11 Essentials to Prepare Before Traveling Abroad

Going abroad requires careful preparation. The first step, of course, should be to learn the rules and requirements of your destination(s). For example, some countries require visas while others do not.

1) Visit the US Department of State’s website

It has information on what you need to do in order to prepare for a trip abroad, and it organizes the information by country. The section “Americans Traveling Abroad” includes information on required documentation and vaccinations. It’s also a good idea to check “Alerts and Warnings” for such dangers as hurricanes or terrorist activity.

2) Get a passport

Since the application process can take a long time, it’s best to start it several months before your departure date. If you already have a passport, make sure it isn’t about to expire. Many countries won’t accept passports that are within six months of their expiration date. Similarly, some countries require you to have a passport for at least six months before you can apply for a visa.

3) Get a visa

Many countries also require a visa. Getting one requires contacting the country’s consulate or embassy; you can do that by phone, mail or the embassy’s website. Some countries, like Vietnam, make getting the visa very easy. They offer a “Visa on arrival” program in which travelers can get their visas at the airport as soon as they arrive.

4) Take care of any needed vaccinations

Visit the World Health Organization (WHO) and/or the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) for information about health. The CDC site is particularly helpful in describing the various vaccines travelers should get. It also notes who is most at risk of contracting a given disease. For example, pregnant women should not go anywhere that has a lot of Zika virus.

5) Handle money matters

Check the rules regarding how much money can be brought into or taken out of a country. Inform your bank and credit card companies about your travel dates so they don’t deny any purchases you make. Ask about ATM fees, travelers’ checks, and the exchange rate between the US dollar and your destination’s currency.

6) Get travel insurance

Travel insurance covers items like cancelled or interrupted trips, delayed flights, lost luggage, emergency evacuations and medical emergencies. The last can be particularly important since Medicare and many commercial health insurance companies don’t cover medical treatments provided outside the US. Travel insurance also provides phone assistance, so you can call a local hospital, get prescriptions in an emergency or get help looking for lost luggage or documents.

7) Check your communication options

In other words, make sure your cell phone company covers international calls. Some, like T-Mobile and AT&T, do, and some do not. Certain apps, such as Skype, will let you communicate with people back home for not much money.

8) Make arrangements to take care of the house

That includes contacting the post office to postpone mail deliveries while you’re gone. You may also want to call a house sitter to check on things from time to time, especially if you have a garden or some indoor plants. If you have a pet, you will have to make arrangements for its care.

9) Read up on your destination

Learn about local laws, regulations and taboos ahead of time, so you don’t offend the locals. To pick an obvious example, you should dress modestly and neatly when visiting a temple or church. Similarly, try to learn a few phrases and expressions. Also read up on interesting festivals or sites in your area.

10) Make the necessary transportation arrangements

Are you going by a plane or cruise ship? If so, you will have to book your reservation months before your departure date, especially if you’re traveling during the peak tourist season. Cruise ships generally offer the best deals to people who book six to 12 months before they depart. Airlines want people to book international flights no later than three months before the departure date.

11) Pack

Pack as lightly as possible, and give some thought to what you will and won’t need. Also research items like whether or not you will need an adapter for your electronics. Look up what you can usually buy for not much money. Leave space for souvenirs.