Traveling abroad can be a scary thing, especially for first timers. Use these tips to make your trip as smooth as possible.
1.) Get your passports and any necessary visas well in advance
A passport is the first thing you will need when traveling abroad, more importantly, to get back in. In applying for a passport it is important to know that like most government operations, this is not a very quick process. The longer you wait to get it done, the greater the chances that your passport will not arrive in time for your trip, or that you will have to pay a much higher fee for an expedited passport. The average processing time to get a routine passport, according to the State Department is currently 4-6 weeks. An expedited passport still takes 3 weeks to process. Expedited service will cost you an extra $60 on top of the $140 the application fee or renewal already costs so save yourself some coin. Once you are ready to apply you can do so at a Passport Agency, Authorized Passport Application Acceptance Facility (most larger post offices in your town serve as one), by Mail, or at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate. I recommend the convenience of your local post office, but make sure to set up an appointment beforehand to avoid an extra trip. No walk-ins. Also be sure to have a passport photo made up beforehand to save time. Most drug stores or camera shops will offer the service for a small fee. Details on how to apply for a passport and all documentation needed can be found at the U.S. State Department Passport Website.
Once you have the passport, be sure to check if your destination requires a tourist visa. Most will not if your trip is short enough but for lengthy stays, or stays where you intend to work, a visa will be required. Visit http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/english/country.html to find out more about your destination including any visa requirements, warnings to travelers, and suggested vaccinations, currency restrictions and more.
2.) Buy an international plug adapter
It is a big world out there and it may shock you to realize that when traveling abroad, everything isn’t done the same way as it is in the good old U.S. of A. Electrical outlets are one of them and being that we as a human race are more and more attached to our devices and gadgets, being able to plug them in and charge them is essential. You can usually get a convenient multi-function plug adapter that will work in many different electrical outlets such as this one on Amazon.com. Some hotels will have them but rolling up and asking for adapters for all 20 of your devices is not recommended. Buy as many as you need to cover your charging/electrical needs. We recommend the Orei M8 Plus All-in-One Grounded International Worldwide Travel Plug Adapter with Dual USB Charger.
3.) Learn the language and customs of the host country
Finally, don’t be the ugly American when traveling abroad. Learn at least some words and customs in the language of your host country. You don’t have to be fluent, but making the extra effort to speak the language goes a long way and can come in very handy if you do end up in trouble and need help. I am not fluent in French by any means but during a recent trip to Paris, I found the people to be very receptive to me when trying to speak the language and much more willing to help and point me in the right direction. I also learned common courtesies like referring to your waitstaff as Monsieur or Mademoiselle instead of “Waiter or Waitress.” Its the little things that go a long way and can also result in wonderful recommendations from the locals. You can easily learn what you need by using short online courses, perusing online editions of newspapers, or using flash card programs. If you want to really dive into a language we recommend the Fluenz program hosted by Sonia Gil as an alternative to the popular Rosetta Stone.
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4.) Call credit card companies to let them know you will be overseas
Nothing is more frustrating or embarrassing than to be on the shopping spree of your life in Paris and have your credit card declined because the bank has shut it down because it has gotten flagged for suspicious activity. Avoid this by calling the customer service number on the back of the card and letting them know where you will be on what dates. They will make a note of it on your account and are less likely to shut it down on you after a few foreign transactions. A word of warning though. If your card does get stolen and used in the country you are in, it is less likely to be flagged and shut down automatically. Therefore, make a note of the customer service number on all of your cards and put it in your luggage (not in your wallet) when traveling abroad. If your card or wallet does get stolen or lost, you will have the numbers on file back at the hotel and will be able to easily call the company to have it shut down.
5.) Use credit cards over debit cards
The threat of the stolen or lost credit/debit card is usually the biggest fear when traveling abroad. To mitigate the threat, I suggest using credit cards over debit cards while abroad and here is why. If your credit card is stolen, thieves may rack up several thousand dollars in charges but these are usually easily wiped out by the credit company after calling and reporting the stolen card and filing a report. They will work with you to make sure all erroneous charges are eliminated and a new card is given. The same is true for a debit card with one giant caveat. Your money in your account is GONE until the problem is fixed. If thieves empty your bank account it may take a while to get that money put back in. In the meantime every bill you have linked to your bank account at home could be overdrawing your account with each automatic transaction. These transactions will be denied by the bank and the bills will go unpaid. Now you have to sort money issues not only with your bank, but your other payees as well. Save the headache. Leave the debit card home. A great solution is to use a credit card with no foreign transaction fees. You could bring the debit card along but again keep it back at the hotel in a safe to reduce the chance of it getting lost/stolen and only use it in ATMs to get cash out. You could also use a cash advance on your credit card and repay it as soon as you get home. Beware it has a higher interest rate than a normal transaction but if you pay off the card before the bill is due than this is not a problem. If you can’t pay it off, any payment over and above the minimum monthly payment will be applied to the highest APR transactions first. We use Barclay’s Arrival card which you can get at https://www.barclaycardus.com/. Some of the perks of this card include no blackout dates and 10% miles back instantly on travel purchases. One more tip: people are now starting to be able to steal your ID info from your cards wirelessly without even taking them out of your pocket! To protect from this, get yourself an RFID blocking wallet like the one pictured above. Your cards will be safe from wireless thieves as well as traditional.
