Preparing for an international vacation is so much more than just booking flights and hotels. Below is your quick reference guide for preparing to travel beyond the border.
Get Your Shots
This got real, real fast. If you are planning to travel somewhere that might be a little more exotic than London, then you should double check to see if there are any vaccination recommendations and requirements. When I began planning my travel arrangements for Kenya, I realized there were a number of vaccines that I needed to get, and I am not talking about your standard flu shot. Make sure you determine which vaccines you need, and if there are many, schedule a call with a travel nurse. They will walk you through potential side effects, etc. If you aren’t scared by the end of your call with them, then you either brave, or possibly crazy. Don’t wait until the last minute to get your shots. In many cases, you will need to get a series of vaccines, and will not be able to get everything done in one visit. Your primary care provider might not even have some vaccines readily available, making it imperative that you give yourself ample time to get all your necessary shots. And while you are talking to your provider, ask them to prescribe you some traveler’s antibiotics. While you need to be careful when it comes to antibiotics, these pills come in handy if you find yourself halfway around the world and unable to keep food down.
Check your passport
This should be self-explanatory, but in case it isn’t, do yourself a favor and check a few things: make sure you know exactly where your passport is and then check the expiration date. Some countries prefer to see that you have at least a year left before your passport expires, so make sure you have a little wiggle room. Worst case scenario, your passport is expired and you need to rush to get a new one. If that’s the case, read here to see how you can get what you need.
Check for visas
Each country is different. Some require a visa even if you are only planning to stay for a long weekend, others have no such requirements. Knowing which country is which is important. In Kenya, I was able to obtain a visa at the airport no problem, in Germany I applied for one once I was in the country. For Brazil, you need to get one in advance, even if you are just crossing the border to see the other side of Iguazu Falls. Different requirements for different situations. Check to see what requirements your destination country has with respect to visas so you can move easily to and amongst different countries.
Power outlets are not universal. It’s an unfortunate truth and an important one. Figure out which adapters and converters you will need when traveling. Luckily this is where Amazon Prime comes in. Check the global plug chart here.
Alert Your Bank / Get Cash
There is nothing worse than having your debit card rejected by an international bank terminal because your bank thinks someone stole your card. It happened to me once when traveling with my brother in Spain. It’s a lesson I won’t soon forget. Make sure you call your bank before you travel or go into your online banking account (I believe this has become standard among banks) to schedule when you are going to be out of the country. You will need to provide travel dates and destinations. If you are uncertain about which countries you will visit, provide all the ones that you might visit.
While you are at it check to see if your bank has any affiliates in the country you are visiting. When I studied abroad in Germany and England I was able to withdraw local currency through Deutsche Bank and Barclay’s because of their relationship with Bank of America. It saved me lots of money in fees and I was always able to find a bank. Fortunately, now there are certain debit cards that don’t charge international fees, so double check what your current cards offer.
It might also be a good time to get a travel credit card. Before going to Eastern Africa I applied for and received a Bank of America Travel Card. I can use it anywhere in the world and not incur fees. Plus, I get points which can be applied to travel purchases, reducing their cost to me. It’s become my go-to card whether traveling or buying groceries here at home.
But not every country has card readers, making it vital to carry some local currency. You can easily exchange money at the airport, and I have definitely done that, but I prefer to arrive in a country with a little cash on hand. This means going to the bank ahead of time and getting money converted. You will have to pay fees no matter what you do, so I figure I might as well do it at home and have control over the situation. Banks are typically quick at this, but often need to fly money up from a branch somewhere else, in California it’s LA. It takes typically 24-48 hours to receive your currency.
Track the conversion rate before your trip and know how to do the conversion in your head. This will allow you to have a better sense of how much money you are spending and ensure there are no surprises when you look at your bank account when you get back home.
Going through this checklist will help to ensure you are prepared for your upcoming trip. Happy travels!
Bonus tip: If you are traveling by yourself, or with others, but want to stay on top of the major events occurring in your region of travel, then make sure to sign up for the Secretary of State’s Step Program. The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) is a free service to allow U.S. citizens and nationals traveling abroad to enroll their trip with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. The benefits of signing up for STEP:
Receive important information from the Embassy about safety conditions in your destination country, helping you make informed decisions about your travel plans.
Help the U.S. Embassy contact you in an emergency, whether natural disaster, civil unrest, or family emergency.
Help family and friends get in touch with you in an emergency.