How to: Prepare for International Travel

    How to: Prepare for International Travel

    Getting ready for international travel has to be one of life’s most complicated tasks. There is so much to accomplish and prepare for so that once you get to your destination, you can just enjoy the experience. I’m going to do my best to give a comprehensive list so that this frustrating beast is tamable.

    1. Passport

    This is pretty basic and most of us know about it. If you don’t have one, you will need to apply for one. It usually takes between 4 to 6 weeks in the U.S. and costs around $130, though these can both vary depending on your location. You have the option to expedite this for a fee or in case of a dire emergency. Make sure to check your state’s online or local government office for these details.

    If you already have a passport, make sure it is up to date. Some countries may deny entrance if your passport expires within 6 months, because, in case of a crisis and you must remain in the country longer originally estimated, you must be able to leave the country when the crisis ends. An expired passport with impede this. So check for it ahead of time!

    2. Travel Insurance

    While this is not a legal requirement, it is highly, you-best-be-doing-this recommended. If you are in any way injured, if you lost luggage, if someone stole something, if there is a natural disaster and you get stuck in the country, if you die, these things are all taken care of before hand, and even if you don’t need it, it’s there if you do. I find this extremely reassuring. If you travel a lot, something is bound to go wrong at some point, even if it’s a small thing. World Nomads is extremely popular with long-term travelers for travel insurance. They’ll give you a quote, show you what it includes and the fine print. You decide.

    3. Visas

    Research the country(ies) you’ll be going to and find out if you need a visa. These you will need to purchase ahead of time and leave the country before the expiration.

    Also note, the Schengen Zone – comprised of most the European countries – has a Visa that encompasses all of them and limits non-Schengen residents to 90 days in the Zone for every 180 days. (You stay 90 days, you can’t come back for the next 6 months.) Also, once you leave the Schengen Zone, the Visa expires. If you intend to return, you need to apply for a new one.

    Some countries are more strict than others, though most – if not all – take proper documentation seriously and anyone planning to travel internationally should too.

    4. Entry and Exit

    Please note that some countries require a fee for entering and/or exiting. You should always research this to ensure you don’t have any high-cost surprise expenses. It’s never fun to cut your vacation short because of an oversight.

    5. Saving Money

    Let’s be frank: we all know this one. It costs $$$$$ to travel, though we can do our best to be budget friendly. Now, when you’re planning your budget, have some idea of what type of accommodation your staying at (five-star hotel or a campground), whether you’ll be walking, taking a bus or train, flying, etc, and the costs involved in each one. I would also highly recommend have an Emergency Fund of $500 to $1000 to cover any surprise expenses that your insurance does not cover.

    I don’t want to butt into your business on your monetary affairs, so I’m going to stop here and say, “I trust you to know how to manage your own money.”

    6. Money Conversion

    Now that you know I trust you with your own money, here’s some more advice! We all want to go to those stunning 1st World countries like England, France, Germany, and such, but don’t forget that their money is worth more than the American dollar (if you’re American, otherwise this isn’t an issue). The exchange rate is doing well for America right now with 1 dollar = 0.94 Euros. But then you compare this to, say, the India Rupee, the exchange rate is 1 dollar = 66.74 Rupees.

    Travel plans sounds so much nicer with a smaller price tag…

    Another thing to consider is that even though the number looks high, doesn’t mean it’s worth what we think it is. For example, the South Korean Won exchange rate is 1 dollar = 1152.31 Won. But a Starbucks coffee in South Korea costs 4,100 Won or $3.70. So looks deceive. Watch out.

    *Tip: Use ATMs to get local currency because they will often have better exchange rates than airport/train station services which collect 1-3% in service fees of the exchanged amount versus the fixed fee at ATMs. Don’t overdo it, though, because those add up, too.

    Frustrating, isn’t it??

    7. Vaccinations

    Make sure you are up to date with your vaccinations. Also, check online to find out if your destination country(ies) have required vaccinations for you to receive before entering the country.

    8. Country Alerts

    Due to internal/external conflicts, some countries are simply not safe for anyone, much less your average tourist. You can keep up to speed on the Federal travel website for Alerts and Warnings which will cover both war-zone type threats and natural disaster type threats, some will be temporary, others long-standing.

    For example, you should not attempt to travel to North Korea. You aren’t welcome there. I’m serious, but still being totally sarcastic, because I know you know no one says, “I want to go to North Korea.”

    9. Documentation

    Make sure you have proper documentation. Also, make sure you have several copies of all that documentation, a set of copies in your handbag/wallet, camera bad, luggage, satchel, etc. If you lose your originals, the copies will help you in getting another original as soon as possible.

