Summer travel season is almost here, and we thought we would pass on a few tips and some helpful links for your next international trip. Whether you’re new to international travel or you’re a frequent flyer, this post will make your next trip a little easier. Feel free to comment to add some tips that we haven’t thought of.
1) Pack your necessities but don’t overpack. See here for some (nonclothing) items to pack that you may not have considered.
2) Make sure that you have a valid passport and check for any restrictions for your destination country. Some, for example, require that your passport be valid for six months after you enter the country. Also, remember, it could take 6-8 weeks in the United States to get a new or replacement passport, especially in the summer season. For U.S. readers, check here for everything you need to know about getting or renewing your passport.
3) Keep a picture of your passport on your phone and keep it in the cloud. You should lock your passport up in a hotel safe when traveling. Take a picture of your passport and keep it on your phone (with a password). Make sure to back that picture up in the cloud so that if you lose your phone and you need to access the information, you can access it from any computer. I use Dropbox, but any service will do. If you can encrypt your phone for an extra layer of security, please do so.
4) Check to see if you need a VISA for your destination, even if you’ve traveled there before. This list changes regularly, so don’t assume that if you didn’t need a VISA on your last trip to that country that you won’t need one now. If you’re traveling to the U.S. from another country, check here. If you’re a U.S. citizen or resident traveling to another country, check with the destination country’s embassy. The wait time can be several weeks or even months, so plan ahead.
5) Notify your banks and credit cards that you’ll be traveling before you go. With the increase in identity theft, credit card companies are more vigilant than ever. You don’t want to get a fraud alert or your card declined in the middle of a purchase. Your bank or card company will also tell you if you will have overseas fees.
6) Get the right phone plan or decide whether you will need to get a SIM card in another country. Phone carriers have become more travel-friendly. But, if your phone plan does not include international travel, consider getting a throwaway phone when you land at your destination or get a SIM Card that works with your phone. If you’re using your own phone plan, watch out for roaming fees, and follow your carrier’s instructions to avoid a nasty surprise on your bill.
7) Get prepared for how to deal with illness abroad. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control has great resources for travelers (no matter where you from). It includes information for children, cruisers, adventurers, people with chronic illness, how to deal with jet lag and altitude sickness, and a host of other topics. Check this site for additional tips for handling illness while traveling.
8) Get your shots and carry proof. Unless you’re absolutely opposed to vaccinations, find out if you need certain shots before visiting your destination. The CDC site has updated country-specific information about disease outbreaks and recommended vaccinations. If you don’t want to get the recommended shots, make sure that your destination country doesn’t require proof of your vaccination. If you visit certain parts of the world, you may have to show your original vaccination records before you can enter.
9) Be prepared to explain yourself if you enter certain countries when you’re visibly sick. No matter how much money you’ve spent, don’t even consider traveling to certain countries that are experiencing an outbreak until you get your illness under control. Do your research before you travel. Some countries require proof of your health and even have scanners to see if you have a fever. Click here to find out about travel health notices.
10) Be careful traveling to one country after you’ve visited another country with a health outbreak even if you’re not sick. You may have to disclose what countries you have visited within a particular period when you enter certain countries. If you’ve visited a country with a health outbreak, be prepared to answer questions. We experienced that when visiting Jamaica within a month of visiting Belize. The nurse at the airport asked us a series of questions, and fortunately, we were able to proceed with our vacation.
11) Don’t necessarily assume that your health insurance company will cover you abroad. Check with your carrier first. Also, consider travel insurance to address medical issues while traveling or any issues that prevent you from traveling. Read the fine print to make sure that you understand the coverage. I once injured my knee and couldn’t walk two days before embarking on a two-week cruise out of Rome. Because I had bought the travel insurance, I received treatment from an orthopedist in my hotel room, and upon my return home, I submitted receipts for the brace, medication, and other items I needed for my recovery during the cruise.
12) Know the rules for traveling with prescription medication. Medication will be screened at airport security. In addition, some countries have limits on what you can bring in, particularly if you use narcotic or psychotropic medications. Try to take any potentially controversial medications in the original prescription bottles and make sure that your name on the bottle matches the name on your ID. Know the ingredients and the generic name for your medication in case you’re asked. I was once treated on an emergency basis in Brazil, and the local doctor treated me more quickly because he understood the generic name for my medication. This helped to avoid potentially dangerous complications. If you choose to use a pill carrier for all of your medications, make sure to take a picture of the prescription and/or the original bottle so that you can prove to government officials that you are authorized to take the medicine. Finally, have a list handy on your phone and make sure that your traveling companions have the list as well. In case you’re incapacitated or need to visit a doctor, it’s good to have the names because you’re not likely to walk around with your pill bottles. Of course, always pack your medication in carryon. For more tips, see here.
13) Don’t assume that you can get the same over the counter medication overseas that you can get at home. Sometimes you can get much better, less expensive medication abroad, including some medications that may require a prescription at home. But, if you have certain needs or are very particular, take your over the counter medication and medical supplies with you just in case.
14) Find out if you can drink the water. If you can’t drink the water, don’t have ice in your drinks, be careful about eating the salads unless you trust the restaurant, and don’t brush your teeth with the water in the faucet. On the other hand, in some places, you can drink the water out of the fountains, as we learned in Rome.
15) Get help from your government overseas. Have the phone number of your embassy programmed in your phone in case there is an emergency. If you lose your passport, get sick, or have some other crisis, you want to have that information easily accessible. Click here for information about what the U.S. embassy can do for travelers abroad. Other countries’ embassies provide similar services.
