One of the most common questions we get as travel writers and editors is for suggestions for the first time international traveler. Here is some basic advice to help make your trip safe and enjoyable.
Before traveling, check with the US State Department site HERE for any travel advisories that apply to your destination or areas you will be crossing. In addition to any travel advisories, we suggest checking the country guide for your destination as well for any country specific information. It’s also good to consult a travel guide like Fodors or Lonely Planet, etc. If you don’t want to go to a bookstore, they can be ordered online from Amazon or checked out from your local library for free. Careful planning and research will help make your trip more relaxed and enjoyable.
You need a passport, obviously. Most countries require passports to have at least 6 months remaining before they expire. So if your passport expires in a month or two, be warned, they won’t let you in. Bring your driver’s license on your trip, although most countries require an international driving permit to drive or rent a car, available in the US from AAA. More details on applying for and renewing passports can be found on the US State Department site HERE.
Make several copies of the data pages of your passport. Give them to several friends at home in case of problems. Take another copy and pack it somewhere in your luggage, but not with your passport, this will help greatly if your passport is lost or stolen. If this happens, you will need to contact the closest US Embassy or Consulate to arrange a replacement passport.
With the Euro, the issue of money has become much less of a hassle when traveling to Europe. Regardless of where you go, ATMs are available in the majority of countries. Once in a foreign country, the best way to get cash is via the ATM. So, be sure you know which cards you will use and their passwords and PINs. Be sure to use all number PINs as some foreign ATMs do not have letters! Its also a good idea to call your card company or bank and advise them or your upcoming international travel, so purchases aren’t rejected or held as fraudulent.
Check with your statement, terms of service and a call to the card issuer about fees. Some cards charge an extra percentage on top of the exchange rate as well as other fees for foreign transactions, so check before you travel. Some premium cards may waive these fees, so do your research before traveling so you can make the best decisions as to which card to use. Don’t use ATM cards that access accounts with large balances, use accounts with limited balances to limit losses. If you have to, open a checking account just for your trip, put your trip budget in there and access that account.
Many large banks can arrange foreign currency to be delivered in advance of your trip. American Express, Diner’s Club and other premium travel credit cards can also provide this service. Via Oanda’s service HERE, you can even use a credit card at home, to order foreign cash online, and have it delivered to your home or office. This allows you to arrive in a foreign country with local currency already in your wallet, eliminated the hassle of changing money or getting cash. You also generally get a good exchange rate when using one of these large services, but always check the fine print and the fees.
Decide whether you will take your mobile phone with you or rent one locally. Check with your provider for pricing and fees. Check your device and be sure to turn off the data roaming or data access, as this is what can lead to enormous bills. Most smart phones will continuously check email and access data, in the background, whether you are using the phone or not, this can rack up charges when you are roaming in a foreign country.
For email, a good idea is to open a web based email account like with Yahoo, Gmail or Mail.com, that way you can access the account from web cafes to send and check email. Many of these services will integrate with your corporate or other main email, to give you access to multiple accounts. Other providers like ATT, Cox, Time Warner and more offer web based email, check before traveling. Web cafes are often cheap in foreign countries, making this a cheaper alternative than using your iphone or smart phone. Many countries also have cheap netphone phone calls available in web cafes, at a tiny fraction of using your own phone.
Make sure you’re healthy enough to travel. Bring any prescription medications and a copy of your prescription. Be sure to carry pills in their original prescription bottles to avoid any hassles.
Don’t let the amount of information or preparation discourage you. Plan and research and then go and enjoy yourself, whether you’re making a drive across the border or flying to the other side of the globe.