Standing on a Compass photo by Brandy Little

10 Things You Should Do BEFORE You Travel Abroad

In Travel Info by Brandy Little

Being prepared for your travels can make a huge impact on your travel experience. It can be make the difference between being miserable and having the time of your life. Here are ten things that you should do BEFORE you travel abroad.

Make sure your passport is valid and that it has at least six months validity before it expires. Also, check out how many blank pages you have in your book. Some countries have page requirements and require them to be consecutive and blank. If you need to, you may need to update your passport or have extra pages added. This can take several weeks or months so make sure you check these things early.

If you don’t have a passport, get one as soon as you can as it usually takes awhile to get your passport and you usually need that information when booking things. Always have a passport, even if you don’t have a trip planned. You never know when you’ll need it.

Every country has different requirements that vary based on your country of citizenship. For US citizens, the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs website can be used to find country specific visa and passport requirements. For British citizens, the United Kingdom Government Foreign Travel website can be used. For Australian citizens, the Smartraveller website can be used. For Canadian citizens, the Canada Government Foreign Travel website can be used.

Passport photo by Brandy Little

Passport photo by Brandy Little

Many countries require you to have a visa in order to enter and not all of them let you get one at the border. They will turn you away if one is required and you don’t have one. Sometimes you need to get the visa way in advance. Getting a visa in advance can save you valuable travel time going through customs. Visa’s usually cost money and have restrictions on how long you can stay in the country. Sometimes you can get them online, and sometimes you have to mail in your passport and application to the consulate. There are some companies that will get all your visa’s for you like CIBT Visas, but they tend to be pretty pricey and you can save a lot of money doing it on your own. If you do plan on purchasing at the border, given that you can, take note that sometimes they require you to use a specific currency. Be aware that sometimes countries will allow you to get a dual visa or multiple visa that works for more than one country. The cost for this is usually higher than getting the individual country’s visa, but lower than purchasing visa’s for all the countries separately.

Every country has different requirements that vary based on your country of citizenship. For US citizens, the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs website can be used to find country specific visa and passport requirements. For British citizens, the United Kingdom Government Foreign Travel website can be used. For Australian citizens, the Smartraveller website can be used. For Canadian citizens, the Canada Government Foreign Travel website can be used.

Decide on a limit on how much stuff you will bring. Keep in mind that at some point there is a direct negative correlation between how much stuff you bring and your enjoyment on the trip. Try for less bags, less weight, and less overall dimensions. Keep in mind that air travel and other forms of transportation often have additional costs or restrictions on number of bags, weight of each bag, and the dimensions of the bag. Also consider how much stuff you intend to bring back.

Check the climate and weather forecasts for your destination and take that into account in your packing. You also may want to research what the locals and expats wear. One of the best things you can do as a tourist is blend in with the locals.

Backpack photo by Brandy Little

Backpack photo by Brandy Little

The flight is one of the more tiring aspects of travel. When you book it, think about the time zones, how many connections you have, and the overall travel time. You need to consider whether transportation is available at the time of your arrival, when you can check-in to your accommodations, and if food options are available.

Try to minimize the connections you have, they add time, and increase the probability of missing a flight. Sometimes having at least one connection is unavoidable, but it is important to make sure you have enough time to make that connection. Navigating your way through a foreign airport can be a challenge. Sometimes they make you go back through security, which can be a long line. Depending on the airport, I usually leave 2 – 3 hours, airing closer to three hours, for all my stopovers.

Lastly, do some research about the vessel. Try to book seats ahead of time. Last thing you want is a middle seat between two strangers on an 18+ hour journey. I use Seat Guru to research the best seats.

Airport by Brandy Little

Airport by Brandy Little

Some countries won’t let you in unless you can show them your official yellow vaccination card proving you have all the necessary vaccinations. You also may want to get some other vaccinations depending on your destination. Your local infectious disease doctor or travel clinic can help you with these. Some countries will also not let you in if you are sick, have a certain disease, or are travelling from certain countries.

You also want to be aware of other health risks and prepare against them. For instance, some places have disease carrying insects that you will want to fend off with the proper bug spray and proper attire. For some countries you may want to bring a water purification method or stick to bottled water. Some countries have rapid dogs you will want to know to steer clear of.

Also, you should be aware that some over-the-counter perfectly legal drugs in your country may be illegal in another country.

For most this information, I use the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO). They are great resources to find out country specific health risks, information, and vaccination requirements.

Vaccination Card photo by Brandy Little

Vaccination Card photo by Brandy Little

Unfortunately, sometimes what you don’t know can hurt you. Often countries have a lot of laws and customs that vary from your own and you can get in some serious trouble. Usually common sense is enough, but it’s best to learn as much as you can. When in a different country, you play by their rules, and if you break one of those rules, your country may not be able to do much to help you. Some countries are corrupt or do not have sophisticated legal systems that you can rely on, so it is best if you do your homework and stay clear of trouble as best you can. For instance, some countries will put you behind bars for stepping on an image of their king, for drinking alcohol, for dressing inappropriately, or for having any same-sex sexual relation.

You also want to know where your embassy is located in that country and what their contact information is. There may be times where you are a victim of a crime and they can sometimes provide you assistance.

It is also helpful to become aware of the common scams you may encounter, other common crimes, and any other pertinent security risks.

