Later this year I'll be heading to Peru for the first time and could not be more excited. Lately, a lot of people seem to tell me that they'd love to travel more, but get nervous about international travel. Traveling abroad is enriching on many levels, and as long as you're smart and well prepared, it doesn't have to be scary.
Here's my handy list of 10 important questions to ask yourself before heading out into the world.
1. Is my passport current? If you haven't used it in awhile, check the expiration date to be sure it's still current. Traveling with kids? Don't forget that their passports expire sooner than adult ones. Nothing is worse that paying a lot to get an expedited passport.
Losing a passport while abroad is my worst fear. If it does happen to you, be prepared by making 2 photocopies of your passport before you go. Leave 1 at home with someone you trust and can call in an emergency. (Thanks, mom!) Put the other one in an envelope, seal it, and put it somewhere in your luggage that is not with your actual passport. If you do have the bad luck of losing it or having it stolen, replacing it will be way easier if you've got that on hand. You can also save these copies as PDFs that are saved on your phone or iPad.
2. Does the country I'm visiting require a visa? When I went to China, the woman checking me in asked for my visa, and when I showed it to her she said, "Oh good, some people hand me their credit card." What?!
No matter where you're going, be sure to look up if you need a visa, and how you get one. It varies widely from country to country. In some countries, you can buy them in the airport, but pay attention, they likely will only accept cash in American dollars, so have it ready. Also, check to see if you need a passport photo. Traveling with an extra photo or two will save you having to get one there.
If it's a country that requires you to have one before you land and you don't live near an embassy, consider using a company like Abriggs. They provide you with all the forms you'll need, and take care of everything for you. They even provide emails to you letting you know step by step where your passport is in the process.
3. Will I be using my credit or debit card? You'll need money, and credit cards for at least big expenses like the hotel. Notify your banks before you go. This is good advice wherever you go, but especially important for international travel. Most banks make it easy with online forms. Don't forget to mention your layovers.
Do a little research before you go and find out if credit cards are widely used in the country you're visiting and also what the fees are on your cards for using them abroad. You don't want to be surprised by lots of bank fees when you get home. Try and take out a lot of cash in the beginning of your trip and store it in your hotel safe to avoid frequent visits (and fees) on ATMs.
Be sure to note phone numbers or websites of your card companies before you go, in case you need to report them lost or stolen.
4. Do I speak the language? Being in a foreign country and hearing a new language is one of the best parts of traveling. Prepare yourself by listening to some language programs to have a handle on a few phrases. Please, thank you and hello will get you far in any country. Before you go, download the Google Translate App to your smartphone. While not perfect, it's helpful in a tight spot if you need to get your point across.
5. Do I need an international data plan for my phone? Yes, you do! If you're going to use your phone while you're abroad, be sure that you have an international data plan in place to avoid being surprised by high rates when you get home. Also, before you go, turn off any apps that may be using data or doing automatic updates in the background so you don't use data unnecessarily.
6. What about my mail, or other house plants? You can easily put a hold on your mail through the USPS website. Do you need to arrange anything else for your house? Don't scramble at the last minute, plan ahead to get those plants watered.
7. How am I getting to the airport? Long term parking can be expensive. Depending on the airport it might make sense to plan ahead and get a ride or prepay for your parking.
8. What kind of plugs do they use in the country I'm visiting? Most things you'll be plugging in these days are already set for different voltages, you just need an adapter to plug into first. Remember that some items might require a converter, if you're unsure look at the adaptor on your device, it should say the voltages it can handle. Buying these adaptors ahead of time, instead of in the airport, will save you a lot. I love my handy 4 in 1 adaptor set. I'm ready for anywhere, and it even comes with a color coded chart so I know what to use in each country.
9. Do I need travelers insurance? All of us hope for accident and illness free trips, but you never know what could happen. Will your medical insurance cover you if something should happen? What will it cover? You can tailor them to what you want, and that may vary depending on where you're visiting. Travel medical policies are surprisingly affordable and can give you a lot of piece of mind, especially if you're traveling through developing countries.
10. Is my suitcase too heavy? Nothing is worse that being surprised at check in with a heavy bag. You don't want to be that person holding up the line and opening up your suitcase to rearrange things, and move stuff around. Also, while paying the charge for a heavy bag might not be a big deal domestically, international flights can come with steep charges for heavy bags (think $200). Weight limits vary by airline, but are generally around 50 lbs. I like this compact one that I can pack and use for the way home too.
Do you have any special tips? Let me know what's on your checklist in the comments.