Whether for work or leisure, the success of your international travel dramatically hinges on how well you plan. And since travel regulations vary from country to country, it’s crucial to have a good understanding of where you’re going. So how can you best prepare for your international travel?
Here are 14 questions to ask before traveling abroad:
- Is my passport valid?
- Do I need a visa?
- Where will I be staying?
- Have I confirmed my booking?
- Is an international driving permit necessary?
- What is my airline’s baggage policy?
- How will I exchange money?
- Do I need travel insurance?
- Are there any required vaccinations?
- Are there any health risks or concerns?
- Have I prepared for emergencies?
- Are there any places or activities I should avoid?
- How can I make the flight more comfortable?
- Have I packed everything required?
In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the critical questions to ask when planning to travel abroad. You can use this as a guide for your next international trip!
1. Is My Passport Valid?
Traveling abroad is impossible without a passport. So if it’s your first time traveling abroad, you’ll need to apply for your passport. Applying at the earliest time possible is highly recommended as the process can take weeks to months. As I write this, the current wait time for a new passport is about 16 weeks.
If you’ve traveled abroad before, you’ll still need to check if your passport is valid to avoid last-minute complications. Many countries will not accept a passport within 6 months of its expiration. So if you are close to that time frame (or within it), you will need to renew your passport as early as possible.
Always check well in advance if your passport is valid. Ideally, you should finish up with all things involving passports at least a month before your scheduled travel. Having your passport sorted early enough means your trip will likely go on as planned.
For current wait times and details on how to apply for a US Passport, the official source is the US State Department.
2. Do I Need A Visa?
Visa requirements vary from country to country—exactly why you should always confirm well in advance. Even as a passport holder, you still might need to have a visa as proof that you’re traveling legally.
And although visa applications can be made online, you’ll need to apply well before your scheduled travel date as the process can take some time.
Checking visa requirements as early as possible is the safest way to avoid complications as you get closer to your travel date. While some countries can issue a visa on arrival (depending on their ties with your home country), most will need you to apply and have the request approved before you are granted access.
A great resource to check whether or not you need a visa is CIBTVisas.com for US Citizens and OnlineVisa.com for Canadian Citizens. For other nationalities, please Google ”Visa requirements for _____ citizens” for details.
3. Where Will I Be Staying?
Similar to passport and visa applications, you’ll also need to sort your accommodation weeks or even months before your travel date, at least if you’re to avoid untimely complications.
So how can you know where to stay in a foreign country that you’ve never been to before? There are many resources you can use to get lodging options for even the most remote locations. One favorite is YouTube as they have first-hand for almost everything.
Another is using websites such as Google Hotels and TripAdvisor to get an idea of what is available, ratings, and reviews. The trick, however, is to consider several accommodation options before settling for one. Checking online reviews at one of the sources above or via word-of-mouth will help you narrow down your options and find one that perfectly meets your needs.
The following video shares many of our professional secrets to planning amazing trips, including how to choose lodging.
4. Have I Confirmed My Booking?
While this might seem like an obvious question, it can go a long way in helping you avoid last-minute rushes.
Always check if all your bookings are in order and take printouts as proof of timely bookings. There are quite a few countries at the moment (during COVID restrictions) that require proof of booking when you enter the country.
If you have any concerns or need clarifications, be sure to contact the relevant service providers, preferably a week or more before you travel abroad.
5. Is an International Driving Permit Necessary?
Driving rules vary from country to country, so it is important to research your destination’s transport regulations. An international driving permit will be necessary if you plan to drive yourself or rent a motorcycle or scooter in a foreign country.
But if you plan to use the available local transport systems, you won’t need to fuss about an international driving permit. However, you’ll still need to research and compare prices to choose between public or private transport in your destination country.
If you want to drive yourself to a foreign country, it’s advisable to apply for an international driving permit early enough since the application process can take a couple of days to even two weeks to complete.
6. What Is My Airline’s Baggage Policy?
Airplane luggage rules tend to vary from airline to airline, hence the need to consult with your preferred airline before packing for your international trip. Reviewing airline guidelines thoroughly will help you know what to pack in your cabin and check-in bags.
It’s also helpful to learn about various weight limits of luggage to avoid unnecessary fees or any last-minute inconveniences.
