Top 5 International Travel Tips

Whether you’re a seasoned traveler or going abroad for the first time, there are a few essential things you should do before you go abroad. The most importantly, obviously, is making sure you have a passport and it’s up to date.

Don’t have a passport or your passport is expired? No problem! The US Passport Help Guide will walk you through the process of either getting your first passport or getting a new one. While the process typically takes 4-6 weeks,  if you happen to realize last minute that your passport is lost or expired, you can expedite the passport process for an additional fee.

Having a passport for your international trip is obviously non-negotiable, as you won’t even get through airport security without it. Once you have your passport secured, there are a few other things that – while not essential – will certainly make your travels easier and more enjoyable.

Here are our Top 5 International Travel Tips:

1.Travel Insurance

Travel insurance is a must for all international travelers. It’s hard enough being in a foreign country where you may not fully understand the culture and customs, but now imagine getting sick or injured. Not only would you be forced to deal with hospital bills (sans insurance, those really add up), but you’d also have to spend your time canceling hotels, excursions, and plans, changing flights, and so much more… If you have travel insurance, all that and more would be taken care of for you.

Travel insurance offers peace of mind and protection against the unexpected, whether it’s a medical emergency, lost luggage, an unforeseen weather calamity, or worse. There are a variety of packages, some covering only healthcare, some covering lost baggage, and some covering pretty much everything. Going abroad is stressful enough – getting travel insurance gives you one less thing to stress out about!

2. Cultural Insights

While not everyone gets travel books to prep for trips anymore (thank you, Google), it’s still important to do a bit of research into cultural norms before you go abroad. This will not only save you a bit of embarrassment but could also save you some legal trouble, depending on the country you’re visiting.

Make sure you research everything from proper greetings (ex: should you shake hands, kiss on the cheek, bow, etc) to average dinner times. If you’re renting a car, make sure you know what side of the road to drive on. If you’re conducting business, make sure to know how to properly accept a business card.

In addition to learning a bit about the culture, make sure you take the time to learn a few keywords in the local language. Words such as “please,” “thank you,” and phrases such as “where is the bathroom” and “do you speak English” will go a long way.

3. Medications (and vaccines, if necessary)

In addition to gaining knowledge of a few cultural insights of the country, you plan on visiting, make sure you check whether or not vaccines are required. If so, book an appointment for them well in advance of your trip.  Obtain fresh refills of any necessary prescriptions as well, and also make sure to stock up on your favorite OTC (over the counter) drugs.

Medicine is not universal. While the main compounds may be, the brand names are not, and thus, if Aleve is the only OTC medicine that can subdue your migraines, make sure to bring a bottle. Many people suffer from stomach upset when going abroad. This can be due to new foods and spices, different bacterias in the water, or even “travel stomach.” While Americans may consider Tums to be a staple in every pharmacy, they are not universal, so if you have a weak stomach, make sure to bring a few rolls of tums.

4. Electronic Check

Even if you’ve never left the US, we shouldn’t have to tell you that outlets are not a “one size fits all.” American plugs will not work in other countries, so do not try to force it, no matter how similar it may look.

Make sure you find out in advance which currency your destination uses, and which plugs will fit their standards. While we recommend investing in a converter for any basic electronics, we also suggest purchasing local plugs for essentials such as laptops and cell phones. Once you have the base, you can then use a charging cord to connect your device to.

While converters work most of the time, they have been known to “fry” devices from time to time. If you’re a woman and use a hair straightener, you should consider leaving it at home, as converters have been proven to destroy them. This is similar for hairdryers, as American versions often have a higher wattage than many foreign outlets can handle.

5.  Financial Preparation

This doesn’t just refer to having enough money to cover your trip (we assume you have enough money in your account to cover the trip, otherwise you definitely shouldn’t be going abroad).

What we are referring to is telling your bank and credit card companies that you’re going abroad, making sure you’re okay with your daily spending limits, and perhaps getting a bit of foreign currency in advance if you’re going somewhere remote that may not have easy access to ATMs and banks (or, if you want to arrive prepared rather than have to look for an ATM in the airport.

Most credit card companies will flag your card if you make an international purchase without first informing them that you’re going abroad, and the only way to unflag it is by calling them. Which, if you’re abroad, can be quite costly (not to mention annoying, as it’s taking time away from your other travel-related activities).  In order to avoid this, simply log into your credit card and bank accounts and set up a “travel alert.” You can select which countries you are going to, and for how long. Doing so will enable you to use your cards worry-free.

If you have a low limit on the amount of cash you can take out each day from your bank, consider raising it. Most banks will charge an international fee of $2.50 or more each time you withdraw from an ATM, so you’ll want to take out as much cash as possible while abroad. If you don’t know what your limit is, make sure you inquire with your bank.

While in truth the only thing you really “need” to have before going abroad is a passport, the above five tips save you a lot of stress and help ensure you have as enjoyable a trip as possible.