What should you know and do before taking your first international trip? After all, you’ve saved for the perfect vacation to a foreign country that you’ve had on your bucket list for as long as you can remember. You’ve even looked into the many options for keeping the kids entertained, reserved your hotel, and booked the many excursions that just have to be done. But have you made the necessary preparations before you depart on your trip?
Leaving the country isn’t just about packing your suitcases, finding the best deal on your hotel room or downloading the various travel apps that would keep you connected to friends and family. You may be facing a new culture with a foreign language, and no matter how exciting it might all be, there are a few things that you should consider before taking that international flight. Here are five things you must do.
GET THE REQUIRED DOCUMENTS
In this case, we’re talking about your passports and visas necessary to enter your intended country of visit. Many countries will not permit you entry without at least a six-month validity left on your passport. A good rule of thumb is to renew your passport at least eight months before your next international trip, and the best time to renew is during the winter months when travel is down, and many aren’t focused on getting a passport, so the turnaround time is much quicker compared to the summer months when everyone is then trying to get a passport for their summer trip.
Besides a passport, some countries may also need a visa, so do your research as there are a few countries (including Australia) that won’t just let you in with just a passport and a smile. While you can apply for some visas online, or even on arrival, some countries may require you to visit an embassy or to send your passport through the mail.
ENROLL IN S.T.E.P.
S.T.E.P is the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) and is a free service that allows citizens and nationals of the U.S., who are traveling and living abroad to enroll their trip with the nearest Consulate or U.S. Embassy. Here you can receive important information from the Embassy about safety conditions based on your destination country, enabling you to make informed decisions about your travel plans. In the event of an emergency, the U.S. Embassy will be able you contact you, whether it’s a natural disaster, civil unrest, or even a family emergency. Madison and I enroll our trip each time we travel. You’re able to enter the date you’ll be arriving and departing, and even add your hotel information. So far, we’ve never had to utilize the benefit, but it’s there if we ever need it.
PRIORITIZE HEALTH AND SAFETY
Remember, your health and safety come first and should always be your number one priority. You can visit the C.D.C.’s website for country-specific health advisories and the U.S. Travel website, which not only offers global health advisories but global safety ones as well. Always be sure that the place that you’re visiting is safe to visit, and in the event that an issue arises, enrolling in STEP as mentioned above will facilitate in the U.S. Consulate/Embassy being aware of where you are so they can offer help.
You never know what can happen on your trip, especially when traveling internationally. Unlike a flight being suddenly canceled in the U.S., where you can rent a car and drive to your state, it’s impossible to drive back to the U.S. from Europe or the Caribbean, for example. Or what if you fall suddenly ill? Having comprehensive travel insurance, which also covers medical care, will leave you feeling assured instead of anxious throughout your trip, because as with Murphy’s Law, anything that can go wrong, sometimes does.
DO YOUR HOMEWORK
Research your destination, purchase a guide book, or even ask friends or family who may have visited before for ideas or tips on what to do and where to go. The internet is a vast resource, and sites such as TripAdvisor can provide a wealth of knowledge. If you’re traveling somewhere where the language is different, learn a few simple but relevant phrases, have Google Translate handy, or invest in a language translator such as Pocketalk. Pocketalk makes it easy to communicate in a language that is unfamiliar and makes traveling easy and uncomplicated.
Your first international trip doesn’t have to be overwhelming, and with these few simple tips, you can have an amazing time.