Additionally, if you will be traveling via a cruise ship or staying where space is limited, you will need to confirm baggage policies there as well. There may be limits to the number of bags allowed or size restrictions that may affect what you bring.
7. How Will I Exchange Money in a Foreign Destination?
If you need cash while abroad, it’s crucial to keep an eye on foreign transaction fees and currency exchange conversion fees as they can set you back some hard-earned dollars. And since currency exchange rates are subject to constant fluctuation, it’s essential to plan how you’ll change to local currency at least some days before departure.
One great way to reduce currency exchange fees is through your local bank or credit union before departure. Most US banks have a variety of foreign currencies that they can sell you. An example is the Bank of America which exchanges currencies usable in over 100 countries.
Exchanging currencies in advance can help you avoid airport kiosk transactions. While airport kiosks offer a lot of convenience in terms of currency conversion, they usually have the worst rates around.
A great way to find the best places to exchange currency is YouTube. For instance, a few years ago I traveled to Japan and needed to find a good exchange source (many places there require cash instead of a credit card). On YouTube I found quite a few videos from visitors and locals explaining that the local 7/11 stores had the best rates.
You can also opt to pay by card (if cards are readily accepted – be sure to check), but you’ll need to be on the lookout for foreign transaction fees if you prefer this method. Credit or debit cards can charge foreign transaction fees of up to 3% for purchases made in foreign countries. Your bank will be able to confirm whether or not your credit cards charge foreign transaction fees.
ATM payments are also another option. However, you’ll first need to confirm if your bank offers ATM services in your foreign destination. Be warned, though, that banks are known to charge extra when clients use out-of-network ATMs.
8. Do I Need Travel Insurance?
Traveling abroad comes with some risks. These include not having access to your medical insurance, lost or stolen items, cancellations, acts of terrorism, COVID shut-downs requiring repatriation, and much more. Though insurance cannot prevent these things from happening, it can get you the help you need when you need it.
There are usually two main types of travel insurance, basic and comprehensive plans. Both will cover you for lost or stolen luggage, travel cancellations and delays, trip interruption, and medical emergencies. The primary difference with comprehensive plans is higher coverage amounts (for instance, the trip cancellation reimbursement might be up to $2,500 per person with basic coverage, whereas comprehensive might be up to $5,000). Some comprehensive plans also provide extra coverage for special activities, COVID issues, and more.
For more details on what is covered, how to choose a travel insurance provider, and our recommendations, see Is Travel Insurance Necessary?
9. Are There Any Required Vaccinations?
Another factor to consider when traveling abroad is their vaccination policies. This is especially important as some countries restrict entry for visitors lacking the necessary vaccination certificates.
While COVID vaccines are starting to be required to visit many countries, these are not the only vaccines to consider. Some countries present other risks that require vaccination (such as yellow fever or malaria).
A great resource for vaccine information is the CDC. They have a TravelWell app that gives detailed vaccination recommendations for most countries.
That being said, while COVID is still a factor, be sure to verify travel restrictions and requirements such as testing, quarantine, and vaccination requirements for the country you are visiting and for your return home. If you are a US citizen, for instance, at the moment you will need a negative COVID test to return home.
You can also consult with your doctor about necessary vaccinations based on your medical history. Getting vaccinations early enough is highly advisable as it gives your body enough time to adjust and develop immunity against the disease. For COVID, most countries require you to be completely vaccinated (including the waiting period after your last shot).
10. Are There Any Health Risks or Concerns?
As you prepare to travel to a foreign country, it’s crucial to research if the destination country is prone to any specific diseases. While being up to date with routine vaccines can help you avoid infectious diseases, not preparing adequately for diseases common in your destination country can leave you sick and, even worse, hospitalized.
For instance, if you’re traveling to a country prone to malaria, you’ll need to pack wisely, especially in terms of clothes and repellents.
Additionally, it is important to know what is safe to eat and drink. For instance, can you drink the water? If not, is it safe to use for other uses such as brushing your teeth? If not, you will need to plan for bottled water for anything going in your mouth. This includes not ordering drinks made with ice unless it is from a reputable hotel or restaurant that verifies their water has been filtered.
A family member of mine was traveling to Peru and ordered a cocktail with ice, not thinking about the water issue. She became violently ill and had to cut her trip short to return home. It’s the little things we don’t think of that hit us unawares (another reason travel insurance is highly advisable).
