There are things to do before taking off to another country, especially if it is a first time destination. Ahead are some tips to help you to prepare for international travel. The further in advance to be ready is the best. This article is basically an extension of the previous article in preparation for traveling to a new destination.
Lock In Your Destination
In our previous article we talked about choosing a travel destination. The factors such as budget, timing, length of trip and safety were some things we discussed. Finally, you will decide on a particular place. The farther in advance the better if you are less prepared. If this is a big trip you want to take next year for example, you should have plenty of time to get all your ducks in a row. If this is only a few months out, hopefully it is a well traveled destination that many have taken and is a pretty easy place to vacation. The more activities you plan to do, then the more preparations you need to make. Once you have decided that you are happy and comfortable with your choice and the costs, then start the preparations. As just about all international travel will need a passport, (which we will write about in another article) we will move forward assuming one is in hand or will be in time for travel. Allow at least 6-9 weeks to receive your new passport. Many countries will refuse entry without at least 6 months left on the existing one. So check carefully. With less than a year until your passport expires it is time to replace it.
Check The Visa
Every country has a process for entering. They have to give you permission to enter. This is called a Visa. Because every countries visa requirements may vary, you can check with an easy google search to that countries consular website to inquire or if you are US passport holder for example, head over to travel.state.gov, and look up country information. For example if going to Canada it says a US passport holder does not need a visa for a stay of less than 180 days. This is called visa-free travel. NOT visa on arrival. People mistake two. I don’t have a 180-day visa for Canada, I have a visa free entry stamp for 180 days.
In checking Brazil it says a US passport holder needs a visa. In this case I need an appointment at a Brazilian consulate. If one is not near me then I need a visa travel service (many travel agents that specialize in Brazil offer this) or I will use one of the popular online services. The visa will cost me $160 dollars and I need photographs, dates of travel and proof of travel itinerary such as travel airline entry and exit. I also will need my driver’s license as proof of address and my passport and of course there is a document to fill out. An example agency that does this is here.
So you have determined that you do or don’t need a visa. Luckily there are many places where you don’t as a US or Canadian citizen but you still have to consider vaccines. For most well touristed places you don’t need any. Going from the US or Canada there is no recommendation except that everyone should be up to date on your childhood MMR and others like chickenpox/diphtheria etc. The vast majority of us had to get these to attend school so no worries. A tetanus booster is recommended every 10 years anyway. Most travelers are recommended to get a Hepatitis A vaccine (also Hep B). Beyond that is up to you.
There are recommendations from the CDC for almost every country but ultimately it is your decision. Being in poor rural areas are very different from being in modern clean cities. Research others experiences and consult your doctor. The vast majority of us travel with no more than an occasional stomach upset which can be handled over the counter but you have to determine your own comfort level. If you are going to get a shot like a tetanus booster or Hep A, don’t wait until the last minute. If you are going somewhere close across the border to a modern city like Toronto or Montreal, you can check prices there as sometimes they are cheaper for traveler shots. These shots are long-lasting luckily.
Book Your Travel
In some cases you will need your travel booked in order to get your visa, but in many cases with visa free on arrival you won’t. You don’t need to book all of your travel too far in advance for flights. Between 6-9 months in advance for international destinations should be fine though some deals pop up 3-6 months out. I have looked at at least 10 different sites for advice and there is no one answer. They all have general guidelines.
It is all based on many factors which include the season you are traveling (not the season you are booking). Busy seasons have increasing prices as the date approaches. If you are comfortable with the prices you are seeing don’t wait. Some popular places like Tokyo (or most of Japan) during Hanami season may be best to buy 10 months out or more. I personally have booked 3-6 months out in most cases.
Hotels will fill up based on popularity and local happenings like festivals or busy seasons. Hotels, Hostels, B&Bs, guesthouses, and AIRBNB’s are all viable options for travelers. Booking Hotels usually doesn’t have to be as far in advance like flights but the more popular the destination or event, the sooner you want to book. I have found good rates for everything less than a month out several times, especially if it is off-season.
So to recap…for booking international flights, three months out is last minute. Check the area you want to go to as soon as you decide where you want to go! For example, many places in Asia, more than 6 months(and up to 10) out can be the best deals! The season and what is happening at the destination, is crucial.
You know when you book a ticket on a flight these days and you get the option for trip insurance? In the states most of us ignore it because our insurance usually covers us if we are hurt in another state. But what about trip interruption? Lost bags? Stolen items? And most of our health insurances won’t cover us abroad. Travel insurance is something to think about. If you shell out a lot of money for a trip and a family member like a parent or child falls seriously ill, there will be a great chance of you getting that money back from flights and bookings. If you have a serious problem overseas that needs medical attention, the reimbursement may be more than the cost of the insurance and that is great! Of course reading the fine print is important to know what is covered. Certain activities like skydiving or bungee jumping will need an add on provision called a rider for extra insurance. There are specialty insurance companies to cover you if you are doing something ultra adventurous.
