Regardless of how many times you’ve traveled domestically, preparing for an international trip can be overwhelming.
There are so many things to think about, including customs, border crossings, visas, how to get around while you’re there, and, of course, long plane rides.
But international travel can be rewarding and exciting, and sometimes even stress-free.
Here are the top tips to prepare for international vacation.
How to prepare for international travel
Get your passport
If you don’t already have a passport, now is the time to get one.
It should only take 6 weeks, but in case it takes longer, it’s a good idea to get one right when you start planning.
Already have a passport?
Be sure to check the expiration date well in advance of your departure date.
Also, remember you need to get a new one if you have changed your name; if you have gotten married, divorced or changed your name for any reason.
Make sure all of your travel companions have current passports too.
Ask friends for advice
Once you decide where you want to go, start asking around to see who has been there to find out what they recommend.
They may have recommendations on places to stay, must-see attractions, and even times of year to avoid.
Also think about your social network: you might know someone living in the country you are visiting.
That connection could be a great resource as you plan your trip.
Look at travel warnings
The United States Department of State issues travel warnings and alerts for areas that are potentially unsafe for Americans.
Even if you are going somewhere that rarely has problems for travelers, it’s a good idea to check to see if there are any travel warnings.
Also, sign up for the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program.
It’s a free service and it will help the State Department assist you in an emergency.
Apply for Visas (if required)
If you need a visa to enter a country, find out if you need to apply for it before you leave, or if you can get it at the border.
If there’s an option to get it before hand, it can definitely expedite the border crossing process.
If you do decide to get it at the border, make sure that you know exactly what you will need.
Some countries require you to carry passport photos for the visa.
Others will only take specific currency (sometimes it’s USD even outside of the US) and they may require the exact amount (and be unwilling to make change).
Look into travel insurance options
Determine whether you should buy travel insurance.
Contact your existing insurance providers to find out what kind of coverage you will have in your destination.
Often, you will just want to make sure that you have coverage for emergency expenses, like medical evacuation.
If your policy doesn’t cover that, you may want to look into medical travel insurance.
Many travelers find that travel-specific insurance, like that provided by World Nomads, is their best bet.
Not sure where to start? Check out our comparison of travel insurance.
Make copies of itineraries and your passport
It’s important that you leave copies of all of your paperwork with friends and family at home.
It may also be wise to have a copy of it with you.
That way your friends and family will be able to reach you in an emergency, and you’ll have a copy of your information in case your passport or wallet is lost or stolen.
Leave copies of the following with a trusted friend or family member:
- Hotel/Tour confirmations
- Passport (and visas, if applicable)
- Drivers license
- International drivers license (if applicable)
- Back of your credit cards (this is helpful if they’re lost or stolen, typically the contact info is on the back to report the cards missing)
It may also be helpful if the ID documents are notarized copies. If you need to prove your identity, this can be helpful.
Research how to travel while you are there
If you’re planning to rent a car while traveling, figure out whether you need an international driving permit.
There’s a fee, and you should only get the permit from AAA or the National Automobile Club.
Look into driving laws in the countries you’ll be visiting; the US State Department is a great resource on driving laws and many things travel-related.
Some countries that don’t accept US driver’s’ licenses do recognize international driving permits.
Instead of renting a car while you are there, you may consider a taxi alternative which can be more convenient as well as save you time and money.
Think about money to prepare for international travel
How will you pay for your food, hotels, transportation, and other expenses when you’re traveling?
It’s always a good idea to travel with some money in US dollars in case you find yourself in a bind.
Many people forgo travelers’ cheques in favor of a debit card so they can get money out of an ATM in their destination country.
It’s a good idea to travel with at least a couple of different payment options.
Get a cheap plane ticket
Don’t book the first ticket you come across.
Do your airfare research before you book so you can find the cheapest plane ticket.
You can find excellent travel deals if you know when and where to look.
Some by using their credit card have accumulated enough points so their ticket, and maybe their entire trip, is free or nearly free.
Learn about local laws and customs
Educating yourself about local culture, customs, and laws can help you stay safe, be respectful, and avoid unintentionally causing offense or doing something illegal.
Learning simple words and phrases in the local language can be a great way to meet new people and show respect as you travel.
It’s also a fun way to prepare for the trip!
As you prepare for international travel, you will realize it requires a bit more planning than traveling within your country of origin.
But it’s definitely worth it!
For many people, planning your trip is half the fun.
It’s so exciting to learn about a new culture and anticipate your upcoming trip.
Preparing for an international trip can be daunting, but it’s worth the effort because international travel is extremely rewarding.
You can experience new cultures, meet fascinating people, try amazing foods, and see awe-inspiring history and natural beauty.
photo credit: mklipovsky, jaaron