Whether it’s your first time leaving the country, or it has been awhile since you last went abroad, here is what to do before you go!
Before booking your trip abroad, make sure your passport is in order. If you never had a passport before, I would recommend getting your passport first. It typically takes 6-8 weeks for your passport to be processed and sent to your door! Better to wait, and have your passport, than have a trip you can’t go on because you are having issues getting your passport. For older passports, check when it expires. If the expiration date is six months out from your departure date, some countries may not let you enter. You will want to renew your passport beforehand. For more passport information check out the U.S. Department of State’s U.S Passports.
Another thing to check out before booking is whether or not the country you are traveling to requires a visa. Here is a map that breaks down visa requirements for U.S. citizens. For more information on U.S. visas, and how to obtain them check out the U.S. Department of State’s U.S. Visas.
- Methods of Payment
When it comes to paying in foreign currency, I would recommend having a credit card and cash. You have the credit card because you don’t want to carry a bunch of cash around in a foreign country, and you have the cash because not all places will accept a card.
The easiest way to get cash when traveling to a new country is at any currency exchange booth you find at an international airport. Like anything at an airport, you will be price gauged, and at the end of the day, the exchange rate is not very favorable. Your best bet is to plan ahead, and go to your local bank to request foreign currency. Depending on your bank, this could take at least several business days, so it is not as convenient, but you are not price gauged like you would be at the airport. If you run out of cash in the foreign country, you could always pull money from the ATM, but on top of any ATM fees, you’ll also be charged for foreign transaction fees, which leads me to the next method of payment.
Why do I recommend a credit card over a debit card? There are a lot of great credit card options that do not have any foreign transaction fees, and you can gain points while traveling. These points could help pay for future trips you want to take. As far as picking which card is right for you, NerdWallet provides a great breakdown of credit cards with no foreign transaction fees, and the rewards they offer. For me, I prefer cards that offered a lot of options for how I can use my points, so I am not boxed in to only using certain airlines or hotels. If you are already loyal to a particular airline or hotel, maximize your loyalty by getting a card where you can use your rewards at those places.
The cheapest option with your cell phone is to put it on airplane mode, and turn on the Wi-Fi. You will have to rely on Wi-Fi when you can find it, but it’s free, and a great way to disconnect a little while you’re away.
Another option is paying for an international plan. You can pay by the day, or for the whole month. Beware, I have heard it is easy to use up your plan, and once you go over your data the overage charges can be pricey. Reach out to your cellular carrier for rates and services.
Besides not having a phone at all, another option is buying a burner phone. This a a good idea if you are going to be out of the country for an extended period of time, or if you are worried about your phone being hacked when abroad. Check out this Wirecutter article on burner phone options.
Is your luggage on it’s last leg, or not easy to run through an airport with? If you are gearing up for a big trip abroad, this might be the time to buy some new luggage! If you’re going on a shorter trip (i.e. a week or less) I would recommend purchasing carry-on sized luggage with wheels, Rockland has some great affordable options available.
For longer trips, a bag that is small enough to fit as carry-on is not going to cut it. You still may want something that has wheels, but also can be worn as a backpack. The Osprey isn’t cheap but it has a lot of space, and is very durable. If you are not a fan of wheels, the North Face Duffel Bag might be the large luggage alternative for you.
Before you go, be sure to check check the U.S. Department of State’s Travel Advisories. What should you do if a country you’re visiting that is on the Travel Advisory list? If it is a Level 1: Exercise Normal Precautions, then do just that, be aware of your surroundings, and let people back home know about your itinerary. Be smart, stay away from any sort of protest, if you do not feel comfortable in a situation, leave. If it is a Level 2, I would recommend the same as Level 1, but to take it a step further, you may want to reach out to the local US Embassy to let them know you will be in the country. Here is the Official list of US Embassies. Anything above a Level 2, it is not advisable to travel to that country, and you may want to cancel your travel plans. All this talk about safety might scare you, but these are merely precautions to make sure you’re prepared. The New York Times has a great article on How to Travel Safely (and Keep Calm) that will surely sooth any travel worries you may have!
Trips abroad may take a little more planning and coordination beforehand, but it’s all worth it once you get there! Once you have prepared for a trip abroad, if you are looking for a great flight deal check out my tips on: How to Successfully Find Cheap Flights Without Really Trying. Is there anything you recommend doing before you travel abroad?