Going on an international trip soon? Here’s what you need to do to prepare!
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I always get a million butterflies when I think about international travel. It honestly puts me in the best mood. And then I go into planning a mile a minute, as Michael knows. (I am totally the planner in our relationship, if you haven’t figured it out.) When you book an international trip, it can be so easy to get caught up in the excitement of it and miss out on really important things you’ll need to do beforehand. Keep reading for how to prepare for traveling abroad!
1. Check and see if your passport is valid.
One of the biggest mistakes you can make is not having a valid passport. Almost every country requires you to have a minimum of 6 months of validity left on your passport. You'll either be denied entry to your flight or into the country once landing and you'll need to return right away. If you're cutting it close with the dates, it's best to just renew your passport just to be safe. You'll also need a new passport if you don't have enough empty pages left. Check the requirements for each country.
If you're a US citizen, the State Department notes the renewal process can take 4-6 weeks. Michael and I recently had to get ours renewed, and it only took 2 weeks, but err on the side of caution. If you're in a hurry, opt for the Expedited option. You can get your passport even quicker if you go in-person at an agency.
Make sure you check the photography rules as they've changed over the years. You can find that info here. We got our taken and printed at CVS.
2. Look up visa requirements.
Visa requirements will be different based on your nationality, and each country will have different visas requirements as well. It's best to double-check any visa requirements 3-6 months before your trip just in case there are any difficulties.
If you're a US citizen, you can use this link to find out visa requirements for individual countries.
3. Determine if you need to get any vaccines.
Depending on where you're traveling, you'll need to figure out whether you need any vaccines or malaria pills. You can also use the link above for this kind of info too. Don't forget to talk with your doctor in case there are any risks specific to you.
4. Purchase travel insurance.
When it comes to travel insurance, it's better to be safe than sorry. Most people don't know, but your medical insurance will not cover your medical expenses abroad. This is a hard lesson to learn in the moment. Even if you don't get ill or injured, travel insurance will also protect you against canceled flights/trips and lost or stolen items.
5. If you're driving, get an International Driving Permit (IDP).
Think your regular ol' license is enough for you to drive internationally? Nope. You'll need to get an International Driving Permit, which is recognized by over 150 countries. Like passports, the IDP can take a few weeks, so prepare accordingly.
For full instructions on how to apply for your IDP and the cost, click here.
6. Notify your bank and credit card companies.
Have you ever gone to a country and used your bank or credit card only to have it decline? It's the worst feeling. Tell your bank or credit card companies at least a few days before you depart when you're going away and where you're going. Many will now allow you to do this online through your account settings, so it's super easy!
7. Get a credit card without international fees.
If you're visiting a country that easily takes credit cards, make sure you use one that doesn't have international fees. Those fees add up so fast when you're in vacation mode and quickly swiping for those extra drinks! I use the Chase Sapphire Preferred when I travel since I have extra insurance protection, no fees, and I get points on just about everything when I'm traveling like groceries, meals, drinks, and paying for transportation.
Don’t forget about ATM fees for your debit card too! Depending on the bank, you may be reimbursed for the fees, but they can also add up like crazy.
8. Research the exchange rate and exchange your money ahead of time.
When you're trying to figure out your trip's budget, it's so important to look up the exchange rate. That way, you know how comfortable you'll be with spending on your trip, especially when you're haggling!
I like to exchange a little bit of money ahead of time, depending on the place, so I don't have to worry about it after a long-haul flight. The exchange rate will be better outside of an airport too. You can do this at your bank or another currency exchange place. Depending on where you're going, you'll need to order the currency you need ahead of time.
Remember to check and see if the country's currency is closed. If it's closed, it'll be easer to exchange your money once you're in the country since there are limited supplies outside of it. Morocco is an example of a closed currency country.
To find out how much to convert, look up whether the country you're visiting is mainly cash-based or if you can easily use credit cards everywhere. Tip: Don't put your cash in a checked bag in case it gets lost and separate your cash in case it gets lost or stolen.
9. Secure your accommodations.
I know that some people, especially full-time travel bloggers, like to book their accommodations at the last minute, but give yourself some peace-of-mind by booking well in advance. When you're traveling internationally, it's one less thing to worry about. Remember to double-check your reservation before you board your flight.
10. Research phone plans.
If you're like me and want to use your phone while you travel internationally, then you'll need to figure out your phone situation. I personally also just like to have data to figure out where I'm going and not have to rely on WiFi. This is especially true when I'm by myself.
One way to keep your phone's service is to check in with your cell phone provider and compare their different plans. Usually it's $10 a day to use your phone as is in another country.
Another way to use your phone is to get an international SIM card. This is a really affordable option and there's typically a few different brands to pick from. SIM card companies will be set up in the airport, so there's no need to worry about locating a place.
