Here are some top tips from a road warrior (me) of what to do before you travel abroad, to save time, stress and money while you are on the road. It’s good advice for a first-time traveler, and a refresher for veteran travelers.
Check the State Dept. Traveler Alert health page. Get information on any vaccinations you might need for your destination, and be sure you get all the proper vaccinations before you leave.
Check-in with your doctor and insurance carrier. Double check and make sure that you have all of the proper vaccinations and that you have renewed all essential prescriptions. Also, ask you medical insurance provider if your policy applies overseas for emergencies. If it doesn’t, and you want to add extra coverage, consider supplemental insurance.
- See also Avoiding Identity Theft when You Travel
Enroll in STEP . The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) is a free service from the US State Dept. to allow U.S. citizens and nationals traveling abroad to enroll their trip with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
- 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.
Make copies of your passport. Take one copy with you, secured in a safe place. If your passport gets lost or stolen, a copy will help you make a police report, and the passport copy and the police report will help you get back into the USA. Also, leave a copy of your passport at home or with someone you trust. Consider making an electronic copy you can store in your email account – but only if your account has password security, including on your smartphone.
Make copies of your itinerary. I tape one inside my suitcase, just in case my bag gets lost en route, so the bag’s finder can find me. Also, leave a copy of your itinerary with the same person who has your passport copy. You can also upload your itinerary on free trip apps like Tripit.
Know the value of the local currency. Make sure you do your math before you travel to know what things cost. Because I’m not especially good at math, I always check XE Currency Converter to find our what a Euro, Zloty, Cuban peso or Icelandic krone is worth. Then, I make a cheat sheet for $5, $10 and $20 in that currency, and the other way around – what is 5, 10 or 20 of theirs worth in US dollars. Very helpful when you are shopping for souvenirs, or for a new pair of shoes to replace the ones that wore out.
Make sure your credit card is accepted in the country you’re visiting. Most European banks and many department stores and chains like H&M have switched to chip-and-PIN technology, which is more secure, and less susceptible to fraud, than the outdated magnetic-strip cards. Before visiting Europe last fall, I insisted that one credit card company send me the new card immediately, instead of waiting to rotate me to the new technology at card renewal time.
Let your bank or credit card issuer know when and where you are traveling. Your card could be flagged for a fraudulent transaction, and your card turned off, if there are sudden charges from a beach in Bali or a hot air balloon flight in Capodocia. Avoid being stranded with a simple phone call before you leave home.
Take only credit cards with a four-digit PIN. Banks and ATMs in Europe and elsewhere accept four-digit PINs. So if your American bank is still using six-digit codes, leave it home because it will be worthless overseas. I learned that the hard way on a recent trip.
Get money from a bank or ATM in the country you’re visiting. The conversion centers in the airport or around the city can be huge rip-offs, with hefty fees and low conversion rates. Get just enough money for immediate needs, until you can get to a bank or an ATM. I’ve also gotten good exchange rates from a hotel’s frond desk.
Always have local cash. Credit cards are not accepted everywhere, including small, family-owned restaurants and public transit. I opt for smaller bills. It’s easier to negotiate a price with a street vendor when you are carrying a five of something rather than a 50.
Check the country’s entrance/exit fees. Some countries require travelers to pay to enter or leave the country. In my experience, entry fees are accepted in your home currency, but not exit fees, so be sure to keep enough local currency to pay your way out. These fees can range from $25 to $200. Some tour operators include the fee in the package price, but it’s a good idea to ask at time of booking, or read the contract carefully.
Bring a charger adapter. Countries have different size plugs and voltage. My go-to website is World Standards, to find out what plugs and chargers I need. But that’s not enough. You need to check the voltage, both of your electronics and the voltage of the specific countries you are visiting. Especially the voltage. I learned this the hard way in Germany recently when my laptop would not charge with my Northern Europe plug adapter. Seems that Germany has higher voltage than my laptop and adapter could handle. My smartphone charged with no problem, but not my laptop. Your story could be that your blow dryer doesn’t work elsewhere because the voltage isn’t enough for that country.
Activate your phone’s global capabilities. There’s usually a charge for doing this, but it is much less than the roaming charges you’ll get if you don’t.
Pack a change of clothes in your carry-on bag. Especially if you are making an airline connection, since sometimes there’s enough time for you to make the connection, but not your luggage. Especially if you are on a cruise and your luggage will meet you at your stateroom, and you might want to get to the pool before your luggage arrives.
Share your luggage with family members or travel mates. That way, just in case your bag doesn’t arrive, your spouse,’s partner’s or BFF”s bag has a clean shirt for you to wear.
Luggage tags. One is not enough. I’m always amazed at the bags I see on airport carousels with no luggage tags, especially on black bags that could belong to anybody on the flight. I always have at least two luggage tags on each checked bag, and carry a spare just in case one of my two tags rips off during my trip. In addition to double luggage tags, my bags have mutli-colored ribbons, so I can spot them easily on the baggage carousel and also to prevent them from looking like a similar bag. It’s also a good idea to tape your name and address, even your itinerary, on the inside of your bag, just in case it goes lost and found.
Bring snacks. It’s something I learned when my kids were little, and never forgot. A bag of trail mix, granola bars or chocolate can tide you over until you can get to a restaurant, in the airport or in town.