I talk a lot about domestic travel and really only my own international travel, so it’s about time I give you some advice on how to get ready for a trip out of the country. While a lot is the same, there’s just as much that’s different.
So, what do you need to look for, what do you need to pack what should you leave at home and what should you plan for way in advance?
Make sure your passport is valid
Obviously, you need a passport to go to other countries, but sometimes they won’t allow you to enter the country if your passport is close to expiring. That could be a few months and it may be 6 months. Do your research to find out if you’ll be welcomed or turned away at customs. And if you don’t have a valid passport yet, this year it maybe be a bit slow getting one, so you’re going to want to apply or renew earlier than usual.
Generally, you’ll need 6-8 weeks, but my suggestion is not to cut it that close and aim for getting your application in at least 3 months ahead of time. You never know what might happen, and possibly you won’t really need that much time, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry. 2006/2007 saw a huge uptick in international travel, meaning everyone’s passports have just expired and they’ll be looking to renew.
You can get everything done at your local main post office. Just make an appointment. If you need to renew, you just need new photos and you can fill out your info online and then send your shots in with your expired passport, which was really easy the last time we did it.
Call your credit card company
Okay, first of all, find out if your card will be useful wherever you’re going. We traveled to Ecuador, only to find out the whole country doesn’t accept Discover Card. Luckily we had other cards on-hand, but that card could have stayed at home. Check which cards have the best foreign transaction fees, because those can really add up if you plan to use the card a lot.
If you can bring and use your card, make sure to notify your bank that you’ll be traveling, where you’re going, and the dates of your trip. Nothing sucks worse than forgetting this and then finding out that your card has been declined because they didn’t know you were traveling and have flagged your card as stolen. It’s easy to fix, but it’s easier to do it before you leave home and have a problem. Actually, this is also a helpful tip even if you’re traveling out of state.
Know the exchange rate
Knowing the exchange rate of the destination you’re going to can really help you avoid overspending. You should know how much foreign currency is in comparison to your home currency, or you may just go over budget even before your first day is up. It also helps when going somewhere you have to haggle, so you aren’t getting ripped off. Before I leave home, I do a bit of Googling to know what sort of prices I should be looking for for certain items, that way I have a little bit of knowledge to start with. If math is not your strong point, don’t be afraid to whip out your phone to do a quick calculation.
Pack your meds
Not all medications are the same in all countries. In fact, even normal toiletries can vary from one country to the next. We found this out in France when we left behind our 3-1-1 bag and were out of contact solution. We could only pick some up at an optometrist and the price was outrageous (try $8 for a small trial size bottle).
If you take meds, make certain you pack them in your carry-on. If they get lost in a checked bag, you might just be out of luck. I also always add enough of my normal allergy pills, aspirin and other pain relievers. It won’t take up much room and if you need it, you’ll have it on you and not have to go hunt down an equivalent that you have to mime your way through. Plus, you won’t have to spend way too much on it.
Alert your mobile phone carrier
If you travel with your phone, make sure it works where you’re going. We have been able to change our plan to an international one during months we’ve traveled out of the country. That way we can use our phones to call home, get around and get on the internet. Now, texting is usually crazy expensive on these plans, so I just let everyone know that I’m not available and contact everyone who’s important to me through Voxer, which works on WiFi. It’s free and works just as well as texting with the added benefit of being able to send “voicemails” through the service.
Dress like a local
Okay, so this may be different depending on where you go. I love good travel clothing, but I don’t want it to look like travel clothing. If I were coming to Portland from elsewhere, that wouldn’t be a problem, because everyone here dresses like that, but almost anywhere else, I want to blend in. Why? Because I don’t want to be pegged by thieves as a tourist.
Look for clothing that looks nice, but also has all the bonus features of a good travel item, like breathable and moisture-wicking fabrics. Something that dries quickly is always a plus. I’ve learned the art of layering, too, so that way I can pack light, take a bag of core pieces and still look great everywhere I go.
Bring a travel bag that doesn’t look like you’re trying really hard to keep people from stealing everything you own, because they will try. Travelon and Lewis N Clark have wonderful bags that are pretty, but also have anti-theft that isn’t in your face. I use mine at home and on all my trips. You’ll be seeing many of these bags reviewed on the blog over the next couple of months, and some have already been reviewed.
Brush up on your language skills
I'm a big believer in trying your best. You aren't going to learn an entire language before a trip (unless you've been practicing for years), but make sure you know as many key phrases as possible: Please, thank you, hello, goodbye, where is x, left, right, can you help me?, I don't understand, how much is...?, and I'd like x. If you can order, give a greeting, get directions and purchase something from a vendor, you're doing pretty good. I find that if you at least try, you make a much better impression and more people are willing to help you and interact. If you don't have time, at least download Google Translate to your phone, so you can communicate at a base level.
Those are just a few things you should think about while planning your next international trip. I'm gearing up for a trip to Scotland (and possibly a quick jaunt back to London) in 2019 for a cousin's wedding, so I'm getting excited to make it back out of the country again and seeing somewhere new.
Where will your next trip take you, or what's number one on your bucket list?