So you’ve decided traveling abroad is in the cards and now you’re looking for some international travel tips to make sure your trip is successful, safe and memorable. You’ve come to the right place, my Rambling friend!
Whether you’re Rambling to an exotic white-sand beach, green-laden jungle, sandy desert or somewhere in between, preparing for international travel can be tough because there’s so much advice and so many traveling tips out there and you may not even know where to start.
The first place to start is here, with an international travel checklist. To easily digest, I’ve divided this international travel checklist into four separate international travel tips categories: Money Travel Tips; Security, Health & Wellness Travel Tips; Phone Travel Tips; and General Life Travel Tips.
These are the 22 most important things to do before international travel.
Money Travel Tips
1. Stick to Travel-Friendly Credit Cards
If a location takes credit card and you feel comfortable using it, do it. Credit cards often give you the best exchange rate possible because it’s charged at the closest conversion rate possible — without those pesky exchange-rate fees.
If you get yourself a travel credit card with no foreign transaction fees, you can also skip the 3 percent fee other credit cards charge for transactions made abroad.
So the number one item on your international travel checklist should be a travel credit card with no foreign transaction fees.
2. Set Travel Alerts on Your Credit Cards
Travel credit cards with no foreign transaction fees aren’t really much use when they get declined, which is what could happen upon first swipe if you don’t set a travel alert.
Setting a travel alert to prepare for international travel is as easy as going into your online banking account and letting them know where you’re headed for which dates. Plus, it’s one of the most important things to do before international travel.
I mean, if you primarily use your card within the United States, wouldn’t you wanna know if your credit card has just been swiped in Peru?
Yup, they’ll decline your card in good measure! I’ve had mine declined in Peru, and I’m actually glad it was declined!
3. Start Exchanging Money Early
Preparing for international travel begins in your home country. If you’re going to a country that you don’t feel comfortable swiping your credit card in, start exchanging money at your personal bank for that country’s currency as early as possible.
Your local branch (if you bank at one of the leading banks in your country) will likely allow you to exchange a certain amount each month without paying a foreign transaction fee — or paying a very low fee.
So if you’re exchanging $1,000 for your trip, wouldn’t you rather keep that 3 percent or more ($30+) in your name rather than pay some unknown entity?
4. Skip the Airport Conversion Centers
The airport conversion centers are only there to help you out in a tight bind and rip you off. That is it. One of the best international travel tips you can learn is to skip them. They’re likely charging you the highest conversion rate you find in the entire country.
So if you plan on taking a taxi to your destination, you’re probably gonna have to pay in local currency. This is where exchanging some money at your local bank before you leave comes into play. You’ve been warned.
5. Always Carry Local Cash
If you read the two paragraphs above, you now understand why you should carry local cash with you at all times.
Even if you’re not hailing a taxi from the airport (thanks, Uber and Lyft, for making the world a little more convenient), it’s smart to keep some local cash with you at all times.
You never know when you’ll need it.
Maybe it’s a cool local shop that’s cash only and has a towel for $5,000 COP ($1.50 USD) or maybe it’s a local tour operator that’ll take $115 Sol ($35 USD) cash rather than accept a credit card for $135 Sol ($40 USD).
Any amount of money you can save on your travels can be reinvested in your travels!
6. Keep a Spare Credit Card & Cash Hidden
Ok, so if you have to access a spare credit card or cash that you’ve hidden, chances are you’re not in a situation you expected, or even wanted, to be in.
But that’s exactly why you hid it in the first place. I’m not trying to scare you or prevent you from traveling, but being smart and anticipating issues can help you tremendously.
The best place to hide cash or a credit card is probably underneath the sole of your shoe (I hope nobody reads this who means me harm).
But let’s say you lose your wallet or it gets stolen. Wouldn’t you want a money reserve to get you out of that situation? Yes. The answer is yes. Just hide it.
Whether you travel for 100 years and nothing bad ever happens to you, it’s better to have a backup plan and not need it than to need a backup plan and not have it.
