Preparing to head across the pond for the first time? Check out these tips from Ister to get you ready!
Call in the pros. Whether this is your first or twentieth time out of the country, consider contacting a travel agent! They can help you make plans, book reservations, and handle problems along the way. It can be a huge relief to know you have someone on your side. Bonus: Most agents are free! (I highly recommend Dream Creators Travel! Deannise is my agent and she’s my savior.)
Grab your passport. If you already have your passport, give it a peek and make sure it’s still valid for travel. Even if it’s not currently expired, you may need to renew it before leaving the country. Don’t have a passport yet? Get to it! Give yourself enough time for it to process (at least 6 weeks) or you’ll be paying a hefty fee to have it expedited. Questions about the process and requirements? Get the facts here.
How about a visa? Assuming you are simply visiting as a tourist, many of the popular travel destinations do not require a travel visa. However, you should always do a quick double check before you’re caught in a sticky situation (and be prepared to apply if you are planning any kind of extended stay). My fellow Americans can check here for detailed government-provided information and instruction.
Vaccinate. Check the CDC’s official site for location-specific information on vaccination requirements and recommendations as soon as you start planning. Know what you need to get in and out of the country, and be prepared with any necessary documentation and records.
Phone a friend. Check with your cell service provider and find out what your options are for international travel. Most companies offer a daily rate or special short-term plan. You can also consider purchasing an international phone card instead. If you don’t foresee any important phone calls during your travels, and are traveling to a developed area with Wi-Fi access, you may be able to get away with an internet-based communication app (Facebook messenger, Voxer, Skype, etc). Keep in mind the communication limitations this will put on you when you are outside the range of an accessible network.
Make the swap. Exchange your money for the foreign currency at your bank ahead of time. Don’t try to do this last minute, especially if you are hoping to exchange a significant amount of cash. Many banks don’t keep much foreign currency on hand and will need to order it in for you. Even if you are traveling with an international credit card, make an effort to also bring a bit of cash. Just like here in your home country, not everyone accepts card payments.
Learn the language. I’m not saying you need to start four years in advance and become fluent in reading, writing, and speaking the language, but make a little effort here. There are plenty of helpful apps (DuoLingo is an Ister fave) and videos (you all know how to use YouTube) out there to give you a solid base. Learn basic words and phrases so you can get by without stressing or putting yourself in a bad place. Keep your planned activities in mind and tailor your bilingual education to your trip. (Ister tip: If you aren’t feeling confident with the new language, research high tourist areas. Those areas will be MOST likely to understand some English.)
Familiarize yourself with the culture. Whether you prefer reading a travel guide or watching a travel vlogger, do your due diligence. You and the locals will both be happier when you come prepared to pay for the public toilet… (Ister tip: Don’t be afraid to dig. Find out traditions and customs, local hot spots, and even common scams in the area. Know the location as well as possible!)
Don’t forget Fido. Find pet care well in advance. Whether its Aunt Marge or the kennel down the street, make plans to leave your babies with someone you trust. Keep in mind: you’ll be a long way from home in case of a pet emergency. If you are using a business instead of family, reach out immediately after booking your trip. Kennels and other doggy digs book up fast!
Pack smart. Check luggage and carry-on cost and size limitations with your airline before you go. Double check dimensions of your bags BEFORE you pack. After everything is packed up, check the weight to make sure you won’t incur any additional fees. (Ister tip: Can’t get your bag to sit on your home scale properly? Weigh yourself. Then weigh yourself holding the bag. Subtract one from the other and voila- bag weight.)
Be realistic with your clothing choices. Consider the climate and your activities on the trip and make smart decisions. Bring options, but don’t go wild. Keep in mind those weight limitations from the previous point…
Bring the things you NEED in your carry-on. In the case of lost luggage, you won’t want to be without your medications, travel documents, electronics/communication, or a clean set of clothes. Also consider carrying on personal items like headphones and any comfort items you travel with, like a favorite pillow. (Ister tip: Contact wearers should always bring glasses and solution, too. Dry cabin air can be killer on the eyes.) If you aren’t checking any luggage, consider bringing a separate smaller ‘travel bag’ to keep with you in the seat for these essentials.
Keep your travel bag simple and realistic. Skip multiple books (will you really read 4 novels on your flight?), excessive food (bring snacks, not 3 square meals), or excessive toys for children (think about their usual day and how many items they’ll ACTUALLY need). Avoid digging through your bag for the 2 items you actually use or lugging around a 20 pound carry-on.
Don’t forget to find out if you’ll need a universal outlet adapter! You may be able to find one when you get to your destination, or even in the airport, but skip the stress and grab one ahead of time.
Batten down the hatches. Arrange for a friend to pop by the house every few days. Turn off your water. Have the post office hold your mail. Secure the locks, take out the trash, and straighten up the lawn. Give the homestead a once-over and ensure you don’t come home to a minor (or major) disaster.
Fly smoothly. Keep your boarding pass, passport, and any other important documents together in a folder or small bag. This will help keep them safe and easy to grab any time you’re asked for them.
Know and properly follow all TSA rules and regulations. This is not the time to get creative or try out that snazzy “life hack” you read online.
Save time after you disembark the plane by making your luggage easily identifiable. Consider purchasing unique luggage if you don’t already have some, or jazz up your basic suitcase for the trip with a ribbon or fun tag. A pink Minnie Mouse suitcase is easier to spot than yet another big black bag. Should your luggage go missing, this also makes it easier to describe to the airline service people.
Chances are, if you are taking an international flight, it’s a long one. Dress in comfortable clothes, if possible, and remember that you’ll have to slip out of your shoes at airport security. Avoid buttons, belts, collars, and anything that may irritate you in your plane seat. Do your best to stay away from ‘difficult to put on’ shoes, like work boots.
Arrive prepared. If you are planning on doing any sightseeing or made any transportation plans ahead of time, print out all tickets, vouchers, and documentation before you leave home. Tuck these documents in with your passport and boarding pass and avoid the struggle of trying to find a printer or pull anything up on your phone. (Ister tip: Planning on traveling in a taxi? Pre-print slips of paper with your planned locations and “home” address on them. That way, you know there will be no communication issues getting you where you need to be!)
Try new things. Use your trip as an opportunity to try something you may never experience at home. Don’t be afraid to submerge yourself in the culture and have a real adventure.
Take photos. Or don’t. This is your trip and these are your memories. Want to bring home snapshots and video clips to share and look over again and again? Do it. Want to live in the moment and not look at a single thing through a lense? Do that instead. Experience it your way.
Enjoy. Soak up your surroundings and appreciate every second of your trip. Don’t let little bumps in the road get you down. Laugh at miscommunications and create memories from mishaps. Take mental photos of your favorite views and breathe in delicious smells to be remembered later. Live in the moment. Enjoy.
Comment below, wonderful readers. Share with me where you are headed in your international travels!