    Original and copied documents you should have on hand include: passport, contact information, any medical papers, doctor’s letters especially if you have prescription medication, insurance, license, and any business identification if that applies to you.

    10. The Locals

    If you are going to someone else’s country, they will expect respect for their culture, customs, and language, just as we would expect from them if they came to our country.

    So read up on how the local people dress. You don’t have to do anything against your personal beliefs, but if they are a more modest people, cover up. If they believe you should dress nicely – not like you just rolled out of bed, morning breath included – then you can put in a little bit of effort.

    Women will likely struggle more than men, especially in the more patriarchal societies. In these types of places, women might be more protected because that is how the culture views them, but women might also be more at risk, too. I’ve heard of women wearing fake wedding rings in such countries, and believe it or not, this is a highly respected symbol. Along the same lines, if local women wear a head covering, you ought to consider this as well.

    Some countries like South Korea have different perspectives on what is acceptable public attire. Girls will wear extremely short dresses, but consider baring cleavage far more inappropriate. The opposite of America in many cases.

    Research and find out about other things like physical contact – they might be offended by spontaneous hugging/kissing/handshakes/etc – eye contact, conversations with service people, tipping, etc.

    I’m sure you get the gist of that, so lastly, learn some key phrases in the local language. Greetings, please, thank you, bathroom, numbers, money, and the standard “do you speak English/other language?”

    11. Your Home

    If you own a home when you leave for a trip, here’s some things you might want to remember:

    • Make sure your bills get paid while you’re gone, automatic transfers anyone?
    • Turn off heat/electricity/etc; there isn’t anyone home who will need it.
      • *Note: If you live in a cold place, don’t turn your heat off all the way, just turn it down a bit, or you run the risk of your pipes bursting.
    • Put your mail on hold to prevent theft
    • Ask a trusted friend, neighbor, family member to check on the house/animals for potential break-ins and remain discrete.
    • If you plan to travel long-term, consider renting the house out.
    12. Check-Ins

    In case of an emergency, make sure there is always someone somewhere who knows where you are and where you are planning on going. Schedule brief phone-calls with pre-designated people at regular intervals so that, if you don’t check in, they can follow-up and see if you are hurt, kidnapped, or otherwise in trouble.

    This goes DOUBLY for solo travelers!

    13. Electronics

    Other countries have different wall plug-ins, different SIM cards, and you can potentially be charged additional roaming costs if you don’t have an internationally friendly phone plan. From what I understand, T-Mobile has an unlimited global roaming plan, and hopefully the other services will catch up soon. Consider getting local SIM cards and a plug-in adapter.

    14. Packing

    People overdo this one regularly. If you’re going into your travel plans fully intending to bring your suitcase series of four pieces of luggage in addition to your carry-on and purse, more power to you. If you are looking for the budget-friendly side of things and are only using a backpack or carry-on, you’ll need to watch what you’re packing.

    Best way to do this I’ve learned: make a list of everything you could possibly need, listing clothing items specifically, several weeks out from the trip. Then every couple of days or so, go over the list again and cross out the things that you don’t really need for your trip. This gives time for ideas to stew and results in better thought out decisions. Yes, your Disney World coffee mug is precious and nostalgic, but it is breakable and will be there when you return from your trip.

    You do not need a whole separate outfit for every day you’re in Paris (mostly for the girls, but if you guys like to stay trendy, by all means, consider yourselves included). Try mix & matching your outfits. Best way: layers and neutral bottoms that can match any one of your tops. This way you can go with four bottoms, five tops, a jacket, two (or three) pairs of shoes and have over 50 different outfits!

    Remember to pack for the weather. No parka in Italy in July. No short shorts in Canada…for most of the year…unless you’re a native and 40 degrees is summer to you. (I’m Minnesotan, so…)

    If you do have to check your luggage and have a separate carry-on, make sure to have an extra set of clothing in the carry-on if worse comes to worst, and your checked luggage gets lost in the system.

    All in all, be smart and reasonable. Check out Pinterest for packing ideas. People far more fashion-savvy than me have put up pretty great ideas.

    15. Talk to the Bank and Phone Company

    These guys need to know that you are out of the country. If they don’t, they could disconnect very necessary services for your trip when they see an ATM withdraw or a sent text in London when you should be in Houston. It is for your protection but also the bane of your travel plans when combined with the lack of necessary communication.

    16. Positivity

    Lastly and most important: Go with a positive attitude and enjoy your vacation! You are paying good money for it.

    Make memories that last forever.

    This is often a never-ending topic, but you should not let this stand in the way of seeing and experiencing the world for yourself.

    I hope this was beneficial information, and you can always check out my resources below to see the information for yourself.


    Resources: Travel ZooThe Points GuyU.S. Passports & International TravelWiki HowTravel and LeisureFodors