11. Learn basic phrases.
If you're visiting a country that speaks a different language from you, it's such a nice gesture to the locals to say basic phrases! It really goes a long way (especially in Paris), and shows you're not just being an annoying tourist. Locals will likely want to chat with you more too.
Here are some basic phrases I like to arm myself with:
Where's the bathroom?
Can you help me?
If you're going to a country with a heavy street food influence, definitely learn different phrases for common foods. Pointing is easy, but I think learning is way more fun. If you plan on going shopping, learn how to say numbers and ask "how much something is." Also, learn how to haggle!
12. Loosely plan out your trip.
Depending on who I'm going on a trip with, I'll either plan out every little detail or force myself to go with the flow and pick just 1 or 2 things I really want to do. But when you're traveling internationally and short on time, I like to loosely plan my days. This means I'll pick 1, maximum 2, major things I want to do each day and book anything I need to in advance. That way, if I'm still tired from jet lag or just not up to it, I won't feel bad about just wandering around. It also helps you out in case you have any major delays.
13. Map out how to get to your accommodations.
I don't know about you, but when I travel long-haul, I am cranky AF afterwards. All I want is to eat and to shower. So getting from the airport to my hotel the quickest way possible is the most ideal situation for me. This might mean splurging a little more on a transfer using a taxi or rideshare app, but I think it's worth it for one less thing to stress about.
If I'm on a shorter international flight, I usually opt for some sort of public transportation. A lot of airports will have shuttle bus services or train services, so you can easily hop on. Download your location's map so you can use it in offline mode to get directions to your location on the ground. Or just screenshot the directions and save them in your Notes app.
14. Research transportation options at the destination.
Transportation options are going to vary from place to place. Some specific taxis can be scams or just plain more expensive depending on where you're going. Also, don't assume that Uber and Lyft are in every country. Research what the most popular options are and look at reviews from fellow riders. Also read up on how not to get scammed from non-rideshare drivers and how to haggle on prices.
15. CHECK VOLTAGES AND BUY AN ADAPTER.
If you're only bringing small electronic devices like your phone, camera, and laptop, you can use a universal travel adapter like this one that'll work on many different continents. As a note, it will not convert.
You'll need to purchase a voltage converter to use larger devices like a laptop, hair dryer, curling iron, etc. Here's a list of each country's voltage.
16. Pay or schedule your bills.
The last thing you want to worry about are missed bills when you're in vacay mode. So check your due dates and schedule payments for all of them if they're not already on auto-pay.
17. Register with the State Department.
Enrolling in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) will send your travel info to the nearest US Embassy or consulate in the country you're visiting. It's a little peace-of-mind in case anything happens. You'll also receive safety alerts and it'll help both the State Department and family and friends get in touch with you in case of an emergency.
18. Refill your medication.
Another overlooked task you might not think about is to refill all your prescriptions before your trip. Depending on the medication and your insurance, you shouldn't wait to the last minute for this. Also, make sure you put all your medication in your carry-on in case your checked bag gets lost.
To be safe, bring a copy of your prescription and/or a doctor’s note in case there are any issues in security.
19. Hold your mail and packages.
Depending on how long you’ll be away and how much mail you typically get, hold your mail with USPS. Your mail will be safe when you’re away. You can also ask a neighbor to grab your mail and packages for you too.
20. Check your packing list.
Ok, real talk. I don’t really make a packing list. Shoot me. I feel like I’ve traveled so much for work and personal life that I just know what to pack! The only things I ever forget—and this is sometimes—is my toothbrush. But I know not everyone is like that. So make your packing list and check it a few times. Usually, we all tend to overpack. Pack only what you think you’ll realistically need. Did I ever need 2 pairs of heels? No.
21. Print your documents And save them to your phone.
Before traveling internationally, I print out all my reservations and make a copy of both my passport and ID. I’ll also make a folder on Google Drive to store my digital files and/or text myself the digital files. This will for sure help you in case you lose your passport or your reservations get messed up. A few excursions will request you print your reservations too.
22. Charge all your devices and download movies and books.
Before I go anywhere, I charge every device I plan on bringing, especially my portable phone charger. I have a few, but I absolutely love the one I got from Away with my carry-on bag. I’ve gone days without having to recharge it, making it perfect for long-haul flights.
Check back soon for a review on my Away Carry-On!
23. Pack your personal carry-on.
One of the last things I put together is my personal carry-on bag. Usually this is because I’m using last minute toiletries like my Quip toothbrush and charging all my devices. For long-haul flights, I like to add a face mask, face moisturizer, another outfit including underwear, compression socks, and a reusable water bottle.
24. Unplug electronics, check the gas, and lock up.
Before you leave your home, unplug your electronics to save energy and money. Then make sure your gas has been turned off and then lock up your windows and doors. Then it’s off to your trip!