April 21, 2017. By Courtney Faria:

In this day and age, it’s hard not to catch the travel bug.  There are so many wonders to see in this world, from the Eiffel Tower to the Great Wall of China, from the Northern Lights to the Great Barrier Reef.  The big question is where to go next?  In college, I spent 9 months in France studying abroad.  As wonderful an experience as it was, I learned many valuable lessons from living for such an extended period of time outside the United States.  Whether you are traveling for business or for pleasure, here are some tips to help make your trip abroad go smoother.

  1. Take the time to research your destination. Customs and laws vary from culture to culture. It is always a good idea to be familiar with cultural norms so you don’t offend your host nation, or disobey their laws.  You should also take a look at the local cuisine, be aware of any allergies you could face or types of food your body may not be accustomed to.  If there is a language barrier find helpful apps and some travel books to assist you with communication.  Prior to booking your trip, another item you should research is seasonal weather patterns.  You wouldn’t want to book your trip to a tropical island during hurricane season!
  2. Make sure you have all the required documents. Passports should be updated, and if necessary obtain a visa.  If you plan on driving while in a foreign nation you may need an international driving permit.  Any medications you may need while traveling should always be in the original package and you should carry a letter or documentation from your doctor for those medications.  Photocopies of all travel documents, as well as itinerary, should be left with your loved ones should anything turn for the worse.
  3. Be prepared for the worst.
    • Emergency Funds: Before you leave ensure you have access to funds should an emergency or unexpected delay occur.
    • Insurance: It may be appropriate to purchase travel insurance should a natural disaster or other qualifying event interfere with your plans.  Or you may want to purchase a supplemental medical policy and/or medical evacuation insurance.  Depending where you are in the world, your medical policy in the United States will not necessarily be effective while you are abroad.  You may want the comfort in knowing that if something should happen on your trip you have the insurance to transport you to a hospital back in the United States close to family and friends.
    • Lost Luggage: Before boarding your plane be sure to take a photo of your luggage in case it gets lost.  It is easier to show the airline employees a picture of what was lost instead of trying to describe a suitcase that many other people might have (not to mention if there is a language barrier people will understand a picture much better).  If you have room in your carryon try to pack some of your necessities (in quantities approved by the airline) and a change of clothes just in case your luggage does get lost.  I know a couple who went on vacation and their luggage was lost upon their arrival to their destination and their luggage wasn’t returned to them for over a year!
    • Theft: One thing to be vigilant about while you go exploring is pick-pocketers, as they often prey on tourists.  Some of the high-risk situations for pick-pocketing would be in large crowds, waiting in line, or onboard buses and subways.  One way to minimize your chances of getting robbed is to keep your wallet/money in your front pockets.  Also be aware of some of the more common tactics.  One example is a stall tactic with thieves working in pairs, where one thief stops you short or bumps into you while the other removes your wallet.  A similar tactic is to distract you with harmless close body contact such that you do not notice another person stealing from you because you are so focused on the first sensation.  One last thing to watch out for is when children are the pick-pocketers or when they are used as part of the scam.  I heard a story of a couple traveling and a woman came up to them and said that she was going to drop the baby she was holding and needed them to catch the baby.  Not knowing the baby was fake they reached for the baby while a child who was with the woman came around and picked their pockets.
  4. Additional items to be aware of before and while traveling.
    • Before you head to the airport make sure to ask your doctor if there are any vaccinations you may need based on your destination. It’s better to stay ahead of any illness that could possibly happen than to be sick during your travels.
    • A couple of items that are an essential purchase are an adaptor and a converter so your electronics will still be able to be used while you are abroad. An adaptor allows you to have the right plug to the outlets of the country you are in, and a converter alters the voltage of your electronics and appliances so they will not overheat.  I had the unfortunate experience of having my laptop charger overheat while abroad, and trying to find a replacement that would work in both France and the United States was an adventure all on its own.
    • In addition to having the right adaptor and converter, you want to be aware of the cost for using your cell phone internationally.  It may be wise to contact your service provider to see if they have an appropriate international plan.  Or you can use the Wi-Fi from your hotel or other free Wi-Fi locations and turn off the data feature on your phone by keeping it in airplane mode.  Coming home to a cell phone bill with so many additional fees is not a favorable homecoming.  If you choose to use free Wi-Fi there are apps that allow you to send text messages, like HeyWire, WhatsApp, or Skype.
    • The last item of business you must do before leaving is telling your bank and credit card company that you will be using your cards out of the country so your cards do not get declined or canceled. Also, be aware of the fees you will be charged for withdrawing cash from local ATMs.  Some banks have partnerships with other banks overseas, which may allow you to withdraw money at an ATM for a lower fee or for free.

Planning a trip is supposed to be fun.  However, trying to remember all the things you need to do or necessities you need to bring can seem overwhelming.  Hopefully this list helps ease your preparations so you don’t forget something important and can thoroughly enjoy your adventure!

For more information about safety tips and travel advisories, visit the U.S. State Department’s website at: https://travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/go/checklist.html