Getting ready to travel internationally? As my dad would say, “Right on!” International travel has proven to be the most rewarding for Tyler and I, and we hope it will be for you too. One of the best things about international travel is experiencing various cultures around the world, and with so much diversity, there are bound to be several things to check off your list before you travel to ANY country. Whether it’s your first time or not, here are 10+ things that you should do before you travel to a new country!
Want to download your very own checklist? [Grab yours here.]
1. Check if you need a visa
Visas are those beautiful (yet pesky) little stamps and stickers that you get in your passport that say you’re allowed to be in another country. Every country has visa regulations, and most all of them have a tourist visa, which means you’re eligible to be in the country for a finite period of time to travel around and see the place. For some passport holders, many countries do not require pre-arranged visas and immigration will just check and stamp your passport when you arrive. For others, and for specific countries, you’re required to secure a tourist visa in advance. How do you know what’s required!? As a U.S. citizen, I always check the country page on travel.state.gov first. Then, as suggested by most state departments, I check the embassy or immigration website for the country I’m traveling to. For example, here is where you would check visa information if you’re going to Ireland. You can likely google the country you’re going to plus “immigration” and find what you need.
2. Check if you need vaccinations
In most of the western world, countries don’t require specific vaccinations in order to visit the country; however, if you’re headed to parts of Asia, Africa, or South America for example, the country may require a certain vaccination before you’re allowed entry (and in some cases you’re required vaccinations if you’re coming from somewhere with a common communicable disease). It’s also responsible to check for any recommended vaccinations. For example, the Philippines doesn’t have any required vaccinations, but it does have several recommended vaccinations including Typhoid and Hepatitis A. The best place to check for required and recommended travel vaccinations is the CDC website. Shots suck, but they’re worth it!
3. Set travel notifications for your credit card and ATM card
If you’ve ever been abroad and discovered that your ATM or credit card has been shut off and you don’t have any more cash, then you know that dreadful sinking feeling you get in the pit of your stomach, and you’ll always remember to set travel notifications before you leave (and carry emergency cash). These days some credit card companies (like my fave Capital One Venture Card — nope they aren’t paying me, I just truly love them) no longer require travel notifications and have zero foreign transaction fees. They can get away with it due to the new chip technology most of us have been forced to adopt — I know it’s a good thing, but the chip readers are such a hassle sometimes! Anyway, you’ll be grateful that you have full use of your credit cards when you’re abroad, trust me.
4. Learn basic phrases in the local language
Many of us English speakers are particularly bad at this because English is so widely spoken around the world. However, being able to say just “Hello” and “Thank You” in the foreign language can go a long way in conversing with locals and showing respect for the culture you’re visiting. One of my new favorite ways to do this is with Duolingo. Duolingo is a free language learning app that has gamified the process of learning a language (they aren’t paying me either, I promise!). At time of writing, I’m currently using mine 5-10 minutes a day to brush up on my French for our trip to France this Christmas! It’s fun and I’m hoping it’ll allow me to feel a little more immersed in France. If you don’t want to make such a commitment, do a quick google search or check your guidebook for common phrases and questions.
5. Look up the currency conversion
Riel, pounds, pesos, euros, baht — um, these aren’t dollars…what are they!?!? Foreign currency is perhaps one of the more perplexing things for me when I travel. I’m always struggling to figure out how much things are and what the conversion rate is. I’m still working on getting a better wallet to organize cash (I never carried cash anymore in the U.S.!), and I often am fumbling to find the right bill or coin to pay for something. What’s the trick? Look up the currency conversion and denominations in advance. If you’re more familiar in advance, you’re less likely to feel like you’re playing with monopoly money when you go abroad.
6. Understand cultural norms
It’s easy to daydream about visiting the Eiffel Tower or the Colosseum and forget that you’re actually traveling to another country, with a different culture — that means food is different, language is likely different, and societal norms may be very different from your home country. As an American, I’m also very aware of the stereotypes my fellow travelers and I are often categorized in when we travel. I wish it weren’t true, but it is, and oftentimes I try not to draw attention to the fact that I’m American, to be honest! There is one easy way to prove the stereotypes wrong — try to understand the culture that you’re visiting and be respectful of it. For example, in Thailand it is considered very rude to touch someone on the head, and in England, you’re flipping someone off if you give the peace sign (with your hand) backwards (palm facing in). There are very unique and sometimes surprising things you’ll learn about cultural norms around the world!
