Top 10 International Travel tips
Whether you are a first time international traveler or even a seasoned pro, this blog post is for you! This list of our top 10 international travel tips is a great reminder of things to do before that Big trip that you’ve been planning.
#1 Make SURE your passport is up to date. Then check again.
Don’t be my friend Jane (made up name) and show up to the airport with your whole family on your way to your family vacation in Italy for Christmas, only to find out that your passport will expire before you return from your trip. Your passport must be valid for the entire trip. Good luck getting back into the United States if it expired while abroad.
You can apply for a new or renewed passport by mail or in person. You can also get the process expedited for an additional fee. Make sure you leave yourself plenty of extra time in case things get delayed. It’s been known to happen. You don’t want to be that person who is watching their family boarding the plane while you are left behind because your passport will expire.
#2 Find out if you need a Visa
Many countries don’t require visas for those who have US passports. Others don’t require an application but instead require a Visa fee that is paid at the airport. For example, when traveling to Nicaragua we had buy the visa when we landed. And for other countries you have to fill out an application and go through the approval process beforehand. It may require you to visit the nearest consulate and then wait a few months while your Visa is being processed.
If you’re doing it through a service, you may be required to send them your passport. We prefer driving into New York or DC and going straight to a consultant. I’m not fan of putting my passport in the mail! Remember all this takes time to start this process several months before your trip. Don’t leave it until the last minute.
#3 Have a credit card without international transaction fees
If your credit card has transaction fees it may be worth getting one that doesn’t. While each fee is marginal, it’s basically like throwing money out the window. And all those fees do add up. There are a lot of credit cards out there that don’t have transaction fees. Also look for a card that can help you rack up travel points. If you travel a lot or plan to, this will benefit you in the long run.
#4 Call your bank and credit card companies
Speaking of credit cards, make sure you let your bank and credit card companies know that you are traveling. Trust me, it is definitely frustrating when you go to buy a snack at the airport and your credit card gets declined because they think somebody stole it.
Especially if you don’t travel often and all of a sudden they see charges to Nicaragua or somewhere else, it may seem a little strange to them. You certainly don’t want to find your credit card frozen when you need it. And unless you know the exact amount of your last purchase as a security measure, it can be complicated to get your card un-frozen. We ran into some issues trying to buy a Valentino Red dress when we were in Vienna.
#5 Get the currency you need from your bank before you leave
While it’s so easy to trade in money at the airport, and we do it all the time, it really is a waste of money. We need to be more organized and go to our bank and order the currency before we leave. When you get money at the airport you’re paying between 5 to 15% more than the bank rate and then you also usually have to pay a fee (usually $10 extra).
Often times the fee is waived if you get a certain amount. And you can trade back in for free to US dollars when you get home. But it’s so much better to get the money ahead of time. And of course when you’re at your destination, you will just take money out of the ATM or go into a bank for local currency. But of course that will have Bank fees as well.
#6 Download Duolingo and learn some words and phrases
As mentioned in previous blog posts it’s really important to try to learn some words and phrases in the language of where you’re going. When you can smile and say “Guten Tog” instead of “Good Day” to the waiter while having your morning coffee in Munich, you may be greeted with a little extra smile. It’s just nice to be able to be polite and say certain things in peoples own language. So if you download Duolingo you can practice some phrases a couple months before you leave.
#7 Check on your mobile phone plan
Your cell phone doesn’t automatically work in other countries. Make sure to take a look at what your current plant offers for international coverage. If you’re going to be using your phone or data plan, find out how much it will cost you ahead of time. That way you won’t be in shock when you get your phone bill after your trip. One good way to make sure you arn’t accidentally spending money, is leave your phone in airplane mode after you land and connect to Wi-Fi whenever possible! See our previous blog post for tips on finding free Wi-Fi spots.
#8 Do some research and find out what things typically cost in the country you were visiting
It’s a good idea to know what things will cost where you’ll be visiting. Besides just meals and hotels find out how much museum entry is, adventurous activities, and local transportation, just to name a few. When you check in to your hotel, or air B&B, find out from the locals where they recommend eating. Often times, things in metro areas are more expensive. Knowing how much things should cost ahead of time make it easier to manage your money and you’re less likely to get taken advantage of.
#9 Buy insurance
Not only do you want to have trip insurance in case something happens causing you to cancel your trip, you also want to make sure health insurance is part of any policy you buy. Your health insurance might not cover you when you’re overseas. And besides ending up in a hospital on vacation, nothing ruins you’re vacation faster thing getting a huge bill for it. If your current insurance doesn’t cover you overseas, you can look into short-term national coverage. But we think it’s better to get travel insurance that includes healthcare as well, go for the total package of coverage.
#10 Be security conscious
While there’s no reason to be paranoid, you may not be in Kansas anymore, or so to speak. Do a little research on things you need to know for travel safety for your destination. For example, in Rome you don’t want to board a busy bus with all your belongings in a backpack on your back. People are known to just cut the bottom of the bag and empty the contents and you don’t even know it. If you’re wearing a backpack make sure you put it on your front when in crowded places. And when it is on your back, make sure it doesn’t have zippers that are easy to access.
We have a small money belt that Al wears for of many of our destinations. And while they may not be attractive, a fanny-pack can be so practical. Also think about security at your hotel. Use a safe to store extra cash, credit cards and passports. We also make sure we use suitcases that have locks on them. And then keep them locked when you’re away from the hotel.
#11 Bonus – Have fun!
International travel can be so fun and exciting. We absolutely LOVE to travel and make sure to do so every year. Just take some time before hand and follow these steps to prepare yourself. These are simple ways to make your vacation more relaxing and enjoyable. And not to mention save you money and save your valuables.
*All images stock photos