Maybe you just got your first passport and you’re looking for a little guidance, or maybe you’ve already traveled the world but need a refresher course. Either way, you should know that traveling abroad requires many considerations that don’t come up with domestic travel. Taking a little time to get your ducks in a row beforehand could mean the difference between an inspiring and painless adventure and a long, difficult, 2,000-mile headache.
That’s why we decided to give you 30 essential tips and considerations before your next big jetset. Let’s go!
1. Mind the six-month rule. Some countries won’t let you in if your passport is within six months of its expiration date. Be sure that your passport and the places you’re going to are compatible for a painless customs experience.
2. Copies! Have your physical passport, a paper copy, and a digital copy stored on your phone. Don’t rely on having data service or WiFi. For bonus points, it’s wise to keep physical and digital copies of your tickets and reservations as well.
3. While you’re at it, take pictures of your baggage. It’s hard enough to vividly describe missing luggage in your native language—don’t make it harder on yourself by being in another country. As your baggage is being check, snap a close-up of the airline’s baggage tag so you have a record of the airline’s routing info.
4. Check visa and other paperwork requirements. Double-check the foreign documents you’ll need to travel with. Some countries―like Russia, Kenya, and India―require a visa for entry. Others, like South Africa, won’t allow entrance unless a traveler’s passport contains at least two blank, unstamped pages.
5. Travel alerts. It’s a good idea to check the State Department’s travel warnings and alerts. It’s also smart to print out the address and contact information of the local embassy.
6. Check the immigration requirements of your destination. Some countries require proof of onward travel (e.g. plane or bus tickets) before they even let you in.
7. While we’re talking about destinations, be sure to get a seat near to the front of the plane. Use the bathroom just before descent to your destination. And when the door opens, move toward customs like a 5-year-old to a Christmas tree. Being seated at the back of the plane or even stopping to use the bathroom could turn a 5-minute wait into a 30-minute wait, as everyone on that big plane you flew in on wants out of the airport ASAP.
8. Before you travel, look up the monetary conversion and try to get a sense of the practical math — like what is 20 euros in USD?
9. Check the country’s entrance and exit fees. Some countries require travelers to pay in order to enter or leave the country. These fees are not included in your plane ticket costs, and they range from $14 to $100.
10. Contact your bank and credit card to let them know you’ll be traveling. While you’ve got your credit card company on the horn, ask them about any international or travel perks that you might be forgetting about — lounge access, free upgrades, car rental insurance, hotel perks, etc.
11. Then, when you land, remember this: Don’t get your currency at the airport, where you’ll be hugely ripped off. If you travel often, it would be wise to find a checking account that reimburses international ATM fees — there are only a few such checking accounts, but they’re a great value for the international jetsetter.
12. Always carry local cash, but often times it will be cheaper to pay with a credit card if you can. You could consider signing up for a credit card that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees, so what you pay is what you get, which is a great deal.
13. If you’re staying in a hotel, use leftover local currency toward your bill, then pay the balance with your credit card. Otherwise, you might have lire or kroner kicking around your wallet for years.
14. If you travel from the airport by taxi, confirm whether it is metered or fixed-fare before getting in. It’s a good idea to always check before you leave home the approximate fare to your destination online so you have some bargaining power in unmetered cabs.
15. Bring a charger adapter. Countries have different size plugs and voltage, so if you want to charge your phone, computer, or tablet, you’ll need an adapter.
16. Activate your phone’s global capabilities or disable roaming and only use it with WiFi. There is typically a fee for doing this, but it’s less than roaming charges.
17. Get a guidebook. Even with everything there is on the internet, guidebooks are still the perfect primary source for travel info.
18. Buy tickets now for all the places you know you want to visit, and don’t forget—printed copy and digital copy. Buying ahead of time lets you skip lines and find good deals.
19. Learn a handful of words and phrases in the local language, then use them! Most cultures appreciate the effort, and you’re helping fight the bad image that Americans don’t care about other people’s culture.
20. The Ultimate Guide to Worldwide Etiquette provides a quick rundown of customs, etiquette, and tipping standards around the world. Who knew it’s rude to eat with your left hand in Saudi Arabia?
Local guides: there are three ways to get local guidance.
- 21. One is through social media: ask who’s been where you’re going, what to see (and what to skip!), and if there’s anyone you can meet while there.
- 22. A second way is to find local and travel bloggers. Travel bloggers typically have narrowed down the best sites for you already, and local bloggers are a wealth of information on music venues, events, the newest restaurant, and other under-the-guidebook-radar goodness.
- 23. The third way is just simply search online and hire a well-reviewed guide for the day. AirBnb experiences are a great avenue for short tours, but every major city has its share of people who earn a living giving tours.
24. If you want to experience the weird side of a city, Atlas Obscura is your go-to guide for bizarre restaurants, strange architecture, tiny museums, and more.
25. Check in with your doctor to be sure you have all the proper vaccinations, that there are no health alerts in the areas where you’re traveling, and that you have re-upped on all of your essential prescriptions.
26. Check with your medical insurance provider about if and how your policy applies abroad in case of an emergency. If it doesn’t, you may want add extra coverage or supplemental insurance. In this case, Alliance members are covered through our global emergency network.
27. Pack healthy snacks. With jam-packed itineraries of museums and guided tours, eating in a foreign country can sometimes become a bit inconvenient. Rather than ruin your appetite on a mediocre food cart, bring small snacks to tide you over until you find that perfect spot.
28. Pack a basic first aid kit and generally useful medicine: depending on your own history and preferences, consider bringing medicine for pain relief, allergies, diarrhea, motion sickness, digestion, and sleep aid.
29. Also in your carry-on: hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes. Airports are seedbeds of sickness and never the cleanest places, so do what you can to keep all the immunity compromises away.
30. Deal with jet lag. Use the ‘Jet Lag’ calculator courtesy of British Airways to calculate the best sleep pattern to follow to reduce the effects of jet lag. For a few days before traveling, you can take melatonin at around just after dark where you’ll be traveling to. If it’s night when you arrive at your destination, do you best to sleep or rest. If it’s morning, do what you can to stay awake. And exercise just before and just after your flight is anecdotally a great way to fight jet lag.
Alliance Direct Benefits offers a range of affordable travel benefits for members. The Alliance Value Plan gives members access to free 24/7 roadside assistance and global ambulance and helicopter emergency services. Alliance Plus Plan members also get rental car discounts up to 20% off at Budget, Hertz, Enterprise, and Zipcar and the Hotel Access Card, which can be used for 10–70% discounts on lodging at 26,000 locations nationwide.
Alliance Direct Benefits is committed to helping you save money while traveling and arrive at your destination safely. For more information, and to become an Alliance member, visit the Alliance Direct Benefits website today or call us at 1-800-733-2242 (M-F, 7am-5:30pm Central Time).