Some governments have a Smart Traveller Program that you can sign up for which helps you stay up-to-date on country specific safety and security information abroad and helps your embassy, family and friends contact you in case of an emergency.

Some countries will not let you in if you have a criminal record, or specific crimes on your record like drunk driving.

For cultural understanding, I check out Culture Crossings. I keep up-to-date through world news sites like BBC. For security information I check the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs website. For British citizens, the United Kingdom Government Foreign Travel website can be used. For Australian citizens, the Smartraveller website can be used. For Canadian citizens, the Canada Government Foreign Travel website can be used.

Guidebook photo by Brandy Little

Guidebook photo by Brandy Little

You are going to want to figure out how to communicate with your friends and family ahead of time. Too many travelers have incurred outrageous data roaming fees on their cell phones plans to not figure things out ahead of time. Fortunately, as the world globalizes, communication platforms are stepping up to help people stay connected without breaking the wallet. Since these are always changing, it is best to do some research beforehand with your provider or other providers on using your phone abroad. If you are ever not sure, turn off the data on your phone and set it to airplane mode, and only use it with wifi connections when you can.

You are going to want to figure out how to communicate with your friends and family ahead of time. Too many travelers have incurred outrageous data roaming fees on their cell phones plans to not figure things out ahead of time. Fortunately, as the world globalizes, communication platforms are stepping up to help people stay connected without breaking the wallet. Since these are always changing, it is best to do some research beforehand with your provider or other providers on using your phone abroad. If you are ever not sure, turn off the data on your phone and set it to airplane mode, and only use it with Wi-Fi connections when you can.

For Americans, T-Mobile just came out with a plan that allows free data in many countries around the world. You can also use Skype and the Skype application to communicate. FaceTime and texting can usually be used with Wi-Fi connections without problem.

Some countries have very basic services and it can be hard to find wifi connections or service areas. This is where a SPOT Satellite Messenger can be a useful tool for emergency help and communication. It allows you to connect to a satellite through the push of the button and send a message out to your family that you are ok or that you need assistance. It also has an emergency signal that notifies your family and the nearest police and fire stations your location and that you need help. There are also apps that you can get on your phone that function similarly for less cost.

Some countries have internet cafes you can use, and in some countries it’s easy to obtain a cheap pay-as-you-go phone or sim card. Side note, be careful what information you transmit with public connections.

We all hope that nothing bad will happen to us, but the reality is, things go wrong while traveling. Whether it be your luggage disappears, your flights get cancelled, you need emergency evacuation due to political turmoil or disastrous weather, or you get sick or injured and need health care. Travel insurance is a low cost way to have some peace of mind and some resources should you need them.

We all hope that nothing bad will happen to us, but the reality is, things go wrong while traveling. Whether it be your luggage disappears, your flights get cancelled, you need emergency evacuation due to political turmoil or disastrous weather, or you get sick or injured and need health care. Travel insurance is a low cost way to have some peace of mind and some resources should you need them.

I always use and recommend World Nomads for travel insurance. They have coverage plans that are designed around the type of traveler you are, so you can customize it, and the cost is usually reasonable. Some credit cards can provide travel insurance as well through their card member benefits.

Travel Insurance photo by Brandy Little

Travel Insurance photo by Brandy Little

It may be wise to get some local currency at the airport or before you get to your destination. Oftentimes you will need it right out the gate for public transportation, tipping, food, etc. Don’t rely solely on your credit and debit cards as some countries are cash based countries that rarely accept plastic, and sometimes when they do your card information is more likely to be stolen.

Also, notify your bank and credit card companies about your travel so that way you don’t have to deal with a blocked card during your trip. It is also useful to find out what kind of foreign transaction fees or other fees your cards have. Some are more designed for travel and have benefits like no foreign transaction fees and even have limited travel insurance. Some banks have affiliate banks that won’t charge additional ATM fees or other fees.

It’s usually best to not carry all your money on you. I have found how much money one carries to be a personal preference among travelers. I knew one guy who only ever had $10 worth on him in cash, and relied on his cards the majority of the time. I have also known travelers who carry nearly all their money on their persons. You’ll have to find what makes you the most comfortable risk wise. If you do carry a lot of money, don’t put it all in one place, spread it out all through your stuff and on your body. If you decide to rely on your cards, make sure you know about the ATM fees, and be cautious of which ATM machines you use.

Currency by Brandy Little

Currency by Brandy Little

On the road things can get lost or stolen, so it is good to have backup copies of information you may need. You will want to have a photocopy of your passport, health insurance cards, and travel insurance either in your e-mail, in an accessible cloud drive, on a thumb drive, or as a hard copy. You will also want to have important phone numbers available like credit and debit card numbers, embassy numbers, friends and family, accommodation contact information, flight information, and any other confirmations you have. I also like to take along a couple extra passport photos or have an electronic copy, just in case my passport is lost or stolen.

There are tons of phone applications that help you stay organized like TripIt. You can also just email yourself or your family this information. Just make sure you have more than one place holding this information that you can access in the event you need it.

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“Feeling ready to do something doesn’t mean feeling certain you’ll succeed, though of course that’s what you’re hoping to do. Truly being ready means understanding what could go wrong, and having a plan to deal with it.” – Chris Hadfield, Astronaut’s Guide to Earth