Traveling abroad can be one of the most amazing experiences to add to your life’s resume, but in order to make the most out of what can be a most life-changing experience, attention to details and pre-planning must take place.
Today I’d like to begin a mini three week series that is dedicated to traveling internationally. Having just returned from London and Paris, I am going to share what I have learned. And while each country and continent offers different necessary approaches, there are many that overlap no matter where you are traveling from or to.
With that said, a disclaimer that this advice coming from someone who loves fashion which means I approached the packing of my suitcase with the mindset of looking stylish first, but keeping versatility/functionality a close second.
With that said, before even hopping on the plane or train, let’s take a look at all that needs to be tended to before you walk out the door (packing and wardrobe choices will be covered in detail next Wednesday in Part Deux):
Before You Leave
1. Valid Passport – make sure your passport is current (US passports typically expire every 10 years – renewal currently is $115) or if you don’t have a passport make sure to apply for one six months in advance (often turn around is 2-3 months, but don’t take the risk). Also, if you’re passport is set to expire in six months, be sure to have it renewed before traveling as some countries will not allow you to board if this is the case.
2. Contact Your Bank & Credit Card Company
- based on which cards you will be using, call that institution and let them know you will be traveling (when and where) so that they don’t report your card stolen when a purchase pops up for tickets to see a play in the theater district in London for example.
- Ask about all possible fees (ATM, general card use, etc) so that you can calculate that into your budget and plan how many withdrawals you will want to make. Currently to use a debit card, the fee is slightly less than using a credit card; however, if your debit card is stolen it often has less protection. Choose what works best for you.
- Ask about which ATM withdrawal limits for both online and offline ATMS. While your bank can inform you of the banks that are in their system (online), often you won’t be able to easily tell, so make sure the limit for both options is where you would like it to be. Petitioning for it to be raised is easy, but it does take a few days, so plan ahead.
3. Itinerary (plan ahead, but be flexible) – The internet provides easy access to planning and making reservations as we create the trip of our dreams. I highly recommend planning out what you want to see, purchasing tickets for certain events in advance and mapping out your day-to-day excursions as some events only happen on certain days (for example: Le Marche aux Puces in Paris is only open on Saturday, Sunday and Monday, and the Musée du Louvre is closed on Tuesdays); however, with that said, upon arrival, be flexible and open to what opportunities present themselves. By having a plan, you have a foundation from which to spring from, as opposed to arriving and not knowing what to do.
Last month I shared with you a travel app to help organize your travel itineraries named Tripit. It is a wonderful way to sync your travel with travel partners or share your itinerary with family and friends back home who you want to share the details/specifics of your trip in case of an emergency.
4. Electricity (voltage – adapters, converters) – Finally I have figured out a necessary component of international travel! And as difficult as it initially seemed, it is actually quite simple. For someone like me who needs to charge her iPad, iPhone, laptop and also use beauty utensils – one of which is a blow-dryer I first thought I needed to buy an adapter as well as a converter. This is partially true, but typically when you buy a converter you automatically have an adapter (2 in 1). Below are the specifics of how to convert to the proper wattage without ruining your equipment:
- I purchased the Walkabout Hi-Lo Combination Converter ($34) which can handle up to 1800watts of electricity. It also comes with multiple adapters for any country you could imagine (except South Africa and India).
- If you won’t be needing to travel with a blow-dryer, you can probably get away with just using an adapter; however, simply check your devices as it tells you their wattage on the cord.
- Most laptops don’t need a converter as they automatically convert to the proper wattage (again, double check, and when in doubt, use a converter, it’s not going to hurt)
- Blow-dryer wattage – My blow-dryer at home used more than 1800 wattage, so I purchased an ionic ceramic travel blow-dryer for less than $30 that only uses 1000watts, and I couldn’t be happier. It takes up very little space (foldable) and does the same job I expect when doing my hair at home.
- If your laptop’s charge cord has three prongs, make sure to have a converter from three to two prongs for the converter.
5. Copies – Make sure to make a copy of your passport and any other documents/cards that you are taking with you (debit card, credit card, birth certificate, etc) just incase they get lost or stolen. Also copy your itinerary and any other tickets or necessary information you are taking with you. If you are traveling with someone else, make sure you both have a copy, just in case one should get lost.