I personally am glad I had insurance this past year. I was recently on a journey and had an implant come loose while eating. WOW! I was covered. I was on the island of Mallorca in the Mediterranean( linked here), and had no idea about the dentistry and costs. The city of Palma De Mallorca, just so you know, is awesome with great dentistry and it is cheaper than the US! I found this all out the next day. And the reimbursement when I got home was in 2-3 weeks. The policy was surprisingly inexpensive and if I broke a leg tripping or needed to see a doctor for a stomach virus or whatever I was good. I was glad to have gotten it as it covered at least some money in the event of robbery and airline delays for food and limited clothes. I used Allianz on my last trip and the customer service reps were great. Travel insurance is definitely not something to take lightly!
Money, Money, Money, Money!
Before you go on any trip, notify your bank or credit/debit card holder when and where you will be. I was in the airport in Hong Kong several years ago when my card would not work. Luckily I had cash but I had to also buy a phone card at the time to call my bank and check on the situation. Also, make sure you have a card that has the international Visa/MasterCard logos on them. Take at least 2. I was in Barcelona a few months ago and for some reason one of my cards would not give me cash but it worked in any store or restaurant. I was OK because I could eat though right? HAHA! Also, I had some crisp new US large bills with me in case I needed to exchange, and some Euro I had already pulled out with my prepaid travel debit card. Why one of those? Because if it is compromised it, does not affect my main account.
So have at least 2 cards. Take some new US dollars, and when you land at the airport exchange just a little, like $50 or less. Or just go to an ATM and pull out some cash. In almost 20 years I have never gotten cash at home for a foreign country before I went because the fees here are horrible and I have never not found a working ATM or an exchange rate in the airport that cost me more than a dollar more than outside the airport per $100 US. If in a developing country like Thailand or Vietnam, you can go on any travel forum, ask a local expat what the rate is on the ground, and compare it to the airport. If the airport is that bad and there is no ATM, then exchange just enough to get to an ATM or your hotel and you will be sorted. You will lose pocket change over a 20-50 dollar transaction. If I am on vacation, I will lose the pocket change with no stress.
My first trip abroad was to Tokyo. ( You have to consider a trip here-awesome!) Not only was the exchange in America substantially worse than in Narita airport (which is decent every time I have been), I was also getting charged like a $7 fee on top! And if you worry about ATM fees, then you take out enough to keep from going back again and again. Talk to your bank. My bank has an account where all my fees are reimbursed as long as I keep a certain minimum in the account.
Internet Service and Your Phone
Don’t trip out over the phones. If you have an unlocked phone and you will be gone a while, like more than a couple of weeks…then you may want to just get a SIM card for the place you are going to. You can order it before you get there or just grab one when you land. Most airports have kiosks or any local phone or electronic shop at your destination. Also, there are services now that rent hotspot devices. The easiest thing I have done is just pay $5 to my phone provider and got service for the countries I was in. Over 7 weeks I paid only about 30 dollars because I used WIFI in most places I was in. (Except Italy..public WiFi was horrible there this year). Also, I had a laptop in my room so I did all my updating at night. No need to walk around on FB and all day although there was an occasional call for 2-3 minutes to check in here and there. Check your cell providers international plan for where you are going. If you are at the hotel pool you can use their WIFI and Instagram your feet with no problem.
Oh, don’t forget to decide what electronics you want to take besides your phone! remember when we chose what kind of traveler you were? If your a techie, make sure to research what plugs/adapter you may need. For most places your computer and phone will not need anything except a different plug adapter. Are you taking a laptop? An iPad? What other electronics will you need. Remember all of your chargers and wires!
Last Minute Things
Remember to make copies of all your documents. The main page of your passport, your license, your credit cards and anything important like phone numbers written out of the most important people and of your bank and card providers. Usually though contacting home is easily done online at the hotel. Banks can be contacted but by phone is easier. If they have an overseas toll free number, find out from your bank. These are just in case things. I have only had to call my bank twice but luckily not because of loss. You can always take photos of things with your camera phone and email them to your main accounts so if without the mobile you can log onto your email from another device and retrieve them.
The little things like taking care of your home issues are the same as anytime you travel domestically. Don’t forget to make sure you have the proper luggage and weight limits as they will be different from flights domestically at home. If bringing medicine make sure you copy the prescription or at least have the bottle with the info. Loose pills with no documentation can get you in hot water. If a major drug, you may want to ask about and research if it is allowed in. I had several supplements in labeled mini plastic bags a couple of years ago crossing into Canada by train. One immigration lady pulled them out of my bag and scowled at me and the other one laughed and said “I recognize those fish oil pills”. HAHA! I can’t make this up! Once coming into Tokyo from Bangkok, the immigration guy asked if he could check my bag. “Sure”, I replied. “You have marijuana?” he asked. I started laughing at the question and he pursed his lips and made the joint motion with his fingers. We both laughed. He didn’t bother looking beneath the dirty drawers bag on the top of my luggage pile after he opened my pack. I will never forget that moment. It always makes me laugh. But in all seriousness, take the drugs and medicine seriously.
So in a nutshell…….
- Make sure you have a proper passport.
- Make sure to have a proper visa if needed.
- Get vaccinations if called for.
- Prepare to book your travel ahead of time.
- Look into travel insurance.
- Look into all of your money needs. (Contact your bank/proper cards/cash)
- Prepare possible phone and IT needs.
- Make sure you are OK with medications (Enough for trip/prescriptions etc.)
- Make copies of all of your documents! (ID’s/bank cards/phone numbers)
- List all the last minute things so you don’t forget.
You can do this. The world is calling!
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