It’s that time of year when thousands of people are heading out on a holiday overseas. I know you’re excited about all you’ll see and do, but spending just a little time preparing for your trip now will save you tons of stress later.
Here’s my list of the top 10 things to do before you step on that airplane.
- Check your passport. This seems like a no brainer, but you would be surprised how many times I’ve had clients believe their passports were all set, only to realize they were expired or about to expire. Take my advice – check out your passport as soon as you’ve booked your adventure. It needs to be valid for AT LEAST 6 months after your return date. If you need to get a passport or renew an existing one, it is taking about 3 months these days. You can get step by step instructions here: https://www.usa.gov/passport.
- Secure trip insurance with medical coverage. I know, I know. Seasoned travelers don’t need trip insurance, right? WRONG! Even if you don’t want the peace of mind of not having to pay for a trip you can’t go on because Aunt Edna broke her hip, you DEFINITELY want the medical coverage that comes with most good trip insurance policies today. Check with your travel professional (I know a really good one 😊) to get a quote.
- Register your trip with STEP. STEP stands for Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (https://step.state.gov/step/) and it’s a free service provided by the US State Department to enroll your trip with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. When you enroll, you’ll automatically receive information about safety conditions in your destination(s), and the Embassy will be able to contact you in case of a natural disaster, civil unrest or a family emergency.
- Turn “on” your mobile phone. You want to have a method of communication when you’re overseas, and for most people that’s a mobile phone. You have three options: a) Add an international plan to your phone through your existing carrier. This is easy, but has pretty severe limitations on call minutes and data usage; b) Rent a phone once you get to your destination. This is a good option for short trips, but ends up being expensive if you’re there longer than a few days; or c) Buy a local SIM card and install it in your current phone. This is a cost effective option, but your phone must be ‘unlocked’ (check you’re your carrier about the status of your phone) and your phone number will not work for anyone trying to get in touch with you from home.
- Know how to get where you’re going. If you’re traveling independently (not with a guided tour), you’re going to need some help with directions once you reach your destination. One option is to use the GPS capabilities on your mobile phone, but you’ll definitely need a good data plan for this method to be cost effective. If you choose to use your existing phone for directions, I would go with buying a SIM card locally and installing it there. You’ll have around 2 Gigabytes of data to use for about $20 in many places. Another option is to connect your smart phone to WIFI, look up your destination on Google Maps and then download the map so you can view it off-line while walking around town. If you’re renting a car, you can ask for a GPS option to be included which will help you get from town to town efficiently.
- Make sure your ATM card is compatible. Trust me when I tell you, there’s nothing worse than standing in front of an ATM in Paris in desperate need of Euros, and the machine says your card doesn’t work. Check with your bank BEFORE you go to make sure your ATM/Debit card is compatible with the network in the country you’re visiting. While you’re talking with them, register your trip dates listing all the places you will be visiting during those dates, so your card doesn’t get turned off for a fraud alert because the bank has no idea you’re in Greece.
- Make copies of all your important documentation. It’s a whole lot easier to get items replaced if you have a copy of them handy while traveling. This goes for your passport, your visa(s), your credit cards and your important contact phone numbers. Snap a picture with your mobile phone or make hard copies and be sure to leave a copy with someone at home as well as having one with you.
- Check out power voltages and get appropriate adapters. Do a quick internet search to find out the power voltage for the places on your itinerary and then go to Amazon and get the right adapters for your trip. My advice is to have at least 3 of the appropriate adapters per person. Most electronics have power conversion built in anymore and just need the adapter to access power, but check with your individual item to be sure it says 120V – 220V. If you have something that doesn’t convert automatically and you absolutely have to have it when you travel, order a power converter from Amazon as well.
- Fill all your prescriptions. You certainly don’t want to spend your vacation time roaming around Croatia looking for a pharmacy that will fill your prescription, so get it taken care of before you leave. IMPORTANT NOTE: Bring all your prescription medication in the ORIGINAL packaging. It’s very convenient to have all your medication in a pill organizer labeled for each day, but some countries are cracking down on this practice and will confiscate your medication if it’s not in a package with a prescription label.
- Learn a few key phrases in the local language. Thank you. Good Morning. Where’s the restroom? Another beer please. These (and a few others I’m sure you can think of) are good to know when headed to a foreign country. Not only does it show respect for the local people, but it will help you get what you need a lot quicker than saying ‘More wine’ over and over in English to a non-English speaker.