You’ve decided to make your first major trip abroad and you’re pumped! It’s important to realize that visiting a foreign country is a far different experience from traveling to a city in your home country. As you’re planning your trip, here are a few details and strategies that will help ensure everything goes smoothly.
Imagine this scenario: you are traveling to the country that has been your lifelong dream for some sun and fun. You have your bottle of sunscreen and those arm flotation device dealies all ready to go! But after enduring a 10-hour flight and reaching passport control, the surly customs agent denies you entry due to passport issues that could easily have been taken care of in advance. While many countries do not require a visa for visits that are less than 90 days (depending on your citizenship, of course), it is important that you check out whether the country you are traveling to has such requirements. If it does, sometimes it is as easy as paying a fee upon entering the destination. In other cases, it can be an expensive, time consuming process involving a lot of paperwork that must be taken care of months in advance.
In addition, be aware that even if your passport expiration date is several months away, many countries require that your passport remain valid for a certain period of time after you have entered the country. The general range is between 3 and 6 months. Do some research and determine if your destination (or destinations) has this window so that you can renew your passport before you arrive.
Make copies and digital scans of your passport
Here’s a nightmare situation that no traveler wants to face: as you are walking along the beautiful streets of some picturesque villa and towards your hotel, you reach into your pocket to pull out your passport…only to come up empty. A lost or stolen passport is bad news in a foreign country. But if you had the hindsight to keep digital scans and photocopies of your ID page, any visas and entry stamps, you will be able to save a lot of hassle and expedite the process as you apply for a replacement at your embassy or consulate.
Before you depart, contact your bank and credit card issuer and let them know about your traveling plans
Banks and credit card companies are regularly looking out for suspicious payment activity. They care about you as a valued customer, after all! If you are taking cash out at an ATM in Brazil, purchasing a mysterious matroyshka doll in Russia or buying some awesomely fashionable $300 sandals in Milan, your bank and credit card company could very well see this as a red flag and freeze your accounts. You wouldn’t want that to happen at the moment that you are trying to pay a restaurant bill, right? Washing dishes is not how you envision your time in Paris. Well, if you inform your bank and credit card company in advance that you will be going abroad, you can avoid the inconveniences.
Purchase a charger adapter and transformer
Whenever you visit a foreign country, one of the first things you are likely to notice is that their electrical sockets look way different from the ones back home. No worries though, you can remedy this buy buying a charger adapter. Oh, and unless you just love collecting different adapter pieces, your best bet is to opt for universal adapter that allows you to plug your devices into a socket regardless of country. This would especially come in handy if you are taking a trip through continental Europe that includes a stop in Switzerland, which inexplicably has a completely different type of outlet than the rest of its European neighbors. Hooray for neutrality!
Along the same lines, note that the voltage used in your country of destination might differ from back home. While your laptop and hand-held devices are programmed to adjust to this change, your hairdryer is most definitely not clever enough to handle double the electrical current. A transformer can solve this problem. On the other hand, a transformer makes a heavy and clunky traveling companion, so you might want to forget about it and just leave your electric razor at home. Vacation beards are all the rage these days anyway, you hipster you!
So you’ve made it to Egypt! Congratulations! Oops, you’ve just fallen off a camel. Get well soon! As you are traveling abroad, it is important that you check with your health insurance company to see if your medical coverage extends to the country you are visiting. If it does not and you end up needing emergency care, you could be stuck with a big, fat bill. Purchasing traveler’s insurance is generally affordable, so it is totally worth the investment.
Reserve tickets/events/restaurant tables in advance
As you are planning your itinerary, keep in mind that lines to visit the Mona Lisa at the Louvre are extremely long, especially during peak summer months. Trains sell out fast. Visiting a 5-star restaurant to try their famous frog legs in a delicate snail sauce isn’t a simple matter of showing up. Contact popular restaurants to make a reservation well in advance. Buy your train tickets online. You will end up saving a lot of time and in some cases even money.
Investigate your airline’s luggage weight requirements
If you are planning a long trip, it’s easy to get carried away with the packing. Twenty days obviously means 20 shirts, right? Who wants to wash socks in the hotel bathtub when you can just bring a whole bunch of fresh pairs? Hold up there. You could end up making a big mistake if you over pack. Always remember, the weight of your luggage can literally cost you if you are too liberal about what you bring. In fact, some airlines charge an additional $20 per pound over the limit! Check with the airline to find out how much you are able to bring along without going over the maximum.
Travel Warnings/Safety Advisories
Going to the beach or climbing a mountain is a surefire way to guarantee a great vacation. Unless said beach or mountain is in the middle of a war zone. Before you take a trip to some exotic country that is impossible to find on the map, read up on safety issues related to that location. Has your home country issued any travel warnings against visiting the country on your bucket list? Have you considered certain styles of dress or behaviors that might be common in your home country but should be avoided over there? Keep yourself safe. We want you to return home in one piece.
Understand basic local phrases if the host country doesn’t speak your language
English might be the language of the world, but try telling that to a shopkeeper in Kazakhstan or a dentist in Vietnam! On second thought, forget it. They likely won’t understand a word of what you’re saying. Unless you speak their language, of course. Hey, that’s actually not such a bad idea! Study up on the language of the locals. Nobody is going to expect you to speak fluent Cambodian or whatever, but familiarizing yourself with basic greetings (hello there!) and expressions (I would like some water, please!) is both polite and ensures that you won’t dehydrate yourself.