7. Check out the Country’s Fees
Some countries have entrance and exit fees. Sounds pretty ridiculous, right?!? I agree! They’re already getting your money through taxes and general tourism, so why do they have to charge more?
You’ll want to do some research and figure out if you’ll have to pay an entrance or exit fee beforehand. Some countries have them, some don’t don’t. It’s better to find out beforehand.
Oftentimes, you may even have to pay for it beforehand. So don’t be like me and be stuck in an airport all alone in a foreign country after forgetting to pay the pesky tourist entrance fee.
Security, Health & Wellness Travel Tips
8. Check Your Passport and Visa Info
If you plan to travel to a foreign country, I hope you have a passport that’s valid for at least another six months after the day of your departure.
Many countries make that requirement a necessity. You know, just in case you love that country so much you try to stay longer than your valid time. Or, something darker in nature. But let’s hope it’s the former.
You’ll also want to check the visa requirements for the country you intend to visit. Check Travel.State.gov for the most up-to-date advice about the visa requirements.
If you don’t need one, you’re good to go. If you do need one, it could take weeks, months or even years to obtain a visa, depending on the country. Rule of thumb: check before you book!
9. Make Copies of Your Passport & Itinerary
You’ll also want to take pictures and make copies of your itinerary and that passport of yours (that’s definitely valid for another six months!). Send a copy to your parents, best friends or significant other — or all the above.
In case of an emergency or you lose your passport and need to get home, move on to the next country or find asylum at the local embassy, you’ll need to prove your identity.
You may be surprised, but countries don’t take too kindly to that Jason Bourne fella. Plus, you’ll want someone to know where you are just in case something happens while you’re traveling internationally.
10. Know Travel Warnings and Advisories
Knowing the travel advisory to the country you intend to visit is crucial. This tip should actually be enacted before you even book your flight to go to said country.
You can check this info at the same site you check the visa requirements, Travel.State.gov for U.S. citizens. The following travel advisories should be taken to heart (for U.S. citizens):
- Level 1: Exercise normal precautions
- Level 2: Exercise increased caution
- Level 3: Reconsider travel
- Level 4: Do not travel
11. Register with the Embassy
So this is on a need-to-know basis. If you’re traveling to a Level 3 or Level 4 country, as designated by the U.S. government, you may want to go ahead and register with the embassy.
This tells them you’ll be in that country during a certain timeframe. You’ll also put your contact info in the database.
If something devastating occurs, or is about to occur, in that country, they’ll notify you to get the hell out! If something absolutely life-changing occurs, they may even be able to help you get out of the country.
12. Write down the Address of Your Accommodation
Even if you don’t register with your country’s local embassy, you may still wanna write down the address of your hostel, hotel, Airbnb, HomeAway or whatever accommodation you decided to book for your trip (which I bet will be an absolute blast!).
If you get lost, lose your phone or don’t know how to get back (which is pretty much getting lost), at least you’ll have the address handy in the local language.
You may wanna stash this puppy in the same spot you stashed that spare credit card and cash!
13. Get Vaccinated & Fill Prescriptions
Depending on how adventurous or safety-conscious you are, you may opt to get vaccinations recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention beforehand.
By the way, that’s a great idea! Some countries even require certain vaccinations, so you should definitely check it out either way.
Hey, even if you’re not prescribed Tylenol or Pepto Bismol, it’s still a great idea to hit the road with a few travel-sized packages in your backpack or suitcase!
Do you really want to be in a foreign country, trying to explain in a foreign language you don’t speak, that you’re about to shit your pants because you ate some rancid pork? Nope, I didn’t think so either.
Speaking of prescriptions, you may want to make sure all your prescriptions are filled and then some. I learned the hard way that an antibiotic called ciprofloxacin can literally save your life if you somehow get bacteria from food, as I did.
14. Buy a Travel Insurance Plan
I’m such a big proponent of getting travel insurance!