6. Ditch the Hotel Reservation – While traveling in Paris twelve years ago, I could only afford to stay at a hostel (one that was quite nice however), but I vowed that I would return able to afford a more luxurious accommodations. Initially, reservation a hotel room may sound like a great idea, but before you do that I suggest you look into renting an apartment.
I found the apartment I stayed in Paris through HomeAway, and the actually rental was through Well Done Properties (which is a rental/real estate company located in France). It’s best to read the read the reviews for your apartment, and since the one chosen for my trip received very positive reviews and the communications with the proprietor where prompt, efficient and with full contracts, etc, I decided to opt for the apartment. It was a lovely stay, well managed and very clean. I also highly recommend booking an apartment with Haven in Paris and Cobblestay.
By choosing to live in apartment you are allowing yourself to see life in the neighborhoods without as much tourism. You also have a more home-like atmosphere to come home to at the end of the day and, if you’re feeling ambitious, the option to cook a few meals at the apartment to save money.
7. Words to Know – while I loved the excuse to brush up on my French, even if you don’t want to learn the language of the country you are traveling to, make sure you learn a few necessary phrases for a more pleasurable experience. Such as:
- Thank you
- My name is…
- Do you speak English?
- Where is the bathroom?
- Where is the train station?
- How much?
- The numbers 1 – 20.
- I would like to order/buy . . .
8. Prescriptions/Contact Lenses/Extra Necessities – Make sure to refill all necessary prescriptions that you will need on your trip. Also, if you wear glasses or contacts, make sure you have a back-up should you lose your contacts or break your glasses. I also make sure to pack an extra pair of lenses.
9. Investigate the Culture – Depending upon where you are traveling to, each culture will have its own customs and expectations. Take time to read up to reduce any faux pas or dirty looks.
10. Leave Your Home & Bills in Order – As much as we all look forward to getting away and escaping on a vacation, often we come back exhausted. So in order to establish a welcoming home for your return, tend to the following matters before you leave:
- Remove all household trash and place in outdoor garbage canister
- As a neighbor to place garbage on the curb and return it while you are gone. You would do the same for them.
- Empty the refrigerator of anything that won’t last while you are away.
- Clean the house
- Attend to the laundry as you will have enough when you return
- Place a hold on your mail, and if you can, have it all delivered to your doorstep on the first day back to eliminate a trip to the post office
- Schedule a house sitter, or someone to care for your yard while away to keep an eye on the house.
- Tell one or two neighbors you trust that you will be gone so they can keep an eye on the house. Be sure to give them a number where you can be reached should anything out of the ordinary occur.
- Arrange pet sitting
- Pay your monthly bills – Regardless of how long you will be away, by having online bill pay, you are able to schedule bills to be paid so that you aren’t late. By taking care of your budget before you leave, you are able to make sure all necessary bills are paid and you’re clear about how much money can be spent on the trip.
- Heat/Air – turn down the thermostat to a level that will make sure the pipes don’t freeze in the winter, but isn’t as high to warm people if they were in the home so you can save money. During the summer, you can probably leave the air off depending upon where you live.
11. Flight and/or Trip Insurance – When purchasing your ticket, it is a wise idea to purchase flight insurance. Quite minimal ($20 -$50), you leave yourself some breathing room and save money if you find you have to edit your trip. Trip insurance on items you are traveling with is also an option. While I have never chosen this option, you might want to look into it.
12. Cell Phone Coverage – Nearly everyone has a cell phone and while often vacations are a way to get away from your cell phone, some still have to have a way to communicate for family or business purposes. If that is the case, call up your provider and determine if your phone can be used abroad, and if so, how much each call and text will cost. If your phone can’t be used, there is always the phone card option or email as wireless internet is usually widely available (even in airports).
16. Check the Currency Rate – As you begin to make the budget for your trip, determine what the currency exchange rates are for the country you will be traveling to. You don’t want to be at the ATM withdrawing 500 pounds when you think you’re also withdrawing 500 dollars, only to find out you’ve taken out an extra $200. (I will be covering how to handle money and currency exchanges while traveling in part three of the series.)
Don’t worry, we’ve only just begun to prepare for a wonderful trip abroad. Once you take care of these 16 items (the have-tos), click here to view part two of the series where we’ll focus on the more pleasurable part of preparing . . . packing – style, wardrobe, and travel tote – so stay tuned. And to view part three for advice on making the destination and the return home even more pleasurable, click here.
As I know many of you are lovers of travel, what pre-planning musts would you add to the list? Please, do share.