I recently got a panicked phone call from a friend through Facebook Messenger (who knew you can make calls through FB?!?). She was stranded in Turkey by herself. It was her first big trip abroad and her travel companions had been delayed. She explained that she was stuck at the airport for hours and had to pay huge fees because she didn’t realize her passport had to be valid at least 6 months into the future, and she didn’t know she had to have a visa to enter the country. She also didn’t know that different outlets were used there, so she didn’t have an adapter to charge her dying phone! I had given this friend advice on what to do while in Turkey, but it didn’t even occur to me to give her advice on preparing for a trip to a foreign country. Fortunately, everything turned out OK. Lessons were learned, and now we can laugh about it. 🙂
Her experience prompted me to write this post for those of you who are first-time travelers, or who simply need a refresher on what to do before you embark on a trip overseas. This is truly invaluable information that I have learned over the years, and I hope it will help you prepare for your next adventure across the globe! Here’s a list of 20 things you should do before traveling abroad:
1. Make 2 copies of your passport.
Keep one copy in a separate bag from where you keep your passport in case your passport gets stolen. Give the other copy to a friend or family member along with your itinerary. You can instead take a picture of your passport with your smartphone or upload it to your Dropbox or Google drive.
2. Check Entry Requirements.
Check to see if you need a visa to enter the country, and whether you need to apply for it in advance or if you can get one at the destination airport. You can find this information on the website for the U.S. Department of State.
3. Check Your Passport Expiration date.
Many countries require that your passport be valid at least 6 months into the future. This information can also be found on the Dept. of State’s country specific sites. If your passport is expiring soon, make plans to renew it as soon as possible.
4. Look up the voltage/adapter information.
Here is a helpful website that shows a list of countries and what socket, plug, and voltage they use. If you’re planning on bringing a hair dryer or curling iron to a country that uses different voltage than the U.S., check to see if they are dual voltage appliances by reading the small print on its handle. It should say something like 120V-220V. In that case, you don’t need a converter, just an adapter if the outlets are different. (THIS is my favorite travel adapter.) Otherwise, you would need a converter, but in my experience they never work. I once used a hair dryer with a converter that blew out the electricity in the entire hotel we were staying at in Paris!! Oops.
Most small electronics (like cell phones, tablets, even laptops) are dual-voltage and can be charged with no voltage issues…again you’ll just need an adapter.
In some hotels abroad and also in cruise ship staterooms, outlets are scarce and if you’re sharing a room or have several things to plug in/charge, I’d recommend bringing a mini surge protector to share the love.
5. Foreign Currency.
Check what currency you’ll need in the countries you’ll be visiting and the exchange rate. First thing when you arrive at the airport of your destination, find an ATM (it’s way cheaper than those currency exchange kiosks at airports and malls, trust me). Knowing the currency conversion will help you to know how much of the foreign currency you should take out. Use a currency exchange app like Currency for iPhone. You can even use it when you’re not on Wifi.
6. Call your Bank.
Call your bank’s travel department and let them know that you’ll be using your debit and credit cards outside of the country. Otherwise, if the bank detects charges in foreign countries, they may shut down your card for suspicious activity. This happened to me in Canada once, and I couldn’t access my funds for days!!
You can also ask them if they have partnerships with banks at your destination to use their ATMs without being charged a fee. Many foreign ATMs only accept 4-digit ATM PINs, so if you have a 5-digit PIN, make sure to change it to a 4-digit PIN before you leave.
7. Get small change.
Some countries accept the U.S. dollar as well as their own foreign currency. In this case, take lots of small bills for tips and small purchases. Keep in mind that if large bills are accepted (many underdeveloped countries don’t), the change you receive is usually in the foreign currency.
8. Contact your phone provider for international rates.
You don’t want to get stuck with an expensive cell phone bill! Ask them if they have international plans if you need to use your phone to make calls or use data. If you don’t want to use your smartphone abroad, just put it on airplane mode. In emergencies or when you don’t have Wifi, you can use your phone to text locally or back home. AT&T charges $0.50 per text in foreign countries. I usually at least text my mom to tell her I’ve arrived safely, otherwise I keep my phone on airplane mode. Check with your phone company for more information.
9. Download Smartphone apps to keep in touch.
There are apps for smartphones that you can download to keep in touch with friends and family when connected to Wifi. You can text for free using WhatsApp. Also, apparently you can use Facebook Messenger to make free phone calls. Just click on a friend in Messenger, then click on the phone icon in the upper right hand corner. Google Hangouts is my favorite app to make video calls when abroad.
10. Check the airline baggage limits.
U.S. airlines may have different baggage allowances than international airlines. If you’re planning on taking only a carry-on, be aware that the size and weight limits for carry-on bags for Delta may be different than Air Asia, for example. Some of the smaller, budget international airlines have more restrictive baggage limits, so check the limits for all the airlines you’ll be flying and plan accordingly.
11. Print out maps with directions
Print out maps that lead you to your accommodations and important sites. You can also use Google maps on your smartphone. Before you leave the country or when you have WIFI, look up a destination in Google maps and in the search bar, type “OK Maps” and you can save that map for offline use.
12. Check the weather for your destination
Check the weather before you go to help you know how to pack. You can check as early as 10 days before you leave. My favorite weather website is Weather Underground.
13. Get any necessary vaccinations or medications.
Some countries require, or at least recommend, that you get certain vaccinations, such as for yellow fever or Malaria. Check the country-specific website on Travel.state.gov. You may also need to get prescription medications for countries where you might get food poisoning (South America, certain parts of Asia), or high-altitude medication (which I needed for Peru, Tibet, and Bhutan).
14. Pack an extra set of clothes in your carry-on.
Let’s hope the airline doesn’t lose your checked luggage, but just in case. OR, if you’re like me, you’ll only travel with a carry-on suitcase and won’t have to worry about checked baggage being damaged or lost.
15. Bring snacks from home
Bring snacks for those times when you’re hungry and you can’t find any open restaurant or you can’t stomach the local delicacies offered. My go-to snacks are granola bars, applesauce pouches, dried fruit, and almonds.
16. Learn phrases in the language
Learn to say a few simple phrases in the language of your destination country. Learning to say “thank you,” “please,”or “hello,” will show the locals that you’re interested in learning about their language and culture and will be more likely to help you out.
17. Research cheaper accommodation options.
If you’re traveling with a group, it may be cheaper to rent an apartment rather than a hotel. Check out sites like Airbnb, Homeaway, or VRBO. You’ll save a lot of money, live like a local, and your host may turn out to be a handy resource.
18. Read up on the country.
The do’s and dont’s, culture, transport, etc. A little research on the country and people you’ll be visiting helps you to respect their customs. Pick up a travel guide from your library, buy one to bring with you, or check out guides on sites like Lonely Planet or travel blogs.
19. Pack as light as possible.
That’s it. Just pack light.
20. Prepare for any long-haul or overnight flights.
Set your watch to the destination time zone when you get on the plane. If it’s night time, force yourself to sleep, and if it’s daytime there, stay awake. This trick definitely helps with jet-lag. Check out my blog post on my favorite things to pack in my carry-on to survive an overnight flight.
I hope this information helps you! Please feel free to pass it along to others who are planning trips abroad. Even though I’m a seasoned traveler, I still need to look over this list before I go on a trip so I don’t forget anything! If you have any questions about other ways I plan and do research for my trips, let me know! There are a lot of great resources out there. Also, if you can add anything to this list, do let me know. I love hearing travel tips and stories from people who’ve had to learn the hard way (like me). Happy Travels! 🙂