Partly because my day job is as a content writer for an insurance company, partly because I’ve personally used travel insurance and partly because you never know when you’ll need travel insurance until you actually need it.
Just trust me on this one, you want to get travel insurance. TravelInsurance.com has an amazing portal that compares policies for you! I got a policy for two people for five days in Belize for just $28 total!
Check out World Nomads, which offers hand-crafted travel insurance policies made by actual travelers, or check out TravelInsurance.com, which provides multiple policies that offer different levels of coverage for an affordable price.
Phone Travel Tips
15. Know Your Cell Service & Data Options
Cell service in a foreign country is one of the most important aspects of safe and comfortable travel. Yet it can be one of the most complicated things to navigate on your international travel checklist. You have some options!
A: Set up a temporary international calling and data plan with your service provider.
This is by far the easiest way to obtain cell service and unlimited data in a foreign country, but it’s also the most expensive. I use AT&T and it charges me $10 USD per day for an international phone plan.
If I’m traveling for an extended period, it can get really expensive. I paid for this on an 11-day trip to Colombia once and I vow to refrain from doing that again!
B: Turn off your phone’s cellular data and roaming and then stick to using Wi-Fi.
This is the cheapest cell service and data option you have! It’s also the most inconvenient because you can only use apps on your phone when you’re connected to Wi-Fi, which can be extremely spotty in some countries.
The good thing is that you won’t have to pay any extra money and you can use all the apps on your phone once you are connected to Wi-Fi.
This is how you can keep in touch with friends and family back home for the free-99! Oh, and you can still use your phone’s camera to take photos at all times, so that’s a plus!
C: Buy an international prepaid SIM card to put into your existing phone (or new international-friendly phone).
This option is really for the long-term travelers out there. Buying a prepaid SIM card in the country you’re visiting is fairly cheap and allows you to connect to that country’s cell towers to use data at any time!
If you’re going on a 10-plus day excursion to a foreign country, you may want to just stay off your phone and stick to the Wi-Fi-only option. You’ll probably enjoy the trip much more!
However, if you’re trekking abroad for three weeks or longer and want/need to use your phone, the international SIM-card option is your best bet.
Buying a SIM card in a foreign country, especially if you don’t speak the language, can be a pretty big hassle. Do your research beforehand to figure out which SIM cards work with your phone, where to buy one and how much money you’ll need to load onto it.
16. Download Free Communication Apps
If you’re using option B or C from the cell service and data options above, downloading a messaging app or two is one of the most important things to do before international travel.
It’s important to note that you have to be connected to a Wif-Fi network or be willing to use data for the following apps to work.
WhatsApp: Probably the most popular messaging app among people traveling abroad, WhatsApp is an awesome messaging app that allows you to send texts and make calls to anyone in the world who is also using WhatsApp.
It’s also amazing for connecting with people you meet during your travels, too! Even if you don’t know if you’ll use it, I highly recommend you download it before traveling internationally.
Facebook Messenger: Facebook Messenger is amazing for connecting with people you’re also Facebook friends with!
This is my favorite option for connecting with friends and family back home because it allows you to send texts, make calls and even make a live call with your camera! It’s basically FaceTime with a ton more perks!
Skype: Skype is another Wi-Fi-enabled app that allows you to make calls or send texts. It’s great because there’s a desktop version that easy to use, too!
Instagram: If you decide to forgo the previous options — or don’t — just know you can always fall back on the Instagram direct messaging feature.
It’s super easy and works just like texting. Of course, the person you intend to keep in touch with must also have an Instagram account.
After you decide on one of the following, tell your friends and family which one you’ll be using, so they know where and how to contact you.
17. Download Google Maps of Where You’ll Be
Whether you stick to WiFi only, use your cellular data or buy a SIM card, you’ll want to download a map of where you’ll be on Google Maps. This downloaded version stays on your phone for 28 days or so and can be used without Wi-Fi or tapping into your cellular data.
