International Travel Planning and Safety

A Reminder That Going Abroad Doesn’t Need to be Stressful

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Planning a trip abroad can be both exciting and overwhelming. Whether you’re spending a week or three months in a foreign country, detailed preparation for your escape can really take the buzz out of pre-vacation excitement if you don’t know what you’re doing. You want to relax and explore once you reach your destination, so it’s important that you take care of every technicality you can before actually leaving. If only you could find a guide to make the transition seamless! Below, you’ll find (almost) all you need to be careful about before (and while) you embark on your journey. 

Before You Leave

Documentation. Of course, you’ve already checked to make sure that your passport is up-to-date. But what about a tourist visa? Luckily, thanks to an agreement between the US and various European countries, just a passport will suffice when traveling to Europe for a short vacation. However, other countries like Australia require you to apply for a short stay (or long stay) tourist visa. You’ll also want to make copies of all important documents including health insurance (more on that below), debit and credit cards, and multiple forms of identification. Before you leave, check to see whether or not your US license will permit you to rent a car, because if not, applying for an international license beforehand will free up some of your vacation time.

Healthcare. Ensure that if you use prescription medication you have enough to last you the duration of your trip. Some countries have strict drug laws, so to avoid running into any trouble, be sure to carry along a signed doctor’s form verifying all of your prescriptions. In terms of insurance, it’s likely that your provider will not cover you internationally so purchasing good supplemental insurance is important depending on how long you’ll be gone. Lastly, don’t forget your country-specific vaccinations and proof forms!

Your Smartphone. It’s incredibly convenient to be able to use your smart phone while abroad, whether you set up a texting app, use it for navigation or translation, want to share photos, or need to research hot new restaurants. Contact your provider to see what international options they provide; they tend to be on the pricier side but can be truly life saving in inevitable times of confusion. But be sure to adjust your phone usage to what the plan allows to avoid data overage fees that cost more than your child’s college tuition! 

Money. Rule number one of handling currency abroad: don’t exchange currency anywhere but an ATM! Currency exchange rates in airports, train stations, etc. are an enormous rip-off. That being said, before using your credit or debit card abroad, be sure to call your bank and notify them of every country you’ll be visiting. If your card doesn’t have a metal chip, you may want to consider switching, as most European countries have switched from the magnetic strip reader to exclusively chip-reading technology. In case you’re unable to use a debit or credit card in certain establishments, withdraw some local currency at an ATM to have on you at all times. 

Your Airline. So you’ve taken care of your pre-travel needs and are feeling confident that you know what to expect…that is, until you check in with your airline and realize that you have more, bigger, or heavier bags than you’re allowed and have to pay $100 per violation. Weigh your luggage and read your airline’s baggage regulations. Nobody likes extra baggage! For example, you may have saved money by booking with Aer Lingus but didn’t realize that they are strict (as in, within a centimeter) about what they’ll allow in the cabin. They are even stricter about weight allowances. In the event that one of your bags is slightly overweight, but you’re given the opportunity from a kind attendant to shift items from one suitcase to another, keep in mind that you’ll be doing this in front of the whole counter: you may want to keep the Spanx at the bottom of your suitcase. 

When You Get There

Be Aware. Culture shock is real and harder to deal with when you don’t know what to expect. Not only is it important to understand local customs so that you know what’s appropriate to wear, how to greet local people, how much to tip (if at all), and how to better conduct yourself in social settings, but it’s also important to, amid all of this confusion, always be aware of yourself and your surroundings. Aside from electronics, it may be appropriate to avoid bringing valuables like fine jewelry or displaying them on yourself, as thieves in most tourist-laden countries see these as targets. It may be a good idea to invest in a cross-body bag with a secure closure, as these are pretty difficult to swipe. If you choose to keep your passport on your person rather than in a secure, hidden place in your hotel room, then this is especially important. Even in some of the world’s safest cities, never lose track of your personal belongings and keep them close to your body and within your line of vision.  

The goal here is not to stress to the point of ruining your vacation, but merely to understand that different regions offer different risks (and, of course, rewards). After only a small amount of time spent in your dream destination, you’ll realize that these precautions have become second-nature and that being a traveler does not make you a target. So check off your to-do list, find the dog a babysitter, and book a taxi to your nearby airport – there are unexplored places waiting!