In September, I’ll be making two trips to Europe and in November, I’m planning on spending Thanksgiving in South America. Over the years, I’ve done my fair amount of travel and consider myself to be pretty good at preparing for domestic or international trips.
One of the most important things I’ve learned? When visiting a new country, good planning is key.
Planning in this sense doesn’t mean just scoping out what there is to do and deciding how you’ll spend your time abroad. No, I’m talking about the kind of planning you need to do to help you have a good trip.
8 Things To Do Before Your First International Trip
Determine What Documents You Need to Enter the Country
Most international destinations require a passport valid for six months or more after your return date to enter. Some countries (e.g., places in Southeast Asia) require a Visa to enter as well, often dependent on how long your trip will be.
Register Your Trip
Before I leave for any trip, I register with the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program to let the US Embassy of each country I’m visiting know when I’ll be in the country, as well as info about where I’m staying, how to reach me, etc. Registration only takes a few minutes, but helps the Embassy assist you if your passport gets stolen, there’s a natural disaster or some other form of tragedy.
As an added bonus, when you register your trip, the State Department will let you know if there are any travel advisories you should be aware of.
Make Copies of Your Travel Documents and Itinerary
Bringing backup copies of your passport is always a good idea- you never know what may happen. I recommend taking one copy on the trip and leaving one copy at home. I also write down info for any credit cards I take in case I lose them or they’re stolen.
Pro-tip: Printing out documents (bus vouchers, hotel information, etc.) can be helpful to have handy in case WiFi isn’t available or working.
Call Your Bank (And Credit Card Companies)
If you plan on making any purchases abroad, call your bank and credit card companies to let them know you’ll be traveling.
Pack the Essentials (Local Currency, Power Adapter)
Exchange rates in airports are steep. If you need to convert money, do it before you leave or withdraw from an ATM if pre-ordering from your bank isn’t an option.
Most banks (I bank with Chase) convert for free and have global currency (the euro, the pound and the yen) available for same day conversion. If you need a special currency, like Icelandic Krona, place an order 2-3 weeks before your departure date.
I usually take enough cash in local currency for spending money (e.g., taxis, drinks, tips, etc.), and use a credit card without a foreign transaction fee for larger purchases.
Also, bringing an adapter may seem like 101, but it’s something a lot of people overlook until they’re actually packing. This one is similar to the one I have. I also travel with a USB charger so I’m able to charge every device imaginable at the same time
Check With Your Insurance Provider
Checking to see if you need any vaccines before your trip is important. Not sure if they’re required? Speak with your doc or check the CDC’s website. And, if I’m spending more than a week in a destination, I usually purchase travel medical insurance to cover things like emergency medical expenses, trip cancellation and baggage delay. World Nomads is my go-to provider.
Figure Out A Plan for Your Cell Phone
Whenever I travel internationally, I turn off cell data and either use WiFi as I go or rely on a TEP wireless device. Data plans from cell providers can be expensive, and it’s easy to go over on data.
Now though, Verizon (my provider) has started offering a plan that lets you pay a flat rate each day (e.g., it’s $10 in the UK) to use the data on your normal monthly plan abroad. Although not exactly cheap, it could be a good option depending on the purpose of your trip and the level of connectivity you need.
Buy Tickets for Things You Want to Do
Buying tickets in advance usually offers two perks: 1) Sometimes you’re offered a discounted rate & 2) You don’t have to wait in line when you’re there.
Some places, like the Anne Frank Huis, sell out months in advance, so be sure to plan ahead. Planning ahead to schedule things requires a bit of upfront effort, but is totally worth it when you realize the line for the Catacombs in Paris is 3 hours long and you have skip-the-line access.
Bonus Tip #1!
Knowing how to get from your airport to your hotel/Airbnb/hostel before you land allows you to weigh cost options against time options.
It’s rare I’ll take a taxi- there’s almost always a cheaper way, even if it takes a tad bit longer. Usually, I take public transit (subway or bus), but sometimes I’ll take a shared shuttle or Uber / Uber Pool.
Bonus Tip #2!
Learn a few key phrases in the local language and research cultural norms before you go. Even if you just know conversational phrases, that’s better than nothing! In Paris, I could tell Parisians appreciated the effort to greet them in French, even though I didn’t know more than a handful of words.
Also, don’t assume US customs are accepted everywhere- this applies on everything from dress to tipping practices to hand gestures, and so on. Learn the cultural basics so you can be a respectful traveler, and then chat with locals to learn even more when you’re there.