Many people would agree that an essential ingredient to success is preparation. Traveling is no exception to this rule. Just like I am a better packer when I make a packing list and plan what to pack ahead of time, I am also a better traveler when I complete a few essential tasks before going on an international vacation.
- Set travel notifications. Make sure you contact all of your banks and credit card companies (or at least those related to the cards you plan to bring) before your trip. There is nothing worse than forgetting to set a travel notification and trying to buy a bottle of water when you arrive in a foreign country only to find that you have been locked out of your account. Good news – most banks allow you to set travel notifications online, although a few still require a short phone call. I usually do this when I’m at the airport in the U.S. if not sooner.
- Check for foreign transaction fees. Make sure you look through your credit and debit cards and bring the cards that don’t have foreign transaction fees. 3% might not seem like much, but it adds up over the course of a trip. Also, try to bring different types of cards if you can. Visa is pretty much universal, but there are still a good number of countries or places within countries that don’t accept AmEx/Discover. If you find yourself in such a situation, you’ll want a backup card.
- Figure out your cash situation. Do you need cash while traveling internationally? Most likely, at some point you will. Even in the most modernized countries, you’ll inevitably find yourself at a cash-only restaurant, in a taxi without a credit card machine, or wanting to barter for a souvenir at a market. Whether you order the local currency from your bank ahead of time or hit up an ATM in your destination, make sure you’ve got your financial situation figured out and some cash available so you aren’t ever stuck without the ability to pay.
- Get your home in order. There are a few things you should take care of at your home before going on a long trip. Most importantly, adjust your thermostat – you don’t want to be paying for A/C or heat at your unoccupied house. However, don’t turn it off completely as you can come back to mold, especially if you live in a humid climate! You may also want to put a hold on your mail. This is very easy to do through USPS and is especially convenient if you typically get a lot of mail and don’t want to ask a neighbor or friend to worry about picking it up for you. The postal service will hold your mail while you’re gone and deliver it all on the day you return (or another day of your choosing). Set a few key interior and exterior lights on a timer so it isn’t obvious that your house is unoccupied while you’re gone. If you’re going on a long trip, it may also be worthwhile to turn off your hot water heater to save a little on your utility bill.
- Make a copy of your passport. Keep a copy of your passport in your luggage and take a picture of it to keep on your phone. Better yet, email a photo of your passport to yourself. This way, you are covered in any possible situation where you may find yourself without your passport, phone, or luggage. As long as you have a picture or copy of your passport with number and photo, you’ll have a much easier time securing a temporary one to get home at your country’s embassy.
- Check the Department of State website. Check the Department of State Travel Alerts and Warnings website and refine by your destination. Chances are high that you won’t be affected, but it’s a good idea to know if there are any restrictions on travel or recent events to be aware of in the region. Along the same lines, check the CDC for any health notices and required vaccinations. You’ll also want to save the address and contact information for your embassy in case of emergency.
- Charge devices and power packs. It is now required that phones and tablets be fully charged before flying internationally. And in some cases if you are flying from a certain airport, you’ll even need to put a laptop or tablet in your checked bag as of a recent rule change. Make sure you are aware of any flight rules and regulations relevant to you.
- Change your phone settings appropriately. If you did not pay for international data or phone service and don’t have an international SIM card, make sure you adjust your phone settings to avoid roaming and international data charges. I mentioned this in my last post about why I don’t purchase a phone or data plan when traveling internationally, but I’ll mention it again here. With Apple products, go to Settings –> Cellular –> Cellular Data OFF. I also sometimes just keep my phone on airplane mode. Either way, you can still connect to wi-fi when it is available.
- Get a travel band. It’s not the best idea to wear your real wedding ring on an international vacation. You could leave it behind at a hotel or worse, it could be stolen. You also don’t want to stand out as a target for crime. I personally don’t bring any jewelry that I care about or is special to me on international vacations. Instead, I wear a QALO silicon wedding band, which also happens to be super comfortable and is more appropriate for physical activities where I wouldn’t wear my real wedding ring anyway, like swimming, whitewater rafting, skiing, skydiving, etc.
- Give someone a copy of your itinerary. Before you leave on your trip, email your parents or a trusted friend a copy of your daily lodging info in case of emergency. If you don’t have or know your lodging info, at least let them know which cities you plan to be in on which days. If there were ever a natural disaster, political uprising, or other such event, it is important that someone knows where you are so that your embassy knows to look for you if an evacuation is necessary. It is highly likely that you will never experience such a disaster, but it’s always good to have an emergency plan in place!
Is there anything else that you do before going on an international trip? Comment with your tips below!