I’m headed to Belize next week and will be traveling abroad using the Wi-Fi-only method, so I downloaded a map of the entire country through Google Maps.
I’ll be able to use this map, with updated street paths and such, at my own convenience. It’ll help make sure I don’t get lost while driving through the Belizean countryside.
Another option is to carry a physical map of the country with you. It can be a bit much at times, as maps are usually quite large, but it can help to keep you on track.
18. Research Charger Outlets
Charger outlets in the U.S. are 120 volts. Charger outlets in Peru are 220 volts. Charger outlets in Europe are 230 volts. The same phone (or any other kind of plugin) won’t work in those countries.
The same charger will work in the U.K. and Singapore, but it won’t work in France. It’s pretty confusing.
In fact, there are 15 different types of electrical outlet plugs in use around the world today, so you’d better do some research and get a converter before your trip! Check out this detailed list of the different types of outlets each country in the world uses.
General Life Travel Tips
19. Learn Some Basic Terms of the Local Language
If you’re going to a Spanish-speaking country, you should try to learn some basic terms in Spanish. If you’re going to France, you should try to learn some basic terms in French.
It makes life a little easier and it helps to show that you care about the person’s culture you’re trying to converse with.
Basic terms that make life easy relate to “food,” “water,” “bathroom,” “how much” and “where.” If you can put some basic terms in the local language that relate to those categories, your time in that country will be a whole lot easier!
For instance, my first solo trip abroad was to Peru, so I learned some basic Spanish. I learned to ask how much the price was (put to good use when hailing a cab and buying things). I learned how to order food, ask where the bathroom was, ask people their name and how they’re doing and a whole lot of other things that came in handy!
It also helped that I was living in Miami at the time, so I had plenty of practice before the trip.
20. Read Blog Articles from People Who Have Actually Visited
One of the best ways to get information about a place is to read about it through the mind of someone who has visited.
They have boots-on-the-ground information, which means they have more insight than those viral outlets that write about places without ever having visited.
Plus, you’ll probably find a few more things to do or figure out some traveling tips you never would’ve thought of! That’s what I hope to bring to all of you reading this blog!
21. Decide Whether to Buy Online or in Person
Some things, like excursions, are cheaper to buy in person because you can easily negotiate the price down if you pay in cash rather than a credit card. However, some things are going to be the same price no matter what. You’ll need to do some research before booking to see if you’re getting the best deal.
For example, I’m heading to Caye Caulker, Belize in a week. I’m buying tickets for a water taxi beforehand because it’s a necessity that I can’t afford not getting (if they’re sold out, I can’t get to my Airbnb).
But I’m waiting to book the snorkeling tour until I get to the island. There are dozens of operators on the island, so I’m sure I can talk the price down.
Plus, since there are so many, the odds of them being completely booked are very slim. If I can’t talk them down, I’ll just pay full price, but something tells me I’m going to get a pretty sweet deal.
22. Photograph Your Checked Luggage
If you’re a habitual luggage checker, this one’s for you! Take a picture of your luggage in case it gets lost during transit.
That way you’ll be able to show the customer representative at the counter exactly what your suitcase looks like, so they can find it and spot it easier when they come across it.
Bonus: Don’t Forget the In-Flight Entertainment
I’m a big proponent of reading books while I’m 35,000 feet in the air. I stick to physical versions because I’m quite old school and it’s nice to give my eyes a break from screens for a few hours (especially since I can spend up to 14 hours a day in front of them during the week).
However, if you want to read a book on a reading device, listen to podcasts or music, watch a movie, or do something else on your phone, tablet or computer, don’t forget to download everything while you’re connected to Wi-Fi a few days before your trip.
Set a reminder if you have to. Trust me, I’ve tried to download a movie while in the backseat of an Uber, waiting for my flight and then while the plane was on the tarmac.
That movie had to have been downloading for a solid hour and a half, and I was stuck with half a movie because it couldn’t completely download.