7. Triple check your itineraries and tickets
Calling all Type-A’s! Yep, me, and maybe you. I am admittedly very particular about making sure that all my travel is booked correctly. It’s the best way to avoid mistakes, have a happier trip, and ensure that you’re mentally prepared for your travels. Earlier this year I finally discovered (how, HOW, did I not know before!?) the TripIt app. It changed my life. Honestly. For real. I love it. When I book my travel, I forward the confirmation emails to TripIt and it automatically creates a detailed and user-friendly itinerary for me to check and follow before and while I’m traveling. It’s freakin genius. Below is what my trip to Croatia looked like — the app was particularly helpful since we were staying in a different place nearly every night!
8. Get travel (health) insurance
I’ll be the first to agree with you that insurance sucks. It’s generally expensive and we hopefully never have to use it. It feels like a waste of money. But it’s not, and we know better, so we buy it. Just like you wouldn’t get caught without car insurance at home, you don’t want to get caught without travel or international health insurance. This is different in my mind than coverage if you miss your flight or lose your luggage; this is coverage if you have a major medical emergency while traveling. That’s the kind of thing that could bankrupt you, your family, your future children (maybe, I don’t know!). You just never know and the peace of mind is worth it. Plus, you’ll likely be pleasantly surprised to find that travel medical insurance that covers major medical emergencies and expatriation is quite affordable.
9. Make copies of travel documents & share info with your family
Every time I go on a trip, I summarize and send all my travel info (confirmations, flights, hotels, etc.) to my parents. That way, if something goes horribly wrong, they will know where I should be. I can’t stress how important this seemingly small, often-forgotten task is. From experience, it’s not fun trying to find someone abroad when something bad has happened and you need to get a hold of them. And it’s not fun for them either. Shit does happen and you never know when there will be an emergency at home or abroad. Better safe than sorry!
Another safety measure for U.S. citizens is to register your trip with STEP, the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program. It essentially lets the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate to where you’re traveling know that you’re there. That way, in the event of a natural disaster or emergency, the embassy will try to account for you and bring you to safety.
10. Know what to pack
We all hate it when we travel somewhere warm and then don’t have a jacket or head for a weekend in the mountains and forget your swimsuit for that awesome hot tub. Regardless of where you’re going, either domestically or internationally, it pays to know what to pack. It’s taken me, despite my self-professed obsession with organization, a while to feel like I finally have packing down. I have established some great packing lists and gear and don’t stress over packing much anymore. If you want to borrow my packing lists, check out the [wanderlist category]!
Ok, there’s actually more than 10! Here are some bonus things that you should do before you travel to any country:
Bonus: If you’re driving, check if you’re allowed
Will you be renting a car and driving abroad? If yes, there are a few things you should check. First, you should verify that your driver’s license will be valid in the country you’re traveling to. The easiest way to get all the info would be to talk to a rental car agency in the country. Second, if you’ll be driving across borders, you need to check if your rental car is allowed to cross the border. There are many places in Eastern Europe for example where you might not be permitted to drive across the border. Finally, check with the rental car agency if you’re required to keep any equipment in the car by law. This happened to us in Italy, where all cars are required to have snow tires or snow chains available in the winter months.
Bonus: Get your phone unlocked
Check with your cell phone provider at home and ask how you can unlock your phone if you haven’t already. It’s the best way to ensure that you can use your phone abroad. Most countries sell tourist SIM card packages, which means you can get some 4G or LTE for a few bucks and it’ll last you at least a few days to a week. If you’re driving or planning your travel as you go, it’s invaluable to have data and google maps! But if your phone is locked, you won’t be able to use the foreign carrier. 😦
Snag all this in a downloadable, customizable, and uber-organized checklist [HERE].
Do you feel more prepared to travel internationally? I hope so! If you have any questions or if I’ve missed anything essential, let me know in the comments!
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