16) See if your country has a safe traveler program and register for it. In the U.S., we have the STEP program. It takes a while to fill out the forms online, but it’s worth it. Registrants receive important updates by text from the Embassy about safety conditions in the destination country, and it enables the U.S. Embassy contact you in an emergency, whether natural disaster, civil unrest, or family emergency. When I visited the Democratic Republic of Congo a few years ago, I received texts regarding violent protests in certain cities. This helped me make informed decisions.
17) Do some basic research about what’s prohibited in the destination country. Did you know that in some countries, tourists have been arrested for kissing on the beach, drones aren’t legal everywhere, and you can’t take pornography into Cuba? Make sure that your destination country doesn’t have rules that could land you in trouble. If you get locked up abroad, there’s only so much that your embassy can do for you (so make sure to have the number handy!).
18) If you’re traveling a long distance, consider joining the frequent flyer program of the airline. You can get some miles, and the airline may be a member of an alliance that includes an airline you use often.
19) If your flight is long, consider paying extra for your seat, especially for an exit row or for one with more legroom. Flying for ten hours in the middle row seat with legroom room is no fun. No matter where you sit, get up often and walk around to avoid blood clots.
20) Know the weight limitations for each airline and each leg of the trip. We try to do carryon baggage wherever we go, but even those have size limitations. Know the weight and size limit for your airline and the country. In some countries, you may be on smaller planes, and the weight and size limits may differ from your prior destination, even on the same airline.
21) See if your credit card or frequent flyer program entitles you to use the airport lounge, especially if you have a long layover. If you have American Express Platinum, you gain complimentary access to the Priority Pass lounges around the world with two guests. You get free wifi, showers (in most lounges), alcohol, food, and peace and quiet. Most airline lounges are similar, and you can pay a daily rate as well. I was once stuck in an airline lounge during a blizzard at JFK airport on the way to Milan. They had to shut down the airport for days, and food in the terminals became scarce, but even though we were stuck, we were comfortable, fed, warm, and freshly showered in the lounge.
22) Skip the long lines at the airport. Start your trip off right by breezing through security. If you live in the U.S., consider whether CLEAR or TSAPreCheck is worth it for you. The posts in the links will help you make a decision.
23) Skip the long lines when you come back home. In the U.S., we have Global Entry and Mobile Passport to speed up the re-entry with immigration. In some instances, non-US citizens can use these as well. Some require a lengthy application and background check, plus interview, so plan ahead. For more on these programs, click here.
24) Check the weather report the day before you go in case you need to repack. This seems obvious, but you want to check the day before you travel. The weather report may have looked great a few days before your trip, but an unexpected cold front could be on the way. Don’t rely on historical travel data.
25) If your flight arrives early in the morning, consider booking your hotel for the night before. Most check-in times are at 3:00 PM, and if you want to take a shower, change clothes, or put down your stuff, you’ll appreciate being able to check in. Just don’t take a nap. Try to get to bed close to your normal time if you’ve changed time zones.
26) Save money and use a homestay service. There’s nothing like having space to spread out after a long day touring in a city. You can shop like a local, cook, heat up your leftovers, and get a more authentic experience than by staying in a hotel room. You can look at Airbnb, Home Away, or others.
27) Consider staying in a hostel. I know that some of you may stop reading this post right here. Hostels aren’t for everyone. I tried one for the first time when I was 50, and I survived. Read my story here. We just stayed in a fantastic hostel in Puerto Rico, where we slept in a tent on the roof. It had a zen vibe and was one of the highlights of the trip. We will have a separate post on Nomada Hostel later. Plus, if Mariah Carey can promote hostels, maybe you should give them a try. We use hostelworld.com for our bookings (and no we aren’t paid to say that).
28) If your itinerary includes churches, temples, mosques, or other sacred spaces, make sure you’re dressed properly. You don’t need to wear your Sunday best, but have a scarf to cover any bare shoulders and don’t wear mini-skirts or shorts. If you’re female and have a sarong, that can work to go over your shorts or skirt in a pinch. In some places, you can “rent” something to cover up. Also be prepared to take off your shoes in some temples and mosques.
29) Don’t assume that you can use Uber, Lyft or your normal ride-sharing service in another country. Check the links before you travel, even if you’ve used a ride-sharing service in that country before. I recently visited a city in Switzerland and was surprised that I could no longer use the service. Some countries have banned these companies to protect their own taxi drivers. Others have taxi driving apps available.
30) Don’t assume you can rent a car and drive in every country. Even if you felt comfortable driving on the other side of the road, through roundabouts, or on mountains with no safety railings, you may not be able to do so legally. Check the rules before you go. If you do drive outside of your home country, make sure if you’ve checked with your auto insurance company about coverage.
31) Know the tipping etiquette. This post has some helpful advice and links so that you know how and if to tip your waiter, taxi driver, tour guide, bus driver, hotel maid, doorman, and others. When in doubt, ask a local. In some countries, people don’t expect tips because they can live off of their wages. As a rule, I tend to overtip. I also tip the hotel maid every day rather than at the end of the trip because you never know who will be working on your last day there.
32) Save money with Groupon or other similar discount sites. You will find sites like this all over the world.
33) Even if you have your itinerary mapped out, consider a hop on hop off tour. You can get the lay of the land, see the city from above ground, and determine where you want to go back and spend more time. Because I’m a history buff, I listen to the tour but others, like James, tune it out and just take in the sights from the top deck.
34) Enjoy yourself and take your time. Don’t spend so much time taking selfies and posting on Instagram that you don’t actually see the city you’re visiting. Grab a coffee at a cafe and just enjoy the slower pace. In most countries, eating with friends at a leisurely pace is a given, and no one will rush you.
What did we miss? Let us know your comments below!
Also published on Medium.