is also all about personal preference.

I've been to the UAE and Dubai and I hated them both. I hated the fact that it was so hot it was just plain unpleasant to be anywhere other than indoors in air-conditioned units. I hated the sheer self-indulgent opulence of everything, where everything had manifest cost but little value. And I hated the uncomfortable rich/poor divide which also manifested itself as casual racism. Maybe that's changed as it's a few years since I was there but it wasn't a place that endeared itself to me, unlike almost every other country I have ever visited. In fact out of over 30 countries I have been to it's the only one I have no real desire to re-visit. Maybe that informs my feelings about the theme parks there. I love travelling and I love visiting new and exotic places but there's almost nothing on earth would convince me to return to the UAE....

July 28, 2018 at 11:11 PM

You may not need a visa to visit China under certain circumstances. As an American passport holder, I was able to fly to Shanghai airport and stay for up to 5 days without a visa. The only caveat being that I could not fly directly back to my airport of origin. Sounds strange, but it's true. I travelled from Abu Dhabi to Shanghai (non-stop flight), stayed 4 days, then flew to Hong Kong, then back to Abu Dhabi (my current residence). China has a couple of cities that fall under this weird rule. I just had to show proof (to immigration at my arrival at Shanghai airport) of my hotel reservations in Shanghai and my reserved seat to a destination other than Abu Dhabi within 5 days of my arrival. And yes, I visited HK Disneyland on my way through HK. : )
Also, I had zero problems in China as far as the language barrier goes. There are enough english signs and english speaking people to get along fine. And it's worth a visit to Shanghai Disneyland just to ride PotC. It's that good.

July 29, 2018 at 9:31 AM

To be fair ProfPlum, comparing any on-site Disney with off-site one is always going to be very unbalanced. There are some beautiful places to stay in Serris or Val d'Europe at a fraction of the cost of even DLP's Santa Fe, and they're still within walking distance of the parks - which you can't say for an off-site hotel at WDW.

I agree the DLP hotels are an absurd cost however, and not worth it given what else in just down the road. (Or what delights await less than an hour's RER journey away.)

I've also honestly never understood this common idea of the French being rude if you don't speak their language. Maybe I've just been lucky in all my visits, but it seems to me that learning a few basic phrases and the all-important "I'm sorry, do you speak English please?" in the native language will get you a long way in any destination. I think for the French, they hold their language in the same regard that many countries hold their flags, and just want it shown that respect.

David - I agree entirely about personal preference, but I think Robert's point is about trying somewhere out first before making our mind up about it. Sure, some places won't be to everyone's taste, but it seems a shame to reject an experience just because we've heard such-and-such a story about it - which I think is why a lot of people reject some destinations out of hand.

I've heard a few times recently about people not wanting to visit London because of supposed "no go" areas. Which, as a Londoner, I know to be complete nonsense. So it does make me wonder what negative stories I've heard about other places are similarly far from the truth.

July 29, 2018 at 3:25 PM

Regarding the French, I stayed in France for 6 weeks in my youth and did note that they were a little stand offish. Once I started (trying) to speak French the opened up a bit. Once I explained I was Australian and not British or American they were incredibly friendly.

I'm not saying it's right, but a lot of the time we are prejudged by the mark left by countrymen in the past. I understand Australians have a worse reputation abroad now (so to the misbehaviour of some), so maybe that will have changed by now.

July 29, 2018 at 5:17 PM

I couldn't agree more with this statement.

"Japanese culture values great service, and park employees will go out of the way to try to help you."

As examples, at Disney I was approached while standing in the queue for Stormrider, the very friendly and apologetic cast member, took me to the exit door and had me try the seat because she was concerned I may not fit (I am tall and wide), this was purely because she didn't want to me wait in a long queue if I wasn't going to fit.
Had the same on Raging Spirits, the CM there, called in someone else who spoke english, and tried to communicate with a little flipbook of phrases that were written in English, Korean and Mandarin

This extended to every park and destination I went to in Japan.

As for the comments about the French, one man on our stopped train translated the messages for us since we looked confused, and another escorted us through the train station because we looked lost. I found the people in Paris and the areas around Disney willing to help, and try to as best they could.