6.) Exchange a small amount of cash before your trip
You can exchange a small amount of cash for foreign currency at many airports across the country using a service like Travelex or you can order the currency ahead of time through Travelex or your bank. Usually there are no fees for this but a delivery charge may apply and a minimum amount may be required. For amounts less then $250, using Travelex or similar at an airport is the way to go. Having cash in your destination currency ahead of time will be highly convenient and help to avoid awkward situations like having to tip someone for a service in dollars instead of their home currency.
7.) Consider an extra night in a hotel at the front end of the trip
I found this one out on a trip to Ireland a few years back. This is especially a good idea if you are traveling eastbound on an overnight flight that arrives in Europe in the early morning local time. Many things can keep us awake on that red-eye flight from the crying baby, to the coughing passenger next to you, to that pocket of turbulence halfway across the Atlantic. Chances are you won’t get a great night sleep and you will land at 5 AM only to get to your hotel and for them to tell you that they don’t have any rooms available until the scheduled 3 PM check in time. If you don’t want to be slumped over on a cafe table until you are coherent enough to wander aimlessly around town, book an extra night on the front end of your stay and let the hotel know you won’t be arriving until early the next morning. You will thank yourself when your head hits that pillow allowing you to shed some of the jet lag right off the bat.
8.) Register with the embassy
This is one that a lot of people skip but shouldn’t. Register your travel with the U.S. State Department or U.S. Embassy in the country of your destination. You can do this online with the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program through the State Department website. In the event that there is a coup or a natural disaster, the U.S. Government will already know you are there and actively seek to assure your safety which could be very useful if folks back home don’t realize you could be in trouble for a couple of days. You can also receive travel alerts and warnings while you are on your trip.
9.) Consider your communications
Verify that your cell phone works overseas. Many of them will not and so your phone could become a glorified paperweight abroad. A couple solutions to this include buying a
prepaid phone in the country you are traveling, or the old fashioned route of buying phone cards and then figuring out trying how to use them in the host country. A better solution however is to talk to your cell phone service provider because they usually will have a phone that you can rent that will work overseas. They will set everything up for you before you go and all the hassle is taken away from being abroad and not able to call home. You can find out more about Verizon’s International services here and AT&T’s here.
After you have done that, battery life is something that you can NEVER have enough of! An external battery pack like the Jackery Titan 20100 pictured above can charge an iPhone up to 7 times and an iPad mini 4 times. Perfect for that long flight or when you just can’t get to an outlet but need to charge your device. Bloggers need I say more?
10.) Bring a GPS if you are driving
I was very lucky to bring along my own GPS during a European trip. I had ordered one through my rental car company but when I got to the counter, they were out of them. Without it, navigating in the foreign country while driving on the opposite side of the road would have been very stressful. Luckily I had brought mine alone as a backup and it worked like a charm. Be sure though to buy the extra maps for the country you are going to ahead of time. Alternatively you could use apps like google maps if you have a phone that has accessible data overseas but you are relying on cell phone service to be good everywhere you go, and that isn’t always the case when traveling abroad. A risk I particularly don’t like to take. The Garmin Nuvi 2559LMT North America and Europe works well with good results in Europe and North America.
11.) Health Considerations
Our bodies don’t always react well to new things in new places. One thing to be sure to do before traveling abroad is to check and see what vaccinations you might need for your trip. You can do this by visiting the same destination guide from the State Department listed above. In addition, make sure all your prescriptions are filled before you travel abroad. A travel pill case like the one pictured here can help you keep things organized. You don’t want to run out of meds halfway through and try to get them filled abroad. Finally, comb over your medical insurance policy and know where you can and can’t go if you get sick. A lot of health insurance companies will have a number to call if you get sick abroad. Make a note of this and put it in your suitcase with the credit card company numbers suggested earlier.
12.) Build Time into Your Itinerary to Account for Delays
Nothing is worse than the anxiety of not knowing if you are going to make your connection or transfer so take the stress out at the beginning. Try to avoid flights with very short layovers, or if you are switching airlines at an intermediate destination consider a 24 hour layover where you don’t have to worry about making your connection and you get the added bonus of exploring another destination on your trip.
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