So you've just booked your first international vacation — congrats! Now that your transportation and hotels are taken care of and all the rest of your plans are in place (or most of them, anyway), it's time to make sure you do these last few things to ensure your trip is as seamless as possible. Hopefully you've done one or two of these already — like checking your passport or visa requirements — but some of these might not be so obvious.
- Double-check your passport. Make sure you have plenty of time before it expires. Some countries require more than six months validity on your passport, so it's important to be sure you have at least that long on it. Granted, if this is your first international vacation, there's a good chance your passport is brand-spankin' new!
- Research customs and culture in the country you'll be visiting. The last thing you want to do is be disrespectful toward your host country by doing something easily avoidable.
- Try to learn a couple of key phrases to get you by. If the country speaks a different language, learning such things as, "Please," "Thank you," "Do you speak English?", and simple directionals will go a long way. In my experience, it also endears me to locals that I've made an effort to speak to them in their language.
- Make photocopies of all your IDs and credit cards. Leave one set of copies at home with someone you trust, like a parent, and tuck the other set of copies away in your luggage where they won't be found. Just in case you lose any of your cards or documentation, you'll have all the numbers you need to contact the appropriate parties to get the situation taken care of quickly. Just be extra, extra careful to not let the photocopies out of your possession and be sure to shred them after your trip.
- Check your cell phone's international service plan. Be sure you can use it if you need it! While I would love to tell you to unplug completely and escape reality for your vacation, the truth is you might need your phone as a map or a way to get in touch with someone in case of emergency. I actually don't recommend disconnecting yourself completely, which means it's important to contact your service provider to be sure you can use your phone internationally without incurring a bunch of charges.
- Check to see if you need a visa. Some countries require a tourist visa to enter despite the validity of your passport.
- Buy that travel insurance! When you're in another country, you want to make your life as easy as possible, and in case of emergencies of any sort, your travel insurance will be a huge help. Whether you end up with any injuries or traveling hiccups, travel insurance could be what saves your trip from becoming a nightmare.
- Get some cash in the denomination of the country you'll be in. While I tend to stick with using my no-hassle credit card when I travel so I don't have any loose cash, I always end up needing some cash at some point. In my experience, the best exchange rate tends to be at my home bank before leaving rather than in an airport or the country you'll be going to.
- Make sure you have the appropriate outlet adapters and converters. I have
this adapter from Amazonthat works everywhere and costs less than $25. Some of the more modern or upscale hotels in certain countries will have American outlets, but better to be prepared rather than count on that.
- Download any apps that you may need that will work offline so you aren't running up your data usage. I always have an itinerary and list of useful numbers and addresses in a Google doc that I can access at all times, and I also use a money conversion app so I can double check prices of things.
- Alert your banks that you're traveling. You should do this if you are traveling domestically, too. You want to be sure that all the banks behind all your credit cards are aware of your location so your card will work when you need it to.
- Bring a snack from home you know you'll like. I did this when I went to Europe the first time and wasn't sure how much I'd love the food. I threw a jar of Jif peanut butter in my suitcase and a couple of plastic knives to carry around with me to spread on whatever bread or fruit I could find, just in case the local cuisine wasn't something I was interested in. (I was a very picky eater years ago.) Because peanut butter is packed with protein, it was also a good way to sneak in some food to tide me over on long days until my friend and I could settle on a meal.