If you do go overseas, brush up on local customs, and transport. Such as the 'Women Only' carriages in Japanese trains, where to stand

July 30, 2018 at 9:23 AM

My experience in Europe is that most Western Europeans speak about 5 languages with English being at least in the top three.

I was in Belgium and trying to do what they say to do about attempting to speak the language. I said "Bonjour" to a shopkeeper and then got 2 minutes of rapid-fire French that I didn't understand a bit of before I could I could say "en Anglais" - which between the two phrases was about 85% of the French that I knew. The second I asked for English, the shopkeeper immediately switched and I was able to make my purchase.

Since I was there on business, I had a group of people who I had already establish a rapport with and the question came up about why Americans don't bother to learn more than one language, or if they do it is typically Mexican style Spanish. When I explained that if all of Europe (roughly the size of the US) spoke the same language then they wouldn't bother either, they grudgingly agreed. I also explained that near the borders, it is much more likely to be bilingual than English only. If every different state in the US had different languages, then Americans would wind up learning quite a few languages as well.

I think the point I am trying to make is that Western Europe would probably be my first choice for international travel since they do typically like Americans tourists even while they say that they don't. And it is great fun when you can make someone look foolish by playing ignorant of their language.

July 30, 2018 at 11:35 AM

"Despite what you might have seen on the Internet, the UAE has no bans on people of certain religions, races, orientation, or nationality entering the country."
All though technically true Robert I would specify though that homosexuality in the UAE is indeed a crime. In Abu Dhabi it is punishable up to 14 years in prison and in Dubai it is 10 years. Yes they would probably never imprison a tourist but that doesn't change the fact that this doesn't make it very welcoming now does it?

July 30, 2018 at 1:13 PM

Speaking from a Brazilian point of view, I totally agree with Ben Mills. The US is one of the worst places to get a visa and go through customs (with the UK coming in a close second). We don't need visas to go to most European countries, and getting a Chinese Visa here (in Sao Paulo) was so easy and fast I was completely taken aback - seriously, it took me 8 minute from the time I parked my car near the consulate to the time I went back, with everything in order to pay for my visa and get it next week.
It's all about planning ahead, just like it would be going to the US.

July 30, 2018 at 1:34 PM

Re: @Brandon Townsend: That program is called "transit without visa" (those are the keywords to search).

To summarize: For certain Chinese cities B, if you're travelling from A to C via B, you can visit for 72 or 144 hours without arranging an expensive tourist visa ahead of time. In other words, you change your layover into a stopover. You could do U.S.-Shanghai-Japan, or U.S.-Shanghai-Hong Kong, or Hong Kong-Shanghai-Taipei. (For the purposes of this program, Hong Kong, Macau and Taipei are all "not China".)

For Shanghai Pudong International Airport there is a specific immigration lane to use TWOV, and note that (from reviews I've read) the staff are not universally aware of its existence -- so prepare. Have all your documents, print a card in Chinese, and find the lane on terminal maps.

July 31, 2018 at 11:57 AM

Ben Mills is certainly right about the USA being one of the most hostile countries to get into. My former Brit fiance was likewise interrogated at length when he came here. Ironically, although I hold an American passport I find it easier to get into the UK than to get back into my own country. I usually clear immigration in the UK within 10 minutes whereas it takes me considerably longer to go through customs in the USA. As to the French, it's very true that they are chauvinistic about their language. They would rather speak to me in broken English than have me speak to them in less than perfect French. However, I feel comfortable in both England and France b/c in the former I understand the language and the currency and in the latter I have a fairly good knowledge of the language. My dream is to go to Fuji-Q Highland to ride Takabisha but not knowing either the language or the currency, I am afraid to venture to Japan by myself.

August 1, 2018 at 1:56 PM

I've traveled the world extensively, leading short term trips of 30-40 high school and college students. Traveling is ridiculously easy.

August 2, 2018 at 12:28 PM

I'll add this bit of advice that almost derailed our visit to Disneyland Paris. Book your tickets on the TGV from CDG in advance because it sells out. A lesson we learned the hard way, resulting in the need to rent a car on the fly. There is another train you can take BUT you have to travel into Paris, transfer and then take another train out to the park. That would have taken too much time before and after the park visit.
We were so focused on buying the tickets to the park, we assumed there would be no trouble getting to the park from the airport. Boy - were we wrong.

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