Travel rocks! Pretty simplistic statement, but seriously, seeing beautiful new places, having amazing adventures, and collecting memories that will light up the rest of your life – what could be better? Not much in my opinion.
To get the most out of your travel experiences though, it pays to prepare a bit to make sure everything goes smoothly. To that end, I’ve compiled my top 5 list of preparation items for your next overseas journey. Take care of these few items before you head out the door, and you can strike out with confidence.
- Register with STEP. STEP stands for Smart Traveler Enrollment Program and is something you should register with if you are traveling out of the country. It’s a free service that allows US citizens traveling abroad to enroll their trip with the nearest US Embassy or Consulate. Once you’re registered, you will get important information from the Embassy about safety conditions in your destination country and give the Embassy a way to contact you in an emergency – whether it’s a local issue or family related. It will also help expedite the passport replacement process should you have your passport stolen or lost while traveling.
- Make a copy of your passport. I know you’ve heard this before, but it never hurts to review. If you have a copy of your passport and it gets lost or stolen, you can get it replaced relatively quickly. If you don’t have a copy, you will incur miles of red tape as the Embassy or Consulate tries to ascertain if you are who you say you are. You’ll still be asked a million questions even if you have a copy, but trust me, it will make for a much smoother process. I used to make two paper copies and put one in my carry-on bag and leave one with my emergency contact at home. However, these days I just have a photo of it in my phone, and I email that photo to my emergency contact. That way if my phone gets stolen along with my passport (heaven forbid), I can get an electronic copy emailed to me right away.
- Check-in with your bank. You’re going to need local currency once you get to your destination, and the easiest way to do that is through a local ATM. Of course, you want to be sure your debit/ATM card will work in ATMs overseas by calling your bank and checking with them. Typically, if your card has a Visa or Mastercard logo on it, you’re good to go. (You’ll definitely want to use an ATM at your destination to get the best exchange rates available – much better than the airport or at your bank before you leave town.) Also, while you’re on with the bank checking about your debit card, be sure to find out about any fees associated with using an ATM or making purchases with your card in a foreign country so you can plan accordingly.
- Make sure you set your cell phone up with a plan that won’t incur overage charges. This one is really important if you don’t want to have a nasty surprise once you get back home. Your friendly neighborhood mobile phone company will charge your lights out if you use your phone outside the country and haven’t purchased a temporary overseas plan with them. Data usage is the worst offender. We’re so used to using maps, social media and Internet searching at home, it’s only natural to continue the practice when you’re traveling. All of a sudden, you’ve racked up $1000 of overage charges you didn’t plan for. Call your phone company and set up a plan for texting and minimal talk time, and ask them how to change your phone settings once you’re on your flight to make sure you don’t incur unintentional charges. Then find WIFI to connect to for data usage, and you’ll be able to communicate with home and your social media buddies without spending next year’s travel budget on all those selfies you posted.
- Check in with your travel professional about local requirements. Many countries have specific requirements for visitors. These requirements could include special visas, appropriate clothing, immunizations or possession of medications. Now you could spend a bunch of time researching all these requirements and always having a niggle of doubt about whether you missed something, OR you could call a travel professional and get a complete list right away. Guess which one I’d choose?