Amid the excitement of creating an itinerary for an international trip, it's easy to overlook some pretty important tasks. You may be so busy planning your Great Barrier Reef excursion that you forget to check whether you need a visa for Australia (of which this writer is guilty). Or maybe you're caught up in the excitement of returning to one of your favorite countries and forget to bring local currency and an ATM card (also guilty).
As experienced of a traveler as I am (37 countries and counting!), I still make mistakes. It happens. You learn by doing, but we don’t want you to have to learn everything the hard way. That’s why we’ve come up with 10 things travelers often overlook or forget about. Check this list while planning your next vacation to make sure you cover all your bases.
A passport, of course, is the number one requirement for international travel. American passports may technically be valid for 10 years, but some countries will not let you enter if you are within 6 months of its expiration date. Keep an eye on that date, because you may need to renew before your trip. Remember that renewals may take a couple months, and even expedited requests can take weeks. ltsenabled=false)
You don’t need a visa to enter all countries, and some of them allow you to get a visa on arrival (see our visas 101 guide for details). But sometimes you will need to secure a visa in advance. Processing times vary from the same day to a few weeks, so research others’ experiences and give yourself enough time to apply and receive one.
Scams exist all over the world. You should be aware of them and know how to avoid them or remove yourself from the situation. Do an Internet search of “scam” with your destination(s) to see what other travelers have encountered.
Consider purchasing travel insurance for coverage on injuries from extreme sports or activities; lost, delayed or stolen items; in-country medical services or an emergency evacuation; or if you want trip protection beyond your credit card’s applied coverage.
If you’re unsure whether you need a vaccination (or a few), visit a travel clinic. They’ll review your itinerary and determine which you need, if any. If you get vaccinated, bring your International Certificate of Vaccinations (“yellow card”) on your trip to show at border patrol.
Electronics and Power
You’ll likely need to pack an adapter plug if you’re traveling outside North America. Additionally, check the voltage capacity of the electronics you’re bringing, because you may need an electricity converter or transformer (most phones and laptops will be fine, while electric razors and hairdryers may not be).
The U.S. Department of State runs the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), a free emergency assistance program for U.S. citizens. Just create an account online, select your destination(s), and then you’ll be enrolled with the local U.S. Embassy or Consulate in the country you’re traveling to. The State Department will be able to help you in the event of an emergency, whether it’s a legal or medical issue, instability within the country or something else.
Credit Cards and ATM Card
If your credit card charges a foreign transaction fee, ditch it. There are so many card options that don’t charge this fee (or an annual fee), making it unwise to use a card that does.
Next, gather any credit cards you may use during your trip and call the customer service line. Let them know which countries you’re traveling to and when (you may also be able to do this in your online account).
Lastly, if you plan to withdraw money from an ATM during your trip, consider opening a checking account at an institution that reimburses ATM fees. This is another easy fee to avoid nowadays.
Local Etiquette and Customs
The most respectful thing you can do when visiting a new place is to become acquainted with the local way of life. Do the locals dress conservatively? Do they tip taxi drivers and restaurants servers? Are there certain hand gestures they find offensive? What are their customs around eating a sit-down meal?
You should also learn a few key words and phrases in the local language, such as how to say: hello, goodbye, yes, no, thank you, where is the bathroom and how much does it cost.
Always make physical and secure digital copies of your important documents, such as your passport and credit cards (front and back), and keep them separate from the originals, like in a different bag. For additional backup, leave copies with a friend or family member who would be able to quickly access the data should you need them to.
Bonus: At Home
Before you leave, clean your home so you can relax and feel carefree when you get back. You should vacuum, do laundry, water plants, mow the lawn, unplug appliances (phantom energy increases utility bills) and, perhaps most importantly, empty the trash.