Before You Go

FijiWaterFlower

Whether you are embarking on your first international adventure or planning extensive travel, making the time in advance to research the links below may help you to feel more prepared and confident before you go:

  • Passports – Generally speaking, a passport is required when U.S. citizens travel internationally. There are some exceptions, but you should consult the passport site for detailed information. Some frequent travelers have mentioned that they keep their passport locked in the hotel safe during their stay, but carry a photocopy with them at all times in case they are ever questioned by local authorities. If your passport disappears on your trip, the photocopy also helps for easier replacement. Remember to plan the appropriate lead time when applying for your first passport. Rush circumstances will cost you extra in money and stress. Also, don’t let your passport expire – always stay a step ahead to avoid the hassle later. Be sure to check rules in advance for the countries you plan to visit to ensure that you have enough time left on your passport before expiration and in some cases, enough blank pages (some countries have obscure requirements and will emotionlessly send you back on the same plane in which you arrived if you do not meet their requirements for entry). For US residents who have submitted a passport application, you can check the status here while you wait.
  • VISAs – As an American traveling abroad, you need to be aware if any of the countries on your itinerary require an entry visa. Plan ahead as these require lead time, sometimes significant. This site allows you to search requirements by destination.
  • Travel Alerts – For your safety, it is advised that you check this site before your travel to know if the U.S. has issued any travel advisories for your destination. Natural disasters, terrorist attacks, coups, anniversaries of terrorist events, election-related demonstrations or violence, and high-profile events such as international conferences or regional sports events are examples of conditions that might generate an alert. Another site I reference is from the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.  While this is geared toward Aussies, it also has valuable safety information you can review by destination.
  • Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) – This a free service for U.S. citizens who are traveling to, or living in, a foreign country. STEP allows you to enter information about your upcoming trip abroad so that the U.S. Department of State can better assist you in an emergency. STEP also allows Americans residing abroad to get routine information from the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. Email alerts can keep you informed while traveling.
  • Immunizations – The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) site allows you to review recommended immunizations before your trip. Each destination may have a different recommendation and since advisories can change, it is best to review the site as you plan each trip. Plan early because some immunizations are on a schedule and must be administered with specific lead times in order to become effective. It is important to note that some destinations, for example, require proof of vaccination for yellow fever as a condition of entry. Travel clinics can provide a special immunization card approved by the World Health Organization that you can carry along with your passport. Do not lose this. My recommendation is to share your vaccination information with your primary physician so that you can both ensure that you are on schedule for any required boosters.
  • Global Entry – This U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) program allows expedited clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travelers upon arrival in the U.S.  Program participants may enter the U.S. by using automated kiosks located at select airports. The program requires advance planning because of the lead time involved in the application and interview process. However, this is an international frequent traveler’s dream and well worth the application process and ongoing behavior requirements. In most U.S. airports, you use a special security line which can save you hours of waiting, especially around the holidays. You also avoid all of those awful lines going through immigration and customs when you return to the U.S. from a foreign country. Not sure if the application process is worth your time? Close your eyes and envision the immigration lines at JFK, LAX or ATL after a 10 hour flight. Are you really sure you want to stand in those lines?
  • Banking – It never fails. I make the same mistake over and over, despite how often I travel internationally. I often neglect to call my bank and let them know that I am taking their Visa out of the country. Then, I find myself without a functioning credit card after one coffee purchase at a foreign airport because the bank has flagged it as potential fraud. Having to then phone the bank from an international location to explain, is simply a hassle. This has never been a problem for me, though, with American Express – in fact, the last time I phoned them in advance, they let me know that I do not actually need to call because they already know where I was going to be, and when (presumably because I use my AMEX card to purchase airline tickets). The problem is that travelers often need to bring both an AMEX and another Visa or Mastercard because not all vendors accept one or the other. It is probably best to contact your bank before you leave your home country, even just for proactive convenience. Another good reason to call is to double check your potential foreign transaction fees. Some banks charge an additional fee when you make purchases internationally (often a percent of the charge). Keep in mind that this is above and beyond the fee that foreign merchants often charge to process a credit card. Those fees can add up quickly if you are not expecting them. You might also want to check your ATM fees. Speaking of which, debit cards are notorious for tripping fraud alerts and calling the bank in advance of your trip does no good to protect against this. Avoid repetitive withdrawals on the same day if possible.
  • Mail Hold – U.S. travelers with mail delivery, be sure you remember to have the post office hold your mail if you are traveling for an extended trip. If your trip is longer than the allowed hold time, you may need to make other arrangements such as mail forwarding or a P.O. Box. Don’t wait until the last minute because there is usually delay to get this started.
  • Airline Miles – My general recommendation is to choose your favorite airline and stick with it. While there are often variances in individual ticket prices between airlines, they tend to offset each other over time. It is often better just to select one airline, sign up for their frequent traveler program, and watch your miles accrue. If you can align a credit card with your preferred airline, miles can accrue even faster (e.g., Delta partners with American Express). You can earn a big sign-up bonus and a number of other perks as well. Aligning travel with a preferred credit card can also make travel easier with fraud protection. Once you get going with international travel, it is amazing how quickly miles add up. The Travel Discounts area on this site includes some other creative savings ideas that might help.
  • Specialty Items to Pack – I am usually a packing procrastinator but have learned over the years that some destinations (or forms of travel) warrant special items that I may not have on hand. The only thing worse than packing at the last minute, is trying to purchase or borrow something at the last minute. By the time I arrived in Fiji, for example, my feet and ankles had tripled in size and I realized that I need to have compression socks for long flights. I was wishing I had thought ahead about something like that and not waited until an issue arose. The What to Pack area on this site includes some suggested items as well as a packing checklist that can be downloaded to Excel in case that is helpful to you. Suggestion: Seriously consider buying compression socks unless you want swollen feet like these!

Uncomfortable Cankles

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