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International Trip Prep

Yay! Congrats on your first international trip!  International travel is a blast when you are well prepared!

Follow these steps, 
prepare yourself in advance, and your trip should go off without a hitch. Remember to look at things with an open mind, and be objective when looking at the way dress, speak, talk, drive, etc.

1.) What to pack

  • When in doubt: if you don’t wear it or use it now, you won’t wear it or use it on your trip! Most people over pack on their first big trip overseas, do not do this. Think about all of the luggage you have to carry, and the space you will need to bring home gifts and souvenirs. I would not check more than one bag per person. I recommend 1 checked bag, no more than 30 lbs. max. If you end up buying more stuff you can buy another bag to bring home with you or you can put it in your carryon.
  • In your carry on bag: bring the following – any medications you take, anything you can’t afford to lose if your bag is lost – this includes but is not limited to your camera, phone, computer, etc. earplugs for the flight (and in general), travel toothbrush and toothpaste, deodorant, reading material, phone charger, and passport. After a long flight you will want to brush your teeth and freshen up, so this is why I always pack a toothbrush. I also always wear earplugs to help sleep. The earplugs come in handy as well if you are a light sleeper and a new city is nosier than you are used to. No matter how nice your hotel, if you are in a big city there will be night noise.
  • Check the weather before you go.  If it says rain then bring an umbrella, if it will be snowing bring a hat and gloves, etc.
  • Be sure to bring any medications you might need. I always bring a few over the counter medications. Pharmacies are different in every country and what you might get in one country over the counter might only be on prescription there, or they won’t have your brand, etc.  If you will be on your period, you definitely need to pack for it. Finding tampons in other countries can be a pain and you never know what you are going to get.

 

2.) Passport information

  • In general, your passport must be valid for at least 6 months from the date you enter a foreign country.
  • Make TWO copies of your passport. In the unlikely event that your passport is lost or stolen having copies will be your saving grace. Keep one copy in your suitcase or in another place separate from your passport. Leave the other at home for a family member.
  • Email a scanned copy of your passport to yourself
  • Do not let anyone ever hold your passport. Once you arrive at your destination, put it in the safe and leave it there. You can bring another form of ID with you for your tours if needed. The only time anyone should ever be touching your passport is when at customs or immigration at the airport.

 

3.) Currency and banking

  • Google the local currency and find out the exchange in advance.
  • The best way to get money for your trip is simply to take money out of the ATM. 
Call your bank before you leave and let them know you will be out of the country, they will remove the restrictions for the period you specify and then you can use your ATM card at any ATM.
  • You will be charged a very small international transaction fee, but this is by far the cheapest way to get money. Changing hard currency at the airport or doing a money order at a bank is very expensive and a waste of money.
  • Traveler’s checks are not a thing anymore, don’t even consider it.
  • Take $100 emergency cash per person with you just in case you need it. I do this for every trip and I only ever needed it once. My friend left her wallet on her plane in Frankfurt and she literally had no money, I gave her my $100 and she changed it to Euro and that tided her over until her mom could send her money western union.
  • Figure out how much money you think you will need. Say you want $50 per day. For 4 days take out $200 at once to minimize ATM fees.  You can take out more money as needed later.
  • You can pay with your MasterCard and Visa in most places, but cash is preferred in most countries. Call your credit card company in advance so your transactions aren’t declined.

 

4.) Phone

  • Call your cell phone company to find out if your phone will work abroad; if so add the international calling plan. You probably won’t make calls, but this is good to have in case you have to make a call.
  • Turn off cellular data when you land and turn on wifi. Get on the free wifi in your hotel and cafes and use that for mapping, chatting, email, and Skype. If you do not have apple imessage then I recommend getting the chat app WhatsApp. This is actually the largest chat app in the world, everyone but Americans use it. I use it when I travel to keep in touch with family and friends.
  • Seriously just don’t make calls, it’s too expensive and you are too busy traveling. Just stick to chatting and email if you need to. You’ll have your phone if you need it for emergencies but don’t call unless you are dying. Otherwise you will actually die when you get your phone bill.
  • Someone at the airport will probably try to sell you an ’international’ phone for your trip, you do not need this, this is a rip off.