To be on the safe side, it’s recommended you consult with the CDC‘s webpage to determine medicines or additional vaccines that you may require. Moreover, making an appointment with a travel health specialist can help you know more about how best to prepare for potential diseases and illnesses.
11. Have I Prepared for Emergencies?
Emergencies can occur anytime during travel. But the situation is even riskier when traveling abroad, thousands of miles away from your family and basic service providers. As such, it’s vital to prepare adequately for emergencies that might pop up.
In addition to having travel insurance, carrying a travel health kit is one way to prepare for emergencies. The kit should contain items like over-the-counter and prescription drugs that might be hard to find in your destination country. Ideally, you should pack enough meds to last you the entire trip. Packing extra supplies will keep you safe in case you opt to extend your stay by a couple of days.
You should also leave several copies of sensitive travel documents like a passport, itinerary, vaccination certificates, and contact information. Leaving copies of important documents is vital as the originals can get lost or damaged during travel.
Also, consider checking in with a friend or family member on a regular basis. This is especially important when traveling alone or for extended periods. This ensures there is someone who can send out the “Bat Signal” if they don’t hear from you.
12. Are There Any Places or Activities I Should Avoid?
Before you make bookings or pay for advance services in a foreign country, it’s advisable to consult with your travel agent or credible travel websites to know more about the dos and don’ts.
For instance, some people in a particular location might be welcoming to tourists and foreigners. In contrast, others can give you a hard time and even vandalize your rented car or, even worse, break into your rented apartment.
Therefore, before visiting relatively unknown areas, it’s highly advisable to ask around, conduct some research, or even call a local (such as your hotel concierge, Airbnb host, or tour guide) to understand the involved risks better.
Ask about security, hospitality, emergency service protocol, and even accessibility before deciding to stay or visit a particular destination abroad.
13. How Can I Make the Flight More Comfortable?
Traveling abroad might appear fun and hassle-free on paper, but in reality, it involves a lot of planning to help ensure everything runs smoothly and there are no unwelcome surprises.
One way to ensure a smooth and comfortable experience is to consider every step of your trip, starting with your flight. Since you’ll be flying for a number of hours (depending on location), steer clear of tight-fitting or restrictive clothing as they can leave you feeling excessively itchy and uncomfortable.
Dressing in layers is also advisable as it allows you to remove clothes with ease to adjust to both hot and cold temperatures. Breathable clothing like cotton tees and sweatshirts can leave you feeling a lot more comfortable when flying. It can be quite cold on flights as well, so always bring a sweater or jacket even when traveling in the hottest months.
You should also wear shoes that are easy to slip on or off for enhanced comfort. On particularly long flights, be sure to get up and move around once per hour if possible to avoid potential blood clots and circulation issues.
Carrying earplugs or headphones can help you tune out chatty passengers and crying babies, allowing you to have some good rest and reducing your levels of fatigue upon arrival.
Also, consider ways to make the airport process much smoother. Joining programs such as TSA pre-check, Global Entry, and Clear can help you get through airport security and customs more quickly. Another way to make this process more comfortable is by taking advantage of first-class lounges. This can be done through your credit card or airline membership, by purchasing a day pass, or through a membership such as PriorityPass which gives access to first-class lounges worldwide.
14. Have I Packed Everything Required?
As obvious as it may sound, every traveler needs to ask this question several hours before heading to the airport.
Working with a checklist is a great way to know what you’ve packed and what is yet to be packed. Confirm whether you’ve packed the necessary medical supplies, your itinerary, necessary travel documents, and your preferred set of clothes.
A great app to help create your packing list is PackPoint (available on iOS and Android). You simply enter your travel information, what you will be doing, and a few other details and it helps you generate a list of items to pack.
- Better Health: Travel Health Tips
- CDC: Before You Travel Internationally
- Mental Floss: 10 Ways To Make Your Flight More Comfortable
- Veenaworld: 10 Tips For First Time International Travelers
- Day Trip Tips: Tips For Traveling Abroad First Time
- Go Abroad: Tips For Traveling Abroad First Time
- Go Overseas: Travel Tips For First Time Travelers
- USA Gov: Visitors Driving
- Wikipedia: Hand_luggage
- CDC: Countries
- Bank of America: Foreign Currency Exchange
- US Customs and Border Patr