Note: I closed down my personal blog and moved some posts over here. This was written a few years ago.
If you are taking an international trip, have you considered how you will pay for things, how you will use your phone, how you will navigate around the city, and maybe most importantly, what will happen if there is an emergency in the city you are visiting. Here are some tasks you can do beforehand to make your international trip a smooth one.
- Make sure you have a passport! If you have one already, doublecheck that it doesn’t expire within six months after your trip. I know that sounds crazy that you might not be able to travel on a valid passport that will expire six months later, but some countries are strict about this rule. If you need one quickly, you can use the expedited services. I had to do this recently when I needed a passport update and the extra money (just $60) was worth the peace of mind.
- Get currency for the country you are visiting. I like to have $100-$200 on hand to cover any charges where I can’t use my credit card. Credit cards are widely accepted in most places, but it’s always nice to have backup cash just in case. In Tampa, I go to Florida Currency Exchange with locations in Westshore Mall and International Plaza (in addition to other locations). They charge a small exchange fee and have the money for 80 countries on hand. They will also buy back your paper money (no coins) when you return from a trip. If you save the receipt, you pay a reduced exchange fee. You can also go to your local bank, but I know mine requires that I order the currency ahead of time. What’s great about Florida Currency Exchange is that you can walk right up and get your money.
- Let your bank and credit cards know that you are traveling by setting up a travel notification. You can do this online, through the app, or by calling them. In doing so, the financial institutions will be less likely to flag your account for possible fraud and cut your access to your credit cards. They will want to know your travel dates and countries.
- Get your pin from your credit card company. You will need to put in a request weeks ahead of time because they will mail you the pin. Most transactions will not require a pin, but I found two examples during a recent trip abroad where I couldn’t use my credit card because I didn’t have the pin. One was at a ticket kiosk in a train station and the other was in a small restaurant.
- Figure out what international banks are partners of your local bank in case you need more cash. The ATM fees will be lower. For example, for Bank of America customers, you can avoid a $5 transaction fee by using one of their partner banks.
- Get a credit card that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees. Better yet, get a credit card where you get extra points for travel. Often these have higher annual fees, but some offer no annual fee for the first year, and then you can cancel before the fee hits.
- Use a travel booking site. I really like Booking.com for making hotel reservations. I like having everything in one place and if I need to change my reservation, it’s easy to do this here. Just be careful about whether you have free cancellation on your reservation or not. For the most part, I like to make reservations where I can cancel for free, because you never know when plans change. Booking.com includes more than just hotels. For example, I rented an apartment through here both in Amsterdam and Cinque Terre.
- Check out your cell phone provider to see what they offer in terms of international plans. I’m a Verizon customer and have used their TravelPass. For $10 a day ($5 in Mexico and Canada), you can use your talk, text, and data allowances. You are charged when you start using it and the $10 gets you 24 hours. So maybe you need it some days and not others. If you use it strategically, you might not need it every day or at all. Also, while traveling, I keep my phone in airplane mode and turn cellular off. I look for free WiFi in places like hotels, Starbucks, and McDonald’s.
- Figure out how to use maps offline. One of the challenges of travel is navigating around a city, and you might be wondering how you can do this without cell service or WiFi. You can save your map in either Google or Apple Maps and use the app offline. I noticed recently that Apple maps would at least pinpoint where I was when I was offline. Read more about how to do this here, and you might want to practice this before your trip.
- Enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program through the U.S. State Department. The benefits of this program are that the U.S. Embassy will contact you with any safety information they receive while you are traveling or in the event of an emergency (e.g., natural disaster, terrorist attack) in the country. The program also helps family and friends get in touch with you in an emergency as well as the State Department get in touch with them.
- Consider an app to organize your travel plans in one place. I use the TripIt app. One nice feature is that you can share your itinerary with others.
- Finally, I usually make sure someone knows how to get into my house and find all my critical information in case of emergency. Most people probably don’t do this, but I always plan for the worst. Before I leave, I entrust someone with a key/codes. I also have a document of all my financial accounts and insurance policies tucked away in the house.
I hope these tasks can help you have a smooth international trip. Travel can be stressful, but if you have done some preparation, you can avoid some problems. Do you have any other good tips for planning for an international trip? If so, please share them.