 

5.) Language

  • Google the lingua franca before you arrive, but in the city center, hotel, and airport, almost anyone you encounter will speak some English. Most signs around the city center will be in the local language as well as English.  At restaurants you can ask for an English menu. Just smile a lot and be nice.

 

6.) Pick pocketing

  • This is by far and away the biggest ‘threat’ you will encounter. All busy, touristy areas are known for its pick pocketing problem. Here is how to avoid it.
  • Women: not wear a mini backpack, and if you wear a purse make sure it is in front of your body at all times and has a zipper. Do not use a purse that just has a button at the top. Make sure you only carry what you actually need. Take out all of your cards you aren’t using, those loyalty cards, your gym membership, etc. etc. Anything that does not need to be in your wallet day of should not be in it.
  • Men: do not put your wallet in your back pocket. Put it in your front pocket, and even then make sure you only carry what you actually need. Take out all of your cards you aren’t using, those loyalty cards, your gym membership, etc. etc. Anything that does not need to be in your wallet day of should not be in it.
  • Only carry the cash you need with you and can afford to get stolen. This sounds dumb, but don’t walk around with hundreds of dollars on you.
  • Pickpockets are so clever you won’t even believe it. They pretend to run into you, they distract you with a little show on the street, or they distract you with a question or by pointing somewhere.
  • Slightly lame, but sightseeing in busy, congested areas, I do recommend wearing a money belt. You wear this under your jeans, kind of like a fanny pack but hidden under your clothes.  This also frees your hands up to take pictures. Leave any other devices you don’t need in your hotel and make sure your camera is around your wrist or neck at all times.
  • I have only been ‘pick pocketed’ once in more than 10 years of frequent travel and backpacking. I was living in Spain at the time and my friend and I were sitting at a local bar outdoors during the early evening just enjoying a drink. I stupidly left my clutch on the table while my friend went to grab drinks. A man came up to me and started asking me about a street I had never heard of. We were in the neighborhood I lived in and I knew it pretty well so I was confused and he was pointing and asking about this mystery street, I looked around and told him I wasn’t sure if that street existed, this went on only for a few seconds. The man left and my friend came back and a minute later we realized my bag was gone. Camera, apartment keys, wallet, phone, all gone.
  • Just be aware that there are professional pickpockets operating around you at all times when you are gazing at the sights. Being prepared and aware is enough to keep them at bay.
  • This is another reason your passport should stay in the safe, having your passport lifted will ruin your trip.

 

7.) Electricity

  • Google the electricity in the country before you go and get a converter on amazon before you leave. Most flatirons do not convert and they will burn out if you try to convert them.

 

8.) Medical

  • Bring your primary and travel insurance cards.
  • If you do have a medical emergency you will be asked to pay out of pocket and then you submit your costs to your insurance company when you get home for reimbursement.
  • Medical care outside of the United States is affordable, so if you do get sick the cost out of pocket will be minimal, if any.
  • If you get ill the hotel will usually call a doctor to your room.
  • Most doctors speak some English
  • Again bring any medicine you take in the US with you. If you get frequent bladder infections for example, get a prescription for antibiotics before you go so you can take them if you feel an infection coming on. Be one step ahead of your health abroad.

 

9.) Safety

  • See pickpocketing and passport safety
  • Yes terror and other threats are always a possibility, but keep up with the news, be aware of your personal surroundings and you should be fine.

 

10.) Peddlers

  • There will be no shortage of people trying to sell you stuff during your sigthtseeing and wandering.
  • These people can be very annoying, you can just say no and ignore them.
  • Do not feel bad for them or buy something from them because you feel bad, it is a waste of money and they are probably stealing your wallet while this is happening.
  • Any souvenir you want, you can get in a legit souvenir shop or gift shop at a sight.
  • Trust me, I have bought stuff because I felt bad and realized I just paid $20 for a $3 bracelet.

 

15.) Embassy

  • Go or call here if you lose your passport, or in immediate danger.
  • If you would like to register your trip abroad with the US department of state you can do so for free here: https://step.state.gov/step/

 

16.) Travel check list to complete before leaving

  1. Two copies of passport – one left at home, one with you separate from your passport
  2. Email copy of passport to self
  3. Call Bank
  4. Call Cell phone
  5. Order converters
  6. Print all vouchers if needed
  7. Check into your flights the night before
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